Blog Posts Related to the LGBT Community

  • Russian Civil Society Leaders Inspire

    Despite a packed G-20 schedule filled with meetings on economic issues and the situation in Syria, President Obama also took the time while in St. Petersburg to meet with representatives of Russia's civil society. He holds such meetings in nearly every country he visits, because, as he told these leaders, he believes that "a country's strength ultimately comes from its people and that as important as government is -- and laws -- what makes a country democratic and effective in delivering prosperity and security and hope to people is when they've got an active, thriving civil society." These engagements are an opportunity not only to hear candid views about the country in which these representatives live, but also about the United States.

    The meeting in St. Petersburg was no exception. The President, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and I met with a fascinating group of activists that included Boris Pustyntsev, Ivan Pavlov, Yevgeniya Chirikova, Yana Yakoleva, Dmitry Makarov, Igor Kochetkov, Yelena Milashina, Olga Lenkova, and Pavel Chikov. The group represented a broad cross-section of Russian NGOs and activists who work on issues such as human rights, the environment, media freedom, rights of business entrepreneurs, LGBT rights, and fighting corruption, racism, and discrimination.

    President Obama Meets With Members Of The Civil Society

    President Barack Obama meets with civil society leaders at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, during the G20 Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 6, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Our colleagues gave President Obama a strong sense of the challenges facing civil society leaders in Russia today, especially new laws that place restrictions on foreign-funded NGOs and discriminate against the LGBT community. Like others around the world, the President has been following with particular concern the increased climate of intolerance and violence that have accompanied the new law affecting the LGBT community, and he had the chance to hear from two courageous LGBT activists from St. Petersburg who described the challenging environment for their work. Participants urged him to keep human rights, including LGBT rights, on his agenda; to correct mischaracterizations of American policy and laws (especially the false analogy between Russia's "foreign agent" law and U.S. legislation on lobbying); to empower multilateral organizations to pressure the Russian government to meet its international commitments; and to stand up against discrimination and for freedom of assembly and expression.

    The President learned not only about the situation in Russia but also how the Administration's policies on the environment, whistle-blower protections, and Syria affect the work of civil society activists in Russia. President Obama acknowledged the complexities of balancing national security and individual rights on a variety of issues, but he also expressed faith in the power of American democratic institutions, including a free press, to provide the proper context for resolving specific issues and ultimately to make the American system more democratic. President Obama gave particular attention to the role of civil society in making governments more representative and accountable. He noted his own background as a community organizer, highlighting the significant and important role civil society plays in bettering the lives of ordinary people.

    President Obama carefully took notes and responded to all of the questions raised during the meeting. He was clearly energized intellectually and inspired. A meeting planned for forty minutes turned into almost an hour-and-a-half interactive discussion. The President pledged to consider every concrete proposal and later tasked me to follow up on some practical ideas proposed by our roundtable participants.

    In the car ride to the Air Force One after the event, the President commented on the articulate, passionate, and practical presentations these leaders had made, and we had a very wide-ranging discussion about civil society in Russia, civil society and human rights around the world, and democracy more generally. After two long days at the G-20, I was struck by how invigorated the President seemed after the discussion.

    I thank our Russian participants for such a stimulating session and, like the President, applaud their courageous and important efforts in Russia.

    Michael McFaul is Ambassador of the United States of America to the Russian Federation

  • Watch Live on Thursday: The impact of “Obamacare” on the LGBT community

    Despite the tremendous progress we’ve made in achieving equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, many LGBT individuals still face limited access to health care and insurance, and are less likely to get the preventive care they need to stay healthy.

    Thankfully, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it’s also known, directly addresses some of these needs, by:

    1. Protecting the right to access quality, affordable health insurance. Starting in 2014, the health care law prevents insurers from denying us coverage or charging us a higher premium because of a pre-existing condition or because we are LGBT.
    2. Removing lifetime dollar limits on coverage. That means that people with chronic diseases, like HIV/AIDS, cancer and mental health concerns, can get the care we need. And starting in 2014, all annual limits will be illegal, too.
    3. Promoting wellness by requiring insurers to cover preventive care at no additional cost. LGBT adults and teens can get screened by a health professional for HIV and depression without paying co-pays or deductibles. Other preventive services, like cervical cancer screening for sexually active women, obesity counseling for people at risk, and well-woman visits are also covered at no extra cost.
    4. Helping more LGBT Americans find affordable health insurance. Starting October 1, 2013, all Americans without insurance and those looking for better options will have a new place to shop for plans, the Health Insurance Marketplace, and may qualify for lower costs on monthly premiums.

    The Affordable Care Act could truly transform the health and well-being of the LGBT community for generations to come, and the upcoming open enrollment period in the Health Insurance Marketplace, – from October 2013 to March 2014 – provides an important opportunity to get folks enrolled.

    That’s why the White House Office of Public Engagement and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are teaming up to host a Briefing on Obamacare and the LGBT Community, this Thursday, September 12th. The event will include remarks by Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, as well as an exciting presentation of important new research on how LGBT communities perceive and access health care, and suggested messaging strategies for reaching key sub-communities.

    And you can watch it live from home or work! Visit http://whitehouse.gov/live this Thursday, September 12th, starting at 1:15 p.m. EDT to tune in.

    Gautam Raghavan is an Advisor in the White House Office of Public Engagement. Matthew Heinz, MD, is Director of Provider Outreach and Director of LGBT Outreach at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Treasury Tax Ruling Recognizing All Legal Same-Sex Marriages Garners Widespread Support

    Ed Note: This is a cross post from the U.S. Department of the Treasury blog.

    Last week marked a critical milestone for legally married same-sex couples nationwide.  In a ruling that implemented the Supreme Court’s June decision invalidating a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, Treasury and the IRS announced that all legal same-sex marriages will be recognized for federal tax purposes. 

    The decision is notable because it provides same-sex couples with the certainty that their federal filing status will remain the same regardless of where they move throughout the country.  The ruling determined that, if a same-sex couple’s marriage took place in a state or jurisdiction where it is legally recognized, the couple will be treated as married for all related federal tax provisions.  This even applies if the couple relocates to a state where same-sex marriage is not recognized.

    U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew further outlined the significant impact of this ruling last week, by explaining that it “provides access to benefits, responsibilities and protections under federal tax law that all Americans deserve.”

    This decision garnered an overwhelmingly positive response across a broad spectrum of individuals, advocacy groups and media outlets, including:

    Affirmations (Michigan): Spokesperson Cassandra Varner.  “The IRS has sent a clear message to the United States about same-sex couples being treated equally when it comes to federal taxes….  Being treated equally is not some casual luxury same-sex couples should hope for. It's a fundamental right that every human deserves."

    Charlotte Observer (Editorial).  “Just as we lauded the DOMA ruling for overturning a law that denied gays protections the U.S. Constitution guarantees, we applaud this Treasury move.  It gives gays the same federal tax benefits that opposite-sex couples receive.”

    Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus Co-Chair and U.S. Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI).  “I applaud the Department of Treasury for siding with equality and treating all legally married couples in America the same. Loving same-sex couples should not be afraid they could lose their federal benefits or protections simply by moving to another state. Today’s decision continues our nation’s forceful progress toward recognizing the rights and responsibilities of all loving couples.”

    Empire State Pride Agenda: Executive Director Nathan M. Schaefer.  “We’re grateful to President Barack Obama and Department of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew for their leadership and for their swift and thoughtful implementation of the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA. All legally married couples now have access to the same federal tax purposes, and we’re one big step closer to full equality under the law.”

    Equality Pennsylvania: Executive Director Ted Martin.  “Since the Supreme Court struck down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the Obama Administration has shown historic leadership, evaluating all federal policies and taking critical steps to ensure that all legally married couples have equal protection under the law.  To be sure, this ruling is a tremendous and historic step forward, and across Pennsylvania, thousands of loving, committed same-sex couples are celebrating…" 

    Family Equality Council: Executive Director Gabriel Blau.  “This announcement is yet another giant step forward for our families. The Federal Government will now acknowledge same-sex couples, and their children, as a family under the tax code regardless of their zip code…  This is a significant win for the millions of our families who work hard, pay taxes and deserve to be recognized equally by the Federal Government.  Once again the Obama Administration has demonstrated that they value the lives and contributions of the 3 million LGBT parents in the US raising 6 million children, and will no longer financially penalize them for who they are.”

    Freedom to Marry: Founder and President Evan Wolfson.  “This announcement makes today a day of celebration and relief for married same-sex couples all over America.  At long last, the IRS will treat them as what they are: married.  Freedom to Marry commends the administration’s swift implementation of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling for federal equality in an area that will have a direct, tangible impact on families’ financial health.  The fact that this new respect applies only to married couples – not those joined by domestic partnerships or civil unions – highlights the need for an America where everyone can marry the person they love in any state, and have that marriage respected at all levels of government.”

    Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD): Spokesperson Wilson Cruz.  "Today, America moves one step closer to 'liberty and justice for all.'  Equal federal tax protections will not only endow legally married same-sex couples with the respect and dignity they deserve, but will also provide critical financial security for countless loving families."

    Human Rights Campaign (HRC): President Chad Griffin.  “With today’s ruling, committed and loving gay and lesbian married couples will now be treated equally under our nation’s federal tax laws, regardless of what state they call home.  These families finally have access to crucial tax benefits and protections previously denied to them under the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.” 

    Minnesota Revenue: Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans.  "I think the impact for Minnesota is we have clarity for all married couples and uniform treatment, consistent treatment for all married couples, regardless of where they're residing.” 

    New York Times (Editorial).  “The I.R.S. change is the broadest to come out of the landmark court ruling, affecting virtually every married same-sex couple in the United States.  The move to recognize all same-sex couples’ marriages will reduce the harm to those who get married in one of the states where same-sex marriage is legal but reside in a state that does not recognize their unions. ”

    Washington Post (Editorial).  “In what is arguably the federal government’s most significant rule change since the Supreme Court’s watershed June decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Treasury Department and its Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have mandated that all legally married same-sex couples be treated as such for the purposes of federal taxation.  Although 37 states still don’t recognize gay marriage, the federal government has taken a powerful step in equalizing standards for same-sex couples, no matter what state they call home…  It’s heartening to see the federal government prioritize this issue and mobilize itself so quickly to implement the Supreme Court decision… the updated IRS standards are a welcome addition and an important step in the nuts-and-bolts implementation of equality.”

    Betsy Bourassa is a Media Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

  • Bayard Rustin: An American Hero No Longer Forgotten

    Bayard Rustin at a news briefing on the 1963 March on Washington.

    Bayard Rustin at a news briefing on the 1963 March on Washington.

    Ed. Note: this blog was originally posted on the DOL Blog

    When I taught a civil rights class at the University of Maryland Law School, I would do an exercise with my students. I'd write “civil rights” on the board and ask them to tell me what immediately came to mind.

    Some of the most common answers were “Martin Luther King” or “Brown v. Board of Education;” or sometimes “glass ceiling” or “Elizabeth Cady Stanton.”

    I can't remember a single time that anyone ever said “Bayard Rustin.” That's a failure of history. That's our failure to be proper guardians of his legacy.

    But that's changing now, thanks largely to the President Obama's decision to posthumously award Bayard Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It is richly deserved and long overdue.

    I feel compelled, as secretary of labor, to pay tribute to him as well. My very first day on the job last month, I toured our department's Hall of Honor to see the heroic Americans enshrined there – Frances Perkins, A. Philip Randolph, Cesar Chavez and others. But where was Bayard Rustin?

    He was one of our most tenacious fighters for the rights of workers, for collective bargaining, for the role unions play in expanding economic opportunity. The 1963 March on Washington that he organized – the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” as we all know, was the full name – was conceived as a demonstration against economic injustice. He understood as well as anyone that these two movements – civil rights and labor rights – are inextricably intertwined and their goals essentially the same.

    So, I am correcting a longstanding oversight by formally inducting Bayard Rustin into the Labor Department's Hall of Honor.

    Rustin was an openly gay man during a time of fear and intolerance. There was no Human Rights Campaign. There was no Pride Month. There was no “It Gets Better” campaign featuring some of the most visible public figures in America. Nope, “it gets better” was just something you had to believe when you told it to yourself.

    A lot has changed since then, thankfully. From the new hate crimes law, to the repeal of DOMA and “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” to the emerging popular support for marriage equality, we are making progress at breakneck speed. As someone who has dedicated most of my career to civil rights law, I am deeply moved by this sea change and proud to have done my part.

    But we can't become complacent, on LGBT equality or any civil rights or workers' rights issue. As one of my mentors, Sen. Edward Kennedy, put it: civil rights is the unfinished business of America. And guess whose example will light the path as we rise to the next challenges?

    We can't understand what we've accomplished on civil rights without telling the story of Bayard Rustin. And now, we must write the next chapter in the American civil rights story by drawing strength and inspiration from his moral courage.

    Secretary Tom Perez is the United States Secretary of Labor.

  • Tech Inclusion for the Youths

    Kevin Mitchell

    Kevin Mitchell is being honored as a Champion of Change for his work to expand opportunities for young learners from communities historically underserved or underrepresented in tech fields.

    I was fortunate to be exposed to technology from an early age. In elementary school, I learned the foundations of programming through the “turtle graphics” programming language LOGO.  My high school had an amazing computer science and technology program. I participated in the American Computer Science League programming competitions, and built and refurbished PCs for a local nonprofit. Throughout my education, I was exposed to a variety of hardware and software concepts that have given me a huge advantage in my career as a software engineer.

    Unfortunately, many of the schools in our communities are not able to offer the same kind of technology education that was available to me. Currently, only ten percent of American schools offer a computer science program. Without fundamental computer literacy skills, today's students will struggle to compete in an increasingly computer dependent economy. Our country must act quickly to provide students with the learning opportunities necessary to develop this literacy.

    That’s why I’ve taken on the role of lead volunteer at ScriptEd, a nonprofit that brings computer programming classes to schools in underserved communities. Our program works with local developers who volunteer by teaching classes, developing curriculum materials, and mentoring students. Our volunteers allow our students to see that a passion for technology can open up incredible opportunities, and provide them with the guidance they need to develop 21st century career skills.

    We've seen a great amount of interest from developers in New York City who want to give back to the community through our program, and we are actively working to expand to additional schools and create a reusable open source curriculum.  We recently ran a hackathon, an event where students spent an entire day working with technology professionals to design and develop programs around a central theme. We've also placed several of our students in paid internships at technology firms, providing them with real-world experience to help them be successful in a modern economy.

    The teachers and mentors I had as a student helped to instill in me a passion for technology. I want to share this passion, and enable other professionals in the technology field to do the same. The feeling I get when I see a concept finally “click” in a student’s eyes is incredibly rewarding. We've seen our students go from being unable to type or create files, to writing programs that solve real-world problems and allow them to express their creativity.

    I'm very proud of our students, and amazed by the enthusiasm of the volunteers who take time out of their busy schedules to teach and mentor them.  Not only are we giving our students the skills they need for a bright future, we are also giving them a set of tools that will enable them to drive the future success of America.

    Kevin Mitchell is a Lead Volunteer for ScriptEd.

  • Obama Administration Statements on the Supreme Court’s DOMA Ruling

    Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. In a statement released shortly after the Court’s ruling was announced, President Obama applauded the decision.

    This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal – and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. 

    This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better. 

    So we welcome today’s decision, and I’ve directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.

    On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital. How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that.

    The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts: when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.

    A number of Cabinet Secretaries and senior Administration officials also released statements hailing the Court’s decision.

    Secretary of State John Kerry

    The U.S. Department of State applauds the Supreme Court’s decision striking down an unjust and discriminatory law and increasing freedom and equality for LGBT Americans. 

    As a Senator, I voted against DOMA in 1996 and argued that it was unconstitutional.  As Secretary of State, I look forward to the work that now can and must be done to adjust rules and regulations that affect the many married Americans who were hurt by this law.  While I am incredibly proud of the job that the State Department has done in ensuring equal benefits for our employees, there’s more to be done.  To fully implement the requirements and implications of the Court’s decision, we will work with the Department of Justice and other agencies to review all relevant federal statutes as well as the benefits administered by this agency.  We will work to swiftly administer these changes to ensure that every employee and their spouse have access to their due benefits regardless of sexual orientation both at home and abroad.

    I am proud of the progress we’re making in this arena, and particularly proud that I work for a President who has helped to lead the way forward.  From Stonewall to the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ despite setbacks along the way, the arc of our history on this issue has bent towards inclusion and equality, perhaps never more so than today.

    Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

    The Department of Defense welcomes the Supreme Court's decision today on the Defense of Marriage Act.  The department will immediately begin the process of implementing the Supreme Court's decision in consultation with the Department of Justice and other executive branch agencies.  The Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses -- regardless of sexual orientation -- as soon as possible.  That is now the law and it is the right thing to do.

    Every person who serves our nation in uniform stepped forward with courage and commitment.  All that matters is their patriotism, their willingness to serve their country, and their qualifications to do so.  Today's ruling helps ensure that all men and women who serve this country can be treated fairly and equally, with the full dignity and respect they so richly.

  • Today Was a Victory for Equality

    Today was a truly historic day in our nation’s history, as the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. As President Obama stated, “this ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better.” 

    I also want to congratulate the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case, as the Court today declined to overrule a lower court’s decision that Prop 8 is unconstitutional and unenforceable. 

    It is fitting that these two decisions came during LGBT Pride Month, when we remember the contributions of LGBT individuals, while looking ahead in the fight for greater equality.

    Valerie Jarrett speaks at Pentagon Pride on June 25, 2013

    Valerie Jarrett recognizes Brigadier General Tammy Smith and her wife Tracey Hepner during a speech at the Pentagon on June 25, 2013. (Official Photo by Department of Defense)

    In fact, just yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking at an event celebrating LGBT Pride Month at the Pentagon.

    Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Acting Secretary of the Air Force, Eric Fanning, and I spoke at the event commemorating the contributions that lesbian and gay service members have made in defending our country and its citizens.

    When I look back over the last four and a half years since President Obama took office, nothing better exemplifies that kind of profound, meaningful, historic change than the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”   It is one of the most significant civil rights accomplishments of President Obama's career.  

    Last September, on the first anniversary of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I once again invited a small group of gay and lesbian service members – officers, and enlisted personnel from every service, some of whom brought their partners– to the White House— this time, to share stories about how their lives had changed since the repeal.

  • Improving Health for LGBT Americans

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the HHS Blog.

    On this historic day, it’s important to recall that, for too long, the health concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals were pushed to the side. LGBT Americans faced limited access to health care and insurance. And we have been less likely to get the preventive care we need to stay healthy.

    The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is committed to promoting the health and well-being of all Americans, including LGBT Americans. And the Affordable Care Act provides a foundation for achieving that goal.

    The Affordable Care Act helps LGBT Americans in four major ways:

    1. Protecting our right to access quality, affordable health insurance. Starting in 2014, the health care law prevents insurers from denying us coverage or charging us a higher premium because of a pre-existing condition or because we are LGBT.
    2. Removing lifetime dollar limits on coverage. That means that people with chronic diseases, like HIV/AIDS, cancer and mental health concerns, can get the care we need. And starting in 2014, all annual limits will be illegal, too.
    3. Promoting wellness by requiring insurers to cover preventive care at no additional cost. LGBT adults and teens can get screened by a health professional for HIV and depression without paying co-pays or deductibles. Other preventive services, like cervical cancer screening for sexually active women, obesity counseling for people at risk, and well-woman visits are also covered at no extra cost.
    4. Helping more LGBT Americans find affordable health insurance. Starting October 1, 2013, all Americans without insurance and those looking for better options will have a new place to shop for plans, the Health Insurance Marketplace, and may qualify for lower costs on monthly premiums.

    By protecting consumers, promoting prevention, and expanding access, HHS and the Affordable Care Act are now leading the way to greater equality, security, and wellness for LGBT Americans – one more reason this is a Pride Month to celebrate!

    Improving Health for LGBT Americans

    Photo Credit of the Department of Health and Human Services

     
    Jason Young is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs/Health Care.