Blog Posts Related to the LGBT Community

  • Commemorating the Fourth Anniversary of the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crime Prevention Act

    Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Justice

    “Using new tools and authorities, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, we’ve improved our ability to safeguard our civil rights and pursue justice for those who are victimized because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. We will continue working to guarantee that – in our workplaces and military bases; in our housing and lending markets; in our schools and places of worship; in our immigrant communities and our voting booths – the rights of all Americans are protected.” - Attorney General Eric Holder testifying before Congress May 15, 2013
     

    In 1998, Matthew Shepard— a 21 year old student at the University of Wyoming was robbed, tortured, tied to a fence along a country road and left to die by two men who offered him a ride home from a local bar.

    That same year, James Byrd Jr.—a 49-year-old African-American man living in Jasper, Texas—also accepted a ride home from three men. They drove him to the remote edge of town where they beat him severely, tied him by the ankles to the back of a pickup truck, and dragged him to his death.

    The investigation into Matthew Shepard’s death found strong evidence that his attackers targeted him because he was gay. In the case of James Byrd Jr., the three men responsible for his killing were well-known white supremacists. His brutal murder stands as one of the most nightmarish recent incidents of racially motivated violence.

    But while the men responsible for the Shepard and Byrd killings were later convicted of murder, none of them were prosecuted for committing a hate crime. At the time these murders were committed, neither Wyoming nor Texas had a hate crimes law, and existing federal hate crimes protections did not include violent acts based on the victim’s sexual orientation and only covered racial violence against those engaged in a federally protected activity, such as voting or attending school.

    Four years ago today, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act. This landmark legislation, championed by the late Senator Ted Kennedy, greatly expanded the federal government’s ability to prosecute hate crimes.

    The law enables the Justice Department to prosecute crimes motivated by race, color, religion and national origin without having to show that the defendant was engaged in a federally protected activity. The Shepard-Byrd Act also empowers the department to prosecute crimes committed because of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender or disability as hate crimes.

    The law also marked the first time that the words, “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender” appeared in the U.S. Code.

    Under the leadership of Attorney General Holder, the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country have used the law to address the most serious hate crimes. Over the last four years, 44 people in 16 states have been convicted under the Shepard-Byrd Act for their discrimination and crimes against others on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

    Just this month, the Civil Rights Division brought federal hate crimes charges against two Latino men associated with the Compton 155 street gang in California. These men attacked a 17-year-old African-American who was walking down a street in the city of Compton—striking him in the head with a metal pipe—and pointed a gun at another African-American juvenile who was present. Both attackers admitted their actions were substantially motivated by race and color.

    Earlier this year, a Justice Department investigation and prosecution in response to the beating of an Atlanta man resulted in the first conviction in Georgia under the sexual orientation provision of the Shepard-Byrd Act. In this case, two men pleaded guilty to assaulting a 20-year-old gay man as he left a grocery store in Atlanta’s Pittsburgh neighborhood. Video footage of the incident showed not only physical violence but also the use of anti-gay epithets. The two men were sentenced to serve 10 months in prison on federal hate crimes charges as well as five years on state charges for aggravated assault, robbery by force, and theft by receiving stolen property and obstruction.

    In addition to these enforcement efforts, the Civil Rights Division has held trainings for thousands of law enforcement officials – federal, state and local – to ensure that first responders to an assault or other act of violence know what questions to ask and what evidence to gather at the scene to allow prosecutors to make an informed assessment of whether a case should be prosecuted as a hate crime.

    Four years after the passage of the Shepard-Byrd Act, and more than a decade after the brutal murders of the men for whom it was named, prosecuting hate crimes remains a top priority for the President, the Attorney General and the Civil Rights Division.

    Jocelyn Samuels is Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.

  • U.S. on Protecting and Promoting LGBT Rights in Europe

    Ed. Note: This blog is cross posted from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, of the U.S. Department of State.

    Prepared Remarks by Uzra Zeya at the ILGA-Europe Annual Conference 2013 in Zagreb, Croatia

    October 24, 2013

    First, thank you very much Evelyne and to ILGA Europe for including me in this panel. I am so glad to be here.

    In response to your question, the most important thing to understand about the work of the U.S. government is that protecting and promoting the human rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is a foreign policy priority. That’s why I am here in Zagreb to deliver this message personally. The fundamental principle that guides our LGBT work is that the human rights of LGBT persons are not different than or separate from the human rights of everyone else. All people deserve to be treated with dignity no matter who they are or who they love.

    Looking across the region over 2013, there is a lot to be excited about. Both France and the UK have legalized same sex marriage and more countries are taking steps to make sure that LGBT persons can make the choices that work for them and their families. It is also encouraging to see new anti-discrimination and hate crimes legislation specifically including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories.

    But the United States remains extremely concerned about negative trends in a number of countries. The anti-gay propaganda law in Russia and the proposed law to strip gay parents of their parental rights are alarming. Laws, even when it is unclear how they will be enforced, are incredibly important. They are a statement of a country’s values and they have a teaching effect. Laws that validate discrimination, as we have seen in Russia, can lead to an increase in violence and harassment. This is particularly true when authorities don’t act to protect all of their citizens and when they fail to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by or against particular groups.

    I’ve singled out Russia but, as you all know, it is not the only place where there were disturbing events in 2013. We saw too many Pride and IDAHO marches confronted by counter-protestors, or, as just happened in Serbia, canceled altogether because of the threat of violence. Throughout Europe, LGBT persons continue to be harassed and discriminated against in employment, housing, education, and many other areas of public life.

    There is clearly work to be done. In the United States, we pursue this work guided by a Presidential Memorandum which lays out five main lines of effort: Decriminalization of LGBT status and conduct, protection of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, foreign assistance to protect human rights, swift response to violence against LGBT persons, and engaging international organizations to fight LGBT discrimination.

    We raise the human rights of LGBT persons in our diplomatic engagement at all levels – from the President, to Secretary Kerry, to our Ambassadors and officers at post and in Washington. Our Ambassadors and officers march proudly in Pride celebrations. Advancing equality for LGBT persons isn’t just the right thing to do; it is fundamental to advancing democracy and human rights. As societies become more inclusive, they become better partners within the global community, joined together by common values and common interests.

    The U.S. also knows that change on the ground comes from within. At the State Department, same-sex partners and spouses at overseas missions enjoy the same benefits allowed by law as all our employees’ families. We’ve included a category for same-sex partners in our personnel system. It is now easier for transgender Americans to change the gender on their passport. And we’ve stated unequivocally that we do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

    We regularly engage with and support civil society organizations to ensure our work “does no harm” and supports long-term change. In December 2011, then-Secretary Clinton launched the Global Equality Fund to support civil society advocates working to strengthen the human rights of LGBT persons. The United States has partnered with eight-like minded governments – France, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark – as well several foundations to raise and allocate more than $7 million dollars for projects in over 50 countries. The Fund provides emergency legal, medical, and relocation assistance to LGBT individuals and activists; capacity building programs to civil society organizations; and, through our embassy small grants programs, short-term funding to nascent LGBT organizations. This year, we’re excited about the Fund’s focus to increase the capacity of transgender organizations in Europe to document and respond to incidents of violence targeting transgender people.

    Uzra Zeya is Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

  • Obamacare and LGBT Health

    Ed. Note: This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Blog

    Throughout the Administration, we operate on the fundamental belief that every American deserves equal opportunity, equal protection, and equal rights under the law. That’s why the Affordable Care Act is so important for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans.

    The health care law prevents health insurance companies from charging anyone a higher premium just because they happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. It also prevents insurers from raising rates or denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition like HIV/AIDS, cancer, or mental health concerns.

    Thanks to the law, insurance companies can no longer impose a lifetime limit on your coverage. This is particularly important to HIV/AIDS patients, and anyone who has a chronic condition.

    The Affordable Care Act also includes critically important, non-discrimination provisions. For example, starting in January 2014, it will be illegal for any of the insurance companies who offer coverage through the Marketplace to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. We’ve also taken action to strengthen the civil rights provision in the law, by clarifying that the new law’s prohibition on sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sex stereotyping, and on gender identity.

    All of this is good news for the LGBT community, particularly when we consider that one in three lower income LGBT adults in our country do not have health insurance. Starting October 1, they are going to have the opportunity to sign-up for quality, affordable coverage through the new Health Insurance Marketplace for coverage beginning as early as January 1, 2014.

    But here’s the thing: most of these Americans are not yet aware of their new options.

    You don’t have to be an expert to figure out what we need to do to get the word out. It’s outreach. It’s education. It’s communication.

    That’s why, last week at the White House, I joined Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, and nearly 200 LGBT community leaders and allies from across the country for a briefing on Obamacare and the LGBT community. The purpose of this briefing was to equip community leaders with the tools, information, and resources they need to get involved and help local LGBT communities get access to quality, affordable health care.

    And that’s why we are excited to work with organizations like Out2Enroll, a new initiative to educate the LGBT community about the Affordable Care Act. Rooting for more of our neighbors to sign up for health care is not enough. It’s going to take work at the grassroots. And so Out2Enroll has a very important mission.

    Dr. King taught us, “Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless effort and the persistent work of dedicated individuals.”

    So in the weeks and months ahead, we look forward to working with a diverse range of partners – national advocates, LGBT community centers, HIV/AIDS service providers, Pride organizations, PFLAG chapters – to ensure that members of the LGBT community have the information, resources, and tools they need to sign up for quality, affordable health care.

    I hope you will join us in this important work.

    In case you missed it:

    Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

  • 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.