Blog Posts Related to the LGBT Community

  • 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.

  • Supreme Court Strikes Down the Defense of Marriage Act

    Today, 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.

  • Pride at the White House

    Every year since taking office, President Obama has invited members and allies of the LGBT community to celebrate Pride Month at the White House. Tomorrow, the President will host this event for the fifth time, to bring together national leaders, elected officials, faith leaders, members of the military and veterans community, and local advocates and organizers to reflect upon the progress we’ve made and recommit to the work that lies ahead.

    This year, the White House invited nine Americans from across the country to attend the White House LGBT Pride Month Reception on Thursday, June 13.  All of them are members or allies of the LGBT community who wrote letters to the President to express their thanks and to share their hopes, ambitions, and concerns for the future. 

    Check out a video of White House staff inviting the letter writers to the White House Pride reception, and then watch the President’s remarks live at the reception on Thursday, June 13, starting around 5:00 PM EDT.

  • Honoring Harvey Milk Champions of Change

    Harvey Milk Champions of Change, 5.24.13

    Stuart Milk, nephew of Harvey Milk and Founder of the Milk Foundation, with seven of the Harvey Milk Champions of Change, May 22, 2013 (photo courtesy of the Office of Public Engagement). May 24, 2013. (by Office of Public Engagement)

    Earlier this week, the White House honored ten openly LGBT elected or appointed officials as “Harvey Milk Champions of Change.”  The event took place on May 22nd – Harvey Milk's birthday – and was intended to pay tribute to Harvey Milk’s life, leadership, and legacy.

    Established in 2011, the White House Champions of Change program regularly spotlights Americans who are doing extraordinary things for their community, their country, and their fellow citizens.  The ten LGBT officials honored as Harvey Milk Champions were chosen for their strong commitment to both equality and public service.

    In the words of Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, “When President Obama posthumously awarded Harvey Milk the Medal of Freedom in 2009, he praised his leadership and courage in running for office.  Today, we honor Harvey Milk’s legacy in these ten outstanding public servants, who will surely inspire the next generation of public servants.”

    The following individuals were honored as Harvey Milk Champions of Change:

    • Simone Bell, Georgia State Representative (Atlanta, GA)
    • Angie Buhl O'Donnell, South Dakota State Senator (Sioux Falls, SD)
    • Karen Clark, Minnesota State Representative (South Minneapolis, MN)
    • Michael Gin, Mayor of Redondo Beach (Redondo Beach, CA)
    • Kim Coco Iwamoto, Hawaii State Civil Rights Commissioner (Honolulu, HI)
    • John Laird, California Secretary of Natural Resources (Santa Cruz, CA)
    • Ricardo Lara, California State Senator (Long Beach, CA)
    • Kim Painter, Johnson Country Recorder (Iowa City, IA)
    • Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati City Council Member (Cincinnati, OH)
    • Pat Steadman, Colorado State Senator (Denver, CO)