The President’s announcement that he supports marriage equality has encouraged other high- profile leaders and organizations to express their support for marriage equality, most notably the NAACP, which decided in a near-unanimous vote to pass a resolution officially supporting marriage equality. The President also adds his voice to a growing chorus of people of faith who embrace equality not in spite of their religious beliefs, but because of them.
It would be tempting to see this moment as the most significant of the President’s efforts on behalf of the LGBTQ community. But this incredible proclamation is only the most recent step in the President’s determined march toward equality for the LGBTQ community. It joins a steady stream of moments that have defined his presidency and forever raised the bar for what can be expected of leaders working with the LGBTQ community.
The President’s impressive legislative record includes signing both the Matthew Shepard and
James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And when Congress would not act, this administration has taken strong actions to include and protect the LGBTQ community in every area under executive control.
In February 2011, President Obama declared his belief that the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) is unconstitutional and directed the Justice Department to stop defending this unjust law in court. NCLR was proud to have been involved in the advocacy efforts that led to this announcement. In high-level meetings with the Justice Department, White House Counsel, and even President Obama, we urged the administration to take this position. The government now joins LGBTQ advocates in cases involving DOMA, urging federal courts to strike down the law as unconstitutional. More recently, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs adopted this position as well and declared that it would not defend DOMA in cases where same-sex spouses of veterans seek spousal benefits.
FAMILIES & PARENTING
At the same time, the administration revised the regulations enforcing the Family and Medical Leave Act to ensure that LGBTQ parents can take family leave under the Act, regardless of whether they are married, and directed every federal agency to identify and provide every spousal benefit that can legally be extended to same-sex partners of federal employees.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been particularly active in combatting housing discrimination against LGBTQ people, and NCLR is proud to have worked closely with them on many of these efforts. In 2010, HUD announced that all grant-seekers applying for funds from HUD must comply with state and local laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It also announced that it would interpret the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition against sex discrimination to protect transgender and gender non-conforming people. In September 2011, NCLR co-hosted a webinar with HUD that educated HUD staff and housing providers on these new pro-LGBTQ rules. In December 2011, NCLR once again partnered with HUD and HHS to hold the first-ever national summit on housing and health discrimination against LGBTQ elders.
Just this past January, HUD announced its LGBTQ Equal Access Rule that will protect LGBTQ people and families from discrimination in public and HUD-insured housing and housing programs. NCLR was a lead partner with HUD in the development of this rule. We were the lead drafters on comments that were joined by over 30 other organizations suggesting changes
to a previous version of the rule, many of which were incorporated into the final version. NCLR co-hosted an event with the White House and HUD to give an overview of the rule to stakeholders, and has been working with HUD offices across the country to provide trainings on implementing this historic rule.
The President is strongly committed to ensuring equal access to high quality health care for all people. In April 2010, President Obama directed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to identify ways to increase access to care for LGBTQ patients and their families. In response, HHS released a rule on hospital visitation that would give all patients the right to be visited
by loved ones, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. NCLR was a key partner with HHS on the development of this rule and was the lead drafter on comments that played an important role in shaping the final rule.
HHS has also made extraordinary efforts to protect the health and well-being of the LGBTQ community through regulations under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). This has included prohibiting insurers from refusing to cover people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, increasing data collection efforts that include LGBTQ people, and working to decrease health disparities within the LGBTQ community.
ADDITIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS
The Obama administration has been especially committed to stopping violence, harassment, and discrimination against LGBTQ youth and adults—both nationally and internationally. In December 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a historic speech in which she told the United Nations that violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people is a core human rights issue. Subsequently, the administration directed all federal agencies engaged abroad to use U.S. diplomacy to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQ people.
In the United States, NCLR has worked with the administration to host three meetings on violence against transgender women with the Department of Justice, HHS, and the White House. We also worked with numerous federal agencies as they revised their internal nondiscrimination policies to include gender identity. The administration has also helped make the transgender community more secure by simplifying the process of changing gender markers on passports.
The administration’s commitment to protecting LGBTQ and gender non-conforming youth in our schools has been unparalleled. At the same time that NCLR and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of six students who
had faced constant and severe harassment in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, the Department of Justice and Department of Education were conducting their own investigation of conditions in the district. The government’s lawsuit and the student plaintiffs’ lawsuit were jointly resolved earlier this year in a groundbreaking agreement that requires the district to make sweeping changes in its bullying policy, with oversight and accountability to federal officials. The President has also endorsed the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would provide necessary federal protections against bullying, violence, and harassment targeting LGBTQ youth.
The White House also hosted a summit on bullying, specifically addressing the need to protect LGBTQ youth, where I participated on two panels with administration officials on promoting safe schools and communities for LGBTQ people.
Since taking office, President Obama has been nothing short of a champion for the rights of LGBTQ people and their families, and NCLR has been proud to have worked closely with the administration on many of its life-changing efforts on behalf of our community.