PAWs - Promoting Awareness and Wellness
Ashford University is proud to show you our PAWs. That is, our Promoting Awareness and Wellness initiative! Every month, we'll highlight different causes and opportunities that reflect the values of the University. You'll also learn ways that you can participate or be more involved.
June 2011 - Gay and Lesbian Pride Month
Gay and Lesbian Pride
In the 21st century, Gay Pride has evolved from a subculture to a major American civil rights movement. Gay Pride refers to the movement and philosophy affirming that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) people are proud of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Advocates work for equal rights and benefits for the LGBT community. Two important issues currently facing the community are marriage equality and anti-gay sentiment.
In the last decade, the LGBT community has advanced the cause of equality more rapidly than any other civil rights movement in history. However, before the freedom promised in the Declaration of Independence can be fully realized, there is a lot of work to do.
This month, we take a look at some recent milestones, and some of the obstacles still standing in the way of equality.
Benefits for Federal Employees
President Barak Obama signed a memorandum extending some, but not all, employee benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. While this act was not exactly a great leap forward, it did represent the first small step taken by a US President toward recognizing a measure of marriage equality.
In April 2010, President Obama ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to write rules that would prohibit hospitals that receive funding from Medicare or Medicaid from denying visitation on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Some viewed this move as a mere symbolic gesture, since many large hospital systems long ago implemented the practice of allowing gay people to visit their partners in the hospital, and some states had already passed laws to that effect. But for anyone who has ever been prevented from visiting a loved one in a hospital, Obama's order was more than just an empty symbol.
Five States and a District
As of June 2011, same-sex couples can marry legally in five states: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The District of Columbia has also legalized same-sex marriage.
The largest state, California, is a unique case because it recognizes some existing marriages, but not all. In 2008, the state supreme court effectively legalized same-sex marriage on the basis of California's constitution. Thousands of couples rushed to take their vows. Opponents responded by placing Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment, on the ballot for the November election. Prop. 8 narrowly passed, banning any future same-sex marriages in California. This decision placed California in the unusual position of recognizing only those few thousand same-sex marriages performed between that narrow window of May to November 2008, and none after.
The dispute went to court, and in August 2010 a decision by the US District Court in Perry v. Schwarzenegger ruled Prop. 8 "unconstitutional." The case is now on appeal and may eventually rise to the US Supreme Court.
Perhaps the greatest barrier standing in the way of marriage equality is the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, or DOMA. Under this law, the federal government is prohibited from recognizing the validity of any same-sex marriage.
Why does this matter? The General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report in 1997 identifying "1,049 federal statutory provisions classified to the United States Code in which benefits, rights, and privileges are contingent on marital status or in which marital status is a factor."1 In updating its report in 2004, the GAO found that this number had risen to 1,138 as of December 31, 2003.2 In the case of a bi-national same-sex couple, DOMA prevents one spouse from sponsoring the other for obtaining a Green Card.3
The constitutionality of DOMA has been challenged several times in court. Two of the more recent cases (Windsor v. United States and Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management) could prove to be particularly significant. Just last February, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his finding that part of DOMA is unconstitutional. Therefore, the Obama administration is declining to defend the act in court. Some leaders of the House of Representatives have said they would try to defend the act, and have hired outside law firms to argue their case.
It Gets Better: A Response to Anti-Gay Bullying
After a rash of suicides by LGBT youth who were victim to anti-gay bullying, columnist and author Dan Savage and his partner, Terry, created a YouTube video to inspire hope for LGBT young people facing harassment. They wanted to create a personal way for supporters everywhere to tell youth that, "It gets better."
By November 2010 the It Gets Better Project(TM) had become a phenomenon that inspired over 10,000 user-created videos, which were viewed over 35 million times. It Gets Better has received submissions from celebrities, organizations, activists, politicians, and media personalities, as well as from President Barack Obama whose video you can view below:
Visit www.itgetsbetter.org, a place where young people can see a bright future and where friends and allies can demonstrate support by taking the It Gets Better pledge: "Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family, and neighbors. I'll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I'll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and other bullied teens by letting them know that 'It Gets Better.'"4
Ashford University Staff Spotlight: Dana Chilton
To say Dana Chilton, 32, is a passionate person is a bit of an understatement. "I drove my parents crazy, always asking why things had to be the way they were, and I think this contributed to my being runner-up in high school for most 'politically incorrect.'" After high school, Dana entered a seminary where he studied Middle Eastern history and Biblical studies for two years, and then earned a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of California, San Diego. While at UCSD, Dana found a passion for chemical biology and how genetics affect human development; his interest has shifted a bit and he is now pursuing a Master of Arts in Human Services at University of the Rockies. "My experiences in college have forever shaped my understanding of our world."
When asked what Gay & Lesbian Pride month means to him, Dana responds with his characteristic passion. "For all of the times I am made to feel ashamed of who I am, for everyone who tells me that being gay is wrong, for every anti-gay political initiative that passes, for every hate crime committed, for the young people who have taken their own lives because they were made to feel isolated - for all of these reasons, I celebrate Pride. In this month, our collective voices say we are not ashamed."
But Dana in no way confines himself to a single month to promote awareness. He leads the Ashford "strike force," which has participated in the AIDS Walk San Diego for the last three years. He is also working to create a service group for employees who wish to get involved with organizations like The Trevor Project and Mama's Kitchen.
Dana advocates for diversity by simply being a proud gay man at work. "I live my life openly. I have a small rainbow flag on my desk and I take a male date to the holiday party. It's small things like this that help other people understand that we work in a diverse environment."
The next step is to not only recognize and appreciate diversity, but to also join the movement for equality. "If you have the time, national organizations like The Trevor Project and smaller organizations like your local LGBT Center need volunteers. If you have the means, many deserving organizations like The Matthew Shepard Foundation and Freedom to Marry need contributions to continue their work.
"Advocacy also means standing up to intolerance when you see it. It means voting for equality. It means having a conversation with a coworker who just found out that his or her son or daughter is gay. It means letting your LGBT family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors know that you support them. The only way for intolerance and injustice to win is if those of us on the receiving end of that hatred and ignorance remain silent and hide."
US General Accounting Office, Defense of Marriage Act, GAO-04-353R Defense of Marriage Act (2004): Update to GAO/OGC-97-16 (Washington, D.C.: January 31, 1997). Retrieved May 4, 2011 from www.gao.gov/new.items/d04353r.pdf
New York Daily News: Allan Wernick, "Vermont Senator urges same-sex marriages OK for 'immigrant spouses'," June 10, 2009. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2009/06/11/2009-06-11_vt_pol_urges_samesex_ok_for_spouses.html
Join Our Movement – Take Our Pledge. (n.d.). Retrieved May 6, 2011 from It Gets Better Project website, www.itgetsbetter.org
New Yorkers United for Marriage: Vows TV Ad. (May 3, 2011). YouTube. Retrieved May 6, 2011 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t08VCCK3LyU
President Obama: It Gets Better. (October 21, 2010). YouTube. Retrieved May 6, 2011 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geyAFbSDPVk