June is Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month.
On June 2, 2014, President Barack Obama declared June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. The President’s proclamation outlined the important legislative changes in the advancement of LGBT equity that occurred at the state and federal level. The President noted that the Obama Administration “proudly stands alongside all those who fight for LGBT rights.”
On the June one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. vs. Windsor, and the striking down sections of the Defense of Marriage Act, Attorney Holder submitted a Memorandum to President Obama outlining the policy and regulatory changes, across federal agencies, that have promoted LGBT equity. These include:
- The Obama administration announcement that same-sex marriages will be recognized for all federal tax purposes, that health insurance and retirement benefits are available for same-sex spouses of all federal employees, and that the Defense Department will provide spousal benefits for same-sex spouses of military service members;
- An overview of the policies incorporated in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have resulted in numerous changes that promote equal access the health care and related services. For example, the ACA includes a provision that prohibits discrimination against individuals based on sex, which includes discrimination based on sex stereotyping and gender identity.
- In late June, the President directed the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to draft rules that clarify that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to LGBT couples, even in states where same-sex marriage is not legal. This directive addresses covering LGBTs living in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage and (could) refuse FMLA for LGBT families (and the employee did not meet the “qualifying reasons” outlined by the DOL in 2013 after the Windsor Decision).
During Pride Month 2014, President Obama announced his decision to issue an Executive Order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identify. NASW commends this decision. Yet many workers can still be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a necessary step to protect workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. ENDA will ensure employees are judged on the quality of their work and not on personal identity, which is irrelevant to job performance.
White House Forum on LGBT and Disability Issues
On June 19, 2014, the White House convened a Forum on LGBT and Disability Issues, and was chaired by Gautam Raghaven, Advisor, White House Office of Public Engagement and Rebecca Cokley, Executive Director, National Council on Disability. The co-chairs noted that this is the first of many conversations about the shared interests, challenges, and strengths of the LGBT and disability communities. In her keynote speech, Commissioner Chai Feldblum, of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, asked the audience to acknowledge, celebrate, and learn from each other about the complexities of our diverse identities. The program also included keynote speeches from two community advocates: actress, comedienne and advocate Geri Jewell, and writer and artist Gail Simone.
Representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Education (DOE), and the Department of Justice(DOJ) highlighted the challenges and successes of addressing the stigma and discrimination experienced by LGBT persons and persons with disabilities, acknowledging at time the duality of this experience for LGBT persons with disabilities.
- Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary, DOE, noted that youth with disabilities, youth of color, and LGBT youth are more likely to experience a stricter level of disciplinary action that results in removal from the classroom. He added that LGBT youth are disproportionately affected by bullying, and communities have increased resources to take action for change. The DOE has updated the website StopBullying.gov, which includes “PRIDE: how to reach out to LGBT Youth”.
- Matt Heinz, Director of LGBT Outreach, HHS, highlighted the efforts of the HHS to promote equity and improve the well-being of LGBT persons across the lifespan. HHS has also increased efforts to serve persons with disabilities in the most integrated community setting;.
- Megan Schuller, Civil Rights Division, DOJ, noted that housing laws specifically address non-discrimination based on gender and disability status. She also stressed the connection of stigma and discrimination as key drivers in HIV/AIDS and disabilities related discrimination, and the historical impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act inclusion of persons with HIV or AIDS.
The forum also included a lively panel called “Youth and Resilience” featuring young adults living with disabilities. Rachel Bass, a MSW student from Gallaudet University, told the audience of the career choice of social work as an opportunity to help others, including persons with disabilities. Other panelists include Allie Cannington (National Council on Independent Living), Ki’tay Davidson (Goldhirsh Foundation), Rohmteen Mokhtari (Human Rights Campaign), and Scottie Thomaston (Courage Campaign). Panelists addressed the impact of living with a disability and identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and the shared challenges of marginalization, violence and stigma. Panelist spoke of how the impact of their own experiences – ranging from the invisibility of role models living with disabilities to viewing their own parents as models of strength – have helped provide motivation, develop the strength to speak out, and to learn to build allies within and outside of the LGBT and disabilities communities.
The community dialog that followed the panels included how to identify and speak out against able-ism, the power of collaboration across communities, and the need for continued community forums. Numerous participants stressed that both persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons are often denied the right to self-determination.
The series of policy initiatives proposed by the Obama Administration and the White House LGBT and Disabilities Forum demonstrates the Administration’s commitment to both educate the public and to address the diversity within the LGBT community.
Social Workers as Allies
Social work practice is rooted in the value of self-determination and autonomy. We are called to confront discrimination and stigmatizing policies and practice that may exist within our agencies, our communities, and governance structures. Whether as members of the LGBT community, friends and colleagues, and/or service providers, we are all allies in the shared commitment to equal rights in the United States and around the globe.
Learn more about how to improve the health, safety, and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals.
“A Practitioner’s Resource Guide: Helping Families to Support their LGBT Children” published by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Resources Administration (federal HHS) published
“A Guide for Understanding, Supporting, and Affirming LGBTQI2-S Children, Youth and Families” was endorsed by the National Association of Social Workers.
NASW strongly urges the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
NASW calls upon social workers to continue our support of policy and practice efforts to implement the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
Posted by Evelyn P. Tomaszewski, ACSW, NASW Senior Policy Advisor