Thursday, June 13, 2013

New York Times Calls For Passage Of Bill Protecting Transgender Persons From Discrimination, Pew Research Center Survey Finds More American Gays And Lesbian Feel Accepted But Still Stigmatized, Gay Duluth Georgia Police Officer Files Discrimination Complaint Against Department, Conflicting Stories Over Consequences For Lesbian Expelled From Grace University In Omaha

An editorial in Wednesday’s New York Times calls for passage of a bill banning discrimination based on gender identity or expression – the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (Genda) – by New York State legislators. The editorial board writes, “New York stood for equality by approving same-sex marriage two years ago. It is time now for state lawmakers to extend basic civil rights protections to transgender people. The 2002 state statute that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, education, credit and public accommodations, does not explicitly cover transgender people. Some jurisdictions, including New York City and Suffolk and Westchester Counties, have enacted protections. But in much of the state, people who have had sex-change surgery and others who do not identify with their birth gender can still be denied a job, shelter, credit or access to services because of who they are.”

In a Pew Research Center poll released Thursday, nine in 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults said society has become more accepting of them and that they expect it to become more so in the years ahead. But only 19-percent said there is “a lot” of acceptance for gays, while 59 percent chose to characterize it more softly, as “some” acceptance, and 21 percent said there was little to none. More than half said they had been subjected to slurs or jokes about gays, and sizable numbers said they had been rejected by friends or family, threatened with physical attack, or made to feel unwelcome at a house of worship. The Pew survey of 1,197 LGBT adults is the first of its kind by a major polling organization. The Washington Post reports that it asked them when they realized they weren’t straight, when they came out and how they have felt ostracized at times. Compared with the general public, Pew said, gay men and lesbians are more liberal, more Democratic, less religious, less happy with their lives, yet more satisfied with the direction the country is headed. “For the LGBT population, these are the best of times,” said Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center. “But that does not mean these are easy times or their lives are ­uncomplicated. Many are still searching for a comfortable, secure place in a society where acceptance is growing but still limited. That is part of the drama of their lives.” Pew links the growing acceptance to familiarity. In a separate poll, almost nine in 10 people said they have a gay friend or relative, up from six in 10 only a decade ago. The gay people polled by Pew said they think lesbians are more welcomed than gay men are. One in four said there is a lot of acceptance of lesbians. Just 15-percent characterized it that way for gay men. A third said bisexual women are accepted a lot, compared with just 8-percent of bisexual men. And only 3-percent of those polled said transgender adults are accepted. The median age at which gay men said they had their first inkling was 10, and they knew for sure by 15. For lesbians, the median age when the realization dawned was 13, and they were certain by 18. The median age when gay men first told someone was 18 and 21 for lesbians. Janelle Thomas remembers feeling “different” when she was in second grade and enjoyed math lessons. In retrospect, she realizes she had a crush on the female teacher. In high school in Southern Maryland, she dated boys, but she said it took going to college and meeting other lesbians to make her understand and accept who she is. “I got into a very dark place where I didn’t feel I was myself,” said Thomas, now 27 and a Web content coordinator for the federal government who lives in the District with her wife, a D.C. police officer. “It just came to me. Oh, that’s probably what it is. I suddenly felt better.” Older gays often recall their awakening sexuality as a time of struggle — with themselves, society at large and those who loved them. Many came out later in life. In the Pew survey, two in three gay men and lesbians younger than 30 said they came out before age 20. That was true of less than half those who are 30 to 49 and barely a third of those who are 50 and older. Matt Cloninger, a 40-year-old government consultant who lives in the District, was confused by his lack of attraction to girls while he was in high school during the 1980s. But as the son of a Pentecostal minister at a time when the AIDS epidemic was depicted as a gay disease, he said he could not acknowledge, even to himself, that he wasn’t straight. “In wrestling with this attraction I had and all the confusion, there’s many a night I remember sitting in my bedroom praying and crying and begging God to take away these feelings and give me feelings that would be normal or straight,” he said. He was in college, on a Christian leadership scholarship at Southern Methodist University, before he came to grips with his sexuality and told co-workers at an off-campus restaurant. After he moved into an apartment with a gay friend, his father asked him flat out if he was gay. Cloninger said he never has doubted his parents’ love for him, but he knows that his sexual orientation has caused them agony. The night before his 2008 wedding in San Francisco, Cloninger said, his father called in tears to say he could not attend. Cloninger said his nieces and nephews have never met his husband, and although he has told his brother he is gay, they never discuss it. A senior warden at St. Thomas Episcopal Church near Dupont Circle, Cloninger said his family has become more accepting, but only to a degree. “It’s certainly hard being comfortable with myself and seeing where my family is,” he said, “going to family reunions where my spouse is not necessarily welcome. My parents have come to love and accept Brett. But with the rest of the family, no one wants to say anything about it.” In the Pew poll, a third said they haven’t told their parents that they are gay. “There’s definitely this notion that it does get better, and it has gotten better for most people,” said Gary Gates, a Williams Institute demographer of the gay community who consulted on the Pew study. “But there are a lot of people who are sufficiently concerned that they don’t feel comfortable coming out.”

In Georgia, a Duluth police officer said he is fed up with the sexual harassment he faced on the job. He believes he suffered discrimination from superiors and fellow officers because of his sexual orientation. He said it began several years ago when he told coworkers about his homosexuality. The officer said he brought his concerns to the city and filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission a week later. “The moment I brought my partner to the Christmas function, I heard Duluth officers behind me and their exact words were, ‘I knew he was queer,’” Officer Bobby Johnson told Channel 2. Johnson, who has been with the department since 2005, said that was hardly the worst of it. “It was nonstop from the command staff, from the chief of police, down,” he said. As an active officer, he was active in community outreach, including a teen driving safety course Channel 2 Action News covered in 2012. But Johnson hasn’t worn his uniform since February. That’s when he opted for paid administrative leave after he filed his discrimination complaint. Duluth offered Johnson a $20,000 settlement, but he rejected it. “You’re talking about someone’s career, someone’s livelihood,” he said. In response, an attorney for the city e-mailed a statement which says in part, "The city is aware of the claims made by Mr. Johnson and disputes his allegations. The city is prepared to vigorously defend against his claims, despite the fact that until yesterday, we believed this matter had been resolved through a settlement." Johnson said he will continue to fight, hoping a resolution will get him back in uniform. "There's no greater feeling than giving your service to others,” he said.

In Nebraska, offers of legal and financial help are coming in for a woman who contends she was expelled from Grace University in Omaha because she is a lesbian. Danielle Powell, 24, said Tuesday that she enrolled in the fundamentalist Christian university in 2007 but was expelled last year, a semester before her graduation, after school authorities learned that she had a relationship with a female student. Although Powell has moved on, marrying a different woman, she is still caught in a dispute with Grace officials over financial aid. She says the university has denied the release of her transcripts, preventing her enrollment in another university. Grace officials say that's not true and they have been willing to provide transcripts and transfer her credits. Michael James, executive vice president of Grace, said he would like to discuss the case in detail, but federal privacy law prevents him from discussing a particular student's records. However, James said, the student handbook, which every student receives, clearly describes conduct prohibited by the university and the consequences. He said every enrolled student has agreed to the principles stated in that handbook. According to the World-Herald, it states, “Any student involved in sexually immoral behavior, including premarital sex, adultery, and homosexual acts, is at minimum placed on university probation and may be subject to a Judiciary Hearing.” The rules have been in place for 70 years, he said. Powell's wife, Michelle Rogers, 22, whom she married last December in Council Bluffs, has launched an Internet petition criticizing the university, accusing officials of discrimination and “bullying at its finest.” On Thursday morning, officials from Roosevelt University in Chicago extended an offer to Powell to complete her bachelor's degree at their school free of charge. Roosevelt University, a private university of 6,500 students, would also pay Powell's bill at Grace. “This is a Rooseveltian story,” said Lesley Slavitt, vice president of government relations and university outreach. “This is where people need to stand up, need to say what's happened there is not OK.” Slavitt described Roosevelt as an institution committed to social justice. Powell said Thursday she has been contacted by another person offering to pay the bill. Another person has offered free legal assistance, she said. Powell said she's considering the offers. “I don't necessarily want to award Grace with more financial support when I believe that my financial debt to them was already paid by the scholarship I was offered to go there,” she said. Powell said she attended high school in Spearfish, South Dakota, but had family connections in Omaha. She tried out and made the volleyball team at Grace and was offered “a pretty generous” scholarship, she said. She also received federal aid. She said her calling was humanitarian, social justice and mission work. She said she was a Christian when she entered Grace University, which enrolls about 500 students at its campus south of downtown Omaha. “I chose my faith at a very young age, when I was 7, so it's always been a very personal thing and definitely a big part of my identity and what I'm passionate about,” she said. Powell said she was not prepared for the conservative biblical culture at Grace. “I definitely didn't know what I signed up for,” she said. There were more rules at Grace than in high school, she said. “The institution itself is still very conservative and predominantly white, a lot of home-schooled pastors' kids,” she said. She said her romantic interest in women arose only after several years at Grace. In 2011, while attending a program on social justice and racial reconciliation at a civil rights foundation in Jackson, Miss., she had a relationship with a close female friend, Powell said. University officials found out, and despite attempts to remain at the school, she was eventually expelled, she said. Powell said she believes she doesn't owe the nearly $6,000 the university is trying to recover. She said the bulk of the aid she received came from a scholarship, not federal aid. However, James said that the dispute centers on federal aid but that he can't go into details. The university must recover federal financial aid from any student who received it but did not complete a semester. “Trust me, this is extremely frustrating for me,” he said. “I would love to tell this story.”' Grace University is upfront about its religious beliefs — in fact, the beliefs form the school's foundation. When prospective students apply online for admission, they are asked to indicate whether they have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. The application contains an advisory that certain behavior will have consequences. It states, for instance, that traditional undergraduate students are to refrain from gambling; from possessing, using or distributing tobacco, alcoholic beverages and illicit drugs; and from going to nightclubs and bars. All NC-17 and X-rated entertainment is prohibited, and behavior contrary to university standards may result in dismissal. “By submitting this application, you acknowledge that you have read the above statements and are willing to live by the standards set forth by the university leadership during your time as a Grace student,” it states. James said the university is a member of the Association of Biblical Higher Education, the accrediting association for Bible colleges. In a position statement on religious freedom and human sexuality, the association acknowledges that marriage and human sexuality are contentious topics. The association further states that it “upholds the sanctity of marriage as God-ordained; a special union between a man and a woman, within which sexual relations are honored and affirmed by God.” All sexual unions outside that definition are sinful, the association says. The statement says the association recognizes the dignity of all people and doesn't reject people, only the actions Scripture defines as immoral. James said the university's moral standards are an attractive feature for students and parents.

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