Monthly Archives: May 2009

Secretary Clinton Committed to Benefits for Same-sex Partners

Following up on our earlier post about Rep. Berman’s proposed legislation to extend benefits to the same-sex partners of officers in the U.S. Foreign Service, we learn that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is on the same track. The New York Times reports that Secretary Clinton recently sent a memo to an association of gay and lesbian Foreign Service officers to inform them that their partners will be offered the same benefits and protections as spouses of heterosexual officers.

“Like all families, our Foreign Service families come in different configurations; all are part of the common fabric of our post communities abroad,” Mrs. Clinton said in the memorandum….

“At bottom,” she said, “the department will provide these benefits for both opposite-sex and same-sex partners because it is the right thing to do.”

Among the benefits are diplomatic passports, use of medical facilities at overseas posts, medical and other emergency evacuation, transportation between posts, and training in security and languages.

And according to the Washington Post, the benefits will be extended to all unmarried couples, same-sex and opposite-sex alike. We are happy to see that the Obama Administration, and Secretary Clinton in particular, recognize that there are many different ways a family can be made.

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Filed under Equality, Government, LGBT

Judge Sotomayor nominated to Supreme Court

This morning, President Obama announced the nomination of Federal Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Sotomayor, 54, would replace Justice David Souter, who recently announced his retirement after 19 years of service. Sotomayor would be the third woman appointed to the Supreme Court and the first Hispanic.

Part of Sotomayor’s appeal to Obama undoubtedly involves her humble beginnings. The child of Puerto Rican parents, Sotomayor grew up in a Bronx housing project, was diagnosed with childhood diabetes at age 8 and lost her father at age 9. Despite these hardships, Sotomayor attended Princeton University and went on to Yale Law School, where she became editor of the Yale Law Review.

Sotomayor gained notoriety for a decision she made in 1995 as a district court judge, where she ended a baseball players’ strike that, she wrote, “placed the entire concept of collective bargaining on trial,” and is considered by many – including President Obama — to have saved the sport through this decision.

Sotomayor was appointed as a Federal District Judge by President George H.W. Bush in 1991, and later appointed to the 2nd Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 1997, giving her a bipartisan appeal that will be helpful in enduring Republican scrutiny through the appointment process. While considered to be very likely to side with the liberal contingent of the Court, this will probably not cause a great shift in the Court’s dynamic, as Souter generally sided with the Court liberals on close decisions.

Much of the controversy regarding Sotomayor’s appointment will likely revolve around her recent involvement in Ricci v. New Haven, a “reverse discrimination” suit by white firefighters in New Haven over the city’s discarding of a promotion test because no African-Americans performed well on the examination. Sotomayor joined a panel that rejected the firefighters’ lawsuit. The case is currently being considered by the Supreme Court, and if they reverse the panel decision, this could be seen as an implicit criticism of Sotomayor’s viability.

Generally, however, Sotomayor has sided with the plaintiffs in cases involving discrimination based on race, sex, and disabilities. Her dissent in Gant v. Wallingford Board of Education labeled the transfer of a black student from first-grade to kindergarten due to academic difficulties – only nine days after arriving at a new school – as “clear race discrimination” and the denial of an “equal chance” for the student to prove himself.

While Sotomayor has not spoken directly to abortion rights, she did reject the protests of an abortion rights group over the “Mexico City Rule”, which prohibited foreign organizations receiving U.S. funds from performing or supporting abortions, in Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v. Bush. In writing the opinion, she determined that the government “is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position” with public funds.

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Filed under Government, Supreme Court

Proposed Marriage Amendment in PA Legislature

Equality Advocates Pennsylvania has brought to our attention some PA state legislators’ intention to introduce a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, in contrast to other states which are working toward marriage equality:

Across the country this year, there has been very little legislative activity around constitutional amendments like the one proposed in Pennsylvania.  In fact, most legislative activity on the issue has been to pass bills legalizing same-sex marriage.  Vermont and Maine both passed marriage equality laws this spring, and New Hampshire is on the verge of doing the same.

This is an issue being driven by a special interest group that is misleading our elected officials and the public by implying that our legislators have not dealt with this issue. Same-sex marriage is already against the law in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Defense of Marriage Act was enacted in 1996.  Surely, the majority of the members of the Senate realize they have been elected to deal with the real problems Pennsylvanians face.  We urge them to spend their time on more pressing issues.

Indeed, this proposed amendment is nothing but divisive. These legislators are succeeding only in perpetuating discrimination based on sexual orientation, and diverting attention away from House Bill 300, which would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression and which the Law Project supports. We hope lawmakers and constituents will not be fooled by these tactics. It is important that we identify this proposed bill for what it is: blatant discrimination.

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Filed under Equality, LGBT, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Sexual orientation

Female Athletes Compete with the Boys – and Win

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, athletic opportunities for women and girls have increased exponentially. As a result, young women have had the opportunity to excel in athletics and expand their educational opportunities. Sisters Karli and Tanya Timko are two exceptional student-athletes whose presence in high school athletics demonstrates why the opportunity to participate in sports is so important for young women.

Karli and Tanya made history in Pennsylvania sports this season when they became the first tennis duo to win a WPIAL title in a boys’ division. This weekend, at the PIAA tennis tournament in Hershey, PA, Karli and Tanya will compete to continue their historic attempt to become the first girls to win a PIAA boys’ title in any sport. The sisters, students at Chartiers-Houston High School, were permitted to compete on the school’s boys’ team because the school doesn’t have a girls’ program. Thus, both male and female athletes at Chartiers-Houston have reaped the benefits of Karli and Tanya’s competitive spirit.

We wish Karli and Tanya luck this weekend as they defend their perfect record. The words of their trainer, Chuck Taylor, are perhaps most fitting to conclude with. He says of the girls’ receptions in the boys’ circuit: “I heard one coach teasingly say, ‘Bring them girls on,’ ” said Mr. Taylor. “And I said, ‘You better be careful what you ask for. They are coming.'”

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Filed under Equality, Girls, Pennsylvania, Sports, Title IX

The Effects of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on the U.S. Military

On March 19, 2009, Rachel Maddow interviewed Dan Choi, an infantry leader in the New York National Guard, on her MSNBC show. Choi graduated from West Point, served in Iraq, is an Arabic language specialist, and is gay. He openly announced his sexuality in the March 19 interview and has since been discharged from the army for homosexual conduct under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that has been in effect for 15 years. We previously blogged about this policy here.

The ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has been responsible for approximately 12,500 members of the United States Armed Forces being discharged. After Choi received a letter informing him he would be discharged from the armed forces for “homosexual conduct,” he stated he will “fight tooth and nail” to keep his position in the Army National Guard.  His homosexuality in no way undermines his qualifications for a job that he had proudly and successfully performed.

The dismissal of qualified and trained soldiers simply because of their sexuality is wrong.  Dan Choi is one of many soldiers plagued by a life of secrecy, trying to defend both his country and his beliefs.  The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy needs to be overturned as soon as possible. Freedom is always a priority.

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Filed under Equality, Government, LGBT, Military

Same-sex Benefits on the Way for State Department Employees

U.S. Representative Howard Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has introduced legislation to improve the State Department, including extending benefits for same-sex partners of American Foreign Service officers. Currently, benefits are only extended to spouses and children of Foreign Service officers.

The legislation has to be approved during the budget process, including approval by the Senate, but advocates doubt that Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, the chairman and Republican ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will strip the legislation from the budget bill.

Via UN Dispatch

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Filed under Government, LGBT

Update: Texas Rape Survivors NOT Charged for Rape Kits

Earlier, we blogged about reports that Texas rape survivors were being charged for rape kits to collect forensic evidence.

Statements from the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault have clarified the situation and it is now clear that survivors are not being billed for their rape kits. Apparently confusion arose due to a hospital billing error when a survivor was charged for her rape kit. TAASA makes it clear:

We want to assure everyone that the cost of a forensic exam is not billed to the victim. This is always the responsibility of law enforcement and they in turn can be reimbursed for up to $700 [through] the Crime Victim’s Compensation (CVC) fund. If the cost exceeds this amount it is absorbed by the law enforcement agency or hospital, not the victim.

We apologize for any confusion our blog post may have caused and are relieved to know that rape survivors are not being charged for their kits.

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Filed under Rape, Women's health

Rape Survivors Billed for Rape Kits

ETA: Please see our updated post here. This blog post was based on erroneous reports. Texas rape survivors are not being charged for their rape kits.

Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was widely criticized for a policy in her town of Wasilla, Alaska, that charged survivors for rape kits. It would appear that such policies are not as uncommon as we might like. Brought to our attention by Feministe, CNN reports that some rape survivors in Texas are billed for their rape kits and other medical care. Despite the existence of a victims’ compensation fund that has had large surpluses for the past few years, bills are sometimes sent to the victims instead.

According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, Pennsylvania has a Victims Compensation Assistance Program (VCAP) set up to make sure rape survivors do not pay for their treatment. From the PCAR website:

At the hospital you can choose to have your insurance billed or the VCAP fund billed for the sexual assault forensic exam and related medications. Whatever amount your insurance or VCAP pays will be considered payment in full to the hospital. If you don’t have insurance, the hospital will bill VCAP for the exam and you can file expense forms for the other costs. You should never receive a bill for the exam.

Let us hope that this really is how Pennsylvania hospitals operate. The idea that a survivor of rape could be billed for his or her rape kit is not only morally repugnant but also a displacement of societal responsibility to prosecute criminals. Completing the rape kit is an important step in collecting the forensic evidence needed to punish sexual offenders, and its cost should be billed to the state, not the survivor.

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Filed under Rape

Why the Current Health Care System Does Not Work for Women

The Department of Health and Human Services has released a report on how the health care system fails women. The report, also available in PDF version here, extensively and concisely details the many barriers women face in obtaining health care. A few findings:

Women’s reproductive health requires more regular contact with health care providers, including yearly pap smears, mammograms, and obstetric care.

Twenty-one million women and girls went without health insurance in 2007, and another 14 million relied on coverage through the individual insurance market.

Women are less likely to be employed full-time than men (52% versus 73%), making them less likely to be eligible for employer-based health benefits themselves. In fact, less than half of women have the option of obtaining employer-based coverage on their own.

Even when they work for an employee that offers coverage, one in six is not eligible to take it, often because they are part-time workers. They end up either covered through a spouse (41%), purchasing insurance directly through the individual market (5%), on public programs (10%), or uninsured (38%).

Important state and federal laws that protect individuals with employer-sponsored insurance do not apply to health insurance sold in the individual market.  These include anti-discrimination protections in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, as well as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”), which prohibits covered employers from charging different premiums or denying coverage based on age or health status.

In particular, women are often charged higher premiums than men during their reproductive years. Holding other factors constant, a 22 year old woman can be charged one and a half times the premium of a 22 year old man. This difference largely disappears – and sometimes reverses – by age 64.

In a recent national survey, more than half of women (52%) reported delaying or avoiding needed care because of cost, compared with 39% of men.

Women face a higher financial burden from medical care than men. Nearly one-third of women aged 50 to 64 are in households that have spent more than 10% of their income on health care, compared with one quarter of men of similar age.

None of these findings are surprising to women’s health advocates, but it is encouraging that the federal government is examining the gendered aspect of health care barriers. We hope these findings will serve as a guide to HHS when the department is working on a solution to the current health care crisis.

    Via RHRealityCheck

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    Filed under Government, Health insurance, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

    WLP on Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Title IX Audit

    The Pittsburgh public school system is currently undergoing a Title IX audit to determine if its schools offer an equally fulfilling athletic life to the city’s girls as they do to its boys. Women’s Law Project Program Assistant Christina Cann has an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in which she explains why this audit is important, and describes the measures that must be taken for the audit to be truly effective. She writes:

    Title IX, the federal law which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs and activities, has been responsible for an explosion in athletic opportunities for female students over the past three decades. Nevertheless, it appears that female students, particularly in our area, still have fewer opportunities to play sports than their male counterparts and that girls who do participate get inferior equipment, uniforms, fields, facilities, coaching, publicity and scheduling at many schools.

    It’s commendable that the Pittsburgh school district is looking at its gender-equity performance and taking the initiative to ensure that girls are treated fairly in its athletic programs. The district understands this is about more than just having fun: On the whole, girls who play sports do better academically; graduate at higher rates; have fewer problems with alcohol, drugs, eating disorders and unintended pregnancy; and have greater self-esteem than non-athletes.

    Cann notes that in order for the auditor to understand whether or not Pittsburgh Public Schools are truly adhering to Title IX, she should, in addition to examining records and distributing questionnaires, gather information from student-athletes and their parents, and ensure that “any student who speaks out about discrimination will not suffer retaliation of any kind.” Cann also makes clear that Title IX makes it possible for girls to have a more meaningful experience in sports all around. This means that equal roster numbers are not sufficient if other aspects of the female athlete’s experience are lacking. The WLP looks forward to the findings of the audit, which will be released this summer, and to the necessary changes within Pittsburgh public schools’ athletic programs which are sure to follow.

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    Filed under Education, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sports, Title IX