Tag Archives: LGBT

Major League Baseball Includes Sexual Orientation in its Anti-Discrimination Policy

By Molly Duerig, WLP Intern

It’s no mystery why the Major League Baseball Players Association has announced a new component to its anti-discrimination policy that specifically denounces discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Many professional athletes are openly supportive of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

This Huffington Post article lists 28 such athletes, including Hudson Taylor, a three-time all-American wrestler from the University of Maryland who in January 2011 started Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization focused on uniting athletes who pledge to respect one another, regardless of perceived or actual sexual orientation.

As of now, no Major League Baseball (MLB) player is an Athlete Ally Pro Ambassador – someone who has pledged to promote the organization’s mission to end homophobia and transphobia in sports. Currently, Pro Allies range from NFL players and North American Soccer League members to collegiate lacrosse coaches and players.

Perhaps the MLB’s new policy will motivate players to join ranks with Athlete Ally, as well. Clearly, momentum is rising for equality in the professional sports world.

The MLB’s progress is in keeping with a growing trend of advocacy for gay rights in the professional sports world. In late February, the National Football League’s anti-discrimination policy was questioned, when Colorado tight end Nick Kasa revealed he’d been asked about his sexual orientation during his interview.

Kasa told ESPN Radio Denver that at the NFL Scouting Combine, he was asked questions such as “Are you married?” and “Do you like girls?” by an NFL team.

Later, the NFL investigated these claims made by Kasa, ones that were echoed by other draft-eligible prospects. The NFL took no official action, but reminded interviewers not to consider sexual orientation as a factor in hiring. It also cited the questions asked of Kasa as inappropriate for interviews.

Although many athletes identify as LGBT, relatively few professional athletes have come out as openly gay. LGBT rights organizations have blamed the policies and attitudes in sports that encourage athletes to cover up their true sexual orientations. The discriminatory questions asked of NFL players are, unfortunately, just one example.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said that the organization has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation, “both on the field and away from it.”

“We welcome all individuals regardless of sexual orientation into our ballparks, along with those of different races, religions, genders and national origins,” Selig said.

Last October, all 30 MLB teams “went purple” for Spirit Day on the 17th, showcasing their support and respect for the LGBT community.

The organization seems to be moving in a positive direction toward acceptance and support of LGBT folk.

Last August, the NBA became the first major sports league to receive sensitivity training from Athlete Ally, which has offered to train all major league sports teams on preventing bullying and promoting inclusion.

Hopefully, the MLB will also take Athlete Ally up on its offer now that it has officially spoken out against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The organization has nothing to lose – and everything to gain – for openly promoting inclusion and acceptance of all different kinds of players.

After all, true teamwork requires that kind of acceptance. Now we just look forward to the day when the MLB welcomes women baseball players onto its rosters.

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Filed under Gender Discrimination, LGBT, Sex Discrimination, Sexual harassment, Sexual orientation

Rainbow Alliance Victory Against Gender Discrimination

Tara R. Pfeifer, WLP Staff Attorney

The Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations recently issued a ‘probable cause’ finding against the University of Pittsburgh in connection with a gender discrimination complaint filed by Rainbow Alliance, University of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQA-student group.

Rainbow Alliance, represented by Women’s Law Project, filed its complaint against the University over a year ago, after the University repeatedly publicly announced that its gender-specific bathroom and locker room facilities were to be used only by those whose birth certificate showed a matching gender/sex designation. Rainbow Alliance alleged that requiring transgender students to use facilities that do not match their gender identity or expression endangers them and violates the City of Pittsburgh’s non-discrimination laws.

While the probable cause finding – which means that the Compliance Review Section of the Commission determined that the evidence supports Rainbow Alliance’s allegations of gender discrimination in the Complaint – is a critical victory for Rainbow Alliance, it is a preliminary finding that is part of a lengthier process before the Commission.  Indeed, the University has an opportunity to request reconsideration of that ruling.  Moreover, the Commission will attempt to mediate the dispute and will hold a hearing on the issues raised in the Complaint before any final orders or rulings are issued.

In the meantime, the University’s legal counsel has assured Rainbow Alliance that the University will allow students, staff, and visitors to use whatever restroom is appropriate for them, and no birth certificate or other documentation will be necessary.  Issues that remain to be addressed in the case include access to and use of locker rooms, residence halls, off-campus lodging for school activities and amending student records.

Congratulations to the Rainbow Alliance for their fearless advocacy on behalf of the transgender community!

(Also see earlier blog: Rainbow Alliance Scores Early Victory in Battle Over University of Pittsburgh’s Gendered Facilities Policy)

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Filed under Gender Discrimination, LGBT, Pittsburgh, Sexual orientation

Rainbow Alliance Scores Early Victory in Battle Over University of Pittsburgh’s Gendered Facilities Policy

The first volley in a challenge to the University of Pittsburgh’s gendered facilities policy was resolved in the challengers’ favor last week, when the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations denied the University’s motion to dismiss a gender discrimination complaint filed by the Rainbow Alliance, a student group represented by the Women’s Law Project and Drexel University Professor David S. Cohen. As a result of this ruling, Rainbow Alliance’s case against the University will move forward.

Rainbow Alliance filed its discrimination complaint in April 2012, after University officials announced that students and faculty would be permitted to use only those bathrooms and other gender-specific campus facilities that correspond to the gender on the user’s birth certificate. This policy has had a particularly harsh impact on transgender students and faculty, as well as people whose gender expression does not conform to traditional gender roles.

Transgender people who don’t want to run afoul of this policy must travel with their birth certificate within easy reach and be prepared to produce it if challenged at the bathroom door. Moreover, changing the sex designation on one’s birth certificate can be a difficult, expensive and time-consuming process for transgender people; and in some jurisdictions, it is impossible.  For anyone without a corrected birth certificate, the choices are grim: violate the policy and risk the consequences; go off campus to search for a restroom; or endure the humiliation and harassment involved with using a restroom reserved for the opposite gender.

To bar transgender people from bathroom facilities is to bar them from full participation in the University community. Congratulations to Rainbow Alliance for challenging this policy!

For more information about the Women’s Law Project in fighting against gender discrimination and LGBT rights, please visit our web site.


Filed under Gender Discrimination, LGBT, Pittsburgh, Sex Discrimination, Sexual orientation

WLP Celebrates the 10 Year Anniversary of Second-Parent Adoption in Pennsylvania

From WLP Staff

Join the Women’s Law Project on Saturday, August 18th from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM at the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh (Shadyside), 605 Morewood Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA  for a potluck picnic celebration featuring food, fun and a chance to share what family means to you. Come enjoy a moon bounce, games (with fantastic prizes!), delicious burgers/veggie burgers, Rita’s Italian Ice and family photos. Register for Event!

August 20, 2012 marks the ten-year anniversary of the recognition of second-parent adoption in Pennsylvania, the result of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in In re R.B.F., 803 A.2d 1195 (Pa. 2002).  The Women’s Law Project (WLP) has particular cause to celebrate because of the pivotal role it played in helping same-sex parents each gain the right, through adoption, to have legally secure relationships with the children they nurture and love.

Before second-parent adoption was legalized across Pennsylvania, same-sex couples faced many obstacles in creating and protecting their families.  Women who had given birth to children in heterosexual marriages prior to entering same-sex relationships often had to fight to gain even partial custody of their children.  In fact, the courts were reluctant to recognize one, let alone two, gay or lesbian parents as legally fit.  Regardless of how same-sex couples became parents, they faced a major challenge:  only one partner in a same-sex couple could legally be “the” parent to a particular child.  While it might look as though the child had two mommies or two daddies, technically, only one partner was the official and legal parent.  This forced partners who were co-parents to choose between them who would play this role and have all the rights and obligations attendant on it.  This is a wrenching and divisive experience for even the most stable couples.

Educated, financially secure couples knew enough and had the resources to pursue legal “work-arounds” such as powers of attorney, advance directives, and other artificial surrogates for full parental rights.  In the absence of these cumbersome and costly measures, the non-legal parent could be excluded from making important decisions about the child’s life—such as approving medical care for the child—or even from just picking the child up from daycare or school.  Furthermore, if the partners separated, the non-legal parent could easily be denied visitation with the child and could not be made to pay child support.  If the non-legal parent were to die, the children would not be entitled to receive social security survivor benefits.  If the deceased parent had had the wherewithal to make a will, the children (and the surviving partner, without benefit of marriage) would be still required to pay much higher Pennsylvania inheritance taxes reserved for legal strangers; without a will, the partner and children would receive nothing.

Creating a family when the law did not consider same-sex parents with children as a natural or normal family was so complex a prospect that it required a handbook, a need filled in 1992 by Dabney Miller, longtime Associate Director of the Women’s Law Project, social worker, and adoptive parent, who, assisted by local adoption counselor Abby Ruder, wrote exactly that—a handbook on the rights of lesbian and gay parents in Pennsylvania to help couples negotiate the legal hurdles they faced.  This handbook became an invaluable resource for both parents and advocates, and led to the formation of a working group of lawyers, parents, advocates, and social workers who focused exclusively on making second-parent adoption a reality in Pennsylvania.

Miller recalls that, as the working group at the WLP began to ramp up, “a judge in York County granted a second-parent adoption, pretty quietly, no fanfare but not privately, not secretively.”  Encouraged by this development, members of the WLP’s working group began applying for second-parent adoptions in Philadelphia County and succeeded.  But not all counties in the state were open to this option.  When two families whose petitions for second-parent adoption were denied in other counties decided to appeal, the WLP and working group members stepped in again.  The WLP and the Support Center for Child Advocates provided support in the form of amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs, garnering support from children’s and women’s rights groups, attorneys and bar associations, religious organizations, day care and social service providers, and adoption agencies.  This creative collaboration paid off in August 2002 when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its unanimous opinion in In re R.B.F., 803 A.2d 1195 (Pa. 2002), holding that second-parent adoption is indeed permissible under the Pennsylvania Adoption Act, thus making it available in all counties in the state.

Despite this dramatic success, much remains to be done.  Lesbian and gay couples must be educated about the importance of securing second-parent adoption, and they must be able to afford an attorney to guide them through the process.  Though second-parent adoption is now legal across the commonwealth, there is no uniform process for handling these cases county to county.  Furthermore, second-parent adoption is not legal in every U.S. state, and adoptions recognized here many times will not be recognized elsewhere.  See videos and keep abreast of developments on this subject through the WLP website at www.womenslawproject.org.

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Filed under LGBT, Parenthood, Parenting, Pittsburgh, Sexual orientation

Employment Non-Discrimination Act Gets Hearing in the Senate

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

On June 12th, the U.S Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing to debate the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Currently no federal law exists barring discrimination of individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA would provide an equal standard of workplace protection for LGBT Americans. It was last discussed in 2009, and has been stalled in Congress for the past three years. Activists hope the Senate hearing will be the first step to getting the bill moving in Congress once again.

To gain bipartisan support within the committee, and, it is hoped, within the full senate, a broad exception for religious organizations is included in the bill. The exception is more extensive than in previous discrimination bills, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on which ENDA is based. The Civil Rights Act lays out protections for individuals based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Religious organizations are allowed to take an individual’s religion into account, but that is the only exemption they are given. For example, a Catholic school can require that all staff and faculty is Catholic, but they cannot fire someone for being a woman or being African American.

The religious exception in ENDA goes one step further, and allows religious organizations to continue to discriminate against members of the LGBT community. Religious organizations will not be held accountable for firing employees whom they learn to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. While this weakens the force of the bill, lawmakers believe it is the only way to ensure the bill is passed.

Pennsylvania is one of 29 states that does not have a law banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While 24 local governments in Pennsylvania have ordinances that prohibit “discrimination against LGBT people, approximately 70% of the state’s population remains unprotected,” according to the ACLU of Pennsylvania.  Both the Pennsylvania Senate and House debated employment discrimination bills in 2011, but neither came to a vote and there has been little talk for the last year of granting these protections.

This hearing also marks the first time that an individual who is openly transgender has testified in the Senate. Kylar Broadus is the founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition of Columbia, Missouri. He started the organization after he was fired from his job for coming out as transgender and beginning to transition. He had no way to fight his employer because there was no law that made firing him illegal.

There is widespread support for passing ENDA within the American public, even among Republicans and those usually unsympathetic to LGBT rights. A poll found that 73% of Americans believe Congress should pass ENDA, and many think that federal workplace protection already exists for LGBT individuals.  Proponents of ENDA are hopeful that the bill will come to a vote sometime this year.

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Filed under Congress, Employment, LGBT, Politics, Sexual orientation, Sexuality

Illinois Gay Marriage Ban Challenged

Guest Blogger: Elizabeth Wingfield, Former WLP Intern

On May 30th, two dozen same-sex couples filed two separate law suits challenging the Illinois law that defines marriage as between a man and woman, which prohibits same-sex couples from marrying. Last year, Illinois legalized civil unions for same-sex couples which offer them the same legal protections as opposite-sex couples enjoy in marriage. However, Theresa Volpe and Mercedes Santos, one of the couples who filed a lawsuit against the Cook County Clerk’s office, argue that it is unconstitutional that they are not allowed to be married. In an article in the Huffington Post, Santos is quoted as saying, “Marriage means never having to explain that you are just like everyone else. My kids have to explain our relationship all the time and they shouldn’t have to.”

The lawsuits are led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois and Lambda Legal, respectively. The Post reported that

John King, the director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project of the ACLU of Illinois, said he thinks that the timing for the lawsuits is right — given rapidly shifting public sentiment and the support of powerful elected officials — and that the impact of a successful suit in Illinois could be powerful. “Wins in big, important states like Illinois are huge for this country,” King said.

The lawsuits come less than a month after President Obama endorsed same-sex marriage and, according to the New York Times, “recent public opinion surveys indicate support for same-sex marriage is rising nationwide.”

While there is currently a bill which would legalize same-sex marriage pending in Illinois legislature, advocates are fighting for equality in multiple venues to try and ensure that marriage law in Illinois does not continue to discriminate against same-sex couples. Indeed, according to the Times, John Knight, director of the ACLU’s gay-related litigation in the Midwest said that the group intended to “fight the battle in both [the legislative and judiciary] venues.”

We will keep you updated about this issue.

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Filed under LGBT, Marriage Equality, Sexuality

Federal Court in Pennsylvania to Decide Death Benefits Dispute Involving a Surviving Same-Sex Spouse

A death benefits dispute between a surviving same-sex spouse and the decedent’s parents took center stage on Monday, March 12th, when U.S. District Court Judge C. Darnell Jones II of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania heard oral arguments from the attorneys for the parties.  This case is being closely watched across the nation because it is the first case in which a private employer has claimed that the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) prohibits it from providing equal benefits to same-sex spouses.  While the principal parties in the case – the surviving spouse, Jennifer Tobits, and the decedents’ parents, David and Joan Farley – both argued that the Court need not address the constitutionality of DOMA to resolve their dispute and instead, only analyze and interpret the language of the pension plan, the potential implications of the Court’s decision are momentous.  If the Court concludes that DOMA applies to the pension plan at issue, the ruling would result in a unprecedented extension of DOMA to private, non-governmental actors and jeopardize the rights of numerous private employees who are married to same-sex spouses and currently entitled to benefits under the private pension plans of countless employers, including small businesses, Fortune 500 companies, and law firms.  Teresa S. Renaker, one of Ms. Tobits’ attorneys, pointed out to the Court that any such application would be a “radical expansion of DOMA’s reach far beyond its intended public-sector scope and into private-sector employment.”

Ms. Tobits legally married Sarah Ellyn Farley in Canada in 2006, a mere two weeks before Ms. Farley was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.  After battling the disease together for four years, Ms. Farley died in 2010 at the age of 37.  After Ms. Farley’s death, Ms. Farley’s parents, who never approved of their daughter’s sexual orientation or her marriage to Ms. Tobits, attempted to collect Ms. Farley’s pension plan proceeds from her employer, Cozen O’Connor, a national law firm where Ms. Farley worked for six years as an attorney in its Chicago, Illinois, office.  Under Cozen O’Connor’s pension plan, a surviving spouse receives a deceased employee’s death benefit and “spouse” is defined in the plan as the person to whom an employee has been married for at least one year.  Nothing in the plan states that same-sex spouses are excluded.  Rather than paying the benefit to Ms. Tobits, Cozen O’Connor instead initiated this lawsuit, claimed that DOMA prevents it from paying the benefit to Ms. Tobits, and asked the Court to decide who is entitled to the benefit.  Because the Court asked the parties to address the constitutionality of DOMA in the context of resolving this dispute, two governmental entities intervened in the case – the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (“BLAG”) of the United States House of Representatives.  The DOJ contends that DOMA is unconstitutional and should be stricken, while BLAG defends DOMA.

Notably, during the pendency of this federal action, an Illinois state court ruled that Ms. Farley and Ms. Tobits were legally married in Canada and that Ms. Tobits is entitled to all of the rights and protections afforded to spouses under Illinois law.  This ruling resulted from a probate action filed by the Farleys after their daughter died in which the Farleys falsely claimed that their daughter was single and asked the court to appoint Ms. Farley’s father as the administrator of his daughter’s estate.  In reaching its decision, the Illinois court rejected the Farleys’ claims and appointed Ms. Tobits, the surviving spouse, as the administrator of Ms. Farley’s estate.

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Filed under Domestic Partnership, LGBT, Marriage Equality, Pennsylvania