Friday, February 1, 2013

Around The Nation

Michigan Department of Civil Rights Releases Report on Discrimination Against LGBT People
LANSING, MI -- A report on the impact of LGBT discrimination in Michigan was released Friday that stated that anti-gay discrimination is destructive for the state's economy. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights' yearlong research project, which was sponsored by the TIDES Foundation, comprised public hearings in multiple cities throughout the state and anonymous testimonies about discrimination submitted online.
Included in the report were shocking and compelling stories from LGBT individuals across Michigan who have faced discrimination in the workplace, schools, and housing. It concludes that there is indisputable evidence of alarming rates of LGBT discrimination in the state. Finally, the report outlines the negative economic impact discrimination is having not only on LGBT residents, but also on employers and students in Michigan.
The Department also made eleven recommendations to address the startling prevalence of LGBT discrimination within the state and to enable them to track discrimination more accurately. Among them was a recommendation which encourages the Michigan Civil Rights Commission to publicly support expansion of federal, state, and local laws that protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Michigan's anti-discrimination legislation, known as the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Law, was passed in 1977, the same year the Commission made a public recommendation to include LGBT people among the many existing populations specifically protected by the law.
Other recommendations provided the Commission with opportunities to promote economic recovery, increase LGBT outreach, and encourages them to oppose laws that restrict LGBT rights. The report concluded that these measures were not only supported by Michigan citizens, but that an even larger number thought incorrectly that they were already in place.
MDCR officials stressed that they didn’t conduct the research to change local views on same-sex relationships or to address moral and religious issues. Given the state's tumultuous economic environment, MDCR authorities said they simply wanted to review whether public policy makers should consider how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) legislation and policies affect the economy.
“The purpose of this report is not to take sides on or even address the moral and religious issues related to homosexuality. Similarly, we did not intend to, and we have not endeavored to, create a document with the purpose of changing views on homosexuality. 
The Department recognizes and respects the rights of individuals to hold their own opinions, especially where moral, spiritual or religious beliefs are involved.” 
Emily Dievendorf, Equality Michigan's director of policy applauded the Department's report and recommendations:
"Equality Michigan thanks the Michigan Department of Civil Rights for doing their due diligence to investigate the state of equality in Michigan and report their findings and recommendations, as well as our stories, in such a compelling document. We also thank the hundreds of people in the LGBT communities who stood up and made their voices heard. You told your stories. It was courageous, necessary, and it brought us one big step closer to the realization of full equality in Michigan. 
It is also gratifying that the report so eloquently pointed out the broader economic impact on not just the LGBT communities, but the entire state. The report finds that Michigan voters not only support an end to this inequality and hinderance on our economic recovery, but believed that the measures to address this problem were already in place."
The 124-page report can be read here.

Bi-Partisan Push To Pass Anti-Bullying Legislation
HARRISBURG, PA -- Freshman state Representative Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia), the first openly-gay-elected member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, has been lobbying fellow House members to support House Bill 156, the anti-bullying legislation known as the Pennsylvania Safe Schools (PASS) Act.
The PASS Act, which was endorsed by the LGBTQ Equality Rights advocacy group Equality PA, would amend the state's Public School Code by “further providing for program of continuing professional education; and, in safe schools, further providing for definitions, for reporting and for policy relating to bullying and providing for powers and duties of Department of Education.”
Provisions of the proposed law would amend the definition of bullying to be “any written, verbal or physical conduct,” related to a characteristic like race, color, religion, “sexual orientation,” and “gender identity." The bill also includes a definition of “cyberbullying,” school-sponsored events, and electronic communication.
In his e-mail sent last week, Sims tells his Democratic colleagues:
“As many of you can imagine, as a member of the LGBT community myself, such measures are something that I am particularly attuned to. The fact remains that young members of the LGBT community (or those perceived to be) are bullied and otherwise discriminated against at alarming rates. Every study that looks to analyze the impact of bullying has shown there to be lasting, and extremely detrimental effects that can stay with a person for a lifetime.”
Some equality activists and Sims himself are elated that several prominent Republican House members have attached themselves as co-sponsors. In an interview earlier this week with the local Philadelphia Weekly newspaper, Sims remarked:   
“I felt like a major change following the last election cycle wasn’t that there was going to be a ground swell of LGBT Democrats—that support has always been there and has always been strong. But what we’re really beginning to see is the Republican Party get on this issue. 
[Anti-bullying legislation is] no longer a wedge issue,” Sims added also noting; 
“I think we’re seeing that Republicans who we know have always had LGBT family members, have always had LGBT co-workers and certainly had experience, themselves, with bullying.”
The bill set guidelines to train educators on preventing bullying in a school setting, as well as creating new guidelines for reporting such bullying in schools.
“Especially following Matthew Shepard, we saw a whole bunch of states pass anti-bullying legislation, which I call ‘toothless bills,’” says Sims. “They didn’t specifically enumerate the classes of people that need to be protected. 
They didn’t have reporting requirements, they didn’t have time frames on reports, they didn’t say what needed to be included in reports and I think this is very different. This bill protects those people from bullying and it will actually curb bullying—not just lend it lip service.”
The PASS Act was referred to the House Education Committee last Wednesday, January 23. There is no word, yet, on when it may come up for consideration and a vote.