Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Femonomics Reads The Internet So You Don't Have To: Massive LGBTQ Rights Fails

Sometimes things on the front lines of the fight for LGBTQ rights get a little brighter. And right now, arguably, is one of those times. The military is finally seriously moving towards repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell: an unnecessary policy--see the militaries of Great Britian, Australia, and Canada for starters--that has caused thousands of good soldiers to be discharged from our armed services at a time when we need them most.

President Obama has directed that same-sex couples should receive the same visitation rights as straight couples in hospitals and that hospitals must respect the right of patients to have whomever they want make their medical decisions for them--including same-sex partners--something many LGBTQ activists consider the biggest step forward for LGBTQ rights in some time. Of course, it doesn't apply to all hospitals (just those receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding) and I'm sure there will be challenges to the directive by individual hospital staffers, but at least now the law is on the side of the LGBTQ couples.

But despite these steps forward, there's still injustice and tragedy in the world. For two of the most striking examples in the news right now (a lesbian teen from Mississippi named Constance McMillen and Clay and Harold, a gay couple from Sonoma County, CA) and what's being done to fight these injustices, follow the jump.

Lesbian couple not allowed at prom:
First, the school board of Itawamba County told Constance McMillen that she couldn't wear a tuxedo to prom and, oh, yeah, she also wouldn't be allowed to bring her girlfriend as her date. McMillen fought the ruling (with the help of the ACLU) and won. The ACLU told the school that "the restriction violated the students rights" and "not allowing McMillen to wear a tux violated her expression rights." Instead of admitting their epic fail and backing down, the school board cancelled the entire prom, leading to a predictable backlash against McMillen from some of her classmates.

If that's not bad enough, the kids of Itawamba County Agriculture High School (and presumably, their parents) threw a private prom. Well, that's great, right? Except the part where they told McMillen, her girlfriend, two students with learning disabilities, and approximately three other kids to a fake prom. McMillen, meanwhile, shows more class than the rest of these people put together and mentioned that "They [the two students with learning disabilities that were at McMillen's "fake" prom] had the time of their lives. That's the one good thing that came out of this, [these kids] didn't have to worry about people making fun of them [at their prom]."

I don't know if Itawamba County actually thought they were going to get away with this but the ACLU is attempting to make them pay by filing a complaint federal court stating that the school district's "violation of the free speech rights of Constance" have caused McMillen to be "humiliated and harassed" repeatedly.

The only good news is that (apart from common sense and basic decency), the law seems to be on McMillen's side--the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi already issued a preliminary ruling that the school district's refusal to let McMillen take her chosen date and wear her chosen attire violated McMillen's First Amendment rights. They didn't force the school to put the prom back on after they were assured that a private prom was being thrown by the parents (oh, that's right--the one McMillen wasn't invited to and was purposefully mislead about).

I, for one, hope the federal court throws the book at the school district. Not only is their conduct blatantly illegal, it's also a major violation of human decency, kindness, and even maturity on the part of the kids (and their parents!).

Sonoma County Commits Injustice Against Elderly Gay Couple (and should also be sued by the ACLU, if anyone wants to ask me):
Clay and Harold were partners for twenty years. They tried their best to protect their rights as partners, including powers of attorney papers, wills, and medical directives that named each other as the person that should be making the major decisions in their lives.

Despite all those precautions, when Harold, 88, fail down the stairs of their home and taken to the hospital, Clay was not only not consulted about his care, he was never allowed to see Harold in the hospital. The county then placed them both in separate nursing homes (despite the fact that Clay was reportedly healthy at the time) and treated Harold as though he had no living relatives, going to court to get access to his bank accounts to pay for Harold's care (and claiming Clay was Harold's "roommate").

The county then took all the possessions out of Clay and Harold's home, auctioned them off, and surrendered the house to the landlord--all while both Clay and Harold were still alive. And the story doesn't get any better from there. Three months after Harold fell, he died alone in his nursing home while Clay was confined to his. Clay is still alive, but the only momento of his partner he has (thanks to the county selling off all their possessions) is a photo album Harold put together for him in the last months of his life.

Clay was finally released from the nursing home (with legal assistance from a court-appointed attorney) and is filing a suit against the county. It will go to the Sonoma County Supreme Court on July 16, 2010, but I for one am not even hopeful--just depressed, horribly sad, and angry as hell. It's probable the court will find at least partially in Clay's favor (as a lower court rejected the county's claim that Clay was Harold's "roommate" though they did give the county access to Harold's accounts to pay for his medical bills). But what good is that? Clay's partner is dead and Clay, at 77, was confined to a nursing home and separated from his partner of twenty years for the last three months of Harold's life. Their house is gone, their possessions are gone, and a photo album is probably not a lot of company on the best of days. What will any amount of money mean in the face of that much tragedy? In my opinion, not a whole damned lot (which isn't to say I'm not hoping the Sonoma County Supreme Court makes the county pay and pay big).

Source (and what you can do to help Clay and find out more information).

Sometimes I'm hopeful that things are looking up, and sometimes I'm just sad. Tonight is one of those nights, but hopefully by speaking out and speaking up and learning about these injustices, we can all help turn the tide. I try to speak out by not tolerating homophobia and also not allowing some people's casual vernacular to pass by uncommented upon ("that's so gay!" etc). What are some strategies you have, femonomics readers, for dealing with the realities of discrimination--both intentional and the more casual, insidious forms--in our country today?

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