Weight loss, more sleep, fewer Facebook updates. Think your New Year Resolutions are ambitious? Try pushing for equal marriage, advocating for HIV prevention, and transforming stigmas around transgender people. We checked in with some of New England’s most vital LGBT-related organizations for an overview of 2012’s greatest triumphs – and a look ahead at what’s on the agenda for 2013.
2012 Triumphs: It was a good election year for pro-LGBT candidates. On the national level, the election of Elizabeth Warren put an equality-minded senator in Scott Brown’s former seat; and ally Joe Kennedy succeeded Barney Frank in the House of Representatives. But MassEquality also helped send 25 pro-LGBT candidates to Beacon Hill, defeating two anti-LGBT incumbents in the process. And Eileen Duff made history, becoming the first out person elected to the Governor’s Council.
2013 Goals: This year, MassEquality will forge ahead on addressing issues relative to LGBT life at every age. MassEquality has a seat on a new state commission studying issues related to unaccompanied homeless youth, youth without parents or guardians present, and will make recommendations for support and resources. Having a presence on the commission is vital because up to 40 percent of unaccompanied homeless youth are LGBT, says MassEquality deputy director Carly Burton. She adds that MassEquality is also collaborating with the New England office of the Anti-Defamation League on anti-bullying initiatives. The organization is also concerned with the unique needs of LGBT elders; research suggests that up to 75 percent of LGBT older adults live alone, and the overwhelming majority – inured to discrimination - are “tentative” about using elder service agencies. MassEquality will work with the LGBT Aging Project to advocate for passage of “The LGBT Awareness Training for Aging Services Providers Bill,” which would require the state’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs to develop a curriculum for providing services to and preventing discrimination toward LGBT people.
MASSACHUSETTS TRANSGENDER POLITICAL COALITION
2012 Triumphs: The headline-making news was that on July 1, the Transgender Equal Rights Law went into effect, providing legal protections against discrimination based on gender identity and expression in areas like employment, housing, and education. But Mass TPC executive director Gunner Scott is also excited about less widely publicized successes; Scott helped lead panels that educated service providers about the Obama administration’s new sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination provisions for HUD-funded housing programs. Scott is also on the steering committee of the newly revitalized Trans Advocacy Network, a consortium of national organizations, which hosted its first member meeting in November – and participated in a White House meeting with John Berry, director of the US Office of Personnel Management and the highest ranking openly gay person in the Obama administration.
2013 Goals: Proponents of the Transgender Equal Rights Law were unable to secure protections for accessing public accommodations, which include everything from grocery stores to hospitals. Scott says lawmakers still need to be educated on the importance of adding anti-discrimination protections that impact “basically everywhere people go between home, school, and work,” and this year Mass TPC will work toward introducing a public accommodations-inclusive bill. In 2013 Mass TPC will begin releasing Best Practices Guides it has developed about the implementation of the existing law, including one for K-12 public schools and homeless shelters. And also high on the organization’s priority list is dismantling systems that force trans people to disclose private information about whether they’ve had sex reassignment surgeries, often to non-medical professionals - like, say, a clerk at the RMV. “Trans people’s bodies are put in display cases,” says Scott. “It is dehumanizing.”
AIDS ACTION COMMITTEE OF MASSACHUSETTS
2012 Triumphs: 2012 was the first time in over two decades that the International AIDS Conference was held in the U.S., and AAC president and CEO Rebecca Haag says that a prevailing tone of optimism underscored recent medical advances and newly developed drugs. “2012 was a year of hope,” says Haag. “I’ve heard many people say, and I feel this way myself, that for the first time we believe that we can end this epidemic.” She adds that New England has become a national model for HIV prevention: reducing new infections by an “unprecedented” 54 percent since 1999. As a further enhancement to prevention efforts, AAC advocated for the state’s new HIV testing law, enacted in July, which allows HIV tests to be administered with verbal consent. Requiring written consent was a barrier to testing, says Haag, particularly among vulnerable minority populations.
2013 Goals: Successes in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment are not reason to become complacent, cautions Haag. She says that AAC will continue to find ways to emphasize its work around Hepatitis C, which spreads primarily through needle sharing; co-infection with HIV leads to faster progression of the disease and requires special consideration of treatment options. The fact that HIV-positive people are now living longer, healthier lives also requires AAC to broaden its mission and engage collaborations with other social service agencies, says Haag, who says the organization will find new ways for clients to enhance life skills: receive job training, develop parenting skills, pursue education. She says AAC will pursue a vision of its Jackson Square location as a more multi-service “community gathering space.” In 2012 the location opened a drop-in center and specialty HIV pharmacy, but Haag says AAC is considering other ideas: from hosting GED classes to inviting city departments to bring their services directly to AAC clients. “Instead of people seeking housing having to go to City Hall and fill out paperwork, why can’t our local government come to us now and then?”
2012 Triumphs: The nonprofit hit some milestone numbers in 2012. For the first time it surpassed 20,000 patients, representing over 100,000 visits, says vice president of communications Philip Finch. Its annual fundraising galas, The Men’s Event and Women’s Dinner Party, broke records by raising more than $800,000. And Fenway expanded its Medical Department and Dental Department into two additional, previously vacant floors, now fully utilizing all space in its Ansin Building, the largest LGBT-focused health care facility in the country. 2012 also saw the publication of the book For People, Not For Profit, a 40-year retrospective on the history of the organization. Meanwhile the Fenway Institute’s research was influential in lobbying the FDA to approve Pre-exposure Prophylaxis for HIV prevention in July; and the Institute played a vital role in an important new study elucidating the elevated rates of HIV infection among young black men who have sex with men.
2013 Goals: Fenway will continue to broaden its scope this year. In late winter Fenway will debut its new radiology services, offering mammograms, x-rays and bone density scans. This year its youth-focused Sidney Borum Jr Health Center will move into a new location, and Fenway was also awarded a 2013 grant from the National Institute of Health that is aimed at reducing health disparities in LGBT youth of color. And Finch says Fenway will be “pushing hard” in the new year on efforts advocating that health care providers collect sexual orientation and gender identity data included in electronic health records, a practice that could illuminate and address LGBT health disparities.
MARRIAGE EQUALITY RHODE ISLAND
2012 Triumphs: MERI worked with a coalition of allies to successfully push for legislation that will include gender identity and expression in the state’s hate crimes reporting law. The organization also spent months working with Governor Lincoln Chafee, who in May became the first governor to declare by executive order that the state would recognize same-sex marriage performed elsewhere.
2013 Goals: Rhode Island is now the only state in New England that does not provide equal marriage; that may change, and very soon. This week the state’s House of Representatives, led by out speaker Gordon Fox, is expected to introduce legislation that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Rhode Island. Sullivan is optimistic about the bill’s future, and says that MERI was successful in advocating for pro-equality legislators in the 2012 elections. There are at least 10 new pro-equality seats in the House, says Sullivan, and five in the state senate. “We have more pro-equality legislators seated in Rhode Island’s General Assembly than at any point in history,” says Sullivan, adding that MERI will zero in on talking to a focused group of senators who could make or break the marriage bill.
2012 Triumphs: The Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Youth has been a trailblazer in youth-led activism. In 2012 BAGLY opened The Clinic @ 620, a Beacon Hill drop-in clinic that offers a wide range of free treatments and tests: including HIV tests, STI scans, and mental health counseling. The clinic was opened in collaboration with partners Fenway Health and JRI Health, and offers a comfortable supportive environment for LGBT youth that might feel intimidated by adult-oriented facilities. And executive director Grace Sterling Stowell is excited that BAGLY’s youth-led model encourages a “peer leadership” approach that spreads word of the clinic and supports its intake.
2013 Goals: Sterling Stowell says that BAGLY will focus on enhancing its community partnerships with organizations like Fenway, JRI, and GLAD; with the last, BAGLY unveiled in 2012 the “Got Rights Project,” an interactive workshop that educates young LGBT people on their legal rights. In 2013 BAGLY will also hold a seat on the new state commission studying unaccompanied homeless youth, and Sterling Stowell hopes to augment the organization’s focus on national movement building. “In recent years, national advocacy has been focusing largely on equal marriage work,” says Sterling Stowell, who wants to reengage dialogue about issues that impact vulnerable LGBT youth.
2012 Triumphs: Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders had much to celebrate in 2012, having worked with coalition partners to successfully advocate for equal marriage in Maine. GLAD also published a groundbreaking book, Transgender Family Law: A Guide to Effective Advocacy, which empowers transgender people and their attorneys to navigate complex issues in family law.
2013 Goals: Executive director Lee Swislow says that GLAD will be “deeply involved” in amicus brief work surrounding United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court case involving 83-year old widow Edie Windsor that could mark the end for DOMA. (The Supreme Court is also taking up a challenge to Prop 8.) While Swislow is glad that DOMA is finally headed to the Supreme Court, she cautions against inclinations to read the proverbial tea leafs. “Tea leaf reading is not useful,” says Swislow. “What we know is that we have two gay-related cases in front of the Supreme Court, and we need to do everything we can to put forth the best legal arguments.” Swislow says GLAD is also committed to finishing the work of Massacshuetts’ Transgender Equal Rights Law, and may work with activists to encourage individual cities and towns to pass local ordinances on public accommodations protections – thus building incremental momentum across the state.