NASW involved in equal-rights advances for LGBT community

Deval Patrick, centerMassachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is cheered on as he signs the Transgender Equal Rights Bill into law in January. Members of the NASW LGBT Shared Interest Group testified at state hearings in favor of the legislation.

Advances for the equal rights of the LGBT community at the state and federal levels have been made in recent months, and NASW has played a role in these matters.

In California, a federal appeals panel in San Francisco ruled in February that California’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the constitutional right to equal protection (Perry v. Brown, 2012).

Through the work of the Legal Defense Fund, NASW and its California Chapter worked with a coalition to file an amicus brief in 2011 in the appeal of a legal challenge to Proposition 8. The brief urged the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to affirm a lower-court ruling that found Proposition 8 — the 2008 voter-approved amendment to California’s Constitution that limited marriage to heterosexual couples — to be unconstitutional.

NASW’s brief filed with several other interested organizations argued that the stigma created by the state’s differential treatment of gay men and women has severe psychological and social effects and invites the public to discriminate against them.

“The District Court’s ruling was properly based on scientific conclusions drawn from decades of rigorous empirical research,” the amicus brief asserted.

Meanwhile in Massachusetts, the NASW chapter was instrumental in helping to promote the passage of the Transgender Equal Rights Bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick in November.

Rebekah Gewirtz, director of government relations and political action at the chapter, noted that Massachusetts NASW was a leading partner in the state’s Transgender Political Coalition, a group of advocacy organizations that work together to advance transgender equal rights.

“We participated in strategy meetings, lobbying visits, press events and rallies at the Statehouse,” Gewirtz said.

Members of the NASW Massachusetts LGBT Shared Interest Group also testified at state hearings on the topic.

The law will add protections for transgender people by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity in housing, credit and employment.

“We were proud to have the opportunity to put our beliefs into action by advocating for the passage of this historic bill,” Gewirtz said.

In other news, NASW’s National Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues noted that NASW participated in a listening session on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues hosted by the Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights. Participants provided examples of policies and criteria that OCR might take into account to protect the civil rights of people living with HIV/AIDS and their families.

Evelyn Tomaszewski, NASW senior policy adviser, said the meeting provided an opportunity to discuss the need for broader technical assistance to provider communities to ensure social workers are up to date on health information privacy as well as where to access more information about the civil rights obligations of covered entities.