NASW Observes LGBT Pride, Touts Advocacy Efforts

Honoring gay pride month, NASW is reflecting on its efforts this year to advocate full equality under the law for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people around the world.

“It’s been an important year for the LGBT community,” said Evelyn Tomaszewski, NASW’s senior policy adviser on human rights and international affairs, who staffs the association’s National Committee on LGBT Issues. “However, social workers’ job to advocate for equality and nondiscrimination is never done.”

NASW has been among the international chorus of organizations and governments calling on the Republic of Uganda’s parliament to reject legislation that would impose a range of severe penalties, including the death penalty, on people convicted of engaging in homosexual behavior.

In an April 9 press release, NASW said it is obligated by its ethical code to raise concerns about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, positing that it “could set a serious precedent for other countries — allowing extreme penalties of death and life in prison, and punishable offenses for a broad range of individuals if they fail to report suspected homosexuality to the authorities.”

The association added that the measure “violates fundamental human rights and hinders effective public health responses to HIV and AIDS.”

Though homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, the bill’s sponsor, MP David Bahati, insists there is a need to establish a comprehensive consolidated legislation to protect the traditional Ugandan family, as stated in the preamble to the bill.

“Human rights are universal, regardless of sexual orientation,” countered NASW President James J. Kelly. “Criminal penalties against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity violate basic human rights, demean human dignity, and also undermine efforts to limit the spread of HIV.”

Other prominent social worker organizations, including the International Federation of Social Workers and the Canadian Association of Social Workers, also have called on the Ugandan parliament to reject the bill.

On the domestic front, NASW continues to lend its support to court cases of national importance involving same-sex couples.

NASW and the D.C. Metro, Maryland and Virginia chapters joined the American Psychoanalytic Association to weigh in on an ongoing legal battle over the District of Columbia legalizing same-sex marriages, which the D.C. Council approved last December. The law took effect in March.

In a March 26 friend-of-the-court brief, NASW urged the D.C. Court of Appeals to affirm the local election board’s decision to reject a ballot initiative defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, saying that the “board’s decision is correct and prevents the District from engaging in and perpetuating stigma and discrimination.”

“The board rejected the initiative based on its conclusion that it would ‘authorize, or ... have the effect of authorizing, discrimination prohibited under’ the Human Rights Act,” the brief underscored.

NASW’s own policy, annotated in Social Work Speaks (8th Ed.), is to advance policies and practices that afford the same respect and rights to all sexual orientations.

The brief was prepared pro bono by attorneys with the law firm Mayer Brown LLP in Washington.

Oral arguments in Jackson v. D.C. Board of Elections were held May 4.

D.C. joins Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

NASW, the North Carolina Chapter and the American Psychological Association once again filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Boseman v. Jarrell, this time to that state’s supreme court, asserting that same-sex couples should be afforded the same adoption rights and treatment as heterosexual couples.

Originally, the plaintiff —a biological parent — had asked a judge to void a final adoption order she entered into with her female former partner. However, the judge ruled that it is in the best interest of the child that both the plaintiff and defendant continue to be recognized as the legal parents, and an appeals court affirmed the ruling.

Work continues on the American Psychiatric Association’s fifth revision of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and NASW’s National Committee on LGBT Issues has weighed in urging the APA to remove gender identity disorder, gender incongruence, gender dysphoria, transvestic fetishism and transvestic disorder from the manual.

Tomaszewski said the committee believes these conditions should be viewed and approached from the perspective of a medical model rather than a mental health model.

“Continuing to include them in the DSM, the bible for clinical social workers if you will, also contributes to the sustained oppression of a marginalized group,” she said.

NASW welcomed President Barack Obama’s April 15 executive order essentially extending hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners.

The order instructs the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to promulgate regulations banning hospitals that receive funding under Medicare or Medicaid from denying visitation on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The vast majority of hospitals participate in the federally run health insurance programs that serve the elderly, poor and disabled.

“There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital,” the preamble to the order says. “In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean — a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them. Yet every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides — whether in a sudden medical emergency or a prolonged hospital stay.”

NASW also welcomes the increased momentum for repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, which allows gay men and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they don’t make known their sexual orientation.

Obama has pledged to work with Congress to repeal the law, which took effect in 1993.

In the interim, Defense Secretary Robert Gates on March 25 announced that the military would ease enforcement of the law. Among the changes, Gates said the military would no longer open an inquiry of a servicemember’s sexual orientation based on overheard statements or hearsay.

“Of course, only Congress can repeal the current ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ statute,” said Gates. “It remains the law, and we are obligated to enforce it. At the same time, these changes will allow us to execute the law in a fairer and more appropriate manner.”

Rebecca Myers, NASW’s director of external relations, said statements similar to those by Gates have been made previously, and they can be confusing.

“NASW is looking for a quick and full repeal,” she said.