Breaking the Silence in China and Beyond

When we started making OUT IN THE SILENCE eight years ago in the hills of western Pennsylvania, we never imagined that the journey would lead us to Hawaii, let alone China.

But as we launch KUMU HINA, our new PBS film about an extraordinary native Hawaiian teacher, or kumu, who also happens to be mahu, or transgender, weʻre getting ready for a screening tour that will take us to Beijing, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong.

The film focuses on Kumu Hina Wong-Kalu and her use of traditional culture to empower her students, especially those who are ‘in the middle,’ somewhere between boy and girl, or perhaps a little bit of both. Itʻs an entertaining and uplifting story, and a great way to bolster understanding, acceptance and inclusion of gender nonconforming and creative youth.

That’s why weʻve been invited to screen the film in China, a country with a dynamic and rapidly evolving society where those who have been historically marginalized or invisible are beginning to break their silence and push for change.

What makes KUMU HINA a good fit is that Hina’s not only Hawaiian, able to share Pacific Island culture’s more inclusive traditions, sheʻs also of Chinese descent, and will be able to connect with audiences in ways that most Westerners cannot.

To help send Kumu Hina and her message of aloha - love, honor and respect for all - to China, across the U.S., and other parts of the world, we’ve been running a Kickstarter campaign.

We realize that you are engaged in your own important work and salute all that you do to help make our communities a little more just and humane for all. But, if this effort to promote a more gender inclusive world speaks to you in any way, weʻd be eternally grateful for your support and/or help in spreading the word.

The Kickstarter campaign ends on August 20, so there are just a few days left to make it happen, and to get an advance copy of the KUMU HINA DVD. (The DVD will not be available again until after PBS broadcast in late 2015.)

So, please check out the Kickstarter video, and all the awesome rewards, below, and help send Kumu Hina and her message of aloha to China and beyond!

Me ka mahalo nui,

The Kumu Hina Team

Dean Hamer

Joe Wilson

Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu

Connie M. Florez


A Kickstarter with Aloha


Four years ago, as stories about anti-gay intolerance and discrimination were beginning to garner national attention, we were crisscrossing America with Out In The Silence, our PBS documentary about the brutal bullying of a gay teen, to raise awareness about the issues and help communities develop solutions.

Our travels revealed that tremendous challenges remain for LGBT people in many parts of the country. But they also introduced us to refreshing new perspectives on gender, diversity and inclusion in unexpected places.

The most magical was Hawaii, where we met Hina Wong-Kalu, a dynamic native Hawaiian teacher, or kumu, who happens to be mahu, one who embodies both male and female spirit.

Captivated by Hina’s use of Hawaiian culture to create an environment where all students have a place, including a remarkable young girl who aspired to lead the school’s all-male hula troupe, we were off on a new filmmaking adventure.

The result is KUMU HINA, winner of the Jury Award for Achievement in Documentary at the recent Frameline International Film Festival, and described by San Francisco film critic Jan Wahl as “an inspirational, entertaining movie about an unforgettable woman, and a young girl who will steal your heart!”

As we did with Out In The Silence, we’re putting KUMU HINA to use as a tool for change, sharing what Hina calls the true meaning of aloha - love, honor, and respect for all - with communities across the U.S. and around the world.

We hope you’ll check out our Kickstarter campaign, and join us on the journey!

As always, thanks for your support and solidarity,

Dean Hamer & Joe Wilson



Out In The Silence, University of Maine Machias, Feb. 25, 2014



OUT IN THE SILENCE, a documentary about fairness and equality in rural America, will be shown in Portside in Kimball Hall at University Maine Machias. The showing is February 25, 2014 at 5:30 p.m.

The film is free and open to the public. Kimball Hall is handicap-accessible via the rear entrance.

The documentary examines the actions of residents of Oil City, PA confronting homophobia and the limitations of religion, tradition and the status quo.

The film, produced in association with the Sundance Institute and Penn State Public Broadcasting, premiered at the 2010 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York and has won praise from critics and film festivals around the world, as well as an Emmy Award for Achievement in Documentary.

OUT IN THE SILENCE is part of a campaign to help raise LGBT visibility and promote dialogue and civic engagement, particularly in small towns and rural communities.

“OUT IN THE SILENCE touches on one of the most urgent human and civil rights concerns of our time, as evidenced by inflammatory public debates over military service, marriage equality, employment nondiscrimination and other issues, not to mention the bullying and harassment that has led to the recent rash of suicides by youth who were, or were perceived to be gay,” says filmmaker Joe Wilson.

“We’re hopeful that events framed around screenings of this film will help people begin to find common ground on these issues that have divided families, friends, and communities for far too long.”

The screening is sponsored by PFLAG-Machias (Parents, Friends, Family of Lesbians, Gays) and UMM’s 100% Society.

For more information about PFLAG-Machias, visit

To see a trailer or for more information about the film, visit


OUT NOW Wins Out In The Silence Award for Youth Activism!


"Donʻt Hate: Liberate!"

by Joe Wilson & Dean Hamer - The Huffington Post - Dec. 10, 2013:

Four years ago, as stories about the alarming rates of anti-gay bullying and youth suicide were beginning to receive national attention, we were criss-crossing America with Out in the Silence, our PBS documentary about the brutal bullying of a gay teen, to raise awareness about the issues and help communities develop local solutions.

While our campaign revealed that tremendous challenges remain for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across the country, it also introduced us to the vibrant new, youth-led movement that was emerging to push for justice and equality for all.

Inspired by these bold efforts, we launched a new national Award for Youth Activism to honor these creative and courageous young people and their work to end bullying, harassment and discrimination and to promote safe schools and inclusive communities for all.

The program has exceeded all expectations, with nominations for inspiring individuals and organizations pouring in from across the country throughout the year.

After long and agonizing deliberations, we are thrilled to announce that the Winner of the 2013 Out In The Silence Award for Youth Activism is:


OUT NOW was founded nearly twenty years ago as a support group for LGBT youth, holding weekly meetings in a donated church basement. Since then, it has blossomed into a powerful community-empowerment organization and an important voice for peace and justice in Springfield and far, far beyond.

OUT NOW offers an incredible array of engaging, challenging, healing, and inspiring programs for young people, including a Drop-In Safe Space, Harm Reduction Education, Art and Performance Workshops, and Youth Leadership Training.


But what most impresses us is OUT NOW’s commitment to not just serving young people, but helping them understand that LGBT liberation - what is now called “LGBT equality” - should be seen as an all-inclusive movement intrinsically bound to other social justice movements and that there could be no justice for LGBT people without justice for people of color, women, workers, those in other nations, etc., because we are one and the same.

In addition to its ongoing programs, OUT NOW is an active member of a Community Coalition for Justice, calling for police accountability and an end to racial profiling and the profiling and imprisonment of poor people, queer people, immigrants, youth, and other oppressed communities.

And OUT NOW was among the founders of the Stop the Hate and Homophobia Coalition, a powerful response to the notorious anti-gay extremist Scott Lively, who moved to Springfield in 2008 to “re-Christianize” the city and to establish Abiding Truth Ministries, the launching pad for his international anti-gay campaigns in Africa and Eastern Europe.

OUT NOW and the Coalition have become important bases of grassroots support behind the groundbreaking legal case brought against Lively in federal court by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Sexual Minorities Uganda alleging that Lively’s actions, in collaboration with key Ugandan government officials and religious leaders, are responsible for depriving LGBTI Ugandans of their fundamental human rights based solely on their identity, which is the definition of persecution under international law and is deemed a crime against humanity.

As the case proceeds, OUT NOW is sure to play an important role in community education and grassroots pressure, and to continue serving and empowering local youth as they develop into the leaders we need, not just for tomorrow, but today.

On this Human Rights Day, we couldn’t agree more with the OUT NOW motto: “Don’t Hate: Liberate!” And we couldn’t be more proud than to say that OUT NOW is the Winner of this year’s Out In The Silence Award for Youth Activism and will be receiving a check for $1,000 toward its vital work!

"ITʻS TIME TO END INTOLERANCE IN HAWAI‘I" - Testimony by Joe Wilson in Special Legislative Session for Marriage Equality

"My Name Is Joe Wilson"

by Derrick DePledge - Honolulu Star-Advertiser - Nov. 5, 2013:

Hawai‘i State House lawmakers conducting a marathon hearing on marriage equality have heard a sea of Christian voices who oppose gay marriage.

The few gay and lesbian voices who support marriage equality have stood out. One of them was Joe Wilson, a documentary filmmaker who lives on the North Shore of O‘ahu, who spoke late Monday:

During this special session, the people of Hawaii, and indeed the world, have been witness to the hell that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, māhū, and other people deemed unacceptable by self-righteous bullies know all too well.

You have seen us sit here while people speak about us in the most dehumanizing terms as though we were not present, as though such vile mischaracterizations as perverts, bug chasers, cross-dressers, and security threats do not affect or terrify us — as though such heinous lies do not inflict wounds or tear our souls apart.

Having seen this, perhaps you now have an idea of what it might be like to be a young gay or gender non-conforming person in one of our schools terrorized by playground bullies who act this way.

Perhaps now you have an idea of what it might be like to grow up in a family that would create such an environment in its own home, forcing their own gay or gender creative children to suppress their most human of feelings, to torture themselves with guilt for who they are, to live a childhood void of true parental love, to feel that they have no choice but to take to the streets to survive, or worse, to take their own lives to end this hell.

Perhaps now you have some notion what it might be like to be a person who lost a job or apartment or was denied any number of opportunities most people take for granted because one of these loving individuals could not find it within themselves to be accepting or to understand that their personal beliefs do not now, nor will they ever, trump our right to live our lives as freely and openly — and equally under the law — as they live theirs.

Perhaps now you’ll know what it’s like to walk down the street looking over your shoulder, wondering if the person who just called you a faggot or māhū is going to turn and chase you down, punch or stab you because you are not welcome in their world.

If so, I hope you’ll agree that it is time to overcome this intolerance, and to not just pass what should be a simple thing like marriage equality, but to end these harms that have been done in the name of religion, tradition, and state-sanctioned discrimination for far too long — and to begin to make our communities whole again.

Please, do the right thing. Pass SB1.

Rep. Richard Fale, who opposes marriage equality, represents Wilson and his partner Dean Hamer, a geneticist, called Wilson back to the podium after his testimony to explain that, as a Tongan, Fale too has experienced discrimination.

Fale asked Wilson whether there are higher priorities for the state, such as child poverty, that might merit a special session.

“Do you think the governor should have put our children in poverty first?” the North Shore Republican asked.

“I resent that you are making this a circus,” Wilson replied.

The Ugly Side of Hawai‘i: Anti-Gay Religious Bigotry


Hawai‘i State House Support For Same-Sex Marriage In Flux

by Derrick DePledge, Honolulu Star-Advertiser - Oct. 6, 2013:

With overwhelming support for gay marriage in the state Senate, the outcome of a special session this month will depend on the state House, where a tenuous majority in favor of marriage equality will be tested under the glare of public opinion.

A Star-Advertiser vote count, based on information from lawmakers and sources who have conducted their own internal surveys, puts support for gay marriage at 21 to 4 in the Senate. The vote count in the House is 27 to 17, with seven lawmakers undecided. Over the past several weeks, the newspaper’s vote count in the House has fluctuated between 27 — just one more than the 26 votes needed for passage — to as high as 32 votes.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie took a political risk by calling the special session without an ironclad margin in the House. But several sources who have been privately counting votes believe the House will comfortably pass the bill if House leadership is able to answer concerns about the scope of a religious exemption for clergy and churches that do not want to host gay weddings.

Four of the seven House lawmakers who say they are undecided — Reps. Cindy Evans, Jo Jordan, Marcus Oshiro and Calvin Say — voted for civil unions in 2011. A fifth undecided lawmaker — Vice Speaker John Mizuno — voted against civil unions but says his opinion on gay marriage is evolving since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that legally married gay couples are entitled to federal benefits.

The fluid vote count in the House is an example of the awkward politics around gay marriage.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii has pushed Abercrombie and the Democrats who control the Legislature toward gay marriage as a civil-rights issue, as polls in Hawaii and across the nation have shown a rapid shift toward public acceptance of marriage equality.

But some House lawmakers, who have to face voters every two years in districts where even small shifts in voting patterns can be meaningful, wonder whether enough of their constituents are ready for gay marriage.

The debate over a religious exemption in the bill has given some House Democrats political cover from talking about the underlying issue of whether gay couples should have the right to marry. That cover will likely be removed if gay-rights advocates in the party think House Democrats are using the religious exemption as a pretext to wriggle out of marriage equality.

Oshiro, the former House Finance Committee chairman, and Say, the former speaker, who were dethroned by a new House leadership coalition in January, have cited the religious exemption as the reason for their hesitation. Both say they are concerned about the constitutional tension between religious freedom and equal protection under the law, and not internal House politics, but their holding back has given others room for doubt.

"At the end of the day, I realize this is not an easy, simple answer or fix," said Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Poamoho), an attorney. "And my greatest concern is that, in haste, we may hurt people on both sides — proponents and advocates — and given the state of law today, might not have the means in the future to address those injuries."

Oshiro said he would prefer to “slow this train down” so the House can have the kind of vigorous discussion and analysis he believes the issue deserves.

Other House lawmakers who say they are undecided are weighing the feedback from constituents.

Rep. K. Mark Takai (D, Halawa-Aiea-Newtown), who voted against civil unions in 2011, said last week that he had just started to read through emails from the public. Takai is running in the Democratic primary for Congress next year, so his decision will likely be watched closely by primary voters in urban Honolulu.

Rep. Justin Woodson (D, Kahului-Wailuku-Puunene), who was appointed by Abercrombie in January to fill a House vacancy, said he is undecided but would strongly prefer that voters resolve the issue through a constitutional amendment. Voters in 1998 gave the Legislature the power under the Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, a response to a state Supreme Court ruling in 1993 that denying marriage licenses to gay couples was a violation of equal protection.

The state attorney general’s office and several constitutional scholars contend the Legislature has the legal authority to enact gay marriage, but opponents of gay marriage are demanding another vote by the public.

"Constitutionally, I don’t know if we have the power to make that change," said Woodson, who will be up for election for the first time next year. "Now I know people argue that we do. I don’t know if we do."

Woodson said that since so many people are engaged on the issue, it should go back before voters.

"My strong feeling is, let the people decide directly," he said.

With the vote count in their favor, gay-rights advocates will try to preserve the House majority in an atmosphere where they may be outmatched in intensity by opponents.

Religious conservatives dominated the public hearings on civil unions and brought thousands to rallies at the state Capitol, but lawmakers and Abercrombie still passed the civil-unions law in 2011, and there was no significant political fallout during last year’s elections.

Gay-rights advocates are helping volunteers influence lawmakers through telephone banks and canvassing in key districts. Organizers have also aligned with religious leaders who support marriage equality to connect with people of faith.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i is offering tips on how to prepare testimony for public hearings.

Hawaii United for Marriage is planning a lobby day at the Capitol on the first day of the special session, Oct. 28.

Part of the message for House Democrats is that their vote is not just about equal treatment under the law or fidelity to the party’s platform, it is also about being on the right side of history.

Many gay-rights advocates predict marriage equality will be accepted across the United States within the next few decades — 13 states and the District of Columbia already allow gay marriage — and that the Democrats who vote against it now could eventually be compared to the holdouts against civil rights in the 1960s.

"When push comes to shove, and our leaders and our community are faced with the tough decision of whether we treat people equally, people tend to rise to the occasion and say, ‘Yes. I want to be fair. I want to treat my neighbors and brothers and sisters the way I would want to be treated,’" said Jacce Mikulanec, the Hawaii United for Marriage representative for the Japanese American Citizens League.

Religious conservatives, organizing through churches, are flooding the Legislature with telephone calls and emails against gay marriage. Pastors have been encouraged to help the faithful “adopt” House lawmakers who are undecided or whose support might be wavering.

A prayer assembly is planned for this afternoon at the Capitol. Tito Montes, the president of the Hawaii Republican Assembly, the conservative wing of the Hawaii Republican Party, has radio advertisements against gay marriage that will start to air this week.

The Let the People Decide on Marriage coalition has scheduled a rally at the Capitol on the first day of the special session with a target of 10,000 people.

Six of the seven House Republicans oppose gay marriage, along with the only Republican in the Senate, so the only way to flip the vote count is to convert House Democrats.

Wavering House Democrats may tune out some of the more extreme warnings from opponents about the threats to society from gay marriage. But the lawmakers are listening to concerns about protecting religious freedom.

Undoing the House majority may rest on whether opponents can show House Democrats they are on the wrong side of their constituents, not 10 or 20 years from now, but today.

"Our goal is to let the representatives know that if they’re going to vote ‘yes,’ their vote is not going to match their district," Montes said. "And if their vote doesn’t match their district, guess what? And I’ll just leave it at that."



Hawai’i Legislators Split Catholic Faith From Support for Same-Sex Marriage

by Pat Gee - September 21, 2013:

State Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point), a practicing Catholic, is putting his personal religious beliefs aside to support a proposal for same-sex marriage, which he maintains is a matter rooted in equality and fairness.

Two years ago Espero, who regularly attends Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, voted against civil unions for same-sex couples. Since then, after further study of the issue, he has changed his mind.

"I believe that we are all God’s children and that this vote in support (of marriage equality) is the right thing to do for society," Espero said.

Earlier this month Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced that he will call the Legislature back into special session, set for Oct. 28, to consider the Marriage Equity Bill. The push for such legislation by way of a special session increased in the aftermath a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in June that enabled legally married gay couples to receive federal benefits. Currently, same-sex couples in Hawaii can enter into civil unions and receive the same rights and benefits as marriage under state law but are not entitled to federal benefits.

Espero has received letters from Catholic constituents urging him to vote against the gay marriage bill. Some cite recent entreaties by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hono­lulu’s Bishop Larry Silva, who has been lobbying against the bill through sermons and letters that detail the church’s opposition to homosexuality. Silva has said parishioners should pray for Catholic legislators who go against the teachings of the faith rather than condemn them.

In a written statement explaining his stand on the same-sex marriage issue, Espero said: “My position is about equality and fairness. It is not about my religion’s beliefs being forced on a society or people who are not Catholics. There was a time blacks were slaves; a time when Filipino, Japa­nese, Chinese, and Puerto Rican plantation laborers were second-class citizens; when a woman was expected to stay home and take care of the house and children; when a brown man could not marry a white woman; when minorities couldn’t go to college.

"Thank goodness times have changed. Thank goodness people have evolved and become better" and that prejudice and discrimination are less commonplace.

State Rep. Della Au Belatti (D, Makiki-Tantalus), who grew up in the Catholic faith, agrees with Espero’s reasoning on the issue.

"We have to represent all the people of Hawaii," Au Belatti said.

"We’re confronted with very tough decisions. But we don’t simply represent the devout Catholics in our community. We have to represent Buddhists, Shintoists (among others) and Christians who don’t share the same beliefs. We can’t elevate one religion’s beliefs over all others. That’s in our (U.S.) Constitution."

She pointed out that the late Hawaii Gov. John A. Burns, a devout Catholic, wrestled with his personal beliefs before deciding to allow abortion to become law in 1970. At that time, Burns said he could not in good conscience condone abortion and symbolically declined to sign the landmark bill. However, as a former police officer, he acknowledged that the restrictive 100-year old abortion law was harmful to women and needed to be changed.

Au Belatti said same-sex couples and their families are vulnerable without the legal security of marriage and all the government and spousal benefits that go with it — “How do you square that with insuring social justice, which is what the Catholic faith also espouses?”

The church’s stance on issues such as homosexuality have left Au Belatti, a graduate of Mayknoll School, disenchanted with the religion. “I am a Christian. I still embrace what a lot of the Catholic faith says, but I don’t believe everything.”

Espero contends that a religious exemption in the bill should assure churches that “they will not be forced or mandated to perform same-sex marriages.” He added, “We’re not forcing your religion to do something it is not supposed to do.”

Pope Francis’ recent headline-grabbing remarks about gays reassured Espero. “He showed understanding and compassion when he asked, ‘Who are we to judge?’” These were landmark, historical words by our pope. He has changed the discussion, in my opinion, within the church,” Espero said.

In a story that appeared in The on Thursday, the pope elaborated: “I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: It is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”

Hawaii: Episcopal Minister Says Catholic Bishop’s Anti-Gay Scare Tactics Are “Incredibly Offensive”


by Pat Gee - Honolulu Star-Advertiser - 9/7/13:

Episcopal minister Elizabeth Ziva­nov of The Parish of St. Clement maintains that recent arguments made by the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hono­lulu against same-sex marriage are “incredibly offensive” in that they group homosexuals with the Bible’s sinners, who, unless they change their ways, face eternal damnation.

Bishop Larry Silva “lumps gay people in the same group as notorious sinners, such as prostitutes and tax collectors,” Zivanov said in a sermon Sunday.

Zivanov’s rebuttal refers to Silva’s comments in a recent homily in which he said, “Jesus included prostitutes and tax collectors in his inner circle and loved them, but in no way did he condone or endorse prostitution or the exploitation of the vulnerable. His love for them called them to change their ways.” He continued, “Even as we remember Jesus’ all-embracing love, we must also remember his separating the sheep from the goats, welcoming the sheep into the kingdom but sending the goats to eternal damnation.” He pointed out in his message, “This is not very inclusive.”

Silva has also tied gay marriage to a multitude of social ills, including poverty, divorce and juvenile suicide, and said that legalizing it would erode societal foundations long held sacred.

Zivanov counters that while she usually doesn’t get involved in public debate about gay rights, she decided to respond from her pulpit because she found his remarks to be “very hurtful.” She noted that a loving gay couple with a young daugh­ter has attended services at her Makiki church.

"I have never heard a Catholic bishop use this kind of language and denigration of gay people, ever," Ziva­nov said in an interview following her sermon. Further describing Silva’s statements as "incredibly offensive," she added, "He just went to an all-time low with his comments about welcoming the sheep into the kingdom but sending the goats to eternal damnation. How dare he!"

Silva has told the Star-Advertiser that Jesus was not as “inclusive” as liberal, interfaith groups espouse, because on Judgment Day the sheep, or those who followed his teachings, would enter the Kingdom of God, while the goats, or those who did not change their sinful ways, would be turned away, however much Jesus may have embraced them in love.

Hawaii lawmakers might soon call a special session to determine whether to allow same-sex marriage in the state, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June that enabled legally married gay couples to receive federal benefits. Currently, same-sex couples in Hawaii can enter into civil unions and receive the same rights and benefits as marriage under state law but are not entitled to federal benefits unless they can marry.

Until there are enough votes favoring the special session and a religious exemption is fine-tuned, both sides of the debate have been trying to drum up support in the Legislature.

The bishop’s comments were first made in an “urgent letter” telling parishioners to contact state legislators. Silva again urged Catholics to “mobilize into action” this week on

In her sermon Ziva­nov said, “I challenge the bishop to show us the sociological studies that support his speculations about the corruption and undermining of society by gay marriage.” She dismissed Silva’s comments as “nothing but scare tactics that would serve to escalate fears and negativity.”

Zivanov continued, “Nowhere in the four accounts (the New Testament gospels) of Jesus does he condemn gay people. As Christians we’re to filter everything through the eyes of Jesus and his teachings.” Scholars and theologians have long disputed passages in the Old Testament that condemn homosexuality, she said.

"Let me also remind the bishop and other conservative leaders that they do not represent all Christians. They. Do. Not. They are not better Christians than those of us who hold different beliefs," she said.

Silva has also warned that gay marriage could pose a threat to the civil rights of families supporting only heterosexual marriage, and that one day preachers who speak against homosexuality could be persecuted.

"Let me remind the bishop that each state that has passed a law opening marriage to gay couples has ensured that those who believe otherwise would not be forced to espouse different beliefs or to act against their beliefs," Ziva­nov said.

"Let me also suggest that we remember that by substituting the words‘race’ or‘women’or‘miscegenation’(marriage between races), many of the bishop’s arguments have been used to deny civil rights and human respect to other groups in our society."


Hawaii’s Bishop Silva Offers Unjust Advice On Gays

By Dawn Morais Webster in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser - 9/1/13:

Last week saw the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington.

That pivotal event helped move politicians to begin breaking down the barriers that kept African-Americans from enjoying full equality.

At Masses last weekend in Hawaii, parishioners heard from Bishop Larry Silva, who urged them to do all they can to keep LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) couples and families from realizing their dreams of full equality.

His arguments in the letter that went out to all parishes and also posted on the diocesan website spring from his faith. It’s a faith based on an astonishingly literal reading of the Bible that I do not recognize as my faith or my understanding of the Gospel. It’s a faith that leaves LGBT couples, parents, children of LGBT parents and the long list of children waiting for a happy home, out in the cold.

Despite the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, the bishop would like Catholics to urge legislators to not pass same-sex marriage laws in Hawaii. Apparently, it’s better to deny the children waiting to be adopted the chance of a happy home than allow adoption by gay parents.

This, we are told, is “just discrimination” because “marriage is a special societal bond that assures the continuation of the race in the context of raising children in the loving environment that appreciates the complementary nature of male and female.”

I have been happily married for 18 years and my husband and I have not ensured the “continuation of the race” through our union. Are we therefore any less married? Should older people who marry after their child-bearing years be subject to “just discrimination”?

Bishop Silva paints a picture of “more poverty, more social ills, more juvenile suicides, and more problems than we can imagine,” if children are “deprived of being raised in a loving home by a mother and father who loves them and whose love cooperated with God’s plan in creating them.”

The good news is we do not have to imagine. Expert opinion from the fields of medicine and psychology and every serious study attest to the fact that children of gay parents are just as healthy and well-adjusted as children from heterosexual families. The Child Welfare League of America, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association have all issued policies opposing restrictions on lesbian and gay parenting.

Courts have ruled that any argument restricting gay parenting “flies in the face of the scientific evidence about the suitability of lesbian and gay people as foster parents.”

The same might be said of Bishop Silva’s letter to Catholic parishes urging them to oppose same-sex marriage because of the imagined impact on our children: It flies in the face of what we know to be demonstrably true.

It also flies in the face of the painful statistics on the bullying of LGBT youth, suicides, drug use, homelessness and depression.

These very real problems should be addressed, not aggravated by promoting “just” discrimination as dogma.

Our society is far from perfect. But the courts have shown the truth of King’s conviction that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice in ending oppressive, discriminatory practices in the places we live and work and play. Shouldn’t what we hear from the pulpit support the effort to bend the arc even further?

Instead of working against the rights of others, it would be infinitely more responsive to the teachings of Jesus, more Catholic — and more 21st century — to take our cue from Pope Francis: “Who am I to judge?”


"A Stunning Documentary"

Would This Change How You Feel About A Royal Baby?

The Future of Same-Sex Marriage

 The New York Times Editorial - July 14, 2013

As historic and welcome as we found the Supreme Court’s two recent decisions on same-sex marriage, they served to emphasize the lingering inequality for millions of gay and lesbian Americans who do not live in the 13 states that enforce the right of all adult Americans to marry the person of their choosing.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, is standing by his 2012 veto of a measure to allow gay couples to marry and is refusing to free Republican legislators to follow their conscience on an override vote. Mr. Christie is imposing a large ideological tax on thousands of couples and their families whose interests he is supposed to protect. He is depriving them of federal benefits, which their tax payments help underwrite.

Certainly, the Supreme Court propelled the nation toward greater equality in late June with two 5-to-4 rulings that restored same-sex marriage in California and struck down the central provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act, the dreadful 1996 law that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples married in states that permit it.

The Defense of Marriage Act ruling struck a blow against injustice, but it also accentuated the unfairness to same-sex couples who would like to get married but live in states that do not permit it and therefore cannot take the same advantage of more than 1,000 federal benefits available to other couples (unless they get married in one of the states where same-sex marriage is legal). By disposing of the California case on narrow procedural grounds, the Supreme Court avoided the necessary reckoning about the fundamental violation of equal protection created by state laws that prohibit same-sex couples from marrying. It perpetuated a mean and irrational patchwork in which duly wed couples may not be considered married when they cross state borders.

Eliminating that unfair system will require a multipronged effort — to add more states to the list of 13 that permit same-sex marriage and to challenge remaining state laws that violate the standards of equal protection as the Defense of Marriage Act did. Last Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a challenge to a Pennsylvania law that allows marriage only between a man and a woman and rejects other states’ marriage equality laws.

Brought on behalf of 23 plaintiffs, the lawsuit is among the first of an expected wave of new cases around the country that could eventually return the issue to the Supreme Court. These suits aim to build on Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act, including his insight that the federal government’s refusal to recognize some marriages denied married same-sex couples a “status of immense import” and deprived children of “the integrity and closeness of their own family.”

The same can be said of denying gay couples the right to marry in the first place, a cause that is also the object of lobbying and organizing efforts to achieve more victories in state legislatures and at the ballot box. In just the past year, six states legalized same-sex marriage though the political process. Legislatures are being pressed in three other states that are likely to follow suit: New Jersey, Hawaii and Illinois. In Oregon, an effort to reverse a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage through a November 2014 ballot measure is under way. Challenges to similar bans in Nevada, Colorado and Ohio could be in store for November 2016.

The opposition is not sitting still. Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, a Republican, has urged the Legislature to approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage so it can be put before voters next year. Given the rapidly expanding acceptance of same-sex marriage, we hope that getting Indiana voters to approve the shabby measure will prove harder than Mr. Pence thinks.

In Washington, the Obama administration is moving with commendable diligence and speed to extend benefits like health care, life insurance and immigration rights to gay and lesbian married couples. We took special satisfaction from the memo sent out by the chief administrative officer of the Republican-led House informing all 435 representatives and their staff members in all 50 states that they have 60 days to enroll their same-sex spouses for benefits like vision, dental and long-term care insurance and survivors’ annuities.

House Republicans spent millions of taxpayer dollars on private lawyers’ fees to defend the Defense of Marriage Act’s indefensible discrimination when the Obama administration decided it would no longer do so.

Even now, though, there is a serious risk that legally married individuals will lose out on valuable Social Security and veterans’ benefits because language in the applicable statutes seems to determine whether couples are married based on where they live rather than where their marriage was celebrated.

The Justice Department should be exploring every legal route around that, but there should be no need for straining. A newly reintroduced bill would fulfill the letter and spirit of the Defense of Marriage Act ruling by ensuring that the elderly, veterans who risked their lives for their country and others are not excluded from federal benefits even if they live in states where their marriages are not recognized.

How Supreme Court’s DOMA Ruling Will Affect Same-Sex Spouses

by Tara Seigel Bernard in the New York Times - June 26, 2013:

Gay couples have long had second-tier status when it came to their finances — many things were more complicated, like filing tax returns, and often more costly, like health insurance.

Now that the Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, some of these issues will be wiped away. The ruling makes clear that married gay couples living in states that recognize their unions will immediately gain access to more than 1,000 federal benefits, like Social Security and family leave rights. Less certain is how couples living in the remaining 37 states will fare.

The murkiness exists because federal agencies generally defer to the states to determine a couple’s marital status. Some agencies look to the laws in the state in which a couple now live, for instance, while others look to those in the state in which the couple were married.

“Unless the administration changes its practices and rules — and in a couple of cases, unless the law changes — then couples residing in a nonmarriage-equality state may not be recognized for some federal programs,” said Brian Moulton, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign. “Now that we have an opinion out, we will be anxiously awaiting what the administration will say about this and urging them to ensure that all married couples, regardless of where they live, are fully recognized.”

White House officials said that they had already begun analyzing the hundreds of relevant laws and statutes at issue and were working with the Justice Department to make benefits available as swiftly as possible.

But even if the administration were to apply the ruling broadly, gay married couples would still not be on entirely even ground with their heterosexual peers. Until other states approve the unions, couples will still need to travel to one of 13 states or the District of Columbia to get married. And they will still need to deal with a patchwork of state laws that could make it difficult to get a divorce or establish legal ties to their children.

Of the estimated 650,000 same-sex couples living together nationally, about 114,100 are legally married, according to the Williams Institute. But those figures could increase, given the court’s other ruling on Wednesday that effectively removes legal obstacles to same-sex couples marrying in California.

Here’s how many of them will be affected:

Social Security

Gay married couples living in states where same-sex marriage is legal can apply for Social Security benefits on their spouses’ earnings records, as well as survivor benefits. The Social Security Administration typically looks to the states to determine whether a person is married, which could create problems for couples that move to a state where it is not.

But it is possible that benefits would extend to couples in certain civil unions and registered domestic partnerships. The agency’s rules also say that if a person is not married — but would inherit property from a spouse as a married person would without a will according to their state’s law — that person is also entitled to benefits.

“Though still untested while DOMA has been in place, we presume that under this provision partners in a civil union or comprehensive domestic partnership (or even in a less comprehensive domestic partnership but one in which you can inherit under state law, as in Wisconsin) could claim spousal benefits,” said Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy group

Federal Income Taxes

Married couples living in states where gay marriage is legal will be able to file joint federal returns. That should save some couples money, especially when one person earns much less or does not work at all. High-income couples with two working spouses will probably pay more.

That said, filing jointly can cause even lower-income couples to become ineligible for certain tax savings like the earned-income tax credit. Ultimately, the tax consequences will be based on where couples live, their income and their particular circumstances.

Couples who would have saved significant sums by filing jointly might want to consider amending their recent tax returns. Such amendments have been permitted for the last three tax years, according to Patricia Cain, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and an expert on sexuality and federal tax law. More specifically, that means many taxpayers can refile for tax years 2010, 2011 and 2012. The three-year clock started on April 15 for people who filed on or before that date; those who received a filing extension have three years from the date they filed, she added.

What remains unclear is whether same-sex couples married in states where gay unions are legal could file joint federal returns if they moved to a state where they are not. “There has been a lot of discussion about whether the I.R.S. could recognize someone married in Massachusetts but living in Georgia,” Professor Cain said. “I think they have the power to do that, but no one seems to think they will do that. I think they will wait for guidance from the White House.”

The other big question is whether couples in civil unions and registered domestic partnerships can file joint returns. The I.R.S. typically looks to the taxpayer’s state of residence to determine whether someone is married. But a letter from the office of the chief counsel of the I.R.S., written in 2011, states that an opposite-sex couple in a civil union in Illinois should be treated as married for federal tax purposes. “The I.R.S. would have the power to interpret the word spouse,” Professor Cain said, adding that the Internal Revenue Code does not define the word.

Employee Benefits

Health Insurance Coverage. Many more couples, especially federal workers, will now be able to add a same-sex spouse to their health plan. Many private employers extended these benefits, even though the law did not require them to. What is not clear is whether workers will be able to add a spouse right away: normally, a family member can be added only within 30 days of a qualifying event, like a marriage or the birth of a child, or during the employer’s open enrollment period. It is best to ask your employer about plan rules.

Health Insurance Taxes. Unlike opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples had to pay federal taxes on the value of a partner’s health insurance coverage because the federal government did not recognize their unions. In addition, employees have not been allowed to pay for their partner’s coverage with pretax dollars. Now, a same-sex spouse will be treated as any other spouse and will not be subject to those extra taxes, which can amount to thousands of dollars each year.

“Talk to your employer and get the current year fixed,” said Vickie Henry, a senior staff lawyer at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. “You probably want to get the money back that you paid in 2013 to date.”

Flexible Spending. Workers with federally recognized spouses will be able to add their spouses to their flexible spending arrangements if they have access to one through their employers.

Pensions. Gay couples will be entitled to survivor benefits from a federally recognized spouse’s pension that is covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the law governing many retirement plans, said Todd Solomon, partner in the employee benefits practice group at McDermott Will & Emery and author of “Domestic Partner Benefits: An Employer’s Guide.” Individuals will also be entitled to survivor benefits if their same-sex spouse dies before they begin collecting their pension benefits, he explained.

Family and Medical Leave Act.The federal law requires larger employers and public agencies to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave — as well as continuation of health benefits — for the birth or adoption of a child; to care for an opposite-sex spouse, a parent or a child who has fallen ill; or because of the employee’s own health issues. The law will now extend to same-sex spouses.

Estate and Gift Taxes

Same-sex married couples will also avoid, or at least defer, paying federal estate taxes because spouses can transfer money and property to each other — both during their lives and after death — without federal tax consequences. This is the issue at the center of the DOMA case: Edith Windsor of New York, who married her partner in Canada in 2007, inherited all of her wife’s property after her death in 2009. But because their marriage was not recognized, Ms. Windsor had a federal estate tax bill of $363,000. She sued, challenging DOMA, and a federal appeals court found the law unconstitutional.


Same-sex couples may still have trouble getting divorced if they move to a state that does not recognize gay marriage. States also have residency requirements for gaining access to their divorce courts. “Not to be unromantic about it, but if you have a choice of where to have your wedding, you may want to pick a state that allows you to end the marriage if some day you really need to,” Ms. Sommer said.


The Long Road Toward Equality For All Continues On

The Long Road to Marriage Equality

by George Chauncey in the New York Times - June 26, 2013:

The Supreme Court’s soaring decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional is a civil rights landmark, but the history leading up to it is poorly understood. Marriage equality was neither inevitable nor, until recently, even conceivable. And the struggle to secure it was not, as is commonly believed, a natural consequence of the gay liberation movement that gained steam in the late 1960s.

It was not until the 1980s that securing legal recognition for same-sex relationships became an urgent concern of lesbians and gay men. In the 1950s, such recognition was almost unimaginable. Then, most states criminalized gay people’s sexual intimacy. Newspaper headlines blared the State Department’s purge of homosexual employees during the McCarthy-era “lavender scare.” Police cracked down on lesbian and gay bars and other alleged “breeding grounds” of homosexuality.

The lesbian and gay liberation movements of the early 1970s did not make marriage a priority — quite the opposite. Activists fought police raids, job discrimination and families’ rejection of their queer children. Most radical activists scorned the very idea of marriage. But a handful walked into clerks’ offices across the country to request marriage licenses. State officials suddenly realized that their laws failed to limit marriage to a man and a woman; no other arrangement had been imagined. By 1978, 15 states had written this limitation into law.

A “traditional family values” movement arose to oppose gay rights and feminism. Anita Bryant and other activists took aim at some of the earliest local anti-discrimination laws, and by 1979 they had persuaded voters in several cities to repeal them. In some 140 local and state referendums, gay-rights activists were forced to defend their fledgling protections. This, not marriage, consumed their energies.

It was the 1980s that changed things. The AIDS epidemic and what came to be known as the “lesbian baby boom” compelled even those couples whose friends and family fully embraced them to deal with powerful institutions — family and probate courts, hospitals, adoption agencies and funeral homes — that refused to recognize their relationships at all.

The gay partner of someone with AIDS confronted hospitals that could deny him visitation privileges, not to mention consultation over treatment. He couldn’t use his health insurance to cover his partner. He risked losing his home after his partner’s death if his name wasn’t on the lease or if he couldn’t pay inheritance taxes on his partner’s share of it (which would not have been required of a surviving spouse).

When two women shared parenting and the biological mother died, the courts often felt obliged to grant custody to her legal next of kin — even if the child wished to remain with the nonbiological mother. If the women separated, the biological mother could unilaterally deny her former partner the right to see their children.

People used wills, powers of attorney and innovative new legal arrangements like domestic partnerships and second-parent adoption to try to get around these injustices, an astounding achievement given the reigning conservatism of the ’80s and early ’90s. But for all their virtues, none of these arrangements could provide the Social Security, tax, immigration and other benefits that only marriage could bestow.

The marriage movement emerged out of this maelstrom, but it was always about more than winning the security of legal benefits. Historically, denial of marriage rights has been a powerful symbol of people’s exclusion from full citizenship. Enslaved people in America did not have the right to marry before the Civil War; Jews did not have the right to marry non-Jews in Nazi Germany. In 1948, the United Nations enshrined the freedom to marry as a fundamental human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That same year California’s highest court became the first in the nation to overturn a state law banning interracial marriage.

As attitudes toward homosexuality changed in the 1990s, before accelerating ever more rapidly over the last decade, antigay activists — who had already fought gay teachers in schools, gay-student groups, gay characters on TV sitcoms, domestic partnerships and anti-discrimination laws — redoubled their fight against marriage equality. In 1996, when it briefly appeared that Hawaii’s courts might let same-sex couples wed, Congress passed DOMA, which declared that no state needed to give “full faith and credit” to same-sex marriages licensed in another state. It also denied federal recognition and benefits to such marriages. As Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority on Wednesday: “DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like government efficiency.”

When Massachusetts became the first state to permit gay couples to marry, in 2004, it unleashed opposition as well as euphoria. That year, 13 states amended their constitutions to ban such marriages (12 had already done so legislatively). Ultimately, California and 40 other states acted to limit marriage to one man and one woman by constitutional amendment, legislation or both; in 30 states, the amendments remain on the books. It seems likely that California will soon join 12 states (along with the District of Columbia) where same-sex marriage is legal, but the state-by-state battle will grind on everywhere else.

The intensity of the backlash against marriage equality eventually produced its own backlash. Many heterosexuals sought to distance themselves from the antigay animus it expressed. Young people, who grew up in a cultural universe different from their parents’, began to wonder why marriage was an issue at all. Political figures as different as Barack Obama and Rob Portman described how their children had affected their thinking.

Federal benefits will dramatically improve the lives of countless people, from the lesbian widower who needs her wife’s Social Security benefits to hold onto her home to the gay New Yorker whose foreign husband will now be able to live with him in America. Lesbian and gay couples will no longer suffer the indignity of having the government treat their marriages as inferior.

Other urgent problems also confront lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including the endemic bullying of queer students, discrimination in housing and employment, and the surge in new H.I.V. infections among young gay and bisexual men. Marriage equality has singular cultural and practical significance. Nonetheless, it was not the first issue to animate the struggle for equality and dignity — nor will it be the last.

George Chauncey, a professor of history and American studies at Yale, was an expert witness in both same-sex marriage cases decided Wednesday.