Bringing the Message Home
What is Bringing the Message Home?
PFLAG is an organization dedicated to not only making a difference in people's lives, but in the way that they live their lives. Bringing the Message Home is a vehicle to do just that. It guides its constituents through otherwise seemingly insurmountable challenges from meeting with government representatives and talking about gay rights to lobbying others to do the same. A packet containing information about the various legislations concerning gay rights is produced by the program and available on PFLAG's website. Started in 2002, the program puts out an updated guide every year containing new information to keep the world up to date on issues. Many times, representatives and the legislation that they control can seem far off and unreachable to ordinary citizens, but Bringing the Message Home both educates people on the what and the how of making a difference.
Speaking Out--and Being Heard
Our representatives are meant to do exactly what their title implies; they are meant to represent us, the citizens, in our government. They are busy people, and it can sometimes be hard to get time with them, but with the help of Bringing the Message Home, the steps to making one's voice heard are spelled out in an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand instruction manual that, if executed, is sure to be effective in reaching our representatives. One person for gay rights contacts their representative for every ten people against gay rights that contact them. This statistic can and must be changed, says the packet, and it is not as hard as it would seem.
Just because Congress is held in Washington, D.C. does not mean that lawmakers do not return to their districts to meet with the people who elected them to office, and to see what really matters to them. A good way to influence a lawmaker's decisions, says the Bringing the Message Home handbook, is to find out when they are in town, and set up a meeting. One should call their office to see if they are available, and if not, one should meet with a staff member to present one's case; anything is better than nothing.
Scheduling an appointment is just the first step, however; a lot of planning is necessary to meet with a legislator and make a difference. The handbook provides some tips to ensure a successful and meaningful visit. First, it is helpful to go with a group of PFLAG-ers, to show how much GLBT issues mean to many people. It is a good idea to make a time-line of how the meeting will go and what you will cover, to safety guard against minutes wasted searching for topics to speak about. Do your research about what the lawmaker's views are on GLBT issues, in order to assess how to play the meeting; with an "ally," one should stress how important and urging the legislator to cosponsor bills that they are already voting in favor of, with someone who has not yet made up their mind, one should talk about the effects on individuals' lives, ask about their thoughts on GLBT issues, and invite them to a PFLAG meeting, and with someone opposed to GLBT rights, one should challenge their opinions with personal stories and make sure that they have accurate information. A way to reach out to any of the listed types is to make the meeting personal with photos of your family and personal stories. It is also important to follow up the meeting with a thank you not, just to reiterate and say how much it means to be heard out. Lawmakers care what the masses think, but it is up to us to show them, and Bringing the Message Home is committed to making that happen.
Everyone Deserves Equal Rights
The PFLAG mission statement says "PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons." This does not mean "gay, lesbian and bisexual persons," it means what it says. PFLAG to educating people about and protecting the rights of every group mentioned in its mission statement, and that includes transgender. Bringing the Message Home puts a strong emphasis on the importance of supporting only legislation that is inclusive of Transgender Americans and educating other people about transgender people so that they can do the same. The Bringing the Message Home handbook includes a list of frequently asked questions about transgender issues. This provides information that could have been unclear even to allies. It is often confused what the actual definition of "transgender" is; it is used to describe anyone who were not born with the gender to match who they really are. Transgender people are often written off as being small of number, but in actuality, there are between 750,000 and 3,000,000 million people who identify as transgender in the United States--and this number is only based on studies, as "Transgender" is not a category on censuses. Transgender people face the same hate crimes and discrimination as the rest of the GLBT community; to accept laws that do not include equality for them is to accept injustice.
Laws and Why They Matter
Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)
In 31 states, an employer can legally fire a worker based solely on their sexual orientation. In 39 states, a transgender employee can be fired for their gender identity alone. ENDA is a bill that would change the current federal law preventing employers to discriminate against employees to protect gays and lesbians from this road block, but PFLAG is still pushing for a transgender-inclusive version of this bill. The Bringing the Message Home handbooks makes it clear that while this law would have a positive effect on gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, PFLAG cannot support a bill that does not include transgender people, because they face just as much undue discrimination that is not in the least justified and should not be accepted. While the 51% of the county that is protected by laws protecting gays, lesbians, and bisexuals from discrimination is unfair and unjust, only 37% of the United States has laws to protect transgender people, a disgraceful figure that PFLAG encourages its members to work to change at once. As of May 12, 2008, the House of Representatives has passed the ENDA bill, and it has not yet been introduced in the Senate.
Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act / Matthew Shepard Act (LLEHPA)
Twenty states out of fifty have laws that prevent hate crimes against gay, lesbian, and bisexual people; 12 protect against transgender people as well. That leaves 30 states in which gays, lesbians, and bisexuals can be physically assaulted based on their sexual orientation, and a startling 38 states in which transgender people can be attacked for their gender identity. If passed into federal law, it would change lives, and save lives. The bill would prevent any physical assault on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people (verbal assault is not covered, as free speech is protected by the First Amendment). Support for a bill such as this is given in huge amounts; 210 organizations such as PFLAG have given their support for the bill. The LLEHPA passed in the House and the Senate as an amendment to the Department of Defense reauthorization bill, but the amendment was dropped from the bill. It has not been reintroduced since.
Military Readiness Enhancement Act
The United States military currently has a "don't ask, don't tell" policy towards the GLBT community. This bill would put in the place of the current policy one of nondiscrimination and universal acceptance towards most people who want to serve our country, unless it is for the reason of a medical condition. So far, our military has removed more than 800 skilled workers from the military on the basis of sexual orientation. The United States is spending over 191 million dollars on the current policy of tax payers' money. This bill, besides being the right thing to do, would save our country money. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are a significant part of our military, and should be able serve proudly. However, this bill is not inclusive of transgender people, as their dismissals from the military are classified as being for medical reasons.
There are many other bills that Bringing the Message Home feels are important for PFLAG-ers to know about. One, the Safe Schools (Anti-Bullying) Improvement Act would prevent any GLBT student from being bullied in schools, an event which can scar a child for life. Two thirds of GLBT students feel unsafe in school, and this must be changed. Another cause that Bringing the Message Home supports is the repeal of the Real ID Act, which would require that all Americans would have to carry a standardized ID card instead of a drivers license which would have on it records of sexual orientation and gender identity, promoting discrimination. The Uniting American Families Act, which has been given PFLAG's support, would allow for foreign same-sex partners to have the same rights to stay in America as foreigners married to an American of the opposite sex have. Even in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, a foreigner who marries an American of the same sex is not granted a green card, as the marriage is not recognized by the federal government. PFLAG also supports the Responsible Education About Life Act, which would allow for schools to have federally funded sex education classes, educating students about GLBT people and spreading knowledge, which leads to acceptance and change. Bringing the Message Home provides information about various programs that have the potential to change the quality of life for the GLBT community in America.
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