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This week the debate on comprehensive immigration reform took real shape with the Senate introducing a bipartisan framework on principles on Monday and the president making a statement on Tuesday.

The National Queer Asia Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) commends the Senate and the president for taking this initial, bipartisan step. Immigrants’ rights and the need for comprehensive immigration reform are a top priority for our Asian and Asian Pacific Islander lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrant communities.

Of course, we will continue to watch closely as details emerge and legislation is introduced. Though we have some questions about what has been put forth thus far, we recognize that there are important building blocks in the Senate’s and the president’s proposals. We’re committed to working on them to support legislation that not only benefits the Asian and Asian Pacific Islander LGBT communities we work with but, on balance, moves us toward a more comprehensive solution for the entire country.

The inclusion of a path to citizenship and relief for the over 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country is a key component of both proposals. We estimate that 750,000 of those undocumented immigrants are LGBT, and we call for reform that will help all of them. Young undocumented activists who worked on the DREAM Act and who are queer have, by making the connection between coming out of the closet and coming out of the shadows, changed the political landscape. That they are also included is encouraging. The Asian and Asian Pacific Islander immigrant families whom we work with, both LGBT and straight members alike, can take heart in the provisions to reduce the family petition backlogs, which both proposals include.

But there discrepancies between the two sets of proposals and the policies that are of concern to our communities and must be addressed. Provisions around enforcement and detention must not be dangerous or onerous to our communities.

Read the rest at the Huffington Post here.

The same week that a leaked video out of Steubenville, Ohio showed high school boys joking and laughing about an unconscious teenager in the next room who had just been raped - “They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson!” - House Republicans let the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) expire. They opposed an expanded version of the legislation that had increased protections for the LGBT community, immigrants, and Native American women.

This week we’ve also seen mass protests in India after a woman was brutally gang raped and died from her injuries. American media covering the Indian protests have repeatedly referenced the sexist culture, reporting how misogyny runs rampant in India. The majority of mainstream coverage of what happened in Steubenville, however, has made no such connection. In fact, the frequent refrain in discussions of Steubenville in comment threads is that these boys are “sociopaths,” shameful anomalies. We’d rather think of them as monsters than hold ourselves accountable as a nation and tell the truth - these rapists are our sons.

Jessica Valenti, here.

While Scarleteen serves an international readership, we’re based in the United States, and our country of residence greatly impacts our organization and around half of the 4-5 million users who come to Scarleteen each year. The Presidential Election is here, so it’s time again for those of us at Scarleteen to do what we can to help our users best participate in this important and big part of the democratic process.

Many of you are first-time voters: welcome to your right to vote (sorry you had to wait so long!) and we hope you’ll exercise it. We provide this nonpartisan guide each time around to best help you make your own choice in who you vote for for president. In it, you’ll find links to the major candidates and parties, a basic rundown of the major candidates’ positions and records on central issues, some listed supporters and endorsements for the candidates, and more  information on where they stand on issues central to what we do here at Scarleteen.

We suggest you take a look through these materials, then spend some time looking at the party platforms and each of the candidate’s websites, and keep up with the news as best you can. Checking out your favorite political groups and organizations, the ones you respect, and seeing what they have to say about the candidates is also a great help in making voting decisions. This guide is jam-packed with links that will lead you to more information on the candidates, so if you just keep clicking, you’re going to become an expert in no time. Even if you’re not yet of age to vote, we think it’s a grand idea to inform yourself: you can use this information in talking to your siblings, parents or grandparents whose vote will impact you.

Any time we vote, we don’t just vote for ourselves as individuals, but for all our fellow citizens, even those who are radically different than we are. In alignment with our core values here at Scarleteen — things like compassion, fairness, inclusion, equality and the health and well-being of the 100% — we feel that how you vote is as important as if you vote, and would implore you to be civic-minded in your voting choices.

Check out the guide at Scarleteen here! (Reblog, please!) Then VOTE!

In a Washington Post column headlined “Silence Is Golden on Gay Issues,” my longtime colleague and friend Jonathan Capehart heralds it as “a great thing” that gay issues weren’t discussed in the presidential debates this year. The Human Rights Campaign’s Fred Sainz agrees, telling Capehart, “What we’re seeing is proof positive that gay issues aren’t the wedge they used to be and furthermore, the public has moved on.”

Really? Though LGBT rights now have the support of a big majority of Democrats and independents, they’re far from a non-issue for the vast majority of Republicans, who oppose same-sex marriage, and certainly for the evangelical base of the GOP, which helped keep Rick Santorum competitive during the primaries.

The only reason these issues weren’t discussed in the debates is that the moderators — members of the media — didn’t ask about them. And far from being a “great thing,” right now that helps Mitt Romney, who is racing to the center and would rather not talk about how he’s in favor of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would make gays second-class citizens, or about how he signed a pledge from the National Organization for Marriage vowing to appoint federal judges who would rule against gay marriage.

Read the rest at HuffPo here.

Mitt Romney’s “close” relative died of an illegal abortion (which is why he used to say he wouldn’t force his beliefs on you).

In 1963, Mitt Romney lost a “dear” and “close” relative to an illegal abortion. Ann Keenan was the sister of his brother-in-law, Loren “Larry” Keenan, husband to Mitt’s sister, Lynn. By all accounts, her death at age 21 “deeply impacted members of the family.” Romney’s sister, Jane, explained, “‘She was a beautiful, talented young gal we all loved. And [her death] pretty much ruined the parents - [she was] their only daughter. You would do anything not to repeat that.” The Keenan family asked for donations to be sent to Planned Parenthood in her name.

Ann Keenan apparently “was very close” to Mitt personally and he, too, appeared moved by the loss explaining, it “obviously makes one see that regardless of one’s beliefs about choice, that you would hope it would be safe and legal.” During a debate with Senator Ted Kennedy in 1994, Romney pledged, “It is since that time my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter. And you will not see me wavering on that.”

But Romney’s dear young relative seems to have disappeared from his memory (as has his promise to not waiver.) He no longer “exhumes” her body to serve as proof of his pro-choice credentials as he did routinely when running for governor of Massachusetts. These days, he’s promising to overturn Roe v Wade. Indeed, he seems eager to reinstate those laws that drove his close relative to fatally take matters into her own hands.

Read the rest from Christina Page here.

Unquestionably, due to the efforts of religious and political fundamentalists at the state and federal level to deny women access to reproductive health care of virtually every kind, the benefit that has gotten the most media attention is the one involving contraception without a co-pay. Many media outlets (see ABC, NBC, Grist, Shape.com) and some columnists, including our colleague Amanda Marcotte, have described the new birth control benefit as making contraception “free,” most frequently, for example, stating that now women will have access to birth control for free.

This is not the case, and it is misleading—and politically dangerous—to say so.

To get birth control without a co-pay means you have an insurance policy. No one can walk into any pharmacy today and get the pill without a prescription, which in any case first entails a visit to a doctor’s office. No one without insurance can walk into a doctor’s office and get an IUD for for free, nor any kind of contraception, unless they pay out of pocket or meet the means test for and are covered by Medicaid, an increasingly difficult enterprise in itself but the subject of a different article. Ten percent of women in the United States who work full time are currently uninsured and without coverage, they do not have access to “free” birth control. Nor do other women without insurance, or those whose plans are, for logistical reasons or because they were grand-fathered, not yet compliant with the ACA on preventive care. None of these women have “free” birth control now, and they will not later even if they get insurance. (See the National Women’s Law Center Guide on what to do if you have questions about your insurance plan and contraception without co-pay.)

Why? Because if you have insurance, you pay for it, either by virtue of your labor or out of your own pocket, or, depending on the situation, both.

Read it all at RH Reality Check here.

Compared to pro-choice states, anti-abortion states spend far less money per child on a range of services such as foster care, education, welfare, and the adoption of children who have physical and mental disabilities. The states that have the strongest anti- abortion laws are also the states in which women suffer from lower levels of education and higher levels of poverty, as well as from a lower ratio of female-to-male earnings.
Jean Reith Schroedel, A Comparison of Policies Across the Fifty [United] States, 2000

Utah State Senator Stuart Reid (R-Ogden) is proposing legislation that would offer sexuality education to parents and then allow parents to choose whether their children receive similar education in school. Reid says that he feels that parents need training on how best to approach this topic with their children. Before you start applauding and giving a shout out to Utah of all places, you should know that his ultimate goal is to see more young people “opted out” of sexuality education in Utah schools.

Read the rest at RH Reality Check here.

New Rules Target Sexual Assault Epidemic Facing LGBT Inmates

Advocates praise the new Justice Department standards, though questions remain about separate rules for immigration detention, to be finalized by the Department of Homeland Security.

The Obama administration’s Department of Justice has released new rules to combat the epidemic of sexual assault in the nation’s prison system, a crisis that disproportionately affects LGBT inmates, as the agency specifically addressed Thursday.

The new rules coincide with a presidential memorandum mandating that the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a law passed by Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support nearly a decade ago, applies to all U.S. correctional and detention facilities (the Justice Department has been finalizing rules pertaining to the law over the past several years).

“Sexual violence, against any victim, is an assault on human dignity and an affront to American values,” President Obama wrote. “To advance the goals of PREA, we must ensure that all agencies that operate confinement facilities adopt high standards to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse.”

While LGBT advocates have hailed the Justice Department rules as a significant step forward in protecting vulnerable gay and transgender inmates, questions remain about why DOJ’s PREA regulations, which it has spent years and millions of dollars developing, do not directly apply to the nation’s immigration detention facilities that hold approximately 32,000 people every day. (For more on this issue, read The Advocate’s Eight Months in Solitary report.)

Read the rest here.

When President Obama embraced same-sex marriage last week, he tried to frame it as an issue for the states to resolve. But federal laws and policies are very much front and center in the battle for a level financial playing field for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans - especially seniors. And the Obama administration is taking a more active role in that battle than the president let on in his historic interview.

One of the key pocketbook issues is that it is impossible for LGBT couples to access the valuable spousal, survivor and death benefits from Social Security, although they pay the same FICA taxes as heterosexual workers, and are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty than heterosexual seniors. Average Social Security benefits are 32 percent lower for LGBT couples than for heterosexual couples, according to The Williams Institute, a think tank focused on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy at the UCLA School of Law.

Same-sex couples also face financial trouble with their healthcare when they are seniors. Eligibility for Medicare is based on the number of quarters in which you have paid payroll taxes into the system. At age 65, anyone with a work history of at least 40 quarters can enroll for Medicare Part A (hospitalization) without paying a premium. Everyone pays a premium for Part B (doctors’ visits), Part D (prescription drugs) or a supplemental medical policy. But access to the entire program is predicated on Part A enrollment.

You can also enroll without paying a premium if a spouse qualifies.

But DOMA means that a legally married LGBT same-sex spouse lacking those 40 quarters must take the other route into Medicare - buying into the system by paying a hefty Part A premium out of pocket. This year, the monthly Part A premium is $451 for those with less than 30 quarters in the system.

The problems extend to access to social services, nutrition, housing and nursing home care. LGBT seniors are twice as likely to be single and up to four times more likely to be without children than their heterosexual counterparts, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute.

"There are issues around caregiving and social isolation," says Aaron Tax, director of federal government relations for Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders, also known as SAGE. "Pile onto that their lower incomes, benefits discrimination and higher poverty rates, poor health and access to health care."

Read all of this here.