Aimee Stephens, Transgender Plaintiff in Supreme Court Case, Dies at 59

Aimee Stephens

Aimee Stephens, who was fired from her job in 2013 after she announced to her colleagues in a letter that she would begin living as a woman, won her case in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Aimee Stephens, whose potentially groundbreaking case before the Supreme Court could have major implications for the fight for civil rights for transgender people, died on Tuesday at her home in Michigan. She was 59.Aimee Stephens

She died from complications related to kidney failure, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Ms. Stephens.

Ms. Stephens had been on dialysis for some time and entered hospice care in late April, according to the A.C.L.U.

Donna Stephens, Aimee Stephens’s wife, thanked supporters in a statement for their “kindness, generosity, and keeping my best friend and soul mate in your thoughts and prayers.”

Aimee Stephens, a former funeral director, was fired from her job in 2013 after she announced to her colleagues in a letter that she would begin living as a woman.

“What I must tell you is very difficult for me and is taking all the courage I can muster,” she wrote. “I have felt imprisoned in a body that does not match my mind, and this has caused me great despair and loneliness.”

“I will return to work as my true self, Aimee Australia Stephens, in appropriate business attire,” the letter continued. “I hope we can continue my work at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes doing what I always have, which is my best!”

Two weeks after receiving the letter, though, the funeral home’s owner, Thomas Rost, fired Ms. Stephens. Asked for the “specific reason that you terminated Stephens,” Mr. Rost said: “Well, because he was no longer going to represent himself as a man. He wanted to dress as a woman.”

The case went to court, and Ms. Stephens won in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati. The case, which is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, is one of three that are expected to provide the first indications of how the court’s new conservative majority will approach L.G.B.T. rights.

The National Center for Transgender Equality said it expected a decision from the court “perhaps as soon as Thursday.”

An A.C.L.U. spokesperson said Ms. Stephens’s estate would move forward with the case.

In October, when Ms. Stephens traveled to Washington for the Supreme Court hearing of her case, she said she was overwhelmed by the number of people demonstrating on her behalf.NYTimes.com, by Aimee Ortiz, May 12, 2020

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Supreme Court to Hear Case on Foster Care and Gay Rights

Foster Care Gay

The justices will consider whether a city may exclude a Catholic adoption agency from its foster care system because it refuses to work with gay couples.

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether Philadelphia may exclude a Catholic agency that does not work with same-sex couples from the city’s foster-care system.Foster Care Gay

The city stopped placements with the agency, Catholic Social Services, after a 2018 article in The Philadelphia Inquirer described its policy against placing children with same-sex couples. The agency and several foster parents sued the city, saying the decision violated their First Amendment rights to religious freedom and free speech.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, ruled against the agency. The city was entitled to require compliance with its nondiscrimination policies, the count said.

Leslie Cooper, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Supreme Court’s decision in the case would affect many families.

“This case could have profound consequences for the more than 400,000 children in foster care across the country,” she said. “We already have a severe shortage of foster families willing and able to open their hearts and homes to these children. Allowing foster care agencies to exclude qualified families based on religious requirements that have nothing to do with the ability to care for a child such as their sexual orientation or faith would make it even worse.”

In a Supreme Court brief, the agency agreed that the legal questions before the justices were enormously consequential.

“Here and in cities across the country, religious foster and adoption agencies have repeatedly been forced to close their doors, and many more are under threat,” the brief said. “These questions are unavoidable, they raise issues of great consequence for children and families nationwide, and the problem will only continue to grow until these questions are resolved by this court.”

The case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, No. 19-123, is the latest clash between anti-discrimination principles and claims of conscience. It is broadly similar to that of a Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

In 2018, the Supreme Court refused to decide the central issue in that case: whether businesses may claim exemptions from anti-discrimination laws on religious grounds. It ruled instead that the baker had been mistreated by members of the state’s civil rights commission who had expressed hostility toward religion.

The foster care agency relied on the decision, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in arguing that it too had been subjected to hostility based on anti-religious prejudice. It added that its free-speech rights would be violated were it forced to certify that same-sex couples are fit to be foster parents.

The city responded that the agency was not entitled to rewrite government contracts to eliminate anti-discrimination clauses.

“It has never been the case that religious entities, or entities with deeply held secular views, are constitutionally entitled to enter into government contracts and then defy any terms to which they object,” the city’s brief said. If the agency’s “sweeping constitutional claims were accepted,” the brief said, “they would cause mayhem in government contracting.”

NYTimes.com, By Adam Liptak, February 24, 2020

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Israeli Supreme Court rules same-sex couples be given access to surrogacy

Israel Supreme Court

In an apparent rebuke to government, the Israeli Supreme Court justices say current law that excludes LGBT couples, harms ‘right to equality’ and gives the state one year to amend the existing legislation; LGBT organizations laud ‘historic decision’

In a unanimous verdict, the Israeli Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that same-sex couples and single men be given access to domestic surrogacy services.Israel Supreme Court

The five-justice panel declared that the current arrangements within the Embryo Carrying Agreements Law disproportionately “harms the right to equality” and the right of parenthood of these groups, and are therefore illegal.
Following a 4 to 1 vote, the court gave the state a maximum of 12 months to amend the current legislation.
Justice Uzi Vogelman wrote in his verdict the current Surrogacy Law inherently discriminates not only against LGBT community but against the concept of fatherhood as well.
“The current arrangement echoes the deep social construct that motherhood is preferable to fatherhood, and that a family made up of a male and female or only a female is much more ‘preferred,’ ‘deserving’ and ‘accepted’ than the more complicated forms [of family],” he wrote.
“This is a harmful message on the part of the administration, disregarding the basic duty of the state to respect all forms of life and all family units.”
 
ynetnews.com, by Yael Friedson, Amir Alon February 27, 2020
 
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Employment Discrimination – Can Someone Be Fired for Being Gay? The Supreme Court Will Decide

employment discrimination

The Supreme Court has delivered a remarkable series of victories to the gay rights movement over the last two decades, culminating in a ruling that established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.  Is Employment Discrimination nest?

But in more than half the states, employment discrimination exists and someone can still be fired for being gay.employment discrimination

Early in its new term, on Oct. 8, the court will consider whether an existing federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, guarantees nationwide protection from workplace discrimination to gay and transgender people, even in states that offer no protections right now.

It will be the court’s first case on L.G.B.T. rights since the retirement last year of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinions in all four of the court’s major gay rights decisions. And without Justice Kennedy, who joined four liberals in the 5-to-4 ruling in the marriage case, the workers who sued their employers in the three cases before the court may face an uphill fight.

“Now that we don’t have Kennedy on the court, it would be a stretch to find a fifth vote in favor of any of these claims that are coming to the court,” said Katherine Franke, a law professor at Columbia and the author of “Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality.”

She added that lawyers working to expand gay rights might have focused too narrowly on the right to marry. “The gay rights movement became the marriage rights movement,” she said, “and we lost sight of the larger dynamics and structures of homophobia.”

Other experts said the court should have little trouble ruling for the plaintiffs.

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans continue to face widespread job discrimination because of their same-sex attraction or sex identities,” said William N. Eskridge Jr., a law professor at Yale and the author of an article in The Yale Law Journal on Title VII’s statutory history. “If the justices take seriously the text of Title VII and their own precedents, L.G.B.T. Americans will enjoy the same job protections as other groups.”

The Supreme Court’s earlier gay rights rulings were grounded in constitutional law. Romer v. Evans, in 1996, struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that had banned laws protecting gay men and lesbians. Lawrence v. Texas, in 2003, struck down laws making gay sex a crime. United States v. Windsor, in 2013, overturned a ban on federal benefits for married same-sex couples.

And Obergefell v. Hodges, in 2015, struck down state bans on same-sex marriage, ruling that the Constitution guarantees a right to such unions.

The new cases, by contrast, concern statutory interpretation, not constitutional law.

The question for the justices is whether the landmark 1964 law’s prohibition of sex discrimination encompasses discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Lawyers for the gay and transgender plaintiffs say it does. Lawyers for the defendants and the Trump administration, which has filed briefs supporting the employers, say it does not.

NYTimes.com by Adam Liptak, September 23, 2019

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Disappointed Gay Dad Asks Supreme Court to Overturn Key New York LGBT Family Law Precedent, Brooke S.B.

overturn Brooke S.B.

Disappointed Gay Dad Asks Supreme Court to Overturn Brooke S.B., aKey New York LGBT Family Law Precedent

In Brooke S.B. v. Elizabeth A.C.C., 61 N.E.3d 488 (2016), the New York Court of Appeals overruled a 25-year-old precedent and held that when there is clear and convincing evidence that a same-sex couple agreed to have a child and raise the child together, where only one of them will be the child’s biological parent, and both of the parties performed parental duties and bonded with the children, the other parent would have the same rights as the biological parent in a later custody dispute.overturn Brooke S.B.

Now a gay biological dad who lost custody of twins to his former same-sex partner by application of the Brooke S.B. precedent asked the U.S. Supreme Court on May 10 to rule that his 14th Amendment Due Process rights have been violated. Frank G. v. Joseph P. & Renee P.F., No. 18–1431 (Filed May 10, 2019); Renee P.F. v. Frank G., 79 N.Y.S.3d 45 (App. Div., 2nd Dep’t, May 30, 2018), leave to appeal denied, 32 N.Y.3d 910 (N.Y.C.A., Dec. 11, 2018).

Frank G. and Joseph P. lived together in a same-sex relationship in New York and made a joint decision to have a child. Joseph P.’s sister, Renee, had previously volunteered to be a surrogate for her gay brother, both donating her eggs and bearing the resulting child or children. Renee became pregnant through assisted reproductive technology using Frank’s sperm. The three entered into a written agreement under which Renee would surrender parental rights but would be involved with the resulting child or children as their aunt.

After the twins were born, both men participated in parenting duties. Joseph sought to adopt the twins under New York’s second-parent adoption rules, and he remembered completing paperwork that Frank was supposed to complete and submit, but that never happened. The men were not sexually exclusive and eventually arguments about Frank’s sexual activities led to Joseph moving out. He continued to have regular contact with the children until Frank suddenly cut off contact after another argument. Frank subsequently moved with the children to Florida in December 2014. Frank did not notify Joseph or Renee of that move. When they found out, Joseph filed a guardianship petition. (Under New York precedents at the time, he did not have standing to file a custody petition.)

As lower court rulings were questioning the old New York precedent, Joseph withdrew his guardianship petition and both he and Renee filed custody petitions. Renee clearly had standing to seek custody as the biological mother who had remained in contact with the children.

Frank moved to dismiss the custody lawsuit, but the trial judge, Orange County Family Court Judge Lori Currier Woods, rejected the motion, holding that both Joseph and Renee had standing to seek custody and ordering temporary visitation rights for Joseph and Renee while the case was proceeding. Frank appealed to the Appellate Division, 2nd Department. While his appeal was pending, the Court of Appeals decided Brooke S.B.. Applying that case, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s standing decision in favor of Joseph and Renee and returned the case to Judge Woods.

After a lengthy trial, which the trial court’s unpublished opinion (reprinted in the Appendix to the cert petition) summarizes in detail, the trial court awarded custody to Joseph, with visitation rights for Frank. Frank appealed again. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s order. Frank unsuccessfully sought review by the New York Court of Appeals.

Frank is represented on the Supreme Court petition by Gene C. Schaerr of the Washington, D.C. firm of Schaerr/Jaffe LLP. Schaerr, a Federalist Society stalwart and a Mormon from Utah, where he graduated from Brigham Young University’s Law School, was prominently involved in the marriage equality battle, representing the state of Utah in defending its ban on same-sex in federal court, and he submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges on behalf of conservative legal scholars who argued that allowing same-sex marriage would be harmful to the institution of marriage, presenting social statistics from Europe purporting to show that the adoption of same-sex marriage in some countries caused rates of heterosexual marriage to fall. Social scientists have contended that the downward trend in marriage rates in Europe was well under way long before the countries in question extended legal recognition to same-sex relationships, and causation was not shown. In other words, Schaerr is an anti-LGBT cause lawyer, and the slanting of facts recited in the Petition for Frank as compared to the detailed fact findings summarized in the trial court’s unpublished opinion, which is appended to the cert Petition, is striking.

Family law is primarily a matter of state law, but the U.S. Supreme Court occasionally gets involved in family law disputes that raise constitutional issues. Since early in the 20th century, the Supreme Court has ruled that a legal parent of a child has constitutional rights, derived from the Due Process Clause, relating to custody and childrearing. The Petition argues that the rule adopted by the New York Court of Appeals and the appellate courts of some other states, recognizing parental status for purposes of custody disputes between unmarried same-sex partners, improperly abridges the Due Process rights of the biological parents.

Some state courts have issued decisions similar to Brooke S.B., while others have refused to recognize standing for unmarried same-sex partners to seek custody. There is definitely a split of authority on the issue, but it is not necessarily the kind of split that would induce the Supreme Court to take a case. The Supreme Court is most concerned with variant interpretations of federal statutes or of the U.S. Constitution, but the state court cases addressing the issue of same-sex partner standing have generally not discussed constitutional issues and have reached their conclusions as an interpretation of their state custody statutes. Although it is true that same-sex partner parental rights vary as between different states, this does not necessary create the kind of patchwork as to federal rights upon which the Court would focus.

TheMedium.com, by Art Leonard, July 12, 2019

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Indian high court dismisses plea for gay marriage

marriage equality

The Indian High Court in Dehli has turned down a plea urging it recognize equal marriage, or gay marriage, and other LGBT+ rights in India.

The court had been asked to amend the Hindu Marriage Act and other family laws in order to usher in Indian gay marriage and adoption rights, The Statesman reported on Monday (July 8).Dutee Chand

Tajinder Singh, the petitioner, argued “the constitution treats everyone equally without any discrimination. It is the duty of the state to ensure that no one should be discriminated.”

Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice C. Harishankar turned down the request, arguing that the court was not in the business of drafting laws.

Singh had also asked that the court form a committee to look into LGBT+ rights.

In its ruling, the court said that while it would not do this, the government is free to form such a body.

“It is incumbent upon the legislature and not the court to recognise the familial relations of LGBTQ community,” the court said, according to Live Law correspondent Karan Tripathi.

Gay sex decriminalised in India

Gay sex was decriminalised by India’s Supreme Court in September 2018.

Under a colonial-era law, men, women or non-binary people who had same-sex relations faced up to life in prison.

PinkNews.co,uk bu Reiss Smith, July 8, 2019

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Trump’s Betrayal – The Gay Truth About Trump

trump's betrayal

Trump’s betrayal of us is his betrayal of all of America.

Trump’s Betrayal – I’ll never buy Donald Trump as gay positive. But I’d bet on gay blasé.

“I think it’s absolutely fine,” he said when asked in a Fox News interview about displays of affection between Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten. “That’s something that perhaps some people will have a problem with. I have no problem with it whatsoever. I think it’s good.”trump's betrayal

He not only picked an openly gay man, Richard Grenell, to be the American ambassador to Germany but also reportedly moons over Grenell’s good looks. “He can’t say two sentences about Grenell without saying how great of a looking guy he is,” an unnamed associate of Trump’s told Axios’s Jonathan Swan. When Trump catches the ambassador on TV, he gushes, “Oh, there’s my beautiful Grenell!”

During the 2016 campaign, he spoke out against a North Carolina law forbidding transgender people to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity and said that Caitlyn Jenner could use the commode of her choice in Trump Tower.

And then, of course, there was his speech at the Republican National Convention, when he carefully enunciated “L.G.B.T.Q.,” pledged to protect those of us represented by that consonant cluster and, upon hearing applause, added, “I have to say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said.”

I’m glad he enjoyed it. We L.G.B.T.Q. Americans aren’t enjoying him. Far from protecting us, he and his administration have stranded us, packing federal courts with judges hostile to gay rights, barring transgender Americans from military service and giving a green light to Americans who, citing religious beliefs, don’t want to give us medical care or bake us a cake. When several United States embassies — including the one in Berlin, over which Grenell presides — requested permission to fly the rainbow flag this month in honor of Gay Pride, the State Department said no.

It’s an ugly story, and it pretty much sums up Trump’s approach to governing. His treatment of gay people perfectly reveals the flabbiness of his convictions and his willingness to stand at odds with a majority of Americans if it pleases the smaller number who adore him. He’ll suffer our anger for their ardor. Decency and principle don’t enter into it.

And he is at odds with most of the country, very much so. Take the Trump administration out of the equation and the march toward gay equality continues apace. As gay and transgender Americans prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprisingon June 28, we inhabit a state of cognitive dissonance, staring at a split screen: insults from the White House on one half of it, positive reinforcement from elsewhere on the other.

Democrats’ embrace of Buttigieg, the first openly gay politician to land in the top tier of presidential candidates, illustrates the trajectory beyond Trump. “As recently as five or 10 years ago, I think, a project like this would have been dismissed out of hand,” Buttigieg told me in a recent interview, referring to his campaign. “It was unsafe for Democrats to support same-sex marriage at the beginning of this same decade that we’re living in now.” President Barack Obama didn’t endorse it until 2012, Hillary Clinton until 2013. A Supreme Court ruling legalized it nationwide in 2015.

NYTimes.com, b y Frank Bruni, June 20, 2019

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Can a Fired Transgender Worker Sue for Job Discrimination?

In 2013, a funeral director who had been known as Anthony Stephens wrote to colleagues at a Michigan funeral home, asking for patience and support.

“What I must tell you is very difficult for me and is taking all the courage I can muster,” the letter said. “I have felt imprisoned in a body that does not match my mind, and this has caused me great despair and loneliness.”

“I will return to work as my true self, Aimee Australia Stephens, in appropriate business attire,” she wrote. “I hope we can continue my work at R. G. and G. R. Harris Funeral Homes doing what I always have, which is my best!”

Ms. Stephens had worked there for six years. Her colleagues testified that she was able and compassionate.

“He was a very good embalmer,” one said. “He was very, very thorough. Had obviously had a lot of practice prior to coming to the Harris Funeral Home. Families seemed very pleased with his work. He did a good job.”

Two weeks after receiving the letter, though, the home’s owner, Thomas Rost, fired Ms. Stephens. Asked for the “specific reason that you terminated Stephens,” Mr. Rost said: “Well, because he was no longer going to represent himself as a man. He wanted to dress as a woman.”

Mr. Rost also said he did not want to address Ms. Stephens as Aimee. “I’m uncomfortable with the name,” Mr. Rost said, “because he’s a man.”

The case went to court, and Ms. Stephens won in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati. Discrimination against transgender people, the court ruled, was barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex.

“It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex,” the court said. “Discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex.”

by Adam Liptak, NYTimes.com, November 12, 2018

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What does a Kavanaugh Court mean for the LGBT community?

What does a Kavanaugh Court mean for the LGBT community?  In short, a generation’s worth of challenges, dismissals and legitimized discrimination. 

What does a Kavanaugh Court mean for the LGBT community?  Like so many others, I dreaded this question.  I watched in painful anguish during the confirmation circus as the country wrestled with issues as varied and inflammatory as sexual assault, blatant perjury, white entitlement and gender bias.  The outcome was heartbreaking and, dare I say, demoralizing but hopefully the process will bring clarity and power to a growing movement of forward-thinking Americans who will not accept the dismissal of integrity and will stand for the ultimate legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

There is a very real possibility that the new “Kavanaugh” court will hear one of three possible cases from different federal districts that address Federal anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community.  This issue may reach the court through a case called Bostock v. Clayton County Board of Commissioners.  This case will ask whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends the protections which already exist under the Act to gay and transgender litigants.  This is a key question to be asked because, while many states already do provide anti-discrimination protections for LGBT Americans, but there is no Federal standard.  To be fired from your job simply because you are gay or transgender strikes at the heart of the entire community and is exactly the type of protection that Kavanaugh has signaled he would not extend to our community.

What does a Kavanaugh court mean for the LGBT community?  It may mean that new cases, which touch on the holy grail of anti-gay opposition – religious freedom – offer the conservative court the ability to pay homage to the religious right, from whom they have received unwavering support.  We all know how the “right” has reacted to the courts extending protections to the LGBT community in the past.  Unfortunately, the pendulum is swinging back and because of the nature and timing of judicial nominations, it may take a generation to readjust.

We are looking at potential religious objection cases like the most recent Masterpiece Cake Shop case, which narrowly allowed a baker to refuse service to a gay couple.  The next set of cases may open the door to more blatant discrimination, all in the name of religion.

What does the Kavanaugh nomination mean for the LGBT community?  It means that, once again, we have to rise above the humiliating and successful political gamesmanship that kept Merrick Garland off the court and put Brett Kavanaugh on it.  The republican dishonesty and self-service that created our new court is truly appalling, but our first priority must be to vote out those who would continue to play this stacked deck against us. 

Power begets power and the republicans have been quite successful at winning in state races which allowed them to redraw legislative districts in their favor.  This redistricting has laid the foundation for what we are seeing today: unequal representation in congress, an electoral college that favors republicans, the ability to name judges to federal courts across the land and a deepening divide between the few with power and the majority with less and less.  Until we energize the majority of Americans who believe in affordable and comprehensive health care for all Americans, sensible gun regulation and equal treatment under the law (which truly is the majority of this country), we will continue to cede power to those who have quite effectively taken it from us.

If democrats win just one chamber of the legislature, we will finally see a much needed check on the unfettered power of the current executive.  We may finally be able to investigate the long laundry list of outright violations of the law perpetrated by our President, his cabinet and our new Supreme Court Justice.  But none of this happens if we do not activate and stay engaged.  None of this will happen if we fail to reach out to others in a demonstration of true democratic partnership.  As a community, we must consolidate our political power with immigrants, women, African Americans, health care advocates, sensible gun regulation proponents.  In short, we must vote!

What does the Kavanaugh nomination mean for the LGBT community?  In the most immediate terms it means that we need to protect ourselves now.  If you are transgender, make sure that your correct gender is reflected on identification documents.  If you are a parent who has not had a court ordered establishment of parentage, get your second parent adoption.  If you are unmarried or are in a polyamorous relationship, do the basic estate planning that will protect your family unit in case the unexpected occurs. 

Only we can truly determine how the Kavanaugh nomination will affect the LGBT community.  We have had to fight for our rights before and we will have to continue to fight for the foreseeable future.  But if there is one thing I have learned from my experience in the trenches it is this: you cannot rely on others to create your future.  Step one: vote in November.  Step 2: never give up.

By Anthony M. Brown, October 10, 2018 Time For Families

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