On Wednesday, President Obama signed the 2010 defense authorization bill, which included a very important hate crimes provision.  This provision will extend federal hate crimes law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. 

“We must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits — not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear,” Obama said at the White House reception.  He hailed the hate crimes measure as a step toward change to “help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray.”

The bill will allow federal authorities to pursue hate-crimes cases when local authorities are either unable or unwilling to do so. 

 

Thank you to everyone who came out last night for the screening of Gus Van Sant’s MILK, which told the story of the last eight years in the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States.  The film shows Milk’s life and his path from citizen to activist and politician in California, at the same time giving insights into the national discussion over gay rights, the American political system, and California’s history.

We were unable to have a discussion immediately after the film’s powerful ending, but I’d like to offer you some additional resources on this topic:

The Incredible True Stories from the Milk Mosaic.”  Focus Films has collected stories from all over the world from people whose lives were touched by Harvey Milk.  You can view the full mosaic here.

Here is one of those stories:

I would like to share a story from the “MILK MOSAIC” on the film’s website, submitted by an American:

I owe Harvey Milk my life. When I was in high school back in the 70’s in a small midwestern town I was contemplating suicide at the age of 16. Then I starting reading stories about some guy named, of all things Milk, out in San Francisco who was openly gay and just elected to a public office. I followed Harvey’s career and was devistated at his death. However I realized if he could succeed so could I. Not only did I not kill myself, but I went on to get my Ph.D and am now a teacher hopefully inspiring others. I wouldn’t be here today without the hope Harvey gave me. Thanks Harvey we sure need you now.

Harvey Milk’s election and assassination have had a significant impact on LGBT rights in the United States.  It led to the first of four “Marches on Washington,” in 1979. In 1983, Gary Studds from Massachusetts became our first openly gay Congressman.  In 1993, the Senate confirmed the first openly gay Presidential appointee, Roberta Achtenburg in the Department of Housing & Urban Development.  President Obama has nominated several openly gay people for his transition team and high-level government positions, including Ambassadorships.  

We cannot discuss the subject of violence against gays without mentioning the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998.  Shepard, a 21-year old student in Wyoming, was lured from a gay bar by two other young men, who robbed and brutally tortured him, and left tied to a fence in a rural area to await his death.  He was found 18 hours later in a coma and died five days later.  This tragedy shook the nation, and the trial of Shepard’s murderers sparked a national discussion on hate crimes, which at that time did not exist in the State of Wyoming.  A basic national law from 1969 existed at the time, which covered crimes motivated by race, color, religion, and national origin, and only while the victim is participating in a federally-protected activity such as voting. 

On July 15, the U.S. Congress passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010.  This act would cover crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.  It states that hate crimes can take place at any time.  It would also provide funding for state and local agencies to investigate and prosecute hate crimes and gives the federal government the power to investigate hate crimes that local authorities have not followed through on.  And it would add a requirement for the federal government to track statistics on hate crimes against transgendered people. 

The discussion on same-sex marriage in the United States is also complicated – some states perform it, others honor it, others have some variant form of domestic partnership, and some have legal bans on gay marriage.  On the federal level, in 2009, President Obama signed a referendum extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. 

Although the United States does not have a single, simple position on gay rights as a whole, and Americans hold diverse views on issues such as gay marriage, one thing is certain: LGBT Americans such as Harvey Milk have made a lasting impact on our society, from protecting young people against violence to inspiring and working for the good of others, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

For the President’s remarks during LGBT Pride Month 2009, please click here and here.

milk_movie_poster

MILK
Free screening + discussion
Wednesday, 22 July 2009, 6:00 pm
Kino.Lab at the Center for Contemporary Art Zamek Ujazdowski
Ul. Jazdow 2

 

The U.S. Embassy in Warsaw and the Campaign Against Homophobia are pleased to invite you to a free screening of the Oscar-winning film Milk on Wednesday, July 22 at 18:00 at the Center for Contemporary Art’s Kino.Lab (ul. Jazdow 2).  The film tells the story of Harvey Milk, who in 1972 became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the United States.  Covering his life from activism to political office to his assassination in 1978, the film tells the story of a man who stood up for equal rights at a time when prejudice and even anti-gay violence was socially acceptable.  Milk’s life and death brought these issues to the political forefront, and the film has inspired a new discussion about gay rights in today’s world.  We invite you to join us in this discussion after the film.

The film will be shown with Polish subtitles and attendance is free of charge.

stonewall

BEFORE STONEWALL: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community
Free screening + panel discussion
Thursday, 25 June 2009, 6:00 pm
Kino.Lab at the Center for Contemporary Art Zamek Ujazdowski
Ul. Jazdow 2

The U.S. Embassy in Warsaw and the Campaign Against Homophobia are pleased to invite you to a free screening of American documentary BEFORE STONEWALL: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community on Thursday, June 25th at 18:00 at the Center for Contemporary Art’s Kino.Lab (ul. Jazdow 2).  The “Stonewall riots” that followed the June 1969 police raid of New York City’s Stonewall Inn, then the largest gay and lesbian establishment in America, are largely regarded as the starting point of the gay rights movement.  The film explores the history of the gay community before the Stonewall riots through archival footage, and personal recollections.  It will be screened in English with Polish subtitles.

After the screening, we invite you to a panel discussion, “40 Years After Stonewall: LGBT Rights in the U.S. and Europe,” featuring Robert Biedron, Board Member, Campaign Against Homophobia and dr Tomasz Basiuk, Head of the American Studies Center, Warsaw University. 

The U.S. Embassy would like to give special thanks to BEFORE STONEWALL’s producer/director, Greta Schiller, for making this free screening possible.

This event is free and open to the public.  No RSVP is required, but early arrival is advised.