Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Kentucky Equality Federation condemns special legislative session for not including KADAP funding

Kentucky Equality Federation today condemned the special legislative session called by Governor Steve Beshear for not including funding to the Kentucky AIDS Drug Assistance Program (KADAP).

Budget cuts have forced the program to create a wait list for people newly diagnosed with HIV. The Commonwealth of Kentucky is currently # 2 in the nation on a waiting list. Activists in the State of South Carolina protested at the state Capitol today.

"We urge the Honorable Steve Beshear as head of state and government of the Commonwealth to immediately take steps to restore this life saving program," stated Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer. "The legislature, with the exception of Senior Representative Tom Burch, chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee have effectively told new HIV patients to 'drop dead.'"

In Resolution 1333, Kentucky Equality Federation's Board of Directors declared an AIDS crisis in the Commonwealth, and condemned the Kentucky House of Representatives for failure to fund the program.

"We've heard stories from people seeking out second mortgages to pay for their medications," say Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer and Kentucky HIV/AIDS Advocacy Action Group (KHAAG) President Bobby Edelen. "One person who approached us said, 'with the uncertainty of receiving assistance I am thinking about selling off my life insurance policy' to afford life-sustaining medications. We're back to the 80s."

The nearly 1300 patients enrolled in the Kentucky AIDS Drug Assistance Program (KADAP), which is currently unfunded, receive medications through a hodge-podge of resources that are temporary and unsustainable.

In the meantime, Kentucky has a waiting list for drug assistance - numbering over 200 men and women - with more being added every day according to the Kaiser Foundation's State Health Facts. "When do we come off the waiting list? asked one HIV/AIDS patient, when we die?"

To compound the issue, Kentucky lawmakers allowed the Kentucky AIDS Drug Assistance Program to expire. "The fact that the Commonwealth also stopped funding the low-income Kentucky AIDS Drug Assistance Program in 2007 is inhumane, shortsighted, and threatens individual and public health," stated Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer.

People with HIV/AIDS who do not have access to medications are at increased risk for opportunistic infections, more frequent hospitalization (often under indigent status), and early death.

In contrast, a person who is taking HIV medications as prescribed and taking care of their health can reasonably expect to live as long as someone without HIV. "Not funding the Kentucky AIDS Drug Assistance Program is inhumane, shortsighted, and threatens individual and public health," states Palmer, who met with lawmakers six times during the legislative session trying to get KADAP restored.

HIV/AIDS has the most devastating impact on Kentucky's most at-risk communities, who already face significant barriers in accessing health care. KADAP is literally a lifeline for these men and women.

Minority populations are disproportionately at risk for HIV/AIDS. According to statistics from the HIV/AIDS Branch of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, African-Americans in Kentucky make 7.6% of the commonwealth's total population but account for 36% of all new HIV infections. Similarly, Latino Kentuckians make up 2.4% of the population but account for 7% of new HIV infections.

In March, organizations across the Commonwealth joined Kentucky Equality Federation in stating that "KADAP is a crucial and necessary program for Kentuckians living with HIV/AIDS." These organizations included the Kentucky HIV/AIDS Advocacy Action Group, AVOL (AIDS Volunteers, Inc.), the Kentucky HIV/AIDS Planning and Advisory Council, COLAGE (Children Of Lesbians And Gays Everywhere), Kentucky Chapter, United We Stand - Kentucky's LGBTI News, The Wings Clinic, House of Ruth, Moveable Feast, GLSO (Lexington Gay Lesbian Service Organization), University of Kentucky OUTsource, and the University of Kentucky Gay-Straight Alliance.

Kentucky Equality Federation will work with activists around the Commonwealth to prepare a protest at the Kentucky Governor's Mansion. "Lawmakers failed to act, now it is in the hands of our Governor," added Palmer. "We also recognize that U.S. President Obama is also to blame for cutting funding to these programs."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Crosby Middle School student called a contradiction for having lesbian parents. Kentucky Equality Federation seeks action

Kentucky Equality Federation today called for the termination or route change for Jefferson County School Bus Driver Ronell Mattingly and an official apology from Crosby Middle School Assistant Principal Angela Allen.

"The issue centers on the suspension of the child from the bus simply because she was offended when others on the bus were making fun of gay and lesbian people. When she brought this to the attention of bus driver, the driver thought it was humorous and told the child she was a 'contradiction' according to the report filed with our organization," stated Rick Wolfe, spokesman for Kentucky Equality Federation's Discrimination, Hate Crimes, and School Bullying Committee, and special adviser to the president for youth and discrimination. "As a result of the child bringing it to the attention of the bus driver, she was suspended for a three (3) day period. The fact that the bus driver called her a 'contradiction' because she was the child of a lesbian couple, in addition to the way the school handled the situation is a serious problem."

According to the parents of the child, on March 31, 2010 the school bus driver told the child she was a "contradiction," because she has same-sex lesbian parents and has been subsequently and continuously punished for calling the bus driver a 'jerk' because of her remark.

"The fact that anyone still feels they have the right to make judgment calls regarding other peoples life choices is the reason that organizations like Kentucky Equality Federation and COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere) exist," stated Julia Oiler Spiegel, Coordinator of the COLAGE Kentucky Chapter, and Kentucky Equality Federation's Children of LGBTI Parents Outreach Director. The Kentucky Chapter of COLAGE is also a member of the Commonwealth Coalition. "As a parent, lesbian or straight, I would question the safety of my child while being chaperoned by this bus driver. I cannot help but wonder the drivers response if a child reported being bullied, harassed or assaulted while riding this bus. I commend this child for her willingness to defend her family unit, however that may be defined."

According to the parents, children on the school bus were joking about gay and lesbian people. This offended the twelve year old child and brought it to the attention of the school bus driver. The school bus driver asked the child to have her parents call her, the parents did and the school bus driver allegedly repeated the statement to one of the parents, Evon Reeves.
Evon Reeves statement: "My daughter who rides the school bus to and from school, recently there were some comments made on the bus regarding gays, my daughter said that word offended her because her mom was gay; the bus driver laughed and replied 'that's a contradiction.' Being 12 years old at the time, she did not know what that meant; my daughter did ask her what that meant and the bus driver ignored her. My daughter did get smart with her which I am not condoning at all and her punishment was suspension off the bus for 3 days and she was suppose to write a letter. The day this happened, my daughter called me at work told me what happened and I really could not believe an adult would say something so absurd.

I called the Blankenbaker Bus Depot like the bus driver had told my daughter to ask me to do; the bus driver returned my call later that night and said the same exact thing to me, which showed me what mentality she actually had. The next day the driver made her sit in back of the bus with High School Students, and would not let any of her friends turn around and talk to her.

I did not receive a call the from school until 3 days later, when I and spoke to Assistant Principal Angela Allen, she stated my daughter had been suspended off bus due to being 'smart.'

Mattingly wanted a written apology which my partner and I didn't agree with; Assistant Principal Angela Allen stated my daughter should simply ignore such comments and grow some thicker skin. I reiterated that the comments were made to my 12 year old child, from an adult. My daughter has enough to deal with such as peer pressure, growing up, homework, etc. and should not be subject to bigotry from a school bus driver who is suppose to be driving the bus and protecting children, not arguing with a child.

When my daughter returned to school, the driver made her sit in back of the bus with High School Students, and would not allow any of her friends to turn around and talk to her. After that I did not let my daughter ride the bus until April 22, 2010.

When my daughter started to get off the bus the driver stood up in front of her and asked for her apology letter. My daughter told her that her family made the decision that she didn't have to write it, then; the driver then aggressively held the referral in her face and stated 'this says you do.' My daughter explained again she was told not to apologize. The driver then stated she was going to give another referral and hoped she got suspend from the bus for the rest of the year. She has not ridden the bus sense.

The parents turned to Kentucky Equality Federation for assistance after being stonewalled by the school, as well as the Jefferson County Board of Education's Transportation Office, who has refused to listen to the parents. The child still isn't riding the school bus because she is now also afraid of the driver.

"The audacity of a school bus driver to say such a thing to a child is appalling and shows the bigotry gay and lesbian parents face," stated Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer. "The school bus driver has authority over the bus, and should have asked the students making derogatory comments about gay and lesbian people to stop, or they should have been the ones punished; had comments been made about any other minority group, I believe this situation would have been handled in a completely different manner." Palmer continued, "The school certainly is not giving 'an environment that fosters self-discipline and self direction' as stated on their website."
Reeves continued: "We have moved beyond 'some type of disciplinary action,' or a simple don't let it happen again. My daughter cannot ride the bus because she feels threatened by the bus driver who made her sit in the very back of the bus with high school students after this happened. I want them know they can't make such statements. I want them to know they cannot do that to my child, or any other child."

Kentucky Equality Federation will be filing official complaints with Louisville's representation in the Kentucky House of Representatives, in addition to the Commonwealth's Acting Secretary of Education, Joseph U. Meyer, the Kentucky Department of Education, and the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Counsel for the Kentucky Equality Federation, Jill Hall Rose, media statement. Hate voicemail included stating gays are not welcome in the Commonwealth!

Counsel for the Kentucky Equality Federation, Jill Hall Rose, has reviewed the court proceedings in the Jackson District Court involving Cheyenne Williams on behalf of the Federation. It has been determined that while the Federation respects the ruling of the Court, there may have been certain irregularities within the proceedings that should be reviewed to ensure that the victim was not treated differently due to her sexual orientation.

These irregularities include the following:

During the preliminary hearing on April 29, 2010, 8-10 individuals supporting the Defendants, none of whom were witnesses, parties, court personnel or attorneys, were allowed to sit in the jury box in courtroom during the hearing to visually show support of the Defendants. These seats were directly in front of the Judge and separate from the public area of the courtroom. Further, these individuals were completely dressed in white as a sign of support for the Defendants. This dress was coordinated by the Defendants, and all of the Defendants’ supporters in the public area of the courtroom were similarly dressed in white. These 8-10 individuals were allowed to remain in the nonpublic area of the Court room instead of the area designated for the public. This is highly unusual and creates a perception of favoritism for the Defendants.

It appears that the charges were not promptly and fully investigated by law enforcement. While the incident took place on 4/16/10, the officer who testified at the hearing stated that he had still not completed his investigation.

No officer would support the charges and therefore, Ms. Williams was required to bring the Complaint herself through a private complaint.

Jackson County does not have a victims advocate that serves the court system. While this is likely a funding issue, the Kentucky Equality Federation has had to fill that role for Miss Williams.

At no point, has the prosecutor or court recognized that one of the charges upon which the Judge found probable cause, namely fourth degree assault, can be subject to the “hate crime” statute under KRS 532.031. Pursuant to this statute, the Judge may consider whether the offense the victim’s sexual orientation was primary factor in the commission of the crime in sentencing, including the denial of probation.

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Kentucky Equality Federation also received a voice-mail stating gay and lesbian people are not welcome in Kentucky at 1:08 PM on Fri, Apr 30 2010. The message was directed to our President and the Discrimination, Hate Crimes, and School Bullying Committee.

Click here to listen.