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Adding a Non-Discrimination Clause to the Rhode Island Children’s Bill of Rights

Update: Victory! The Rhode Island House passed the bill June 24 and the governor has signed it into law!

Read testimony submitted by GLAD's Youth Initiative Director Vickie Henry

June18, 2015 Rhode Island Action Alert

Rhode Island House Speaker Mattiello is holding up the addition of a non-discrimination clause to the Children's Bill of Rights for kids in DCYF care. The Senate version passed the Senate unanimously and was called a "no brainer" by the ACLU and the HEW committee members. In fact, throughout the hearing people seemed surprised to learn that this was not already included in that document. Both bills are now sitting in the HEW committee.

Please call the Speaker at 222-2466 and express support for H5586. This is not an LGBTQ specific bill but it does include sexual orientaiton and gender identity and expression in the language.

That language may be part of why the speaker is holding up the bill. Please reinforce that this is about ALL kids having knowledge of the rights that they already have. And it is important to also note that the Massachusetts Children's Bill or Rights lists their non-discrimination clause as item #1.

The bill sponsors are: Diaz, Slater, Ruggiero, Tanzi, Maldonado  and the bill proposes adding the following language:

(q)  No child shall be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, socioeconomic status or mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disability, or by association with an individual orgroup who has or is perceived to have one or more of such characteristics.

Why Add Nondiscrimination Language to Children’s Bill of Rights?

•   The Children’s Bill of Rights is a document given to children who come into DCYF care to explain all the rights they have within the child welfare system. The right to be free from discrimination is the most fundamental right they have and should be added.

•   The nondiscrimination language proposed for the Children’s Bill of Rights includes only protected classes that are currently included in Rhode Island State law. Including it in this document insures youth know that this law exists and that they are protected by it.

•   The children within the child welfare system are already a vulnerable population and need to know they will be protected against all forms of discrimination. Seeing nondiscrimination language within their Bill of Rights shows them that the state is paying attention to their treatment.

•   Children from minority populations have often faced discrimination in other settings and need to know they will be respected within state care.

•   All child welfare experts and agencies agree this is important for children in state care including the Department for Children, Youth and Families, the Child Advocates Office, Family Services, Child and Family Services, Adoption RI, Foster Forward, and St. Mary’s Home for Children among others.

•  Expressly informing youth of their rights might provide some protection to the state from liability for damage claims. This is for two major reasons: 1) it reminds staff of their obligations; and 2) it helps youth self-advocate and avoid the need for legal action.

•   The Massachusetts’ Foster Children’s Bill of Rights includes nondiscrimination language as their first bullet point.

GLAD Senior Attorney Ben Klein Testimony in Support of RI S 480, to Prohibit Conversion Therapy

GLAD Senior Attorney Ben Klein submitted testimony March 31 in support of Rhode Island S 480, which would prohibit licensed health care professionals from engaging in the discredited and harmful practice of seeking to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Excerpts from Klein's testimony:

  • So-called “conversion therapy” is a remnant of our nation’s shameful history of oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  Its premise is that homosexuality is abnormal behavior and a mental disorder that must therefore be changed.  The Rhode Island legislature has a proud history of eradicating discrimination against LGBT people as well as enacting laws that ensure the health, safety, and welfare of children. The passage of S 480 is a critical step necessary to further these goals.  
  • So-called “conversion therapy” has been proven ineffective, is contrary to modern medicine, and subjects young people to the risk of suicide and other serious psychological harms. 
  • The passage of S 480 is also a significant step that Rhode Island can take to create a better world for those LGBT youth who will never be subjected to “conversion therapy.” Many LGBT youth still grow up believing that there is “something wrong” with who they are, increasing their risk of adverse mental health outcomes. The prohibition of “conversion therapy,” which has its roots in the notion that it is not normal to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, is a powerful step the legislature can take to counter that harmful message. 
  • Courts have upheld the constitutionality of bans on conversion therapy as within the state’s well-established power to regulate healthcare and legislate for the welfare of children.  

Read the full testimony here

Testimony on RI H 5383: An Act Related to Education - School Committees and Superintendents

GLAD Youth Initiative Director Vickie Henry submitted testimony March 11 on H 5383: An Act Related to Education - School Committees and Superintendents.

H 5383 would amend Section 16-2-17 of the Rhode Island General Laws in Chapter 16-2 entitled "School Committees and Superintendents" to "direct all school superintendents to review discipline data for their school district, to decide whether there is an unequal impact on students based on race, ethnicity, or disability status, and to respond to any disparity."

GLAD supports the adoption of this amendment, but also urges that gender identity and sexual orientation, if known, be added to the categories for which data is collected.

In her written testimony, Henry presents evidence demonstrating that LGBTQ youth suffer punishments by school authories that are disproportionate to their rates of transgressive behavior, and that nine percent of students report being disciplined simply for indentifying as LGBTQ.

Read the full testimony here.

Testimony in Opposition to An Act Related to Criminal Offenses - Criminal Transmission of HIV

GLAD AIDS Law Project Director and Senior Staff Attorney Ben Klein testified February 24 in opposition to Rhode Island H 5245, An Act Related to Criminal Offenses - Criminal Transmission of HIV, saying such a law, if enacted, would "undermine public health efforts to prevent HIV and will actually increase HIV transmission."

You can read Klein's full testimony here.  

An excerpt follows:

"GLAD opposes H 5245, a law that criminalizes failure to disclose HIV status, because leading medical and public health authorities agree that such a law will undermine public health efforts to prevent HIV and will actually increase HIV transmission.

We all share the goal of stopping HIV transmission. Rhode Island has been a leader in adopting successful tools to curtail the spread of HIV. Those measures include increasing HIV testing, ensuring access to HIV antiviral medications that drastically reduce the likelihood of transmission, adopting laws providing for access to clean syringes, and operating an effective partner notification program. H 5245, however, will not only fail to have any impact on HIV transmission, it will actually increase HIV transmission by undermining these proven public health measures.  

For this reason, there is a consensus among the nation’s leading medical and public health organizations that HIV criminalization laws, such as H 5245, are harmful to the public health."

Read more

Adding a Non-Discrimination Provision to Rhode Island’s Children’s Bill of Rights

Update 6/17/14  -  Urgent: Calls Need Today to Rhode Island Speaker Matiello

Help move this bill forward - call the Speaker's Office today at (401) 222-2466 and tell him:

"Senate Bill 2385 Passed Unanimously in the Senate. Please ask the Speaker and the House to take this up. This is a AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT - DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN, YOUTH, AND FAMILIES  and would create a nondiscriminatory clause under the ALREADY EXISTING children's bill of rights for all children who are under the supervision of the department of children, youth, and families.Thank you.

-----

GLAD Senior Staff Attorney Vickie Henry submitted testimony for a hearing May 8 to add a non-discrimination provision to Rhode Island's Children's Bill of Rights.

The Children’s Bill of Rights enumerates the specific rights of children in the custody and/or care of the Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF). To help ensure that the rights of children in DCYF care are respected, a copy of the Children’s Bill of Rights must be posted in a conspicuous place in all secure facilities and/or residential placement facilities. The Children’s Bill of Rights is remarkable for the absence of a non-discrimination provision. What a message that omission sends. 

This bill will make explicit what we hope is policy now: the right of youth to be free from discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression, socioeconomic status or mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disability, or by association with an individual or group who has or is perceived to have one or more such characteristics. 

Read the full testimony.

Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee Marriage Bill Hearing 2013

GLAD is part of a broad coalition of LGBT advocates, clergy members, labor organizations, and civil rights leaders dedicated to achieving marriage equality in Rhode Island in 2013 - Rhode Islanders United for Marriage.

“GLAD is proud to take an active part in this history-making effort,” says Janson Wu, GLAD staff attorney.  “We’re convinced that this year Rhode Island will join the other New England states in leading the nation toward marriage equality for all.”

Legislative leaders have committed to advancing the bill and grassroots supporters are already taking action across the state.

A House Judiciary Committee hearing on the marriage equality bill, HB 5015, will take place at the rise of the House on Tuesday January 15.  Wu will present testimony on behalf of GLAD. His written testimony is available here.

GLAD and Marriage Equality Rhode Island

GLAD continues to work with our partner Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) to advance an affirmative marriage equality bill and to build a set of legal protections for same-sex couples through legislation.

The 2008 legislative platform includes:

Compassion for All Families Ac
t –  would give domestic partners the spousal benefits of family medical leave, nursing home visitation, and funeral planning
Equal Divorce – would allow same-sex couples married outside of Rhode Island to divorce in Rhode Island courts
Equal Marriage – would allow all Rhode Island couples the equal freedom to marry

For more information, visit Marriage Equality Rhode Island.