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Editorial: Another step for equality for gays, lesbians: Future Janice Langbehns protected from bias

Miami Herald editorial (Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011):

2267622If the name Janice Langbehn sounds familiar, it's because she made headlines in Miami in 2007 when a social worker at Jackson Memorial Hospital wouldn't allow Ms. Langbehn to visit her dying partner, Lisa Pond, because Florida is ``an anti-gay state.''

The lesbian couple from Washington state were about to embark on a Caribbean cruise with their children when Ms. Pond suffered a brain aneurysm and was rushed to Jackson's emergency room.

Unlike married spouses in the same situation, Ms. Langbehn was forced to pace the lobby for hours rather than visit her long-time partner. She was finally allowed to see Ms. Pond in the company of a priest performing last rites.

The outrage over this tragic denial of a couple's basic rights made Jackson the poster child of callous hospital bureaucracies and sparked a national movement for gay-patient rights. Ms. Langbehn unsuccessfully sued Jackson and joined the national campaign to fight for ``the human right to decide who should be with you in sickness and in death,'' as she wrote in a June 16, 2010, Other Views column.

On Jan. 18, her cause won as new federal rules kicked in banning any restrictions on visitation based on sexual orientation in hospitals across the country. The rules apply to all hospitals receiving federal funds under Medicare and Medicaid. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, the rules apply to more than 90 percent of the nation's hospitals.

The new policy comes straight from the White House. When President Obama heard Ms. Langbehn's story last April, he called and apologized to her, and he told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to begin the rule-making process that culminated Jan. 18.

Jackson never did apologize, according to Ms. Langbehn. But the hospital, Miami-Dade County's public-health safety net, did change its visitation policy to include gay and lesbian couples in its definition of ``family.'' And in 2010, to its credit, Jackson got high marks from the national Human Rights Campaign for how it responds to gay patients and families.

In another area, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this month proposed rule changes to prohibit lenders from using sexual orientation or gender identity as a way of determining a borrower's eligibility. If adopted, the new rules would also prohibit owners and operators of HUD-funded housing from asking applicants or household occupants about sexual orientation or gender identity. The rules will be implemented after a 60-day public-comment period.

These federal policy changes nudge gay and lesbian Americans one step closer to the same level of equality as heterosexuals enjoy. Along with the repeal of the military's ``don't ask, don't tell'' policy in December, they constitute solid steps toward this nation truly guaranteeing equal rights for all its citizens.

Gay and lesbian Americans do not live in isolation. The Williams Institute at the University of California School of Law analyzed 2000 Census figures and found that same-sex headed households were located in every state and in 99.3 percent of all U.S. counties that year.

The reality is that gays and lesbians are a fundamental part of the fabric of our diverse society.

It's high time they have the same rights as all Americans.

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Great post Steve. As many of you know, gay servicemen & women are saying "Do Ask Do Tell" now at http://OutMilitary.com - the new social network for gay & lesbian service members & supporters...

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