Almost a year had passed, when Loretta Pangelinan, and her partner, Kathleen Aguero—with only a firm resolve to “marry on Guam so that all their friends and family may attend and participate in their joyous occasion" – successfully filed their claim at the U.S. District Court. If one were to chart a path chronicling the year that was for the island’s LGBT community, it would take off that day in June when Guam trail blazed as the first U.S. territory to strike down the ban on same-sex marriage and employment discrimination. The chart would dip in the wake of the recent Florida mass shooting tragedy, which shook the local LGBT community to the core but was also seen as a potential turning point toward change.
Guam was the first territory to legalize same sex marriage when the Guam Marriage Equality Act of 2015 lapsed into law without the governor’s signature nearly a year ago. Senator Nerissa Bretania-Underwood introduced Bill 119-33, which seeks to provide equal protection for all families in Guam by creating equality in civil marriage.
The law aligns local statute with a federal court order issued on June 5, which prohibited the Guam government from banning same-sex marriage based on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Latta v. Otter. District Court of Guam Chief Justice Frances Tydingco-Gatewood’s order took effect on June 9.
In her testimony, Underwood said the measure was introduced several hours after the District Court of Guam issued the ruling on the unconstitutionality of existing marriage laws on Guam. The statute defines marriage in Guam as “the legal union of two persons without regard to gender” and changes references to husband and wife to spouse or spouses.
Even before the local bill on marriage equality lapsed into law, Pangelinan, and Aguero, successfully sued for the right to marry on Guam, and tied the knot in a private ceremony officiated by Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz.
Six years ago, Cruz, one of the island’s first openly gay public officials, introduced Bill 185, a domestic partnership measure, during the term of the 30th Guam Legislature. He was the first lawmaker on island to do so.
That bill followed Bill 138, a similar measure introduced by Cruz’s legislative committee on youth at the behest of the Guam Youth Congress just before Cruz penned his version. Cruz’s measure made it through committee but deeply divided the community with opposition concerned about the sanctity of marriage versus equal rights for all. Following the legalization of same-sex marriage, the Office of Vital Statistics of the Department of Public Health and Social Services accommodated requests from several same-sex couples who immediately applied for licenses. One of the first to apply were Aguero and Pangelinan.
While the impact has yet to be seen on island, another peak was the landmark federal guidance issued by the Obama Administration in May ordering educational institutions to provide transgender students access to facilities that match their chosen gender identity. The directive covers public schools, as well as colleges and universities that receive federal funds. The Guam Department of Education, University of Guam, and Guam Community College all receive federal funding support.
Tim Dela Cruz of GALA said that while there is still much work to do to create greater social acceptance of LGBT persons, there's an opportunity to make public schools places that are LGBT youth affirming and supportive.
According to the federal directive, “in recent years, they have received an increasing number of questions from parents, teachers, principals, and school superintendents about civil rights protections for transgender students.”
“As a condition of receiving Federal funds, a school agrees that it will not exclude, separate, deny benefits to, or otherwise treat differently on the basis of sex any person in its educational programs or activities unless expressly authorized to do so under Title IX or its implementing regulations,” the directive noted.
As expected, the directive created a backlash. The same month when the directive was issued, 11 states and officials filed a lawsuit against the
Administration challenging the directive. Documents filed alleged that the “defendants have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights.”
For Dela Cruz, the federal mandate is a great start. “We hope this is followed up with a commitment to empower greater visibility of LGBT youth throughout school campuses, like supporting Gay Straight Alliance clubs, responding to youth behavioral health needs, having more inclusive school activities and supporting those who may be dealing with family rejection,” he added.
The island is also making strides in addressing housing discrimination issues against the LGBT community. This year, the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority (GHURA) is in the process of reviewing its Public Housing Agency (PHA) 5-Year and Annual PHA Plan for the Fiscal Year beginning Oct 1, 2016. Part of the review process involves updating the Public Housing Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy (ACOP).
Although there are no available data for Guam, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - Office of Policy Development and Research released a study in 2013, “An Estimate of Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples,”
This is the first large-scale, paired-testing study to assess housing discrimination against same-sex couples in metropolitan rental markets via advertisements on the Internet. According to the study, same-sex couples experience discrimination in the online rental housing market, relative to heterosexual couples. Meanwhile, “adverse treatment is found primarily in the form of same-sex couples receiving fewer responses to e-mail inquiry than heterosexual couples.”
While the previous plan did not include any statement on equal access, GHURA’s proposed incorporate provisions published in a Feb 2012 register pertaining to a final rule covering “The Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity.”
Moreover, the proposed revised plan would now define family to include “actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status, a single person, disabled person, near-elderly person, or any other person single person; or a group of persons residing together.”
Guam also scored success when Bill 102-33 which passed unanimously at the legislature, lapsed into law. The measure, entitled the Guam Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2015, updates Guam’s laws and adds basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of military status, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
With the enactment, Guam law is expanded and protects against workplace discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion, color and ancestry, or because of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and military status.
With the military status inclusion, employers are now prohibited from acts of workplace discrimination such as refusing to hire, failing to re-employ, discharging, failing to promote, harassing or discriminating against a person with respect to any other term, condition or privilege of employment based on military status.
According to ISA Guam, a local advocacy group, despite these gains, discrimination and exclusion against the LGBT community still exists on island and across the country.
“Despite the incredible progress on issues from marriage to military service, stories of exclusion and discrimination are far too common across the country. No one should be fired, evicted from their home, or denied services because of who they are or whom they love,” the organization said in a statement sent to the Post.
“While LGBT people have made great strides in equal protections, in marriage and workplace protections most prominently here on Guam, it’s important to realize that where it counts is in our families. If we can not count on our Guam families to be supportive, where can LGBT people, especially youth, turn to?”
ISA Guam said community face the fear of discrimination or exclusion everyday. “Just think of every small talk conversation or invitation to a family function--LGBT people face a crushing fear of whether they themselves or their significant other will not be welcomed simply because of who they are or whom they love.”
“Just ask any LGBT kid sitting in the pews hearing anti-equality homilies or archdiocesan prayers, ask any LGBT volunteer or LGBT person experiencing homelessness walking up to Kamalen Karidat whether they feel welcomed when they see anti-marriage equality posters at doors and entrances that should be to welcome all, see the hesitation of same-sex couples walking in our public places to hold hands or show affection.”
Fear of violence often drives these fears even deeper in every aspect of the community, according to the organization, and it is up to supporters to create safe spaces for LGBT people to come out and feel included.
Click here to launch the digital edition of the Sunday Post.