IRS Under Fire for Treatment of Group for Lesbians with Cancer
(NEW YORK, April 14, 1998) -- The Internal Revenue Service acted improperly when it tried to re-write a lesbian support group's mission statement as a prerequisite for tax-exempt status, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said in a demand letter to the IRS today.
An IRS agent ordered Kathys' Group, a Rhode Island support group that helps lesbians with cancer, to alter its mission and add "all women" to its target population instead of focusing on lesbians. Lambda's filing calls for the IRS to withdraw that requirement and immediately grant 501(c)(3) status to Kathys' Group.
"The only appropriate question before the IRS is whether the group meets the legal criteria for educational and charitable groups entitled to tax-exempt status, and Kathys' Group fits those criteria perfectly," said David Buckel, Lambda staff attorney and counsel in the matter.
Kathys' Group, incorporated in May 1996, is named after two lesbian partners of twenty-five years, both named Kathy, one of whom developed breast cancer. The group's mission is to provide information to lesbians with cancer and their families, and to run a bi-monthly support group with an average of 12-14 participants.
"Dealing with the IRS is a scary thing, so we thought we might have to give up our mission," said Lorry Garvin, president of Kathys' Group, adding, "Lesbians have a higher risk of breast cancer than women in general, and with the added difficulty presented by many doctors who have anti-gay attitudes, a focus on the needs of lesbians is vitally important."
"It's a shame when government discourages volunteer efforts like Kathys' Group, whose founders discovered that there were no other resources designed to help lesbians with cancer in Rhode Island, and then did the hard work to get this group going," said attorney Mary Bonauto, civil rights director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which is based in Boston and serves the New England states, including Rhode Island.
Lambda's demand to the IRS follows on the heels of a 1997 Lambda case that caused the IRS to withdraw its requirement that a North Carolina gay youth support group prove it would not promote "homosexual attitudes" as a precondition to being granted tax exemption. That group had also considered giving up. Lambda is urging the IRS to issue a policy directive and conduct education throughout the agency to eliminate anti-gay bias.
Buckel added: "We're worried that gay-supportive groups will give up on tax exemption altogether when the IRS suggests that they are not worthy, leading to less financial support for those groups. That means that many people who desperately need support won't get it."
As a result of media reports on the successful resolution of Lambda's 1997 case, the Joint Committee on Taxation of the U.S. Congress requested that Lambda submit evidence from the case as part of the ongoing congressional investigation into politically-motivated conduct by the IRS. In addition, the Washington D.C. law firm of Arnold & Porter is assisting Lambda on a Freedom of Information Act request in an effort to determine the scope of anti-gay bias at the IRS.
Contact: Kathy Strieder 212-809-8585