Red Cross Issues Guidelines on Relief Assistance to Lesbian and Gay Survivors of September 11

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New York City advocacy groups praise decision
December 4, 2001

(NEW YORK, December 4, 2001) — Today, the Empire State Pride Agenda, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti Violence Project praised the American Red Cross for issuing an official policy of fair treatment for gay and lesbian families suffering from the loss of a loved one on September 11.

The new Red Cross guidelines were issued in response to a meeting last month with the three organizations seeking assurances that relief assistance would include the partners and children of gay and lesbian victims.

The Red Cross written guidelines clearly state that same-sex survivors are eligible for September 11 family relief assistance, that the Red Cross will incorporate the guidelines into its training protocols for Family Services staff, and that it appointed a liaison to oversee the quality and consistency of service to the gay and lesbian community.

“This action by the Red Cross brings real meaning to its stated commitment to using a broad and inclusive definition of family when distributing assistance to all those who suffered on September 11, including gays and lesbians who lost their partners,” said Joe Grabarz, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, New York State’s gay civil rights advocacy group. “We praise the Red Cross for this decision and urge it to use the guidelines and training established here to address similar needs as they arise in future disasters and emergencies.”

With these guidelines, the Red Cross becomes the first national relief agency to provide detailed policies and procedures on how to respect same-sex relationships when determining eligibility for disaster-related assistance.

The Pride Agenda, Lambda, and AVP met with Bob Bender, CEO of the American Red Cross in Greater New York, to discuss the inequitable and inconsistent treatment being given to gays and lesbians applying for relief assistance. At that meeting the three groups urged the Red Cross to move beyond its general statement of inclusiveness and put in place policies and procedures that clearly state that same-sex partners are considered “immediate family” for the purposes of disaster-related assistance.

This meeting was a follow-up to related action taken by the Red Cross in October when its National Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, released a statement saying that it was using a broad definition of family to determine eligibility for assistance following September 11. Despite the positive nature of the letter, the three New York City-based groups knew from their direct advocacy work on behalf of gay and lesbian survivors that implementation by Red Cross staff was inconsistent.

“These guidelines will bring much-needed clarity to the process of applying for emergency assistance,” said Clarence Patton, a spokesperson for the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. “Red Cross staff have been struggling to do the right thing with gay and lesbian survivors but haven’t always done so, primarily due to a lack of institutional direction. Hopefully, this will put an end to the inconsistent treatment same-sex survivors have been receiving. We applaud this move by the Red Cross.”

The guidelines clearly state up front, “The American Red Cross recognizes that families come in many different forms. Rather than adhering to a strict definition of family composition, we are using a broad and inclusive definition of family. In doing so, we recognize traditional married families, as well as the committed relationships and domestic partnerships of many couples, including same gender couples, who have been living together or who can demonstrate financial interdependence.”

The guidelines then provide a list of 16 possible criteria that can show an interdependent and supportive relationship. This list includes joint rental leases, bank accounts, or credit cards, joint responsibility for childcare, and designation as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy or retirement benefits account. The list also includes non-financial criteria like registration as domestic partners, if available, and certification of a union celebrated overseas. (This is perhaps the first time a document from another country certifying the existence of a same-sex union has had any type of currency in this country.)

“I hope more public as well as private policies for assistance will show respect for gay families, as the Red Cross has,” said Lambda Staff Attorney Jennifer Middleton, who authored the recent letter from gay and lesbian advocacy groups urging the Department of Justice also to be fair to gay September 11 survivors. She said, “Losing a life partner in one horrible instant is devastating enough, but the grief is intensified for lesbians and gay men by the fear that they will be treated as if their relationships did not even exist.”

The Pride Agenda and other groups have raised about $150,000 to help gays and lesbians affected by September 11. However, any kind of substantial disaster-related assistance can only come from large national agencies, like the Red Cross. This action helps ensure that all those suffering from the death of a loved one on September 11, regardless of sexual orientation, will be given consideration for assistance.

Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)
Joe Tarver, Pride Agenda 212-627-0305
Clarence Patton, AVP 212-714-1184



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