The work of defending civil liberties goes on

ACLU of Pennsylvania Executive Director Reggie Shuford addresses the crowd at the “Show Love for the Constitution” event. | February 15, 2017. (credit: Ben Bowens)

Dear supporter,

In some ways, our country changed on November 8. The United States elected a leader who, by all measures, is hostile to the basic foundations and principles that we stand for. President Trump and his regime deserve every ounce of pushback we can gather, and the ACLU will be on the front lines of the resistance.

And yet, at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, we have always taken the long view. Issues that are with us today were with us before November 8 and, to one degree or another, would have continued regardless of who was elected, including mass incarceration, police brutality, inequality for gay and transgender people, and efforts to compromise women’s access to reproductive healthcare.

You may have heard that there has been a major increase in giving to the ACLU since the election. While much of that growth has occurred at the national level, in fact, here in Pennsylvania, our membership has tripled. We saw a notable rise in donations after Election Day, but the real surge of giving happened after the weekend of the Muslim Ban. It was in that moment that many Pennsylvanians realized the significance of the threat to our values and to the people we most cherish.

You have put your trust in the ACLU in these challenging times. We are grateful for that trust and take it as a responsibility. Thank you.

The generous outpouring of support we’ve received in recent months has allowed us to think big about our work. It is my intention to add new staff to our existing staff of 22. Our current team has the talent, skills, and persistence to take on the many challenges before us. I also know that we can advance the cause of civil liberties throughout Pennsylvania by bringing even more talented people on board. The times demand it. Your support enables it.

In the months ahead, you’ll hear more about our Smart Justice campaign, our effort to reform, reinvent, and revamp the criminal justice system; our Transgender Public Education and Advocacy Project; the campaign for District Attorney in Philadelphia; the many bills we’re advocating for and against at the state capitol; and more litigation to push back against government excesses wherever they occur.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania is prepared to thwart the Trump administration’s worst instincts as they play out in the commonwealth.

And state and municipal officials aren’t off the hook. We’re working with immigrant communities to monitor federal immigration enforcement tactics while also standing with municipal governments that insist they won’t bend to every demand of ICE. We’re insisting that the commonwealth keeps its commitment to open beds for people who are too ill to stand trial and are being warehoused in local jails. We’re working at the state legislature to defeat efforts to hide the identity of police who seriously injure and kill people and to hide video that captures police brutality from the public. And we are active in ongoing struggles to diminish police presence in schools, to stop rollbacks of women’s reproductive healthcare, and to fight the practice of jailing people for their debts.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania has the infrastructure and the experience to defend civil rights at every turn. Consider some of our recent work:

  • Our legal team successfully freed travelers who were detained at Philadelphia International Airport the weekend of Muslim Ban 1.0, our advocacy team supported the protests at airports in Philly and Pittsburgh, and our communications staff echoed the message to #LetThemIn.
  • Two weeks ago, we settled a lawsuit against the School District of Lancaster for denying enrollment at its regular high school for older refugee students. Older refugee students will now be able to attend the regular high school instead of being segregated at an alternative school.
  • Over the last month, our legislative director has been busy at the state capitol in Harrisburg lobbying against efforts to reinstate mandatory minimum sentencing, which has been suspended for two years due to court rulings.
  • In tandem with allies, our advocacy team has launched the Philadelphia Coalition for a Just District Attorney, an effort to push the candidates for district attorney to commit to reforming the criminal justice system.
  • Last week, our lawyers filed to intervene to defend a school in Berks County that has been sued for affirming its students’ gender identity. We’re representing a transgender student and a youth advocacy organization who would be harmed if the lawsuit successfully overturns the school’s practice.

These five examples are just from the last two months. In fact, four of them happened in the last two weeks.

My favorite playwright, Pittsburgh native August Wilson, said this about gratitude in his play Two Trains Running:  “You walking around here with a ten-gallon bucket. Somebody put a little cupful in and you get mad ’cause it’s empty. You can’t go through life carrying a ten-gallon bucket. Get you a little cup. That’s all you need. Get you a little cup and somebody put a bit in and it’s half-full.”

Well, thanks to you, our ten-gallon bucket runneth over.

Onward!

Reggie Shuford
Executive Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

ACLU Week in Review

By Ben Bowens, Communications Associate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

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June 15 – July 3

It’s been a pretty crazy couple of weeks for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. While the Pittsburgh and Harrisburg offices were getting accustomed to new spaces, we packed up the Philadelphia office, relocated to a new building across town and were just getting settled in when… *BOOM* The Supreme Court ruled in favor of equality and we were off to celebrate the freedom to marry at rallies across the state!!! This week in review (okay, more like “half-month review”) is chocked full of excellent ACLU content from the keystone state and beyond.

LOVE WINS!

June 26th: A Historic Day for Equality

June 26, 2015. Twelve years to the day after the Supreme Court struck down bans on sodomy in Lawrence v. Texas. Two years to the day after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor. Today, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that states may not deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples and must recognize same-sex couples’ existing marriages. read more…

Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide

The Directors Guild of America says networks and studios are to blame for the “deplorable” dearth of female directors in Hollywood, following a call by the American Civil Liberties Union for an investigation into the industry’s “systemic failure” to hire female directors. read more…

It’s time to “fix forfeiture”

ACLU of PA Welcomes Nationwide Effort to “Fix Forfeiture”

A group of national organizations announced their new nationwide effort to “fix forfeiture” in Harrisburg today, a move welcomed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. The mission of the new coalition of ideologically diverse partners is to reform state and federal laws on civil asset forfeiture, a legal process that allows law enforcement to take and keep property it claims is connected to crime, without ever convicting or even charging the property owner with a crime. read more…

Registry for PA strippers

Baring it all: Pennsylvania lawmakers want a registry for strippers

Don’t tell his wife, but Big Brother is headed to the strip club. More than 60 state lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that would increase regulation over adult-oriented clubs, including a registry of strippers, banning alcohol and even creating a buffer zone between dancers and patrons that appears to effectively prohibit lap dances. read more…

House hunting while black

Black Americans unfairly targeted by banks before housing crisis, says ACLU

Black Americans were unequally issued loans on unfavorable terms during the sub-prime loan bonanza that prefigured the housing crisis and are still suffering in its aftermath, a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union has found. The resulting economic downturn has adversely affected them to a much greater degree than white homeowners, said the ACLU’s Rachel Goodman, who said the findings suggest banks knowingly preyed on black mortgage-seekers when it came to issuing sub-prime mortgages.read more…

Michigan launches Mobile Justice

ACLU of Michigan launches free app for recording, reporting police misconduct

Putting a high-tech twist on its long-time role as a government-accountability watchdog, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan announced recently the launch of Mobile Justice MI, a free downloadable mobile-device application that allows users to record and quickly report police misconduct. read more…

Another appeal for information about drone strikes

New York Times, ACLU Make Case For Access To Drone Strike Memos

The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times continued their fight in court Tuesday as they try to secure nine Department of Justice memos they believe outline the federal government’s legal justification for tactical drone strikes that have killed hundreds — including U.S. citizens — across the world. read more…

After Windsor: Marriage Stories

By Ben Bowens, Communications Associate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

June 26, 2014 marks the 1-year anniversary of the Windsor decision that struck down the federal Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA). Since that historic decision six more states have gained marriage equality, including Pennsylvania, bringing the country-wide tally to 19! Here are just a few couples who have taken advantage of their right to get married since DOMA was overturned:

Kristin Keith, Catherine Hennessy

Kristin Keith (left) and Catherine Hennessy

Catherine Hennessy and Kristin Keith

After meeting at a farewell party for mutual friends, Catherine and Kristin never said goodbye to one another. The two women have been together for 11 years and are excited, yet still shocked they were able to get married today. Until now only their inner circle has recognized their relationship but today, all of Pennsylvania does.

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John Krafty, Clayton

John and Clayton Krafty

Clayton and John Krafty

My husband Clayton and I got married on June 21, 2009 in PA. We had a ceremony complete with string quartet, DJ, bridal party of 12 etc. we did this so our friends and family could share in the joy when we were legally married in CT one month earlier. We were thrilled to high heavens when DOMA was killed last year and even more so last month when our marriage was recognized by our home state of PA.

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Justin Jain, Adam Woods

Justin Jain (right) and Adam Woods

Justin Jain and Adam Woods

Nine years together, now one day married. After Justin and Jain were together for eight years they decided to have a ceremony for their family and friends, to show their love for one another. Today they married to make it official in the eyes of their home state that they love. Moving forward the couples hopes to adopt children and grow their family.

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Michelle Mamo, Christy Santos

Michelle Mamo and Christy Santos

Michelle Mamo and Christy Santos

Christy and I were married April 26, 2014 twelve years to the date of our commitment ceremony! We decided on 6/27/13 to get married in DE because it wasn’t legal in PA. Three weeks after the wedding PA ruling came down and now we are happily married in our home state!!!

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Derek Finn, Eddie Chang

Derek Finn and Eddie Chang (left)

Derek Finn and Eddie Chang

During a Japanese language class at the University of Pennsylvania, Derek and Eddie met and fell in love. They feel getting married today after twelve years together, brings legitimacy, safety and security to their lives and makes it just a little less stressful to be together. They plan to buy a house big enough for their two dogs and hopefully a few babies.

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Nick Kurek‎, Jason Smith

Nick Kurek‎ and Jason Smith

Nick Kurek‎ and Jason Smith

This is myself and partner Jason right after leaving the Lehigh County Courthouse June 9, 2014 with our Marriage License! Jason and I have been together 7 years this September, and celebrated our commitment ceremony to each other with tons of friends and family present on December 17, 2011. Since we have done the “big wedding bash” already, our original minister has volunteered to officiate for us as we have a small, intimate ceremony celebrating not only our permanent bond to each other, but recognizing this enormous milestone in history. One Love!

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Oscar Cabrera, Chris DiCapha

Oscar Cabrera and Chris DiCapha

Oscar Cabrera and Chris DiCapha

Today Oscar and Chris no longer feel like second class citizens in their own state because today they were able to marry after 18 years. Finally being recognized as a couple makes their family unit feel more real and they say there is no going back now. They plan to honeymoon in Nicaragua and come back to the life they’ve already been building together for so long.

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Peg Welch

Delma and Peg Welch

Delma and Peg Welch

Delma and I married each other three times. The first time in Washington DC in 1993 at the March on Washington, the second time (legally) in Canada in 2004, and the third time on July 31, 2013, after obtaining our marriage license from the Montgomery County, PA register of wills office. We are delighted that our marriage is legal in PA.

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Sue Frantz

Sue and Sammi Frantz

Sue and Sammi Frantz

May 16th 2014, my wife an I got married in Atlantic City NJ and May17th we had a commitment ceremony for family. That following Wednesday Pa became legal. Now we are happily married in our own state!!!

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Colleen R Ott, Michelle Crawford-Ott

Colleen and Michelle Crawford-Ott

Colleen R. Ott and Michelle Crawford-Ott

On June 21, 2014 Michelle Crawford-Ott and I, Colleen R. Ott, got married at St. Luke’s United Church of Christ, we had been planning since Attorney General Kathleen Kane stirred up the PA Marriage Equality pot, by not defending the Gay Marriage Ban, and noted that it was “wholly unconstitutional,” when she spoke at the National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, PA. my home town. As a Philadelphia Summit LGBTQ member I knew that was the start of many rallies, and that we needed to take action. Heck, my Church recognized it before the state of PA. So we set a date, the date had to be after the hearing with the ACLU and the couples vs the State Ban of PA. The day after we got our Marriage Certificate, and we went forth with our date. The fight is not over in PA, we now need to ECHO OUR VOICES for FULL FEDERAL MARRIAGE EQUALITY. Amen!!

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If you’re interested in sharing your marriage story with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please submit a photo and a short story to our Facebook page.

BenBen Bowens is a social and digital media enthusiast. Before joining the ACLU of Pennsylvania as the Communications Associate, he served as the Digital Media Producer for CBS3/KYW-TV, where he covered the 2008 election and launched the station’s social media presence.

Our Wildest Dreams

Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole, attend the #DecisionDayPA rally in Harrisburg (credit: Dani Fresh)

Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole (credit: Dani Fresh)

On July 9, 2013, Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole, along with 10 other same-sex couples, a widow, and two children of a same-sex couple, sued for the freedom to marry in Pennsylvania and for recognition of out-of-state marriages for same-sex couples. On May 20, 2014, they won. Read more about the lawsuit at aclupa.org/marriage.

By Julie Lobur

I’ve simply been walking on air since Judge Jones’s decision nullifying Pennsylvania’s DOMA. Little in this world meant more to Marla and me than the legitimization of our relationship. For 28 years, we fought for marriage equality. We wrote checks, went to protests, and harangued anyone who would listen. On May 20, our dreams came true with seemingly surreal abruptness.

Until recently, many of us never thought we would see this day come in Pennsylvania. When I officially came out 41 years ago, it was still illegal to be gay in Pennsylvania (under penalty of 5 years in prison!). Of course, coming “out” in those days meant only identifying oneself to the gay community. The thought of public exposure of one’s sexual orientation terrified most of us.

In the 1970s, Harrisburg’s gay community was hidden underground. We lurked in the shadows equally fearful of the gay bashers and the police—sometimes one and the same. Closeted professionals who passed themselves off for straight lived in continual fear of blackmail. People who couldn’t “pass” for straight were grateful to be able to hang onto any job long enough to pay a few bills. We were relegated to gay ghettos where “respectable” people would never set foot. (Some of these same neighborhoods became chic gayborhoods where “respectable” people now pay a fortune to live.)

Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole, attend the #DecisionDayPA rally in Harrisburg (credit: Dani Fresh)

Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole, attend the #DecisionDayPA rally in Harrisburg (credit: Dani Fresh)

In hindsight, one might say that we were too quick to accept our second-class status. But mindsets are difficult to break. At our marriage ceremony decades later, I nearly had a panic attack when after saying our vows, the judge naturally instructed me to kiss Marla. My mind raced, “Gasp! Kiss Marla? In front of a judge??? Won’t I get in trouble? Is this a set up?” I somehow regained my composure before anyone noticed. That was when I fully realized how far we had come.

The life we have now is certainly beyond anything in my wildest dreams in 1973. It is a life that we are happy to see our young people take for granted. But I will be indebted to my dying day for all of the hard work, persistence, and bravery on the part of those who made it happen. Without the contributions of thousands of supporters and sympathetic friends, none of us would have seen justice. Every little bit helped.

On #DecisionDayPA: A letter from Vic Walczak

Vic Walczak

Vic Walczak

Dear ACLU Supporter,

I have been blessed to be a part of some pretty historic cases, whether it’s intelligent design creationism, Hazleton’s immigration fiasco, or, most recently, knocking out voter ID. But our marriage case on behalf of 25 Pennsylvanians holds a special place for me.

I was at the Pittsburgh celebration on the night of the decision with several of our clients and their children when the magnitude of what we had achieved began to hit home. People I didn’t know were hugging me, wetting my suit with their tears as they thanked me for transforming their lives. I don’t ever recall seeing so much unabashed joy, open affection, and excitement created by one of our victories.

All ACLU cases involve vital rights, but it hit me just how life-defining this case is for so many people. It is everyday existence. This decision affirms people for who they are and establishes gay men and lesbians as equal citizens. Those who fall in love with a person of the same sex now have the same rights.

Who would have thought that in less than a year we would make Pennsylvania number 19 for freedom-to-marry states? It’s amazing and just plain beautiful!

The ACLU of Pennsylvania could not have achieved this win, or any of our other victories, without the help of our supporters.

If you’re not a member, please consider joining the ACLU today.

Thank you for your unwavering faith in the ACLU! Let there be more love in the world. And let wedding bells ring!

Sincerely,

Witold ‘Vic’ Walczak, Esq.
Legal Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

PS – What some of you may not know is that I’m a dancing legend. Bad dancing legend 🙂

Vic Walczak dancing

Vic dancing on stage at the #DecisionDayPA rally in Pittsburgh (credit: John Altdorfer)

Whitewood v. Wolf – A Case for the Freedom to Marry

By Ben Bowens & Molly Tack-Hooper, ACLU of Pennsylvania

We recommend viewing this Prezi presentation in full screen. After it loads, you can use your keyboard arrows to scroll through the presentation. At anytime, you can click and move around the presentation without altering any of the content.

For more information about the case and FAQs, please visit aclupa.org/whitewood

Mazel tov: Thoughts on my freedom to marry

By Barb Feige, Deputy Director, ACLU-PA

Dawn Plummer and Diana Polson, two of our clients in Whitewood v. Corbett

Dawn Plummer and Diana Polson, two of our clients in Whitewood v. Corbett

So, I got married last weekend. It was a small wedding, performed in accordance with my observant Jewish faith and practice as well as in accordance with the law and regulations of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And everyone had a lovely time, including me and my new husband, whose name is Sanford, but who is known as Sandy.

As we ran the errands and got all the required paperwork in order in the weeks leading up to the wedding, I couldn’t help but think about other couples who would like to get married, but can’t… like those who are a part of our ACLU-PA lawsuit to rid the state of its Defense of Marriage Act. Two weeks ago, as I waited in line to apply for and then a week ago when picking up our marriage license, I thought about those women whose loves may have the same name as my love, but who happen to be female Sandy’s. They can’t sit in a stuffy hallway in the Allegheny County Marriage License Bureau, smiling because you just can’t help it, and realizing how “official” everything is about to become. They and my gay men friends- couples who have been together for 20 and 30 years, and who have warned Sandy that he better treat me right – cannot know the tingle of saying for the first time, “This is my husband” or “This is my wife”, without anyone casting a sidelong glance.

Sandy and I are not exactly a young couple and we are combining two complete households, so we had no desire or need to register for gifts. Instead we thanked friends and family for the gift of their love and support and asked that if they wished to do something to honor and celebrate our marriage, that they make a donation to one of six specified organizations (including the ACLU-PA, of course). We received an acknowledgment from one of the organizations a few days ago—it was addressed to “Ms. Feige and Ms. R_______”. Obviously the Western PA Humane Society had no trouble acknowledging the marriage of what they thought to be two women!

As Jews, we break a glass at the conclusion of the ceremony as a reminder that not all is well and peaceful and joyful in the world and that our job is to make the world better – tikkun olam. I was happy and joyful on my wedding day but was reminded that not everyone can have that same joy and I am more committed than ever to doing what I can—as an individual and as an ACLU-PA staff member – to bring about the freedom to marry for all Pennsylvanians.