Helping GLBT victims of Katrina

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KNOXVILLE – The devastating disaster in the Southeast that came in the wake of Katrina is being compounded by inaccurate information. Rumors regarding the policies of agencies such as the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) threaten to deepen the impact due to rumors indicating discriminatory policies against GLBT victims.

Red Cross blood collection policy does include a prohibition against “ a male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977.” However, that policy does not come directly from the Red Cross. It is a regulatory requirement of the Food and Drug Administration whose guidelines the Red Cross must follow or their blood collection efforts will be shut down for failure to follow FDA regulations.

“We simply follow FDA guidelines. These regulations are not based on social policy, but public health policy,” asserts Patricia Smith, Communications Officer for the American Red Cross, Tennessee Valley Blood Services Region (TVR) in Nashville.

Other buzz includes rumors that both the Red Cross and FEMA will not allow GLBT families to receive family benefits because they do not fit the “official” description of family. In fact, in August 2003 the Red Cross made permanent the guidelines set in place for victims of 9/11 providing same-sex partners disaster relief equal to that of spouses.

"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 suffer due to a disaster or emergency, including lesbians and gay men," said Joe Grabarz, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. "We praise the Red Cross for its decision to make permanent the policies and guidelines that resulted in needed assistance going to all who suffered the loss of a loved one that terrible day in September, regardless of sexual orientation."

Information from the Empire State Pride Agenda indicates that a Chapter Information Bulletin (Bulletin) entitled “Guidance on ‘Family’ Definition and Verification” is sent to all Red Cross Chapters. The Bulletin defines immediate family that includes "regularly financially supported significant others, fiancés, housemates and/or other family members" and delineates the documents that can be used to verify family relationships such as joint home ownership, joint leases, joint bank accounts, joint credit cards, utility bills, and insurance policies. Evidence of domestic partner registration and "certification of a union celebrated overseas" are also accepted.

FEMA guidelines for family definition are equally inclusive of non-traditional family groups. Their booklet entitled “Help After a Disaster: Applicant’s Guide to the Individuals and Households Program” published in May 2004, outlines the process each person or family must complete in order to receive federal disaster relief assistance. The word “family” is used only twice in the entire document. The operative unit is “household” in much the same manner as that term is used in other government assistance programs such as the Food Stamps program.

Other GLBT specific programs need your assistance in delivering vital services to our brothers and sisters in need. The Rainbow World Fund has established a fund for donations to help the survivors of Katrina. Jeff Cotter, World Fund’s Founder and Executive Director invites the GLBT community to donate money at their Web site.

“100% of the donations for Katrina victims will go directly to the Second Harvest Food Bank,” says Cotter. “ America ‘s Second Harvest (ASH), the nation’s food bank network. is a well-known agency that spends only 1-2% of donations on administrative costs,” he added.

ASH expects that at least ten food banks and hundreds of related agencies were hit by Hurricane Katrina. Your donations will be used to provide meals and groceries, transport food to survivors, and secure additional warehouse space to assist food banks in resuming and maintaining operations.

At the Metropolitan Community Church headquarters in Missouri, Rev. Kurt Krieger is helping to coordinate their efforts to assist disaster victims by offering a means of contributing to a Relief Fund and providing other kinds of assistance as the needs become known. They are coordinating efforts with Staff in MCC Region 2 (and with others as they become involved). A roster of individuals is being kept by Region 2 Staff, if you need to check on the location and/or safety of a loved one, you may contact:

Connie Gilpin, IPL MCC of the Living Spring
Region 2 Communications Facilitator
[email protected]

or

Rev. Kurt Krieger
Region 2 Facilitating Team
Office: 816-931-0750
Email address: [email protected] 

At this time, MCC is only set up to assist with MCC members from MCC of Greater New Orleans. Church members are asked to contact their pastor by email for further instructions.

Another good source for housing for trans disaster victims is the Gallae Central House in upstate New York . This effort is being helped by TransFM Radio Network and The Maetreum of Cybele are coordinating fund-raising and housing for homeless GLBT victims of Katrina. All next week, beginning labour day, the TransFM Radio Network will be conducting a fund raiser on air, you can tune in by going to www.live365.com/stations/ethanstp. Tax deductible donations can be made from the paypal link at http://centralhouse.gallae.com. Please be sure to note that this is for GLBT Katrina relocation and housing. If you have spare room or bed space please contact them as well.

A great number of GLBT, especially trans, people called New Orleans home and are now homeless.  You can help by making a tax deductable donation to the combined fund for housing relocation and support efforts of the Maetreum of Cybele, who’s priestesses own and operate Gallae Central House, and the Trans FM Internet Radio Network.

MoveOn.org also has a special Web site set up to coordinate bed space/housing with those in need. Go to www.hurricanhouseing.org to offer or locate housing. This is not a GLBT-specific site, but you can enter GLBT-related information into your offer or request.

For further information on any of the sources in this article, please feel free to contact [email protected]