“I Was Raised By A Gay Couple And I’m Doing Pretty Well”

Zach Wahls was conceived using artificial insemination to his biological mother, Terry Wahls. He has a younger sister who shares the same sperm donor and parents. Terry met Jackie Reger in 1995 and the two held a commitment ceremony in 1996.

He has said that having lesbian parents caused occasional problems during his school years when he found it difficult to explain to his peers or found that some of them were forbidden to socialize with him. He was sometimes teased and sometimes bullied because of his parents’ relationship. In high school he wrote a series of columns for his high school newspaper about being raised by a lesbian couple.

While still a high school senior, following the Iowa Supreme Court decision in Varnum v. Brien that invalidated the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, he wrote an op-ed piece in the Des Moines Register in which he advocated a complete separation of marriage from civil unions, calling for legislation “to completely remove government from the marriage process altogether, leaving a religious ceremony to religious institutions, and mak[ing] civil unions, accessible by any two people, including those of the same sex, the norm for legal benefits.”

On January 31, 2011, Wahls addressed the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in a public hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Iowa. The young man is an incredibly talented speaker and even if you disagree with his overall point, I think it is a valuable video to watch. You can find the video here.

For more information on Zach and his activism for LGBT rights, go here and here.

 

Zach Wahls and His Two Mothers

 

 

What to do with the Tragedy of Bullying?

Photo credit to guardianlv.com

October is National Bullying Prevention month.  It is a time when, as a community, we should be educating our children on what bullying is and its potential consequences.  This is not merely a complicated topic for our children.  Our legal system is struggling to find the line between preventing tragedy while still holding those responsible who are at fault when the repercussions from bullying become tangible, and not overstepping the bounds of how we treat our children regarding privacy, free speech, and parents rights.

An arrest was made Tuesday in Florida of two young girls linked to the suicide death of a classmate. As reported by ABC news:

Authorities in central Florida said Rebecca was tormented online and at school by as many as 15 girls before she climbed a tower at an abandoned concrete plant and hurled herself to her death Sept. 9. But the two girls arrested were primarily the ones who bullied Rebecca, the sheriff said. They have been charged with stalking and released to their parents.

Rebecca is one of at least a dozen or so suicides in the past three years that were attributed at least in part to cyberbullying.

Legal questions remain related to whether or not the parents will be charged and the extent of any punishment if in fact the girls are found guilty of the charges.

None of this, however, brings Rebecca back to her family.  Punitive action, which has typically had little influence on this age group anyway, is on the wrong side of the timeline.  This is less a legal question and more one of education policy, parental and student education, and resources for teens experiencing bullying.  There are curriculums out there for awareness and prevention.  There are support groups, hotlines, and trained professionals who are available.  And there are, of course, repercussions for when it goes too far.  We can’t always stop children from being awful to each other, but it is our duty to prevent these tragedies from occurring with whatever resources or strategies we have available.  Find a way you can help this month and beyond with your local school, through PACER (who spearheads Bullying Prevention Month), or just with your children at home.

Courthouse Dogs Calm Testifying Juveniles

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“Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.” ― Dean Koontz, False Memory

Several programs exist across the country in which prosecutors and defense counsel use professionally trained dogs to help ease the anxiety juveniles experience while being interviewed or testifying in court.  Oftentimes, juveniles must discuss details of physical or emotional abuse, and having an affectionate, yet unobtrusive dog nearby helps ease the stress.  Research has shown that within as little as five minutes of petting or interacting with a dog, a person’s heart rate and blood pressure lowers; breathing becomes more regular; muscle tension is reduced; and speech, memory, and mental functions increase.  The physiological changes juveniles experience when courtroom dogs are around aid their ability to testify, which is extremely important because juveniles’ testimony needs to be as articulate and complete as possible.  In her article, Court Facility Dogs—Easing the Apprehensive Witness, Colorado attorney Gabriela Sandoval states, “The more at ease a child feels, the more effective his or her testimony will be.  Articulate testimony will assist in obtaining evidence that can either convict or exonerate the defendant.  When the child witness is comfortable, emotions may not obstruct or slow down important testimony.”

The Courthouse Dogs Foundation was founded with the mission “to promote justice with compassion through the use of professionally trained facility dogs to provide emotional support to everyone in the justice system.”  Their website, courthousedogs.com, recounts the positive outcome from a trial in which a testifying juvenile was allowed to be accompanied by a facility dog:

In September of 2012, in Snohomish County, WA, Mary Mazalic was brought to trial for starving, beating, and burning a ten-year-old girl.  Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lisa Paul filed a motion in limine to ask the court’s permission to allow facility dog Stilson to sit at the feet of this child victim while she testified in court.  Her brief included an affidavit from victim advocate Heidi Potter, Stilson’s handler, documenting how Stilson provided comfort to this child during the investigative phase of these crimes.  The judge found that this child suffered emotional trauma from these events. 
 The defense did not object to the presence of Stilson with the agreement that he would be concealed by the witness box and the jury would not be aware of his presence.
  While in the witness box, Stilson remained calm and out of sight during the lengthy direct and cross-examination.  He did not even move when defense counsel spilled a glass of water into the witness box and several people moved to this area to clean up the water.

The defendant was convicted as charged.

After the trial, jurors stated they did not know that a dog was in the courtroom.  Stilson, the invisible dog, was bred, raised, and trained by Canine Companions for Independence.  His behavior exemplifies the high level of training of a facility dog.

This is only one of numerous success stories of facility dogs assisting in criminal, juvenile, and drug courts.  Additionally, these dogs visit juveniles in detention facilities and are a friendly presence during their recovery process.  Currently, there are courthouse dogs working in twenty-one states:  Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.

The unconditional love and support the courthouse dogs offer juveniles make them a positive counterbalance to the often overwhelming and stressful setting of the courts.  The placement of dogs in the courthouse is a wonderful program, which hopefully, will continue to grow and be implemented in more courts throughout the country.

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Above Photo:  Courthouse dog Russell, trained by Assistance Dogs of the West, works at the Southern Arizona Child Advocacy Center with Director Kathy Rau.  Photo courtesy Courthouse Dogs Foundation.

Intro Photo:  Molly B at the King County Courthouse. Molly B was bred and trained by Canine Companions for Independence.  Photo courtesy Courthouse Dogs Foundation and the Seattle Police Department.

For more information regarding the Courthouse Dogs Foundation or for starting a program for the use of courthouse dogs, visit courthousedogs.com.