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‘New Yorkers have been betrayed’

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The defeat of same-sex marriage legislation in the New York State Senate last week was a devastating blow to gay rights supporters, leaving many to wonder how the bill could fail after its advocates had expressed confidence in the measure’s passage.

The New York State Senate on Dec. 2 voted 24-38 against the legalization of same-sex marriage, a lopsided margin that raised questions for those who were watching the bill’s progress.

State Sen. Tom Duane, who’s gay, was the prime sponsor of the Senate marriage legislation. He had media outlets he was “optimistic” about the proposal’s chances before senators killed the bill.

Duane, who didn’t respond to DC Agenda’s request for an interview, issued a statement saying he felt “betrayed” following the vote.

“Promises made were not honored,” he said. “The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, and all fair-minded New Yorkers have been betrayed. I am enraged, deeply disappointed and profoundly saddened by the vote today.”

Groups advocating for passage of the marriage bill included Empire State Pride Agenda and Gill Action Fund. Those organizations didn’t respond to DC Agenda’s request for comment.

Dan Pinello, a gay government professor at the City University of New York, said the Senate was unable to pass the marriage bill because the Democratic Party, which narrowly controls the Senate, 32-30, is “in disarray, basically — not only on this particular policy issue, but more generally.”

“There are a number of factions within the Democratic caucus in the Senate that makes cohesiveness in that caucus extremely difficult, unlike the Republican caucus, which is much more united in its position,” he said. “I think the vote [Dec. 2] reflected that.”

Marty Rouse, the Human Rights Campaign’s national field director, also said he thinks the marriage bill failed because of the politically tenuous situation in the Senate. He noted that Democrats briefly lost control of the chamber in a coup earlier this year before regaining leadership.

“It’s difficult to pass legislation when you have a change in Senate leadership, a new and tenuous Senate majority,” he said. “There is a lot of politics in play in passing any sort of legislation.”

Rouse said the marriage bill failed not because of the merits of the legislation, but because of political issues in the Senate.

“This has much more to do about politics and very little, if anything, to do about the merits of the marriage bill itself,” he said.

The legislation failed in the Senate even though the bill had strong support in the Assembly, which approved the measure for a third time Dec. 2, 88-51. Gov. David Paterson (D) also was a strong advocate for the marriage bill.

Pinello said the legislation failed in the Senate — but passed in the Assembly — because senators “are out of touch with their constituents.”

He said polling data shows a majority of Long Island residents favor same-sex marriage and noted that three-quarters of that region’s Senate delegation voted against the marriage bill.

Eight Democratic senators voted against the marriage bill Wednesday. All Republican senators voted against it.

Jeff Cook, a legislative adviser for the Log Cabin Republicans who had lobbied GOP lawmakers on the bill, said there was no Republican backing because the dissent among Democrats meant GOP support wouldn’t have made a difference.

Before the vote, Cook had said he was expecting Republican votes in favor of the legislation.

“Sadly, we didn’t lose on the merits, but we lost because of politicians’ lack of political courage to do the right thing,” he said. “Seeing insufficient support on the Democratic side, key Republicans communicated that they were unwilling to follow their conscience and take a tough political vote if they couldn’t make the difference on a losing bill.”

Pinello said Republican Assembly member Dede Scozzafava’s recent failed bid for Congress also had an effect on GOP senators. Scozzafava, who has voted in favor of same-sex marriage three times, ran for Congress in a special election this year, but withdrew her candidacy after a third-party conservative candidate challenged her because of her position on marriage, among other issues.

“I think there was some fallout as a result of that on the Senate Republican side,” Pinello said. “I can’t believe that the Republican caucus is so uniformly opposed to marriage equality that not even one or more would have favored it.”

Although the bill was voted down, Pinello said having the vote last week was appropriate because “to keep putting it off is just unacceptable as a political matter.”

“So, now that their votes are recorded, activists can try to target those people — especially in the Democratic Party, but also Republicans — who voted against marriage equality, in next year’s legislative election cycle,” he said.

Asked whether the bill should have come to the floor, Rouse replied, “I’m not going to second guess the decisions that were made.”

But the failed attempt means supporters of same-sex marriage will have to wait before marriage rights for gay couples become available in New York.

Rouse said there is no reason why supporters shouldn’t work to bring the bill up again in the “very near future,” and said it’s possible for Senate leadership to find a way to have another vote within a few weeks.

Another 14 months would be the longest it would take to bring the marriage bill to the floor of the Senate again, Rouse said.

“If we have to have this bill come up after the elections, clearly the 2010 election and who’s running again for office … all of that will be important,” he said. “Supporters of marriage equality and opponents of marriage equality will be focusing like a laser beam on the primary and general elections in 2010.”

Pinello, however, said that 2013 might be a more realistic time for same-sex marriage to pass in New York.

He said after Senate districts are redrawn following the 2010 Census, there would be an opportunity to elect more supporters of same-sex marriage to the Senate in the 2012 elections.

With Democrats in control of both chambers of the New York Legislature, Senate districts could be redrawn in ways that are more favorable to Democrats, meaning more supporters of gay nuptials could be elected to the Senate in 2012 to take office in 2013 and vote for marriage legislation.

“I think it’s possible that there won’t be a favorable vote in the New York State Senate until 2013 on the issue of marriage equality — four years from now,” he said.

Still, Rouse said he was optimistic and he didn’t think there’s “anyone involved in politics in New York State that doesn’t think there is … support for this bill becoming law in the near future.”

He noted that State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. was the only lawmaker to speak out against the marriage bill on the Senate floor and no Republicans voiced opposition during debate.

“That tells me there is support for this bill waiting for the right time for this bill to come up,” he said. “And so, for me, it’s not a matter of if this is going to become law, it’s a matter of when this bill is going to become law, and for various reasons, unfortunately, early this week was not the right time.”

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‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men

Experts see common story as LGBTQ people enter middle age

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Mark Glaze's death by suicide is bringing into focus mental health issues faced by gay men.

The death by suicide at age 51 of Mark Glaze, a gun reform advocate who was close to many in D.C.’s LGBTQ community, is striking a chord with observers who see his struggles with mental health and alcoholism as reflective of issues facing many gay men as they enter middle age.

Glaze’s story resonates even though much of the attention on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community is devoted to LGBTQ youth going through the coming out process and transgender people who face disproportionate violence and discrimination within the LGBTQ community in addition to a growing focus on LGBTQ seniors entering later stages of life.

Randy Pumphrey, senior director of behavioral health for the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, said Glaze’s story was “very familiar” as a tale of mental health issues facing gay men in the middle stage of life.

“You’re talking about a gay-identified man who is in his 50s, somebody who has struggled with alcohol misuse — or maybe abuse or dependence— and also depression,” Pumphrey said. “I think that there has always been a higher incidence of suicide for men in general in their middle age 50 and above, but this increases when you’re talking about gay men, and also if you’re talking about gay men who suffer with mental health issues, or substance use disorder issues.”

Several sources close to Glaze said his death did not come as a surprise. His family has been open about his death by suicide last month while he was in jail after allegedly fleeing the scene of a car accident in Pennsylvania and a long history of depression and alcoholism.

Pumphrey said Glaze’s situation coping with mental health issues as well as the consequences for his role in the accident, were reflective of someone who might “begin to perceive that this is an issue that they can’t get away from, or the consequences they can’t get away from exposure and that can lead somebody to a fatal outcome.”

“My experience is that there have been gay men that I have worked with over the years — particularly in their 50s and early 60s — it’s taken them a long time to recognize the severity of the problem, whether it’s their depression or their substance abuse, and then they find themselves in a very precarious situation because of shame, and so they may not necessarily seek help even though they need help.”

A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health found the prevalence of depression among gay men is three times higher than the general adult population, which means they are a subgroup at high risk for suicide.

The study found “scant research exists about gay men’s health beyond sexual health issues,” most often with HIV, which means issues related to depression and suicidality “are poorly understood.”

“Gay men’s health has often been defined by sexual practices, and poorly understood are the intersections of gay men’s physical and mental health with social determinants of health including ethnicity, locale, education level and socioeconomic status,” the study says.

The study acknowledged being male itself is one factor incorporated in addressing mental health issues in this subgroup because “regardless of sexual orientation, men can be reluctant to seek help for mental health problems.” Another study quoted in the report found 23 percent, less than one quarter of gay men, who attempted suicide sought mental health or medical treatment.

In addition to mental health issues facing gay men in Glaze’s age group, others saw his situation as a common story in the culture of Washington, which is notorious for celebrating and prioritizing success with little tolerance for personal setbacks.

In the case of Glaze, who had sparred on Fox News with Tucker Carlson as executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, the threat of exposure and threat to his career may have seemed overwhelmingly daunting.

Steven Fisher, who knew Glaze since the 1990s and worked with him at the D.C.-based Raben Group, said one factor that contributed to Glaze’s condition was “he could only see upward in terms of his career trajectory.”

“We saw that in him and it had me very concerned because I felt like he might end up in a place that wasn’t good once he left Everytown, and that’s tragically and sadly what happened,” Fisher said. “I think he just had trouble adjusting to what is usually a roller coaster ride, I think, in people’s careers, especially in the D.C. world.”

Along with Glaze, Fisher has worked on gun issues for Everytown, which has been a client of his since 2015 after he worked for them in 2012 after the Newtown shooting.

Compounding the challenges that Glaze faced is a culture among many gay men focused on sexuality, which prioritizes youth and appearance and presents problems as those qualities start fading when men enter middle age.

Fisher said another factor in Glaze’s condition was social media, pointing out public perception about his identity was important to him.

“If you look at his social media — I think this is instructive to the rest of us — a lot of the comments are about how Mark was so good looking and he was charming, and he was so smart and so funny,” Fisher said. “That’s all true, and that’s why he was very appealing to many people, but those qualities don’t really tell you everything about a person. In fact, one could argue they’re superficial in a way, and people have to remember people are more complicated than what you see on social media.”

One issue for gay men facing mental health issues as they enter middle age is they don’t have the same resources as those available to LGBTQ youth, who have been more of a focus in terms of mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.

Among the leading organizations for LGBTQ youth is the Trevor Project, which has resources and a hotline for LGBTQ youth facing mental health crises.

Kevin Wong, vice president of communications for the Trevor Project, said his organization would be receptive to an older LGBTQ person who calls the hotline, but ultimately would refer that person elsewhere.

“If an LGBTQ person above the age of 25 reaches out to The Trevor Project’s crisis services for support and expresses suicidal thoughts, our counselors will listen, actively and with empathy, and work with them to de-escalate and form a safety plan, like any other contact,” Wong said. “However, our organization has remained youth-centric since its founding and our volunteer crisis counselors are specifically trained with younger LGBTQ people in mind.”

Much attention is focused on the coming out process for LGBTQ people, a time that can upend close relationships — as well as reaffirm them — and a process more commonly associated with youth.

Ilan Meyer, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said data is scant about suicide rates among LGBTQ people, but information on suicide attempts shows they tend to be at a heightened rate for LGBTQ people as they go through the coming out process.

“What we do know is that there is a connection with the coming out period at whatever age coming out happens,” Meyer said. “And so, we see a proximity to coming out whatever age that happened, we see the suicide attempts proceeding and after that.”

Suicide attempts, Meyer said, are much higher for LGBTQ people than the population at large. The self-reported rate of suicide attempts in the U.S. population as a whole, Meyer said, is 2.4 percent, but that figure changes to 20 to 30 percent among LGBTQ youth, which about to 10 to 15 times greater.

Black and Latino people, Meyer said, have been less likely to make suicide attempts in their lifetimes, although he added that may be changing in recent years.

With the primary focus on mental health issues elsewhere in the LGBTQ community, Glaze’s death raises questions about whether sufficient resources are available to people in his demographic, or whether individuals are willing to seek out care options that are available.

Meyer said whether the resources for suicidal ideologies among LGBTQ people are sufficient and what more could be done “is the the million-dollar question.”

“It’s definitely not determined by just mental health,” Meyer said. “So many people have depression, but they don’t attempt suicide. And so, then the difficult thing is to find the right moment to intervene and what that intervention should be.”

Meyer said much of the focus on mental health is on a person’s last moments before making a suicide attempt, such as making suicide hotlines readily available, but some of the stressors he sees “are more chronic, ongoing things related to homophobia and the kind of experience that LGBT people have as they come to terms to realize their sexual identity.”

Pumphrey said another factor in mental health issues not to be underestimated for almost two years now is “dealing with the COVID and loneliness epidemic,” which appears to have no immediate end in sight with the emergence of the Omnicron variant.

“There was always this piece of sometimes the experience of being in your 50s and early 60s…we talk about the invisibility factor,” Pumphrey said. “But when there’s just this sense of being disconnected from community, especially in the early days of the pandemic, and kind of being locked down, I think that just raised the risk.”

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U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS to be held virtually Dec. 2-3

Fauci, Levine, Pelosi to speak at opening session

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Dr. Rachel Levine, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health, is among speakers at this week’s U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; and Dr. Rachel Levine, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health who became the nation’s highest-ranking transgender public official earlier this year, are among dozens of experts scheduled to participate in the 25th Annual U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS scheduled to take place virtually Dec. 2-3.

Fauci and Levine were scheduled to join Harold Phillips, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy; and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, as speakers at the conference’s opening plenary session at noon on Thursday, Dec. 2. 

Phillips and Levine were expected to provide information about President Joe Biden’s plans for updating the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which Biden was scheduled to announce on Dec. 1 at a White House World AIDS Day event.

Members of the U.S. People Living With HIV Caucus were also expected to discuss the federal policy agenda on HIV/AIDS at the opening plenary session. 

In addition to the opening plenary and three other plenary sessions, one more on Thursday, Dec. 2, and two on Friday, Dec. 3, the conference was scheduled to include 140 workshop sessions on a wide variety of HIV/AIDS related topics.

The annual United States Conference on HIV/AIDS is organized by the D.C.-based national HIV/AIDS advocacy organization NMAC, which was formerly known as the National Minority AIDS Council before it changed its name to that of its widely known initials NMAC. 

“NMAC leads with race to urgently fight for health equity and racial justice to end the HIV epidemic in America,” the organization states on its website. “Health equity with communities of color is everyone’s challenge.”

Several of the workshop sessions cover the topic of expanding the local, state, and national efforts of using pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs known as PrEP as a means of preventing HIV infection. 

Other workshop sessions include: HIV CURE – Hot Topics in HIV Cure Research; A Town Hall on Aging and HIV; COVID, HIV, and Racism – How Providers Can Make a Difference; Expanding the Pleasure and HIV Prevention Toolkit: Kink As Harm Reduction; It’s About Time – HIV Research Just For Transgender Women; and Impact of COVID-19 on HIV Prevention Services Among U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Funded Community Based Organizations.

The conference’s fourth and closing plenary session, Foundation Stones to Building the EHE Effort in Indian County, “will highlight the work of those addressing HIV and COVID in Indian Country, rural states and among Alaska Natives with limited infrastructure,” according to a conference agenda statement. 

“This plenary addresses these challenges and provides innovative solutions by the Indian Country – making the case to support Native HIV care by providing essential building blocks,” the agenda statement says. 

Paul Kawata, NMAC’s executive director, says in a statement in the conference’s agenda booklet that he and his NMAC team are disappointed that the 2021 conference is being held virtually for the second year in a row.

“But we felt the issue of safety was simply too critical to ignore,” Kawata said in his statement. “I’ve been very concerned about our loved ones over 50 living with HIV through the whole COVID pandemic,” he said, noting that people in that category were dealing with isolation as well as a higher risk for COVID.

“I hope this conference, even though it is virtual, will help alleviate some of that isolation,” Kawata said. “We’ve worked very hard to make this conference not just an opportunity for training and education, but a chance to connect with others, reinforce those strands in your support net, and hopefully, establish some new connections.”

More information about the U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS and instructions on registering to attend can be obtained at nmac.org.

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N.C. lieutenant governor compares gays to cow feces, maggots

“If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said

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North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson (Blade file photo)

WINSTON-SALEM – Speaking to parishioners at the Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem last Sunday, November 14, North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson attacked the LGBTQ+ community in remarks caught on the church’s livestreaming video on YouTube.

Robinson said in his sermon that he questioned the “purpose” of being gay; said heterosexual couples are “superior” to gay couples; and that he didn’t want to explain to his grandchildren why two men are kissing if they see that on television the Charlotte Observer reported.

The state’s Republican Lt. Governor then went on to compare being gay to “what the cows leave behind” as well as maggots and flies, who he said all serve a purpose in God’s creation. “If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said.

Democratic lawmakers expressed their outrage on Twitter:

According to the Observer, “The video was distributed Friday by a pastor at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, the day before the Transgender Day of Remembrance. A protest rally was held Friday in front of Robinson’s office, but organizers also read the names of transgender people who have been killed.

This man’s theology and religious practices are not only flawed and a perversion of the Christian tenets; he places countless people at risk of violent attacks and even murder every time he opens his mouth,” said Vance Haywood, senior pastor at St. John’s, in a statement.

Robinson is expected to run for the governor’s chair in 2024. In another video of the sermon captured the Lt. Governor ranting in transphobic terms his opinion of the Trans community:

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (Twitter Video)

Video of remarks made by North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson courtesy of the Charlotte Observer.

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