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Rewind: Week of Feb. 5



Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was remarkable not only for paving the way for the despicable law’s demise, but for showcasing the two routes conservatives can take moving forward.

One path is that taken by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It took him a number of years to get to this juncture, but he has chosen to be on the right side of history, be in touch with the majority of Americans, and do what is right by his fellow soldiers. Mullen, who had been nominated to his post by George W. Bush in 2007, told the Senate committee that he believes “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.” He confessed, “No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” He explained that it’s a matter of integrity — “theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.” He clearly meant his own integrity as well.

Then there is the way taken by Sen. John McCain. The Arizona Republican reneged on an earlier promise to heed the military’s top brass on the matter of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Now that both the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are telling us it’s time to repeal the discriminatory law, McCain throws a hissy fit and refuses to budge. Once known for his “maverick” and independent streak, it appears that he has lost his better qualities. Is he pandering to social conservatives to ensure more years in Washington? Or has he yet to accept his defeat to that young upstart, Obama? Or is he simply clinging on to an order that is fast disintegrating — one in which he and other privileged, wealthy and heterosexual white men hold sway?

McCain, joined by a few of his ilk, defiantly displayed how out of synch he is with most of us. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, in particular, uttered inanity that only underscored how divorced these men are from reality. He protested that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would open the flood gates to “alcohol use, adultery, fraternization, and body art” in the military. I believe it’s a bit too late for that.

In other news, at the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday, Obama finally addressed the maniacal and murderous anti-LGBT fervor gripping Uganda and other African Nations. He said, “We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are — whether it’s here in the United States or, as [Secretary of State] Hillary [Clinton] mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.”

Clinton, who gave the keynote address, had stressed that the administration is “looking to take on religious discrimination and violations of human rights. But we are also standing up for girls and women, who too often in the name of religion are denied basic human rights. And we are standing up for gays and lesbians, who deserve to be treated as full human beings.”

On Monday, newly minted Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced that he had decided to shelve his predecessor’s proposal to allow same-sex partners to be covered under the state’s employee health plan. The proposal had been developed by outgoing Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine weeks before the god-fearing McDonnell took over the reins of the Old Dominion State. It would have expanded benefits to qualified adults — straight and gay partners, roommates, caregivers, children and other family members — who live in the same house as an insured state employee.

The following day, in neighboring D.C., Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah and eight other GOP senators introduced legislation that would require the District to subject marriage equality to a referendum before issuing marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples next month. In response, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said that the Republicans are “disregarding the most basic of American self-government principles.” She argued that “marriage is a fundamental state’s right in the District as elsewhere in America, not a political football to be used or abused to score points back home at the expense of the people of the District, and of democratic principles.”

And while many of us were riveted on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hearing, the U.S. Tax Court quietly issued a long-awaited decision in a case that has very positive consequences for transgender people. In O’Donnabhain v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, the court ruled that treatment for gender identity disorder qualifies as medical care under the Internal Revenue Code, and that medical treatments for GID, including surgery and hormone therapy, are therefore deductible.

Karen Loewy of Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which represented the plaintiff, celebrated the verdict.

“This decision treats Rhiannon O’Donnabhain the way she deserves to be treated — like any hard-working American taxpayer with medical expenses.” She pointed out that “this has been a no-brainer. Every mainstream medical authority from the American Psychiatric Association to the National Institutes of Health recognizes the legitimacy of providing medical care for transgender people. Dismissing these medical expenses as illegitimate and not deductible was discrimination, pure and simple.”

On Wednesday, Maryland lawmakers rejected an effort by their own to prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages lawfully performed elsewhere. Del. Emmett Burns Jr., a Democrat and minister, had proposed the bill as a pre-emptive strike against an anticipated legal opinion the state’s attorney general has been working on. It has been predicted that the attorney general will allow same-sex marriages to be recognized in Maryland, following the state’s legal tradition of recognizing unions, including common-law marriages, which are illegal in Maryland but lawful elsewhere. Same-sex marriage is still not legal in the state.

Finally this week, thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans activists and straight allies gather in Dallas for Creating Change 2010, the National Conference on LGBT Equality organized by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. In attendance are young and old activists and advocates, organizers and activists of color, public officials and other LGBT leaders. Its primary goal is “to build our movement’s political power from the ground up to secure our overarching goal of full equality, social justice and dignity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the United States.”

Unlike McCain and his friends, these people are not wealthy, privileged and powerful men cocooned in Washington, shaking their fists against welcome change. These ordinary Americans are acting with more wisdom, courage and integrity than the senators, leading the way to our shared future in which the next generation of conservatives, liberals and independents will wonder what the fuss was all about.

Erwin de Leon blogs for DC Agenda. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.



Flight attendants union endorses Sarah McBride

Del. lawmaker would be first transgender member of Congress



Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride speaks at the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in D.C. on April 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Delaware congressional candidate Sarah McBride has earned the support of the Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s most prominent flight attendant union.

It’s the second big labor endorsement for McBride after the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27’s endorsement. The Association of Flight Attendants praised her for spearheading efforts to bring paid family and medical leave to Delaware, which will take effect in 2026. 

“Sarah’s record in the Delaware Senate shows that she understands how to work collaboratively, build power and make big things happen,” the union’s president, Sara Nelson, wrote in a press release shared exclusively with the Washington Blade. “That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy.”

McBride also announced her support for creating a list of abusive passengers and banning them from flying. Each airline has a list of passengers banned from flying, but airlines don’t share the lists with each other, though Delta Air Lines has asked them, because of “legal and operational challenges,” as a representative for the airline industry trade group Airlines of America told a House committee in September 2021.

“Right now, someone can be violent towards a flight attendant or another passenger and walk directly off of that flight and onto one with a different airline to endanger more people,” an Association of Flight Attendants spokesperson wrote in a statement. 

The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would put the Transportation Security Administration in charge of building the database of passengers fined or convicted of abuse and has bipartisan support but has sat idly in committee since March. It failed to pass last year, and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have charged that the list would disproportionately target people of color and strip and a better step to reducing hostility would be making flights more comfortable. Reports of defiant and unruly passengers have more than doubled between 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2022.

“I thank the Association of Flight Attendants for endorsing our campaign,” McBride wrote in the press release. “It’s important that we recognize and celebrate the symbiotic relationship between strong, unionized workforces and the continued growth of employers here in our state.”

The union representing 50,000 flight attendants across 19 airlines is putting pressure on airlines to grant union demands in contract negotiations. At American Airlines, unionized flight attendants voted to authorize a strike — putting pressure on the airline to accede to its demands. Flight attendants at Alaska Airlines say they are ready to strike but have not voted to authorize one yet. United Airlines flight attendants picketed at 19 airports around the country in August, ratcheting up the pressure. 

The union’s endorsement adds to a growing list of McBride endorsements, including 21 Delaware legislators, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and Delaware Stonewall PAC. McBride, who would be the first openly transgender politician in Congress, has powerful connections in Washington — including with the White House — and is favored to win Delaware’s lone House seat. 

A poll commissioned by HRC shows her leading the pack of three candidates vying for the seat — 44 percent of “likely Democratic voters” told pollster company Change Research, which works with liberal organizations. The poll of 531 likely Delaware Democratic primary voters, though, was conducted only online — meaning those with less familiarity or access to the internet may not have been counted — and Change Research’s methodology for screening likely voters is unclear. The company also did not provide a breakdown of respondents by age, gender, and race, but says it uses an algorithm to make the results representative.  

Nelson said McBride’s time in Delaware’s state Senate shows her prowess in building power and working collaboratively.  

“That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy,” she wrote.

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Lawsuit seeks to force Virginia Beach schools to implement state guidelines for trans, nonbinary students

Va. Department of Education released new regulations in July



(Bigstock photo)

Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

NBC Washington on Friday reported Cooper and Kirk, a D.C.-based law firm, filed the lawsuit in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement them. 

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HME Consulting and Advocacy stands on frontline of LGBTQ policy

Heidi Ellis is a consultant who doesn’t take clients ‘not aligned with my mission’



‘Even though I am a private consultant … my work is very much mission driven,’ says Heidi Ellis. (Photo courtesy of Ellis)

September is here, which means Congress and the D.C. Council return from their August recess and life for consultant Heidi Ellis quickly gets busy. 

Her days are filled with negotiating with Council members, phone calls with clients, and policy planning for advocacy groups. The organizations she represents are looking to her to help them push policy and she hopes to guide them to victory. 

Ellis’s company, HME Consulting and Advocacy, came after years of working in the public and private sectors as a consultant. In 2019, Ellis decided to shift her focus to work that stood at the center of the intersections in which she lives. She sought to figure out how she could better serve her community as a Black queer Latino woman. Ellis recognized that there was a niche for mission-driven consulting in the District. 

“I was sought out and recruited by a lot of organizations that wanted me and I took a beat, because I was like ‘Do I want to go back into a machine where even if I do effect change, I have to answer to someone?’”she said, in reference to consulting agencies that were in pursuit of her talent. Ultimately, she decided against continuing her work under another company. “By doing what I do, I have much more flexibility for one to say ‘Yes’ but also to say ‘No’.”

Although Ellis has considered going back to working in the corporate space, she still loves the flexibility of being able to be nimble as a private consultant. 

Although Ellis doesn’t work entirely in the advocacy space, her consulting clients still align with her personal values. She joked that she differs strongly from the stereotypical money-driven D.C. consultant who sports Brooks Brothers suits on K Street. 

“Even though I am a private consultant … my work is very much mission driven,” she said. “I don’t take any clients that are not aligned with my mission.”

Her mission is simple, Ellis is “committed to elevating issues that sit at the nexus of education, mental health, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people of color.”

“The more marginalized you are, the more you suffer from the failures of policy and the gaps of service,” she said. 

As a consultant in the advocacy space, Ellis does the behind-the-scenes work for organizations to help correct these policy failures and close the gaps. Whether she is facilitating training for companies to better understand how to serve their LGBTQ communities, or she is on the frontline of education policy changes –– Ellis aims to only do work that she is passionate about.

She said that the balance of her combined passion and level-headedness help her to build trusting relationships with her clients and in the end, “Get stuff  done.”

Since starting her organization, some of her proudest work has been done with the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition. The coalition is made up of more than 30 organizations that aim to advocate for investments and policy changes that affect LGBTQ lives. As a leader of this coalition, her services include policy support, facilitation, training, initiative development and organizational redesign. Since she began leading the coalition, they have raised more than $5 million of investments in LGBTQ programs.

Later this fall, she will work with the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition along with the ANC Rainbow Caucus to convene the first LGBTQ+ Housing Summit from Nov. 29-30.

“The one thing we all recognize is that housing is the common denominator of every other social affliction facing LGBTQ communities,” she said.  

At the summit they will focus on the barriers within the current housing system and explore revitalized approaches to dealing with the current housing market. To pre-register for the event, visit the LGBTQ+ Housing Summit website.

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