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LGBT Democrats defend Obama at DNC winter meeting

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The Democratic National Committee’s LGBT Americans Caucus is giving high marks to President Obama and the Democratic Party’s efforts to advance LGBT rights over the past year, caucus members said this week.

Veteran Democratic activist Rick Stafford of Minnesota, who chairs the LGBT Caucus, said members at the Feb. 5 meeting were impressed with DNC Chair Timothy Kaine, a former Virginia governor, and gay White House official Brian Bond. Both addressed the LGBT Caucus during the DNC’s annual winter meeting.

Stafford told DC Agenda that Kaine “talked about the achievements, but he also talked about the frustration he knows our community has on some issues, with the lack of forward progress.”

“He hears that and he wants the community to know he hears that,” Stafford said. “But he also talked about the accomplishments the administration has made on our issues, and many of us believe they are very important.”

Stafford said Bond, who serves as deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, outlined “a litany of impressive achievements” by the Obama administration on gay-related issues. He noted that Bond also acknowledged concern among many LGBT supporters that Congress has been slow to pass several gay-related bills.

Kaine also talked about “the importance of the 2010 elections so that we don’t slide back,” Stafford said. He noted that Kaine told the caucus “the national party is committed in terms of the outreach to our community and to highlight the issues and the achievements that we have made in this administration for our community and where we need to go forward.”

Meetings of the 25-member LGBT Americans Caucus come at a time when some LGBT activists have called for a boycott of DNC fundraisers. The activists, led by longtime gay Democratic activist and fundraiser David Mixner and gay blogger John Aravosis, have said the boycott is aimed at pressuring the DNC and the administration to more aggressively push the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass several LGBT-related bills.

Mixner and Aravosis have said the boycott should be limited to the DNC and that people should continue to contribute money to individual Democratic candidates who are supportive on LGBT issues.

Among the bills that Mixner and Aravosis want Congress to pass is the long stalled Employment Non-Discrimination Act, also known as ENDA, which would bar job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Other congressional action sought by activists is repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law preventing gays, lesbians and bisexuals from serving openly in the military, and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars legally married same-sex couples from receiving nearly 1,200 federal rights and benefits associated with marriage.

“What we are saying is people should absolutely hold off on their donations until the party comes through on their promises, and then continue supporting them,” Aravosis said. “But currently they’re not coming through.”

LGBT Caucus members Earl Fowlkes of Washington, D.C., who supported Obama’s presidential campaign, and Heather Mizeur, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, joined Stafford in strongly opposing the boycott. The three said withholding contributions to the DNC would hurt efforts to elect LGBT-supportive Democratic candidates to Congress and state legislatures.

Also expressing opposition to the boycott was Barbara Siperstein, president of Stonewall Democrats of New Jersey and the first openly transgender person to be named to the DNC.

“I share, from my own experience, the frustration they’re talking about,” Siperstein told DC Agenda. “But very honestly, I disagree with a strategy of boycotting the DNC. I can only see it as unsuccessful for our community. It can only help the Republicans.”

Siperstein, Fowlkes and Mizeur each said the Democratic leaders in Congress and most congressional Democrats strongly support the LGBT-related bills in question. They note that a small group of moderate and conservative Democrats have so far withheld support for some or all of these bills. And with nearly all congressional Republicans opposed to the bills, supporters have been unable to line up the votes needed to pass the LGBT bills, the three said.

“You can’t blame the party or the president for that,” said Siperstein.

Mizeur, whose Maryland district includes the largely Democratic and suburban Montgomery County, said she’s “never been for a boycott.”

“But I think that our contributions should come with some strings attached, if you will,” she said. “They need to come along with conversations about how ‘I am an LGBT American who is investing in this party and this money I want to see goes toward an agenda that includes “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” [repeal] and marriage equality,’ and you go down the list.”

Aravosis, however, said the approach suggested by Mizeur and other DNC supporters doesn’t appear to have worked.

He said the national party angered many LGBT Democrats in November when it remained silent during a heated campaign in Maine over a ballot measure that struck down same-sex marriage in the state.

DNC-sponsored phone canvassers reminded Maine residents to vote, but made no mention of the anti-gay ballot measure. And the canvassers urged Maine political activists to participate in an operation urging New Jersey voters to support the failed re-election bid of Democratic Gov. John Corzine.

Aravosis called the development “outrageous,” noting that the DNC effectively ignored an anti-gay campaign in Maine while asking Democrats in Maine to get involved in a New Jersey race.

“The point isn’t to stop helping New Jersey,” said Aravosis. “The point is we don’t want them to keep avoiding gay issues. And that’s what they did.”

Stafford said DNC officials have acknowledged that “miscommunication” between the DNC and the Maine Democratic Party resulted in the national party apparatus not providing resources to help defeat the ballot measure. The state party in Maine strongly opposed the ballot measure.

The Maine flap prompted several members of the LGBT Americans Caucus and non-gay supporters to introduce a resolution at the DNC meeting last week to address this problem, Stafford and other caucus members said. The resolution, which the full DNC approved, requires the DNC and its grassroots arm, Organizing for America, to follow the lead of state parties on a wide range of issues, including state ballot measures.

Fowlkes, who has been active in organizing black LGBT Pride events in D.C. and other cities, said the Obama administration has come up short only in failing to communicate as well as it could its “extensive” record of support for LGBT issues during its first year in office.

“A lot of the focus of the LGBT community has been misplaced in blaming Obama and putting pressure only on Obama,” Fowlkes said. “But what we also have to understand is that there are moderate Democrats, conservative Democrats [in Congress]. Some of those people have to be brought along, and that’s where the LGBT community can be putting pressure on those people to make them come along with the administration and vote the correct way.”

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Boston Children’s Hospital targeted by violent anti-LGBTQ threats

‘We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms’

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(Screenshot/YouTube WBZ)

Anti-LGBTQ far right extremists are targeting Boston Children’s Hospital, threatening its employees and medical staff after falsehoods and disinformation spread online recently about the healthcare facility’s treatment of transgender youth.

In a statement posted online, a spokesperson for Boston Children’s Hospital wrote: “In response to commentary last week critical of our Gender Multispeciality Service (GeMS) Program, Boston Children’s Hospital has been the target of a large volume of hostile internet activity, phone calls and harassing emails including threats of violence on our clinicians and staff fueled by misinformation and a lack of understanding and respect for our transgender community.”

The statement notes that the false information, with special attention being cast on the lies that Boston Children’s Hospital was performing hysterectomies (transgender care related) on minors. The age of consent for that gender-affirming procedure is 18.

“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms, and we reject the false narratives upon which they are based,” the hospital continued. “We are working with law enforcement to protect our clinicians, staff, patients, families and the broader Boston Children’s Hospital community and hold the offenders accountable. We will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our people.”

Journalist Martha Bebinger with WBUR,  Boston’s NPR news station, noted the campaign started last week with criticism of a video posted on the hospital’s website about hysterectomies. Several conservative social media accounts shared posts about the video on Twitter. The hospital performs hysterectomies on patients 18 and older, but not on children as some of the posts claimed.

The social media account Libs of TikTok, which has often promoted “groomer” discourse that falsely linked LGBTQ teachers and parents to pedophilia, began to make a variety of false claims. One allegation included the lie about Boston Children’s Hospital offering gender-affirming hysterectomies to children under 18 years old.

Surgeons at Boston Children’s Hospital have said they would consider performing other procedures, including phalloplasty, or penis construction, on 17-year-old male trans patients. But hospital staff say that hasn’t happened because no 17-year-old has met the required legal and other criteria.

Conservative journalist and anti-LGBTQ+ activist Christopher Rufo, who has helped incite white Christian nationalist right-wing uproar over the critical race theory being taught in the nations’ secondary schools and also fabricated a story that queer theory was also being taught to kindergarteners up through high school, took aim at Boston Children’s Hospital in a tweet Wednesday.

Then adding to the far-right extremist pile-on, Media Matters for America reported Wednesday that anti-trans pundit Matt Walsh also attacked the hospital.

Christina Buttons, a Nashville-based radical anti-LGBTQ far-right journalist for the Canadian anti-LGBTQ conservative publication, the Post Millennial, which features other transphobic writers, attacked NBC News reporter Brandy Zadrozny on Twitter over her reporting on Boston Children’s Hospital.

A spokesperson for Twitter told the Washington Blade Wednesday afternoon that the company support team was looking into the reports of harassment.

Zadrozny reported: Anti-trans activists also targeted the individual doctors who appeared in the YouTube videos from Boston Children’s Hospital, leaving vulgar and harassing comments on their social media accounts and flooding their online pages with negative reviews. Some hospital staff have since made their social media profiles private.

This isn’t the first time that far-right activists have targeted doctors and medical institutions — or even Boston Children’s Hospital.

Lee Leveille, co-director of Health Liberation Now, a trans rights advocacy group that investigates the effects of policy on trans health, said the hospital was also a target in May 2021 for providing gender-affirming care amid a similar wave of targeted harassment on medical facilities.

“The original organized network that jump started the clinic protests has been slowing down a bit and is more decentralized,” Leveille said over email. “Local pockets will still operate here and there, but they’re less connected to a central organized push than the original ones. Now we’re seeing new faces rallying the cause — including the likes of Matt Walsh and Libs of TikTok.”

A spokesperson for the Boston Police Department said the department is aware of the threats and is working with hospital staff.

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Dance parties: End-of-summer fun or monkeypox super-spreaders?

Health officials urge precautions as cases reach 12,689

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Health officials are urging precautions on monkeypox amid end of the summer gay dance parties. (Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

This is the time of year when gay men say farewell to summer with trips to the beach and resort towns for festivities, parties, and other revelry consisting of shirtless dancing and various forms of intimate contact — now a potential health risk as super-spreader events amid a monkeypox outbreak that continues to spread among men who have sex with men.

With the number of reported cases of monkeypox in the United States reaching 12,689 and demand for vaccines failing to keep up with supply, questions remain about taking precautions like those seen during the coronavirus epidemic as health experts and event organizers point to existing guidance to ensure a reasonable degree of safety.

Wes Combs, president of the CAMP Rehoboth board of directors, said his organization from the beginning of the monkeypox outbreak has been engaging with health officials at the state level in Delaware about what people should be looking for in terms of symptoms, as well as information about how people in high-risk categories can sign up to get vaccinations.

“As is everywhere in the country right now, where LGBTQ communities have big populations people are concerned, so we have received a number of calls about more information about monkeypox, about whether or not people can get vaccinated at CAMP Rehoboth,” Combs said.

A monkeypox town hall hosted by CAMP Rehoboth in conjunction with Delaware state health officials took place Tuesday, providing an opportunity to offer the latest information and answer questions about the monkeypox outbreak. CAMP Rehoboth announced it has been identified as one of two additional sites for vaccinations in addition to what the Department of Health provides from its health centers.

Rehoboth is among the many places in the United States where gay men are expected to flock to celebrate, along with Fire Island and Provincetown on the East Coast, making vaccinations against monkeypox in high demand at a time when the Biden administration is facing criticism for not making them more widely accessible. (Gay cruises for the summer, however, may not be among these events. A Carnival Cruise Line spokesperson said the charters team has no LGBTQ cruises coming up.)

Brad Perkins, chief medical officer at Karius, Inc., when asked about appropriate guidance for these end-of-summer events advised “trying to encourage community awareness and responsibility to isolate yourself and not infect others if you believe that you’ve been exposed or know that you’re infected.”

“But the longer game here is that we don’t want this disease to become endemic in the United States,” Perkins added. “And I think there’s a short-term threat, there’s a long term threat, both of them are really important [and] I think should weigh on decisions like the one you’re suggesting people need to make.”

Perkins said Karius, which works on advanced molecular technology for diagnosis of infectious diseases, is seeking to apply microbial cell-free DNA technology to create monkeypox tests earlier than options currently available, which require a sample from already developed skin lesions. The proposed testing has detected the virus in hospital patients, Perkins said, and following research over the course of the next few months may be available on an outpatient basis.

In Rehoboth, Combs said CAMP Rehoboth as a result of work with state officials is set to obtain 200 doses of JYNNEOS vaccine and, per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, plans to distribute them in a two-dose regimen, with the first dose set for Aug. 23 and second one on Sept. 28. As of Tuesday, Combs said CAMP Rehoboth has already scheduled appointments for 135 shots in the two-doze regimen, which is more than two-thirds of the total available shots.

“We are in talks with the state to [see] if they are able to get additional doses to create a larger vaccination site that’s capable of having more people vaccinated,” Combs added. “Right now, it’s one person every five minutes — over the span of from nine o’clock to three — and that’s the rate based on the number of doses. But if we can get more, we will do more, and we tell that to the state.”

Many of these end-of-summer events consist of gay men engaging in shirtless dancing in close proximity with each other as well as other intimate contact, creating ideal opportunities for a disease transmitted by skin-to-skin contact.

Be honest: While participants aren’t engaging in sexual activity as part of these events per se, they can lead to sexual encounters in the aftermath with a causal partner (or causal partners should these participants elect to have group sex to close out the night).

The CDC has guidance on its website for safer sex and social gatherings amid the monkeypox outbreak, which suggests festivals, events, and concerts where attendees are fully clothed and unlikely to share skin-to-skin contact are safer, as well as being mindful of activities (even kissing) that might spread monkeypox. Enclosed spaces, such as private and public sex parties where intimate and often anonymous sexual contact with multiple partners occurs, the CDC says, may have a higher likelihood of spreading monkeypox.

During the COVID epidemic, many group events required proof of vaccination and were even cancelled in an effort to mitigate the spread of the dangerous and potentially fatal disease. The same, however, cannot be said about events during the monkeypox outbreak, where the disease can be painful, but not fatal, and the availability of vaccines has not kept up with demand.

Combs said he’s unaware of any event being cancelled in Rehoboth due to monkeypox and, in fact, its biggest fundraiser of the year, the annual Sundance dance party is on track to happen over Labor Day weekend. Additionally, Combs said he cannot foresee a proof of vaccination requirement “largely because the availability of vaccines is so difficult to get right now, and there’s…high demand and low supply.”

“Certainly we understand what worked well with COVID, and that was getting information education out to the public about how this virus is transmitted and providing as much access to vaccines as possible,” Combs said. “So the one thing that is different is the number of vaccines available seems to be much lower, so I know that there’s lots of pressure being placed on the government at all levels to ensure that they get more supply to meet the demand that appears to be there.”

Perkins, asked whether precautions taken during COVID would be appropriate for monkeypox, drew a distinction between the two diseases, pointing out “the sort of positive take on monkeypox is that we’re somewhat prepared for this threat, mostly through efforts to prepare for smallpox.”

“Certainly, the most relevant one I think the community at this point is if you think you have been exposed, or, particularly if you’ve been exposed and you’re ill, getting vaccine, accessing the vaccine that’s available, or at least discussing being vaccinated as prophylaxis or at least, if not prophylaxis, prevention of infection, at least decreasing the severity of illness if it does occur,” Perkins said. “I think as is you know, it’s one of the good news stories of the efforts that have been taken to date.”

Although to date the transmission of monkeypox has been overwhelmingly among men who have sex with men, Perkins predicted that could change.

“In fact, we’re starting to see more cases outside that circle,” Perkins said. “I would expect that that will increase unless we control this epidemic. I think that will be a certainty moving forward that we’ll see a broader distribution of cases, because certainly the transmission of this infection, unlike HIV…includes routes of transmission that are non-sexual.”

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Court rules transgender people have legal protections under ADA

Judge writes gender dysphoria not excluded under law

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A federal appeals court has become the first to rule transgender people have protections under ADA.

Transgender people have additional protections from discrimination under federal law for having a disability if they experience gender dysphoria, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in a consequential decision that marks a first for a federal appeals court.

A three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, determined the Americans with Disability Act prohibits discrimination against people with gender dysphoria — despite explicit language in the law excluding “transsexualism” and “gender identity disorder” as protected classes.

U.S. Circuit Court Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, an appointee of Bill Clinton, wrote in a 56-page decision gender dysphoria doesn’t fall under the those two categories in the law because “gender dysphoria is not a gender identity disorder.”

“[T]he ADA excludes from its protection anything falling within the plain meaning of ‘gender identity disorders,’ as that term was understood ‘at the time of its enactment,'” Motz writes. “But nothing in the ADA, then or now, compels the conclusion that gender dysphoria constitutes a ‘gender identity disorder’ excluded from ADA protection.”

As a result, the appeals court remanded the case for additional review to the lower trial court, which had come to the opposite conclusion and determined transgender people aren’t covered under ADA.

The case was filed by Kesha Williams, a transgender woman with gender dysphoria who spent six months incarcerated in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. Although she was initially housed in a women’s prison, she was transferred to a man’s prison when officials learned she was transgender and was faced with delays in getting transition-related care as well as harassment from fellow inmates and prison officials.

Among the group advocating in the case for additional protections under ADA were LGBTQ groups, including GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the Fourth Circuit.

Jennifer Levi, GLAD’s transgender rights project director, said in a statement the decision is a “huge win” for transgender advocates because “there is no principled reason to exclude transgender people from our federal civil rights laws.”

“It’s incredibly significant for a federal appeals court to affirm that the protections in our federal disability rights laws extend to transgender people,” Levi said. “It would turn disability law upside down to exclude someone from its protection because of having a stigmatized medical condition. This opinion goes a long way toward removing social and cultural barriers that keep people with treatable, but misunderstood, medical conditions from being able to thrive.”

The idea transgender people are covered under ADA has been controversial even among transgender people. On one hand, reading the law to include transgender people gives them added legal protections. On the other hand, transgender advocates have been fighting for years to make the case that being transgender isn’t a mental disorder. The American Psychiatric Association removed “gender identity disorder” as a type of mental disorder with the publication of DSM–5 in 2013, replacing it with “gender dysphoria.”

Although the Fourth Circuit is the first federal appeals court to rule transgender people have protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, other courts have come to the same determination. In 2017, a federal trial judge in Pennsylvania ruled transgender people are able to sue in cases of discrimination under ADA despite the exclusions under the law.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misattributed and mischaracterized the change to DSM-5. The Washington Blade regrets the error.

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