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Gay group works to change hearts, minds at CPAC

Amid the boos, GOProud finds support from young conservatives

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Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference. His group and its message drew mixed reactions during the D.C. event. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

GOProud’s booth at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference was, like most others at the event, a simple setup.

At the back of the booth was a cardboard wall with the group’s name repeated in red, white and blue lettering. On a table were clipboards with sign up sheets, a roll of “Draft Cheney 2012” stickers and a handout describing the group’s mission.

“GOProud represents gay conservatives and their allies,” it says. “GOProud is committed to a traditional conservative agenda that emphasizes limited government, individual liberty, free markets and a confident foreign policy.”

The setup, in hindsight, might have been too simple. Jimmy LaSalvia, the group’s executive director, at one point looked longingly at a neighboring booth for the Citizens in Charge Foundation, a group dedicated to instituting the referendum process in each state. The motif for the booth included beach toys and fishing nets with dollar bills.

“We should have had a gimmick like that,” he said. “That would have brought more people over.”

Still, the “Draft Cheney” stickers caused at least some passers by to stop. The problem? Most people in the CPAC exhibition hall were unaware of GOProud’s mission as a gay group. Asked by one attendee whether Cheney would really run in 2012, Chris Barron, GOProud’s board chair, responded enthusiastically.

“I don’t know, but can you imagine a better person to send off in a debate with Barack Obama?” he said. “I’d pay money to see that!”

It was a tough crowd for GOProud. As LaSalvia and Barron greeted convention attendees and explained the organization’s outlook to those who were interested, they found themselves having to navigate a sometimes-hostile environment.

Brochures handed out by the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family & Property, ostensibly a Catholic organization, encouraged people to “keep our military clean” and “oppose the homosexual agenda for the military.”

“Homosexual vice represents the opposite of this military honor,” says the document. “It violates natural law, epitomizes the unleashing of man’s unruly passions, undermines self-discipline and has [been] defined as ‘intrinsically evil’ by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church on numerous occasions.”

At CPAC, GOProud was queer. And while some were OK with it, others were not.

‘What are you guys about?’

Tension at GOProud’s booth mounted at one point when a woman with a determined look on her face stopped at the booth and announced she needed to air some concerns. Jon Fortin, a gay former Republican administration official who helped GOProud at CPAC, became noticeably tense as a nearby reporter grabbed his notebook.

“I just want to tell you guys that I believe gambling does harm to families,” she said. “It creates financial ruin and drives families apart.”

Fortin quickly noted that the Poker Players Alliance, is actually next to GOProud, opposite the Citizens in Charge Foundation.

“Oh,” the woman said. “Well what are you guys about then?”

Fortin explained GOProud’s mission of advocating for items on the conservative agenda while simultaneously advancing some LGBT causes, such as repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

In response, the woman said she had concerns about how gays serving openly would contribute to military readiness. She also wanted to know what arrangements could be made for straight service members who are uncomfortable being in close quarters with gays.

Fortin made an effort to allay her concerns by saying that repealing the law would simply allow gay troops already in the military to serve openly without being expelled from the armed services.

The exchange was among the most contentious moments at GOProud’s booth. Others who approached either voiced support for their inclusion at CPAC, asked questions about the group’s agenda, or expressed their lack of interest or opposition by simply moving to the next booth.

That nothing more contentious occurred at the gay group’s booth could be taken as evidence that the conservative movement is shifting toward greater acceptance — or at least greater tolerance — of gays. Young conservatives, the largest demographic at CPAC, seem willing to include gays among the crowd, or are at least divided on the issue.

Remarks of two CPAC speakers and the accompanying audience reaction seem to best symbolize the state of gay inclusion among conservatives. Alexander McCorbin, a member of Students for Liberty, praised CPAC in his speech for allowing GOProud to participate in the conference.

“In the name of freedom, I would like to also thank the American Conservative Union for welcoming GOProud as a co-sponsor of this event,” he said. “Not because of any politics, but because of the message that it sends: If what you truly care about is freedom, limited government, and prosperity, then this symbol is a step in the right direction, and look to the student movement for support!”

The audience received McCorbin’s words with a mixture of boos and applause. But what caused more controversy took place a few moments later when Ryan Sorba, co-founder of California Young Americans for Freedom, took the stage.

“I want to condemn CPAC for bringing GOProud to this event!” he shouted, drawing more boos than McCorbin received, but still some applause. Sorba continued his tirade against gays and their pursuit of civil rights.

“Civil rights are granted in natural rights,” he said. “Natural rights are granted in human nature. Human nature is a rational substance in relationship. The intelligible end of reproductive act is reproduction. Do you understand that?”

Despite more boos from the audience, Sorba continued. “The lesbians at Smith College protest better than you do!” And after apparent disapproval from Jeff Frazee, executive director of Young Americans for Liberty, Sorba countered, “You just made an enemy out of me, buddy.”

When asked moments later for his reaction to Sorba’s comments, LaSalvia gave a measured response.

“I think the audience speaks for itself,” he said. “That’s all I have to say about that.”

LaSalvia later noted that Sorba’s remarks were possibly a boon for collecting signatures on GOProud’s signup sheet. During the first two days, the group netted about 100 signatures; nearly 200 people signed up in the days following Sorba’s tirade.

No other event at CPAC hit quite as hard an anti-gay note as Sorba’s tirade.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness and a leading national voice against gays serving openly in the armed forces, held a press conference to warn about the danger of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but her event wasn’t officially sponsored by CPAC.

And her message was blunted when conservative activist Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Richard Cheney, told Talking Points Memo following her speech at the podium that it’s time to end the ban on open service.

Even an official CPAC panel dedicated to social issues was largely free of anti-gay rhetoric and instead advocated a more general advancement of largely undefined traditional values.

One exception came when panelist Tim Goeglein of Focus on the Family Action advocated for the Manhattan Declaration, an agreement among religious groups that proclaims, among other things, that marriage is for life and between one man and one woman.

Longtime social conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly praised the 31 state constitutional amendments that banned same-sex marriage throughout the country — comments that drew significant applause from her audience. In particular, she praised the amendment Ohio voters approved in 2004.

“George Bush could not and would not have been elected in 2004 if it had not been that the marriage amendment was on the ballot in the state of Ohio, which turned out to be the crucial state in that election,” she said. “So that has been very good for Republican victory.”

LaSalvia said after Schlafly’s speech that Bush’s victory could be attributed to any number of different factors.

But the venom found on stage was lacking among those who visited GOProud’s booth in the exhibition hall. Brett Dinkins, a 19-year-old student from the University of Missouri, signed up to join GOProud’s list while sporting a golden “Blunt” pin on his lapel indicating his support for Republican candidate Roy Blunt in Missouri’s upcoming U.S. Senate race.

Dinkins said he wanted to sign the list to show how the conservative movement is “just getting away from the traditional, close-minded thoughts and moving forward to the age that we’re definitely in now.”

“They probably get a lot of heat from people sometimes, so it’s good that they’re actually out here at the biggest conservative gathering doing it,” he said.

At one point, a representative from the National Rifle Association visited the booth, and he and LaSalvia shared memories of how the groups worked in tandem last year to get a failed concealed weapons amendment passed in the Senate. The NRA official wasn’t able to stay long, though, and soon returned to his booth.

Several candidates seeking to oust traditionally pro-LGBT lawmakers also visited GOProud’s booth in search of support. LaSalvia said he received a visit from a Republican challenging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and John Loughlin, the GOP candidate who seems poised to challenge gay Democrat David Cicilline in Rhode Island this fall for Congress.

Sean Bielat, who’s the likely Republican candidate to take on gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), also made an appearance to seek the gay group’s help. He emphasized that he’s running on fiscal issues and that he and GOProud should “keep in touch.”

There was even a surprise visit from lesbian MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow, who toured CPAC as part of her trip to D.C. She asked LaSalvia about the “objections” to GOProud’s presence.

“Well, the bottom line is those objections came from the fringe of the fringe,” LaSalvia said. “There was one organization that pulled out. It was Liberty University.”

“Oh yeah,” Maddow said. “They’re the people that said health care reform was going to mean mandatory sex changes.”

LaSalvia noted it’s ironic that Liberty University pulled out because both the school and GOProud participated in a Young College Republicans event together last year.

“Maybe you so spooked them at the event — they were like, ‘Never again!’” Maddow responded.

“The bottom line is the real story is people have been coming up to us saying, ‘We’re so glad you’re here,’” LaSalvia said.

Even an encounter with the National Organization for Marriage, which had a display near GOProud, was relatively calm. At one point, CNN prompted a meeting between GOProud and the anti-gay group in the network’s coverage of GOProud’s role at CPAC.

“We can have a beer summit later,” Barron joked during the exchange.

So if they’re not at GOProud’s booth, where are these conservatives who aren’t happy about the inclusion of gays in the movement? It turns out that they’re somewhat evasive.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), notorious for remarks he made during his tenure in the Senate comparing homosexuality to bestiality, dodged a DC Agenda reporter after giving a speech that suggested Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen were “indoctrinated” by political correctness into endorsing an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in congressional testimony earlier this month.

Santorum held the reporter’s business card and peered at it through his glasses before he returning the card.

“I’m actually late for something and I have to get going,” he said. “Sorry, but I can’t answer any questions.”

Some college students with comparatively lower profiles seemed equally skittish when approached while examining an event map.

“I’m with the press,” said the reporter. “Can I ask you some questions?”

“Sure,” one responded.

“I write for DC Agenda. We’re a gay publication.”

“I’d rather not be part of that.”

“Well, can I still ask you some questions?”

“I don’t want to say anything.”

To get some conversational traction, this reporter eventually resorted to identifying himself verbally as a member of the press and then handing his business card to each person following the conversation. The approach helped convention attendants find their voice.

John Daniel, a 19-year-old student from Florida State University, said he’s against the inclusion of gays in the conservative movement.

“I think there’s nothing wrong with people being homosexual, I just don’t believe they should get married,” he says. “All of us are brothers in Christ, but I’m against them getting married.”

When pressed about what he thought of GOProud’s participation in CPAC, Daniel expressed similar reservations.

“I’m glad that they’re on our side for most things, but I don’t think that they should like — I don’t know — I don’t think that should be high on the agenda,” he said.

Expressing similar reluctance to welcome gays as conservatives is Chase Bishop, a 21-year-old conservative Christian from Liberty University.

“I believe that gays are fine,” he said. “I believe that they can express themselves, and they’re still human beings, and they can give their political views — but I think in the conservative movement, we need to keep the people that are not gay in leadership and help the gays come back to where they need to be.”

More support for gay rights could be found among CPAC attendees who identify as libertarians, such as Kevin Brent, a 23-year-old D.C. resident.

“It sounds funny, but gays are people, too, and they have the rights; they should [have the] freedoms to express themselves,” he said. “I don’t really think it’s a political issue and I think it gets way more attention than it should.”

Margaret Marro, a 19-year-old libertarian and a student from Indiana University, said she was enthusiastic about gays in the conservative movement and GOProud’s participation in CPAC. She said there’s “definitely” a place for gays among conservatives.

“I think that gay and lesbian issues are very, very much a generational thing and I think that my generation is much more accepting,” she said. “Honestly, I can’t wait until those social issues aren’t part of any party’s agenda because I think that economic issues are so much [more] important to this country than issues over anyone’s personal rights.”

The real test for GOProud came during the group’s participation in a panel discussion. On Feb. 20, the group was slated to discuss the use of social networking technologies, such as Facebook and Twitter, to advance goals for conservative organizations.

The panel took place the morning after Sorba made his remarks. LaSalvia, who represented GOProud on the panel, said he didn’t expect much fallout.

“This is a room full of tech people,” he said, “so I think we’ll be pretty calm here.”

But LaSalvia appeared anxious. He laughed nervously as he talked to other panelists, and had his arms wrapped before him as he chewed on his thumbnail. The first to speak of the three panelists, LaSalvia recalled that he and Barron relied on the Internet to advance their message when GOProud opened shop.

“We knew that we had to use to the best of our ability — and on very little money — technology to organize our organization and start it from scratch,” LaSalvia said. “We still continue to use a mix of a database and contact management software that we paid for … and then we use Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the free stuff.”

He went on to relay an anecdote about how the group used Twitter last year to put pressure on Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) for voting against the concealed weapons amendment and comparing passage of the measure to imposing same-sex marriage on Missouri.

“We know that Sen. McCaskill is famous for being a Twitterer,” he said. “We knew that that was going to be the secret weapon in this particular thing, and so, again, it was me in a coffee shop and my colleague in his living room in Georgetown with our laptops — and we started talking to her on Twitter.”

LaSalvia said he sent links to McCaskill on their press release and the remarks she made and that the information was re-Tweeted “thousands of times.”

“The Second Amendment community was mad at her,” he says. “The gay left was mad at her, and the Twitter universe was going nuts, and she was trying to respond to people from this committee hearing. And I thought, ‘OK, we lost yesterday, but at the very least, we’re giving her a bad day,’ and we have an election issue.”

Among the audience, people were listening intently. No one appeared concerned about being lectured by a gay group or hearing about same-sex marriage — except for perhaps an older man in the audience who had his arms crossed before him. No questions emerged regarding the group’s involvement at CPAC; people instead want to learn about the best ways to use technology to advance their organizations.

LaSalvia told the crowd to keep as much information as possible on people in their databases, including where potential supporters were first encountered. He said if people interested in their groups first expressed interest during, for example, an art fair, that information should be included in the database.

The panel discussion ended promptly after one hour and LaSalvia seemed happy with how it went.

“It went very well — exactly as I had expected,” he says. “We’re all trying to do the same thing, we’re all different organizations and we have common needs and common concerns.”

Still, LaSalvia cursed himself for using an art fair as a place for conservatives to meet supporters.

“I wish I hadn’t used the gayest example that I could think of.”

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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 to taught 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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National

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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