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Adoption bill aims to protect LGBT parents, kids

A tearful moment interrupted a congressional panel discussion on LGBT adoption



Martin Gill (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

A tearful moment interrupted a congressional panel discussion on LGBT adoption Thursday when a gay foster parent described how state officials in Florida were threatening to take away his two children.

Martin Gill of Miami and his partner are seeking to adopt two young brothers — referred to John and James Doe in court papers — for whom they’ve cared for six years. Because a 1977 Florida statute prohibits gays from adopting, Gill has filed a lawsuit against the state in attempt to overturn the law and adopt the two children.

After showing slides of his children decorating a Christmas tree and dressed as Batman for Halloween, Gill recalled how during an intermediary court hearing the state attorney “made it all too clear” that he couldn’t remain the caregiver should the lawsuit fail.

“They answered that if the court allows the ban to stand, the state would immediately get a court order to remove these kids from our home, and they would be made available for adoption,” Gill said.

Holding back tears, Gill said the judge pressed further on whether some other kind of permanent guardianship could be available, but the response from the counsel was, “No, I don’t think it is.”

“To that, there was an audible gasp in the court room,” he said. “I felt my own heart drop.”

The intermediary court considering the case could make its decision public at any time. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed the lawsuit, is expecting the case to continue to the Florida Supreme Court.

Knowing that at age 4 the older child had to care for the younger one because they had no parents, Gill said his biggest fear is that the state would send the two children to separate homes.

“The lives of these two young boys would be completely devastated,” he said. “What is ironic under the current law is that how in the state of Florida, they would fulfill the goal of permanency for these two young children by splitting them up.”

To address the situation and others like it, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) has introduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. The bill would restrict federal funds for states — including Florida — if they have laws or practices that discriminate in adoption on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

During the panel discussion intended to highlight the bill, Stark said discrimination shouldn’t take place in states that have statutes prohibiting LGBT people from adopting or where discrimination takes place without guidance from the law.

“Standards in adoption and foster care should only reflect the child’s best interest, nothing else,” Stark said. “Too many children need a loving home and we just should not close any doors.”

On March 8, Stark reintroduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act after having previously introduced the bill last year. The new legislation makes technical changes and is intended to ensure that children won’t face discrimination on the basis of their own sexual orientation and gender identity as they’re placed into homes.

The original legislation has 14 co-sponsors that are expected to carry to the new legislation, H.R. 4806. Proponents are also working on a Senate companion bill that could be introduced before lawmakers break for recess this month.

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, said passing the legislation would enable thousands of children in foster care to find families.

Chrisler said a half million children are living in foster care throughout the U.S. and 120,000 of them are available for adoption. But each year, she noted, around 25,000 children “age out” of the system without finding parents.

“And yet, while there is a shortage of qualified foster and adoptive parents for these children in need, some states categorically exclude thousands of prospective parents simply because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status,” she said.

Florida is the only state that has a statute explicitly prohibiting adoption by gays and lesbians. Other states, including Utah and Arkansas, have laws prohibiting unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children.

But Chrisler said the majority of states have no laws to speak to whether LGBT people can adopt, which can leaves children in foster care “vulnerable to the individual biases of agencies, case workers and judges.”

As the Every Child Deserves a Family Act builds support, litigation to rectify the situations in certain states is proceeding. Leslie Cooper, an ACLU senior staff attorney, said in addition to the Florida case, another ACLU lawsuit is pending in Arkansas to overturn the law preventing unmarried cohabitating couples from adopting.

But Cooper said lawsuits aren’t “the way to fully resolve this issue,” noting the cost of cases and the difficulty of litigation in states without specific statutes barring LGBT adoption.

“Litigation can be extremely effective and chip away at this problem, and hopefully in some states, resolve the issue,” she said. “But they aren’t the answer and can’t solve this problem in any stretch. A more global solution like this bill is what we need.”

Two panelists during the discussion presented research showing that the sexual orientation of parents has no impact on their children and many LGBT people would consider adoption if it were available to them.

Charlotte Patterson, a lesbian psychology professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in LGBT families, said 36 percent of lesbians are mothers, 16 percent of gay man are fathers and 40 to 50 percent of gays and lesbians say they would consider becoming parents.

“Children really do well in lesbian and gay parented homes as compared to demographically similar homes parented by heterosexual adults,” she said.

Patterson said growing up in LGBT households has no influence on children’s relationships with their parents, siblings and peers, nor does it affect their gender development, such as whether they want to play with traditionally male or female toys.

“The consensus here is extraordinarily clear,” she said. “Kids are well adjusted. There’s really no need to justify any kind of discrimination.”

Following the discussion, Patterson told DC Agenda studies often touted by social conservatives claiming that biological parents are better than same-sex couples at raising children are misleading.

“In general, what they’re referring to is research about kids growing up with single heterosexual parents and kids growing up with heterosexual couples,” she said. “In those studies, there are usually no openly gay or lesbian people, but the results of the studies are often used to make inferences about what kids in gay and lesbian parented families would do. That’s a mistake, of course.”

Gary Gates, a research fellow at the Williams Institute, a think-tank on sexual orientation at the University of California, Los Angeles, had similar data on the number of gays and lesbians with children and those wanting to adopt.

A common misconception, Gates said, is that it’s mostly LGBT people who are white that want to raise children, as opposed to LGBT people who belong to racial minority groups.

“All the data that we know about parenting by LGBT people and same-sex couples shows that, in fact, child-rearing is much more common in people of color,” he said. “So particularly African-Americans and Latinos and Latinas, they’re twice as likely as their white counterparts to say that they’ve raised a child.”

Regarding the full population, Gates said about one million LGBT people in the United States are raising around two million children.

The numbers are different when looking just at same-sex couples. Based on U.S. census data, Gates said about 112,000 same-sex couples throughout the United States are raising around 250,000 children.

But Gates also said the data show more same-sex couples raise children in states other than where LGBT people tend to live — often West or East Coast states with more gay friendly laws.

“What that also tells you is that same-sex couples are raising kids in states that have some of the most restrictive and challenging legal environments for gay and lesbian people raising children,” Gates said. “Many of the states with relatively high fractions of same-sex couples raising kids are very both politically and socially conservative.”

Also speaking at the panel was Nakea Paige, an 18-year-old high school student in D.C. who grew up in the foster care system. Although she’s bound this fall for Michigan State University to study biochemical engineering, Paige said her childhood was difficult because she never found a permanent home.

“I’ve been in one group home and three foster homes within three years, and having lived in three different places in three years has been a very scary experience,” she said.

Paige said one foster mother wouldn’t allow her to stay because she wasn’t receiving the full amount of compensation she thought she would receive. The foster mother had given a 30-day notice to leave, but Paige said she didn’t know about the notice until it was time for her to go.

Following the panel discussion, Paige told DC Agenda she wouldn’t have minded living with LGBT parents.

“It wouldn’t have bothered me, basically because it’s a family,” she said. “As long as I have somebody there to love me as a child, and them as a parent, then I’m fine with it.”

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Jim Obergefell announces bid for seat in Ohio state legislature

Marriage plaintiff moves on to new endeavor



First Amendment Defense Act, gay news, Washington Blade
Jim Obergefell has announced he'd seek a seat in the Ohio state legislature.

Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the litigation that ensured same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide, announced on Tuesday he’d pursue a new endeavor and run for a seat in the state legislature in his home state of Ohio.

“You deserve a representative who does the right thing, no matter what. You deserve a representative who fights to make things better for everyone,” Obergefell said. “I’ve been part of a national civil rights case that made life better for millions of Americans. Simply put, I fight for what’s right and just.”

Obergefell, who claims residency in Sandusky, Ohio, is seeking a seat to represent 89th Ohio District, which comprises Erie and Ottawa Counties. A key portion of his announcement was devoted to vowing to protect the Great Lakes adjacent to Ohio.

“We need to invest in our Great Lake, protect our Great Lake, and make the nation envious that Ohio has smartly invested in one of the greatest freshwater assets in the world,” Obergefell said.

Obergefell was the named plaintiff in the consolidated litigation of plaintiffs seeking marriage rights that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in 2015 for same-sex marriage nationwide. Obergefell was widower to John Arthur, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and was seeking the right to be recognized as his spouse on his death certificate. The ruling in the consolidated cases ensured same-sex couples would enjoy the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage.

“We should all be able to participate fully in society and the economy, living in strong communities with great public schools, access to quality healthcare, and with well-paying jobs that allow us to stay in the community we love, with the family we care about,” Obergefell said in a statement on his candidacy.

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FDA-funded blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker, L.A. LGBT Center working on study to ease restrictions



gay blood ban, gay news, Washington Blade
A new study could make it easier for gay and bi men to donate blood.

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Institute and the Los Angeles LGBT Center are among LGBTQ supportive organizations in eight U.S. cities working with the nation’s three largest blood donation centers on a study to find a way to significantly ease blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men or MSM.

The study, which is funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calls for recruiting a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men in eight U.S. cities selected for the study to test the reliability of a detailed donor history questionnaire aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if they donate blood.

A statement released by the study organizers says the questionnaire, which could be given to a gay or bisexual person showing up at a blood donation site, could be a replacement for the FDA’s current policy of banning men who have had sex with another man within the previous three months from donating blood.

In the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the FDA put in place a permanent ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. In 2015, with advanced HIV testing and screening techniques readily available, the FDA lifted its permanent ban on MSM blood donations and replaced it with a 12-month restriction for sexual activity between MSM.

The FDA further reduced the time of sexual abstinence for MSM to three months in 2020.

LGBTQ rights organizations and others advocating for a change in the current FDA restriction point out that at a time when the nation is facing a severe shortage of blood donations due to the COVID pandemic, the three-month donation deferral requirement for MSM is preventing a large number of blood donations from men whose risk of HIV infection is low to nonexistent.

Under the FDA-funded and initiated study, the American Red Cross, Vitalant, and OneBlood — the nation’s three largest blood donation centers — have been conducting the questionnaire testing since the study was launched in March 2021.

“To gather the necessary data, the blood centers will partner with LGBTQ+ Centers in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta,” the study organizers say in a statement on a website launched to help recruit volunteers for the study.

“The study will enroll a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men (250 – 300 from each area) who meet the study eligibility criteria,” the statement says.

Among the criteria for being eligible, the statement says, is the person must be between 18 and 39 years old, have expressed an interest in donating blood, must have had sex with at least one other man in the three months before joining the study, and must agree to an HIV test. A negative test result is also required for acceptance into the study.

The study is officially named ADVANCE, which stands for Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility.

“The ADVANCE study is a first step in providing data that will help the FDA determine if a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as effective as time-based deferral, in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” the study organizers statement says.

“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions, it could mean men who have sex with men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” the statement continues. “The ADVANCE study is groundbreaking because it’s the first time a study is being conducted that could result in individual risk assessment for men who have sex with men to donate blood,” the statement says.

The Whitman-Walker Institute, which is among the community-based organizations involved in helping organize and conduct the study, is an arm of Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive D.C. health center.

Christopher Cannon, director of Research Operations for Whitman-Walker Institute, said that since the D.C.-based part of the study was launched early last year prior to the official announcement of the study on March 20, D.C. has surpassed the original city goal of recruiting 250 participants for the study.

“We are currently at 276 as of last Friday’s report,” Cannon told the Blade in a Jan. 13 interview. “And the current goal is now 300,” he said. “So, we’re hoping to push this over that goal line in the coming days and weeks.

Cannon said that like the community organizations involved in the study in other cities, Whitman-Walker Institute’s role has been focused on recruiting gay and bisexual men to participate in the study and to send them to the American Red Cross headquarters building at 430 17th St., N.W. near the White House. That site, which serves as a blood donation center, is also serving as the site where study participants are screened, interviewed, and presented with a detailed questionnaire.

“We promote the study within Whitman-Walker,” Cannon said. “We promote it to our networks. We did social media promotions across the city.’

Although Whitman-Walker doesn’t have the final draft of the questionnaire being presented to study participants, Cannon said he has seen “bits and pieces” of it.  

“They ask very direct questions about the person’s sex life, sexual partners, sex acts, numbers of partners,” Cannon said. “There are questions about condom use, PrEP use, drug use. How recently have you had sex? Lots of related questions,” he said.

“It’s really about trying to figure out effectively which are the best questions,” according to Cannon. “The hope is by analyzing the questions and identifying maybe the best 10 to 12 questions that can be universally used…to get the best answers that identify the individuals that may have the highest risk,” he said. Doing that, he points, out can help determine which men who have sex with men should be eligible to safely donate blood.

A statement released by Whitman-Walker last March calls the study a “monumental research effort” that has the potential to lift the stigma imposed on gay and bisexual men whose ability to donate blood is currently based on their sexual orientation.

“The ADVANCE study is designed to understand if, by asking carefully crafted and research-informed research questions, blood collectors can screen potential blood donors for their individual HIV risk factors rather than applying a ban against sexually active gay and bisexual men,” the statement says.

“The goal is to move away from overly broad questions that exclude potential donors and spread stigmatizing messages about MSM and their HIV risks,” it says.

Cannon said that as of last week, study organizers had recruited a total of 879 study participants nationwide out of the goal of 2,000 participants needed to complete the study. He said issues related to the COVID pandemic created delays in the recruitment efforts, but study organizers were hopeful the study could be completed by this summer.

Information about participating in the study or learning more about it can be obtained at

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Federal Government

Veterans can now identify as transgender, nonbinary on their VA medical records

About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity



Graphic via U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Wednesday that his department added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select their gender, in medical records and healthcare documentation.

“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”

The statement also noted that the change allows health-care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.

McDonough speaking at a Pride Month event last June at the Orlando VA Healthcare System, emphasized his support for Trans and LGBQ+ vets.

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

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