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Lesbian professors resurface as possible Supreme Court picks

Obama set to nominate second Supreme Court justice

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Kathleen Sullivan (Photo courtesy of Stanford University)

The announcement Friday that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens will retire at the end of the court’s term has renewed speculation that President Obama might consider two constitutional scholars who are lesbians as Stevens’ successor.

Stanford University Law School professors Kathleen Sullivan and Pamela Karlan were among several candidates said to have been considered by Obama one year ago when the White House conducted a search to replace former Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

Obama chose U.S. appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor as Souter’s replacement, making her the high court’s first Hispanic member.

As speculation this week swirled over White House plans for selecting Stevens’ successor, three possible leading nominees emerged. The Associated Press reported that U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 49, and federal appeals court judges Merrick Garland, 57, and Diane Wood, 59, were the leading candidates.

But political pundits familiar with the Supreme Court noted that that Sullivan and Karlan were among the favorites of liberal advocates who want Obama to name a progressive judicial activist to the court to help counteract the court’s majority conservative wing.

“I think if the president believes that either Professor Karlan or Professor Sullivan were the best qualified for the position that he would have no problem nominating them,” said Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a national group that advocates for the election and appointment of qualified LGBT people to public office.

“The thing to guard against for our community is the notion that sexual orientation alone should be a barrier to their consideration for a Supreme Court seat,” he said.

Some political commentators speculated that Obama most likely would seek a less controversial, center-left nominee rather than Sullivan or Karlan. They also noted that Obama’s nomination of a new Supreme Court justice comes on the heels of his bruising battle in the Senate over the health care reform bill. Public opinion polls show his and the Democrats’ popularity at an all time low going into the mid-term elections this fall.

Senate Republicans are expected to oppose almost anyone Obama nominates for the high court post, and pundits speculated this week over whether the president would be willing to expend greater political capital on a “lightening rod” nominee.

Sullivan is considered a nationally prominent scholar and teacher of constitutional law and is the author of the nation’s leading casebook on constitutional law, according to her biography posted on the Stanford University web site. The site also says she has published numerous articles in law journals on federalism, religion, speech, equality and constitutional theory. She served as dean of the law school from 1999 to 2004.

A separate biography of Karlan on the law school’s web site says she, too, is a recognized scholar and award-winning teacher at the school, as well as founding director of the law school’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic. It says Karlan is also considered one of the nation’s leading experts on voting and the political process. She has served as a commissioner on the California Fair Political Practices Commission and as assistant counsel and cooperating attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Both women have spoken out on LGBT rights issues and are publicly identified as members of the LGBT community.

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Jerry

    April 9, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    I think a lesbian on the court would be good, but my hope is that Obama picks a woman. I would like to see at least 4 women on the court. Preferably 5 and eventually a woman as chief justice.

  2. Michael @ LeonardMatlovich.com

    April 9, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    “Applying the strong deference traditionally afforded to the Legislative and Executive Branches in the area of military affairs, the court of appeals PROPERLY UPHELD [Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell]. [The bar on gays serving openly is] RATIONALLY related to the government’s LEGITIMATE interest in military DISCIPLINE and COHESION.” – Elena Kagan, Obama’s Solicitor General, in a successful 2009 brief asking the Supreme Court to deny certiorari in the appeal of DADT victim [& arrestee at the White House with Dan Choi] Jim Pietrangelo.

    “[Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a] wrong [that] tears at the fabric of our own community.” – Elena Kagan, Dean of Harvard Law School, 2005, regarding her continuing ban of military recruiters.

    “[Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a] DISCRIMINATORY employment policy. I BELIEVE THAT POLICY IS PROFOUNDLY WRONG—both unwise and unjust—and I look forward to the day when all our students, regardless of sexual orientation, will be able to serve and defend this country in the armed services.” – Elena Kagan, Dean of Harvard Law School, 2006, after the Supreme Court rejected a suit, for which SHE was a co-plaintiff, against the Solomon Amendment which denied federal funding to any school barring recruiters.

  3. Kyle

    April 9, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    Re: Michael,

    I do not see how the first statement by Kagan is contradictory to the second two. Simply because she believes the policy to be morally wrong or unjust, does not change whether it is legal. Are you under the impression that people who serve in the Executive Branch must always follow their personal feelings when doing their job? God, I can only imagine how horrible that might have been under the Bush Administration.

    • Michael @ LeonardMatlovich.com

      April 12, 2010 at 3:23 pm

      Yeh, Eichmann was just following the law, too.

  4. Tim

    April 10, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    I think President Obama could do himself a lot of good by naming a gay or lesbian person to the Supreme Court. It would certainly help him mend the relationship he has with the LGBT Community which has certainly become strained at best. What happened to all of his “Fierce advocate for the gay & lesbian community” retoric? He has defended DOMA and done nothing to oppose the reversal of marriage equality in California and Maine. He did nothing to advance Hate Crimes legislation, apart from signing it when it had already passed. He has not been advocating in favor of bills such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, the Uniting American Families Act or the Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, apart from a brief reference in a state of the union speech. His sole focus has been healthcare reform, which is a fine goal, but when it came time for final passage, I didn’t hear him object when the gay & lesbian provisions were dropped from the bill. He did not appoint any gay or lesbian people to his cabinet, and to date, he has not appointed any openly gay or lesbian people to the Federal judiciary. Diane Wood or Merrick Garland would both be great picks, as would solicitor general Elena Kagan, but can we really expect Obama to take this action given his past record as a very very very weak advocate for our community? Sorry, but I don’t think I will get my hopes up again.

  5. daftpunkydavid

    April 10, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    to me naming someone who is gay matters little. in fact, i’d much rather have another stevens than the gay equivalent of a clarence thomas. can you imagine? yuck!

  6. redactor

    April 12, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    I believe an openly gay nominee would be filibustered into oblivion because conservatives would fear judicial activism on gay issues.

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National

Jim Obergefell announces bid for seat in Ohio state legislature

Marriage plaintiff moves on to new endeavor

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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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National

FDA-funded blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men

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

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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 advancestudy.org.

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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

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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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