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LGBT staffer group returns to Capitol Hill

‘We’re going to be building relationships’

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Members of the newly re-launched LGBT Congressional Staff Association intend to focus on networking and behind-the-scenes policy work. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Openly gay staffers on Capitol Hill could find new opportunities to network and advance pro-gay legislation now that an LGBT staff association has returned following a period of dormancy.

The group, named the LGBT Congressional Staff Association, seeks to facilitate communication among LGBT staffers working for members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Scott Simpson, deputy press secretary for Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), officially took the reins of the organization Monday after dues-paying members voted him and other new board members into leadership roles.

In a Blade interview, Simpson, who’s 26 and gay, said the organization plans to take a low-profile approach to advance the needs of LGBT staffers and advance pro-LGBT policy in Congress.

“We’re uniquely positioned to work with a targeted audience and work with however many hundreds of Hill staffers we can find,” he said. “We’re not going to be out there trying to get the [Washington] Post to quote us or anything; we’re going to be building relationships.”

The group’s re-launch comes after an earlier version of the organization was founded about 15 years ago.

Simpson said the group — previously known as the Gay & Lesbian Congressional Staff Association — was founded to draw attention to the presence of LGBT staffers on the Hill.

“It was a very big deal, at least for us, on the Hill when it got started,” Simpson said. “It did a lot of good stuff for visibility at the time when there were some congressmen who outright said, ‘We would never hire a gay staffer.’”

Simpson said the LGBT Congressional Staff Association responded at the time by having press conferences to “show that there are actually LGBT people” who work on Capitol Hill.

In recent years, Simpson said the organization had the appearance of being dormant because it was continuing a commitment made when it was founded of protecting the identities of members who weren’t openly gay.

“They wanted that soft influence on policy and they wanted to protect the identities of their staffers, and that doesn’t lend itself to being the most vocal organization,” he said.

But Simpson said LGBT staffers on the Hill in recent months wanted to give new life to the organization, to make it more open and “continue on with the legacy of breaking barriers” that emerged when the association was founded.

Simpson said the group has been in the process of being reinvented for the past three to six months and, as part of its re-launch, tweaked its bylaws and took on the LGBT Congressional Staff Association name.

New goals for the organization include developing a web site and forming a women’s caucus that will have its own specific programming.

The organization’s membership varies widely depending on how it’s counted. Simpson said there are about 50 dues-paying members, but 400 are registered on the group’s e-mail list. One task the organization is considering, Simpson noted, is some type of “census” to determine how many LGBT staffers work on the Hill.

Simpson said the number of LGBT people working as Capitol Hill staffers might surprise those living outside the Beltway. He also noted that LGBT staffers “don’t line up with any particular caucus,” and can be found working with either Democratic or Republican members.

“There are a lot of LGBT staffers on the Hill and that’s a strength that we can tap into,” he said.

Some established and notable LGBT staffers comprise the LGBT Congressional Staff Association board. Diego Sanchez, who’s transgender and senior legislative adviser to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), will serve as policy director for the organization.

In a statement to the Blade, Sanchez said he’s honored to be the first openly transgender board member of the re-launched organization.

“The new bylaws and my corporate career expertise in diversity management will let me lead and work with my staffer colleagues to fortify how current laws and issues affect us and to repair any gaps to enrich the lives and careers of current and future LGBT people working on the Hill,” he said.

Group will work to influence LGBT policy

Simpson said the organization would work to influence LGBT policy matters related to bills on Capitol Hill, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

He said he wants to network with LGBT staffers to educate them on the issues and expand the number of co-sponsors on those bills.

“We’re going to be doing training and education on that,” he said. “We want to make sure that we are connecting and networking as many of these gay staffers in every office, in every party across geography to know what’s up.”

Simpson said one bill his organization is particularly pushing is the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act. The legislation would make same-sex partners of federal workers eligible for the same benefits available to the spouses of straight workers, including health and pension benefits.

Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, a move that would allow the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages, is another issue in which Simpson said his organization would be involved. With same-sex marriage now legal in D.C., he noted that many LGBT staffers are able to marry and want the federal benefits associated with marriage.

“Those directly affect our members because the federal government is prohibited from recognizing the validity of our relationships,” he said.

Additionally, Simpson said a goal of the organization is advancing the careers of LGBT staffers so they can serve in positions that give them more influence to move pro-LGBT legislation through Congress.

“If a job opens up that someone wants, we’re going to get together to use our network as a group to figure out how we can best get the person in this position, if they’re qualified for it,” he said.

But group activities won’t be all work. Simpson said networking opportunities would also include recreational events, such as happy hours.

“A lot of it is getting together and going to happy hours, just meeting and greeting, even in a non-drinking setting, believe it or not,” he said.

Elected officials have been helping re-launch the LGBT Congressional Staff Association. The openly gay members of Congress — Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — have sponsored the organization as an official staff group.

In a statement, Baldwin said she’s proud to sponsor the organization because LGBT staffers work in many capacities on the Hill for members of both parties.

“I’m very pleased to support this new iteration of the LGBT staff association,” she said. “In addition to serving as a networking and social group, this organization will help us advocate for more equitable policies in and out of government.”

Simpson said the out members of Congress aren’t technically eligible to become members of the organization because they aren’t staffers. Still, he noted that their sponsorship makes the group able to use the U.S. House web servers and e-mail system.

“If not for them, the organization wouldn’t exist,” he said. “If we need anything, we go to them because they’re our members.”

Simpson said he expects the LGBT Congressional Staff Association to have a collaborative relationship with the Gay, Lesbian & Allies Senate Staff Caucus, the affinity group for LGBT staffers working in the U.S. Senate.

Among the events in which both groups would plan joint participation are social and educational activities as well as marching in the same contingent next month during the Capital Pride parade.

“I’ve been talking with them,” Simpson said. “They’ve been helping us organize this newer reinvention for a while, so we’ve been very close.”

Alex Levy, co-chair of GLASS and legislative aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), said his organization is “thrilled” to have the opportunity to collaborate with another LGBT group.

“They have lots of energy and it looks to be a dynamic leadership team, and we intend to work collaboratively with them to work for the interests of LGBT Hill staffers,” Levy said.

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  1. Richmondboi2011

    May 21, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Oooo…that one in the back with the blue tie is all Clark Kent looking…yum!

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National

Colin Powell, leaving mixed legacy on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ dies at 84

Key figure once opposed gays in military, then backed review

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gay news, Washington Blade, Colin Powell, gay marriage
Colin Powell leaves behind a mixed legacy on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Colin Powell, the first ever Black secretary of state who served in top diplomatic and military roles in U.S. administrations, died Monday of coronavirus at age 84, leaving behind a mixed record on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The world continues to grapple with the pandemic and the public grows increasingly frustrated with its persistence as many remain unvaccinated despite the wide availability of vaccines. Powell was fully vaccinated, according to a statement released upon his death. Powell reportedly suffered from multiple myeloma, a condition that hampers an individual’s ability to combat blood infections.

Rising to the top of the military as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell supported in 1993 Congress moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that barred openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military.

During a key moment congressional testimony, Powell and other top military officials were asked whether or not allowing gay people in the military would be compatible with military readiness. Each official, including Powell,” responded “incompatible.” Congress would enact “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that year.

Things changed when President Obama took office 15 years later and advocates for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were eager to claim Powell’s voice among their ranks. After all, Powell was highly respected as a bipartisan voice after having served as secretary of state in the administration of George W. Bush and endorsing Obama in the 2008 election.

After the Obama administration in 2010 announced it would conduct a review of the idea of allowing gay people to serve openly in the military, Powell came out in support of that process. Advocates of repeal called that a declaration of reversal, although the statement fell short of a full support for gay people serving openly in the military.

“In the almost 17 years since the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed,” General Powell said in a statement issued by his office, adding, “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.”

Congress acted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the policy was lifted in 2011. At the time, Powell was widely considered a supporter of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and publicly counted among supporters of repeal, although the Blade couldn’t immediately find any statements from him to that effect.

In 2012, Powell had similar vaguely supportive words on same-sex marriage, saying he had “no problem with it” when asked about the issue.

“As I’ve thought about gay marriage, I know a lot of friends who are individually gay but are in partnerships with loved ones, and they are as stable a family as my family is, and they raise children,” Powell said. “And so I don’t see any reason not to say that they should be able to get married.”

The Blade also couldn’t immediately find any statement from Powell on transgender people serving in the military. After the Obama administration in 2016 lifted decades-old regulations against transgender service, former President Trump issued a ban by tweet the following year. President Biden reversed that ban and allowed transgender people to serve and enlist in the military in his first year in office.

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Texas

Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill

HB 25 now heads to state Senate

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GenderCool Project leader and Trans activist Landon Richie (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.

Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.

However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.

HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.

“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.

“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.

“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.

During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.

He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”

He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.

Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”

González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.

Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.

He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”

“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.

“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.

The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”

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National

LGBTQ Youth web resource gone after Texas GOP candidate complained

Removal of the LGBTQ youth resource webpage appeared to be strictly political the Houston Chronicle reported

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Anti-LGBTQ Republican Don Huffines (Screenshot via Twitter)

AUSTIN – A late August video tweet from a wealthy Dallas-based real estate development company executive and conservative Republican gubernatorial challenger, blamed fellow Republican incumbent Texas Governor Greg Abbott for endorsing an LGBTQ+ agenda, because of the existence of a state online resource webpage for LGBTQ youth.

Within hours it was pulled down by the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, (DFPS) the agency responsible for the page.

In an article published Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported that Don Huffines claimed tax dollars were being used to “advocate for transgender ideology.” Huffines also went on to say that DFPS was publishing “disturbing information about our youth.”

“They’re talking about helping empower and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, non-heterosexual behavior. I mean really? This is Texas. These are not Texas values. These are not Republican Party values, but these are obviously Greg Abbott’s values,” 

A message on the website states that the previous content is now under review.

According to the Chronicle, the website for the Texas Youth Connection, a division of Family and Protective Services that steers young people to various resources, including education, housing and those on its LGBTQ page as they prepare for life after foster care. It was replaced by a message that states, “The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content. This is being done to ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.”

LGBTQ+ activists and advocates are furious. Among the resources on the page for LGBTQ+ youth were critical information including for housing and information for suicide prevention and crisis assistance.

GenderCool Youth Leader, Trans rights activist and University of Houston student Landon Richie told the Blade Tuesday;

“This is deplorable. To Governor Abbott, LGBTQ+ youth are nothing more than pawns on a political chessboard. Despite his cries of protection and fairness in justification of this session’s unprecedented attacks on LGBTQ+ — especially trans — youth, it has never truly been about any of those things; it has always been about his power.

Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ youth deserve safety, protection, support, and affirmation from the state — this year alone, the Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support, as a result of this legislative session. LGBTQ+ youth deserve better than to be treated like they are as easily discardable as a webpage,” Richie said.

Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights reacted telling the Blade in an emailed statement:

“Helping LGBTQ youth and their families prevent suicide is not a partisan issue, and any elected official who seeks to make it one has lost any sense of shame. This action by Governor Abbott is appalling and will needlessly harm vulnerable children and families who urgently need support.”

Removal of the page appeared to be strictly political the Chronicle reported.

Patrick Crimmins, the department spokesman, told the Chronicle that the review “is still ongoing” but declined to answer questions seeking more detail about why the website was removed or whether it had anything to do with Huffines.

But Family and Protective Services communications obtained through a public records request show that agency employees discussed removing the “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” page in response to Huffines’ tweet, shortly before taking it offline,” the paper wrote.

More telling was the events leading the page’s removal said the paper:

Thirteen minutes after Huffines’ video went up, media relations director Marissa Gonzales emailed a link to Crimmins, the agency’s communications director, under the subject line “Don Huffines video accusing Gov/DFPS of pushing liberal transgender agenda.”

FYI. This is starting to blow up on Twitter,” Gonzales wrote.

Crimmins then queried Darrell Azar, DFPS’ web and creative services director, about who oversees the page. “Darrell — please note we may need to take that page down, or somehow revise content,” he wrote.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth weighed in on the Chronicle’s reporting in an emailed statement to the Blade.

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system — and those who have been in foster care report significantly higher rates of attempting suicide. It is unconscionable that the Texas state government would actively remove vital suicide prevention resources from its website for the sole purpose of appeasing a rival politician. Mental health and suicide prevention are nonpartisan,” said Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs. “This story sends a terrible message to LGBTQ youth in Texas and will only contribute to the internalization of stigma and shame. We should be expanding access to support services for this group, not erasing what resources LGBTQ youth have to reach out for help.” 

The Chronicle reported that the deleted webpage also included links to the Texas chapters of PFLAG, a nationwide LGBTQ organization; a “national youth talk line” to discuss gender and sexual identity and various other issues; and LGBTQ legal services.

Huffines said the page also linked to a website operated by the Human Rights Campaign, a politically active LGBTQ advocacy group that he called “the Planned Parenthood of LGBT issues.”

Data on Texas:

  • Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
  • Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
  • While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
    • Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
    • Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.

Additional Research: 

  • The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered. 

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