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Obama earns mixed reviews on LGBT progress

Is the president our ‘fierce advocate’ or a disappointment?

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Once hailed as a ‘fierce advocate’ of LGBT equality, President Obama now inspires mixed reviews from activists. (Photo by Pete Souza; courtesy of the White House)

After 18 months in office, the harsh realities of politics and compromise have caught up to President Obama. Hailed as a champion of LGBT rights during the 2008 campaign, LGBT rights advocates now give Obama mixed reviews for his performance to date.

In a statement to the Blade, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said “there’s no doubt” that Obama has done more for LGBT people than any other U.S. president in history.

“Within the constraints of current law, he’s advanced policies that will vastly improve the lives of tens of millions,” Solmonese said. “Has change occurred quickly enough? No. The pace of change will never be quick enough for a community that is consistently denied their equality.”

Solmonese noted that LGBT people continue to face inequality on “a whole host of fronts” that could be remedied through legislative or policy change.

“But none of that obscures the fact that this president has and will continue to be our partner and advocate,” Solmonese said.

But Richard Socarides, a gay New York attorney who was an adviser to former President Clinton, has a very different view of Obama’s tenure. Socarides said there’s a “pretty strong consensus that it’s been a disappointing 18 months.”

Among Obama’s early disappointments, Socarides said, was the invitation to Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in California and staunch opponent of same-sex marriage, to give the invocation during last year’s inauguration.

More recently, Socarides said he was unhappy that Obama approved a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal compromise that “did not include a non-discrimination rule, nor even actual repeal.”

“When Obama took office, these were our priorities: open military service, a federal statute banning workplace discrimination, and repeal of federal anti-marriage laws,” Socarides said. “You tell me how we’re doing.”

Socarides also criticized the White House for failing to install a senior official whose primary responsibility is LGBT rights, much like the role he held in the Clinton administration.

“There is no gay person in Obama’s inner circle, period,” Socarides said.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said Obama ran on a commitment to bring change to all Americans — including LGBT people — and since taking office, the president has “taken many steps toward achieving that goal.”

Inouye noted the signing of federal hate crimes legislation as among Obama’s accomplishments for LGBT people and said the president looks forward to signing more pro-LGBT legislation.

“The president and his administration remain committed to achieving equality for all, and it’s clear that we’re moving forward,” Inouye said.

Two years ago, he issued an open letter during Pride month outlining his promises to the LGBT community.

“I’m running for president to build an America that lives up to our founding promise of equality for all — a promise that extends to our gay brothers and sisters,” Obama wrote at the time. “It’s wrong to have millions of Americans living as second‐class citizens in this nation. And I ask for your support in this election so that together we can bring about real change for all LGBT Americans.”

In the letter, Obama pledged to “place the weight” of his administration behind the enactment of hate crimes protections legislation and to pass a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Obama has sometimes been credited with having a role in the decision to advance the hate crimes legislation last year as an amendment to defense authorization legislation.

Progress on ENDA, on the other hand, has been stagnant. The bill remains pending before committees in the House and Senate and many supporters are concerned that lawmakers won’t take up the bill by year’s end.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, noted that Obama “exerted appropriate influence” in guiding the hate crimes legislation toward passage.

On ENDA, Keisling said the administration has been “as helpful as they can be” to this point, and she expects the president “will be a lot more helpful once it starts moving.”

At this point, Keisling said “there really hasn’t yet been much for them to do” on ENDA.

Keisling noted that for congressional hearings on ENDA last year in the House and Senate, the administration sent officials who provided “really great testimony” in favor of moving forward with the legislation.

“If the president had prioritized ENDA instead of, I don’t know, health care reform or financial reform or bank bailouts, we’d be better off, but he prioritized what he prioritized,” she said. “I’m very hopeful that when ENDA does start moving, the White House will be extremely supportive and will help get it done.”

Also in the letter, Obama promised to “use the bully pulpit” to urge states to treat same-sex couples equally in their family and adoption laws. He additionally advocated for the establishment of civil unions as the best way to advance rights for LGBT couples.

“But I also believe that the federal government should not stand in the way of states that want to decide on their own how best to pursue equality for gay and lesbian couples — whether that means a domestic partnership, a civil union, or a civil marriage,” Obama wrote.

Additionally, the presidential candidate said he supported “complete repeal” of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does,” Obama wrote.

Obama has stuck to his position on same-sex marriage as several jurisdictions — such as Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and D.C. — have advanced marriage rights for same-sex couples. The White House has either said nothing in response to those developments or reiterated that Obama prefers civil unions.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of the New York-based Freedom to Marry, said Obama has “taken some positive steps” in advocating for same-sex couples, but hasn’t “matched his actions to his words.”

Wolfson said Obama should be leading the fight to repeal DOMA legislatively through the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill pending in the U.S. House, and should stop urging judges to “rubberstamp” DOMA in Justice Department briefs defending the statute against legal challenges.

“And, most importantly, he should make the case to the American people that same-sex couples deserve fair and equal treatment under the law — using personal stories and appeals to values such as fairness, respect for commitment and the Golden Rule,” Wolfson said.

Another item that Obama mentioned in the letter is repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Late last month, Congress voted in favor of a compromise measure that would end the law after the Pentagon completes its study on the issue at the end of the year.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the White House’s endorsement of the compromise the week that Congress voted on it was helpful in finding the votes needed to advance the measure.

“The fact that the White House was willing to come out and publicly support a repeal plan and get the Pentagon to do the same was a critical element in getting that passed in the Senate Armed Services Committee,” Nicholson said.

Still, Nicholson said he didn’t know how involved Obama was in lobbying members of the House and Senate directly to vote in favor of repeal once the deal was reached.

Also in the letter, Obama pledged to work to address HIV/AIDS, arguing that “we do not have to choose between values and science” in working to fight the epidemic.

“While abstinence education should be part of any strategy, we also need to use common sense,” he wrote. “We should have age‐appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception.”

Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of the AIDS Institute, said he had mixed feelings about Obama’s track record on the matter.

“There have been a lot of positives, but there still needs to be greater attention in response and resources,” he said.

Schmid said Obama has followed through on his plans to confront HIV/AIDS through scientific means and has set out to eliminate “abstinence-only” sex education programs through the budget process.

But Schmid noted the abstinence-only sex education programs were reinstated by amendment in the passage of the health care reform legislation.

“It’s not in the appropriations bill, but it’s in the managerial program now, just like it was in the past,” he said.

Schmid cited the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act as an accomplishment regarding HIV/AIDS, as well as passage of health care reform legislation, which he called a “huge, huge, huge accomplishment.”

He said the White House was of limited help, though, in pushing to renew funding under the Ryan White Care Act.

“The administration was very slow in getting their principle and positions out on getting the Ryan White reauthorized,” he said. “They didn’t speak out and early enough. Ryan White is up for renewal in 2013 — right before all this health care reform kicks in. We’re going to need the administration’s support for the continuation of Ryan White after 2013.”

Noting a national AIDS strategy is currently being developed in the White House, Schmid said he hopes the plan will provide the discussion of homosexuality at appropriate ages in sex education programs because HIV is often transmitted through men who have sex with men.

Schmid gave Obama credit for lifting the travel ban that prevented foreign nationals with HIV from entering the country, although he noted this process began under the Bush administration with the passage of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief legislation.

Obama closed his letter by calling on people to step “outside our comfort zone” to win broader support for LGBT rights in places often considered homophobic, such as black churches.

“If we want to repeal DOMA, repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and implement fully inclusive laws outlawing hate crimes and discrimination in the workplace, we need to bring the message of LGBT equality to skeptical audiences as well as friendly ones — and that’s what I’ve done throughout my career,” Obama wrote.

In the letter, Obama noted that he spoke out against homophobia during the presidential campaign at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., where Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached.

Obama also spoke out against homophobia during a February speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in D.C., a gathering of Christian evangelical leaders. And late last month, Obama spoke in favor of LGBT rights during his keynote speech at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s centennial convention.

Sharon Lettman, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said Obama has “absolutely” been faithful to his promise of speaking out in favor of LGBT rights in places that are sometimes deemed unfriendly to LGBT people.

“I’ve experienced it on a number of occasions in predominantly black or all black venues,” she said. “Even in his normal stump speech, he makes reference to his support of LGBT equality.”

Lettman said as the first black president, Obama has a special role to play in educating black Americans about the LGBT community.

“He makes a point to always be inclusive,” she said. “He doesn’t selectively leave it out — not just in black churches, but in front of civil rights leaders and civil rights venues, like the NAACP convention, and other areas.”

Lettman said Obama is “definitely trying to paint a picture of one America” in his actions and his speeches.

“In so many ways, even in the progressive agenda, people don’t always select to include our community,” she said, “and I have to give him a lot of credit for making sure that he speaks with one voice about his support for LGBT equality.”

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Mykelb

    June 11, 2010 at 11:49 am

    D Minus. And an F for HRC being a WH lapdog.

  2. gaylib

    June 11, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    “Once hailed as a ‘fierce advocate’ of LGBT equality”

    WTF? He said that about HIMSELF. And like everything else he says, not only was it a lie, it demonstrates his tendency toward narcissistic delusions of grandeur. Not only does he fail, he never even once showed up to class…

    • Tim W

      June 11, 2010 at 3:45 pm

      But but Joe might not get invited to the WH for cocktails if he doesn’t behave. HRC has become absolutely pathetic in giving this administration. They should be part of the Don’t Ask Don’t Give campaign. Let’s stop giving money to this worthless organization.

  3. Aaron

    June 11, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    The article fails to mention the numerous offensive anti-gay briefs filed by this administration’s Justice Dept. which, among other things, have compared same-sex marriage to incestuous pederasty; its defenses of DoMA and DADT in court; and its subsequent lies that such decisions were obligatory (see http://www.americablog.com/2009/06/obama-justice-department-defends-doma.html ). It also doesn’t mention the behind-the-scenes pressure the Obama administration exerted on Congress against moving forward with DADT legislation.

  4. Keith

    June 11, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    This just goes to show the disconnect between HRC and other advocacy groups, and the reality of daily LGBT life in this country. The President and his cabinet have done nothing to move any part of the equality agenda forward. Even the Hate Crimes legislation has no teeth, as states across the country are ignoring it, and those who seek Federal support under it are ignored or delayed in response. All he’s really done is given Federal government workers some benefits. . .the rest of us are left in the dust. As soon as a Republican president is elected, all that advancement will just go away (which means it was no advancement at all). This writer is soft peddling in an attempt to paint a balanced picture, but in actuality this administration has done nothing of real substance or merit to deserve our praise or appreciation.

  5. invalidresponse

    June 11, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    ‘fierce advocate?’… words JUST words

    With advocates like that, we might as well have republicans in control. Oh, oops I forgot, with minority numbers they ARE in control, because this president refuses to be a leader, or make a firm decision, or go to bat for ANYTHING!!

    I’d rather fight a battle face to face knowing my opponent, then be stabbed in the back by my “fierce advocate”

    Words don’t cut it, Mr Pres. with anyone EXCEPT the HRC, and those (just in it for the perks and the cocktail parties)guys don’t represent me. Thank you very much!!

  6. Goodhope Smiling

    June 11, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Maybe it’s just me but I think it is ridiculous that you chose to write an article about the LGBT response to the Obama Administration and had only one woman of color who happens not to be a lesbian commenting on the progress of LBGT equality. You even managed to rake up a Bush appointee to criticize. Have you no sense of shame or appropriateness. Get some Black and Brown and Asian LGBT voices to speak to issues for a change. It is unacceptable to have an article of this import with so little diversity.

  7. Khadijah A. Tribble

    June 11, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    How does one’s disdain for HRC translate into this administration’s being worse than a republican one.

    I don’t know about any of the commentators of this article, but when Obama got elected I wasn’t considering citizenship in Canada like I was with the last administration. I’m always amazed at the ‘gay agenda’ in its lopsided thinking that the only issues impacting the Gay community are the DOMA, DADT and ENDA. In the 18 months that President Obama has been in office, he’s raised the visibility of the challenges LGBT families face in way no other President has. What have any of you wining about HRC done other then whine.

    Pick up a cause other than you own and get over yourself.

  8. Frank

    June 11, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    “D Minus” & “Not only does he fail, he never even once showed up to class…” Really? And Mr. Socarides is unhappy that Obama doesn’t have a WH role like the one he had in Clinton’s administration? Not a very effective role apparently since we have DOMA & DADT thanks to Clinton. So it was really better under Bush? I’m sure Palin, Romney or Huckabee will be a better advocate of our rights!

  9. gaylib

    June 12, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Who the hell said we were better under Bush? You Obama zombies should know better than anyone that his popularity sprang from a message of change. Optimism is the very essence of the mantra “Yes we can!”. Yet you all are the very ones telling us to quit demanding the impossible and settle for our god damn half empty glasses. Well, from where I stand, mine’s only half full, and I’m going to scream at the top of my lungs at Power until somebody fills it up.

  10. Michael

    June 12, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Those not still mainlining the Obama Borg Kool Aid know he:

    1. GUTTED any GUARANTEE of an end to discharges from the amendment;
    2. GUTTED the explicit ban on discrimination against gays in the military from the amendment;
    3. GUTTED permission for those already discharged to reenlist from the amendment;
    4. REFUSED to order his SECDEF and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to salute those three key mandates making the DOD a virtual fourth branch of government;
    5. Instead EMPOWERED Gates to come up with and spend millions of taxpayer dollars on a phony “study” built entirely around the PREMISE that allowing out gays to serve would hurt the military and intended to stall ending discharges, and still with the potential of its “findings” being used to continue the ban permanently;
    6. REFUSED to use the legal power Congress gave him to unilaterally stop discharges which he’s said himself “weaken national security”
    1. GUTTED any GUARANTEE of an end to discharges from the amendment
    2. GUTTED the explicit ban on discrimination against gays in the military from the amendment
    3. GUTTED permission for those already discharged to reenlist from the amendment
    4. REFUSED to order his SECDEF and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to salute those three key mandates
    5. Instead EMPOWERED Gates to come up with and spend millions of taxpayer dollars on a phony “study” built entirely around the PREMISE that allowing out gays to serve would hurt the military and intended to stall ending discharges, and still with the potential of its “findings” being used to continue the ban permanently
    6. REFUSED to use the legal power Congress gave him to unilaterally stop discharges which he’s said himself “weaken national security”;
    7. Instead he has DISCHARGED over 600 gays since being sworn, and is still discharging them, according to SLDN, under the “old rules” contrary to new ones released March 25th;
    8. REFUSED to order Gates to follow the YEAR & A HALF OLD 9th Circuit Court Witt decision banning any discharges within its multi-state jurisdiction when the military has not proven that the INDIVIDUAL damages unit cohesion. Gates finally promised on Feb. 2nd to announce such policies by mid-March but still hasn’t.
    9. DEFENDED DADT in court more than half a dozen times with the same homophobic language used to pass it in 1993;
    10. CLAIMED DADT has been ruled constitutional by Supreme Court when it never has;
    11. Done NOTHING to keep his promise to pass ENDA;
    12. Done NOTHING to keep his promise to pass UAFA;
    13. Done NOTHING to keep his promise to repeal DOMA;
    14. Instead, DEFENDED DOMA in court repeatedly in terms even more homophobic than those used to pass it originally;
    15. Did NOTHING, by any objective standards, to help pass the hate crimes bill other than posing for a photo with Judy Shepard;
    16. Is being sued by Lambda Legal for refusing to let a lesbian federal court employee buy insurance for her partner despite a court order clearly indicating it would NOT be a violation of DOMA; nor would it cost the government a cent;
    17. Thrown cheap crumbs at us like hospital visitation which even the Antigay Industry supports;
    18. Told reporters for the homohating Catholic Church that, “As a Christian, I’m constantly wrestling with my faith and my solicitude and regard and concern for gays and lesbians.”

    • Brutus

      June 14, 2010 at 10:34 am

      Your emphasis of “premise” suggests you don’t know its definition.

      Stop-loss is political poison, and not a desirable solution.

      You have no evidence that the study is “phony.”

      I’m skeptical that circuit courts can set idiosyncratic rules for the national military.

      I’d like a link to support for 10, as I don’t believe he’s ever said that.

      The briefs filed defending DOMA used language and arguments that exist in the case law and literature.

      The suit over the federal court employee has more to do with defining the role of a circuit judge in administrative, rather than judicial, matters than it does LGBT rights.

  11. Marcus H.

    June 13, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Maybe I am just out of my league but I am wondering just what is expected of this man with everything that is on his plate. I want equal and fair rights like everyone else but the main concern for now should be jobs and this economy that we are suffering. It just seems that as the gay community that we are fighting just to repeal DADT and take care of DOMA. Honorable causes but self centered. I would rather hear us yelling at our people in congress as well as the White House about the big picture instead of what just fits for my demographic. I know that change will take time. I know that politicians will always be the same. I also know that our voice and actions will help us all(Straight, Gay, Brown, Disabled,etc)

    • Mykelb

      June 14, 2010 at 12:13 pm

      We can’t yell about the big picture stuff until we are full citizens. As half a citizen, I am screaming for full citizenship first.

    • Doctor Whom

      June 16, 2010 at 6:08 pm

      Jobs and the economy don’t keep Obama from making the time to involve himself in tangential issues about which he genuinely cares.

  12. Aqua Runner

    June 14, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    The list that Michael put together says it clearly.
    I saw something scary the other day. I live in Southern CA and saw a car with 2 bumper stickers – the first was the HRC equality sticker, and the second was “Re-elect Obama in 2012”!
    Not sure who is putting the Re-elect Obama bumper stickers, but it seems like most HRC folks are still high since Obama spoke at their fund-raising dinner in October.
    Dump the parties of Wall Street and the banks!

  13. Dan

    June 15, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    While we must hold Democrats accountable, and only donate to, support, and vote for those who support equality, we need to remember that overall, the Republicans are far worse. Withholding support from all Democrats only helps elect Republicans. We need to support those who support us, and work against those who wish to deny our equality.

    Voting your principals is important, especially in the primaries. But if your final choice is between someone who says the right things but doesn’t deliver much, or someone who will intentionally harm you, it becomes important to vote against the one who will harm you. Half a step forward is better than moving backward. Progress is not automatic or inevitable. We must deny power to those who believe we should be punished and are willing to use the law to do it.

    • Mykelb

      June 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm

      Im sorry, but I have been in this fight too long with the politicians. The only solution is through the courts and for us to SUE every time our Constitutional rights are infringed.

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Venezuelan man with AIDS dies in ICE custody

Pablo Sánchez Gotopo passed away at Miss. hospital on Oct. 1

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Pablo Sanchez Gotopo, who was living with HIV/AIDS, died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Mississippi on Oct. 1, 2021. (Courtesy photo)

A Venezuelan man with AIDS died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on Oct. 1.

An ICE press release notes Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, 40, died at Merit Health River Oaks in Flowood, Miss., which is a suburb of Jackson, the state capital. The press release notes the “preliminary cause of death was from complications with acute respiratory failure, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), pneumonia, acute kidney failure, anemia and COVID-19.”

ICE said U.S. Border Patrol took Sánchez into custody near Del Rio, Texas, on May 17. He arrived at the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss., four days later.

“Upon arrival to an ICE facility, all detainees are medically screened and administered a COVID-19 test by ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) personnel,” said ICE in its press release. “Sánchez’s test results came back negative.”

The press release notes Sánchez on July 28 received another COVID-19 test after he “began showing symptoms of COVID-19.” ICE said he tested negative, but Adams County Detention Center personnel transferred him to a Natchez hospital “for additional advanced medical care.”

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations staff in its New Orleans Field Office, according to the press release, “coordinated with hospital staff to arrange family visitation” after Sánchez’s “health condition deteriorated.” Sánchez was transferred to Merit Health River Oaks on Sept. 25.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases,” says the press release.

Venezuela’s political and economic crises have prompted more than 10,000 people with HIV to leave the country, according to the New York-based Aid for AIDS International.

Activists and health care service providers in Venezuela with whom the Washington Blade has spoken in recent years have said people with HIV/AIDS in the country have died because of a lack of antiretroviral drugs. Andrés Cardona, director of Fundación Ancla, a group in the Colombian city of Medellín that works with migrants and other vulnerable groups, told the Blade last month that many Venezuelans with HIV would have died if they hadn’t come to Colombia.

The Blade has not been able to verify a Venezuelan activist’s claim that Sánchez was gay. It is also not known why Sánchez decided to leave Venezuela and travel to the U.S.

ICE detainee with HIV described Miss. detention center as ‘not safe’

Activists and members of Congress continue to demand ICE release people with HIV/AIDS in their custody amid reports they don’t have adequate access to medications and other necessary medical treatment.

Two trans women with HIV—Victoria Arellano from Mexico and Roxsana Hernández from Honduras—died in ICE custody in 2007 and 2018 respectively. Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans woman with HIV who fled El Salvador, died in 2019, three days after ICE released her from a privately-run detention center.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center. The detainee said there was no social distancing at the privately-run facility and personnel were not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

“It’s not safe,” they told the Blade.

The entrance to the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, a Natchez resident who supports ICE detainees and their families, on Wednesday told the Blade that she was able to visit the Adams County Detention Center and other ICE facilities in the Miss Lou Region of Mississippi and Louisiana from November 2019 until the suspension of in-person visitation in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

“Medical neglect and refusal of medical care has always been an issue in the detention center at Adams County,” said Grant-Gibson. “After the facilities were closed to public visitation, those problems increased.”

Grant-Gibson told the Blade she “worked with a number of families and received phone calls from a number of detainees, and I was told again and again that detainees were being refused the opportunity to visit the infirmary.”

“When they did visit the infirmary, they were given virtually no treatment for the issues they were presenting with,” said Grant-Gibson.

ICE in its press release that announced Sánchez’s death said fatalities among its detainees, “statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.” ICE also noted it spends more than $315 million a year “on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to detainees.”

“ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) ensures the provision of necessary medical care services as required by ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards and based on the medical needs of the detainee,” notes the ICE press release. “Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay. All ICE detainees receive medical, dental, and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care.”

An ICE spokesperson on Wednesday pointed the Blade to its Performance-Based Detention Standards from 2011, which includes policies for the treatment of detainees with HIV/AIDS.

A detainee “may request HIV testing at any time during detention” and ICE detention centers “shall develop a written plan to ensure the highest degree of confidentiality regarding HIV status and medical condition.” The policy also states that “staff training must emphasize the need for confidentiality, and procedures must be in place to limit access to health records to only authorized individuals and only when necessary.”

“The accurate diagnosis and medical management of HIV infection among detainees shall be promoted,” reads the policy. “An HIV diagnosis may be made only by a licensed health care provider, based on a medical history, current clinical evaluation of signs and symptoms and laboratory studies.”

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Rachel Levine on becoming four-star admiral: ‘It comes from my desire to serve’

Trans official sworn-in to U.S. Public Health Service

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For Rachel Levine, the appointment to her new role as a four-star admiral complementing her existing duties as assistant secretary for health is another way for the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed presidential appointee to serve.

“I think that this just really comes from my desire to serve in all capacities,” Levine said in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade. “To serve the first day in my field of academic medicine and pediatrics, but then in Pennsylvania and now in the federal government, and it furthers my ability to do that.”

Levine, 63, also recognized the importance of the appointment as a transgender person within the U.S. Public Health Service, for which she was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday

“I think for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a further sign of progress and our president’s commitment to equity, to inclusion and diversity,” Levine said. “So I think that it is a very important milestone, and I’m pleased to serve.”

As part of her duties, Levine will lead an estimated 6,000 public health service officers serving vulnerable populations, including deployments inside and outside the country for communities beleaguered with the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. The role involves working closely with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, whom Levine called her “friend and colleague.”

The U.S. Public Health Service, Levine said, has deployed “many, many times,” including its greatest number ever of deployments to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places the service has deployed, Levine said, was in her home state of Pennsylvania, where she recently served as secretary of health.

Not only is Levine the first openly transgender person to serve in the uniformed health service as a four-star general, but she’s also the first woman to serve in that capacity.

“We have 6,000 dedicated committed public servants really all focused on our nation’s health, and they serve in details to the CDC and the FDA and the NIH, but also clinically with the Indian Health Service, and the federal prison system,” Levine said. “They’re also detailed and deployed throughout the country, and they deployed like never before for COVID-19 as well as the border, as well as dealing with floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.”

Although the Public Health Service is primarily focused on addressing public health disasters within the United States, Levine said it has a record of deployments overseas, including years ago when it was deployed to Africa under the threat of Ebola.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra had high praise for Levine in a statement upon news of taking on a leadership position in the service.

“This is a proud moment for us at HHS,” Becerra said. “Adm. Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”

Levine, however, was careful to draw a distinction between her appointment within the Public Health Service and being a service member within the U.S. armed forces.

“It is not a military branch, it’s not the armed forces: It’s a uniformed force, so it’s different,” Levine said. “For example, the Army, the Navy, our military, there are two other uniformed branches, and that is ours, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA.”

The new role, Levine said, would complement her duties as assistant secretary for health. Although not only secretaries of health have been commissioned to take the uniform, Levine said she wanted to undertake that as part of her role in the Biden administration.

The two appointments were not simultaneous, Levine said, because of a general process she undertook, which was completed just this week.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Levine. During her Senate confirmation process, when she was hounded by anti-transgender attacks in conservative media and rude, invasive questioning by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on her gender identity.

Levine, however, said she hasn’t encountered any hostility regarding her new role (as of now) and shrugged off any potential attacks in the future and said the move is about her career “to serve and to help people.”

“I’ve continued that for our nation as the assistant secretary for health and this is just a further demonstration of my commitment to service,” Levine said. “I don’t know what others will say, but that’s the genesis of my wanting to serve in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and to place on the uniform.”

Levine’s new appointment comes shortly after a group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent her a letter dated Sept. 30 calling on her and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to issue new guidance for hospital or residential care on mental health needs of transgender people.

Asked about the letter, Levine said mental health issues are under the authority of Delphin-Rittmon and the two “will work together and we will respond.”

Specifically, the senators in the letter call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

Asked what the response will look like, Levine said, “We’re going to work on that.”

“We will be looking at what they’re asking for and the requirements, and we’ll talk with them and the stakeholders and we’ll look to issue appropriate guidance,” Levine said.

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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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