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Activists hail decision as major victory for marriage equality



A crowd at Bravo Bravo Restaurant & Nightclub in D.C. celebrates Wednesday's federal court decision finding Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, to be unconstitutional. The decision is expected to be appealed. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In an historic development, a federal judge in California ruled Wednesday that the Golden State’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco said an amendment to the state’s constitution banning same-sex marriage, which voters approved in a 2008 ballot measure known as Proposition 8, violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses.

“Because Proposition 8 is unconstitutional under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, the court orders entry of judgment permanently enjoining its enforcement,” Walker wrote in his ruling.

The order also prohibits “the official defendants from applying or enforcing Proposition 8 and directing the official defendants that all persons under their control or supervision shall not apply or enforce Proposition 8.”

But Walker stayed his own order for an indeterminate length of time at the request of Prop 8 supporters in a separate ruling, pending an expected appeal of the case.

Voter approval of Prop 8 put an end to same-sex marriages that began in California in early 2008, when the state’s highest court ruled that gays and lesbians could not be denied the right to marry under the state constitution.

Same-sex marriage opponents said Wednesday they would take immediate steps to appeal Vaughn’s decision to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which could take a year or more to issue a ruling.

Supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage have each vowed to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if they lose at the appeals court level, a development that legal observers say could lead to a landmark Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

Vaughn’s decision Wednesday followed a controversial 12-day trial in January in which he presided over arguments by supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage that drew international media coverage. He ordered a four-month break in the trial to go over a mountain of evidence before resuming the proceedings in June to hear closing arguments.

His 136-page decision released late Wednesday strongly rejected arguments by attorneys supporting Proposition 8 that same-sex marriage harms traditional marriage, procreation and child-rearing, saying those arguments reflect a “moral view” that does not justify a “state interest” in banning same-sex marriage.

“Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians,” he wrote. “The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples.”
He added that “because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”

The ruling drew quick praise from many advocates of same-sex marriage, including Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry.

“Judge Walker’s decision will be appealed and litigation will continue, but what we witnessed in the clear light of his courtroom cannot be erased,” he said. “The witnesses, evidence and arguments all demonstrated what we’ve long known: exclusion from marriage harms committed same-sex couples and their families, while helping no one and the unjustified and unfair denial of marriage to same-sex couples violates the United States Constitution.

“The judge’s ruling reflects the growing consensus in courtrooms and legislatures across the country, and around the world, that there is simply no good reason to exclude same-sex couples from marriage.”

Several elected officials, including New York Gov. David Paterson, also applauded the ruling.
“I know that there is a long road ahead in the legal proceedings, but whatever the outcome I believe that the bedrock American principle of equal protection under the law must mean equal rights for gays and lesbians, and that such equal rights must include the fundamental right to marry,” he said. “Today’s decision is one important step in a long struggle, and that struggle must continue until equality is achieved.”

But the National Organization for Marriage, the nation’s leading group opposing same-sex marriage, called the decision a threat to “traditional” marriage in other states.

“With a stroke of his pen, Judge Walker has overruled the votes and values of 7 million Californians who voted for marriage as one man and one woman,” said Brian Brown, the group’s president. “This ruling, if allowed to stand, threatens not only Prop 8 in California but the laws in 45 other states that define marriage as one man and one woman.”

The case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, was named after Kris Perry, who, along with her partner of 10 years, Sandy Stier, was among two same-sex couples that filed the lawsuit to challenge Prop 8 on federal constitutional grounds.

Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, the other two plaintiffs, have been together for nine years. Neither of the couples married in California during the short window in which same-sex marriage was legal but said they joined the suit to enable them and other same-sex couples to fulfill their desire to marry from that time going forward.

In a development that angered supporters of Proposition 8, California Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat and long-time supporter of LGBT rights, refused to defend the ballot measure on behalf of the state. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger chose not to overrule Brown, placing himself in the odd position of being named the lead defendant in the case but taking no action to defend a state constitutional provision.

The state’s decision not to defend the law forced leaders of the campaign to pass Prop 8 to assume the role of defending it in court, with the pro-Prop 8 group Protect Marriage taking the lead.

The American Foundation for Equal Rights, a group created by California gay activist Chad Griffin to challenge Prop 8, initiated the lawsuit at a time when some legal experts and gay legal groups opposed such a challenge.

Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund was among the groups that considered challenging Prop 8 on federal constitutional grounds to be too risky because the case would likely reach the U.S. Supreme Court, which was expected to rule against same-sex marriage rights.

Support for the lawsuit initially was less than overwhelming within LGBT legal and activist circles. But the initial reservations — at least in public forums — appeared to vanish when American Foundation for Equal Rights leaders managed to pull off what some considered a stunning coup.

The group lined up conservative Republican attorney and acclaimed constitutional expert Theodore “Ted” Olson, a former U.S. Solicitor General under President George W. Bush; and esteemed litigator, law school professor and U.S. Justice Department attorney during the Clinton administration, David Boies, as the lead attorneys for the two couples in the case.

Olson, who had not spoken out on LGBT issues in the past, emerged as a champion for LGBT equality, saying the right to marry for same-sex couples was protected by the U.S. Constitution and should be a fundamental principle in U.S. law.

The two attorneys’ arguments and actions during the Prop 8 trial appeared to dominate the proceedings and prompted many legal observers to conclude that their side came across far stronger than the legal team defending Prop 8.

Olson and Boies argued during the trial, among other things, that Prop 8 violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the Constitution’s Due Process Clause by “impinging” on fundamental liberties.

The two also argued that Prop 8 singles out gays and lesbians for “disfavored legal status” and thus creates “second-class citizens.” They also told the court the same-sex marriage ban discriminates on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.

Attorneys Andrew Pugno and Charles Cooper with Protect Marriage presented just two witnesses during the trial. The credentials of both witnesses as experts were challenged by the plaintiffs, and both supporters and opponents of Prop 8 thought the attorneys did a lackluster job of defending the marriage ban statute.

Vaughn, 65, who was first nominated for his federal judgeship post by President Ronald Reagan, became the focus of unexpected publicity when media reports disclosed in February that he’s gay.

Some gay rights opponents demanded he be removed from the case, saying he could not render an impartial decision. Other same-sex marriage opponents said Vaughn’s sexual orientation should not matter but accused him of being biased against the defendants in his procedural rulings during the trial.

LGBT legal groups and public opinion leaders, including newspaper editorials, disputed claims that Vaughn was biased and dismissed calls for him to step down from the case. Some noted that the judge had been criticized during his earlier years on the bench for handing down conservative, libertarian oriented decisions that in a few cases went against gay rights.

Gay rights attorneys familiar with the case said Vaughn’s strongly worded ruling overturning Proposition 8 on federal constitutional grounds lays the groundwork for striking down laws banning same-sex marriage in all states that have them.

But the attorneys noted that the other states won’t be directly impacted unless or until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court upholds Vaughn’s ruling. With the Ninth Circuit long considered to have liberal and progressive leanings, LGBT activists and gay rights attorneys believe they have the best shot at winning there.

According to Jenny Pizer, an attorney and same-sex marriage law specialist with Lambda Legal, if the Supreme Court does not reverse a favorable ruling by the Ninth Circuit, either by refusing to take the case or by upholding the appeals court’s decision, laws banning same-sex marriage in the nine states under the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction would likely fall.

In addition to California, the states in the Ninth Circuit include Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Should the Supreme Court uphold Vaughn’s decision, laws banning same-sex marriage in virtually all states – as well as the federal Defense of Marriage Act – could also be expected to fall.

“The federal Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process, including the fundamental right to marry, need to mean the same thing in every state in the union,” Pizer said.

“The ruling issued today concludes, and we think of course rightly, that lesbian and gay Americans have the same fundamental right to marry that heterosexual Americans have. And they should be able exercise that right to marry.”

Pizer noted that Vaughn cited repeatedly in his ruling two key Supreme Court rulings considered landmark breakthroughs for LGBT rights—Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned state sodomy laws for consenting adults in private; and Roemer v. Evans, which overturned a Colorado ballot measure that banned local jurisdictions within the state from adopting laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“The Roemer decision affirmed the liberty rights of gay people, which is at the center of the freedom to marry the person that you choose,” Pizer said.

She said the Lawrence decision, written by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, established that “traditions and moral beliefs alone do not justify maintaining a discriminatory system.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, and Judy Shepard, mother of gay student Matthew Shepard, whose murder in a 1998 anti-gay hate crime drew attention to LGBT rights, were among those praising Judge Walker’s decision.

The White House released a brief statement on the Prop 8 decision through spokesperson Shin Inouye.

“The president has spoken out in opposition to Proposition 8 because it is divisive and discriminatory. He will continue to promote equality for LGBT Americans,” the statement says.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), who is lesbian, appeared to sum up the views of LGBT civil rights groups and supportive members of Congress on the question of whether the courts should overturn a law passed by the voters.

“We live in a democracy wherein majority rule is checked and balanced by the guarantee of inalienable minority rights,” Baldwin said in a statement.

“This case, as it wends its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, presents jurists with fundamental questions about minority rights and majority rule. I believe Judge Walker got it right, declaring that denial of marriage rights and protections to gay and lesbian citizens violates the Constitution even if it reflects the will of the majority of Californians,” she said.

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  1. Robert McJunkin

    August 4, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Today’s decision is of course only the first step in a long legal process. Since our elected representatives have not been effective in advancing the cause of gay people, the courts seem to be our only hope for achieving equality. This underscores the importance of appointing judges who will help our cause, and especially makes the Kagan nomination critical at this time.l

    • Gary C Hoy

      August 4, 2010 at 5:39 pm

      “No army on Earth can withstand the force of an idea whose time has come” Robert Kennedy

  2. Duane S.

    August 4, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    Great news! This battle is won, but the war is long and we still have a long way to go.

  3. Frankie James

    August 5, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    If only there weren’t earthquakes in CA…

  4. Duane S.

    August 5, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Frankie, DC has marriage equality, you don’t need to leave. LOL

  5. Jim B

    August 5, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    go to this link, it could probably use a few more “comments”.

    Here was mine…
    My sister and her ex-husband spent $40,000.00 on their lawyer expenses over egos. Do I want to go through that as a gay male, no… but it should be my decision not yours. I knew she shouldn’t have married the guy but it wasn’t up to me to make that decision, it was hers. I don’t have the right to tell straight people not to get married nor would I want it. What gives some straight people the thought that they have the right to determine my “marital status”? If I ever decided that I wanted to get married it should be my and my partners decision alone and not anyone else’s. Also, Technically (and legally) it is unconstitutional because it is denying equal rights to all citizens. It is also hypocritical as a nation to portray how it treats everyone equally but imposes inequality within it’s laws. And, if it’s a religious decision (subconcious or conscious) by straight citizens then they are being hypocritical because they are going against the seperation of church and state. It’s the only conclusion that you can come up with as why they are so opposed to it and that’s how they rationalize their opposition for it. The older I get the more I realize that the greatest problem that this country is facing is it’s incessant need to try to control everyone else, not only the government but also the populace. And it’s the result of our arrogance because we’ve been “numero uno” over the last 70 years. What happens when another human being continually tries to control another, resistence. Even if this fails now it will pass in the future. Look at the strides that the gay community has made over the last 50 years, have we made considerable progress? I think so, compare now and then and make your own assessment. As generations change it will not be an issue at some point so I’m not worried. To all the straight people out there that have a problem with it, don’t we (as a nation) have bigger problems right now than to waste time, private; and tax money on this when we are in debt up to our behinds all ready? Really, ask yourself this… How would my marriage (if I did get married) hurt you or have any type of negative impact on your life???

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Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill

HB 25 now heads to state Senate



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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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



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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Colorado first state to require transgender care as essential health benefit

Biden officials sign off on change for state insurers



Colorado has become the first state to require transition-related care for transgender people as essential health coverage.

Colorado has become the first state in the country to include transition-related care for transgender people as part of the requirements for essential health care in the state, the Biden administration announced on Tuesday.

As part of the change, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved the state’s request to provide gender-affirming care in the individual and small group health insurance markets as part of Colorado’s Essential Health Benefit benchmark.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a statement the change is consistent with the Biden administration’s goal of eliminating barriers faced by transgender people in access in health care, including transition-related coverage.

“Health care should be in reach for everyone; by guaranteeing transgender individuals can access recommended care, we’re one step closer to making this a reality,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud to stand with Colorado to remove barriers that have historically made it difficult for transgender people to access health coverage and medical care.”

According to HHS, Colorado plan will require insurers to cover a wider range of services for transgender people in addition to benefits already covered, such as eye and lid modifications, face tightening, facial bone remodeling for facial feminization, breast/chest construction and reductions, and laser hair removal.

In addition to these changes, Colorado s also adding EHBs in the benchmark plan to include mental wellness exams and expanded coverage for 14 prescription drug classes, according to the HHS. These changes, per HHS, will take effect beginning on Jan. 1, 2023.

CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement health care should be “accessible, affordable and delivered equitably to all, regardless of your sexual orientation” (notably leaving out gender identity from that quote).

“To truly break down barriers to care, we must expand access to the full scope of health care, including gender-affirming surgery and other treatments, for people who rely on coverage through Medicare, Medicaid & CHIP and the Marketplaces,” Brooks-LaSure said. “Colorado’s expansion of their essential health benefits to include gender-affirming surgery and other treatments is a model for other states to follow and we invite other states to follow suit.”

According to the Washington Post, Biden administration signed off on the change before officials made the announcement Tuesday in Denver in an event with Gov, Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States.

Katie Keith, a lawyer and co-founder of Out2Enroll, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying despite the change significant issues remains for transgender people in health care.

“There’s been significant progress, but we’ve seen exclusions by some health plans — it got worse under the Trump administration — and that’s why it’s important to see states like Colorado stepping up to fill those gaps,” Keith is quoted as saying.

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