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Gates, others to testify next week on ‘Don’t Ask’

Hearings set for Dec. 2 and Dec. 3

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates is set to testify next week on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday announced two days of hearings next week on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that are set to include testimony from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

In a notice, the committee announced it would hold hearings on Dec. 2 and Dec. 3. regarding the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” working group report, which is now scheduled for release on Tuesday. The hearings on both days are set to take place in Room SD-G50 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building and are scheduled to begin at 9 am. 

For the Dec. 2 hearing, the witnesses are set to include Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen as well as the co-chairs of the Pentagon working group: Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s general counsel, and Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe. 

In February testimony before the committee, Mullen has said he supports allowing openly gay people to serve in the U.S. military. Gates has already told reporters that he wants Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” 

On Dec. 3, the committee is set to hear testimony from Vice-Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright and the military service chiefs: Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey; Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead; Marine Corps Gen. James Amos; and Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz. 

In May, the military service chiefs sent a letter to Congress asking lawmakers to hold off on legislative action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” until the Pentagon report is complete. 

Both Roughead and Schwartz have since praised the Pentagon report, and Roughead has said he’s eager to see what happens on Capitol Hill as a result of the findings. Amos has said he continues to oppose “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. 

On Monday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he thinks holding hearings on the report would “be a boost” to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the lame duck session of Congress. 

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said he generally agrees with Levin that hearings would be beneficial to repeal efforts, but expressed concern about hearing testimony over a two-day period.

“We’re in a period now where literally every day counts,” Nicholson said. “If they’re holding hearings on Friday, that, I think, runs the risk of bumping off the motion to reconsider until Monday of the following week, which would be a strain on the calendar.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Pentagon report would be set for release on Monday.

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New Mexico

LGBTQ protections added to N.M. Human Rights Act

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 207 on Friday

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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs House Bill 7 on March 24, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor of New Mexico)

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 207 into law on Friday that expands protections for LGBTQ New Mexicans under the state’s Human Rights Act. For transgender residents, Grisham also signed House Bill 31, a measure that removes the requirement that name changes be published in a newspaper.

The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported that HB 31 also lets people 14 and older petition a district court for a name change and prohibits the court from requiring notice to the applicants’ parents if it finds notice would jeopardize the applicant’s safety.

“While hundreds of bills have been introduced across the country to restrict the rights of queer and trans people, New Mexico is committed to making our state a safer place for everyone by closing a loophole to ensure our taxpayer dollars cannot be used to discriminate against our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors,” state Rep. Kristina Ortez (D-Taos) said in a statement.

State Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos), the sponsor of HB 31, noted that the measure will benefit trans New Mexicans seeking to change their names as well as ensure safety for victims of domestic violence who may change their names to be more secure.

“Removing this antiquated publishing requirement protects New Mexicans’ privacy and allows them to safely move on with their lives,” Chandler said.

These measures are the latest in legislation passed this session to protect LGBTQ New Mexicans as well as women’s rights.

On March 16, Grisham signed into law House Bill 7, the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Act, which prohibits public bodies, including local municipalities, from denying, restricting, or discriminating against an individual’s right to use or refuse reproductive health care or health care related to gender.

“New Mexicans in every corner of our state deserve protections for their bodily autonomy and right to health care,” said Grisham as she signed HB 7. “I’m grateful for the hard work of the Legislature and community partners in getting this critical legislation across the finish line.”

“Trans and nonbinary individuals deserve the support and care necessary to survive and thrive,” said Ortez, who co-sponsored HB 7. “Protecting gender-affirming health care is a critical part of making sure trans and nonbinary New Mexicans can succeed in school, establish healthy relationships with their friends and family, and live authentically as themselves.”

“In New Mexico we value the freedom and dignity of making your own personal decision about reproductive and gender-affirming health care,” said Ellie Rushforth, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico managing reproductive rights and gender equity attorney. “Now more than ever it is critical that New Mexicans and our neighbors have access to the full spectrum of health care in every corner of our state. We thank the governor for supporting and signing HB 7 into law. This is lifesaving legislation.”

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Georgia

Kemp signs Ga. healthcare ban targeting transgender, nonbinary youth

Advocacy groups condemned the law

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Georgia State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday signed a ban on guideline-directed gender-affirming healthcare for transgender and nonbinary youth that was passed earlier this week by the GOP-controlled state legislature.

The law threatens to revoke the medical licenses of physicians who administer treatments for gender dysphoria in minor patients that are overwhelmingly considered safe, effective, and medically necessary by every scientific and medical society with relevant clinical expertise.

A previous version of Senate Bill 140 applied exclusively to surgical interventions, but the version signed into law Thursday also prohibits hormone replacement therapies, although treatment with puberty blockers is still allowed.

The move by GOP legislators to expand the healthcare interventions covered by the legislation follows pressure from conservatives like far-right U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who represents Georgia’s 14th Congressional District in the House and urged the state’s lawmakers last week to make the bill more restrictive.

At the time, Greene also objected to the draft bill’s “limited exceptions” carved out for cases where patients are treated for conditions other than gender dysphoria, including those diagnosed with “a medically verifiable disorder of sex development,” provided the physician can attest they are medically necessary.

These provisions were kept intact in the bill’s final iteration, which contains additional exceptions for the treatment of partial androgen insensitivity syndrome and in circumstances where the minor patient was being treated with hormone replacement therapies prior to July 1, 2023.

A chorus of objections to and condemnations of the legislation have come from LGBTQ groups, along with legal and civil rights advocacy organizations and medical societies, clinicians, and scientists, including the Georgia Psychological Association.

The Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, issued a statement shortly after Kemp signed the bill Thursday, declaring that Georgia had become “the largest state to legislatively enact such a discriminatory ban.”

“Governor Kemp should be ashamed of himself — taking life-saving care away from vulnerable youth is a disgusting and indefensible act,” Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley said in the statement. “This law harms transgender youth and terrorizes their families, but helps no one.”

Despite the wave of legislation across the country barring access to or criminalizing gender affirming care, in most cases for minor patients, the group noted in Thursday’s release that “polling by Patinkin Research Strategies released this month shows that only 26 percent of likely November 2024 voters in Georgia supported the legislation, while 66 percent opposed it” including 63 percent of independent and 59 percent of likely Republican voters.

According to the findings of a Human Rights Campaign study that were announced Wednesday, “more than half (50.4 percent) of trans youth (ages 13-17) have lost or are at risk of losing access to age appropriate, medically necessary gender-affirming care in their state” – care, the group stressed, that “can be lifesaving.”

Following the Georgia legislature’s passage of the SB 140 earlier this week, the ACLU warned it would “[interfere] with the rights of Georgia parents to get life-saving medical treatment for their children” and prevent “physicians from properly caring for their patients.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center released a statement by Beth Littrell, the organization’s senior supervising attorney for its LGBTQ and Special Litigation Practice Group, calling the bill a “cynical partisan attack on transgender youth, medical autonomy, and parental rights” and urging Kemp to “leave personal healthcare decisions in the capable hands of parents, children, and their doctors.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Families with trans kids sue Fla. over trans youth healthcare ban

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed bill on March 16

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Florida_Gov_Ron_DeSantis_with_Florida_Surgeon_General_Dr_Joseph_Ladapo
Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis & Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph Ladapo (Screenshot/YouTube WTXL ABC 7 Tallahassee)

A lawsuit on behalf of four families with transgender children was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, challenging the state’s Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine’s ban on gender affirming healthcare for minors.

The legal groups representing the four families, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Legal Counsel, Inc., noted in the suit that the bans contradict guidelines established through years of clinical research and recommended by every major medical association including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

The lawsuit also spells out that the policies unlawfully strips parents of the right to make informed decisions about their children’s medical treatment and violates the equal protection rights of transgender youth by denying them medically necessary, doctor-recommended healthcare to treat their gender dysphoria. 

The enactment of Florida’s transgender healthcare ban, which went into effect on March 16 has faced considerable scrutiny as a politically-motivated process instigated at the urging of the governor and ignoring established medical and scientific consensus on medical care for transgender youth. 

Statewide LGBTQ Equality rights advocacy group Equality Florida has decried the ban saying it was little more than a cultural war maneuver by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis who is widely expected to announce a run for the presidency in 2024.

In the summer of 2022, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and the Department of Health asked the state Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine to adopt a categorical ban on all treatment of gender dysphoria for people under 18.

In February and March 2023, respectively, the boards adopted formal rules prohibiting all access to safe, effective medical treatments for trans youth who have received a gender dysphoria diagnosis but who have not yet begun puberty delaying medication or hormone treatments. Surgeon General Ladapo and all members of the Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine are defendants in the families’ suit challenging the ban.

“This policy came about through a political process with a predetermined conclusion, and it stands in direct contrast to the overwhelming weight of the evidence and science,” said Simone Chriss, director of the Southern Legal Counsel’s Transgender Rights Initiative. “There is an unbelievable degree of hypocrisy when a state that holds itself out as being deeply concerned with protecting ‘parents’ rights’ strips parents of their right to ensure their children receive appropriate medical care. I have worked with families and their healthcare providers in Florida for many years. They work tirelessly every day to ensure the best health outcomes for their kids and patients, and they are worried sick about the devastating impacts that this ban will have.”

“The Florida Boards of Medicine chose to ignore the evidence and science in front of them and instead put families in the unthinkable position of not being able to provide essential healthcare for their kids,” said Jennifer Levi, GLAD’s Senior Director of Transgender and Queer Rights.

“Parents, not the government, should make healthcare decisions for their children,” said Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “This policy crosses a dangerous line and should concern anyone who cares about family privacy or the ability of doctors to do their jobs without undue government interference.”    

“It’s alarming to see such a concerted, top-down effort to target a small and vulnerable population,” said Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “The Florida Surgeon General, Department of Health and Boards of Medicine should be focused on the real and serious public health issues Florida faces, not on putting transgender kids and their families in harm’s way.”

In a press statement by the legal teams representing them, the four families also weighed in:

“Like most parents, my husband and I want nothing more than for our daughter to be healthy, happy, and safe,” said Jane Doe speaking about her 11-year-old daughter, Susan. “Being able to consult with our team of doctors to understand what our daughter is experiencing and make the best, most informed decisions about her care has been critically important for our family. She is a happy, confident child, but this ban takes away our right to provide her with the next step in her recommended treatment when she reaches puberty. The military doctors we work with understand the importance of providing that evidence-based, individualized care. We’re proud to serve our country, but we are being treated differently than other military families because of a decision by politicians in the state where we are stationed. We have no choice but to fight this ban to protect our daughter’s physical and mental health.”

“This ban puts me and other Florida parents in the nightmare position of not being able to help our child when they need us most,” said Brenda Boe, who is challenging the ban on behalf of herself and her 14-year-old son, Bennett Boe. “My son has a right to receive appropriate, evidence-based medical care. He was finally getting to a place where he felt hopeful, where being prescribed testosterone was on the horizon and he could see a future for himself in his own body. That has been ripped away by this cruel and discriminatory rule.” 

“Working with our healthcare team to understand what my daughter is experiencing and learning there are established, effective treatments that are already helping her to thrive has been an incredible relief,” said Fiona Foe, who is challenging the ban on behalf of herself and her 10-year-old daughter, Freya Foe. “I know everyone may not understand what it means to have a transgender child, but taking away our opportunity to help our daughter live a healthy and happy life is cruel and unfair.”

“Our daughter has been saying she is a girl since she was three — it hasn’t gone away,” said Carla Coe, a plaintiff in the lawsuit along with her 9-year-old daughter, Christina Coe. “Since she started being able to live as a girl she has been so much happier and better adjusted. Having the resources and support to make the best decisions for her wellbeing has been so important for our family. I’m scared this ban will take away the essential medical care she may need when she gets older. We just want to do what’s right for our kid.”

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