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White House hosts anti-bullying conference

Obama unveils as resource to address harassment



President Obama speaks at anti-bullying conference (Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama on Thursday opened the doors of the White House to anti-bullying advocates for a conference in which participants discussed harassment of students and devised strategies to curtail bullying.

In remarks starting off the conference, Obama said if the conference had one goal, it would be dispel the myth that bullying is “a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.”

“It’s not,” he said. “Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people.  And it’s not something we have to accept. As parents and students, as teachers and members of the community, we can take steps — all of us — to help prevent bullying and create a climate in our schools in which all of our children can feel safe; a climate in which they all can feel like they belong.”

The conference, in which around 150 students, parents, teachers and anti-bullying advocates participated, wasn’t specifically directed toward the bullying of LGBT students, although harassment of children because of their sexual orientation or gender identity was often mentioned.

Bullying against LGBT students received renewed attention late last year when several young men who were gay or perceived to be gay took their own lives after they were reportedly bullied. Among them was Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student, who leaped off the George Washington Bridge in September after a video was posted online of him reportedly having a sexual encounter with another man in his dorm room.

During his remarks, Obama noted that students who are gay are among the types of children who often face bullying at school.

“A third of middle school and high school students have reported being bullied during the school year,” Obama said. “Almost 3 million students have said they were pushed, shoved, tripped, even spit on. It’s also more likely to affect kids that are seen as different, whether it’s because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, the disability they may have, or sexual orientation.”

Obama also announced that his administration had launched a new website,, as a resource housed within the Department of Health & Human Services for parents, students and teachers on how to confront the issue of bullying in schools. The website is set to provide information on the risks of bullying and its warning signs and effects.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Michelle Obama, who introduced the president at the start of the event, said the issue of bullying is personal for both her and her hisband because of their concern for their two daughters: Malia and Sasha.

“As parents, this issue really hits home for us,” she said. “As parents, it breaks our hearts to think that any child feels afraid every day in the classroom, or on the playground, or even online. It breaks our hearts to think about any parent losing a child to bullying, or just wondering whether their kids will be safe when they leave for school in the morning.”

Michelle Obama urged parents “to make a real effort to be engaged in our children’s lives” and to listen to them and be there when needed.

“We need to get involved in their schools and in their activities so that we know what they’re up to, both in and out of the classroom,” she said. “And when something is wrong, we need to speak up, and we need to take action.”

Following the president remarks, Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, led a panel discussion of anti-bullying experts to discuss ways that parents, administrators and government officials can work to curtail harassment of students.

Points that were mentioned included recommending that parents be friends with their children on Facebook for oversight purposes and how the behavior of those who perpetuate bullying must also be addressed as part of anti-bullying efforts.

After the panel, conference participants split into five break-out sessions for more extensive debate on particular issues related to bullying. Topics of the breakout session included cyberbullying and in-school programs to confront bullying.

Top Obama administration officials during a wrap-up session at the close of the conference emphasized the support that anti-bullying advocates have in the White House.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced a new initiative — a technical assistance center — which would specifically address harassment to complement anti-bullying efforts that are already underway.

“By trying to highlight these best practices, we will state and local policy makers and educators work to keep children safe and provide the best learning environment for all students,” Duncan said. “We can provide support, which is why I’m happy to announce today our department’s intention to establish a new technical assistance center specifically dedicated to bullying prevention.”

Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius urged teachers and others to speak out when anti-gay slurs are used in schools.

“Building safe neighborhoods and schools where young people can thrive is a job for all of us,” Sebelius said. “It means speaking out next time you hear a homophobic slur, stepping in when you see someone being preyed upon and letting your local education leaders — from principals to schools — know that bullying is not an isolated part of growing up. It’s a serious danger for all of our children.”

Participants had a largely positive reaction to the event and thought it was productive in devising strategies to thwart bullying.

In a statement, Jeff Krehely, director of the LGBT research and communications project at the Center for American Progress, said the conference “put a national spotlight” on bullying and its potentially “destructive impact.”

“Although the event is born out of tragedies, the conference will hopefully spark a robust national discussion about what we can all do to stop this problem,” Krehely said. “With an increase in bullying and full-on assaults on youth who are perceived to be gay or transgender, as well as those who are perceived to be Muslim, now is the right time to show leadership on this issue.”

Caleb Laiseki, executive director of the Arizona-based Gays & Lesbians United Against Discrimination, said the conference was “much more productive” than he expected.

“I’m coming from Arizona, and Arizona can’t even pass the anti-bullying bill through committee, so I was extremely happy to see the White House was very dedicated to this,” Laiseki said.

Laiseki, who’s 16 and gay, dropped out of high school after he was bullied because of his sexual orientation and completed his education by earning a general equivalency diploma. He founded GLUAD to help address the  problems he faced in school.

“The reason I started the organization was because I was pushed into lockers and humiliated,” he said. “I received death threats [and was] followed home. It was just one thing after another. And I also had friend commit suicide after several attempts. So, the main goal of GLAUD is homelessness, suicide prevention and anti-bullying work.”

Laiseki attended the breakout session focused on cyber-bullying and said he proposed that law enforcements have the tools to intervene immediately when such harassment takes place.

“We can immediately track down the [Internet protocol] address and go from there,” Laiseki said. “And both of the representatives [from the Obama administration] were in agreement. And we took notes actually and discussed it for at least one-third of the meeting.”

Dan Savage (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dan Savage, founder of the “It Gets Better” online video campaign aimed at helping troubled LGBT teens, said the conference was of “tremendous symbolic importance” because it identified bullying as a national problem, but said more could be done with the issue of parents being the bullies of LGBT youth.

“What was never addressed is when the parents are the bullies,” Savage said. “LGBT kids whose parents reject them are eight times likelier to attempt suicide; kids who are LGBT are four times. It literally doubles the risk of the already quadrupled risk of suicide for LGBT kids when their families reject them.”

Legislation pending before Congress known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act would address the issue of LGBT bullying of students in schools. Savage, who’s gay and also a sex-advice columnist, said the passage of this legislation would be effective.

“It puts schools on notice,” Savage said. “It establishes a national sense of accountability. Schools are reactive. They don’t like to be sued. They don’t like to get in trouble with the folks that pay the bills — at the federal or state level — and it really creates a way for school administrators and school boards to be held accountable.”

Shannon Cuttle, director of Safe Schools Action Network, said she felt the event was effective because it drew more attention to the issue of bullying.

“I think that anytime that you can collectively get a group of people to work in collaboration to try to discuss this issue, it’s going to put a dent in the issue,” Cuttle said. “Today is making the right step. Being able to bring people from across America — teachers, administrators, individuals and students — that’s key.”

But Cuttle, a lesbian D.C. activist, said the best way to address the issue of bullying in schools to confront harassment with “boots on the ground.”

“We have to be able to go into the schools, we have to have conversations and we have to be able to discuss the issue,” she said. “We have to be able to have those honest, open conversations with teachers and school administrators, and as parents and students, we need to talk to our school boards and local officials and be able to put rules and policies in place to keep kids safe.”

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Art used to spotlight people of color lost to AIDS in the South

National AIDS Memorial, Southern AIDS Coalition created Change the Pattern exhibit



The National AIDS Memorial and Southern AIDS Coalition have announced a new initiative to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS among communities of color in the South. (Photo courtesy of the National AIDS Memorial)

The National AIDS Memorial has joined forces with the Southern AIDS Coalition to stage a series of art exhibitions and educational forums to honor Black and Brown people in the South who have been lost to HIV/AIDS.

The initiative, titled Change the Pattern, began in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday with curated quilt exhibitions, displays, educational forums, advocacy, storytelling and quilt-making, according to a press release from the National AIDS Memorial. A $2.4 million grant from the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Inc., funded Change the Pattern.

More than 500 hand-stitched quilt panels from the area were featured in what the National AIDS Memorial says is “the largest display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt ever” in Mississippi.

“By creating an empowering message and safe spaces for conversation, we can uplift, inspire and make progress toward ending the HIV epidemic, challenge cultural stigmas and continue the legacy of advocacy that the quilt represents,” said National AIDS Memorial CEO John Cunningham in the release. 

Change the Pattern was announced in honor of Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day during the Southern AIDS Coalition’s annual Saving Ourselves Symposium that took place in August. 

The conference, which was heavily attended by LGBTQ activists from the South, featured 100 quilt panels, and attendees participated in quilt-making workshops to make new quilt panels representing their loved ones.

Interested LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the South were invited to apply for funding to support local quilt-making workshops in their communities so as to ensure that the legacies of Black and Brown people are captured through newly-sewn panels on the quilt through the Memorial’s Call My Name program, according to the National AIDS Memorial press release. 

The application process opened on Sept. 15 with up to 35 eligible organizations receiving as much as $5,000 to support hosting local workshops. 

The first major Change the Pattern Quilt was founded 35 years ago as a visual representation of the need to end stigma and provide equitable resources to communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS, according to Southern AIDS Coalition Executive Director Dafina Ward.

“Change the Pattern is a call to action and change in the South,” said Ward. “Quilt-making has such a deep cultural connection in the Black community and in the South. The sharing and telling of these powerful stories through the quilt, coupled with advocacy and open dialogue, can help end HIV-related stigma and bring the stories of those we’ve lost to light.”

As the Change the Pattern initiative occurs, conversations about how to handle health epidemics within LGBTQ communities of color have become national topics, especially with the prevalence of monkeypox cases amongst Black gay men.

Despite earlier panic about the disease, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a report released on Wednesday said that individuals who were vaccinated against the disease were less likely to be affected over the summer compared to those who weren’t. 

The effectiveness and duration of immunity after a single dose, however, is not known, and few individuals in the current outbreak have completed the recommended two-dose series, according to the report. 

The most recent CDC data reports that 25,509 monkeypox cases have thus far been confirmed in the U.S. Only one death has been reported.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Doctor, transgender spouse indicted for passing information to Russia

Jamie Lee Henry first active-duty Army officer to come out as trans



Jamie Lee Henry and their spouse Anna Gabrielian (Photos from social media)

A federal grand jury on Wednesday handed down an indictment of a Johns Hopkins anesthesiologist and her spouse, a doctor and major in the U.S. Army, with conspiracy and for the disclosure of individually identifiable health information related to their efforts to assist Russia in connection with the conflict in Ukraine.

The office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland in a press release stated Anna Gabrielian, 36, and her spouse, Jamie Lee Henry, 39, both of Rockville, Md., both of whom had secret clearances, were attempting to provide medical information about members of the military to the Russian government.

Gabrielian and Henry met with an individual they believed to be associated with the Russian government, but who was, in fact, an Federal Bureau of Investigation Undercover Agent.

Court documents indicate Gabrielian told the FBI agent posing as a Russian operative that she had previously reached out to the Russian Embassy by email and phone, offering Russia her and her spouses’ assistance.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Gabrielian told the FBI agent that, although Henry knew of Gabrielian’s interaction with the Russian Embassy, she never mentioned Henry’s name to the Russian Embassy.

In the narrative released by the U.S. Attorney’s office, on Aug. 17, 2022, Gabrielian met with the FBI at a hotel in Baltimore. During that meeting, Gabrielian told the FBI she was motivated by patriotism toward Russia to provide any assistance she could to Russia, even if it meant being fired or going to jail. 

She proposed potential cover stories for her meeting with the “Russians” and stressed the need for “plausible deniability” in the event she was confronted by American authorities. Gabrielian also told the FBI that, as a military officer, Henry was currently a more important source for Russia than she was, because they had more helpful information, including how the U.S. military establishes an army hospital in war conditions and information about previous training provided by the U.S. military to Ukrainian military personnel. 

Henry identifies as a “transgender military physician” on their Twitter account.

Henry received public attention in 2015 after becoming the first known active-duty Army officer to come out as trans.

Henry was at one point a member of SPARTA, the nation’s largest nonprofit representing actively-serving trans U.S. servicemembers. A spokesperson for SPARTA, in an emailed statement commenting on the announcement of the arrest and indictment of Henry and their spouse told the Washington Blade:

“Transgender people are as diverse as the societies to which they belong. One’s gender identity neither increases nor decreases a propensity towards alleged criminal activity.”

As stated in the indictment, Gabrielian is an anesthesiologist and worked at Medical Institution 1 in Baltimore.  

Henry, a major in the U.S. Army who held a secret-level security clearance, is Gabrielian’s spouse and a doctor. During the time of the alleged conspiracy, Henry worked as a staff internist stationed at Fort Bragg, the home of the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps, headquarters of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the Womack Army Medical Center.

Gabrielian was scheduled to have initial appearance at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brendan A. Hurson. Henry is also expected to have an initial appearance today, although a time has not yet been set.

Full statement from SPARTA:

“SPARTA, a non-profit advocacy organization representing transgender Service members in the United States, is saddened to learn of the arrest and indictment of Jamie Lee Henry, an officer in the U.S. Army and a medical doctor.

SPARTA has long advocated for the inclusion and total equity for transgender persons throughout the United States uniformed services. Today, thousands are serving honorably and authentically at home stations worldwide.

The actions alleged in the indictment do not reflect Henry’s identity as transgender. Their alleged actions are those of an individual and should not be taken as a representation of transgender people broadly or transgender members of the military specifically.

All people in the United States are entitled to the same rights, including due process and the presumption of innocence in this case. SPARTA does not condone any actions alleged in the indictment and expects the process to play out fairly and equitably as it would for anyone accused of a crime.”

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The unvaccinated are 14 times more likely to contract monkeypox: health officials

Guidance updated to allow shots in places other than forearm



U.S. health officials are celebrating data finding the monkeypox contraction is lower among people who are vaccinated.

U.S. health officials are celebrating preliminary data on the vaccine used in the monkeypox outbreak, which has led them to conclude eligible persons who didn’t get a shot were 14 times more likely to become infected than those who are vaccinated.

The new data, as described by health officials on the White House monkeypox task force during a call with reporters on Wednesday, comes as the overall number of new cases of monkeypox is in sharp decline, although considerable racial disparities persist in the remaining cases as Black and Latino people are overrepresented in the numbers.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, said during the conference call the preliminary data — collected from 32 states between July 2022 and September 2022 — provides an early shapshot of the effectiveness of the vaccine and cause for optimism on the path forward.

“These new data provide us with a level of cautious optimism that the vaccine is working as intended,” Walkensky said. “These early findings and similar results from studies and other countries suggest even one dose of the monkeypox vaccine offers at least some initial protection against infection.”

Walensky during the conference call admitted the data is incomplete in numerous ways. For example, the data is based on information on individuals who have obtained only the first shot as opposed to both shots in the two-shot vaccination process. (The data showing positive results from individuals who have only one shot contradicts previous warnings from the same U.S. health officials that one shot of the monkeypox vaccine was insufficient.)

The data also makes no distinction between individuals who have obtained a shot through subcutaneous injection, a more traditional approach to vaccine administration, as opposed to intradermal injection, which is a newer approach adopted in the U.S. guidance amid the early vaccine shortage. Skeptics of the new approach have said data is limited to support the idea the intradermal injection is effective, particularly among immunocompromised people with HIV who have been at higher risk of contracting monkeypox.

Not enumerated as part of the data were underlying numbers leading health officials to conclude the unvaccinated were 14 times more likely to contract monkeypox as opposed to those with a shot, as well as any limiting principle on the definition of eligible persons. Also unclear from the data is whether individual practices in sexual behavior had any role in the results.

Despite the positive data on the monkeypox vaccine based on one shot, U.S. health officials warned during the conference call the two-shot approach to vaccine administration is consistent with their guidance and more effective.

Demetre Daskalakis, the Biden administration’s face of LGBTQ outreach for monkeypox and deputy coordinator for the White House monkeypox task force, made the case that for individuals at risk obtaining a second dose is “really important.”

“So we see some response after the first [shot] in the laboratory, but the really high responses that we want to really get — that you know, level 10 forcefield as opposed to the level five forcefield — doesn’t happen until the second dose,” Daskalakis said. “So the important message is this just tells us to keep on trucking forward because we need that second dose at arms that people haven’t gotten the first should start their series of two vaccines.”

Also during the call, health officials said they would be expanding opportunities for vaccines as pre exposure prophylaxis, as opposed to practices in certain regions granting vaccines in their limited supply to individuals who meet certain criteria or have had risk of exposure.

The Centers of Disease Control & Prevention, officials said, is also updating its guidance to allow injection of the vaccines in places other than a patient’s arm.

Daskalakis said fear of stigma about getting a noticeable shot in the forearm after obtaining a monkeypox vaccine was a key part of the decision to issue the new guidance on implementation.

“Many jurisdictions and advocates have told us that some people declined vaccine to monkeypox because of the stigma associated with the visible but temporary mark often left on their forearm,” Daskalakis said. “New guidance from CDC allows people who don’t want to risk a visible mark on their forearm to offer a vaccine on their skin by their shoulder or their upper back. Those are areas more frequently covered by clothes.”

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