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Obama kicks off 2012 re-election campaign

Some LGBT advances, but other ’08 promises unfulfilled

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President Obama (Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama kicked off his re-election campaign this week as LGBT advocates urged supporters to continue backing him as the 2012 election approaches.

On Monday, Obama filed papers with the Federal Election Commission indicating that he would run for re-election and sent a letter to supporters via his campaign to pump them up for election season.

“We’re doing this now because the politics we believe in does not start with expensive TV ads or extravaganzas, but with you — with people organizing block-by-block, talking to neighbors, co-workers, and friends,” Obama wrote. “And that kind of campaign takes time to build.”

“So even though I’m focused on the job you elected me to do, and the race may not reach full speed for a year or more, the work of laying the foundation for our campaign must start today,” Obama continued.

Obama seems unlikely to face a serious challenger in the Democratic primaries. With his approval ratings rising to about 53 percent, according an Associated Press poll published last week, the president also heads into election season as a strong candidate against any Republican opponent in the general election.

Media outlets have speculated that Obama’s campaign could be the first in history that will raise $1 billion to propel a U.S. presidential candidate to the White House. As in 2008, Obama is expected to run strictly on donations from supporters and not to accept federal public financing.

Obama supporters noted the accomplishments he’s made for the LGBT community during his first term in office.

One of the steps the president has unilaterally taken is mandating hospitals that receive funding under Medicare and Medicaid offer visitation rights for same-sex couples and adding gender identity as a category of non-discrimination for federal workers. Under his administration, Congress also passed a hate crimes law inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity and legislation allowing for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Still, some campaign promises that Obama made to the LGBT community in 2008 remain unfulfilled. For example, Congress has yet to pass an Employment Non-Discrimination Act with protections based on both sexual orientation and gender identity and the Defense of Marriage Act, which Obama supported repealing it its entirety, still remains on the books.

Jamie Citron, director of the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT Leadership Council, said Obama’s accomplishments during his first term demonstrate why LGBT people should continue their support — and why many are already gearing up for the new campaign.

“I think that the president over the few years — especially looking at the some of the accomplishments — has made it very, very clear that he has the community’s back and that we are at the heart of his vision for this country moving forward,” Citron said.

Among the acts that Citron cited were making a record number of openly LGBT appointments, declaring DOMA to be unconstitutional and directing the Justice Department to no longer defend the law in court and taking on anti-bullying efforts that included holding a conference against student harassment at the White House.

“I think this adds up to a very clear stance on the part of the president that he has the LGBT community in mind,” Citron said. “It’s not the type of thing that the president does to be showy or to gain support; it’s because he believes it’s the right thing to do, and I think that’s important.”

As he maintained that Obama has acted on behalf on the LGBT community, Citron said that LGBT support is needed for the president as he heads into campaign season. Citron said the coalition that worked to elect Obama in 2008 needs to expand for success in 2012.

“The LGBT community is one that over the last few years has found its footing its incredible ways, has found its voice and has really — here in Washington and all over the country — made sure its voice is heard,” Citron said. “We’re going to need that type of energy and voice to make sure the accomplishments that I was just talking about are out there and LGBT Americans all across the country — in big towns and small — know about them as well.”

Many LGBT advocates are similarly urging continued backing of Obama in his re-election campaign.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, reiterated Obama’s accomplishments for the LGBT community during his first term in office.

“President Obama has been a steadfast advocate for LGBT families and the issues that are important to them,” Sainz said. “From the passage of the hate crimes protection act to the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and countless other decisions to further equality, this president has made better the lives of millions in our community.”

Sainz noted HRC has not yet endorsed any presidential candidate for the 2012 election.

Michael Mitchell, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, similarly advocated for the president and touted the achievements that he has made thus far.

“Barack Obama was the right choice for America in 2008 and is still very much the right choice for America in 2012,” Mitchell said. “Because of the scores of actions beneficial to the LGBT community that the Obama administration has taken — all of which would have never happened under a GOP administration — President Obama is also the right choice for the LGBT community.”

But John Aravosis, the gay editor of AMERICAblog, said LGBT people should see more from Obama during his first term as they recommit to his re-election in 2012.

“We’re still a good year and a half until the presidential elections, but if the president continues along his current path — and finishes repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ signs an executive order on ENDA, and comes out in favor of marriage equality — I think the community could and should vigorously support his re-election,” Aravosis said. “He has ample time to show us that his recent renewed interest in our civil rights is sincere and sustained.”

The Republican National Committee has already capitalized on Obama’s support for the LGBT community in an attack on the president on the committee’s website that was launched on the day Obama announced he would pursue re-election.

Acts in support of the LGBT community are listed among the 10 things the RNC cites as “The Case Against Obama: Social Issues” on its “Hope Isn’t Hiring” page.

The LGBT-related items are “Despite It Being the Law of the Land, Obama Refused to Continue Defending the Defense of Marriage Act in Court,” “Obama Repealed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ While U.S. Troops Are Still on the Battlefield” and “Obama Opposed California’s Prop 8 and Has Expanded Government Recognition of Same-Sex Couples.”

In a letter dated April 5, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, wrote to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to question why the Republican Party would attack Obama for acts that benefited the LGBT community.

“From the way in which certain issues are detailed, reasonable people would conclude that the RNC believes in discrimination against LGBT people,” Solmonese writes. “You sensationalize issues like hospital visitation rights for loving families and ending housing discrimination when the truth is Americans agree that these are the right things to do.”

The RNC didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the HRC letter.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization has spoken with the RNC about the anti-LGBT initiative and expressed disapproval.

“We are in communication with the RNC on this issue and have made it clear that this kind of divisive rhetoric is not what Americans voted for in 2010 and will hurt, rather than help Republicans in 2012,” Cooper said. “The RNC’s message that hope isn’t hiring is strong enough as an indictment of the Obama administration’s failures on leadership and the economy. There is no need to weaken that message by raising social issues in ways that turn off the average voter.”

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Utah

VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights

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(Screen capture via YouTube)

A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says.

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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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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