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ENDA passage effort renewed with Senate introduction

Merkley backs exec order barring LGBT job bias

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Sens. Jeff Merkley (left) and Mark Kirk introduced ENDA in the Senate on Thursday (Blade photo by MIchael Key)

The junior senator from Oregon introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. Senate on Thursday as he voiced support for an executive order that would bar the federal government from contracting with companies that don’t have their own workplace protections for LGBT people.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) endorsed the idea of an executive order an as interim alternative to passing ENDA during a news conference on Capitol Hill in response to a question from the Washington Blade after he announced the Senate introduction of the legislation

“Certainly, I share the perspective that it would be tremendous to accomplish this by legislation,” Merkley said. “But I also feel that this is a conversation that is going to reverberate at a number of levels. You have counties, you have state action and certainly, I feel, it’s a legitimate possibility, and I would support the president saying that contractors who are beneficiaries of federal funds should in fact practice non-discrimination, so I would support that.”

The executive order endorsed by Merkley has been seen as an interim alternative to ENDA passage while Republicans are in control of the House and progress on the measure in the lower chamber of Congress is unlikely. The White House hasn’t said one way or the other whether Obama would be open to issuing such a directive. Last month, Gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) also expressed support for the executive order.

However, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), an original co-sponsor of ENDA who was present at the conference, didn’t offer the same support for an executive order that was voiced by Merkley.

“I would just say when you have executive action without the statute, then quickly that would be wiped out by the next administration,” Kirk said. “The best way to go is a statute where you have a stable decision that can only be overturned by a subsequent act of Congress.”

Kirk also advised against an executive order because of what he said was a “tremendous of uncertainty right now” in the U.S. economy, which is still climbing its way out of recession.

“If we load executive order upon executive order, all which would be wiped out the day after the president of the other party takes power, you really haven’t advanced the ball much,” Kirk said. “That’s why the legislation is absolutely necessary.”

Merkley endorsed the executive order on the same day he introduced ENDA to the Senate, which as of the end of Thursday had 38 co-sponsors. The legislation would bar job discrimination against LGBT people in most situations in the public and private workforce.

Job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is legal in 29 states and legal in 38 states on the basis of gender identity. More than 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies already have their own workplace protections based on sexual orientation and more than one-third on the basis of gender identity.

Merkley said passage of ENDA is necessary because the “right to work and earn a living” for all Americans — including LGBT people — is a “fundamental right.”

“It is essential to the success of an individual, it is essential to the success of a family,” Merkley said. “It’s certainly essential to the pursuit of happiness — that value that we place right up front in our Declaration of Independence — and it’s part and parcel of equality under the law.”

Kirk said his support for ENDA, which puts him in the minority among Republicans, fits his model of public service in the image of the late U.S. Senator from Illinois Everett Dirksen, whom Kirk described as a “strong national security conservative, fiscal conservative and social moderate.”

“It was Sen. Dirksen that clinched the deal on the [1964] Civil Rights Act,” Kirk said. “I see this legislation as in that tradition to make sure that our country is a country not of equal outcomes, which would be a Communist state, but of equal opportunities, and to make sure that everyone has that opportunity regardless of orientation.”

A number of LGBT advocacy groups issued a statements on Thursday praising Merkley for introducing ENDA and calling on Congress to take action to pass the legislation.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said ENDA passage is essential to ensure LGBT Americans have equal access to the American workplace.

“In today’s economy job security is important to all Americans, especially LGBT people who can be fired for no other reason than their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Solmonese said. “Passing ENDA is essential to ensuring that all Americans have an equal opportunity to work and contribute to this country’s economy.”

Jeff Krehely, director of the LGBT Research at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, pointed to a 2009 Out & Equal Workplace Survey that found that 44 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people have said they’ve faced workplace discrimination and at least 47 percent of transgender people have made the same claim.

“ENDA will help end this discrimination by requiring workplaces to make their hiring and firing decisions based on a person’s ability to get the job done, and not irrelevant factors such as their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Krehely said.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, also reiterated President Obama’s support for passage of ENDA and noted the administration’s previous efforts in pushing for the legislation.

“The president’s support for an inclusive ENDA is well established,” Inouye said. “It’s worth noting that last Congress, when [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] Acting Chairman Stuart Ishimaru testified on behalf of the Obama administration on ENDA before the House Education & Labor Committee, it was the first time that any administration offered its support for this legislation.”

Despite the enthusiasm behind ENDA, most Capitol Hill observers says the legislation’s prospects for passage during the 112th Congress are slim at best. Last week, Rep. Barney Frank, a gay lawmaker, introduced the House version of ENDA as he categorically said the legislation wouldn’t pass with Republicans in control of the House.

A Senate Democratic aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was pessimistic about the chances of passing ENDA even in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“The prospects for passing ENDA in the Senate during the 112th Congress are not great, unless there is a major push from President Obama,” the aide said. “The Senate is narrowly controlled by Democrats, who generally will support ENDA. But unless there are enough common-sense Republicans who can help bring the total to 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster, ENDA won’t pass the Senate.”

Despite the challenges facing ENDA passage, the notable Republican support the legislation upon introduction could be a sign of hope. Three GOP senators — Kirk, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) signed on — have signed on as original co-sponsors.

Kirk said he’s hopeful that he can find enough Republican support for the legislation to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to end a filibuster if the legislation came to the Senate floor.

“I asked Sen. Merkley, ‘Let’s start this out very balanced with members that have reputations to be able to move legislation, and I think we’ve done that today,'” Kirk said.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said he talked with Kirk following ENDA’s introduction about finding sufficient Republican support to move forward with ENDA and was told “the votes are there” for passage.

“Our conversation was Senate focused, but could apply to the House as well,” Cooper said.

One possible strategy for passing ENDA in the Senate would be attaching it as an amendment to another legislative vehicle. Such a move could enhance ENDA’s chances for passage because standalone legislation could be vulnerable to hostile amendments on the Senate floor.

The anonymous Senate Democratic aide said ENDA would be fare better as an amendment on the Senate floor as opposed to standalone legislation because “any stand alone bills are tough to pass in the Senate these days.”

During the news conference, Kirk suggested that plans are in place to pass ENDA in the Senate as an amendment to another vehicle. The Illinois senator said he wants to move the legislation “as I’m now learning, hopefully by amendment.”

Following Kirk’s remark, Merkley said ENDA’s proponents have “no specific plans” to pass the legislation as an amendment to another bill at this time, but are on the lookout for potential opportunities to pass legislation that “may have trouble getting to the floor as a freestanding piece.”

Asked whether there would any candidates for legislation that would serve as vehicles for ENDA, Merkley replied, “If only I could forecast all the bills that are going to be on the floor.”

Whatever the prospects for pushing ENDA through both chambers of Congress, LGBT advocates are hoping for progress at least in the committee that holds jurisdiction over ENDA. Supporters of the legislation are already calling on Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), an original co-sponsor of the legislation, to hold a hearing on the legislation during the 112th Congress.

Tico Almeida, a civil rights litigator at Sanford, Wittels & Heisler in D.C., said a Senate hearing on ENDA would allow LGBT victims of workplace discrimination a public venue to tell their stories.

“Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate [HELP] Committee, can and should organize an ENDA hearing during the upcoming year,” Almeida said. “He can and should call one or more transgender Americans to testify at that hearing,”

In response to calls for a hearing, Justine Sessions, a Harkin spokesperson, said is committed to working with Merkley and other co-sponsors to move the legislation forward.

Merkley said he’s spoken with Harkin about an ENDA committee hearing or markup and said he’s “working with him and committee staff about that direction.”

The Oregon senator recalled that in 2009, Harkin held the an committee hearing on ENDA in which Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, represented the Obama administration during the hearing.

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Mississippi

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

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

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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

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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

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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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