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Stark introduces adoption anti-discrimination bill

Calif. lawmaker wants Obama to endorse measure ‘wholeheartedly’

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Reps. Pete Stark (left) and Jim McGovern on Tuesday introduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A U.S. House member from California on Tuesday introduced legislation that would bar discrimination against LGBT people in adoption cases while calling on President Obama to endorse the bill “wholeheartedly.”

During a news conference, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the legislation, known as the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, said he wants the White House to support his bill fully in response to a question from the Washington Blade on what he’d like to see from the administration on the issue.

“I’d like to see the administration support our position more definitively,” Stark said. “I’ve had some troubles often determining where the administration is on issues, and I think it’s time that President Obama steps up to the bar and makes this — supports it wholeheartedly.”

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said in a statement that Obama believes that adoption rights should be afforded to all Americans and supports the goals of the legislation, but stopped short of offering an explicit endorsement of Stark’s bill. The lack of outright support is unlike the president’s position on other pro-LGBT initiatives, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“The president has long believed that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation,” Inouye said. “He recognizes that adoptive families come in many forms, and that we must do all we can to break down barriers to ensure that all qualified caregivers have the ability to serve as adoptive families. While we have not reviewed this specific legislation, we share its goals to expand adoption rights and move the dialogue forward on this issue.”

The Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which has 33 original co-sponsors, would restrict federal funds for states that allow discrimination in adoption or foster care placement based on the sexual orientation, marital status or gender identity of potential parents — as well as LGBT children seeking homes. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is expected to introduce companion legislation in June in the Senate.

Some states recently have taken steps to inhibit potential LGBT parents from adopting. Last month, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed legislation that would give primary consideration in adoptive placement to opposite-sex married couples. Additionally, Virginia’s State Board of Social Services recently rejected adding protections against discrimination in adoption cases on the basis of sexual orientation as well as other statuses.

At the news conference, Stark billed the legislation as a means to ensure children living in the foster care system have access to a greater number of adoptive families — including households with single parents or same-sex parents.

“What’s in the child’s best interest is what the bill is trying to promote,” Stark said. “There is no information that shows that children raised by a single parent or gay or lesbian parent households have any more or less problems than all other children.”

According to Stark’s office, the U.S. government spends more than $7 billion each year on a foster care system against potential single and LGBT parents and allows around 25,000 children age out annually. More than 500,000 children are in foster care and 120,000 of them available for adoption.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), an original co-sponsor for the bill, said the Every Child Deserves a Family Act is necessary to eliminate discrimination against potential LGBT parents and to iron out the differences in adoption policy throughout the country.

“Automatically disqualifying LGBT parents from adoption just because of sexual orientation is wrong,” McGovern said. “It makes no sense, especially when so many children are in foster care waiting to be adopted. The current patchwork of unfair state laws and policies … is denying multiple kids to permanent safe and stable homes.”

The issue of LGBT adoption has already emerged as an issue for a Republican who could be considering a run in the 2012 presidential campaign. According to Think Progress, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, who’s widely expected to be eyeing a White House bid, said in a speech Monday before the FAMiLY Leader in Iowa that adoption is a “privilege” to which LGBT people aren’t entitled.

“A lesbian woman walked up to me and said, ‘Why are you denying me my right?’” Santorum said. “I said, ‘Well, because it’s not a right.’ It’s a privilege. It’s a privilege that society recognizes because society sees intrinsic value to that relationship over any other relationship.”

During the news conference, Stark blasted Santorum for his anti-gay comments and said the former senator’s opinion is no longer relevant because he was voted out in 2006.

“Rick who?” Stark said. “There was a guy in Congress years ago named Santorum, but I think he left. He lost, but [has been] following that path ever since. I think that’s nonsense.”

Organizations that work on LGBT advocacy and child welfare — including the Family Equality Council and Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays — praised Stark for introducing the legislation as means to end discrimination and allow more children to find homes.

Linda Spears, vice president of policy and public affairs for the Child Welfare League of America, said passage of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act would help ensure children who are waiting in foster care can find homes.

“We must recognize that statutory frameworks are absolutely essential in order to get this job done,” Spears said. “We cannot have policies in which kids are systemically disadvantaged by state law and by state policy. We cannot have policies that disadvantage and allow children to linger in foster care, those who categorically exclude certain families and put other kids in legal limbo because second parents are not allowed to adopt.”

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, similarly said the legislation is needed to counter what she called “despicable” attempts at the state level aimed at impairing the right to adopt for LGBT people.

“These efforts are divisive, there are despicable, and they push a political agenda at the expense who some of those children who are most vulnerable — the thousands of kids who are living in foster care, [excluding them] from loving, permanent homes,” Chrisler said.

Amy Coleman, a Massachusetts foster care alum (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Amy Coleman, a Massachusetts foster care alum who was adopted at age 16 by lesbian parents, pressed for legislation allowing full adoption rights for LGBT families by recalling the story of her own adoption.

“My moms have been loving, wonderful parents and will continue to be loving, wonderful parents,” Coleman said. “I just felt it was important to come down and share that so that other foster kids know that there are homes out there for them that might not be traditional, but are definitely wanting to take them in, so they don’t have to spend their rest of their time in foster care wondering if there is someone who can, or will, adopt them.”

Moving the legislation will be challenging in the Republican-controlled House, where the bill will likely be assigned to the House Ways & Means Committee. The office of the committee chair, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), didn’t respond on short notice to the Blade’s request to comment on the measure.

Stark said he hasn’t spoken with Camp about the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, but added the adoption issue could come before the House Ways & Means Committee in some capacity.

“I suppose that we’ll have a hearing on this at some point — one way or the other,” Stark said. “The press will require it or the Republicans will in opposition to it. The hearings may not be favorable, but there may very well be hearings on it.”

As of Tuesday, the legislation had no Republican co-sponsors, although Stark suggested that the bill may gain GOP support because he’s spoken to a Republican lawmaker who has indicated interest. Stark didn’t identify the U.S. House member.

The list of original co-sponsors for the legislation notably lacks the names of Democratic lawmakers who usually sign on to pro-LGBT legislation — including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as well as gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.).

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said the Democratic leader will sign on as co-sponsor.

Harry Gural, a Frank spokesperson, said his boss wasn’t asked to support the Every Child Deserves a Family Act.

“Congressman Frank considers co-sponsoring a bill when he is asked by the member introducing the bill, when one of that member’s staff makes a request via our staff, or when he gets a request from a constituent,” Gural said. “In this case, none of those took place.”

Jessica Kershaw, a Cicilline spokesperson, said the legislation is on her boss’ radar and he’s reviewing it.

Despite the lack of outright support from the White House, one LGBT rights organization maintained the Obama administration is already working to address adoption discrimination through administrative means.

Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of communications, said the Department of Health & Human Services is “doing a substantial amount of work” as part of HRC’s “All Children All Families” initiative, an agency by agency approach to preventing LGBT discrimination in adoption cases, which aims for the same results as Stark’s legislation.

“At the same time, HRC is working with the HHS to provide greater incentives to states, tribes and territories which receive federal funds to establish more inclusive practices,” Sainz said. “The Informational Memorandum on LGBT youth and families which went out two weeks ago, and was largely a result of our advocacy, is a good example of that ongoing work.”

Sainz was referring to an April 6 memo from HHS encouraging child welfare agencies to serve better the needs of LGBT youth in the foster care system. The memo states agencies should avail themselves of federal funds for training staff on serving LGBT children and called LGBT potential parents an untapped resource for providing homes for LGBT youth.

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Biden administration to ban discrimination against LGBTQ patients

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The Biden administration announced on Monday it would enforce civil rights protections under Obamacare to prohibit discrimination in health care against patients for being LGBTQ, reversing policy during the Trump years excluding transgender status as a protected characteristic under the law.

The Department of Health & Human Services declared it would enforce Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care on the basis of sex, and begin to take up cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement the Supreme Court has “made clear that people have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sex and receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

“Fear of discrimination can lead individuals to forgo care, which can have serious negative health consequences,” Becerra said. “It is the position of the Department of Health and Human Services that everyone — including LGBTQ people — should be able to access health care, free from discrimination or interference, period.”

The move is consistent with the executive order President Biden signed on his first day in office directing federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County to the furthest extent possible. Federal agencies were directed to comply within 100 days of the executive order, which is about now and a short time after Biden’s first 100 days in office.

The announcement with respect to Section 1557 comes on the same day as the hearing took place this morning in Bagly v. HHS, a case before a federal court in Massachusetts challenging Trump’s undoing of transgender protections under the law. An attorney with the U.S. Justice Department announced a new notice of proposed rule-making is coming with respect to Section 1557.

Sharita Gruberg, vice president for the LGBTQ Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement the change “assures LGBTQ people that their rights will be upheld at the doctor’s office, vaccine sites, and everywhere else they seek health care and coverage.”

“The administration’s announcement that it will enforce these protections are a critical step toward addressing vaccine hesitancy among LGBTQ people, a population that has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and seriously harmed by the previous administration’s attempts to permit discrimination against LGBTQ patients, Gruberg added.

The past three administrations have instituted policy on LGBTQ protections based on their interpretation of Section 1557. Each move had varying implications and directions for LGBTQ patients.

The Obama administration issued a rule in 2016 interpreting Section 1557 to apply to cases of anti-transgender discrimination and discrimination against women who have had abortions, which was consistent with court rulings at the time. However, that move was enjoined by a nationwide court order in Texas as a result of litigation filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The Trump administration, shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock, made final a regulation proposed last year rescinding the Obama administration’s transgender protections under Section 1557. Faced with criticism, the Trump administration defended itself by saying its move was consistent with the court order in Texas, although it seemed to ignore the decision from the higher court.

The new rule from HHS goes above and the beyond the Obama administration by instituting protections based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the proposed rule would be a new regulation entirely, or seek to modify the changes that were made in the two previous administrations. The Blade has placed a request seeking comment with HHS.

Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement the new HHS rule is a welcome change after the Trump administration rescinded protections for transgender patients.

“It’s unfortunate that such an obvious step had to be taken; the AMA welcomes this common-sense understanding of the law,” Bailey said. “This move is a victory for health equity and ends a dismal chapter in which a federal agency sought to remove civil rights protections.”

Discrimination in health care is an experience transgender people commonly report. The U.S. Transgender Survey in 2015 found one-third of responders said they had at least one negative experience in health care related to being transgender. Further, 23 percent of responders said they didn’t seek health care because they feared being mistreated and one-third said they didn’t go to a provider because they couldn’t afford it.

A Center for American Progress survey from 2018 had similar findings with respect to transgender people and patients with being gay, lesbian and bisexual or queer. Eight percent of responders said a doctor refused to see them because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, while 28 percent of providers said a doctor refused to see them because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Hospitals, especially religiously affiliated providers, refusing to provide transition-related care, including gender assignment surgery, is another frequently reported incident for transgender patients. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, has filed litigation against hospitals under Section 1557 for refusing to perform the procedure.

Rachel Levine, assistant secretary of health and the first openly transgender presidential appointee to obtain Senate confirmation, hailed the HHS rule change in a statement.

“The mission of our Department is to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. All people need access to healthcare services to fix a broken bone, protect their heart health, and screen for cancer risk,” Levine said. “No one should be discriminated against when seeking medical services because of who they are.”

Although the Biden administration’s announcement is a welcome move for LGBTQ advocacy groups, the change is not without critics.

John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University who declares himself a supporter of transgender rights, said the policy could have unintended consequences, which he said has become evident in the British health system.

“[Transgender] individuals with a penis but no vagina are being asked to have medical tests on their non-existent cervices, while [transgender] persons with a vagina and cervix will not be asked, under new guidelines which appear to place lives at risk and encourage a physically impossible medical exam on organs which simply do not exist,” Banzhaf said. “And, carrying this absurdity to its totally illogical conclusion, a patient with a penis and a full beard was offered a cervical test because, despite his clearly masculine appearance and style of dress, he registered himself as being gender neutral.”

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards

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Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade

 

A Puerto Rico Senate committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy on the island.

Members of the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against Senate Bill 184 by an 8-7 vote margin. Three senators abstained.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, a spokesperson for Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad, a coalition of Puerto Rican human rights groups, in a statement sharply criticized the senators who opposed the measure.

“If they publicly recognize that conversion therapies are abuse, if they even voted for a similar bill in the past, if the hearings clearly established that the bill was well-written and was supported by more than 78 professional and civil entities and that it did not interfere with freedom of religion or with the right of fathers and mothers to raise their children, voting against it is therefore one of two things: You are either a hopeless coward or you have the same homophobic and abusive mentality of the hate groups that oppose the bill,” said Pagán in a statement.

Thursday’s vote comes against the backdrop of continued anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in Puerto Rico.

Six of the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were reported murdered in the U.S. in 2020 were from Puerto Rico.

A state of emergency over gender-based violence that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared earlier this year is LGBTQ-inclusive. Then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 signed an executive order that banned conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico.

“These therapies lack scientific basis,” he said. “They cause pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Rosselló issued the order less than two weeks after members of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party  he chaired at the time, blocked a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in the U.S. commonwealth. Seven out of the 11 New Progressive Party members who are on the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against SB 184.

“It’s appalling. It’s shameful that the senators didn’t have the strength and the courage that our LGBTQ youth have, and it’s to be brave and to defend our dignity and our humanity as people who live on this island,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, in a video. “It’s disgraceful that the senators decided to vote down this measure that would prevent child abuse.”

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Undocumented LGBTQ immigrants turn to Fla. group for support

Survivors Pathway is based in Miami

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Survivors Pathway works with undocumented LGBTQ immigrants and other vulnerable groups in South Florida. (Photo courtesy of Francesco Duberli)

 

MIAMI – The CEO of an organization that provides support to undocumented LGBTQ immigrants says the Biden administration has given many of his clients a renewed sense of hope.

“People definitely feel much more relaxed,” Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli told the Washington Blade on March 5 during an interview at his Miami office. “There’s much hope. You can tell … the conversation’s shifted.”

Duberli — a gay man from Colombia who received asylum in the U.S. because of anti-gay persecution he suffered in his homeland — founded Survivors Pathway in 2011. The Miami-based organization currently has 23 employees.

Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli at his office in Miami on March 5, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Duberli said upwards of 50 percent of Survivors Pathway’s clients are undocumented. Duberli told the Blade that many of them are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking and victims of hate crimes based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Part of the work that we have done for years is for us to become the bridge between the communities and law enforcement or the justice system in the United States,” said Duberli. “We have focused on creating a language that helps us to create this communication between the undocumented immigrant community and law enforcement, the state attorney’s office and the court.”

“The fear is not only about immigration,” he added. “There are many other factors that immigrants bring with them that became barriers in terms of wanting to or trying to access the justice system in the United States.”

Duberli spoke with the Blade roughly a week after the Biden administration began to allow into the U.S. asylum seekers who had been forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under the previous White House’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

The administration this week began to reunite migrant children who the Trump administration separated from their parents. Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place.

Duberli told the Blade that Survivors Pathway advised some of their clients not to apply for asylum or seek visa renewals until after the election. Duberli conceded “the truth of the matter is that the laws haven’t changed that much” since Biden became president.

Survivors Pathway has worked with LGBTQ people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in South Florida. American Civil Liberties Union National Political Director Ronald Newman in an April 28 letter it sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called for the closure of the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami, the Glades County Detention Center near Lake Okeechobee and 37 other ICE detention centers across the country.

The road leading to the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami on June 7, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Survivors Pathway responded to trans woman’s murder in 2020

Survivors Pathway has created a project specifically for trans Latina women who Duberli told the Blade don’t know they can access the judicial system.

Duberli said Survivors Pathway works with local judges and police departments to ensure crime victims don’t feel “discriminated, or outed or mistreated or revictimized” because of their gender identity. Survivors Pathway also works with Marytrini, a drag queen from Cuba who is the artistic producer at Azúcar, a gay nightclub near Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

Marytrini and Duberli are among those who responded to the case of Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera, a trans woman and well-known activist and performer from Cuba who was murdered inside her downtown Miami apartment last November. Carey’s boyfriend, who had previously been charged with domestic violence, has been charged with murder.

“That was an ongoing situation,” noted Duberli. “It’s not the only case. There are lots of cases like that.”

Duberli noted a gay man in Miami Beach was killed by his partner the same week.

“There are lots of crimes that happen to our community that never gets to the news,” he said. “We got those cases here because of what we do.”

Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera was murdered in her downtown Miami apartment in November 2020. (Photo courtesy of social media)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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