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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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Megan Rapinoe among 17 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients

White House ceremony to take place July 7

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Megan Rapinoe (Screen capture via U.S. Soccer YouTube)

The White House on Friday released President Joe Biden’s selection of recipients for bestowing the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The awards will be presented at the White House on July 7.

Included among the seventeen honorees are Megan Rapinoe, the out Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQ rights.

Also selected by the president for a posthumous recognition was Richard Trumka, the powerful labor leader and longtime Democratic ally of the LGBTQ community who passed away last August. Trumka had led the AFL-CIO since 2009 and who throughout his career, was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ Americans, social and economic justice.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the U.S., world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.

Presidential Medal of Freedom (The White House)

The following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

Simone Biles
Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast in history, with a combined total of 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. Biles is also a prominent advocate for athletes’ mental health and safety, children in the foster care system and victims of sexual assault.

Sister Simone Campbell
Sister Simone Campbell is a member of the Sisters of Social Service and former Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is also a prominent advocate for economic justice, immigration reform and healthcare policy.

Julieta García
Dr. Julieta García is the former president of The University of Texas at Brownsville, where she was named one of Time magazine’s best college presidents. Dr. García was the first Hispanic woman to serve as a college president and dedicated her career to serving students from the Southwest Border region.

Gabrielle Giffords
Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona state Senate, serving first in the Arizona legislature and later in Congress. A survivor of gun violence, she co-founded Giffords, a nonprofit organization dedicated to gun violence prevention.

Fred Gray
Fred Gray was one of the first black members of the Alabama State legislature since Reconstruction. As an attorney, he represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP and Martin Luther King, who called him “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”

Steve Jobs (posthumous)
Steve Jobs (d. 2011) was the co-founder, chief executive and chair of Apple, Inc., CEO of Pixar and held a leading role at the Walt Disney Company. His vision, imagination and creativity led to inventions that have, and continue to, change the way the world communicates, as well as transforming the computer, music, film and wireless industries.

Father Alexander Karloutsos
Father Alexander Karloutsos is the former Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. After over 50 years as a priest, providing counsel to several U.S. presidents, he was named by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as a protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Khizr Khan
Khizr Khan is a Gold Star father and founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center. He is a prominent advocate for the rule of law and religious freedom and served on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom under President Biden.

Sandra Lindsay
Sandra Lindsay is a New York critical care nurse who served on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. She was the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials and is a prominent advocate for vaccines and mental health for health care workers.

John McCain (posthumous)
John McCain (d. 2018) was a public servant who was awarded a Purple Heart with one gold star for his service in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. He also served the people of Arizona for decades in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and was the Republican nominee for president in 2008.

Diane Nash
Diane Nash is a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who organized some of the most important civil rights campaigns of the 20th century. Nash worked closely with Martin Luther King, who described her as the “driving spirit in the nonviolent assault on segregation at lunch counters.”

Megan Rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe is an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQI+ rights.

Alan Simpson
Alan Simpson served as a U.S. senator from Wyoming for 18 years. During his public service, he has been a prominent advocate on issues including campaign finance reform, responsible governance and marriage equality.

Richard Trumka (posthumous)
Richard Trumka (d. 2021) was president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO for more than a decade, president of the United Mine Workers, and secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Throughout his career, he was an outspoken advocate for social and economic justice.

Wilma Vaught
Brigadier General Wilma Vaught is one of the most decorated women in the history of the U.S. military, repeatedly breaking gender barriers as she rose through the ranks. When she retired in 1985, she was one of only seven women generals in the Armed Forces.

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington is an actor, director, and producer who has won two Academy Awards, a Tony Award, two Golden Globes, and the 2016 Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also served as National Spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for over 25 years.

Raúl Yzaguirre
Raúl Yzaguirre is a civil rights advocate who served as CEO and president of National Council of La Raza for thirty years. He also served as U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic under President Barack Obama.

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The White House

U.S. orders 2.5 million more monkeypox vaccine doses

CDC has reported roughly 350 cases

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(Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that it has ordered an additional 2.5 million doses of Bavarian Nordic’s JYNNEOS, an FDA-licensed vaccine indicated for prevention of smallpox and monkeypox, for use in responding to current or future monkeypox outbreaks and as part of U.S. smallpox preparedness.

Deliveries from this latest order of the Bavarian Nordic‘s Jynneos vaccine will begin arriving at the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) later this year and will continue through early 2023 HHS said in a statement.

“We are working around-the-clock with public health officials in states and large metro areas to provide them with vaccines and treatments to respond to the current monkeypox outbreak,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “This order of additional JYNNEOS vaccine will help us push out more vaccine quickly, knowing that we have more doses on the way in the coming months — and is only possible because of our longstanding investment in smallpox and monkeypox preparedness.”

The order announced today is in addition to the 500,000 doses of government-owned vaccine the company is producing in 2022 for use in the current response to monkeypox in the U.S and brings the total vaccine doses to be delivered in 2022 and 2023 to more than 4 million.

The company will produce these doses in liquid frozen form using vaccine already manufactured in bulk under an existing 10-year contract with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, within the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; that contract was part of ongoing national preparedness efforts against smallpox.

“The medical countermeasures available to help respond to the current outbreak are the result of years of investment and planning made possible through the ongoing work between HHS and private industry,” said Gary Disbrow, director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. “We are pleased that we have been able to work with our partners at Bavarian Nordic to accelerate delivery of vaccines that can help keep people safe and stem the spread of the virus.”

BARDA supported the development of JYNNEOS, which is approved by the FDA to prevent smallpox and monkeypox. The U.S. government owns enough smallpox vaccine — JYNNEOS and ACAM2000 — to vaccinate millions of Americans, if needed.

As of June 24, ASPR’s SNS held approximately 65,000 doses of JYNNEOS in immediate inventory with delivery of an additional 300,000 doses in the coming days. On June 28, HHS announced that it would immediately make available 56,000 doses and soon after would make available 240,000 additional doses. The SNS also has more than 100 million doses of ACAM2000 which was developed with SNS support and is approved by FDA for use in preventing smallpox. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently has an expanded access Investigational New Drug protocol which allows use of ACAM2000 for monkeypox.

In addition, the SNS has over 1.7 million treatment courses of the smallpox antiviral drug TPOXX, which was developed with BARDA support and can be used to treat individuals with monkeypox under an appropriate regulatory mechanism. CDC currently has an expanded access Investigational New Drug protocol which allows its use for monkeypox.

As of June 29, the CDC has received reports of approximately 350 cases of monkeypox in the U.S., primarily among men who have sex with men.

To learn more about monkeypox, visit cdc.gov/monkeypox.

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Florida ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law goes into effect, impact already felt

LGBTQ youth, already at higher risk of depression, anxiety, & suicide than their peers, report their mental health being negatively impacted

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Jack Petocz (with bullhorn) leads Flagler Palm Coast High School protest against Florida's DSG bill (Photo by Alysa Vidal)

Florida’s HB 1557, known as the Don’t Say LGBTQ law, took effect today. The law, which bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and restricts that instruction in grades 4-12, will immediately begin impacting efforts to make Florida classrooms more inclusive.

But its impacts have already been felt for months. Educators and school staff have shared the chilling effects they are experiencing across the state. Books with LGBTQ characters are being pulled from shelves. Rainbow “safe space” stickers are being peeled from classroom windows. LGBTQ educators are being asked to avoid speaking about their families. As the law officially goes into effect, these impacts will escalate. 

“Since the inception of this hateful policy, lawmakers have assured the public that it would not lead to censorship or erasure of LGBTQ people,” said Joe Saunders, Equality Florida Senior Political Director. “But our community has always known the truth. The Don’t Say LGBTQ law has always been fueled by anti-LGBTQ animus and designed to further stigmatize the LGBTQ community, ban books about us, erase us from classrooms, and force us back into the closet. It is a bigoted and dangerous law that is making Florida less safe for students and families, and we will work tirelessly to see it repealed.”

Throughout the legislative process, lawmakers scoffed at the suggestion that HB 1557 would have negative impacts on the LGBTQ community, even as they refused to clarify its dangerously vague language and prevent the eventual law from doing harm.

A bipartisan contingent of lawmakers offered up dozens of amendments to the bill, attempting to narrow its overly-broad scope and clarify the most vague components. These amendments came after assertions from their colleagues that the bill’s intent was narrow. However, those reasonable amendments were rejected by bill sponsors Representative Joe Harding, Senator Dennis Baxley, and their allies, leaving its language broad and discriminatory.

As a result, the chilling effects were swift and sweeping. Across the state, censorship of LGBTQ lives began in earnest and has continued until today. In Palm Beach County, School Superintendent Mike Burke began by circumventing the district’s material review process to remove multiple books featuring LGBTQ characters, citing concern about the implications of the Don’t Say LGBTQ law. He followed the move in recent weeks by issuing guidance to educators across the district for them to remove books currently being challenged and place them “in a classroom closet” and scour their shelves for other titles that may include LGBTQ characters or mention topics like racism or oppression.

Districts statewide have taken drastic steps in response to the Don’t Say Gay law. Graduation speeches have been scrubbed of references to LGBTQ advocacy. Yearbook pages have had images of Don’t Say LGBTQ walkouts blacked out. Conservative religious activists have successfully initiated challenges to dozens of books in multiple school districts. Rainbow-colored COEXIST banners and Pride flags have been stripped from school walls.

In total, LGBTQ+ equality rights advocacy group Equality Florida has received over 50 complaints of censorship aimed at the LGBTQ community since the bill was signed into law in March.

Most recently, Orange County Public Schools garnered national attention after reports emerged that during seminars designed to discuss the potential implementation of the Don’t Say LGBTQ law, school administrators were advised to begin removing rainbow “safe space” stickers from classroom windows, ask LGBTQ educators to remove family photos from their desks, and avoid talking about their loved ones at work for fear of running afoul of the new law. While exactly what advocates for equality had warned of, the revelation shocked educators across the district, who took to the next board meeting to express their deep concerns and demand written clarification.

All of these chilling effects come as LGBTQ youth, those already at higher risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation than their peers, report their mental health being negatively impacted by anti-LGBTQ policies and the debates that surround them. And they come amidst a surge in online harassment against LGBTQ people nationwide and threats of violence against LGBTQ spaces and Pride celebrations fueled by the dehumanizing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric launched by the DeSantis Administration in defense of the Don’t Say LGBTQ bill.

In March, the governor’s spokeswoman Christina Pushaw took to Twitter to traffic in age-old, anti-LGBTQ tropes to rescue the mired legislation, tropes that have since been parroted by Fox News hosts, right-wing influencers, and have exploded into the digital harassment and threats of violence running rampant across the country.

Equality Florida hosted a virtual press conference with lawmakers and those directly impacted on Friday morning. Those who have been impacted by the Don’t Say LGBTQ law can share their stories at freetosaygay.org.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Law took effect Friday:

Today, some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families are more fearful and less free. As the state’s shameful “Don’t Say Gay” law takes effect, state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves. Already, there have been reports that “Safe Space” stickers are being taken down from classrooms. Teachers are being instructed not to wear rainbow clothing. LGBTQI+ teachers are being told to take down family photos of their husbands and wives—cherished family photos like the ones on my own desk.
 
This is not an issue of “parents’ rights.” This is discrimination, plain and simple. It’s part of a disturbing and dangerous nationwide trend of right-wing politicians cynically targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals to score political points. It encourages bullying and threatens students’ mental health, physical safety, and well-being. It censors dedicated teachers and educators who want to do the right thing and support their students. And it must stop.
 
President Biden has been very clear that every student deserves to feel safe and welcome in the classroom. The Department of Education will be monitoring this law, and any student or parent who believes they are experiencing discrimination is encouraged to file a complaint with the Department’s Office for Civil Rights. Our Administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family—in Florida and around the country.

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