A House defense committee approved on Wednesday a series of anti-gay amendments as part of major Pentagon budget legislation aimed at disrupting the process for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and at demonstrating support for the Defense of Marriage Act.
The most high-profile amendment came from Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who introduced a measure that would expand the certification requirement needed for repeal to include input from the four military service chiefs. The Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee voted 33-27 in favor of adopting the measure as part of the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill.
The vote in favor of the Hunter amendment was mostly along party lines, although Reps. Todd Platts (R-Pa.) and Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) voted against the measure. Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) was the sole Democrat to vote in favor of the measure.
The repeal legislation signed into law in December allows for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after 60 days pass following certification from the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Hunter’s amendment would expand the certification requirement to include input from the uniform chiefs of staff for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, billed the amendment as a means to ensure the uniform military leaders — which he described “the ones that are actually responsible for the men and women under their care” — are able to express their opinion before moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“Right now as it stands, the only folks that have to sign on to this are the president, who has never been to war or in ground combat, Adm. [Mike] Mullen, who, with all due respect to him, has never been to ground combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, and Secretary Gates, a political appointee, who is a very fine gentleman, but has never been in ground combat in Iraq or Afghanistan,” Hunter said. “I, and others in this room, have more combat experience than the people who would sign off on the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”
Hunter emphasized his amendment would require the service chiefs to issue certification only based on their belief that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal wouldn’t harm morale and unit cohesion for combat arms units under their jurisdiction. According to the Pentagon survey published in November, these units are the most skeptical about whether open service would cause a disruption in the U.S. military.
Involving the military service chiefs in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal certification process could disrupt or delay open service in the U.S. military because some uniform leaders of the military — notably Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos — expressed opposition to passing repeal legislation last year. Amos has since said the Marine Corps would work to implement open service.
Despite the concerns that were expressed last year, each of the service chiefs testified in April that the process for enacting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal has been proceeding smoothly. Some service chiefs — including Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead — have said they oppose any effort to expand the certification requirement and they believe the defense secretary would adequately represent their views in the certification process.
Many Republican committee members voiced support for the Hunter amendment as they expressed opposition to implementing open service in the U.S. military.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) said he supported the amendment because the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had already backed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal before Congress acted to end the military’s gay ban.
“I always felt the deck was stacked when the three people who were supposed to sign off on it, agreed to and had all been on record ahead of time saying what their preference was,” Lamborn said. “This broadens it, and, I think, adds more objectivity to the whole matter, and I think that that’s really good thing.”
Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-Miss.) said he opposes “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal because he hasn’t encountered one American or U.S. service member who wants an end to the anti-gay law. Despite his remarks, polls found that around 80 percent of Americans favored ending the military’s gay ban at the time Congress repealed the statute.
Palazzo added he had a visit earlier today from about 85 veterans of World War II and said he believes they’d be displeased with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“I don’t think that they would look upon this as progress,” Palazzo said. “I don’t think they’d look at this as the sacrifices they made for our families, for our country, for our allies, future generations of Americans — to see their military go down in flames by implementing [an end] to the DADT policy. Our men and women in uniform deserve better.”
But Democrats on the committee defended repeal of the law that Congress passed last year and said the current repeal process is working well.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said the Hunter amendment troubled him because it suggests the president and the defense officials identified in the repeal law aren’t capable of making critical defense decisions.
“It’s a very, very dangerous thing to say that the president of the United States, the commander in chief; the secretary of defense; and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are somehow not quite qualified to make important military decisions,” Smith said. “These are the same people that decide whether or not we go to war. They made a decision on whether or not to kill Osama bin Laden.”
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) directly responded to the view expressed by Palazzo that World War II veterans would be unhappy with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“Let’s not fool ourselves,” Pingree said. “Some of those soldiers were gay as well, and many of them took a long time to admit to that, or come out on that, but they’ve all been courageous in doing so and I think that they can’t be characterized as a generation that doesn’t want to see this change in the military.”
Although the committee adopted the amendment as part of defense authorization, passing such a provision into law would be challenging because the Senate would have to agree to it during conference negotiations and Obama would have to sign the measure.
Further, defense officials have testified that certification could happen mid-summer, and the final version of the defense authorization will likely not reach the president’s desk until after that time, rendering Hunter’s provision useless.
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, expressed skepticism that the adoption of the Hunter amendment would impair the U.S. military’s ability to move toward open service.
“Despite the passage of this amendment within the ever-hostile House Armed Services Committee, it is highly unlikely that such an amendment would ever pass the Senate and be signed by the president,” Nicholson said. “The offering of this amendment was a shameful and embarrassing waste of time. The service chiefs have unequivocally said that they do not want this extra burden forced upon them, so if Congress really values their advice on this issue they should take it and forget this unnecessary and unwanted amendment.”
Hunter’s amendment was one of three anti-gay amendments the House Armed Services Committee approved on Wednesday as part of the defense authorization bill. Other measures affirmed the panel’s commitment to DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
The DOMA-related amendments were apparently inspired by Navy guidance on same-sex marriage that was made public this week.The guidance, which is dated April 13 and signed by Chief of Navy Chaplains Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, indicated military bases could be used for same-sex marriage ceremonies in states where such unions are legal and that Navy chaplains can officiate same-sex marriage ceremonies if they so choose.
However, following an outcry from conservatives, the Navy rescinded the guidance and said further legal review on the issue was necessary.
Rep. W. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) introduced an amendment mandating that marriage ceremonies on military installations must comply with DOMA and that chaplains can only officiate in their official capacity over such ceremonies if they comply with the anti-gay law.
The committee adopted the amendment as part of the Pentagon budget legislation by a vote of 38-23. Republican members of the panel were unanimous in their support for the measure. Reps. McIntyre, Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) and Mark Critz (D-Pa.) joined with the GOP to vote in favor of the amendment.
Akin said the amendment was necessary because he believes the recent Navy guidance demonstrates that the U.S. military was willing to skirt federal law.
“There is a federal law on the books and the military has decided they’re going to ignore that law,” Akin said. “That’s a very serious question. Does that mean that the law code on our books is an a la carte menu? Does that mean that the military can decide they’re going to change the rules of engagement and how they’re going to interrogate prisoners or [enforce] whatever particular law suits their fancy?”
Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), who opposed the amendment, said the Navy guidance was the result of the Pentagon looking at how the U.S. military would look after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“We asked them to deal with these issues and to speak specifically to them,” Davis said. “So, when a facility is made available to such events, individuals who meet all the requirements for use of those facilities should not be denied access to the facility because of sexual orientation.”
Davis added the amendment restricts the right of chaplains to exercise freely their religious beliefs if they want to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies.
“Many chaplains represent faith traditions in which marriages between same-sex couples are celebrated and to prohibit them from doing so — to do that would be an attack on their rights with this amendment,” Davis said.
Although the Navy has said it will revisit the guidance, Davis said she’s confident the service will reach the same conclusion it had come to before.
Another amendment came from Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), whose measure restated that the definition of marriage under DOMA as a union between one man and one woman applies to Defense Department regulations and policies.
The panel adopted the measure as part of the defense authorization bill by a vote of 39-28. The Republican members of the panel were unanimous in their support. Reps. McIntyre, Kissell and Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) as well as Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) joined the GOP to vote in favor of the measure.
Hartzler said the intention of the amendment was to reaffirm congressional support for DOMA and opposition to same-sex marriage.
“I think that this is a time for us in this Congress, the 112th Congress, to give our stance that we believe this is a wise policy and that marriage should be between a man and a woman,” she said.
But Smith, who opposed the measure, disputed the idea that the federal government should be involved in state regulation of marriage and questioned why the committee was taking up the issue when the panel’s area of jurisdiction is the U.S. military.
“I don’t think we need to be inserting into the Defense Authorization Act a Congress-wide view on how marriage should be defined, however we may feel,” Smith said.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was particularly critical of what he said was invoking the more controversial debate over marriage in an attempt to derail “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“These adopted amendments to delay and derail repeal are a partisan political attempt to interject the same-sex marriage debate and other unrelated social issues into the NDAA where they have no place,” Sarvis said. “Make no mistake — these votes should be a wake-up call to supporters of open service that our work is not done. Our commitment to timely certification and repeal must be redoubled as we move to the House floor to defend the progress we have made to ensure that LGB patriots can defend and serve the country they love with honesty and integrity.”
Another anticipated anti-gay amendment didn’t see introduction before the committee on Wednesday. Palazzo was expected to introduce an amendment that would require conscience regulations for service members who have religious or moral objections to open service. His office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on why the measure wasn’t introduced.
After adopting the anti-gay amendments, the committee voted to report out the defense authorization bill to the floor by a vote of 60-1. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) was the sole panel member to vote against the legislation.
The Republican-controlled House will likely pass the defense authorization bill as a whole when the measure reaches the floor. A vote on the legislation could happen as soon as the week of May 23.
Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill
HB 25 now heads to state Senate
Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.
Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.
The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.
However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.
HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.
“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.
“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.
“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.
During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.
He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”
He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.
Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”
González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.
Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.
He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”
“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.
“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.
The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”
We’ll continue to educate lawmakers — replacing misinformation with real stories — and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.— Equality Texas (@EqualityTexas) October 15, 2021
LGBTQ Youth web resource gone after Texas GOP candidate complained
Removal of the LGBTQ youth resource webpage appeared to be strictly political the Houston Chronicle reported
AUSTIN – A late August video tweet from a wealthy Dallas-based real estate development company executive and conservative Republican gubernatorial challenger, blamed fellow Republican incumbent Texas Governor Greg Abbott for endorsing an LGBTQ+ agenda, because of the existence of a state online resource webpage for LGBTQ youth.
Within hours it was pulled down by the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, (DFPS) the agency responsible for the page.
In an article published Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported that Don Huffines claimed tax dollars were being used to “advocate for transgender ideology.” Huffines also went on to say that DFPS was publishing “disturbing information about our youth.”
“They’re talking about helping empower and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, non-heterosexual behavior. I mean really? This is Texas. These are not Texas values. These are not Republican Party values, but these are obviously Greg Abbott’s values,”
A message on the website states that the previous content is now under review.
According to the Chronicle, the website for the Texas Youth Connection, a division of Family and Protective Services that steers young people to various resources, including education, housing and those on its LGBTQ page as they prepare for life after foster care. It was replaced by a message that states, “The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content. This is being done to ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.”
LGBTQ+ activists and advocates are furious. Among the resources on the page for LGBTQ+ youth were critical information including for housing and information for suicide prevention and crisis assistance.
GenderCool Youth Leader, Trans rights activist and University of Houston student Landon Richie told the Blade Tuesday;
“This is deplorable. To Governor Abbott, LGBTQ+ youth are nothing more than pawns on a political chessboard. Despite his cries of protection and fairness in justification of this session’s unprecedented attacks on LGBTQ+ — especially trans — youth, it has never truly been about any of those things; it has always been about his power.
Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ youth deserve safety, protection, support, and affirmation from the state — this year alone, the Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support, as a result of this legislative session. LGBTQ+ youth deserve better than to be treated like they are as easily discardable as a webpage,” Richie said.
Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights reacted telling the Blade in an emailed statement:
“Helping LGBTQ youth and their families prevent suicide is not a partisan issue, and any elected official who seeks to make it one has lost any sense of shame. This action by Governor Abbott is appalling and will needlessly harm vulnerable children and families who urgently need support.”
Removal of the page appeared to be strictly political the Chronicle reported.
Patrick Crimmins, the department spokesman, told the Chronicle that the review “is still ongoing” but declined to answer questions seeking more detail about why the website was removed or whether it had anything to do with Huffines.
“But Family and Protective Services communications obtained through a public records request show that agency employees discussed removing the “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” page in response to Huffines’ tweet, shortly before taking it offline,” the paper wrote.
More telling was the events leading the page’s removal said the paper:
“Thirteen minutes after Huffines’ video went up, media relations director Marissa Gonzales emailed a link to Crimmins, the agency’s communications director, under the subject line “Don Huffines video accusing Gov/DFPS of pushing liberal transgender agenda.”
“FYI. This is starting to blow up on Twitter,” Gonzales wrote.
Crimmins then queried Darrell Azar, DFPS’ web and creative services director, about who oversees the page. “Darrell — please note we may need to take that page down, or somehow revise content,” he wrote.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth weighed in on the Chronicle’s reporting in an emailed statement to the Blade.
“LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system — and those who have been in foster care report significantly higher rates of attempting suicide. It is unconscionable that the Texas state government would actively remove vital suicide prevention resources from its website for the sole purpose of appeasing a rival politician. Mental health and suicide prevention are nonpartisan,” said Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs. “This story sends a terrible message to LGBTQ youth in Texas and will only contribute to the internalization of stigma and shame. We should be expanding access to support services for this group, not erasing what resources LGBTQ youth have to reach out for help.”
The Chronicle reported that the deleted webpage also included links to the Texas chapters of PFLAG, a nationwide LGBTQ organization; a “national youth talk line” to discuss gender and sexual identity and various other issues; and LGBTQ legal services.
Huffines said the page also linked to a website operated by the Human Rights Campaign, a politically active LGBTQ advocacy group that he called “the Planned Parenthood of LGBT issues.”
- Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
- Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
- While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
- Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
- Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.
- The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
- The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered.
LGBTQ resources were removed from Texas’ child welfare agency website after Don Huffines criticized their existence there, emails show.— Texas Tribune (@TexasTribune) October 13, 2021
Democratic state senators urged Gov. Greg Abbott and the agency commissioner to reinstate them on Tuesday. https://t.co/koCgoUUJG0
Colorado first state to require transgender care as essential health benefit
Biden officials sign off on change for state insurers
Colorado has become the first state in the country to include transition-related care for transgender people as part of the requirements for essential health care in the state, the Biden administration announced on Tuesday.
As part of the change, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved the state’s request to provide gender-affirming care in the individual and small group health insurance markets as part of Colorado’s Essential Health Benefit benchmark.
Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a statement the change is consistent with the Biden administration’s goal of eliminating barriers faced by transgender people in access in health care, including transition-related coverage.
“Health care should be in reach for everyone; by guaranteeing transgender individuals can access recommended care, we’re one step closer to making this a reality,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud to stand with Colorado to remove barriers that have historically made it difficult for transgender people to access health coverage and medical care.”
According to HHS, Colorado plan will require insurers to cover a wider range of services for transgender people in addition to benefits already covered, such as eye and lid modifications, face tightening, facial bone remodeling for facial feminization, breast/chest construction and reductions, and laser hair removal.
In addition to these changes, Colorado s also adding EHBs in the benchmark plan to include mental wellness exams and expanded coverage for 14 prescription drug classes, according to the HHS. These changes, per HHS, will take effect beginning on Jan. 1, 2023.
CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement health care should be “accessible, affordable and delivered equitably to all, regardless of your sexual orientation” (notably leaving out gender identity from that quote).
“To truly break down barriers to care, we must expand access to the full scope of health care, including gender-affirming surgery and other treatments, for people who rely on coverage through Medicare, Medicaid & CHIP and the Marketplaces,” Brooks-LaSure said. “Colorado’s expansion of their essential health benefits to include gender-affirming surgery and other treatments is a model for other states to follow and we invite other states to follow suit.”
According to the Washington Post, Biden administration signed off on the change before officials made the announcement Tuesday in Denver in an event with Gov, Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States.
Katie Keith, a lawyer and co-founder of Out2Enroll, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying despite the change significant issues remains for transgender people in health care.
“There’s been significant progress, but we’ve seen exclusions by some health plans — it got worse under the Trump administration — and that’s why it’s important to see states like Colorado stepping up to fill those gaps,” Keith is quoted as saying.
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