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Obama talks DOMA, bullying at Latino roundtable

POTUS says courts best path to bring DOMA to an end

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Barack Obama (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama said the courts represent the best path for bringing the Defense of Marriage Act to end in response to a question on what he’s doing to help bi-national same-sex couples stay together in the United States.

Gabriel Lerner, senior news editor for AOL Latino and Huff-Post Latino Voices, brought the question up on Thursday while moderating a roundtable called “Open for Questions with President Obama” on issues important to the Latino community:

Lerner: Mr. President, on the Defense of Marriage Act, also called DOMA, this comes from Kevin in North Carolina. He says: I’m a gay American who fell in love with a foreigner.  As you know, due to DOMA, I’m not permitted to sponsor my foreign-born partner for residency. And as a result, we are stuck between a rock and an impossible situation. How do you intend to fix this? Waiting for DOMA to be repealed or struck down in the courts will potentially take years. What do binational couples do in the meantime?

Obama: Well, we made a decision that was a very significant decision, based on my assessment of the Constitution, that this administration would not defend DOMA in the federal courts. It’s not going to be years before this issue is settled. This is going to be settled fairly soon, because right now we have cases pending in the federal courts.

Administratively, we can’t ignore the law. DOMA is still on the books. What we have said is even as we enforce it, we don’t support it, we think it’s unconstitutional. The position that my administration has taken I think will have a significant influence on the court as it examines the constitutionality of this law. And once that law is struck down — and I don’t know what the ruling will be — then addressing these binational issues could flow from that decision, potentially.

I can’t comment on where the case is going to go. I can only say what I believe, and that is that DOMA doesn’t make sense; it’s unfair; I don’t think that it meets the demands of our Constitution. And in the meantime, if — I’ve already said that I’m also supportive of Congress repealing DOMA on it’s own and not waiting for the courts. The likelihood of us being able to get the votes in the House of Representatives for DOMA repeal are very low at this point so, truthfully, the recourse to the courts is probably going to be the best approach.

LGBT advocates working on immigration issues said in response to Obama’s comments that the president could do more to assist gay Americans in same-sex relationships with foreigners.

Lavi Soloway, founder of Stop the Deportations, said he doesn’t believe Obama’s answer was sufficient and the president should issue a moratorium to ensure foreign nationals in same-sex relationship aren’t deported because of DOMA:

“In his response, the President, a former constitutional law professor and son of a binational couple, said three times that DOMA is unconstitutional and affirmed his commitment to not to defend DOMA in court,” Soloway said. “Despite this, he believes that he must enforce this law against gay and lesbian Americans who are married to foreign nationals, until DOMA is repealed by Congress or struck down by the courts. The administration can and must do more to help binational couples now.”

Soloway continued, “First the administration must ensure that all binational couples are safe by issuing a moratorium on “DOMA deportations” and by issuing explicit written guidelines directing the exercise of prosecutorial discretion for same-sex binational couples.”

“Second, the administration must hold in abeyance decisions on all marriage-based green card applications filed by same-sex couples and stop denying those cases,” Soloway said. “This administration believes that it cannot approve such cases because of DOMA, but it does not follow that those cases must be denied. At the very least, we should wait until the fate of DOMA has been determined by Congress or the Supreme Court before decisions are rendered on any pending green card cases filed by lesbian and gay binational couples.”

Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, also called on the administration can place the green card applications on hold for gay Americans seeking to sponsor their foreign partners for residency while still following the law:

“We obviously agree with the president that DOMA is unconstitutional,” Ralls said. “But we also know there are many things the president can do even before DOMA is repealed to help bi-national couples. The most significant among those is holding green card application filed by those couples until the courts have resolved DOMA’s fate. That gives legal protection to couples, it does not violate DOMA and it’s clearly within the president’s authority to do so. That should be the action that he takes until the courts intervene to end DOMA completely.”

Also during the roundtable, Obama discussed what his administration has done to combat the bullying of students, although the question was based on the bullying of students for being Latino as opposed to being LGBT.

Jose Siade, Yahoo’s editor in chief for U.S. Hispanic and Latin America, brought the question to the President during the roundtable:

Siade: This question comes from Florida:  Since bullying is increasing in an alarming way in the U.S., what can be done to avoid further discrimination or bullying within various racial groups, particularly for Hispanic kids in school?

Obama: I think it’s a really important question.  We actually had the first-ever conference on bullying here in the White House — because for young people it’s hard enough growing up without also then being subject to constant harassment. And the kind of bullying that we’re seeing now, including using the Internet and new media, can be very oppressive on young people.

So what we’ve tried to do is to provide information and tools to parents, to schools, to communities to push back and fight against these kinds of trends. And a lot of the best work has actually been done by young people themselves who start anti-bullying campaigns in their schools, showing how you have to respect everyone, regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of sexual orientation. And when you get a school environment in which that’s not accepted by young people themselves, where they say we’re not going to tolerate that kind of bullying, that usually ends up making the biggest difference, because kids react to their peer group more than sometimes they do adults.

And what we need to do is make sure that we’re providing tools to schools and to young people to help combat against bullying, and it’s something that we’ll continue to work on with local communities and local school districts as well.

Lerner: So you’re going to have a conference on bullying in the White House?

Obama: We already did.  We had it — it was probably four or five months ago.  And we brought in non-profit groups, religious leadership, schools, students themselves.  And they have now organized conferences regionally, around the country, so that we can prevent this kind of bullying from taking place.

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CDC echoes call for MSM to limit sex partners in monkeypox guidance

Controversial guidance also issued by WHO

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CDC is calling on men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is now echoing the controversial call for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners amid the monkeypox outbreak.

The agency made the call as part of new comprehensive monkeypox guidance issued on Friday, which lists “limit your number of sex partners to reduce your likelihood of exposure” as among several ways to reduce risk, with vaccination at the top of the list.

Vaccination is an important tool in preventing the spread of monkeypox,” the guidance says. “But given the current limited supply of vaccine, consider temporarily changing some behaviors that may increase your risk of being exposed. These temporary changes will help slow the spread of monkeypox until vaccine supply is adequate.”

The call to limit partners was previously made by the World Health Organization and has been controversial as observers say it may stigmatize sex among gay and bisexual men, who are disproportionately affected by monkeypox.

Demetre Daskalakis, deputy director of the White House task force on monkeypox, outlined the new guidance on Friday in a conference call with reporters.

Asked by the Washington Blade whether the Biden administration agrees with WHO about the need for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners, Daskalakis alluded to the multi-faceted aspects of the CDC guidance.

“It mentions that folks should consider reducing multiple partners and anonymous new partners as one strategy to prevent exposure to monkeypox,” Daskalakis said. “So I think really, there’s a broad range, and I think one of the things that’s really important about the CDC guidance is it’s designed to really meet people where they are and see what we can do to have individuals to create their own prevention plans, understanding that there’s not one answer for preventing monkeypox, that it requires a lot of domains to really achieve the goal of preventing new infections.”

Vaccinations for monkeypox are a key component of the CDC guidance, even though the limited availability has not kept up with the growing demand for the shots as the outbreak continues. Daskalakis conceded on the call there is “supply and demand mismatch” for vaccines, but maintained the Department of Health & Human Services announcement declaring monkeypox a public health crisis would be a tool to address the shortage.

A key concern among reporters on the call was the Biden administration not emphasizing the disease is almost exclusively at this point affecting gay and bisexual men, as well as concerns about stigma and misinformation about monkeypox.

Daskalakis, drawing on his experience as a medical expert during the HIV/AIDS crisis, emphasized stigma should play no part in messaging.

“I know from my own experience in public health and personally that stigma is actually what drives so much of infection and really creates false starts and false information that really gets people to go down paths that end up really vilifying people’s lives and behavior,” Daskalakis said. “And so, coming from the experience, both professionally and personally, it is my mission, to not allow stigma to be a part of this or any response that I work on.”

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Alabama

University of Alabama allows students to use “chosen names” on student ID

“Having something that accurately reflects who you are as a person and how you want to make sure that the world sees and respects you is obviously monumentally important, right?”

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Students, faculty and campus members at University of Alabama are now able to put their preferred names on mobile Action Cards, which are the official campus ID cards, for free.

The university’s assistant director of communications Shane Dorrill wrote in email that this option, available on physical cards for several years, will be available online as well after a software update.

ACT Card communications specialist Courtney Petrizzi said the ACT Card office recognized the importance of having the feature, which was previously available on physical cards, on mobile ACT Cards. 

“This change is an update that we created to reflect our campus community’s needs,” Petrizzi said. 

The Action Card office announced this change on May 19. They updated the policy in partnership with UA Safe Zone, a resource center for LGBTQIA+ individuals and their allies on campus. 

Eli Strong, one co-founder of UA Safe Zone said during an interview with AL, “Having something that accurately reflects who you are as a person and how you want to make sure that the world sees and respects you is obviously monumentally important, right?” 

Strong is a transgender man who graduated from University of Alabama. He believed that this change is important because it’s a safety issue. It’s a way for the university to acknowledge people and a way for people to feel affirmed by the documentation they carry around each day.

“It’s an exploratory time where you should be focused on learning and not be focused on the fear of being misgendered or harassed because of who you are,” Will Thomas, one of the co-founders of the University of Alabama LGBTQ+ Alumni Association, claimed that affirming documentation can help students have a positive experience.

This policy change comes after a series of anti-gay lesigilations passed in Alabama, including the Don’t Say Gay amendment and transgender bathroom restrictions.

Campus members can use Action Cards for various daily needs, such as meal plans and dining dollars, building access, sporting and entertainment events and health center access.

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U.S. declares monkeypox a public health emergency

Number of cases of disease among MSM climbs

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Secretary of Health & Human Service Xavier Becerra declared on public health emergency on monkeypox.

The United States has designated monkeypox a public health emergency as the number of cases of the disease, which has primarily affected men who have sex with men, continues to climb.

The news was first reported by the New York Times. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra announced he’d declare monkeypox a public health emergency in a conference call on Thursday with reporters.

“I will be declaring a public health emergency on monkeypox,” Becerra said. “We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.”

Robert Fenton, the recently appointed White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator, said amid criticism the Biden administration has been too slow in responding to monkeypox the new declaration would open up opportunities in confronting the outbreak.

“The public health emergency will allow us to explore additional strategies to get vaccines and treatments more quickly out in the affected communities, and it will allow us to get more data from jurisdictions so we can effectively track the suffering,” Fenton said.

During the call, Becerra said an estimated 6,600 cases of monkeypox have been reported throughout the country, and more than 600,000 vaccines have been delivered to localities. The United States, Becerra said, now has the capacity to administer 60,000 tests for monkeypox each week.

The Biden administration has faced criticism for not moving quickly enough to collect and distribute and for not more explicitly naming gay and bisexual men as being primarily affected by the disease. The New York Times reported this week the Department of Health & Human Services failed to act early on bulk stocks of vaccine.

“The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” the Times reported. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, has been among the critics of the Biden administration’s approach to the outbreak.

Although the Biden administration has issued a rudimentary plan on monkeypox, Burr said in a statement the Department of Health & Human Services hasn’t laid out an effective plan to Congress.

“I have asked HHS repeatedly for their strategic plan to combat monkeypox and have yet to receive an answer,” Burr said. “On July 13, I sent a letter to Secretary Becerra asking detailed questions about the outbreak and the Biden administration’s response. In the three weeks since that letter was sent, monkeypox cases have increased by more than 470 percent to 6,617 reported cases today. Still, the administration continues to stonewall Congress.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the Biden administration’s early approach to the monkeypox Thursday under questioning from CNN during the regular briefing with reporters.

“Within two days of the first confirmed case of monkeypox in the U.S., we began deploying vaccine to states and jurisdictions and prepositioning tens of thousands of additional doses in the Strategic National Stockpile,” Jean-Pierre said. “The initial science led us to believe…based on recent past monkeypox outbreaks, that those doses would be sufficient to meet the needs of the country as what we knew at that time.”

Jean-Pierre added, however, infections diseases are dynamics and inherently predictable and the Biden administration “quickly moved” to order tens of thousands of new doses when officials saw that happening with monkeypox.

Asked by CNN whether President Biden think his administration acted urgently in its approach to monkeypox, Jean-Pierre replied, “What we’re saying to you is that I laid out how dynamic and how rapidly changing this virus has been.”

“So yes, the President has confidence in HHS, and let’s not forget, we just brought on the monkeypox coordinators, the response team, which is also going to make a difference,” Jean-Pierre added.

Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, was among those praising the announcement from the Biden administration.

“Monkeypox is quickly spreading throughout the United States, with significant health implications for those it impacts most – so far, primarily gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men – and limited supplies of treatments and vaccines,” Kates said. “This latest move by the federal government is an important one for providing new flexibilities and allowing federal, state, and local health officials to take additional actions to address the outbreak. “

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