The chair of the Democratic National Committee said Tuesday she would “certainly consider” spending money to combat anti-gay constitutional amendments next year in Minnesota and North Carolina.
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz made the remarks about spending DNC funds to defeat marriage amendments in response to a question from the Washington Blade. She took questions from reporters following an Immigration Equality event she attended in D.C.
Wasserman Schultz, also U.S. House member representing a district in Florida, said state party groups are now focusing on defeating amendments banning same-sex marriage and the national Democratic Party would consider sending resources if asked to do so.
“I know that the party in each of those states will be combatting them,” Wasserman Schultz said. “And if they ask for our assistance, like any other state party request, we’ll certainly consider it.”
Wasserman Schultz added the Democratic Party has a lot to accomplish in the 2012 election and said the best way to defeat anti-gay initiatives at the polls will be “by turning out our Democratic voters who generally overwhelmingly oppose initiatives like that.”
Both Minnesota and North Carolina will vote on amending their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage in 2012. The North Carolina amendment will come before voters in May and the Minnesota measure will come before voters in November.
Activists have criticized the DNC for its lack of attention to anti-gay state measures in the past. In 2006, gay Democratic activist Paul Yandura stirred up controversy by distributing an open letter criticizing the party for not doing enough to defeat anti-gay measures in the states.
In 2009, John Aravosis, the gay editor of AMERICAblog, took aim at the DNC for asking Maine Democrats to assist with the New Jersey governor’s race while saying nothing about the marriage initiative on the ballot in the state at the time.
Whether Democrats will come to the polls to vote on the North Carolina amendment remains in question because it will be the only ballot question on which they can vote.
The issue will come before state voters in May at the same time as the Republican presidential primary, which is a modified closed primary. All North Carolinians can vote on the marriage amendment, but only registered Republicans and unaffiliated voters can vote in the primary.
In response to another question from the Blade, Wasserman Schultz wouldn’t venture to say whether the Democratic Party platform in 2012 would endorse same-sex marriage.
“I really don’t know,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We don’t dictate what’s included in our platform. The members of our platform committee will come up with that.”
Asked whether there would be any pro-LGBT changes in the platform, Wasserman Schultz said she couldn’t give specifics because the platform committee will make that decision, but she added, “I’m very confident and I believe strongly that we should have as inclusive as possible LGBT agenda as part of our platform.”
A transcript of the exchange between reporters and Wasserman Schultz follows:
Q: I’d like to ask you some questions about the Democratic Party platform for 2012. What kind of pro-LGBT changes are we going to see in the platform in 2012 compared to what we had in 2008?
Debbie Wasserman Schultz: It’s a little bit early to tell. I feel confident that we will have an LGBT platform that will be part of our overall platform. We have a platform committee that gets put together to develop what will be in it for the convention. I can’t tell you specifically what’s likely to be in it because the members of the DNC and the participants who serve on the platform committee make that decision but I’m very confident and I believe strongly that we should have as inclusive as possible LGBT agenda as part of our platform.
Q: Do you think we’ll see an endorsement of same-sex marriage as part of that platform?
Wasserman Schultz: Like I said, I really don’t know. We don’t dictate what’s included in our platform. The members of our platform committee will come up with that.
Q: As a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, are you at all confident that it’s going to pass before the election next year?
Wasserman Schultz: Well, we have Republicans who are opposed to comprehensive immigration reform, and even more opposed to including same-sex bi-national couples in any kind of immigration reform, so, no. With Republicans controlling the House of Representatives I’m not confident, sadly, that it will become law before the end of this Congress.
Q: U.S. House John Boehner tripled the cost cap for the defense fund for the Defense of Marriage Act any reaction to that?
Wasserman Schultz: It’s just colossally insensitive, but it’s also outrageous that the person who’s second in line to the president would actually spend time and resource defending a blatantly unconstitutional law. It’s morally wrong and it’s legally wrong, and it’s unconscionable because the speaker, like myself and all the other 435 members of the House swear to uphold the constitution. It’s just unfathomable to me that he would pursue that path.
Q: Congresswoman Lofgren sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security asking U.S. Customs & Immigration Services to stop putting —
Wasserman Schultz: To put the [green card] applications [for bi-national same-sex couples] in abeyance —
Q: Is there a reason who didn’t sign the letter?
Wassserman Schultz: I’m not even sure I was asked to sign on to the letter.
Q: Is it something that you would have signed or would support?
Wasserman Schultz: I support them being put in abeyance, but I don’t know that I was asked to go on the letter. Given that I’m the chair of the DNC, it’s a little odd for me to be asking the administration to do specific things. So, I personally support it, but because I’m also the political voice of the president, asking the president to do things publicly can get a little awkward.
Q: Two battles that the LGBT community are concerned about in 2012 are going to be anti-gay marriage amendments in Minnesota and North Carolina. Do you think we’ll see DNC resources going to combat those amendments in those states?
Wasserman Schultz: I know that the party in each of those states will be combatting them. And if they ask for our assistance, like any other state party request, we’ll certainly consider it. We have a lot to accomplish in the next election. The best way we can benefit those causes in defeating amendments like that is by turning out our Democratic voters who generally overwhelmingly oppose initiatives like that. So, we spend resources in a state getting our voters to the polls and maximizing that opportunity will help do that.
Q: Do you have any comment on Herman Cain’s assertion on “The View” this morning that homosexuality is a choice?
Wasserman Schultz: Did he do that?
Q: He said that on The View this morning.
Wasserman Schultz: Yes, I totally disagree with Herman Cain. Homosexuality is not a choice. It is something that occurs through birth. It’s hereditary, and it’s shockingly out of touch and insensitive for him to suggest outdated, ancient — and sends a terrible message to gay kids, to gay Americans that somehow they should be treated differently and that we don’t recognize that sexuality is simply a matter of the way you were born.
Jim Obergefell announces bid for seat in Ohio state legislature
Marriage plaintiff moves on to new endeavor
Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the litigation that ensured same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide, announced on Tuesday he’d pursue a new endeavor and run for a seat in the state legislature in his home state of Ohio.
“You deserve a representative who does the right thing, no matter what. You deserve a representative who fights to make things better for everyone,” Obergefell said. “I’ve been part of a national civil rights case that made life better for millions of Americans. Simply put, I fight for what’s right and just.”
Obergefell, who claims residency in Sandusky, Ohio, is seeking a seat to represent 89th Ohio District, which comprises Erie and Ottawa Counties. A key portion of his announcement was devoted to vowing to protect the Great Lakes adjacent to Ohio.
“We need to invest in our Great Lake, protect our Great Lake, and make the nation envious that Ohio has smartly invested in one of the greatest freshwater assets in the world,” Obergefell said.
Obergefell was the named plaintiff in the consolidated litigation of plaintiffs seeking marriage rights that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in 2015 for same-sex marriage nationwide. Obergefell was widower to John Arthur, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and was seeking the right to be recognized as his spouse on his death certificate. The ruling in the consolidated cases ensured same-sex couples would enjoy the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage.
“We should all be able to participate fully in society and the economy, living in strong communities with great public schools, access to quality healthcare, and with well-paying jobs that allow us to stay in the community we love, with the family we care about,” Obergefell said in a statement on his candidacy.
FDA-funded blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men
D.C.’s Whitman-Walker, L.A. LGBT Center working on study to ease restrictions
D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Institute and the Los Angeles LGBT Center are among LGBTQ supportive organizations in eight U.S. cities working with the nation’s three largest blood donation centers on a study to find a way to significantly ease blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men or MSM.
The study, which is funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calls for recruiting a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men in eight U.S. cities selected for the study to test the reliability of a detailed donor history questionnaire aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if they donate blood.
A statement released by the study organizers says the questionnaire, which could be given to a gay or bisexual person showing up at a blood donation site, could be a replacement for the FDA’s current policy of banning men who have had sex with another man within the previous three months from donating blood.
In the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the FDA put in place a permanent ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. In 2015, with advanced HIV testing and screening techniques readily available, the FDA lifted its permanent ban on MSM blood donations and replaced it with a 12-month restriction for sexual activity between MSM.
The FDA further reduced the time of sexual abstinence for MSM to three months in 2020.
LGBTQ rights organizations and others advocating for a change in the current FDA restriction point out that at a time when the nation is facing a severe shortage of blood donations due to the COVID pandemic, the three-month donation deferral requirement for MSM is preventing a large number of blood donations from men whose risk of HIV infection is low to nonexistent.
Under the FDA-funded and initiated study, the American Red Cross, Vitalant, and OneBlood — the nation’s three largest blood donation centers — have been conducting the questionnaire testing since the study was launched in March 2021.
“To gather the necessary data, the blood centers will partner with LGBTQ+ Centers in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta,” the study organizers say in a statement on a website launched to help recruit volunteers for the study.
“The study will enroll a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men (250 – 300 from each area) who meet the study eligibility criteria,” the statement says.
Among the criteria for being eligible, the statement says, is the person must be between 18 and 39 years old, have expressed an interest in donating blood, must have had sex with at least one other man in the three months before joining the study, and must agree to an HIV test. A negative test result is also required for acceptance into the study.
The study is officially named ADVANCE, which stands for Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility.
“The ADVANCE study is a first step in providing data that will help the FDA determine if a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as effective as time-based deferral, in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” the study organizers statement says.
“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions, it could mean men who have sex with men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” the statement continues. “The ADVANCE study is groundbreaking because it’s the first time a study is being conducted that could result in individual risk assessment for men who have sex with men to donate blood,” the statement says.
The Whitman-Walker Institute, which is among the community-based organizations involved in helping organize and conduct the study, is an arm of Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive D.C. health center.
Christopher Cannon, director of Research Operations for Whitman-Walker Institute, said that since the D.C.-based part of the study was launched early last year prior to the official announcement of the study on March 20, D.C. has surpassed the original city goal of recruiting 250 participants for the study.
“We are currently at 276 as of last Friday’s report,” Cannon told the Blade in a Jan. 13 interview. “And the current goal is now 300,” he said. “So, we’re hoping to push this over that goal line in the coming days and weeks.
Cannon said that like the community organizations involved in the study in other cities, Whitman-Walker Institute’s role has been focused on recruiting gay and bisexual men to participate in the study and to send them to the American Red Cross headquarters building at 430 17th St., N.W. near the White House. That site, which serves as a blood donation center, is also serving as the site where study participants are screened, interviewed, and presented with a detailed questionnaire.
“We promote the study within Whitman-Walker,” Cannon said. “We promote it to our networks. We did social media promotions across the city.’
Although Whitman-Walker doesn’t have the final draft of the questionnaire being presented to study participants, Cannon said he has seen “bits and pieces” of it.
“They ask very direct questions about the person’s sex life, sexual partners, sex acts, numbers of partners,” Cannon said. “There are questions about condom use, PrEP use, drug use. How recently have you had sex? Lots of related questions,” he said.
“It’s really about trying to figure out effectively which are the best questions,” according to Cannon. “The hope is by analyzing the questions and identifying maybe the best 10 to 12 questions that can be universally used…to get the best answers that identify the individuals that may have the highest risk,” he said. Doing that, he points, out can help determine which men who have sex with men should be eligible to safely donate blood.
A statement released by Whitman-Walker last March calls the study a “monumental research effort” that has the potential to lift the stigma imposed on gay and bisexual men whose ability to donate blood is currently based on their sexual orientation.
“The ADVANCE study is designed to understand if, by asking carefully crafted and research-informed research questions, blood collectors can screen potential blood donors for their individual HIV risk factors rather than applying a ban against sexually active gay and bisexual men,” the statement says.
“The goal is to move away from overly broad questions that exclude potential donors and spread stigmatizing messages about MSM and their HIV risks,” it says.
Cannon said that as of last week, study organizers had recruited a total of 879 study participants nationwide out of the goal of 2,000 participants needed to complete the study. He said issues related to the COVID pandemic created delays in the recruitment efforts, but study organizers were hopeful the study could be completed by this summer.
Information about participating in the study or learning more about it can be obtained at advancestudy.org.
Veterans can now identify as transgender, nonbinary on their VA medical records
About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity
Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Wednesday that his department added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select their gender, in medical records and healthcare documentation.
“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”
The statement also noted that the change allows health-care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.
McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.
With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.
In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%). In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.
McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.
“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.
“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.
All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.
“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.
Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.
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