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Frank embraces title of LGBT rights pioneer

Retiring gay lawmaker talks ENDA, 2012 election



Rep. Barney Frank (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) acknowledged on Tuesday his role as a pioneer for LGBT rights during a Washington news conference.

Asked by the Washington Blade whether he thinks characterizations of him following his retirement announcement as a gay rights pioneer are accurate, Frank replied, “Yeah, in the sense that I was the first person to volunteer that I was gay.”

Frank made the comments during a news conference on Capitol Hill following his announcement from the previous day that he won’t pursue a 17th term in the U.S. House. He took questions from Washington-area reporters after participating in a similar event on Monday in his home district in Massachusetts.


Frank, 71, was first elected to Congress in 1980 and publicly came out as gay in 1987. The lawmaker was the second openly gay person to serve in Congress. The late Rep. Gerry Studds had come out as gay in 1983, but only after revelations emerged that he had an affair with a 17-year-old male page.

“My colleague Gerry Studds was first person courageously to acknowledge it,” Frank continued. “Before Gerry, a number of members of Congress had been caught in sexual activity that would have led people to infer that they were gay. As I recall, all of them announced that they were too drunk to remember what they were doing, which is an unusual description of one’s capacity to be drunk to remember things, but that’s what they said.”

On his own coming out, Frank continued, “I was the first to acknowledge being gay. … I didn’t do it until I was 47. I was not the daring young man on the flying trapeze here.”

Among those dubbing Frank a “pioneer” for being openly gay as member of Congress decades ago was fellow gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who Monday in a statement called Frank “a groundbreaking pioneer and one of the most insightful, knowledgeable and humorous people ever to grace the halls of Congress.”

Over the course of the news conference, Frank took questions on matters including the sustainability of the financial reform law known as Dodd-Frank that he helped shepherd through Congress and into law last year and his oversight as House Financial Services Committee chair of subprime mortgage lending that some say contributed to the 2008 financial crisis. However, the lawmaker also took a handful of LGBT-related questions.

Asked why ENDA hasn’t yet become law, Frank said the answer is “very simple” and pro-LGBT bills need Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress and a Democratic administration to become law.

“The only way you can get any law passed that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity is if you have a Democratic president, House and Senate,” Frank said. “Now, people don’t realize how rarely we’ve had that. We’ve had a Democratic president, House and Senate for four years out of the 32 I’ve been in Congress. We had it for the first two years under Bill Clinton and we had it for the first two years under Barack Obama.”

Under Clinton, Frank said Americans hadn’t evolved enough in terms of LGBT rights to pass ENDA, although he said LGBT rights were advanced by executive orders enabling LGBT government workers to have security clearances and allowing foreigners to claim asylum in the United States based on their LGBT status.


Frank noted that hate crimes protection legislation and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal were able to pass during the 111th Congress. As for why ENDA wasn’t among those bills, Frank said a crowded schedule under which lawmakers worked on health care reform as well as the issue of transgender inclusion were factors.

Frank said the recently passed transgender workplace protections bill in Massachusetts could be a “model” for addressing transgender inclusion issues for ENDA in Congress because of the state law’s more limited scope omitting public accommodations.

“The Massachusetts Legislature just passed and the governor signed a bill that prohibits discrimination on people based on gender identity,” Frank said. “They already had one on sexual orientation. But it’s in employment; it does not include public accommodations. It avoids the whole issue of what happens in locker rooms and bathrooms.”

Frank added he thinks ENDA will become law when the Democrats have control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

“Given the polarization of this issue and the extent to which the Republican Party has moved to a virtually unanimous overwhelmingly anti-LGBT position — with some exceptions in the Senate on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ — it’ll be the next time you get a Democratic House, Senate and president,” Frank said.

Frank also commented on the importance of having openly LGBT members of Congress, saying, “Personal factors mean a lot.” Frank’s departure could lead to a reduction in the number of openly gay members of Congress, although other candidates are in the running.

“Voting in the abstract on an issue is one thing,” Frank said. “Telling someone with whom you have had good personal relations that you think he’s inferior — that’s harder. … If you believe we should be finishing the fight against … legal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender [identity], it is important to have people who are gay or transgender or lesbian in the mix.”

As far as issues that weren’t LGBT-specific, Frank also responded to what he thought would happen to Congress after the 2012 election. He said Democrats could win control of both chambers of Congress, but he doesn’t believe Democrats would have sufficient seats for a “workable majority.”

“I don’t think we will have the unusual circumstances we had of having enough senators to almost break a filibuster,” Frank said. “I don’t think in either House you’re going to have workable majorities. I guess that’s the best way to put it. I think it’s very possible that we will have a Democratic majority, but I don’t think you’re going to see a workable congressional majority for the next two years in the House or the Senate.”

Frank also ruled out the possibility of being appointed as secretary of the Department of Housing & Urban Development. Frank had earlier expressed interest in the position in a biography published in 2009. If he had received such an appointment, he would have become the first openly gay Cabinet member.

“My hope that was that Obama would get elected, we would have four years under Obama’s presidency of Democratic control and we could establish some new housing programs,” Frank said. “We would establish some new housing programs and I would like to have the chance to administer them. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”

Frank continued that his “biggest disappointment” over his congressional career was that he didn’t advance rental housing programs over which HUD would have jurisdiction as much as would have liked.

“So the reasons that I would have liked to be secretary of HUD would be to administer programs that don’t exist,” Frank said.

Frank also followed up on comments he made Monday saying he “lived a good enough life to be rewarded by Newt Gingrich being the Republican nominee.” The former House speaker is currently the front-runner among the GOP presidential candidates, according to some polls.

The lawmaker said he “isn’t an expert on the Republican nominating process” but believes the rise of Gingrich is the result of dissatisfaction with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whom some consider the establishment candidate for the Republicans.

“I must say, when I saw the Sunday edition of the Union Leader endorse Newt Gingrich, I guess I channeled my grandmother, ‘From Joe McQuaid’s lips to God’s ears,'” Frank said. “It just seemed to me — given the Freddie Mac thing, the marital difficulties, the other issues that he’s got, the fact that he was forced to pay a fine by the House of Representatives — it just seemed to me unlikely. I guess, but, again, I’m not an expert on this, the distaste for Mitt Romney is so strong, it outweighs some of Gingrich’s problems.”


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  1. Sharon Mac

    November 29, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Frank’s wit, intelligence and passion as made to many printed quotes by the media. Remember when he said: “Gay people have a different role than other minority groups…Very few black kids have ever had to worry about telling their parents that they were black.”

    A number of his fun and funny quotes can be read here:

  2. Gwen Spencer

    November 30, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    I’m surprised that Rep. Frank would bring up the recent MA legislation on inclusion of transgender people his home state’s civil rights legislation. However I am absolutely flabbergasted that he would suggest this hollow legislation be held up as a model for federal legislation! Rep. Frank can’t be so naive to believe this bill provides any protection for trans folks when there is no public accommodations inclusion. The bill as written in MA provides absolutely no equality in the workplace or employment in general when all an establishment has to do is deny access to transgender people. Exclusion of equal public access can allow any of these places to physically bar transgender people from their premises. Without access how can one apply for a job?

    Now that Frank is going, perhaps an inclusive ENDA with public accommodations can be passed. However, I kind of doubt it since he has many protoge in the House, such as Pelosi.

  3. laurelboy2

    November 30, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Ah, who cares? Let him say whatever he wants. We all know he lied to the American people about the Fannie and Freddie situations. And, he and Dodd conspired to create the most over/far-reaching financial regulations ever crafted that have further stymied economic recovery. I hope he’s proud with his self-proclaimed LGBT-rights pioneer status because everything else he touched/did wasn’t worth a tinker’s dam.

  4. Zoe Brain

    December 1, 2011 at 4:53 am

    LGB pioneer? Yes. T? Not so much. ENDA has never included public accomodations, as he well knows. He’s either terminally clueless, maliciously lying, or both.

    Good riddance, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  5. Bill Perdue

    December 1, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    What drivel.

    Frank, like many Democrats is a biogt and a Quisling.

    In 2007 Frank gutted ENDA and then dropped it to make it easier for bigot panderers like Hillary Clinton and Obama to pander. In 2009-10 Democrats dropped ENDA to appease bigots and that was one of many, many reasons they lost the House to their Republican cousins.

    For over 15 years ENDA hasn’t passed and DOMA hasn’t been repealed because of the bigots who’ve run the White House including Clinton, Bush and Obama and their bipartisan allies in Congress.

    Earlier, in 2004, according to AP, “Rep. Barney Frank said San Francisco’s decision to challenge state law and grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples was a “distraction” that could damage efforts by gay rights advocates to defend the Massachusetts court decision legalizing gay marriage.

    In the same interview Frank expressed concern “that the image of lawlessness and civil disobedience in San Francisco would pressure some in Congress to support a federal constitutional amendment banning gay unions.”

    He’s a typical Democrat – an appeaser, a quisling and a characteristically ‘fierce’ failure.

    In 2007 he reintroduced ENDA and promised its passage… I didn’t even come up for a vote. Once again Democrats distanced themselves from us, dropping ENDA like a hot potato to win an election, except, sweet irony, by 2010 they’d distanced themselves from so many people that 30 million 2088 Obama voters deserted them.

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VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights



(Screen capture via YouTube)

A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says.

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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Venezuelan man with AIDS dies in ICE custody

Pablo Sánchez Gotopo passed away at Miss. hospital on Oct. 1



Pablo Sanchez Gotopo, who was living with HIV/AIDS, died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Mississippi on Oct. 1, 2021. (Courtesy photo)

A Venezuelan man with AIDS died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on Oct. 1.

An ICE press release notes Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, 40, died at Merit Health River Oaks in Flowood, Miss., which is a suburb of Jackson, the state capital. The press release notes the “preliminary cause of death was from complications with acute respiratory failure, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), pneumonia, acute kidney failure, anemia and COVID-19.”

ICE said U.S. Border Patrol took Sánchez into custody near Del Rio, Texas, on May 17. He arrived at the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss., four days later.

“Upon arrival to an ICE facility, all detainees are medically screened and administered a COVID-19 test by ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) personnel,” said ICE in its press release. “Sánchez’s test results came back negative.”

The press release notes Sánchez on July 28 received another COVID-19 test after he “began showing symptoms of COVID-19.” ICE said he tested negative, but Adams County Detention Center personnel transferred him to a Natchez hospital “for additional advanced medical care.”

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations staff in its New Orleans Field Office, according to the press release, “coordinated with hospital staff to arrange family visitation” after Sánchez’s “health condition deteriorated.” Sánchez was transferred to Merit Health River Oaks on Sept. 25.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases,” says the press release.

Venezuela’s political and economic crises have prompted more than 10,000 people with HIV to leave the country, according to the New York-based Aid for AIDS International.

Activists and health care service providers in Venezuela with whom the Washington Blade has spoken in recent years have said people with HIV/AIDS in the country have died because of a lack of antiretroviral drugs. Andrés Cardona, director of Fundación Ancla, a group in the Colombian city of Medellín that works with migrants and other vulnerable groups, told the Blade last month that many Venezuelans with HIV would have died if they hadn’t come to Colombia.

The Blade has not been able to verify a Venezuelan activist’s claim that Sánchez was gay. It is also not known why Sánchez decided to leave Venezuela and travel to the U.S.

ICE detainee with HIV described Miss. detention center as ‘not safe’

Activists and members of Congress continue to demand ICE release people with HIV/AIDS in their custody amid reports they don’t have adequate access to medications and other necessary medical treatment.

Two trans women with HIV—Victoria Arellano from Mexico and Roxsana Hernández from Honduras—died in ICE custody in 2007 and 2018 respectively. Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans woman with HIV who fled El Salvador, died in 2019, three days after ICE released her from a privately-run detention center.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center. The detainee said there was no social distancing at the privately-run facility and personnel were not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

“It’s not safe,” they told the Blade.

The entrance to the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, a Natchez resident who supports ICE detainees and their families, on Wednesday told the Blade that she was able to visit the Adams County Detention Center and other ICE facilities in the Miss Lou Region of Mississippi and Louisiana from November 2019 until the suspension of in-person visitation in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

“Medical neglect and refusal of medical care has always been an issue in the detention center at Adams County,” said Grant-Gibson. “After the facilities were closed to public visitation, those problems increased.”

Grant-Gibson told the Blade she “worked with a number of families and received phone calls from a number of detainees, and I was told again and again that detainees were being refused the opportunity to visit the infirmary.”

“When they did visit the infirmary, they were given virtually no treatment for the issues they were presenting with,” said Grant-Gibson.

ICE in its press release that announced Sánchez’s death said fatalities among its detainees, “statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.” ICE also noted it spends more than $315 million a year “on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to detainees.”

“ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) ensures the provision of necessary medical care services as required by ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards and based on the medical needs of the detainee,” notes the ICE press release. “Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay. All ICE detainees receive medical, dental, and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care.”

An ICE spokesperson on Wednesday pointed the Blade to its Performance-Based Detention Standards from 2011, which includes policies for the treatment of detainees with HIV/AIDS.

A detainee “may request HIV testing at any time during detention” and ICE detention centers “shall develop a written plan to ensure the highest degree of confidentiality regarding HIV status and medical condition.” The policy also states that “staff training must emphasize the need for confidentiality, and procedures must be in place to limit access to health records to only authorized individuals and only when necessary.”

“The accurate diagnosis and medical management of HIV infection among detainees shall be promoted,” reads the policy. “An HIV diagnosis may be made only by a licensed health care provider, based on a medical history, current clinical evaluation of signs and symptoms and laboratory studies.”

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Rachel Levine on becoming four-star admiral: ‘It comes from my desire to serve’

Trans official sworn-in to U.S. Public Health Service



For Rachel Levine, the appointment to her new role as a four-star admiral complementing her existing duties as assistant secretary for health is another way for the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed presidential appointee to serve.

“I think that this just really comes from my desire to serve in all capacities,” Levine said in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade. “To serve the first day in my field of academic medicine and pediatrics, but then in Pennsylvania and now in the federal government, and it furthers my ability to do that.”

Levine, 63, also recognized the importance of the appointment as a transgender person within the U.S. Public Health Service, for which she was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday

“I think for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a further sign of progress and our president’s commitment to equity, to inclusion and diversity,” Levine said. “So I think that it is a very important milestone, and I’m pleased to serve.”

As part of her duties, Levine will lead an estimated 6,000 public health service officers serving vulnerable populations, including deployments inside and outside the country for communities beleaguered with the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. The role involves working closely with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, whom Levine called her “friend and colleague.”

The U.S. Public Health Service, Levine said, has deployed “many, many times,” including its greatest number ever of deployments to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places the service has deployed, Levine said, was in her home state of Pennsylvania, where she recently served as secretary of health.

Not only is Levine the first openly transgender person to serve in the uniformed health service as a four-star general, but she’s also the first woman to serve in that capacity.

“We have 6,000 dedicated committed public servants really all focused on our nation’s health, and they serve in details to the CDC and the FDA and the NIH, but also clinically with the Indian Health Service, and the federal prison system,” Levine said. “They’re also detailed and deployed throughout the country, and they deployed like never before for COVID-19 as well as the border, as well as dealing with floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.”

Although the Public Health Service is primarily focused on addressing public health disasters within the United States, Levine said it has a record of deployments overseas, including years ago when it was deployed to Africa under the threat of Ebola.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra had high praise for Levine in a statement upon news of taking on a leadership position in the service.

“This is a proud moment for us at HHS,” Becerra said. “Adm. Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”

Levine, however, was careful to draw a distinction between her appointment within the Public Health Service and being a service member within the U.S. armed forces.

“It is not a military branch, it’s not the armed forces: It’s a uniformed force, so it’s different,” Levine said. “For example, the Army, the Navy, our military, there are two other uniformed branches, and that is ours, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA.”

The new role, Levine said, would complement her duties as assistant secretary for health. Although not only secretaries of health have been commissioned to take the uniform, Levine said she wanted to undertake that as part of her role in the Biden administration.

The two appointments were not simultaneous, Levine said, because of a general process she undertook, which was completed just this week.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Levine. During her Senate confirmation process, when she was hounded by anti-transgender attacks in conservative media and rude, invasive questioning by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on her gender identity.

Levine, however, said she hasn’t encountered any hostility regarding her new role (as of now) and shrugged off any potential attacks in the future and said the move is about her career “to serve and to help people.”

“I’ve continued that for our nation as the assistant secretary for health and this is just a further demonstration of my commitment to service,” Levine said. “I don’t know what others will say, but that’s the genesis of my wanting to serve in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and to place on the uniform.”

Levine’s new appointment comes shortly after a group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent her a letter dated Sept. 30 calling on her and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to issue new guidance for hospital or residential care on mental health needs of transgender people.

Asked about the letter, Levine said mental health issues are under the authority of Delphin-Rittmon and the two “will work together and we will respond.”

Specifically, the senators in the letter call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

Asked what the response will look like, Levine said, “We’re going to work on that.”

“We will be looking at what they’re asking for and the requirements, and we’ll talk with them and the stakeholders and we’ll look to issue appropriate guidance,” Levine said.

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