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DNC hiring of minister disappoints activists

Gay Dem officials defend Harkins, who opposes same-sex marriage

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Derrick Harkins

‘My record clearly shows that I am a strong defender of the rights of all people, including LGBT people,’ Rev. Derrick Harkins told the Blade. (Photo courtesy of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church)

A minister opposed to same-sex marriage that the Democratic National Committee hired to reach out to people of faith says he’s a “strong defender” of the rights of LGBT people and supports civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

But same-sex marriage advocates say support for civil unions over marriage is unacceptable for the Democratic Party and that the DNC could have chosen among a number of prominent ministers that support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The DNC’s announcement in October that it had named Rev. Derrick Harkins, senior pastor of D.C.’s Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, to head its faith outreach program created an immediate stir when news surfaced that Harkins doesn’t support same-sex marriage and that he was incorrectly identified in 2009 as a supporter of D.C.’s same-sex marriage law.

“My record clearly shows that I am a strong defender of the rights of all people, including LGBT people,” Harkins told the Blade in an email exchange last week. “I consistently state, from the pulpit and elsewhere, that there is never a time when words or actions that dehumanize or marginalize any individual have a place in our life as a church and faith community.”

Observers in the religious press, including Christianity Today, have said Harkins is a generally progressive minister with strong ties to the Evangelical Christian community and black churches, attributes that could boost the Democratic Party’s standing with evangelical voters while shoring up support from black churches.

Although some LGBT advocates for same-sex marriage say they are disappointed and puzzled over the DNC’s decision to hire a same-sex marriage opponent for an important staff position, two prominent gay Democratic leaders have rallied to Harkins’ and the DNC’s defense.

Rick Stafford, chair of the DNC’s LGBT Caucus, and Brian Bond, former liaison to the LGBT community at the Obama White House and the current DNC national constituency director, released statements pointing to Harkins’ longstanding record of support on LGBT equality issues.

The two noted that while Harkins doesn’t support same-sex marriage, he supports full legal rights for same-sex couples through civil unions.

Stafford said in his statement, released by email, that it was Bond who “brought Rev. Harkins onboard at the DNC.”

In his own statement, Bond called Harkins “a progressive faith leader who supports the right of same-sex couples to equal benefits and equal protection under the law.”

Stafford, a longtime gay Democratic Party activist in Minnesota, said that “to mischaracterize Rev. Harkins’ views and demonize him as a roadblock to equality for LGBT Americans is not helpful to the ongoing effort of building coalitions in our journey to full equality.”

But a number of prominent LGBT advocates, including gay rights attorney Evan Wolfson, said the DNC’s decision to hire a minister opposed to same-sex marriage sends the wrong message to gays and their straight allies as the 2012 elections are fast approaching.

“The overwhelming majority of Democrats support the freedom to marry as do independents and growing numbers across the political spectrum,” said Wolfson, who heads the same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry.

“The Democratic Party should be speaking out forcefully and forthrightly in support of the dignity and equality of all Americans and equal protection under the law, which includes the freedom to marry,” Wolfson said.

Asked if Rev. Harkins’ support for civil unions was an acceptable position for a DNC official, Wolfson said, “Does the reverend have a civil union?” When told that Harkins’ official biography says he’s married, Wolfson added, “Right, and for the same reason that marriage matters to people like him it matters to all of us, and that’s what equality does mean.”

DNC spokesperson Melanie Roussell, who said Harkins would not be available for a direct interview, arranged last week for Harkins to answer written questions submitted by the Blade.

When asked to explain his thinking on legal rights for same-sex couples, including civil unions versus marriage, Harkins suggested that his views were evolving.

“In my own journey, I am glad to be part of the ongoing dialogue that brings people of good will toward the goal of common ground, and to acknowledge that perspectives continue to change,” he said. “It’s worth noting that in the not too distant past, ‘traditional’ marriage was limited to same race, same religion, and same nationality. While theological debates may persist, the protections of the law, and the acknowledgement of the rights of same sex couples should be seen as just and fair.”

Roussell said Harkins could not respond to a question asking if he would support adding language to the Democratic Party platform next year backing same-sex marriage and calling on Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which bans the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states that have legalized such marriages.

“It is inappropriate for any DNC staff member to comment on the party platform at this time,” Roussell said.

Harkins told the Blade in an email response that ministers he knows who supported the marriage bill pending before the D.C. City Council in 2009 “inadvertently” added his name to a list of clergy backing the marriage measure.

He said he was never contacted by members of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality to confirm whether he supported same-sex marriage. That was the group that compiled the list of clergy backing the law.

“I am certain that my name was inadvertently moved to the ‘confirmed’ category,” he said.

The list shows Harkins as the 93rd clergy person to be added to the 2009 petition declaring, “God is love and love is for everyone. In this spirit we raise our voices in the struggle for the right and freedom to marry” for same-sex couples.

“I count a number of the signers of the petition as personal friends, and all of them as colleagues in ministry, and take no exception to the fact that my name may have been included in initial discussions about potential signers,” Harkins said.

“But my signing the marriage equality petition would have implicitly taken our church toward a position on the issue without the benefit of the extensive consideration, and ultimately, congregational approval that would be needed for a decision as significant as this,” he said.

Nearly 200 ministers, rabbis and other clergy that supported the same-sex marriage bill agreed to have their names placed on the petition.

The D.C. Council passed the same-sex marriage law in December 2009 and then Mayor Adrian Fenty signed it a short time later. It took effect in March 2010 after clearing a required review by Congress.

Rev. Cedric Harmon, a member of the steering committee of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality and a leader among the city’s black clergy in support of the D.C. same-sex marriage law, said he was surprised and puzzled over Harkins’ assertion of opposition to same-sex marriage.

Harmon said he has known Harkins for many years and has worked with him on various progressive causes, including the development of sex education programs for the city’s historic black churches that called for acceptance of LGBT people.

“I know he personally had done a lot to move the conversation and dialogue around full equality forward, especially as it relates to sexual orientation and gender,” Harmon said.

John Aravosis, the gay rights advocate and publisher of America Blog was the first to report that Harkins’ name appeared on the 2009 list of clergy backing D.C.’s marriage law.

Aravosis took exception to Bond’s and Stafford’s assessment of Harkins, writing in an Oct. 28 posting that at least some in the LGBT community “were pretty upset that the Democrats would hire someone who doesn’t support our full and equal status as human beings.”

Lateefah Williams, president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, said the club has not taken a position on the DNC’s decision to hire Harkins. She said she had no immediate comment on the development.

Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C., called the DNC’s action “a politically tone-deaf decision” that falls far short of what the Democratic Party should be doing in meeting its stated commitment to equality for all Americans.

“The Democrats are better overall than the Republicans by far, of course,” Rosendall said. “But that’s just not good enough. If the Democrats want gay voters to be strongly motivated in the coming election they need to stop being so hand-cringingly cautious in a way that this demonstrates.”

Rosendall said both the DNC and President Obama would gain more overall support in the 2012 election than they would lose by backing same-sex marriage. Obama has said he supports civil unions rather than same-sex marriage but that his position on the issue is evolving.

“It’s pretty clear to most folks who look at this that the people who are opposed to our equality are generally not going to vote for the president anyway,” he said.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said that while HRC is disappointed that the DNC’s new faith outreach director “is not a supporter of marriage equality, we recognize that Rev. Harkins is a strong supporter of many LGBT equality issues and we look forward to working with him on areas of mutual agreement.”

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National

63% of LGBTQ people have faced employment discrimination: report

Finding shows majority ‘don’t feel included and welcomed at work’

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A majority of LGBTQ+ workers have experienced discrimination, according to a new study.

A newly released report on the findings of a survey of 2,000 people in the U.S. who identify as LGBTQ says 63 percent of respondents have faced workplace discrimination in their career, 45 percent reported being “passed over” for a promotion due to their LGBTQ status, and 30 percent avoid “coming out” at work due to fear of discrimination.

The report, called “Unequal Opportunities: LGBTQ+ Discrimination In The Workplace,” was conducted by EduBirdie, a company that provides s professional essay writing service for students.

“The research shows basic acceptance remains elusive,” a statement released by the company says. “Thirty percent of LGBTQ+ people are  concerned they will face discrimination if they come out at work, while 1 in 4 fear for their safety,” the statement says. “Alarmingly, 2 in 5 have had their orientation or identity disclosed without consent.”

Avery Morgan, an EduBirdie official, says in the statement, “Despite progress in LGBTQ+ human rights, society stigma persists. Our findings show 70% of LGBTQ+ people feel lonely, misunderstood, marginalized, or excluded at work, and 59% believe their sexual orientation or gender identity has hindered their careers.”

According to Morgan, “One of the biggest challenges businesses should be aware of is avoiding tokenism and appearing inauthentic in their actions. Employers must be genuine with their decisions to bring a more diverse workforce into the organization.”

The report includes these additional findings:

• 44% of LGBTQ people responding to the survey said they have quit a job due to lack of acceptance.

• 15% reported facing discrimination “going unaddressed” by their employer.

• 21% “choose not to report incidents that occur at work.”

• 44% of LGBTQ+ workers feel their company is bad at raising awareness about their struggles.

• Half of LGBTQ+ people change their appearance, voice, or mannerisms to fit in at work.

• 56% of LGBTQ+ people would be more comfortable coming out at work if they had a more senior role.

At least 32 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The EduBirdie report does not show which states participants of the survey are from. EduBirdie spokesperson Anna Maglysh told the Washington Blade the survey was conducted anonymously to protect the privacy of participants.

The full report can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal court blocks Title IX transgender protections

Ruling applies to Idaho, La., Miss., and Mont.

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(Bigstock photo)

BY GREG LAROSE | A federal judge has temporarily halted enforcement of new rules from the Biden administration that would prevent discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana issued a temporary injunction Thursday that blocks updated Title IX policy from taking effect Aug. 1 in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Montana. 

In April, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would expand Title IX to protect LGBTQ students, and the four aforementioned states challenged the policy in federal court.

Doughty said in his order that Title IX, the 52-year-old civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, only applies to biological women. The judge also called out the Biden administration for overstepping its authority. 

“This case demonstrates the abuse of power by executive federal agencies in the rule-making process,” Doughty wrote. “The separation of powers and system of checks and balances exist in this country for a reason.”

The order from Doughty, a federal court appointee of President Donald Trump, keeps the updated Title IX regulations from taking effect until the court case is resolved or a higher court throws out the order.

Opponents of the Title IX rule changes have said conflating gender identity with sex would undermine protections in federal law and ultimately harm biological women. Gender identity refers to the gender an individual identifies as, which might differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill, who filed the suit in the state’s Western District federal court, had called the new regulations “dangerous and unlawful.” In a statement Thursday evening, she said the rules would have placed an unfair burden on every school, college and university in the country.

“This (is) a victory for women and girls,” Murrill said in the statement. “When Joe Biden forced his illegal and radical gender ideology on America, Louisiana said NO! Along with Idaho, Mississippi, and Montana, states are fighting back in defense of the law, the safety and prosperity of women and girls, and basic American values.”

Title IX is considered a landmark policy that provided for equal access for women in educational settings and has been applied to academic and athletic pursuits. 

Related

Doughty’s order comes a day after a similar development in Texas, where Judge Reed O’Connor, an appointee of President George W. Bush, declared that the Biden administration exceeded its authority, the Texas Tribune reported. 

Texas filed its own lawsuit against the federal government to block enforcement of the new rules, which Gov. Greg Abbott had instructed schools to ignore. Texas is one of several states to approve laws that prohibit transgender student-athletes from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect. 

Earlier Thursday, Republicans in Congress moved ahead with their effort to undo the revised Biden Title IX policy. Nearly 70 GOP lawmakers have signed onto legislation to reverse the education department’s final rule through the Congressional Review Act, which Congress can use to overturn certain federal agency actions.

Biden is expected to veto the legislation if it advances to his desk.

“Title IX has paved the way for our girls to access new opportunities in education, scholarships and athletics. Unfortunately, (President) Joe Biden is destroying all that progress,” U.S. Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.), author of the legislation, said Thursday.

States Newsroom Reporter Shauneen Miranda in D.C. contributed to this report.

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Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg’s other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Louisiana Illuminator and is republished with permission.

The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians. Our in-depth investigations and news stories, news briefs and commentary help residents make sense of how state policies help or hurt them and their neighbors statewide.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Federal Government

Adm. Levine, Admin. Guzman visit LGBTQ-owned dental and medical practices

Officials talked with the Blade about supporting small businesses

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Second from left, Dr. Robert McKernan, co-founder of Big Gay Smiles, U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabel Guzman, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine, Big Gay Smiles Co-Founder Tyler Dougherty, and SBA Washington Metropolitan Area District Director Larry Webb. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

The Washington Blade joined Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Administrator Isabel Guzman of the U.S. Small Business Administration as they toured two LGBTQ-owned small businesses on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. — Big Gay Smiles and Price Medical.

The event provided an “amazing opportunity” to “talk about the different synergies in terms of small businesses and the SBA, and health equity for many communities,” including the LGBTQ community, Levine told the Blade.

Representation matters, she said, adding, “that’s true in dental care and medical care,” where there is a tremendous need to push for improvements in health equity — which represents a major focus for HHS under her and Secretary Xavier Becerra’s leadership, and in the Biden-Harris administration across the board.

“Small businesses identify needs in communities,” Guzman said. With Big Gay Smiles, Dr. Robert McKernan and his husband Tyler Dougherty “have clearly identified a need” for “dentistry that is inclusive and that is respectful of the LGBTQIA community in particular.”

She added, “now that they’re a newly established business, part of the small business boom in the Biden-Harris administration, to see their growth and trajectory, it’s wonderful to know that there are going to be providers out there providing that missing support.”

The practice, founded in 2021, “is so affirming for the LGBTQIA community and we certainly wish them luck with their venture and they seem to have a great start,” Levine said. “They’re really dedicated to ending the HIV epidemic, providing excellent dental care, as well as oral cancer screenings, which are so important, and they’re really providing a real service to the community.”

Big Gay Smiles donates 10 percent of its revenue to national and local HIV/AIDS nonprofits. McKernan and Dougherty stressed that their business is committed to combatting homophobia and anti-LGBTQ attitudes and practices within the dental field more broadly.

“We try to align our practices here within this dental office to align with the strategic initiatives being able to help reduce HIV transmission, reduce stigma, and help to ensure people have the knowledge and [are] empowered to ensure that they’re safe,” Dougherty said.

McKernan added, “With the Academy of General Dentistry, we’ve done a lot of discussions around intersex, around trans affirming care, in order to help educate our fellow dental providers. It’s very important that every dentist here in the [D.C. area] provide trans affirming care and gender affirming care because it’s very important that someone who comes to a medical provider not be deadnamed, not get misnamed, and have an affirming environment.”

Trans and gender expansive communities face barriers to accessing care and are at higher risk for oral cancer, depression, and dental neglect. Levine, who is the country’s highest-ranking transgender government official, shared that she has encountered discrimination in dental offices.

After touring the office, Levine and McKernan discussed the persistence of discrimination against patients living with HIV/AIDS by dental practices, despite the fact that this conduct is illegal.

“I’ve traveled around the country,” the assistant health secretary told the Blade. “We have seen that many FQHCs [federally qualified health centers] or community health centers as well as LGBTQIA community health centers have had dentists, like Whitman-Walker, to provide that care because many people with HIV and in our broader community have faced stigma and have not been able to access very, very important dental care.”

Prior to opening his practice, McKernan practiced dentistry at Whitman-Walker, the D.C. nonprofit community health center that has expertise in treating LGBTQ patients and those living with HIV/AIDS. Big Gay Smiles is a red ribbon sponsor for the organization’s Walk & 5K to End HIV.

After their visit with Big Gay Smiles, Levine and Guzman headed to Price Medical, a practice whose focus areas include internal medicine/primary care, HIV specialty care, immunizations, infectious disease treatment, and aesthetics like Botox.

There, the officials talked with Dr. Timothy Price about his office’s work advancing health equity and serving LGBTQ patients including those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as the ways in which small businesses like his have benefitted from access to electronic health records and telemedicine.

Levine, Dr. Timothy Price of Price Medical, and Guzman 

“People being able to access medical care from the comfort of their home or workplace can be very important,” Price said, with technology providing the means by which they can “ask questions and get an answer and have access to a health care provider.”

Often, LGBTQ patients will have concerns, including sexual health concerns, that need urgent attention, he said. For instance, “we’ve had patients need to access us for post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV,” in some cases when “people are vacationing and they have something that might be related to their health and they can reach us [via telemedicine] so that’s the way it’s really helped us and helped the patients.”

Access to technology for small businesses is an area in which the SBA can play a valuable role, Guzman noted.

“The Biden-Harris administration has focused on a whole-of-government approach to making sure we can support the community, and that includes in entrepreneurship,” she told the Blade.

“There’s a surge in [small] businesses starting and that includes” those founded by members of the LGBTQ community “and so you see that there’s products and services that need to be offered,” and the administration is “committed to making sure that we can fund those great ideas.”

Guzman said she sees opportunities for future collaboration between her agency and HHS to help encourage and facilitate innovation in the healthcare space. “Small businesses are innovators creating the future of health tech,” she said.

Levine agreed, noting “we have been talking about that, about different ways that we can work together, because as we think about the social determinants of health and those other social factors that impact health, well, economic opportunity is absolutely a social determinant of health,” and small businesses are certainly a critical way to broaden economic opportunity.

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