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Washington Gov. Gregoire signs marriage law

Seventh state to legalize gay nuptials

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Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (photo public domain)

Washington State Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law Monday legislation that would enable same-sex couples to marry as advocates prepare for a possible fight over the measure at the ballot.

“I’m proud that our same-sex couples will no longer be treated as separate but equal,” Gregoire said in her remarks. “They will be equal in the great state of Washington.”

Gregoire signed the legislation surrounded by LGBT advocates, including gay State Rep. Jamie Pedersen and gay State Sen. Ed Murray, champions of the legislation who introduced the governor at the ceremony.

After signing the bill, Gregoire exclaimed, “It is signed!”

Prior to the signing, the governor recalled stories by gay Washington residents who benefit after the bill was signed into law, including a letter she received from a 16-year-old girl.

“She had considered suicide,” Gregoire said, “but now with the conversation in the state with this marriage equality, it would make her stronger, it would allow her … to dream of the day that she would not have to get on bended knee and say, ‘Will you civil union me?’ but she will get on her knee and she will say, ‘Will you marry me?'”

Murray said during his remarks, “My friends, welcome to the other side of the rainbow!” Prior to signing the legislation, the audience at the ceremony chanted “Gre-goire! Gre-goire!” Later during the event, they chanted, “Thank-you! Thank-you!”

Gregoire asserted during her remarks that the legislation enables gay couples to obtain marriage licenses while allowing churches and religious organizations to opt out of recognizing these unions. Repeatedly throughout the remarks, Gregoire thanked the legislature for approving and conducting a civil, respectful debate on the issue.

The governor signed the measure after the Democratic-controlled legislature sent it to her desk. The State House approved the legislation last week by a vote of 55-43, while the State Senate approved the bill on Feb. 1 by a vote of 28-21.

Gregoire’s signature makes Washington the seventh state in the country where same-sex marriage is legal. The other states are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. Same-sex couples are also able to wed in D.C.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised Gregoire for signing legislation that “puts Washington on the road to fairness for all families.”

“While those opposed to marriage for gay and lesbian couples will no doubt try to undo this progress, I am confident that equality will prevail in Washington,” Solmonese said.

In a statement, HRC touted its work in the effort to legalize marriage equality in Washington State. Among its contributions are founding the Washington United for Marriage coalition, providing field expertise and recruiting business support.

But LGBT advocates aren’t out of the woods yet. Anti-gay forces have the opportunity to bring the measure to the ballot in November if they submit the necessary number of signatures — 120,577 — to the Washington Secretary of State’s office by June 6.

A referendum on the marriage law would be similar to what happened with the expansion of the state’s domestic partner registry in 2009, which came to the ballot as a measure known as Referendum 71. Voters approved the expansion of the state’s domestic partner registry by a vote of 53 percent.

Gregoire expressed confidence during her remarks that pro-LGBT forces would win in November if marriage should come to the ballot.

“If asked the voters of the state of Washington will say ‘yes’ to marriage equality in the state of Washington,” Gregoire said. “Washingtonians will say ‘yes’ because a family is a family all facing the same challenges. Can we keep a roof over our heads? Can we keep our jobs? Can we provide for children’s health and safety, education and happiness? I believe our Washingtonians will say because it’s time for us to stand up for our sons, our daughters, our brother, our sisters, our moms, our dads, our friends and the couple down the road.”

If same-sex marriage opponents don’t bring the necessary number of signatures to the ballot by the deadline, the law will go into effect June 7. If they bring in enough signatures, but an insufficient number are deemed valid, the law would go into effect after the failure to certify.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Tim

    February 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Let’s hope the rotten antigay organizations fail in their hateful effort to put the repeal issue on the ballot, because I don’t trust the public at large to do the right thing; just look what happened in California. Our rights should not be up for a public vote anyway, so we need to plan for the worst case scenario just in case they get enough signatures to to put our rights up for a public vote again.

  2. Paul Harris

    February 13, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Does anyone remember in the 80s when right wingers rallied behind the motto, “Equal Rights Yes, Special Privileges No!” when they opposed non-discrimination laws aimed to protect gays and lesbians in housing and employment? Funny but now they wouldn’t dare use that motto because their hypocrisy would show they would have to support equal rights in marriage for gay and lesbian citizens.

    Paul Harris
    Author, “Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina”

  3. RCS

    February 13, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    One can go to the website of Equal Rights Washington (www. equalrightswashington. org) to find out ways to support marriage equality in that state. There is even a section that is entitled “9 Things To Do To Help Achieve Marriage Equality.”

  4. Achmed Husein

    February 14, 2012 at 11:04 am

    You’re all a bunch of perverts. Diversity is perversity.

  5. jerry mickle

    February 14, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Achmed Husein if you are a Muslim then you are not a part of the majority of this nation. You are a part of diversity. How does it feel to be a pervert?

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National

Jim Obergefell announces bid for seat in Ohio state legislature

Marriage plaintiff moves on to new endeavor

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First Amendment Defense Act, gay news, Washington Blade
Jim Obergefell has announced he'd seek a seat in the Ohio state legislature.

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.

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National

FDA-funded blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker, L.A. LGBT Center working on study to ease restrictions

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gay blood ban, gay news, Washington Blade
A new study could make it easier for gay and bi men to donate blood.

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.

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Federal Government

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

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Graphic via U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

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 speaking at a Pride Month event last June at the Orlando VA Healthcare System, emphasized his support for Trans and LGBQ+ vets.

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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