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EXCLUSIVE: Elizabeth Warren pledges to lead on LGBT rights

Senate hopeful calls on Obama to endorse marriage equality

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Elizabeth Warren at Women In Finance symposium (photo public domain)

Elizabeth Warren, who is running to unseat U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), pledged to support a series of pro-LGBT initiatives and called on President Obama to endorse marriage equality in an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade on Tuesday.

Warren endorsed the idea of an executive order from President Obama that would require companies doing business with the U.S. government to have LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies for their workers.

“Any steps that the president can take toward non-discrimination benefit the whole country,” Warren said. “I don’t know how else to say it. It’s the right thing to do.”

The measure is sometimes referred to as the “ENDA” executive order because its effect would be similar to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but limited to federal contractors. The White House hasn’t said whether it will issue the directive.

Warren called on President Obama to complete his now 17-month-old “evolution” and endorse marriage equality. She also said she supports the call for a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform this September.

Asked whether she wants Obama to finish evolving and support same-sex marriage, Warren chuckled and responded that was indeed her view.

“I want to see the president evolve because I believe that is right; marriage equality is morally right,” Warren said.

Warren expressed similar sentiments about the Democratic Party platform, saying it would build support for ending the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

“I’d be glad to see it included in the Democratic platform,” she said. “It helps raise awareness of the impact of DOMA and it helps build support to repeal it.”

The platform committee is set to discuss language for the Democratic Party platform when it gathers for the Democratic National Convention Sept. 3 in Charlotte, N.C.

Warren, an expert on the American economy and personal finance, gained notoriety after she chaired the congressional oversight panel for the 2008 bank bailout program. She led the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was set up by the 2010 Wall Street reform bill, and was a favorite among progressives to head the organization before she launched her Senate bid and Richard Courdray was recess appointed to the role.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work and among the chief advocates of the ENDA executive order, said “it makes perfect sense” for Warren to come out for the measure because it would ensure taxpayer money won’t go to work environments hostile to LGBT people

“I hope Ms. Warren will telephone President Obama and urge him to pick up his pen and sign the ‘ENDA Executive Order’ that his Justice and Labor departments have drafted and delivered to the White House for his signature,” Almeida said.

Evan Wolfson, president and founder of Freedom to Marry, also praised Warren for supporting the initiatives related to same-sex marriage and called on Obama and the Democratic Party to come into alignment with her views.

“We welcome Elizabeth Warren alongside the many other leaders, and the signers of our online petition, as we urge President Obama and the Democratic Party to stand with Presidents Clinton and Carter in the growing nationwide majority for marriage,” Wolfson said.

Warren, who’s already expressed support for DOMA repeal, also said during the interview that she would take a leadership role in efforts to repeal the 1996 anti-gay law if elected to the Senate.

“I think that DOMA is a terrible statute,” Warren said. “For forever, the federal government has permitted the states to define marriage, and now the federal government steps in and says, ‘Yeah, the states get to do it for most families, but not those families because we don’t like them.'”

If elected to the Senate, Warren would represent a state where more than 13,000 same-sex couples have been legally married. She said DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of these unions, is “institutionalized discrimination.”

“Being a senator from Massachusetts, it’s possible not just to be a vote in the right direction, it’s possible to provide leadership,” Warren said. “I think that starts by calling out the statute on how wrong it is morally and counter to our basic legal foundation.”

Warren noted that DOMA means a same-sex couple married in Massachusetts won’t have access to federal benefits and that those with grown children, in some instances, can’t visit grandchildren in another state “without being treated during the visit as having a different marital status.”

“I think there’s already legislation pending, but it’s got to have some energy behind it and that means you’ve got to be willing to go out and talk about it — not only here in Massachusetts but around the country on national television to get out and make that case,” Warren said.

Warren conducted the interview with the Blade via phone after she visited Fenway Health, a Boston-based organization that provides health services to the LGBT community and conducts research and advocacy for LGBT health.

She called the work at Fenway Health “extraordinary” because the institute provides both health services and engages in research.

“What they see on the clinical side informs what they’re doing on the research side,” Warren said. “So they get ideas and they’re able to test them, and the two move back and forth. As a result, we have improvement in both health outcomes for those who go to the center. At the same time, developments in research help support advances in health care and other services for LGBT [people] around the country.”

Warren said the visit she paid to the institute was a reminder that community health centers are integral to providing health services. The health care reform measure President Obama signed into law in 2010 makes grants available to such institutions.

“Community health centers are very much supported by the Affordable Care Act,” Warren said. “Republicans have declared war on it — Scott Brown, my Republican opponent, and the Republican presidential candidates have said they will repeal the Affordable Care Act. That would be devastating to community health centers, not just Fenway, but community centers across the country.”

In September, the Department of Health & Human Services awarded the institute $248,000 to help create a national training and technical assistance center aimed at helping community health centers improve the health of LGBT populations.

Warren is running against Brown — a Republican senator representing a “blue” state. Brown won praise from LGBT advocates for voting in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in 2010, but that was only after he twice voted against defense legislation that included repeal language.

Warren said Brown’s vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was “a good vote” and that he should be commended for it, but added she’d step up the LGBT advocacy if elected to the Senate.

“I’ll be there on every vote,” Warren said. “I’ll be there not just to provide a vote, but leadership, and I think that’s what the LGBT community really needs.”

Warren praised Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), who’s running for the open seat in Wisconsin in a bid that could make her the country’s first openly gay U.S. senator.

The two have set up a joint fundraising group called the Massachusetts-Wisconsin Victory Fund, which thus far has raised $171,250, and have appeared together in a joint fundraiser in Philadelphia hosted by donor Peter Buttenwieser.

“I was delighted to do the event with Tammy,” Warren said. “We actually did a second [event] together. We were out in San Francisco with other women senators and women challengers. And I hope we’ll have more opportunities to do that. I’d really love to see Tammy get elected. I worked with Tammy before, so I’m a big fan.”

Warren criticized the Republican presidential candidates for their anti-gay views. Each of the GOP hopefuls who’ve won any states — Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — backs a U.S. constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage throughout the country and rescind it in states like Massachusetts.

“I think their position is wrong,” Warren said. “They have a vision of America that does not represent who we are as a people and the kind of country we want to build.”

Over the course of her campaign, Warren said she’s spoken with LGBT organizations about a variety of subjects including LGBT rights, although she couldn’t immediately identify any of the groups. Earlier this month, the Human Rights Campaign endorsed her candidacy.

“We talked about health care issues, we’ve talked about economic issues, we’ve talked about justice issues — particularly on DOMA and marriage equality,” Warren said. “We’ve also had conversations that range into other areas about art, about education, about the importance of anti-bullying programs.”

 

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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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Mass. startup streamlining name changes for trans, non-binary residents

‘No. 1 legal need that trans folks have is identity documents’

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Kelsey GrunstraTre’Andre Carmel Valentine, MG Xiong, and Luke Lennon.

A guy in America wants to buy a truck. They save money. They have built up good credit. They find a truck in their price range. They go to the dealership to buy it, but when the dealership puts the guy’s name through the system no credit shows up.

The problem? That guy is trans and had recently changed their name. “Due to the name change, I was credit invisible,” Luke Lennon explained. “This can happen often for trans and non-binary folks who change their name.” The kicker? “That piece is not the same for folks that change their name due to marriage.” 

This is structural, not accidental, explains Lennon, who uses he/they/any pronouns. While name changes for marriage are accommodated by financial systems, “if you’re trans, you have to notify each creditor of your name change individually.” It is an equity problem: “For a community that already faces huge barriers to wealth building, this is a major issue.”

Lennon opted out of the truck. Without the financing options made available by good credit, the vehicle was outside of their price range. “I was getting just near predatory rates for loans at that point,” he says.

Truck dreams deferred. But he worried about people whose financial needs couldn’t be deferred, like needing a loan for medical care or housing. “For many, that could be a more high-stakes situation. It could put them in financial peril and result in more serious consequences.” 

Lennon had already thought about leveraging his tech and business background toward helping his community with name changes, but the experience in the car dealership cemented how vital the service was. So, they launched Namesake Collaborative, a program to ease the burden of name changes for the trans community.

Getting his name changed at all was a grueling process in Lennon’s home state of Massachusetts, one of the most trans-friendly states in the country. Paperwork was long, confusing, and expensive — a big difference from the Boston FinTech scene he worked for where digital health startups were automating “complex paper-heavy processes to make them easier for end users.” When he sought out that type of service for name changes, they were only for cis women changing their names because of marriage. 

Lennon’s instinct was in line with what trans advocates identified as one of the biggest needs in the state. MG Xiong, the program director at Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, shared that “the number one legal need that trans folks said that they have is their identity documents.” This comes from MTPC’s 2019 Comprehensive Needs Assessment Survey, but its need is mirrored nationally

“Filling out court forms is incredibly inaccessible to folks who are not looking at these types of forms on a regular basis or who do not have the knowledge of bureaucratic processes of court processes or legal language,” said Xiong. This stress does not include the fees, which can sometimes exceed $400 in Massachusetts. There is a patchwork of differing systems, forms, and expectations across jurisdictions, as Paisley Currah writes in his seminal book on the topic “Sex Is as Sex Does,”“the same individual has Fs on some state-issued documents and Ms on others.” 

All this trouble means that only 11% of trans people in the U.S. have all identity documents that correctly reflect their name and gender, per the National Center for Trans Equality. The discrepancy is not just annoying or disheartening — it can be outright dangerous. 

While MTPC’s small team raised money to aid in filing fees and led workshops to help, there was always more of a need than they could meet. So, when Lennon pitched a process that streamlined inaccessible forms, they jumped at the opportunity to collaborate. “It was a strategic decision for me to not try to take the traditional startup path,” he explained.

And their path was far from traditional. Instead of pitching to Venture Capital, the startup and non-profit duo drove around Massachusetts. Xiong explains that they and Luke went to “different community centers, bringing the services [directly] to the spaces that people are already in.”

Lennon had actually met the MTPC team at one of their workshops and appreciated the community building they fostered. He trusted the organization that had helped him with his name change to make sure the technology he was building would reach the trans community effectively.

After a beta period in 2021, Namesake launched as a website in 2022with input from community assessments. Despite being a tech startup, they kept it lower-tech. “We decided to operate on a no-code platform to be able to build something more quickly,” said Lennon. Since then, more than 500 transgender Massachusetts residents have used the program to complete gender and name changes. 

A huge part of the program was built on lessening the load of process: getting different forms in one location and being able to fill them all out online in one standardized process. But it also met the need in terms of access in other ways. “We are getting gratitude for the simplicity of it.” Xiong said. “That it uses common and accessible language. It defines what certain court language or legal language means.”

Namesake is on the cusp of a new iteration, which will make it more user-friendly through an app version. Lennon has partnered with Computost, a worker-owned software consulting co-op that understood Namesakes’ values.  

While always working to make the product more usable, Lennon is careful about keeping it more trans than tech. Lennon explains that the variability in the community is “often at odds with technology’s reductive approach to an ideal user profile or persona.”

The longer they work with Namesake, the more they are convinced, “I don’t think tech should ever be heralded as THE solution to anything, really.” He explains that their method of development is “using community-sharing knowledge in order to augment that technology.” 

Lennon explains that he is more concerned with making a community than a traditional tech product. “A strong community also requires breaking the binary of ‘giver and receiver,’ which runs counter to much of the startup folklore around serving customers.” However, they “have compassion for any trans or queer person trying to solve a real problem for our communities through tech.”

Looking forward, Lennon explains that Namesake is “focused on creating something more fluid and communal, something that will ideally evolve with the community and help folks feel less alone throughout the process.” 

(This story is part of the Digital Equity Local Voices Fellowship lab through News is Out. The lab initiative is made possible with support from Comcast NBCUniversal.)

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