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More pressure on Obama to bar workplace discrimination

House Democrats call on president to issue executive order

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Supporters of an executive order barring discrimination against LGBT federal workers were buoyed this week by the results of a new poll showing that 73 percent of Americans support such a measure.

Brian Moulton, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, talked about the polling unveiled earlier this week by his organization during a briefing for staffers Thursday on Capitol Hill, saying support for the order comes from a diverse array of demographic groups — including conservatives.

“Rarely do we have support from this range of groups of people,” Moulton said. “The lowest support, which was 60 percent of support for the executive order, was among self-identified conservatives.”

Support came from 61 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of people 65 and older, 80 percent among black Americans, 72 percent among Hispanics, 77 percent of Catholics and 64 percent of born-again Christians.

“I think the data both on the executive order specifically, but the long-standing public polling we’ve had on the issue of non-discrimination over the years, shows that this is something that very much the American people support, and I think that’s also reflected in the fact that we have such strong support in corporate America,” Moulton said.

Other data, Moulton said, reveals that most people think federal workplace non-discrimination protections for LGBT people already exist. According to the poll, 87 percent think it’s illegal to discriminate against LGBT people in the workplace — even though no such law exists.

The survey of 800 likely voters nationwide was conducted for HRC by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research from Nov. 9 to Nov. 13, 2011. Even though the poll was conducted in November, the findings were published just this week.

Moulton was among five LGBT rights supporters who spoke on the panel, which was staged by the LGBT Equality Caucus and geared toward encouraging President Obama to issue an executive order requiring companies doing business with the U.S. government to have non-discrimination policies inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Because the measure is similar in its goal to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the directive has sometimes been referred to as the “ENDA” executive order, although the order would be more limited in scope because it only affects federal contractors.

Multiple sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have told the Blade the Labor and Justice Departments have cleared such a measure. The White House hasn’t said whether it will issue the executive order.

Reps. Lois Capps (left) and Frank Pallone speak before a panel of LGBT advocates (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Joining supporters during the briefing were Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.), who are circulating a letter among House Democrats calling for President Obama to issue the executive order.

Pallone said the executive order is needed to address the lack of workplace protections for LGBT workers.

The lawmaker said the ultimate goal is passage of ENDA, but the scenario is unlikely given the current leadership of the House.

“I think it’s fair to say it has probably no chance of passage whatsoever with the Republicans in control of the House,” Pallone said. “With the federal contractors, this is something we think we can do in the interim to set a precedent and help a lot of people, knowing full well that what we’d really like to see is ENDA.”

Capps said issuing the executive order would be in line with Obama’s decision to issue executive orders to facilitate job opportunities while most legislation remains deadlocked in a divided Congress.

“He’s calling it ‘We Can’t Wait,'” Capps said. “This is one more step he can take toward the agenda of clearly that’s something in the interest of the American public.”

Pallone and Capps are the initial signers of the letter they are circulating among colleagues — along with retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). They’ve set the deadline for signing the letter on Friday in anticipation of publication next week. An informed source told the Washington Blade the letter has attracted about 50 signatures as of Thursday.

Others on the panel presented different cases for why Obama should have no problem issuing the executive order and the extent to which it would facilitate non-discrimination in the workplace.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said companies that lack LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies can institute them easily and that most companies that haven’t done so have yet to make the change out of “laziness.”

“With President Obama’s order, I predict 100 percent compliance; I don’t think a single company is going to put at risk its livelihood in order to keep discriminating,” Almeida said.

Citing instances of workplace discrimination in which having the executive order already in place would be helpful, Almeida said the directive would allow the Obama administration to search actively for workplace discrimination without having to wait for individuals to file complaints.

“In a certain limited sense, the executive order is better than a civil rights act,” Almeida said. “Under the Civil Rights Act, an investigation can only start if the affected person files a complaint. Under the executive order, the Department of Labor can be proactive, go out and do investigations, find discrimination without the person filing — and that happens a lot.”

Almeida also articulated a sense of urgency in issuing the executive order, saying it would take at least six months for implementation of the policy. That process could be disrupted if a Republican defeats Obama in the upcoming election.

“There will after that be a process of no less than six months — six months is really optimistic — in which the Department of Labor will research and draft those rules implementing the executive order, and those rules will include all the minutiae with a host of different issues that we often hear as excuses not to do ENDA,” Almeida said.

The process involves a 90-day comment period where concerned parties — such as businesses and LGBT groups — can weigh in, followed by revisions based on the comments and the final rule being published in the Federal Register, Almeida said.

Deborah Vagins, American Civil Liberties Union’s senior legislative counsel for civil rights, talked about the history of other non-discrimination orders issued by earlier presidents — noting that President Franklin Roosevelt issued the first such directive based on race, creed, color or national origin for defense contractors.

“In 1941, some of our earlier civil rights leaders were preparing for a march on Washington to integrate the armed forces,” Vagins said. “Unfortunately, while full integration of the armed forces was not achieved at that time, during meetings between the administration and leaders of the march, Roosevelt agreed to sign this landmark EO prohibiting discrimination in federal defense contracting.”

The directive has been expanded by later presidents — most recently President Lyndon Johnson — to include all federal contractors and more categories of workers.

Nan Hunter, a lesbian law professor at Georgetown University and legal scholarship director at the Williams Institute of the University of California, Los Angles, said the authority for Obama to issue the executive order is sound under the Federal Property & Administrative Services Act, or the Procurement Act.

“There has never been a court decision that has struck down any of the anti-discrimination provisions in a federal executive order on the grounds that they did not advance the economy and efficiency of government operations,” Hunter said.

Jeff Krehely of the Center for American Progress (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Jeff Krehely, vice president for LGBT programs at the Center for American Progress, presented findings from the institute published in November on the impact that ENDA would have on small businesses.

According to the findings, most small businesses already have non-discrimination protections. Seven out of 10 small businesses already prohibit discrimination against gay employees, and six out of 10 prohibit discrimination against transgender employees.

“It’s really a good news story out of the small business community because it shows that they are of a fair mindset when it comes to workplace equality,” Krehely said. “They recognize the fact that in today’s economy and today’s world the more inclusive and open you are, the better it is for your business, and this really translates into better recruitment and retention practices, less turnover — all the things that can disrupt a business of any size really.”

For small business that didn’t have the protections, Krehely said the response was that these companies didn’t think to institute them or didn’t think they had LGBT employees.

 

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Mississippi

Art used to spotlight people of color lost to AIDS in the South

National AIDS Memorial, Southern AIDS Coalition created Change the Pattern exhibit

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The National AIDS Memorial and Southern AIDS Coalition have announced a new initiative to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS among communities of color in the South. (Photo courtesy of the National AIDS Memorial)

The National AIDS Memorial has joined forces with the Southern AIDS Coalition to stage a series of art exhibitions and educational forums to honor Black and Brown people in the South who have been lost to HIV/AIDS.

The initiative, titled Change the Pattern, began in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday with curated quilt exhibitions, displays, educational forums, advocacy, storytelling and quilt-making, according to a press release from the National AIDS Memorial. A $2.4 million grant from the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Inc., funded Change the Pattern.

More than 500 hand-stitched quilt panels from the area were featured in what the National AIDS Memorial says is “the largest display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt ever” in Mississippi.

“By creating an empowering message and safe spaces for conversation, we can uplift, inspire and make progress toward ending the HIV epidemic, challenge cultural stigmas and continue the legacy of advocacy that the quilt represents,” said National AIDS Memorial CEO John Cunningham in the release. 

Change the Pattern was announced in honor of Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day during the Southern AIDS Coalition’s annual Saving Ourselves Symposium that took place in August. 

The conference, which was heavily attended by LGBTQ activists from the South, featured 100 quilt panels, and attendees participated in quilt-making workshops to make new quilt panels representing their loved ones.

Interested LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the South were invited to apply for funding to support local quilt-making workshops in their communities so as to ensure that the legacies of Black and Brown people are captured through newly-sewn panels on the quilt through the Memorial’s Call My Name program, according to the National AIDS Memorial press release. 

The application process opened on Sept. 15 with up to 35 eligible organizations receiving as much as $5,000 to support hosting local workshops. 

The first major Change the Pattern Quilt was founded 35 years ago as a visual representation of the need to end stigma and provide equitable resources to communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS, according to Southern AIDS Coalition Executive Director Dafina Ward.

“Change the Pattern is a call to action and change in the South,” said Ward. “Quilt-making has such a deep cultural connection in the Black community and in the South. The sharing and telling of these powerful stories through the quilt, coupled with advocacy and open dialogue, can help end HIV-related stigma and bring the stories of those we’ve lost to light.”

As the Change the Pattern initiative occurs, conversations about how to handle health epidemics within LGBTQ communities of color have become national topics, especially with the prevalence of monkeypox cases amongst Black gay men.

Despite earlier panic about the disease, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a report released on Wednesday said that individuals who were vaccinated against the disease were less likely to be affected over the summer compared to those who weren’t. 

The effectiveness and duration of immunity after a single dose, however, is not known, and few individuals in the current outbreak have completed the recommended two-dose series, according to the report. 

The most recent CDC data reports that 25,509 monkeypox cases have thus far been confirmed in the U.S. Only one death has been reported.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Doctor, transgender spouse indicted for passing information to Russia

Jamie Lee Henry first active-duty Army officer to come out as trans

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Jamie Lee Henry and their spouse Anna Gabrielian (Photos from social media)

A federal grand jury on Wednesday handed down an indictment of a Johns Hopkins anesthesiologist and her spouse, a doctor and major in the U.S. Army, with conspiracy and for the disclosure of individually identifiable health information related to their efforts to assist Russia in connection with the conflict in Ukraine.

The office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland in a press release stated Anna Gabrielian, 36, and her spouse, Jamie Lee Henry, 39, both of Rockville, Md., both of whom had secret clearances, were attempting to provide medical information about members of the military to the Russian government.

Gabrielian and Henry met with an individual they believed to be associated with the Russian government, but who was, in fact, an Federal Bureau of Investigation Undercover Agent.

Court documents indicate Gabrielian told the FBI agent posing as a Russian operative that she had previously reached out to the Russian Embassy by email and phone, offering Russia her and her spouses’ assistance.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Gabrielian told the FBI agent that, although Henry knew of Gabrielian’s interaction with the Russian Embassy, she never mentioned Henry’s name to the Russian Embassy.

In the narrative released by the U.S. Attorney’s office, on Aug. 17, 2022, Gabrielian met with the FBI at a hotel in Baltimore. During that meeting, Gabrielian told the FBI she was motivated by patriotism toward Russia to provide any assistance she could to Russia, even if it meant being fired or going to jail. 

She proposed potential cover stories for her meeting with the “Russians” and stressed the need for “plausible deniability” in the event she was confronted by American authorities. Gabrielian also told the FBI that, as a military officer, Henry was currently a more important source for Russia than she was, because they had more helpful information, including how the U.S. military establishes an army hospital in war conditions and information about previous training provided by the U.S. military to Ukrainian military personnel. 

Henry identifies as a “transgender military physician” on their Twitter account.

Henry received public attention in 2015 after becoming the first known active-duty Army officer to come out as trans.

Henry was at one point a member of SPARTA, the nation’s largest nonprofit representing actively-serving trans U.S. servicemembers. A spokesperson for SPARTA, in an emailed statement commenting on the announcement of the arrest and indictment of Henry and their spouse told the Washington Blade:

“Transgender people are as diverse as the societies to which they belong. One’s gender identity neither increases nor decreases a propensity towards alleged criminal activity.”

As stated in the indictment, Gabrielian is an anesthesiologist and worked at Medical Institution 1 in Baltimore.  

Henry, a major in the U.S. Army who held a secret-level security clearance, is Gabrielian’s spouse and a doctor. During the time of the alleged conspiracy, Henry worked as a staff internist stationed at Fort Bragg, the home of the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps, headquarters of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the Womack Army Medical Center.

Gabrielian was scheduled to have initial appearance at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brendan A. Hurson. Henry is also expected to have an initial appearance today, although a time has not yet been set.

Full statement from SPARTA:

“SPARTA, a non-profit advocacy organization representing transgender Service members in the United States, is saddened to learn of the arrest and indictment of Jamie Lee Henry, an officer in the U.S. Army and a medical doctor.

SPARTA has long advocated for the inclusion and total equity for transgender persons throughout the United States uniformed services. Today, thousands are serving honorably and authentically at home stations worldwide.

The actions alleged in the indictment do not reflect Henry’s identity as transgender. Their alleged actions are those of an individual and should not be taken as a representation of transgender people broadly or transgender members of the military specifically.

All people in the United States are entitled to the same rights, including due process and the presumption of innocence in this case. SPARTA does not condone any actions alleged in the indictment and expects the process to play out fairly and equitably as it would for anyone accused of a crime.”

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The unvaccinated are 14 times more likely to contract monkeypox: health officials

Guidance updated to allow shots in places other than forearm

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U.S. health officials are celebrating data finding the monkeypox contraction is lower among people who are vaccinated.

U.S. health officials are celebrating preliminary data on the vaccine used in the monkeypox outbreak, which has led them to conclude eligible persons who didn’t get a shot were 14 times more likely to become infected than those who are vaccinated.

The new data, as described by health officials on the White House monkeypox task force during a call with reporters on Wednesday, comes as the overall number of new cases of monkeypox is in sharp decline, although considerable racial disparities persist in the remaining cases as Black and Latino people are overrepresented in the numbers.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, said during the conference call the preliminary data — collected from 32 states between July 2022 and September 2022 — provides an early shapshot of the effectiveness of the vaccine and cause for optimism on the path forward.

“These new data provide us with a level of cautious optimism that the vaccine is working as intended,” Walkensky said. “These early findings and similar results from studies and other countries suggest even one dose of the monkeypox vaccine offers at least some initial protection against infection.”

Walensky during the conference call admitted the data is incomplete in numerous ways. For example, the data is based on information on individuals who have obtained only the first shot as opposed to both shots in the two-shot vaccination process. (The data showing positive results from individuals who have only one shot contradicts previous warnings from the same U.S. health officials that one shot of the monkeypox vaccine was insufficient.)

The data also makes no distinction between individuals who have obtained a shot through subcutaneous injection, a more traditional approach to vaccine administration, as opposed to intradermal injection, which is a newer approach adopted in the U.S. guidance amid the early vaccine shortage. Skeptics of the new approach have said data is limited to support the idea the intradermal injection is effective, particularly among immunocompromised people with HIV who have been at higher risk of contracting monkeypox.

Not enumerated as part of the data were underlying numbers leading health officials to conclude the unvaccinated were 14 times more likely to contract monkeypox as opposed to those with a shot, as well as any limiting principle on the definition of eligible persons. Also unclear from the data is whether individual practices in sexual behavior had any role in the results.

Despite the positive data on the monkeypox vaccine based on one shot, U.S. health officials warned during the conference call the two-shot approach to vaccine administration is consistent with their guidance and more effective.

Demetre Daskalakis, the Biden administration’s face of LGBTQ outreach for monkeypox and deputy coordinator for the White House monkeypox task force, made the case that for individuals at risk obtaining a second dose is “really important.”

“So we see some response after the first [shot] in the laboratory, but the really high responses that we want to really get — that you know, level 10 forcefield as opposed to the level five forcefield — doesn’t happen until the second dose,” Daskalakis said. “So the important message is this just tells us to keep on trucking forward because we need that second dose at arms that people haven’t gotten the first should start their series of two vaccines.”

Also during the call, health officials said they would be expanding opportunities for vaccines as pre exposure prophylaxis, as opposed to practices in certain regions granting vaccines in their limited supply to individuals who meet certain criteria or have had risk of exposure.

The Centers of Disease Control & Prevention, officials said, is also updating its guidance to allow injection of the vaccines in places other than a patient’s arm.

Daskalakis said fear of stigma about getting a noticeable shot in the forearm after obtaining a monkeypox vaccine was a key part of the decision to issue the new guidance on implementation.

“Many jurisdictions and advocates have told us that some people declined vaccine to monkeypox because of the stigma associated with the visible but temporary mark often left on their forearm,” Daskalakis said. “New guidance from CDC allows people who don’t want to risk a visible mark on their forearm to offer a vaccine on their skin by their shoulder or their upper back. Those are areas more frequently covered by clothes.”

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