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Senate panel approves DP benefits legislation

Bill would extend health, pension benefits to fed’l employees with same-sex partners

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Sen. Joseph Lieberman sponsors legislation that would provide benefits to the partners of federal employees. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A Senate committee tasked with overseeing government operations Wednesday morning approved legislation that would extend major benefits to federal employees with same-sex partners.

The Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee approved the legislation, known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, or S.1910, by voice vote along with other bills.

Chair Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the sponsor of legislation, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking Republican on the committee and an original co-sponsor, issued statements following the vote praising the bill.

Lieberman drew a distinction between legislation offering gay federal employees partner benefits and the legalization of same-sex marriage.

“S. 1910 is not about same sex marriage,” Lieberman said. “It is about equal pay and equal benefits for equal work. In fact, many people who oppose the legalization of same sex marriage, including myself, strongly support this equality in employee benefits for domestic partners.”

The senator, who’s set to retire at the end of this year, said passage of the legislation would help the federal government attract employees who might otherwise opt for employment in the private sector.

“Correcting this situation that allows for unequal treatment among federal workers not only fixes a fundamental unfairness in the current system, it will help the federal government recruit and retain talented employees who might otherwise reject federal service because of they can get fairer benefits packages from other private or public sector employers,” Lieberman said.

Collins also touted the legislation as a means to allow the federal government to keep up with other employers in recruiting workers.

“This change is both fair policy and good business practice,” Collins said. “The federal government must compete with the private sector when it comes to attracting the most qualified, skilled, and dedicated employees. Today, health, medical, and other benefits are a major component of any competitive employment package. Indeed, private sector employers are increasingly offering these kinds of benefits as standard fare.”

According to Collins, nearly 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies — including top federal contractors — extend benefits to employees with same-sex partners.

The legislation would ensure that gay employees working for the federal government have the same partners benefits that are available to the spouses of straight workers — including health and pension benefits.

In 2009, President Obama signed a memorandum extending limited domestic partner benefits to federal employees with same-sex partners. However, major ticket items — health and pension benefits — were excluded from this action because the administration believed that would violate the Defense of Marriage Act.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation is “about the basic concept of fairness in the workplace.”

“The federal government would be wise to follow the private sector in offering equal pay for equal work,” Solmonese said. “America’s major corporations have discovered that equality is not only the right thing to do, but good for business. Equal workplace policies, like those DPBO would enact, will help attract and retain the best and brightest talent, which is exactly what our federal workforce needs.”

The bill is estimated to cost less than $700 million over the course of 10 years. In comparison, the total budget for employee compensation and benefits is $400 billion a year. Therefore, the legislation would take up two hundredths of one percent of the total budget.

The only amendment approved during the markup was a substitute bill recommended by the Office of Personnel Management to provide a spending offset. Under the substitute, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program can recover the costs of insuring a same-sex partner who’s already covered by a party other than the federal government. FEHB carriers can recover funds through reimbursement or subrogation.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on when the legislation would come up for a vote on the Senate floor. The legislation has 23 co-sponsor, far short of the 60 needed to overcome a Senate filibuster.

In the House, companion version of the legislation is sponsored by lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and 86 co-sponsors. The bill has seen no movement in the Republican-controlled chamber.

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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Federal Government

Federal government prepares for looming shutdown

White House warns of ‘damaging impacts across the country’

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

However remote they were on Monday, odds of avoiding a government shutdown were narrowed by Thursday evening as House Republicans continued debate over their hyper-partisan appropriations bills that stand no chance of passage by the Upper Chamber.

As lawmakers in the Democratic controlled Senate forged ahead with a bipartisan stop-gap spending measure that House GOP leadership had vowed to reject, the federal government began bracing for operations to grind to a halt on October 1.

This would mean hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed as more than 100 agencies from the State Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation roll out contingency plans maintained by the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday the Office of Personnel Management sent out memos to all agencies instructing them to ready for a shutdown on Sunday.

Before 1980, operations would continue per usual in cases where Congress failed to break an impasse over spending, as lapses in funding tended to last only a few days before lawmakers brokered a deal.

Since then, the government has shut down more than a dozen times and the duration has tended to become longer and longer.

“Across the United States, local news outlets are reporting on the harmful impacts a potential government shutdown would have on American families,” the White House wrote in a release on Thursday featuring a roundup of reporting on how the public might be affected.

“With just days left before the end of the fiscal year, extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with peoples’ lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said.

The nature and extent of that damage will depend on factors including how long the impasse lasts, but the Biden-Harris administration has warned of some consequences the American public is likely to face.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, warned: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation.”

Amid the shortage of air traffic controllers and efforts to modernize aviation technology to mitigate flight delays and cancellations, a government shutdown threatens to “make air travel even worse,” as Business Insider wrote in a headline Thursday.

Democratic lawmakers including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the consequences for the global fight against AIDS amid the looming expiration, on Oct. 1, of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

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Federal Government

QAnon follower pleads guilty to threatening member of Congress

Conspiracy movement claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world

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QAnon banner at a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Va., in 2020. (YouTube screenshot from Anthony Crider)

A New Mexico man has entered a plea deal after being charged with a federal criminal complaint of making threats through interstate communications directed at a member of Congress.

Federal prosecutors charged Michael David Fox, a resident of Doña Ana County, for calling the Houston district office of an unnamed member of Congress on or about May 18, 2023, and uttering threats that included knowingly threatening to kill an active member of Congress.

The plea agreement was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Damian L. Martinez of U.S. District Court in New Mexico in the Las Cruces by Fox’s attorney from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in August.

According to the criminal complaint as outlined by a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal investigator for the Albuquerque Field Office, Las Cruces Resident Agency, on May 18 at approximately 9:04 p.m. Fox called the office of a congresswoman for the District of Texas, U.S. House of Representatives (Victim One/”V1″), who is from Houston. The call was received by V1’s office.

In the phone call Fox stated “Hey [Vl], you’re a man. It’s official. You’re literally a tranny and a pedophile, and I’m going to put a bullet in your fucking face. You mother fucking satanic cock smoking son of a whore. You understand me you fucker?” 

Law enforcement was able to trace the call back to Las Cruces, N.M., and it was believed that Fox was the user of cell phone account used to make the call. According to the FBI agents who interviewed Fox, he admitted to making the call.

Fox acknowledged that the threat was direct but claimed that he did not own any guns. Fox
claimed to be a member of the Q2 Truth Movement, the Q Movement. Fox explained these
movements believe all over the world there were transgender individuals running
governments, kingdoms and corporations. 

Fox told the FBI that there is a plan called “Q the Plan to Save the World” which he learned about from an online video. Fox claimed that he believed Q was going to engage in the “eradication” of the people who were causing all the world’s misery. He believed that part of the eradication had already happened.

Fox explained that he had run Vl’s skull features through forensic analysis and determined
that Vl was born male and is now trans. Fox discussed his military service with the
U.S. Air Force, “Q the Plan to Save the World,” and how God communicates using
numbers. 

Fox continued to reiterate several different types of conspiracy theories indicating
extreme far right ideologies as his explanation for why he conducted the phone call to
threaten V1.

According to the FBI, Fox rescinded his threat against Vl and apologized. Fox claimed he was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when he made the call. Fox stated he understood how Vl would feel threatened by his phone call, and he acknowledged that anyone he knew or cared about would also be concerned with such a threat.

The charge of interstate threatening communications carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

QAnon began in 2017, when a mysterious figure named “Q” started posting on the online message board 4chan, claiming to have inside access to government secrets. Since then, QAnon has grown into a conspiracy movement that claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world. It is claimed by QAnon adherents that former President Donald Trump is the only person who can defeat them. 

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist Ana Valens, a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship and sex workers’ rights noted that Fox appears to be a “transvestigator.” Valens noted that the transvestigation conspiracy theory is a fringe movement within QAnon that claims the world is primarily run by trans people. Phrenological analysis is common among transvestigators, with a prominent focus on analyzing celebrities for proof that they are trans.

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