An openly transgender person for the first time is set to testify before the Senate on Tuesday about the lack of federal employment LGBT non-discrimination protections and the need to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, according to a committee notice published Thursday.
Kylar Broadus, founder of the Columbia, Mo., based Trans People of Color Coalition, is scheduled be among five witnesses who’ll speak during the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee hearing titled, “Equality At Work: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act.” The hearing is set to begin at 10 am, Room 106 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
According to his bio of the TPOCC website, Broadus is an attorney who hails from Missouri and founded the organization in 2010. He’s written essays of transgender rights, won awards for LGBT advocacy, is a board member of the National Black Justice Coalition and was formerly on the board for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.
Broadus is the first transgender person to testify before the Senate. A previous Senate hearing in 2009 had no transgender witnesses. A House hearing at around the same time featured testimony from Vandy Beth Glenn, who was fired from her job at the Georgia General Assembly for being transgender.
Other witnesses that Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) selected for the hearing are M. V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles; Samuel Bagenstos, a law professor at University of Michigan; and Ken Charles, vice president of diversity and inclusion, General Mills, Inc.
The Republican witness is Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Religious Broadcasters Association. Parshall had already testified in 2009 against ENDA.
Absent from the witness list is any Obama administration official. Members of the administration testified before the House and Senate in 2009: Stuart Ishimaru, then-acting chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, testified before the House and Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, testified before the Senate.
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration wasn’t invited to testify.
“While the administration was not invited to testify, we welcome Chairman Harkin’s hearing to examine this important issue,” the official said. “The president has long supported an inclusive ENDA.”
Justine Sessions, a HELP committee spokesperson, said the committee has already heard from the Obama administration on ENDA.
“Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez testified at our last hearing on ENDA and fully endorsed the bill, as the White House did just recently,” Sessions said. “The focus of this hearing is putting a human face on the discrimination LGBT Americans face, which is why the Committee invited witnesses like Kylar Broadus, a transgender American who has experienced discrimination.”
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, praised Harkin for his selection of witnesses. Almeida said he worked with Senate staff to identify and vet witnesses for the hearing.
“Senator Tom Harkin and his staff have done an excellent job assembling an impressive and diverse panel of witnesses who will clearly outline the ongoing problem of workplace harassment and discrimination against LGBT Americans and explain how ENDA will give all Americans the freedom to work without fear of unfair treatment on the job,” Almeida said.
Almeida had harsh words for Parshall, who will likely reiterate his opposition to ENDA during the hearing, as has done in the past.
“The Republicans are phoning-in their opposition to ENDA by calling the exact same witness that already testified at the fall 2009 House and Senate hearings on ENDA,” Almeida said. “It shows that Republicans can’t find anyone willing to testify under oath in opposition to ENDA, which is supported by super-majorities of the American public. I predict Republican witness Craig Parshal is going to recycle his poorly written testimony for a third time, possibly only changing the date at the top of what he wrote three years ago.”
Almeida predicted that Parshall would criticize the religious exemption in ENDA, saying any such criticism would “undercut the votes” of House Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who while in minority in 2007 all voted for the religious exemption as an amendment on the floor.
While Almeida served as counsel in the House of Representatives, he and another House attorney drafted the current religious exemption, which was affirmed by a vote of 402-25 in a vote that occurred on the floor of the House in November 2007 in an amendment offered by then House Education & Labor Committee Chair George Miller (D-Calif.).
According to Almeida, Republicans had the opportunity to select two witnesses for the hearing, but only one was chosen because another person who would testify against ENDA couldn’t be found. The minority spokesperson for the Senate HELP Committee didn’t respond to a request to comment on the assertion.
In addition to the hearing, LGBT advocates have been calling on the committee to markup the legislation to send it to the Senate floor. All 12 Democrats on the panel — in addition to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) — are co-sponors of the bill, so it should have no problem getting out of committee.
It’s possible the idea of an executive order requiring federal contractors to have non-discrimination policies for LGBT workers could come up at hearing. In April, the White House announced it wouldn’t issue such an executive order at this time, but LGBT advocates have been pressuring the administration to reconsider the decision.
Badgett, one of the scheduled witnesses, has written an op-ed piece for The New York Times calling on Obama to issue the executive order. The Williams Institute is among the organizations that have continued to consult with the administration after the decision was announced against issuing the executive order.
Commentary on the executive order could also come from Charles because of the company he represents. A federal contractor that won nearly $200 million in federal money in the last fiscal year, General Mills has non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation.
Jim Obergefell announces bid for seat in Ohio state legislature
Marriage plaintiff moves on to new endeavor
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.
FDA-funded blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men
D.C.’s Whitman-Walker, L.A. LGBT Center working on study to ease restrictions
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.
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
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 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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