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Trans advocate testifies before Senate on ENDA

‘I still sit here today with almost tears in my eyes’

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Kylar Broadus, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Senate heard for the first time ever testimony from a transgender witness in a hearing dedicated to highlighting workplace discrimination experienced by LGBT people.

Kylar Broadus, founder of the Columbia, Mo.-based Trans People of Color Coalition, discussed job discrimination he faced as a transgender man before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee on Tuesday as he called for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

In the early 1990s, Broadus worked for a major financial institution, although he didn’t disclose its name during the hearing. After announcing in 1995 he would undergo gender transitioning, Broadus said he was forced out of his role.

“At work, when I decided to actually transition, I had been there for a number of years, and I’m a workaholic, and it was disheartening to me that all this could be pulled out from under me because people weren’t comfortable with the person that I am,” Broadus said.

His written testimony details receiving harassing phone calls, receiving assignments after hours that were due early the next morning and being forbidden from talking to certain people.

“I still sit here today with almost tears in my eyes,” Broadus said. “It’s devastating, it’s demoralizing and dehumanizing to be put in that position.”

Broadus said his treatment at work and being forced out impacted him emotionally, causing him post-traumatic stress disorder, and led to a period of unemployment for about a year from which he still hasn’t financially recovered.

Noting other transgender workers who face discrimination and lose their jobs are unable to regain employment, Broadus called on Congress to pass ENDA to put into place workplace non-discrimination protections.

“I think it’s extremely important that this bill be passed to protect workers like me,” Broadus said. “There are many cases that I hear everyday, and people call me everyday with these cases around the country because I’m also an attorney that practices and deals with people that suffer employment discrimination.”

Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) confirmed during the hearing that Broadus was the first openly transgender person to testify before the Senate and commended him for his courage in speaking before the committee, saying he’s going to “give courage to a lot of other people.”

ENDA, sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) in the House and Jeff Merkley in the Senate (D-Ore.), would bar job bias against LGBT people in most situations in the public and private workforce. Firing someone for being gay is legal is 29 states; firing someone for being transgender is legal in 34 states.

Others who testified in favor of ENDA were M.V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles; Samuel Bagenstos, a law professor at the University of Michigan; and Ken Charles, vice president of diversity and inclusion at the breakfast foods company General Mills.

The Republican witness who testified against ENDA was Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel for the Manassas, Va.-based National Religious Broadcasters Association. Parshall previously testified against ENDA before the Senate in 2009.

Harkin called ENDA “important civil rights legislation” that would build off strides already made against workplace discrimination in the past 45 years.

“Many states and businesses are already leading the way toward ensuring full equality for all our fellow citizens,” Harkin said. “However, the harsh reality is that employers in most states can still fire, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity — and, shockingly, they can do so within the law.”

Merkley expressed the need for passing ENDA, saying without it on the books, LGBT workers would continue to face workplace discrimination.

“Let us not lose sight that each and every day, American citizens are discriminated against in their employment or their potential employment in ways that have a profound impact on their opportunity fully live their lives, to fully contribute, to fully pursue happiness, to be all that they can be, all that they are — which is a benefit to them and a benefit to our nation,” Merkley said. “This discrimination is absolutely wrong. It is morally wrong and we must end it.”

The hearing takes places after the White House announced in April it won’t issue at this time an executive order requiring federal contractors to have their own non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The directive didn’t come up during the hearing.

No Republican committee members attended the hearing. The only GOP co-sponsor who serves on the committee is Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). He’s been recovering from a stroke he suffered in late January. A minority committee spokesperson didn’t immediate respond to a request to comment on why all Republican committee members were absent.

Democrats who attended the hearing in addition to Harkin and Merkley were Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and, briefly, Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

LGBT advocates commended Harkin for bringing more attention to the lack of federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people by holding an ENDA hearing.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said ENDA reflects core American values of “giving everyone a fair shake and allowing them to fully and freely contribute their skills and talents” in the workforce.

“Many people think these protections already exist, but that’s not the case,” Carey said. “There is no clear federal law, and there are no such laws in over half the states. This jeopardizes our ability to have or keep employment, housing and feed our families. ENDA will level the playing field once and for all.”

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-sponsors of the bill, so it should have no problem getting out of committee.

Murray was explicit in calling for a markup of the bill during her committee remarks, saying she wants to see ENDA pass out of committee “expeditiously.” In response, Harkin said, “I hope so.”

Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin (Blade photo by Michael Key)

But speaking with the Washington Blade after the hearing, Harkin was more hesitant about the idea of holding a markup, saying, “I’m going to poll my committee and see. Right now, I’m kind of up to here in getting [Food & Drug Administration] bill through, as you know.   We got it through the Senate; we’ve got to work with the House on that trying to get that put to bed, and then I’m going to poll the committee and see what we want to do.”

Another organization is taking the call to advance ENDA a step further. On the same day of the hearing, Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), calling on him to schedule a floor vote on the legislation.

“[W]e respectfully urge you to bring ENDA to a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate this summer so that LGBT Americans do not have to wait any longer to know which of their Senators support their freedom to work without harassment or discrimination on the job, and which Senators still find it acceptable for Americans to be unjustly fired simply because of whom they love or their gender identity,” Almeida writes.

Reid’s office didn’t respond to a request to comment on the letter. The writing cites the Washington Blade’s questioning of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in January 2011 in which the spokesperson acknowledged that “there’s no doubt that whenever you get something done in one [chamber], you’re closer to certainly seeing it come to fruition.”

Harkin told the Blade he’d like to see a floor vote on ENDA, although he acknowledged he doesn’t control the schedule for the Senate.

“I wish we could have a floor vote, yes,” Harkin said. “I would like to see a floor vote on this because I think it’s something the American people ought to where we stand on this issue. This is not an issue that bothers me. As I said, it’s not difficult for me. It might be difficult for some people; it’s not difficult for me.”

The most significant point of contention during the hearing between supporters of ENDA and Parshall, who alone expressed opposition to the legislation. Section 6 of ENDA, titled “Exemption for religious organizations,” says the bill won’t apply to institutions that are exempt from the religious discrimination provisions of Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Parshall targeted the religious exemption as his reasons for his opposition to the legislation, saying ENDA “would impose a substantial unconstitutional burden on religious organizations” and “interfere with their ability to effectively pursue their missions.”

“It creates huge problems for future courts to iron out which organizations and under what conditions would be exempted, and which ones would not. I think that kind of uncertainty, obviously, raises constitutional problems,” Parshall said.

Bagenstos took Parshall’s objections to ENDA head on during the later question-and-answer portion of the hearing, saying Parshall’s assertions are without merit because the legislation clearly states which religious organizations are exempt from ENDA.

“Like any legal tests, there are sometimes cases at the edges, but employers have over 40 years of case law to enable them to understand what is covered and what is not covered here,” Bagenstos said. “There is no particular reason to believe that under ENDA, there would be any difficulty in understanding what the scope of the application of that exemption would be.”

But social conservatives aren’t the only ones unhappy with ENDA’s religious exemption. The American Civil Liberties Union says the exemption is too broad and should be narrowed to be more similar to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Ian Thompson, the ACLU’s legislative representative, said the current exemption “would provide a license for a religious organization to discriminate” against LGBT people for any reason and not just based on the organization’s religious teachings.

“We believe that the existing Title VII exemption — which allows religious organizations the ability to restrict their hiring based on religion, but not to engage in race, sex, or national origin discrimination, for example, offers sufficient protection to religious organizations,” Thompson said. “As we argue, there is no reason to adopt a different exemption for LGBT discrimination by those organizations.”

Thompson also called for the elimination of Section 8(c) of ENDA, which he said would allow employers in states where same-sex couples can legally marry to treat married gay and lesbian employees as unmarried for purposes of employee benefits.

“As more states continue to move in the direction of extending the freedom to marry to gay and lesbian couples and the ongoing legal challenges to DOMA work their way through the judicial process, Congress should not, in our view, pass legislation that expands the reach of a discriminatory and unconstitutional law,” Thompson said.

The committee didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the proposed changes, but Merkley expressed awareness of the proposed change during the hearing.

No Obama administration official testified at the hearing. A White House official had earlier said the administration wasn’t invited to testify, and committee spokesperson Justine Sessions said the panel had already heard from the administration in testimony from earlier hearings.

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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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