CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A rousing speech from former President Bill Clinton that capped off Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention was well-received by attendees, although the day wasn’t free of controversy.
Clinton took to the podium at the Time Warner Cable Arena to call formally for the nomination of Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee for president, but not before taking digs at Republican nominee Mitt Romney and others for what he said were false assertions about the current administration.
Among the accusations made by GOP vice residential nominee Paul Ryan that Clinton disputed was the claim that Obama robbed Medicare of $716 billion in an effort that could imperil the benefits of seniors.
“Here’s what really happened,” Clinton said. “There were no cuts to benefits. None. What the president did was save money by cutting unwarranted subsidies to providers and insurance companies that weren’t making people any healthier. He used the saving to close the donut hole in the Medicare drug program, and to add eight years to the life of the Medicare Trust Fund. It’s now solvent until 2024. So President Obama and the Democrats didn’t weaken Medicare, they strengthened it.”
The former president, who signed welfare reform into law in 1996, also took issue with Republican claims that Obama had waived the work requirement for welfare reform — an assertion echoed last week by former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum on stage at the Republican National Convention.
“When some Republican governors asked to try new ways to put people on welfare back to work, the Obama administration said they would only do it if they had a credible plan to increase employment by 20 percent,” Clinton said. “You hear that? More work. So the claim that President Obama weakened welfare reform’s work requirement is just not true, but they keep running ads on it.”
Clinton also came to Obama’s defense on the economy, saying the economic situation that had befallen the nation in 2008 under the Bush administration was so dire that Obama couldn’t be expected to reverse course in just one term in office, but more progress should be seen in a second term.
“President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did,” Clinton said. “No president — not me or any of my predecessors could have repaired all the damage in just four years. But conditions are improving and if you’ll renew the president’s contract you will feel it.”
The former president also touted Obama’s signature legislative achievement — the Affordable Care Act — saying claims that it amounts to a government takeover of health care are untrue.
“Soon the insurance companies, not the government, will have millions of new customers — many of them middle class people with pre-existing conditions,” Clinton said. “And for the last two years, health care spending has grown under 4 percent, for the first time in 50 years. So are we all better off because President Obama fought for it and passed it? You bet we are.”
Clinton, who signed into law “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act, made no reference to LGBT issues during his remarks. The former president has come out for marriage equality and has since called for DOMA repeal and an end to the military’s gay ban before it was ultimately lifted.
But Clinton did express gratitude to former President George W. Bush for creating the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief when talking about the accomplishments of former Republican presidents and how he could never hate the GOP the way the far right hates Obama.
“I am grateful to President George W. Bush for PEPFAR, which is saving the lives of millions of people in poor countries and to both Presidents Bush for the work we’ve done together after the South Asia tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake,” Clinton said.
Attendees at the Democratic National Convention were captivated by Clinton as he delivered his remarks. His speech was punctuated by applause and shouts of “Four more years! Four more years!” After the remarks, Obama entered onstage alongside Clinton, who gave a bow to the current president before the two embraced.
Adam Ebbin, a gay delegate from Virginia and member of the Virginia State Senate, told the Washington Blade after Clinton’s speech that the former president “made the case for why we need to re-elect the president” and to keep health care reform on the books.
“When he talked about health care and what it meant, and economic polices and tax fairness, I think it really resonated with the crowd here in the hall and hopefully with the crowd at home,” Ebbin said.
U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who’s locked in a tight race to unseat Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), also delivered remarks that stirred the audience as she emphasized the struggle of the middle class to achieve the American dream and took a dig at Romney’s infamous remark that “corporations are people.”
“No, Gov. Romney, corporations are not people,” Warren said. “People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die. And that matters. That matters because we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people. And that’s why we need Barack Obama.”
But in comparison to Tuesday, when at least four openly gay speakers took to the podium and a multitude of others who spoke incorporated references to LGBT rights in their remarks — explicit references to the LGBT community were fewer on Wednesday.
The most notable exception were remarks from gay California Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, who talked about the advancement of LGBT rights in addition to addressing women’s and immigrant-related issues. However, he wasn’t given a primetime slot.
Perez addressed the continued lack of federal non-discrimination workplace protections.
“In too many states, even some folks who have a job wake up every morning in fear that they will lose that job simply for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender,” Perez said. “We fight for them.”
Perez also praised Obama for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and for coming out in support of marriage equality, saying they’re evidence of Obama working to protect and advance “opportunities” for all American people.
“He repealed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ giving LGBT Americans the opportunity to proudly and openly serve our nation in uniform,” Perez said. “And he’s standing up for the right of LGBT Americans to say, ‘I do.'”
More gay speakers should follow at the convention. Gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who’s retiring from Congress at the end of this year, was initially slated to speak on Wednesday, but he agreed to move his speech to the next day due to, according a Democratic official, the “overwhelming enthusiasm in the arena and extended applauses.” Lesbian U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin is scheduled to speak on the same day.
Other speakers also made note of LGBT issues or touted the Obama administration’s progress on them. References to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal were made by Congressional Black Caucus Chair Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), Rep. Luis Guiterrez (D-Ill.) — who also mentioned marriage equality — and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who refused to defend Proposition 8 in court, also incorporated marriage equality in her speech, saying the American dream belongs to “the men and women across this country who know it shouldn’t be against the law to marry the person you love.”
The day also saw controversy as a result of the party platform. Shortly after the gavel time starting the session for the day, party leaders attempted to amend the platform after controversy ensued to include a mention of God in the manifesto as well as an assertion that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The amendments reportedly were backed by Obama.
Democratic National Committee chair and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had to ask for three voice votes to get the the two-thirds vote necessary for the changes.
But Democrats were unified at the end of the evening when the roll call of the states was read to formally award delegates to Obama to make him the Democratic nominee for president. All of the 5,963 delegates were awarded to Obama. Notably, at least three of the speakers representing their states during the roll call were gay: Colorado State Democratic Chair Rick Palacio; New Hampshire State Democratic Chair Ray Buckley; and Rhode Island House Assembly Speaker Gordon Fox.
After the roll call, Buckley told the Blade being able to represent New Hampshire in the nominating process for Rhode Island was deeply personal for him because he recalled that each state had sent this year at least one LGBT delegate to the convention.
“The only time I really choked up was when we did the roll call, and the fact every single state and territory had at least somebody [LGBT] there,” Buckley said. “Some little gay kid — when they’re 12, 13 realizes they’re gay — is going to realize that this is the party that will stand for them and stand with them, and welcome them and empower them and embrace them. Not a lot of people gave a lot of positive reinforcement to people my age when we were adolescents and I think it sends a very powerful message.”
N.C. lieutenant governor compares gays to cow feces, maggots
“If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said
WINSTON-SALEM – Speaking to parishioners at the Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem last Sunday, November 14, North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson attacked the LGBTQ+ community in remarks caught on the church’s livestreaming video on YouTube.
Robinson said in his sermon that he questioned the “purpose” of being gay; said heterosexual couples are “superior” to gay couples; and that he didn’t want to explain to his grandchildren why two men are kissing if they see that on television the Charlotte Observer reported.
The state’s Republican Lt. Governor then went on to compare being gay to “what the cows leave behind” as well as maggots and flies, who he said all serve a purpose in God’s creation. “If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said.
Democratic lawmakers expressed their outrage on Twitter:
“This man’s theology and religious practices are not only flawed and a perversion of the Christian tenets; he places countless people at risk of violent attacks and even murder every time he opens his mouth.” #ncpol https://t.co/Uw8jeiqx7A— NC House Democrats (@NCHouseDems) November 20, 2021
According to the Observer, “The video was distributed Friday by a pastor at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, the day before the Transgender Day of Remembrance. A protest rally was held Friday in front of Robinson’s office, but organizers also read the names of transgender people who have been killed.
“This man’s theology and religious practices are not only flawed and a perversion of the Christian tenets; he places countless people at risk of violent attacks and even murder every time he opens his mouth,” said Vance Haywood, senior pastor at St. John’s, in a statement.
Robinson is expected to run for the governor’s chair in 2024. In another video of the sermon captured the Lt. Governor ranting in transphobic terms his opinion of the Trans community:
North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (Twitter Video)
Video of remarks made by North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson courtesy of the Charlotte Observer.
LGBTQ elder care facilities open nationwide, but discrimination persists
Advocates say seniors face challenges despite groundbreaking advances
Marsha Wetzel, an out lesbian, shared her life with her partner of 30 years, Judith Kahn, at the couple’s home in Illinois until Kahn died in 2013 of colon cancer.
As is the case with some same-sex couples who never married, Kahn’s family took legal possession of the couple’s home several years later, forcing Wetzel, who suffered from severe arthritis, to move into the Glen St. Andrew Living Community, a retirement and assisted living facility in Niles, Ill.
According to a lawsuit filed on her behalf in 2016 by the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, when word got out that Wetzel was a lesbian after she disclosed her sexual orientation to a fellow resident, she was called homophobic slurs, spat on, and assaulted on several occasions by other residents of the facility. The lawsuit, which later resulted in a court ruling in Wetzel’s favor, charged that officials at the Glen St. Andrew facility illegally failed to take action to prevent Wetzel from being subjected to abuse and threats by fellow residents and retaliated against her when she complained.
Lambda Legal announced one year ago, on Nov. 20, 2020, that Wetzel passed away at the age of 73 of natural causes after a landmark 2018 appeals court ruling in her favor affirmed that residential facilities such as the one in which she lived are legally responsible for the safety of tenant residents.
“Marsha spent the rest of her days in a senior living community where she was out and affirmed,” said Lambda Legal attorney Karen Loewy, who represented Wetzel in the lawsuit.
Advocates for LGBTQ seniors were hopeful that the 2018 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruling in the Wetzel case would speed up the gradual but steady advances in the rights of LGBTQ elders in long-term care facilities and in society in general.
A short time later, the New York City-based national LGBTQ elder advocacy group SAGE expanded its programs providing cultural competency training for the nation’s long-term care residential facilities. And in some cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, LGBTQ specific retirement and long-term care facilities began to open to provide LGBTQ elders with a wide range of “wrap around” services in addition to a safe place to live.
But LGBTQ elder advocates were taken aback in October of this year when news surfaced that transgender U.S. Army veteran Lisa Oakley, 68, was denied placement in more than two-dozen long-term care facilities in Colorado in 2020 and earlier this year.
“When they found out I was transgender, a lot of the facilities didn’t want me,” Oakley told USA Today. “A lot of transgender people, I’m sure, face the same thing,” she said. “We’re humans, just like everybody else.”
Oakley told other media outlets her ordeal in trying to gain admission to a residential care facility began in October 2020, when she became unable to care for herself due to complications from diabetes. Her first choice was a facility in her hometown in rural Craig, Colo., where she had lived for the previous 25 years. She believes that facility turned her down because of her gender identity.
A social worker who assisted in Oakley’s applications for long-term care facilities said the facility in Craig said Oakley would have to be placed in a private room, which was at the time unavailable, “because she still has her ‘boy parts’ and cannot be placed with a woman” in a shared room.
Many other Colorado facilities to which Oakley applied for admission, according to social worker Cori Martin-Crawford, cited the COVID pandemic as the reason for not accepting new residents. But as COVID related restrictions began to subside, other facilities continued to deny Oakley admission.
With Martin-Crawford’s help, Oakley finally found a facility that is LGBTQ supportive in Grand Junction, Colo., which is nearly three hours away from her hometown of Craig, where she had hoped to remain.
LGBTQ activists expressed concern that the discrimination that Oakley faced took place in the state of Colorado, which has a state law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Experts familiar with long-term care facilities for older adults have said many private elder care facilities can get around state LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws by claiming other reasons for turning down an LGBTQ person.
Michael Adams, the CEO of SAGE, told the Blade that the wide range of programs and initiatives put in place by SAGE and other groups advocating for LGBTQ elders in recent years have resulted in significant changes in support of LGBTQ seniors.
“It is the case now that in almost all states there are one or more elder care facilities that have been trained through our SAGECare program,” Adams said. “But it’s nowhere near what it needs to be,” he said. “It needs to be that there are welcoming elder care facilities in every single community in this country” for LGBTQ elders.
Adams was referring to the SAGE program started recently called SAGECare that arranges for employees and other officials at elder care facilities throughout the country to receive LGBTQ competency training. The facilities that participate in the program are designated “SAGECare credentialed,” and are included in SAGE database lists available to LGBTQ elders looking for a safe facility in which to reside.
SAGE spokesperson Christina Da Costa provided the Blade with data showing there have been 136,975 professionals trained at a total of 617 SAGECare credentialed organizations nationwide. Out of 617 organizations, 172 are residential communities. Also, out of the total of 617 are 167 Area Agencies on Aging, Aging and Disability Resource Centers, Senior Centers, and senior Ombudsman offices.
Da Costa said 278 of the credentialed entities that have received the SAGECare training throughout the country are “other aging focused nonprofit and for-profit businesses.”
According to SAGE, there are 12 SAGECare credentialed elder care facilities or service providers operating in the D.C. metropolitan area, with two located in D.C. One of the D.C. facilities is Ingleside at Rock Creek, located in Northwest D.C., which is a residential facility. The other is Options for Senior America, a company that provides in-home care services for seniors, including seniors living in D.C.
A SAGE list of the D.C.-area SAGECare credentialed facilities shows that three are in Rockville, Md.; two are in Gaithersburg, Md.; and one each are in Bethesda, Md.; Arlington, Va.; and Alexandria, Va. The list shows that one of them that provides services to elders in the D.C. area is based in North Carolina.
SAGE has a separate list of the 15 elder care residential facilities in the U.S. created specifically to serve LGBTQ residents.
None are in D.C., Maryland, or Virginia. However, SAGE says it has been working in cooperation with Mary’s House for Older Adults, a D.C.-based LGBTQ organization that advocates for LGBTQ seniors and is in the process of opening LGBTQ elder residential facilities in D.C. and others in the surrounding suburbs.
Mary’s House founder and CEO Dr. Imani Woody couldn’t immediately be reached to determine when the organization expects to open its first residential facility.
While a residential LGBTQ elder facility has yet to open in the D.C. area, activists note that in addition to Mary’s House, services and amenities for LGBTQ elders in the area are currently being provided by the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive health center, which also has a legal services branch.
Adams of SAGE said the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center opened the nation’s first LGBTQ elder residential facility over eight years ago called Triangle Square. He said the L.A. Center opened a second LGBTQ elder residential facility a short time later. And this week, the L.A. Center announced it has opened a third LGBTQ elder residential facility in Hollywood that is part of a larger “intergenerational campus” that will bring together LGBTQ seniors and LGBTQ youth.
SAGE, meanwhile, operates two LGBTQ elder long-term care residential facilities in New York City, one in Brooklyn called the Stonewall House and one in the Bronx called Pride House.
The other U.S. cities with LGBTQ elder residential facilities include: Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco (which has two such facilities), San Diego, Houston, Fort Lauderdale, and Islip, N.Y.
Adams said the LGBTQ elder residential facilities range in size, with the largest – New York’s Stonewall House – having 143 apartments that can accommodate 200 residents. He said others vary from 40 or 50 residential units to 120.
Advocates for LGBTQ elders point to what they consider another important breakthrough for LGBTQ elders this year in the release of a joint SAGE-Human Rights Campaign Long-Term Care Equality Index report for 2021. Adams said the report is the first of what could become an annual report and rating and scorecard for long-term care elder residential facilities and other elder facilities.
The 2021 report includes a self-reporting assessment of elder care facilities that the facilities themselves completed through a questionnaire in which many disclosed they have LGBTQ nondiscrimination policies for elders around admission to the facility and for practices by staff for those residing in their facilities.
The report includes a chart showing that 158 elder care facilities in 31 states responded positively to the outreach to them by organizers of the Long-Term Care Equality Index.
“We are thrilled to be working with SAGE and to be working with the Human Rights Campaign who are developing the Long-Term Care Equality Index,” said Nii-Quartelai Quartey, who serves as senior adviser and LGBTQ liaison for the American Association of Retired Persons or AARP.
“There is a great deal of work that we’re doing in the area of LGBTQ older adults nationwide,” Quartey told the Blade. “And AARP has been engaged with the LGBTQ community nationwide for many years now,” he said.
“In recent years, we’ve turned up the volume in working more closely with organizations like SAGE and Lambda Legal and the Victory Fund Institute, the Center for Black Equity, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, and the Hispanic Federation.”
According to Quartey, a recent AARP study of LGBTQ elders called Maintaining Dignity shows that longstanding concerns of discrimination remain despite the many advances in support for LGBTQ seniors in recent years.
He said a survey that was part of the study found that 67 percent of the LGBTQ elders who responded, “were concerned about neglect in a long-term care setting.” Over 60 percent feared verbal or physical harassment in a long-term care setting and over half “felt forced to hide or deny their identity” as an LGBTQ person, Quartey said.
Another recent survey of LGBTQ elders conducted by SAGE asking them how they feel about the use of the word “queer” in descriptions of LGBTQ people yielded findings that came as a surprise to some, according to Adams. A large majority of those surveyed from across the country said they are “comfortable at this point using that word and reclaiming that word, which is different from what we had heard historically,” Adams said.
He said in response to those findings SAGE will now as an organization gradually shift to using the term LGBTQ instead of its past practice of using LGBT.
Although Congress has yet to pass the Equality Act, last year under the Trump Administration, Congress acted in a rare bipartisan way to approve the required five-year reauthorization of the U.S. Older Americans Act with new language supportive of LGBTQ older adults. President Trump signed the legislation.
The language includes a mandate for outreach to and reporting about services provided to LGBTQ older adults in federally funded programs. It also opens the way for LGBTQ older adults to be designated in a category of “greatest social need.” Under that category, older adults receive a higher priority in the allocation of resources by the federal government.
“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a way to go to get over the finish line,” said the AARP’s Quartey. “And aside from passing legislation federally and on the state and local level, we absolutely need to continue the hard work of changing hearts and minds,” he said.
Longtime gay activist and writer Brian McNaught, whose latest book, “On Being Gay and Gray – Our Stories, Gifts, and the Meaning of Our Lives,” was just released, says his own very informal survey of LGBTQ elders found there is a need for intimacy that may be too controversial for the establishment LGBTQ elder groups.
“I’m a SAGE volunteer and the 81-year-old man with whom I was working after his husband of 47 years died, said after his grieving process, ‘I want to be hugged and kissed. Does that make me a bad person?’”
McNaught told the Blade he assured the man those feelings do not make him a bad person. McNaught said the man’s comment prompted him to conduct further research, in which he found that some gay male elders in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area who often need assisted living support would like to patronize gay bathhouses or seek the services of an escort agency. He said he determined that any LGBTQ elder group providing such services would trigger “a huge uproar of protests” and most likely a loss of funding.
“We don’t want to talk about sexuality and aging,” McNaught said.
Former VOA director nominated to head U.S. Agency for Global Media
Previous CEO’s actions threatened LGBTQ internet freedom
President Biden on Monday nominated Amanda Bennett, the former head of Voice of America and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, investigative journalist and editor, to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
“I am honored by this nomination,” Bennett told Voice of America. “If confirmed, I will be so proud to work with all the dedicated journalists at USAGM who are doing the critical and difficult work around the world of upholding and demonstrating the value of a free press.”
The agency operates independently from the U.S. government and oversees five different entities that include Voice of America, broadcasting platforms and the Open Technology Fund. The fund is an independent non-profit organization that focuses on advancing global internet freedom by providing internet access, digital privacy tutorials, privacy enhancement and security tools like encryption.
These tools have been integral in preserving internet freedom for LGBTQ people abroad, especially in places where it’s unsafe or illegal to be LGBTQ.
Bennett, 69, was named VOA director in 2016 and resigned from her post in June 2020 after conservative documentary filmmaker Michael Pack was confirmed as the agency’s CEO during the Trump administration.
Under Pack’s tenure, several technology freedom experts said the former CEO thwarted the Open Technology Fund’s efforts abroad by freezing funds. Pack also ignored a House subpoena for an oversight hearing that was meant for him to address mass firings, withholding congressionally approved funds and other questionable activities.
Pack stepped down at Biden’s request in January, and the president named Kelu Chao, a VOA veteran journalist, as Pack’s replacement and interim CEO.
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