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DNC 2012: Gay speakers, issues take center stage on final night

Prime speaking slots for Frank, Baldwin, Zach Wahls



Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) at the Democratic National Convention (Blade photo by Michael Key)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Gay issues and speakers took center stage on the final night of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, capping the three-day gathering that was more LGBT-inclusive than any previous iteration of the quadrennial affair.

One of the speeches that came earlier in the evening was from Zach Wahls, an Iowa youth with lesbian parents who gained notoriety for speaking out against a proposed ban on marriage equality in his state. He’s also an Eagle Scout who’s been pushing the Boy Scouts to end its gay ban.

Zach Wahls (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Wahls, who’s straight, said support for the right of gay couples like his parents to marry is a reason he’s supporting the re-election of President Obama, who came out in favor of marriage equality in May.

“President Obama understands that. He supports my moms’ marriage,” Wahls said. “President Obama put his political future on the line to do what was right. Without his leadership, we wouldn’t be here. President Obama is fighting for our families, all of our families. He has our backs. We have his.”

Notably, Wahls cushioned his support for marriage equality by saying the belief that nuptials should be limited to one man, one woman shouldn’t be considered “a radical view,” saying, “For many people, it’s a matter of faith. We respect that.”

But that didn’t stop Wahls from criticizing Romney for opposing same-sex marriage and his support for a Federal Marriage Amendment.

“Gov. Romney says he’s against same-sex marriage because every child deserves a mother and a father,” Wahls said. “I think every child deserves a family as loving and committed as mine. Because the sense of family comes from the commitment we make to each other to work through the hard times so we can enjoy the good ones. It comes from the love that binds us; that’s what makes a family. Mr. Romney, my family is just as real as yours.”

Wahls took to the podium immediately after a video was played showing the Democratic Party’s commitment to marriage equality, including a video with previously recorded remarks of Obama saying the relationships of gay and men women should be respected.

But that video wasn’t the only time support for marriage equality was celebrated on Thursday night. Democratic National Convention Chair and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, touted the first-ever inclusion of a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform.

“For the first time, a major party platform recognizes marriage equality as a basic human right!” Villaraigosa said. “This is a reflection of who we are as a party and who we can be as a nation, because as Democrats, as Americans, whenever we’ve opened up our party and our country, whenever we’ve opened up doors for more of our people, whenever we’ve deepened our democracy and renewed our commitment to equal justice under the law, we’ve grown stronger as a nation.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Villaraigosa was among those who had called for a marriage equality plank prior to its inclusion in the party platform. His invocation of the marriage equality plank in the platform elicited thunderous applause from the audience.

Another video that played at the convention cited Obama’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” playing footage of the signing ceremony for repeal legislation in December 2010 in which Obama said, “For we are not a nation that says ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ we are a nation that says out of many, we are one.”

Following the video, Iraq war veteran and retired Army Capt. Jason Crow, who’s straight, came to the stage to commend Obama for ending the military’s gay ban and expanding veterans’ benefits.

“It was wrong that men and women I served with could be told they weren’t good enough just because of their sexual orientation,” Crow said. “Soldiers who I trusted with my life, and fought alongside with, could be discharged because of who they loved. President Obama did the right thing by ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”

Support for President Obama also came from Alejandra Salinas, a 23-year-old law student at Boston College and member of the LGBT and Latino community.

The outgoing president of the College Democrats of America, Salinas praised Obama for both his support for the LGBT community and the Latino community.

“This president, on so many issues — immigration, LGBT rights, women’s health — has proven that he cares about all of us, and that he’ll keep on expanding opportunity,” Salinas said. “As a young, LGBT Latina, it seems to me that Mitt Romney only cares about an elite few.”

Perhaps the two most high-profile openly gay public officials — Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) — took to the stage earlier in the evening. Both are set to leave the U.S. House at the end of this year, although Baldwin may return to Congress as U.S. senator if she’s successful in her campaign for a seat to represent Wisconsin in that chamber.

Frank, the longest-serving openly gay member of Congress, assailed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney both for his positions on LGBT rights and claims regarding his success as governor of Massachusetts, calling the candidate “Myth Romney” for the allegedly false assertions he’s made.

Frank took a jab at Romney over his changing positions on gay rights over the course of this year, saying he once sought to surpass the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, but now looks to anti-gay former U.S. Rick Santorum on the issue. Frank was referring to a 1994 letter from Romney in which he pledged to Log Cabin Republicans to be a leader on gay rights and to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — a position he no longer holds.

But a significant portion of Frank’s speech was devoted to criticizing Romney for wanting to repeal financial reform, which Frank took the lead in passing as chair of a House banking committee.

“As governor of Massachusetts, the real Mitt Romney’s record on job creation was terrible,” Frank said. “During his term, net job growth was less than one percent, about one-fifth the national average, 47th in the country. The myth of Romney is that he never raised our taxes. In fact, the real Mitt Romney called his tax hikes “fees.” And in his first year alone, he raised fees more than any other governor in office. Some of those fees? Mitt created a $10 fee for a “certificate of blindness.” He increased the cremation inspection fee from $50 to $75. Maybe he didn’t call them taxes, but they felt like taxes.”

The line about gay rights was apparently an ad-lib because it wasn’t included as part of his prepared remarks.

Asked whether the line was an ab-lib and if Frank was winging it while speaking, Harry Gural, a Frank spokesperson said, “He doesn’t ‘wing it’ — his comments are always very well thought through. He never simply reads speeches, even his most lengthy and complex ones. That’s what makes him such a compelling speaker.”

Earlier in the day, Frank faced criticism for saying during the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT caucus meeting that the Log Cabin Republicans were an “Uncle Tom” organization. In a statement, R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin, responded with his own attack, saying, “It’s a badge of honor to be attacked by a partisan hack like Barney Frank.”

Baldwin’s speech marked the first time an openly gay U.S. Senate candidate spoke before a major party’s national convention.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

“But the Wisconsin I know, knows that having two sets of rules makes no kind of sense,” Baldwin said. “We believe in hard work. For decades, we’ve worked to make things: paper, engines, tools, ships—and, yes, cheese, brats, and beer. Give our workers a fair shot, and we’ll compete against anyone.”

Baldwin identified Obama’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as evidence of his work in making “historic progress toward equality” for the country and made an oblique reference to Romney’s support for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“He repealed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ so that no American ever again has to lie about who they are in order to serve the country we love,” Baldwin said. “Republicans want to write discrimination into our Constitution. But the Wisconsin I know believes that with each passing year and each generation, our country must become more equal, not less.”

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  1. I'm Just Sayin'

    September 7, 2012 at 8:59 am

    “Gay liberals like Barney… are trying to silence us, calling us names and ganging up like schoolyard bullies,” Cooper charged. “While Barney bashes his fellow LGBT Americans, we’ll continue our work building a stronger, more inclusive GOP — and someday soon, we’ll win, because inclusion always wins.”

    Clarke, Clarke, Clarke. The longest serving openly gay, barrier breaking Congressman didn’t really mean Log Cabin Republicans as a whole, I think he sort of only meant you. In fact, there are a lot of former and even some current LCR members who are nodding their heads in agreement with Barney Frank right now. No offense Clarke, but regardless of how many times you click your heels together, close your eyes really tight and chant “inclusion wins, inclusion wins, inclusion wins,” when you consider this aspect of the definition: “a member of a low-status group who is overly subservient to or cooperative with authority,” a lot of the things YOU say and do are totally “Uncle Tom-ish.”

    You should really be thanking the Blade for not publishing the entire quote. Here’s the full dressing down Barney gave the Loggers:

    ““Frankly I’ve been appalled to see the Log Cabin club, in the face of this worse and worse record on public policy by Republicans on our issues,” Frank said. “Mr. Cooper said, ‘Well at least they’re not saying bad things about us.’ That’s just extraordinary. Again, 30 years ago when we were emerging from the vice of prejudice, I understood that. But no, we shouldn’t be accepting a kind of second class citizenship, [and saying], ‘You can treat us badly as long you don’t yell at us.’”

    “They’re accepted on [the GOP’s] terms,” he continued. “They’re willing to be accepted with no rights — no right to marry, no right to serve in the military, no right to be protected against hate crimes, no right to be protected in employment. I’ll be honest: For 20 years now I’ve heard how the Log Cabins are going to make Republicans better, but they’ve only gotten worse. I now understand why they call themselves Log Cabin: their role model is Uncle Tom.”

    Schoolyard? That sounds very well reasoned and defensible.

  2. Luiz Souza

    September 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    The suggestion below could make a difference on the outcome of the presidential elections, because it could add the undecided´s votes (around 3 million) for President Obama. Please, convey this to him.

    Thank you – Luiz Souza
    (No need to mention my name – it is my contribution as a recently naturalized American citizen to the public debates and the efforts to empower the Democratic ideas).

    Gay Marriage with a twist: a simple technicality:

    I believe all the Churches and religious institutions would OK and even bless a same sex union, IF it was NOT CALLED “Marriage”. It would be a simple Civil Union, with no connotation with the traditional man/woman marriage, which institutional aspects and character would remain intact.
    This would help to conciliate the opposing sides and free the Institutions (e.g. the Black Bishops) to support the Civil Rights without this kind of restrictions.
    Most important, it would also legitimate Mr. Obama´s Evolutionary position and gain both sides of it for him (3 million + voters), if considered by the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee
    Thank you – Luiz Souza – Christian, retired Journalist and Broadcaster (ex VOA, ex Reuters)

    It is important because:
    1 – it would gain both sides of the Gay Marriage controversy for the Democratic Party and for President Obama;
    2 – it totally nullifies and makes ineffective the arguments of the opponents.
    3 – will bring the Country together around one of the most important Social Issues of our time – a BIG WIN FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA!
    It will help the Party, it will help President Obama´s campaign, it will be good for the Country.

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VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights



(Screen capture via YouTube)

A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says.

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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Venezuelan man with AIDS dies in ICE custody

Pablo Sánchez Gotopo passed away at Miss. hospital on Oct. 1



Pablo Sanchez Gotopo, who was living with HIV/AIDS, died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Mississippi on Oct. 1, 2021. (Courtesy photo)

A Venezuelan man with AIDS died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on Oct. 1.

An ICE press release notes Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, 40, died at Merit Health River Oaks in Flowood, Miss., which is a suburb of Jackson, the state capital. The press release notes the “preliminary cause of death was from complications with acute respiratory failure, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), pneumonia, acute kidney failure, anemia and COVID-19.”

ICE said U.S. Border Patrol took Sánchez into custody near Del Rio, Texas, on May 17. He arrived at the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss., four days later.

“Upon arrival to an ICE facility, all detainees are medically screened and administered a COVID-19 test by ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) personnel,” said ICE in its press release. “Sánchez’s test results came back negative.”

The press release notes Sánchez on July 28 received another COVID-19 test after he “began showing symptoms of COVID-19.” ICE said he tested negative, but Adams County Detention Center personnel transferred him to a Natchez hospital “for additional advanced medical care.”

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations staff in its New Orleans Field Office, according to the press release, “coordinated with hospital staff to arrange family visitation” after Sánchez’s “health condition deteriorated.” Sánchez was transferred to Merit Health River Oaks on Sept. 25.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases,” says the press release.

Venezuela’s political and economic crises have prompted more than 10,000 people with HIV to leave the country, according to the New York-based Aid for AIDS International.

Activists and health care service providers in Venezuela with whom the Washington Blade has spoken in recent years have said people with HIV/AIDS in the country have died because of a lack of antiretroviral drugs. Andrés Cardona, director of Fundación Ancla, a group in the Colombian city of Medellín that works with migrants and other vulnerable groups, told the Blade last month that many Venezuelans with HIV would have died if they hadn’t come to Colombia.

The Blade has not been able to verify a Venezuelan activist’s claim that Sánchez was gay. It is also not known why Sánchez decided to leave Venezuela and travel to the U.S.

ICE detainee with HIV described Miss. detention center as ‘not safe’

Activists and members of Congress continue to demand ICE release people with HIV/AIDS in their custody amid reports they don’t have adequate access to medications and other necessary medical treatment.

Two trans women with HIV—Victoria Arellano from Mexico and Roxsana Hernández from Honduras—died in ICE custody in 2007 and 2018 respectively. Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans woman with HIV who fled El Salvador, died in 2019, three days after ICE released her from a privately-run detention center.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center. The detainee said there was no social distancing at the privately-run facility and personnel were not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

“It’s not safe,” they told the Blade.

The entrance to the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, a Natchez resident who supports ICE detainees and their families, on Wednesday told the Blade that she was able to visit the Adams County Detention Center and other ICE facilities in the Miss Lou Region of Mississippi and Louisiana from November 2019 until the suspension of in-person visitation in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

“Medical neglect and refusal of medical care has always been an issue in the detention center at Adams County,” said Grant-Gibson. “After the facilities were closed to public visitation, those problems increased.”

Grant-Gibson told the Blade she “worked with a number of families and received phone calls from a number of detainees, and I was told again and again that detainees were being refused the opportunity to visit the infirmary.”

“When they did visit the infirmary, they were given virtually no treatment for the issues they were presenting with,” said Grant-Gibson.

ICE in its press release that announced Sánchez’s death said fatalities among its detainees, “statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.” ICE also noted it spends more than $315 million a year “on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to detainees.”

“ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) ensures the provision of necessary medical care services as required by ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards and based on the medical needs of the detainee,” notes the ICE press release. “Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay. All ICE detainees receive medical, dental, and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care.”

An ICE spokesperson on Wednesday pointed the Blade to its Performance-Based Detention Standards from 2011, which includes policies for the treatment of detainees with HIV/AIDS.

A detainee “may request HIV testing at any time during detention” and ICE detention centers “shall develop a written plan to ensure the highest degree of confidentiality regarding HIV status and medical condition.” The policy also states that “staff training must emphasize the need for confidentiality, and procedures must be in place to limit access to health records to only authorized individuals and only when necessary.”

“The accurate diagnosis and medical management of HIV infection among detainees shall be promoted,” reads the policy. “An HIV diagnosis may be made only by a licensed health care provider, based on a medical history, current clinical evaluation of signs and symptoms and laboratory studies.”

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Rachel Levine on becoming four-star admiral: ‘It comes from my desire to serve’

Trans official sworn-in to U.S. Public Health Service



For Rachel Levine, the appointment to her new role as a four-star admiral complementing her existing duties as assistant secretary for health is another way for the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed presidential appointee to serve.

“I think that this just really comes from my desire to serve in all capacities,” Levine said in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade. “To serve the first day in my field of academic medicine and pediatrics, but then in Pennsylvania and now in the federal government, and it furthers my ability to do that.”

Levine, 63, also recognized the importance of the appointment as a transgender person within the U.S. Public Health Service, for which she was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday

“I think for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a further sign of progress and our president’s commitment to equity, to inclusion and diversity,” Levine said. “So I think that it is a very important milestone, and I’m pleased to serve.”

As part of her duties, Levine will lead an estimated 6,000 public health service officers serving vulnerable populations, including deployments inside and outside the country for communities beleaguered with the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. The role involves working closely with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, whom Levine called her “friend and colleague.”

The U.S. Public Health Service, Levine said, has deployed “many, many times,” including its greatest number ever of deployments to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places the service has deployed, Levine said, was in her home state of Pennsylvania, where she recently served as secretary of health.

Not only is Levine the first openly transgender person to serve in the uniformed health service as a four-star general, but she’s also the first woman to serve in that capacity.

“We have 6,000 dedicated committed public servants really all focused on our nation’s health, and they serve in details to the CDC and the FDA and the NIH, but also clinically with the Indian Health Service, and the federal prison system,” Levine said. “They’re also detailed and deployed throughout the country, and they deployed like never before for COVID-19 as well as the border, as well as dealing with floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.”

Although the Public Health Service is primarily focused on addressing public health disasters within the United States, Levine said it has a record of deployments overseas, including years ago when it was deployed to Africa under the threat of Ebola.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra had high praise for Levine in a statement upon news of taking on a leadership position in the service.

“This is a proud moment for us at HHS,” Becerra said. “Adm. Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”

Levine, however, was careful to draw a distinction between her appointment within the Public Health Service and being a service member within the U.S. armed forces.

“It is not a military branch, it’s not the armed forces: It’s a uniformed force, so it’s different,” Levine said. “For example, the Army, the Navy, our military, there are two other uniformed branches, and that is ours, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA.”

The new role, Levine said, would complement her duties as assistant secretary for health. Although not only secretaries of health have been commissioned to take the uniform, Levine said she wanted to undertake that as part of her role in the Biden administration.

The two appointments were not simultaneous, Levine said, because of a general process she undertook, which was completed just this week.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Levine. During her Senate confirmation process, when she was hounded by anti-transgender attacks in conservative media and rude, invasive questioning by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on her gender identity.

Levine, however, said she hasn’t encountered any hostility regarding her new role (as of now) and shrugged off any potential attacks in the future and said the move is about her career “to serve and to help people.”

“I’ve continued that for our nation as the assistant secretary for health and this is just a further demonstration of my commitment to service,” Levine said. “I don’t know what others will say, but that’s the genesis of my wanting to serve in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and to place on the uniform.”

Levine’s new appointment comes shortly after a group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent her a letter dated Sept. 30 calling on her and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to issue new guidance for hospital or residential care on mental health needs of transgender people.

Asked about the letter, Levine said mental health issues are under the authority of Delphin-Rittmon and the two “will work together and we will respond.”

Specifically, the senators in the letter call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

Asked what the response will look like, Levine said, “We’re going to work on that.”

“We will be looking at what they’re asking for and the requirements, and we’ll talk with them and the stakeholders and we’ll look to issue appropriate guidance,” Levine said.

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