A prominent social conservative leader compared homosexuality to drug use on Wednesday while urging parents not to “condone and enable” a child being gay.
Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, made the remarks while speaking at the National Press Club luncheon after being asked if he would disown one of his children if they came out as gay.
Perkins, the father of five children, replied that he wouldn’t “disown my children for anything,” but advised parents they should express disapproval if their children make such an announcement.
“And if we really love them, we’ll be willing to tell them the truth that the choices that they have made, continuing what they’re doing, are both destructive to them personally and society as a whole,” Perkins said. “And so while I would disagree with my child getting involved in that lifestyle, I would not in any way — nor would I ever encourage a parent — to disown a child because of something like that that occurs. Love them compassionately, pray for them, but don’t condone and enable that behavior, whatever it might be.”
Perkins said as a parent he has “a responsibility for the environment in which I raise my children,” suggesting that sexual orientation is determined by parenting — a notion disputed by major psychiatric groups. Later in his comments, Perkins compared homosexuality to drug use.
“I believe as a parent we have the ability to protect them from a lot of unfortunate experiences that have shaping influences upon their lives,” Perkins said. “That’s not to say that those whose children may have ended up in homosexuality were not good parents. We can’t guarantee that. We can do our very best job as a parent and still something may happen, whether they end up in drugs or whether they end up in some other lifestyle that they end up.”
At the beginning of his response, Perkins said similar inquiries has been posed to him previously on national TV as what he called a “gotcha” question. The inquiry on Wednesday came from National Press Club President Theresa Werner, who was reading questions submitted in advance by reporters and attendees at the event.
Michael Cole-Schwartz, an HRC spokesperson, responded by saying Perkins is spreading lies about LGBT people and that parents should provide “unconditional support” to children who come out.
“Tony Perkins continues to spread lies and misinformation and his comments are offensive to the millions of LGBT people and those who love and respect us,” Cole-Schwartz said. “LGBT young people need unconditional support, not leaders or parents who will compare their inherent identities to things like substance abuse. It’s time Tony Perkins disavows that junk science and learns what the experts have to say about sexual orientation and gender identity.”
In response to another question submitted by the Washington Blade, Perkins said he thinks the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is getting better about talking about views of marriage and gay rights favorable to social conservatives. Perkins gave general praise to Romney, despite grumblings throughout his campaign from social conservatives who’ve said they suspect the candidate doesn’t share their views.
“I think Mitt Romney is doing a good job in becoming more comfortable in talking about the issues of faith, talking about the social issues of marriage, and life in particular,” Perkins said. “There is no question that we have theological differences when it comes to our religions, but we have a shared concern over where this country is headed today. And we have a shared value system that we believe can put American on the right way. I believe that Gov. Romney is doing a good job in reaching out and bringing in all concerns within the conservative movement, including those of social conservatives.”
A substantial portion of Perkins’ prepared remarks was devoted to following up on a shooting at the Family Research Council’s D.C. headquarters in which a guard, Leo Johnson, was wounded and the accused assailant was a volunteer for the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community. In addition to ammunition and guns, the assailant was carrying a backpack filled with sandwiches from Chick-fil-A, which had been under scrutiny for the anti-gay views of its owners.
In the wake of the shooting, Perkins said the mission of his organization to advocate social conservative values remains unchanged.
“As I said here today, I pledge to redouble our efforts to persuade our fellow citizens on these issues and to move the electorate to embrace the core principles a majority of this nation have long espoused,” Perkins said. “But I also pledge to redouble our efforts to advocate these ideas with civility and compassion. … Our aim is to speak the truth in love, and if we fail to do so, we will acknowledge it, and we will set the record straight, and that includes what we say regarding homosexuality. And I would hope the other side would make a similar commitment.”
Perkins accused organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has labeled the Family Research Council a hate group, of fostering “an environment of hostility” that encourage incidents like the shooting to take place. Perkins said he’s renewing the call on Southern Poverty Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign to stop its characterization of the Family Research Council as a hate group.
“It is time for the vindictiveness to end, and I say with confidence to SPLC and HRC, it’s time to dial down the demonization of those who differ with you,” Perkins said. “It’s time to start hurling labels of hate and have a legitimate debate about policies that govern our nation.”
Cole-Schwartz responded to the accusations against HRC by saying his organization want civil discussion, but criticized the Family Research Council for its statements about LGBT people.
“HRC welcomes reasoned debate over public policy but that must be predicated on truth, not wholesale denigration of LGBT people and our families,” Cole-Schwartz said. “When the FRC is ready to give up on their hateful lies, we’ll be ready to stop calling them out for it.”
Asked whether during the question-and-answer portion if the suspected shooter should be charged with a hate crime, a kind of law that the Family Research Council opposes, Perkins said he’d leave that decision to law enforcement, but noted the FBI is investigating it as an act of domestic terrorism. Perkins added on the day of shooting, employees at his organization prayed for the alleged perpetrator as well as other involved.
“We pray for him, we pray for his spiritual well-being, but I will echo, once again, we will not allow these types of threats or acts of violence in any way to deter us from standing for the things that we represent here in Washington,” Perkins said.
State ballot measures related to marriage also came up during the event. During his prepared remarks, Perkins noted that 7 of the 9 states identified as swing states in the presidential election have approved constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. He also predicted anti-gay forces would have a favorable outcome in the four states where marriage is coming up on the ballot: Minnesota, Maryland, Washington State and Maine.
Perkins spoke before attendees at the National Press Club prior the 2012 Values Voter Summit, a three-day national event held that will be this week in D.C. for social conservatives. Among the high-profile speakers scheduled at the event are Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. LGBT groups including the Human Rights Campaign and other organizations sent a joint letter to public these officials asking them not to participate in the event, although none have cancelled their participation as a result.
Among Perkins’ guests alongside him at the table near the podium were Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church, a leader in the fight against Maryland’s same-sex marriage law, and anti-gay Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas.)
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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