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Collins becomes first GOP co-sponsor of UAFA

Maine Republican calls bill ‘important civil rights legislation’

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Susan Collins, Victory Fund, Senate
Susan Collins, Senate, Victory Fund, Republican

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Republican senator from Maine credited with being a leader in the legislative effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has signed on to legislation that would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for residency in the United States.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Wednesday became the 27th co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, saying in a statement the legislation would modify the immigration code to treat bi-national couples the same whether they’re gay or straight. The Human Rights Campaign announced the news in a blog post this morning.

“This legislation would simply update our nation’s immigration laws to treat bi-national couples equally,” Collins said. “More than two dozen countries recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes. This important civil rights legislation would help prevent committed, loving families from being forced to choose between leaving their family or leaving their country.”

Under current immigration code, straight Americans can sponsor their spouses for residency in the United States through the green card application process if their spouses are foreign nationals. The same rights aren’t available to gay Americans. Consequently, foreign nationals who are in committed relationships with gay Americans may have to leave the country upon expiration of their temporary visas or face deportation.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, told the Washington Blade that Collins’ decision to co-sponsor the legislation demonstrates the problem facing same-sex bi-national couples is something both Democrats and Republicans can work to resolve.

“This is a bipartisan issue, as we’ve seen in the tremendous energy and support around our business coalition, which has more than 25 Fortune 500 companies really talking to Republican offices all the time about why this a business issue for them,” Tiven said. “It really crosses all boundaries because if talented people have to leave the country because of immigration discrimination against LGBT families, that’s a loss for everybody.”

Collins’ newly announced support for UAFA makes her the only Republican in either chamber of Congress to back the legislation. In the House, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who’s considered the most pro-LGBT Republican lawmaker in that chamber, doesn’t co-sponsor UAFA, even though she’s a co-sposnor of DOMA repeal legislation. Conversely, Collins hasn’t signed on as a co-sponsor to the DOMA repeal bill, which is known as the Respect for Marriage Act.

Her co-sponsorship of UAFA is also noteworthy because in 2010 she was among the “no” votes on another immigration-related bill called the DREAM Act, which would have offered young, undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship if they pursue a college education or military service.

Advocates have sought to include UAFA as part of larger immigration reform legislation that was under discussion during the 111th Congress when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate. But that larger bill never advanced beyond the introduction of LGBT-inclusive legislation that was co-sponsored only by Democrats.

Asked whether Collins’ support would improve the chances of LGBT-inclusive immigration reform at a later time, Tiven said, “I think it really demonstrates that LGBT activists and LGBT immigrant families can derive new support for comprehensive immigration reform. She’s somebody who has not been a supporter; she did not vote for the DREAM Act, where she was a big booster for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ [repeal]. So we’re really delighted that she’s so visibly in support of an immigration bill like the Uniting American Families Act.”

Passage of UAFA remains unlikely given the current makeup of Congress. Immigration Equality has been asking the Obama administration to hold he marriage-based green cards for bi-national same-sex couples in abeyance until litigation regarding the Defense of Marriage Act has been resolved. The White House has said it won’t take this course of action, but advocacy groups and U.S. senators have asked the administration to reconsider the decision.

Tiven declined to comment immediately on whether Immigration Equality has asked Collins to call on the Obama administration to put the marriage-based green cards for same-sex couples on hold.

Other LGBT advocates praised Collins for her decision to co-sponsor UAFA.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said Collins continues “to be the tip of the spear” for Republicans working to protect LGBT families.

“The Uniting American Families Act is a vital piece of legislation for many in our community who for too long have been forced to choose between their love of country, and the loves of their lives,” Cooper said. “With no ability to sponsor their partners, Americans are being forced abroad, taking their tax base, their talent, and enterprise to the more than 25 countries that offer residency for lesbian and gay partners. The Uniting American Families Act would allow Americans to sponsor their permanent partners for residency, benefiting both these American citizens and the companies which employ them.”

Other pro-LGBT bills that Collins co-sponsors are the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act and the Tax Parity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the sponsor of UAFA in the Senate, also commended Collins for her decision to co-sponsor the legislation.

“With this decision, Sen. Collins has demonstrated that she stands on the side of fairness in our immigration laws for all Americans and their loved ones,” Leahy said. “I hope that her support represents a turning point in the effort of so many of us to make our laws apply equally to all and to end the official discrimination that harms too many Americans.”

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CDC echoes call for MSM to limit sex partners in monkeypox guidance

Controversial guidance also issued by WHO

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CDC is calling on men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is now echoing the controversial call for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners amid the monkeypox outbreak.

The agency made the call as part of new comprehensive monkeypox guidance issued on Friday, which lists “limit your number of sex partners to reduce your likelihood of exposure” as among several ways to reduce risk, with vaccination at the top of the list.

Vaccination is an important tool in preventing the spread of monkeypox,” the guidance says. “But given the current limited supply of vaccine, consider temporarily changing some behaviors that may increase your risk of being exposed. These temporary changes will help slow the spread of monkeypox until vaccine supply is adequate.”

The call to limit partners was previously made by the World Health Organization and has been controversial as observers say it may stigmatize sex among gay and bisexual men, who are disproportionately affected by monkeypox.

Demetre Daskalakis, deputy director of the White House task force on monkeypox, outlined the new guidance on Friday in a conference call with reporters.

Asked by the Washington Blade whether the Biden administration agrees with WHO about the need for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners, Daskalakis alluded to the multi-faceted aspects of the CDC guidance.

“It mentions that folks should consider reducing multiple partners and anonymous new partners as one strategy to prevent exposure to monkeypox,” Daskalakis said. “So I think really, there’s a broad range, and I think one of the things that’s really important about the CDC guidance is it’s designed to really meet people where they are and see what we can do to have individuals to create their own prevention plans, understanding that there’s not one answer for preventing monkeypox, that it requires a lot of domains to really achieve the goal of preventing new infections.”

Vaccinations for monkeypox are a key component of the CDC guidance, even though the limited availability has not kept up with the growing demand for the shots as the outbreak continues. Daskalakis conceded on the call there is “supply and demand mismatch” for vaccines, but maintained the Department of Health & Human Services announcement declaring monkeypox a public health crisis would be a tool to address the shortage.

A key concern among reporters on the call was the Biden administration not emphasizing the disease is almost exclusively at this point affecting gay and bisexual men, as well as concerns about stigma and misinformation about monkeypox.

Daskalakis, drawing on his experience as a medical expert during the HIV/AIDS crisis, emphasized stigma should play no part in messaging.

“I know from my own experience in public health and personally that stigma is actually what drives so much of infection and really creates false starts and false information that really gets people to go down paths that end up really vilifying people’s lives and behavior,” Daskalakis said. “And so, coming from the experience, both professionally and personally, it is my mission, to not allow stigma to be a part of this or any response that I work on.”

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University of Alabama allows students to use “chosen names” on student ID

“Having something that accurately reflects who you are as a person and how you want to make sure that the world sees and respects you is obviously monumentally important, right?”

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Students, faculty and campus members at University of Alabama are now able to put their preferred names on mobile Action Cards, which are the official campus ID cards, for free.

The university’s assistant director of communications Shane Dorrill wrote in email that this option, available on physical cards for several years, will be available online as well after a software update.

ACT Card communications specialist Courtney Petrizzi said the ACT Card office recognized the importance of having the feature, which was previously available on physical cards, on mobile ACT Cards. 

“This change is an update that we created to reflect our campus community’s needs,” Petrizzi said. 

The Action Card office announced this change on May 19. They updated the policy in partnership with UA Safe Zone, a resource center for LGBTQIA+ individuals and their allies on campus. 

Eli Strong, one co-founder of UA Safe Zone said during an interview with AL, “Having something that accurately reflects who you are as a person and how you want to make sure that the world sees and respects you is obviously monumentally important, right?” 

Strong is a transgender man who graduated from University of Alabama. He believed that this change is important because it’s a safety issue. It’s a way for the university to acknowledge people and a way for people to feel affirmed by the documentation they carry around each day.

“It’s an exploratory time where you should be focused on learning and not be focused on the fear of being misgendered or harassed because of who you are,” Will Thomas, one of the co-founders of the University of Alabama LGBTQ+ Alumni Association, claimed that affirming documentation can help students have a positive experience.

This policy change comes after a series of anti-gay lesigilations passed in Alabama, including the Don’t Say Gay amendment and transgender bathroom restrictions.

Campus members can use Action Cards for various daily needs, such as meal plans and dining dollars, building access, sporting and entertainment events and health center access.

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U.S. declares monkeypox a public health emergency

Number of cases of disease among MSM climbs

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Secretary of Health & Human Service Xavier Becerra declared on public health emergency on monkeypox.

The United States has designated monkeypox a public health emergency as the number of cases of the disease, which has primarily affected men who have sex with men, continues to climb.

The news was first reported by the New York Times. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra announced he’d declare monkeypox a public health emergency in a conference call on Thursday with reporters.

“I will be declaring a public health emergency on monkeypox,” Becerra said. “We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.”

Robert Fenton, the recently appointed White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator, said amid criticism the Biden administration has been too slow in responding to monkeypox the new declaration would open up opportunities in confronting the outbreak.

“The public health emergency will allow us to explore additional strategies to get vaccines and treatments more quickly out in the affected communities, and it will allow us to get more data from jurisdictions so we can effectively track the suffering,” Fenton said.

During the call, Becerra said an estimated 6,600 cases of monkeypox have been reported throughout the country, and more than 600,000 vaccines have been delivered to localities. The United States, Becerra said, now has the capacity to administer 60,000 tests for monkeypox each week.

The Biden administration has faced criticism for not moving quickly enough to collect and distribute and for not more explicitly naming gay and bisexual men as being primarily affected by the disease. The New York Times reported this week the Department of Health & Human Services failed to act early on bulk stocks of vaccine.

“The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” the Times reported. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, has been among the critics of the Biden administration’s approach to the outbreak.

Although the Biden administration has issued a rudimentary plan on monkeypox, Burr said in a statement the Department of Health & Human Services hasn’t laid out an effective plan to Congress.

“I have asked HHS repeatedly for their strategic plan to combat monkeypox and have yet to receive an answer,” Burr said. “On July 13, I sent a letter to Secretary Becerra asking detailed questions about the outbreak and the Biden administration’s response. In the three weeks since that letter was sent, monkeypox cases have increased by more than 470 percent to 6,617 reported cases today. Still, the administration continues to stonewall Congress.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the Biden administration’s early approach to the monkeypox Thursday under questioning from CNN during the regular briefing with reporters.

“Within two days of the first confirmed case of monkeypox in the U.S., we began deploying vaccine to states and jurisdictions and prepositioning tens of thousands of additional doses in the Strategic National Stockpile,” Jean-Pierre said. “The initial science led us to believe…based on recent past monkeypox outbreaks, that those doses would be sufficient to meet the needs of the country as what we knew at that time.”

Jean-Pierre added, however, infections diseases are dynamics and inherently predictable and the Biden administration “quickly moved” to order tens of thousands of new doses when officials saw that happening with monkeypox.

Asked by CNN whether President Biden think his administration acted urgently in its approach to monkeypox, Jean-Pierre replied, “What we’re saying to you is that I laid out how dynamic and how rapidly changing this virus has been.”

“So yes, the President has confidence in HHS, and let’s not forget, we just brought on the monkeypox coordinators, the response team, which is also going to make a difference,” Jean-Pierre added.

Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, was among those praising the announcement from the Biden administration.

“Monkeypox is quickly spreading throughout the United States, with significant health implications for those it impacts most – so far, primarily gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men – and limited supplies of treatments and vaccines,” Kates said. “This latest move by the federal government is an important one for providing new flexibilities and allowing federal, state, and local health officials to take additional actions to address the outbreak. “

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