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DOJ official: Fight against anti-trans bias is top priority

Deputy Attorney General gives keynote speech at transgender event

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Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A high level official with the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division told transgender advocates on Dec. 5 that the department has and will continue to use its law enforcement powers to fight anti-transgender discrimination.

In a speech before the National Center for Transgender Equality’s 9th Anniversary Awards Reception in Washington, Roy L. Austin Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, said the DOJ has investigated and taken action against hate crimes, school bullying, and biased policing that target the transgender community.

“Now under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, the Civil Rights Division has never been stronger and the fight for transgender equality has never been fought more forcefully,” Austin said.

In a development not widely known, Austin said the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has intervened in cases where local police departments have engaged in what he called “biased policing” against transgender people.

He said one such intervention took place in New Orleans in recent years, where the division obtained a consent decree requiring police officials to put in place special training on transgender related issues. The action followed a DOJ investigation into reports of improper police behavior toward transgender women in the enforcement of a controversial anti-prostitution law that has since been changed.

The Civil Rights Division is currently working on a similar effort to curtail incidents of anti-transgender bias in police departments in Puerto Rico, Austin said.

“Law enforcement is sworn to serve and protect everyone,” he told the NCTE gathering, which took place at the National Press Club. “And we will continue to teach them how to do this and hold them accountable when they don’t.”

According to Austin, the Civil Rights Division also intervened in cases of anti-transgender bullying in school districts in Minnesota and California.

“Every school year bullying touches the lives of countless kids, their families and their communities,” he said. He noted that studies show bullying can have a devastating and potentially long-term impact on young people.

“For gender non-conforming and transgender students it can be much worse,” he said.

“Often what happens in schools reflect what is happening in society as a whole,” Austin said. “Together with our federal partners at the Department of Education we’re exploring ways to hold schools accountable and to stop harassment and bullying before it starts.”

He added, “The problem goes beyond the schools. But what we do there is incredibly important because today’s bullies may well grow up to be tomorrow’s hate crime defendants.”

On the hate crimes front, Austin said President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are committed to aggressively enforcing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which Obama signed into law in 2009.

The act, among other things, gives the Justice Department authority to prosecute hate crimes targeting people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Austin said five of the 40 people who have been prosecuted under the act so far have been convicted for physically attacking others because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

While prosecuting perpetrators of hate crimes is important, he said he believes the most significant benefit of the Shepard-Byrd Act so far has been the impact of its education and training provisions.

“We’ve provided hate crimes training to thousands of law enforcement officers and to community activists throughout the country,” he said. “Among other things, this education spreads the message that our transgender community is a vital part of the American community and must be treated with respect.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the gathering that Austin’s comments exemplify the Obama administration’s strong support for transgender rights.

She called on the LGBT community to stand with the president on the difficult economic issues he faces, including the “fiscal cliff” negotiations with his adversaries in Congress, “just as he has stood with us.”

The NCTE presented its Julie Johnson Founders’ Award to Gunner Scott, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and one of NCTE’s founders; its Distinguished Ally Award to Andrew Barnett, Executive Director of D.C.’s Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL); and its Community Partner Award to Lauree Hayden, Deputy National Political Director of the Service Employees International Union.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Delphi Omally

    December 12, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Section 1/2
    I used to beat around the bush but for the reasons I shall explain below, no longer. I personally know someone who at the age of 18, with a twinkle in her eye, grateful for being a 1st-generation American, and having ingested the cool-aid that poured out of the textbooks she read voraciously as a gifted student, made the conscious and voluntary decision to thank her new country for the gift of having been born an American. Fully bilingual and gifted academically, she went on to serve honorably with the United States Air Force as a Cold War combat-trained warrior and served so much with distinction that she was promoted to Staff Sgt at 23 yrs of age, or what the civilian world would refer to as a middle manager; meaning a supervisor who supervises other supervisors!

    She (then a he) was not conflicted, not disordered, not confused but since her early childhood had wondered what had gone wrong with her gender “assignment”. Lacking medical knowledge behind what causes a child to be born male or female, the only perspective she had was that metaphorically speaking she had lost the gender coin toss prior to her birth—lost because she knew she had boy parts and yet as she looked around and saw other boys and girls, her deep personality instinct was that of the two genders, female would have seemed to be more appropriate to her. At age 6 however, years prior to the ubiquitous internet, she knew that a boy would become a man and a girl a woman and that would be that so she kept this buried deep in her conscious under the file “stuff happens” so live with it.

    Fast forward years later. As the internet brought the library into her home, (still living as a he) had decided that being out of a bad marriage was better than being in one, and as she researched her spouse’s allegations that she was “gay” stumbled upon the medical reality behind the state of being “transgender”…and most importantly was shocked to discover that short of producing ovaries and a womb, hormones had the potential to effect outward (and inward) physical changes relative to gender!
    Suddenly, she understood why, despite the power of teen hormones and young adulthood, she had remained a virgin for the entire 6-year military enlistment! Quite a feat indeed!
    End Section 1/2

  2. Delphi Omally

    December 12, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    Section 2/2
    REALITY SLAMS HOME

    Now divorced, armed with knowledge and her doctor’s blessings and approval, she had grown her hair and blessed with no Adam’s apple, high cheekbones and soft facial features, she had been so successful that she achieved practically a 100% passing rate not once has she ever been challenged for using the female restroom. Her preference is females so she had to brush off the many men who asked for her number. She made the honorable choice to move back with her ex to help raise her child and so made the painful choice of cutting the hair, growing out the eyebrows and just like that she was a he again, expect that she emphatically refused to forego the hormones. She said that losing the testosterone felt like losing a 100 lb backpack….a burden removed as for her entire lifetime the powerful testosterone was not a fit for her inner personality….the mind/body conflict was over.

    In 2010, she applied for and was hired from a competitive field of candidates as a security officer for a community hospital in Victorville, CA. in the area called Victor Valley for which the hospital was named. As she presented her ID to the HR Dept, she pointed out that her sex is F on her state-issued driver’s license/ID and asked if that was a problem. They responded respectfully, “no, that is your business”. Little did she know that within a matter of days, how little their blessings would come to mean as her supervisor J.W., would maliciously and blatantly disregard all California civil legal protections relative toward sex discrimination…yes the ID states her sex is F….for female…not for freak.

    The opening salvo that would ultimately lead to her first-ever job termination began with the cleverly articulated yet deviously maligned phrase from her obviously unqualified-to-be supervisor: “I am concerned with your safety”….safety…safety….safety—-these words would echo through her mind as she received the call form the HR manager “YOU’re FIRED”…although using the “softer” words..you’re terminated. All it took was one man to drive a metaphorical dagger through her heart. “Thank you for your service….not find the door”, although words not literally said were made ever so real as the reality of receiving the termination letter in the mail. Three short quick steps and she, who had been hired for her skills was not fired for her gender (change). A transphobic stand by a supervisor, followed by an HR ambush “meeting”, followed by night training assignment with a female coworker who had filed a false complaint, an assignment she had refused because of the obvious “pickle” setup and it was over.

    As she vomited the cool-aid and faced with the cold hard truth that hit her high-cheeked boned cheeks like un-gloved fingers on a sub-freezing day….the “T” that had represented (t)estosterone…(t)ransgender, not found company with a third “T”: (t)erminated. At the tender nubile age of 18, she had sworn to uphold our most sacred document….the U.S. Constitution against all enemies….foreign and domestic, and yet her domestic “enemies” of transgender otherwise-qualified employees had obviously not made the same oath. She obtained work for a short six months after her termination and has remained unemployed since—the excruciating pain of the “dagger”, non-commensurate compensation for an honorable U.S. veteran has given way to utter and complete hopelessness of her future. The steps toward the door to seek gainful employment come to a sudden stop as she retreats toward the comfort of her abode.

    Two years and counting—-she know longer believes in the America she read about in the school textbooks…who could blame her? She know longer trusts laws in place to protect against discrimination. Who cared when she sought legal help? When childhood glimmer fades to despondency at the discovery that Santa Clause isn’t real….when service to country holds no meaning….when experience offers no value….who can blame her? She seeks no financial recompense….no retribution….all she wants is her job at V V Community hospital—-the job she had earned through service to country….through experience…and from being truthful to her supervisor about her transgender status. I know this to be true, because I am that female. In a nation that idolizes sports while “not seeing” child abuse….that rewards millions to play for pay…that gives credence to celebrities while “not seeing” drug abuse….that worships at the altar of technology….no one should be castigated with job loss for the medical reality of gender dysphoria…not now…not ever. If not, then let’s stop dispensing the cool-aid….let’s use the history books as door props…let’s stop exporting Democracy….and let’s get our own house in order…today.

  3. Delphi Omally

    December 12, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    ***sorry….many “not’s” above should be “now”…

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Minnesota

Minnesota middle school principal ousted for displaying Pride flag

Critics ramped up attacks on the career educator- some compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students

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Screenshot via Marshall Public Schools, YouTube Channel

MARSHALL, Mn. — A former middle school principal in Minnesota who lost her job after displaying a Pride flag alleges in a federal lawsuit that the school system retaliated against her for supporting LGBTQ+ students.

Mary Kay Thomas filed the complaint against Marshall Public Schools in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota Tuesday after anti-LGBTQ+ middle school staff, parents, students and local clergy began efforts to remove the Pride flag that she put up in her middle school’s cafeteria in 2020 as a part of an inclusiveness effort.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas has been a teacher and principal for more than three decades with a long track record of success. She held the principal position at Marshall Middle School for 15 years, receiving contract renewals, pay raises and praise for her performance.

“But when Thomas decided to display an LGBTQ Pride Flag in the school cafeteria in early 2020, everything changed,” reads the complaint. 

Thomas refused to take down the Pride flag as critics ramped up attacks on the career educator. The lawsuit alleges that some even compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students. 

“Sadly, the Marshall School District has sided with these critics,” her lawyers wrote. 

What followed was an “escalating series of adverse actions” taken by the Marshall School District, said the lawsuit. She claims that the school targeted her by threatening her employment, conducting a “bad-faith” investigation, putting her on indefinite involuntary leave, suspending her without pay and putting a notice of deficiency in her personnel file. 

The complaint says that the deficiencies were “false, distorted, and/or related to Thomas’s association with members of the LGBTQ community.”

Thomas also claims that the District attempted to get her to quit by removing her as principal and assigning her to a “demeaning ‘special projects’ position.”

At one point, Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams, who is named as a defendant in the case, told Thomas he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down, according to the complaint. 

The school removed the Pride flag in August 2021 after settling a lawsuit brought by residents who opposed it. 

The Blade reached out to Williams for comment but did not receive a response. However, according to the Marshall Independent, Williams did release a statement on the matter. 

“Marshall Public Schools is committed to the education of every child and has strong policies and practices in place against discrimination, against both students and staff members. The school district is committed to creating a respectful, inclusive, and safe learning and working environment for students, staff and our families,” Williams said. “While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct. The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

In addition, Thomas alleges that she resisted unwanted sexual advancements from school board member Bill Swope. She claims she told Williams about the sexual harassment.

As of Thursday, the school has not filed a response, and no hearing has been scheduled yet. 

Thomas is seeking a jury trial, damages and reinstatement as principal of Marshall Middle School.

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Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral

Daylong services held to mark his 45th birthday

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Matthew Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade
Matthew Shepard Thanksgiving and Celebration at the National Cathedral in 2018. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The parents of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a 1998 hate crime that drew international attention to anti-LGBTQ violence, were among those attending a day of religious services commemorating Shepard’s 45th birthday on Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral.

The services, which the Cathedral organized in partnership with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, included tributes to Shepard at the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where his remains were interred in a ceremony in 2018.  

“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, said at the time of Shepard’s interment.

“In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place,” Hollerith said.

The first of the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard began at 7 a.m. with prayers, scripture readings, and music led by the Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan. The service was live streamed on YouTube.

An online, all-day service was also held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Cathedral officials said was intended to “connect people around the world to honor Shepard and the LGBTQ community and pray for a more just world.”

The Shepard services concluded with a 5:30 p.m. in-person remembrance of Shepard in the Cathedral’s Nave, its main worship space. Among those attending were Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who have said they created the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue their son’s support for equality for all.

A statement released by the Cathedral says a bronze plaque honoring Matthew Shepard was installed in St. Joseph’s Chapel to mark his final resting place at the time Shepard was interred there in 2018. 
Following the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard, the Adams Morgan gay bar Pitchers hosted a reception for Dennis and Judy Shepard, according to Pitchers’ owner David Perruzza.

One of the two men charged with Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to the charge after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty for him. The second of the two men charged, Aaron McKinney, was convicted of the murder following a lengthy jury trial.

Prosecutors said McKinney repeatedly and fatally struck Shepard in the head with the barrel of a handgun after he and Henderson tied Shepard to a wooden fence in a remote field outside Laramie, Wy., on Oct. 6, 1998. Police and prosecutors presented evidence at McKinney’s trial that McKinney and Henderson met Shepard at a bar in Laramie on that day and lured him into their car, where they drove him to the field where authorities said McKinney fatally assaulted him.

Shepard died six days later at a hospital in Ft. Collins, Colo., where he was taken after being found unconscious while still tied to the fence.

In a dramatic courtroom scene following the jury’s guilty verdict for McKinney, Dennis Shepard urged the judge to spare McKinney’s life by not handing down a death sentence. He said that out of compassion and in honor of his son’s life, McKinney should be allowed to live. The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the same sentence given to Henderson.

(VIDEO COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL VIA YOUTUBE)
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‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men

Experts see common story as LGBTQ people enter middle age

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Mark Glaze's death by suicide is bringing into focus mental health issues faced by gay men.

The death by suicide at age 51 of Mark Glaze, a gun reform advocate who was close to many in D.C.’s LGBTQ community, is striking a chord with observers who see his struggles with mental health and alcoholism as reflective of issues facing many gay men as they enter middle age.

Glaze’s story resonates even though much of the attention on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community is devoted to LGBTQ youth going through the coming out process and transgender people who face disproportionate violence and discrimination within the LGBTQ community in addition to a growing focus on LGBTQ seniors entering later stages of life.

Randy Pumphrey, senior director of behavioral health for the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, said Glaze’s story was “very familiar” as a tale of mental health issues facing gay men in the middle stage of life.

“You’re talking about a gay-identified man who is in his 50s, somebody who has struggled with alcohol misuse — or maybe abuse or dependence— and also depression,” Pumphrey said. “I think that there has always been a higher incidence of suicide for men in general in their middle age 50 and above, but this increases when you’re talking about gay men, and also if you’re talking about gay men who suffer with mental health issues, or substance use disorder issues.”

Several sources close to Glaze said his death did not come as a surprise. His family has been open about his death by suicide last month while he was in jail after allegedly fleeing the scene of a car accident in Pennsylvania and a long history of depression and alcoholism.

Pumphrey said Glaze’s situation coping with mental health issues as well as the consequences for his role in the accident, were reflective of someone who might “begin to perceive that this is an issue that they can’t get away from, or the consequences they can’t get away from exposure and that can lead somebody to a fatal outcome.”

“My experience is that there have been gay men that I have worked with over the years — particularly in their 50s and early 60s — it’s taken them a long time to recognize the severity of the problem, whether it’s their depression or their substance abuse, and then they find themselves in a very precarious situation because of shame, and so they may not necessarily seek help even though they need help.”

A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health found the prevalence of depression among gay men is three times higher than the general adult population, which means they are a subgroup at high risk for suicide.

The study found “scant research exists about gay men’s health beyond sexual health issues,” most often with HIV, which means issues related to depression and suicidality “are poorly understood.”

“Gay men’s health has often been defined by sexual practices, and poorly understood are the intersections of gay men’s physical and mental health with social determinants of health including ethnicity, locale, education level and socioeconomic status,” the study says.

The study acknowledged being male itself is one factor incorporated in addressing mental health issues in this subgroup because “regardless of sexual orientation, men can be reluctant to seek help for mental health problems.” Another study quoted in the report found 23 percent, less than one quarter of gay men, who attempted suicide sought mental health or medical treatment.

In addition to mental health issues facing gay men in Glaze’s age group, others saw his situation as a common story in the culture of Washington, which is notorious for celebrating and prioritizing success with little tolerance for personal setbacks.

In the case of Glaze, who had sparred on Fox News with Tucker Carlson as executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, the threat of exposure and threat to his career may have seemed overwhelmingly daunting.

Steven Fisher, who knew Glaze since the 1990s and worked with him at the D.C.-based Raben Group, said one factor that contributed to Glaze’s condition was “he could only see upward in terms of his career trajectory.”

“We saw that in him and it had me very concerned because I felt like he might end up in a place that wasn’t good once he left Everytown, and that’s tragically and sadly what happened,” Fisher said. “I think he just had trouble adjusting to what is usually a roller coaster ride, I think, in people’s careers, especially in the D.C. world.”

Along with Glaze, Fisher has worked on gun issues for Everytown, which has been a client of his since 2015 after he worked for them in 2012 after the Newtown shooting.

Compounding the challenges that Glaze faced is a culture among many gay men focused on sexuality, which prioritizes youth and appearance and presents problems as those qualities start fading when men enter middle age.

Fisher said another factor in Glaze’s condition was social media, pointing out public perception about his identity was important to him.

“If you look at his social media — I think this is instructive to the rest of us — a lot of the comments are about how Mark was so good looking and he was charming, and he was so smart and so funny,” Fisher said. “That’s all true, and that’s why he was very appealing to many people, but those qualities don’t really tell you everything about a person. In fact, one could argue they’re superficial in a way, and people have to remember people are more complicated than what you see on social media.”

One issue for gay men facing mental health issues as they enter middle age is they don’t have the same resources as those available to LGBTQ youth, who have been more of a focus in terms of mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.

Among the leading organizations for LGBTQ youth is the Trevor Project, which has resources and a hotline for LGBTQ youth facing mental health crises.

Kevin Wong, vice president of communications for the Trevor Project, said his organization would be receptive to an older LGBTQ person who calls the hotline, but ultimately would refer that person elsewhere.

“If an LGBTQ person above the age of 25 reaches out to The Trevor Project’s crisis services for support and expresses suicidal thoughts, our counselors will listen, actively and with empathy, and work with them to de-escalate and form a safety plan, like any other contact,” Wong said. “However, our organization has remained youth-centric since its founding and our volunteer crisis counselors are specifically trained with younger LGBTQ people in mind.”

Much attention is focused on the coming out process for LGBTQ people, a time that can upend close relationships — as well as reaffirm them — and a process more commonly associated with youth.

Ilan Meyer, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said data is scant about suicide rates among LGBTQ people, but information on suicide attempts shows they tend to be at a heightened rate for LGBTQ people as they go through the coming out process.

“What we do know is that there is a connection with the coming out period at whatever age coming out happens,” Meyer said. “And so, we see a proximity to coming out whatever age that happened, we see the suicide attempts proceeding and after that.”

Suicide attempts, Meyer said, are much higher for LGBTQ people than the population at large. The self-reported rate of suicide attempts in the U.S. population as a whole, Meyer said, is 2.4 percent, but that figure changes to 20 to 30 percent among LGBTQ youth, which about to 10 to 15 times greater.

Black and Latino people, Meyer said, have been less likely to make suicide attempts in their lifetimes, although he added that may be changing in recent years.

With the primary focus on mental health issues elsewhere in the LGBTQ community, Glaze’s death raises questions about whether sufficient resources are available to people in his demographic, or whether individuals are willing to seek out care options that are available.

Meyer said whether the resources for suicidal ideologies among LGBTQ people are sufficient and what more could be done “is the the million-dollar question.”

“It’s definitely not determined by just mental health,” Meyer said. “So many people have depression, but they don’t attempt suicide. And so, then the difficult thing is to find the right moment to intervene and what that intervention should be.”

Meyer said much of the focus on mental health is on a person’s last moments before making a suicide attempt, such as making suicide hotlines readily available, but some of the stressors he sees “are more chronic, ongoing things related to homophobia and the kind of experience that LGBT people have as they come to terms to realize their sexual identity.”

Pumphrey said another factor in mental health issues not to be underestimated for almost two years now is “dealing with the COVID and loneliness epidemic,” which appears to have no immediate end in sight with the emergence of the Omnicron variant.

“There was always this piece of sometimes the experience of being in your 50s and early 60s…we talk about the invisibility factor,” Pumphrey said. “But when there’s just this sense of being disconnected from community, especially in the early days of the pandemic, and kind of being locked down, I think that just raised the risk.”

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