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Will Obama include ENDA in State of the Union?

Move would echo Clinton’s 1999 speech before Congress



Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade, Joint Session of Congress
Joint Session of Congress, gay news, Washington Blade, Barack Obama

President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Amid expectations that President Obama will encourage Congress to pass jobs legislation during his upcoming State of the Union address, LGBT advocates are calling on him to articulate the need for legislative and administrative action to protect against anti-LGBT job bias.

President Obama will deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday at 9 p.m. before a joint session of Congress to inform lawmakers about legislation he wants passed during the first year of his second term, which may include immigration reform, deficit reduction, gun control and  job creation initiatives.

But LGBT rights supporters — recalling Obama’s historic LGBT-inclusion in his inaugural address — are asking Obama to address one LGBT issue that remains outstanding since the start of his administration in 2009: the lack of federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers. Legislation addressing the issue that has languished in Congress for decades is known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Tico Almeida, president of the LGBT group Freedom to Work, said “it would be fantastic” for Obama to follow-up on his inaugural speech to call for ENDA passage.

“The year 2013 should bring important steps forward on ENDA, with a high probability of a successful Senate Committee mark-up and the possibility of a long overdue ENDA vote on the Senate floor,” Almeida said. “It would be very helpful for the president to use the State of the Union to assert his strong leadership on this issue by publicly calling on both chambers of Congress to vote on ENDA.”

It wouldn’t be the first time ENDA was mentioned during a State of the Union address. In 1999, then-President Clinton called for passage of the bill in addition to approval of hate crimes protections legislation, which Obama eventually signed into law in 2009.

“Discrimination or violence because of race or religion, ancestry or gender, disability or sexual orientation is wrong and it ought to be illegal,” Clinton said. “Therefore, I ask Congress to make the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act the law of the land.”

Obama has also made references to the LGBT community in previous State of the Union addresses. In 2010, he foreshadowed the legislative effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” promising to “work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”

In 2011, Obama pledged to finish the job on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by certifying an end to the military’s gay ban before the end of the year. And last year, as lesbian Air Force Col. Ginger Wallace sat in the box near first lady Michelle Obama, Obama alluded to repeal of the ban, saying, “When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian or Latino; conservative or liberal; rich or poor; gay or straight.”

What Obama will say during the State of the Union address this year is unknown. Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said he doesn’t have a preview of Obama’s remarks.

But the request to articulate the need for workplace protections for LGBT people isn’t limited to legislation. LGBT advocates say the State of the Union would also be an opportunity for Obama to commit to an executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said the nation’s largest LGBT group “would love to see” Obama pledge to issue this order during his remarks.

“With federal employment discrimination legislation for LGBT people currently stalled in Congress, such an order would be an important step forward and would provide important protections for millions of American workers,” Sainz said. “It’s also a natural extension of the president’s ‘We Can’t Wait’ campaign.”

The White House has repeatedly said it prefers a legislative approach to instituting federal non-discrimination protections as opposed to administrative action. Asked about the directive by the Washington Blade in December, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the legislative approach to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal should be “a model for the way to approach these issues.”

But Freedom to Work’s Almeida said observers may see a reversal during the upcoming State of the Union address because Obama has previously taken the opportunity of these speeches to announce administrative action.

“President Obama has announced other executive orders during prior addresses to Congress, and it would be great if the president used this opportunity to announce that he is fulfilling a campaign promise to prevent taxpayer money from being squandered on workplace discrimination and harassment against LGBT employees,” Almeida said.

If Obama doesn’t elect to enumerate any specific pro-LGBT initiative during the speech, it’s possible he could offer a more general sense of support for the LGBT community as he did during his inaugural.

Sainz noted the importance of including such language in the State of the Union regardless of whether any mention of ENDA is made.

“Language that speaks to the inclusion of LGBT people as being a vital and important part of America is always important,” Sainz said. “The president’s recognition of the historical significance of Stonewall was incredibly important not just to the dignity of our movement but also to growing support among fair-minded Americans for the whole host of unfinished priorities.”

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  1. brian

    February 7, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I don’t see what the WH’s concern is when it comes to federal contractor anti-LGBT discrimination. Exactly where is the clamor on the other side demanding a right to discriminate against LGBT employees with federal contract moneys?

    I don’t mind if the president lags a step behind the American people. We want our president to be a strong, persuasive and effective leader in all areas of his presidency. This term is for the history books, after all.

    But President Obama has fallen several steps behind the public’s sentiment in favor of workplace LGBT fairness and non-discrimination now.

    Federal contracting authority is identified in peoples’ minds as the president’s ‘bailiwick’. President Obama is the titular Executive Officer of the U.S. federal government– the largest buyer of goods and services in the world. In corporate and academic America, that makes the Prez the federal ‘BOSS’. Even bigger than Bruce.

    Accordingly, it can not be seen as anything but hypocritical, embarrassing– and politically ‘wobbly’ that the president has not issued a non-dicriminaton Executive Order for federal contractors.

    Moreover, it is a really small thing to do now. Public opinion has moved swiftly in favor of LGBT fairness. An EO will NOT eat up any serious presidential political capital. Probably, net, net, now, it would be just the opposite.

    But the worst thing about the WH dancing around a federal contractor EO is that Congress will take nervous, negative cues regarding their need to act on a full ENDA– precisely from the president’s own inaction.

    We need lots of fairly ‘conservative’ people in Congress to stiffen their spines to vote for a full ENDA, and they’re just not going to do that if the Prez goes ‘all wobbly’ on what’s perceived as ‘his’ portion of political responsibility.

  2. Jean Pierre Katz

    February 9, 2013 at 7:06 am

    It's time for action not mere talk to end the threat of being fired just for being gay.

    Then we could believe America really is a free country.

  3. Adam Everett Colclasure

    February 9, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    I think it's rather, presumptuous to think Obama will address ENDA specifically, on an executive order process anyway, whether one likes it or not that's going to be a Senate and house decision not a president decision. The president is more likely, to address, the federal works thing or even the new contraception law for insurance. I'd be grateful if he mentioned a need for more states too have hate crimes legislation and to know how to process that legislation and to get more rights in public accommodation and not just in government accommodations.

  4. Luis H. Lopez

    February 10, 2013 at 1:32 am

    Although he has been an progressive on some issues we cannot depend on him, put pressure on the Goverment with protest and remember the long struggle of the gay liberation movement forced the evolution of most of society!

  5. Patrick Babineau

    February 11, 2013 at 6:57 am

    It's most appropriate of us to ask the president to address the decades old Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in his State of the Union address. if not now, when? We are the last group still in the back of the bus. We should be proud of all the social justice work we have done for others but now for LGBT rights too! The discrimination hurts many of us in real ways now.

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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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