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Obama cements legacy as ‘fierce advocate’

But supporters look for more advances after stand against DOMA, Prop 8

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Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade
Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT advocates applaud Obama’s Prop 8 brief, but still want more. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The relationship between the LGBT community and President Obama has arguably never been stronger in the wake of the administration’s decision to participate in the lawsuit challenging California’s Proposition 8 — but advocates want him to continue that momentum on other LGBT issues.

On one hand, LGBT rights supporters are pleased with the Justice Department’s friend-of-the-court brief because it marked the first time the administration argued that a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. On the other hand, some advocates continue to clamor for advances in other areas — in particular by signing an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination for federal contractors.

Fred Sainz, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, was among those who said the brief signaled that Obama continues to lead on issues facing the LGBT community.

“In ways big and small, he continues to distinguish himself as a leader on issues important to our community.” Sainz said. “So, the truth is, I think the president has by filing this brief cemented his legacy as a ‘fierce advocate’ for LGBT people.”

Following calls from LGBT advocates, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli filed the Justice Department’s brief last week before the Supreme Court. It applies the administration’s reasoning for why the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional — namely that laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny – to California’s Prop 8.

While the brief focuses on the constitutionality of Prop 8, which is the question before the Supreme Court, the filing also has language suggesting that same-sex marriage bans in other states are unconstitutional. The brief observes that eight states including California have bans on same-sex marriage while offering domestic partnerships to same-sex couples with the same benefits of marriage.

During a news conference at the White House on Friday, Obama himself said the reasoning presented against Prop 8 in the brief may apply to other cases.

“Now, the court may decide that if it doesn’t apply in this case, it probably can’t apply in any case,” Obama said. “There’s no good reason for it. If I were on the court, that would probably be the view that I’d put forward. But I’m not a judge, I’m the president. So the basic principle, though, is let’s treat everybody fairly and let’s treat everybody equally.”

Richard Socarides, a gay New York advocate who was pushing for Obama to speak out against the constitutionality of Prop 8, said the brief reiterates Obama’s views that laws against gay people should be subject to heightened scrutiny, but extends the president’s views further.

“It’s having the president of the United States say for the first time in a legal brief to the Supreme Court that gays and lesbians have historically been discriminated against, and that they’re entitled to heightened constitutional scrutiny, and that in this particular case, they’ve been discriminated against,” Socarides said. “I do think it was a big victory for the community, so I think it was an important milestone and definitely a step forward.”

In addition to filing the brief, the Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to grant the solicitor general speaking time during the oral arguments in the Prop 8 case – a move that wasn’t publicly called for by LGBT advocates. The Supreme Court has yet to respond to the request.

And the moves in the Prop 8 case are coupled with the Obama administration’s active involvement in the litigation against the Defense of Marriage Act. In recent weeks, the administration has taken action elsewhere.

The Pentagon has started the process for implementing certain partner benefits for gay troops. That action comes in the wake of the inaugural address in which Obama issued a national call to advance the rights of “our gay brothers and sisters.”

John Aravosis, editor of AMERICAblog, said Obama deserves credit for filing the Prop 8 brief, but also criticized the White House for refusing to talk to about it before submitting it to the Supreme Court and filing it on the last possible day.

“Obviously, there was a hiccup in actually getting this brief,” Aravosis said. “It sort of appeared at the last minute. … Had they decided earlier to file a brief, they could have just gotten credit for it, but instead it became a controversy. They got credit at the end, but it still felt like it was begrudging support.”

In the wake of the filing, advocates say they continue to want more from Obama on LGBT issues and at the top of the list is signing an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

HRC’s Sainz was among those saying the directive is next on the plate for LGBT advocates in terms of administrative action.

“The non-discrimination executive order definitely remains our top priority, so that is where we turn our attention to next,” Sainz said.

Socarides said he wants Obama to sign the executive order, but also wants Obama to push ahead with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act amid promises from Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to advance the legislation this year.

“It’s past time for the president to sign the executive order extending non-discrimination provisions to federal contractors,” Socarides said. “I’m hoping that he will do that soon, and at the same time, continue to fight and actually fight more aggressively for ENDA, for federal legislation, and I think that we can flip the House Democratic in the next mid-term election, we could have a pretty good chance of getting ENDA in two years.”

Other requests include the appointment of an openly LGBT Cabinet member and holding in abeyance the marriage-based green cards for married bi-national couples until the Supreme Court makes a final determination on DOMA.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said Obama remains concerned about LGBT issues and will continue to work on them.

“President Obama is proud of the strong record he’s established on LGBT rights, and he looks forward to building on that progress in the months and years to come,” Inouye said.

Aravosis said predicting whether the administration will follow the brief with other actions that benefit the LGBT community is difficult — but that doesn’t mean advocates should stop pushing for them to happen.

“People who aren’t necessarily working on your issues don’t understand that one fix does not address every problem, and they get sort of annoyed sometimes when we keep asking for more,” Aravosis said. “We keep asking for more because we don’t have our equal rights yet. Once we get full and equal rights, then you can complain that we’re asking for too much, but we have less than everybody else right now.”

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

Equality Florida quickly condemned the measure

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The Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The Republican majority Florida House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Los Angeles Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66 percent) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56 percent of transgender and non-binary youth said it made them feel angry, 47 percent felt nervous and/or scared, 45 percent felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, the Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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NCAA adopts new policy amid fervor over transgender athletes

Sport-by-sport approach requires certain levels of testosterone

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NCAA, gay news, Washington Blade
The NCAA has adopted new policy amid a fervor over transgender athletes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has announced it has adopted new procedures on competition of transgender athletes, creating a “sport-by-sport” approach that also requires documentation of testosterone levels across the board amid a fervor of recently transitioned swimmers breaking records in women’s athletics.

The NCAA said in a statement its board of governors voted on Wednesday in support of the “sport-by-sport” approach, which the organization says “preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete.”

Although the policy defers to the national governing bodies for individual sports, it also requires transgender athletes to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections. The new policy, which consistent with rules for the U.S. Olympics, is effective 2022, although implementation is set to begin with the 2023-24 academic year, the organization says.

John DeGioia, chair of the NCAA board and Georgetown president, said in a statement the organization is “steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports.”

“It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy,” DeGioia said.

More specifically, starting with the 2022-23 academic year, transgender athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections, the organizational. These athletes, according to the NCAA, are also required to document testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections.

In terms of jurisdiction, the national governing bodies for individual sports are charged determines policies, which would be under ongoing review and recommendation by the NCAA, the organizational says. If there is no policy for a sport, that sport’s international federation policy or previously established International Olympics Committee policy criteria would be followed.

The NCAA adopts the policy amid controversy over University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas smashing records in women’s swimming. Thomas, which once competed as a man, smashed two national records and in the 1,650-yard freestyle placed 38 seconds ahead of closest competition. The new NCAA policy appears effectively to sideline Thomas, who has recently transitioned and unable to show consistent levels of testosterone.

Prior to the NCAA announcement, a coalition of 16 LGBTQ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally, this week sent to a letter to the collegiate organization, urging the organizations strengthen non-discrimination protections as opposed to weakening them. The new policy, however, appears to head in other direction, which the LGBTQ groups rejected in the letter.

“While decentralizing the NCAA and giving power to conferences and schools has its benefits, we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play,” the letter says. “This would be similar to the patchwork of non-discrimination policies in states, where marginalized groups in some states or cities are protected while others are left behind by localities that opt not to enact inclusive policies.”

JoDee Winterhof, vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the NCAA announcement the new policy was effectively passing the buck.

“If the NCAA is committed to ensuring an environment of competition that is safe, healthy, and free from discrimination, they cannot dodge the question of how to ensure transgender athletes can participate safely,” Winterhof said. “That is precisely why we and a number of organizations across a wide spectrum of advocates are urging them to readopt and strengthen non-discrimination language in their constitution to ensure the Association is committed to enforcing the level playing field and inclusive policies they say their values require. Any policy language is only as effective as it is enforceable, and with states passing anti-transgender sports bans, any inclusive policy is under immediate threat. We are still reviewing the NCAA’s new policy on transgender inclusion and how it will impact each and every transgender athlete.”

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Transgender rights group’s Los Angeles office receives bomb threat

[email protected] Coalition evacuated

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(Public domain photo)

A bomb threat was phoned in Wednesday afternoon to the Wilshire Boulevard Koreatown offices of the [email protected] Coalition, Bamby Salcedo, the president and CEO of the non-profit organization told the Los Angeles Blade.

According to Salcedo, an unidentified male caller told the staff person who answered at approximately 3 p.m., while delivering the threat said; “You’re all going to die.” The staff immediately evacuated everyone from their offices and then contacted the Los Angeles Police Department for assistance.

Officers, specialists and detectives from the Rampart Division of the LAPD responded and swept the building. A spokesperson for the LAPD confirmed that the incident is under active investigation but would make no further comment.

On a Facebook post immediately after the incident the non-profit wrote; “To ensure the safety of our clients and staff members, we ask that you please NOT come to our office.”

In a follow-up post, Salcedo notified the organization and its clientele that the LAPD had given the all-clear and that their offices would resume normal operations Thursday at 9:00 a.m. PT.

“Thank you for your messages and concern for our staff and community,” Salcedo said.

“No amount of threats can stop us from our commitment to the TGI community,” she added.

The [email protected] Coalition was founded in 2009 by a group of transgender and gender non-conforming and intersex (TGI) immigrant women in Los Angeles as a grassroots response to address the specific needs of TGI Latino immigrants who live in the U.S.

Since then, the agency has become a nationally recognized organization with representation in 10 different states across the U.S. and provides direct services to TGI individuals in Los Angeles.

In 2015, the [email protected] Coalition identified the urgent need to provide direct services to empower TGI people in response to structural, institutional, and interpersonal violence, and the Center for Violence Prevention and Transgender Wellness was born.

Since then, the organization has secured funding from the state and local government sources as well as several private foundations and organizations to provide direct services to all TGI individuals in Los Angeles County.

The [email protected] Coalition’s primary focus is to change the landscape of access to services for TGI people and provide access to comprehensive resource and services that will improve the quality of life of TGI people.

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