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Obama signs LGBT-inclusive domestic violence bill

VAWA has non-discrimination rules, provides grants to LGBT programs

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President Obama signed into law an LGBT-inclusive reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama signed into law an LGBT-inclusive reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Flanked by lawmakers and women’s rights advocates, President Obama on Thursday afternoon signed into law LGBT-inclusive legislation aimed at combating domestic violence and helping its victims.

Obama signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act during a ceremony in the auditorium of the Department of the Interior, concluding the signing by saying, “There you go, everybody!”

The law reauthorizes the 1994 anti-domestic violence measure written by Vice President Biden, which provides funding for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes crimes against women as well as funding for victims assistance services.

Additionally, the reauthorization institutes new provisions to help more victims of domestic violence, such as those in the LGBT community and individuals in Native American tribes.

In remarks before the signing the bill, Obama emphasized the importance of VAWA reauthorization as a means to continue the protections put in place by the 1994 version of the law while making an oblique reference to the LGBT community.

“Because of this bill, we’ll keep in place all the protections and services that Joe described, and, as he said, we’ll expand them to cover even more women,” Obama said. “Because this is a country where everybody should be able to pursue their own measure of happiness and live their lives free from fear, no matter who you are, no matter who you love.”

At one point as Obama was offering his remarks someone in audience shouted, “We love you, Mr. President!” Obama replied, “I love you back!”

Among those joining Obama on stage was Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York-based National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.

The president thanked her for her work on domestic violence issue as he noted the LGBT protections in the bill.

“Today is about all the Americans who face discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity when they seek help,” Obama said. “So I want to thank Sharon Stapel… for the work she’s doing–the great work she’s doing with the Anti-Violence Project. But Sharon and all the other advocates who are focused on this community, they can’t do it alone. And then now they won’t have to. That’s what today is all about.”

In a statement, Stapel said the VAWA reauthorization includes the LGBT community “in truly historic, unprecedented ways.”

“For the first time in history, federal law includes LGBT anti-discrimination provisions, a huge victory for the LGBT communities and a great step forward for LGBT inclusion in our nation’s laws,” she said. “By including LGBT people in VAWA, we can say to all survivors of violence: you matter and there is support for you.”

Also on stage with Obama was U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as well as lawmakers like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.,) Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho,) Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), sponsors of the reauthorization measure, were onstage, as well as 1994 co-author Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.)

Also standing behind Obama was Biden, who offered his own thoughts on the importance of the legislation.

“Those of you who have been around a while with me know that I quote my father all the time who literally would say, the greatest sin that could be committed, the cardinal sin of all sins was the abuse of power, and the ultimate abuse of power is for someone physically stronger and bigger to raise their hand and strike and beat someone else,” Biden said. “In most cases that tends to be a man striking a woman, or a man or woman striking a child. That’s the fundamental premise and the overarching reason why John Conyers and I and others started so many years ago to draft the legislation called the Violence Against Women Act.”

The VAWA reauthorization helps protect the LGBT community against domestic violence and supports it victims in three ways:

• First, the law requires all programs that receive funding under VAWA to provide services regardless of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

• Second, the law explicitly includes the LGBT community in the largest VAWA grant program, the “STOP Grant Program,” which provides funding to providers who collaborate with prosecution and law enforcement officials to address domestic violence.

• Lastly, the bill sets up a grant program specifically aimed at providing services and outreach to underserved populations, including programs that provide care specifically for LGBT people.

The LGBT community continues to face issues with domestic violence along the same level as straight people. A 2012 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found 3,930 incidents of domestic violence in the LGBT and HIV/AIDS community in that year. Additionally, the report found that 61.6 percent of LGBT domestic violence victims were denied access to shelters — nearly a 20-point increase from the 44.6 percent in the previous year.

VAWA reauthorization is the second-ever piece of legislation signed into law with explicit pro-LGBT protections. The first legislation with both a reference to sexual orientation and gender identity was the hate crimes protections legislation Obama signed into law in 2009. The Hate Crimes Statistics Act, which collects data on hate crimes, was the first to mention sexual orientation, not gender identity.

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” lifted the ban on openly gay servicemembers from the books, but didn’t institute any pro-LGBT protections in its place.

A number of LGBT advocates were present in the auditorium and hailed the enactment of the legislation as yet another milestone for the advancement of LGBT rights.

David Stacey, deputy legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, lauded VAWA reauthorization for its historical inclusion and its practical impact on LGBT people.

“From a movement perspective, this is a really an important step forward,” he said. “Then, of course, the substantive fact that more and more victims of domestic violence and sexual assault that are LGBT will have access to services when they need them when they are in crisis.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said VAWA will be particularly important for the transgender community, which faces high levels of domestic violence as it does with other kinds of violence.

“It really does some really important things for victims of violence and trans people tend to overrepresented in that as victims of that,” she said. “It’s a really important bill on its own, but politically it’s also the second bill to become a law with LGBT people in it, and there was relatively little problem with the LGBT components.”

VAWA reauthorization is also significant because it marks the first time the House under Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) allowed a bill with pro-LGBT language to pass.

However, House Republicans only allowed the bill to pass after a version without LGBT language failed on the House floor. Then, they took up the LGBT-inclusive bill already passed by the Senate.

Julie Kruse, policy director of Immigration Equality, said she’s “thrilled” with the LGBT-inclusion in VAWA reauthorization and hopes that passage in the House bodes well for passage of immigration reform legislation for bi-national same-sex couples.

“We’re thrilled at how much support the president gave to LGBT inclusion, and this is where we are,” she said. “We think it’s a very awesome precedent for the comprehensive immigration reform that’s coming up.”

But Stacey cautioned against giving House Republicans credit for passage of the domestic violence legislation.

“There still was very significant Republican opposition in the House, however, the fact that at the end of the day, they let a bill go that had every Democrat voting for it and a large number of Republicans is a good step forward,” he said. “I think the really significant side is the Senate, where we had a majority of the Republican conference voting for this bill with the sexual orientation and gender identity provisions in it.”

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Robben Wainer

    March 7, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    To speak f Gay recovery infers that we have taken resistance from all sides. So often we hear of a punishing God. I think the greatest liberation in support of Gay women and men is to let them know that they are protected by a sealed agreement to stop bashing preferences, even with stereotype. I support the Anti Violence Project and GLSEN.

  2. Yuukki

    March 7, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    I believe the root of the cause is simple. Christianity has plagued the United States with an immeasurable amount of Hate and Violence. They are harming people, even killing people directly and indirectly. You dont see non-organized religions and Atheist doing this at all. They say they are being denied rights, but in reality, harming anyone is NOT a right, even if it is cloaked behind the shield of the Christian Religion. These are false rights. The reason for this behavior is exceptionalism from the Christian right. Finally, ALL women, in every aspect, are protected. No State law can over rule this law.

  3. John M Eschenbaum

    March 8, 2013 at 2:10 am

    Again, the fact that DEMOCRATS are the ones in government who are all inclusive makes me proud to be one of them. Just look at GOP folks and I wonder why? Don't give me love the sinner hate the sin 'BS. Its just hate.

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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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National

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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National

‘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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