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Same-sex marriage supporters, opponents gather outside Supreme Court

Advocates on both sides of the issue held rallies in D.C.

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Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Hollingsworth vs. Perry, gay news, Washington Blade
Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Hollingsworth vs. Perry, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Supporters and opponents of marriage rights for same-sex couples gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday as the justices heard oral arguments in a case that challenges California’s Proposition 8.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson, National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill and gay retired New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson and his daughter Ella are among those who spoke at a rally in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians that drew a few thousand people.

Robinson also joined Rev. Dennis Wiley of Covenant Baptist Church of Christ in Southwest Washington, Rev. Abena McCray of Unity Fellowship Church in D.C., Sister Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., Washington National Cathedral Dean Gary Hall and others at an interfaith service at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation near the Supreme Court earlier in the day.

Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Hollingsworth vs. Perry, gay news, Washington Blade, Margaret Hoover

Margaret Hoover (Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

“We all know that something special is happening here today,” Republican strategist Margaret Hoover said. “That’s why we are here in love to demonstrate that all Americans have the constitutional right and the freedom to marry the person they love.”

D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton pointed out nine states and the nation’s capital allow same-sex couples to marry.

“There are no second class citizens in America,” Norton said. “There are no second class marriages in America.

Jo-Ann Shain and Mary Jo Kennedy of Brooklyn, N.Y., and their daughter Aliya Shain held a poster with a picture of Edie Windsor outside the Supreme Court, Windsor is the New York City widow who challenged the Defense of Marriage Act after she paid $363,000 in estate taxes in 2009 when her partner of more than 40 years passed away. The couple, who has been together for 31 years, in 2004 challenged the Empire State’s same-sex marriage ban.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan in 2005 ruled the law was unconstitutional.

“This is a watershed moment for our community,” Jo-Ann Shain told the Washington Blade before she, her wife whom she married in New York in 2011 after the state’s same-sex marriage law took effect and their daughter held up their signs to shield members of the Westboro Baptist Church who had gathered on the sidewalk. “This is history in the making and we wouldn’t miss it.”

Baltimore resident Lucas McCahill, who is an organizer with the American Humanist Association, said the claim the United States is “a free country” is “actually a blatant lie.” She told the Blade outside the Supreme Court the justices ruling in favor of marriage rights for same-sex couples would change that reality.

“It’s just a part of my basic values to uphold equality for everybody, no matter who you are, what you look like,” McCahill said.

David Pérez, president of the Latino GLBT History Project Board of Directors, agreed.

“We’re really excited to be out here to support marriage equality,” he said, noting his organization is among those that supported last year’s campaign in support of referenda on Maryland’s same-sex marriage law and DREAM Act that both passed. “We definitely want the justices to know the American people support marriage equality.”

Same-sex marriage opponents march to Supreme Court

As same-sex marriage supporters spoke outside the Supreme Court, an estimated 2,000 opponents of nuptials for gays and lesbians marched onto First Street, N.E. Some held a large banner that read “Let the people decide,” while others waved signs that said “Vote for holy matrimony” and “Children do better with a mom and a dad!” in Spanish.

Backers of nuptials for gays and lesbians gathered adjacent to the marchers and shouted slogans in support of the issue. Several of them held American, gay Pride and Human Rights Campaign flags as they squared off against the protesters.

“We’re here in order to defend civil society from one of the greatest assaults that it’s experienced in its history,” Father Johannes Smith of New York told the Blade outside the Supreme Court. “The whole idea of homosexual marriage is an assault on the foundations of a sound society.”

Christina Hughes, who traveled to D.C. from Miami to march against nuptials for gays and lesbians, said she feels marriage is “defined by God between a man and a woman.”

“Who are we to try and change that,” she said. “God is our creator and we should go by God’s laws.”

Roughly 1,000 same-sex marriage opponents attended a rally on the National Mall after they marched to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Hollingsworth vs. Perry, gay news, Washington Blade, NOM, National Organization for Marriage

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown; Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Concerned Women for America President Penny Nance; Ruth Institute President Jennifer Roback Morse; American Values President Gary Bauer; New York State Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr.; and Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, are among those who spoke.

The Family Leader CEO Bob Vander Plaats noted Rev. Billy Graham and newly elected Pope Francis’ opposition to same-sex marriage. He also spoke about the 2010 recall of the three Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled a year earlier the Hawkeye State’s ban on nuptials for gays and lesbians was unconstitutional.

“We saw what happened when a court usurps the obvious will of the people,” Vander Plaats said. “What happened there is the people of Iowa listened and they responded and they responded with the historic ouster of all the judges in the 2010 election.”

Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Hollingsworth vs. Perry, gay news, Washington Blade, NOM, National Organization for Marriage

NOM President Brian Brown (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church of Beltsville, Md., claimed marriage between a man and woman reduces poverty and rates of youth incarceration, domestic violence and sexual abuse.

“When a man and a woman are in the house, there is health, there is healing, there is peace, there is joy, there’s security,” he said. “There is the rule and reign of God in the house. One man, one woman is God’s architectural plan so the desert places of urban America will bloom and blossom like a rose.”

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week shows 58 percent of Americans support marriage rights for same-sex couples. The survey further indicates 52 percent of Republican and GOP-leaning independents between 18-49 back nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Brown and other same-sex marriage opponents sought to discredit polls that continue to show a majority of Americans now support the issue.

Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Hollingsworth vs. Perry, gay news, Washington Blade, NOM, National Organization for Marriage

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NOM Cultural Director Thomas Peters highlighted to the Blade a recent poll he did not identify that he said showed 60 percent of Americans “believe in the proposition that” marriage is between one man and one woman.

“In free and fair votes of the people in 31 states, we’ve won by over 60 percent,” he said. “Even in states like Rhode Island we are arguing for a public vote. Proponents of gay marriage don’t want the people to vote on it. I don’t think that gay marriage advocates even believe their own polls because even in deep blue states they don’t want to take the issue to the people.”

Jo-Ann Shain said she feels public opinion is one of the factors the justices should consider as they weigh the issue.

“Although we’re married in our state, we’re not whole unless the feds recognize our marriages,” she said.

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Utah

VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights

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(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

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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

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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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