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Gay DC psychiatrist named head of APA

Levin serves as interim director of Department of Health

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Saul Levin, gay news, Washington Blade

Dr. Saul Levin was named CEO and medical director of the American Psychiatric Association. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dr. Saul Levin, who last year became the first openly gay head of the D.C. Department of Health, was named on May 15 as the new chief executive officer and medical director of the American Psychiatric Association.

An APA spokesperson said Levin, a psychiatrist who has specialized in substance abuse treatment, becomes the first known out gay person to head the APA, which was founded in 1844 and represents more than 33,000 psychiatric physicians in the U.S. and abroad.

The APA serves as a “national medical specialty society whose physician members specialize in diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and research of mental illnesses including substance use disorders,” according to a statement on the organization’s website.

“I have known Saul for over 20 years,” said Dr. James H. Scully Jr., the current APA CEO and Medical Director who is retiring in the fall, when Levin will take over his duties following a transition period set to begin in mid-July.

“He brings extraordinary intelligence, vision and great energy to the challenges ahead for our profession,” Scully said in a statement. “I look forward to working together with him as we transition to new leadership.”

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who appointed Levin as interim director of the DOH last July, issued a statement on May 15 congratulating Levin on his new appointment.

“While this is a great loss for the District government, it is a great gain for the American Psychiatric Association,” Gray said. “Dr. Levin has done an exemplary job leading DOH in this interim period, and I wish him the best in his future endeavors and thank him for his good work for us.”

The APA has played a key role in the advancement of LGBT rights since the early 1970s when, following years of advocacy by gay activists, the organization removed homosexuality from its longstanding classification as a mental illness in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders.

Last December, the APA removed Gender Identity Disorder (GID) from its latest updated edition of the DSM and replaced it with a condition known as Gender Dysphoria.

Transgender rights advocates have said the removal of GID from the APA’s DSM is comparable to the APA’s removal of homosexuality from its classification as a mental disorder in 1973.

Levin is scheduled to remain in his DOH post until July 12, when he will join the Arlington, Va., based APA as CEO-designate, according to an APA statement. He will work closely with Scully until Scully retires in the fall, “at which point Dr. Levin will transition to his role as CEO and Medical Director of APA,” the statement says.

The APA statement says Levin has had a “long history” of working on APA committees and projects beginning in 1987, when he first became a member of the organization. Among other duties, Levin has served on the APA’s Political Action Committee Board, its Scientific and Program Committee and as a consultant to its Finance and Budget Committee.

A native of South Africa, Levin received his medical degree at a leading medical school in Johannesburg before completing his residency in psychiatry at the University of California’s Davis Medical Center.

Levin joined the staff of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he later became coordinator of a program within the department’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Following that position he returned to school, receiving a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in 1994.

After that, Levin started a heath care consulting company for which he served as president for the next 10 years.

He next served as president and CEO of a U.S.-based educational trust that provided scholarships to South African black youth before becoming vice president of the American Medical Association for Science, Medicine, and Public Health.

After joining the staff at the D.C. Department of Health, Levin, among other things, served as Senior Deputy Director of the department’s Addiction and Recovery Administration.

Levin was in San Francisco this week attending the APA’s annual national conference and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

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District of Columbia

D.C. house with rainbow Pride flag set on fire

Investigators seeking help from public in search for suspect

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A Pride flag remained displayed at the house in Shaw this past Sunday, one week after the fire in the rear of the house which fire officials have listed as arson. (Washington Blade photos by Lou Chibbaro Jr.)

The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department has classified as arson a June 19 fire at a two-story row house on the 1800 block of 8th Street, N.W. in the city’s Shaw neighborhood that had an LGBTQ rainbow Pride flag prominently displayed on the front of the house.

A Fire & EMS Department spokesperson said the fire was ignited in a detached wooden garage in the rear of the house accessible only through an alley, and fire investigators have yet to identify a suspect or a motive for what evidence shows was an intentionally set fire.

Although the front of the brick rowhouse where the Pride flag was displayed was not damaged, the fire in the garage spread to the rear of the house, destroying a wooden outdoor deck, and caused extensive damage to the kitchen, bathroom, and second floor bedroom. Fire investigators have sealed the house, requiring its three occupants to find a temporary residence as the investigation continues.

One of the three occupants of the house, who was the only one at home when the fire started at about 2 a.m., escaped without injury, according to sources who know the occupants.

“The Pride flag on the front of the house was present at the time of the fire,” Jennifer Donelan, director of communications for the Fire & EMS Department, told the Washington Blade. “We do not have any information, at this time, that suggests the arson was related to the presence of the flag, however we are still working on the case,” she said.

“We are aggressively working to identify a suspect and a motive,” Donelan said. “Until such time, we won’t be able to make a determination as to whether or not this was a hate crime.”

She said the Fire & EMS Department is seeking help from the public in its effort to identify one or more suspects responsible for the fire. Anyone with information that could be helpful to the investigation is asked to call fire investigators at 202-673-2776.

The fire at the D.C. house with the Pride flag took place less than a week after Baltimore police said a house in that city’s Waverly neighborhood on which “Pride décor” was displayed was set on fire on June 15, causing extensive damage to the house and nearby houses.

Baltimore police and fire department officials said a Pride flag on a house across the street from the house set on fire was also ablaze when firefighters arrived on the scene. Two men were hospitalized in critical condition and a woman was listed in serious condition because of the fire ignited in the house.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott released a statement saying fire department officials had yet to determine a motive for the fire.

“At this point, we cannot confirm that this was a hate crime,” Scott said. “However, my agencies will bring every appropriate resource to bear to get to the bottom of this tragic event,” he said. “I continue to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. officials vow to fight any GOP effort to ban abortion in nation’s capital

Without statehood, District vulnerable to congressional interference

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D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton vowed to fight to protect abortion access in the city. (Blade file photo by Drew Brown)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, and six members of the D.C. Council said they were united in fighting an attempt by Congress to ban abortions in the nation’s capital following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

At a press conference on the day the Supreme Court handed down its controversial decision, the D.C. officials pointed out that unlike any of the states, D.C. is vulnerable to the authority Congress has over the city under its limited Home Rule Charter, including the authority by Congress to pass a law to ban abortions in the city.

The press conference was held at the headquarters in Northeast D.C. of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., whose leaders said they would continue to provide abortion services in the District at the present time.

At this time, “Nothing has changed in Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said at the press conference. “Abortion remains legal, and women and girls we know, however, are worried,” the mayor said. “We are worried because we know we are vulnerable as a jurisdiction because of our lack of statehood.”

Norton told news media representatives and others attending the press conference that she expects at least some congressional Republicans to introduce legislation to ban abortions in D.C. now that the Supreme Court has given them the authority to do that.

“We are subservient still to the House and Senate,” she said. “I’m calling on the Congress to immediately codify the right to an abortion in federal law,” Norton said. “That is the very least the District needs to save this city from what will surely be an attempt by Republicans in Congress to move first on the District of Columbia to make sure that abortions are not available for women in our city.”

Norton added, “We always have more work cut out for us than other jurisdictions. But I assure you I am up to the task. There is a lot to fight for here, and I’m ready for that fight.”

Norton and Bowser also pointed out that Congress over a decade ago added a permanent provision to D.C.’s annual budget that prohibits the city from using any of its funds to pay for abortions either directly or through the funding of private organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide abortion related services.

With the prospect that Republicans might regain control of the House or Senate or both in the November congressional elections, D.C. officials said they were especially concerned about an attempt to ban or greatly restrict abortions in the city.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said he was hopeful that such an attempt would be blocked by a Democratic-led filibuster in the Senate as well as by a presidential veto if President Biden or another Democrat continues to occupy the White House.

Bowser, Mendelson, and D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) also pointed out that the legal reasoning used by the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, especially the rationale given by Justice Clarence Thomas, could be used in future cases to overturn previous court rulings establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage and the right to intimate sexual acts between same-sex couples.

“We are about to enter into decades of darkness with this court that we have,” Cheh said at the press conference. “And don’t be fooled. We’re told, OK, it’s just abortion,” she said. “Don’t you believe it. The very reasoning of the case – and I spend a lot of time teaching constitutional law – means that many other liberties will be in jeopardy.”

LGBTQ rights advocates have pointed to the concurring opinion handed down by Justice Thomas on the day the court overturned Roe v. Wade that specifically calls on the high court to “reconsider” the 2003 ruling of Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned state laws banning sodomy between consenting adults, both gay and straight. Thomas’s concurring opinion also called for reconsidering the high court’s 2015 Obergefell ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Others speaking at the June 24 press conference included Laura Meyers, president of Planned Parenthood of the D.C. area, and D.C. Council members Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large), Christina Henderson (I-At-Large), and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2). 

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Virginia

Va. delegate comes out as bisexual

Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler spoke at Hampton Roads Pride

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(Public domain photo)

Virginia state Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach) came out as bisexual on June 25 during an appearance at Hampton Roads Pride in Norfolk.

“I’m bisexual,” the Virginia Beach Democrat told Pride attendees. “I just never felt like I could say that out loud.”

Convirs-Fowler has represented Virginia’s 21st House District since 2018.

State Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County) is gay and state Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) is a lesbian. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) in 2018 became the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the U.S.

“For those who don’t know, Del. @FowlerforVA and I are both part of the Class of 2017 #RedToBlue legislators who flipped seats that Nov. 7,” tweeted Roem on Monday. “We’ve both earned re-election twice since then and I couldn’t be more proudof her declaration of Pride =).”

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