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HHS clarifies gay couples have nursing home visitation rights

Guidance was among Sebelius’ goals for improving LGBT health

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Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius speaks before the AIDS 2012 International Conference

Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius had sought to expand the hospital visitation rights memo to include nursing homes. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay people living in nursing homes will have the same guaranteed access to their partners and spouses as gay patients in hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid, according to new guidance obtained Friday by the Washington Blade.

In guidance dated June 28 to state survey agency directors, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid clarifies that President Obama’s 2010 memorandum guaranteeing that patients can have a same-sex partner visit them in the hospital also means residents in long-term care facilities, or nursing homes, must “be given full and equal visitation privileges.”

“Residents must be notified of their rights to have visitors on a 24-hour basis, who could include, but are not limited to, spouses (including same-sex spouses), domestic partners (including same-sex domestic partners), other family members, or friends,” the guidance states.

The guidance, signed by CMS Director of Survey & Certification Thomas Hamilton, says the guidance takes effect immediately and should be communicated within 30 days to all survey and certification staff, their managers and state or regional office training coordinators.

Clarifying that the hospital visitation rights memo for gay couples also applies to nursing homes was among the goals that Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius identified in her 2012 report on objectives to improve LGBT health.

Brian Cook, a CMS spokesperson, said the new guidance will help ensure that gay residents living in nursing homes will have access to their partners or spouses while in long-term care.

“Today, as the Department of Health & Human Services celebrates Pride Month, we have clarified regulations for federally regulated nursing facilities, to protect visitation rights for residents in same-sex relationships,” Cook said. “This new guidance furthers the administration’s commitment to equality for same-sex couples and will help to guarantee that spouses or domestic partners of nursing home residents have every opportunity to be with their loved ones.”

In April 2010, President Obama issued a memorandum mandating that hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds — or most facilities — permit patients to allow their same-sex partners and spouses to visit them. The guidance issued on Friday clarifies that memorandum also applies to nursing homes, which also receives funds from Medicare and Medicaid.

An estimated 1.5 million people are currently living in nursing homes. Given that the William Institute estimates 3.5 percent of the adult population identifies as gay, lesbian or bisexual, those numbers would indicate 52,500 LGB people live in nursing homes and would be covered under the new guidance.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, praised HHS for clarifying these protections for gay people living in nursing homes.

“As we’ve urged HHS, we’re grateful they have made clear that the visitation rights of individuals in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, include the ability to receive visits from same-sex spouses and partners,” Cole-Schwartz said. “Too many older members of the LGBT community are forced back into the closet when they enter nursing facilities. Today’s guidance will help ensure that they and their families are respected.”

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Politics

HRC invests $15 million in six battleground states ahead of November elections

Group made announcement on Monday

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Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Human Rights Campaign will target a record-high 75 million pro-LGBTQ voters nationwide with a public education and mobilization campaign ahead of the 2024 elections, which includes a $15 million investment in six key battleground states, the group announced on Monday.

The initiative will focus on voters in states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Nevada with “hired staff, field efforts, events, paid advertising, mobilization, and grassroots engagement,” HRC wrote in a press release announcing the campaign, which is titled “We Show Up: Equality Wins.”

HRC defines Equality Voters as constituents who are “united by the advancement of LGBTQ+ equality, and are younger, more racially diverse, and more female than the general electorate.”

Among those who would vote for third-party candidates if the election were held today — 22 percent, or 16.5 million people — survey results show half would support President Joe Biden if they reach the understanding that their third-party vote would support Donald Trump’s bid for the White House.

Along with re-electing Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, HRC’s campaign will work “to defeat escalating anti-trans attacks” and “electing historic LGBTQ+ and pro-equality candidates down-the-ballot,” the group wrote.

HRC will support LGBTQ candidates in California, Texas, New York, and Delaware with the aim of helping to elect a pro-equality majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.  

“Trump and his MAGA allies are promising a hate-filled agenda that hurts everyone who doesn’t look and live like them,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said. “They think they can bully and scare us and take away our fundamental freedoms. But the LGBTQ+ community has won these hard fights before — and we refuse to go back.”

HRC noted “Trump has promised to not just undo all the progress made by the Biden-Harris administration; but to erase LGTBQ+ people from federal law, further dismantle access to health care for transgender people, and dictate curriculum for school children.” 

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Congress

House ethics complaint filed over GOP staffer’s anti-trans email

Rep. Carol Miller’s chief of staff defended his actions

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Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), in 2012. (Screenshot/YouTube San Diego City Beat)

A federal government employee has filed a complaint to the U.S. House Ethics Committee over an email they received from Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), which contained combative and anti-trans language. 

The Washington Blade has seen the correspondence between the parties, in which the confrontation was apparently kicked off when the congresswoman’s top aide received an email that included the sender’s preferred pronouns in the signature box, triggering his reply.

Donnellan wrote, “As a father, it is disgusting that anyone would ever tell my son or daughter that something is wrong with them and they should take sterilizing hormones or have surgery to cut off their genitals.”  

“The fact that you support that ideology by putting pronouns in your signature is awful,” he said, adding, “You’re disgusting and should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t email me or anyone from my office ever again.” 

A senior government official told the Blade in a written statement that the email was not out of character for Donnellan:

 “I’ve heard from two colleagues several months apart about two separate transphobic emails, using identical language, from Matthew. Unfortunately these emails—though inconsistent with the typical collegiality one would expect from a Chief of Staff on the Hill—is likely a reflection of both increased partisanship on the Hill and a rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from the right.

“Not only is this virtual, hate-filled temper tantrum unbecoming of a Chief of Staff, inappropriate, and unprofessional, it also hurts his boss’s constituents. DC is built on congressional staff, members of Congress, and executive officials being able to put aside their differences to find unlikely areas of commonality where they can work together. 

“Even some of the most progressive members, like [U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Jerry Nadler (N.Y.)] have partnered with some of the most conservative members, like [U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio)], respectively, when they can find common ground. 

“Matthew’s refusal to work with an agency department or office just because a staffer has pronouns in their signature isn’t just hateful—it means he’s cutting off opportunities to deliver results for his boss’s constituents, especially in a divided Washington.”

Donnellan told the Blade by email that his response to the government employee is “a reply I send to anyone who uses pronouns or pushes gender ideology in any way.” 

“No one is ‘born in the wrong body’ and it’s horrific to tell anyone that they need genital mutilation surgery or sterilizing drugs,” he said. “People who push gender ideology, actively or passively, are awful and should be confronted every single time.”

“If the blunt reality of the terrible things that they are pushing is offensive to them then they should strongly reconsider what it this they believe and the harm that they are doing rather than simply trying to conform to liberal luxury beliefs,” Donnellan said. 

Addressing the complaint filed against him, Donnellan said, “I haven’t heard anything from Ethics and doubt that I will, they generally don’t waste their time with sheltered progressives being forced into the real world for the first time.”

A House Ethics Committee spokesperson declined to comment when asked if they could confirm receipt of the complaint.

Asked whether Miller might object to the way that she and her Congressional office are represented with these confrontational email exchanges, Donnellan said his boss’s “motto is ‘cut the bull’, and gender ideology is some of the biggest bull there is.”   

On Friday, the congresswoman’s son Chris Miller placed third in the Republican primary contest for West Virginia’s gubernatorial race, where the state’s Attorney General Patrick Morrissey secured his party’s nomination in a decisive victory with 33 percent of the vote. 

Leading up to the election, trans issues had emerged as a dominant focal point as the GOP candidates squared off against each other, with Miller’s campaign attacking Morrissey with allegations that he had profited from “the trans agenda” and backed a drug company that “helps turn boys into girls” when working as a healthcare lobbyist in Washington.  

In one ad that was paid for by a super PAC chaired by his father, Miller said the pronouns used by Morrissey are “money-grubbing liberal,” an interesting charge to level at the conservative Republican attorney general of West Virginia (even notwithstanding the fact that those three words are not pronouns but, rather, nouns and verbs.)

Declaring preferred pronouns in workplace email signatures has become commonplace in both the public and private sector, whether for purposes of sending an affirming message to transgender and gender expansive employees and officers or to mitigate the chances that either they or their cisgender counterparts might be unintentionally misgendered. 

The Biden-Harris administration has pushed for agencies to adopt the practice along with other measures and policies to advance the rights and wellbeing of trans and gender expansive employees across the federal government. 

In a 2021 announcement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s issuance of updated guidance on the agency’s email signature block, Michael Watts, director of civil rights for the U.S. Forrest Service, noted that “There are plenty of gender-neutral names out there, or names from other cultures that might not give you enough information to know their gender.” 

While the inclusion of pronouns was not made mandatory at USDA, he urged employees to “strongly consider taking this small but important step toward supporting inclusiveness in the workplace.” 

“The use of pronouns in our email signatures and getting into the habit of including pronouns in our introductions doesn’t really cost us anything,” Watts added, arguing that the move constitutes “a meaningful exchange to others and makes it easier for people to be respectful in how they address each other.”

“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. 

Official guidance published by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which is responsible for administering policies across the U.S. federal civil service, stipulates that agencies should “take steps to provide the option for employees to include the pronouns they use in employee systems and profiles, including email signature blocks, employee directories and employee profiles.”

Some have gone further, such as by adding pronouns to email signatures for all employees, as the U.S. Department of State did in 2023, while others like USDA have established, as official policy, that “employees are encouraged to include their pronouns in the first line of their email signature block (e.g. he/him/his). Signature blocks are a simple and effective way for individuals to communicate their identified pronouns to colleagues, stakeholders, and customers.”

“For example,” the USDA writes, “adding pronouns to signature blocks also has the benefit of indicating to the recipient that you will respect their gender identity and choice of pronouns.”

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Politics

Trump vows to reverse transgender student protections ‘on day one’

Former president spoke with right-wing conservative talk radio hosts

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Former President Donald Trump (Photo by shganti1777 via Bigstock)

During a call-in interview Friday on a Philadelphia-based right-wing conservative talk radio show, former President Donald Trump said he would roll back transgender student protections enacted last month by the U.S. Department of Education “on day one” if he’s reelected.

Reacting to a question by hosts Nick Kayal and Dawn Stensland, Trump said: “We’re gonna end it on day one. Don’t forget, that was done as an order from the president. That came down as an executive order. And we’re gonna change it — on day one it’s gonna be changed.”

“Tell your people not to worry about it,” Trump he added referring to the new Title IX rule. “It’ll be signed on day one. It’ll be terminated.”

In a campaign video released on his Truth Social account in February 2023, in a nearly four minute long, straight-to-camera video the former president vowed “protect children from left-wing gender insanity,” some policies he outlined included a federal law that recognizes only two genders and bars trans women from competing on women’s sports teams. He also promised that he would punish doctors who provide gender-affirming health care to minors.

Trump also falsely claimed that being trans is a concept that the “radical left” manufactured “just a few years ago.” He also said “no serious country should be telling its children that they were born with the wrong gender. Under my leadership, this madness will end,” he added.

At least 22 Republican-led states are suing the Biden-Harris administration over its new rules to protect LGBTQ students from discrimination in federally funded schools, NBC News Out reported this week.

The lawsuits follow the U.S. Department of Education’s expansion of Title IX federal civil rights rules last month, which will now include anti-discrimination protections for students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Among other provisions, the new rules would prohibit schools from barring trans students from using bathrooms, changing facilities and pronouns that correspond with their gender identities.

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