Connect with us

Politics

Baldwin leads call for HHS to reevaluate gay blood ban

‘Our current policies turn away healthy, willing donors’

Published

on

Tammy Baldwin, United States Senate, Wisconsin, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade
Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is leading 85 lawmakers in a call for HHS to reevaluate its gay blood ban. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is leading a new effort to call on the Department of Health & Human Services for an update on the process with which reviewing its regulatory ban prohibiting gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

In a public letter dated Aug. 2, Baldwin as part of 86 members of the House and Senate asks Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for an update on the previously announced reevaluation of the policy, saying they’re “deeply concerned about the timeline of such research.”

“Our current policies turn away healthy, willing donors, even when we face serious blood shortages,” the letter states. “Further, the existing lifetime ban continues to perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes against gay and bisexual men, and fosters an atmosphere that promotes discrimination and discourages individuals from HIV testing and treatment services.”

Under current regulation, men who have had sex with other men since 1977 — even once — aren’t eligible to donate blood. The policy was set up administratively in 1985 at the height of the AIDS crisis, but could be overturned at any time without a change in law.

Others who have signed the bipartisan letter include Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Wis.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) as well as Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). Other signers are openly gay members of the U.S. House: Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.). Bisexual Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) isn’t yet a signer.

Baldwin supplemented the letter to the Department of Health & Human Services with a message via Twitter drawing attention to the current policy on gay blood donation.

The letter takes HHS to task for not moving quickly in the wake of announced plans to reevaluate existing policy. As the Washington Blade reported in 2010, the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety & Availability voted 9-6 against lifting the ban, but recommended additional research to support a change that would allow low-risk gay and bisexual men to donate.

According to the letter, HHS informed the committee last month that three studies are underway as well as a task force to help inform policy changes. The Quarantine Release Error Task Force is due to release a white paper this month, while the REDS-II, and Donor History Questionnaire studies are both scheduled to report results in October. The REDS-III study will be completed in August 2014.

The letter also notes, as the Washington Blade reported last year, HHS announced in March 2012 it’s seeking comments on a plan to design a pilot study to establish “alternative donor deferral criteria” that would enable gay and bisexual men to donate blood. Among the suggested changes is having them go through additional screening so they can be allowed to donate, although the notice admits such a policy may be seen as discriminatory.

According to the letter, HHS informed the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety & Availability that the RFI has received 11 responses to this proposal and a report to HHS senior leadership is scheduled for next month. According to public record, 10 responses were received from 10 different organizations, totaling 75 pages, including support documents.

The letter enumerates four things on which lawmakers seek clarity from HHS in reassessing blood donation criteria for men who have sex with men:

• The criteria used to assess the 75 pages of comments and what the assessment activities took place from June 2012 to July 2013;

• A copy of the July 2013 report to leadership on the response to the RFI on pilot study design;

• A detailed plan and a timeline for how results from the Quarantine Release Error Task Force, the Donor History Questionnaire Study; the REDS-II and REDS-III studies will be used to inform changes to the blood donation criteria; and

• Whether HHS plans to leverage data from other countries that currently allow MSM to donate to inform analysis of an alternative policy, and if not, why not.

In response to the letter, an HHS spokesperson pointed to the decision adopted by the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety & Availability in 2010 without providing an update on the research.

“The committee found the current donor deferral policies to be suboptimal in permitting some potentially high risk donations while preventing some potentially low risk donations, but voted in favor of retaining the existing policy, and identified areas requiring further research,” the HHS spokesperson said.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, deferred comment to HHS on the issue.

As noted in the letter, the American Medical Association in June adopted a resolution in opposition to the gay blood ban in favor of a policy that weighs individual risks other than sexual orientation.

AMA board member Dr. William Kobler at the time said the lifetime ban on gay blood donations “is discriminatory and not based on sound science.”

“This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone,” Kobler said.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

News

Kamala Harris addresses LGBTQ community activists at White House roundtable

VP calls herself ‘long-standing ally of the community’

Published

on

Vice President Kamala Harris addressed LGBTQ leaders Wednesday at White House roundtable in recognition of Pride Month, declaring “there’s a lot of work to be done” in terms of LGBTQ issues.

“You as community activists, you all have your eyes and ears to the ground,” Harris said in her prepared remarks for the event, which took took place in the Ceremonial Office of the Vice President next to the White House.

Harris, speaking in her prepared remarks that lasted about five minutes, touted the efforts of the Biden administration in advancing LGBTQ rights, including the most recent announcement from the Department of Veterans Affairs it would begin to cover gender reassignment surgery for transgender veterans.

Looking forward, Harris said passage of the Equality Act, legislation that would expand the prohibition of anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal law, was among the work items to be completed.

“We still don’t have full rights when it comes to employment, housing — things of that nature,” Harris said. “So there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Harris, calling herself a “long-standing ally of the community” also identified her past efforts in support of LGBTQ community, going back her time as San Francisco District Attorney when she created for an LGBTQ hate crimes unit, then as California attorney general pushed the state to become the first to outlaw LGBTQ panic defense in court.

“You are the voices of so many who probably will never walk into this room, and probably over the course of time were not thought to be invited into this room,” Harris concluded.

Harris also talked about ongoing violence against the transgender community as well as the wave of new state legislatures against transgender youth, restricting their access to school sports and transition-related care.

The LGTBTQ leaders in attendance at the event were, per the White House:

  • Imani Woody, Founder, Mary’s House
  • Amiri Nash, DC Youth Poet Laureate
  • Marcelle Afram, Chef and Co-Owner, Shababi Palestinian Rotisserie Chicken
  • D Ojeda, Policy Advocate, National Center for Trans Equality
  • Mia Ives-Roblee, Director of Disability Justice Initiative, Center for American Progress 
  • Anthony Musa, Chair, Pride in Federal Service & Sanctions Licensing Officer, U.S. Department of the Treasury
  • Kevin Jordan Contreas, Community Health Supervisor, Whitman-Walker (Frontline Healthcare Worker)

The Washington Blade attempted to shout out a question after Harris’ remarks on efforts to reach out on the Equality Act, but it was drowned out by other reporters’ inquiries as White House staffers escorted the pool out of the Ceremonial Room.

Continue Reading

Politics

White House meeting with LGBTQ leaders renews hope for Equality Act

Despite meeting, legislation all but dead in Senate

Published

on

Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

A White House meeting with senior Biden administration officials has left leaders of LGBTQ advocacy groups with renewed hope in their efforts to pass the Equality Act, even though the legislation continues to languish in the U.S. Senate with no plans for an imminent vote.

The meeting with LGBTQ advocates, which took place Monday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, marked the first time in the Biden administration an in-person meeting took place with LGBTQ advocates, who have previously held virtual meetings in the time of coronavirus.

News of the meeting was made public after the White House issued a formal readout of the discussion late Monday. The readout highlighted the Equality Act, legislation that would expand the prohibition on anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal civil rights law, as a key component of the discussion.

“Advocates shared their perspectives on the urgency and importance of Congress extending long overdue civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans by passing the Equality Act and shared the efforts their organizations are undertaking to get the bill to the president’s desk,” the readout says.

LGBTQ participants in the meeting who spoke with the Washington Blade kept their cards close to their vests on the details on the discussion. One participant, for example, said there were different assessments and intelligence on the path forward for the Equality Act, but declined to offer details.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign and one of the participants in the meeting, said in a statement to the Blade it demonstrates “passing the Equality Act is a priority for this administration, and our discussion included ensuring we can work together to identify the votes to move the bill through the Senate and onto President Biden’s desk.”

“The administration has continued to be a proactive partner in advancing LGBTQ protections across the board and an outspoken champion for equality,” David said. “We look forward to more dialogue and progress in partnership with the White House.”

It doesn’t seem the meeting produced anything dramatic in terms of new direction for the Equality Act. One observer close to the meeting said it wasn’t geared toward making major decisions and was more a showing of White House support for the LGBTQ community.

One direct consequence of the meeting, however, is clarification on which senior administration officials are heading up efforts on the Equality Act. The White House identifies three members of the Biden team who participated in the meeting: Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council; Cedric Richmond, director of the Office of Public Engagement; and Jen Klein, executive director of the Gender Policy Council.

The White House didn’t respond to additional inquiries from the Washington Blade following its readout on the meeting, such as who initiated it and the path forward on the Equality Act in the aftermath of the discussion.

Kasey Suffredini, CEO of the LGBTQ group Freedom for All Americans and another meeting participant, conveyed in a statement to the Blade the continued importance of the Equality Act.

“America is ready for the Equality Act, and after the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ attacks in the states this year, it’s clear our LGBTQ friends, family members and neighbors need protections from discrimination now as much as ever,” Suffredini said. “With public reports of bipartisan discussions happening in the Senate, we are grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss with the White House, as we are doing with all critical stakeholders, the ongoing and paramount importance of passing this legislation.”

Sufffedini is “encouraged” by Biden’s support for the Equality Act as well as declarations from senators they’re working with Republicans to get the legislation across the finish line.

Despite the optimism expressed by meeting participants, the Equality Act has been all but dead in the Senate for some time and nowhere near attracting the support of 60 senators, including 10 Republicans, that would be needed to end a filibuster on the legislation. At this time, the Senate Democratic caucus isn’t even united in support of the Equality Act, as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) remains a holdout on the bill.

In the middle of Pride month — an opportune time to express support for the LGBTQ community — no plans are set for a Senate vote. The office of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who once promised a floor vote on the Equality Act, didn’t respond to the Blade’s request this week for a new update.

LGBTQ advocacy leaders working on the Equality Act, nonetheless, say there’s a way forward on the legislation, pointing out the support from the public and the business community.

Mara Keising, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality and another White House meeting participant, said the Equality Act is gaining momentum.

“With the Equality Act starting to gain traction in the Senate, it’s extremely important right now that all parties continue talking to ensure further progress, and President Biden is a total supporter of the Equality Act and clearly an important player in the process,” Keisling said.

The White House meeting took place days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which was a limited win for the religious-affiliated foster care agency seeking to reject same-sex couples that stopped short of the sweeping First Amendment right to discriminate it was seeking. One participant said the decision came up in passing during the meeting, but wasn’t a major topic of discussion.

The White House readout of the meeting enumerates other LGBTQ topics that came up, stating advocacy leaders briefed officials on anti-transgender legislation in state legislatures and the “detrimental impacts these bills are having on the health, safety, and well-being of children and families across the United States.”

“Senior White House officials expressed their gratitude for the participants’ leadership and impactful advocacy,” the readout says. “They reiterated the President’s strong commitment to achieving full equality for every LGBTQ+ American and his calls for the Senate to quickly pass the Equality Act. Finally, they underscored that the President has the backs of LGBTQ+ Americans, especially transgender youth.”

The meeting on Monday is but one for LGBTQ advocacy leaders at the White House in Pride month. Vice President Kamala Harris was set on Wednesday to hold her own follow-up roundtable with LGBTQ leaders in the White House Ceremonial Office.

Fran Hutchins, another White House meeting participant and executive director of the Equality Federation, said in a statement to the Blade the Equality Act enjoys widespread support.

“Currently, 29 states do not have laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ people from discrimination,” Hutchins said. “Without the Equality Act, LGBTQ Americans remain vulnerable to being evicted from their homes, kicked out of a business that’s open to the public, denied health care, or denied government services in a majority of states simply because of who they are. We need Congress to act now to pass the Equality Act.”

Another organization backing the Equality Act named in the White House readout is the National Women’s Law Center, which didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment for this article.

Other leaders of LGBTQ advocacy groups who are pushing for the Equality Act aren’t enumerated on the readout of the White House meeting as being present, such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

Ian Thompson, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union, downplayed not being able to be present for the meeting when asked about the ACLU’s omission from the readout.

“Since there are many groups of organizations working on passing the Equality Act, which is good news, we aren’t involved with every meeting,” Thompson said. “We’re continuing to call for passage of the Equality Act and talk to the executive branch — including the White House — about advancing policies that support LGBTQ people and ensure there is no license to discriminate against LGBTQ people.”

Continue Reading

News

WH responds to Fulton decision after odd team-up in daily briefing

Published

on

After an unlikely team-up of reporters in the White House briefing room, the Biden administration responded to the ruling in City of Philadelphia v. Fulton.

A White House spokesperson responded to the the decision last week, which was narrowly decided in favor of a religious-affiliated foster care agency seeking to reject LGBTQ families, via email to the Washington Blade.

“Since day one, the Biden-Harris Administration has been committed to fighting for full equality for LGBTQ+ families, and we intend to make good on that commitment,” the spokesperson said. “It’s possible to comply with the Fulton decision while taking a strong stand against discrimination.”

The email response comes after White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said incorrectly on Monday the administration had already issued a statement on the decision. The question was first posed to her in response to an inquiry from a conservative reporter, then again from the Washington Blade.

A reporter with the religious news service EWTN, in an apparent attempt to make Biden look bad on the issue of religious freedom, asked Psaki for a response to the decision.

“I think we had issued a reaction to it,” Psaki said, even though the White House has made no official statement. “I don’t have anything more to it, but I have to move on.”

The EWTN reporter later interjected in the middle of the briefing a question about the supposed inconsistency of President Biden’s Catholic faith and his support for abortion rights.

The Blade, after being called on by Psaki, pointed out the White House has issued no reaction to Fulton, which could have significant impact on the ability of LGBTQ couples to adopt and foster children. Asked whether Biden was briefed on the ruling, Psaki went back to a non-existent previous statement.

“I thought we had,” Psaki replied. “If not, I will get that to you and this gentlemen over here.”

The Supreme Court, in a rare unanimous decision, issued in Fulton a limited ruling for Catholic Social Services, which sought a First Amendment right to reject same-sex couples in foster care despite having signed a contract with the City of Philadelphia agreeing not to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

But instead of issuing a sweeping decision on the First Amendment, the Supreme Court issued a decision applying only to the context of the contract between Catholic Social Services and the City of Philadelphia. The ruling found the contract doesn’t survive the test of strict scrutiny under the First Amendment because it had exemption language not generally applicable.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular