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Obama, civil rights advocates commemorate March on Washington

Several speakers on steps of Lincoln Memorial referenced LGBT issues

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Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Caroline Kennedy, Barack Obama, 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Lincoln Memorial, gay news, Washington Blade
Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Caroline Kennedy, Barack Obama, 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Lincoln Memorial, gay news, Washington Blade, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, Jimmy Carter

Clockwise from top left: Ambassador Andrew Young, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, Oprah Winfrey, Caroline Kennedy, President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Jon Wooten)

More than 100,000 people on Wednesday gathered on on the National Mall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.

President Obama, former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, Oprah Winfrey, Georgia Congressman John Lewis, U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine,) U.S. Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Joaquín Castro (D-Texas,) Revs. Al Sharpton and Joseph Lowery, Myrlie Evers Williams, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie and Dolores Huerta who co-founded what became known as the United Farm Workers are among those who spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Two of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s children – Martin Luther King, III, and Rev. Bernice King – and the slain civil rights leader’s sister, Christine King Farris, also addressed the crowd.

“Because they marched, America became more free and more fair — not just for African Americans, but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans; for Catholics, Jews and Muslims; for gays, for Americans with a disability,” Obama said. “America changed for you and for me, and the entire world drew strength from that example.”

The president said the 1963 March on Washington during which Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech “teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate.” Obama stressed unity, while saying Americans will have to “reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience” he said participants of the historic 1963 gathering expressed 50 years ago.

“That spirit is there,” Obama said. “I see it when a white mother recognizes her own daughter in the face of a poor black child. I see it when the black youth thinks of his own grandfather in the dignified steps of an elderly white man. It’s there when the native-born recognizing that striving spirit of the new immigrant; when the interracial couple connects the pain of a gay couple who are discriminated against and understands it as their own.”

LGBT speakers who spoke during the 1963 March on Washington commemoration on Wednesday included Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Executive Director Eliza Byard, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Mary Kay Henry. Alan van Capelle, the former executive director of the New York LGBT group Empire State Pride Agenda who is now the CEO of Bend the Arc, a Jewish social justice organization, also addressed the crowd.

“We may be closer to full legal equality; but we are far, far far from justice,” van Capelle said as he spoke out against a number of issues that include the New York Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy and anti-LGBT employment discrimination. “We are far from justice when a gay, lesbian or transgender person can be fired from their job simply because of who they are.”

A number of other speakers included LGBT-specific remarks in their speeches.

Mee Moua, president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said the slain civil rights leader’s vision for the country is “inclusive of all America.”

“His call to action invites each America: Asian America, black America, Hispano/Latino America, Native America, GLBTQ America, white America and men and women of America to take inspiration from our own circumstances,” Moua said. “And to know the price of freedom is the commitment to ensuring the security of liberty and justice for all.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley noted his support of gay nuptials in his remarks.

Bernice King, who opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples, said the country has seen “great strides towards freedom for all” regardless of sexual orientation and other factors since the 1963 March on Washington and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other landmark civil rights measures.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white, Latino, Asian America or Native American, whether you’re gay or straight,” Lewis, who is the last living speaker from the original March on Washington, said. “We’re one people, we’re one family. We all live in the same house—not just the American house; the world house.”

The commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington took place four days after Martin Luther King, III, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and others linked LGBT equality to the broader civil rights movement during a separate gathering on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that marked the landmark event.

Speakers honor Bayard Rustin

Ben Jealous, NAACP, March on Washington, gay news, Washington Blade

Ben Jealous, NAACP president and CEO (Washington Blade photo by Jon Wooten)

Byard is among those who paid tribute to Bayard Rustin, the gay man who organized the 1963 March on Washington, during their remarks at the Lincoln Memorial.

“A movement spoke through him, but the world would not yet embrace him as a gay man,” Byard said. “Today, LGBT voices are welcomed to this stage.”

Kristin Stoneking, executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, noted Rustin was also a Quaker and a pacifist.

“He refused to accept war by denying society’s expectation that he be straight,” she said.

Jealous noted to the Washington Blade during an interview after he spoke at the Lincoln Memorial the slain civil rights leaders backed Rustin in the years leading up to the original March on Washington and during the event itself.

“He made sure that Bayard, who was as out as anyone in 1963, was visible,” Jealous said. “Those small acts of courage magnify overtime and become transformative and set benchmarks and bars for the rest of us in our own lives and ultimately in our own politics.”

Van Capelle also discussed Rustin’s legacy with the Blade before he traveled to D.C. to speak at the March on Washington commemoration.

“I’ll be thinking as much about Bayard Rustin as I’ll be thinking about King, and how happy Bayard Rustin would probably be 50 years later to know that this country is embracing the civil rights of LGBT Americans,” van Capelle said.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Skeeter Sanders

    August 29, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    That the 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington was unabashedly LGBT-inclusive struck me — as one who watched the proceedings live on C-SPAN from my home in Vermont — marks a significant change in how LGBT Americans are regarded compared to 30 years ago.

    As a reporter and editor at the Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco’s leading LGBT newspaper, who covered the 20th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington in 1983, I clearly recall how uncomfortable the organizers of that celebration were with the idea of including any LGBT speakers at all. They had no plans initially to have them included, but relented after persistent lobbying by African-American LGBT activists.

    Ultimately, the late African-American lesbian poet Audre Lorde spoke at the 1983 commemoration — although her speech was televised live only by the public-affairs network C-SPAN — and she was the only speaker to bring up LGBT-related issues.

    Indeed, times have changed from 30 years ago — even from 10 years ago.

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National

Jim Obergefell announces bid for seat in Ohio state legislature

Marriage plaintiff moves on to new endeavor

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Jim Obergefell has announced he'd seek a seat in the Ohio state legislature.

Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the litigation that ensured same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide, announced on Tuesday he’d pursue a new endeavor and run for a seat in the state legislature in his home state of Ohio.

“You deserve a representative who does the right thing, no matter what. You deserve a representative who fights to make things better for everyone,” Obergefell said. “I’ve been part of a national civil rights case that made life better for millions of Americans. Simply put, I fight for what’s right and just.”

Obergefell, who claims residency in Sandusky, Ohio, is seeking a seat to represent 89th Ohio District, which comprises Erie and Ottawa Counties. A key portion of his announcement was devoted to vowing to protect the Great Lakes adjacent to Ohio.

“We need to invest in our Great Lake, protect our Great Lake, and make the nation envious that Ohio has smartly invested in one of the greatest freshwater assets in the world,” Obergefell said.

Obergefell was the named plaintiff in the consolidated litigation of plaintiffs seeking marriage rights that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in 2015 for same-sex marriage nationwide. Obergefell was widower to John Arthur, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and was seeking the right to be recognized as his spouse on his death certificate. The ruling in the consolidated cases ensured same-sex couples would enjoy the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage.

“We should all be able to participate fully in society and the economy, living in strong communities with great public schools, access to quality healthcare, and with well-paying jobs that allow us to stay in the community we love, with the family we care about,” Obergefell said in a statement on his candidacy.

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FDA-funded blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker, L.A. LGBT Center working on study to ease restrictions

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gay blood ban, gay news, Washington Blade
A new study could make it easier for gay and bi men to donate blood.

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Institute and the Los Angeles LGBT Center are among LGBTQ supportive organizations in eight U.S. cities working with the nation’s three largest blood donation centers on a study to find a way to significantly ease blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men or MSM.

The study, which is funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calls for recruiting a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men in eight U.S. cities selected for the study to test the reliability of a detailed donor history questionnaire aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if they donate blood.

A statement released by the study organizers says the questionnaire, which could be given to a gay or bisexual person showing up at a blood donation site, could be a replacement for the FDA’s current policy of banning men who have had sex with another man within the previous three months from donating blood.

In the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the FDA put in place a permanent ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. In 2015, with advanced HIV testing and screening techniques readily available, the FDA lifted its permanent ban on MSM blood donations and replaced it with a 12-month restriction for sexual activity between MSM.

The FDA further reduced the time of sexual abstinence for MSM to three months in 2020.

LGBTQ rights organizations and others advocating for a change in the current FDA restriction point out that at a time when the nation is facing a severe shortage of blood donations due to the COVID pandemic, the three-month donation deferral requirement for MSM is preventing a large number of blood donations from men whose risk of HIV infection is low to nonexistent.

Under the FDA-funded and initiated study, the American Red Cross, Vitalant, and OneBlood — the nation’s three largest blood donation centers — have been conducting the questionnaire testing since the study was launched in March 2021.

“To gather the necessary data, the blood centers will partner with LGBTQ+ Centers in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta,” the study organizers say in a statement on a website launched to help recruit volunteers for the study.

“The study will enroll a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men (250 – 300 from each area) who meet the study eligibility criteria,” the statement says.

Among the criteria for being eligible, the statement says, is the person must be between 18 and 39 years old, have expressed an interest in donating blood, must have had sex with at least one other man in the three months before joining the study, and must agree to an HIV test. A negative test result is also required for acceptance into the study.

The study is officially named ADVANCE, which stands for Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility.

“The ADVANCE study is a first step in providing data that will help the FDA determine if a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as effective as time-based deferral, in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” the study organizers statement says.

“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions, it could mean men who have sex with men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” the statement continues. “The ADVANCE study is groundbreaking because it’s the first time a study is being conducted that could result in individual risk assessment for men who have sex with men to donate blood,” the statement says.

The Whitman-Walker Institute, which is among the community-based organizations involved in helping organize and conduct the study, is an arm of Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive D.C. health center.

Christopher Cannon, director of Research Operations for Whitman-Walker Institute, said that since the D.C.-based part of the study was launched early last year prior to the official announcement of the study on March 20, D.C. has surpassed the original city goal of recruiting 250 participants for the study.

“We are currently at 276 as of last Friday’s report,” Cannon told the Blade in a Jan. 13 interview. “And the current goal is now 300,” he said. “So, we’re hoping to push this over that goal line in the coming days and weeks.

Cannon said that like the community organizations involved in the study in other cities, Whitman-Walker Institute’s role has been focused on recruiting gay and bisexual men to participate in the study and to send them to the American Red Cross headquarters building at 430 17th St., N.W. near the White House. That site, which serves as a blood donation center, is also serving as the site where study participants are screened, interviewed, and presented with a detailed questionnaire.

“We promote the study within Whitman-Walker,” Cannon said. “We promote it to our networks. We did social media promotions across the city.’

Although Whitman-Walker doesn’t have the final draft of the questionnaire being presented to study participants, Cannon said he has seen “bits and pieces” of it.  

“They ask very direct questions about the person’s sex life, sexual partners, sex acts, numbers of partners,” Cannon said. “There are questions about condom use, PrEP use, drug use. How recently have you had sex? Lots of related questions,” he said.

“It’s really about trying to figure out effectively which are the best questions,” according to Cannon. “The hope is by analyzing the questions and identifying maybe the best 10 to 12 questions that can be universally used…to get the best answers that identify the individuals that may have the highest risk,” he said. Doing that, he points, out can help determine which men who have sex with men should be eligible to safely donate blood.

A statement released by Whitman-Walker last March calls the study a “monumental research effort” that has the potential to lift the stigma imposed on gay and bisexual men whose ability to donate blood is currently based on their sexual orientation.

“The ADVANCE study is designed to understand if, by asking carefully crafted and research-informed research questions, blood collectors can screen potential blood donors for their individual HIV risk factors rather than applying a ban against sexually active gay and bisexual men,” the statement says.

“The goal is to move away from overly broad questions that exclude potential donors and spread stigmatizing messages about MSM and their HIV risks,” it says.

Cannon said that as of last week, study organizers had recruited a total of 879 study participants nationwide out of the goal of 2,000 participants needed to complete the study. He said issues related to the COVID pandemic created delays in the recruitment efforts, but study organizers were hopeful the study could be completed by this summer.

Information about participating in the study or learning more about it can be obtained at advancestudy.org.

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Federal Government

Veterans can now identify as transgender, nonbinary on their VA medical records

About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity

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Graphic via U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Wednesday that his department added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select their gender, in medical records and healthcare documentation.

“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”

The statement also noted that the change allows health-care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.

McDonough speaking at a Pride Month event last June at the Orlando VA Healthcare System, emphasized his support for Trans and LGBQ+ vets.

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

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