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Sigh of relief as shutdown ends

HIV service providers spared; staffers return to work



Sarah Palin, gay news, Washington Blade, shutdown

Some federal workers are troubled over accusations made by Sarah Palin and others that the U.S. Park Service is being disrespectful to veterans by denying access to monuments in Washington. (Photo by Therealbs2002; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

UPDATE: The federal government shutdown ended Thursday and thousands of employees returned to work in D.C. and across the country. This story was posted shortly before Congress passed a bill to fund the government and avert a default:

As the federal government’s shutdown entered its third week, LGBT and AIDS advocates expressed alarm that community-based AIDS service providers in D.C. and across the nation could be forced to lay off employees and curtail services if the shutdown and its related funding reductions continued much longer.

Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate announced a bipartisan agreement on Wednesday calling for raising the debt ceiling and ending the government shutdown. Although political observers thought there were enough votes to approve the agreement in both the Senate and the House, no one was certain whether the GOP-controlled House would pass the compromise bill initiated in the Senate.

Leonard Hirsch, Len Hirsch

Leonard Hirsch (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Leonard Hirsch, president of the LGBT federal workers group Federal GLOBE, said that, like all federal workers, thousands of furloughed LGBT federal employees continued as of Wednesday to struggle without a paycheck.

The shutdown, which closed many but not all federal agencies, left more than 800,000 federal employees furloughed, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. With the federal government being the largest employer in the D.C. metro area, the area is said to have been affected the most by the shutdown.

“Everyone that I know in the federal workforce is very frustrated that they’re not allowed to be getting work done, that things are piling up, that their clients are not being served,” said Hirsch, who has worked at the Smithsonian Institution for 24 years.

Hirsch said he and nearly all the federal workers he knows – LGBT and straight – are especially troubled over accusations by Obama administration critics, including former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, that the U.S. Park Service is being disrespectful to veterans and other citizens by denying them access to the World War II Memorial and other monuments in Washington.

“The law is clear,” he said. “If Congress has not appropriated money you cannot work on things and do things. And so we can’t open parks. We can’t open museums and monuments because Congress has not appropriated the money.”

Added Hirsch, “I don’t know a single person at the Park Service who is happy about closing doors, and I know a lot of people at the Park Service…It’s putting the federal worker in this horrible bind to say we can’t do these things and being abused for following Congress’s direction.”

Don Blanchon

Don Blanchon (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Don Blanchon, executive director of Whitman-Walker Health, the D.C. area’s largest private agency providing medical and social services to people with HIV and the LGBT community, said Whitman-Walker has “weathered” the federal shutdown so far largely because it accumulated a substantial reserve fund over the past several years.

“By and large, the impact of the shutdown directly on our operations and patient care is minimal,” he told the Blade on Monday. “We’re open. We’re serving patients. And for the foreseeable future we don’t see this shutdown causing us a tremendous amount of difficulty right now,” he said.

But Blanchon noted that Whitman-Walker along with other D.C. community-based health groups serving people with HIV has been hit by D.C.’s inability to pay its Medicaid reimbursements. Under a federal law, D.C. is prohibited from spending its own money obtained through local tax revenue if Congress doesn’t approve the city’s annual budget.

With Congress deadlocked over the federal budget, under which the D.C. budget falls, the city has been unable to spend much of its own funds since the federal shutdown began on Oct. 1 at the start of the new fiscal year. Since D.C.’s budget is intertwined with the federal budget, D.C. has been impacted by the shutdown in a way that no other city or state has, a development that has infuriated D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray.

At an Oct. 11 town hall meeting Gray said the shutdown has forced the city to tap into its reserve funds to keep city agencies open and to continue city services through the end of this week or next, at which time he said the usable portion of the reserve fund would be depleted.

But Gray said the reserve fund wasn’t large enough to enable the city to cover $90 million in Medicaid reimbursement payments to the city’s private clinics and medical providers that take Medicaid patients during the previous week.

Blanchon said the delay in the Medicaid payments resulted in Whitman-Walker not receiving about $70,000 in reimbursements for its Medicaid patients.

While Whitman-Walker’s reserve fund will enable the LGBT health provider to “weather the storm” for the time being, as Blanchon put it, other community-based health providers don’t have such a financial cushion, officials with those groups have said. Some of them have already been forced to lay off employees and curtail services, including HIV-related services, the officials have said.

Ruby Corado, Casa Ruby, gay news, Washington Blade

Ruby Corado (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“We’re already seeing services cut back for LGBT and Latino community clients,” said Ruby Corado, director of the LGBT community center Casa Ruby. Corado said Casa Ruby, which is funded largely by private donors, wasn’t immediately affected by the shutdown.

Ron Simmons, executive director of Us Helping Us, a D.C.-based HIV service provider that reaches out to black gay men, said his group has also managed to get buy for the past two weeks “without any noticeable impact.”

But Simmons said Us Helping Us won’t be able to operate without possible service interruptions if the federal shutdown continues indefinitely. Although his organization doesn’t have the type of reserve fund that Whitman-Walker has, Simmons said much of the group’s federal funding for the fiscal year has already been appropriated by Congress through various grants. He said the payments through those grants, including one from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have continued uninterrupted during the shutdown.

Similar to other HIV service providers in D.C. and across the nation, funding from the Ryan White federal AIDS program also had been appropriated by Congress prior to the shutdown, enabling groups receiving Ryan White grants to continue to receive the funds through the rest of the fiscal year, according to Carl Schmid, deputy director of the AIDS Institute, a national HIV/AIDS advocacy organization.

Carl Schmid, AIDS Institute, gay news, Washington Blade

Carl Schmid (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“Luckily, the grants went out in April,” said Schmid in referring to the Ryan White program, which he said provides millions of dollars to AIDS groups across the country.

But Schmid cautioned that if the federal shutdown were to continue, AIDS service providers would be adversely impacted in a number of ways.

One immediate effect, he said, was federal officials who provide support for the processing of Ryan White grant applications were furloughed as soon as the shutdown began on Oct. 1.

“The new grant applications are due Oct. 31,” he said. “So what if people have questions about putting their grant applications together in the cities and states? Right now there’s no one to turn to.”

Schmid noted that most of the federal officials that administer the Obama administration’s national AIDS strategy program as well as the White House Office on AIDS Policy were also on furlough since Oct. 1.

“One or two days are one thing,” said Schmid. “But now this is going on too long and we’re definitely going to have ramifications. Let’s hope this gets solved soon.”

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, told the Blade that LGBT-related implications of the shutdown could, among other things, include a cutback in the enforcement of the federal hate crimes act that covers hate crimes targeting LGBT people.

Cole-Schwartz said the furloughing of Justice Department personnel could negatively impact enforcement of both the hate crimes law and Title IX of an existing civil rights statute that protects women and transgender people from gender-related discrimination.



Gay journalist murdered inside Philadelphia home

Josh Kruger’s death has left city ‘shocked and saddened’



Josh Kruger with his cat Mason (Photo courtesy of Josh Kruger's Facebook page)

An openly gay journalist was shot to death in his Point Breeze neighborhood home in the 2300 block of Watkins Street in South Philadelphia early Monday morning.

According to Officer Shawn Ritchie, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department, 39-year-old Josh Kruger was shot at about 1:30 a.m. and collapsed in the street after seeking help. Kruger was transported to Penn Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:13 a.m.

Police said that Kruger was shot seven times throughout the chest and abdomen and that no weapons were recovered nor have any arrests been made. Homicides investigators noted that there was no sign of forced entry and the motive remains unclear.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement:

“Josh Kruger lifted up the most vulnerable and stigmatized people in our communities — particularly unhoused people living with addiction. As an openly queer writer who wrote about his own journey surviving substance use disorder and homelessness, it was encouraging to see Josh join the Kenney administration as a spokesperson for the Office of Homeless Services.

Josh deserved to write the ending of his personal story. As with all homicides, we will be in close contact with the Philadelphia police as they work to identify the person or persons responsible so that they can be held to account in a court of law. I extend my deepest condolences to Josh’s loved ones and to all those mourning this loss.”

WHYY reported Kruger had written extensively with bylines in multiple publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, WHYY, and Billy Penn.

CBS News reported that Kruger overcame homelessness and addiction to work for five years in city government, handling Mayor Jim Kenney’s social media and serving as the communications director for the city’s Office of Homeless Services.

He left city government in 2021 to return to journalism, according to his website.

“He was more than just a journalist,” Kendall Stephens, who was a friend and neighbor of Kruger’s, told CBS News. “He was more than just a community member. He was somebody that fought that great fight so many of us are not able to fight that fight because we’re too busy sheltered in our own homes wondering if someone is going to knock down our doors and kill us the same way they killed him. The same way they tried to kill me. And we’re tired of it.”   

Kenney said in a statement that he is “shocked and saddened” by Kruger’s death.

“He cared deeply about our city and its residents, which was evident in his public service and writing. Our administration was fortunate to call him a colleague, and our prayers are with everyone who knew him.”

The District Attorney’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee issued the following statement:

“Many of us knew Josh Kruger as a comrade who never stopped advocating for queer Philadelphians living on the margins of society. His struggles mirrored so many of ours — from community rejection, to homelessness, to addiction, to living with HIV, to poverty — and his recovery, survival, and successes showed what’s possible when politicians and elected leaders reject bigotry and work affirmatively to uplift all people. Even while Josh worked for the mayor, he never stopped speaking out against police violence, politicized attacks on trans and queer people, or the societal discarding of homeless and addicted Philadelphians.

We are devastated that Josh’s life was ended so violently. We urge anyone who has information that could lead to an arrest and prosecution for Josh’s murder to contact the Philadelphia Police or the DA’s Office directly. LGBTQ+ Philadelphians experience violence of all kinds every day; few people used their platforms to remind powerful people in government of that reality as effectively as Josh Kruger did. Josh and the communities he advocated for every day of his life deserve nothing less than justice and accountability for this outrageous crime.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody

Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017



(Bigstock photo)

A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.

Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”

Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020. 

An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.  

“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.

“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.

An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister. 

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs



The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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