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Hagel to direct nat’l guards to offer same-sex benefits

Pentagon chief makes announcement at Anti-Defamation League meeting

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Chuck Hagel, Department of Defense, Pentagon, gay news, Washington Blade
Chuck Hagel, Department of Defense, Pentagon, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is directing national guard to process benefits applications for troops in same-sex marriages (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Thursday evening that he’s directing national guards throughout the country to process benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages regardless of their state laws.

Hagel made the announcement during a speech before the Anti-Defamation League’s centennial meeting in New York City.

In his speech, the defense secretary spoke out against the decision by certain national guards to deny benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, referencing the directive he issued in August indicating spousal benefits for gay troops should be available worldwide after the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“But several states today are refusing to issue these ID cards to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities,” Hagel said. “Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to.”

Hagel said he’s directed the Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass “to take immediate action” to remedy this situation.

“At my direction, he will meet with the Adjutants General from the states where these ID cards are being declined and denied,” Hagel said. “The Adjutants General will be expected to comply with both lawful direction and DoD policy, in line with the practices of 45 other states and jurisdictions.”

A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, counted nine states with national guards that are refusing to process benefit spousal applications for gay troops and said Hagel is “prepared to take further action” if these states don’t comply with Pentagon policy.

Asked by the Washington Blade what this “further action” would be, the senior defense action declined to speculate, but noted military ID cards are processed through federal funds.

“These are federal ID cards paid for with federal funding to provide federally mandated benefits,” the official said. “I’m not going to speculate on our legal options.”

Actions that advocates had previously posited include a restriction of federal funds at these facilities or, in an extreme case, the federalization of these national guards by President Obama.

The Washington Blade has previously reported that Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Oklahoma are refusing to enter the spouses of gay troops into the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System for the purposes of benefits, which include health and pension benefits, because of their state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. Instead, they’ve directed troops in same-sex marriages to federal installations.

The national guard in South Carolina had opted out of processing benefit applications altogether and is directing all couples — gay and straight — to go to federal installations.

But the senior defense official also counted Indiana, Georgia, Florida and West Virginia as having made similar declarations, making for a total of nine states. According to the senior defense official, that means 114 Army and Air National Guard sites that are not providing ID cards to eligible same-sex spouses.

Advocates had been pressuring the Obama administration to take action. In a letter earlier this month, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top defense Democrats in Congress, wrote to Hagel to encourage him to take action.

Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partners Association, heaped praised on Hagel for taking action against these national guards that weren’t complying with Pentagon policy.

“Secretary Hagel has made it clear the national guard in these few rogue states are failing to live up to their obligations to military families under federal law,” Peters said. “We applaud him in showing strong leadership by ordering the national guard in these states to comply and follow lawful direction and DoD policy. No matter what state of our great nation they serve in, no military spouse should be treated differently just because of their orientation.”

Hagel said in his speech that all members of the national guard are entitled to the same benefits because they’re fighting for the same purpose.

“Whether they are responding to natural disasters here at home, in their states, or fighting in Afghanistan, our National Guardsmen all wear the uniform of the United States of America,” Hagel said. “They are serving this country. They – and their families – are entitled to all the benefits and respect accorded to all of our military men and women.”

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Biden names civil rights veteran to U.S. Education Dept.

Catherine Lhamon’s portfolio will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct, racial discrimination

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Nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. (Photo public domain))

The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon currently serves as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House, where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio. She is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

She has also served as Legal Affairs Secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Her portfolio at Education, where she previously served in the same position under former President Barack Obama, will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct and racial discrimination in the nation’s K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Lhamon was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, to which President Obama nominated her and the Senate confirmed her in 2013.

“I am thrilled that President Biden is nominating Catherine Lhamon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Catherine has devoted her career to ensuring equity is at the core of all her work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

“She has a strong record of fighting for communities of color and underserved communities, whether as the current Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or as a civil rights educator at Georgetown University. We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students.”

Lhamon has also litigated civil rights cases at National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel Law Center, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.  Lhamon taught federal civil rights appeals at Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and clerked for the Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Catherine Lhamon is the right choice to lead the Department of Education’s civil rights division at such a critical time for the country and the agency. There is much work to do in order to roll back the harmful policies and legacies of Betsy DeVos, from her attacks on transgender students to her unconscionable revocation of discriminatory discipline guidance and rewrite of Title IX rules,” Adele Kimmel, Director of the Students’ Civil Rights Project at Public Justice told the Blade in an email.

“During her previous tenure in the same job, Catherine embraced equality, enforced Title IX and ensured students had an ally inside the federal government. She will do so again, and the Senate should move to quickly confirm her so she can begin the work of restoring the Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights and dignity of students and implementing the Biden Administration’s pledge to undo the damage that DeVos has done,” Kimmel added.

Born in Virginia and raised in California, Lhamon graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School. Lhamon and her husband and two daughters are transitioning between California and Maryland.

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University student becomes first non-binary mayor in Wales

‘Coming out and living my true me is still the best decision I’ve ever made’

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Owen J. Hurcum (Photo courtesy of Instagram)

 

The small city in Gwynedd in northwest Wales holds the distinction of being the oldest city in Wales. Now, it has earned itself a pair of new accolades, the first city in Wales to elect its youngest mayor and in fact to have the first elected non-binary gender queer mayor in the world.

Owen J. Hurcum, a 23-year-old university student, was chosen by their fellow councilors on the city’s governing council to become the mayor. The post, which is mainly ceremonial, acts as a goodwill ambassador for city in Wales and the greater U.K. as well as overseas.

Hurcum, who identifies as genderqueer or agender, told BBC Radio Wales Wednesday it “wasn’t a huge shock” when they were chosen to take up the reins, having served as a Bangor councilor for five years, including one term as the city’s deputy mayor. But they said it was a shock when they were initially asked to put their name forward because fellow councilors felt they would be a good representative for the city.

 

 

Their election to the office has created considerable controversy in some quarters with hateful vitriol being directed at both them and their fellow councilors. On Thursday the mayor tweeted;

“I would quickly like to point out that whilst I do indeed receive regular amounts of hate online, coming out and living my true me is still the best decision I’ve ever made and if you are thinking of doing it yourself, I promise there will be loved ones around to support you”

According to the BBC, they thanked fellow councilors for their support when facing online abuse. Noting that the city may be viewed as hardly the place one would expect to be a bastion of tolerance, they told the BBC;

 
“There was a trepidation because, obviously, local government has this unfair reputation of possibly being old and backwards, and I was worried that those views may come from fellow councilors. But I have had the exact opposite. Every single councilor has been extremely supportive, and the previous mayor has called me when he has seen that I have been getting hate online, and he has said he is there if I need him. It has been really nice.”
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Family of transgender woman who died in ICE custody sues federal government

Roxsana Hernández passed away in N.M. in 2018

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A picture of Roxsana Hernández, a transgender Honduran woman with HIV who died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in 2018, hangs on a wall inside the offices of Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa, an LGBTQ advocacy group in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

 

The family of a transgender woman with HIV who died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in 2018 has sued the federal government.

The Transgender Law Center and two immigration lawyers — Daniel Yohalem and R. Andrew Free — in 2020 filed a lawsuit in U.S. District for the District of New Mexico against five private companies who were responsible for Roxsana Hernández’s care.

The lawsuit named Management and Training Corporation, LaSalle Corrections, Global Precision Systems, TransCor America and CoreCivic as defendants. The Transgender Law Center, Yohalem and Grant and Eisenhofer Law on Wednesday petitioned the court to add the federal government to the lawsuit.

“This amended complaint adds the United States, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to the list of entities who had a direct role in Roxsana’s death,” said the Transgender Law Center in a press release.

Hernández, who was from Honduras, entered CBP custody on May 9, 2018, when she asked for asylum at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego. She arrived at the Cibola County Correctional Center, a facility in Milan N.M., that CoreCivic operates, a week later.

Hernández was admitted to Cibola General Hospital in Grants, N.M., shortly after she arrived at the privately-run detention center. Hernández died at Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M., on May 25, 2018.

The lawsuit, among other things, alleges Management and Training Corporation personnel “denied Roxsana and her fellow detainees food, water and restroom access throughout their transfer” from California to a facility in San Luis, Ariz., that LaSalle Corporations operates. The lawsuit also states Hernández did not receive necessary medical care from LaSalle Corporations, Global Precision Systems and TransCor personnel as they transported her to the Cibola County Correctional Center.

CoreCivic officers, according to the lawsuit, delayed Hernández’s medical care once she was hospitalized.

An autopsy the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator performed concluded Hernández died from Castleman disease associated with AIDS.

A second autopsy that former Georgia Chief Medical Examiner Kris Sperry performed at the Transgender Law Center’s request concluded the cause of death was “most probably severe complications of dehydration superimposed upon HIV infection, with the probable presence of one or more opportunistic infections.” The second autopsy also found “evidence of physical abuse” that included bruising on Hernández’s rib cage and contusions on her body.

“Defendants’ discriminatory, negligent, and reckless acts and omissions: (a) caused Roxsana to suffer severe emotional and physical distress; (b) created an unreasonable risk that Roxsana’s condition would deteriorate, especially in light of her known HIV-positive status; (c) caused Roxsana’s condition to deteriorate; (d) diminished the opportunity for Roxsana’s condition to improve; (e) caused her to lose her chance to survive and participate in the federal immigration process; and (f) ultimately, caused her death,” reads the motion the Transgender Law Center filed on Wednesday.

“My sister came to the U.S. in search of safety and protection from the horrific violence she experienced as a trans woman in Honduras, and what she found instead was abuse, discrimination and neglect,” said Hernández’s sister, Jenny Hernández Rodríquez, in the Transgender Law Center press release. “The tragic fact that she is no longer with us is a direct result of that discrimination and neglect.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security — which oversees ICE and CBP — with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Thursday declined to comment.

The Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Hernández’s death sparked widespread outrage among immigration advocates. Her case also intensified calls for ICE to release all trans women in their custody.

The Transgender Law Center, the Rapid Defense Network and the Ballard Spahr law firm in April 2020 filed a class action lawsuit that demanded the release of all trans people in ICE custody.

More than 40 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2020 called for ICE to release all trans people in their custody. Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley on Thursday during a House Appropriations Committee hearing asked Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson about the treatment of trans people in his agency’s custody.

“We have made some efforts on sort of improving our training and identifying specific facilities which would focus on housing these individuals in a less restrictive environment but there’s always more work we can do,” said Johnson. “We’re looking at all aspects of our vulnerable population to include transgender, and this is going to continue to be a priority for us as we move forward in assessing our detention framework.”

A unit for trans women in ICE custody opened at the Cibola County Correctional Center in 2017. It closed in 2020.

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