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Anti-gay forces changing tactics on marriage

Calls for limiting fed’l recognition, state religious exemption measures emerge

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NOM President Brian Brown criticized Eric Holder’s extension of rights to same-sex couples. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Move over Federal Marriage Amendment: anti-gay forces are focusing on new ways to halt the advancement of marriage equality — and the result could limit marriage rights for gay couples across the country.

As more states legalize same-sex marriage and efforts to pass a U.S. constitutional amendment prohibiting it have faded, the focus has shifted to containing federal recognition to marriage equality states and to advancing religious exemption bills allowing for discrimination against same-sex couples.

Outrage prompting calls for these measures was seen just last weekend when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would extend federal recognition of same-sex marriages to programs under the Justice Department’s purview.

The changes were intended to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year against the Defense of Marriage Act. Among other things, they would allow married same-sex couples to file jointly for bankruptcy. In addition, spouses won’t be forced to testify against each other.

Mainstream and conservative media outlets jumped on the development — the Washington Post called the change “sweeping” — while anti-gay groups expressed outrage over Holder’s extension of these rights to same-sex couples in states without marriage equality.

Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, said Holder’s decision was the latest in a series of moves that “undermine the authority and sovereignty of the states” with respect to marriage.

“The American public needs to realize how egregious and how dangerous these usurpations are and how far-reaching the implications can be,” Brown said. “The changes being proposed here to a process as universally relevant as the criminal justice system serve as a potent reminder of why it is simply a lie to say that redefining marriage doesn’t affect everyone in society.”

To limit federal recognition of same-sex marriages to marriage-equality states, anti-gay groups are championing legislation in the U.S. House known as the State Marriage Defense Act, which would prohibit the federal government from recognizing a same-sex marriage in a state that doesn’t allow gay nuptials.

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, voiced support for the State Marriage Defense Act immediately after Holder’s announcement.

“Attorney General Holder’ s announcement — like his recognition of same-sex ‘marriages’ in Utah despite the Supreme Court granting a stay of the District Court decision overturning that state’s definition of marriage — illustrates the importance of congressional action to pass the State Marriage Defense Act (H.R. 3829), introduced by Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas),” Perkins said.

Neither the Family Research Council nor the National Organization for Marriage responded to the Washington Blade’s requests to comment on whether calls for this legislation represented a shift in focus away from the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Religious exemption measures emerge

Meanwhile, at the state level, new initiatives are emerging to establish carve-outs to civil rights and marriage equality laws to enable individuals or businesses to discriminate against LGBT people and their marriages on religious grounds.

One such initiative underway in Oregon is concurrent with Oregon United for Marriage’s work to bring the issue of marriage equality to voters on Election Day this year. Anti-gay groups are working to place on the ballot at the same time a measure to allow florists, bakers and other businesses to refuse to participate in these weddings on religious grounds.

Although it’s illegal in Oregon to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, the proposal would enable such business to discriminate against gay couples. To qualify for the ballot, anti-gay groups must submit 87,213 valid signatures of Oregon residents by July 3. That’s half the number required to place the marriage equality constitutional amendment on the ballot because the anti-gay measure would only be statutory.

Mike Marshall, Oregon United for Marriage’s campaign manager, told the Washington Blade the religious exemption ballot initiative is a big fear because it could have an impact on the marriage equality campaign.

“The other side knows that when we shift the debate away from love and commitment to protecting religious freedom that you see support go down for marriage three to four percent, and that’s within the margin of victory for us,” Marshall said. “Instead of putting their resources into defeating our campaign, they’re creating a second campaign to shift the focus of the debate, and by doing that, at least carve some level of discrimination that they engage in.”

Marshall said if the religious exemption measure passes, the LGBT community would be faced with similar measures in every state over the next 10 years.

Religious exemption measures are becoming more common in state legislatures. In Kansas, the state legislature approved on Wednesday by a 72-49 vote a bill that would allow state residents to refuse services to gay couples related to same-sex weddings. In Arizona, a House committee approved a broad religious freedom bill to allow individuals and the businesses they own to refuse to provide services based on their religious beliefs.

Similar measures have popped up in Idaho, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma and Maine (although the Maine measure was recently voted down in committee). Measures specifically allowing discrimination against same-sex marriage and gay people, likes the ones in Oregon and Kansas, have come up in South Dakota.

Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, said passage of the bills could cause problems, such as allowing a county clerk to refuse to grant a marriage license.

“The state would still have to find someone to fill in, but it could make it more cumbersome for same-sex couples, not to mention hugely embarrassing,” Warbelow said. “No one should have to stand in line on the penultimate day of their marriage relationship only to find they have to go through a series of county clerks, one after another.”

The religious exemption measures aren’t exclusively found in the states. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) in the U.S. House and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Senate have introduced legislation known as the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which would prohibit the federal government from discriminating against organizations that exercise “religious conscience” against same-sex marriage.

Raúl Rafael Labrador, Raul Labrador, Idaho, United States House of Representatives, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Raúl Rafael Labrador (R-Idaho) has introduced the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rose Saxe, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project, said they’re meant to enable discrimination against gay couples seeking to wed in the states at a later point in time in anticipation of that ruling.

“But the ones that are explicitly anti-gay, we see those as as sort of ‘Plan B’ from the other side in the sense that they see marriage is coming and they’re trying to ensure that even in states where we don’t yet have marriage or robust non-discrimination laws that can preemptively enshrine the right to discriminate,” Saxe said.

Isolated anti-gay incidents driving new tactics

Movement on these bills comes in the aftermath of isolated situations where business owners were accused of acting wrongfully by refusing services for same-sex weddings.

One prominent such incident took place in Colorado, where a judge in December determined a Lakewood bakery known as Masterpiece Cakeshop acted unlawfully by refusing to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.

A similar incident occurred in Washington State, where Arlene’s Flowers owner Baronelle Stutzma refused to sell flowers to a gay couple and is now facing a lawsuit from the state and couple’s attorney. In Vermont, a resort that was sued in 2011 for refusing to host a lesbian couple’s wedding reception agreed to settle by paying $30,000 in damages.

In addition to invoking the wrath of anti-gay groups, these situations sparked concerns among libertarian-minded supporters of LGBT rights on social media over the perceived unfairness of requiring a business to recognize same-sex marriage.

Saxe said the religious exemption measures have begun to “pop up with more frequency” before state legislatures in the wake of media coverage of these incidents.

“I think those stories are part of the justification,” Saxe said. “In both South Dakota and Kansas, we saw the supporters of this legislation saying that this was about protecting the rights of businesses to not provide wedding services, but then the bills themselves…said any person could refuse to respect any marriage, which is not all about wedding services.”

The majority of the American public opposes making exemptions to accommodate these situations. According to a poll last year conducted by the Human Rights Campaign and the Third Way, 67 percent of voters are opposed to laws that allow businesses to discriminate against gay couples based on religious objections. Further, 56 percent of respondents thought it was already illegal for business owners in their state to refuse service to someone for being gay, although 30 percent were wrong because no such law exists in their state.

It’s also possible that the U.S. Supreme Court could take up a case related to one such isolated objection to a same-sex wedding and issue a sweeping decision enabling discrimination against same-sex couples.

Pending before the U.S. Supreme Court is the appeal of a decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court in the case of Elaine Photography v. Vanessa Willock, which found that the husband-and-wife owned photography business violated New Mexico’s civil rights law by declining to shoot Willock’s commitment ceremony in 2006, even though it was over religious beliefs. (Same-sex marriage at the time wasn’t yet legal in New Mexico.)

Anti-gay groups late last year filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on the basis that the New Mexico court decision violated Elaine Photography’s rights under the First Amendment’s ban on compelled speech.

Jon Davidson, legal director at Lambda Legal, said he thinks it’s “less likely” the court will take up the case because petitioners asked for a review of rejection of the photographer’s “compelled speech”and not free exercise of religion.

“Given this narrowing of the issue presented, I think it is somewhat less likely that the Supreme Court will grant review, because the issue presented affects fewer people and entities than a religious freedom claim would,” Davidson said.

Although it’s hard to say what action the Supreme Court will take, it may issue writ of certiorari to take up the case this year. If so, a decision would be expected before the court adjourns in June.

CORRECTION: An initial version of this article incorrectly reported the number of signatures to place the anti-gay measure on the ballot in Oregon. The Blade regrets the error.

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22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Ken

    February 13, 2014 at 11:10 am

    The problem with the proposed religious exemption laws is that they allow a person, even someone who doesn’t belong to a church, to invent a sex-based religion on the spot that requires them to discriminate.

    If they are going to pass these laws, they should work just like conscientious-objector laws.

    PERSONAL ELIGIBILITY:

    You are eligible for the religious exemption if you are accused of discrimination against gays, you have to demonstrate that 1) you are have been a member in good standing of your religious group for the previous five years, and 2) the religious group must have a written policy requiring ALL of its members to discriminate against gays, and 3) the written policy must have been issued before 2000.

    BUSINESS AND OTHER INSTITUTIONS:

    To demonstrate the lack of animus, only natural persons are eligible for a religious exemption. Businesses must accommodate the general public by having at least one employee on duty during work hours who does not discriminate against gays. If the business does not have such an employee, it must hire one.

    • JeffreyRO5

      February 13, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      Love it!

  2. Michael D Barber

    February 13, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    Seems we may have to start having sit ins at restaurants, bars and other place s the same as the Freedom Riders did in the 1960s. We will prevail under the US Constitution.

  3. Gordon

    February 13, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Should these types of bilsl be passed and accepted into law it will not be long before “christians” go back to being Klansmen and be protected in their negative behavior. Discrimination against Jewish, Blacks, Gays, divorcees, and slavery are all up for “acceptance” to be protected by law (plus some other less savory parts of the “christian” bible). EWWW.. makes me even less willing to have anything to do with them. If my religion says to not serve or have anything to do with “christians”, and that is protected by this law too, right?

  4. El Dorado

    February 14, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Gay couples in a sense created this problem for themselves. Why do you want to spend your money at a business that overtly disrespects you and wants to deny you services? Do you have any pride or dignity? Instead of suing these people you should have told them to screw themselves and no longer done business with them and instead brought your business to someone that welcomes you. The courts may rule against us if you had alternatives to go to for these service and didn’t seek them out.

  5. El Dorado

    February 14, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    This hopefully serves as a wake up call to you silly queens who falsely think we have overcome bigotry and discrimination simply because of some recent court victories and the fact that we have a supportive President and Attorney General in office. You live under in an illusion with a false sense of security that can go away. Despite marriage equality gains, you can still legally be denied employment, refused housing or services as these laws illustrate just for being gay. This is a fight that has been going on 45 years since Stone Wall and sadly has still a long way to go before we truly are equal under the law and free.

    We don’t know what we face after Obama leaves office or if the Dems don’t retain some majority in Congress. There is always a possibility that some conservative insanity can gain control and cause harm. Take nothing for granted and be ready for the worse. After LBJ’s liberal Great Society gains seemed to be the dominant in the 1960s, we had Reaganism twenty years later in the 1980s.

  6. Joseph A. McCormack

    February 14, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    These dead-enders are grasping at straws at this point. The tide is overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality, and it's hard to see how the courts could carve out a basis for discrimination against any minority group. If a religious denomination believed that African Americans do not deserve the same rights as everyone else, would we make an exception for them?
    Give me a break!

  7. Alberta Batchelor

    February 14, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    I'm an African American and a Christian and I DO NOT believe in same sex unions so don't try to hide b
    ehind us black people for your arguments IT WON'T WORK!

  8. Brian J Lancaster

    February 14, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    Religion should never have priority over basic human rights

  9. Brian J Lancaster

    February 14, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    but this religious freedom bullshit comes with the territory. Can't force Christian scientists to give their kids medicine even if they're gonna die without it

  10. William DeHerrera-Villarini

    February 14, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    Use money boycott can you imagine if company's loose money cause kansas is boycotted? Be active encourage a boycott

  11. Carl Cox

    February 15, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Plenty of Southern racists argued that anti-discrimination laws violated their religious beliefs. My grandfather from Mississippi could give a sermon on the relationship between the Curse of Ham and the evils of integrated lunch counters.

  12. Carl

    February 15, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Plenty of Southern racists argued that anti-discrimination laws violated their religious beliefs. My grandfather from Mississippi could give a sermon on the relationship between the Curse of Ham and the evils of integrated lunch counters.

  13. Joshua DeLapp

    February 15, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    And history repeats. Jim Crow, anyone? They've lost the battle to keep us locked in our closets; now they're doing their best to try and keep us from sitting at the same lunch counters as them.

  14. Greg Huete

    February 15, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    Alberta Batchelor Then don't get in a same sex union.

  15. Bequi Marie

    February 15, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Well I expected this, actually. :/

  16. Bequi Marie

    February 15, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    You're just here to pay taxes so they can keep doing this to you, Joshua. Someone needs to work for them and it sure as hell shouldn't be them :P

  17. John30013

    February 16, 2014 at 12:41 am

    Sorry, ED, but you,ve got it wrong. There isn’t always a choice of service providers, especially in more rural areas. And bigoted business owners rarely advertise their prejudice. In any case, why should LGBTs (and only LGBTs) have to accept less than full participation in our civil and economic systems?

  18. Ova Rees

    February 16, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    Alberta Batchelor you are a vile woman. Don't worry, the blind eye you turn to your fellow gay brothers and sisters will haunt you when you have to answer to God for your transgressions against his children. You will pay, be sure of that! Lol

  19. Skeeter Sanders

    February 17, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Newsflash for opponents of marriage equality who are pushing for religious exemptions: The measures they are pushing for are unconstitutional under both the Establishment of Religion Clause (Amendment I) and the Religious Test Clause (Article VI, Section 3), which prohibit the government from sanctioning discrimination on religious grounds. Their efforts to carve out a religious exemption to marriage equality are, therefore, doomed to fail.

  20. Leah Daziens

    February 18, 2014 at 12:08 am

    I used to think… haters gonna hate; I'm just going to refuse to live w/ backwards, ignorant bigots & try to ignore my own family bigot – every Southern family has one. But, then I realized… (welcome to privilege)… the black folks still living in places where backwards bigots control things… they don't all have the option to move to a place w/ progressive values. And the LGBT kids all over this country… they shouldn't have to suffer growing up in a culture that condones hate; nor should adult LGBT citizens. The dropout & suicide rates for LGBT youth proves that they are discriminated against in the K-12 education system. Bigots absolutely have the right to spout off about "N*ggers & F*ggots & J*ws"; but Freedom of Speech doesn't free them from being held accountable & facing the consequences of being mean, hateful bigots. And, it damn sure doesn't give them the right to interfere w/ anybody else's "Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Happiness". They have the right to move en masse to some other country that wants them.

  21. Michael Lombardi-Nash

    February 23, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    Big thanks to all the African American Christians who support Marriage Equality!

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Texas

Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill

HB 25 now heads to state Senate

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GenderCool Project leader and Trans activist Landon Richie (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.

Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.

However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.

HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.

“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.

“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.

“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.

During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.

He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”

He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.

Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”

González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.

Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.

He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”

“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.

“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.

The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”

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LGBTQ Youth web resource gone after Texas GOP candidate complained

Removal of the LGBTQ youth resource webpage appeared to be strictly political the Houston Chronicle reported

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Anti-LGBTQ Republican Don Huffines (Screenshot via Twitter)

AUSTIN – A late August video tweet from a wealthy Dallas-based real estate development company executive and conservative Republican gubernatorial challenger, blamed fellow Republican incumbent Texas Governor Greg Abbott for endorsing an LGBTQ+ agenda, because of the existence of a state online resource webpage for LGBTQ youth.

Within hours it was pulled down by the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, (DFPS) the agency responsible for the page.

In an article published Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported that Don Huffines claimed tax dollars were being used to “advocate for transgender ideology.” Huffines also went on to say that DFPS was publishing “disturbing information about our youth.”

“They’re talking about helping empower and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, non-heterosexual behavior. I mean really? This is Texas. These are not Texas values. These are not Republican Party values, but these are obviously Greg Abbott’s values,” 

A message on the website states that the previous content is now under review.

According to the Chronicle, the website for the Texas Youth Connection, a division of Family and Protective Services that steers young people to various resources, including education, housing and those on its LGBTQ page as they prepare for life after foster care. It was replaced by a message that states, “The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content. This is being done to ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.”

LGBTQ+ activists and advocates are furious. Among the resources on the page for LGBTQ+ youth were critical information including for housing and information for suicide prevention and crisis assistance.

GenderCool Youth Leader, Trans rights activist and University of Houston student Landon Richie told the Blade Tuesday;

“This is deplorable. To Governor Abbott, LGBTQ+ youth are nothing more than pawns on a political chessboard. Despite his cries of protection and fairness in justification of this session’s unprecedented attacks on LGBTQ+ — especially trans — youth, it has never truly been about any of those things; it has always been about his power.

Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ youth deserve safety, protection, support, and affirmation from the state — this year alone, the Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support, as a result of this legislative session. LGBTQ+ youth deserve better than to be treated like they are as easily discardable as a webpage,” Richie said.

Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights reacted telling the Blade in an emailed statement:

“Helping LGBTQ youth and their families prevent suicide is not a partisan issue, and any elected official who seeks to make it one has lost any sense of shame. This action by Governor Abbott is appalling and will needlessly harm vulnerable children and families who urgently need support.”

Removal of the page appeared to be strictly political the Chronicle reported.

Patrick Crimmins, the department spokesman, told the Chronicle that the review “is still ongoing” but declined to answer questions seeking more detail about why the website was removed or whether it had anything to do with Huffines.

But Family and Protective Services communications obtained through a public records request show that agency employees discussed removing the “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” page in response to Huffines’ tweet, shortly before taking it offline,” the paper wrote.

More telling was the events leading the page’s removal said the paper:

Thirteen minutes after Huffines’ video went up, media relations director Marissa Gonzales emailed a link to Crimmins, the agency’s communications director, under the subject line “Don Huffines video accusing Gov/DFPS of pushing liberal transgender agenda.”

FYI. This is starting to blow up on Twitter,” Gonzales wrote.

Crimmins then queried Darrell Azar, DFPS’ web and creative services director, about who oversees the page. “Darrell — please note we may need to take that page down, or somehow revise content,” he wrote.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth weighed in on the Chronicle’s reporting in an emailed statement to the Blade.

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system — and those who have been in foster care report significantly higher rates of attempting suicide. It is unconscionable that the Texas state government would actively remove vital suicide prevention resources from its website for the sole purpose of appeasing a rival politician. Mental health and suicide prevention are nonpartisan,” said Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs. “This story sends a terrible message to LGBTQ youth in Texas and will only contribute to the internalization of stigma and shame. We should be expanding access to support services for this group, not erasing what resources LGBTQ youth have to reach out for help.” 

The Chronicle reported that the deleted webpage also included links to the Texas chapters of PFLAG, a nationwide LGBTQ organization; a “national youth talk line” to discuss gender and sexual identity and various other issues; and LGBTQ legal services.

Huffines said the page also linked to a website operated by the Human Rights Campaign, a politically active LGBTQ advocacy group that he called “the Planned Parenthood of LGBT issues.”

Data on Texas:

  • Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
  • Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
  • While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
    • Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
    • Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.

Additional Research: 

  • The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered. 

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Colorado first state to require transgender care as essential health benefit

Biden officials sign off on change for state insurers

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Colorado has become the first state to require transition-related care for transgender people as essential health coverage.

Colorado has become the first state in the country to include transition-related care for transgender people as part of the requirements for essential health care in the state, the Biden administration announced on Tuesday.

As part of the change, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved the state’s request to provide gender-affirming care in the individual and small group health insurance markets as part of Colorado’s Essential Health Benefit benchmark.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a statement the change is consistent with the Biden administration’s goal of eliminating barriers faced by transgender people in access in health care, including transition-related coverage.

“Health care should be in reach for everyone; by guaranteeing transgender individuals can access recommended care, we’re one step closer to making this a reality,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud to stand with Colorado to remove barriers that have historically made it difficult for transgender people to access health coverage and medical care.”

According to HHS, Colorado plan will require insurers to cover a wider range of services for transgender people in addition to benefits already covered, such as eye and lid modifications, face tightening, facial bone remodeling for facial feminization, breast/chest construction and reductions, and laser hair removal.

In addition to these changes, Colorado s also adding EHBs in the benchmark plan to include mental wellness exams and expanded coverage for 14 prescription drug classes, according to the HHS. These changes, per HHS, will take effect beginning on Jan. 1, 2023.

CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement health care should be “accessible, affordable and delivered equitably to all, regardless of your sexual orientation” (notably leaving out gender identity from that quote).

“To truly break down barriers to care, we must expand access to the full scope of health care, including gender-affirming surgery and other treatments, for people who rely on coverage through Medicare, Medicaid & CHIP and the Marketplaces,” Brooks-LaSure said. “Colorado’s expansion of their essential health benefits to include gender-affirming surgery and other treatments is a model for other states to follow and we invite other states to follow suit.”

According to the Washington Post, Biden administration signed off on the change before officials made the announcement Tuesday in Denver in an event with Gov, Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States.

Katie Keith, a lawyer and co-founder of Out2Enroll, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying despite the change significant issues remains for transgender people in health care.

“There’s been significant progress, but we’ve seen exclusions by some health plans — it got worse under the Trump administration — and that’s why it’s important to see states like Colorado stepping up to fill those gaps,” Keith is quoted as saying.

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