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Obama admin says insurers can’t discriminate against gay unions

Prohibits discrimination even in non-marriage equality states

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Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, gay news, Washington Blade
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, gay news, Washington Blade

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid has issued guidance clarifying insurers can’t discriminate against same-sex couples. (Image public domain)

The Obama administration clarified on Friday that insurers are prohibited from discriminating against same-sex marriages for the purposes of non-grandfathered family coverage — even if applicants are applying in non-marriage equality states.

In guidance dated March 14, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid says existing provisions in the health care reform law prohibiting discrimination by insurers on the basis of gender — which the Obama administration has interpreted to extend non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity — also requires insurers not to refuse family coverage for married same-sex couples.

The guidance is set up as Q&A. The question is “If a health insurance issuer in the group or individual market offers coverage of an opposite-sex spouse, may the issuer refuse to offer coverage of a same-sex spouse?” The response starts off simply, “No.”

“This section prohibits an issuer from choosing to decline to offer to a plan sponsor (or individual in the individual market) the option to cover same-sex spouses under the coverage on the same terms and conditions as opposite sex-spouses,” the guidance states.

Alicia Hartinger, a CMS spokesperson, said the guidance spells out that non-discrimination is the rule for insurers — both on and off the health insurance exchanges — when selling policies.

“CMS recognizes the importance of all Americans and their families having access to quality, affordable coverage,” Hartinger said. “Today’s guidance clarifies that issuers may not choose to treat same-sex spouses differently from opposite-sex spouses. If an issuer offers opposite-sex spouse coverage, it may not choose to deny the same coverage to a same-sex spouse. We will continue to work with states and issuers to help ensure all Americans have an equal opportunity to purchase the new coverage options available to them.”

The guidance says insurers cannot refuse family coverage to married same-sex couples even if they live in — or the insurance is sold in — a non-marriage equality state that doesn’t recognize those unions.

Additionally, the guidance acknowledges insurers may not have realized this prohibition when designing their policies for the 2014 coverage year. Accordingly, while encouraging immediate compliance, CMS says insurers need not begin adhering to this policy until Jan. 1, 2015. The guidance also directs states to begin enforcing the regulations no later than Jan. 1, 2015.

The guidance doesn’t address whether it requires CMS to provide coverage to same-sex couples in domestic partnerships or civil unions. A CMS official said the guidance applies only to marriages, not these other unions.

LGBT advocates praised the new guidance as a step toward ensuring that married same-sex couples have the same access to health insurance as their opposite-sex counterparts.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, earlier said her group wanted the Obama administration to make the clarification and upon news of the guidance said it would help same-sex couples “hurting right now” because they were denied health insurance.

“Today’s important HHS announcement will help remove this type of discrimination by requiring the health insurance industry to treat us the same as straight married couples — even if the states where we live do not recognize marriage equality,” Carey said. “While insurers are not required to be in compliance with the new rules until January 2015, we urge the industry to act now — as affordable health care delayed is affordable health care denied.”

There have been reported incidents of married gay couples being unable to receive family coverage in the aftermath of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. In February, a gay couple — Alfred Cowger and Anthony Wesley of Gates Mills, Ohio — filed a federal lawsuit charging that they were unable to obtain family coverage because their state doesn’t recognize their marriage.

In January, Blue Cross and Blue Shield canceled family insurance policies it sold to same-sex couples under the Affordable Care Act in North Carolina. Following news reports about the cancellations, the insurer changed course and agreed to offer family coverage on the health insurance exchange to same-sex couples.

Kellan Baker, director of the LGBT State Exchanges Project for the Center for American Progress, said the new guidance is important because research shows LGBT families have trouble accessing health insurance.

“Research has shown that same-sex couples, as well as transgender people and other members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, communities, frequently face obstacles to affordable, comprehensive insurance coverage,” Baker said. “My colleagues and I look forward to working with HHS to ensure that this guidance is fully implemented in a timely manner and that similar action is taken to remove other barriers to coverage, such as discriminatory insurance exclusions that target transgender people.”

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Sheila Alexander-Reid to step down as director of D.C. LGBTQ Affairs Office

Veteran community activist to take new job workplace bias consultant

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Mayor's Office of GLBT Affairs, Sheila Alexander-Reid, gay news, Washington Blade

Longtime LGBTQ community advocate Sheila Alexander-Reid, who has served since 2015 as director of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Affairs, is stepping down from her city job in mid-July.

Alexander-Reid told the Washington Blade she will take a few weeks of accumulated leave beginning June 15 to recuperate from follow-up knee surgery before officially leaving her current job to take on a new role as a private sector consultant in the area of workplace bias and diversity training.

She said will announce the name of the private sector company she will be joining as a senior vice president when she begins her new job in mid-July.

Among her duties at the Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office has been to lead the office’s staff in providing LGBTQ related diversity or competency training for D.C. government employees at all city agencies.

According to the office’s website, other activities it carries out include connecting LGBTQ residents with city services they may need, advocating on behalf of programs and policies that benefit the lives of LGBTQ residents, providing grants to community-based organizations that serve the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ homeless youth; and host events that “enrich, promote, and bring together” the LGBTQ community in D.C.

“That work is always going to be part of who I am,” Alexander-Reid said. “But now I will be expanding on that work to look at racial equity and gender bias as well as LGBTQ bias,” she said. “I feel like I will be doing the same work but in a different format.”

Prior to starting her job at the mayor’s office, Alexander Reid served as Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at the Washington Blade, Director of Strategic Engagement at the Washington City Paper, and Founder and Executive Director of the D.C. based Women in the Life Association. She has also served as host of Inside Out, a local FM LGBTQ radio show.

Alexander-Reid noted that when she began work at the LGBTQ Affairs Office in late January 2015, less than a month after Bowser took office as mayor, the office consisted of two full-time employees, including her, with a budget of $209,000. In the current fiscal year 2021, the office now has four full-time employees and two additional detailed employees, from the Department of Health and Department of Human Services. The mayor is proposing a budget of $561,000 for the office for fiscal year 2022.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t say what a pleasure it has been to work for Mayor Bowser,” said Alexander-Reid. “I was excited to work for her and I don’t regret it for one second. “It’s been an amazing journey and I appreciate her having faith in me.”

She said she expects an interim director to be named to run the office in mid-July while a search is conducted for a permanent director.

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Attack on trans woman in D.C. laundromat captured in video

Police seek help from community in identifying suspects.

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(Screen capture via the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's YouTube channel)

D.C. police on Thursday night released a dramatic video taken from a surveillance camera showing two women and a man repeatedly punching and shoving a transgender woman at a laundromat on Benning Road in Northeast Washington in an incident in which the victim was stabbed in the head.

Police, who have listed the Sunday, June 6, incident as a suspected anti-LGBTQ hate crime, are appealing to the community for help in identifying the three suspects, who are shown in the video attacking the trans woman before escaping in a black SUV while carrying laundry bags.

Detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department’s Sixth District obtained the video from a surveillance camera at the Capital Laundry Mat at 1653 Benning Road, N.E., according to a police report and a police statement released Thursday night.

The video shows that the suspects were accompanied by two young children. It shows one of the adult female suspects appearing to be dancing by herself in front of a row of washing machines seconds before the three suspects lunged at the victim and began punching her.

“One of the suspects brandished a knife and stabbed the victim,” the police statement says. “The suspects fled the scene in a vehicle. The victim was transported to a local hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries,” the statement says.

“Anyone who can identify these individuals, or vehicle, or has knowledge of this incident should take no action but call police at 202-727-9099 or text your tip to the Department’s TEXT TIP LINE at 50411,” the statement adds. It says the department’s Crime Solvers program offers a reward of up to $1,000 to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and indictment of a person or persons responsible for a crime committed in D.C.

Police spokesperson Alaina Gertz told the Washington Blade that because the investigation is ongoing, police could not immediately disclose whether they know if the victim knew one or more of the attackers before the incident took place or what, if anything, prompted the suspects to attack the victim other than due to her status as a transgender person.

The video released by D.C. police can be accessed here:  https://youtu.be/7v8lthvUPcg

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North Dakota lawmakers okay regulation banning Conversion Therapy

This rule change will stop the vast majority of mental health providers in North Dakota from subjecting LGBTQ youth to conversion therapy

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Capitol Building of North Dakota in Bismarck (Photo Credit: State of North Dakota)

BISMARCK, ND. – The North Dakota House Administrative Rules Committee voted 8-7 on Tuesday, June 8, to authorize the rule proposed by the North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners, implementing new regulations prohibiting licensed social workers from subjecting LGBTQ youth to the widely discredited practice of conversion therapy.

The North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners, which oversees licensing for social workers in the state, created the new rule which states that “it is an ethical violation for a social worker licensed by the board to engage in any practices or treatments that attempt to change or repair the sexual orientation or gender identity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals.”

The West Hollywood based Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people, had worked with Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Josh Boschee, the National Association of Social Workers ND Chapter, the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, and local advocates like Elizabeth Loos to advance these critical protections for LGBTQ youth.

 “This rule change will stop the vast majority of mental health providers in North Dakota from subjecting LGBTQ youth to the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy. This practice is not therapy at all— it’s abusive and fraudulent,” said Troy Stevenson, Senior Advocacy Campaign Manager for The Trevor Project. “There is still more work to be done in North Dakota, but this bold action will help save young lives. The Trevor Project is committed to an every state strategy to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy and North Dakota has proven that progress is possible anywhere.”

“Thank you to the North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners for restricting licensed social workers in North Dakota from being able to practice conversion therapy! LGBT North Dakotans, especially youth, are safer now as you hold licensees responsible to the NASW Code of Ethics,” said Minority Leader Boschee. 

The proposed ban on therapist-administered conversion therapy in North Dakota was met with opposition by several of the committee’s most socially conservative members, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, told the paper that he worries the new prohibition is limiting because it would prevent people seeking “some kind of treatment” from getting help. Bell said the rule is written so clients who are LGBT or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity are not inhibited from seeking care.

Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown, said he’s concerned the rule would interfere with religious counseling, adding “there are some cases where people want to change.”

“There are licensed counselors that are also Christians, and basically my concern in all of this is that we’re telling the Christian counselors ‘you can be a licensed counselor, but you can’t practice your Christianity,'” Satrom said.

Satrom and West Fargo Republican Rep. Kim Koppelman said approving the social workers’ ban on conversion therapy is outside of the committee’s scope and ought to be scrutinized by the full Legislature.

Boschee, the North Dakota Legislature’s only openly gay member, told the Grand Forks Herald that he was disappointed in some of his colleagues for standing behind the “harmful” practice of conversion therapy and trying to muddy the conversation over what is a simple self-imposed rule for social workers. The Fargo Democrat said he was ultimately pleased that seven lawmakers joined him in upholding the proposed ban.

Research: 

  • According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 13% of LGBTQ youth reported being subjected to conversion therapy, with 83% reporting it occurred when they were under age 18. LGBTQ youth who were subjected to conversion therapy reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not.
  • According to a peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project published in the American Journal of Public Health, LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than 2.5 times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year.
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