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Another day, another anti-LGBT cabinet pick, this time for HHS

Rep. Price called LGBT rights initiatives ‘outside the norm’

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Tom Price, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) (Photo by Iowapolitics.com; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Donald Trump’s selection of Obamacare critic Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as the next Secretary of Health and Human Services has exacerbated fears the next administration will roll back health advances for LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS.

In a statement announcing the pick, the president-elect said he chose Price because of his background as a physician and as part of the effort to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.

“Chairman Price, a renowned physician, has earned a reputation for being a tireless problem solver and the go-to expert on healthcare policy, making him the ideal choice to serve in this capacity,” Trump said. “He is exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible healthcare to every American. I am proud to nominate him as secretary of health and human services.”

One of Obamacare’s chief opponents, the six-term House Republican has pushed legislation to undo the law, including a measure in 2013 that would have prohibited the Internal Revenue Service from affording tax credits to offset the cost of insurance premiums.

An estimated 20 million people are insured under the Affordable Care Act and health advocates fear those people could lose access to care if the president-elect and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) make good on their pledge to repeal the law.

Transgender advocates have expressed concerns about repeal of Section 1557, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in health care. The Obama administration has issued a rule interpreting that language to apply to transgender people, including for transition-related care and gender reassignment surgery, as well as gender non-conforming people.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, was among those expressing concerns about the choice of Price as head of the Department of Health & Human Services.

“We continue to be concerned with President-elect Trump’s selection of anti-LGBT extremists like Rep. Price for cabinet positions,” Keisling said. “Though a physician, Rep. Price has consistently worked against a fair and just healthcare system. Rep. Price is a dangerous choice for secretary of health and human services.”

As head of HHS, Price could blunt the Obama administration’s rule prohibiting anti-trans discrimination in health care with an exemption allowing religious-based organizations to refuse care — transition-related or otherwise — to transgender people. Anti-LGBT advocates expressed consternation that rule had no religious exemption and the provision is facing court challenges on the basis it ignores religious concerns.

The potential loss of the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare is a source of anxiety for HIV/AIDS advocates. The program, which Republicans have threatened to change to a block-grant system, provides care for an estimated 40 percent of people with the disease in the United States.

Hilary McQuie, director of U.S. policy and grassroots mobilization for the HIV/AIDS group Health GAP, said the Price nomination is “a worst case scenario for people living with HIV.”

“In collusion with Paul Ryan, he will try to dismantle the safety net and healthcare system that has allowed us to build towards ending the epidemic,” McQuie said. “We are going to have to mount a huge response to secure Medicaid, Medicare, HOPWA, ADAP, CDC and every other acronym that represents healthcare and social services for people in the U.S.”

In terms of LGBT issues, Price has an abysmal record. In 2006, he voted for a U.S. constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage throughout the country. Price also voted against hate crimes protections legislation, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

In the 114th Congress, he wasn’t a co-sponsor of comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation known as the Equality Act and along with every other Republican wasn’t a co-sponsor of the Consumer Non-Discrimination Act, which would specifically bar anti-LGBT discrimination by healthcare providers.

Price generally earned a score of “0” for each term he has been in office on the Human Rights Campaign congressional scorecard. The exceptions were during the 110th and 111th Congress when he earned scores of “10” for voting against a motion to recommit that would have killed hate crimes protection legislation.

In 2013, Price participated in a conference call hosted by Tea Party Unity, as Right Wing Watch reported at the time, and said a caller was “absolutely right” about the potential of negative health and fiscal impact of legislation promoting LGBT rights. The caller was Rabbi Noson Leiter, who attributed the arrival of marriage equality in New York to Hurricane Sandy.

“The consequences of activity that has been seen as outside the norm are real and must be explored completely and in their entirety prior to moving forward with any social legislation that would alter things,” Price said. “I’m always struck by people who wake up one morning and think that they’ve got a grand new way of doing something when as you all know that the tried and true traditions in history that made us great are preserved and have survived because they are effective. I hear you, medical health and costs; you talk about a huge cost-driver to state pensions and other things, many of these areas would significantly alter state balance sheets.”

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said his organization hasn’t had a direct relationship with Price because it focuses on state and local officials, has said he has “taken many positions on LGBT issues that we find troubling.”

Nonetheless, Graham said his organization in the early 2000s during Price’s tenure as a state senator worked with him to secure increases in state funding and support for Georgia’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program. That was a time, Graham said, when the state’s waiting list was one of the largest in the country.

“Over the past eight years, HHS has shown strong leadership in addressing LGBT-related health disparities and implementing the National Strategy to End AIDS,” Graham said. “I hope that as secretary, Congressman Price will show the same leadership and attention to addressing important health issues that he displayed in the Georgia Senate.”

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D.C. mayor to lift all restrictions on bars, nightclubs on June 11

‘We will definitely be celebrating Pride’ next month

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Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday that she will fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced at a news conference on Monday that a continuing trend of significantly lower numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in the city has enabled her to fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21.

The mayor said bars and nightclubs will be allowed to increase indoor capacity from the current 25 percent to 50 percent on May 21, with all capacity restrictions for bars and nightclubs to be removed on June 11.

The mayor’s announcement came after representatives of the city’s nightlife businesses, including the city’s gay bars and restaurants, expressed concern that D.C. had yet to lift its capacity restrictions beyond 25 percent while surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia had already lifted most restrictions.

“On May 21, restrictions on public and commercial activity, including capacity limits, types of activities, and time restrictions, will be lifted,” the mayor’s directive says.

It says restrictions for bars and nightclubs would continue at a 50 percent capacity from May 21 through June 11. The directive says restrictions for large sports and entertainment venues would also continue from May 21 to June 11, which includes a requirement such events apply for a waiver of the restrictions on a case-by-case basis.

“On June 11, capacity limits and restrictions will be lifted on those venues that cannot fully reopen on May 21,” the directive says.

In response to a question at the news conference, Bowser said the June 11 date would essentially end all restrictions on nightclubs and bars, including the current requirement that they close at midnight rather than the pre-epidemic closing times of 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.

In a development that could have a major impact on plans for D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride events, the mayor’s revised health directive announced on Monday includes the lifting of all capacity restrictions on large outdoor and indoor sports and entertainment events beginning on June 11.

That change would remove restrictions that have, up until now, prevented D.C.’s Capital Pride Alliance from holding its annual Pride Parade and Festival in June during Pride Month.

Capital Pride Executive Director Ryan Bos told the Washington Blade shortly after the mayor’s announcement that Capital Pride is assessing its options for expanding its current plans for in-person events in June.

“We will definitely be celebrating Pride in June,” Bos said. “We just received this information as well. So, we will be getting further information,” he said. “We have not been informed that they will be issuing any permits yet, so at this time we are moving forward with our original plans for doing things.”

Bos was referring to a city requirement for obtaining permits for street closings and use of other public spaces for events such as a parade or street festival. He said existing plans, among other things, call for an informal parade of cars and other vehicles on June 12 that will drive throughout the city to view homes and businesses that will be decorated with Pride displays such as signs, photos, and other symbols of Pride.

Those familiar with the city’s past Pride events don’t think there will be enough time for Capital Pride to organize the traditional large parade and street festival in time for June. But Capital Pride officials have talked about holding a possible parade and festival in October, and the lifting of the capacity restrictions announced by Bowser on Monday would likely make that possible.

In addition to lifting all capacity restrictions on May 21 for restaurants, the mayor’s May 21 timeframe for lifting restrictions includes these additional venues and events:

  • Weddings and special events
  • Business meetings and seated conventions
  • Places of worship
  • Non-essential retail
  • Personal services
  • Private at-home gatherings
  • Libraries, museums, galleries
  • Recreation Centers
  • Gyms and fitness centers
  • Pools
  • Office space
  • Schools
  • Childcare

“We’re very pleased that over the last several days, we have seen our case spread, our community spread numbers, venture out of the red into the yellow and fast approaching the green,” Bowser said in referring to a health department chart that shows the changes in coronavirus cases in the city.

“You might remember that our daily case rate peaked in January at 45.9. And today you can see it’s down to 6.6,” she said at her news conference on Monday.

“Throughout this process I have said how proud I am of D.C. residents and businesses who have responded, who have followed health guidance and have worked together to help protect our community throughout the pandemic. And we see it in these numbers today,” she said.

“Containing the virus will continue to require all of us to be focused on maintaining a robust health system,” the mayor said, adding that while over 200,000 D.C. residents have been fully vaccinated since December 2020, “many more thousands” still need to be vaccinated. “Vaccines are free and available on demand at walk-up sites across the District,” she said.

The mayor also noted that the city will continue to require residents and visitors to use a mask in accordance with existing and updated guidance set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mark Lee, coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, an association that represents restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues, said the mayor’s directive on May 10 leaves some details to be addressed but will open the way to bring nightlife businesses back to life.

“What we do know is that on Friday, May 21, businesses begin returning to normal operations and, three weeks later, on June 11, all restrictions for all businesses in the District will end,” Lee said. “It’s a day we’ve long awaited and one that will save much of our community enterprise from financial ruin.”

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Family code bill to be introduced in Cuban Parliament in July

CENESEX made announcement during May 4 press conference

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Mariela Castro at a CENESEX press conference

 

Tremenda Nota is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba. A Spanish version of this story was published on May 6.

HAVANA — The National Center for Sexual Education on May 4 during a press conference in which it unveiled the program for the 14th annual International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia events in Cuba announced a bill to amend the family code will be introduced in Parliament in July.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro Espín said during a meeting with official and foreign media outlets at the International Press Center that this year’s events are part of the process of amending the family code.

She added that this legal change will reflect several rights guaranteed in the constitution, which is why it is necessary to sensitize and educate the Cuban population to avoid prejudice and discrimination.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference.

The official referred to the results of the National Survey on Gender Equality in Cuba, conducted in 2016 and published in 2019. According to this official study, 77 percent of the Cuban population between 15 and 74-years-old said that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people should have the same rights as any other citizen.

CENESEX’s director, however, did not use this information in the 2018 parliamentary debates sparked by Article 68 of the bill to amend the constitution. The idea that it was not the appropriate time to implement same-gender marriage in Cuba eventually won out.

Mariela Castro told Tremenda Nota a few days before the referendum in which Cuban voters approved the current constitution that she was aware of the survey, but she did not explain why she did not use the data it revealed as an argument (in favor of marriage equality.)

“It was a wasted tool that now we can only use in the next referendum,” then-MP Luis Ángel Adán Roble told Tremenda Nota during a February 2019 interview, as did Mariela Castro.

The moment that Adán Roble mentioned has arrived.

It became known during the May 4 press conference that the family code will be introduced in the scheduled parliamentary session in July. The Council of State on March 22 appointed a commission that will be in charge of preparing the bill, but the list of its members was not made public until April 30. None of them are openly LGBTI+.

Activists over the last few weeks have demanded that Parliament reveal the identities of those who make up the commission and the deadline they have to prevent the Family Code. The May 4 press conference resolved the last outstanding point.

The Cuban IDAHOBiT program

Mariela Castro and CENESEX Deputy Director Manuel Vázquez Seijido explained that numerous activities with the goal of making visible and fighting against all types of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will virtually take place from May 4 through May 30.

The IDAHOBiT events in Cuba have a program that includes academic dialogue, social activism and artistic presentations from virtual spaces.

Forum debates are among the activities. The Juventud Rebelde newspaper will host the first one with the theme “Deconstructing myths around same-sex families and partners” and Cubadebate will hold the second called “Constitution and Sexual Rights in Cuba: Progress and Main challenges.”

They also announced at the press conference the books “Paquito el de Cuba: A Decade of Online Activism” and “Non-Heteronormative Sexualities and Gender Identities. Tensions and Challenges for Human Rights” will be presented.

There will be virtual panels titled “Diverse Families: Histories of Non-Hegemonic Lives,” “National Program for the Advancement of Women: Opportunities to Confront Homophobia and Transphobia,” “Keys for Inclusive Communication” and “Sexual Rights and Religious Fundamentalisms.”

Castro Espín explained that CENESEX will use its social media accounts to promote the program, contribute to the sexual education of Cubans and the recognition of rights for all people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

A show against homophobia and transphobia that will officially end the events will be broadcast on social media and on television.

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards

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Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade

 

A Puerto Rico Senate committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy on the island.

Members of the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against Senate Bill 184 by an 8-7 vote margin. Three senators abstained.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, a spokesperson for Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad, a coalition of Puerto Rican human rights groups, in a statement sharply criticized the senators who opposed the measure.

“If they publicly recognize that conversion therapies are abuse, if they even voted for a similar bill in the past, if the hearings clearly established that the bill was well-written and was supported by more than 78 professional and civil entities and that it did not interfere with freedom of religion or with the right of fathers and mothers to raise their children, voting against it is therefore one of two things: You are either a hopeless coward or you have the same homophobic and abusive mentality of the hate groups that oppose the bill,” said Pagán in a statement.

Thursday’s vote comes against the backdrop of continued anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in Puerto Rico.

Six of the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were reported murdered in the U.S. in 2020 were from Puerto Rico.

A state of emergency over gender-based violence that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared earlier this year is LGBTQ-inclusive. Then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 signed an executive order that banned conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico.

“These therapies lack scientific basis,” he said. “They cause pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Rosselló issued the order less than two weeks after members of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party  he chaired at the time, blocked a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in the U.S. commonwealth. Seven out of the 11 New Progressive Party members who are on the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against SB 184.

“It’s appalling. It’s shameful that the senators didn’t have the strength and the courage that our LGBTQ youth have, and it’s to be brave and to defend our dignity and our humanity as people who live on this island,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, in a video. “It’s disgraceful that the senators decided to vote down this measure that would prevent child abuse.”

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