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Tom Gallagher, U.S. Foreign Service officer, dies at 77

Longtime LGBT rights advocate came out publicly in 1975

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Tom Gallagher, gay news, Washington Blade

Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher, who became the first known U.S. Foreign Service officer to come out as gay in 1975 and who switched careers to become a social worker before returning to the Foreign Service in 1994, died July 8 in his hometown of Tinton Falls, N.J. from complications associated with a bacterial infection. He was 77.

In a write-up of his life and career that he prepared shortly before his passing and in an earlier interview published in the online publication Slate, he said he decided to disclose his sexual orientation at a 1975 conference in Washington, D.C., organized by the then Gay Activists Alliance called Gays and the Federal Government.

Knowing the disclosure would jeopardize his then 10-year career at the State Department and Foreign Service, he decided to come out because he became tired of having to conceal the truth of who he was, he recounted in the interview.

One year later, in 1976, after he determined longstanding policies making it difficult if not impossible for gays working in the Foreign Service to retain their required security clearances, he resigned and moved to California, where he began a new career as a social worker

His biographical write-up says he was born Sept. 11, 1940 in Manhattan before his family moved to New Jersey. He graduated from Holy Spirit School and Red Bank Catholic High School in Asbury Park, N.J. before entering New Jersey’s Monmouth University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1962.

Five days after graduating from Monmouth he signed up as a Peace Corps volunteer and entered the first Peace Corps group to go to Ethiopia, his biographical write-up says. After completing a Peace Corps training program at Georgetown University he and his group of volunteers were invited to the White House, where President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy hosted a send-off tea party.

According to his write-up, upon their arrival in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Peace Corps group was welcomed by Emperor Haile Selassie, the country’s monarch and leader. A month after arriving in the city of Agordot for his assignment to teach a seventh grade history class, Gallagher recounted he heard the “first shot” of what became the province of Eritrea’s protracted war of independence.

His write-up says he “remained devoted to Eritrea and its people for the rest of his life” and “sixty years after leaving the Peace Corps Tom was still in touch with 13 of the 80 boys he taught in Agordot.”

Upon returning to the U.S. he began his first full salaried job at the White House where he worked for President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty program. It was at that time that he met Carolyn Worrell, the bright young woman also interested in foreign affairs whom he married a short time later.

In his Slate interview with freelance journalist Jacqui Shine he said he believed he was in love with Worrell at a time when he was struggling within himself to fight what he always knew deep inside himself – that he liked men. He had “fooled around with boys” since he was a teenager growing up on the New Jersey shore, he said in the interview.

Gallagher began his first stint in the Foreign Service in 1965, with his first overseas assignment sending him to Jidda, Saudi Arabia.

Subsequent assignments took him to Nigeria and Ecuador, where he served as acting U.S. Consul General in the city of Guayaquil, becoming, at age 34, the youngest ever chief of a major U.S. diplomatic mission. He later returned to Washington where he served in various positions at the State Department headquarters before coming out at the gay conference.

In 1970, shortly after completing his tour in Nigeria, he told his wife he wanted a divorce and arranged for the couple to stay together until Worrell found a job with a federal agency and got “settled,” he said in the Slate interview. It wasn’t until years later that he told his then ex-wife that the marriage breakup was due to his struggle with his sexual orientation, he said in the interview.

Meanwhile, after resigning from the Foreign Service in 1976 he moved to California and underwent training to become a social worker. A short time later he began work in the first of a number of positions, including a post as an emergency room social worker at UCLA Hospital in Los Angeles. He also volunteered as director of counseling programs at the Gay Community Services Center in LA.

Other positions he held included supervisor for the Travelers Aid Society in San Francisco; director of a Napa County, Calif., psychiatric emergency program; and as a volunteer for AIDS programs in the state.

In 1994, when President Bill Clinton removed policies preventing gays from working in the Foreign Service, Gallagher returned to his earlier career as a Foreign Service officer, his write up says. His first assignment was that of the position of American Consul at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spain. While holding that post Gallagher helped raise $3 million for the Spanish AIDS Foundation.

Following his post in Spain he was appointed as Country Officer for Eritrea and Sudan in the State Department’s Office of East African Affairs. In 1999, he became head of the visa section at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, where he was credited with refusing a visa for a radical Moroccan who was linked to a terrorist organization considering a plot to spray poison on a U.S. city, according to his biographical write-up.

The write-up says he next returned to Washington and worked at the State Department’s Office of Central African Affairs where he served as Country Officer for the Republic of the Congo. His final tour at the State Department was with the Office of International Health, where he served as Regional Advisor for Europe and worked on an international AIDS program.

After retiring in 2005, Gallagher continued to take on short tours for the State Department including assignments at 17 embassies and consulates on five continents, the write-up says. He also taught a course on the Middle East as an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University.

In 2012, during an event at the State Department celebrating the 20th anniversary of the State Department’s LGBT employee group, to which Gallagher was invited, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about Gallagher’s role in advocating for LGBT equality when he came out as a Foreign Service officer in 1975.

“I don’t want any of you who are a lot younger ever to take for granted what it took for people like Tom Gallagher to pave the way for all of you,” Clinton told the gathering. “It’s not a moment to be nostalgic,” she said. “It’s a moment for us to remember and to know that all of the employees who sacrificed their right to be who they are were really defending your rights and the rights and freedoms of others at home and abroad.”

Shine, who conducted the Slate interview, said she got to know Gallagher when she interviewed him for another story about three years ago.

“I was very fond of Tom, who was very funny, sweet, and a hell of a storyteller,” she told the Washington Blade. “He was as astonished as anyone by the extraordinary turns his life took, and humbled by and grateful for all he experienced.”

Gallagher is survived by his former wife, Carolyn Worrell, who is now a judge in Nevada; and his husband, Amin Dulgumoni, a senior software engineer at Goldman Sachs.

Plans for a memorial were expected to be announced soon.

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National

Jim Obergefell announces bid for seat in Ohio state legislature

Marriage plaintiff moves on to new endeavor

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Jim Obergefell has announced he'd seek a seat in the Ohio state legislature.

Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the litigation that ensured same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide, announced on Tuesday he’d pursue a new endeavor and run for a seat in the state legislature in his home state of Ohio.

“You deserve a representative who does the right thing, no matter what. You deserve a representative who fights to make things better for everyone,” Obergefell said. “I’ve been part of a national civil rights case that made life better for millions of Americans. Simply put, I fight for what’s right and just.”

Obergefell, who claims residency in Sandusky, Ohio, is seeking a seat to represent 89th Ohio District, which comprises Erie and Ottawa Counties. A key portion of his announcement was devoted to vowing to protect the Great Lakes adjacent to Ohio.

“We need to invest in our Great Lake, protect our Great Lake, and make the nation envious that Ohio has smartly invested in one of the greatest freshwater assets in the world,” Obergefell said.

Obergefell was the named plaintiff in the consolidated litigation of plaintiffs seeking marriage rights that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in 2015 for same-sex marriage nationwide. Obergefell was widower to John Arthur, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and was seeking the right to be recognized as his spouse on his death certificate. The ruling in the consolidated cases ensured same-sex couples would enjoy the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage.

“We should all be able to participate fully in society and the economy, living in strong communities with great public schools, access to quality healthcare, and with well-paying jobs that allow us to stay in the community we love, with the family we care about,” Obergefell said in a statement on his candidacy.

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National

FDA-funded blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker, L.A. LGBT Center working on study to ease restrictions

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A new study could make it easier for gay and bi men to donate blood.

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Institute and the Los Angeles LGBT Center are among LGBTQ supportive organizations in eight U.S. cities working with the nation’s three largest blood donation centers on a study to find a way to significantly ease blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men or MSM.

The study, which is funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calls for recruiting a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men in eight U.S. cities selected for the study to test the reliability of a detailed donor history questionnaire aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if they donate blood.

A statement released by the study organizers says the questionnaire, which could be given to a gay or bisexual person showing up at a blood donation site, could be a replacement for the FDA’s current policy of banning men who have had sex with another man within the previous three months from donating blood.

In the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the FDA put in place a permanent ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. In 2015, with advanced HIV testing and screening techniques readily available, the FDA lifted its permanent ban on MSM blood donations and replaced it with a 12-month restriction for sexual activity between MSM.

The FDA further reduced the time of sexual abstinence for MSM to three months in 2020.

LGBTQ rights organizations and others advocating for a change in the current FDA restriction point out that at a time when the nation is facing a severe shortage of blood donations due to the COVID pandemic, the three-month donation deferral requirement for MSM is preventing a large number of blood donations from men whose risk of HIV infection is low to nonexistent.

Under the FDA-funded and initiated study, the American Red Cross, Vitalant, and OneBlood — the nation’s three largest blood donation centers — have been conducting the questionnaire testing since the study was launched in March 2021.

“To gather the necessary data, the blood centers will partner with LGBTQ+ Centers in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta,” the study organizers say in a statement on a website launched to help recruit volunteers for the study.

“The study will enroll a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men (250 – 300 from each area) who meet the study eligibility criteria,” the statement says.

Among the criteria for being eligible, the statement says, is the person must be between 18 and 39 years old, have expressed an interest in donating blood, must have had sex with at least one other man in the three months before joining the study, and must agree to an HIV test. A negative test result is also required for acceptance into the study.

The study is officially named ADVANCE, which stands for Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility.

“The ADVANCE study is a first step in providing data that will help the FDA determine if a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as effective as time-based deferral, in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” the study organizers statement says.

“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions, it could mean men who have sex with men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” the statement continues. “The ADVANCE study is groundbreaking because it’s the first time a study is being conducted that could result in individual risk assessment for men who have sex with men to donate blood,” the statement says.

The Whitman-Walker Institute, which is among the community-based organizations involved in helping organize and conduct the study, is an arm of Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive D.C. health center.

Christopher Cannon, director of Research Operations for Whitman-Walker Institute, said that since the D.C.-based part of the study was launched early last year prior to the official announcement of the study on March 20, D.C. has surpassed the original city goal of recruiting 250 participants for the study.

“We are currently at 276 as of last Friday’s report,” Cannon told the Blade in a Jan. 13 interview. “And the current goal is now 300,” he said. “So, we’re hoping to push this over that goal line in the coming days and weeks.

Cannon said that like the community organizations involved in the study in other cities, Whitman-Walker Institute’s role has been focused on recruiting gay and bisexual men to participate in the study and to send them to the American Red Cross headquarters building at 430 17th St., N.W. near the White House. That site, which serves as a blood donation center, is also serving as the site where study participants are screened, interviewed, and presented with a detailed questionnaire.

“We promote the study within Whitman-Walker,” Cannon said. “We promote it to our networks. We did social media promotions across the city.’

Although Whitman-Walker doesn’t have the final draft of the questionnaire being presented to study participants, Cannon said he has seen “bits and pieces” of it.  

“They ask very direct questions about the person’s sex life, sexual partners, sex acts, numbers of partners,” Cannon said. “There are questions about condom use, PrEP use, drug use. How recently have you had sex? Lots of related questions,” he said.

“It’s really about trying to figure out effectively which are the best questions,” according to Cannon. “The hope is by analyzing the questions and identifying maybe the best 10 to 12 questions that can be universally used…to get the best answers that identify the individuals that may have the highest risk,” he said. Doing that, he points, out can help determine which men who have sex with men should be eligible to safely donate blood.

A statement released by Whitman-Walker last March calls the study a “monumental research effort” that has the potential to lift the stigma imposed on gay and bisexual men whose ability to donate blood is currently based on their sexual orientation.

“The ADVANCE study is designed to understand if, by asking carefully crafted and research-informed research questions, blood collectors can screen potential blood donors for their individual HIV risk factors rather than applying a ban against sexually active gay and bisexual men,” the statement says.

“The goal is to move away from overly broad questions that exclude potential donors and spread stigmatizing messages about MSM and their HIV risks,” it says.

Cannon said that as of last week, study organizers had recruited a total of 879 study participants nationwide out of the goal of 2,000 participants needed to complete the study. He said issues related to the COVID pandemic created delays in the recruitment efforts, but study organizers were hopeful the study could be completed by this summer.

Information about participating in the study or learning more about it can be obtained at advancestudy.org.

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Federal Government

Veterans can now identify as transgender, nonbinary on their VA medical records

About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity

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Graphic via U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Wednesday that his department added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select their gender, in medical records and healthcare documentation.

“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”

The statement also noted that the change allows health-care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.

McDonough speaking at a Pride Month event last June at the Orlando VA Healthcare System, emphasized his support for Trans and LGBQ+ vets.

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

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