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HRC Foundation chief resigns after using N-word

Mary Beth Maxwell served in Obama administration as labor official

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Mary Beth Maxwell has resigned as head of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation over repeated use of the N-word (Photo public domain)

The head of the education arm of the Human Rights Campaign has resigned after a colleague reported she twice used a racist epithet in the workplace, according to a report in Politico Playbook on Wednesday.

Politico Playbook — which first exclusively reported the bombshell news report — posted the internal email Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, sent out to staffers on the incident announcing the resignation of Mary Beth Maxwell, who headed up the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

In the memo, Griffin writes Maxwell used the N-word — which he called “harmful and inappropriate language” — in front of a colleague once when telling an upsetting personal story and again when “describing an external situation that they found horrifying, in which racial and homophobic slurs were used.”

After receiving initial findings from an internal investigation on Monday, Griffin writes he suspended Maxwell without pay, then on Wednesday accepted her resignation.

The memo suggests Maxwell didn’t intend to use the word in harmful way because Griffin writes “the lesson learned here is that not having bad intent in using the word does not make it acceptable.”

“I want to be clear: Intent does not matter,” Griffin writes. “It is impact of the word that matters. It is simply never acceptable for that word to be said by an employee in the workplace, period.”

As a result of the situation, Griffin said he sees the need for a formal policy on expectations for staff in responding to or discussing hate speech. That policy, Griffin writes, will be developed within two weeks and incorporated into mandatory staff trainings.

Maxwell came to the organization in 2015 as senior vice president for programs, research and training as well as head of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

Prior to that role, Maxwell served in the Obama administration and held various roles in the Labor Department, including principal deputy assistant secretary for policy. In this role, Maxwell was credited for having a lead in pro-LGBT efforts, such as helping draft President Obama’s 2014 executive order against anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.

Early on the in the Obama administration, Maxwell was also said to be in contention as a possible choice as labor secretary and the first openly LGBT Cabinet member, although that role ultimately fell to other appointees.

In the note to staffers shared by Human Rights Campaign Chief Operating Officer Joni Madison and posted by Politico Playbook, Maxwell writes she has “deep regret” about her use of the racist epithet.

“While in each instance I was conveying something that really happened — in the first I was emotional and scared that it had been said and in the second feeling urgency about addressing a deeply racist and homophobic encounter that a colleague recounted — I realize I should never have said that word out loud,” Maxwell writes.

Maxwell adds she doesn’t want her action or presence at the Human Rights Campaign to jeopardize the organization’s work in support of LGBT rights.

“I fully respect and support HRC taking action to make clear that our commitment to a fair and just workplace is unwavering and that each of us must be held accountable for that,” Maxwell writes.

A Human Rights Campaign spokesperson confirmed the accuracy of the Politico Playbook report and the emails to sent to staffers about the Maxwell resignation, but declined to comment further.

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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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Florida

Prominent LGBTQ+ activist found dead in Florida landfill

Diaz-Johnston was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz & he led the fight for marriage equality

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Photo courtesy of Don Diaz Johnston

Police in Florida’s capital city confirmed that the body of Jorge Diaz-Johnston, 54, who had been reported missing was found in a Jackson County landfill Saturday morning.

Diaz-Johnston was last seen alive Jan. 3 in Tallahassee, more than an hour from where his body was found, according to a missing person notice released by police. Detectives are investigating his death as a homicide, a police spokesperson said.

Diaz-Johnston, was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz. As an LGBTQ advocate he led the fight for marriage equality, he and his husband were plaintiffs in an historic 2014 lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Miami-Dade County.

ABC News reported at the time that a South Florida circuit court judge sided with Diaz-Johnston and five couples suing the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s Office for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Florida dropped its ban on same-sex marriage in 2015.

His husband wrote in a poignant Facebook post; “There are just no words for the loss of my beloved husband Jorge Isaias Diaz-Johnston. I can’t stop crying as I try and write this. But he meant so much to all of you as he did to me. So I am fighting through the tears to share with you our loss of him.”

“We are heartbroken to learn of the death of Jorge. He and his husband Don were two of the brave plaintiffs who took on Florida’s anti-gay marriage ban and helped win marriage equality for all Floridians,” Equality Florida said adding, “Our deepest condolences to Don and Jorge’s extended family.”

Detectives urge anyone who may have information to call 850-891-4200, or make an anonymous tip to Big Bend Crime Stoppers at 850-574-TIPS.

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National

Bill prohibiting ‘gay panic defense’ clears New Hampshire House

New Hampshire could soon join over a dozen other states which ban the use of ‘gay panic’ as a defense

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New Hampshire State House (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Legislation prohibiting defendants accused of manslaughter from using the victim’s gender, gender identity or sexual orientation as a defense, which had died in committee during the 2021 regular session of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, was reintroduced this session and passed with a 223-118 vote last week.

House Bill 238, stirred up controversary from opponents who claimed that state statues already covered murder and manslaughter. During a Criminal Justice committee hearing last Spring, Rep. Dick Marston, a Manchester Republican, voiced opposition, saying that the laws already cover murder and manslaughter and that “there’s no way in heck that you’re going to be able to say ‘Well because he or she was some deviant sexuality that I’m not–‘”

Marston was cut off by committee chairman Daryl Abbas, a Salem Republican, who gaveled him down and rebuked him for the derogatory language the Concord-Monitor reported

Later, the committee Republicans blocked an effort to move the bill out of committee alleging it needed more work and was not necessary because a jury could already strike down a similar attempted defense. The bill was then stalled in the committee, effectively killing it from being pushed further in last year’s session.

As the measure now heads to the state Senate, New Hampshire could soon join over a dozen other states which ban the use of the ‘gay panic’ as a defense.

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