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SERVE Act seeks to aid trans troops discharged under Trump ban

Gay troops expelled under ‘Don’t Ask’ also covered

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Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), on left, has introduced the SERVE Act to aid transgender troops. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

In the wake of the Trump administration implementing its ban on transgender military service, Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) has introduced legislation in the U.S. House that seeks to ensure service members discharged under the policy are eligible for care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Securing the Rights our Veterans Earned Act, or SERVE Act, requires the VA to provide health benefits to these troops if they obtain an “Other Than Honorable” or “Entry-Level Separation” discharge because of their gender identity.

Further, the legislation ensures coverage to gay veterans expelled under the now defunct policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” who haven’t had their discharge papers corrected.

Pappas, who’s gay and a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, said a statement the legislation would aid LGBT veterans as LGBT advocates continue the fight to lift the transgender ban and expedite the process for upgrading the papers for discharges under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“As we work to improve care for veterans and combat the national crisis of veteran suicide, we cannot forget the more than 15,000 transgender service members and veterans whose benefits may be at risk because of this administration’s discriminatory transgender ban and those left behind by ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in years past.” Pappas said. “As we fight to reverse this Administration’s backwards ban, I am proud to introduce legislation that will help protect our LGBTQ veterans and ensure they are able to access the care they need. It’s the least we can do given their selfless service to our country.”

The original co-sponsors of the bill are Reps Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.), chair or the Congressional Transgender Task Force, Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Gil Cisneros (D-Calif.), Anthony Brown (D-Md.), Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) and Mike Levin (D-Calif.).

“The bias and bigotry of this president should not be used to deny health care to any LGBTQ veteran who has served this nation,” Kennedy said in a statement. “By passing the SERVE Act, we will protect transgender veterans until the day we overturn this cruel, misguided ban on transgender troops.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs currently has a policy against payment for gender reassignment surgery. A Democratic aide said the SERVE Act wouldn’t change the care VA currently offers, but instead simply extend those benefits to those being denied that care because of their discharge status.

Andy Blevins, executive director of the newly formed Modern Military Association of America, commended lawmakers for introducing the SERVE Act in a statement.

“Introduction of this Act signals to our nation’s LGBTQ veteran community that our nation’s Congressional leadership stands alongside them and their honorable service,” Blevins said. “We applaud Congressman Pappas and the cohort of leaders that signed on to co-sponsor this tremendous piece of legislation; we look forward to working alongside each of them as we solidify equitable treatment and conditions for all of our nation’s deserving veterans.”

A Senate companion to the legislation isn’t yet introduced.

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Kamala Harris addresses LGBTQ community activists at White House roundtable

VP calls herself ‘long-standing ally of the community’

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Vice President Kamala Harris addressed LGBTQ leaders Wednesday at White House roundtable in recognition of Pride Month, declaring “there’s a lot of work to be done” in terms of LGBTQ issues.

“You as community activists, you all have your eyes and ears to the ground,” Harris said in her prepared remarks for the event, which took took place in the Ceremonial Office of the Vice President next to the White House.

Harris, speaking in her prepared remarks that lasted about five minutes, touted the efforts of the Biden administration in advancing LGBTQ rights, including the most recent announcement from the Department of Veterans Affairs it would begin to cover gender reassignment surgery for transgender veterans.

Looking forward, Harris said passage of the Equality Act, legislation that would expand the prohibition of anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal law, was among the work items to be completed.

“We still don’t have full rights when it comes to employment, housing — things of that nature,” Harris said. “So there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Harris, calling herself a “long-standing ally of the community” also identified her past efforts in support of LGBTQ community, going back her time as San Francisco District Attorney when she created for an LGBTQ hate crimes unit, then as California attorney general pushed the state to become the first to outlaw LGBTQ panic defense in court.

“You are the voices of so many who probably will never walk into this room, and probably over the course of time were not thought to be invited into this room,” Harris concluded.

Harris also talked about ongoing violence against the transgender community as well as the wave of new state legislatures against transgender youth, restricting their access to school sports and transition-related care.

The LGTBTQ leaders in attendance at the event were, per the White House:

  • Imani Woody, Founder, Mary’s House
  • Amiri Nash, DC Youth Poet Laureate
  • Marcelle Afram, Chef and Co-Owner, Shababi Palestinian Rotisserie Chicken
  • D Ojeda, Policy Advocate, National Center for Trans Equality
  • Mia Ives-Roblee, Director of Disability Justice Initiative, Center for American Progress 
  • Anthony Musa, Chair, Pride in Federal Service & Sanctions Licensing Officer, U.S. Department of the Treasury
  • Kevin Jordan Contreas, Community Health Supervisor, Whitman-Walker (Frontline Healthcare Worker)

The Washington Blade attempted to shout out a question after Harris’ remarks on efforts to reach out on the Equality Act, but it was drowned out by other reporters’ inquiries as White House staffers escorted the pool out of the Ceremonial Room.

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Chaos erupts at Loudoun County school board meeting over trans students rights proposal

Two people arrested, two others injured

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Loudoun County School Board abruptly ended its meeting Tuesday as chaos erupted after parents who were against the school district’s implementation of Policy 8040 failed to observe rules regarding disruptions and decorum.

Loudoun Now reports Vice Chair Atoosa Reaser made the motion to curtail public comment about an hour after that portion of the meeting began. A brawl then broke out between members of the public, and Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department deputies were called to clear the room. 

Two people were arrested, and two people also suffered minor injuries. The names of those who were taken into custody and injured have not been made public.

The school board resumed its meeting at 6:30 p.m. after it ended the public comment session and deputies cleared the room. The school board entered into closed session to meet with legal counsel and discuss negotiations involving a bid award.

In light of the events that transpired at the school board meeting, a group of LGBTQ groups in neighboring Fairfax County in a statement called upon prominent community members to condemn the anti-transgender hate in Loudoun County.

“A coalition of organizations based in Northern Virginia is calling on local officials … to condemn the rise of anti-LGBTQIA+ hate, in particular animosity towards transgender and gender-expansive students, on display in Loudoun County,” reads the statement 

“In addition, the coalition is asking for the denouncement of support for this hate from other local groups, including the Fairfax County Republican Committee, the Family Foundation of Virginia and the Family Research Council,” it adds. “Finally, the members of these organizations are requesting visible displays of support for LGBTQIA+ students, particularly trans and gender-expansive students, in both words and deeds.”

More than 300 people attended the school board meeting, with many of them opposing Policy 8040 which would allow transgender students to use their preferred name and pronouns regardless of the name and gender in their permanent education record. The proposed policy would also not require them to provide any substantiating evidence.

Parents also expressed their support for Policy 8040 during the public comment session.

They spoke in favor of inclusivity and equality in the Loudoun County School District.

Parents who were against the policy cited the need to respect biology and privacy as their arguments. In addition, some speakers, including former state Sen. Dick Black expressed anger at the previous school year’s events such as the suspension of physical education teacher Tanner Cross after he refused to refer to trans students using their preferred pronouns.  

“The crowd repeatedly cheered public speakers who lashed out at school board members and denounced the plan that would provide bathroom and locker room access based on a student’s gender identity,” WTOP News reports.

Only 51 of the 249 speakers who had signed up for public comment ended up speaking before Reaser’s motion was passed.

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VA to start process of covering gender reassignment surgery for trans veterans

Coverage was rejected even during Obama years

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The Department of Veterans Affairs has become the latest federal government health program to affirm it would begin covering gender reassignment surgery — an option for transgender veterans that was even rejected during the Obama administration.

Randal Noller, a VA spokesperson, said in response to an email inquiry from the Blade the department this summer “will initiate steps to modify rules published in the Code of Federal Regulations (also known as the CFR), to expand VA’s care to transgender Veterans and include gender-affirming surgery.”

“Gender-affirming procedures have been proven effective at mitigating serious health conditions, including suicidality, substance abuse, and dysphoria,” Noller said. “Updating this policy would allow VA to provide transgender and gender diverse Veterans with coordinated, medically necessary, transition-related surgical procedures.”

Noller added the change “would enable a safe, coordinated continuum of care that is Veteran-centric and consistent with VA values of equity and respect for all veterans.” The entire process for implementation, Noller said, can take about two years and includes a period of public comment. 

VA Secretary Denis McDonough first announced the policy change in a speech in Orlando marking the five-year anniversary of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

Once implemented, the VA would join other federal health care systems in offering coverage for gender reassignment surgery, which previously has included Medicare, Medicaid (other some states, like Iowa, are dubiously claiming exemptions), the Federal Employee Health Benefits programs and the U.S. military health care system as a result of the Biden administration reversing the transgender military ban.

The idea of the VA offering coverage for gender reassignment surgery was first raised during the Obama administration. However, in the lame duck session after former President Trump was elected, the then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs scrapped the idea, citing concerns about appropriate funding.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, the estimated number of U.S. veterans who are transgender is more than 134,000, and more than 15,000 transgender people are serving in the military today.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, hailed the change in a statement on Saturday as “another step in the Biden administration’s effort to fight discrimination against transgender people, including our transgender veterans.”

“Every veteran deserves to have access to the health care that they need, and the VA is working to make sure that includes transgender veterans as well,” Keisling said.

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