In the year since the Department of Defense’s restrictions on transgender service members went into effect, some who were “grandfathered in” now find themselves fighting COVID-19 while others are barred from serving despite having medical training.
The DoD’s restrictions, detailed in its directive-type-memorandum 19-004, went into effect on April 12, 2019 in response to President Donald Trump’s July 26, 2017 tweet stating the U.S. military would no longer “accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity.”
However, a year after the ban went into effect, transgender service members continue to serve in multiple capacities, including “directly supporting COVID-19 relief and recovery as medical professionals, logisticians, security forces and administrators,” according to SPART*A, a trans service member support organization.
For example, Navy Hospital Corpsman Alonna Lovanh is an out trans woman who tests patients for COVID-19 as a medical laboratory technician.
While she analyzes patient samples, Lovanh must keep an Exception to Policy memo in her uniform “in case anybody asks me about my hair. I can say it is in the correct standards in accordance with my gender because I am female.”
When Lovanh spoke with the Blade, she rarely used the word transgender and spoke with a confidence that emanated from the memo in her pocket exempting her from the ban’s restrictions and allowing her to continue receiving necessary medical treatment. Other trans service members are not as fortunate.
“April 12 created a break between those who already transitioned and those who had not yet,” she explained. “Those who are nonexempt, they have been told they are not allowed to take medications or transition. They would not be allowed to get medical aid as provided by the military. But for me, since I am exempt, I have a care plan for where I am in my transition, to include my medications. But those who are nonexempt, they do not really get a care plan.”
Lovanh’s work, and other COVID-19 relief efforts by trans troops, highlight contradictions addressed by ongoing legal challenges to the ban. Though the DoD states the restrictions do not constitute a “ban,” they restrict the ability of transgender people to serve authentically even during a global crisis.
“It prevents transgender people from joining the military or commissioning,” explained Peter Perkowski, the legal and policy director of the Modern Military Association of America. “Unless you agree to serve in your birth sex and are certified ‘stable’ for 18 months in your birth sex. That’s why it’s a ban [for people who have or want to transition].”
Melody Stachour, a transgender Navy chief petty officer who is also exempt from the ban’s restrictions, stated these restrictions feel more intense than those under the now rescinded “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law banning open service based on sexual orientation.
“Then you would change the pronouns of your partner in order to keep serving,” she said. “Now you have to change your own.”
Last year’s April 12 deadline for transgender troops to medically or socially transition prior to the ban’s implementation created two separate but supposedly equal groups of trans service members. The DoD categorizes them as either “exempt” from the restrictions (i.e. “grandfathered in”) or “nonexempt” and restricted from medically or socially transitioning from their assigned sex at birth.
Perkowski pointed out the ban violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution by creating a sex-based and gender-based classification as well as a due process issue.
“The question becomes whether the government has a legitimate basis to make this decision,” he said, also stating the “special accommodations” a Pentagon spokesperson told NBC News the memo “removes” involves medical care all military personnel should be able to receive and not be restricted from.
Other restrictions include not having a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which the American Psychological Association defines as “discontent with the physical or social aspects of one’s own sex,” and not having a history of “cross-sex hormone therapy” or of gender-affirming surgery, all of which are considered “disqualifying” under the new guidance.
“Individuals who are not exempt must adhere, like all other service members, to the standards associated with their biological sex,” states the DoD memo.
However, Stachour said the new classifications and restrictions only apply to transgender service members.
“Over the past year the policy states that if you were not ‘out’ prior to it, then you were not allowed to serve [openly] and you were not allowed to join the service if you transitioned,” she told the Blade.
While the guidance states service members may not be discharged on the basis of gender identity, it states they can be discharged or face “appropriate disciplinary action” if they are “unable or unwilling” to meet standards “associated with their biological sex.”
A nonexempt transgender service member initially reached out to the Blade to discuss life under the DoD restrictions, but later changed their mind out of fear of discharge or other negative consequences if outed. The current policy does state that transgender service members or potential recruits may seek waivers from these restrictions, but no waiver has yet has been approved or denied.
Although, according to SPART*A, many have applied in the past year.
Bree Fram, SPART*A’s communications director and a transgender Air Force lieutenant colonel who is exempt from the ban, told the Blade they were aware of around “20 or more” nonexempt trans service members who applied for waivers.
“They are understanding that they are taking a risk and should they be denied, they can be separated,” Fram explained. “Once that waiver is denied, they can face discharge. Anyone who is putting a waiver in should consider that at the end of that process could be a discharge.”
However, many nonexempt trans service members are willing to accept the risk because an approved waiver grants them the protections and stability of exempt status.
“The waiver allows you to be an exempt individual,” Fram said. “And fall under those criteria for stability.”
According to the DoD’s governing memorandum, “Service members who are exempt may not be separated, discharged, or denied reenlistment or continuation of service solely on the basis of gender identity,” and they will be treated “in a manner consistent” with a cisgender service member.
“In case I wanted to go use the female head,” Lovanh said. “I can show anyone who questions me the [Exception to Policy] memo and say I am allowed to be here because the Navy recognizes me as female.”
But the process for obtaining a waiver is long and difficult, and in the past year only one has made it to a branch Secretary’s desk.
Even the current pandemic crisis has not eased the process for those with medical expertise. Fram told the Blade of a doctor who is having difficulty getting a waiver to join the service.
“I know a trans physician who can’t get traction from a recruiter to get into the service though he could be valuable in the fight against COVID-19,” she said.
The physician, who asked not to be identified so as not to further complicate his entry efforts, stated he had spoken with “every single branch and every form of service” to include active duty and National Guard components with similar results.
Stachour, who serves as a mentor for both lower-ranking officers and enlisted sailors, said the current crisis also prevents her from administering effective face-to-face career guidance to those she works with.
“One of the biggest struggles for the folks assigned to me,” she said. “is I don’t see them as much as I used to … so I wind up reaching out during my off hours. I can’t get a quick two minute update when we are walking out to our cars. The interpersonal mentoring is challenged.”
Both Stachour and Fram were chosen by cisgender senior leadership to serve as advisers partially because of their being transgender and the unique and empathetic experience it brings.
“Because I am senior enlisted and I’m trans, that means the chiefs look to me when trans people start showing up in their unit,” Stachour said. “I wind up mentoring sailors all around the world, whether they are assigned to me or not because I have an expertise they don’t…This is part of the makeup of a good chief.”
Similarly, Fram was selected for an advising role because of the insights her enriched perspective brings.
“I was hired for a position because I was trans,” she recalled. “I had a long sit down with a new general officer and a week later I was asked to be his executive officer. Our discussion was about trans issues and he just wanted to learn because I had made a good impression on him.”
While Fram pointed out that exchange occurred prior to the implementation of the current restrictive policy, she still says overall her experience in her commands have been positive.
“I came out on the day the ban was first lifted in 2016, and I received incredible support from my coworkers,” she said. “I continue to receive support from my leadership. The welcome from my team that works for me today is fantastic.”
Lovanh also considers herself lucky to have come out prior to the ban and to be in the medical field.
“My peers in in my opinion and experience have been all accepting,” she said. “I was very lucky to have a command who made sure I was comfortable. Sure, there are struggles, but in the medical community there is not having to explain too much. The information is available and easy to understand.”
But Stachour, Fram and Lovanh all worry for those who were caught on the wrong side of the April 12, 2019 deadline. They all see the nonexempt are having very different experiences under the ban.
“On a personal level for me, it has been about trying to assist others,” Fram said. “Particularly those who are nonexempt. As a senior officer, I continue to face a very welcoming military, but there are others who don’t face the same situation. Trying to make sure they are taken care of has had an impact on me. We want to make sure they can get medically necessary military care so they can focus on the mission and fully dedicate themselves to it.”
Stachour also pointed to this guilt of the exempt for the nonexempt as one motivation for her effective mentoring of all sailors, including those who are trans.
“Back in 2015, I knew my goal of transition was counter to the goal of staying in,” she recalled. “At that time those goals were in conflict due to the nature of the policy. So, [sailors] sometimes need to learn to put some goals on the back burner and let them simmer for right now, so when we do have the opportunity to re-attack that goal, we can do it with a richness that is not available to us right now.”
The Modern Military Association is currently attacking the ban with a case currently pending a discovery ruling. MMA has requested documentation from the government to support its basis for the ban.
“They have produced a lot of documents,” Perkowski said. “We are requesting a subset of that.”
He stated the October court date on the discovery issue is just one of two “clocks” determining the outcome of the ban.
“The second clock is the election in November,” Perkowski told the Blade. “If there is a change in administration — if Joe Biden becomes president, then this could all become moot when he takes office in January, since he said he will reverse this ban.”
Stachour and Fram also stated this could all end with a decision from the voters in November.
“The ban is going to stand until a new president is in office,” Stachour said before adding hopefully, “But I don’t think this ban is going to last forever.”
Fram agreed, stating, “A lot depends on how the election unfolds in the fall. If this situation continues, I encourage [trans youth] to continue to prepare for future entry into the service.”
In the meantime, Stachour, who resides in D.C. under a stay-at-home order, looks forward to the time when both COVID-19 and trans service restrictions are lifted. Then the Minnesota native can fully enjoy shows like “Rent” again at the National Theater with friends who are no longer “nonexempt.”
“Hold your head high,” Lovanh encouraged other trans people still hoping to serve. “And the day will come again when you will be able to come in and wear the same uniform I am. It may not be right now, but your time will come.”
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Honoring the legacy of New Orleans’ 1973 UpStairs Lounge fire
Why the arson attack that killed 32 gay men still resonates 50 years later
On June 23 of last year, I held the microphone as a gay man in the New Orleans City Council Chamber and related a lost piece of queer history to the seven council members. I told this story to disabuse all New Orleanians of the notion that silence and accommodation, in the face of institutional and official failures, are a path to healing.
The story I related to them began on a typical Sunday night at a second-story bar on the fringe of New Orleans’ French Quarter in 1973, where working-class men would gather around a white baby grand piano and belt out the lyrics to a song that was the anthem of their hidden community, “United We Stand” by the Brotherhood of Man.
“United we stand,” the men would sing together, “divided we fall” — the words epitomizing the ethos of their beloved UpStairs Lounge bar, an egalitarian free space that served as a forerunner to today’s queer safe havens.
Around that piano in the 1970s Deep South, gays and lesbians, white and Black queens, Christians and non-Christians, and even early gender minorities could cast aside the racism, sexism, and homophobia of the times to find acceptance and companionship for a moment.
For regulars, the UpStairs Lounge was a miracle, a small pocket of acceptance in a broader world where their very identities were illegal.
On the Sunday night of June 24, 1973, their voices were silenced in a murderous act of arson that claimed 32 lives and still stands as the deadliest fire in New Orleans history — and the worst mass killing of gays in 20th century America.
As 13 fire companies struggled to douse the inferno, police refused to question the chief suspect, even though gay witnesses identified and brought the soot-covered man to officers idly standing by. This suspect, an internally conflicted gay-for-pay sex worker named Rodger Dale Nunez, had been ejected from the UpStairs Lounge screaming the word “burn” minutes before, but New Orleans police rebuffed the testimony of fire survivors on the street and allowed Nunez to disappear.
As the fire raged, police denigrated the deceased to reporters on the street: “Some thieves hung out there, and you know this was a queer bar.”
For days afterward, the carnage met with official silence. With no local gay political leaders willing to step forward, national Gay Liberation-era figures like Rev. Troy Perry of the Metropolitan Community Church flew in to “help our bereaved brothers and sisters” — and shatter officialdom’s code of silence.
Perry broke local taboos by holding a press conference as an openly gay man. “It’s high time that you people, in New Orleans, Louisiana, got the message and joined the rest of the Union,” Perry said.
Two days later, on June 26, 1973, as families hesitated to step forward to identify their kin in the morgue, UpStairs Lounge owner Phil Esteve stood in his badly charred bar, the air still foul with death. He rebuffed attempts by Perry to turn the fire into a call for visibility and progress for homosexuals.
“This fire had very little to do with the gay movement or with anything gay,” Esteve told a reporter from The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I do not want my bar or this tragedy to be used to further any of their causes.”
Conspicuously, no photos of Esteve appeared in coverage of the UpStairs Lounge fire or its aftermath — and the bar owner also remained silent as he witnessed police looting the ashes of his business.
“Phil said the cash register, juke box, cigarette machine and some wallets had money removed,” recounted Esteve’s friend Bob McAnear, a former U.S. Customs officer. “Phil wouldn’t report it because, if he did, police would never allow him to operate a bar in New Orleans again.”
The next day, gay bar owners, incensed at declining gay bar traffic amid an atmosphere of anxiety, confronted Perry at a clandestine meeting. “How dare you hold your damn news conferences!” one business owner shouted.
Ignoring calls for gay self-censorship, Perry held a 250-person memorial for the fire victims the following Sunday, July 1, culminating in mourners defiantly marching out the front door of a French Quarter church into waiting news cameras. “Reverend Troy Perry awoke several sleeping giants, me being one of them,” recalled Charlene Schneider, a lesbian activist who walked out of that front door with Perry.
Esteve doubted the UpStairs Lounge story’s capacity to rouse gay political fervor. As the coroner buried four of his former patrons anonymously on the edge of town, Esteve quietly collected at least $25,000 in fire insurance proceeds. Less than a year later, he used the money to open another gay bar called the Post Office, where patrons of the UpStairs Lounge — some with visible burn scars — gathered but were discouraged from singing “United We Stand.”
New Orleans cops neglected to question the chief arson suspect and closed the investigation without answers in late August 1973. Gay elites in the city’s power structure began gaslighting the mourners who marched with Perry into the news cameras, casting suspicion on their memories and re-characterizing their moment of liberation as a stunt.
When a local gay journalist asked in April 1977, “Where are the gay activists in New Orleans?,” Esteve responded that there were none, because none were needed. “We don’t feel we’re discriminated against,” Esteve said. “New Orleans gays are different from gays anywhere else… Perhaps there is some correlation between the amount of gay activism in other cities and the degree of police harassment.”
An attitude of nihilism and disavowal descended upon the memory of the UpStairs Lounge victims, goaded by Esteve and fellow gay entrepreneurs who earned their keep via gay patrons drowning their sorrows each night instead of protesting the injustices that kept them drinking.
Into the 1980s, the story of the UpStairs Lounge all but vanished from conversation — with the exception of a few sanctuaries for gay political debate such as the local lesbian bar Charlene’s, run by the activist Charlene Schneider.
By 1988, the 15th anniversary of the fire, the UpStairs Lounge narrative comprised little more than a call for better fire codes and indoor sprinklers. UpStairs Lounge survivor Stewart Butler summed it up: “A tragedy that, as far as I know, no good came of.”
Finally, in 1991, at Stewart Butler and Charlene Schneider’s nudging, the UpStairs Lounge story became aligned with the crusade of liberated gays and lesbians seeking equal rights in Louisiana. The halls of power responded with intermittent progress. The New Orleans City Council, horrified by the story but not yet ready to take its look in the mirror, enacted an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting gays and lesbians in housing, employment, and public accommodations that Dec. 12 — more than 18 years after the fire.
“I believe the fire was the catalyst for the anger to bring us all to the table,” Schneider told The Times-Picayune, a tacit rebuke to Esteve’s strategy of silent accommodation. Even Esteve seemed to change his stance with time, granting a full interview with the first UpStairs Lounge scholar Johnny Townsend sometime around 1989.
Most of the figures in this historic tale are now deceased. What’s left is an enduring story that refused to go gently. The story now echoes around the world — a musical about the UpStairs Lounge fire recently played in Tokyo, translating the gay underworld of the 1973 French Quarter for Japanese audiences.
When I finished my presentation to the City Council last June, I looked up to see the seven council members in tears. Unanimously, they approved a resolution acknowledging the historic failures of city leaders in the wake of the UpStairs Lounge fire.
Council members personally apologized to UpStairs Lounge families and survivors seated in the chamber in a symbolic act that, though it could not bring back those who died, still mattered greatly to those whose pain had been denied, leaving them to grieve alone. At long last, official silence and indifference gave way to heartfelt words of healing.
The way Americans remember the past is an active, ongoing process. Our collective memory is malleable, but it matters because it speaks volumes about our maturity as a people, how we acknowledge the past’s influence in our lives, and how it shapes the examples we set for our youth. Do we grapple with difficult truths, or do we duck accountability by defaulting to nostalgia and bluster? Or worse, do we simply ignore the past until it fades into a black hole of ignorance and indifference?
I believe that a factual retelling of the UpStairs Lounge tragedy — and how, 50 years onward, it became known internationally — resonates beyond our current divides. It reminds queer and non-queer Americans that ignoring the past holds back the present, and that silence is no cure for what ails a participatory nation.
Silence isolates. Silence gaslights and shrouds. It preserves the power structures that scapegoat the disempowered.
Solidarity, on the other hand, unites. Solidarity illuminates a path forward together. Above all, solidarity transforms the downtrodden into a resounding chorus of citizens — in the spirit of voices who once gathered ‘round a white baby grand piano and sang, joyfully and loudly, “United We Stand.”
Robert W. Fieseler is a New Orleans-based journalist and the author of “Tinderbox: the Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation.”
New Supreme Court term includes critical LGBTQ case with ‘terrifying’ consequences
Business owner seeks to decline services for same-sex weddings
The U.S. Supreme Court, after a decision overturning Roe v. Wade that still leaves many reeling, is starting a new term with justices slated to revisit the issue of LGBTQ rights.
In 303 Creative v. Elenis, the court will return to the issue of whether or not providers of custom-made goods can refuse service to LGBTQ customers on First Amendment grounds. In this case, the business owner is Lorie Smith, a website designer in Colorado who wants to opt out of providing her graphic design services for same-sex weddings despite the civil rights law in her state.
Jennifer Pizer, acting chief legal officer of Lambda Legal, said in an interview with the Blade, “it’s not too much to say an immeasurably huge amount is at stake” for LGBTQ people depending on the outcome of the case.
“This contrived idea that making custom goods, or offering a custom service, somehow tacitly conveys an endorsement of the person — if that were to be accepted, that would be a profound change in the law,” Pizer said. “And the stakes are very high because there are no practical, obvious, principled ways to limit that kind of an exception, and if the law isn’t clear in this regard, then the people who are at risk of experiencing discrimination have no security, no effective protection by having a non-discrimination laws, because at any moment, as one makes their way through the commercial marketplace, you don’t know whether a particular business person is going to refuse to serve you.”
The upcoming arguments and decision in the 303 Creative case mark a return to LGBTQ rights for the Supreme Court, which had no lawsuit to directly address the issue in its previous term, although many argued the Dobbs decision put LGBTQ rights in peril and threatened access to abortion for LGBTQ people.
And yet, the 303 Creative case is similar to other cases the Supreme Court has previously heard on the providers of services seeking the right to deny services based on First Amendment grounds, such as Masterpiece Cakeshop and Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. In both of those cases, however, the court issued narrow rulings on the facts of litigation, declining to issue sweeping rulings either upholding non-discrimination principles or First Amendment exemptions.
Pizer, who signed one of the friend-of-the-court briefs in opposition to 303 Creative, said the case is “similar in the goals” of the Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation on the basis they both seek exemptions to the same non-discrimination law that governs their business, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, or CADA, and seek “to further the social and political argument that they should be free to refuse same-sex couples or LGBTQ people in particular.”
“So there’s the legal goal, and it connects to the social and political goals and in that sense, it’s the same as Masterpiece,” Pizer said. “And so there are multiple problems with it again, as a legal matter, but also as a social matter, because as with the religion argument, it flows from the idea that having something to do with us is endorsing us.”
One difference: the Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation stemmed from an act of refusal of service after owner, Jack Phillips, declined to make a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex couple for their upcoming wedding. No act of discrimination in the past, however, is present in the 303 Creative case. The owner seeks to put on her website a disclaimer she won’t provide services for same-sex weddings, signaling an intent to discriminate against same-sex couples rather than having done so.
As such, expect issues of standing — whether or not either party is personally aggrieved and able bring to a lawsuit — to be hashed out in arguments as well as whether the litigation is ripe for review as justices consider the case. It’s not hard to see U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who has sought to lead the court to reach less sweeping decisions (sometimes successfully, and sometimes in the Dobbs case not successfully) to push for a decision along these lines.
Another key difference: The 303 Creative case hinges on the argument of freedom of speech as opposed to the two-fold argument of freedom of speech and freedom of religious exercise in the Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation. Although 303 Creative requested in its petition to the Supreme Court review of both issues of speech and religion, justices elected only to take up the issue of free speech in granting a writ of certiorari (or agreement to take up a case). Justices also declined to accept another question in the petition request of review of the 1990 precedent in Smith v. Employment Division, which concluded states can enforce neutral generally applicable laws on citizens with religious objections without violating the First Amendment.
Representing 303 Creative in the lawsuit is Alliance Defending Freedom, a law firm that has sought to undermine civil rights laws for LGBTQ people with litigation seeking exemptions based on the First Amendment, such as the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.
Kristen Waggoner, president of Alliance Defending Freedom, wrote in a Sept. 12 legal brief signed by her and other attorneys that a decision in favor of 303 Creative boils down to a clear-cut violation of the First Amendment.
“Colorado and the United States still contend that CADA only regulates sales transactions,” the brief says. “But their cases do not apply because they involve non-expressive activities: selling BBQ, firing employees, restricting school attendance, limiting club memberships, and providing room access. Colorado’s own cases agree that the government may not use public-accommodation laws to affect a commercial actor’s speech.”
Pizer, however, pushed back strongly on the idea a decision in favor of 303 Creative would be as focused as Alliance Defending Freedom purports it would be, arguing it could open the door to widespread discrimination against LGBTQ people.
“One way to put it is art tends to be in the eye of the beholder,” Pizer said. “Is something of a craft, or is it art? I feel like I’m channeling Lily Tomlin. Remember ‘soup and art’? We have had an understanding that whether something is beautiful or not is not the determining factor about whether something is protected as artistic expression. There’s a legal test that recognizes if this is speech, whose speech is it, whose message is it? Would anyone who was hearing the speech or seeing the message understand it to be the message of the customer or of the merchants or craftsmen or business person?”
Despite the implications in the case for LGBTQ rights, 303 Creative may have supporters among LGBTQ people who consider themselves proponents of free speech.
One joint friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court, written by Dale Carpenter, a law professor at Southern Methodist University who’s written in favor of LGBTQ rights, and Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment legal scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, argues the case is an opportunity to affirm the First Amendment applies to goods and services that are uniquely expressive.
“Distinguishing expressive from non-expressive products in some contexts might be hard, but the Tenth Circuit agreed that Smith’s product does not present a hard case,” the brief says. “Yet that court (and Colorado) declined to recognize any exemption for products constituting speech. The Tenth Circuit has effectively recognized a state interest in subjecting the creation of speech itself to antidiscrimination laws.”
Oral arguments in the case aren’t yet set, but may be announced soon. Set to defend the state of Colorado and enforcement of its non-discrimination law in the case is Colorado Solicitor General Eric Reuel Olson. Just this week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would grant the request to the U.S. solicitor general to present arguments before the justices on behalf of the Biden administration.
With a 6-3 conservative majority on the court that has recently scrapped the super-precedent guaranteeing the right to abortion, supporters of LGBTQ rights may think the outcome of the case is all but lost, especially amid widespread fears same-sex marriage would be next on the chopping block. After the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against 303 Creative in the lawsuit, the simple action by the Supreme Court to grant review in the lawsuit suggests they are primed to issue a reversal and rule in favor of the company.
Pizer, acknowledging the call to action issued by LGBTQ groups in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, conceded the current Supreme Court issuing the ruling in this case is “a terrifying prospect,” but cautioned the issue isn’t so much the makeup of the court but whether or not justices will continue down the path of abolishing case law.
“I think the question that we’re facing with respect to all of the cases or at least many of the cases that are in front of the court right now, is whether this court is going to continue on this radical sort of wrecking ball to the edifice of settled law and seemingly a goal of setting up whole new structures of what our basic legal principles are going to be. Are we going to have another term of that?” Pizer said. “And if so, that’s terrifying.”
Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman, named president of Human Rights Campaign
Progressive activist a veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund
Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman and veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, is to become the next president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBTQ group announced on Tuesday.
Robinson is set to become the ninth president of the Human Rights Campaign after having served as executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and more than 12 years of experience as a leader in the progressive movement. She’ll be the first Black, queer woman to serve in that role.
“I’m honored and ready to lead HRC — and our more than three million member-advocates — as we continue working to achieve equality and liberation for all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people,” Robinson said. “This is a pivotal moment in our movement for equality for LGBTQ+ people. We, particularly our trans and BIPOC communities, are quite literally in the fight for our lives and facing unprecedented threats that seek to destroy us.”
The next Human Rights Campaign president is named as Democrats are performing well in polls in the mid-term elections after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving an opening for the LGBTQ group to play a key role amid fears LGBTQ rights are next on the chopping block.
“The overturning of Roe v. Wade reminds us we are just one Supreme Court decision away from losing fundamental freedoms including the freedom to marry, voting rights, and privacy,” Robinson said. “We are facing a generational opportunity to rise to these challenges and create real, sustainable change. I believe that working together this change is possible right now. This next chapter of the Human Rights Campaign is about getting to freedom and liberation without any exceptions — and today I am making a promise and commitment to carry this work forward.”
The Human Rights Campaign announces its next president after a nearly year-long search process after the board of directors terminated its former president Alphonso David when he was ensnared in the sexual misconduct scandal that led former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign. David has denied wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit against the LGBTQ group alleging racial discrimination.
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