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Trump admin makes final rule allowing anti-trans discrimination in health care

Rule change allows providers to deny transition-related care

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Harper Jean Tobin, center, speaks at a rally for transgender health in front of the White House on May 29, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Disregarding pleas from transgender advocates, the Trump administration made final on Friday a rule enabling health care providers to refuse care to transgender people, including gender reassignment surgery.

The rule change at the Department of Health & Human Services reverses an Obama-era regulation interpreting the ban on sex discrimination under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act to apply to cases of transgender discrimination.

The change had been in the works for some time, but HHS announced it was final at 4 pm on a Friday just before the weekend in the middle of Pride Month.

In addition to undoing protections for transgender people, the rule change also rolls back protections based on sex stereotyping, women who have had abortions and those who speak English as a second language.

Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, blasted the Trump administration in a statement for moving forward with the rule change.

“Over the past week, the president has decried the nationwide protests against police brutality as ‘violent,’” Choimorrow said. “What is violent is his administration dismantling critical protections for people seeking health care at a time like this, when we are battling a pandemic. Robbing communities of vital medical care on the basis of our very existence during a public health emergency is violence against communities who have a shared history of discrimination.”

In joint statement, leaders of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus condemned the Trump administration.

“Section 1557 provides critical protection precisely because it recognizes that discrimination can be intersectional – meaning that someone is discriminated against because of multiple identities; for example, because they are Black and a woman, or because they are an immigrant and LGBTQ, or because they are elderly and disabled,” the statement says. “The administration’s efforts to unlawfully roll back Section 1557’s protections is shameful. It not only denies people their lived experiences but undermines their ability to seek health care with dignity.”

Transgender advocates had warned the policy change was coming even almost before the proposed rule was announced. The expectation was based largely on the stewardship of the HHS Office of Civil Rights under Roger Severino, an anti-LGBTQ activist who came to the Trump administration after working at the Heritage Foundation.

Severino defended the rule change in a statement, saying it makes enforcement of Section 1557 consistent with the actual text of the law.

“HHS respects the dignity of every human being, and as we have shown in our response to the pandemic, we vigorously protect and enforce the civil rights of all to the fullest extent permitted by our laws as passed by Congress,” Severino said. “We are unwavering in our commitment to enforcing civil rights in healthcare.” 

According to HHS, the rule change will “relieve the American people of approximately $2.9 billion in undue and ineffective regulatory burdens over five years.”

HHS makes the rule final just before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to deliver a decision on whether anti-LGBTQ discrimination amounts to sex discrimination, thus illegal in employment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The ruling from the Supreme Court would likely have impact on other laws relating to sex discrimination, such as Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. Therefore, HHS makes the decision to implement its rule change just before Supreme Court may issue a ruling in favor of LGBTQ rights, requiring the Trump administration to go back to enforcing the law consistent with the Obama-era regulations.

Anti-LGBTQ groups had been pushing for reversal of the Obama-era rule, which had made religious hospitals subject to penalty if they refused to provide transition-related care or gender reassignment surgery based on religious objections.

Praising HHS for making the rule change final was Mary Beth Waddell, senior legislative assistant for Family Research Council.

“Under the old Obama rule, medical professionals could have been forced to facilitate gender reassignment surgeries and abortions — even if they believed this was a violation of their conscience or believed it harmful to the patient,” Waddell said.

It should be noted in 2016, a federal judge issued an order blocking the U.S. government from enforcing the Obama-era rule and the Trump administration declined to appeal that decision, so altering the regulations in the back end won’t change anything in terms of function. 

White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere noted the court injunction against the Obama-era health care rule in defense of the Trump administration rescinding it.

“The Obama-era regulation, which had been widely criticized and partially enjoined in 2016, imposed confusing and harmful mandates on health plans and providers,” Deere said. “These regulatory burdens went far beyond anti-discrimination requirements contemplated by statute and in some cases prevented health providers from following their conscience. The Trump administration will continue to robustly enforce civil rights statutes to protect individuals from discrimination, and today’s clarification implements the law as written.”

The underlying law, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, is still also in place, so LGBTQ people who feel they’ve experienced discrimination in health care can still sue in court, but they can’t take it up with the Office of Civil Rights at HHS.

Anticipating the move from HHS, LGBTQ groups announced on Friday they’d file lawsuits against the Trump administration for the rollback in transgender rights.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement LGBTQ people “should not live in fear that they cannot get the care they need simply because of who they are.”

“It is clear that this administration does not believe that LGBTQ people, or other marginalized communities, deserve equality under the law,” David said. “But we have a reality check for them: We will not let this attack on our basic right to be free from discrimination in health care go unchallenged. We will see them in court, and continue to challenge all of our elected officials to rise up against this blatant attempt to erode critical protections people need and sanction discrimination.”

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney and health care strategist for the LGBTQ group Lambda Legal, also said his organization would file a lawsuit against the Trump administration.

“We will be challenging the rule because at a time when the entire world is battling a dangerous pandemic, which in the United States has infected more than 2,000,000 people and killed more than 116,000, it is critical for everyone to have ready access to the potentially life-saving health care they need,” Gonzalez-Pagan said.

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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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Undocumented LGBTQ immigrants turn to Fla. group for support

Survivors Pathway is based in Miami

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Survivors Pathway works with undocumented LGBTQ immigrants and other vulnerable groups in South Florida. (Photo courtesy of Francesco Duberli)

 

MIAMI – The CEO of an organization that provides support to undocumented LGBTQ immigrants says the Biden administration has given many of his clients a renewed sense of hope.

“People definitely feel much more relaxed,” Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli told the Washington Blade on March 5 during an interview at his Miami office. “There’s much hope. You can tell … the conversation’s shifted.”

Duberli — a gay man from Colombia who received asylum in the U.S. because of anti-gay persecution he suffered in his homeland — founded Survivors Pathway in 2011. The Miami-based organization currently has 23 employees.

Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli at his office in Miami on March 5, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Duberli said upwards of 50 percent of Survivors Pathway’s clients are undocumented. Duberli told the Blade that many of them are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking and victims of hate crimes based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Part of the work that we have done for years is for us to become the bridge between the communities and law enforcement or the justice system in the United States,” said Duberli. “We have focused on creating a language that helps us to create this communication between the undocumented immigrant community and law enforcement, the state attorney’s office and the court.”

“The fear is not only about immigration,” he added. “There are many other factors that immigrants bring with them that became barriers in terms of wanting to or trying to access the justice system in the United States.”

Duberli spoke with the Blade roughly a week after the Biden administration began to allow into the U.S. asylum seekers who had been forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under the previous White House’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

The administration this week began to reunite migrant children who the Trump administration separated from their parents. Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place.

Duberli told the Blade that Survivors Pathway advised some of their clients not to apply for asylum or seek visa renewals until after the election. Duberli conceded “the truth of the matter is that the laws haven’t changed that much” since Biden became president.

Survivors Pathway has worked with LGBTQ people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in South Florida. American Civil Liberties Union National Political Director Ronald Newman in an April 28 letter it sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called for the closure of the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami, the Glades County Detention Center near Lake Okeechobee and 37 other ICE detention centers across the country.

The road leading to the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami on June 7, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Survivors Pathway responded to trans woman’s murder in 2020

Survivors Pathway has created a project specifically for trans Latina women who Duberli told the Blade don’t know they can access the judicial system.

Duberli said Survivors Pathway works with local judges and police departments to ensure crime victims don’t feel “discriminated, or outed or mistreated or revictimized” because of their gender identity. Survivors Pathway also works with Marytrini, a drag queen from Cuba who is the artistic producer at Azúcar, a gay nightclub near Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

Marytrini and Duberli are among those who responded to the case of Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera, a trans woman and well-known activist and performer from Cuba who was murdered inside her downtown Miami apartment last November. Carey’s boyfriend, who had previously been charged with domestic violence, has been charged with murder.

“That was an ongoing situation,” noted Duberli. “It’s not the only case. There are lots of cases like that.”

Duberli noted a gay man in Miami Beach was killed by his partner the same week.

“There are lots of crimes that happen to our community that never gets to the news,” he said. “We got those cases here because of what we do.”

Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera was murdered in her downtown Miami apartment in November 2020. (Photo courtesy of social media)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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