Connect with us

National

In seesaw experience, LGBTQ fed’l workers enjoy new openness under Biden

Pride Month celebrated after neglect in Trump years

Published

on

Anthony Musa, chair of Pride in Federal Service, said the change for LGBTQ federal workers is dramatic.

With Pride month underway and the coronavirus pandemic getting under control, LGBTQ federal workers are expressing a new sense of ebullience about being able to celebrate openly this season after a more muted experience during the Trump administration.

The new excitement about the openness is the latest chapter for LGBTQ federal employees, who have a unique seesaw experience of having alternating periods of support mixed with periods when the leadership is disengaged or even hostile.

Anthony Musa, chair of Pride in Federal Service for LGBTQ federal employees, said the change in feeling to “a sense of acceptance” is in no small part the result of outreach from the top in the Biden administration.

“There is a strong push by the White House, especially lately in the past couple of weeks to really reach out directly to LGBTQ+ federal employees and ensure that Pride month is celebrated and that employees are supported by both the administration and the political appointees within the individual departments and agencies,” Musa said.

One example of the Biden administration reaching out, Musa said, is the White House Office of Public Engagement coming to affinity groups for LGBTQ federal workers and offering assistance for promotion and coordination of Pride celebrations.

It’s not just Pride events. Musa said the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has been conducting periodic calls about the Federal Health Benefits Program to highlight opportunities for LGBTQ families and health care for transgender and non-binary people.

The Biden administration’s outreach to LGBTQ employees is visible in other ways. For the first time, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm last week raised the Progress Pride flag outside of her department’s headquarters in D.C. in an event recognizing Pride month.

The sense of jubilation outside the Department of Energy was palpable among its LGBTQ employees, who were able to openly celebrate Pride at an official event with a top Biden administration official.

Helping Granholm raise the flag was Tarak Shah, chief of staff for the energy secretary and the first openly gay person to occupy that role.

Shah said via email to the Washington Blade he considers the experience of raising the Pride flag at the Department of Energy “a moment that is incredibly personally meaningful – and one I don’t take for granted.”

“For much of our nation’s history, our institutions have held LGBTQ+ people back,” Shah said. “But, when we raised the flag over DOE this month, we symbolically lifted up our people up, and set an example for the energy and scientific communities around the world. I am proud to be part of an administration that says clearly ‘we have your back’ and for an energy secretary who is a champion for LGBTQ people everywhere.”

The State Department is experiencing a similar change. After the Trump administration in its final years prohibited U.S. embassies from flying the Pride flag on the official pole, the State Department reversed the policy, allowing the rainbow flag to be flown alongside the U.S. flag.

A gay civil service officer at the State Department, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak with the media, said the new policy at U.S. embassies as well as Pride proclamations from Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken are having a positive impact.

“One thing I’ve been noticing is within the GLIFAA group on Facebook, people sharing photos of our embassies and consulates around the world with the [Pride] flag flying on the same pole with the U.S. flag,” the officer said. “Those kinds of signals alone I think are making people feel like it’s just a completely different world instead of months ago for us. You know where we were.”

The new flag policy, the officer said, is consistent with a broader change at the State Department of leadership making diversity writ large a priority, which includes having a diversity and equity official in place who reports directly to the secretary of state.

In contrast, the Trump administration’s approach to LGBTQ employees was largely hands-off — if not a climate of hostility. LGBTQ people who continued to work in the federal government didn’t have the same engagement from the top down and contended with policies frustrating plans for Pride activities.

One example of the Trump administration being counterproductive was the executive order former President Trump signed prohibiting critical race theory in diversity training for federal employees. Because the directive required review of all diversity engagement — even if it didn’t include critical race theory — the executive order hampered organization among LGBTQ employees.

In fact, last year Pride in Federal Service was forced to cancel a summit for LGBTQ federal employees because Trump’s executive order on critical race theory made things too complicated.

Musa said the Trump administration offered “absolutely no outreach or support” for engagement with federal government employees.

“We were offering some training with OPM on diversity and inclusion that we had to suspend because it fit within those guidelines of what was restricted,” Musa said. “So it was difficult to say the least.”

But the change in atmosphere isn’t the result of the change in administration alone. LGBTQ workers are also feeling a sense of renewal with the coronavirus in the rear-window as domestic vaccinations continue to increase and events cancelled in the past year are happening again.

One event in honor of Pride month cancelled last year due to coronavirus, but now happening again, is a celebration at the Pentagon for LGBTQ service members and civilian employees. Although the events at the Defense Department had taken place annually since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was certified in 2011, coronavirus broke the annual streak of that new tradition.

Rudy Coots, president of the LGBTQ employee group DOD Pride, said LGBTQ federal employees are able to reconnect in ways that haven’t been possible for a long time thanks to the lifting of coronavirus restrictions.

“I would say that we’re excited to be able to celebrate Pride month this year in person since COVID-19 prevented us from having an event last year,” Coots said. “So we’re very excited about that, and we’re certainly in the department very excited that the secretary of defense will honor us with remarks as our keynote speaker.”

Also in contrast to the previous administration at the Pentagon event for Pride month is the presence at the event of a Cabinet-level official. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is set to deliver the keynote address, a stark contrast to the Trump years when Pride events within federal agencies were more limited and didn’t include Cabinet-level officials.

With such a distinction between one administration and the next, LGBTQ workers in the federal government acknowledge they face a unique seesaw effect — and the on-and-off experience takes a toll.

In recent years, the neglect and outright hostility during the George W. Bush administration changed when former President Obama took office, but the pendulum swung the other way during the Trump years, and now the situation for LGBTQ federal workers has changed once again with Biden in office.

Musa said the back-and-forth isn’t necessarily as difficult for workers who live in D.C., which has robust legal protections against anti-LGBTQ discrimination, but the situation is different for federal employees in other areas.

“We are a small minority of federal employees; the majority of federal employees work outside the D.C. region,” Musa said. “And I think that really having that back and forth seesaw type thing where things are either really good depending on what administration’s in charge or really bad, is particularly aggravating.”

Musa added the stress of the back-and-forth would be alleviated if a federal law expanding the prohibitions on anti-LGBTQ discrimination, such as the Equality Act, were in place. The bill, however, continues to languish in Congress and is all but dead.

Despite the on-and-off track record, LGBTQ federal workers continue to hold out hope of greater stability in the near future and say as time passes the changes made for a welcoming work environment have become more and more durable.

The gay civil service officer at the State Department said the momentum is toward greater LGBTQ inclusion within the federal workforce and “over time, it will be harder and harder to walk back these changes,” pointing to a few bright spots in the Trump administration.

“They yanked the flag and some other stuff, but they were still fighting to get same-sex spouses accredited and countries that don’t allow you to accredit your spouse,” the officer said. “And so a lot of the things that had changed actually under the Obama administration did remain in place.”

The officer conceded, however, LGBTQ public advocacy in the State Department on behalf of the community, both abroad and within its workforce “really fell away, and then obviously there were specific cases of political attacks against LGBTQ staff that are well documented.”

Musa predicted the situation with LGBTQ employees would evolve to a place of continued support regardless of the administration in power, which he said would stem from civil service leadership’s more consistent support as opposed to political appointees.

“That’s sort of my hope,” Musa concluded. “Worst case scenario we end up back in the same way we were in late 2020, but hopefully we don’t go back to that.”

CORRECTION: An initial version of this article misspelled the name of Rudy Coots. The Blade regrets the error.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Texas

Anti-trans Texas Democrat loses primary to queer woman

Lauren Ashley Simmons defeated state Rep. Shawn Thierry

Published

on

Texas state Rep. Shawn Thierry, picture from a public feed, and Lauren Ashley Simmons, picture courtesy of the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund.

BY ERIN REED | Houston Democratic Texas House of Representatives incumbent Shawn Thierry was trounced in a primary runoff election on Tuesday.

Thierry was one of only a handful of Democrats across the country who broke ranks with her party and voted for a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, delivering a lengthy and misinformation-filled speech in doing so.

After her anti-trans vote, queer union organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons stepped forward to unseat her, earning dozens of influential endorsements from party leaders and organizations. On Tuesday night, Simmons left no doubt about her victory: She resoundingly won by a 65-35 percent margin.

On May 12, Thierry voted to pass a gender-affirming care ban for trans youth, an exceedingly rare vote for a Democrat. In doing so, she spoke on the House floor, calling trans girls “biological males” and arguing that conversion therapy was the true solution to gender dysphoria.

She also voted against every amendment intended to mitigate the harm the bill would cause trans youth in the state. This led to a vote to censure Thierry by the Meyerland Area Democrats, who reported feeling betrayed by her earlier assurances that she was an ally to the LGBTQ community.

Thierry’s district, the 146th District of the Texas House of Representatives, is not a swing district. It includes predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in Houston that tend to vote heavily Democratic. Previously, Thierry had beaten a Libertarian candidate by a 87-13 percent margin, with no Republican running in the race. Thus, whoever wins the Democratic primary in the district is likely to represent the district in the Texas House of Representatives.

Enter Simmons, a queer union organizer who ran in opposition to Thierry’s anti-LGBTQ votes and activism. In her announcement that she would be challenging Thierry in the primary, Simmons stated, “Our current representative has lost her way and now votes with Greg Abbott and Republicans to take away our rights, destroy our public schools, and hurt our kids.”

Simmons quickly garnered major endorsements, an uncommon feat for a primary challenger to an incumbent politician. Equality Texas, the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, and LPAC, all significant LGBTQ organizations, endorsed her.

She also secured major union endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees International Union. Additional support came from Planned Parenthood, Harris County Young Democrats, and Run for Something. High-profile congressional endorsements included Congresswomen Jasmine Crockett and Lizzie Fletcher, as well as former Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

In the lead-up to the election, which was quickly becoming a referendum on whether anti-trans politics could gain a foothold in the Democratic Party, Thierry did not tone down her anti-LGBTQ sentiment. She participated in “faith walks” with major local churches supportive of her stance and relied heavily on Republican donations.

When asked about her anti-trans votes, she called gender-affirming care “Black genocide.” Thierry’s statements were decried by major community members, including Diamond Stylz Collier, who leads the Texas nonprofit Black Trans Women Inc. Collier called the comments disgusting, stating, “We have an increase of trans people dying of violence around the country and a real-life genocide happening in other parts of the globe.”

As votes poured in on Tuesday evening, it became clear that Simmons would be the victor. She secured a decisive majority, with the district voting 65-35 percent in her favor over Thierry. Reflecting on her victory, Simmons stated, “Thanks to your amazing support, we all won BIG last night! We are so grateful, and so proud of the strong message this decisive victory sends to those who seek political gain by using bigotry, hatred, and fear: STOP. Thank you!”

Increasingly, anti-trans influencers are attempting to make inroads into left-leaning politics, a strategy that has seen mixed results internationally. In the U.K., for instance, the Labour Party has been notoriously poor on trans rights.

In the U.S., however, these efforts have met with far less success. Just yesterday in California, an attempt to place a gender-affirming care ban on the ballot was defeated. Similarly, in most states, Democrats have remained steadfast against anti-transgender legislation. Now, even in a conservative state like Texas, it is evident that there is little appetite within the party for sacrificing transgender rights, and doing so could jeopardize one’s political career.

******************************************************************************************

Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

******************************************************************************************

The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

Continue Reading

National

National LGBTQ blood donation drive underway

‘Summer of Giving’ campaign to promote awareness of new donor guidelines

Published

on

Gay men are eligible to donate blood after decades of being banned. (Photo by Belish/Bigstock)

GLAAD, which describes itself as the world’s leading LGBTQ media advocacy organization, and America’s Blood Centers, a national organization of community-based independent blood donation centers, announced on May 22 they have launched an LGBTQ supportive “Summer of Giving” national blood donation drive campaign.

The announcement says the campaign is aimed at encouraging “businesses to host blood drives and all eligible individuals to donate blood in support of the recent FDA eligibility changes that promote fairness and inclusivity in the donation process while maintaining the safety of the blood supply.”

The joint announcement was referring to the final revised blood donation rules issued in May 2023 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that replaced a previous policy requiring men who have sex with men to abstain from sex for three months before they would be eligible to donate blood.

The previous policy was among the gradual changes made by the FDA from its original policy in the 1980s of automatically banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood due to their perceived risk of HIV infection. LGBTQ activists called that policy discriminatory because it banned all gay and bisexual men from donating blood even if they were not as individuals at risk for HIV infection.

The new policy, adopted in May 2023, according to a statement released by the FDA, put in place a screening process that asks all prospective donors regardless of their sexual orientation to answer a series of individual, risk-based questions to determine their eligibility for donating blood.

The FDA statement said implementation of the new policy “will represent a significant milestone for the agency and the LGBTQI+ community” as stated by Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

“The ‘Summer of Giving’ is a celebration of the LGBTQ community and decades of work to remove the stigma too many potential donors have to endure,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in the joint statement. “Removing discriminatory barriers and following facts and science will ease the critical national blood shortage,” Ellis said, adding, “This campaign sends a long-needed message that LGBTQ people are welcome and can generously contribute to their communities to help save lives.”

Kate Fry, CEO of America’s Blood Centers, said in the statement that her organization is proud to join GLAAD to promote the facts surrounding the FDA’s change in blood donor policy, which she said, “prioritizes the safety of the blood supply while bringing more equality to the donation process.”

Fry added, “The Summer of Giving campaign is a unique opportunity for individuals and businesses to donate blood and host blood drives in support of a new era of blood donor eligibility. Together we can help save lives during a time of critical need for the blood community.”

 The joint statement announcing the LGBTQ supportive blood drive says it would take place from May 28, 2024, through National Blood Donation Day on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2024, “in recognition of the critical need for blood donations during the summer months.” According to the statement, “Despite the ongoing demand for blood products, donations typically decline during this period due to travel and the lack of school-based blood drives.”

Under the revised FDA blood donation policy, as was the case with the previous policy, anyone who tests positive for HIV is not eligible to donate blood. The new policy includes these restrictions, which apply to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender:

• Any individual who has had a new sexual partner in the past three months and has engaged in anal sex in the same period is deferred for three months from the most recent sexual contact from donating blood.

 • Any individual who has had more than one sexual partner in the past three months and has engaged in anal sex during that same period is deferred for three months from the most recent sexual contact.

• Any individual who has taken any oral antiviral medication to prevent HIV (PrEP or PEP) is deferred for three months from the most recent dose. These medications may delay detection of HIV and result in false negative test results.

• Any individual who has taken any long-lasting antiviral medication by injection to prevent HIV (PrEP or PEP) is deferred for two years from the time from the most recent injection. These medications may delay detection of HIV and result in false negative test results.

• Any individual who has ever taken any mediation (i.e., ART) to treat an HIV infection is permanently deferred.

GLAAD and America’s Blood Centers say further details about the new FDA blood donation policy and to find the nearest community blood center, interested persons should access glaad.org/tag/summer-of-giving

Continue Reading

California

Effort behind Calif. ballot measure to limit transgender youth’s rights fails

Protect Kids California failed to collect enough signatures

Published

on

Protect Kids California CEO Jonathan Zachreson, right, with Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and an unnamed delegate at the California GOP convention in Anaheim, Calif., on Sept. 29, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Zachreson’s Facebook page)

The effort by the anti-LGBTQ conservative group Protect Kids California, headed by Roseville school board member Jonathan Zachreson, to collect some 550,000 valid signatures to place a transphobic transgender youth proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot has failed.

In a press release on Tuesday, the deadline set by the California secretary of state, the group claimed it had gathered more than 400,000 signatures, falling short of the requisite threshold number for inclusion on the ballot.

Protect Kids California submitted the proposed ballot initiative — presented as the “Protect Kids of California Act of 2024,” last September. The proposed ballot initiative would have:

  • Forced outing of transgender youth to their parents, ensuring that trans kids cannot have safety or privacy in schools if they are not ready to come out to family. Often these policies also include violations of privacy for the student when they discuss their gender identity with school counselors.
  • Banning of transgender youth from sports that match their gender identity, stigmatizing them and often forcing them out of sports altogether. Notably, these provisions typically fail to differentiate between high-stakes elite competitions and casual middle school teams. They also generally don’t provide for pathways to participation like hormone therapy, a method that has been researched and employed to address concerns of potential “unfair advantages” in competitions. California, which allows youth to access gender affirming care, will have youth who never underwent the puberty of their assigned sex at birth who would also be banned under this provision.
  • Banning gender affirming care for trans youth shown to be lifesaving. Gender affirming care is associated with a 73 percent reduction in suicidality and over 50 studies assembled by Cornell University show its benefits. California is one of several states that has recently moved to protect transgender youth and their medical care, and such a restriction would impact a large number of transgender kids in the state.

“We are relieved that anti-LGBTQ+ extremists have failed to reach the required signature threshold to qualify their anti-transgender ballot initiatives to the November 2024 ballot. Equality California will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ+ youth everywhere, and push back against any and all efforts by extremist groups who seek to discriminate against them,” said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. “To every LGBTQ+ youth in California: Know that you are loved and valued.”

The anti-LGBTQ group placed partial blame for the failure on California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who the group had sued over the title and summary he assigned to its ballot measure that would strip rights from trans minors.

The Bay Area Reporter noted the Liberty Justice Center filed a lawsuit on Feb. 13 in Sacramento County Superior Court on behalf of Protect Kids California that alleged Bonta’s personal beliefs led to a biased title and summary. Therefore, the center contended the ballot measure proponents should be given 180 additional days for signature gathering without discounting signatures already collected.

“Respondent [Bonta] has demonstrated that he personally, and in his official capacity, is opposed to any kind of notification by a public school to a parent or guardian that his or her child is exhibiting signs of gender dysphoria when the child asks the school to publicly treat him or her as the opposite sex with a new name or pronouns, and to allow the child to use the sex-segregated facilities of the opposite sex,” claimed the groups in their lawsuit.

But a Sacramento Superior Court judge sided with Bonta in a ruling that was first issued tentatively on April 19 and was made final on April 22. Judge Stephen Acquisto ruled that Bonta’s title and summary are accurate.

“Under current law, minor students have express statutory rights with respect to their gender identity,” Acquisto stated. “A substantial portion of the proposed measure is dedicated to eliminating or restricting these statutory rights … The proposed measure would eliminate express statutory rights and place a condition of parental consent on accommodations that are currently available without such condition.”

“The proposed measure objectively ‘restricts rights’ of transgender youth by preventing the exercise of their existing rights. ‘Restricts rights of transgender youth’ is an accurate and impartial description of the proposed measure,” Acquisto added.

The attorney general’s office has some leeway when it comes to determining ballot titles, the judge noted.

In a statement provided to the Bay Area Reporter on April 24, after news that the decision had been made permanent, Protect Kids California attorney Nicole Pearson stated, “The mental gymnastics used to justify this prejudicial title and summary are not only an egregious abuse of discretion that entitles our clients to an appeal, but a chilling interpretation of law that jeopardizes the very foundation of our constitutional republic. We are reviewing our options for an appeal of these clear errors and will announce a decision shortly.”

Additional reporting by the Bay Area Reporter.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular