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

Pride Month celebrated after neglect in Trump years



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.


The White House

White House hosts roundtable with transgender youth

Friday was International Transgender Day of Visibility



Upwards of 1,000 people took part in the March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy in D.C. on March 31, 2023. The White House on the same day held a roundtable with young trans and nonbinary people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The White House said in a statement released Saturday said Presidential Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy “hosted a roundtable at the White House Friday about the joys, hopes and challenges that transgender children are experiencing.”

The roundtable took place on International Transgender Day of Visibility, an annual event occurring on March 31 dedicated to celebrating trans people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by trans people worldwide, as well as a celebration of their contributions to society.

This year’s Transgender Day of Visibility was one of the largest in years.

Huge crowds gathered in cities across the U.S. in celebrations of visibility and protest as over 450 bills that target queer and trans youth are under consideration or have been passed by state legislatures.

“Transgender kids and their parents traveled to the White House from states that have attacked the rights of transgender kids, including Arizona, Texas and Virginia, and shared the devastating effects these political attacks are having on their mental health and wellbeing,” reads a White House readout of the roundtable. 

“As one round table participant shared, it feels scary when the politicians elected to represent you don’t care about your wellbeing. Families participating in today’s roundtable also highlighted that transgender kids can thrive when parents love and affirm their transgender children, and when transgender kids have access to the support they need at school and in their communities,” it notes. “Ambassador Rice and Dr. Murthy reiterated the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to standing up for the rights of transgender kids and their parents, and to challenging state laws that harm transgender kids. They also thanked the families for their unwavering advocacy and bravery in challenging these discriminatory laws.”

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Fla. lawmakers pass bill to expand ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law

Hundreds of students protested in Tallahassee



More than 150 students protest Florida's "Don't Say Gay" expansion bill in Tallahassee, Fla., on March 31, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Equality Florida)

On International Transgender Day of Visibility, hundreds of students from across Florida descended on the Capitol to protest the legislature’s fast-tracking of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ agenda of book banning and classroom censorship and assaults on academic and medical freedom.

Buses arrived from Central and South Florida in a collaboration between high school, college and university students called the Student Unity Coalition.

Organizers marched the coalition from Florida State University campus into the halls of the Capitol building just as the House of Representatives voted 77-35 in favor of House Bill 1069, which would expand the “Don’t Say Gay” law’s censorship provisions through 8th grade, ban parents from requiring the school system use their child’s correct pronouns, and escalating book bans, allowing one person from anywhere in the nation to challenge a book in a Florida school, prompting its immediate removal pending a lengthy review.

“The students who mobilized in the hundreds today sent a clear message about the Florida they want to grow up in,” said Equality Florida Senior Political Director Joe Saunders. “They want a Florida that values freedom — real freedom. Free states don’t ban books. Free states don’t censor LGBTQ people from society or strip parents of their right to ensure their child is respected in school. Students and families across Florida are fed up with this governor’s agenda that has put a target on the backs of LGBTQ people. Shame on DeSantis’ legislative cronies for peddling more anti-LGBTQ lies on the House floor today and ramming through an expansion of the censorship policies that have emptied bookshelves across the state and wreaked havoc on our schools. Shame on them for ignoring the voices outside demanding a state that respects all families and protects all students.”

House passage of HB 1069 comes as last year’s “Don’t Say Gay” law wreaks havoc on Florida’s schools and drives educators and families from the state. DeSantis’ Florida has become synonymous with the sweeping book bans that are targeting books with LBGTQ characters or Black history themes, including “The Life of Rosa Parks” and “And Tango Makes Three.” Students’ graduation speeches have been censored.

Rainbow Safe Space stickers have been peeled from classroom windows. Districts have canceled long standing after school events and refused to recognize LGBTQ History Month.

The rampant right wing censorship has exacerbated Florida’s exodus of educators, with vacant teacher positions ballooning to more than 8,000, and, according to a recent survey from the Williams Institute, has led a majority of LGBTQ parents in the state to consider leaving Florida altogether.

On Thursday, parents and educators held a joint press conference outside the House chamber to decry this legislation and other proposals that would strip them, their students, and their families of the rights to academic and medical freedom.

That same day, Republicans lawmakers rejected numerous reasonable amendments to House Bill 1069, including a Parental Rights amendment by state Rep. Rita Harris that would have allowed parents to write a letter instructing schools on what pronouns their child should be addressed with, a clarifying amendment from state Rep. Ashley Gantt that would have finally defined the term “classroom instruction,” which bill sponsor state Rep. Stan McClain acknowledged has been left undefined and vague, and a marriage equality amendment by state Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby that would have struck outdated and bigoted sex education language that mandates instruction on the benefits of “monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”

The more than 150 high school and college students who rallied in Tallahassee filled the Capitol rotunda just before 1 p.m. ET, with their chants of “this is what democracy looks like” temporarily interrupting a disinformation-filled rant by GOP Representative, and sponsor of the bill to criminalize medical care for transgender youth, Ralph Massullo.

The “Don’t Say Gay” expansion bill’s Senate version, Senate Bill 1320, will move next to its final committee, Fiscal Policy.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Justice Department appeals federal judge’s ACA ruling

Decision impacts PrEP, other preventative health services



The Pride flag over the Justice Department's D.C. headquarters (Photo courtesy of the Justice Department)

Justice Department attorneys filed a notice of appeal Friday with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services after U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that employers cannot be forced to cover specified preventive health care services under the Affordable Care Act.

Thursday’s ruling means that more than 150 million Americans on employer-sponsored health plans will lose some cost-free coverage for immunizations, contraception, cancer screenings and PrEP.

O’Connor’s ruling struck down the recommendations that have been issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force regarding the preventive care treatments provisions required by the ACA directing insurers provide at no cost to the patient.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement on the Justice Department decision to appeal:

“The president is glad to see the Department of Justice is appealing the judge’s decision, which blocks a key provision of the Affordable Care Act that has ensured free access to preventive health care for 150 million Americans. This case is yet another attack on the Affordable Care Act, which has been the law of the land for 13 years and survived three challenges before the Supreme Court.
Preventive care saves lives, saves families money, and protects and improves our health. Because of the ACA, millions of Americans have access to free cancer and heart disease screenings. This decision threatens to jeopardize critical care.
The administration will continue to fight to improve health care and make it more affordable for hard-working families, even in the face of attacks from special interests.”

AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein decried O’Connor’s ruling saying:

“Stripping away access to preventive care will hurt tens of millions of Americans. These services are essential, and eliminating them will have dangerous consequences. While we expect this unconstitutional ruling ultimately will fail, the decision creates uncertainty and is a threat to public health.

“With this devastating ruling, a Trump-appointed judge placed the health of millions of Americans in extreme danger, based on an extremist political agenda. Undermining screenings and treatment for cancer, blood pressure, pregnancy, and mental health doesn’t just hurt individuals — it damages the health of the entire country,” California state Sen. Scott Wiener said.

“The effect of this decision on HIV prevention will be disastrous. In recent years, we’ve made incredible progress reducing the number of new HIV infections, largely because hundreds of thousands of people are now taking PrEP, an HIV prevention drug proven to be essentially 100 percent effective. This decision reverses that progress by allowing health plans to charge patients through the nose for this life-saving medication, raising barriers to access for the communities of LGBTQ people and people of color most at risk. Judge O’Connor will soon have thousands of new HIV cases on his conscience,” Wiener added.

Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization, released the following statement from Executive Director Tony Hoang in response to a ruling from O’Connor:

“Judge Reed O’Connor, already having attempted to invalidate the Affordable Care Act as a whole in 2018, has once again issued a ruling that puts the lives of Americans in danger. Preventive care is essential in helping to screen for potential severe health conditions and attempt to mitigate them — this ruling affects screenings for cancer, diabetes, STDs, cardiovascular disease, and so much more.

More than 150 million Americans currently have private insurance with coverage for preventive care under the ACA, yet a partisan judge in Texas is attempting to single handedly rollback access to these basic health care services. Equality California is committed to ensuring that these critical preventive services remain in place for the health of all Americans. We expect an appeal of this decision immediately. 

Thankfully, most health plans in California are unaffected by today’s ruling because existing state law already requires health plans regulated in California to cover preventive services without cost sharing. Today’s ruling may affect a small subset of employer-sponsored health plans that are not regulated by the state.

Equality California is proud to be sponsoring legislation with Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur and Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, AB (Assembly Bill) 1645, which will strengthen existing law and go even further to ensure that Californians have access to essential preventive services, including STD screening and PrEP for HIV prevention. While right-wing judges and politicians are attempting to roll back our rights and inflict harm on LGBTQ+ people, California will continue doubling down to protect the health and safety of our communities.”

Read the notice of appeal here:

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