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Rachel Levine in ‘rewarding’ visit speaks with trans youth at D.C. health clinic

Hospital an oasis of support amid attacks from states

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Dr. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It’s not unusual for Rachel Levine as assistant secretary for health to visit medical facilities on behalf of the Department of Health & Human Services. But her visit last week to the LGBTQ youth clinic at the Children’s National Hospital was special because she was able to meet with transgender youth as an openly transgender presidential appointee.

The visit on Thursday by Levine at the D.C.-based hospital comes not long after the U.S. Senate approved her appointment, making her the first openly transgender presidential appointee to win a Senate-confirmed position. As such, her visit to the LGBTQ youth clinic, where transgender kids come for transition-related care and health services, held particular significance for the patients.

Levine, speaking with the Washington Blade at the end of her visit, said having the opportunity to speak with both transgender youth and medical professionals testing them was “tremendously, tremendously rewarding”

“It’s tremendously gratifying to be able to speak to the medical professionals and the clinic personnel, but particularly to the youth and their families from my experience,” Levine added. “So I have two aspects of that. One is that I’m a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist. So I’ve been teaching to children and their families my entire career, but the other is coming from my lived experience as an openly transgender woman, and so I find it tremendously rewarding.”

The warm environment of the hospital for children is readily apparent upon entering the main atrium of the building. Lights dressed up as hot air balloons fill the tall ceiling while a nearby TV shows music videos consisting of squares of kids’ faces singing, followed by easy-listening country music and Asian K-pop. Children and their parents await their appointments seated in comfy plush red chairs before white blocks meant for use as tables.

Key to Levine’s visit was taking part in a discussion at the hospital auditorium with three transgender youth and their families who obtain services at the clinic. During the question-and-answer period, Levine shared her experience as a transgender person who underwent transition later in life and went on to tremendous success as a high-ranking presidential appointee.

For the transgender youth, Levine’s presence at the hospital — at a time when state legislatures are busy enacting bills to restrict their access to medical care and school activities — serves as a reminder that barriers based on gender identity are breaking down and the sky’s the limit for their future.

After the question-and-answer session, Levine told the Blade she “learned a lot” about Children’s National, which she called “a world-renowned children’s hospital and academic medical center.”

“I’ve known about it before,” Levine added. “I’m a pediatrician, adolescent medicine specialist, but I learned more about what they’re doing. And I learned specifically about their gender clinic, where they take care of transgender and gender non-conforming youth and got to meet some of the staff as well as the kids and their families.”

The Youth Pride Clinic, which opened in 2015, is one of the few clinics in the nation to provide primary care and mental health services to LGBTQ youth from ages 12 to 22. Among the services offered are hormone replacement therapy, STP/STI treatment and PrEP services as well as individual and family therapy for transgender youth.

Among the transgender youth patients at the clinic who spoke to the Washington Blade was Amir, a 15-year-old Georgia native whose last name as a minor is being withheld for confidentiality purposes.

“I started out in fifth grade coming out as lesbian,” Amir said. “I didn’t even really know, but when I came out to my grandma in Georgia, where I’m from, I still didn’t feel like myself. So then, later on, me and my friend researched, and next thing you know we came across the term transgender, and I was like, ‘This is who I am. This is me.’”

Amir said he began taking shots as part of care regimen in January. Being able to receive care from the Youth Pride Clinic, Amir said, means a lot because he has an opportunity not available to other transgender youths, who face challenges and even hostility as they make the journey to transition. The staffers at the Youth Pride Clinic, Amir said, are “like a second family” who work hard to provide the services they offer.

Sonia Murphy, Amir’s aunt who became his legal guardian, said when she began reaching out for medical help for Amir she found a two- or three-year wait list to get access to treatment, which she said makes her “saddened” such care isn’t widely available.

“There’s a population of kids and parents out there who need the services and just can’t access it because there’s not enough bandwidth, not enough manpower,” Murphy said.

Amir said he’s getting other avenues of support from his two cousins, one who is older at age 18 and one who is younger at age 12. “They’re like sisters to me, so I call them my sisters,” Amir said. Amir also identified two other male cousins as well as his uncles and his aunt.

“They’re all very supportive of me,” Amir said. “My auntie Tonya, for example, Pride month came up, first day, she sent me a paragraph, saying, ‘I’m glad you’re yourself and you’re open to who you are and things like that,” and that I’m not afraid to be who I am around anybody. It’s just things like that. And for my birthday, I had tons of Pride shirts, and I got a rainbow shirt with the fist in the middle for Black Lives Matter, and it was a ton of different things.”

Lawrence D’Angelo, director of the Youth Pride Clinic and an occupational health adolescent medicine specialist, told the Blade being able to start the facility in 2015 in and of itself was one of the key victories for the initiative, although he said the Children’s National has been providing transition-related care since 1998.

“When we started it…we thought that we were going to be running a PrEP clinic, that we were going to be providing preventive services to LGBTQ kids,” D’Angelo said. “The first day, the first patient actually came in and asked for PrEP, and the other six patients that were scheduled that day all wanted transgender services. So, suddenly, it became obvious what we were going to be spending 90 percent of our time doing, which is exactly what we think we should be doing, because that’s where the need is the greatest.”

Despite the advantages of having access to the Youth Pride Clinic, transgender youth have clear challenges and face hostility based simply on their gender identity, especially in a year when state legislatures have in an unprecedented manner enacted legislation against them. The Youth Pride Clinic, in many ways, is an oasis of support.

Arkansas, for example, enacted a measure that would make criminal the kind of services provided at the clinic. Other states have enacted measures prohibiting “biological boys” from participating in sports, which essentially bars transgender girls from participating in sporting events.

While anti-trans measures aren’t being enacted in D.C. or any nearby states, the advancement of anti-trans legislation in states has had a negative effect on transgender patients at the Youth Pride Clinic.

D’Angelo, based on conversations he’s had with the patients, said they’re aware of the wave of legislation, which he said has led to fear, anger and being “unable to understand what is happening and why it’s happening.”

Amir said watching states enact legislation against transgender youth “makes me feel some type of weight,” pointing specifically to the anti-trans sports measures because he said he’d welcome the opportunity to participate in athletics.

“I’m athletic,” Amir said. “I do all types of sports. I play basketball, soccer, I’m going to do boxing…With sports and stuff, I just feel like I want to be able to do everything, just as a regular cisgender person will be able to do,”

Amir, despite the enactment of anti-trans laws, has an optimistic outlook and said the enactment of state measures against transgender youth demonstrates they’re now “on the radar” of the social conservative movement.

“I feel like if everybody who’s a part of LGBTQ and trans together, we can stand up and we can overcome this because the thing is, there are so many people out there who don’t understand what we do, and the thing is that they’re noticing us, so that’s a start to something big.”

Amir (Blade photo by Michael Key)

With many states hostile to transgender youth, others are looking to the federal government for support under the Biden administration. On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against anti-LGBTQ discrimination to the fullest extent possible.

Levine cited an announcement from HHS that resulted from this order on implementing regulations prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination in medical care, reversing a policy under the Trump administration that green lighted discrimination, as one of the ways it has answered that call and helped families like the Youth Pride Clinic.

“So the Affordable Care Act says that you cannot discriminate based upon sex,” Levine said. “The Department Health & Human Services and the Office of Civil Rights has interpreted sex to include sexual and gender minorities, to include sexual orientation and gender identity, which means LGBTQ individuals under that. So we need to look at all aspects of the Affordable Care Act, and to work to implement that interpretation of the statute. That was only done a month or so ago, so we’re going to be working on that now.”

Is there anything more the federal government can do to support the clinic? D’Angelo cited a number of key things already secured, including the hospital being able to offer insurance to patients and the affirmation from HHS against anti-LGBTQ discrimination. More research dollars and greater focus from the National Institutes of Health on gender diverse and sexual minority individuals, D’Angelo said, would also be welcome.

“There are things out there that the federal government can do, but I think…there are limitations of what they can do,” D’Angelo said. “They can’t, unfortunately, effect what’s going on in individual states, which is, in some cases draconian. That’s an awful thought if we were practicing medicine in Arkansas, we could be in jail.”

Meanwhile, Levine said the Biden administration, including Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra, is working on both internal and external policies to facilities like the Youth Pride Clinic to help them secure their place in the health system and reach transgender youth.

“The secretary and I will be doing everything we can to advocate for the LGBTQ community,” Levine said. “So I think we’re going to be working externally, in terms of advocacy, and then we’re going to be working internally in terms of policy.”

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Federal prosecutors declined to prosecute 82% of hate crimes

DOJ report says ‘insufficient evidence’ was main cause

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U.S. Department of Justice

Federal prosecutors, who are referred to as United States Attorneys, declined to prosecute 82 percent of 1,864 suspects investigated for violating federal hate crime laws in all 50 states and D.C. during the years of 2005 to 2019, according to a newly released report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The 15-page report, released on July 8, cites insufficient evidence as the reason suspects were not prosecuted in 55 percent of the federal hate crime cases. The report says “prioritization of federal resources” was the reason for a decision not to prosecute 15 percent of the suspects. 

It says 13 percent of the suspects were not prosecuted by U.S. Attorneys because the suspect was “subject to the authority of another jurisdiction,” and another 13 percent were not prosecuted because the federal government lacked legal jurisdiction to file a hate crime charge. 

The report, entitled Federal Hate Crime Prosecutions, 2005-2019, does not disclose the category of the victims targeted for a hate crime by the suspects whose cases were or were not prosecuted. 

In its annual hate crimes report as required under the U.S. Hate Crimes Statistics Act, the FBI provides information on hate crimes based on a victim’s race/ethnicity/ancestry; religious affiliation; sexual orientation; gender identity; disability; and gender.

The FBI’s most recent hate crimes report released in November 2020, and which covers the year 2019, shows that hate crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation represented 16.8 percent the total number of hate crimes reported to the FBI for that year, the third largest category after race and religion. 

The FBI report shows that 4.8 percent of the total hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2019 were based on the victim’s gender identity. 

These figures suggest that at least some of the hate crimes cases that U.S. Attorneys declined to prosecute were cases involving LGBTQ people as victims. 

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report also does not disclose whether or how many of the suspects who were not prosecuted for a hate crime violation were prosecuted for the underlying criminal offense that was investigated by federal prosecutors as a possible hate crime.

Law enforcement officials, including D.C. police officials, point out that a hate crime is not a crime in and of itself but instead is a designation added to an underlying crime such as assault, murder, destruction of property, and threats of violence among other criminal offenses. Most state hate crimes laws, including the D.C. hate crimes law, call for an enhanced penalty, including a longer prison sentence, for a suspect convicted of a crime such as murder or assault that prosecutors designate as a hate crime. 

Tannyr M. Watkins, a spokesperson for the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, told the Blade in response to a Blade inquiry that the bureau did not have access to data it received from U.S. Attorney’s offices throughout the country about whether hate crime suspects were prosecuted for an underlying crime when the U.S. Attorney’s declined to prosecute the suspect for a hate crime.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report released last month says that out of the 17 percent, or 310, of the hate crime suspects who were prosecuted between 2005-2019, 92 percent, or 284, whose cases were brought before a U.S. District Court, were convicted. And 85 percent of those convicted received a prison sentence, the report says. 

“Forty percent of the 284 hate crime convictions during 2005-2019 occurred in federal judicial districts in six states – New York (30), California (26), Texas (19), Arkansas (15), Tennessee (13), and Pennsylvania (12),” the report states. It says that during this 15-year period all but 10 states saw at least one hate crime conviction. In addition, there were two federal hate crime convictions in D.C. during that period, according to the report.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, unlike U.S. Attorneys in the 50 states, prosecutes criminal offenses under both D.C. law and federal law under D.C.’s limited home rule government. In the 50 states, most hate crimes are believed to be prosecuted by state and local prosecutors.

Former D.C. U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu has stated that the D.C. Office of the U.S. Attorney has prosecuted most criminal cases in which a hate crime arrest was made but the office dropped the hate crime designation due to lack of sufficient evidence. Liu said the office has continued to prosecute the suspect for the underlying charge, which often included a charge of assault or destruction of property.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report says U.S. Attorneys use five federal hate crimes related statutes to prosecute suspects for hate crimes. Among them is the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, which is the only federal hate crimes law that includes protections for LGBTQ people.

LGBTQ activists hailed the Shepard-Byrd law as an important breakthrough because it authorizes federal prosecutors to prosecute anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in states whose hate crimes laws do not cover hate crimes based on the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

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Threats of violence and death shuts down Nebraska drag queen story hour

After discussions and consultations with Lincoln Police, the museum and the LGBTQ+ group citing safety concerns cancelled the event.

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Screenshot of the Lincoln Children’s Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska. ABC News affiliate coverage

LINCOLN – A private LGBTQ+ event scheduled for after hours this past Saturday at the Lincoln Children’s Museum in Nebraska’s capital city was cancelled after the museum and the event’s organizers received a torrent of abusive violent threats including ones that were simply death threats.

Longtime local drag performer Waylon Werner-Bassen, who is the president of the board of directors of LGBTQ advocacy group OUTNebraska had organized the event alongside Drag Queen Story Hour Nebraska.

Bassen told the Lincoln Star-Journal in an interview last week on Tuesday that the scheduled RSVP only two-hour event, which was accessible through Eventbrite, had garnered a conformed attendee list of approximately 50 people.

Mandy Haase-Thomas, director of operations and engagement for the Lincoln Children’s Museum in an email the Star-Journal confirmed the event was invitation-only private, not sponsored by the museum and to be held after museum’s open-to-the-public hours.

According to Bassen, immediately after the event was announced the threats commenced, some of which included death threats. After discussions and consultations with officials from the Lincoln Police Department, the Lincoln Children’s Museum and Bassen’s group citing safety concerns cancelled the event.

Officer Luke Bonkiewicz, a spokesperson for the LPD said that the matter was under investigation and as such would not comment other than to acknowledge that the threats were found to be credible.

In an Instagram post the museum expressed its dismay over the event’s cancellation.

Community reaction was swift and uniformly in support of OutNebraska and the dreg queen story hour event with the city’s Mayor weighing in along with a supervisor with the Lincoln Police Department.

The ACLU of Nebraska along with other supporters which included state lawmakers Senator Adam Morfeld and Senator Tony Vargas also weighed in.

OutNebraska and the museum have both stated that they will reschedule the event. In a Facebook post Out Nebraska noted: “We look forward to working with Lincoln Children’s Museum to reschedule this as an entirely private event. It’s so sad when hate threatens families with children. All parents want their children to be safe. Because we could not be certain that it would be safe we will cancel this weekend and reschedule for another time — this time without a public portion of the invitation. We will be in touch with the families who have already registered with more information about when we are rescheduling.”

In related news the LPD not only recently celebrated LGBTQ Pride Month, but the designated person nominated at the end of June by the Mayor to be the department’s new Chief, is SFPD Commander Teresa Ewins, the San Francisco California Police Department’s highest-ranking LGBTQ member.

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FBI joins investigation into murder of LGBTQ Atlantan

Atlanta Police continue to search for the suspect in the deadly stabbing of a woman asking that anyone with information to please come forward

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Katie Janness and her dog Bowie via Facebook

ATLANTA – The Atlanta Police Department’s murder investigation into this past Wednesday’s stabbing death of 40-year-old Katie Janness and her dog in Piedmont Park, located about 1 mile northeast of downtown between the Midtown and Virginia Highland neighborhoods, has been joined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, (FBI).

WXIA 11 Alive news reported that the FBI is assisting the Atlanta Police Department, (APD) however a spokesperson for the APD told WXIA the department wouldn’t provide any specifics about the FBI’s involvement with the investigation, nor did the Atlanta Field Office of the FBI comment. 

The Georgia Voice, the local LGBTQ newspaper, reported that Janness, a member of Atlanta’s LGBTQ community and a bartender at the LGBTQ-owned Campagnolo, was found stabbed to death in the park on Wednesday (July 28) after walking her dog Bowie, who was also killed.

Janness was found by her partner of six years, Emma Clark, after Clark tracked her with her phone’s GPS.

“Today, I lost the love of my life and baby boy,” Clark said in a post shared to a GoFundMe page. “It was tragic. She was the most intelligent, kind, humble, and beautiful person I have ever known. I wanted to spend every second with her. [Bowie] was the sweetest, most loyal companion. My heart is so very broken, my world will never be the same.”

A vigil was held for Janness on Thursday evening at Piedmont Park.

Atlanta Police continue to search for the suspect in a deadly stabbing of a woman in Piedmont Park

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Janness’ murder is believed to be the first homicide inside the park in 12 years and according to family members of Janness’ longtime girlfriend, a security camera at an intersection near the park’s entrance captured the last known picture of Katherine Janness and her dog before the two were killed.

But other cameras in the area weren’t working, including one facing the entrance. As of Friday the AJC also reported, as of Friday afternoon, Atlanta police had released few details about the murder investigation that has left city residents and parkgoers on edge.

Atlanta Police are asking that anyone with information to please come forward, and tipsters can remain anonymous by contacting Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, texting information to 274637 or visiting the Crime Stoppers website.

APD detectives are also asking those who live in this area to review footage from their security cameras and contact the police if they find anything that may be pertinent to this investigation. The timeframe for review should be between 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday to 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

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