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House Democrats renew calls for ICE to release trans, HIV-positive detainees

Letter notes ‘grave concerns’ and ‘deficiencies’ in detention centers

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A group of 30 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday called for the release of all transgender people and people with HIV/AIDS who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.

“Immigration detention is notoriously dangerous and harmful for transgender immigrants, who are likely to be seeking asylum based on transphobic violence they have already faced, and because of such histories are likely to suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions,” wrote U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and the other members of Congress in a letter they sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and acting ICE Director Tae Johnson. “Transgender individuals also are more likely to require specialized medical care including hormone replacement therapy and HIV treatment.”

The letter notes there “are grave concerns regarding ICE safely detaining transgender individuals.”

ICE in 2017 opened a pod at the privately-run Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico that specifically housed trans women. The letter notes it “was plagued by alarming deficiencies in medical care, including ‘hundreds of unanswered requests for medical attention, poor quarantine procedures, and deficient treatment for mental illnesses and other chronic diseases'” that federal inspections documented.

“These deficiencies — which included failures to complete laboratory orders or ensure that HIV-positive individuals were seen by specialists — were so severe as to result in ICE transferring all transgender individuals and others with chronic illness out of the facility,” reads the letter.

“Even outside of this particular housing unit, there is a lack of adequate medical care throughout these detention centers for those with chronic health conditions, and evidence has overwhelmingly shown that those with HIV receive woefully insufficient and inconsistent treatment for their condition,” adds the letter. “HIV requires regular and regimented treatment to be managed, and for those living with HIV, such poor medical care could quickly lead to death or serious health consequences.”

The Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

The members of Congress in their letter conclude ICE “is not fully capable of safely and humanely detaining transgender and HIV+ individuals.”

They specifically request Mayorkas and Johnson, among other things, provide monthly statistics on the number of trans women and men and people with HIV/AIDS who are in ICE custody. The members of Congress also ask for information about ICE’s work with non-governmental organizations that focuses on the release of trans detainees and efforts to secure legal representation for them.

“We look forward to working with you on how we can best support LGBTQ individuals in ICE detention,” reads the letter.

Quigley is among the House Democrats who have previously called for ICE to release all trans people in its custody.

More than 100 people marched to the White House on June 23 to demand the Biden administration end the detention of trans people and people with HIV/AIDS in ICE facilities. Immigration Equality, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Transgender Law Center, the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, the Center for Victims of Torture, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Mijente and the National Immigrant Justice Center made the same request in a letter they sent to Mayorkas and Johnson on June 16.

Two trans women — Victoria Arellano and Roxsana Hernández — died while in ICE custody in 2007 and 2018 respectively. Another trans woman, Johana “Joa” Medina León, passed away in 2019, three days after ICE released her from its custody.

Arellano, Hernández and Medina were all living with HIV.

The Washington Blade has reached out to ICE for comment on the members of Congress’ letter.

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Politics

HRC invests $15 million in six battleground states ahead of November elections

Group made announcement on Monday

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Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Human Rights Campaign will target a record-high 75 million pro-LGBTQ voters nationwide with a public education and mobilization campaign ahead of the 2024 elections, which includes a $15 million investment in six key battleground states, the group announced on Monday.

The initiative will focus on voters in states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Nevada with “hired staff, field efforts, events, paid advertising, mobilization, and grassroots engagement,” HRC wrote in a press release announcing the campaign, which is titled “We Show Up: Equality Wins.”

HRC defines Equality Voters as constituents who are “united by the advancement of LGBTQ+ equality, and are younger, more racially diverse, and more female than the general electorate.”

Among those who would vote for third-party candidates if the election were held today — 22 percent, or 16.5 million people — survey results show half would support President Joe Biden if they reach the understanding that their third-party vote would support Donald Trump’s bid for the White House.

Along with re-electing Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, HRC’s campaign will work “to defeat escalating anti-trans attacks” and “electing historic LGBTQ+ and pro-equality candidates down-the-ballot,” the group wrote.

HRC will support LGBTQ candidates in California, Texas, New York, and Delaware with the aim of helping to elect a pro-equality majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.  

“Trump and his MAGA allies are promising a hate-filled agenda that hurts everyone who doesn’t look and live like them,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said. “They think they can bully and scare us and take away our fundamental freedoms. But the LGBTQ+ community has won these hard fights before — and we refuse to go back.”

HRC noted “Trump has promised to not just undo all the progress made by the Biden-Harris administration; but to erase LGTBQ+ people from federal law, further dismantle access to health care for transgender people, and dictate curriculum for school children.” 

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House ethics complaint filed over GOP staffer’s anti-trans email

Rep. Carol Miller’s chief of staff defended his actions

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Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), in 2012. (Screenshot/YouTube San Diego City Beat)

A federal government employee has filed a complaint to the U.S. House Ethics Committee over an email they received from Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), which contained combative and anti-trans language. 

The Washington Blade has seen the correspondence between the parties, in which the confrontation was apparently kicked off when the congresswoman’s top aide received an email that included the sender’s preferred pronouns in the signature box, triggering his reply.

Donnellan wrote, “As a father, it is disgusting that anyone would ever tell my son or daughter that something is wrong with them and they should take sterilizing hormones or have surgery to cut off their genitals.”  

“The fact that you support that ideology by putting pronouns in your signature is awful,” he said, adding, “You’re disgusting and should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t email me or anyone from my office ever again.” 

A senior government official told the Blade in a written statement that the email was not out of character for Donnellan:

 “I’ve heard from two colleagues several months apart about two separate transphobic emails, using identical language, from Matthew. Unfortunately these emails—though inconsistent with the typical collegiality one would expect from a Chief of Staff on the Hill—is likely a reflection of both increased partisanship on the Hill and a rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from the right.

“Not only is this virtual, hate-filled temper tantrum unbecoming of a Chief of Staff, inappropriate, and unprofessional, it also hurts his boss’s constituents. DC is built on congressional staff, members of Congress, and executive officials being able to put aside their differences to find unlikely areas of commonality where they can work together. 

“Even some of the most progressive members, like [U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Jerry Nadler (N.Y.)] have partnered with some of the most conservative members, like [U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio)], respectively, when they can find common ground. 

“Matthew’s refusal to work with an agency department or office just because a staffer has pronouns in their signature isn’t just hateful—it means he’s cutting off opportunities to deliver results for his boss’s constituents, especially in a divided Washington.”

Donnellan told the Blade by email that his response to the government employee is “a reply I send to anyone who uses pronouns or pushes gender ideology in any way.” 

“No one is ‘born in the wrong body’ and it’s horrific to tell anyone that they need genital mutilation surgery or sterilizing drugs,” he said. “People who push gender ideology, actively or passively, are awful and should be confronted every single time.”

“If the blunt reality of the terrible things that they are pushing is offensive to them then they should strongly reconsider what it this they believe and the harm that they are doing rather than simply trying to conform to liberal luxury beliefs,” Donnellan said. 

Addressing the complaint filed against him, Donnellan said, “I haven’t heard anything from Ethics and doubt that I will, they generally don’t waste their time with sheltered progressives being forced into the real world for the first time.”

A House Ethics Committee spokesperson declined to comment when asked if they could confirm receipt of the complaint.

Asked whether Miller might object to the way that she and her Congressional office are represented with these confrontational email exchanges, Donnellan said his boss’s “motto is ‘cut the bull’, and gender ideology is some of the biggest bull there is.”   

On Friday, the congresswoman’s son Chris Miller placed third in the Republican primary contest for West Virginia’s gubernatorial race, where the state’s Attorney General Patrick Morrissey secured his party’s nomination in a decisive victory with 33 percent of the vote. 

Leading up to the election, trans issues had emerged as a dominant focal point as the GOP candidates squared off against each other, with Miller’s campaign attacking Morrissey with allegations that he had profited from “the trans agenda” and backed a drug company that “helps turn boys into girls” when working as a healthcare lobbyist in Washington.  

In one ad that was paid for by a super PAC chaired by his father, Miller said the pronouns used by Morrissey are “money-grubbing liberal,” an interesting charge to level at the conservative Republican attorney general of West Virginia (even notwithstanding the fact that those three words are not pronouns but, rather, nouns and verbs.)

Declaring preferred pronouns in workplace email signatures has become commonplace in both the public and private sector, whether for purposes of sending an affirming message to transgender and gender expansive employees and officers or to mitigate the chances that either they or their cisgender counterparts might be unintentionally misgendered. 

The Biden-Harris administration has pushed for agencies to adopt the practice along with other measures and policies to advance the rights and wellbeing of trans and gender expansive employees across the federal government. 

In a 2021 announcement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s issuance of updated guidance on the agency’s email signature block, Michael Watts, director of civil rights for the U.S. Forrest Service, noted that “There are plenty of gender-neutral names out there, or names from other cultures that might not give you enough information to know their gender.” 

While the inclusion of pronouns was not made mandatory at USDA, he urged employees to “strongly consider taking this small but important step toward supporting inclusiveness in the workplace.” 

“The use of pronouns in our email signatures and getting into the habit of including pronouns in our introductions doesn’t really cost us anything,” Watts added, arguing that the move constitutes “a meaningful exchange to others and makes it easier for people to be respectful in how they address each other.”

“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. 

Official guidance published by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which is responsible for administering policies across the U.S. federal civil service, stipulates that agencies should “take steps to provide the option for employees to include the pronouns they use in employee systems and profiles, including email signature blocks, employee directories and employee profiles.”

Some have gone further, such as by adding pronouns to email signatures for all employees, as the U.S. Department of State did in 2023, while others like USDA have established, as official policy, that “employees are encouraged to include their pronouns in the first line of their email signature block (e.g. he/him/his). Signature blocks are a simple and effective way for individuals to communicate their identified pronouns to colleagues, stakeholders, and customers.”

“For example,” the USDA writes, “adding pronouns to signature blocks also has the benefit of indicating to the recipient that you will respect their gender identity and choice of pronouns.”

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Trump vows to reverse transgender student protections ‘on day one’

Former president spoke with right-wing conservative talk radio hosts

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Former President Donald Trump (Photo by shganti1777 via Bigstock)

During a call-in interview Friday on a Philadelphia-based right-wing conservative talk radio show, former President Donald Trump said he would roll back transgender student protections enacted last month by the U.S. Department of Education “on day one” if he’s reelected.

Reacting to a question by hosts Nick Kayal and Dawn Stensland, Trump said: “We’re gonna end it on day one. Don’t forget, that was done as an order from the president. That came down as an executive order. And we’re gonna change it — on day one it’s gonna be changed.”

“Tell your people not to worry about it,” Trump he added referring to the new Title IX rule. “It’ll be signed on day one. It’ll be terminated.”

In a campaign video released on his Truth Social account in February 2023, in a nearly four minute long, straight-to-camera video the former president vowed “protect children from left-wing gender insanity,” some policies he outlined included a federal law that recognizes only two genders and bars trans women from competing on women’s sports teams. He also promised that he would punish doctors who provide gender-affirming health care to minors.

Trump also falsely claimed that being trans is a concept that the “radical left” manufactured “just a few years ago.” He also said “no serious country should be telling its children that they were born with the wrong gender. Under my leadership, this madness will end,” he added.

At least 22 Republican-led states are suing the Biden-Harris administration over its new rules to protect LGBTQ students from discrimination in federally funded schools, NBC News Out reported this week.

The lawsuits follow the U.S. Department of Education’s expansion of Title IX federal civil rights rules last month, which will now include anti-discrimination protections for students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Among other provisions, the new rules would prohibit schools from barring trans students from using bathrooms, changing facilities and pronouns that correspond with their gender identities.

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