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Veterans can now identify as transgender, nonbinary on their VA medical records

About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity

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Graphic via U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Wednesday that his department added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select their gender, in medical records and healthcare documentation.

“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”

The statement also noted that the change allows health-care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.

McDonough speaking at a Pride Month event last June at the Orlando VA Healthcare System, emphasized his support for Trans and LGBQ+ vets.

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

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Report details U.S. efforts to promote LGBTQ rights abroad

White House policy memo issued in 2021

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Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and other State Department officials help raise the Progress Pride flag over the State Department on June 25, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The State Department on Thursday released a report on the implementation of President Biden’s memo that committed the U.S. to the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad.

The report notes last June’s appointment of Jessica Stern as the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad and the issuance of passports with “X” gender markers that began on April 11.

Stern on Thursday told reporters during a conference call the State Department has created the Global LGBTQI+ Inclusive Democracy and Empowerment Initiative “that seeks to ensure democracies are inclusive of LGBTQI+ persons, representative of their communities and families and responsive to their needs and concerns.” Stern also noted roughly 60 percent of Peace Corp posts have implemented “specific LGBTQI+ equity practices within their operations.”

Stern highlighted the U.S. supported the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in a resolution in support of “democratization and enhancing periodic and genuine elections” the U.N. General Assembly adopted last November. Stern also noted the U.S. Agency for International Development again tracks how its foreign assistance programs promote LGBTQ rights.

Chantale Wong, the U.S. director of the Asian Development Bank who is the first openly lesbian American ambassador, on Wednesday told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview that she expects the U.S. government will endorse a proposed LGBTQ-specific safeguard for the ADB. Stern on Thursday noted the Department of Homeland Security has issued guidance to recognize informal same-sex marriages for the purposes of obtaining refugee or asylee status, even if they are not officially recognized by officials in countries of origin.”

The report also highlights how the Commerce, Defense, Justice, Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services have implemented the memo that Biden issued in February 2021.

“This memorandum makes clear that promoting and protecting the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is a U.S. foreign policy priority,” said Stern. “The report outlines how U.S. government agencies engaged abroad are working to become LGBTQI+ inclusive. It shows that many individual actions across the U.S. government taken as a whole create institutional change and improves the daily lives of LGBTQI+ persons.”  

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement echoed Stern.

“It remains vitally important that we address the violence and discrimination faced by LGBTQI+ persons while acknowledging the effects of the intersections of race and ethnicity, gender, disability, religion and national origin, to name a few,” said Blinken. 

“As the report demonstrates, the U.S. government advances these priorities by supporting efforts to end the criminalization of LGBTQI+ status and conduct, seeking to protect vulnerable LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers, providing foreign assistance to protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons and advancing  non-discrimination protections, responding to human rights abuses of LGBTQI+ persons abroad, building coalitions of like-minded nations, and engaging international organizations in the fight against LGBTQI+ discrimination,” added Blinken. “Our collective efforts drive toward the goal of ending violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics. Equality and equity build stronger societies for all.”

USAID Administrator Samantha Power on Thursday said the memo “was a call to action based on a simple premise: That all human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love.”

“Over the past year, as today’s report demonstrates, USAID has made important progress toward achieving these ambitions through a commitment to LGBTQI+ inclusive development in our policies and programs that reach millions of people around the world,” said Power.

The full report can be read here.

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LGBTQ immigrant groups welcome decision to terminate Title 42

So-called Remain in Mexico policy remains in place

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immigration crisis, gay news, Washington Blade
A section of the border fence between the Mexico and the U.S. as seen from the highway that runs parallel to Tijuana International Airport in Tijuana, Mexico, on Jan. 26, 2019. LGBTQ immigrant rights groups have welcomed the Biden administration's decision to end Title 42, but they say more needs to be done to reform the country's immigration system. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

LGBTQ immigrant rights groups have welcomed the Biden administration’s decision to terminate a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic.

“It’s about time,” Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron Morris told the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview. “This was a policy that was difficult to justify during the worst parts of the pandemic.”

The CDC in March 2020 implemented Title 42 in response to the pandemic.

Morris described Title 42 as “the brainchild of Stephen Miller long before COVID-19 even existed” and a “sort of obscure public health law to exclude people from coming to the United States.” Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas on Friday formally announced Title 42 will end on May 23.

“Ending the use of Title 42, a racist and harmful policy that was enacted by Trump is a right step for many asylum seekers, especially Black LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers that have been denied entry at the U.S.-Mexico border,” Oluchi Omeoga, co-director of the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, told the Blade on Monday in a statement.

ORAM (Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration) Executive Director Steve Roth echoed Omeoga and Morris.

“ORAM is thrilled to see the long-overdue overturning of Title 42, a policy that put asylum seekers in harm’s way in border towns and prevented them from seeking safety in the United States,” Roth told the Blade. “We hope the removal of this policy will speed up the processing of asylum seekers — particularly members of the LGBTIQ community and other vulnerable groups.”

Texas Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who represents the border city of El Paso, also welcomed the end of Title 42.

“The use of Title 42, introduced by the Trump administration, effectively eliminated access to legal asylum in our country,” said the Texas Democrat in a statement on March 31, the day before Mayorkas made his announcement. “I have been calling for an end to Title 42 since it began and I am hopeful that the Biden administration will soon rescind it.”

U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) is among the other lawmakers who have also praised the end of Title 42. U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) and others have expressed concerns.

“We are concerned that DHS has not adequately prepared and developed a plan to ensure the safety of migrants, officers and our communities post-Title 42,” said Sinema and Cornyn in a letter they sent to Mayorkas on March 31. “To date, we have not seen sufficient steps to avoid a humanitarian and security crisis. Consistent coordination and communication with state and local governments along the border, including small communities, is one necessary element in a successful strategy to secure the border, protect border communities and ensure migrants are treated fairly and humanely.”

The Republican attorneys general of Arizona, Louisiana and Missouri on Sunday filed a federal lawsuit to block Title 42’s termination.

‘Remain in Mexico’ policy remains in place

The Biden administration has sought to end the Migrant Protection Protocols program that forces asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico, but Morris and others with whom the Blade spoke noted MPP remains in place.

“Ending Title 42 is a step in the right direction, yet at the border we are still concerned about the negative impact MPP reinstatement has upon immigrants who are still returned to Mexico to wait for their hearings,” said Abdiel Echevarría-Cabán, a South Texas-based immigration attorney who is also a human rights law and policy expert.

The State Department currently advises Americans not to “travel to” or to “reconsider travel” to the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora and Baja California — which all border the U.S. — because of “crime and kidnapping.”

A group of LGBTQ asylum seekers at a shelter in Matamoros, Mexico, on Feb. 27, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Blanca Navarrete is the director of Derechos Humanos Integrales en Acción (DHIA), a group that runs Casa D’Colores, a safe house for LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants in Ciudad Juárez, which is across the Rio Grande from El Paso.

Navarette on Monday told the Blade during a telephone interview that Ciudad Juárez and other Mexican border cities remain dangerous for migrants who are at increased risk to be kidnapped, robbed, raped and trafficked. Jerlín, a transgender man who fled Honduras earlier this year, told the Blade in February before he received a humanitarian visa to enter the U.S. that he was afraid to stay in Piedras Negras, a Mexican border city that is across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, Texas, because “drug cartels will kidnap you.”

“The end of Title 42 does not mean the border is going to be open,” said Navarette.

“Title 42 is only the bottom of the egregious and plenty harmful policy that happens within our broken immigration system,” stressed Omeoga. “BLMP envisions a world where no one is forced to give up their homeland, where all Black LGBTQIA+ people are free and liberated, a world where all Black people and our loved ones have housing, bodily autonomy, health and the ability to move and travel freely and with dignity, free of criminalization, anti-Black racism, misogyny and all forms of transphobia and homophobia.”

Deborah, a national organizer for the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, in a statement to the Blade described the termination of Title 42 as “the right decision,” but added “for many people who have been turned away from the border to face an uncertain fate, it was too little too late.”

“The administration can restore the right to seek asylum without reactionary removals, detention, ankle monitors and other forms of surveillance and criminalization,” said Deborah. “The Biden administration has to understand that we don’t need a $527 million ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) surveillance program. We need safe, equitable paths for migration.” 

Escobar in her statement also reiterated her calls to reform the U.S. immigration system.

“Addressing immigration exclusively at our nation’s borders represents a failure of vision and policy,” she said. “Outdated policies and processes harm migrants and asylum-seekers, waste millions of dollars annually, misuse law enforcement personnel and do not make us more ‘secure.’ Now is the time to reform an outdated and inhumane system, and I urge the administration and Congress to implement changes I have championed.”

“Our country can and must do better,” added Escobar.

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Federal Government

Passports with ‘X’ gender marker to become available on April 11

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made announcement Thursday

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(Big Stock photo)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday announced passports with an “X” gender marker will be available on April 11.

Blinken last June announced the State Department will allow passport applicants to “self-select their gender as ‘M’ or ‘F’”

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym last October received the first gender-neutral American passport.

“The Department of State has reached another milestone in our work to better serve all U.S. citizens, regardless of their gender identity,” said Blinken on Thursday in a statement. ”In June, I announced that U.S. passport applicants could self-select their gender and were no longer required to submit any medical documentation, even if their selected gender differed from their other citizenship or identity documents.” 

“Starting on April 11, U.S. citizens will be able to select an ‘X’ as their gender marker on their U.S. passport application, and the option will become available for other forms of documentation next year,” he added.

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