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Trans visibility, LGBTQ progress in military on display at DOD Pride event



Bree Fram, transgender troops, gay news, Washington Blade
Lt. Col. Bree Fram was among the speakers at the annual DOD Pride event.

Transgender visibility in the U.S. military was on full display on Tuesday during the Pentagon’s annual event recognizing Pride month, which this year featured two transgender speakers in prominent positions in the aftermath of the Biden administration lifting the transgender military ban.

The event — hosted in coordination with DOD Pride, the affinity group for LGBTQ employees and service members within the Defense Department — took place in the Pentagon auditorium under the theme of “All Together” and highlighted progress in stripping away barriers previously preventing LGBTQ people from serving in their roles, such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the transgender military ban.

Lt. Col. Bree Fram, who’s transgender and deputy chief of acquisition polices and processes at U.S. Space Force, said she often feared she would no longer be able to serve in uniform based on the “whim of executive orders.” But two months ago when she disclosed to colleagues she was having surgery to treat cancer, she received overwhelming support.

“That’s the spirit of all together: Leadership was behind me because they would have been behind any member of the team going through one of the scariest moments of their life,” Fram said. “They know that each of us brings value to the team and that all of us are worthy of the support needed to be our best selves.”

Fram, co-leader of the transgender policy team within the Department of the Air Force’s LGBTQ initiative team, recounted the experience of a transgender service member whose colleagues refused to use her personal pronouns and began putting them in her email signature in defiance of military policy. Although colleagues had initially sought to ban her from the network, Fram said a supervisor stepped in to revise and allow the service members to continue using them in emails.

“So for all of you out there, I ask you to set out your symbols of pride, share your pronouns in your email, particularly if you’re a person who doesn’t think they need to,” Fram said. “Initiate difficult conversations about racial and gender barriers and share a bit of your vulnerability in a way that draws others in.”

Shawn Skelly, who’s transgender and assistant secretary of defense for readiness, also spoke and drew heavily from President Biden’s proclamation for Pride month to discuss the challenges still facing LGBTQ people after years of progress.

“America’s formative promise to itself remains today tangibly unfulfilled for too many Americans,” Skelly said. “And remarkably, for the LGBTQ+ Americans of today, we’re increasingly at specific, targeted risk, which includes those serving within this department.”

Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones, who’s a lesbian, also spoke and remarked on the progress seen in the military since she was forced to sign a document as a cadet of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prohibiting her from participating in homosexual acts.

“I knew exactly what that meant: I knew that my opportunity to get an education. I knew that my opportunity to serve our country. I knew my opportunity to die for our country or maybe all of that would go away, just because at the time we did not have enough leaders with the courage to say anybody ready and willing to serve their country should have the opportunity to do so,” Jones said.

Jones recounted a story after she took office in the Biden administration and wanted to set up a photo shoot with other LGBTQ service members who had served under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” To her surprise on the day of the shoot, Jones said, many younger service members too young to remember the law showed up and were part of the photograph.

“But I leaned over and I said, ‘Hey, you know, what’s going on here? Some of these folks look a little too young to serve,”” Jones said. “And they said, ‘Oh no, many of these folks wanted to be part of the picture because they are serving because ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ was repealed … So it really shows you what is possible when you’re willing to do the hard work that talent in our country among those serving — the talent we are able to tap into — if we are willing to remove those barriers to ensure folks can serve to their full potential.”

The top defense official present was Kathleen Hicks, who promoted the Defense Department as having a commitment to advancing policies and programs aimed at developing “a leadership pipeline of diverse talent and create pathways for everyone at DOD to realize their potential.”

“We know that organizational climates affect our workforces’ experiences,” Hicks said. “More to the point it affects our warrior readiness. Therefore, we are directing initiatives to improve leader skill development and foster more effective inclusive team environments.”

Hicks said the Defense Department is in the final stages of developing a diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility plan, which she said will direct activities within the department and identify priorities within the coming year.

Among those in attendance at the event were British Ambassador to the United States Karen Price; Secretary of the Navy Carlos del Toro; Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calf.); Maj. Gen. Leah Lauderback, director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for U.S. Space Force; White House Director of Presidential Personnel Gautam Raghavan; and Ruben Gonzalez, special assistant to the president for White House Domestic Agency Personnel.

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Over 100 LGBTQ-themed books in a Florida school district labeled with advisory warning

They warn: “this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students.”



Advisory Notice (via Twitter)

A southwest Florida district put parental “advisory notice” on over 100 books, many of which are race or LGBTQ-themed. 

A great number of books in Collier County Public Schools, either digital or physical, now have warning labels writing “Advisory notice to parents,” according to an NBC report,

The label, tweeted by nonprofit free-speech-promoting group PEN American, states, “This Advisory Notice shall serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students. This book will also be identified in the Destiny system with the same notation. The decision as to whether this book is suitable or unsuitable shall be the decision of the parent(s) who has the right to oversee his/her child’s education consistent with state law.” 

Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which means to fight book banning, told NBC that she had a call from Elizabeth Alves, the associate superintendent of teaching and learning for Collier County Public Schools. In the call, Alves told her that the district added the labels starting in February. 

These measures, which Alves described as a “compromise,” happened after the district’s legal representative talked with the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group which initiated a “Porn in Schools Report” project last year. The report included a list of books that “promote gender self-identification and same-sex marriage” as well as titles that include “indecent and offensive material,” as the group explained. 

Chad Oliver, the Collier County Public Schools spokesperson, on the other hand offered a different story. 

Oliver sent an email to NBC News and said, “Based upon advice from the General Counsel, we placed advisory notices on books about which parents and community members had expressed concern and in accordance with the recently passed Parents’ Bill of Rights Law (HB 241).” 

The law referred by Oliver is also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

According to PEN America, there are 110 labeled books in total, and the list greatly overlaps with the one Florida Citizens Alliance inquired about with Collier County Public Schools. 

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney introduces bill to make monkeypox testing free

Health insurers would be required to cover costs



Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has introduced legislation to make monkeypox testing free to the public. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), amid the ongoing monkeypox affecting gay and bisexual men, has introduced legislation in the U.S. House seeking to make testing for disease free to the public.

Maloney, one of seven openly gay members of Congress and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement the measure, called the No Cost for Monkeypox Testing Act, would testing amid the monkeypox outbreak would be accessible to all.

“It is critical that we eliminate cost as a barrier to testing for monkeypox to ensure we can identify cases and prevent further spread,” Maloney said. “This legislation takes the lessons we learned from past public health emergencies and protects those at risk of contracting monkeypox by making tests accessible to everyone.”

The legislation would require private health insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid to cover the costs of monkeypox testing at no expense to the patients, either through deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance.

The bill introduction comes the week after the Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency and the same it has issued new guidance to enhance to the accessing of existing vaccines doses amid criticism federal officials were too slow in distributing shots.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Centers for Disease Control seeking comment on the legislation. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said Tuesday the federal government has the capacity to conduct an estimated 80,000 tests each week.

Maloney has been representing New York’s 18th congressional district, but after redistricting is now seeking re-election in the 17th district. Amid controversy over a potential showdown between Maloney and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who’s Black, another openly gay member of Congress and the current representative of that district, Jones has since opted to run for re-election in the New York’s 10th congressional district. Maloney is now running unopposed in the 17th.

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Biden administration shifts monkeypox vaccine approach amid shortage

Health experts sees new guidance as mixed bag



The Biden administration has changed its guidance on monkeypox vaccines to enhance availability amid the shortage.

The Biden administration, amid criticism it was slow to act on the monkeypox outbreak and still not meeting the demand for vaccines as the number of cases continues to grow, has announced a shift in guidance for implementation of the shot in an effort to enhance availability.

As the estimated number of monkeypox cases in the United States reaches 8,900, top health officials announced the new move on Tuesday as part of a decision by Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra to issue a determination under Section 564 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to justify emergency use authorization of vaccines. The announcement follows up on the Biden administration’s announcement last week declaring the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency.

Becerra said in a conference call with reporters the 564 determination and change in approach to vaccines would “boost and strengthen” the Biden administration’s response to monkeypox, which has overwhelmingly affected gay and bisexual men, and “safely accelerates and multiplies our supply of effective vaccines by up to fivefold.”

“Today’s action also reaffirms HHS and this administration’s commitment to using all available resources and capabilities to end the monkeypox outbreak and provide the best possible care to those suffering from the virus,” Becerra added.

The new vaccine approach, which may may be considered minor to non-medical observers, would change injections of the JYNNEOS vaccine from the subcutaneous route (delivery of the vaccine under the fat layer underneath the skin) to the intradermal route (delivery of the vaccine into the layer of skin just underneath the top layer). In theory, that would allow for greater accessibility of monkeypox vaccines as it increases the number of doses from each vial of vaccine.

The change was made amid criticism the Biden administration failed to meet the demand for vaccines during the outbreak and geographic inequity as certain metropolitan areas of the country have more access to vaccines than other places.

As The New York Times reported last week, the Biden administration has faced criticism for not moving quickly enough in acquiring and distributing vaccines, including bulk stocks already owned by the U.S. government manufactured in Denmark by Bavaria Nordic now being given to other clients.

“The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” the Times reported. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”

Biden officials, nonetheless, touted the numbers of vaccines and tests in response to monkeypox as a positive, acknowledging the 1.1 million vaccines being made available as well as delivery of more than 620,000 of those doses, deployment more than 15,000 courses of the monkeypox treatment and increasing the country’s capacity to administer tests on a weekly basis to around 80,000. Meanwhile, officials also promoted the change in approach in vaccines as means to allow greater accessibility to the shots.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, promoted during the conference call the use of intradermal injections and said they’re “often used for TB skin tests and have been used for other types of vaccines.”

Although Walensky conceded some health care providers “may not be as familiar with intradermal administration” as they are with subcutaneous injection, she said CDC would make additional guidance materials available, including a clinician alert message to the Association of State & Territorial Health Officials, outreach to key clinician partners and an education resource video. The change in guidance, Walensky said, is for vaccine implementation in adults, but children — where single digit monkeypox cases have been reported — would continue to receive vaccination in the traditional subcutaneous approach.

But health experts aren’t responding with overwhelming praise to the decision to change the guidance on vaccine implementation from subcutaneous injections to intradermal injections, expressing concerns the new approach may be insufficient.

Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was among those saying the change in guidance on vaccine approach was a mixed bag and told the Blade more data is needed to evaluate the effectiveness.

“As we saw with COVID, using these authorities in the context of public health emergencies is an important strategy,” Kates said. “In this case, this step will significantly expand access to vaccines for those most at risk. However, there remain questions about the effectiveness of this approach — real world studies are needed — and challenges to translating vaccines into vaccinations.”

Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation & Research (CBER) at the Food & Drug Administration, was asked during the conference call with reporters to respond to concerns the change in guidance was insufficient and downplayed the novelty of implementing the vaccines through the intradermal route as “not at all new.”

“In fact, the reason why the Bavaria part of this equation comes from the fact that in Germany, this vaccine was given intradermally originally, in an effort to replicate the original version of the smallpox vaccine,” Marks said. “It’s been given to thousands of people intradermally, so this isn’t the first time it’s been done.”

Walkensky said the intradermal vaccine approach has been implemented amid policies among localities to implement a one-dose approach to the JYNNEOS vaccine through the subcutaneous route. (The D.C. government is one of the jurisdictions that had enacted a one-dose approach amid a vaccine shortage.) There is not data, Walkensky said, to support that approach and “in fact, if anything, there are data saying that that is not protective enough.”

“So by using this alternative strategy of intradermal dosing, not only do we have more doses, but we actually allow people to get two doses in a way that shows immunologic response that’s superimposable from the subcutaneous dosing,” Walkensky said. “So we have more doses, and in fact, we have the ability to doubly vaccinate people so that they get the protection that they need.”

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