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New HHS reg seeks non-discrimination in health care as monkeypox spreads

Proposed rule bars strengthens protections for LGBTQ patients

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A new regulation proposed by the Biden administration seeks to ensure non-discrimination in health care settings for women who have had abortions and LGBTQ people at a time when monkeypox cases continue to increase and fears persist after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The new regulation, announced Monday by the Department of Health & Human Services, would interpret Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act to apply more broadly to the definition of sex after the court’s earlier 2016 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination was an illegal form of sex discrimination. The rule would enhance the prohibition discrimination on the basis of sex in health care settings and federally funded health care programs consistent with the law.

The regulation also institutes non-discrimination protections for intersex traits; and pregnancy or related conditions, including pregnancy termination; and people with limited English proficiency.

Xavier Becerra, secretary of health and human services, announced the proposed rule on Monday during a conference call with reporters and said it would ensure communities that have had barriers to accessing health care would be able to obtain it.

“Everyone in America should be able to get the care that they need from any health provider in the country, especially if they’re that provider is receiving funding from HHS,” Becerra said. “We want to make sure that Americans are free from discrimination when they try to access the care that they need. Pretty simple proposition.”

Becerra, asked by the Washington Blade how he sees the proposed rule playing out as part of the Biden administration’s approach to the monkeypox outbreak among gay and bisexual men, said the rule makes clear discrimination in health care is unacceptable and enables LGBTQ people to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health & Human Services.

“The reality is that today, the issue of monkeypox, you should not face any discrimination when it comes to the issue of accessing the health care services you might need to address monkeypox,” Becerra said.

The new regulation doesn’t appear to be timed as a means to address monkeypox, but a follow-up to an earlier commitment from the Biden administration to make the change.

The proposed rule is similar to a regulation in the final years of the Obama administration, which interpreted the language of Section 1557 to bar discrimination based on sex stereotypes and gender identity. The rule, however, was rescinded during the Trump administration under HHS Director of the Office of Civil Rights Roger Severino, who bucked the decision in Bostock and reversed the rule pursuant to an earlier lower federal court ruling in Texas.

Melanie Fontes Rainer, now the director of the Office of Civil Rights under the Biden administration, said on the call that restoring non-discrimination protections after they were rescinded makes health care more accessible for everyone.

“The 2020 version of this rule narrowed its scope to cover fewer health programs and activities, limiting vital non-discrimination protections for so many across the country,” Rainer said. “The proposed rule proposes revisions to Section 1557 implementing regulation by restoring and strengthening provisions that protect individuals from discrimination and health programs and activities”

The Biden administration rule, however, is different from the Obama-era rule in key aspects. For starters, the Biden-era rule explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in addition to other sex-based categories that were articulated before, using the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock as justification.

The newer regulation also contains language that interprets Medicare Part B as federally funded assistance and includes an explicit exemption for health care providers who have objections to certain procedures, such as abortion and gender reassignment surgery. The exact breadth of the religious exemption wasn’t immediately clear.

Becerra said during the call the religious conscience provision was included as a result of stakeholder feedback and is consistent with the Biden administration’s goal to protect the rights of people in health care settings.

“That is also part of the work that we do, and we don’t believe that there’s any inconsistency in making sure that people are accessing care without discrimination,” Becerra said.

Becerra, asked during the call about the timeline for the rule, said he expects it will be made final before the end of this year and after the formal 90-day comment period.

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District of Columbia

Another gay couple assaulted in D.C. in suspected hate crime

Two men holding hands when hit from behind by group of attackers

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Chuck Johnson (left) and J.P. Singh were assaulted in June. (Photo courtesy the couple)

A gay male couple informed the Washington Blade this week that they were assaulted by a group of young men on June 17, at least of one of whom shouted the word “faggots,” while the couple was holding hands walking home on the 1500 block of T Street, N.W. a few doors away from their house.

One of the two men suffered a broken jaw and fractured thumb when two or three of the attackers punched and kicked him in the head and face after knocking him to the ground, according to a D.C. police report that lists the incident as a suspected anti-gay hate crime.

The incident took place about six weeks before another gay male couple was attacked and punched in the head and face by a group of young males appearing in their late teens as at least one of them shouted “monkeypox faggots.” The incident occurred on Aug. 7 along the 1700 block of 7th Street, N.W. in the Shaw neighborhood as the men were walking to a nearby bus stop.

D.C. police, who have released photos of two suspects in the Aug. 7 incident and a photo of one suspect in the June 17 case, say no arrests have been made in either of the cases but both cases remain under active investigation.

The two victims in the June 17 case identified themselves as J.P. Singh, Professor of Global Commerce and Policy at George Mason University, and Charles D. “Chuck” Johnson Jr., CEO and President of the Aluminum Association industry trade organization. They initially identified themselves in a little-noticed article about the incident that they wrote and published on June 23 in the blog Medium in which they also posted a photo of themselves.   

“We, JP and Chuck, are a middle-age interracial gay couple,” the two wrote in the article. “We have been together for nearly 27 years, and live in a gay neighborhood in Washington, DC.  On Friday, June 17, while walking back from the gym at 10 p.m. and holding hands, a group of young African American men assaulted us on our street,” the two wrote.

Their article goes on to explore issues surrounding racial justice and crime, and the possible impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on police response to crime, including anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, among other related issues.

 “Assaults like ours open wounds in our society around race and LGBTQ issues,” they state in the article. “Through writing this article, we want to emphasize context and healing, and not encourage racialized ways of thinking that we associate with divisive tactics.”

Singh told the Blade the incident began on T Street, N.W., steps away from their house and in front of the house of gay D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kyle Mulhull. He said a group of the attackers approached him and Johnson from behind and the couple didn’t see the attackers until they were struck with punches.

“Before we knew it, I heard Chuck yell,” Singh said. “And when I turned to him, I felt a punch on my ear.”

According to Singh’s account, the attackers ran toward 15th Street and Johnson ran after them presumably to be able to inform police of their location, with the intent that the attackers could be apprehended.

But Singh said that another group of attackers emerged from an alley and appeared to have joined the first group and began assaulting Johnson again. The D.C. police report says officers responding to a 911 call from Johnson arrived on the scene when Victim 1, who was Johnson, was observed at the intersection of 15th and U Streets, N.W.

“The officers observed that Victim 1 was bleeding from his mouth as a result of the assault,” the report says. The report says the officers call the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department for assistance.

“Victim 1 stated that he and Victim 2 were walking eastbound in the 1500 block of T St., N.W. when 4 to 8 suspects approached from behind and assaulted them with punches,” the report continues. “Victim 1 stated that at least one of the suspects yelled homophobic slurs at him as the assault was perpetrated.

Singh said he accompanied Johnson to the emergency room where he was treated and underwent surgery two days later to treat his jaw, which was broken in two places. Singh said Johnson was also treated for a fractured thumb.

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Comings & Goings

Brian Reach joins Arlington Food Assistance Center

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Brian Reach

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Brian Reach on his new position as Associate Director of Marketing and Communications of the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). Reach has more than 18 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and deep roots in Northern Virginia.  

Charles Meng, CEO of AFAC said, “I’m very pleased to have Brian Reach on our staff as we enter a new and very challenging year. A year when even more families suffering from inflation in food and fuel are coming to our doors seeking help.” 

Jolie Smith, director of development at AFAC added, “Brian will be a wonderful addition to the AFAC development team as we start our new year with a strong focus on new opportunities outside of Arlington County. Given his experience, he’ll be a significant part of our new growth and development.”  

Reach previously worked at MCI USA (formerly The Coulter Companies) in a number of positions including director of Information Systems and Credentialing. Before that he was with the Interstitial Cystitis Association as its nonprofit coordinator/accounts receivable coordinator; and the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology, Fairfax, Va., as Education coordinator.

Reach is an activist and leader in the LGBTQ community. He currently serves as president and executive director of NOVA Pride, a 501c3 he founded in 2011, as well as on other LGBTQ boards and task forces. A Northern Virginia local, whose grandparents met at Fairfax High School, he is extremely passionate about the area and is personally dedicated to making an impact on the lives of his neighbors in need. He has worked on political campaigns in Virginia for Jennifer Wexton, Justin Fairfax, Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Kerry, Chap Peterson, and Al Gore.

Reach is currently attending George Mason University and was a business major at Northern Virginia Community College.

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Delaware

Delaware Stonewall PAC to announce 2022 endorsements at fundraiser

State Sen. Pinkney to deliver keynote speech

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Del. Sen. Marie Pinkney will speak Saturday at the event.

Delaware Stonewall PAC, which advocates for the LGBTQ community in Delaware, will announce its endorsements for the 2022 state primaries and general elections at its 18th annual summer fundraiser in Rehoboth Beach on Saturday. Del. Sen. Marie Pinkney, the state’s first openly lesbian senator, is slated to deliver the event’s keynote speech.

Held each year, the event plays a key role in raising funds for the organization’s advocacy efforts, which mostly comes through financial investment in the campaigns of “candidates that support our issues,” according to Delaware Stonewall PAC Board Secretary Peter Schott.

Endorsements are determined by candidates’ responses to a survey distributed by the organization regarding its primary issues of interest, and are also influenced by a candidate’s political background.

This year, 37 candidates for state elections submitted responses to the survey in pursuit of the organization’s endorsement, said Dwayne Bensing, president of Delaware Stonewall PAC. Although the organization is non-partisan, Bensing noted no Republican candidates sought their endorsement.

When reviewing this year’s survey responses, certain issues facing the local LGBTQ community weighed heavily in the organization’s decision making.

Last year, HB 199, a bill that sought to formally prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or disability in the state constitution, was proposed in the House, but was “never bought to a floor vote,” Bensing explained. A candidate’s views on constitutionally guaranteeing access to abortion was considered greatly, as Bensing noted the organization hopes to see progress soon on the bill.

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade, other key issues to the organization this election season center around bodily autonomy — like an individual’s right to receive an abortion or gender affirming medical care, Bensing explained. LGBTQ inclusivity in statewide school curriculum also figured prominently in decision making, he added.

“We asked explicitly about whether each of those candidates would support” LGBTQ advocacy through these issues, he said.

At the event, the organization will also honor “local and national pioneers in civil and human rights,” according to a July 27 press release from the organization.

The leaders that will be recognized at the event include C. Dixon Osburn, founder of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which helped end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law; Charlotte King, founder of the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice; and Murray Archibald, co-founder of CAMP Rehoboth, according to the press release.

“We are honoring these people because they are pioneers,” Schott added. “They saw the problem … organized around the problem, and found a lot of success.”

Last year, Sen. Pinkney was honored at the event as one of the state’s first three LGBTQ Caucus members, Bensing said. He added that the event will also play an important role in recruiting new members to the organization: Since the beginning of 2022, Delaware Stonewall PAC has recruited more than 120 new members, and the organization’s leadership hopes the event will help it maintain that momentum.

Tickets to the fundraiser begin at $75, and the organization also welcomes sponsorships. More information can be found at delawarestonewall.org.

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