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Apple’s commitment to diversity ends when asked to do the right thing

Another corporation that profits off of Pride but fails to offer equal benefits

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

My husband and I took a chance with his former employer. He was offered a promotion and transfer to the United Arab Emirates to help open a new store for them. He had lived in the UAE before and oddly our transcontinental love affair kicked off in this anti-LGBTQ country. While we were a bit nervous, we assumed, wrongly, that a company that prides itself on being supporters of our diverse LGBTQ community would offer benefits to LGBTQ employees.

Although in their stores they sell rainbow watch bands, when it comes to providing benefits to same-sex couples when not required by law, they do anything but that.

Before he accepted, my husband asked directly what benefits would be offered. The regional manager said he would check back in with my husband after it was stressed to him that we would not be taking the transfer if they didn’t offer us equal benefits. They responded quickly with an offer to cover a freelance visa option, which also requires health insurance to be issued. After a bit of self congratulating about how great of a company they were to offer these basic things, off we went.

Surely it would be company policy to offer basic benefits to LGBTQ employees, even when not required by law, since their CEO is a high-profile openly gay man and the first to run a major tech company.

Once we landed in the UAE it became clear that our worst fears were just starting. While any international move will have its bumps, one expects the bumps to not be made worse by an uncaring upper management. When my visa was delayed, we were ostracized for not signing a lease until the visa was issued. When the relocation service told us that they didn’t put us both on the lease and I would need to sneak into our new building, we were told we were making it a bigger deal than it was. When we asked about how to access the healthcare that was a part of my visa we were told: “Why do you think that your family deserves these benefits?” “Why don’t you just sleep on it before asking the higher ups?” “You should have known better than to expect us to do this.”

In the end, we paid out of pocket for my health insurance. The writing was on the wall all along, but we made a commitment to this company to stay for at least two years and we were not going to break it.

One month before my visa was set to be renewed, with one year to go on our two-year commitment we received an email asking if I wanted to renew my visa. After affirming we would, we were simply sent a price list by the company. When asked if they would be covering the cost still, they stopped responding. After two weeks of emails, and with two weeks until my visa was set to expire we were told that the company would not cover the cost. This kicked off three months of abuse by upper management to my husband as we tried to understand what was happening. We were told:

“Why can’t you just pay for it yourself?”

“Why do you think people like you deserve these benefits?”

“You should be happy with what we have done for you.”

“You need to be careful asking for these things.”

“It is just your perception that we are discriminating against you. We are just respecting local customs by not providing you and your family healthcare and visa benefits.”

After the second month of them stringing us along, and numerous investigations from various HR department heads, we had to move into a hotel or be forced to sign another year lease for our apartment. We stayed in the UAE until the very last day that I legally could without risking being fined. We gave them every opportunity to do the right thing.

But Apple never did the right thing. Apple, a company run by a gay man, Tim Cook, whose senior vice president of retail and former head of People is also a member of our community, Deirdre O’Brien, who every Pride month proudly claims “support” of our community, openly discriminated against our family for being LGBTQ.

Apple, which forced my husband to give presentations on benefits for married and unmarried heterosexual couples, was forced out of his job because he simply asked for them to give us those same benefits.

Apple forced my husband out of his career of 11 years for simply asking them to live up to the values that they claim.

What’s next? There is no recourse for us, but other LGBTQ employees of Apple should know that Apple’s commitment to diversity and inclusion ends when they are asked to do the right thing. Our community should know that Apple is just another corporation that gladly profits off us but runs away when asked to treat us with dignity.

Robby Diesu’s husband worked for Apple for 11 years. The Blade is withholding his name out of fear of reprisals by the company.

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Stop donating to groups like Fight for Reform this election cycle

Give directly to local Democratic candidates instead

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If you ever gave to a political candidate, or group, you are now inundated with emails and texts from every group and every candidate running. This column is a reminder to be careful when you are asked for money. A group like Fight for Reform is very close to the line of lying to you. In their endless email requests for money, they give you two choices in their ask. And they keep asking over and over. I find their requests offensive. The choices they claim you have are: “Choice #1: Sit on our hands and hope the Electoral College doesn’t hand extremist Trump another corruption-riddled presidency. Choice #2: Chip in $7 to help fund our ads to abolish the Electoral College, strengthen our democracy, and save the country from Trump.” 

There is, of course, a third choice: delete all of their emails. The simple fact is, to get rid of the Electoral College, which is something I support, you need a constitutional amendment. It is clear such an amendment would never pass this Congress, and even if by some miracle it did, it would not be ratified before the 2024 election. Therefore, in no way will it have an impact on whether Trump, God forbid, wins. So to me it is clear, you are better off giving your money in this election cycle directly to candidates who would even consider pushing for this. Remember, Fight for Reform doesn’t support federal candidates. But even at the state level only Democrats would support this. 

Fight for Reform, is a state level project of a larger organization, End Citizens United, which has a large staff. Clearly, some of your money will go to pay staff and the administrative costs of the organization. So, much of your donation won’t necessarily go to the ads they are asking you to fund. Fight for Reform says it endorses only non-federal candidates at the local level, and that is great. But if you go to their website trying to find out who they endorsed you see only one name, Janet Protasiewicz, for Wisconsin Supreme Court. That election is over, and yes, she won. Wisconsin Republicans are now looking to impeach her before she has even ruled on anything.  

I only use this group as an example of what you should look for before you turn over your hard-earned money. When you get a request for a donation by email, look at where the email is coming from. Usually, you will find that in the very small print at the bottom of the email. If it’s not directly from the candidate the email is asking money for, I would think twice about donating through the email. Now if it is a candidate you like, just go to their campaign website and make your donation. That will ensure all your money goes to the candidate without anyone else taking a portion of it. Most of us are getting lots of emails for political candidates running in 2024, even for those still running in primaries, who want our help to be on the general election ballot. Again, if it’s someone you like, go find their website and donate there. 

There are crucial elections in November 2023, and there is still time to give money to some of those candidates and make a difference. This is especially true of those running in Virginia trying to win the state legislature. There are two great things that would happen if Democrats win. One, they will have the votes to control what gets done in Virginia; and two, it will be a very public setback to their MAGA Governor Glenn Youngkin. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who may talk pretty, but is a Trumper at heart. You can donate to the incredible Danica Roem for State Senate to make a real difference,  and to Russet Perry for State Senate, to help her defeat MAGA Juan Pablo Segura, who sounds like Youngkin, but is also clearly a Trumper. There are others in Virginia that make a difference for every decent person. One representing the best of Virginia and the LGBTQ community is Adam Ebbin for State Senate.

It is interesting most Democratic candidates in Virginia have been matching, or exceeding, their Republican challenger’s fundraising. But recently Youngkin has contributed millions of dollars from his PAC to Republican legislative candidates for last minute commercials. We need to make sure Democratic candidates can continue to match them, or even exceed their spending. All our lives will be better if Democrats win.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Is Nigeria’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown only meant for the poor?

Wealth and fame can shield one from prosecution in the country

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(Bigstock photo)

The Nigeria Police Force in Delta State a few weeks ago arrested more than 67 suspected gay men for attending an alleged gay wedding. Authorities received a tip, they interrogated those arrested and suspicions were cemented on the basis that some of these young men crossed-dressed. 

“We’re bringing this out to the world to note, especially Nigerians, that we’re in Africa and Nigeria. We cannot copy the Western world,” Deputy Police Supt. Bright Edafe said. “We’re in Nigeria, and I can guarantee that the suspects will be charged to court.” 

Although these young men have since been released, this situation in Nigeria underscores a glaring paradox: A country that boasts a growing number of queer celebrities — many of whom have embraced crossdressing as part of their persona — maintains harsh legal actions against less privileged queer youths who express their identities. This unequal treatment sends a damaging message to the broader queer community; perpetuating a cycle of discrimination, fear and inequality.

In a nation marked by its vibrant culture and diversity, Nigeria’s anti-gay laws stand as a stark contradiction to the principles of tolerance and inclusivity. These laws not only criminalize same-sex relationships, but have also given rise to a troubling disparity in their enforcement. It has disproportionately targeted the poor, transgender individuals and crossdressers, while seemingly ignoring high-profile celebrities who freely express their identities.

Bobrisky, one of Nigeria’s most popular crossdressers who built a large following off of this lifestyle, went on their social media to probe the arrested crossdressers for openly presenting that way. 

“I strongly believe you guys can learn from those A-list,” they wrote. “Firstly, there’s a law passed against you guys that you can’t marry yourselves in this country, why the hell did you call yourselves together to organize a wedding?”

“That is the dumbest news I have ever read this week. You all deserve how you all were treated, sad truth. If you feel you are in love with your partner and you want to be together, why not relocate to where you are welcome,” they continued. 

One would think that they were able to make comments like this because they didn’t crossdress; but when you have enough financial and social privilege to wriggle your way out of situations for which your counterparts would otherwise be prosecuted, you would think that the law doesn’t apply to you. 

Then-President Goodluck Jonathan in February 2014 passed the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, which legalized the prosecution of anyone who shows sexual relations with the same sex. Nigerian MPs in April 2022 pushed to update the SSMPA with a bill that would essentially criminalize crossdressers and force them to face six months in prison, or pay a fine of $1,200. 

The measure has yet to become law.

This targeting of transgender people and crossdressers by the Nigerian government is a distressing reality. These individuals often find themselves marginalized, not just socially, but also legally. Raids, arrests and harassment are commonplace for them, making it a daily struggle to live authentically. In a nation where gender expression should be celebrated as a testament to its cultural diversity, it is disheartening to witness these citizens ostracized and penalized for embracing their true selves.

On the other hand, the celebrities who have made crossdressing a part of their public image appear to exist in a different realm. They enjoy a level of visibility and fame that grants them an element of protection. Whether it’s due to their financial resources or their connections, they often escape the legal consequences that ordinary queer Nigerians face. This glaring contrast between the treatment of high-profile celebrities and everyday individuals exposes the systemic inequalities that persist in Nigeria’s legal system.

The implications of this disparity are profound. It sends a troubling message that wealth and fame can shield one from persecution, while those without such privileges bear the brunt of discriminatory laws. This perpetuates a culture of fear and silence among the less privileged queer community, preventing them from fully expressing their identities and participating in society without the constant threat of persecution.

Nigeria must engage in a profound societal dialogue surrounding the unequal treatment of its queer citizens to address this issue. It is crucial to question the legitimacy of laws that infringe upon the fundamental human rights of individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. By sparking these meaningful conversations, we can begin to dismantle the harmful stereotypes and prejudices that fuel this disparity in treatment.

Nigeria’s anti-gay laws not only defy the principles of tolerance and inclusivity, but also expose a disconcerting imbalance in their enforcement. The stark contrast between the leniency shown to high-profile celebrities who embrace crossdressing and the harsh legal actions taken against less privileged queer youths sends a damaging message to the broader queer community. It is time for Nigeria to address this injustice, fostering a more inclusive and equitable society where all its citizens can embrace their identities without fear of persecution.

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Medicaid cuts will lead to an uptick in STIs

Move threatens progress to end HIV epidemic

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We have come a long way from the days when HIV was an almost certain death sentence. But our work is far from over. The COVID-19 pandemic led to an uptick in rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, and low-income communities, LGBTQ+ communities, and communities of color continue to be impacted at alarming and disproportionately high rates.

These communities are also more likely to be served by Medicaid. Medicaid is the largest source of insurance coverage for people living with HIV in the United States, covering an estimated 40 percent of nonelderly adults with HIV, and Medicaid accounted for 45 percent of all federal HIV spending in 2022. During September, Sexual Health Awareness Month, it is worth examining the crucial ways Medicaid works to keep people healthy — and what threatens our progress today.

In recent weeks, we have seen a troubling trend develop. Five million Americans have been removed from Medicaid rolls, and many millions more are on the verge of losing coverage as a result of the Medicaid enrollment cuts. This represents the single greatest threat to our progress toward ending the HIV epidemic in years.   

During the pandemic, Medicaid enrollment grew by an estimated 20 million people, contributing to the uninsured rate dropping to the lowest level on record in early 2022. But, after a three-year period during which states provided continuous enrollment in exchange for enhanced federal funding, some states resumed dis-enrolling people from Medicaid on April 1. A recent KFF survey found that 17 million people could lose Medicaid coverage as a result of this process, referred to as the Medicaid “unwinding.”

Many states are not doing enough to ensure that Medicaid-eligible residents don’t lose their coverage. While some have been removed from the rolls because they are newly ineligible, procedural issues account for 74 percent of people losing coverage. An unacceptably high number of FloridaTexas, and Virginia residents who are still eligible for Medicaid are losing coverage because of procedural reasons, such as failing to confirm proof of income or household size.

Our goal should be to ensure that no one who qualifies for Medicaid loses their coverage. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) gave states the option to use a 12-month grace period, along with other flexibilities, to prepare for the unwinding and make sure residents had what they needed to recertify. So why are some states so eager to remove their residents from Medicaid rolls?

New York, on the other hand, has made equity a cornerstone of recertification work and provides a template for what states can do to help their residents remain covered. The state maximizes the flexibilities offered by CMS and works directly with providers, health plans, and recipients to minimize procedural disenrollments and ensure that people retain health care coverage, either through Medicaid, the state’s health exchange, or private insurance. New York is among the nation’s top-performing states in terms of call center wait times, call drop rates, and average time it takes to make an eligibility determination, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. New York’s call center is also able to produce materials in 26 languages. In June 2023 alone, New York State certified renewals for more than 400,000 residents.

At Amida Care in New York, we know firsthand that gaps in care for people living with or placed at elevated risk of contracting HIV can be especially devastating. When people lose access to PrEP medication to prevent HIV, they are left vulnerable to contracting HIV, and when people living with HIV lose access to antiretroviral therapy, they risk becoming seriously ill and transmitting HIV to others. We support and guide our members through the recertification process with dedicated outreach efforts that include phone calls, mailings, text messages, and home visits to limit loss of coverage and interruptions in life-saving treatments. 

We cannot begin to address health inequity or end the HIV epidemic without strengthening Medicaid. The recent moves by some states to strip their residents of Medicaid coverage will undermine the progress we’ve made.

Doug Wirth is president and CEO of Amida Care, a Medicaid Special Needs Health Plan for people affected by HIV.

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