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Finding LGBT parallels in Trayvon Martin case

Trayvon Martin, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT Parallels: George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin has helped trigger a much-needed dialogue on race. (Photo released into the public domain by the family of Trayvon Martin)

More than 30 years ago, I was followed by a store detective and falsely accused of shoplifting. Visually impaired and spending the day in Atlantic City, N.J.,  I’d picked up a T-shirt in a gift shop to see what was on it. Though scared and angry, I was lucky. After what seemed to be a never-ending minute, the security guard saw my white cane, realized that I wasn’t trying to steal anything and apologized for wrongly detaining me. I’ve thought a great deal about this encounter in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin. What, I wonder, would have happened to me more than three decades ago in the Jersey shore if I’d been black and blind?

During World War II, the Firestone and Goodyear tire companies in Akron, Ohio were converted to defense plants. Deaf people came from across the country to inspect the planes that the plants produced. Deaf teens socialized there, using American Sign Language. The police, knowing nothing about signing, thought the young men were loitering and made them leave the streets. The misunderstanding was cleared up and a club for deaf youth was created. But, thinking of Trayvon Martin, I can’t help but wonder: what would their fate have been if these deaf youth had been men of color?

Historically, gay men and lesbians doing nothing more than taking a walk could be arrested for just looking too effeminate or butch. Today, LGBT youth still are unjustly treated by people in law enforcement. As the Rev. Meredith Moise told the Blade, “Trayvon could have been any gay or lesbian kid of color.”

I don’t want to engage in a false equivalency. The experiences of myself, the deaf youth in mid-century Ohio or of queer youth today, though, based on prejudice, were and aren’t the same as the unjust killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager of color. Neither disability based prejudice (ableism) nor homophobia is the equivalent of racism.

Since Barack Obama has been president, too many of us, particularly among we who think of ourselves as progressive, have come to think that we’re living in a post-racial time. But the February 2012 shooting of Martin and the recent acquittal of Zimmerman, the man who shot him, of second-degree murder and manslaughter, is an up close and personal reminder that racism is all too alive and well. It may be hard to legally prove that racism was a factor in the case. Yet, like many I know, I can’t help but think that the verdict would have been different if Trayvon Martin had been white or Zimmerman black.

The reaction to the outcome of the trial has differed between white and black Americans, according to recent polls. Eighty-six percent of African Americans disagreed with the verdict, while 51 percent of whites agreed with the verdict, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Even though we who are LGBT know the hateful impact of prejudice, racism exists in our community. How many of us, myself included, initially, as a knee-jerk reaction, wrongly, blamed Prop 8 on homophobia in the African-American community?  How frequently have we tried to listen to the concerns of LGBT youth of color? I know, in my case, not often enough.

As a journalist, sadly, I can tell you, like other new stories, the story of Zimmerman’s acquittal for taking Trayvon Martin’s life, will begin to fade away. Unfortunately, racism in the larger society and in the LGBT community will live on. Unless we do as much as we can to try to eradicate it.

Racism is the elephant in the room that no one likes to talk about, and it would be naive to think that a conversation alone could solve this problem. Yet our only hope is that we begin to have this conversation.

Kathi Wolfe is a writer and a poet. She is a regular contributor to the Blade. 


Health reform will help curb anti-LGBT bias

healthcare, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by iStock)


The Affordable Care Act is the most far-reaching reform of our nation’s health care system in decades. There are particularly exciting implications for the LGBT community and for persons living with HIV/AIDS. The ACA’s sweeping prohibition of health care discrimination on the basis of sex promises to give advocates and the federal government a powerful new tool against LGBT discrimination by health insurers and health care providers.  And, the new health insurance exchanges will give LGBT individuals and families, and persons living with HIV/AIDS, new access to nondiscriminatory and affordable health insurance that includes coverage of a broad range of “essential health benefits.”

A new tool to fight transgender and sexual orientation discrimination in health care, Section 1557 of the ACA prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, disability, age, race, color or national origin, by a broad range of health insurers and health care providers.  The actual scope of the new law will be fleshed out in federal regulations and court decisions, but the law clearly covers any doctor, hospital or health clinic that accepts Medicare or Medicaid, and any health insurer operating under the new exchanges. There is a strong argument that the statute’s prohibition of sex discrimination includes discrimination against transgender persons, and also discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Whitman-Walker Legal Services will be urging an expansive interpretation of the law. You can help by contacting us at 202-939-7627 if you encounter any health care discrimination because you are transgender or gay, lesbian, or bisexual. In addition, the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is planning to issue regulations under the new law, is seeking information about the extent of discrimination in health care. If you have encountered health care or health insurance discrimination because of being LGBT or living with HIV, you can tell your story directly to OCR by submitting a formal comment online, through Sept. 30, at

Starting Jan. 1, 2014, health insurers will be required to provide nondiscriminatory coverage, including a package of “essential health benefits,” without regard to HIV status or other health conditions. This is great news for the LGBT community, which has lower levels of health insurance than the general population, and for people living with HIV/AIDS, who have been subjected to systematic discrimination by health insurance companies since the beginning of the epidemic.

Starting Oct. 1 of this year, health insurance exchanges in D.C. and in Maryland, and a federally run exchange for Virginia residents, will begin operations. With some exceptions, starting Jan. 1, everyone will be required to carry health insurance. If you are currently uninsured or are dissatisfied with your current insurance, there will be web sites that will enable you to see what health plans are available and what they will cost. Specially trained experts – In-Person Assisters (also called Navigators or Connectors in Maryland) – will be available at numerous sites to provide free counseling and help with enrollment. Depending on your income, you may be eligible for help with the premiums and with deductibles and co-payments. Very low-income individuals and families may be eligible for free coverage through Medicaid.

This year’s open season will run from Oct. 1, 2013 until March 31, 2014. D.C. residents can receive help from Assisters at Whitman-Walker. Information on other Assister programs in D.C. is available from the D.C. Health Benefits Exchange Authority at or (202) 715-7576. Maryland residents should contact the Maryland Health Connection Call Center at 855-642-8572, and Virginia residents should call 1-800-318-2596 or visit

Dan Bruner is director of legal services and Erin Loubier is director of public benefits for Whitman-Walker Health.


The Salvation Army is an anti-gay evangelical church, boycott the red kettle

The Salvation Army suggested that gays be celibate, jobless, homeless, and dead. Give your donations elsewhere.


D.C. to enforce ban on insurance bias

Sterling Washington, Vince Gray, Washington D.C., gay news, Washington Blade, Mayor's Office of GLBT Affairs

Sterling Washington of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking announced on March 15 that it would immediately begin enforcing an existing city law that prohibits health insurance companies from denying or limiting insurance coverage based on someone’s gender identity or expression.

In a new directive issued that day, the DISB said insurance companies found to have exclusionary language in application forms for health insurance policies pertaining to transgender patients would have 90 days to remove that language from the forms. Such exclusionary provisions pertaining to transgender people that violate the law could no longer be enforced by the companies, the directive says.

“Prior to this new directive being issued, numerous health insurance companies operating in the District had explicit policies that excluded transgender women and men from many of the same services that they provided to their non-transgender patients,” a statement released by the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs says.

“Some of the services denied to transgender individuals, but approved for other patients, included mastectomies for breast cancer, hormone replacement therapy, and high blood pressure medications,” the statement says.

According to the statement, the new directive informs insurance companies that the city’s Unfair Trade Practices Act includes explicit language prohibiting health insurance companies from discriminating against people based on gender identity and expression as well as other categories, such as sexual orientation, race and ethnicity.

“With the issuance of this directive, the District becomes one of the first places to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression in health care and insurance,” the Office of GLBT Affairs statement says.


Most Americans see anti-gay bias as a problem

WASHINGTON — A New Gallup poll released this week shows that 63 percent of Americans see anti-gay discrimination as either a very serious or somewhat serious problem.

gay news, Washington Blade, Gallup poll

Only 9 percent of respondents to the poll said that anti-gay discrimination was not a problem at all. Respondents’ impressions of anti-gay discrimination in their hometown, however, were lower, with more believing anti-gay discrimination was not a problem or not very much of a problem locally. Forty-five percent of respondents said that gay issues will always divide Americans, while 51 percent said Americans will agree on gay issues some day, according to snippets of poll responses posted by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.