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Former Obama official calls for ENDA executive order

Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

A gay former counsel for USAID is calling on President Obama to take action against LGBT workplace discrimination. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A gay former member of the Obama administration says it’s time  for President Obama to issue an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors as he touts his agency’s independent action on the issue.

In an op-ed published in Washington Post late Thursday, Jeffrey Marburg-Goodman, special counsel for the U.S. Agency for International Development and a foreign policy adviser to the 2008 Obama campaign, called on Obama to issue the order to build on his record in advancing LGBT rights.

“Although admittedly imperfect and only partial, an executive order that helps advance employment equality nationwide is overdue,” Marburg-Goodman writes.

Issuing the executive order, Marburg-Goodman writes, would build off Obama’s earlier LGBT achievements, such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and naming a record number of LGBT government appointees.

Additionally, Marburg-Goodman says issuing the directive could be “a tipping point” that would lead to passage of legislation to protect LGBT employees known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Marburg-Goodman makes a special point of touting the work USAID has undertaken to address LGBT workplace discrimination. In October 2011, the agency issued guidance saying it “strongly encourages” its contractors to adopt non-discrimination policies for workers, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Individual federal agencies have done what they could to advance equality and reflect current American norms and values,” Marburg-Goodman said. “Last year, we at the U.S. Agency for International Development, under the leadership of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Administrator Rajiv Shah, announced the most advanced position any federal agency has taken on this issue.”

The Obama administration has repeatedly said it prefers a legislative solution to addressing LGBT workplace discrimination as opposed to issuing an executive order.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said Friday he has no updates on the directive in response to the op-ed piece.

“Regarding a hypothetical Executive Order on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors, I have no updates for you on that issue,” Inouye said.

Marburg-Goodman isn’t the first former Obama administration official to call on Obama to issue the executive order. In March 2012, Elizabeth Warren, then a candidate for U.S. Senate, endorsed the idea in an interview with the Washington Blade, saying, “Any steps that the president can take toward non-discrimination benefit the whole country.” Prior to representing Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate, Warren was special adviser for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under Obama.

Tico Almeida, president of the LGBT group Freedom to Work, praised Marburg-Goodman for calling on Obama to issue the executive order.

“I suspect some White House staffers are fairly annoyed with Mr. Marburg-Goodman for calling them out in such a high-profile way for their unforutnate desicion to delay President Obama’s executive order for LGBT workplace fairness, but I think he deserves our praise for using his stature as a distinguished Obama appointee to advocate on the LGBT workplace issues that some other administration officials have neglected for too long,” Almeida said. “I commend him for using his strong voice in favor of the pending executive order.”

Further, Almeida called on other former members of the Obama administration to speak out in favor of the executive order, including John Berry, who until last month was head of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the highest-ranking openly gay person in the Obama administration.

“It would be great if other gay former Obama appointees like John Berry followed Mr. Marburg-Goodman’s lead in advocating for this long overdue policy from the Obama Administration,” Almeida said.

Berry couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. According to the Washington Post, he’s on Obama’s short list for U.S. ambassador to Australia.

17
May
2013

Did Obama ask Leahy to delay gay-inclusive immigration reform?

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wouldn’t deny on Wednesday a media report that the Obama administration asked Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to hold off on the introduction of amendments to include same-sex couples as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

Under questioning initiated by the Washington Blade on the accuracy of the report, Carney restated that Obama supports a provision to immigration reform along the lines of the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow gay Americans to sponsor their partners for residency in the United States.

“I think the president supports that amendment, and he also made clear that he knows he won’t get everything, necessarily, that he wants in the final comprehensive immigration bill that he hopes the Senate will pass and the House will pass and will arrive on his desk,” Carney said. “But he will push for those things that he believes ought to be in it.”

Carney added if the measure were to come up again — suggesting the possibility of a floor amendment to immigration reform — Obama “would hope” it would have bipartisan support.

When the Blade pointed out that response doesn’t address the issue of whether the White House asked Leahy to hold off on the amendments, Carney said he doesn’t have the content of conversations on immigration reform.

“I think you saw the manner in which it was discussed in the hearing by Senator Leahy, who introduced it, and other members of the committee who discussed it,” Carney said. “We are obviously engaged in conversations with the main players on this issue on a regular basis. And I don’t have the contents of all those conversations.”

When CBS News’ Major Garrett jumped in to ask if Carney would deny the report, Carney replied, “I’m not aware of that conversation.”

“What I can tell you is the president supports the amendment,” Carney said. “The president also believes, as he made clear in Costa Rica, that we need to accept that we may not get everything we want. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to fight for the things that we believe in, and this president will.”

During the Senate Judiciary Committee markup of the bill, numerous Democrats on the panel who are known for supporting LGBT rights — Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — said they couldn’t bring themselves to support the amendment out of fear of losing Republican support for the final bill.

Asked by the Blade if there was a reasonable expectation that Obama should have brought these senators on board in time for the vote, Carney deferred to the Senate.

“I think each senator expressed himself or herself and his or her own views, so I would refer you to them,” Carney said. “The president’s views are clear. He believes this amendment should be passed and has made his views clear on that. I can’t speak for other senators.”

Earlier during the briefing under questioning from Reuters’ Jeff Mason, Carney noted Obama’s support for the provisions when asked about possible areas of improvement the president would like see addressed when the bill comes to the Senate floor.

“I think he’s made clear that he supports that and would like to see Congress support that,” Carney said. “He’s also made clear that he doesn’t expect to get everything he wants in this bill. It doesn’t mean he won’t fight for everything he wants, but he understands that compromise means not getting every single thing that you want.”

A partial transcript of the exchange between reporters on Jay Carney on the issue follows:

Washington Blade: I want to go back to immigration reform. Senator Leahy yesterday withheld amendments that would have included gay couples as part of a larger package. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the White House had asked him to hold off on those measures. Did the White House, in fact, ask Senator Leahy to revoke those amendments?

Jay Carney: I think you heard the President address this issue — I think it was in an interview in Costa Rica. I think the President supports that amendment, and he also made clear that he knows he won’t get everything, necessarily, that he wants in the final comprehensive immigration bill that he hopes the Senate will pass and the House will pass and will arrive on his desk. But he will push for those things that he believes ought to be in it.

He thinks it’s important that we make sure that everyone who’s engaged in this process understands that they may not get everything they want, but I think he expressed very clearly his strong support for that amendment. He would hope that if it comes up again that there would be strong bipartisan support for it — and we’ll have to see. But his support I think he expressed very clearly.

Blade: It’s clear that the President supports that amendment, but that response doesn’t really get to the issue of whether the White House asked Senator Leahy to withhold the amendments.

Carney: I don’t have — I think you saw the manner in which it was discussed in the hearing by Senator Leahy, who introduced it, and other members of the committee who discussed it. We are obviously engaged in conversations with the main players on this issue on a regular basis. And I don’t have the contents of all those conversations. What I can tell you is that the President supports —

CBS News: But you don’t deny it?

Carney: I’m sorry.

CBS News: You don’t deny the report.

Carney: I’m not aware of that conversation. What I can tell you is the President supports the amendment. The President also believes, as he made clear in Costa Rica, that we need to accept that we may not get everything we want. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to fight for the things that we believe in, and this President will.

Blade: During the markup last night, it was one Democrat after the other — Senator Feinstein, Senator Durbin, Senator Schumer — said they couldn’t bring themselves to support the measure. And these are senators from the President’s own party. Isn’t there a reasonable expectation that the President should have worked to bring them on board in time for that vote in accordance with his vision for immigration reform?

Carney: Well, I think each senator expressed himself or herself and his or her own views, so I would refer you to them. The president’s views are clear. He believes this amendment should be passed and has made his views clear on that. I can’t speak for other senators.

Watch the video here:

22
May
2013

DNC treasurer defends Michelle Obama’s LGBT speech

Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias pushed back in email over ENDA, immigration criticism (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

DNC Treasurer Andrew Tobias pushed back against ENDA, immigration criticism. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The treasurer of the Democratic National Committee is defending first lady Michelle Obama for failing to address LGBT workplace discrimination and the exclusion of bi-national gay couples from immigration reform during a fundraising speech she gave Wednesday in New York.

Andrew Tobias, who’s gay, responded to concerns expressed in an off-the-record listserv for major LGBT donors in an email obtained by the Washington Blade on Thursday.

In the email, Tobias praised Obama for her speech, which did not mention her husband’s failure to issue an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors. She also didn’t directly address the exclusion of bi-national same-sex couples from the immigration reform bill.

“My own feeling is that she did it just right, and that almost everyone in the room – certainly including the First Lady and the DNC Chair – are very much aware of these specifics (as are the key players in the WH),” Tobias wrote to the listserv. “You and all the rest of us are absolutely right to be frustrated by the delays and to keep pushing (I’m hoping this Exxon/Mobil hook might be the one that puts it across the finish line).”

Tobias attempts to allay concerns about Senate Democrats rejecting the Uniting American Families Act by saying the Supreme Court will likely address the issue soon by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act — thanks in part to “two Justices McCain would never have appointed” — and by estimating that 500,000 LGBT people are among the 11 million undocumented immigrants who would obtain a pathway to citizenship if reform were passed. (The Williams Institute estimates a smaller number, 267,000, are LGBT.)

“Some are certain the Republicans in the Senate and House would NEVER have torpedoed the immigration bill over this or anything else, because they’d be crazy to,” Tobias wrote. “But the Tea Party types are getting ever more extreme and short-sighted, so I’m not certain either way.”

Tobias enumerates the many high-profile LGBT people who attended the event — including Edith Windsor, the New York widow who is the plaintiff in the DOMA case, and Super Bowl champ Brendon Ayanbadejo — before concluding by saying people are right to push for more rights, but the other major national party wouldn’t have held such an event.

“The RNC has never had a dinner like this,” Tobias writes. “We are truly not yet welcome in their party; they are still a huge obstacle to the equality we deserve; and until that changes, those of us who can afford to plant the seed corn for further success in 2014 and 2016 could not possibly make a more leveraged investment in equality.”

Tobias wrote the email days after one Democratic donor, Miami-based philanthropist Jonathan Lewis, said he is withholding donations to Democrats and asking others to do the same over the immigration issue and the executive order.

The first lady spoke at the annual LGBT gala for the Democratic National Committee, which she headlined along with gay NBA player Jason Collins. A DNC official said tickets were between $1,250 and $32,400 and approximately 350 people attended.

The DNC wouldn’t reveal the total amount raised at the event. It’s unclear whether Lewis’ email had any impact on the money raised.

After being introduced by Collins, Obama spoke for about 20 minutes, according to a pool report from the event, and touted the president’s achievements on LGBT issues and other matters.

“Because of you, we are taking on climate change, gun violence, comprehensive immigration reform,” the first lady said. “And because of you, yes, we have a president who stands up for our most fundamental rights, from ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to strengthening hate crimes to supporting our right to marry the person we love. Because of you.”

Obama urged the attendees to max out the donations they can offer the Democratic Party over the course of an election cycle. For the DNC, that’s $32,400 in each of the two years of this cycle, so $64,800 if someone maxes out both years.

“We need you to keep on writing those checks — and if you haven’t maxed out, you know, what’s my motto?” the first lady said. “Max out. Let’s say it together. Max out. And if you’ve maxed out, get your friends to max out. …  Sounds kind of baller, too — maxing out. Everyone here should be maxed out.”

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on why LGBT workplace discrimination and immigration were absent form the first lady’s speech.

LGBT groups working on these issues said they’d welcome the first lady’s help by the addition of her voice to efforts to protect bi-national couples and institute LGBT workplace discrimination protections.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Michelle Obama’s voice would be a boon to efforts to pass ENDA over the course of this year and the campaign to institute an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination.

“I think the first lady’s a rock star, and she’s admired by many, many Americans,” Almeida said. “I admire her a great deal. In part, I admire her because she’s an incredibly effective advocate for many issues, and important issues, that she’s championed over the past years. It would be wonderful if the first lady helped our ENDA advocacy and made the case this year as we’re moving toward the full Senate vote that LGBT Americans should be able to build a career without fear of getting fired just because of who they are, or who they love.”

Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, redirected attention to another speech from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in which he called for UAFA-inclusive immigration reform.

“I wasn’t in the room with the first lady last night,” Ralls said. “But I can tell you that, as she was speaking, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was addressing Immigration Equality’s supporters — just a few blocks away — at our New York gala. Mayor Bloomberg called on Congress to include LGBT families in immigration reform, putting one of the most important advocates for reform solidly on record in support of our families.”

The full email from Tobias follows:

My own feeling is that she did it just right, and that almost everyone in the room – certainly including the First Lady and the DNC Chair – are very much aware of these specifics (as are the key players in the WH).

You and all the rest of us are absolutely right to be frustrated by the delays and to keep pushing (I’m hoping this Exxon/Mobil hook might be the one that puts it across the finish line). One key player I spoke with praised Jeffrey Marburg’s Washington Post op-ed (posted here a few days ago) as exactly the right way to do it: respectful, well-reasoned, powerful.

But while I have you, a few other notes from the glass half-full side of the ledger:

1. It was a wonderful dinner, celebrating the progress we HAVE made since the last time, as a senator’s wife, the First Lady spoke at our dinner.  Here was the video we showed.  It begins with an excerpt from her remarks five years ago.

2. As frustrating as the UAFA situation is – and deeply wrong that anyone has to choose between love and country – I’m pretty sure that in part because of the two Justices McCain would never have appointed, DOMA will fall in a few weeks and a great many couples will no longer have to make such a choice.  We should keep pushing until we have an even better resolution, but I’m hopeful it will truly change the lives of most who’ve had to deal with this so long.

2a. Let’s not lose sight of our 500,000 undocumented LGBT brothers and sisters who, if the immigration bill does get signed into law, will have their lives transformed with legal status and a pathway to citizenship. (I’m assuming that 4% or 5% of the 11 million are LGBT.) They can’t afford to come to dinners like the one we had last night, but they count too.

Some are certain the Republicans in the Senate and House would NEVER have torpedoed the immigration bill over this or anything else, because they’d be crazy to.  But the Tea Party types are getting ever more extreme and short-sighted, so I’m not certain either way. (To borrow Barney Frank’s line from a different context: “We’re not perfect, but they’re nuts.”) This isn’t to say I’m not disappointed. But given the two points above, and what will be our continued efforts to get where we all want to end up, there’s reason, I think, to be less angry than some are.  And room for many of us, equally committed to equality, to be more supportive.

3. There were many highlights last night – Super Bowl champ Brendon Ayanbadejo was there!  Inaugural poet Richard Blanco was there!  P-FAW’s Michael Keegan, GLSEN’s Eliza Byard, Lambda’s Kevin Cathcart, and GMHC’sMarjorie Hill were there! A SINNER IN MECCA’s gay Muslim documentarianParvez Sharma was there!  Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson and the ACLU’s James Esseksand the Victry Fnd’s Chuck Wolfe were there! Media Matters founder David Brockand Athlete Ally founder Hudson Taylor and All Out co-founder Andre Banks and SLDN’s Aubrey Sarvis were there! The first transgender member of the DNC’s executive committee, Babs Siperstein, was there!  Robbie Kaplan, who argued Edie Windsor’s case before the Supreme Court, was there! Edie Windsor HERSELF was there! – along with terrific elected officials, local and national, gay and straight, and Ambassador James Hormel . . .

. . . but the unexpected highlight of the evening (everyone knew Bravo’s Andy Cohen would do a great job emceeing and that NBA center Jason Collins would give the First Lady a great into and that the First Lady herself would leave the assembled on their feet cheering) was a 22-year-old transgender woman who did a lovely job of introducing DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (whose congressional district, she notes, which include South Beach, she now refers to as “straight friendly”) and then turned to where DWS was supposed to enter from backstage to give her remarks . . . and waited a little more . . . nervous, supportive laughter riding from the crowd . . . and then — far from freezing in the headlights — just won us over completely by telling us her story, taking questions . . . it was completely charming, and the transgender CEO of a multi-billion-dollar biotech firm seated next to me with her wife was just loving every minute of it, as were 280 others.  Young Evie Renee Arroyo was a star.

Anyway, and as always:  everyone is right to push, and also to support, because BOTH are in our self-interest to do.  The RNC has never had a dinner like this.  We are truly not yet welcome in their party; they are still a huge obstacle to the equality we deserve; and until that changes, those of us who can afford to plant the seed corn for further success in 2014 and 2016 could not possibly make a more leveraged investment in equality.

Thanks!

Andy

30
May
2013

Berry tapped as U.S. ambassador to Australia

John Berry, gay news, Washington Blade

John Berry, who’s gay, was named U.S. ambassador to Australia. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama nominated on Friday for the first time ever an openly gay person to serve as ambassador to a G-20 country.

John Berry, who formerly served as director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management until his departure in April, was nominated as U.S. ambassador to Australia. Before his departure from OPM, Berry was considered the highest-ranking openly gay person within the Obama administration. His nomination as ambassador is subject to Senate confirmation.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement praised the nomination of Berry, whose nomination fulfills the request from HRC for the nomination of an openly LGBT person as an ambassador to a G-20 country.

“John Berry has been a devoted public servant for 30 years, and will bring tremendous experience to our embassy in Canberra,” Griffin said. “His lifetime of professional experiences make him an outstanding choice to be the nation’s next ambassador to Australia. I urge the Senate to confirm his nomination.”

At the start of Obama’s second term, Berry was discussed as a potential nominee as secretary of interior, which would have made him the first openly gay Cabinet member. During the Clinton administration, Berry served in a senior position within the Department of the Interior and later was director of both the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and the National Zoo. However, the role of secretary of the interior ultimately went to Sally Jewell.

In the course of his time at OPM, Berry in addition to his regular duties acted as adviser on LGBT issues within the administration. The OPM director was present at the meeting in which White House officials informed LGBT advocates it wouldn’t issue at this time an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, and Berry also took part in a White House meeting with transgender advocates on the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

According to OpenSecrets.org, Berry donated $5,000 to Obama’s presidential re-election campaign.

Berry wasn’t the only out nominee that Obama named on Friday. The president also named James “Wally” Brewster Jr., who’s senior managing partner for the Chicago-based consumer dynamics strategy consulting firm SB&K Global, as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

Griffin praised Brewster, who’s a national LGBT co-chair for the Democratic National Committee and serves on HRC’s board.

“Wally Brewster is an excellent choice to be our nation’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic,” Griffin said. “His global business and management expertise is matched by his enthusiasm and commitment to human rights and democracy around the world. Wally’s political intelligence and work in public affairs and communications would make him a valuable contribution to our nation’s diplomatic efforts.”

According to OpenSecrets.org, Brewster has made significant donations to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates. In the last election cycle, Brewster donated $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee, $5,000 to Obama’s re-election, and made numerous donations to state Democratic parties and campaigns for Democrats, including lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Obama made the two openly gay nominations as part of a group of 15 nominations on the same day. In a statement, Obama emphasized their capabilities as U.S. ambassadors.

“These men and women have demonstrated knowledge and dedication throughout their careers,” Obama said. “I am grateful they have chosen to take on these important roles, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”

The two nominations of Friday come on the heels of several other nominations of gay men to ambassadorial posts. Last week, Obama named Rufus Gifford, the finance director for his 2012 presidential campaign, as ambassador to Denmark, and James Costos, who’s HBO’s vice president of global licensing and retail, was named U.S. ambassador to Spain. In the previous week, Obama named Daniel Baer, who previously served as a senior State Department official as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe.

Three other openly gay men have previously served as U.S. ambassadors. David Huebner has been U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa since 2009. Michael Guest was U.S. ambassador to Romania during the Bush administration and James Hormel was U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg during the latter part of the Clinton administration.

21
Jun
2013

OPM lays out post-DOMA plan for fed’l employee benefits

U.S. Office of Personnel Management has instituted new guidance for married gay federal employees in the wake of DOMA (photo public domain)

U.S. Office of Personnel Management has instituted new guidance for married gay federal employees in the wake of the DOMA court ruling. (photo public domain)

Gay federal employees in legal same-sex marriages will be eligible immediately for health and pension benefits in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, according to a new memo from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

The memorandum, dated June 28 and signed by OPM acting director Elaine Kaplan, identifies five new areas of benefits that will be available after the court decision for the legal spouses as well as newly qualified children and stepchildren of gay federal employees.

“There are numerous benefits that are affected by the Supreme Court’s decision, and it is impossible to answer every question that you might have,” Kaplan, a lesbian, writes. “Nevertheless, I want to assure you that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is committed to working with the Department of Justice to ensure swift and seamless implementation of the court’s ruling.”

The five new benefits identified in the memo are:

• health insurance through the Federal Health Employees Benefits (FEHB) plan;

• life insurance through the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) program;

• dental and vision insurance through the Federal Employee Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP);

• long-term care insurance under the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP);

• retirement benefits;

• and the ability to submit claims for medical expenses through flexible spending accounts.

For each of the four insurance benefits in the memo, gay federal employees must elect to make a change within the window of 60 days between June 26, 2013 and August 26, 2013 to enroll. With respect to health, dental and vision insurance, the next opportunity would be at the start of open season later this year.

For employees who already have health coverage under a FEHB plan, coverage will begin immediately. For those who don’t, benefits will be effective on the first day of the first pay period after the enrollment request is received.

To be eligible for retirement benefits for their same-sex spouses, gay federal employees have two years until after the Supreme Court decision, or June 26, 2015, to inform OPM they have a legal marriage that qualifies for recognition and elect and changes to benefits.

The OPM memo is the first of many pieces of guidance expected from federal agencies in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. After the court ruling, President Obama said he instructed U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to work with other Cabinet members to implement the end to the Defense of Marriage Act.

In a statement, Obama called the OPM guidance “a critical first step” toward implementing the Supreme Court ruling that determined “all married couples should be treated equally under federal law.”

“Thousands of gays and lesbians serve our country every day in the federal government,” Obama said. “They, and their spouses and children, deserve the same respect and protection as every other family.”

In another statement, Holder said the Obama administration by offering these benefits “is making real the promise of this important decision” against DOMA, but there’s more to come.

“As the President directed, the Department of Justice will continue to coordinate with other federal agencies to implement this ruling as swiftly and smoothly as possible,” Holder said. “I look forward to sharing additional information as it becomes available. We will never stop fighting to ensure equality, opportunity, and – above all – justice for everyone in this country.”

Leonard Hirsch, a board member for the LGBT federal employee affinity group known as Federal GLOBE, called the guidance “an extraordinary result” for everyone’s who been working on the issue for decades.

“It opens up the key benefits that key benefits for federal employees that have been closed — health insurance, life insurance — to the same-sex spouses of federal employees and retirees,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch also emphasized the word must to get out to federal retirees that their same-sex spouses are eligible for federal benefits in the wake of the ruling against DOMA.

“This was included, so this is a wonderful, inclusive set of changes that OPM has been preparing for and announced today,” Hirsch said.

Thomas Richards, an OPM spokesperson, confirmed that the guidance applies to all employees in legal same-sex marriages — even those that live in states that don’t recognize marriage equality.

“These benefits will be available to any federal employee or annuitant who has a valid marriage license, regardless of their state of residency,” Richards said.

But the guidance doesn’t cover federal employees in same-sex relationships who aren’t married, such as those in domestic partnerships or civil unions. In July, gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) is expected to introduce the legislation known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act to address this issue.

Richards noted the limitations of the new guidance is restricted to legally married federal employees, but recalled a 2009 memorandum from President Obama that offered limited benefits to employees in civil unions or domestic partnerships

“Acting Director Kaplan’s memo identifies certain benefits previously available only to opposite-sex spouses that are now available to all legally married spouses, including same-sex spouses,” Richards said. “OPM has already extended benefits to same-sex domestic partners to the extent permissible under the law.”

28
Jun
2013

In two days, anti-gay marriage amendment gains, loses sponsor

Tom Latham, United States House of Representatives, Republican Party, Iowa, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Tom Latham‘s (R-Iowa) brief co-sponsorship of the Federal Marriage Amendment was attributed to staffer error. (Photo public domain).

A recently proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would restrict marriage to one man, one woman throughout the country has gained and lost a supporter in the U.S. House within the course of two days.

According to the Library of Congress, Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) withdrew Wednesday as a co-sponsor of the amendment, whose chief sponsor is Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas), after signing on as a co-sponsor on Tuesday.

Chris Deaton, a Latham spokesperson, attributed the brief co-sponsorship to a staffer error.

“This was a staff member’s mistake,” Deaton said. “The withdrawal was the correction of the staff member’s mistake.”

Latham’s change is consistent with his position on the amendment when it came to a floor vote in 2004 and 2006. He wasn’t a co-sponsor of the bill at that time.

But Latham voted in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment both times the measure came to the House floor.

Deaton didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up inquiry on why Latham isn’t a co-sponsor now or whether he opposes the measure.

There are still 34 co-sponsors for the Federal Marriage Amendment — all Republicans. That’s far short of the 290 votes needed to pass a U.S. constitutional amendment in the House.

11
Jul
2013

Baldwin leads call for HHS to reevaluate gay blood ban

Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is leading 85 lawmakers in a call for HHS to reevaluate its gay blood ban. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is leading a new effort to call on the Department of Health & Human Services for an update on the process with which reviewing its regulatory ban prohibiting gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

In a public letter dated Aug. 2, Baldwin as part of 86 members of the House and Senate asks Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for an update on the previously announced reevaluation of the policy, saying they’re “deeply concerned about the timeline of such research.”

“Our current policies turn away healthy, willing donors, even when we face serious blood shortages,” the letter states. “Further, the existing lifetime ban continues to perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes against gay and bisexual men, and fosters an atmosphere that promotes discrimination and discourages individuals from HIV testing and treatment services.”

Under current regulation, men who have had sex with other men since 1977 — even once — aren’t eligible to donate blood. The policy was set up administratively in 1985 at the height of the AIDS crisis, but could be overturned at any time without a change in law.

Others who have signed the bipartisan letter include Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Wis.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) as well as Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). Other signers are openly gay members of the U.S. House: Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.). Bisexual Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) isn’t yet a signer.

Baldwin supplemented the letter to the Department of Health & Human Services with a message via Twitter drawing attention to the current policy on gay blood donation.

The letter takes HHS to task for not moving quickly in the wake of announced plans to reevaluate existing policy. As the Washington Blade reported in 2010, the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety & Availability voted 9-6 against lifting the ban, but recommended additional research to support a change that would allow low-risk gay and bisexual men to donate.

According to the letter, HHS informed the committee last month that three studies are underway as well as a task force to help inform policy changes. The Quarantine Release Error Task Force is due to release a white paper this month, while the REDS-II, and Donor History Questionnaire studies are both scheduled to report results in October. The REDS-III study will be completed in August 2014.

The letter also notes, as the Washington Blade reported last year, HHS announced in March 2012 it’s seeking comments on a plan to design a pilot study to establish “alternative donor deferral criteria” that would enable gay and bisexual men to donate blood. Among the suggested changes is having them go through additional screening so they can be allowed to donate, although the notice admits such a policy may be seen as discriminatory.

According to the letter, HHS informed the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety & Availability that the RFI has received 11 responses to this proposal and a report to HHS senior leadership is scheduled for next month. According to public record, 10 responses were received from 10 different organizations, totaling 75 pages, including support documents.

The letter enumerates four things on which lawmakers seek clarity from HHS in reassessing blood donation criteria for men who have sex with men:

• The criteria used to assess the 75 pages of comments and what the assessment activities took place from June 2012 to July 2013;

• A copy of the July 2013 report to leadership on the response to the RFI on pilot study design;

• A detailed plan and a timeline for how results from the Quarantine Release Error Task Force, the Donor History Questionnaire Study; the REDS-II and REDS-III studies will be used to inform changes to the blood donation criteria; and

• Whether HHS plans to leverage data from other countries that currently allow MSM to donate to inform analysis of an alternative policy, and if not, why not.

In response to the letter, an HHS spokesperson pointed to the decision adopted by the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety & Availability in 2010 without providing an update on the research.

“The committee found the current donor deferral policies to be suboptimal in permitting some potentially high risk donations while preventing some potentially low risk donations, but voted in favor of retaining the existing policy, and identified areas requiring further research,” the HHS spokesperson said.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, deferred comment to HHS on the issue.

As noted in the letter, the American Medical Association in June adopted a resolution in opposition to the gay blood ban in favor of a policy that weighs individual risks other than sexual orientation.

AMA board member Dr. William Kobler at the time said the lifetime ban on gay blood donations “is discriminatory and not based on sound science.”

“This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone,” Kobler said.

02
Aug
2013

Labor Dept. says gay couples eligible for family and medical leave

The Labor Department under Secretary Thomas Perez is preparing guidance for gay couples under the Family & Medical Leave Act (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The Labor Department under Secretary Thomas Perez is preparing guidance for gay couples under the Family & Medical Leave Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The Labor Department is preparing guidance to inform employers throughout the country that married same-sex couples are now eligible for family and medical leave under the law.

A Labor Department spokesperson affirmed for the Washington Blade the department will issue guidance to inform employers about the change under the Family & Medical Leave Act in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

“The Wage & Hour Division is working closely with the Department of Justice and looking through all the materials that touch on this issue to determine what public guidance is necessary,” the spokesperson added. “We expect to have additional information available in the near future.”

The Family & Medical Leave Act entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. Prior to the ruling against DOMA, the Labor Department didn’t require employers to grant married gay couples leave if one spouse in the relationship fell ill and needed  care because DOMA prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage. But with DOMA out of the picture, the Obama administration is free to enforce FMLA on behalf of married same-sex couples.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, praised the Labor Department for moving forward with this guidance and credited it to the leadership of the recently confirmed Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

“Freedom to Work endorsed Tom Perez for Labor Secretary because we know him to be a champion for good jobs for everyone, so we are thrilled that the Wage & Hour Division is moving forward now with public guidance that will let employers know that gay and lesbian married couples must be treated with respect when they seek workplace leave to take care of a same-sex spouse that gets into an accident or is diagnosed with an illness,” Almeida said.

In 2010, the Labor Department enacted a change with DOMA in place that enabled a gay employee to take absence under the Family & Medical Leave Act to care for a non-legal, non-biological child of a partner. But that change was obstensibly as far as the Obama administration could go with DOMA in place.

Almeida continued to call for further action in the form of additional guidance saying an existing executive order issued under President Lyndon Johnson prohibiting gender discrimination applies to transgender workers as well. Such guidance would align the Labor Department’s enforcement of the directive with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision last year in Macy v. Holder interpreting Title VII to protect transgender workers.

“We are told by numerous government sources that it was the White House senior staff that decided to disregard American law and ignore Macy vs. Holder for federal contractors,” Almeida said. “These sources say that the White House has forbidden the Labor Department from doing what everyone knows is morally right and legally correct. Given the incredible passion and intellect that Secretary Perez brings to these important issues, we remain hopeful that he will persuade the White House staffers to stand on the right side of American history.”

07
Aug
2013

Frank seeks appointment as interim U.S. senator

Rep. Barney Frank is actively seeking an interim appointment as a U.S. senator (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Former Rep. Barney Frank expressed interest in an interim appointment as a U.S. senator. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who retired after his last term as a U.S. House member on Wednesday, publicly expressed interest in the position of interim U.S. senator on Friday during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and said he’s spoken to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick about the role.

“I’ve told the governor that I would now like frankly to do that because I would like to be a part of that,” Frank said. “It’s only a three-month period; I wouldn’t want to do anything more. I don’t want to run again.”

Frank noted during the interview that two weeks ago he said he wasn’t interested in the position because it was “kind of like you’re about to graduate, and they said ‘You have to go to summer school,’” but has since changed his mind.

The opportunity for the interim appointment has come up in the wake of President Obama’s announcement that he’ll nominate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as secretary of state. Under Massachusetts law, Patrick will have to select an interim replacement for Kerry, and between 145 and 160 days after Kerry steps down a special election must be held to find a permanent replacement.

Last week, Frank told Politico that he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of accepting the appointment, saying his answer to whether he wants the job was “not a ‘no’ or a ‘yes.’”

In a later interview with the Boston Globe, Frank expanded on his reasons for seeking the position, saying he wants to take part in the talks to stave off major budget cuts to federal programs now that the sequester under the “fiscal cliff” deal has been pushed off two months.

“The first months of the new Senate will be among the most important in American history,” Frank was quoted as saying. “I may be a little immodest, but I called the governor and said I think I can be a help in reaching a fair solution to some of these issues.”

Frank reportedly continued, “I think there are progressive ways to work on Social Security and Medicare. I think making the case against [Tea Party Republicans] on the debt limit is important. A split emerged in the Republican Party over the fiscal cliff, with mainstream Republicans splitting with the radical right. I think it’s important for us to continue to exploit that. We need to reach out to conservative Republicans who nonetheless are willing to compromise, and find a way to reach a deal.”

The Washington Blade reported earlier this week that the cuts under the sequester could impact federal programs relevant to LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS, potentially placing as many as 12,000 people on the waiting list for assistance under AIDS Drug Assistance Programs.

Patrick hasn’t yet indicated whom he’ll designate for the position. Other names that have emerged in media reports are Vicky Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, and former Democratic presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. A Patrick aide said the governor hasn’t made a decision yet.

Denis Dison, a spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said Frank’s experience as a U.S. House member would make him well-qualified for the position of U.S. senator as Congress approaches budget cuts.

“As a former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, few people understand better the complexities facing federal lawmakers in the coming months,” Dison said. “Beyond the history-making nature of such an appointment, it would serve the people of Massachusetts well to have someone with his experience and knowledge working on these very tough issues as they choose their next senator.”

If Frank is appointed the role, he would join Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) in the U.S. Senate and would become the second openly gay lawmaker to serve in that chamber.

Frank’s new interest in the role marks a change from the viewpoint he expressed to the the Blade on Monday during an interview in previously unpublished comments.

Asked about his previous comments in Politico, Frank replied, “The only way to deal with that is to ignore it. Ignore the question. Talk about being in awkward situation. I am ignoring that.”

Pressed on whether he had any conversations with Patrick by that time, Frank offered more details and said he was ready to leave Congress.

“I have not had any conversations with the governor,” Frank said. “There’s a couple who’ve said, ‘Gee, you should be a senator. Want me to tell the governor?’ I said, ‘Please do not do that.’ I don’t want anyone doing that. I’m ready to get out of here, and my mind is set for that.”

Frank’s interest in becoming a U.S. senator is noteworthy because he’s come out in opposition to the potential nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as defense secretary based on the former senator’s 1998 anti-gay remarks against James Hormel and his anti-gay voting record. If appointed as a senator, Frank would be in a position to vote against confirming Hagel.

04
Jan
2013

Hagel nomination controversial in LGBT community

Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama, White House, Secretary of Defense, Washington Blade, gay news

President Obama nominates Chuck Hagel and John Brenner to high-level administration positions (Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson)

President Obama officially announced on Monday he would nominate former Sen. Chuck Hagel for defense secretary, a move that has stirred controversy in the LGBT community.

Obama appeared with Hagel in the East Room of the White House to name the Nebraska Republican as his choice — calling him “the leader that our troops deserve” and praising him for his service as a U.S. senator and Vietnam veteran — in addition to nominating John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

“Chuck Hagel’s leadership of our military would be historic,” Obama said. “He’d be the first person of enlisted rank to serve as Secretary of Defense, one of the few secretaries who have been wounded in war, and the first Vietnam veteran to lead the department.  As I saw during our visits together to Afghanistan and Iraq, in Chuck Hagel our troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength.”

Obama also alluded to outstanding work at the Pentagon on LGBT issues without enumerating any specific initiatives, saying the nation must move toward “continuing to ensure that our men and women in uniform can serve the country they love, no matter who they love.”

Hagel made no reference to LGBT issues during his remarks, but more generally said he was grateful to have another opportunity to serve the country as well as “men and women in uniform and their families.”

“These are people who give so much to this nation every day with such dignity and selflessness,” Hagel said. “This is particularly important at a time as we complete our mission in Afghanistan and support the troops and military families who have sacrificed so much over more than a decade of war.”

The news was met with varied reactions in the LGBT community — ranging from full support to outright opposition — based on Hagel’s anti-gay record and lingering inequities faced by LGBT service members.

First, there are the anti-gay remarks that Hagel made in 1998 about James Hormel, whom the senator referred to as “openly, aggressively gay” in remarks published in the Omaha World-Herald while questioning his ability to serve as a U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. A U.S. senator representing Nebraska from 1997 and 2009, Hagel also had a poor record on LGBT issues. He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote in 2006.

Just last month, Hagel delivered an apology to media outlets over his 1998 remarks, saying he backs open service and is “committed to LGBT military families.” Major LGBT groups like OutServe-SLDN and the Human Rights Campaign quickly accepted the apology.

But questions linger on outstanding LGBT issues at the Pentagon. Gay service members still aren’t afforded partner benefits offered to straight troops in the U.S. military  — such as joint duty assignments, issuance of military IDs, use of the commissary and family housing — which could be changed administratively at any time even with the Defense of Marriage Act in place. Pentagon officials have said they’ve been looking into this issue since the time “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in September 2011, but no action has been taken. Another lingering issue is the prohibition on openly transgender service in the military — another problem that could be changed administratively.

Baldwin seeks answers on Hagel

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who after being sworn in last week as the first openly gay senator, will be faced with voting on whether to confirm Hagel, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Monday that she plans to “ask some tough questions, to give a thorough review and to be fair.”

“But I do want to speak with him … to see if his apology is sincere and sufficient,” Baldwin said. “I want to hear how he’s evolved on this issue in the last 14 years because the significance to the post to which he’s been nominated is the respect for now openly gay members of the military … We need to see [repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell] implemented successfully especially because the security of this nation is at stake.”

Another group seeking additional information from Hagel is the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, which issued a statement on Monday expressing concerns about the nomination.

Rea Carey, the Task Force’s executive director, called on Hagel to address how he’d advance LGBT issues at the Pentagon — as well as abortion rights for female service members — during his upcoming confirmation hearings before the Senate.

“We continue to express our concerns about the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense due to his poor track record on LGBT equality and reproductive rights,” Carey said. “Though Chuck Hagel has recently apologized for past anti-gay remarks, we expect him to fully explain his views during the confirmation process and what steps he intends to take as defense secretary to demonstrate his support for LGBT members of the military and their families.”

Another group that’s seeking a specific action from Hagel — after initially accepting the senator’s apology — is OutServe-SLDN, which issued a statement calling for a plan on partner benefits and non-discrimination policies.

Allyson Robinson, OutServe-SLDN’s executive director, said she wants Hagel to expand on what he means by being “committed to LGBT military families” by articulating policy plans on these issues.

“A commitment to support LGBT service members and their families must be a commitment to action,” Robinson said. “It’s past time to extend all benefits available to married same-sex military couples and families while the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is still on the books. It’s past time to put in place military equal opportunity and nondiscrimination protections so that all qualified Americans who wish to serve this nation in uniform may do so without fear of harassment or discrimination.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT group, has been relatively silent on the Hagel nomination after accepting Hagel’s apology a couple weeks ago and issued no public news statement on the day of the announcement.

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, said in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade that his organization is looking to hear more from Hagel during the confirmation hearings without offering an explicit position on the nomination.

“The next secretary of defense will be critical to the implementation of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal,” Sainz said. “We look forward to Senator Hagel’s testimony on how he intends to end the discriminatory behavior against gay and lesbian service members’ families.”

White House says Hagel values inclusion

The White House has responded to LGBT concerns about Hagel’s record through its chief advocate handling LGBT issues — Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett — who addressed the issue on Monday in a blog posting on the White House website.

“The President is fully committed to ensuring that all of our service members and military families are treated equally,” Jarrett writes. “He is confident that, as Secretary of Defense, Senator Hagel will ensure that all who serve the country we love are treated equally — no matter who they love.”

Noting that Hagel issued an apology for the remarks and expressed a commitment to LGBT military families, Jarrett said “one of the great successes of the LGBT civil rights movement” is providing people the opportunity to evolve on those issues.

“The President would not have chosen him unless he had every confidence that, working together, they will continue to ensure that our military and DOD civilian workforce are as welcoming, inclusive, and respectful as possible,” Jarrett concluded.

A White House spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether Hagel would lay out more specific plans during his confirmation process to address outstanding issues regarding benefits or non-discrimination policies.

Former gay Rep. Barney Frank appeared to have a change of heart on Hagel. In an interview with the Boston Globe on Monday, Frank reversed his earlier stated opposition to the former senator’s confirmation as defense secretary, saying he was initially hoping Obama wouldn’t nominate him.

“As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank was quoted as saying. “In terms of the policy stuff, if he would be rejected [by the Senate], it would be a setback for those things.”

Frank, who’s now vying for an appointment as interim U.S. senator of Massachusetts, also reportedly said, “With the attack coming out of the right, I hope he gets confirmed.” If appointed to the Senate seat, Frank would be in a position to vote on the confirmation.

Perhaps the strongest support in the LGBT community in favor of the nomination came from Rick Jacobs, chair of the California-based progressive grassroots organization known as the Courage Campaign, who declared his support for Hagel in a column for The Huffington Post.

“Chuck, like most Americans, has evolved has changed his views on homosexuality,” Jacobs said. “He gave his word that as DoD chief he supports the law, that openly gay and lesbian soldiers will be treated equally to ‘straight’ ones. Remember when the Commandant of the Marine Corps opposed repeal of ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] and then when it passed said the Marines would implement it better than any other branch?”

Speaking with the Blade, Jacobs also said he’d like to see Hagel address outstanding LGBT issues at the Pentagon during his upcoming confirmation hearings.

“It would be great to have that addressed as we move forward,” Jacobs said. “It’s a good idea; we should do that. The more we can discuss openly the policies and implementation of policies to make equal LGBT people in service, the better off we are.”

Jacobs told the Washington Blade he hadn’t spoken to any groups prior to writing his column urging him to come out in support of the Hagel nomination.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Log Cabin Republicans. For the second time, the organization on Monday published a full-page ad in a major newspaper opposing the Hagel nomination. The ad, which follows a similar one published in the New York Times last month, is titled “Chuck Hagel’s Record on Gay Rights” and offers a timeline of remarks on LGBT issues made by Hagel.

In addition to the 1998 anti-gay remarks against Hormel, the ad also notes Hagel has expressed support for DOMA and says in 2005, when a federal judge in Nebraska determined the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, Hagel opposed the decision, saying, ”I am hopeful the federal appeals court will recognize the rights of Nebraskans to determine their own laws governing marriage and reverse this decision.”

Gregory Angelo, Log Cabin’s interim executive director, said his organization continues to oppose Hagel after examining the “‘totality’ of his public record on gay rights.”

“Until his name surfaced as a potential nominee for Secretary of Defense, he has stood firmly and aggressively against not only gay marriage, but also against gay people in general,” Angelo said. “Log Cabin Republicans helped lead the charge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and is extremely invested in seeing that we don’t lose any ground due to a lack of sincere commitment to gay people and their families on the part of the incoming Defense Secretary.”

The move by Log Cabin raised questions about how a small organization can afford to buy full-page ads in major newspapers amid speculation that neo-conservative opponents of Hagel are influencing the group. Additionally, Log Cabin applied a different standard to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney by endorsing the candidate even though he backed a Federal Marriage Amendment.

Speaking to the Blade, Angelo said “there’s some potential” for more ads, but declined to comment on the costs of the ads, saying they’re “part of a larger communications effort” that has come from the board of directors. Angelo also denied that other groups had asked Log Cabin to run the ads, saying they came “exclusively from within Log Cabin Republicans.”

08
Jan
2013