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Mississippi city approves LGBT resolution

Hattiesburg, Mississippi, gay news, Washington Blade, Mississippi city

Hattiesburg, Miss. (Photo by Dudemanfellabra; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

HATTIESBURG, Miss.—The Hattiesburg City Council on Feb. 18 unanimously approved a resolution to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to its diversity statement.

“The Hattiesburg City Council took a brave and important step that is aligned with the direction our country is headed in – the recognition that LGBT people are and should be treated equally under the law,” said Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. “Equality cannot come fast enough for LGBT people in Mississippi.”

Hattiesburg is the second Mississippi city to add LGBT-specific language to its diversity statement. The Starkville Board of Alderman last month approved the Magnolia State’s first pro-LGBT municipal resolution.


Mississippi city passes LGBT ordinance

Oxford, Mississippi, gay news, Washington Blade

Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Kathy Jean; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

OXFORD, Miss.–A third Mississippi city has passed a resolution in support of adding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to its diversity statement.

The Oxford Board of Aldermen on March 4 unanimously approved the resolution.

“Tolerance and acceptance creates the strongest bonds between neighbors,” said Alderman Jay Hughes in a Human Rights Campaign press release. “I am proud to be on the right side of history in reaffirming Oxford’s long-standing commitment to that most fundamental principle.”

Hattiesburg last month added LGBT-specific language to its diversity statement. The Starkville Board of Alderman in January approved the state’s first pro-LGBT municipal resolution.


Waco adds protections for LGBT city employees

Waco, gay news, Washington Blade

Waco, Texas (Photo by Billy Hathorn; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

WACO, Texas — Without fanfare or controversy, the city of Waco has quietly agreed to bar discrimination against LGBT city employees, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports.

City Manager Dale Fisseler said Monday he has made an administrative decision to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s internal personnel policy on nondiscrimination, the paper said.

The policy already bars discrimination based on the federally recognized categories of race, sex, religion, color, national origin, age, marital status and disability.

“All I’m doing is updating our internal policy . . . just to clarify that we don’t discriminate based on sexual preference and identity,” Fisseler was quoted as having said.

A handful of local pro-LGBT activists, led by Paul Derrick and Carmen Saenz, had been seeking the change since 2013.

The city’s Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee last summer recommended the policy revision. Then-City Manager Larry Groth turned it down, saying in a February letter that the city has never had a grievance or complaint about LGBT discrimination.

“I believe the policies clearly convey the message to our employees that discrimination and/or harassment is not allowed to any class even without a list,” he wrote to the advisory committee.

Fisseler was city manager in Fort Worth in 2009 when the city council there passed a much more sweeping anti-discrimination ordinance that gave LGBT residents protections not only in municipal employment but private-sector employment, housing and public accommodations, the paper said.

Saenz, who worked with Derrick on the Waco policy, said she ultimately would like to see a broad nondiscrimination ordinance in Waco, but she thought it necessary to take smaller steps.

Saenz, a psychology professional who identifies as lesbian, said she hasn’t experienced discrimination in Waco, but in the last year she has heard from city employees who feel pressure at work to keep their same-sex relationships a secret, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports.


IEEE adds LGBT support to ethics code

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, IEEE, gay news, Washington Blade

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers logo.

NEW YORK—The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Board of Directors on Jan. 8 announced it had approved the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in its ethics code.

Lynn Conway, professor emerita of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and Leandra Vicci of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill spearheaded the effort to spur the IEEE Board of Directors to include trans-specific protections in its Code of Ethics. The proposal was subsequently approved by more than two-thirds of the board members.

“It means that hundreds of thousands of engineers worldwide — including in Russia, Uganda and over 60 other nations where being gay or trans is considered a crime — are now honor bound to treat their colleagues with respect,” wrote Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer in the Huffington Post.

The IEEE is the world’s largest professional body of engineers. It has more than 425,000 members from 160 countries.


Lesbian EEOC commissioner re-nominated for 2nd term

Chai Feldblum, gay news, Washington Blade

Chai Feldblum was renominated for a 2nd term on the EEOC (Photo courtesy of Feldblum)

A lesbian member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is poised to serve another term after having played a part in a ruling that provided non-discrimination protections to transgender workers.

On Thursday, the White House announced that President Obama has selected Chai Feldblum for another five-year term on the bipartisan panel, which enforces federal laws against workplace discrimination.

Feldblum, the first openly LGBT person to serve on the EEOC, is credited with coordinating a unanimous decision last year in the case of Macy v. Holder that interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect transgender people. The commission reasoned the existing prohibition against gender bias in the workplace applies to transgender people.

Tico Almeida, president of the LGBT group Freedom to Work, praised Feldblum’s re-nomination and said she has “worked tirelessly to build bi-partisan consensus” to improve employment laws.

“Feldblum deserves our praise not only for her leading role in the unanimous EEOC decision in Macy v. Holder, but also for her leadership in drafting the EEOC’s new Strategic Enforcement Plan, which explicitly lists workplace protections for LGBT Americans among the Commission’s national priorities,” Almeida said. “Commissioner Feldblum has demonstrated a strong commitment to opening the EEOC’s doors to the LGBT victims of unfair discrimination who were previously turned away when they sought help from the Commission.”

Prior to serving on the EEOC, Feldblum was a nationally recognized gay rights attorney. She’s credited with the drafting the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has yet to become law.

She’s also had experience in LGBT activism. Feldblum was the legal director for the Campaign for Military Service, a group that unsuccessfully fought in the early 1990′s against the enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She’s also the partner of Nan Hunter, a Georgetown University law professor with experience in LGBT cases.

Feldblum’s initial nomination to the EEOC faced difficulties in the Senate. One or more unidentified senators placed a secret hold on her and four other EEOC nominees. In March 2010, Obama cleared the way for her to serve by making a recess appointment. The Senate later confirmed her in December 2010.


LGBT status important in health records: journal

medical, doctor, computer, gay news, Washington Blade

A new study recommends that patients’ sexual orientation and gender identity be included in electronic health records. (Photo by Bigstock)

NEW YORK — A new study from the journal LGBT Health recommends that patients’ sexual orientation and gender identity be included in electronic health records so risk factors and prevention measures can be discussed.

It pointed to a 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine that found limited health data available on LGBT patients, health disparities prevalent for such patients and decisions by major health care entities such as the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and others not to include sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI) in health records.

“There is overwhelming community support for the routine collection of SOGI data in clinical settings, as evidenced by comments jointly submitted by 145 leading LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations in January 2013,” the abstract for the study reads. “Gathering SOGI data in (electronic health records) is supported by the 2011 (Institute of Medicine’s) report on LGBT health, Healthy People 2020, the Affordable Care Act and the Joint Commission. Data collection has long been central to the quality assurance process. Preventive health care from providers knowledgeable of their patients’ SOGI can lead to improved access, quality of care and outcomes. Medical and nursing schools should expand their attention to LGBT health issues so that all clinicians can appropriately care for LGBT patients.”

Among the health issues that disproportionately affect LGBT patients are prevalence of sexually transmitted infections and HIV (with 66 percent of new cases of HIV in the United States occurring in gay or bisexual men in 2010), and the high rates of behavioral health issues, including suicidal ideation and attempts, often related to stigma, discrimination, bullying and hate crimes, the study said.

Lesbians are more likely than straight and bi women to be overweight and obese, increasing their risk for cardiovascular disease, lipid abnormalities, glucose intolerance and morbidity related to inactivity, the study said. Lesbians and bisexual women experience cervical cancer at the same rate as heterosexual women but are much less likely to get routine Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer, the Institute of Medicine report found.


‘Gender identity disorder’ removed from manual

DSM, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, gay news, Washington Blade

An older version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Photo by Richard Masoner via Wikimedia Commons)

SAN DIEGO — The term “gender identity disorder” has been removed from the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders released over the weekend of May 18, San Diego LGBT Weekly reported citing CNN.

The manual includes criteria used by mental health professionals to diagnose patients and is used by insurance companies and schools for coverage and provisions needed by those with mental disorders. This is the first time the manual has been revised since 1994, the article said.

In the new edition, the term “gender identity disorder,” which some mental health specialists and LGBT activists considered stigmatizing, was replaced with “gender dysphoria,” which focuses only on those who feel distressed by their gender identity.

Homosexuality was removed from the manual in 1973.


Will Manning case harm effort to lift trans military ban?

(Photo by Diane Perlman)

(Photo by Diane Perlman)

One day after a military judge sentenced then-U.S. Army private Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks, the 25-year-old soldier released a statement through her attorney coming out as transgender.

“As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me,” Manning said. “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female.”

Manning’s dramatic announcement was first disclosed on NBC’s “The Today Show” early Thursday morning by her lead defense attorney, David Coombs, who said Chelsea Manning will request from prison authorities permission to undergo hormone therapy.

If prison officials don’t agree to Manning’s request, “then I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure they are forced to do so,” Coombs said.

Manning’s sentencing and declaration that she is a transgender woman follows a protracted trial that transgender activists fear has set back their quest to persuade the military to lift its ban on transgender service members.

The sentence came one week after Manning’s attorneys argued that Manning’s decision to leak more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents along with video footage of battlefield scenes was due, in part, to the stress Manning was experiencing over her gender identity.

Earlier in the trial, the defense disclosed that Manning – who initially identified as a gay man – had been quietly struggling over whether she was a transgender woman.

Last week, defense attorneys released a photo of Manning dressed as a woman with a blond wig. Her attorney presented as a witness a military therapist who testified that Manning emailed him the photo along with a letter describing her gender identity as a “problem.”

“You put him in that kind of hyper-masculine environment, if you will, with little support and few coping skills, the pressure would have been difficult to say the least,” the Associated Press quoted the therapist, Capt. Michael Worsley, as saying in his testimony last week at the sentencing phase of Manning’s court martial. “It would have been incredible.”

Two prominent transgender activists who have served in the military before transitioning from male to female told the Washington Blade — just before Manning disclosed she’s transgender — that a large number of closeted transgender service members currently are performing their duties flawlessly while experiencing some of the same pressures related to their gender identity that Manning might have experienced.

The future of transgender military service

“Our view is Manning’s gender identity — no matter what it is — does not justify what he did,” Brynn Tannehill, a transgender woman and former Lt. Commander in the Navy, told the Blade prior to Manning’s Thursday announcement. She currently serves as spokesperson for the Trans Chapter of SPARTA, a group representing mostly active duty LGBT service members.

“If Bradley Manning is transgender and if he struggles over this, we can empathize over that,” Tannehill told the Blade in a telephone interview Tuesday night. “But we do not believe it should excuse what he did.”

Tannehill added, “We know many trans military people with highly distinguished careers. So the argument that being transgender made him do this is patently false.”

Tannehill and transgender advocate Autumn Sandeen, who transitioned from male to female after retiring from the Navy, said the negative publicity surrounding Manning’s personal struggle with her gender identity is overshadowing the overwhelming majority of service members grappling with their gender identity who quietly do their jobs well.

The two noted that as many as 120 closeted transgender service members affiliated with the SPARTA group can’t come out as positive role models because they would be subject to discharge under a military regulation that strictly prohibits “transsexualism” and “gender transformation” within the military.

“In my last four years in the Navy I was grappling with gender identity and yet I did my job,” said Sandeen, who lives in San Diego.

Among other things, Sandeen said she had access to classified information while serving on a ship. She says she and other transgender people she knows had similar access to classified information never mishandled or released such information.

“[Manning] will be used as an example of why transgender people shouldn’t serve in the military,” she said.

Sandeen said the transgender people she knows, both civilians and military members, are divided over whether what Manning did was good or bad for the country, just as other Americans are divided over the issue.

Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks

In July Manning was found not guilty of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge filed against her. But the military judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, found her guilty of nearly all of the other charges filed against her, including six counts of violating the U.S. Espionage Act.

Manning’s supporters say the information she leaked to the whistleblower group Wikileaks shined a spotlight on flawed U.S. policies and military practices in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that would not otherwise have been brought to the attention of the American public.

Government prosecutors argued that Manning’s actions placed U.S. troops in jeopardy by revealing classified information that terrorists and other enemies could use against U.S. military and civil personnel stationed overseas.

“Personally, if Manning comes out as transgender I will be someone who owns him, but owns him as a person who did wrong,” Sandeen told the Blade the day prior to Manning’s announcement that she was transitioning. “We have to take the good with the bad.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the Blade on Thursday following Manning’s announcement that she’s a transgender woman that the Manning case was a “temporary blip” in the ongoing efforts to obtain equal rights for transgender people.

“In the long run, this won’t have an impact on the LGBT rights movement,” Mara said. “With thousands of transgender people coming out, we are moving ahead on the education front concerning transgender equality.”

Keisling criticized a statement released by the Army on Thursday that Manning most likely would not be allowed to obtain hormone treatment to facilitate her gender transition while serving time in an Army prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

“That’s not going to be the final word,” she said. “You can’t deny health care to prisoners. That’s unconstitutional because it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.”

Keisling was referring to the prevailing views of the medical and mental health professions, including the American Medical Association, that being transgender is a medical condition that requires various means of treatment, including hormone therapy, to facilitate a healthy transition from one gender to another.


Annual hate crimes report released

anti-violence, hate crime, Greenwich Village, Mark Carson, gay news, Washington Blade

Thousands of people marched in New York City in response to the rash of hate crimes and Mark Carson’s murder. (Photo courtesy of Karlo)

NEW YORK—The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects on Tuesday released its annual report on anti-LGBT hate crimes and bias crimes.

The report noted 2,016 reported incidents of violence motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity in 2012, which is comparable to numbers found in previous years. NCAVP said 25 LGBT people were murdered over the last year, which is the fourth highest yearly total it has recorded since it began to issue annual reports in 1996.

The organization reported transgender women, people of color and gay men remain more likely to suffer what it described as “severe violence.”

NCAVP issued its report slightly more than two weeks after Elliot Morales allegedly shot gay Brooklyn, N.Y., resident Mark Carson to death on a Manhattan street. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was among the thousands who marched through Greenwich Village on May 22 to condemn Carson’s murder and a spate of other anti-LGBT attacks that had taken place in the city in the previous weeks.

“Though the recent spate of hate violence incidents in New York City has captured the media’s attention, this report demonstrates that severe acts of violence against gay men, transgender people and LGBTQ people of color are, unfortunately, not unique to Manhattan,” Chai Jindasurat, NCAVP coordinator at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, said.


Meet the trans editor covering Major League Baseball

Bobbie Dittemier, transgender, Major League Baseball, gay news, Washington Blade

Bobbie Dittmeier (Photo courtesy of Dittmeier)

A day at the office at for Bobbie Dittmeier is just about the same for her as it is for other editors working to produce news stories on developments in Major League Baseball.

Upon coming to the New York office, she’ll speak with the copy chief about potential articles for the day with other editors, who will then assign the stories to reporters.

“We have a lot of stories coming in everyday,” Dittmeier says. “We have 30 different reporters plus other columnists, part-timers and interns. We have a lot of writers for our staff. We cover all 30 teams full time. So, there’s a lot of copy that comes into the desk every day.”

The big news in recent weeks? The biogenesis investigation, which has led to the suspension of several players, including New York Yankees shortstop Alex Rodriguez.

“Waiting for the news on Alex Rodriguez is like waiting for your wife to go into labor,” she says. “You got the bags packed and the cars gassed, and you’re just going about your regular routine waiting for the pager to go off. And knowing that when the pager does go off that the next 12 to 18 hours is going to be crazy.”

But Dittmeier, who spoke to the Washington Blade earlier this month, is unique among other editors and baseball enthusiasts working at She’s transgender and the only openly LGBT person on staff at the site.

Dittmeier says being the only openly transgender person on staff hasn’t been an issue on the job, which she attributes  to changing attitudes over time and her own job performance.

“I think the most significant part of it is that I have a lot of experience and I do good work, if I may say so myself,” Dittmeier says. “And I think that the people I work for value that. They certainly didn’t want to throw me out of the office for being transgender.”

One exception to the acceptance she’s found was what Dittmeier calls a “blip” among two individuals upon her announcement she would transition. Reluctant to go into detail, she characterizes it as more of a misunderstanding and says neither of those people works at any longer.

In 2007, after working for for six years, Dittmeier announced she would would transition from male to female. She had already married and had a child. And it wasn’t her first attempt; she made an earlier attempt at transitioning in the 1990s.

“It was really only after I had been at MLB for a number of years that I felt comfortable and confident enough that transition wasn’t going to put me on the street,” Dittmeier said. “So, I felt I had job security, I knew the people I worked for, I knew that they knew I do a good job, that I’m good at what I do, so I didn’t think it would be that much of an issue. So, I worked toward it for a couple years, starting probably around 2005, and then finally culminating in coming out at work in 2007.”

Dittmeier says she “always kind of felt something different” about her when she was growing up in Rhode Island during her youth, but wasn’t at the time able to identify it because of a lack of information.

“I kind of figured it out in my teens, but you don’t act upon it because, again, it was a different time,” Dittmeier says. “You didn’t know if you were going to be ostracized from your family, you didn’t have the resources, you certainly didn’t have the Internet. Going to a shrink was really frowned upon. You certainly didn’t talk about these things with your parents.”

At the same time growing up, Dittmeier was an avid enthusiast of all things baseball and newsprint. After school, she would read the sports columns in Newsday, a Pulitzer Prize-winning paper that was distributed in her hometown.

“And it was an afternoon paper, so it would come to the house during the day, and I would come home from school, and the first thing I would do before I went out to play ball was I would make myself a sandwich and I would read the newspaper, then I would go out and play ball,” Dittmeier says. ”So, I always loved journalism. I always loved writing.”

Dittmeier started in the business of sports writing as a beat reporter covering hockey and horseracing, mostly in Westchester County just outside of New York, and then in Albany for a number of years. She wanted to get involved in baseball, but didn’t have the opportunity. Landing the job at 12 years ago made that dream come true.

One recent big news story hit close to home. In July, Major League Baseball announced that it had adopted an employment non-discrimination policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Dittmeier says she didn’t cover the story personally, although had a reporter, Paul Hagan, covering it.

“Personally, it doesn’t impact me at all, I don’t think,” Dittmeier says. “But I’m certainly glad to see Major League Baseball take it to that level and respond like that. I think that’s more for clubhouses, players, the teams more than me.”

The policy doesn’t cover gender identity and New York doesn’t have a law prohibiting discrimination against transgender citizens, but Dittmeier isn’t discouraged.

“It’s not troubling for me personally,” Dittmeier says. “It would be nice if they took a look at that. But again, for me, personally I don’t think that I’m at any kind of risk as long as I’m doing my job well. If I don’t do my job well, then I’m subject to changes just like everybody else. If it’s not there, it would be nice if they would include it, I’m sure.”

Asked about the prevalence of gay players in Major League Baseball, Dittmeier insists there are such players who haven’t made their sexual orientation or gender identity public yet.

“There has to be,” Dittmeier says. “I remember having a debate with a hockey coach years and years ago who insisted there were no gay players anywhere in professional hockey, and I told him I thought that was ridiculous. If the number is 10 percent of the population is gay, then there has to be.”

But even with the MLB’s non-discrimination policy on sexual orientation in place, Dittmeier says it would take a player with exceptional skills to come out as gay — more talent than what an average baseball player normally has.

“If you are hitting 300 and you’re a perennial all-star, and you happen to be [gay, bi or trans], your chances of successfully coming out are pretty good,” Dittmeier says. “If you’re going up and down between Triple-A and the major leagues, that’s a tough one, because if it comes down to a decision between that player and someone else as to whether they’re going to make the roster, then you have to worry about someone, consciously or unconsciously, choosing the other player because of your sexual orientation.”

Although he’s not a baseball player, the most notable coming out of a gay athlete this year was former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins. It’s his status as a veteran that Dittmeier says made that coming out possible.

“He’s 34 years old,” Dittmeier says. ”He’s a good ball player at this point in his career. If, for some reason, he discontinues to play, he’s had a pretty good career. So he doesn’t have very much to lose. When he was 23, 24, 25 years old, he certainly had a lot more to lose than he does now. I think security is really, really important.”

Dittmeier says she’s seen attitudes change positively in recent decades, and expects those to change even further as time progresses — particularly for transgender people like herself.

“I know most people don’t know someone who is transgender, but certainly most people know someone else who’s LGBT,” Dittmeier says. ”And 20 years ago, I don’t think you could say that. Once you know someone, either someone in your life or someone you get to know, someone they work with or whatever, they understand it better. I guess that’s probably like anything in life.”