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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.


Ark. city approves LGBT ordinance

Michelle Duggar, Fayetteville, gay news, Washington Blade

Michelle Duggar of “19 Kids and Counting,” a TLC series that profiles her family who lives in nearby Tontitown, Ark., recorded a robo call that urged Fayetteville residents to publicly oppose the proposed LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance. (Photo by Jim Bob Duggar; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The Fayetteville City Council on August 20 approved an anti-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported the 6-2 vote took place after a meeting that lasted nearly 10 hours.

The newspaper said more than 120 people testified during the hearing.

“The idea that I could lose my home because someone finds out that I’m gay is why … we need to push this through as quickly as possible,” said Nathan Southerland-Kordsmeier as the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported. “People like me don’t feel safe here. I’m living with a shadow over my head.”

Michelle Duggar of “19 Kids and Counting,” a TLC series that profiles her family who lives in nearby Tontitown, Ark., recorded a robo call that urged Fayetteville residents to publicly oppose the proposed ordinance.

Fayetteville is the first Arkansas city to explicitly ban anti-LGBT discrimination.

The ordinance is slated to take effect on September 20.


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.


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.


‘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.”


Work to make Harvey Milk proud

Harvey Milk, California, San Francisco, Castro District, gay news, Washington Blade

Harvey Milk (Photo by Daniel Nicoletta via Wikimedia Commons)


In the late 1970s, when a nascent LGBT equality movement was under attack across the country, Harvey Milk urged us all to fight back by coming out. “You must come out … to your parents … to your relatives … to your friends … to your neighbors … to your fellow workers,” Milk said. “Once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions.” He believed coming out was the key to winning, and he was right.

More than 30 years later, his advice is changing our country. We are coming out, and the reality of who we are is replacing the lies and distortions pedaled by our opponents.  That’s why voters in Maryland and Washington last year rejected attempts to reverse marriage equality laws. It’s why California enacted an LGBT history requirement for public schools. And it’s the reason the Massachusetts Legislature finally passed a transgender rights law.

Being ourselves, and living our lives with integrity, has opened the eyes of our friends, neighbors, families and coworkers, and research has shown that the more out LGBT people someone knows, the more likely they are to support our equality. Today, brave young people are coming out in high school and even earlier, and the result is record high support among those under 30 for issues like marriage equality and nondiscrimination laws.

That’s why it’s so important that we do more to make it safer for people to come out in places where equality is slow to arrive. Our victories in regions like New England and the West Coast are remarkable, but elsewhere in our country that type of progress seems otherworldly and impossible. Harvey would be proud of our success, but I bet he wouldn’t celebrate for too long before asking how we planned to replicate it in Mississippi, Kansas or Alaska.

The obvious answer is to press for federal laws and policies that would end the patchwork of municipal and state laws that leave so many LGBT Americans living in fear. But until those are in place, we must work to bring hope to a lesbian teenager in Arkansas afraid to hold her girlfriend’s hand, a trans woman in North Dakota who hides her identity to keep a job, or a kid with two dads in Alabama who wonders why others don’t see the loving parents he does.

Coming out delivers that hope. Seeing yourself reflected in a gay local elected official, a lesbian school principal, a bisexual member of Congress — that has the power to transform how people think about themselves and what they can accomplish. They begin to hope that they can change their own communities, and then they turn that hope into action.

Harvey believed in personal politics and making change where he lived. He helped spark a generation of LGBT people to live more authentic lives, but that started in his tiny Castro camera shop.

“To sit on the front steps — whether it’s a veranda in a small town or a concrete stoop in a big city — and to talk to our neighborhoods is infinitely more important than to huddle on the living-room lounger and watch a make-believe world in not-quite living color,” he once said.

We have much left to do before all LGBT Americans enjoy the equal protection of our laws, so let’s make Harvey proud. Come out, stand up and help deliver hope. Everywhere.

Chuck Wolfe is president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute.