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Court: Trans inmate must receive gender reassignment surgery

National LGBT Bar Association, Gay News, Washington Blade

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a trans inmate must receive gender reassignment surgery. (Image via wikimedia)

A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that a transgender inmate incarcerated for murdering her spouse must receive taxpayer-funded gender reassignment surgery that was prescribed by her doctors.

In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel on the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that denying the procedure to Michelle Kosilek, who was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his spouse in 1990, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eight Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The 90-page ruling was written by U.S. Circuit Judge Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson, an Obama appointee, who asserted the Massachusetts Department of Corrections denied Kosilek essential medical care by withholding from her gender reassignment surgery.

“Those findings — that Kosilek has a serious medical need for the surgery, and that the DOC refuses to meet that need for pretextual reasons unsupported by legitimate penological considerations — mean that the DOC has violated Kosilek’s Eighth Amendment rights,” Thompson writes.

The ruling upholds a decision from U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf in 2012 asserting Kosilek has a right to gender reassignment surgery. The decision was controversial — even among progressive leaders. Then-U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said she didn’t think the surgery was a good use of taxpayer dollars.

Transgender rights groups lauded the decision from the First Circuit on the basis that prisoners — even those who are transgender — have a right to medical care during their incarceration.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Rights, said the ruling “affirms the increasing consensus among the courts” that transgender-related health care is a right protected under the Constitution.

“Prisoner or not, people should have access to the healthcare they need,” Keisling said. “For some of us, that means sex reassignment surgery. While we celebrate today’s ruling, we know there’s more advocacy needed to ensure that all transgender people have access to basic and necessary healthcare.”

Ilona Turner, legal director for the Transgender Law Center, said the First Circuit ruling upholds a constitutional right to essential medical treatment in prison.

“It is well established that the failure to provide essential medical care to people in prison is unconstitutional and amounts to torture,” Turner said. “This decision affirms that we as a society do not allow people to be tortured when they are in government custody.”

Afflicted with drug and alcohol problems at an early age, Kosilek in 1992 was sentenced to life in prison after strangling her spouse Cheryl McCaul, a volunteer counselor at a drug rehabilitation facility. The incident took place after McCaul caught Kosilek wearing her clothing.

Kosilek is serving her sentence in MCI-Norfolk, a medium security male prison, where she legally changed her name from Robert to Michelle. She must receive gender reassignment surgery through taxpayer-provided funds because, as an inmate in prison, she lacks access to her own finances for the procedure.

The estimated cost for male-to-female reassignment is $7,000 to $24,000. A footnote in the First Circuit decision notes that figure “pales in comparison to the amount of money it seems the state will be expending to defend this lawsuit.”

U.S. Circuit Judge Juan Torruella, a Reagan appointee who wrote the dissent in the decision, said he doesn’t find any reason to require Massachusetts to provide gender reassignment surgery to Kosilek when other treatments are available.

“[G]iving due consideration to countervailing security concerns and based on a review of the record that shows the DOC’s proposed care was not outside the realm of professionalism, I cannot say that the DOC has failed to adequately care for Kosilek’s GID or callously ignored her pain,” Torruella writes.

The decision could be appealed to the full First Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court. The office of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley declined to comment on the next steps in the lawsuit.

Cara Savelli, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Correction, said the court ruling is under review.

“We are closely reviewing the lengthy decision issued today by the First Circuit Court of Appeals on this matter to determine next steps,” Savelli said.


D.C. requires insurers to cover gender reassignment

Vincent Gray, transgender, gay news, Washington Blade, gender reassignment

‘Treatment of individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria is a covered benefit in all individual and group insurance plans in the District of Columbia, including Medicaid,’ said Mayor Vincent Gray. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced on Thursday that health insurance companies doing business in the District must provide full coverage for medically recognized treatments to help transgender people change their gender, including gender reassignment surgery.

At a news conference in a meeting room outside his office, Gray said the city’s Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking issued a bulletin directing insurers to recognize a condition known as gender dysphoria, or gender identity disorder, as a medical condition to be covered by insurance plans.

Transgender advocates note that the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association recognize gender dysphoria as a diagnosable condition through which physicians and other health care professional provide a wide range of approved medical treatments to assist people in transitioning from one gender to another.

“Today, the District takes a major step toward leveling the playing field for individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria,” Gray said. “These residents should not have to pay exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses for medically necessary treatment when those without gender dysphoria do not,” he said.

“I’m clarifying today that treatment of individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria is a covered benefit in all individual and group insurance plans in the District of Columbia, including Medicaid,” Gray said.

Gray’s remark drew a prolonged, standing ovation from LGBT activists, including transgender advocates, who gathered in the mayor’s ceremonial bill-signing room where Gray held his news conference.

“Those who know me know how proud I am that the District continues to be on the cutting edge and on the forefront when it relates to equality and fairness for its LGBTQ residents,” Gray said.

The bulletin, which the city sent to insurance companies on the day of Gray’s announcement, cites the D.C. Human Rights Act as among the legal grounds being used to require insurers to cover transgender related treatments. The Human Rights Act, among other categories, bans discrimination based on gender identity and expression as well as sexual orientation.

The bulletin cites the D.C. Unfair Insurance Trade Practices Act of 2001 as further grounds for not allowing insurers to exclude coverage of trans-related treatments from their insurance plans.

Among those speaking at the news conference was Mara Keisling, executive director of the D.C.-based National Center for Transgender Equality, which worked with the mayor’s office and insurance department officials to help draft the four-page bulletin.

Keisling said Gray’s action places D.C. among just five states that have adopted similar policies requiring insurers to cover treatments such as gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy to assist an individual’s transition to another gender.

Those states are California, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont and Connecticut.

“This is really significant,” Keisling told the Blade after the news conference. “It means that transgender people in D.C. now can make their health care decisions with their doctor rather than with their insurance companies,” she said.

Mara Keisling, NCTE, National Center for Transgender Equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Asked what treatments are involved in a gender transition, Keisling said experts with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care (WPATH) have developed a wide range of treatments that may vary from person to person depending on individual needs.

“It’s a whole range of transition-related care — everything from diagnostic visits to experts in the field,” Keisling said. “It can mean hormone treatments. It can mean lab tests to make sure your hormones are working correctly and not causing any harm. There are various kinds of surgeries that transgender people may need. So it covers a whole range of things.”

D.C. transgender activist Andy Bowen, who recently joined the staff of the NCTE as a policy associate, called the D.C. initiative announced by Gray the most comprehensive among the states that have adopted similar policies.

“If you look at some of the other states they say they’re not going to cover some treatments,” Bowen said. “D.C. has not done that. It just said that if it’s one of the WPATH treatments we’re going to cover it. And that’s amazing to hear a government be that unequivocal about it.”

Philip Barlow, the city’s Associate Commissioner of Insurance, said after the news conference that requiring health insurance companies to cover the medical treatments for transgender people would likely result in a small increase in premiums over a period of time.

“It will just be incorporated into the general cost and utilization that insurers use in coming up with future rate increases,” he said. “But we don’t really anticipate it to have a significant impact on the rates.”

Michael Silverman, executive director of the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, praised Gray for taking action that he said would “end health care discrimination against transgender residents of Washington, D.C.”

The bulletin issued by the city’s Department of Insurance that directs insurers to provide full coverage for medically approved treatments to transgender individuals in D.C. can be obtained here.


Report critical of D.C. police response to hate crimes

Cathy Lanier, DC Metro Police, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier (Washington Blade photo by Strother Gaines)

The restructuring of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit in 2009 “weakened its effectiveness in responding to hate crimes” and hindered its ability to reach out to the LGBT community, according to a newly released report.

The 41-page Hate Crimes Assessment Report was prepared by an independent task force created in 2012 by the Anti-Defamation League of Washington, a nationally recognized civil rights group, at the request of D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

In announcing the launching of the task force, Lanier said she asked the ADL to assist the MPD by conducting an impartial review of its programs directed toward the LGBT community, comparing them with other police departments and identifying areas that could be improved.

“MPD policies on the identification and handling of bias or hate crimes are strong and reflect many best practices of law enforcement agencies nationally,” the report concludes.

It also concludes that the “vast majority” of MPD leaders and rank and file officers have a deep commitment to “ensuring the safety and security of the LGBT community and to all of those who live, work, or visit the District of Columbia.”

But the report says a series of structural changes that the department put in place for the GLLU beginning in 2009, which were aimed at expanding the reach of the unit throughout the city, appear to have weakened its effectiveness and diminished its credibility within the LGBT community.

“MPD’s outreach to the LGBT community, which is a critical component of preventing and responding to hate crimes, is significantly less visible and effective than it was prior to the restructuring,” the report says.

“The restructuring of the GLLU reduced the size and limited the role of the central core of the GLLU, weakened its effectiveness in responding to hate crimes and engaging in outreach, and made it less accessible and visible to the LGBT community,” says the report.

“The GLLU’s reduced visibility and presence in the LGBT community has significantly impacted the level of trust the LGBT community has in MPD,” it says.

Former Police Chief Charles Ramsey created the GLLU along with separate liaison units working with the Latino, Asian, and deaf and hard of hearing communities in the late 1990s. Unlike police liaison units in other cities, whose responsibilities were limited mostly to public relations and educational duties, Ramsey arranged for the GLLU and the other units to investigate crimes and make arrests.

Under the leadership of its former commander, Sgt. Brett Parson, the GLLU developed strong ties to the LGBT community, assigning its officers to attend LGBT events and meetings and to patrol neighborhoods with high concentrations of LGBT residents. Although the officers were based in the GLLU headquarters in Dupont Circle, they responded to calls throughout the city and played an active role in investigating crimes targeting LGBT people, including hate crimes.

Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government recognized the GLLU as a highly effective agent for community policing and awarded the unit a grant to expand its work and assist police departments in other cities set up similar units.

In 2009, two years after then Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed her, Lanier put in place a restructuring plan that, among other things, decentralized the GLLU and the other liaison units through the creation of an affiliate officers program that placed affiliate liaison unit members in each of the seven police districts. The restructuring included downsizing the central GLLU office.

LGBT activists, who said they had no objections to the creation of the affiliate program, expressed strong opposition to what they said was an initial plan by Lanier to close the GLLU’s headquarters office. Activists said at the time that the affiliate officers, who were to receive limited training on LGBT related issues, would not have the experience and depth of understanding of the LGBT community that the core GLLU officers, most of whom were gay or lesbian, had.

Lanier quickly backed down from her initial plan to disband the headquarters unit after opposition surfaced from members of the City Council. However, according to activists, she appeared to be gradually decreasing the core unit’s size.

A short time after the restructuring began, Parson requested and was given a transfer out of the unit to patrol duties. Citing budget constraints, the department replaced Parson with a sergeant who was assigned to supervise both the GLLU and the Latino Liaison Unit.

LGBT representatives said the lack of a full-time supervisor for the GLLU was a further indication that the chief was diminishing the ability of the GLLU to carry out its mission.

Other changes associated with the restructuring included restrictions on the types of events or meetings GLLU officers could attend and what appeared to critics as an increase in the frequency that GLLU officers were detailed to other assignments unrelated to the LGBT community.

Lanier has said that due to police personnel limitations, officers from various specialized units would be temporarily detailed to other, street patrol duties as needed.

In a series of recommendations, the Hate Crimes Assessment Report calls on the department to appoint a full-time supervisor of the GLLU and to ensure that the GLLU’s core unit is sufficiently staffed with officers.

In an 8-page response to the task force report, Lanier said she and the department’s leadership agree with most of the conclusions and recommendations of the report.

“Admittedly, some of this is difficult for me to read as it clearly details where the Department has fallen short in our goal to foster strong relationships with our great and diverse communities that enable us to jointly combat the scourge of crimes motivated by hate or bias,” Lanier said in a statement accompanying the report.

“Nonetheless, I strongly support the recommendations of the Task Force, and the Department will be working to implement them,” she said.

Among other things, Lanier said the department agrees with the report’s finding that neither the GLLU nor its affiliate officers “have the visibility in the community that is our goal, and we must improve that.”

She added, however, that it became clear from the report and meetings MPD officials had with the task force that some members of the LGBT community have “expectations” that the MPD cannot meet.

“While we value a strong relationship with the LGBT community, we are also responsible for being sound stewards of public resources,” she said in her response. “Members of the GLLU had attended events in the past that we have determined are inappropriate for police officers on-duty, including bar crawls, book clubs, and certain events in Leather Week,” according to Lanier.

“That said, we believe there are plenty of opportunities for MPD – GLLU as well as its affiliates – to strengthen outreach with the community,” she said.

In her response to the report, Lanier said Sgt. Matthew Mahl, who had been detailed to serve as the GLLU’s supervisor for over a year, “has been assigned to oversee GLLU exclusively since November 2013.” She added that Mahl “is a good fit for the GLLU and its next stage of development.”

In another finding, the report says there is a belief in the LGBT community that “homophobia and transphobia are widespread within MPD, with several describing it as rampant.”

Interviews with members of the community revealed that the hostility toward transgender people, especially transgender women of color, is common among many MPD officers, the report says.

“Virtually every transgender person who spoke to us at the four community meetings reported that they had been harassed or mistreated because of their gender identity or expression, ranging from acts of ignorance and insensitivity to outright hostility and overt expressions of bigotry and harassment,” the report says.

In citing hate crimes data released by the MPD, the report notes that hate crimes targeting the LGBT community make up the highest percentage of hate crimes compared to other categories of victims, such as race, ethnicity, religion, or disability. In 2012, the most recently year for which full data is available, there were 46 reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation, comprising 57 percent of a total of 81 hate crimes for all categories.

Police data show there were 9 hate crimes reported in 2012 based on gender identity or expression.

The report doesn’t say how many cases of anti-LGBT hate crimes resulted in an arrest by police or how many of the cases remain unsolved.

“It remains unclear whether the reported increase [in anti-LGBT hate crimes] reflects an actual higher level of hate violence directed against the LGBT community, better reporting by LGBT victims, or the lack of reporting by victims in other categories,” the report says.

The task force members who wrote the report are: David Friedman, Sophie Dornstreich, Michael Liberman – Anti-Defamation League; Sara Warbelow – Human Rights Campaign; Lisa Bornstein – Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Mara Keisling and Vincent Paolo Villano – National Center for Transgender Equality; Jack McDevitt, Associate Dean and Director of the Institute of Race and Justice, Northeastern University in Boston; and Jim Nolan, Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology, West Virginia University in Morgantown.

“We welcome the recommendations in the ADL report,” said Hassan Naveed, co-chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV). “GLOV and other LGBT organizations plan to issue a community response to the recommendations in the next two weeks.”

The full report along with Lanier’s response can be seen here:


San Antonio passes LGBT rights ordinance

The San Antonio City Council voted 8-3 on Thursday to add protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity to an existing city ordinance that bans discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and city contracting.

The vote came after more than 700 people testified for and against the proposed expansion of the ordinance in a marathon hearing that lasted past midnight on Wednesday and continued Thursday morning before the vote.

Approval of the ordinance in the nation’s seventh largest city also followed a heated campaign by the state’s conservative Republican leaders and religious-right activists to oppose the bill. Much of the opposition targeted the bill’s provision to protect transgender people from discrimination.

Among the bill’s strongest supporters was San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a Democrat, who told the City Council minutes before the vote, “This is a city that belongs to everyone.”

Among the most vocal opponents of the bill was Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is a Republican candidate for governor. Abbott argued that the expanded ordinance would trigger a flurry of lawsuits by people of faith and others who oppose homosexuality on religious grounds. He predicted opponents would challenge in the courts the bill’s provision preventing them from refusing to hire or refusing to sell goods such as wedding cakes to LGBT people.

Supporters of the measure noted that the cities of Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and El Paso passed similar legislation years earlier banning discrimination against gays and transgender people and predictions of problems such as multiple lawsuits never materialized.

“The right wing extremists really threw everything at this and really put on a major offensive and they lost,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington.

“And that is a big deal,” Keisling said. “Our side stood up. Our allies were just rock solid and we won.”

Chad Griffin, president of the D.C. based Human Rights Campaign, which was part of a coalition of LGBT and mainline civil rights groups pushing for the ordinance, said the City Council’s action reflects what he believes is the support by a majority of San Antonio residents for equality under the law.

“Today’s vote is a victory, but the attacks we saw from our opposition in the run-up to this – particularly the trans phobic messaging – remind us of the ruthless tactics they use to promote discrimination against LGBT people,” Griffin said.


Huckabee urges conservatives to oppose Calif. trans law

Mike Huckabee, gay news, Washington Blade

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee opposes the California trans student law (Photo by David Ball; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

A strong anti-LGBT sentiment pervaded the first night of an annual conference for conservatives in D.C. as Republican commentator Mike Huckabee railed against a pro-transgender student law in California to fire up his audience.

The former Arkansas governor urged attendees to oppose the School Success & Opportunity Act, which enables transgender students in California to participate in programs and athletics consistent with their gender identity, during his speech at the Values Voter Summit.

“So, Jerry Brown, the governor of California, this week signed a bill — by the same legislature that passed a bill that said if six-year-olds, who are biologically boys think that they are really girls, that they should be able to go to the girls restroom,” Huckabee said. “And if they’re 16 and they really — maybe you’re biologically all male but they identify as female, they should be able to go to the locker room with, shower with, and play on the sports teams of the girls. And, to those of us who believe that there is a difference between male and female, we would say ‘We have been told you’re on your own.’”

Huckabee continued to jab at the law by envisioning a scenario in which a transgender student would shower with boys on a sports term.

“And by the way, it is a good thing that that didn’t come up when I was in high school ’cause I’m pretty sure that every boy in my high school would have suddenly felt like that he was just a little more comfortable showering with the girls no matter how uncomfortable the girls might have been with it,” Huckabee said.

Huckabee concluded his tirade against the law by saying, “Is that not the craziest think you’ve ever heard?”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, criticized Huckabee’s remarks.

“The School Success & Opportunity Act is simply about making all school programs accessible for all students,” Keisling said. “That’s all and Mr. Huckabee should be extremely supportive of that. This is about boys being in boy space and girls being in girl space, and everybody being able to participate.”

Keisling also said Huckabee was adding a sexual element to a law in a way that was inappropriate.

“Though Huckabee claims that he and all the teenage boys he grew up with were perverts, it is still inappropriate that he should be sexualizing six year olds this way in his comments,” Keisling said.

The California transgender student law has been targeted for repeal as anti-trans forces, in particular the groups Privacy for All Students, gather signatures to place the measure on the ballot for a referendum. Last week, the California State Republican Party endorsed an effort to reverse the law at its convention in Anaheim.

But trans people weren’t the only part of the LGBT community that Huckabee targeted during his speech. Huckabee also went after gay people by railing against what he said were the consequences for opponents of same-sex marriage in the growing number of states that have legalized same-sex marriage.

“For those of us who still believe that the biblical standard of marriage is the standard of marriage because it’s the only one that has lasted over the test of time, do you realize that for those of us for whom this is not a governmental issue and it’s not a political issue, it is a moral issue, it is a biblical issue, it’s a cultural issue, it’s a sociological issue, it’s a family issue, we’ve been pretty much told, ‘You’re on your own.’”

Huckabee brought up an incident in which a photographer was sued under a New Mexico anti-discrimination law for refusing to take a photo of a same-sex wedding ceremony and another incident in which he said a baker in Washington State was in trouble for refusing to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.

“The government told them, you better make the cake, or go out of business,” Huckabee said. “They said, ‘You’re on your own.”

Also on stage speaking out against marriage equality was former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, now president of the conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation, who said the nation must resist the legalization of gay nuptials.”

“Marriage is the most foundational, cultural and economic institution in our society,” DeMint said. “Marriages between a man and a woman are by far the best environment to raise children and create responsible citizens.”

Perhaps foreseeing a day when the marriage issue would return to the Supreme Court, DeMint said, “States have regulated marriage to protect it, but there is nothing in our federal Constitution that gives Congress, the president or the Supreme Court the right to redefine or regulate marriage.”

These speakers took the stage after remarks against same-sex marriage by Ben Carson and anti-gay remarks from political commentator Sandy Rios. Also among the earlier speakers was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who, after being interrupted several times during his speech by protesters, later won the Values Voter Summit’s presidential straw poll by 42 percent.

Friday evening at the Values Voter Summit culminated with a panel on opposition to same-sex marriage, moderated by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, titled The Future of Marriage. The 1964 song “Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups played as the panel began.

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, invoked the notion that opposition to same-sex marriage is similar to the civil rights movement of the 1960s as he defended those who would seek to defend “the truth that mothers and fathers are different and that children deserve the opportunity to have both.”

“On the other side of the debate is an attempt to deconstruct the very nature of reality, the very nature of what it means to be a human being, to be created male and female,” Brown said.

Brown attributed the lack of success of marriage equality legislation in Illinois that supporters kept from coming to a floor vote this summer, to a coalition of lawmakers that included black lawmakers who oppose same-sex marriage.

Jennifer Marshall, director of domestic studies for The Heritage Foundation, said a wave of “young recruits” has entered the anti-gay marriage movement following the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“We will continue to give the unique status in law to the union between a man and a woman, the only union that can produce children as a monogamous, exclusive permanent relationship,” Marshall said. “We uphold this ideal in the interest of children, in the interest of coming together and in the interest of America’s future.”

Representing the young recruits in opposition to same-sex marriage was Ryan Anderson, a fellow in religion and free society at The Heritage Foundation, who said he’s gone to speak on college campuses on why “marriage matters.”

“Whenever a child is born, a mother will be close by, that’s a fact of biology,” Anderson said. “The question for culture and the question for law is will a father be close by, and if so, for how long?”

The marriage panel was originally scheduled for the Values Voter Summit earlier in the day, but was postponed until the evening. Darin Miller, a Family Research Council spokesperson, told the Blade it was postponed to accommodate lawmakers’ schedules so they could make it on time for votes on Capitol Hill.

Evan Wolfson, president of the LGBT group Freedom to Marry, responded to the remarks against same-sex marriage at the Values Voter Summit by saying they’re acting contrary to basic values.

“If they can’t value basic American values such as liberty and justice for all, and if they can’t value personal values such as the Golden Rule and loving your neighbor, and if they can’t value veracity, you’d think they’d at least value their own self-image enough to stop the rest of us from trying to come up with polite synonyms for ‘out-of-touchiness,’” Wolfson said.


Calif. trans law ‘unlikely’ to qualify for referendum

California, Gov. Jerry Brown, Gay News, Washington Blade

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that says schools must allow trans students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms and play on sports teams that match their gender identification. (Photo public Domain)

A recently signed transgender student rights law in California may be secure as one LGBT advocate says it’s unlikely opponents of the law have submitted enough legitimate signatures to put the measure up for referendum.

A total of 504,760 signatures were due last Thursday, which are required to place the law, known as the School Success & Opportunity Act, on the ballot for the 2014 election. Opponents of the measure, led by the Privacy for All Students Coalition, submitted 613,120 signatures from a majority of state counties in favor of overturning the law.

But they’re averaging just 75 percent authenticity in the random sample as of Friday, which is significantly below the average ultimately needed to qualify. If the number of valid signatures is less than 95 percent of the 504,760 needed, the measure would fail to qualify for the ballot.

John O’Connor, executive director of Equality California, said “it’s unlikely, [but] it’s not impossible” that the measure will come up for referendum given the signature validation percentage at this point.

“They’re going to need an 81.41 percent validity rate to qualify for the ballot,” O’Connor said. “You can see that they’re well below it currently. That 81.41 percent would be well above the average for any signature gathering activity. So, I mean there’s very real reason to hope that they’re not going to, but nothing’s conclusive itself until the process ends, and, sadly, we just have to give it it’s time to work.”

Although the results of 11 counties have been examined, the signatures from 47 counties have yet to be reviewed. Of these 47, three have yet to report their signature data — Amador, Mono and Mariposa — but they’re small and the signatures there are unlikely to affect the outcome of the validation process.

The deadline for the California Secretary of State to complete the random sample validation is Jan. 8.

If opponents of the law were found to have between 95 and 110 percent valid names in the random sample of the required total, the California Secretary of State would require a full check of signatures, which could mean the verification process could go into mid-March.

A random sample in which more than 110 percent of the names were deemed valid of the required total would mean the measure would immediately qualify for the ballot.

The law, signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown on Aug. 13, requires California public schools to respect students’ gender identity and ensures transgender students have access to school activities, facilities and sports teams in accordance with their gender identity.

O’Connor said “it’s terrible”  that opponents of the law would even make the attempt to strip it from the books.

“This is an attack on perhaps the most vulnerable population in our community,” O’Connor said. “They’ve solidly lost on marriage, and so now they’re going to try to go after transgender kids. It’s just despicable.”

While the referendum on the law may be doomed, it’s still possible for opponents of the law to repeal it through the ballot initiative process. Moreover, opponents could go a step further and completely remove gender identity from non-discrimination laws if they so desired. A statutory ballot initiative would require 504,760 signatures to qualify for the ballot; a constitutional amendment would require 807,615 names.

But the time period to gather signatures for the ballot initiative process has already begun. Opponents of the student law would have to submit signatures before six months passes after Brown signed the measure into law, which means that four months remain for them to take action.

O’Connor said he doesn’t know if opponents of the law will pursue this course, but noted it’ll be more difficult as time goes by.

“The fact that the clock has been ticking and they’re losing time right now, it’s curious to me, it makes me wonder what they’re up to,” O’Connor said. “It makes me uncertain whether they will or they won’t.”

The Privacy for All Students Coalition didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the assessment of the signature validation process or whether the group intends to pursue a ballot initiative.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she shares the optimism that efforts to repeal the California student law will fail.

“While we wait for the official results of the signature verification, we’re optimistic that, because of our friends in California, the ballot initiative will fail,” Keisling said. “The Transgender Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Equality California, among others, moved quickly to counter the repeal effort. And what we’ve shown is that campaigning against transgender kids won’t win in California or anywhere else.”


Obama renews PR push for health care law

John West, Michael Lappin, gay news, Washington Blade

John West (left) and Michael Lappin are set to save $5,200 a year under Obamacare. (Photo courtesy of Michael Lappin

For Michael Lappin and his spouse John West, the Affordable Care Act offered critical savings — more than $5,200 a year —thanks to the individual insurance policies they purchased on the Obamacare website.

Amid widespread media attention to the technical difficulties with the site, cancelled policies and loss of registration information for enrollment, the Atlanta couple represents one positive experience in accessing health care reform.

In a phone interview with the Washington Blade, Lappin said the couple, who co-founded their own business, STELLAR Mortgage Corp., was previously covered by plans that offered decent but expensive coverage.

“Under the Affordable Care Act, we’re getting new plans,” Lappin said. “We’re switching providers, keeping our same doctor, though, as our primary care physician, and between the two of us, we’re going to save over $5,200 a year on our health insurance.”

Even with the lower cost of the insurance, Lappin said the couple will enjoy lower co-pays, lower deductibles and lower out-of-pocket costs — all without help of any subsidies offered by the federal government under Obamacare.

Lappin, 44, and West, 49, married in D.C. in 2012, but applied for individual plans because they have yet to file a joint tax return. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act in June, Lappin said the couple intends to file jointly next year and may revisit the idea of family coverage.

“I believe the rates are the same if we buy individually or together, so it’s just sending two checks versus one check,” Lappin said. “But I will definitely revisit that once we have joint tax returns and make sure.”

The couple enjoys a positive outcome under health care reform as President Obama makes a renewed push for the law, saying problems with the enrollment website are fixed and is now working for the vast majority of people.

During an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Tuesday, Obama touted his signature legislation in front of 19 people who also had positive experiences under health care reform.

“Now that we are getting the technology fixed — we need you to go back, take a look at what’s actually going on, because it can make a difference in your lives and the lives of your families,” Obama said. “And maybe it won’t make a difference right now if you’re feeling healthy, but I promise you, if somebody in your family — heaven forbid — gets sick, you’ll see the difference.”

As a result of the law, Obama projected that half a million people are poised to gain health care coverage through the health insurance exchanges and the Medicaid expansion beginning on Jan. 1 — some for the very first time.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, expressed solidarity with Obama in a statement the next day, saying his law is a “giant step” toward delivering health care to all Americans.

“We stand with the president in his unshakable commitment to this fundamental component of a transformed society,” Carey said. “We also encourage everyone to fully educate themselves on how to access the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.”

Upon the initial rollout of, users reportedly faced numerous problems, including loading difficulties and error messages. Lappin said he and his partner initially had difficulties enrolling via the website, but eventually were able to apply.

“When I would get in, it was glitchy, but over the next probably two weeks or so, I continued to get better and I was able to get in, and get it figured out,” Lappin said.

As he’s gone back to to make payments and obtain confirmation from HUMANA, his new insurance company, Lappin noticed an increase in the website’s functionality.

“I log back in now and the site seems to work,” Lappin said. “It’s much faster, much quicker, the buttons actually work and do things now. As somebody who’s started Oct. 1 through now, I can tell you, huge improvements to the site.”

Lappin said he and his spouse opted to apply for health insurance through, the website for the federal exchange, because Georgia doesn’t offer its own state insurance exchange and has no website for enrollment.

LGBT advocates — and the Obama administration — have touted that health care reform provides non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the health care system. Through regulation, the Obama administration has interpreted the gender protections under the law to apply to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Although he’s claiming significant savings under Obamacare, Lappin said he doesn’t think that’s because of discrimination faced under the previous system.

“We had individual plans, so I don’t think there was any way that anybody could have discriminated against us,” Lappin said. “It didn’t even come up in any kind of underwriting, anything that we know about.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, praised the non-discrimination protections as essential for trans people seeking health coverage.

“An important message to get out is that trans people and people living with HIV/AIDS can no longer be denied as having pre-existing conditions,” Keisling said.

Keisling said her own organization has benefited under Obamacare, saving about $250 per staff person per month on health insurance costs, or about $15,000 total.

Despite the push to promote Obamacare, most Republicans remain opposed to the law and continue hammering the administration for problems that have emerged since the rollout.

Also in this camp is the Log Cabin Republicans, which previously joined with conservative groups in signing a letter calling health care reform “tyrannical.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said he’s heard horror stories from members about their efforts at enrolling in

“Premiums are going up, some members have had no luck signing up on the website even after making repeated good faith efforts, people have been unable to change their information after it has been entered and connected with their Social Security number,” Angelo said.

Angelo said he couldn’t find a member willing to speak publicly about the problems.

For his part, Obama said during the White House event he’s open to ideas about changing the law, but won’t go back to the way things were before his health care reform was in place.

“I’ve always said I will work with anybody to implement and improve this law effectively,” Obama said. “If you’ve got good ideas, bring them to me.  Let’s go. But we’re not repealing it as long as I’m president.”


Medicare to examine ban on gender reassignment surgery

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HHS is set to reconsider the ban on Medicare-provided gender reassignment surgery. (Image public domain)

The Obama administration is set to re-examine the ban that prohibits Medicare from covering gender reassignment surgery, according to a memorandum obtained Tuesday by the Washington Blade.

The document from the Department of Health & Human Services, dated Dec. 2, finds that the reasoning for the ban is “not complete and adequate” to support denying Medicaid coverage for transgender people seeking the procedure.

The HHS Department Appeals Board states the ban — which is codified as National Coverage Determination 140.3 — “fails to account for development in the care and treatment” for transgender people over the course of the last 30 years.

The next step, the memo states, is proceeding into a “discovery” phase for the taking of evidence to determine whether the ban can be justified.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said “there really isn’t that much to say” at this point in the process.

“This is really a preliminary step,” Keisling said. “It’s a good sign, but we have more to go on this.”

Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, was optimistic the ban would be lifted following the discovery process.

“Current Medicare standards are based on science from the 1960s, so it’s about time for a review,” Davis said. “Because the current scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that sex-reassignment surgeries are effective and medically necessary treatments for some transgender individuals, we are hopeful the board will find the exclusion is not supported.”

The DAB initiated the review of the ban on Medicare-provided gender reassignment surgery in response to a request filed in March by a quartet of LGBT advocates: the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and civil rights attorney Mary Lou Boelcke.

The challenge was filed on behalf of Denee Mallon, a 73-year-old transgender woman in Albuquerque, N.M. A Medicare recipient, Mallon was recommended to have gender reassignment surgery by doctors to treat her gender dysphoria

In a joint statement provided to the Washington Blade in response to the HHS memorandum, the ACLU, NCLR and GLAD expressed optimism that DAB would come to the conclusion after discovery that the ban on Medicare-provided gender reassignment surgery should be lifted.

“Because the current evidence overwhelmingly shows that sex-reassignment surgeries are effective and medically necessary treatments for some individuals with gender dysphoria, we are hopeful the Board will find the exclusion is not supported,” the statement says.

According to the memorandum, the ban was put in place in 1989 as a result of a 1981 report from the National Center for Health Care Technology, an arm of HHS. The report concluded “transsexual surgery not be covered by Medicare at this time” because of the high rate of complications and questions about whether it was effective in treating gender identity disorder.

“Transsexual surgery for sex reassignment of transsexuals is controversial,” the regulation states. “Because of the lack of well controlled, long term studies of the safety and effectiveness of the surgical procedures and attendant therapies for transsexualism, the treatment is considered experimental. Moreover, there is a high rate of serious complications for these surgical procedures. For these reasons, transsexual surgery is not covered.”

Despite the institution of this policy, the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association support gender reassignment surgery for transgender people as a means to treat gender identity disorder.

Notably, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid didn’t put up a fight in response to the request from LGBT advocates to lift the ban. According to the memo, CMS notified the board in June that it wouldn’t submit a response to their request to lift the ban.

Neither HHS nor CMS responded to the Blade’s request for comment on the determination or why it declined to defend the ban.

It’s unclear when the discovery period for reevaluating the ban on Medicare-provided gender reassignment surgery will come to an end. Shawn Jain, a spokesperson f0r the ACLU, said his organization doesn’t know when the process will be complete.


Transgender advocates applaud new Social Security policy

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Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Social Security Administration on Friday announced transgender people will be able to update their gender on agency records without having undergone sex-reassignment surgery.

Trans people under the new policy can either submit a passport or birth certificate that notes their gender or a letter from their doctor that confirms they have received transition-related treatment.

The National Center for Transgender Equality, which had sought the policy change for seven years, noted the State Department and the Veterans Health Administration are among the other federal agencies that have implemented similar policies. The Pentagon still requires trans servicemembers and veterans to prove they have undergone sex-reassignment surgery in order to change their gender for military pensions and other beneficiary programs.

“Most people may not see this as a big deal, but transgender people know that this seemingly small technical change will protect their privacy and give them more control over their own lives” NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling said.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, described the new policy as a “big win for LGBT equality.”

“This new policy is in line with how transgender people live their lives and is in line with the medical community’s consensus on when a person’s gender should be recognized,” she said.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project also worked with NCTE and the Task Force to secure the policy change.



Kerry: U.S. has obligation to defend LGBT rights abroad

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Secretary of State John Kerry (photo public domain)

Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday said the United States has a “moral obligation” to defend LGBT rights abroad.

“We have a moral obligation to decry the marginalization and persecution of LGBT persons,” he said during Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA)’s annual Pride event at the State Department in Foggy Bottom. “We have a moral obligation to promote societies that are more just, more fair and tolerant.”

Kerry spoke hours after President Obama specifically referenced gays and lesbians in a speech he delivered at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

The former Massachusetts senator’s comments also come against the backdrop of increased anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria and other countries.

He referenced French advocates whom he said successfully stood up against a “very bitter” and “very divisive” opposition against the country’s same-sex marriage law in response to a question from GLIFAA member Doug Morrow who is on post in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev about how to respond to anti-gay legislation and homophobic rhetoric from government officials and religious leaders.

“We got to be out there showing up in places where progress on LGBT rights has been slower and harder to achieve,” Kerry said. “Using our tools of development and diplomacy actually leverage our efforts forward in this endeavor. And we remain focused on this and will, because American leadership requires promoting universal values.”

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011 proclaimed “gay rights are human rights” during the landmark speech she gave in Geneva to commemorate International Human Rights Day. President Obama on the same day issued a presidential memorandum that directed government agencies that implement American foreign policy to promote LGBT rights in the countries in which they work.

Kerry pointed to the 2011 adoption of a United Nations resolution in support of LGBT rights, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the nomination of three gay men to ambassadorships last week as examples of the administration’s ongoing commitment to gay issues abroad. Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, told the Washington Blade after Kerry’s speech the Global Partnership Initiative that includes public and private partners has spent more than $4 million in 25 countries to directly support activists and underrepresented groups since its 2011 inception.

“Your work is so important,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality said during the GLIFAA event after Kerry’s speech. “It’s literally saving lives and building up real people around the world.”

The GLIFAA gathering also took place ahead of the expected U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I fought too long and too hard against discrimination based on race and color not to be against discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Georgia Congressman John Lewis said during the event. “No government — be it state or federal — should be able to tell a person who they can love and not love, who they can marry and not marry.”

Kerry, who was among the 14 U.S. senators who voted against DOMA in 1996, said he is hopeful the justices will strike down the law that then-President Bill Clinton signed.

He cited the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s election to the U.S. Senate last fall as examples of the progress he said this country has seen on LGBT-specific issues. Kerry noted, however, the lack of immigration rights for bi-national couples is an example of the work he said that remains to be done.

“We have to say, as we gather here today, that we still do have a distance to travel,” he said. “Far too many women and men and families are still denied equality under our laws.”