The Trump administration reportedly wants the government to revoke civil rights protections from transgender people

The Trump administration is weighing making its biggest attack on transgender rights yet in a maneuver that would strip federal recognition of the gender identity of some 1.4 million Americans — and require genetic testing in some cases to match a person’s gender with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Erica Green, Katie Benner, and Robert Pear of the New York Times reported on Sunday that the Department of Health and Human Services is floating a memo that would establish the legal definition of sex under Title IX — the federal civil rights law that bans discrimination in education on the basis of gender — that would render immutable the sex of a person at birth. In other words, the government would not recognize a person’s gender other than the one based on their genitalia when they’re born.

Per the Times:

The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with, according to a draft reviewed by The Times. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.

According to the Times, it would “eradicate federal recognition” of some 1.4 million transgender Americans.

HHS is preparing to formally present the new definition to the Justice Department before the end of the year, and if the department decides the change is legal, it could be enforced across Title IX laws and government agencies, including the Departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor.

The effects could be far-reaching — it could impact which locker rooms and bathrooms transgender students could use as well as which sports teams students join or what happens to single-sex classes, the Times points out. If enacted, it could even require some people to produce DNA tests as part of their educational experience — an unprecedented step to enforce a biological definition of gender.

The Trump administration has been terrible on transgender rights

The Obama administration worked to advance transgender rights and loosen federal regulations to allow for more gender fluidity including defining gender identity as protected by Title IX. President Donald Trump and his administration have taken steps to reverse that.

Soon after taking office, the Trump administration sent out a letter officially revoking Obama-era guidance on protecting trans students in federally funded schools, saying it was federal overreach. Trump has sought to ban transgender people from serving in the military, rescinded a memo protecting trans workers, and stripped protections for trans prisoners. It has also worsened protections for transgender people in health care.

Trump on the campaign trail said he would embrace LGBTQ people and said he would “fight” for them while Hillary Clinton would bring in “more people that will threaten your freedoms and believes.” But as Vox’s German Lopez pointed out, he’s done quite the opposite:

As president, Trump has acted more or less how you would expect a typical anti-LGBTQ Republican to act. Maybe that reflects his own opinions. Maybe it reflects the views of the people he’s surrounded himself with in his administration, including Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, both of whom have very long histories of anti-LGBTQ causes.

This new assault on transgender people — and one that includes genetic testing — is just the latest chapter.

[Vox

]

Trump ‘likes Taylor Swift 25% less’ after political post

Taylor Swift’s endorsement of two Democrats for the upcoming US mid-term elections has sparked a huge response – including from President Donald Trump.

Mr Trump has told reporters he likes “Taylor’s music about 25% less now”.

The singer-songwriter, 28, had previously deliberately steered clear of politics, but said events in “the past two years” had changed her mind.

Her latest comments were praised by many – but also sparked a fierce backlash from Republican supporters.

Swift broke her silence on politics on Sunday, publicly endorsing two Democrats in Tennessee, her home state, in a post on Instagram, where she has 112m followers.

“In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now,” she wrote.

A Buzzfeed News report quotes Vote.org’s Kamari Guthrie, who says the site has seen a “registrations spike specifically since [her] post” in Tennessee, and also a bump in voter registration nationwide.

Swift particularly criticised Republican Senate nominee Marsha Blackburn for her voting record on gender equality.

“Her voting record in Congress appals and terrifies me,” she wrote, citing the politician’s votes against equal pay and domestic violence legislation.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Trump said Ms Blackburn was “doing a very good job” in Swift’s home state.

“She’s a tremendous woman,” he said. “I’m sure Taylor Swift doesn’t know anything about her.”

In previous tweets posted in 2012, the US President had described Swift as “fantastic” and “terrific”, and had thanked her for taking a picture with him.

Swift’s post has been “liked” more than 1.6m times since she shared it on Sunday, including by model Chrissy Teigen, singer Katy Perry and actress Reese Witherspoon.

However, she has attracted criticism from conservative commentators and Republicans.

“What I used to love about Taylor Swift is she stayed away from politics,” Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative student organisation Turning Point, told Fox News on Monday.

Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee criticised her “attitude”, and said Swift had “[come] down from her ivory tower to tell hardworking Tennesseans” how to vote.

Swift did not publicly back any candidate in the 2016 election when other stars like Beyonce and Lady Gaga hit the campaign trail on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

In 2012, Swift told Time magazine she didn’t talk about politics “because it might influence other people”.

“I don’t think that I know enough yet in life to be telling people who to vote for,” she said at the time.

[BBC News]

Trump administration halts visas for same-sex partners of diplomats, UN employees

President Donald Trump’s administration began denying visas to the unmarried, same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and officials and employees of the United Nations this week — making marriage a requirement to be eligible for a visa.

The policy was made effective Monday.

It comes despite the fact that the majority of countries do not recognize same-sex marriage and many same-sex couples face prosecution in their own countries.

The shift was detailed in a memo circulated at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York last month but unveiled in July, according to the State Department.

The policy shift gives the same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and U.N. workers until the end of the year to get married or leave the country.

The State Department said in a briefing Tuesday that the policy will affect about 105 families in the USA, 55 of which have links to various international organizations. It was not clear how many foreign diplomats and U.N. employees with pending U.S. posts will be affected by the policy change.

Twelve percent of the 193 U.N. member states represented in New York allow same-sex marriage, according to Samantha Power, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who served under President Barack Obama.

The Trump administration said the new policy is more consistent with the Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage. The heterosexual partners of foreign diplomats and U.N. employees are also not eligible for U.S. visas.

Critics of the move argued the policy would create hardship for gay couples from countries that ban same-sex marriage or offer only civil unions. Those who marry in the USA to secure their visa status could face criminal proceedings once they return to their home nations.

“Those not yet in the country will need to show they’re married to secure a visa, potentially forcing those living in countries without marriage equality to choose between a posting at UN headquarters or family separation,” Akshaya Kumar, deputy U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, wrote in a blog post.

UN Globe, which advocates for non-discrimination of LGBTI staff at the United Nations and in its peacekeeping operations, said it was an “unfortunate change in rules, since same-sex couples, unlike opposite-sex couples, have limited choices when it comes to marriage.”

Power, the former ambassador, described the policy in a tweet as “needlessly cruel and bigoted.” The State Department said the rule change would promote equal treatment. It said it recognized that not all countries permit same-sex marriage and it was prepared to work with individual cases to find a solution for those not able to marry.

[USA Today]

Trump Officials ‘Did Not Want’ Census Survey To Ask About Sexual Orientation

Plans to add questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to the largest survey in the U.S. — the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey — stalled after President Trump entered the White House last year.

The newly released testimony of an official at the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, points to a possible reason. Earl Comstock, who heads the department’s Office of Policy and Strategic Planning, was recently deposed for the lawsuits over the 2020 census citizenship question.

Asked by Matthew Colangelo, an attorney for the plaintiffs, if sexual orientation and gender identity questions were not included “because you came to the policy position you did not want to ask” them, Comstock replied: “That was the administration’s conclusion, yes.”

A transcript excerpt of Comstock’s Aug. 30 deposition was filed Wednesday with Manhattan federal court by the plaintiffs’ attorneys from the New York state attorney general’s office, the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Arnold & Porter.

As NPR has reported, four federal agencies during the Obama administration submitted requests for sexual orientation and gender identity questions to be added to the American Community Survey. Last March, however, the Census Bureau announced that there was “no federal data need” to do so.

A “sensitive” topic

During his deposition, Comstock appears to have mistaken that those requests were for the 2020 census and not the American Community Survey, which the Census Bureau also conducts.

“The prior administration had wanted to add … to the decennial census a question on sexual orientation and gender identity,” he testified, according to the transcript excerpt. “So for all the people that are raising an uproar right now about the addition of this [citizenship] question, apparently there was no concern about adding such a question on another sensitive topic last year.”

The requests for the questions came from the Justice Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Environmental Protection Agency.

In a June 2016 letter to the Census Bureau, then-Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro wrote, “Valid, reliable, and nationally representative data on sexual orientation and gender identity are essential to HUD fulfilling its mission.” The Justice Department noted in its request that such data could help the agency enforce the Civil Rights Act’s protections against employment discrimination.

Under the Trump administration, however, Justice Department officials contacted the Census Bureau about the “appropriateness” of sexual orientation and gender identity topics appearing on the upcoming American Community Survey, according to a March 2017 letter sent by the Commerce Department that was published on the website of Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware.

Later, Justice Department officials stood down on the agency’s request, saying that it “requires thorough analysis and careful consideration.” The department did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the status of its analysis.

A spokesperson for the Census Bureau, Michael Cook, referred NPR’s inquiries to the Commerce Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The White House also did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

“Inadvertently listed”

Asked by email in March if any Census Bureau officials were concerned the Trump administration would not support the requests to add sexual orientation and gender identity questions to the American Community Survey, Cook replied: “N/A.” Asked to clarify, he later wrote back, “It should have read as NO.”

While the 2020 census is set to include new relationship categories differentiating between “same-sex” and “opposite-sex” couples, the Census Bureau so far has not directly asked about sexual orientation or gender identity in its surveys.

A group of Senate Democrats introduced a bill in July that would require such questions on census forms for every U.S. household by 2030 and by 2020, on the American Community Survey. About one in 38 households every year are required by federal law to answer that survey.

In March 2017, the issue made a brief appearance in the appendix of a Census Bureau report announcing the proposed question topics for the 2020 census and an update to the American Community Survey. But hours after the report was posted on the bureau’s website, the reference to “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” as “Proposed” was removed from the second-to-last page.

The bureau said that it was ” inadvertently listed.” But in a draft version of the reportNPR obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, a full page dedicated to the topic that was missing from the final version noted:

[NPR]

Trump expands federal contractors’ ability to cite religious freedom in discrimination cases

The Trump administration issued a directive earlier this month that critics argue will allow federal contractors to assert their right to a religious exemption from LGBT discrimination charges.

The Department of Labor directive, issued on Aug. 10, expands the circumstances under which federal contractors can claim they have a religious exemption when battling discrimination charges.

The directive addresses an executive order enacted in 1965 that blocks businesses that work with the federal government from discriminating against people on the basis of sex, gender identity, race, sexual orientation and other factors.

The new notice cites recent Supreme Court decisions, including a ruling in favor of a baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple and the 2014 Burwell v Hobby Lobby decision that certain corporations can be exempt from regulations over religious objections.

It also cites recent executive orders by President Trump, including his order earlier this year directing federal agencies to respect and protect religious liberty and political speech.

Critics told BuzzFeed News that the new directive would contradict a promise Trump made when he took office last year to not to touch an executive order issued by former President Obama that banned federal contractors from engaging in LGBT discrimination.

Department of Labor and White House officials told the news outlet that the Obama-era executive order remains in place, but declined to answer questions on when the religious exemption directive could be utilized by contractors.

“The purpose of Directive 2018-03 is to ensure [the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs] guidance on the religious exemption is consistent with federal law related to religious freedom and religious accommodation, including recent U.S. Supreme Court precedents and Executive Orders, which OFCCP is obligated to follow,” a Labor Department official told BuzzFeed News.

The official noted that the executive order enacted in 1965 allows “religious organizations to make employment decisions on the basis of religion.”

The new directive also states that it “supersedes” a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) memo on the illegality of anti-LGBT discrimination.

“The previous FAQ did not reflect recent Supreme Court decisions regarding religious freedoms,” the Department of Labor official told BuzzFeed News.

“President Trump and his Administration are working diligently to improve the lives of all Americans, including faith-based and LGBT communities,” White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters told BuzzFeed News. “We will continue to ensure anti-discrimination protections are in place for all Americans.”

Advocates opposing the new directive told the news site that the policy opens the door for contractors to cite religious exemptions when discriminating against LGBT employees.

“This Administration apparently recognizes — correctly, in our view — that rescinding [Obama’s 2014] executive order outright would cause a huge public outcry,” Shannon McGowan, a former lawyer in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the current head of Lambda Legal, told BuzzFeed News. “So instead, this Administration is trying to accomplish the same end through different means.”

McGowan noted that a fifth of the federal workforce is employed through federal contractors, telling the news site that the “damage that could be done here cannot be overstated.”

[The Hill]

Trump mocks protester at rally: ‘Was that a man or a woman?’

At least two protesters interrupted President Trump’s rally in Minnesota on Wednesday, with the president mocking one individual’s appearance.

The activists held up signs and disrupted the event minutes apart as the president railed against illegal immigration. Trump brushed aside each individual, telling them to “go home” and “say hello to Mommy.”

“Was that a man or a woman? Because he needs a haircut more than I do,” Trump said as the second protester was escorted out.

“I couldn’t tell,” Trump continued. “Needs a haircut.”

The crowd roared, and broke into a “USA” chant.

The president then transitioned back into criticisms of Democrats and the media, blaming each for the country’s immigration problems.

Wednesday night’s rally came hours after Trump signed an executive order to detain families apprehended at the border together. The decision came as a stark reversal after the president and his administration spent days claiming they could not address the practice of separating families.

The rally took place in Duluth, Minn., where he rallied support for Peter Stauber, a county commissioner and a retired police officer, who is running to represent the congressional district that contains Duluth.

After bringing Stauber on stage for brief remarks, the president launched into his usual list of talking points. He touted the economy, blamed Democrats for having weak positions on immigration and touted the results of his summit last week with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

[The Hill]

Trump nominates homophobic former Family Research Council chief to board of ‘religious freedom’ crusaders

It was announced Tuesday that President Donald Trump nominated Gary Bauer to be the latest member of the Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Bauer once led the Family Research Council, the anti-LGBT organization that advocates that homosexuals are harmful to society. The group has even been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Before that, Bauer was known for his opposition to having an LGBT advisor to former President Ronald Reagan’s Commission on the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the 1980s.

“Millions of Americans try to raise their children to believe that homosexuality is immoral,” he wrote in a 1987 memo. “In many states homosexual practices are illegal, including sodomy. For you to appoint a known homosexual to a Presidential Commission will give homosexuality a stamp of acceptability. It will drive a wedge between us and many of our socially conservative supporters.”

Candidate Donald Trump boasted of his support for LGBT Americans during the 2016 campaign.

“Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs,” Trump even wrote in a June, 2016 tweet.

[Raw Story]

Trump moves to ban most transgender troops

President Donald Trump on Friday issued orders to ban transgender troops who require surgery or significant medical treatment from serving in the military except in select cases — following through on a controversial pledge last year that has been under review by the Pentagon and fought out in the courts.

The memorandum states that while the secretary of defense and other executive branch officials will have some latitude in implementing the policy, “persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — including individuals who the policies state may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery — are disqualified from military service except under limited circumstances.”

The document provides few details about how the ban will be implemented, what will happen to those who are currently serving and under which limited circumstances transgender troops may be able to serve.

The memo also said that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, “in the exercise of his independent judgment, has concluded [the policies] should be adopted by the Department of Defense.”

It added that “the Secretary of Homeland Security concurs with these policies with respect to the U.S. Coast Guard,” which would also be affected by the policy.

In a subsequent statement, the White House press office explained that the policy was “developed through extensive study by senior uniformed and civilian leaders, including combat veterans.”

“The experts’ study sets forth a policy to enhance our military’s readiness, lethality, and effectiveness,” it continued, adding that officials “concluded that the accession or retention of individuals with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — those who may require substantial medical treatment, including through medical drugs or surgery — presents considerable risk to military effectiveness and lethality.”

“This new policy will enable the military to apply well-established mental and physical health standards — including those regarding the use of medical drugs — equally to all individuals who want to join and fight for the best military force the world has ever seen,” the White House statement concluded.

LGBT advocates who have sought to head off such a move in the courts swiftly slammed the decision, calling it “appalling, reckless and unpatriotic.”

“Donald Trump and Mike Pence are literally wreaking havoc on the lives of our military families,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association. “This unconscionable attack on our military families cannot stand — we refuse to allow it.”

[Politico]

Trump administration dismantles LGBT-friendly policies

The nation’s health department is taking steps to dismantle LGBT health initiatives, as political appointees have halted or rolled back regulations intended to protect LGBT workers and patients, removed LGBT-friendly language from documents and reassigned the senior adviser dedicated to LGBT health.

The sharp reversal from Obama-era policies carries implications for a population that’s been historically vulnerable to discrimination in health care settings, say LGBT health advocates. A Health Affairs study last year found that many LGBT individuals have less access to care than heterosexuals; in a Harvard-Robert Wood Johnson-NPR survey one in six LGBT individuals reported experiencing discrimination from doctors or at a clinic.

The Trump administration soon after taking office also moved to change the agency’s LGBT-related health data collection, a window into health status and discrimination. Last month it established a new religious liberty division to defend health workers who have religious objections to treating LGBT patients.

The changes at the Department of Health and Human Services represent “rapid destruction of so much of the progress on LGBT health,” said Kellan Baker, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who worked with HHS on LGBT issues for nearly a decade. “It’s only a matter of time before all the gains made under the Obama administration are reversed under the Trump administration, for purposes that have nothing to do with public health and have everything to do with politics.”

The policy reversals also come after President Donald Trump repeatedly pledged during his campaign that he would support LGBT causes. “Thank you to the LGBT community!” Trump tweeted in June 2016. “I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”

The Trump administration defended its approach to LGBT health as part of its broader health care strategy.

“The policies of the Trump administration are intended to improve the lives of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community,” White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement. “Through actions aimed at making health care more affordable, rolling back burdensome regulations, and combating the opioid crisis, the administration is working to ensure a healthier America.”

The new leader of HHS — Alex Azar, who was sworn in as secretary last month — is thought to be more pragmatic than his predecessor Tom Price. Azar previously led U.S. operations for Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company that has been hailed by the Human Rights Campaign, among others, for its pro-LGBT policies. Lilly opposed Indiana’s religious liberty law, advanced by then-Gov. Mike Pence, that LGBT groups said was discriminatory.

However, staff inside the health department have raised concerns about several other Trump appointees now in senior roles who had a history of anti-LGBT comments before joining the agency, Among them is Roger Severino, a former Heritage Foundation official who has said that the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision on same-sex marriage was “wrong” and repeatedly warned of its consequences.

“[S]ame-sex marriage was merely the start, not end, of the left’s LGBT agenda,” Severino wrote in May 2016, about 10 months before he was tapped by Trump to be the health department’s top civil rights official. “The radical left is using government power to coerce everyone, including children, into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology over and above their right to privacy, safety, and religious freedom.”

Asked in an interview this month if he stood by those comments, Severino pointed out that since joining the health department he had reached out to LGBT advocates. He also said his responsibility as civil rights chief is to uphold constitutional protections for all Americans.

“Statements I’ve made in the past are not binding on what I do in my role as a public servant,” Severino said. “What I’m guided by, and what I’m required to follow, is the law… I’m dedicated to treating everybody fairly and in accordance with the law.”

HHS officials also pointed to a listening session that Severino convened in April 2017 with more than a dozen LGBT advocates as well as several follow-up conversations with medical experts. “The outreach has been significant,” an agency spokesperson said.

But nearly all of those LGBT advocates said they’ve essentially been ignored since sitting down with Severino nearly a year ago.

“There’s been no communication since then through all the channels that he and his staff know how to reach us,” said Mara Youdelman of the National Health Law Program, who attended last year’s listening session and submitted subsequent requests for information that haven’t been returned. “It was a one-shot deal — and all of their actions speak much louder than words and one listening session.”

New direction under Trump

Though Barack Obama as a candidate for president opposed same-sex marriage, his administration immediately took steps to advance LGBT health issues, like loosening the rules on hospital visitation rights after some same-sex couples had been barred from seeing each other.

“[A]ll across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides… [and] uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans,” Obama wrote in a 2010 memorandum, instructing HHS to expand visitation rights, a policy that still stands.

The Obama administration in 2016 also finalized a regulation, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, that banned discrimination in health care based on sexual orientation and extended those protections to transgender individuals for the first time.

While some conservative groups said that the Obama administration moved too quickly on LGBT health priorities, its leaders argue their efforts were necessary, even overdue. The purpose of the agency is to serve all Americans, not just straight people. Our job was helping everyone,” said Kathy Greenlee, who was appointed as an assistant HHS secretary in 2009 and is openly lesbian. “There was pent-up support for these issues.”

But upon taking office last year, the Trump administration swiftly froze a series of LGBT-friendly rules, including proposed new regulations to further ban discrimination in Medicare and Medicaid. A regulation that would have allowed transgender HHS staff more protections when using the department’s bathrooms and other facilities also was ignored.

“It was signed and technically finished on Jan. 19, 2017, but not posted online,” said one staffer. “And the new administration considered it unpublished and pulled it back.”

The Trump administration also reinterpreted the ACA’s Section 1557 anti-discrimination mandate, with the White House declining to fight a court battle to enforce it and signaling that it would roll back the rule. The health agency’s new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, which POLITICO first reported last month, is expected to offer greater protections for health care workers who do not wish to treat LGBT patients.

Meanwhile, the agency’s senior adviser for LGBT health — a lawyer named Elliot Kennedy — was reassigned from the HHS secretary’s office to an HHS office in Rockville, Md., to work on disease prevention. Kennedy’s previous portfolio, including leading a committee to review and advance LGBT policy issues across HHS, also has lost influence, after openly LGBT leaders left the agency and current LGBT staffers say they’ve been dissuaded from attending. The committee’s annual report has not been publicly posted since 2016.

“Elliot Kennedy currently serves in the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion as liaison for Healthy People 2020’s LGBT Health Topic and Objectives,” an HHS spokesperson said, in response to questions about the reassignment. “He continues to serve on the HHS LGBT Policy Coordinating Committee.”

Another quiet battle has been over a pair of HHS surveys, with the Trump administration moving to strike questions about sexual orientation that had been added by the Obama administration in order to understand health disparities and LGBT specific health issues. The two surveys are used to shape policy for older and disabled Americans, respectively. The Trump administration subsequently reinstated some of the questions after an outcry.

“A lot of people think data are really boring. But data are fundamental, especially to public health,” said Baker, the Johns Hopkins researcher. “The only way to have the evidence you need to prioritize and spend wisely to address disparities is to have data about those disparities.”

A listening session followed by silence

The Trump administration says that it’s worked hard to engage LGBT health advocates, pointing to the listening session convened by Severino in April 2017 and attended by 17 representatives from groups that specifically deal with LGBT health.

“We’ve done a lot of outreach to the LGBT community to hear people’s concerns to be open, to listen and to learn,” Severino said. “And we will continue to do that because it’s important. I see my role as serving everybody.”

But all of the LGBT advocacy organizations represented at the April 2017 listening session said that they had concerns about HHS’ approach to LGBT health. Nearly every attendee said they hadn’t had meaningful interactions with Severino or the civil rights division in 10 months and they were underwhelmed by last year’s meeting.

“There’s a difference between hearing and listening,” said Robin Maril of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the attendees. “For a listening session to actually be successful, we would’ve had to see actual, meaningful engagement. And we’ve seen nothing but disappointing and harmful policies come out of HHS and [the civil rights office] since the meeting.”

“A number of us struggled with whether we would participate in something that would be used for exactly this purpose … a charade to be used by folks to suggest they are open-minded,” added Sharon McGowan of Lambda Legal, who also attended. “That was the lost cause that we suspected that it was.”

The Human Rights Campaign and Lambda Legal were among more than a dozen advocacy organizations that sent follow-up letters to Severino in April 2017 and July 2017 that warned HHS to halt rolling back LGBT protections and better engage the patient community. The advocates say they were ignored.

Only one attendee of last year’s listening session who responded to POLITICO — Ezra Young, a lawyer who has since left the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund and is now in private practice — said that he’s been reassured by Severino and HHS’ actions.

“I’m trying to be fair to them. There was a lot of fear based on what Roger wrote in the past,” said Young, a transgender, Latino man. “I don’t know at this point if all that fear is rational based on what has and hasn’t been done.” Young added that he’s been in dialogue with Severino, saying that the two men discussed lunch plans as recently as December.

However, Young’s former employer holds a different view. “This administration continues taking actions that harm our community, which already faces immense bias,” the organization said in a statement to POLITICO.

Christian conservatives hail HHS

Since Trump took office, multiple agencies have pursued policy reversals related to LGBT priorities. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department suggested that federal law doesn’t ban sex discrimination in the workplace for transgender employees, a turnaround from the Obama administration. The Department of Education this month said that it would no longer investigate transgender students’ complaints about access to bathrooms.

But Christian conservatives are noticing, and specifically praising, the reversals at the health department. “Few departments have [historically] given Christians more grief than HHS,” Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council wrote last month. But “from about-faces on radical sex ed to abortion policy, the White House is turning the Health and Human Services into a virtual promise-keeping factory.”

The Trump administration also has put its mark on the language it has — and hasn’t — included in formal HHS documents.

One recent flashpoint was the department’s four-year strategic plan, a document that’s required by federal law, prepared by career staff and used as an agency roadmap. The latest draft plan, which was released in October, did not make a single reference to LGBT health issues — a notable break from the two previous strategic plans, dating back to 2010. The agency removed the draft plan, which also contained strong anti-abortion language, from its web site late last year.

However, the plan originally contained references to LGBT health, two HHS staffers told POLITICO, until political appointees ordered that the language be stripped from the document. The effort was spearheaded by Shannon Royce, the agency’s liaison with religious groups, who staff say also took steps to include other language favorable to Christian conservatives.

“In our strategic plan, we actually affirmed life from conception to natural death,” Royce said, touting the new language at the Evangelicals for Life conference last month.

HHS did not respond to a question about why references to LGBT health were removed.

Past comments cited by LGBT staff

Beyond policy, staff say there have been clear signals about the personnel chosen to steer the department. For instance, the Obama administration tapped multiple LGBT officials for senior roles, including Richard Sorian to run the agency’s public affairs.

In contrast, the current public affairs chief is Charmaine Yoest, a prominent anti-abortion leader who for years advocated against same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues. For instance, Yoest a decade ago said that same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children and that transgender individuals suffered from mental disorders; she declined to comment on whether she still holds those positions now. (POLITICO first reported on Friday that Yoest will soon be leaving HHS.) Royce, the head of the faith-based office, previously worked as a senior leader for organizations that fought same-sex marriage and promoted “conversion therapy,” a controversial practice to change the sexual orientation of LGBT individuals.

Several other top officials also criticized LGBT priorities just months before joining the administration. “Vote LGBT if you want to be forced to have your baby delivered at an abortion clinic by an abortionist,” Matthew Bowman tweeted in April 2016, about nine months before being tapped by Trump to join the health department, where he is currently deputy general counsel. After the Obama administration in June 2016 expanded protections for transgender military members, Severino wrote that the “decision has nothing to do with the Constitution and everything to do with politics and a gender ideology run amok.”

HHS did not respond to specific questions about Yoest, Bowman, Severino and Royce’s past public comments, and made only Severino available for comment. But a spokesperson said that LGBT staff should not be concerned.

“All the HHS staff you refer to in your story have sworn to uphold the law and believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect because of their inherent human dignity,” HHS spokesperson Matt Lloyd said in a statement. “The belief that marriage is between one man and one woman is a mainstream view held by millions of Americans, a belief the Supreme Court has said is based on ‘decent and honorable premises.'”

Severino, the son of Colombian immigrants, added that he’s spent his life working to combat bigotry after experiencing it growing up in California.

“I faced actual discrimination and mistreatment,” Severino said, who said he heard slurs while learning to swim at a public pool and was wrongly steered to remedial classes in high school. “Those sort of inflection points drives me and my passion for civil rights,” he added, pointing to his education at Harvard Law School and subsequent work in the Department of Justice, where he served as an attorney for seven years under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

Career staff say that, regardless of what agency leaders believe or maintain now, their past comments on LGBT priorities have been widely passed around the 80,000-person department. “I photocopied them and left them in the cafeteria,” said one staffer. “It’s important for people to know these are the leaders they work for.”

It’s also fostered a climate where six staffers who are LGBT described removing their wedding rings before coming to work in the morning, taking down photos of their partners and families or ultimately finding new jobs further away from certain political appointees. They did not want to be identified; two said they feared being reassigned for being gay.

“When you have to hide a major part of who you are … it’s really debilitating,” said one staffer. “I wish I had more courage to be out with these people.”

Some LGBT staffers told POLITICO they hesitated to raise their concerns while the agency was run by then-Secretary Tom Price, who as a congressman voted against LGBT priorities and as secretary was backed by the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBT group that holds an official position that “homosexual conduct is harmful.”

Long-serving staff who worked with new HHS Secretary Azar, when he served as a senior agency leader in the George W. Bush administration, or observed his work in the private sector say they’re hoping he’ll take a different approach. Under Azar’s watch, Eli Lilly was hailed by the Human Rights Campaign as a company committed to inclusion and LGBT protections. The Indiana-based company also opposed a state law that critics feared could be discriminatory against LGBT people.

“Alex always struck me as a very pragmatic person. Not an ideologue. Very business-like. Very smart,” said one LGBT staffer. “I’m hoping he’ll put some brakes on the ideological stuff.”

Staff also suggested that HHS has bigger priorities than rolling back LGBT health gains. “To the vast majority of Americans, this isn’t that big a deal anymore,” said an employee. “It’s perplexing why they spend so much time on it.”

[Politico]

 

 

Trump fires council advising on HIV/AIDS

President Trump has fired the entire council that advises his administration about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.

Patrick Sullivan, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta who works on HIV testing programs, told the newspaper the members were informed by letter this week that their terminations were effective immediately.

The Washington Post said the council, which was set up in 1995, makes national HIV/AIDS strategy recommendations — a five-year plan which sets out how health officials should respond to the epidemic.
The council is made up of doctors, members of industry, members of the community and people living with the disease.

The Washington Blade, an LGBTI newspaper, cited sources with knowledge of the terminations as saying that the terms of several council members appointed during the Obama era still had time to run.

Anger Over Trump’s Health Cuts
The mass dismissal follows the resignation in June of six other representatives of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, who said at the time they were frustrated with Trump’s health care policies.

Several members slammed Trump’s planned American Health Care Act (AHCA), saying it would leave many of the 1.1 million Americans with HIV/AIDS without access to proper treatment. AHCA failed to pass in Congress this year, despite several attempts.

Council members also complained that, since taking office, Trump had failed to appoint a director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, a position first created during the Clinton administration.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/12/30/president-trump-fires-council-advising-hiv-aids/992426001/

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