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Open military service is critical to freedom

Remembering the contributions of Major Dusty Pruitt and Col. Grethe Cammemeyer



Mary Newcombe is an attorney based in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy Newcombe)

Recently my partner Kate shared a story about a colleague’s 13-year-old daughter coming out to her straight mom, who responded quite lovingly and appropriately. Having raised two adolescents, we know that teen identities commonly morph and her colleague should allow her daughter space to experiment with her identity.  But we also know it’s necessary for all people, whatever their ages, to be able to claim their identities and live without consequence for expressing them. 

The ability to name oneself and live freely was central to the defense of lesbians and gay men in the armed services in the dark 1980’s and 1990’s, including my clients, Maj. Dusty Pruitt and Col. Grethe Cammermeyer. It’s still central 7 years after the official end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Sept. 20, and as transgender servicemembers continue to fight on the legal frontlines.

In 1985, when I began practicing law, I knew of only a handful of lawyers who were openly gay, most of whom were sole practitioners or activists. I knew only one person in a large firm (shout out to Alan Heppel!) who was out at work. They were all courageous, given the extreme risk of job loss or family rejection. Many people lived in fear—but it was much harder for lesbians and gay men in the military.  A gay accusation or suspicion would instigate an investigation that would often result in discharge under less than honorable conditions—a status that drastically limited job and other opportunities in the civilian world.  Not to mention the unspeakable injury to an individual’s dignity: every servicemember I ever knew took pride in their service, even if they disagreed with a particular military conflict.

There were crucial differences in the discharge proceedings against Dusty and Grethe.  Dusty had been out a long time, during her five years in the Army, serving as a Captain in the Army Reserve, and as a minister in the Metropolitan Community Church. In 1983, she talked to the Los Angeles Times about her ministry and the difficulty of reconciling her sexual orientation with Christian teaching, volunteering that she was still in the Army Reserve.

Dusty’s commander saw the story and initiated an investigation. Susan McGreivy of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project stepped in to defend Dusty but Dusty was stripped of her recent promotion to major and discharged. 

I became a cooperating attorney just before the federal district court upheld Dusty’s discharge, despite no allegation of improper conduct. We appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit. Three years later, in August 1991, the court rejected our argument that Dusty had a First Amendment right to assert her identity. But, for the first time, the court stated the Army was required to demonstrate the regulation was premised on fact, rather than supposition. This meant we could move beyond the inevitable motion to dismiss and demand the armed forces prove the ban was justified. 

It was a tiny shift that altered the scope of future litigation over gay and lesbian rights—and it was made possible by Dusty’s willingness to challenge her discharge.  Soon after, Keith Meinhold won an order reversing his discharge because the Navy was unable to prove a legitimate evidentiary basis for its ban.  Dusty ultimately won her case and retired as Maj. Dusty Pruitt.

I was introduced to Grethe in 1989 when she sought help from Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Grethe, a lieutenant colonel in the Washington National Guard who had served as a trauma nurse in Vietnam, had only recently come out after surprisingly falling in love with another woman. She did not really like people who marched in parades and had no intention of doing so herself. She wanted our help, though, because she had been threatened with discharge proceedings after disclosing her newly discovered sexual orientation during an interview for a higher-grade security clearance, a requirement for her goal of becoming Chief Nurse of the National Guard.  Although she was not out to anyone, the Army ordered the unwilling Washington National Guard to commence discharge proceedings. 

Grethe was incensed—she did not believe the Army she had served faithfully would take such a hard, illogical position. She wanted to fight.  I told Grethe that she should think long and hard before taking that step because it would mean intense public furor that could interfere with her relationship with her four sons. She had to come out to them first to show us she was serious—they were all supportive. 

That was my first real hint of Grethe’s strength of character.

Grethe’s commander, who didn’t care one whit about Grethe’s sexual orientation, was able to delay discharge proceedings for several years.  In 1991, however, she was discharged by a three-colonel panel led by Col. Patsy Thompson, a closeted lesbian.  Thompson gave an emotional speech praising Grethe’s record and skills, calling her a “great American” but concluding the regulation required her discharge.  Members of Grethe’s unit wept at her final command ceremony.

The following year, Bill Clinton was elected president, after promising to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military. Enter Sen. Sam Nunn, the conservative Democrat who launched the hearings that ultimately yielded “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the doctrine that allowed gay people to serve their country, as long as they didn’t share their personal authenticity.

Grethe’s story about finding her lesbian identity late in life and fighting for the freedom to express it became a touchstone for the movement. And she marched in quite a few parades, loving every minute.

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NBC Universal cancels Golden Globe awards broadcast for 2022

NBC Universal announced the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes awards ceremony



Screenshot NBC coverage of the Golden Globes from previous years on YouTube

BURBANK – In the wake of an in-depth investigation into the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the organization responsible for the Golden Globes by the Los Angeles Times, which revealed a lack of racial diversity among its voting members and various other ethical concerns, NBC Universal announced Monday the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes ceremony.

This past February ahead of the HFPA’s 78th Annual Golden Globes ceremony, HFPA board chair Meher Tatna told Variety magazine that the organization that the organization of international journalists which covers the film, television, and entertainment industry has not had any Black members in at least 20 years.

Actor Sterling K. Brown,  a Golden Globe winner and two-time nominee, posted to Instagram; 

Criticism of the HFPA, which puts on the Globes and has been denounced for a lack of diversity and for ethical impropriates, reached such a pitch this week that actor and superstar celebrity Tom Cruise returned his three Globes to the press association’s headquarters, according to a person who was granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the decision, the Associated Press reported.

“We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform. However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right,” a spokesperson for NBC said in a statement.

“As such, NBC will not air the 2022 Golden Globes,” the spokesperson added. “Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”

NBC’s decision comes as Vogue reported that the backlash to the HFPA came swiftly and decisively. Some of Hollywood’s biggest studios, including Netflix, Amazon, and WarnerMedia, announced they were severing ties with the organization until efforts were made to increase diversity and stamp out corruption, while a group of more than 100 of the industry’s biggest PR firms released a statement in March in which they pledged to boycott the ceremony for the foreseeable future. 

The HFPA did not immediately respond to inquiries by media outlets requesting comment about NBC’s decision.

In February, the organization said it was “fully committed to ensuring our membership is reflective of the communities around the world who love film, TV, and the artists inspiring and educating them.”

“We understand that we need to bring in Black members as well as members from other underrepresented backgrounds, and we will immediately work to implement an action plan to achieve these goals as soon as possible,” it said.

HFPA also announced a full timetable through this summer for implementing promised reform initiatives in response to NBC’s decision.

“Regardless of the next air date of the Golden Globes, implementing transformational changes as quickly — and as thoughtfully — as possible remains the top priority,” the HFPA board said in a statement. “We invite our partners in the industry to the table to work with us on the systemic reform that is long overdue, both in our organization as well as within the industry at large.”

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LA County expected to hit herd immunity by mid summer



Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County could reach COVID-19 herd immunity among adults and the older teenagers by mid- to late July, public health officials announced Monday. Over the weekend LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that appointments are no longer needed for Angelenos to get COVID-19 vaccinations at any site run by the city.

Garcetti’s move is intended to give people who don’t have the time or technological resources to navigate online booking platforms a chance to get the shot.

The percentage of the population the County needs to vaccinate to achieve community immunity is unknown, however Public Health officials estimate it’s probably around 80%. Currently, 400,000 shots each week are getting into the arms of L.A. County residents, and there are over 2 million more first doses to go before 80% of all L.A. County residents 16 and older have received at least one shot.

At this rate, Public Health expects the County will reach this level of community immunity in mid- to late July and that assumes the County continues to at least have 400,000 people vaccinated each week. That would include both first doses that people need as well as their second doses.

This news came as Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced that attendance numbers at all grade levels in the District have been considerably lower than expected as extensive safety measures have failed to lure back the vast majority of families in the final weeks of school.

Only 7% of high school students, about 30% of elementary school children and 12% of middle school students have returned to campuses.

As of May 7, more than 8,492,810 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to people across Los Angeles County. Of these, 5,146,142 were first doses and 3,346,668 were second doses.

On Monday the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15 years of age. The Pfizer vaccine is already authorized for people 16 years old and older.

Pfizer’s testing in adolescents “met our rigorous standards,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said. “Having a vaccine authorized for a younger population is a critical step in continuing to lessen the immense public health burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a statement released Monday by the White House, President Joe Biden the FDA’s decision marked another important step in the nation’s march back to regular life.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is growing, and today it got a little brighter,” Biden said.

Los Angeles County will offer the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirms the FDA recommendation, which can happen as early as Wednesday. All adolescents 12-17 will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to get vaccinated.

To find a vaccination site near you, to make an appointment at vaccination sites, and much more, visit: (English) and (Spanish). If you don’t have internet access, can’t use a computer, or you’re over 65, you can call 1-833-540-0473 for help finding an appointment or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound. Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that unvaccinated people — including children — should continue taking precautions such as wearing masks indoors and keeping their distance from other unvaccinated people outside of their households.

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HHS takes steps to reverse Anti-LGBTQ+ healthcare policy

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule”



HHS the Hubert H. Humphrey Building (Photo: GSA)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday morning that the Biden-Harris Administration will interpret and enforce Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Title IX’s prohibitions on discrimination based on sex to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in BAGLY v. HHS, Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule.”

The Trump-era policy undermines the ACA’s nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sex — including pregnancy, gender identity and sex stereotyping — as well as protections for patients with limited-English proficiency and those living with chronic illnesses, including HIV. Because the issues in BAGLY v. HHS are broader than what the Administration announced today, the Court scheduled a hearing on the government’s motion to dismiss for June 3rd at 2:30 PM EST.

In reaction to the HHS announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Monday:

“Today, the Biden Administration has taken essential and potentially life-saving action to affirm that all people in America have the right to quality, affordable health care – no matter who they are or whom they love.  During this time of pandemic and always, it is vital that the most vulnerable have access to care, including LGBTQ Americans, who have long suffered injustice and discrimination that has left them dangerously exposed to health risks.
“The Trump Administration’s decision to greenlight anti-LGBTQ discrimination in health care in the middle of a pandemic was an act of senseless and staggering cruelty, made in blatant defiance of our values and a Supreme Court ruling made just a month prior.  
“Congressional Democrats together with the Biden Administration are proud to uphold the equal right of every American to access the care that they need to pursue a life of dignity and health.  We must now build on this progress and enact the House-passed Equality Act to fully ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination in our nation.”

In addition to Equality California, co-plaintiffs in BAGLY v. HHS include Darren Lazor, The Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (BAGLY), Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Campaign for Southern Equality, Equality California, Fenway Health, and Transgender Emergency Fund.

Lazor is a transgender man near Cleveland, Ohio, who experienced numerous counts of discrimination from healthcare providers on the basis of his gender identity from 2012 to 2017. He is a member of Equality California. Plaintiffs are represented by National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the Transgender Law Center (TLC), the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) of Harvard Law School and law firm Hogan Lovells.

The lawsuit asserts that the new rule violates the Administrative Procedures Act by being contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Notably, it was published on June 19,  just days after the June 15, 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that it is unlawful sex discrimination to fire employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The lawsuit also asserts that the new rule will embolden discrimination and harm LGBTQ+ patients and people seeking reproductive health care, further stigmatize abortion and other pregnancy-related care, harm patients with limited-English proficiency, especially immigrants, and harm people with chronic illnesses, including those living with HIV. The rule will also create confusion about the scope of protections against discrimination under federal law. 

Trans people, like plaintiff Darren Lazor, already face disproportionate discrimination in health care settings, including mistreatment by insurers and humiliation and harassment by doctors – problems that are exacerbated for trans people of color and trans people living in rural regions and the U.S. South. In seeking to deny trans people access to the healthcare they need, the Trump Administration had placed trans people, and especially Black trans women, in danger through deliberately harmful governmental action.

“We are thrilled by the news that the Biden-Harris Administration will take initial steps to reverse President Trump’s dangerous, discriminatory Rollback Rule, which undermined healthcare nondiscrimination protections critical to the LGBTQ+ community, and trans people in particular,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur.

“As the world recovers from a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever that every American have access to quality, affordable healthcare without fear of harassment and discrimination. We remain hopeful that under Secretary Becerra and Assistant Secretary Levine’s leadership, HHS will continue to take further steps to rescind the Trump-era regulation and address the harms that it has caused,” he added.

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