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Advocacy groups demand ICE release LGBTQ detainees from La. detention center

Letter cites coronavirus concerns, rampant mistreatment

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Immigrant advocacy groups on Thursday demanded the release of LGBTQ people who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a privately-run detention center in Louisiana.

Immigration Equality, Trans [email protected] Coalition, Santa Fe Dreamers Project, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Gender Justice LA, VisibiliT, Al Otro Lado and the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee sent a letter to Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and other officials on behalf of LGBTQ people and people with HIV who are detained at the Winn Correctional Center.

LaSalle Corrections operates the facility that is roughly 100 miles southeast of Shreveport, La., in the state’s Winn Parish.

The letter notes detainees have said Winn Correctional Center staff have not taken the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus inside the facility.

“Our LGBTQI/HIV+ clients at Winn are reporting troubling conditions specific to the COVID-19 pandemic,” reads the letter. “They include lack of medical attention for a detainee who had a days long fever, a sympton (sic) of COVID-19, crowded conditions, and a lack of sanitation supplies for detainees and staff alike.”

The letter notes one detainee has said staff as of March 20 “had not addressed COVID-19 concerns with immigrant detainees, including failing to instruct detainees on handwashing and social distancing.” The letter also indicates hand sanitizer is “not available” and ICE last week transferred up to 35 detainees to the facility.

“Some dormitories have 50 people in the same room sharing one sink, one toilet and no meaningful access to medical attention or sanitation,” reads the letter.

The letter also documents “widespread abuse and mistreatment of LGBTQI/HIV+ individuals” at the facility.

A transgender woman told the groups that she and another trans detainee were “forced to share a shower and bathroom facilities with nearly 50 cisgender men.”

The letter refers to another detainee who said staff last Aug. 19 forced her to play soccer in the yard with a group of cisgender men. The detainee claims one of the male detainees attacked her and broke her leg, but an officer “refused to take a report.”

The letter refers to a trans woman who claims she has “been forcefully pushed in the middle of her back by guards at least three times, including when she was merely standing and reading her Bible.” It also notes staff “regularly threaten transgender women with solitary confinement for arbitrary reasons, such as interpreting for other detained individuals.”

A gay detainee who is cited in the letter claims a guard subjected him to homophobic harassment after he asked him a question in a dining hall. The letter, among other things, also notes an officer threatened a trans detainee “with physical harm, going as far as to say he would beat to death any detained individuals who made him angry.”

The letter notes one detainee with HIV said he has “experienced numerous interruptions to his antiretroviral regime” while at the facility. The detainee also claims he has blood in his urine and suffers from “kidney problems” because he does not receive his medications at the same time each day.

The letter also notes ICE officers who oversee the detainees’ asylum cases “routinely ignore parole requests submitted by the individuals or their legal counsel.”

“The above information reflects the egregious conditions at the Winn Correctional Center and reveals blatant homophobia, transphobia, and a disregard for basic human safety,” reads the letter. “The above-mentioned individuals have submitted regular complaints to DHS, all of which remain unaddressed. In essence, these LGBTQI/HIV+ asylum-seekers are indefinitely trapped in a detention center where they are at a heightened risk of medical negligence, sexual harassment and disproportionate systemic violence.”

An ICE spokesperson has not returned the Los Angeles Blade’s request for comment.

Five LGBTQ detainees released from ICE custody in Ariz.

Immigration Equality earlier this week demanded ICE release detainees with HIV in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana is among the other groups that have also demanded ICE release detainees who are at heightened risk for the disease.

ICE on Monday released five LGBTQ asylum seekers from two Arizona detention centers. Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor from Cuba who received asylum in the U.S., was in ICE custody for a nearly a year until his release from River Correctional Center, a privately-run detention center in Ferriday, La., on March 4.

The Louisiana Department of Health says there are currently 2,746 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state. Statistics indicate 119 people have died from the disease in Louisiana.

There is one confirmed coronavirus case in Winn Parish.

“Social distancing at Winn is virtually impossible,” reads the letter. “Winn is primed to have COVID-19 spread through the detained population like wildfire. It will be devastating and deadly. This is especially true for the already vulnerable LGBTQI/HIV+ immigrant population. Medically vulnerable detainees, especially LGBTQI/HIV+ migrants and those who are otherwise immunocompromised, should be released immediately.”

ICE on its website notes two detainees in New Jersey have tested positive for coronavirus. There are also five confirmed coronavirus cases among ICE personnel who work at detention centers in Colorado, New Jersey and Texas.

ICE on its website also notes there are 19 confirmed coronavirus cases “among ICE employees not assigned to detention facilities.”

An ICE spokesperson with whom the Blade has previously spoken says the agency continues to take precautions to protect detainees and staff from coronavirus. These include the suspension of social visitation at all ICE detention centers and a requirement that lawyers, lawmakers and/or members of their staff wear disposable gloves, masks and eye protection when they enter these facilities.

ICE has also previously defended the treatment of LGBTQ detainees and those with HIV who are in its custody.

A 2015 memorandum then-ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Thomas Homan signed requires personnel to allow trans detainees to identify themselves based on their gender identity on data forms. The directive, among other things, also contains guidelines for a “respectful, safe and secure environment” for trans detainees and requires detention facilities to provide them with access to hormone therapy and other trans-specific health care.

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Florida

Florida prohibits Medicaid reimbursement for trans healthcare

Lambda Legal tells the LA Blade its “exploring all possible avenues for challenging this discriminatory rulemaking”

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Photo Credit: Equality Florida

TALLAHASSEE – On Thursday, Florida officially joined the roster of conservative states whose Medicaid programs carve out coverage exemptions for transgender related healthcare, including gender-affirming therapies for young people. 

Against the guidance of mainstream medical opinion, the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) ratified new rules prohibiting taxpayer reimbursement for puberty blockers, hormone therapies, or surgical procedures to treat gender dysphoria. 

“We are exploring all possible avenues for challenging this discriminatory rulemaking,” wrote Carl Charles, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, in an emailed statement to The Los Angeles Blade. “Lambda Legal has secured victories on this issue in other states such as Alaska (Being v. Crum), and just this month in our case, Fain v. Crouch, in West Virginia.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and its Florida Chapter (FCAAP) wrote in an emailed statement to The Blade that they were “disheartened” by AHCA’s finalization of rules blocking Medicaid coverage for gender affirming care: 

“The state’s interference with the physician-patient relationship and its prohibition of this vital care will negatively impact Floridians who are trying to live their lives as their true, healthiest selves. As pediatricians, our only goal is to work with families and provide our patients with the best evidence-based care possible. When necessary and appropriate, that includes gender-affirming care. The AAP and FCAAP will continue to stand up in support of all young people, including those who are transgender.”

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not return a request for comment in time for publication. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Also on Thursday, Florida’s AHCA inaccurately accused HHS and the AAP of misleading the public about the safety of transgender related healthcare, though it was not the first time the state’s health agency has butted up against its federal counterparts and associations of medical practitioners. 

AHCA previously issued a bulletin in April that prompted rebukes from groups including the Endocrine Society, which accused AHCA of spreading misinformation about healthcare treatments for transgender people, including youth. The bulletin’s contents also conflicted with official positions on these matters held by HHS. 

A coalition of legal advocacy organizations including Lambda Legal immediately condemned the AHCA’s latest move in a joint statement Thursday, writing: “Ignoring thousands of public comments and expert testimony, Florida’s AHCA has finalized a rule that will deny Medicaid coverage for all medically necessary gender-affirming care for both youth and adults. This discriminatory and medically unsound rule will take effect on August 21, 2022, putting transgender people in jeopardy of losing access to critical gender-affirming health care services.”

The statement also took aim at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: “AHCA’s actions, at the behest of Governor DeSantis and his political appointees, are morally and legally wrong as well as medically and scientifically unsound. This rule represents a dangerous escalation in Governor DeSantis’s political zeal to persecute LGBTQ+ people in Florida, and particularly transgender youth.”

The Movement Advancement Project publishes a chart tracking state-by-state Medicaid coverage for transgender-related care, which is a patchwork of different exemptions and carveouts that generally maps onto the extent to which each leans conservative. 

Much like with other public health insurance programs like state employee health plans, discriminatory state Medicaid programs have often been the subject of litigation challenging them, in lawsuits that are often successful.

Nikole Parker, Equality Florida’s Director of Transgender Equality in an emailed statement said:

“Just over one week from today, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, at the behest of Governor DeSantis, plans to strip thousands of vulnerable Floridians of their health care. Transgender people have been accessing gender-affirming care through Medicaid for years. That care is now being shut off by a state agency that has been corrupted, weaponized, and stacked with extremists by a governor desperate to fuel his own political ambitions.

Today, more than 9,000 transgender Floridians access care through Medicaid. On August 21, the state government will put  that care on the chopping block. As further evidence for his complete disregard for the health and well being of transgender Floridians, the DeSantis Administration has done nothing to quantify or assess the terrible impact this rule would have on the thousands of transgender people who rely on Medicaid for their care. The transgender community, like all people, shouldn’t have necessary, life-saving care stripped away by extremist politicians working overtime to stoke right-wing fervor. This brazen, politically-motivated attack is cruel, dangerous and puts the health of thousands at risk.”

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Virginia

Virginia’s Gov. Youngkin will force teachers to out their LGBTQ+ students

“I firmly believe that teachers and schools have an obligation to make sure that parents are well informed”

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Virginia Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin (Screenshot/YouTube CBS News)

RICHMOND – Virginia Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin affirmed his support on Tuesday for measures that would require teachers to notify parents of their children’s sexual orientation or gender identity, regardless of the students’ consent. 

The move was justified under the pretext of protecting “parental rights,” a specious argument that has given cover to policies enacted by conservative legislatures across the country that target LGBTQ+ people, including students, in public schools. 

“With regards to informing parents with most important decisions about their children…Parents should be at the forefront of all of these discussions,” Youngkin told WJLA News. “And I firmly believe that teachers and schools have an obligation to make sure that parents are well informed about what’s happening in their kids’ lives.”

Critics, however, charge that coming out is an intensely personal act, that taking away a student’s ability to do so on their own terms can be psychologically damaging, intrusive, and hurtful. In some cases, for students whose parents or guardians might harbor anti-LGBTQ+ views, it can be dangerous. 

Lambda Legal reports between 20 and 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+ and are “frequently rejected by their families or fleeing abusive long-term placements.” Forcibly outing young LGBTQ+ people can mean they will be forced to live on the streets. 

Notwithstanding Youngkin’s efforts to portray himself as a moderate when campaigning for governor, Tuesday’s statement follows a series of extreme rightward moves he has made with respect to education policies in the state that concern LGBTQ+ youth and subject matter. 

Florida’s controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which critics termed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, was similarly premised on the right of parents to control the material to which their children will have access in school. 

In reality, the overbroad legislation prohibits any classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity for students in certain grades, which could potentially lead to disciplinary action against a teacher who mentions their same-sex spouse. 

Youngkin has similarly taken aim at educational materials in public schools, such as by signing into law SB656, which requires parental notification of nebulously defined “sexually explicit content.” 

Just after taking office in January, he set up a “tip line” to solicit comments from Virginia parents on “divisive practices” or the inclusion of curricula and materials they may consider objectionable. 

Plaintiffs in multiple lawsuits, the most recent of which was filed on Monday, accuse Youngkin of violating public records laws by his refusal to share “tip line” emails with news media organizations.

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Vermont

Out Vermont state senator wins Democratic primary in U.S. House race

Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress

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Screenshot via Becca Balint for Congress

MONTPELIER – The Green Mountain State’s state Senate president pro tempore has won the Democratic nomination for the state’s at-large congressional seat, the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Becca Balin is running to succeed U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress if elected in November. Vermont is the only state that has never had a female member of its congressional delegation.

The VTDigger, a statewide news website, reported; “Balint, 53, is the first openly gay woman elected to the Vermont Senate and the first woman to serve as its president. The former middle school teacher and stay-at-home mother won her first political contest in a race for her southeastern Vermont Senate seat in 2014

She rose quickly through the ranks of the Democrat-controlled chamber, becoming majority leader in 2017, at the start of her second term. Four years later, in 2021, she was elected pro tem — the top position in the Senate.”

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