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Puerto Rico Medicaid program now covers transition-related health care

Governor’s LGBTQ advisory council celebrates ‘historic’ move

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The government of Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program will now cover transition-related health care.

The governor’s Advisory Council on LGBTT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgender) Issues in a draft press release sent to the Los Angeles Blade earlier this week said Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program will specifically cover medications and hormones that transgender people use when they transition.

The press release notes the council has been working with the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration, which oversees the U.S. commonwealth’s Medicaid program, and medical experts for more than a year to develop the policy. Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, a member of Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party who lost her primary in August, also supports the new regulation.

The new policy took effect on July 1, which is the beginning of Puerto Rico’s fiscal year. The council did not publicly announce it until this week because it said Puerto Rico’s pharmacies needed time to update their systems to ensure compliance.

“The LGBTT Advisory Board identified, during these years of work, several important health needs for the LGBTIQ community,” said Johanne Velez, the council’s president, in the press release. “These high-profile needs included ensuring that the trans community, within their holistic transition management plan (social, psychological, spiritual and physical), had access to quality hormone treatment. After more than a year of continuous work, direct collaboration with the relevant agencies, and the strong support of the governor of Puerto Rico, Hon. Wanda Vázquez Garced, we achieved this approval for the next fiscal year.”

“We feel a great sense of satisfaction with this step that will result in better access and quality of health services for our trans community,” added Velez. “It is a historic day of advance for human rights on our island.”

Alberto Valentín, the council’s executive director, agreed.

“Today we move towards a Puerto Rico for todes (everyone), a Puerto Rico with greater access to health (care), a fairer, more inclusive and diverse Puerto Rico,” he said in the press release.

Trans Puerto Ricans remain vulnerable to violence, discrimination

The Movement Advancement Project notes 21 states and D.C. have Medicaid policies that “explicitly” cover “transition-related health care.” Uruguay is among the countries that include transition-related health care in their public health care systems.

Trans people in Puerto Rico since 2018 have been able to change the gender marker on their birth certificates. Advocates on the island with whom the Blade has previously spoken say a lack of access to health care, discrimination and violence are among the myriad issues that trans Puerto Ricans face.  

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ advocacy group, is among the activists who sharply criticized Vázquez in June when she signed a new Civil Code they say does not protect LGBTQ Puerto Ricans. The Puerto Rican government has also faced criticism over its response to the murders of Alexa Negrón Luciano, Serena Angelique Velázquez, Layla Pelaez and other trans people.

The body of Michelle “Michellyn” Ramos Vargas, a 33-year-old trans woman, was found along a highway in San Germán in southwest Puerto Rico on Sept. 30.

The Human Rights Campaign on Wednesday hosted a virtual roundtable that focused on these murders and the overall epidemic of violence against trans Puerto Ricans.

Alexandra Roman, a trans activist who is based in Mayagüez in western Puerto Rico, said a lack of education about trans Puerto Ricans and the Puerto Rico Police Department’s inadequate response to the violence are among the factors that have exacerbated the problem.

“The police don’t take it seriously,” said Roman.

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Kentucky

Another Trans person confirmed murdered this year- USAF vet & Mother

Her friends will always remember her infectious personality & her unmistakable laugh. She loved others passionately and fiercely

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Cris Blehar, (Family Photo)

MEADE COUNTY, Ky. – Another Trans person has been confirmed murdered this year bringing the deadly total to 49 deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2021 according to a tally kept by the Human Rights Campaign.

Cris Blehar, a 65-year-old white transgender woman, mother, and U.S. Air Force veteran, was discovered stabbed and shot to death by Meade County sheriff’s deputies who had responded to her rural home on Woodland Road in the Flaherty area. Deputies had been dispatched to perform a welfare check from an unidentified person concerned about Blehar.

The Elizabethtown, Kentucky, News-Enterprise newspaper reported that the Kentucky State Police had made an arrest in the case only a few hours after Blehar’s body was found of Vine Grove resident Tyler J. Petty, 18.

Tyler J. Petty, 18
(Mugshot: Meade County Sheriff’s Department)

“There was no relationship between the victim and the suspect. We believe he worked for her,” said Kentucky State Police Trooper Nicholas Hale in an email to the News-Enterprise. Petty was arrested and brought to KSP Post 4 and was interviewed about the case. Police say he admitted to killing Blehar. A trial date has been set for June 2022.

The murder in this rural area about an hour Southwest of Louisville on May 19, 2021, was brought to the attention of the Human Rights Campaign this week when Blehar’s cousin Mark Stephens contacted HRC to ensure that she was “remembered, honored, and counted” as a member of the transgender community. 

In a statement to HRC, Mark Stephens said;

“If there is one thing to know about Cris, it was that she fought fiercely to define her life as SHE wanted. Whether it was her military service, her 20+ year career in the airline industry, or her post retirement decision to buy a farm & start a family of her own. She lived life to the fullest and wanted everyone around her to live their best life as well. Growing up ‘different’ in Kentucky is certainly no easy task, something we shared in addition to being cousins, and she tackled it with the passion and zeal that only she could have. Her friends will always remember her infectious personality & her unmistakable laugh. She loved others passionately and fiercely, none more than her own son, Maverick.”

Blehar’s son Maverick Thompson paid tribute to her, writing:

“Cris was an amazing mother and a wonderful person. She had so much love and brought a smile to many. She had a hilarious sense of humor that will live on through those that knew her. She will be sorely missed!”

According to her obituary, Blehar was a former law enforcement officer in the U.S. Air Force and retired from United/Continental Airlines. She also worked as an Uber driver and loved animals and bowling.

HRC has officially recorded 49 deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2021, more than in any year since we began tracking this violence in 2013.

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Maine

Victory Fund honors Maine House speaker in D.C.

Ryan Fecteau is gay Catholic University alum

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Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau accepts the Tammy Baldwin Breakthrough Award at the Victory Fund International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 4, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — The Victory Fund on Saturday honored Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau on the last day of its International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C.

Fecteau — an openly gay Catholic University of America alum — won a seat in the Maine House of Representatives in 2014. He became the chamber’s speaker in 2018.

“Hate and intolerance will not derail us,” said Fecteau after Florida state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith presented him with the Tammy Baldwin Breakthrough Award, which is named after U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). “Our community will not be intimidated.”

The Victory Fund on Friday honored Guatemalan Congressman Aldo Dávila, a gay man who is living with HIV.

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Georgia

Georgia Tech settles lawsuit in case of LGBTQ+ student killed by its cops

William and Lynne Schultz alleged that one of the responding campus police officers was inadequately and improperly trained

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Georgia Tech Pride Alliance Memorial to Scout Schultz after the shooting via GTPA Facebook

ATLANTA – The family of a non-binary LGBTQ+ student leader shot to death in 2017 by university police officers during a call over a mental health breakdown crisis situation, has agreed to a settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit that the family had filed against Georgia Tech.

The family of 21-year-old Scout Schultz, who was intersex, non-binary and bisexual, a fourth-year student and head of Georgia Tech’s LGBTQ+ Pride Alliance, settled this week after the university agreed to pay the family a $1 million settlement in their case.

The lawsuit, filed in September of 2019 by the parents of the slain student, William and Lynne Schultz in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, alleged that one of the responding campus police officers was inadequately and improperly trained.

In the suit, the Schultze’s alleged that Tech campus police officer Tyler Beck, 23, “had received no training in crisis intervention.” The suit goes on to say that the other responding officers “remained calm and followed standard de-escalation techniques without initiating physical force directed” at Schultz, but Beck “did not de-escalate and instead used deadly physical force.”

Schultz called 911 on Sept. 16, 2017. Campus police responded and found Schultz in a residential area of campus holding what appeared to be a knife. Schultz approached the officers in what later characterized in the official report of the incident as a ‘menacing manner.’ One officer told Schultz that “nobody wants to hurt you” and another told the distraught student to “relax.”

But as Schultz continued to advance, one of the officers, Beck, shot Schultz once in the heart and they died about 30 minutes later at Grady Memorial Hospital.

During a subsequent investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found three suicide notes and Schultz’s parents confirmed he suffered from depression and tried to kill himself two years earlier the Associated Press reported.

The Schultz’s claimed that the university, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the City of Atlanta and Fulton County prosecutors had kept details of the case from the family, Attorney Chris Stewart, who represents Schultz’s parents said in a press conference when the lawsuit was first announced.

“Schultz’s death was the result of Georgia Tech’s and the state of Georgia’s failure over time to properly train their personnel to act in such a way as to prevent the exclusion of persons such as Schultz from the safety to which all students were entitled on the campus of Georgia Tech,” the lawsuit stated.   The Schultze’s filed the lawsuit against the school, Beck and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution later reported that now former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said Beck won’t face criminal charges in Schultz’s death. Howard said two use-of-force experts concluded the shooting was justified.

According to Project Q Atlanta, the university has assigned $1 million to mental health and wellness initiatives for LGBTQ+ students, has awarded Schultz’s degree posthumously to their family, and now requires all Georgia Tech campus police officers to carry tasers as well as guns and complete 40 hours of crisis intervention training.

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