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Bi Black man alleges abuse at ICE detention center

“White’s case is not an anomaly or an exception within the system, but rather the norm- the world needs to know what’s been going on”

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Paul White remains in ICE custody at the Caroline Detention Center in Bowling Green, Va. (Illustration courtesy of Leanne Gale)

BOWLING GREEN, Va. – A bisexual Black man in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody says he continues to suffer abuse at the Virginia detention center in which he is being detained.

Paul White has been in ICE custody at the Caroline Detention Center in Caroline County, which is roughly 70 miles south of D.C., since August 2020.

Amanda Díaz of Freedom for Immigrants, a group that seeks to end the detention of immigrants and asylum seekers, in a July 15 complaint she sent to Caroline Detention Facility Supt. Paul Perry, ICE Washington Field Office Director Matthew Munroe, Department of Homeland Security Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Katherine Culliton-González and DHS Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari notes three specific “use of force” incidents against White.

The complaint notes three Caroline Detention Facility staffers on Nov. 5, 2020, brought White to a “rover security office” in the back of the dining hall after he complained about the quality of the food he received for dinner. White alleges one of the staffers then “grabbed” him “by his jumper collar and slammed him into the door, threatening that if he moved or said anything, he was going to kill him.”

White during a Nov. 11 telephone interview from the Caroline Detention Facility told the Washington Blade that the staffer assaulted him in an area without video surveillance. White said he filed a complaint with ICE, but “nothing happened.”

The complaint notes the same Caroline Detention Facility staffer who assaulted White last November “approached” him “in his dorm” on Feb. 10 and asked to speak to him.” White, according to the complaint, “refused” and the staffer “then asked to speak to him in the library, where [White] was under the impression that there were no cameras.”

The complaint says White “was afraid to go with” the staffer “to a place with no cameras and refused again.” The staffer then “put everyone in the dorm on lockdown and put [White] in segregation and charged him with “approaching” the staffer “in a threatening manner.” White, according to the complaint, returned to his dorm after the charge was dismissed.

The complaint states a Caroline Detention Facility staffer on May 10 “handcuffed my client and dragged him across the floor on his knees” after White challenged new rules about where detainees could sit in the dining hall.

“I was cuffed because I refused to walk because I was wrongfully targeted and I was like I’m not going to walk,” White told the Blade. “He started dragging me on the ground.”

White said the staffer then threatened to mace him.

“He pulled his mace out, had it over my face and threatened me if I don’t get up and walk, he was going to mace me,” said White. “I turned to him and I was like, ‘I’m in cuffs and you’re going to mace me.’”

White said the next morning he took 10 600 mg Ibuprofen pills in an attempt to die by suicide. White told the Blade that Caroline Detention Facility staffers placed him into an isolation cell, and the pills were among the personal belongings he said they brought to him.

“I was just tired of the abuse that I’ve been suffering by the hands of this facility and ICE,” said White. “I felt like I was worthless and I just wanted to end the pain.”

White described to the Blade another incident in which he said an ICE officer took his blankets and bedsheets away from him after he questioned why they demanded he get out of bed.

“They say we can’t be under our covers from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.,” said White. “I told him that’s punishment and this is not prison, and he still went ahead and did it.”

White said he didn’t get his “stuff back until” 7 p.m. White told the Blade he reported the incident to both ICE and Caroline Detention Facility staffers, but “they did nothing about it.”

Freedom for Immigrants, the National Lawyers Guild’s National Immigrant Project and the Free Them All VA Coalition on Aug. 31 filed a separate complaint with Culliton-González on behalf of White and 18 other people who are currently in ICE custody at the Caroline Detention Facility or were previously held there.

“Since April 2021, we have received reports from these 19 individuals being held at Caroline Detention Facility who have called the Freedom for Immigrants (FFI) National Immigration Detention Hotline and individual advocates to report that they have suffered from physical and verbal abuse, contaminated food, denials of right to practice religion, medical neglect, denial of disability accommodations, unsanitary conditions, phone access restrictions, solitary confinement and/or COVID-19 negligence,” reads the complaint. “These reports demonstrate a pattern and practice of ongoing and blatant violations of the 2011 ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards, with which Caroline Detention Facility is required to comply per their contract with ICE.”

White told the Blade that he tested positive for COVID-19 last November. He said he is now vaccinated, but stressed facility staffers don’t wear face masks and don’t properly clean the detention center.

White also said he had a “mental breakdown” a few weeks ago and a Caroline Detention Facility staff person told him “you need to speak with me first” when he asked to speak with a mental health professional and an ICE officer.

“I said, ‘No, you’re not mental health and you’re not ICE,” said White, recalling what he said he told the staff person. “He told me that I’m in his jurisdiction. I said jurisdiction. I said man, listen, you’re not going to put no cuffs on me like the last time you did and dragged me.”

White told the Blade that he was eventually allowed to see a mental health professional in the infirmary, but the Caroline Detention Facility staffer nevertheless wrote him up and placed him in segregation. White said he was found not guilty, but the staffer who filed the complaint against him later threatened him.

“The captain looked at me and said I was lucky because if it were him he would have hurt me,” said White.

White also told the Blade that his overall physical health has deteriorated since he arrived at Caroline Detention Facility.

White fears deportation to ‘homophobic’ homeland

White is from a country that he asked the Blade not to identify, but he said consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized there.

He arrived in the U.S. in 2001 after his mother sponsored him for a green card.

White lived in New York for several years. He worked as a cable company technician before he began an entertainment company and opened a restaurant. White, who has a daughter, moved to Henrico County, Va., in 2012.

He said he was arrested in Chesterfield County, Va., but did not tell the Blade why.

“Basically, as a Black man I was targeted and the justice system basically sent me to prison,” said White.

White has asked the U.S. to grant him protection under the U.N. Convention against Torture due to the persecution he said he would suffer in his home country because of his sexual orientation.

An immigration judge in May ruled against White.

White appealed the ruling to the Virginia-based Board of Immigration Appeals, but it dismissed his case last week.

“Mr. White is currently exploring options to continue pursuing his case,” White’s former attorney, Leanne Gale, told the Blade in an email.

White told the Blade he is “pretty much scared to my gut” about being deported to his home country.

“I’m going back to a country that I left 20 years ago and I have no financial support,” he said. “Basically, I have to go back to the same place where they’re waiting for me, that I’m going to be harmed.”

White further described his country as “homophobic.”

“The laws stated that if you’re gay or lesbian, you’re supposed to be locked up and persecuted,” he said. “I see guys got killed, burned and beaten with car tires. I’ve heard of people who got shot and the police’s not going to do nothing about it … the communities govern themselves. When you’re been exposed as being gay, lesbian or bisexual, even your mom, your dad, your cousins, your uncles, they’re all against you and you potentially might not be killed by a stranger. You might be killed by your own parents.”

ICE ‘has zero tolerance for all forms of abuse’

ICE spokesperson James Covington in a statement he sent to the Blade on Monday did not specifically comment on White’s allegations. Covington, however, stressed ICE “has zero tolerance for all forms of abuse, assault, or neglect against individuals in the agency’s custody. Furthermore, ICE practices strict adherence to all federally mandated COVID-19 protocols at all of our facilities.”

“ICE focuses on prevention and intervention with specific requirements for detainee supervision, classification, and background checks for staff and contractors,” said Covington. “Moreover, ICE works extensively to ensure that all detainees are aware of how to make an allegation of abuse or assault, that allegations are treated seriously, that detainees are protected and provided all required services, and that thorough investigations are completed. The agency has implemented policies and procedures to establish an environment where staff and detainees are encouraged and feel comfortable reporting allegations and do not face any retaliation for bringing to light concerning behavior. ICE and facility staff receive specialized training to appropriately respond to all allegations in a professional and timely manner.”

White in a follow-up statement to the Blade said he has “not personally seen any investigation” done in response to his complaints.

“I tried to press charges and they wouldn’t help me,” he said. “They do not take any of our complaints seriously.”

LGBTQ immigrant groups rally behind White

The Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project and La ColectiVA have launched a campaign that urges ICE to release White. The groups have also been adding money to White’s commissary account at the Caroline Detention Facility.

Uchechukwu Onwa, co-director of the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, spent three months in ICE custody in Atlanta in 2017 after he arrived in the U.S. from Nigeria. Onwa on Tuesday told the Blade during a telephone interview that he is “not surprised” by White’s allegations.

“This is something that we see happen a lot with immigrant communities, but also it’s happened more within the LGBTQ immigrant community and then being Black as well, so this is all linked to anti-Blackness, xenophobia and racist attack,” said Onwa.

June Kuoch, a Queer Detainee Empowerment Project organizer, agreed.

“Mr. White’s case is not an anomaly or an exception within the system, but rather the norm,” they said.

“As a Black, bisexual man, Mr. White has been the target of escalated abuse and violence while in detention,” Díaz told the Blade in a statement.

She added White “continues to resist, organize and advocate for the release of himself and others despite ICE continuing to target him.”

“His leadership and willingness to speak out in the face of ongoing abuse is a salient reminder that no matter where someone came from or who we are, everybody’s life is of value and worthy of justice, safety, and dignity,” said Díaz.

White told the Blade “the world needs to know what’s been going on behind these walls when we’ve been detained.”

“Through my story they can understand and know that ICE itself they have been violating the (U.N.) Convention against Torture, and this is what they’ve been doing,” he said. “They’ve been torturing us mentally, and sometimes physically.”

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Federal Government

FDA planning to lift ban on gay & bi sperm donors

When the FDA releases its draft policy around sperm donation, there will be a public comment period before the regulation is made final

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Rob Salerno | WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration is planning to lift its ban on sperm donations from men who have sex with men, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The report also says the FDA would simultaneously lift the ban on donations of other tissues and organs from gay and bi men.

The Journal report suggests that the FDA could put out a draft of the new policy for public comment by the summer, with a final rule in place by the end of 2024 or early 2025.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the FDA would not confirm the Wall Street Journal story, but acknowledged that, “the FDA routinely reviews approaches regarding donor screening and testing for donors of human cells, tissues, and cellular and tissue-based products (HCT/Ps) to determine what changes, if any, are appropriate based on technological and evolving scientific knowledge.” 

Men who have sex with men have been barred from donating sperm since 2005

The FDA imposed the sperm donation ban on men who have sex with men in 2005, as part of an expansion on existing prohibitions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men which were meant to mitigate the risk that HIV could be spread through donations.

The policies stemmed from an erroneous belief that gay men were more likely to carry HIV, regardless of their individual behaviors and risk factors.

Last year, the FDA finally ended the ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men, which had been in place since the early days of the AIDS crisis. The FDA now requires that blood donors are screened based on individual behaviors in a gender-neutral manner, in addition to the donations themselves being tested for HIV and other blood-borne illnesses.

Alice Ruby, executive director of the Sperm Bank of California in Berkeley, says the lifting of the blood ban should provide a template for ending the sperm ban.

“I’m hoping it’s similar to the blood donation screening, where it’s based on behaviour, rather than being part of a population,” she says. “We test donors repeatedly for HIV as required by the FDA.”

The Sperm Bank of California has served many lesbian, bi, and trans people, and Ruby says that she’s often told her clients would like a queer donor, to ensure that the biological father won’t be someone who disapproves of queer families. The ban removes that choice from would-be mothers.

The Sperm Bank of California has been opposed to the gay sperm donation ban since the policy was first proposed twenty years ago and has advocated in tandem with the National Center for Lesbian Rights for the policy to be scrapped.

“People are pretty unaware that the ban exists. I think there’s a lot of gay men who would be happy to contribute in this way, especially since a large number of people using sperm donation are LGBT couples and single people,” Ruby says.

Sperm banks across the country have been experiencing shortages of donor sperm, especially from donors of color. Opening the donor pool to gay and bi men could help ease the shortage. Ruby has told the Blade that the Sperm Bank of California has had to turn away gay and bi donors every week, up to 400 men in a single year.

When the FDA releases its draft policy around sperm donation, there will be a public comment period before the regulation is made final. Ruby says anyone interested opening up sperm donation to gay and bisexual men should submit a comment to support the change.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Adm. Levine celebrates trans joy on Transgender Day of Visibility

“Transgender medicine is absolutely necessary for transgender and gender diverse people including trans youth”

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Dr. Rachel Levine (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — The day after Sunday’s Transgender Day of Visibility observance, the Washington Blade connected with Adm. Rachel Levine, a pediatrician serving as assistant secretary of health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Trans joy means authenticity and being comfortable in your own skin and being able to be who you are,” said Levine, who is the highest-ranking transgender official in U.S. history.

“With my transition, I was able to be my authentic self,” she remembers. “At that time, I was still a professor at the Penn State College of Medicine, and an attending physician at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center in pediatrics and adolescent medicine, but then I had this unique opportunity to become the physician general of Pennsylvania for then-Gov. Tom Wolf, and then two and a half years later to become the Secretary of Health.”

“So it has been a tremendous journey, which has been very rewarding,” Levine said, adding that it has been “an honor” to work for the Biden-Harris administration under HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra — all allies of trans, nonbinary, and gender expansive folks and of the LGBTQ community more broadly.

Levine recounted how Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, himself the first openly gay Senate-confirmed Cabinet secretary, had singled her out as one of the administration’s other high-ranking LGBTQ appointees during a 2021 Pride celebration at the White House.

At that moment, President Joe Biden “looked me in the eye and, you know, kind of gestured for me to stand up for the applause,” she remembered, and “I thought that that was just truly meaningful and shows his compassion and his attention to the people working for him and his administration.”

At the same time, Levine’s tenure has, unfortunately, come with bigoted attacks from the likes of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), but she said part of trans joy means “we fight hate with love, and we continue to live a life of joy in the face of adversity.”

“For me personally, I am able to compartmentalize those attacks,” she said. “You know, and I’ve learned this in my clinical work as a pediatrician, where, if you are in the emergency department or in the office or in the hospital and you have a very sick patient in front of you, you have to be able to function as a professional and compartmentalize your feelings and then be able to bring them out later and process them.”

Levine explained, “And so it’s the same thing so that if I am attacked, I’m able to compartmentalize any emotions about that and then I work that through with my friends and my family.”

“In addition, though, I’ve also learned the art of sublimation where, you know, the more people attack me, then I’m able to turn that around and it serves as motivation for me to work harder and advocate more.”

Rather than herself, Levine said, “What I worry about are the most vulnerable in our community, who I think it can be very challenging for, particularly in these times, to vulnerable transgender and nonbinary youth, their families, and even their medical providers in many states across the country.”

Levine shared her thoughts about the public’s eroding faith in science, medicine, and institutional expertise — themes that often arise in the context of debates over gender affirming healthcare, as guideline-directed and medically necessary interventions that are supported by every mainstream medical society have come under fire from right-wing politicians.

“There is a lot of misinformation and overt disinformation about transgender medicine,” she said. “You know, transgender medicine is an evidence-based standard of care, which continues to benefit from continued research and evolution from, you know, standards 10 or more years ago to the current standards now published.”

Levine added, “Transgender medicine is absolutely necessary for transgender and gender diverse people including youth — and transgender medicine is medical care, but it’s also mental health care, and it’s literally suicide prevention care” that has “been shown in study after study to improve the quality of life and can literally save lives.”

Transgender medicine “for young people [is often] conducted at many of our nation’s expert children’s hospitals,” Levine said. “Let me put it this way: if you have a child with a fever, you would take your child, perhaps, to a pediatrician. If they had severe diabetes, you would take them to a pediatric endocrinologist. If they had a mental health condition, you might take them to a child psychiatrist or psychologist.”

“So,” she said, “if you have a child with gender questions or gender issues then you’re going to take them to the pediatric and adolescent gender specialist, and it’s often a team — including the same endocrinologist and it might be the same psychiatrist or psychologist.”

“You’re not going to think, ‘oh, I’m going to call my state legislator.’”

Nevertheless, Levine said, “These issues have been politicized for political and ideological reasons” over the objections of physicians like Jesse Ehrenfeld, president of the American Medical Association, who during a panel discussion with Levine for the PFLAG National convention in November, agreed that politicians should not get between patients, their families, and their healthcare providers.

“We see other areas where there’s misinformation and disinformation,” Levine said, perhaps partly a consequence of the politicization of the public health response to the COVID pandemic, which has led to vaccine hesitancy for COVID as well as childhood immunizations.

Ultimately, she said, “physicians and other medical and public health professionals are trying to help people,” which is “what I tried to do when I was in academic medicine” where “I really worked to help people, the patients and families that I saw as well as teaching as well as clinical research — and I think, overall, that’s what most physicians and medical professionals and public health professionals are doing.”

Exciting work ahead at HHS

When it comes to the work in which her agency is engaged, Levine said “health equity is fundamental to everything that we’re doing at HHS under Secretary Becerra and so many of our key policy initiatives relate to health equity.”

“So,” she said, “that includes health equity for the LGBTQI+ community, working to end the HIV epidemic in the United States with a focus on health equity, working to safeguard LGBTQI+ youth from the harms of conversion therapy, promoting data equity for our community, SAMHSA’s work on on conversion therapy, ARC’s work in terms of a sample patient intake form to improve the patient care experience for LGBTQI+ people, and more.”

“We have an office of climate change and health equity with a sister office of environmental justice,” Levine added. “We’re working on health equity in terms of reproductive health and reproductive rights, in the face of the Dobbs decision,” which revoked the constitutional right to abortion.

“We’re working in terms of health equity in regards to food and nutrition,” she said, “in terms of long COVID, and more.”

As with many initiatives under Biden’s presidency, “There is a tremendous emphasis on breaking down silos within divisions at HHS and between departments,” Levine said.

She shared a few examples: “One is our work on long COVID. We have an office of long COVID research and practice, which is really working across the administration with that whole of government approach. Another is in terms of our work on climate change and health equity with the EPA, and the White House Climate Council.”

“And then another actually would be our work on syphilis,” Levine said. “We run — and I chair — a syphilis and congenital syphilis federal government task force, which includes all the divisions at HHS, but also includes the VA and the Department of Defense, trying to address the significant increases in syphilis and congenital syphilis that we’ve seen the United States.”

And then, “Another example within the LGBTQ space is a global interagency action plan about conversion therapy, which includes HHS, the Department of State, the Department of the Treasury, and USAID.”

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National Security Council meets with Ugandan LGBTQ activist

Mugisha, who is gay, is one of the most prominent LGBTQ advocates in Uganda, winning the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award

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Sexual Minorities Uganda Executive Director Frank Mugisha (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. National Security Council met with Ugandan LGBTQ rights activist Frank Mugisha on Monday, according to a spokesperson who reaffirmed America’s opposition to civil rights abuses against LGBTQ people in the East African country.

Last year, Uganda passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, a law that criminalizes, with prison sentences, identifying as gay or lesbian and imposes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The Biden-Harris administration has repeatedly denounced the legislation and called for its repeal.

“There have been increased reports of evictions, vigilante attacks, and police harassment, abuse, and detainment of individuals who are or are perceived to be LGBTQI+, including reports of the Ugandan police subjecting individuals to forced anal examinations – an abusive, degrading practice that serves no investigative or public health purpose,” the White House wrote in a December 2023 fact sheet.

In a post on X about the meeting with Mugisha, Adrienne Watson, special assistant to the president and National Security Council senior director for press and spokesperson, wrote that the “United States continues to have zero tolerance for any form of discrimination or harmful activities.”

Mugisha, who is gay, is one of the most prominent LGBTQ advocates in Uganda, winning the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize for his work in 2011. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

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EXCLUSIVE: USAID LGBTQ+ coordinator visits Uganda

Jay Gilliam met with activists, community members from Feb. 19-27

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U.S. Agency for International Development Senior LGBTQI+ Coordinator Jay Gilliam (Photo courtesy of USAID)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Agency for International Development Senior LGBTQI+ Coordinator Jay Gilliam last month traveled to Uganda.

Gilliam was in the country from Feb. 19-27. He visited Kampala, the Ugandan capital, and the nearby city of Jinja.

Gilliam met with LGBTQ+ activists who discussed the impact of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, a law with a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality” that President Yoweri Museveni signed last May. Gilliam also sat down with USAID staffers.

Gilliam on Wednesday during an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade did not identify the specific activists and organizations with whom he met “out of protection.” 

“I really wanted to meet with community members and understand the impacts on them,” he said.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations in Uganda were already criminalized before Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Gilliam told the Blade he spoke with a person who said authorities arrested them at a community meeting for mental health and psychosocial support “under false pretenses of engaging in same-sex relations and caught in a video that purportedly showed him.” 

The person, according to Gilliam, said authorities outed them and drove them around the town in which they were arrested in order to humiliate them. Gilliam told the Blade that prisoners and guards beat them, subjected them to so-called anal exams and denied them access to antiretroviral drugs.

“They were told that you are not even a human being. From here on you are no longer living, just dead,” recalled Gilliam.

“I just can’t imagine how difficult it is for someone to be able to live through something like that and being released and having ongoing needs for personal security, having to be relocated and getting support for that and lots of other personal issues and trauma,” added Gilliam.

Gilliam said activists shared stories of landlords and hotel owners evicting LGBTQ+ people and advocacy groups from their properties. Gilliam told the Blade they “purport that they don’t want to run afoul of” the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“These evictions really exacerbate the needs from the community in terms of relocation and temporary shelter and just the trauma of being kicked out of your home, being kicked out of your village and having to find a place to stay at a moment’s notice, knowing that you’re also trying to escape harm and harassment from neighbors and community members,” he said.

Gilliam also noted the Anti-Homosexuality Act has impacted community members in different ways.

Reported cases of violence and eviction, for example, are higher among gay men and Transgender women. Gilliam noted lesbian, bisexual and queer women and Trans men face intimate partner violence, are forced into marriages, endure corrective rape and lose custody of their children when they are outed. He said these community members are also unable to inherit land, cannot control their own finances and face employment discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  

US sanctioned Ugandan officials over Anti-Homosexuality Act

The U.S imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials shortly after Museveni signed the law. The World Bank Group later announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

The Biden-Harris administration last October issued a business advisory that said the Anti-Homosexuality Act “further increases restrictions on human rights, to include restrictions on freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly and exacerbates issues regarding the respect for leases and employment contracts.” The White House has also removed Uganda from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. and has issued a business advisory for the country over the Anti-Homosexuality Act. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Dec. 4, 2023, announced sanctions against current and former Ugandan officials who committed human rights abuses against LGBTQ+ people and other groups. Media reports this week indicate the U.S. denied MP Sarah Achieng Opendi a visa that would have allowed her to travel to New York in order to attend the annual U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

Museveni, for his part, has criticized the U.S. and other Western countries’ response to the Anti-Homosexuality Act. 

Gilliam noted authorities have arrested and charged Ugandans under the law. 

Two men on motorcycles on Jan. 3 stabbed Steven Kabuye, co-executive director of Coloured Voice Truth to LGBTQ+ Uganda, outside his home while he was going to work. The incident took place months after Museveni attended Uganda’s National Prayer Breakfast at which U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) spoke and defended the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The State Department condemned the attack that Kabuye blamed on politicians and religious leaders who are stoking anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments in Uganda. Gilliam did not meet with Ugandan government officials while he was in the country.

“We in the U.S. government have already made it clear our stance with government officials on how we feel about the AHA, as well as broader human rights concerns in country,” said Gilliam. “That’s been communicated from the very highest levels.”

The Uganda’s Constitutional Court last Dec. 18 heard arguments in a lawsuit that challenges the Anti-Homosexuality Act. It is unclear when a ruling in the case will take place, but Gilliam said LGBTQ+ Ugandans with whom he met described the law “as just one moment.” 

“Obviously there is lots of work that has been done, that continues to be done to respond to this moment,” he told the Blade. “They know that there’s going to be a lot of work that needs to continue to really address a lot of the root causes and to really back humanity to the community.” 

Gilliam further noted it will “take some years to recover from the damage of 2023 and the AHA (Anti-Homosexuality Act) there.” He added activists are “already laying down the groundwork for what that work looks like” in terms of finding MPs, religious leaders, human rights activists and family members who may become allies.

“Those types of allyships are going to be key to building back the community and to continue the resiliency of the movement,” said Gilliam.

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Senate confirms Sean Patrick Maloney as next OECD ambassador

Former N.Y. congressman lost to Mike Lawler in 2022

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Former New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed former New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney to become the next American ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Maloney, the former chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who was also former President Bill Clinton’s White House staff secretary, in 2012 became the first openly gay person elected to Congress from New York. Maloney in 2022 lost to now U.S. Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) after the state redrew its congressional districts. 

Biden last May nominated Maloney for the ambassadorship. The Senate approved it by a 63-31 vote margin.

“Thank you, all,” said Maloney in a short X post after the vote.

Michael Carpenter, the current U.S. ambassador to the OECD, is gay.

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VA expands IVF to cover same-sex couples, single veterans

About 2 million LGBTQ veterans are served by the VA, a number that is expected to “substantially increase in this decade”

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U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough (Screen capture/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will cover in-vitro fertilization treatments for same-sex couples and single veterans, the agency announced on Monday — a move that comes after lawsuits last year claiming that its policy of only treating legally married partners who could produce their own eggs and sperm was discriminatory.

The department said the change is expected to take effect in coming weeks, with Secretary Denis McDonough pledging to implement the new policy as soon as possible.

“Raising a family is a wonderful thing, and I’m proud that VA will soon help more veterans have that opportunity,” he said. “This expansion of care has long been a priority for us, and we are working urgently to make sure that eligible unmarried veterans, veterans in same-sex marriages and veterans who need donors will have access to IVF in every part of the country as soon as possible.”

Out in National Security, a nonprofit dedicated to serving and empowering queer national security professionals, celebrated the VA’s announcement in a press release proclaiming that “five years of ONS efforts have delivered.”

The group noted that about 2 million LGBTQ veterans are served by the VA, a number that is expected to “substantially increase in this decade.”

Also on Monday, the Defense Department announced its expansion of IVF eligibility requirements, which will now cover assisted reproductive technology for active-duty troops and their spouses, partners, or surrogates.

DoD will allow these service members to “use donor gametes (sperm, egg, or both) and embryos when procured at their own expense.”   

“We continue to identify ways to lean forward as much as we can in support of equity of access to reproductive health care for our service members,” said Kimberly Lahm, a program director in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs for Health Services Policy and Oversight.

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HHS smoking cessation framework focused on ‘most vulnerable’

Evidence suggests LGBTQ smokers may also less likely to call tobacco quitlines, & fewer are using counseling or smoking-cessation medications

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra at 2023 HHS Pride Summit (Screen capture/YouTube HHS)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services introduced a new 28-page Framework to Support and Accelerate Smoking Cessation on Friday, an effort to support the Biden-Harris administration’s Cancer Moonshot, which aims to cut cancer-related deaths by at least 50 percent over 25 years.

“This framework focuses on advancing equity, engaging communities, and coordinating, collaborating, and integrating evidence-based approaches across every facet of our government and society,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a press release.

“The Biden-Harris Administration will continue these efforts,” he said, “until smoking is no longer the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and the communities that remain the most vulnerable get the help they need.”

The Department’s assistant secretary for health, Adm. Rachel Levine, said “Today’s announcement marks an important milestone reaffirming our commitment to helping people who smoke to quit by working to maximize their access to and awareness of evidence-based interventions and programs.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is a division of HHS, about 15.3 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults smoke cigarettes, a figure that is “much higher” than the 11.4 percent of heterosexual adults who do. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual middle and high school aged youth are also likelier to smoke than their straight counterparts.

Additionally, a 2017 study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that 39.7 percent of transgender adults reported using cigarettes, cigars, or e-cigarette products in the last 30 days, and use of e-cigarettes is four times higher compared to use by cisgender adults.

As a result, the CDC reports that LGBTQ people “have more risk factors for cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease – like high blood pressure – than straight adults.”

The agency warns that “if you are part of the LGBTQ+ community, you likely have seen tobacco ads in magazines, newspapers, and websites directed at you” because “Tobacco companies are focusing their advertising on your communities.”

Evidence suggests LGBTQ smokers may also less likely to call tobacco quitlines, and fewer are using counseling or smoking-cessation medications.

HHS’s framework document also notes the disparities cigarette smoking among LGBTQ adults, along with other populations who are likelier to smoke including Black men, blue collar or service industry workers, and adults living in rural areas.

The authors also highlight, in a list of existing HHS programs and activities for smoking cessation, the CDC’s National Networks Driving Action: Preventing Tobacco- and Cancer-Related Health Disparities by Building Equitable Communities.

The program “funds a consortium of national networks to advance the prevention of commercial tobacco use and cancer in populations experiencing tobacco- and cancer related health disparities” and lists LGBTQ people among the “focus population groups.”

According to the HHS press release, “The Framework is organized around six goals that serve as a foundation for long-standing HHS efforts to support and promote smoking cessation”:

  1. Reduce smoking- and cessation-related disparities.
  2. Increase awareness and knowledge related to smoking and cessation.
  3. Strengthen, expand, and sustain cessation services and supports.
  4. Increase access to and coverage of comprehensive, evidence-based cessation treatment.
  5. Advance, expand, and sustain surveillance and strengthen performance measurement and evaluation.
  6. Promote ongoing and innovative research to support and accelerate smoking cessation.
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Federal Government

FBI: Schools are the third most popular location for hate crimes

The FBI’s annual crime report from 2022 found that anti-LGBTQ hate crimes rose precipitously from the previous year

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FBI Director Christopher Wray (Screenshot/NBC News)

WASHINGTON – Statistics released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday reveal that schools were the third most popular spot for bias-motivated hate crimes that were reported between 2018-2022.

Primary and secondary schools and university campuses accounted for 10 percent of all hate crimes reported in 2022, while the first and second most common locations were homes and residences and highways, roads and alleyways, the FBI said in its report.

Data comes from the agency’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. The FBI’s annual crime report from 2022, which was released in October, found that anti-LGBTQ hate crimes rose precipitously from the previous year.

Specifically, there with a 13.8 percent increase in crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation and a 32.9 percent increase in crimes motivated by the victim’s gender identity.

In the five years covered in the FBI’s report on Monday, anti-LGBTQ crimes were the third most common, behind those perpetrated against Black or African American victims and those targeting those from certain religious groups, most often Jewish people.

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Federal Government

HHS wins praise for rescinding parts of Trump-era ‘conscience rule’

The final rule released on Tuesday by HHS reverses provisions of the previous policy under which federal funding would be stripped

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra at 2023 HHS Pride Summit (Screen capture/YouTube HHS)

WASHINGTON – The National Center for Lesbian Rights on Tuesday issued a statement praising the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for rescinding “the the most harmful aspects” of the Trump-era “conscience rule.”

The policy, which passed in 2019, was blocked by three federal courts and never implemented. It would have allowed healthcare providers to deny care based on religious objections.

“The revised rule,” NCLR Federal Policy Director Julianna Gonen said, “is premised on the recognition that a proper balance must be struck between respecting conscience and ensuring that people get the health care they need.”

Gonen noted the persistence of discrimination against LGBTQ patients, adding “this new rule is a welcome development that will help protect our community.”

The final rule released on Tuesday by HHS reverses provisions of the previous policy under which federal funding would be stripped from facilities that required providers to administer care over which they had religious-based objections.

Namely, this largely meant abortions, contraception, and gender-affirming treatments.

“Some doctors, nurses, and hospitals, for example, object for religious or moral reasons to providing or referring for abortions or assisted suicide, among other procedures,” the agency wrote. “Respecting such objections honors liberty and human dignity.”

Likewise, HHS said, “patients also have rights and health needs, sometimes urgent ones.”

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Federal Government

HHS Secretary meets with LGBTQ leaders and organizations

The discussion concerned efforts to “increase access to health care- increase access to behavioral health for the LGBTQI+ community”

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Hubert Humphrey Building. (Photo Credit: GSA)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra hosted LGBTQ leaders and organizations for a meeting on Monday featuring senior staff at the agency, “to build on the progress made in advancing health and human services equity for the community,” according to a press release.

Specifically, HHS said, the discussion concerned efforts to “increase access to health care, secure non-discrimination protections, and increase access to behavioral health for the LGBTQI+ community.”

Becerra highlighted actions including measures to improve Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) data collection to better identify disparities; investments in research to address health disparities; support for youth, including through issuance of the new ASPE brief with best practices for “the needs and well-being of LGBTQI+ young people in their programs and communities”; and regulations intended to protect against anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

In attendance on Monday according to HHS were:

  • Secretary Xavier Becerra, HHS
  • ADM Rachel Levine, Assistant Secretary for Health
  • Dr. Melanie Egorin, Assistant Secretary for Legislation
  • Melanie Fontes Rainer, Director, HHS Office for Civil Rights
  • Jess Smith, Acting Director, HHS Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs
  • Michael Adams, CEO, SAGE USA
  • Carl Baloney Vice President for Public Affairs & Chief Policy Officer, AIDS United
  • Brian Bond, Executive Director, PFLAG
  • Kahlib Barton-Garcon, Chief Program Officer, True Colors United
  • Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, Executive Director, GLSEN
  • Casey Pick, Director of Law and Policy, The Trevor Project
  • Alex Sheldon, Interim Executive Director, GLMA
  • Kelley Robinson, President, Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
  • JoDee Winterhof, Senior Vice-President, Policy and Political Affairs, Human Rights Campaign
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