Tag: Nation

After decades of progress, LGBTQ equality is under attack again. Let’s fix that. / LGBTQ Nation

Senator Kamala Harris at the 2019 San Francisco Pride Parade

Senator Kamala Harris at the 2019 San Francisco Pride ParadePhoto: Scot Tucker/SFBay.ca

More than 50 years ago, a group of LGBTQ+ people at the Stonewall Inn did what so many Americans have done throughout our history—they stood up for equality. It was a turning point in a movement that would continue to march, organize, and vote for the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans.

And it’s because of those efforts, through the decades, that, in 2013, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier were united in California’s first same-sex marriage after Proposition 8 was struck down by the courts—a wedding I had the honor of officiating.

Related: Voting deadlines, registration & what’s at stake for LGBTQ voters in 2020

But today, after decades of progress, LGBTQ+ equality is once again under attack.

President Donald Trump, Vice President Pence, and Senate Republicans jammed through a Supreme Court nominee who poses a threat to LGBTQ+ equality—just weeks after two other justices suggested reconsidering the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision that made marriage equality the law of the land.

The Trump administration banned transgender Americans willing to risk their lives for our country from serving in the military. They’ve rolled back protections put in place by the Obama-Biden administration against employment discrimination for LGBTQ+ workers. And they opened the door to allowing health care workers to refuse treatment to patients based on their gender identity.

At a time when our country is experiencing the worst public health crisis in a century, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a reckoning on racial injustice, and a changing climate that’s battering our coastlines and setting the West on fire, it’s devastating that LGBTQ+ Americans must also worry about their human rights.

Here’s the good news: we can vote to put an end to the Trump-Pence era of discrimination and fear—and send the most pro-equality administration in history to the White House.

Joe Biden and I believe that every human being should be treated with dignity and respect and be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or who they love. We will reverse the attacks the Trump-Pence administration has made on the LGBTQ+ community. And we won’t stop there—we will advance equality through long-overdue changes.

Right now, half of all LGBTQ+ Americans live in states where their civil rights can be violated. They face discrimination in nearly every aspect of their lives, from housing to starting a family to obtaining a driver’s license with their correct gender on it.

Joe and I will make enacting the Equality Act a top legislative priority in our first 100 days in office. Passing this law will guarantee that LGBTQ+ Americans are protected under existing federal civil rights laws.

We’ll work to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from violence, prioritize the prosecution of hate crimes, and work to end the epidemic of assault against the transgender community, particularly transgender women of color. We’ll do everything in our power to make sure LGBTQ+ youth are safe from bullying, harassment, and sexual assault.

We’ll reverse President Trump’s discriminatory ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, and ensure that every American who is qualified to serve can do so regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We’ll make sure transgender service members receive the health care they deserve. And we will work to ensure LGBTQ+ individuals have full access to all appropriate health care treatments and resources, including care related to transitioning, such as gender confirmation surgery.

You can trust that Joe will work to support the LGBTQ+ community every single day as president—because that’s what he’s done for years. He supported marriage equality well before most major politicians. He worked with President Obama to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And he knows how much work there is left to do.

As the great civil rights lawyer Pauli Murray once said, “The lesson of American history [is] that human rights are indivisible.” They cannot be advanced for some and ignored for others.

Now is the time to build a country that embraces that truth—a country where every American is treated with dignity and respect, and where equality and justice truly are for all.

Related: Voting deadlines, registration & what’s at stake for LGBTQ voters in 2020

GOP lawmaker resigns after extremely anti-LGBTQ messages leaked / LGBTQ Nation

Donald Trump Jr. and John Mandt Jr.

Donald Trump Jr. and John Mandt Jr.Photo: John Mandt Jr. campaign website

West Virginia Delegate John Mandt Jr. (R) resigned this past Saturday and suspended his campaign for reelection to the state legislature after anti-LGBTQ messages he sent to a Facebook chat group were leaked.

“Silly Faggot, Dicks are for chicks!!” Mandt allegedly wrote in the chat group “The Right Stuff,” which included conservative lawmakers in the state as well as candidates for office.

Related: West Virginia GOP legislator compares LGBTQ community to terrorists & the KKK

As screenshots of the messages were circulated on social media, Mandt denied making them in Facebook post on Saturday morning, saying he was “really hurt and very disappointed seeing fabricated posts circulating on social media.” That message has since been made private or deleted.

Later that same day, he had turned in a letter of resignation to West Virginia House Speaker Roger Hanshaw (R).

“I have enjoyed my time in public service and thank the people of the 16th District for the opportunity to represent them in the House,” Mandt said. “Right now, my focus and priority needs to be on my family and business, and feel it is best at this time to terminate my campaign and make room for other individuals to serve the state.”

Screenshots from the group only use first names and profile pictures to identify the participants. One of them was Jeffrey Ward, a candidate for city council in Huntington, and he confirmed the authenticity of the messages.

“At first this group spoke of issues in the community and occasionally had some locker-room humor,” Ward told the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, saying that he was personally invited to the group by Mandt. “However, the rhetoric from Delegate Mandt and several members shifted to personal attacks, sophomoric remarks and were not issue driven and were beneath the dignity of his office — as such, I left the group in March of this year.”

While Ward says that the messages were “beneath the dignity” of those in the group, screenshots show him asking if West Virginia Sen. Mitch Carmichael is “a homo.”

“probably Bi,” Mandt responded. “He can be a little feminine.”

Another person in the group said, “I don’t believe in bi, you either sleep with the same sex of [sic] you don’t.”

“He reminds me of a fag.”

Mandt then brings up two other state Republicans and says that they are sponsoring a “queer bill.” It is not clear what bill he was referring to.

In a different exchange, Mandt informed the group that he removed someone named “Bri” from the group – possibly his daughter Briana –  who said she “lost a lot of gay friends bc of me.”

“I thought she was strong,” Mandt said of the person who was removed. “That’s youth for you. She’s tired of defending me.”

“When family turns on me,” he continued, “they aren’t family.”

“It hurts,” said Del. Cody Thompson (D), one of the two out members of the state legislature. “I work with these people.”

“In general I’m very proud of a lot of things we can work together on for the betterment of the people of West Virginia, but when it comes down to seeing these comments, it’s really hard to work with those who, they may smile to my face and talk to me, but behind closed doors or in conversations with others they use homophobic slurs.”

Last year on a podcast, Mandt called LGBTQ people “the alphabet hate group.”

This trans tech leader founded a company to help seniors manage their medical costs / LGBTQ Nation

One medical myth facing Americans is that by the age of 65, when most of us are eligible, Medicare will relieve the cost pressure of their health insurance plans.

In fact, premium costs, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses are just as much a problem for Medicare recipients as they are for the general population. For LGBTQ elders, who often face greater health care and financial issues. choosing the wrong Medicare plan can be a disaster.

Related: Here are critical resources to help transgender seniors face the challenges of growing older

That’s where Trusty.Care comes in. Founded two years ago by Joseph Schneier, a trans man married to a trans woman, the digital health company provides health insurance brokers with the platform to help consumers pick the plan that minimizes out-of-pocket costs.

“Most of us approach retirement thinking Medicare will cover us and it will be okay, but it’s a major risk area,” says Schneier. “We decided to build a platform used by insurance brokers and others to assess the risk to older adults of incurring out of pocket costs and match them up with the right product for the most coverage at the least risk based on the individual’s preference.”

That simple idea turned to be a winner–literally.

Last month, AARP Innovation Labs and End Well Foundation selected Trusty.care as the winning startup in a national competition in which startups pitched ideas to help transform the experiences of aging, illness, and caregiving in America. (You can watch Trusty.Care’s winning pitch here.)

“AARP Innovation Labs supports and sponsors pitch competitions in a continued effort to make meaningful impacts on the challenges of aging,” says said Jacqueline Baker, Director of Innovation Programming, AARP Innovation Labs. “The needs of LGBTQ older adults are too often overlooked in the marketplace, and it never surprises us when people who have overcome their own life challenges, in turn, help others to overcome challenges as well, which is what Joseph and the other finalists are doing.”

Schneier was well-positioned to tackle the Medicare out-of-pocket problem. For more than a decade, he has worked in the health care space, so he was able to identify a problem in search of a solution.

“People are surprised to see that health care costs are the second largest expense for seniors and the least able to be controlled,” says Schneier. Indeed, health care costs are a leading cause of a sharp rise in bankruptcy among American seniors. Bankruptcy is “growing fastest among older adults, and almost always because of health care costs,” notes Schneier.

Trying to match the right plan with seniors’ needs has always been a challenge. But the need for a solution has only grown since Trusty.Care launched, thanks to a change in government policy.

“Up until last summer, most people used the government Medicare.gov finder,” Schneier says. “But then Medicare.gov removed the ability to save medication information.” Because medication costs are a key driver of out-of-pocket expenses, the change made it difficult for insurance brokers to project just how much a plan would end up costing each consumer.

As a result, says Schneier, “There is a tremendous hunger for products like ours in the market.” That change also exposed that the market hadn’t kept pace with change. “It was definitely operating like it was 1995 and didn’t mind too much. The change forced their hand.”

The pandemic has also accelerated change, as more seniors follow shelter-in-place policies to protect their health.

“Since you can’t meet face to face, people are looking for digital solutions,” notes Schneier.

At present, Trusty.Care has a staff of eleven. “We have a very diverse team,” says Schneier. “People know from the get-go that this is a space the is by definition inclusive. People are attracted to us who wouldn’t necessarily have a place at the table.”

Schneier says that being trans has informed who he is as a leader.

“Being trans, and especially being trans masculine–I’ve taken that as an opportunity for me to emulate what a man can be in leadership,” he says.

Schneier also sees the inherent privileges that come from being a white male.

“There are definitely a lot of times when it’s a confusing space to be a passing trans person passing as a white male,” he says “I have a lot of layers of privilege that are not obvious to everyone. I’m married to a trans woman, and her life is significantly more complex.”

As just one example of the privilege that comes with being male, Schneier notes that raising money for his company now is a lot easier than it was as a woman.

The assumptions people make sometimes force Schneier to challenge them.

“There are definitely moments where I’m in situations where people will assume I’m a straight, white, cis man and say things that really put you in the position of needing to speak up,” he says.

In the meantime, Trusty.Care is growing by leaps and bounds.

When it launched, the platform had just 10 brokers. By the end of this year, the company expects to have 20,000 brokers using the platform. Since each broker can bring in thousands of customers, the company will be serving the needs of a significant number of seniors, a growth trajectory that many tech firms would envy.

Throughout this progress, Schneier is keeping his sights on what drove him to found Trusty.Care in the first place.

“Our mission is that no retiree should go through bankruptcy because of out-of-pocket costs,” he says. ” We can’t change everything, but we can change what we can.”

For more information on how AARP is helping LGBTQ seniors, visit AARP.org/pride or WATCH the recent AARP Pride Town Hall Below:

(Re)building Our Nation: July 4th, Hamilton, and LGBTQ Families

(Re)building Our Nation: July 4th, Hamilton, and LGBTQ Families

I am thinking this July 4th week of a song from the musical Hamilton, which sees its television premiere today. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr sing together to their children about their new country, “We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you./ If we lay a strong enough foundation/ We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you/ And you’ll blow us all away.” What is the world we want to leave to our children? What do we need to do to make it happen?

American flag with children's silhouettes

Those questions feel more imperative than ever. The direction of our country is frightening for many reasons, but I want to focus here on some specific issues for LGBTQ families. Last week—the fifth anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that established marriage equality nationwide—Indiana asked the Court to take a case that would, if decided in the state’s favor, revoke the right of married nonbiological mothers in same-sex couples to be recognized as parents and be put on their children’s birth certificates without second-parent adoptions.

Indiana’s challenge seeks to deny children of same-sex parents the protection of having two legal parents from birth, one of the primary benefits of marriage equality for many same-sex parent couples (even though the major LGBTQ legal organizations still advise second-parent adoptions as well, for greater legal security). The Supreme Court has yet to say whether it will take the case—but the mere fact that Indiana is pursuing it says much about the animosity that remains towards LGBTQ families.

Additionally, the U.S. State Department is continuing to deny equal citizenship rights to children born abroad to married same-sex couples—although a federal court last week said they were wrong to do so in one case. At least three other same-sex couples have also sued the State Department for similar reasons; their cases are still pending.

And 11 states (Alabama, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) now allow foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. All but Alabama and Michigan allow them to do so even if they receive taxpayer money. One case now before the U.S. Supreme Court involves a child services agency seeking to do the same in Philadelphia; the Trump administration in early June filed a brief in support of the agency. Not only that, but the administration in November 2019 proposed a rule to allow such discrimination nationwide by all recipients of grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which could impact not only child services but also programs dedicated to youth homelessness, HIV, and more.

We did have a huge win June 15 when the Supreme Court ruled that people cannot be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Just days before, however, the Trump administration finalized a rule that says health care anti-discrimination protections don’t cover discrimination based on LGBTQ identities. And transgender people continue to face trans-specific discrimination and anti-trans violence.

Add to all this the ongoing racism that impacts LGBTQ families as much as any others, the systemic injustice woven into the fabric of our nation from the time European settlers seized it from the indigenous peoples.

How can we celebrate the birth of such a country, especially under a current federal administration that seems only to exacerbate bias and divisiveness?

How can we celebrate the birth of such a country, especially under a current federal administration that seems only to exacerbate bias and divisiveness?

There’s no simple answer, but Hamilton may again be instructive. When Hamilton tries to convince Burr to support the new U.S. Constitution, Burr objects, “It’s full of contradictions.” Hamilton replies, “So is independence. We have to start somewhere.”

Our country is imperfect. For many, it is oppressive. Our country, like our constitution, is messy and full of contradictions. Yet here we are at this messy, contradictory moment in time. This is the somewhere from which we must start.

During this July 4 week, then, perhaps we can best celebrate our country not with fireworks, but by taking action to improve it. A few ideas, if you need them:

Those are only a few ideas. I hope you find others with causes that matter to you.

Hamilton speaks in the musical of “the notion of a nation we now get to build.” Let’s use our nation’s birthday to reflect on our vision of that notion and then get to work, building and rebuilding.

(Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.)