Federal Departments Mixed in Promotion of LGBT Rights

A panel of six LGBT activist leaders in April were asked to grade the Obama administration thus far on LGBT issues. Three panelists gave the administration a “D,” two gave it a “B,” and one a “C.” Keen News Service decided to take a look at eight major federal departments and apply a similar grading system.

The result was strikingly similar to that of the April 22 LGBT Leadership Townhall panel, hosted by Sirius XM Radio’s Michelangelo Signorile Show. The panel’s average came to 1.8 on a scale that gives 1 point for a D and 4 for an A. The KNS analysis came up with a 2.0.

The Departments of State and Housing and Urban Development each earned a “B” from KNS, a grade given for taking significant steps toward equal rights for LGBT people, even if some inequities remain. Health and Human Services and the Office of Personnel Management each earned a “C,” given for taking some steps toward equal rights and making no efforts to obstruct equality, while many or major inequities remain within that department’s purview. And Defense, Justice, and Education each earned a “D,” for taking few steps toward improving equal rights and making some efforts to obstruct such rights.

None of the departments warranted an “A,” for taking significant and comprehensive steps toward improving equal rights for LGBT people—or an “F,” for doing nothing to improve equal rights for LGBT people and also taking steps to block such equality.

Department of State (DOS): The DOS said it would provide the same benefits to the same-sex partners of foreign service employees sent abroad as to opposite-sex spouses, including diplomatic passports, use of U.S. medical facilities, emergency evacuation, and training at the Foreign Service Institute.

Two major items are not covered, however: health care and retirement benefits. President Obama, in a memo requesting partner benefits for federal employees, stated that federal law prevents his administration from extending those benefits.

DOS has additionally changed two policies regarding passports. A person in a legal same-sex marriage can apply for a new passport using his or her taken (married) surname, and a transgender person can change the gender listed on their passport without needing gender reassignment surgery, simply certification from an attending medical physician.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has publicly decried Uganda’s proposed harsh anti-gay bill, and spoken directly with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni about it. Karl Wycoff, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, testified at a January House hearing on the Ugandan bill, and said the U.S. embassy in Uganda has been working with the Ugandan government and local gay and lesbian groups to stop the legislation.

The DOS also issued a statement condemning the Malawi government’s sentencing of a couple—a gay man and a transgender woman—to 14 years of hard labor for “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” and “gross indecency.”

The DOS worked with President Obama to appoint David Huebner as U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand in December 2009. Huebner is the first openly gay person to be appointed to an ambassadorship in the Obama administration, and the third in U.S. history.

Grade: B.

Housing & Urban Development (HUD): HUD has commissioned the first-ever national study of discrimination against LGBT people in the rental and sale of housing. Already, it has conducted town hall meetings in three cities to solicit input for shaping the study.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan has also proposed policy changes that would stop discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in HUD’s core housing programs, require those who participate in HUD programs to comply with local anti-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity, and end mortgage-loan discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The policies are being drafted and will go through a period of public comment before being enacted.

HUD has two openly gay appointees who required Senate confirmation, Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research, who will be overseeing the LGBT discrimination study, and Mercedes Marquez, Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development.

Grade: B.

Department of Commerce (DOC): The DOC changed Census Bureau policies in order to retain data on same-sex couples reporting themselves as “married.” The Census Bureau also cooperated with Our Families Count, a coalition of LGBT organizations, on an education campaign to motivate LGBT Americans to take part in the 2010 Census.

The DOC has two openly gay appointees requiring Senate confirmation, Michael Camunez, Assistant Secretary for Market Access and Compliance, and David Mills, Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement.

The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s Queer the Census project, however, is still working to have questions about sexual orientation and gender identity included in future Census surveys.

Grade: B.

Health and Human Services (HHS): HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Kathy Greenlee, the openly lesbian Assistant Secretary of the Administration on Aging, announced plans to establish the first national resource center for LGBT seniors. To that end, they awarded a three-year, $900,000 grant to Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE).

In addition to Greenlee, HHS has one other LGBT appointee requiring Senate confirmation, Richard Sorian, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.

HHS in July 2009 ended its longstanding policy of banning people with HIV/AIDS from traveling to the U.S. The department also worked with President Obama and Congress to reauthorize the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act, the largest federal program dedicated to HIV care and treatment.

HHS is now drafting rules to support the President’s memo ensuring hospital visitation and decision-making rights for patients’ designees, including same-sex partners. They will then make the proposed rules available for public comment before enacting them, a process expected to take several months.

And a draft of “Healthy People 2020,” a decennial document to set national goals for health and reduce health disparities, includes sexual orientation and gender as attributes that may cause disparities.

LGBT disparities were in fact noted in Healthy People 2010, the version published in November 2000 under President Clinton. For the 2020 version, a commentary submitted by the National Coalition for LGBT Health and many major LGBT organizations calls for more acknowledgement of gender identity and greater inclusion of LGBT demographics in all relevant federal health surveys.

HHS, however, through its U.S. Healthy Marriage Demonstration Fund, continues to provide over half a million dollars a year to the anti-LGBT Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC). The grants, begun under President George W. Bush, go from the IFPC to a third-party marriage-counseling program called Marriage Matters, reported the Iowa Independent. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa told the Independent May 7 that it plans to investigate whether the grants violate the separation of church and state.

And an HHS committee in June voted to uphold the lifetime ban against blood donation by men who have sex with men. People who have sex with someone of the opposite sex who is HIV positive, however, must only wait one year. The committee heard testimony from Peter Sprigg, senior fellow of the ultra-conservative Family Research Council, among others.

Grade: C.

Office of Personnel Management (OPM): Head of the department is John Berry, the highest-ranking openly gay official in any federal administration. Elaine Kaplan, his general counsel, and Vic Basile, Senior Counselor to the Director, are also openly gay.

Under Berry, OPM added gender identity to sexual orientation in the Equal Employment Opportunity statement for federal employment.

Last June, President Obama directed federal agencies to determine what benefits they could make available to the same-sex partners of federal employees under existing laws. OPM worked with the Department of Justice to review the information and recommend to the president that he extend all of the identified benefits.

Berry, however, ordered the health insurance carrier of a lesbian federal employee not to comply with a 9th Circuit Court order to include her partner on her insurance plan. He explained at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s 2009 Leadership Conference that Kaplan and the DOJ both concluded that neither OPM nor the president have the authority to provide such benefits. He said that is one reason the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which would institute these benefits, is so important.

Grade: C.

Department of Defense (DOD): Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chair of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen have told Congress they would implement repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) if Congress approves it, and Mullen said he personally believes that’s the right thing to do. Gates in March approved new regulations that make it more difficult for gay and lesbian servicemembers to be discharged under the policy.

On April 30, however, Gates said Congress should not pass its own repeal of DADT before he can complete a study on its impact and come up with an implementation plan. On May 25, he said he would accept a proposed congressional amendment that would repeal DADT but not go into effect until after the DOD study is complete—but he would still prefer that Congress wait until after the study before passing legislation. The study is due December 1.

The DOD boasts one openly gay appointee who required Senate confirmation, Douglas Wilson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.

Grade: D.

Department of Justice (DOJ): The DOJ filed briefs in Smelt v. U.S. and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services et al. strongly defending the Defense of Marriage Act, and in Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S., defending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, did, however, issue a strong statement in support of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said at the LGBT Leadership Townhall that DOJ has been doing “spectacular” community education around the Act.

She explained in an interview that NCTE has been working with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to help train the DOJ’s Community Relations Service (CRS) about LGBT-related hate crimes. Based on that experience, she believes CRS “wants to implement the law right,” according to the spirit as well as the letter of the law. The DOJ is also preparing to train local law enforcement about the Act this summer.

And in June, the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel issued a memo stating that federal prosecutors may use the Violence Against Women Act in cases of interstate stalking and domestic violence involving same-sex couples.

Earlier this year, the DOJ also filed a motion to intervene in the case of a New York teen who was bullied and physically assaulted at his public school for being effeminate. DOJ lawyers backed arguments made by the New York ACLU, which said that Title IX of the federal Equal Opportunity in Education Act, which prohibits gender-based discrimination, also applies to discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression.

The DOJ motion was still pending when a settlement was reached between the school district and the student. In the settlement, the court noted the U.S.’s desire to intervene and its wish to resolve the student’s claim without further litigation.

Although NPR reported the case as “a novel interpretation of the Title IX statute,” Title IX was in fact used in at least three federal cases under President Clinton and two under President George W. Bush to combat harassment based on sexual orientation or gender non-conformity.

There are three openly gay Obama appointees to the DOJ that required Senate approval: Jenny Durkan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Sharon Lubinski, U.S. Marshal, and Laura Duffy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California.

The DOJ plans to hold a Pride event later this month with Attorney General Eric Holder, Perez, Lubinski, and Durkan in attendance.

Grade: D.

Department of Education (DOE): The LGBT community had high hopes for the DOE when President Obama appointed openly gay Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, as head of Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS).

The OSDFS budget was slashed 40 percent even before Jennings took office, however. The remaining money will be used to fund a “Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students” program that will provide grants for schools to address a variety of problems. Anti-bullying programs that include LGBT-based bullying could be one possible component.

The DOE has done little else to address the high incidence of bullying based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

No DOE officials testified in a July 2009 House committee hearing on “Strengthening School Safety through Prevention of Bullying.”

The DOE included no specific call for federal anti-bullying protections or programs in the Blueprint for Education that sets forth President Obama’s framework for a major reform of education policies, despite bills in Congress that would provide such protections.

The DOE has also issued no statements on the several bullying-related youth suicides—at least two of which were because of harassment based on perceived sexual orientation—that have occurred since President Obama took office.

Grade: D.

There were also LGBT-related developments in agencies not covered above. The IRS, for example, said in June that same-sex domestic partners in California must combine their incomes and each report half when they file their tax returns. This is consistent with the way that married opposite-sex couples file under California’s community-property law.

3 Responses to Federal Departments Mixed in Promotion of LGBT Rights

  1. John says:

    Thank you for the excellent update. I presume you are aware that the Malawian couple, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, were pardoned the President of Malawi, after having been sentenced to 14 years jail on charges of homosexuality. Subsequent to the pardon they have also split up because they have been subjected to many death threats and the government had threatened to re-arrest them if they got back together.

    While American diplomats had significant influence most of the credit for their release, I think, goes to London-based human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell who is spokesperson for the LGBT rights group OutRage! It was Peter (who is too modest about his remarkable work) who stirred world wide attention; it was Peter who arranged for visitors, and drummed up press attention, etc. I truly wish American activists and LGBT journalists would pay homage where it is certainly due.

    I don’t know what’s happened to LGBT activism since Larry Kramer rocked the ossified bureaucrats. I am sure much of the paucity of real activism (as opposed to some of the Gucci-shoed cocktail party lap dogs sychophants we see) is due to the fact that the AIDS pandemic took out an entire generation of activists. Those of Kramer’s generation who that have survived are just plain tired out – they not only dug the trenches but buried most of their friends there. Peter Tatchell’s energy and commitment are boundless. There is simply no other activist in America anything like him. He, more than anyone, is responsible for the pardon of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. He was the voice in the wilderness who woke the world up. American ‘activists’ should not only follow his courageous lead but to salute his astounding and courage.

  2. […] “Federal Departments Mixed in Promotion of LGBT Rights“: A panel of six LGBT activist leaders in April were asked to grade the Obama administration thus far on LGBT issues. I did a piece for Keen News Service looking at eight major federal departments and applying a similar grading system. […]

  3. Lavishhhhhh says:

    Yes it is a deduction for taxable income not personal, so you could also use the interest charged as a deduction against business, rental and investment income, including interest, dividends and royalties. Student loan interest is actually a tax credit not a deduction to offset taxes owing.

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