On Saturday afternoon, the New Haven Pride Center hosted a virtual Community Conversation called “How is Homelessness Affecting the LGBTQ+ Community?”

Ala Ochumare, a queer Black woman, and Eliot Olson, a queer trans man, led an interactive discussion with community members. The two, who are both program officers with the NHPC, have also experienced homelessness. 

The event focused specifically on homelessness among LGBTQ youth — particularly those who are trans or from under-resourced racial groups — and drew discussion from LGBTQ community members as well as non-LGBTQ allies.

“The life challenge of poverty and homelessness is a very violent tale,” said Ochumare.

According to Olson, queer and trans youth often lack a material safety net of support. He pointed out that though national awareness of LGBTQ issues has risen over past years, LGBTQ youth still often lack the resources they need. He called for deeper, structural changes to social services — asserting that stating support for LGBTQ communities without providing concrete resources is insufficient.

Ochumare echoed this sentiment, claiming that the restructuring of a state-run youth homelessness program in Connecticut gave the appearance of action while falling well short of the resources required. The systemic descrimination and economic incentives, she added, resulted in the brunt of the shortage falling on Black, queer and trans youth.

“It looked like a lot happened, and so folks stopped caring,” she said. 

Event participants also highlighted the specific impact of the pandemic on LGBTQ youths. Kirill Lebedev, who runs a peer support hotline for trans people and is himself an intersex trans man, said he had seen a rise in domestic violence against trans minors since the pandemic began during the conversation. Lebedev specifically cited a lack of effective protection for children living with their families.

“There’s very few places where living with a transphobic family is actually considered child abuse,” Lebedev said. “I actually don’t think that’s considered child abuse anywhere, to my knowledge.”

When asked about what he would like to see from the Biden administration, Lebedev said he had more faith in social movements than in government for inciting significant change. 

Juan Fonseca Tapia, who is the Coordinator for the Queer Unity Empowerment Support Team in Waterbury and present at the conversation, agreed, saying that hope for change rested with the community and not politicians. Tapia also claimed that some events perceived as major legislative milestones for the LGBTQ community, such as the legalization of gay marriage, advantaged only some segments of the community — particularly, gay cis men.  

Tapia, who is an active military member, also spoke about the ban on trans individuals in the military instituted by former President Donald Trump. Tapia described the ban as “taking away the right from trans people to have access to employment” since the military, as Lebedev pointed out, is possibly the biggest employer for trans people in the United States. Though the ban was lifted after the inauguration of President Joe Biden, Lebedev and Tapia also called for defunding the military and diverting resources to other areas.

Tapia noted how marginalized groups often shy away from established structures of power because of the harm they have experienced in the past. However, Tapia said that LGBTQ communities and communities of color were often also pushed away from government systems supposedly meant to support them, and those in power attempted to placate them with less effective solutions through the nonprofit industrial complex.

“We are paying for those [systems], and we built those [systems], so I think that one of the things that we need to do is reclaim those systems, reclaim those entities that are already in place, and actually use them to serve our communities,” Tapia said. 

According to Ochumare, one of the most important ways to support and empower LGBTQ communities is to have queer, trans and racially diverse people leading organizations. Olson said that while nonprofits absolutely deserve support, their efforts were often too difficult to sustain long-term and acted as “pressure on the wound.” For this reason, Olson advocated for greater systemic change. 

Ochumare, who has experienced homelessness herself, emphasized the difficulties of getting assistance as an adult. She said she was often asked to “prove that [she] was homeless” — which she asserted contributed to the false narrative that homeless people are lazy or deserving of their situation.

The New Haven Pride Center is located at 84 Orange St.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Jan. 25 lifting the previous administration's restrictions on transgender individuals serving in the military.

"President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America's strength is found in its diversity," the White House said in a statement. We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other trusted sources.

2016 Study Cited

In his executive order, Biden cited a study requested by the Department of Defense in 2016 that found that "enabling transgender individuals to serve openly in the United States military would have only a minimal impact on military readiness and healthcare costs." The study also concluded that "open transgender service has had no significant impact on operational effectiveness or unit cohesion in foreign militaries." The new executive order will allow transgender service members who meet the required standards and procedures to serve openly and will enable service members to take steps to transition gender while serving.

(White House)

Defense Secretary Supports Order

The new defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, attended the signing and said he supports the order. "I fully support the president's direction that all transgender individuals who wish to serve in the United States military and can meet the appropriate standards shall be able to do so openly and free from discrimination," he said in a statement.

(ABC News)

Former Policy Revoked

With some exceptions, the prior policy blocked individuals diagnosed with a condition known as gender dysphoria from serving in the military. The order allowed other individuals to serve only if they did so according to the sex they were assigned at birth. Former President Donald Trump announced the ban on Twitter in 2017, citing concerns related to "tremendous medical costs and disruption." The official policy was released in 2018, and the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to take effect in January 2019.

(CNN)

Transgender athletes are getting an ally in the White House next week as they seek to participate as their identified gender in high school and college sports — although state legislatures, Congress and the courts are all expected to have their say this year, too.

Attorneys on both sides say they expect President-elect Joe Biden’s Department of Education will switch sides in two key legal battles — one in Connecticut, the other in Idaho — that could go a long way in determining whether transgender athletes are treated by the sex on their birth certificates or by how they identify.

Debate is also expected in statehouses. Last year, bills to restrict transgender athletes' participation to their gender assigned at birth were brought up in 17 states, although only one, Idaho's, became law.

It may ultimately fall to Congress to clarify once and for all whether Title IX, the civil rights law that guarantees equal opportunities for women and girls in education, protects or bars the participation of transgender females in women's sports, said Elizabeth Sharrow, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts.
 
“I think if they do that, lawmakers at the state level can propose laws, but it doesn’t mean those proposals are going to be taken seriously in the legislative bodies they serve in or that if the state passes those laws anyway that they would necessarily be considered legitimate,” she said. “The courts will sort that out.”

During his campaign, Biden committed to restoring transgender students’ access to sports, bathrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity.

 “States that like Idaho attempt to bar trans girls from girls sports, regardless of age of transition, medical intervention or anything else, with a new federal administration, will now be risking lawsuits by the federal government, Justice Department intervention and the loss of federal funding,” said Chase Strangio, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy director for transgender justice.

In Idaho, a law signed in March became the nation's first to prohibit transgender students who identify as female from playing on female teams sponsored by public schools, colleges and universities. The law was supported by President Donald Trump’s administration but blocked from implementation by a federal judge while a legal challenge by ACLU proceeds.

 
“Allowing males to enter our sports isn’t fair," Madison Kenyon, a cross-country runner at Idaho State, said in a statement Friday. "It changes everything because it eliminates the connection between an athlete’s effort and her success. Idaho’s law helps make sure that, when women like me work hard, that hard work pays off, and we have a shot at winning.”

In Connecticut, the Trump administration intervened in support of a lawsuit filed by several non-transgender girls in Connecticut who were seeking to block a state policy that allows transgender athletes to compete in line with their identity. The plaintiffs argued transgender female runners had an unfair physical advantage.

But the two transgender runners at the center of that case said in court filings that being able to run against girls was central to their well-being.

“Running has been so important for my identity, my growth as a person, and my ability to survive in a world that discriminates against me,” Andraya Yearwood wrote to the court. “I am thankful that I live in Connecticut where I can be treated as a girl in all aspects of life and not face discrimination at school.”

Neither of the two closely watched cases is expected to be decided for months. A federal judge has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 26 on a request to dismiss the Connecticut lawsuit.
 
The ACLU and the Christian nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, which is fighting in Connecticut and Idaho to bar the participation of trans athletes, expect Biden’s administration to declare that Title IX also protects transgender girls from discrimination.

Opponents say Title IX protects cisgender girls and allowing trans girls to participate against them is a violation of the statute.

“I think that is extremely concerning for the future of women’s sports and would reverse nearly 50 years of gains for women under Title IX,” said Christiana Holcomb, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom.

In states that have adopted policies on transgender participation high school sports, approaches have varied.

Currently, 14 states and the District of Columbia have policies similar to Connecticut’s, according to Transathlete.com. Fourteen others allow transgender participation with certain conditions, such as hormone treatments or other proof the athlete is transitioning, according to the organization.

Opponents of bans are encouraged by Biden's victory and a 2020 Supreme Court decision that found that transgender people are protected from discrimination in employment.

“It’s possible that the Connecticut case could evaporate under a new administration that doesn’t want to press it,” said Erin Buzuvis, a professor at the Western New England School of Law who specializes in gender and discrimination in education and athletics.

“The Idaho situation is different because it is a state law that is being challenged under the equal protection doctrine," Buzuvis said. "That could set some sort of national standard about what kind of policies states are allowed to have or prohibited to have. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the case would say, ‘Here is the one policy that all states must have.’”

President-elect Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he will nominate Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s top health official, as his assistant secretary of health. Levine, a pediatrician, would become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

“Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability — and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond,” Biden said in a statement. “She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”

As Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, Levine has risen to national prominence for leading the state’s public health response to the coronavirus pandemic, despite repeated and ugly attacks on her gender identity.

Biden’s transition team noted that Levine — appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf (D) in 2017 as acting health secretary — was confirmed three times by the Republican-controlled state Senate to serve as secretary of health and the state’s physician general. At the time, she was one of only a handful of transgender officials serving in elected or appointed offices nationwide.

If confirmed as assistant secretary of health, Levine would be the highest-ranking transgender official in the U.S. government.

“President-elect Biden said throughout his campaign that his administration would represent America," said Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Today, he made clear that transgender people are an important part of our country.”

Serving under Xavier Becerra, Biden’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Levine would oversee key health offices and programs across the department, 10 regional health offices nationwide, the Office of the Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

Her nomination comes after an election season in which a record number of LGBTQ candidates ran for office but after four years of a presidential administration that repeatedly erased protections for transgender people — in health care, federal employment, federal prisons, homeless shelters and other housing services receiving federal funding.

Biden has signaled a significant shift from the Trump administration when it comes to inclusion of the transgender community. He mentioned transgender people in his presidential acceptance speech, and released a lengthy platform outlining his plans to prioritize LGBTQ rights. Biden also named to his transition team Shawn Skelly, a former special assistant to the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, and coordinator of the Defense Department Warfighter Senior Integration Group. Skelly was the first transgender veteran to be appointed by a U.S. president.

Over the past two months, advocates have urged Biden to nominate LGBTQ leaders to key positions in the administration. Biden named Pete Buttigieg to lead the Transportation Department, making him the first openly LGBTQ person nominated to a permanent Cabinet position. As the highest-ranking appointed transgender official in the United States, Levine was often near the top of advocates’ lists of suggested names for top roles.

“She’s just so highly qualified, regardless of her gender identity,” said Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who was the first openly transgender appointee in the Obama White House. Freedman-Gurspan happened to be in Pennsylvania with friends on Tuesday morning when the news of Levine’s nomination broke.

“We all screamed,” she said. “It is well deserved and I think it sends a message to the trans community about how valued we are. We have a seat at the table. There’s no doubt about that.”

Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos leaves behind a legacy of attacks on LGBTQ equality.

Betsy DeVos, who served as secretary of education for nearly the entirety of the Trump administration, submitted her resignation on Thursday, Jan. 7, citing as her reason the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump and his rhetoric helping to incite it.

The Department of Education added to her legacy of attacks on transgender equality in U.S. schools on Friday, the day her resignation took effect, releasing an internal memo that said the definition of sex-based discrimination in Title IX, which bars such discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding, does not apply to transgender people.

The policy was reflective of much of the education department's transphobic agenda during DeVos' time as education secretary.

Reed Rubinstein, the Department of Education's principal deputy general counsel, sent a memo to the department's acting assistant secretary for civil rights, Kimberley Richey, saying that "the Department's longstanding construction of the term 'sex' in Title IX to mean biological sex, male or female, is the only construction consistent with the ordinary public meaning of 'sex' at the time of Title IX’s enactment. ... Consequently, based on controlling authorities, we must give effect to the ordinary public meaning at the time of enactment and construe the term 'sex' in Title IX to mean biological sex, male or female. Congress has the authority to rewrite Title IX and redefine its terms at any time. To date, however, Congress has chosen not to do so."

Although two federal appeals courts disagreed with the department's contention that Title IX doesn't protect transgender students, Rubinstein said it remains "unpersuaded" by their rulings.

The memo shows that in the final weeks of the Trump administration, the agency continues to reject the Supreme Court's ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County that LGBTQ people are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination. Although Bostock concerned workers, experts on its protections say that the decision could have broader ramifications, including for education policy.

Title IX's language is "closely modeled" on Title VII's language and "courts regularly look to case law around Title VII for how to define the scope of sex discrimination" under Title IX, said Sharita Gruberg, senior director of the LGBTQ Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.

In August, the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights published two letters signed by Richey that acknowledged the Bostock ruling would affect how the department responded to complaints. The department said that it would investigate a complaint about discrimination based on sexual orientation, but that schools that have policies that are inclusive of transgender students are breaking the law.

Last year, the agency also welcomed an anti-LGBTQ activist, Sarah Perry, to its diversity and inclusion council and told three Connecticut school districts that they wouldn't receive federal grants if they decided to keep their sports inclusive of trans athletes.

In 2017, the department, along with the Department of Justice, rescinded Obama-era guidance on protections for transgender students in schools.

In 2018, the agency told BuzzFeed News that it wouldn't investigate complaints involving transgender students who were not allowed to use the bathroom or locker room corresponding to their gender. The department said, "Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity." Despite federal court rulings that advance transgender equality, the department has refused to change its position.

The Department of Education largely opposed the protection of LGBTQ students' rights in general, according to a 2019 report released by the Center for American Progress. The report stated that complaints of discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender identification were "nine times less likely to result in corrective action than they were under the Obama administration. Only 2.4 percent of LGBTQ-related complaints resulted in an agreement with the school or some other action to correct for the alleged discrimination against the student—compared with 22.4 percent under the previous administration."

DeVos has acknowledged that she knows how her department's policies can affect transgender youth. During a House Education Committee hearing in 2019, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), asked DeVos, "Did you know, when you rolled back the guidance, that the stress of harassment and discrimination can lead to lower attendance and grades as well as depression for transgender students?"

She said, "I do know that" and added, "But I will say again that [the Office of Civil Rights] is committed to ensuring all students have access to their education free from discrimination."

When Bonamici asked her if she knew about the high rates of attempted suicide among transgender young people, she answered, "I am aware of that data."

But DeVos' awareness of the harm done to transgender students has not led her to change her department's attacks on their rights.

The memo, which the administration of Joe Biden will be able to withdraw and replace once Biden takes office, is the latest in a series of anti-LGBTQ policies advanced by the Trump administration at the last minute.

In December, the Justice Department moved to finalize a rule allowing the department essentially to ease regulations concerning less-blatant kinds of discrimination.

On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services finalized a regulation that removed protections against discrimination by organizations that receive federal grants.

In its final weeks, the administration has reversed Obama-era measures that prohibit discrimination against some LGBTQ workers and against discrimination in social services receiving federal funding. It also instituted new rules that make it harder for people to receive asylum in the United States.

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