Washington, DC – Today the United States Senate confirmed Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation, making him the first out LGBTQ person ever confirmed for a cabinet position. Buttigieg is one of dozens of high-profile LGBTQ leaders put forward by Victory Institute’s Presidential Appointments Initiative for positions in the new administration.

Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation released the following statement about the confirmation:

“Pete shattered a centuries-old political barrier with overwhelming bipartisan support and that paves the way for more LGBTQ Americans to pursue high-profile appointments. Pete testifying at his confirmation hearing, with his husband looking on, will be among the powerful images that define this unprecedented political moment and will be remembered as a milestone in America’s move toward social justice.”

“While his confirmation is historic, Pete is focused on the difficult task ahead. America is in desperate need of a revitalized transportation effort and his two terms as mayor provide the experience and perspective needed to propose bold solutions. Americans are fortunate to have Pete as their Secretary of Transportation.”

Ruben Gonzales, Executive Director of LGBTQ Victory Institute, which houses the Presidential Appointments Initiative, also spoke about the significance of the confirmation:

“This groundbreaking confirmation is a testament both to President Biden’s determination to build the most inclusive administration in history and the American public’s willingness to judge a leader by their qualifications, not their sexual orientation. Each new political barrier broken inspires more LGBTQ people to consider careers in public service, a virtuous cycle we will accelerate until equitable representation is achieved. The Biden-Harris administration presents opportunities to place diverse LGBTQ people in every agency and at every level of government. We are thrilled to be a partner in making that happen.”

The Presidential Appointments Initiative set four goals for the Biden-Harris administration, including appointing the first out Senate-confirmed Cabinet member. The other three goals include:

  • Nominate an openly LGBTQ U.S. Supreme Court justice for the first time;
  • Appoint openly LGBTQ woman ambassadors, LGBTQ ambassadors of color, and transgender ambassadors for the first time; and
  • Ensure openly LGBTQ people receive equitable representation among presidential appointees at every level and that they reflect the full diversity of the LGBTQ community.

Victory Institute’s Presidential Appointments Initiative – a coalition of 32 LGBTQ and allied organizations – will put forward hundreds of exemplary LGBTQ candidates for positions throughout the next four years and advocate for their consideration. It aims to help the president’s team create the most LGBTQ-inclusive administration in U.S. history.

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.”

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