Transgender actress and activist Laverne Cox used her platform to praise Planned Parenthood for providing health care to transgender people around the country at its annual gala. The actress was honored by Planned Parenthood of New York City at Tuesday night's gala.

"So often when we talk about women's health care, we leave out transgender women," Cox told the crowd. She said she felt that the struggle for safe and affordable women's health care was strongly linked to the struggle of transgender people for the same thing.

In 2014, Cox became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award.

Outgoing Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards also was honored Tuesday. She stepped down this week as head of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America after 12 years.

Richards told the crowd that when she began in the job, Planned Parenthood had 3 million supporters, and the organization now has 12 million. "For comparison, that's now more than twice the size of the National Rifle Association," she said, to cheers in the room.

Also at the event were actresses Uma Thurman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Chloe Sevigny, and Molly Ringwald, among others.

"The Education Department has told BuzzFeed News it won’t investigate or take action on any complaints filed by transgender students who are banned from restrooms that match their gender identity, charting new ground in the Trump administration’s year-long broadside against LGBT rights,” Buzzfeed News stated.

After same-sex marriage was legalized in the US in 2015, the issue of transgender bathroom usage became a major talking point in the country. Transgender students wanted the right to use the school restroom of their choice, and they wanted to be physically protected from bullies when doing so. However, opponents felt that it was unsafe to allow a different sex into a restroom, and some states attempted to pass rules that forced people to use the restroom and locker room of the sex that they were born.

Since Trump took office, it seemed as if the administration would side with conservatives, but it had not taken a clear stance until now.

Betsy Devos. Photo courtesy of CNN.

Summary: The Department of Education has decided to not investigate bathroom complaints filed by transgender students. 

The Department of Education’s stand on transgender bathroom issues is to not investigate or enforce any action, according to Buzzfeed News. This stance was not made as a formal announcement, but it is their interpretation of the law.

“The Education Department has told BuzzFeed News it won’t investigate or take action on any complaints filed by transgender students who are banned from restrooms that match their gender identity, charting new ground in the Trump administration’s year-long broadside against LGBT rights,” Buzzfeed News stated.

After same-sex marriage was legalized in the US in 2015, the issue of transgender bathroom usage became a major talking point in the country. Transgender students wanted the right to use the school restroom of their choice, and they wanted to be physically protected from bullies when doing so. However, opponents felt that it was unsafe to allow a different sex into a restroom, and some states attempted to pass rules that forced people to use the restroom and locker room of the sex that they were born.

Since Trump took office, it seemed as if the administration would side with conservatives, but it had not taken a clear stance until now.

“When the Education Department and Justice Department withdrew Obama-era guidance on transgender restroom access in February 2017, Trump’s officials said in a memo and court filings that they would “consider the legal issues involved.” Then last June, the Education Department issued another memo saying it was “permissible” for its civil rights division to dismiss a trans student’s restroom case. However, in those statements, officials never cemented their intent to reject all restroom complaints issued by trans students,” Buzzfeed News wrote.

The Department of Education, which is led by Betsy Devos, said that transgender students are not covered by Title IX, a federal civil rights law that was passed in 1972. Title IX states that discrimination based on sex is not permitted, and the DOE said that sex does not include gender identity.

"Where students, including transgender students, are penalized or harassed for failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes, that is sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX,” DOE spokesperson Liz Hill said. “In the case of bathrooms, however, long-standing regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”

After the DOE decided to not hear cases involving transgender students, transgender activists expressed their disappointment to Buzzfeed.

“That interpretation represents an appalling abdication of federal enforcement responsibility, inconsistent with the law and with courts’ interpretation of the law, and totally lacking in human compassion for children in school, whom the Department is charged to protect,” Catherine Lhamon said.

Lhamon led the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights during President Barack Obama’s administration.

The law "ensures that LGBTQ youth will not be tortured by mental health professionals."

 

On Friday, lawmakers in Hawaii cleared the way for SB 270, a ban on licensed therapists performing conversion therapy on minors, to be sent on to Democratic Governor David Ige, who is expected to sign it into law.

The State Senate passed SB 270 in March with just one nay vote. It cleared the House of Representatives earlier this month, but the addition of several amendments meant the measure was sent to conference committee. On Friday, it cleared committee and now heads to Ige’s desk.

“This has been a priority of the caucus for years,” said Michael Golojuch, chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s LGBT Caucus. SB 270 “ensures that LGBTQ youth will not be tortured by mental health professionals.”Praising the Senate for passing the bill, HRC’s JoDee Winterhof called conversion therapy “nothing short of child abuse with life-threatening consequences for countless LGBTQ youth."

Lt. Gov. Doug Chin, now running for Congress, said he supported the bill “based upon my firmly held belief that no one should ever be made to feel there is something ‘wrong’ with them because of who they love or how they identify.”

As attorney general, Chin defended Hawaii’s marriage equality but he but came under criticism for a 1995 speech at the Oahu Church of Christ, in which a 20-something Chin told families supportive of LGBT youth, “The Bible is right, your family is wrong! Is there any shame in that? What’s so bad about that? God is right, your family is wrong.”

Chin, now 51, has apologized for the sermong, saying he had “grown up a lot since then.”

But State Representative Kaniela Ing claims he’s just lying for political gain. Ing points to a history of Chin “preaching anti-gay and anti-choice sermons.”

“To see him fighting for this conservative, anti-gay, anti-women values for his whole life, then all of a sudden change his mind, is disingenuous.” He claims Oahu Church of Christ held a pray-the-gay-away conference as recently as 2016. “So it’s very frustrating to me to see him flip-flop now that he is running for Congress. If Chin truly had a change of heart, he would apologize for his years of denouncing LGBTQ people and denounce the destructive teachings of his Church.”

Hawaii is the 12th state to ban conversion therapy for minors, with Maryland passing its law earlier this month. A measure to prohibit it for adults, as well, is working it through the California Legislature.

According to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, some 20,000 LGBTQ minors be subjected to conversion therapy by a licensed healthcare professional in states without such protections.

 A transgender teacher in Kansas has been named "National Educator of the Year" by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

Wichita North High School music teacher Stephanie Byers came out as a transgender woman in 2014, The Wichita Eagle reported.

Byers said she decided to come out as a transgender woman just five years shy of possible retirement, despite her fears about what it could mean for her and those around her.

 

"There was an urgency to it, and I could no longer put it off," Byers said. "But there's still the fear, because you never know."

Byers said she didn't transition to be a pioneer or an advocate, but that she's become both.

The 55-year-old has in recent years met with school leaders, participated on panels about LGBTQ issues, talked with parents about gender identity, chaperoned a local "Day of Advocacy" and spoken at the state Capitol.

Byers said she's received "absolutely amazing" support from Wichita district officials and from North High Principal Sherman Padgett.

"People that I have never spoken to in this building came up and wrapped their arms around me to tell me how much they care for me and love me and were proud of me," Byers said. "It was very, very affirming."

Padgett said he nominated Byers for the award because she's "just an all-around great teacher and a great person."

"It would be great if we could get to the point where we can normalize the LGBTQ community," said Padgett. "She chose to live her true identity, and when that just becomes normal, that's when kids will realize they belong here just as much as everyone else

Who could oppose the idea of ensuring patients are never discriminated against by hospitals because of their sexual orientation, their gender identity, or their gender expression? Sadly, the answer is federal health and justice policymakers. High-ranking officials are systematically tearing out even the humblest measures aimed at upholding the basic American values of fairness and equality.

The New York Times reported Saturday that disturbing new rules are coming out of the Department of Health and Human Services, following approval by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The Trump administration says it plans to roll back a rule issued by President Barack Obama that prevents doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies from discriminating against transgender people,” writes Times correspondent Robert Pear. “Advocates said the change could jeopardize the significant gains that transgender people have seen in access to medical care, including gender reassignment procedures — treatments for which many insurers denied coverage in the past.”

Some of America’s foremost health-policy experts and the country’s most engaged journalists covering health care — not least among them Politico reporters Jennifer Haberkorn and Dan Diamond as well as the Fenway Institute’s health policy director, Dr. Sean Cahill — had all but predicted Saturday’s dire news months ago.

A casual survey of reporting and research conducted just during the past four months by those three respected authorities reveals a raft of rightfully alarming headlines, including "HHS Strips Lesbian, Bisexual Health Content from Women’s Health Website," "Trump Administration Dismantles LGBT-Friendly Policies," and "LGBT Community and People with HIV have Much to Lose in Health Debate."

An extensive review of the past year in the current administration’s attacks on LGBTQ health care was recently published by the Fenway Institute under the title "One Year in, Trump Administration Amasses Striking Anti-LGBT Record."

But Saturday’s NYT article pointed out how the current administration has not only declined to fight back against a temporary ruling by a federal judge in Texas that essentially said the Obama administration misunderstood Congress’s intent regarding the prohibition of sex discrimination by hospitals and other health care entities accepting federal monies (virtually all of them, by the way). But it has also written new rules to honor Judge Reed O’Connor’s belief that in the Affordable Care Act’s antidiscrimination provisions, Congress specifically intended gender to be a binary construct.

It’s worth noting that Judge O’Connor’s stay need not have been the final ruling. Clearly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime LGBTQ rights foe, jumped on the temporary ruling as an excuse to undo pro-equality regulations at HHS, making the department more cruel, unhealthful, and potentially deadly to transgender people.

It’s also worth noting that the flimsy excuse Sessions’s DOJ has used was a ruling by a judge about whom, writing at Law.com, Miriam Rozen said, “Perhaps no federal judge has ruled more often to stall the recent pace of acceptance of the LGBTQ community than O'Connor.”

Why Stop Collecting LGBTQ Health Data?

But the current administration had already begun taking apart the very foundations upon which current and future health care policies could have created more equitable and effective health care in this country.

We recently learned just how deadly it can be to allow ourselves to be blindfolded by one-sided political agendas regarding data. Thanks to the effectiveness of the gun lobby, i.e., the National Rifle Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been prevented from gathering data about gun violence as a public health issue. Now, with the March for Our Lives and #NeverAgain movements gaining on the NRA’s influence, new light is being shone on the dearth of such information.

We know that in the 21st century, deeply studied data and widely gathered information form the bedrock for developing effective policy and programs. We also know that finding a way to provide access to quality health care has been one of our nation’s most complex and vexing problems.

So why would the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services be working so hard to stop gathering data about LGBTQ patients? Is the federal government intentionally putting on blindfolds regarding LGBTQ health care? As the Fenway Institute and Dr. Cahill have uncovered, that is exactly what’s happening.

“The government is rolling back essential tools that can determine whether supportive services are reaching all elders and disabled individuals,” Fenway’s Cahill and other authors write in their report about one year of Trump administration attacks on LGBTQ health care.

The decision by the Administration on Aging, a unit of HHS, to remove questions that would include LGBTQ seniors as part of an important annual report about older Americans in independent living facilities is troubling.

“Collecting [sexual orientation and gender identity] data in disability services would be important, as research has shown higher rates of disability among the LGBT population compared to the rest of the general population,” reads the Fenway Institute report.

Taking Action

The good news is that journalists, activists, researchers and regular people who care about health care, equality, and LGBTQ people are not sitting out the current attacks. In fact, Dr. Cahill will share some of his invaluable research and insights about the subject next week in Southern California. 

A public discussion headlined by Dr. Cahill happens May 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in Costa Mesa, Calif., as part of the panel series LGBTs in the News With Thom Senzee. As founder and moderator of America’s longest-running live-discussion panel series, I urge you to join us. Presented by Radiant Health Centers and with support from the SAG-AFTRA LGBT Actors Committee, Dr. Bronner’s, Mark Wood Entertainment, and The Rage Monthly, the event is free and includes lunch. RSVPs are required and can be made at LGBTSInTheNews.com.

Topics such as LGBTQ aging, transgender health, PrEP and PrEP bias, and a host of other LGBTQ health matters will be discussed. The engagement title, "LGBTQ Community Health: Resolving Disparities, Overcoming Barriers" requires a slate of panelists with unique insights and authoritative perspectives.

Joining Dr. Cahill will be Dr. Cordula Dick-Muehlke, a consultant, University of California, Irvine, faculty member, and leading expert on dementia care with a special focus on LGBTQ aging; Dr. R. Austin Nation, Ph.D., RN, PHNassistant professor at California State University, Fullerton, School of Nursing; plus Dr. Michael L. Krychman, MD, a noted obstetrician-gynecologist, leading author, and executive medical director at the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship. Visit LGBTSInTheNews.com for more information.

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