Thursday, June 17, 2010

Policy Matters - June 16, 2010

Front Page Headlines
Puerto Rico Panel to Investigate Hate Crimes. A special committee to investigate hate crimes has been created in Puerto Rico, where advocates say lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are the victims of an “epidemic” of violence. The announcement by the attorney general was cheered Saturday by activists who complain the government has yet to invoke 2002 legislation establishing harsher penalties for crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Unemployment Sets More Traps For Transgender People. As the recession takes a deeper toll on jobs, income and wages, more Americans are filling out forms for jobs, unemployment insurance, Medicaid and food stamps. It's a complicated process for anyone. But for transgender people, it often comes with a particularly upsetting price: outing themselves. Every application for work or government assistance contains the possibility of probing and intrusive questions focused on an applicant’s gender identity.

California Prop 8 Trial Resumes Today. The lawyers in the landmark federal trial over the constitutionality of California’s gay marriage ban may have to check their dazzling oratory at the courtroom door during this week’s closing arguments. Chief U.S. Judge Vaughn Walker has already heard 12 days of testimony in the civil rights case, which is expected to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court. After a four-and-a-half-month hiatus, he is scheduled on Wednesday to wrap up the trial. From former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who will be arguing on behalf of two same-sex couples, Walker only wants to know what empirical proof there is that allowing gay men and lesbians to marry would reduce discrimination against them.

Public Policy Watch
Expected DADT Repeal Creates Strange State of Limbo. The possible repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has created many new questions for the military, including whether the partners of lesbian and gay service members will be eligible for the same housing benefits that straight married couples receive. Under current legislation, any repeal must be delayed until the military certifies that changes won’t hinder the ability of U.S. forces to fight, and the Pentagon is in the midst of a comprehensive review to determine how to fully integrate openly gay men and lesbians. Among other issues, that review is examining whether gay and heterosexual troops should be required to share living quarters. In many ways, military personnel are caught in a strange state of limbo – the DADT law is still in effect, but in anticipation of the repeal many are being forced to change their approach to LGB service members.

No Changes to Blood Ban. A high-level federal public health committee Friday declined to recommend a change in restrictions on blood donations by gay men, but it proposed research that could eventually allow some currently barred men to give blood. In voting 9 to 6 against making any immediate changes, committee members cited what they said was a tiny but still unacceptable increased risk of contamination of the blood supply if current standards were changed. The restriction on gay men, imposed in 1983 in response to the HIV- AIDS crisis, bans any man who has had sex with another man even once since 1977 from giving blood.

Federal Benefits Extended to Same-Sex Domestic Partners. Federal workers may use sick leave or funeral leave in cases of ailing or deceased domestic partners starting July 14, the Office of Personnel Management said Monday. Unlike other recent changes to federal personnel policies that apply only to same-sex partners, the new orders also apply to opposite-sex domestic partners. The policy change, published in Monday’s Federal Register, is part of reforms ordered last year by President Obama when he extended some benefits to the same-sex partners of gay federal workers. The same benefits were not extended to opposite-sex partners because, the administration said, heterosexual couples can obtain them through marriage.

IL Treasurer to Extend Family-Leave Benefits. With six months left in his four-year term, Illionos state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias signed an executive order on Sunday extending family-leave benefits to gay and lesbian employees in domestic partnerships. The new policy will allow gay and lesbian employees of his office to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick partner or relative, the same benefit given to their married co-workers. It also would allow gay and lesbian employees to take time off for the birth or adoption of a child. “These aren’t added bonuses or employee perks,” Giannoulias said. “These are the same basic rights other employees have long come to expect.”

A Question from the Field
Dear Policy Matters,
I was excited to learn that PFLAG National submitted written testimony opposing the Food and Drug Administration’s blood ban imposed on men who sleep with men (MSM). Given the opposition to the ban by many established organizations and independent researchers, has the FDA decided to lift the ban and reexamine other ways to ensure the safety and availability of our nation’s blood supply?

Thanks so much,
Kelly

Dear Kelly,
Thank you so much for your question. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration’s Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability held a hearing reviewing proposals to amend the ban on gay and bisexual blood donors. The ban originates from a 1983 policy barring any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 from donating blood. Unfortunately, the Committee’s 9-6 ruling on Friday upheld the ban. The decision came after two days of deliberations - informed by personal narratives and scientific evidence - all in support of amending the ban.

Even key Congressional champions voiced their support of amending the ban. These leaders included Senator John Kerry and Representative Mike Quigley, who both issued a press release stating that “There is no prescribed consideration of safer sex practices. Individuals who routinely practice unsafe heterosexual sex face no deferral period at all, while monogamous and married [same-sex] partners who practice safe sex are banned for life.”

Additionally, the American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks and America’s Blood Centers commented that “the current lifetime deferral for men who have had sex with other men is medically and scientifically unwarranted,” and that the groups were disappointed with the FDA’s decision “not to recommend a change to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) policy of a lifetime deferral for men who have sex with other men.”

In our written testimony to the Advisory Committee, we note that the “critical problem with the blanket blood ban for gay and bisexual men is that it continues to treat these men as a homogenous class of people, with a uniform risk of HIV infection, rather than a population within which individuals or certain subgroups have varying risk based on sexual practices and other risk behaviors.” As long as the Advisory Committee continues to uphold the ban, it will fail to account for and distinguish between high-risk behaviors engaged by all gay, bisexual and straight individuals, which only continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men.

While we are disappointed by the Advisory Committee’s ruling, we will continue to advocate for the repeal of the lifetime blood ban for gay and bisexual men and ask that the Committee reexamine the screening process to ensure that all people and their behaviors are accurately considered prior to donation to ensure the safety of our nation’s blood supply. During this critical time, we encourage you to write to the Committee and urge them to amend this harmful ban today.
Warmest Regards,
Policy Matters

Please note that Policy Matters will return on June 29, 2010. If you would like to have a policy-related question featured in our next edition, please e-mail rperry@pflag.org with your question no later than June 25, 2010.

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