Give thanks, give help

AIN is a small agency with a small budget — and they need all the volunteers they can get

With just over two weeks left before Thanksgiving, each of us has plenty of time to decide what we are going to give thanks for. And where. And how.
I decided I would give thanks for my health, happiness and longevity by making a modest monthly donation to AIDS Interfaith Network in honor of two very good friends who died in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

One, Barnaby, used to coax me out to one of two or three New York LGBT bars whenever I started feeling sorry for myself for working long hours. After he got a law degree in his 30s, and I got a job here in Dallas, he took me out for pricey lunches and dinners on my trips back to New York. And he called me just to talk the week before he died.

Guest.Phyllis

Phyllis Guest -Taking Notes

The other, Steven, was my boss at one job, my associate at another, and a quiet joy to be around. When we made a corporate move from New York to Dallas, and I could not make up my mind on a condo, he let me sleep in his spare bedroom for most of a month. And when he got sick, we were close until he could no longer speak.

But why did I choose AIN rather than one of the other nonprofits dealing with HIV/AIDS? Three reasons:

First, AIN was one of four organizations that lost money in September 2009, when the city of Dallas cut $325,000 from funding for HIV/AIDS outreach, prevention and education programs. Shortly after, the city received a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, but that went to a new city program, none to AIN.

AIN lost an entire program aimed at preventing infection among young, high-risk males. As you know, infections among this group are still soaring.

Second, on a 9/11 Day of Service, I joined other Stonewall Democrats of Dallas in working at AIN. We did nothing daunting — some cooked; others served the food; still others washed dishes. I just picked up used plates, wiped tables and poured water.

But what an eye-opener! These clients are the poorest of the poor, many of them homeless. AIN serves breakfast and lunch five days a week — a total of 26,000 meals a year. Without AIN, most would have no food, no transportation (bus passes), no water when it’s hot, no bedding when it’s cold.
Third, AIN is smaller and somewhat less well-known than other nonprofits serving the many individuals living with HIV/AIDS or in danger of becoming infected. When it was more fully funded by the city, state and federal governments, it had a staff of more than 30; now a baker’s dozen of staff and variable numbers of volunteers try to pick up the slack. All volunteers get a choice of chores.

Right now, a prime need is for an Internet guru — a person who knows the ins and outs of and enjoys emailing, posting on Facebook, Tweeting the latest news, etc. Some staffers are rather Internet savvy, but they lack the time and the fine-tuned skills to turn social media into a recruiting and fundraising tool.

Another need is for a community activist who can set up a monthly “Saturday Night Live @ Daire Center” for 2012. Each SNL evening involves providing an early dinner for 30 or so clients, plus light entertainment such as music or board games. Church, mosque and synagogue social action groups know how to do this, as do many political, professional and community clubs.

A third need is for a different kind of community activist, one who can represent AIN at city events, shows, fundraisers and the like. This is perfect for someone who has a varied wardrobe and a love of nightlife. Anytime there is a chance to mention good works, the AIN rep should be on hand to reach out and speak up.

A host of other volunteer jobs are available. Because I lack the above special talents and am neither a cook nor a carpenter, I will probably end up turning handwritten notes into computer files or sorting donated items into manageable piles. That will be my way of giving thanks for the two dear friends who died and the many who remain.

To outdo me — you know you can — call Travis Gasper at 214-943-4444 or email him at tgasper@aidsinterfaithnetwork.org.
Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and is a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

HHS to add LGBTs to data collection categories

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Section 4302 of the Affordable Care Act already requires the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (OK, so maybe not Secretary Sebelius herself, but her department) to “ensure that any federally conducted or supported health care or public health program, activity or survey collects and reports data, to the extent practicable, on race, ethnicity, sex, primary language and disability status, as well as other demographic data on health disparities as deemed appropriate by the Secretary.”

Today, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced new draft standards for collecting the required data, AND that she is adding LGBT populations to the demograhpic on which her office will collect data, in an effort to help health care providers better identify and address the “health disparities afflicting these communities,” according to a press release sent out this morning.

Under this new plan, HHS will integrate questions on sexual orientation into national data collection efforts by 2013, and to begin the process of collecting data on gender identity. Secretary Sebelius will also convene a series of roundtables with a variety of experts to come up with the best plan for efficiently collecting the data on LGBTs.

The end result will, hopefully, help eliminate disparities in health care these targeted populations face.

—  admin

LEGE UPDATE: Anti-bullying bills advance, HIV funding in jeopardy as session enters final month

Daniel Williams

Movement on anti-bullying bills, an impending budget fight in the Senate and late-night debate on redistricting in the House were the defining events of this, the 16th week of the the Texas Legislature’s regular session.

The Legislature traditionally takes a four-day weekend for Easter, so things were pretty sleepy around the Capitol until Tuesday, when a flurry of bills moved in both the House and Senate.

House Bill 2229 by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, squeaked through the House after initially being tabled. The bill makes permanent the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee. Texas has a program that provides medication assistance to low-income HIV-positive people. The Advisory Committee provides input on the program from health professionals and clients. Earlier this year Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. David Lakey dissolved the committee until public outcry forced him to reinstate it. Coleman’s bill seeks to prevent future commissioners from similarly disbanding the committee.

HB 2229 seemed poised to pass until an amendment to the bill by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, added a needle exchange program, a proven way to reduce the transmission of HIV and other blood-born diseases. Many House Republicans oppose such programs arguing that, by providing clean needles to IV drug users, they condone drug use. The House voted on HB 2229 and it failed to pass, 53-89.

Fearing the demise of the bill, McClendon asked for an opportunity to withdraw her amendment. After she did the House tentatively approved HB 2229, 104-36. The final vote for House approval on Wednesday was 88-57. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee must now consider the bill for it to continue to advance.

Also on Tuesday, the House gave its final approval to anti-cyber-bullying House Bill 1666. Since 2009 it has been illegal in Texas to create a fake profile on a social network website to “harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten” someone else. HB 1666 by Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, expands the current law to include non-social networking sites like Youtube or Blogger (or the comments section of the Dallas Voice). The bill next goes to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee for further consideration.

House Bill 718, which expands Texas’ law against picketing the funerals of members of the U.S. military to include a buffer three hours before and after the service, also passed the House on Tuesday. The bill, by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Houston, is a direct response to the practice of Westboro Baptist Church’s (famous for their “God Hates Fags” slogan) practice of picketing the funerals of service members who died in the line of duty.

—  admin

White House bullying conference set

According to an e-mail sent this afternoon from the office of the White House press secretary, President Barack Obama, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services will be hosting a Conference on Bullying Prevention at the White House on Thursday, March 10. The conference will include “students, parents, teachers and others” from “communities from across the nation who have been affected by bullying as well as those who are taking action to address it.”

The announcement said participants will have the chance to talk to the president and “representatives from the highest levels of his administration” on how to work together to prevent bullying.

—  admin

DOJ says DOMA justified to prevent ‘inequities’

LGBT advocates disappointed in Obama administration’s decision to defend law that he favors repealing

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service

The U.S. Department of Justice filed its brief Jan. 13 with a federal appeals court that will hear the government’s appeal of two district court decisions that found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

The cases are Nancy Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, brought by Gay & Lesbian Activists & Defenders, and Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services, brought by the state.

DOJ, led by Assistant Attorney General Tony West, argues that U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro in Boston erred last year in finding one section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

It also argues that “back-and-forth changes” such as those experienced by California concerning the recognition of same-sex marriages “have the potential to cause inequities in the operation of federal programs, and could result in administrative difficulties across a variety of federal programs.”

“Should [a federal] agency begin awarding benefits in response to court decisions that might later be overturned?” asks the brief. “How should the agency treat a couple who is married, then moves to a state where that marriage is not recognized? These questions highlight the administrative difficulties that federal agencies might face if federal law were automatically tied to state law in an area subject to substantial and sometimes rapid change.”

Mary Bonauto, civil rights director at GLAD, says the “touchstone is whether the marriage is valid under state law.”

“Even if a state reversed itself on marriage licensing for same-sex couples by passing an amendment, as happened in California,” said Bonauto, “that change does not affect the validity of the existing marriages.”

In response to the concern about same-sex couples moving from one state to another, said Bonauto, “The general rule is that if a couple is considered married in the state of their residence at the time they apply for a federal marital benefit, then they are married for purposes of that benefit even if they later move to a state that disrespects their marriage.”

Last July, Judge Tauro ruled, in Gill, that DOMA violates the equal protection and due process rights in the U.S. Constitution, and, in Massachusetts, that DOMA violates the 10th Amendment right to exercise control of certain state issues.

Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry group, said he “regrets” DOJ “continues to defend a law that President Barack Obama has repeatedly said is discriminatory.”

“Also disappointing is that the Justice Department is urging the court to give this discriminatory law a presumption of constitutionality,” said Wolfson. “The Justice Department should be asking the courts to examine DOMA with skeptical eyes, not rubberstamp discrimination.”

DOJ’s brief argues that the appeals court should use only the most minimal standard — rational basis — in scrutinizing the reasons the government gives to justify DOMA’s ban on recognition of married same-sex couples when it comes to having access to federal benefits made available to married straight couples. It then claims that the rational justifications behind DOMA are:

  • to preserve a national status quo at the federal level regarding marriage,
  • to ensure “uniform application” of federal law regarding marriage benefits, and
  • to show respect for each state’s sovereignty in developing its own policy concerning marriage.

The latter justification will probably make for an interesting discussion before a three-judge panel of the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals later this year. The First Circuit is located in Boston, Massachusetts, which famously became the first state to honor its state constitutional mandate of equal protection with regards to the issuance of marriage licenses.

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office argued, in its district court brief, that DOMA is not showing respect for the sovereignty of Massachusetts.

“Instead, Congress chose to force Massachusetts (and other States) to violate the equal protection rights of its citizens or risk federal funding,” argued Massachusetts’ brief. “That is not neutrality; rather, it significantly burdens the ability of States to adopt any definition of marriage that does not match the federal one. …”

But while arguing that Congress needs to show respect for each state’s sovereignty, DOJ also argues Congress “could” reasonably conclude that a “uniform federal definition for the purposes of federal law would most consistently address variations between states that permit same-sex marriage and those that do not.”

“Without DOMA,” said DOJ, “federal benefits would vary for same-sex couples from state to state.”

Of course, that’s true for heterosexual couples, too. Only those straight couples who are married are eligible to receive federal marriage benefits. But DOJ adds that “while it may be preferable as a policy matter for Congress to have provided the same benefits to all married couples, the uniform path that Congress chose was permissible.”

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was introduced by U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) and signed into law in 1996 by Democratic President Bill Clinton. Wolfson noted that both have since “repudiated” the law.

GLAD and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office both filed lawsuits challenging DOMA’s Section 3, which limits the definition of marriage for federal purposes to one man and one woman.

There are three other cases challenging DOMA now in the federal courts. GLAD and the ACLU also filed two other lawsuits challenging DOMA — Pederson v. OPM in a Connecticut federal district court and Windsor v. U.S. in a New York federal district court. Both of these cases, if appealed, will come before the 2nd District U.S. Court of Appeals. Lambda Legal Defense argued its case, Karen Golinksi v. OPM, in federal district court in San Francisco last month. In that case, Lambda’s Marriage Project Director Jenny Pizer is arguing that 9th Circuit court employee Golinski should be able to obtain health coverage for her same-sex spouse the same as other federal court employees can obtain for their spouses. OPM, headed by openly gay appointee John Berry, instructed the 9th Circuit’s employee insurance carrier not to enroll Golinski’s same-sex spouse for coverage. The case is awaiting a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White, an appointee of President George W. Bush.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Texas Republican seeking to intervene in marriage cases

Lamar Smith claims a ‘protectable interest’ in defending DOMA in Massachusetts lawsuits

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service lisakeen@mac.com

Claiming that the Obama Department of Justice is not doing enough to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, the Republican who represents Texas’ 21st district, has asked a federal court for permission to serve as an intervenor-defendant in two cases expected to come before the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The Alliance Defense Fund announced Tuesday, Oct. 5,  that it had filed motions on behalf of Smith in the U.S. District Court for Boston, where Judge Joseph Tauro had ruled — in two cases — that one part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

The Department of Justice still has until Oct. 12 and Health and Human Services has until Oct. 18 to give the court notice of whether the federal government intends to appeal those decisions.

In its Oct. 5 motions to intervene, the ADF claims the Department of Justice is mounting “no defense at all” for DOMA. The lawsuits in question challenge only DOMA Section 3, the section that limits the interpretation of “marriage” for any federal purpose to heterosexual couples.

“We should be strengthening and protecting marriage, not subjecting it to a hostile takeover through the courts,” said Dale Schowengerdt, legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, in a press release. “If the Obama administration won’t defend marriage, we are ready and willing to do so.”

ADF claims the DOJ has failed to raise certain crucial arguments in defense of DOMA. For instance, it argues that DOJ should have noted that the U.S. Supreme Court’s “decision” in the 1972 Baker v. Nelson “was binding precedent that DOMA is constitutional.”

“Under the new administration, which strongly supports DOMA’s repeal, the DOJ traded these winning rationales for anemic arguments never recognized by any court in a challenge to DOMA or a similar state marriage definition,” states the ADF’s motion to intervene.

Actually, the Supreme Court did not issue a “decision” in Baker; it dismissed the appeal of a gay couple who had sought a marriage license in Minnesota.

Dismissing an appeal has more significance than simply refusing to hear the appeal. But, in dismissing the Baker appeal, the high court explained it was doing so because there was no “substantial federal question” presented by the case.

There is dispute within legal circles as to whether that dismissal means anything today.

And Mary Bonauto, civil rights director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders that brought one of the DOMA lawsuits, said the lawsuits here are not — like Baker — about marriage.

Bonauto also said she wasn’t surprised to learn of ADF’s motion to intervene.

“The ADF tries to intervene in everything,” said Bonauto. “We’re just surprised it took this long.”

Bonauto said her organization would oppose Smith’s motion to intervene “on multiple grounds.”

The motions to intervene will be decided by Judge Tauro sometime during the next few weeks or so. Bonauto said she doesn’t imagine the motions will be granted if the federal government decides to appeal the two cases.
The ADF motion claims that Rep. Smith has a “protectable interest” in the outcome of these lawsuits because, as ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, he has a duty to see that federal laws “are fully defended and that adverse decisions are appealed.”

The motion says Smith asked Attorney General Eric Holder, by letter, on Aug. 9, whether DOJ intends to appeal the DOMA cases. DOJ had not yet made a decision, notes ADF.

“[I]t is difficult to understand to DOJ’s indecision,” says ADF’s brief.

Attorneys for the HHS have until Tuesday, Oct. 12, to file notice that they intend to appeal the decision in the state’s case, Massachusetts v. HHS. DOJ attorneys have until Oct. 18 to file notice of appeal in GLAD’s case, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management. GLAD’s Bonauto said it is common for the appealing party to give the court notice of its appeal in the last couple of days remaining to do so.

Thus, the timing of ADF’s motion could have the political benefit of appearing to prod DOJ and HHS to file notice. But Arthur Leonard, a long-time legal scholar on LGBT cases, says it’s also not unusual for Smith to file the intervenor motion.

“There have been occasions in the past where members of Congress have sought to intervene in order to present what they think would be stronger arguments than the Justice Department is likely to present, especially when the administration that is defending the statute is different from the administration that signed it into law,” said Leonard.

“But,” he added, “to the extent this is about getting particular arguments before the court of appeals, I can’t imagine that an appeal of the DOMA case won’t attract plenty of amicus briefs that would make all the arguments that Rep. Smith would want to make.”

© 2010 Keen News Service

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 08, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Dallas County health chief calls for replicating 1980s model to combat rising HIV infection rate

In the face of Dallas County’s steadily rising HIV infection rate, which is the highest in Texas, health authorities are eyeing new strategies for treatment and prevention of the disease, according to Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services.

The county health department, along with Resource Center Dallas and AIDS Arms Inc., have announced a joint press conference Thursday morning to unveil a new HIV/AIDS partnership, which will include two upcoming community forums and two new mobile testing sites.

Thompson said rising HIV infection rates are of particular concern in the 13-24 age group, in the American-American population and among men who have sex with men (MSM).

“I think when we saw what was going on in the Oak Lawn area back in the ’80s, there was a lot of information, there was a lot of education, there was a lot of discussion about testing,” Thompson told Instant Tea on Wednesday morning. “I think that’s the model we need to look at Dallas County-wide. It’s not just in one area. We need to take that same model and look at the fact that we’re seeing new HIV infection rates throughout Dallas County. … You’ve got a young population that may feel they’re invincible, and they may have missed the message altogether.”

A media alert announcing Thursday’s joint press conference between the three agencies states that, “By joining forces, they hope to bring progress in prevention, testing and education, as it pertains to HIV/AIDS.”

Thompson said health authorities believe there are many people in Dallas County who need HIV/AIDS services but don’t know how to access them.

“We need to really dialogue with the community on what are lessons learned, what are things we need to do,” he said. “Is it more testing? Is it more information? Is it more linkage to resources? We think the resources are out there. People just may not be aware of them.”

The two community forums in October will be at Resource Center Dallas, 2701 Reagan St., and at the Urban League on Lancaster Road, Thompson said. Additional community forums will be announced soon.

The new mobile testing sites will be in two areas that are seeing rising HIV infections rates — East Oak Cliff and a section of North Dallas near LBJ Freeway and Coit Road.

“We’re going to have to look at the fact that with the state of all budgets, federal and state, we’re going to have to really focus on what’s going on in our community and how we can utilize existing services right now,” Thompson said.

Thursday’s press conference will be at 10 a.m. in Room 627A on the 6th floor of the health department, 2377 North Stemmons Freeway in Dallas.

For coverage of the press conference, see Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  John Wright

HHS committee votes to retain ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men

We published this story in today’s issue of Dallas Voice about hearings under way — in the Department of Health and Human Services Committee’s Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability — to consider revising current policy banning blood donations by any man who has had sex with another man since 1977.

Well, the hearings ended this afternoon with a 9-6 vote not to recommend any changes, despite the fact that the scientific and medical communities — and major blood banks — recommended that the policy be changed to prohibit donations only from men who had had sex with another man within the last year, according to Towleroad.com.

Apparently men who have had sex with female hookers and men and women who have had sex with an HIV-positive partner (even unsafe sex) can still donate, as long as they wait a year after.

That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?!

(Makes you kind of think that maybe these folks on the HHS committee are more concerned about people catching gay than they are about people catching AIDS.)

The Human Rights Campaign has issued a statement expressing disappointment in the vote and adding this info: “The Committee did acknowledge, however, that the current policy is imperfect and recommended additional research to support a policy that would allow low-risk gay and bisexual men to donate.  The Committee’s recommendations will now be considered by the Assistant Secretary for Health.”

—  admin