New HHS policies include LGBT people

Secy. Kathleen Sebelius

In his Memorandum on Hospital Visitation executive order, President Barack Obama not only ordered hospitals to allow patients to designate visitors regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. He also directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to explore additional steps to improve the lives of LGBT people.

The department has created an internal LGBT coordinating committee “to ensure effective coordination of LGBT-related policies and the consideration of LGBT concerns throughout HHS’s activities.”

Today, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a statement about progress the department has made in addressing LGBT issues since then.

Effective today, all HHS employees are required to serve all individuals who are eligible for the Department’s programs without regard to any non-merit factor, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

On Thursday, the Institute of Medicine released a study on LGBT health to identify research gaps and opportunities related to LGBT health.

In March, the department changed its equal employment policy “to explicitly protect against unfair treatment of employees and applicants for employment based on gender identity and genetic information.”

The hospital visitation policy went into effect on Nov. 17, 2010. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will issue new guidelines in the coming months.

The department has done several things to protect LGBT youth. HHS hosted a White House conference last month to discuss the issue of bullying. HHS rules now require that all organizations serving runaway and homeless youth be equipped to serve LGBT youth.

—  David Taffet

All families deserve equal access to housing

Editor’s Note: The following article was submitted by U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan in the wake of last week’s announcement that HUD has proposed new rules ensuring that LGBT families will not face discrimination in access to housing.

SHAUN DONOVAN  |  Special Contributor

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Last month, we were reminded of Dr. King’s insight once again, as President Barack Obama signed legislation repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” into law.

It was a moment, the president noted, “more than two centuries in the making.”

The historic repeal of DADT is only one part of the Obama administration’s larger fight on behalf of the LGBT community. Whether it is giving same-sex couples hospital visitation rights or  ensuring federal workers can afford long-term care for their partners, this administration is committed to fighting discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

I’m proud that the Department of Housing and Urban Development is part of that commitment, as we work to make inclusivity and diversity cornerstones of America’s housing policy.

Indeed, from conducting the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination to instructing our staff to be vigilant about whether any LGBT-based housing discrimination complaints can be pursued through the Fair Housing Act, we’ve worked to ensure our core housing programs are open to all.

That’s why we recently announced a new rule ensuring LGBT individuals and couples can benefit from HUD programs.

Our proposed regulations will make clear that the term “family” includes LGBT individuals and couples as eligible beneficiaries of our public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs.

Unfortunately, while HUD programs are designed and administered to provide a decent home for every American, we’ve seen evidence that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and families are being arbitrarily excluded from some housing opportunities.

For instance, two years ago Michelle DeShane, a lesbian, wanted to add her partner Mitch, a transgender male, to her housing voucher.  The local housing authority denied her request because the couple did not meet its definition of “family.”

The housing authority then referred the couple to a neighboring housing authority — because, as they were apparently told, the neighboring housing authority “accepts everyone — even Martians.”

That’s not right. No one should be subject to that kind of treatment or denied access to federal housing assistance because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And so, through this proposed rule, the Obama administration is ensuring that when it comes to housing assistance funded with taxpayer dollars, they won’t be.

Specifically, it adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of definitions applicable to HUD programs. It clarifies HUD regulations to ensure that all eligible families have the opportunity to participate in HUD programs regardless of marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.

And it prohibits inquiries regarding sexual orientation or gender identity and makes clear that gender identity and sexual orientation should not and cannot be part of any lending decision when it comes to getting an FHA-insured mortgage.

Every American family should have the opportunity to make a home for themselves free from discrimination. That is why this rule is so important — and it’s why all of us at HUD are so proud to announce it.

Shaun Donovan is the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28.

—  John Wright

Hospital visitation rules take effect

Parkland Hospital

An executive order saying hospitals that receive federal funding must allow same-sex visitation went into effect on Tuesday.

Federal funding includes Medicare and Medicaid payments.

President Barack Obama issued the order last year after hearing about a case in which a woman wasn’t allowed to see her partner before she died.

“We applaud the Obama administration’s steps to address the discrimination affecting LGBT patients and their families,” Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart said in a statement. “Now, in hospitals across the nation, LGBT people and their families will have more protections so they can be by their loved one’s side when they are sick and need them most.”

The city of Dallas has an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations. Partners in Dallas should have access based on public accommodations, and no complaints against a Dallas hospital has been filed since the ordinance went into effect.

Hospitals in other cities that prevented partners from visiting loved ones used the excuse that only immediate family members could visit.

I contacted several area hospitals for comment and heard back from Parkland.

“Parkland will continue to offer an open visitation policy to all patients and their family members. Research has shown that patient care is greatly enhanced by the more time a family spends with the patient,” said Miriam Sibley, Parkland’s senior vice president and chief nursing officer.

I thought this was interesting wording. While that same wording has been used elsewhere to exclude people, at Parkland it’s meant to express acceptance of same-sex partners as family that is — and has been — welcome.

The full Lambda Legal press release is after the jump.

—  David Taffet

Ill. House OKs civil unions; Senate vote today

The Illinois House voted 61-52 on Tuesday to grant gay couples some of the same rights as married heterosexual spouses, including hospital visitation, health-care decision-making and the disposal of a loved one’s remains. From Fox Illinois:

House sponsor Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, likened Senate Bill 1716 to past landmark fights for equality in granting women the right to vote and allowing interracial couples to marry.

We have a chance today to make Illinois a more fair state, a more just state and a state which treats all of its citizens equally under the law,” he said.

Harris and state Rep. Deb Mell, D-Chicago, are the only two openly gay lawmakers in the legislature. Earlier this year, Mell announced her engagement to her partner while on the House floor.

“After six years of building a life together, committing our lives to each other – we have a strong faith in God and family – and after all that we are still not considered family,” Mell said. “And I assure you we are a family, and we deserve the same rights that you enjoy.”

The bill is expected to win approval from the Senate today before being signed by Gov. Pat Quinn. It would take effect July 1, and Illinois would become the sixth state to offer civil unions or domestic partnerships.

—  John Wright

Anti-gay group files lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s domestic partner registry

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — A social conservative group has filed a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s domestic partner registry.

Members of Wisconsin Family Action filed a lawsuit Wednesday, Aug. 18 in Dane County circuit court arguing that the year-old registry violates the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage approved by voters in 2006.

The group tried to bring their lawsuit directly to the state Supreme Court in November but were rebuffed.

In June the state Supreme Court did uphold the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions but the ruling did not affect the registry.

Under the registry, same-sex couples who sign up receive a limited number of the same legal rights as spouses, including hospital visitation, inheritance, and medical leave rights.

—  John Wright

President Obama orders hospital visitation rights for gay and lesbian partners

President Barack Obama issued a memorandum Thursday directing the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a rule prohibiting hospitals from denying visitation to gay and lesbian partners. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the memorandum was inspired by the case of Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond, in which Langbehn was kept from Pond’s bedside as she lay dying at a Miami hospital in 2007.

“There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital,” the memorandum begins. “In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean — a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them.”

The memorandum goes on to say that gays and lesbians are “uniquely affected” because they’re “often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.”

In addition to drafting the rule prohibiting discrimination, the memorandum directs the department to make recommendations about what other steps it “can take to address hospital visitation, medical decisionmaking, or other health care issues that affect LGBT patients and their families.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, issued this response:

“Discrimination touches every facet of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including at times of crisis and illness, when we need our loved ones with us more than ever. No one should experience what befell the Pond-Langbehn family, and the President’s action today will help ensure that the indignities Janice and her children faced do not happen to another family.”

To read Obama’s full memorandum, go here.

—  John Wright