Miss Universe to allow transgender contestants

Jenna Talackova

GLAAD issued a joint announcement today with the Miss Universe Organization saying transgender women will be allowed to compete in the pageant beginning next year.

The change in policy happened weeks after Jenna Talackova, a contestant for the Miss Canada title, was disqualified because she’s transgender.

“For more than two weeks, the Miss Universe Organization and Mr. Trump made it clear to GLAAD that they were open to making a policy change to include women who are transgender,” GLAAD spokesperson Herndon Graddick wrote in a press release. “We appreciate that he and his team responded swiftly and appropriately.”

GLAAD points out that the Olympics, NCAA, the Girl Scouts of America and America’s Next Top Model have all opened to transgender participants.

National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling issued a statement.

“No one likes it when they’re left out of something because of who they are,” Keisling said. “But it’s a noteworthy thing for a group like the Miss Universe Organization and Donald Trump to switch positions allowing Jenna to participate, and to commit to developing transgender inclusive rules.”

Trump co-owns the Miss Universe pageant with NBC. The NBC reality show star and former Republican presidential candidate made another surprising announcement recently when he said that he expected Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 and that he supported her.

—  David Taffet

Donovan says trans equality is a priority, not an issue

HUD secretary becomes first cabinet member to address transgender event with his speech at NCTE anniversary celebration

Donovan.Shaun

Shaun Donovan

Dana Rudolph  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan became the first United States cabinet secretary to address a transgender event when he gave the keynote speech Nov. 15 at the eighth anniversary celebration of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Mara Keisling, executive director of NCTE, told Keen News Service, “Having Secretary Donovan keynote our event is an important symbolic and historic advance for transgender Americans.”

Keisling said that having a cabinet member address the group “really shows tremendous societal movement.” She attributes this progress to “all the great education that transgender people and allies are doing all over the country.

“It’s added up to a lot more visibility and understanding,” said Keisling.

Prior to Donovan’s appearance, the highest federal official to address NCTE was Kathy Greenlee, assistant secretary for aging at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Greenlee spoke at the organization’s policy conference in March.

And Lynn Rosenthal, the White House advisor on violence against women, met with NCTE staff and other transgender advocates Nov. 16 to discuss violence against transgender people.

But Donovan’s speech, at the historic Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., garnered almost no attention in the mainstream press.

HUD included a copy of his speech on its Web site. And, following his speech, Donovan spoke to a reporter from the Washington, D.C., gay newspaper Metro Weekly.

When asked whether he supports marriage equality, Donovan replied “absolutely.” He also agreed with the reporter’s suggestion that marriage equality should be the subject of “more work” in a second Obama administration.

But at NCTE’s annual event, Donovan spoke of the Obama administration’s accomplishments towards equality for transgender people. He said the administration is the first to view the fight for transgender equality “not as an issue — but as a priority.”

Quoting figures from a February 2011 study by NCTE and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Donovan said an estimated 1-in-5 transgender Americans have been refused a home or apartment, and more than 1-in-10 have been evicted because of their gender identity or expression.

There are currently no explicit federal protections that ban housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Only 15 states plus the District of Columbia have protections specific to gender identity.

Massachusetts will become the 16th when Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, signs a bill just passed by its legislature, as he is expected to do.

Approximately 150 cities, towns, and counties have LGBT protections as well, according to HUD.

Such protections are needed, Donovan said, because of experiences such as that of Mitch and Michelle DeShane. When Michelle wanted to add her partner Mitch, a transgender man, to her housing voucher, the local housing authority refused because the couple did not meet its definition of “family.” It referred them to a neighboring housing authority, which, they said, “accepts everyone — even Martians.”

“That’s just wrong,” Donovan said.

Donovan said “the most significant step” HUD has taken to address this type of discrimination has been proposing new regulations to “ensure transgender individuals and couples can be eligible for our public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs that collectively serve 5.5 million people.”

The proposed rule would prohibit owners and operators of HUD-assisted or -financed housing from inquiring about applicants’ sexual orientation or gender identity, and prevent them from excluding otherwise eligible families if one or more members is or is perceived to be LGBT.

It would also prevent lenders from using the sexual orientation or gender identity of an applicant as a basis to determine eligibility for Federal Housing Administration mortgages, which represent one-third of all new mortgages in the country.

Donovan said that HUD is still reviewing comments before final publication of the rule.

A HUD spokesperson said that the agency can’t say exactly when the final rule will be published, since it must also be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.

Donovan noted that HUD has provided its staff with guidance that they can pursue cases of housing discrimination when a person’s identity or expression doesn’t conform with gender stereotypes, because such discrimination violates the Fair Housing Act’s ban on sex-based discrimination.

The act is a pivotal civil rights act that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status — but does not specifically cover sexual orientation- or gender identity-based discrimination.

Since that guidance was issued in July 2010, Donovan said, the number of complaints from LGBT individuals to HUD about housing discrimination has increased 15 times compared to the same date range the previous year, according to HUD.

Donovan also said that HUD is working to better understand the challenges that transgender people face. It included a session on gender identity- and sexual orientation-based housing discrimination in its annual National Fair Housing Policy Conference this year, and launched the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination.

A HUD spokesperson said the target date for publication of the study is late 2012.

Donovan also spoke of accomplishments by the broader Obama administration, where, he said, “the LGBT community has had a seat at the table since day one.”

He cited the administration’s “record number of LGBT appointments,” including openly transgender appointees; the Office of Personnel Management’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender identity in federal employment; the Veterans Administration’s directive for non-discriminatory care for transgender veterans; the State Department’s efforts “to ensure greater dignity and privacy” for transgender passport applicants; and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention law.

NCTE’s Keisling said, “Secretary Donovan’s presence echoes what we at NCTE have long known about HUD and the rest of the Obama administration, and that is that transgender people matter. We are a priority for the administration, and it shows in the policies that we are winning.”

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Who decides what’s medically necessary?

Mara Keisling

Trans advocate says trans health benefits are about what medical treatments are necessary, not about cost or personal beliefs

TAMMYE NASH  | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Say the phrase “transgender health benefits,” and most people immediately think insurance coverage that pays at least some of the costs of sexual reassignment surgery. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

The problem, said National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling, is that issues of medical treatment are being made by accountants rather than by doctors. And trans-phobia is playing a role in too many of those decisions.

Neither the city of Dallas, the city of Fort Worth, Dallas County nor Tarrant County offer fully inclusive health care benefits for their employees. But they are not alone.

According to reports, when city officials in Portland, Ore., voted unanimously earlier this month to offer transgender health care benefits, the city became only the third local government in the nation to do so. San Francisco city and county — one combined government — was first, and Oregon’s Multanomah County was second.

In the business world, the odds are a little better for trans employees looking for adequate insurance coverage. According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2009, 22 percent of the Fortune 100 companies offered trans-inclusive health benefits, while such benefits were offered by 7 percent of Fortune 500 companies, and 3 percent of Fortune 1,000 companies.

Still, those numbers are dishearteningly low. And sometimes, even when a trans person thinks they are covered, insurance companies — whether in an attempt to cut costs or out of anti-trans bigotry — will find a way to deny claims.

“A lot of insurance plans exclude what they call ‘transition-related care,’” Keisling said. “That can mean a lot of different things, but they all have similar implications.”

“Transition-related care” can be divided into two parts, Keisling said: the costs directly related to gender reassignment surgery, and the other treatments and services that are related, things like checking hormone levels, lab tests, and mental health services associated with the transition process.

“Even someone who has fully transitioned probably still needs to get her hormone levels checked on a regular basis. And insurance companies will deny those claims by saying they are ‘transition-related,’” Keisling said.

This is also the issue of sex-specific care, she continued. After transitioning, a trans woman will qualify for regular mammograms, but not for regular prostate exams — which she still needs, too.

And a lot of trans men face similar difficulties, Keisling said. “A trans man might need a pap smear or some other kind of gynecological care, and they are often told no, insurance won’t cover that,” she said.

She described another case in which a trans man was told by his doctors that he was facing serious gynecological problems and needed to have a hysterectomy. Because he was trans, however, insurance wouldn’t pay.

“Insurance said, ‘No. We don’t pay for sex-change operations. The doctors said this is transition surgery. This is a medically-necessary procedure.’ But they wouldn’t pay,” she said.

But in some cases, the discrimination is even more blatant.

“The insurance for federal government employees specifically excludes coverage for the costs of [gender reassignment surgery], but there have been a number of cases where that was used to exclude coverage of any type for transgenders,” Keisling said.

“I know of a federal employee who was told insurance wouldn’t pay for care for her son’s broken arm because she was transgender. Another trans woman who was anemic and needed transfusions was told insurance wouldn’t cover the treatments because she had ‘transsexual blood,’” she said.

“The list goes on and on. I know another trans woman who was playing for a woman’s softball team and broke her arm during a game,” Keisling continued. “She went to the hospital, had the X-rays and got her arm set. Then the insurance company turned around and denied the claim. They said if she weren’t transsexual, she wouldn’t have been out there playing for a women’s team and she wouldn’t have broken her arm.”

When it comes to these “really egregious stories” that are “so clearly wrong,” Keisling said, the victims can hire lawyers and get remedies through the courts. Still, she said, “You have to know what to do, how to get things fixed.” And court cases aren’t cheap, either.

Still, things do seem to be changing for the better, at least when it comes to federal employees, Keisling said. Federal officials recently issues a letter to employees stressing that when it comes to the exclusionary language in the insurance policy, “surgery means just that — surgery, not pre-operative care or post-operative care. And they stressed that this isn’t a change. They aren’t just now saying that. That has always been the rule. They just want to make sure people know the rule and follow it.”

Officials with the Veterans Administration also sent a similar letter regarding insurance coverage for transgender veterans.

But the message doesn’t seem to be filtering down to lower levels of government. For instance, mayoral runoff candidates in both Dallas and Fort Worth have said that when it comes to the question of health benefits for transgender city employees, they have to study the issue more before deciding where they stand. And for three of them — Mike Rawlings and David Kunkle in Dallas and Betsy Price in Fort Worth — it comes down to a question of costs.

Jim Lane, the other Fort Worth mayoral candidate, said at a recent candidate forum that as it had been explained to him in terms of Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome: In the 1970s, most people dismissed claims of post-traumatic stress. But as medical science has advanced, post-traumatic stress has become acknowledged as a serious problem that requires medical-necessary treatment.

That, Keisling said, is what it all comes down to: What is medically necessary? And who gets to answer that question?

“We want the insurance to cover things that are medically necessary. We are not asking them to cover things that are not medically necessary,” she said. “Boob jobs are not in the medically necessary category. Electrolysis treatments, fertility treatments — those things are not medically necessary.”

Gender transition, though, is different. And, Keisling said, the American Medical Association agrees.

“The American Medical Association has said that transition-related health care is medically necessary. It is not experimental. It is not optional. It is medically necessary,” she said. “And we don’t want insurance companies deciding what is medically necessary. We don’t want city council members deciding what’s medically necessary. We want doctors making those decisions.”

The issue of cost, Keisling said, should not be an issue at all.

In fact, according to HRC’s website on transgender health care, “the annualized costs to the employer of providing insurance coverage for transgender-related care are typically minimal” and even “negligible for medium-sized to larger employers.”

The HRC website notes that the best available data on cost comes from the city of San Francisco and San Francisco County, and only limited data is available even then, since trans benefits are a relatively recent occurrence there.

“The cost of services per employee per year was minimal, with costs per insured per year averaging between $0.77 and $0.96: less than a dollar per year per enrollee,” according to information on the HRC website, which is based on the report San Francisco Transgender Benefit: Actual Cost and Utilization (2001-2006). “The precise number of claimants is uncertain since for most years the data is reported by claim and not by claimant. Thus the average dollars per claimant per year ranged between $3,194 and $12,771. The average five-year cost per claimant was between $15,963 and $63,853 for the period from 2001-2006.”

Keisling said, “Does it cost money to offer these benefits? Sure. But the truth is, it will save more money in the long run. With the proper benefits, people get to be healthy, physically and mentally, and that has an undeniable impact on the quality of the work they do.

“The real problem is that when people think of transition and treatment for transgenders, they think of it as something dirty,” Keisling added. “But it’s not dirty. It’s not shameful. It’s just like any other kind of medical care. This is about medical treatments that are medically necessary and that’s it. That whole debate over ‘medically necessary’ is done. It’s over.

“Now the businesses are starting to fall in line, and even the federal government. Now it’s time for the cities, for the counties to get on the stick and start offering their employees the benefits they deserve.”

—  John Wright

LGBT Democrats meet to strategize for the future

Texas Stonewall Democrats assess 2010 ‘ass-whipping’ at the polls during weekend meeting}

See related slideshow here

 

From Staff Reports

editor@dallasvoice.com

Members of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus from all across the state met in Austin on March 5-6 to assess the “ass-whipping” Democrats took at the polls last November and to develop messaging and other strategies for winning in 2012, according to caucus president Dan Graney.

Keynote speakers were openly bisexual Arizona state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and national transgender activist Mara Keisling.

Sinema warned Texas Democrats that “Arizona is coming to a state near you,” calling her home state the breeding ground for the anti-immigrant, anti-choice, anti-worker’s rights and anti-children’s health care measures currently being proposed in many state legislatures, including Texas.

Sinema called the spreading efforts an attempt by the Tea Party to “mainstream hatred in this country,” adding that “Tea Party” is just another name for Republicans.

Sinema said Democrats must build coalitions to stop such legislation, and encouraged LGBT Democrats to reach out to even unlikely allies to get — and give — support.

“After all, LGBT people make up only 4 percent of the electorate and you need 50 percent plus one to win,” Sinema said, who stayed after her speech to autograph copies of her book, “Unite And Conquer: Building Coalitions That Win — And Last.”

Keisling, mixing healthy dose of humor in with her experience and expertise, urged LGBT Democrats to move outside their “issue silos” and talk about racism, immigration and other progressive issues. She jokingly referred to former President George W. Bush and Texas Gov. Rick Perry as her “prior husbands” and referred to the Tea Party as a reincarnation of the John Birch Society.

Keisling expressed little hope for the advancement of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act over the next two years, saying that the measure is dead for now thanks to the Republican majority in the U.S. House.

Other guest speakers at the conference included Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie, Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman and state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.

Villarreal led a plenary session that included an analysis of the November 2010 election and small group sessions to develop messaging for the 2012 election. A second plenary session, led by TSDC Vice President Erin Moore and Rio Grande Valley Chapter President Eli Olivarez, focused on winning strategies for the 2012 election.

Awards were presented to Houston LGBT activist Brad Pritchett,  Stonewall Democrats of the Rio Grande Valley and state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. The conference also included a TSDC executive board meeting and workshops on a variety of topics, such as building a bigger club and youth involvement and use of social media.

Many who attended the conference stayed to participate in Equality Texas Lobby Day on Monday, March 7.

A total of 70 LGBT Democrats and straight allies from across the state registered for the conference. There was representation at the conference from all nine active chapters statewide, including many young people, as well as from Galveston and Tyler.

For more information about the conference, go online to  TexasStonewalldemocrats.org

.

—  Kevin Thomas

Giffords’ friend, out State Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, keynotes Texas Stonewall conference in March

Two years ago I attended the first Biennial Statewide Conference of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus in Austin, which among other things yielded this rather memorable gaffe by then-freshly elected out Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado. That same year, the conference also included a visit from Matt Foreman, a venerable gay-rights activist and former executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

The point is, it was a pretty solid lineup of speakers, and it looks like Texas Stonewall has come pretty close to duplicating it for this year’s second biennial event, set for March 5 and 6 in the capital. (On top of that, it looks like they’ve stepped it up from the DoubleTree on 15th to the Hilton Garden Inn downtown.)

Daniel Graney

Topping the list of speakers this year will be Arizona State Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, who happens to be good friends with recovering Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Tuscon (Sinema’s interview with a local TV station the night of the shooting is above).

Sinema, who’s bisexual, has led two statewide campaigns to defeat anti-gay propositions in Arizona, and some may remember her from visits to Dallas in support of President Barack Obama in 2008.

This year’s conference will also feature Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio; Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell; Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie; Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman; and National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Michael Mitchell.

The theme is “The New Political Landscape In Texas: Where Do We Go From Here?,” and the conference will focus on what went wrong in November 2010 and how Democrats in Texas can reverse the huge losses they suffered. And once again, people are encouraged to stay over for Equality Texas’ Lobby Day on Monday, March 7.

For conference information and to register online, go here (the discounted hotel rate expires Feb. 14). A full press release from TSDC President Daniel Graney is after the jump.

—  John Wright