First Circuit denies gender reassignment surgery to transgender inmate

michelle-kosilek1The full First Circuit Court of Appeals today (Tuesday, Dec. 16) reversed an earlier ruling that Massachusetts must provide Michelle Kosilek, an incarcerated transgender woman, medically-necessary gender reassignment surgery.

Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said, “I am appalled by this decision, which means that Michelle Kosilek will continue to be denied the life-saving medical care she needs and has been seeking for years.  It is difficult or impossible to imagine a decision like this one – that second-guesses every factual determination made by the trial court – in the context of any other prisoner health care case.  This decision is a testament to how much work remains to be done to get transgender people’s health care needs on par with others in the general public. ”

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals issued an initial ruling Jan. 17, upholding the finding of District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf that the Massachusetts Department of Corrections engaged in a pattern of “pretense, pretext and prevarication” to deny Kosilek treatment, in violation of her 8th Amendment right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. The commonwealth requested and was granted a rehearing of the case before the full bench. Oral arguments took place on May 8.

Kosilek was denied gender reassignment surgery by the department against the recommendations of multiple doctors.

“There is no scientific or medical basis for denying transgender people their health care needs,” Levi said. “The consensus position of the medical community is that surgery may sometimes be essential treatment.”

Kosilek is serving a lifetime sentence for the 1990 murder of her wife, Cheryl McCaul.

—  James Russell

Proposed divorce law could make D.C. the marriage destination of choice for gay Texans

Mrs. Barry Herridge

The straights have a new poster child for traditional marriage.

Sinead O’Connor ended her marriage to therapist Barry Herridge after 16 days. She said she knew the marriage was doomed just three hours after the ceremony.

But she still made it to 16 days. Maybe she needs to see a therapist. Oh wait … maybe she just needs to blame it on the gays.

But at least she will be able to end her marriage — no matter where she lives.

The Washington D.C. city council will take up a same-sex divorce ordinance in January, according to the Washington Post. The bill has the support of eight out of 13 city council members.

The problem, according to the city’s leaders, is that anyone can marry in D.C., but only residents can file for divorce there.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has done his part to deny marriage to same-sex couples by preventing them from getting divorced. One case in which he intervened involves a Dallas couple that was married in Massachusetts. Currently all 50 states and D.C. have a residency requirement for divorce.

With the attorney general’s intervention, the Dallas couple remains married, three years after beginning the process of divorce.

Should the D.C. law pass, couples married in that city will be able to divorce there, no matter where they live. Abbott will be unable to prevent Texas couples married there from divorcing there.

But O’Connor will be able to get divorced wherever she lives. And her 16-day marriage will be considered “traditional.”

—  David Taffet

Delaware may be next civil unions state

Delaware State Capitol

With a marriage bill advancing in neighboring Maryland, Delaware lawmakers have proposed civil unions for that state, according to WBOC in Dover.

Equality Delaware helped craft the legislation. The bill is intended to give couples with a civil union the same state rights as married couples and gives religious groups an exemption from participating.

A poll released this week shows that 48 percent of people in Delaware support full marriage equality. Only 31 percent were strongly opposed. Others were not sure or fell in the middle. In neighboring Maryland, where a marriage bill is close to passing, 51 percent of the population supports marriage equality.

Delaware Right to Marry statewide director Bill Humphrey said that opposition to marriage equality “dropped dramatically” in states like Vermont and Massachusetts as people saw firsthand that same-sex marriage has no negative impact on their lives.

—  David Taffet

MASSACHUSETTS: NOM Files DOMA Amicus Brief With Federal Appeals Court

Joe. My. God.

—  admin

Lesbian couple, who are ‘high-level Episcopal priests,’ marry in Massachusetts

This is apparently a first for the Episcopal Church — and it came with the blessing fo the local bishop who performed the ceremony:

Episcopalians here and across the country are already divided over whether to elect gay bishops and allow their priests to perform same-sex weddings. Now they have another issue to discuss: The marriage of two lesbians who are high-level Episcopal priests in Massachusetts.

In a wedding that appears to be the first of its kind in the U.S. – at least in the Episcopal Church – former Plymouth priest the Rev. Mally Lloyd married the Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, dean and president of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, on New Year’s Day. The Rev. Lloyd, a former pastor at Christ Church in Plymouth, is now a ranking official of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

The Rev. Lloyd and the Rev. Ragsdale were married in a ceremony at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston, with about 400 guests attending. Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, the state’s highest ranking Episcopal official, presided.

Bishop Shaw has openly supported gay marriage for years. In 2009, a few months after the Episcopal general convention voted to allow “generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church,” he gave parish priests permission to perform same-sex marriages – to “solemnize” them, in the language of the Episcopal Church. Those actions came five years after gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts.

Very cool.

Of course, the Catholics had to be a little bitchy about this. The headline on Catholic.org reads: “Two Episcopal Lesbian Leaders ‘Marry’ in Boston Cathedral.” Had to put marry in quotes and had to write about all the discord this will create at the next meeting of Episcopal leaders. Thing is, the couple is married in the eyes of the law. And, let’s be real, Catholic.org, you may want to stir the pot in the the Episcopal church about marriage. But, that church can discuss these issues and not worry about the endless scandals involving its priests rapign children. That’s what Catholics leaders are forced to talk about at their meetings.




AMERICAblog Gay

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Massachusetts Veterans Call on Senator Scott Brown to End DADT

Wow.  I just returned from a great press event hosted by HRC and MassEquality at which three Massachusetts veterans told stories about their service under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and called upon Senator Scott Brown to fulfill his commitment to vote for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before senators leave for the holidays.

Travis Hengen was discharged from the Army as a Chief Warrant Officer 2 under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” ending a nearly 12-year career as an interrogator and counterintelligence agent.  Over the span of his career, Travis grew increasingly frustrated with listening to fellow soldiers discuss their private lives, all the while being forced to keep his own life a total secret. In June 2002, Travis decided to no longer hide his sexual orientation and came out to his commander, triggering a discharge process that lasted for seven months.  Despite the humiliation of being investigated, Travis never regretted his decision to serve or to be honest about himself.  Since his discharge, Travis has graduated from San Diego State University with distinction with a B.A. in International Security and Conflict Resolution.  Travis currently lives with his husband in Boston where he is completing a M.S. degree in Healthcare Emergency Management at Boston University School of Medicine.

Michael Young is a straight supporter of repeal and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who served from 2004 through 2007 with 3rd FAST  Company, Security Force Battalion on missions in the U.S. and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  FAST (Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team) is a unique unit responsible for guarding government and military targets around the globe whenever they are threatened.

John Affuso enlisted in the Army in 1986 and completed infantry basic training at Fort Benning.  After receiving his commission through the Army ROTC program at Rutgers University, he became a Signal Platoon Leader in the 50th Armored Division of the New Jersey Army National Guard.  John is an Honor Graduate of the US Army Signal Officer Basic Course at Fort Gordon.  After choosing to not re-enlist, in large part due to DADT, he was honorably discharged from the US Army Reserve in the mid 1990’s, having attained the rank of first lieutenant. Like Senator Brown, John is a graduate of Boston College Law School.

When I returned to the office after this event, I was thrilled to see the ABC News report that Senator Brown will support the stand-alone DADT repeal bill.

“Sen. Brown accepts the Pentagon’s recommendation to repeal the policy after proper preparations have been completed. If and when a clean repeal bill comes up for a vote, he will support it,” said Brown spokesperson Gail Gitcho.

Having been in Massachusetts several times this year working with HRC and MassEquality organizers, it’s extremely gratifying to see Senator Brown’s most recent statement.  With just days left in the current session of Congress, the time is now to repeal DADT.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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Massachusetts Veterans Educate Local Students on DADT

Students at Scituate High School organized a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discussion with Massachusetts veterans last night. The event was open to the public and was attend by 50 community members.  After hearing from veterans, attendees made calls to Senator Scott Brown urging him to follow through this year on his promise to repeal DADT.

Travis Hengen spoke at the event about his experience as a gay veteran discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.  Travis said that the law needs to be repealed so “troops serving in Iraq don’t have to worry about using the wrong pronoun when talking about their relationships back home and can focus completely on the mission at hand.”

John Affuso, who also served under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” commented on Senator Scott Brown’s recent statement supporting repeal.  “It was great to see Senator Brown endorse repeal,” said Affuso, “but we really need to see him show some leadership and make sure this comes up for a vote this year.”

Caroline McCall, a student at Scituate HS and one of the event’s organizers, said “We felt that since this issue is such a pressing issue, we wanted to plan this event to help inform the community and show that so many people care about making sure we do right by our troops by honoring and supporting everyone that wants to serve.”

In anticipation of a Senate vote on the Defense bill, volunteers at MassEquality’s headquarters in Boston have been mobilizing pro-repeal veterans to contact Senator Brown’s Boston and D.C. offices.  You can read a Bay Windows article about this work here.

If you are in Massachusetts and want to get involved, contact me at karl.bach@hrc.org.  And no matter where you live, find out about actions you can take TODAY at www.hrc.org/repealDADT.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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Veterans in Massachusetts Put a Face on the Cost of DADT

This week, 40 students took time before finals to hear from military veteran Travis Hengen at an event organized by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the Wheaton College Libertarians.

In 2003, Travis was discharged as a Chief Warrant Officer under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, ending a nearly 12-year career in the U.S. Army as a counterintelligence agent.  Travis shared his experience and urged students to remember his story when they spoke to legislators. Travis was joined by Wendy, another veteran discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Wendy served as a nurse, and during the event she reminded students that her sexual orientation didn’t matter when she was treating someone’s injuries.

After the discussion, students handwrote letters in opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and addressed them to Senator Scott Brown’s Boston office. With the Senate now on track to bring this to a vote in the lame-duck session of Congress, it is more important than ever for you to contact your Senators to ask them to do everything that they can to repeal this failed law now.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin

Working in Massachusetts to Repeal DADT

The post-election session of Congress started off with a bang on Monday.  Starting at 10am, 12 students from Brandeis University held a flash phone bank from the school dining hall.  At the end of the day they had generated 225 constituents calls into Senator Brown’s office in support of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.  In one of the calls the receptionist actually knew the Brandeis students!  The receptionist said the office had received hundreds of calls and people were noticing our efforts.

And last night, Clark University students sat down to write letters to Senator Brown. Clark University is perhaps best known as the setting of Sigmund Freud’s lecture series on psychoanalysis.  Now the statue of Freud serves as a fun post letter writing back ground.

Student activism continues tonight with a SLDN panel discussion at Wheaton College.

What: Discussion with veterans on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Where: Wheaton College

26 East Main Street

Norton, MA 02766

Mary Lyon Hall

When: Tuesday, November 16th at 7 pm


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin