Blog Posts Related to the LGBT Community

  • Thank You, Edie Windsor

    On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. The case was United States v. Windsor, and it was filed by a woman named Edie Windsor who had to pay nearly $400,000 in federal estate taxes after her wife, Thea Spyer, passed away in 2007. While the State of New York recognized their marriage, the federal government did not – because of DOMA. 

    Following the Court’s historic ruling in Windsor, the Administration has moved to implement the decision so that loving, committed, legally married same-sex couples can enjoy the same federal rights, benefits and obligations as other married couples. Just this Monday, the Justice Department issued a new policy memorandum to “formally instruct all Justice Department employees to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law.”

    When the Court handed down its decision last June, President Obama called Edie from Air Force One to congratulate her on her victory. And earlier this week, the President invited Edie to the France State Dinner and the Oval Office to thank her in person.

    President Barack Obama meets with Edie Windsor during a drop by in the Oval Office

    President Barack Obama meets with Edie Windsor during a drop by in the Oval Office, Feb. 12, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    The thanks expressed by the President that day have been echoed by millions of Americans, including thousands of legally married couples who can now live their lives with greater justice and dignity – thanks to heroes like Edie Windsor who have been willing to stand up and fight for equality under the law.

    Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

  • Equality in Privileges, Protections and Rights

    Last June, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor, a landmark decision that found unconstitutional a provision of law that treated loving, committed and married same-sex couples as a separate and lesser class of people.

    Immediately following the Court’s decision, President Obama directed the Attorney General, Eric Holder, to lead the Administration’s implementation of the Windsor decision to “review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, [was] implemented swiftly and smoothly.” And over the last seven months, the Obama Administration has done just that, extending critically important benefits – from federal tax treatment to military spousal benefits  for legally married same-sex couples, even those living in states that don’t recognize their marriage.

    On Saturday, in remarks delivered at the Human Rights Campaign Greater New York Gala, Attorney General Holder described the importance of the Court’s ruling in Windsor:

    This marked a critical step forward.  And it constituted a resounding victory for committed and loving couples throughout the country who fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents had been denied the recognition that they deserved; and for millions of family, friends, and supporters who wanted to see their loved ones treated fairly, and who worked tirelessly to make that a reality.

    The Attorney General also stressed that we still have work to do, and to that end, announced that today, he is issuing a new policy memorandum that will “formally instruct all Justice Department employees to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law.”

    As the Attorney General said:

    This means that, in every courthouse, in every proceeding, and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States – they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law.  And this policy has important, real-world implications for same-sex married couples that interact with the criminal justice system.

    President Obama said in his Second Inaugural Address, “If we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” Today, thanks to the Court’s historic ruling, the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, and a fundamental commitment to equality that exists across the Obama Administration, we are truly moving towards a more perfect union.

    Read the Attorney General’s remarks as prepared and learn more about the Justice Department’s new policy guidance.

    Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

  • Sharpening Our Focus to Meet National Goals on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from AIDS.GOV

    As we observe National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) 2014, we are reminded that African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV/AIDS in the United States. Among African Americans, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (Black MSM) are especially hard hit, representing more than half of all estimated new HIV infections among African Americans each year. A particularly disconcerting estimate in 2010 showed that young Black MSM aged 13 to 24 accounted for the greatest number (4,800) of estimated new HIV infections among African Americans.

    Furthermore, from an analysis of data about African Americans diagnosed with HIV infection from 19 jurisdictions that CDC released yesterday, we know that compared to Black women, Black men — regardless of transmission category — have lower levels of linkage to and retention in HIV care and are less likely to have achieved viral suppression (i.e., have controlled the virus at a level that helps keep them healthy and reduces their risk of transmitting the virus to others). The study also revealed that by transmission category, men with infection attributed to male-to-male sexual contact had the lowest percentage of linkage to care.

    These disparities highlight that, despite important strides that have been made toward national HIV prevention, care and treatment goals, we clearly have more work to do as a nation to effectively address HIV among Black MSM, especially with regard to outcomes along the HIV care continuum [PDF 1.9MB].

    The National HIV/AIDS Strategy highlights both the disproportionate impact of HIV among MSM in the U.S., the concentration of HIV among Black MSM within the African American community, and clearly states that “the United States cannot reduce the number of HIV infections nationally without better addressing HIV among gay and bisexual men.” The Strategy also observes that our national commitment to this population has not always been commensurate with their disproportionate burden of HIV. 

    So, as we mark the annual observance of NBHAAD, we all—both individually and collectively—are called to be even more thoughtful, creative, and focused about actions we can undertake to strengthen HIV prevention, testing, care and treatment for Black MSM in communities across the United States. 

    Among federal programs, several important activities are underway in this regard: 

    • Increasing the capacity, quality, and effectiveness of HIV/AIDS service providers to serve Black MSMApplications are due later this month for a new Resource/TA Center for HIV Prevention and Care for Black MSM being supported by HRSA’s HIV/AIDS Bureau. To assist HIV service and other healthcare providers, the new center will identify, compile, and disseminate best practices and effective models for HIV clinical care and treatment across the HIV care continuum for adult and young Black MSM ages 13 to 24.
    • Promoting and supporting HIV testing among Black MSM – CDC’s Testing Makes Us Stronger social marketing campaign encourages Black MSM to get tested for HIV. Through compelling campaign ads in national magazines and on targeted websites, as well as through local advertising and materials distribution in target cities, CDC emphasizes the importance of getting tested for HIV regularly to help stop the spread of the epidemic. The campaign also includes a Facebook  page and a dedicated website with a suite of campaign materials available for individuals and organizations to download and distribute. Complementing this important outreach campaign, CDC makes significant investments in both health departments and community-based organizations to support high impact prevention activities, including testing.  
    • Supporting engagement in HIV care – The HHS Office for Civil Rights’ Information is Powerful Medicine campaign focuses specifically on Black MSM, underscoring how having access to your medical records can help you better manage your health. Access to this information empowers patients to track their progress, monitor their lab results, communicate with their treatment teams, and adhere to their important treatment plans. The campaign also provides information on e-health tools, such as the “Blue Button,” which make it easier, safer, and faster for consumers to get access to their health information.
    • Strengthening state efforts for Black MSM – Under the Care and Prevention and Prevention of HIV in the U.S. (CAPUS) demonstration project, several of the eight participating states are focusing their efforts specifically on Black MSM. The three-year demonstration project is supported by the Secretary’s Minority AIDS Initiative Fund and seeks to support these states, each with disproportionately high burdens of HIV/AIDS among minority communities, to improve HIV testing, engagement, and retention in care among racial and ethnic minorities. In Illinois, for example, the state health department has launched a youth of color-specific initiative in East St. Louis to co-locate medical (including LGBT health), psychosocial, prevention and support services in a single setting by collaborating with the local health department and community-based organizations in East St. Louis, Illinois and across the river in St. Louis, Missouri.
    • Supporting Implementation Research – The focus of the ongoing NIH-supported HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) 073  study is determining the willingness of Black MSM to use a daily antiretroviral pill as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Studies such as HPTN 073 are critical in bridging our understanding between biomedical advances in HIV prevention and behavioral, social and structural factors that are often in play. 

    “We are greatly encouraged that many of these federal activities are consistent with recommendations made during our 2012 consultation with community leaders and federal partners about HIV among Black MSM,” notes Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases. “These efforts, and many more underway at the federal as well as state and local levels, are vital to reducing new HIV infections among Black MSM and to improving outcomes all along the HIV care continuum for this disproportionately impacted population.”

    Timothy Harrison is a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 

  • How Obamacare Helps the LGBT Community

    Since taking office, President Obama and his Administration have taken significant steps to advance equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. You’ve probably heard of many of these accomplishments: repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination in hospitals and in housing, promoting international LGBT human rights, standing up against DOMA and then implementing the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor.

    That’s an important, and exciting, list of accomplishments over the last few years – but it’s missing one very important accomplishment: the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

    The Affordable Care Act has the potential to transform the lives of countless LGBT people and improve the health and well-being of our community – for generations to come.

    Here’s why:

  • Treasury Notice Advances Federal Tax Equality for Same-Sex Married Couples

    Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of the Tresaury.

    The Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor last June, invalidating a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, has given rise to crucial protections to same-sex married couples nationwide. In August, Treasury and IRS helped to clarify the federal tax implications of Windsor by determining that all legal same-sex marriages will be recognized for federal tax purposes​. Today, Treasury and IRS made significant progress in further promoting tax equality by issuing a new, related notice.

    In follow-up to the Windsor decision, this notice addresses how the rules for cafeteria plans, flexible spending accounts (FSAs), and health savings accounts (HSAs) apply to individuals with same-sex spouses. A cafeteria plan provides participants with an opportunity to receive certain benefits on a pre-tax basis. Similar to the way in which individuals can choose among several options in a cafeteria, cafeteria plan participants can choose among at least one taxable benefit and one qualified benefit.

    Taxpayers typically must make pre-tax elections under a cafeteria plan before the beginning of the plan year and cannot change their elections until the following year. Because the Windsor decision was issued mid-year, this notice permits changes to elections for same-sex married couples during the plan year that includes the date of the Windsor decision. Accordingly, under this notice, sponsors of cafeteria plans could permit employees to choose to enroll same-sex spouses in health coverage in the middle of a plan year, even though mid-year enrollments would otherwise be prohibited.

    In our prior notice on Windsor, we provided transition relief to employees who elected to pay for their own health coverage on a pre-tax basis, but were previously required to pay for their same-sex spouses’ coverage on an after-tax basis. That transition relief allows employees in this situation to treat the cost of the same-sex spouse coverage as having been paid on a pre-tax basis by excluding the cost of same-sex spouse coverage from their income. The notice clarifies that this relief will apply through the end of the current cafeteria plan year.

    Also, before Windsor, FSAs were not permitted to reimburse expenses incurred by the same-sex spouse of an employee. Based on the notice, a cafeteria plan could choose to reimburse qualifying expenses incurred by same-sex spouses and their dependents before the date of the Windsor decision, provided the expenses were incurred after the couple was married but not earlier than the beginning of the cafeteria plan year that includes the date of the Windsor decision. The notice also explains how the limits on contributions to HSAs and dependent care FSAs apply to individuals with same-sex spouses.

    This notice underscores the Administration’s continued commitment to providing equal access to federal benefits, regardless of sexual orientation.

    Betsy Bourassa is a Media Specialist at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

     

  • United in Hope with Bienestar

    On Saturday, November 30th, I was honored to represent the Obama Administration before 500 clients, staff, Board, community members, public officials and clergy at Bienestar's annual "Unidos in Esperanza" (United in Hope) event in Los Angeles, California.

    Held at the beautiful Placita Olvera, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora, Reina de Los Angeles, the mostly all Spanish speaking event lived up to its goal: to provide a place for those impacted by HIV/AIDS and their loved ones to celebrate the lives of those they have lost to HIV/AIDS, and provide hope to those that are living with HIV/AIDS.

    Bienestar, led by its founding Executive Director and inspirational leader Oscar de la O, is a grassroots, community based organization dedicated to positively impacting the health and well-being of the Latino gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community (LGBT) and other underserved communities in Southern California. It provides education, research, services, and awareness on HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, and drug prevention, among other programs. Additionally, it is a recognized leader at the local, state, and national level on human rights and social justice issues.

    I have had the pleasure of working with Bienestar for more than 15 years. As Region IX Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – and as an openly gay and HIV+ man – I was honored and humbled to be able to speak to this audience and share the progress made by and on behalf of the community through the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. For example, in line with the goals of the President's National HIV/AIDs Strategy, the Affordable Care Act brings historic reforms important to those affected by HIV/AIDs, including the expansion of Medicaid in States that chose to expand, no annual or lifetime dollar limits on coverage, free recommended preventive services, and inclusion of mental health and substance use disorder services as one of ten essential health benefit categories.

    Herb K. Schultz is Director of Region IX for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

  • Sharing Responsibility, Strengthening Results

    A red ribbon hangs from the North Portico of the White House on Dec. 2, 2013 to mark World AIDS Day

    A red ribbon hangs from the North Portico of the White House on Dec. 2, 2013 to mark World AIDS Day, Dec. 2, 2013 (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

    The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation.” Now more than ever, it is a fitting theme as the United States focuses, both on the domestic and global fronts, on building partnerships that strengthen our response to HIV and AIDS. 

    Here in the U.S., we are working with state, tribal and local governments, community groups, and other key stakeholders to implement this country’s first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy  (the Strategy) launched by President Obama in 2010. Since the launch, we have made significant progress in strengthening scientific investments, expanding effective HIV prevention, and connecting stakeholders in both the public and private sectors. 

    Last July, as the next step in implementing the Strategy, the President established via Executive Order the HIV Care Continuum Initiative, which focuses on the gaps in care and prevention, especially among communities with the greatest HIV burden.  Today the White House Office of National AIDS Policy released a report that contains the first recommendations from the Initiative describing how federal efforts will be integrated to strengthen testing, linkage to care, retention and treatment for people living with HIV.

    The next stage of implementing the Strategy will be guided by the work on the Initiative, in conjunction with ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which will increase access to affordable healthcare coverage for thousands of persons living with HIV and millions at risk for infection.  

  • Recognizing World AIDS Day 2013

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from The Justice Blog, the official U.S. Department of Justice blog. See the original post here.

    “Federal law is a critically important tool in eradicating the discrimination that so many people living with HIV and AIDS still face in their daily lives. By enforcing the civil rights laws and educating members of the public about their rights and responsibilities, the Department of Justice seeks to eradicate the stigma and stereotypes that so often lead to unlawful treatment of people with HIV/AIDS. Along with our partner agencies under the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, we remain committed to using every tool available to protect the rights of individuals with HIV/AIDS.” -Attorney General Eric Holder

    In recognition of World AIDS Day 2013, the Department of Justice reaffirms its commitment to eradicating stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS across our country. President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy recognizes that important work as a priority. This year’s observance offers us the chance to both reflect on the work we have done in the past year to protect the rights of people with HIV/AIDS and – due to the sad truth of continuing discrimination – the significant work to be done in the year ahead. 

    The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division HIV/AIDS enforcement work under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) over the past year has been robust. Much of that work has involved allegations that individuals were denied care or were otherwise treated differently in health care, dentistry, or other clinical settings because they have HIV, and the department resolved those allegations through policy changes that ensure that all future individuals with HIV/AIDS would not face the same discrimination in those settings. These included settlements with a pain management clinic in North Carolina that refused to treat a patient due to her HIV status, a clinic in Missouri that refused to treat a woman with HIV for her serious eating disorder, a dentistry practice in Virginia that told a new patient with HIV that all of his appointments must be scheduled as the last appointment of the day, an alcohol treatment program in Ohio that excluded an individual from their program because of the side effects of his HIV medication, and a provider of bariatric surgeries based on the experiences of individuals in Pennsylvania and Michigan whose anticipated surgeries were cancelled or denied because of their HIV status.