Blog Posts Related to the LGBT Community
- Posted byon December 17, 2013 at 2:00 PM EDT
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.
- Posted byon December 16, 2013 at 4:46 PM EDT
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.
- Posted byon December 12, 2013 at 12:09 PM EDT
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.
- Posted byon December 2, 2013 at 5:07 PM EDT
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.
- Posted byon December 2, 2013 at 4:17 PM EDT
“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.
- Posted byon December 2, 2013 at 12:59 PM EDT
Last July, President Obama established the HIV Care Continuum Initiative, which addresses the gaps in care and prevention, especially among communities with the greatest HIV burden. On World AIDS Day 2013, the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) released a report outlining the first recommendations and action steps from the Initiative detailing how federal efforts will be integrated to improve outcomes along the care continuum, including strengthening linkage to care, retention and treatment.
The report also includes a first ever glimpse of national progress (via HIV surveillance data) on the nine indicators of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. In addition, the report highlights progress being made in three major U.S. cities – New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. – in the fight against AIDS as well as some of the unique public-private partnerships that are responding to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
The next stage of implementation of the Strategy will be guided by the work on the Initiative, in conjunction with ongoing enactment of the Affordable Care Act, which will increase healthcare coverage for thousands of persons living with HIV and millions at risk for infection.
To read the report, click here.
- Posted byon November 20, 2013 at 1:26 PM EDT
Today, November 20th, communities across the country and around the world will mark Transgender Day of Remembrance. This day is an opportunity to remember those who have lost their lives to violence and injustice because of their gender identity or gender expression.
The Obama Administration remains committed to preventing violence against all people, including all members of the LGBT community. Four years ago, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, which greatly expanded the federal government’s ability to prosecute hate crimes. The law marked the first time that the words, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” appeared in the U.S. Code, and enables the Justice Department to prosecute in certain circumstances hate crimes committed because of a person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability .
In addition, the Department of Justice has worked with transgender advocacy leaders and law enforcement leaders from around the country to create a cultural competency training module that will be delivered by the Department’s Community Relations Service (CRS). The training will provide important information to persons interacting with and protecting transgender persons, and will attempt to dispel myths and increase understanding so that communities can better work together to prevent and respond to hate crimes. Interested community groups and law enforcement agencies can reach out to the DOJ’s CRS at 202-305-2935 in order to learn more about receiving the training session.
Earlier this year the President was proud to sign a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that included critical protections for transgender people and for the broader LGBT community. The legislation removed barriers faced by LGBT victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, whose needs are often overlooked by law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, and victim service providers. It also included three provisions that would help LGBT victims of domestic violence and sexual assault access VAWA-funded services:
- First, the law added a LGBT-focused purpose area to the STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grant program, the largest VAWA program and the one that supports law enforcement, prosecution, court and victim service activities in every State.
- Second, the law amended the Act’s definition of “underserved population” to recognize that LGBT victims face barriers to service.
- Third, the law protects LGBT victims from discrimination by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in VAWA-funded programs or activities.
This commitment to equality for all members of the LGBT community extends internationally, where the Obama Administration continues to promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons. For example, earlier this year, then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice released a video message to mark International Day Against Homophobia, in which she said:
At the United Nations, the United States is standing up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and fighting to ensure that their voices are heard and protected. The United States was proud to co-sponsor and adopt an historic resolution at the UN Human Rights Council condemning human rights abuses and violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Today is an opportunity to reflect upon and share the tremendous progress we have made over the last few years. However, let us also recommit ourselves to continuing this critically important work so that we can ensure dignity, equality, and justice for all people.
As President Obama said earlier this year in his LGBT Pride Month remarks at the White House:
The genius of America is that America can change. And people who love this country can change it. That’s what we’re called to do. And I hope that when we gather here next year, and the year after that, we’ll be able to say, with pride and confidence, that together we’ve made our fellow citizens a little more free. We’ve made this country a little more equal. We’ve made our world a little more full of love.
Gautam Raghavan is an Advisor in the White House Office of Public Engagement.
- Posted byon November 8, 2013 at 1:32 PM EDT
Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from the United States Department of Justice.
The fact remains that, across the country, far too many LGBT Americans suffer discrimination each and every day. That’s why the Department will keep working to promote opportunity and access for every individual. It’s why this will continue to be a priority for this Department as long as I have the privilege to serve as Attorney General. It’s why we will continue to advocate for essential legislative changes and reforms, like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to extend workplace protections to all Americans.
-Attorney General Eric Holder, June 2013
Right now, in 29 states, lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGBT) Americans lack sufficient protections against employment discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This week, the Senate passed a bill—the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)—that would close this gap in our nation’s civil rights laws.
Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal law has prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Yet five decades later, while we wait for ENDA to pass the House of Representatives, no federal law exists that explicitly prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and the majority of states lack basic workplace protections for LGBT Americans.
As President Obama has stated: “[O]ur journey as a nation is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
If signed into law, a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act would explicitly prohibit workplace discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA’s prohibition of intentional discrimination makes clear that LGBT Americans deserve the same types of protections that are available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The ability to earn a living and climb up the economic ladder is at the heart of the American dream. No individual should be denied a job or the opportunity to earn promotions and pay raises because of who they are or who they love. That’s why President Obama, Attorney General Holder, the Civil Rights Division, and the administration as a whole have been committed to the passage of an inclusive ENDA.
In 2009, Tom Perez, then Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division, testified on behalf of the department before the Senate HELP Committee in support of this legislation, stating: “We have come too far in our struggle for ‘equal justice under the law’ to remain silent or stoic when our LGBT brothers and sisters are still being mistreated and ostracized for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their skills or abilities.”
The Civil Rights Division regularly receives letters from LGBT individuals all over the country documenting instances of employment discrimination. This discrimination takes many forms—from cruel instances of harassment, to explicit denials of employment or career-enhancing assignments. It is painfully disappointing to have to tell these men and women that, in the United States of America in 2013, insufficient legal tools exist to address this discrimination. While the Division makes every effort to address these complaints, because there are no federal laws that provide explicit protection against sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination, far too many people are left without clear protections.
Four years ago, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to protect LGBT individuals from hate-fueled violence. Now it’s time for Congress to make certain that these Americans enjoy equal opportunity in the workplace and equal access to the American dream.
Fifty years after the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Division seeks to advance this nation’s long struggle to embrace the principle so eloquently captured by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—that persons should be judged based on the content of their character, and not on their race, color, sex, national origin, religion or any other irrelevant factors.
Our existing civil rights laws, enforced by the Civil Rights Division, reflect and uphold this noble principle. So does the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Its passage would move this great nation one step closer to fulfilling our Constitution’s promise of liberty, opportunity and equality for all.
Jocelyn Samuels is the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.