N.C. trans prisoner settles federal suit

News Notes: Beyond the Carolinas

by David Stout  Associate Editor  editor2@goqnotes.com
Published: October 15, 2011 in Beyond the Carolinas

Trans prisoner settles federal suit

BUTNER, N.C. — A settlement has been reached in the case of Vanessa Adams, a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmate at FMC Butner, who has gender identity disorder (GID). Adams sued BOP in order to receive appropriate treatment for her GID.

Adam’s challenge to BOP’s treatment of trans prisoners has resulted in BOP ending its so-called “freeze frame” policy in which treatment for any person with GID is kept frozen at the level provided at the time he or she entered the federal prison system. In Adams’ case, this meant that because she had not received treatment for GID before being incarcerated, BOP refused to provide her with medically necessary care even though its own doctors diagnosed her with GID, told her about treatments available for GID, and knew about the seriousness of her medical condition.

The new policy was announced in two memos from BOP’s Medical Director to all BOP’s chief executive officers; the memos have now been distributed to all individuals in the prison system who have been diagnosed with GID, as well as to the medical staff treating them.

When the suit was filed in February 2009, Adams was at a federal prison in Florida. There she was being denied medically necessary hormone therapy and prevented from otherwise expressing a female gender identity because she had not received this treatment prior to her incarceration.

Military chaplains can marry gays

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Defense has decided that military chaplains can voluntarily perform same-sex wedding ceremonies using base facilities in jurisdictions where marriage equality is legal. Pentagon officials clarified this position in two separate memos sent to military services.

The second memo, from Under Secretary of Defense Clifford Stanley, clarified that the Pentagon was not taking a political stance on same-sex marriage through the new policy, stating “a military chaplain’s participation in a private ceremony does not constitute an endorsement of the ceremony by DoD.”

GOP pays $1.5m for discrimination

WASHINGTON , D.C. — After the Obama Administration announced that it would not defend the Defense of Marriage Act from a legal challenge currently working its way through the courts, Republicans led the U.S. House in a vote to hire outside counsel to defend the discriminatory law. Speaker John Boehner came under fire when he entered into a $500,000 contract with private attorneys, at a time when the economy is so poor and budget cuts are the mantra of the GOP. On Oct. 4, the opposing voices were given even more to decry when it was revealed that a new contract had increased the amount to $1.5 million.

“There seems to be no limit to how much taxpayer money the House Republican leadership is willing to spend to keep this discriminatory law on the books,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “At a time when budgeting is the watchword in Washington, Americans will be rightly aghast at this boondoggle for right-wing lawyers. The Defense of Marriage Act singles out same-sex couples for unfair treatment and no amount of money can overcome the fact that it flies in the face of our cherished constitutional principles.”

Walmart protects trans workers

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — On Sept. 28, Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, added gender identity and expression to its employment non-discrimination policy, which already included sexual orientation.

“What matters in the workplace is how you do your job, not your gender identity or sexual orientation,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “As the nation’s largest private employer, Walmart shows that doing the right thing is also good for business. We urge them to continue to move forward by ensuring all of their LGBT employees receive equal benefits.”

The HRC Foundation tracks corporate workplace policies and rates companies on their treatment of LGBT employees through the Corporate Equality Index (CEI). The CEI has helped lead a sea-change in the workplace practices of corporate America by assessing more than 30 specific policies and practices covering nearly every aspect of employment for LGBT workers from non-discrimination protections and the training surrounding those policies to domestic partnership and legal dependent benefits to gender transition guidelines and LGBT employee resource groups.

“Congress needs to follow their lead and make the Employment Non-Discrimination Act the law of the land,” added Solmonese.

High court battle over privacy

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Seventeen LGBT, HIV and health advocacy organizations have filed friend-of-the-court briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm a lower court ruling finding that the federal Privacy Act protects against illegal disclosures that result in suffering unrelated to financial losses.

The case before the Supreme Court was brought initially by Stanmore Cooper, who disclosed his HIV status to the Social Security Administration (SSA) in applying for long-term disability benefits. Cooper sought redress in court after his HIV status was wrongfully shared among the SSA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the U.S. Department of Transportation, all without his consent. Cooper did not claim financial injuries; rather, he presented witnesses and documentation to show his psychological harm.

Lambda Legal’s brief argues that the Privacy Act was intended to cover nonpecuniary harms, meaning that the disclosure of private medical information without consent often has significant personal impact on community standing, physical and emotional safety, and family and professional relationships. Lambda and the other amici argue that such unlawful violations, if proved, must be compensated under the act.

Gay man wins asylum fight

LONDON, England — After an 11-year battle a gay Burundian man has won asylum in the U.K. Alvin Gahimbaze fled Burundi with his sister, Danella, in 2000 to escape the ethnic clashes in which his family was massacred. Homosexuality was banned in Burundi in 2009 and human rights organizations say it is unsafe for gays and lesbians living there. Although Danella is now a permanent resident, Alvin’s application for asylum was refused because officials questioned whether he is actually gay.

Following a referral by LGBT Asylum News, Gahimbaze ‘s case was taken up by the Green Party in Bristol. Green Party MEPs (Members of European Parliament) Jean Lambert and Keith Taylor wrote letters to the U.K. Border Agency as did the Labour MEP Michael Cashman and the Bristol Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie. South West Greens LGBT spokesperson Ryan Cleminson said, “We had to get involved as we couldn’t sit back and allow Alvin to be deported back to Burundi, where he would have faced almost certain torture and/or death at the hands of the repressive government.”

Gahimbaze will now return to his studies at Bristol University, where he had started a law degree at the University of West England.