News Notes: Beyond the Carolinas
Openly LGBT candidates won political races literally from coast to coast June 8, with key wins coming in California, Montana and Maine. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund crowed that 17 of their 21 endorsed candidates either won their races outright or advanced to general elections.
Among the highlights:
• As expected, openly gay Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, a Democrat, will face Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack in the race to represent California’s 45th Congressional District.
• In California, the State Assembly is likely to welcome three new openly gay and lesbian lawmakers after key primary wins put them on the road to victory this November. Toni Atkins (District 76), Rich Gordon (District 21) and Ricardo Lara (District 50) won their Democratic primaries in overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly districts. With one gay lawmaker leaving the California Senate due to term limits, the state is now likely to have a total of seven openly gay and lesbian state legislators in the next term, up from five currently.
• Also in California, Jill Ravitch won her race for Sonoma County District Attorney, beating an incumbent. She will become the state’s second openly lesbian District Attorney, joining San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a Republican who is unopposed in her reelection bid.
• Openly transgender lawyer Victoria Kolakowski also advanced to the general election in her race for Superior Court Judge in Alameda County, Calif.
• In Maine, out lesbian candidate Jill Barkley is now the heavy favorite to win a seat in the Maine State House after winning her primary.
• Montana is also likely to add at least one openly gay state lawmaker. Bryce Bennett won his Democratic primary to advance to the general election in November. He’s running in a very Democratic district, so it’s expected he’ll join Rep. Diane Sands, who was unopposed in her reelection bid, in the Montana State House. Aaron Kampfe also advanced in his Democratic primary for a seat in the Montana Senate.
> The Department of Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability voted June 11 against recommending a change to the current policy prohibiting blood donation from any man who has had sex with another man since 1977. Members cited insufficient scientific data to support a change. The Committee did acknowledge, however, that the current policy is imperfect and recommended additional research to craft a policy that would allow “low-risk” gay and bisexual men to donate. The Committee’s recommendations will now be considered by the Assistant Secretary for Health.
> The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has issued a final regulation extending sick and bereavement leave programs to include the domestic partners of federal employees. This change, set to take effect July 14, was first proposed last September in response to a June 2009 memorandum from President Obama directing federal agencies to identify benefits they could extend to the same-sex partners of their employees under existing law. OPM has already finalized regulations opening up the federal employees’ long-term care insurance program to domestic partners.
> A new Gallup Poll reveals that attitudes toward gay and lesbian relationships has reached a major turning point — particularly among Catholics and men. For the first time, most Americans (53 percent of men and 51 percent of women) say gay and lesbian relationships are “morally acceptable.” Respondents between the ages of 18 and 49 are particularly accepting (62 percent of males and 59 percent of females). In addition, 62 percent of Catholics affirm gay relationships, compared with just 46 percent four years ago.
> The State Department has approved a policy change that allows transgender people to adjust their passports to reflect their new gender by submitting certification from their medical doctor that they have received “appropriate clinical treatment” for gender transition. Previously, sex reassignment surgery was a prerequisite to making a change of gender on a passport, a requirement that was out-of-date based on current medical and social understandings of gender identity. The new standard brings passport policies in line with many other transgender-friendly state policies governing driver’s licenses and other forms of ID.
> On June 10, the U.S. Department of Justice clarified that the criminal provisions of the Violence Against Women Act cover crimes against victims of same-sex domestic violence. The memorandum, which was produced by the Office of Legal Counsel, provides that criminal provisions related to domestic violence, stalking and protection order violations apply to conduct when the offender and victim are the same sex. According to a 2010 report by the National Center for Victims of Crime and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, intimate partner violence occurs in the relationships of LGBT people at about the same rate as in heterosexual relationships.
> AIDS and LGBT health activists applauded the Macomb County Circuit Court’s decision to drop a bioterrorism charge against a man based on his alleged HIV status. In October 2009, Daniel Allen was involved in an altercation in which he allegedly bit his neighbor. In addition to assault charges stemming from the incident, Allen was also charged with violating a Michigan bioterrorism statute based on the allegation he has HIV. Activists said the realities of HIV transmission risk do not support the charge and warned that it could lead to public misunderstanding of how HIV is transmitted.
> Earlier this month a U.S. district court judge in Massachusetts denied the government’s request to dismiss the case of Vanessa Adams, a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmate with gender identity disorder. For years, the BOP denied Adams treatment for her condition. As a result, she attempted suicide multiple times and eventually removed her own genitals. At issue is BOP’s so-called “freeze frame” policy in which treatment for any prisoner with gender identity disorder is frozen at the level being provided when he or she enters the system. The case is expected to proceed to trial.
> Since 2002, 25 gay and transgender people have been murdered in Puerto Rico, with six of the slayings occurring since last November. Puerto Rican LGBT activists say most of the crimes were not investigated by the local authorities as hate crimes and very few of the killings have received media coverage. : :