HRC Mourns Riah Milton, Black Trans Woman Killed in Ohio

HRC is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Riah Milton, a 25-year-old Black transgender woman killed in Liberty Township, Ohio, on June 9. Her death is believed to be the at least 14th violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person this year in the U.S. As we mourn this death, HRC has also learned of a second death of a Black transgender woman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, also killed on June 9.

According to her Facebook, Milton worked as a home health aide and studied at the University of Cincinnati. She was a loving sister and aunt, often posting photos of her family. In March, she posted the status “Never been scared to struggle�� Imma get it eventually” — a comment highlighting her resilience and optimism as a person facing a transphobic, misogynist and racist society. According to local authorities, Kaleb Marshall Tooson, 18, and an unnamed 14-year-old girl were arrested in connection to Milton’s death. One suspect, Tyree Jeffery Cross, 25, remains at large.

“Black Trans Lives Matter,” said Tori Cooper, HRC director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative. “In the same week countless people across the globe stand up for racial injustice, in the same week we honor the 49 victims of the Pulse massacre in Orlando, in the same week a billionaire author spouts transphobic rhetoric to millions — in this same week, we have lost two more Black transgender women to the same fate most of us worry about every day. Say their names. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. Riah Milton. Riah Milton. Riah Milton. Continue to say the names of every transgender and gender non-conforming person stolen from this Earth. Don’t wait until we are all gone to speak up. This fight belongs to us all.”

In November 2019, ahead of Transgender Day of Remembrance, HRC Foundation released “A National Epidemic: Fatal Anti-Transgender Violence in America in 2019,” a heartbreaking report honoring the trans people killed and detailing the contributing and motivating factors that lead to this tragic violence — a toxic mix of transphobia, racism and misogyny. Sadly, 2019 saw at least 26 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. We say at least because too often these stories go unreported — or misreported.

There are currently very few explicit federal legal protections for transgender or gender-expansive people. At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in Ohio are not explicitly protected in employment, housing or in public spaces. They are also not covered under the state’s hate crimes legislation. Nationally, despite some marginal gains in state and local policies that support and affirm transgender people, recent years have been marked by anti-LGBTQ attacks at all levels of government. 

We must demand better from our elected officials and reject harmful anti-transgender legislation appearing at the local, state and federal levels because it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color. The intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, biphobia and homophobia conspire to deprive them of necessities to live and thrive.

This epidemic of violence that disproportionately targets transgender people of color — particularly Black transgender women — must cease.

For more information about HRC’s transgender justice work, visit hrc.org/Transgender.

Read more

HRC To Sue Trump Administration for Eliminating Anti-Discrimination Health Care Protections

The Human Rights Campaign announced that it will file a lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence administration’s decision to roll back critical civil rights protections in the rule implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The new rule will eliminate explicit protections from discrimination based on sex stereotyping and gender identity that have existed under law, thereby sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ people in health care programs and activities. 

“We cannot and will not allow Donald Trump to continue attacking us. Today, the Human Rights Campaign is announcing plans to sue the Trump administration for exceeding their legal authority and attempting to remove basic health care protections from vulnerable communities including LGBTQ people. And, to add insult to injury, the administration finalized this rule on the anniversary of the Pulse shooting, where a gunman killed 49 people in an LGBTQ nightclub,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “LGBTQ people get sick. LGBTQ people need health care. LGBTQ people should not live in fear that they cannot get the care they need simply because of who they are. It is clear that this administration does not believe that LGBTQ people, or other marginalized communities, deserve equality under the law. But we have a reality check for them: we will not let this attack on our basic right to be free from discrimination in health care go unchallenged. We will see them in court, and continue to challenge all of our elected officials to rise up against this blatant attempt to erode critical protections people need and sanction discrimination.”

The rule change comes in the midst of the twin epidemics of COVID-19 and racial violence. Over the past few months, we have witnessed a rash of horrific violence against Black and transgender people: 73% of all transgender and gender non-conforming people killed violently are Black, and seven transgender and gender non-conforming people have been violently killed since March 28 alone. LGBTQ people are also particularly vulnerable to both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. HRC recently published a research brief outlining these risks, finding that many in the LGBTQ community are uniquely vulnerable, as they are more likely to work in highly affected industries, often with more exposure and/or higher economic sensitivity to the COVID-19 crisis, are less likely to have health coverage and are more likely to smoke and have chronic illnesses like asthma. One in five LGBTQ adults have not seen a doctor when needed because they could not afford it. Black LGBTQ adults (23%), Latinx LGBTQ adults (24%) and all transgender women (29%) are most likely to avoid going to the doctor because of costs. Read the full brief here.

HRC has long fought against the Trump-Pence administration’s attempts to revise this rule in a way that would undermine protections for LGBTQ people since it was announced in 2019. HRC, along with its coalition partners, submitted more than 120,000 public comments expressing concerns about the proposed rule that year, with 26,000 coming directly from HRC members. This is the first lawsuit HRC will file after announcing its new impact litigation initiative in October 2019. 

HRC will argue that the removal of protections against sex stereotyping and gender identity exceeds the administration’s authority to define sex discrimination under the ACA and grossly undermines the law’s primary goal of eliminating barriers and broadly expanding access to healthcare and health education programs. Section 1557 of the ACA prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in certain health programs or activities. This landmark provision is the first of its kind to include protections from discrimination based on sex in the context of health care. The definition of “sex” has been consistently interpreted by numerous federal courts and agencies — including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — to include discrimination based on sex stereotyping and gender identity. The Office of Civil Rights at HHS has been successfully accepting complaints and enforcing the ACA to protect LGBTQ people since 2012 and HHS published a final rule implementing the ACA’s civil rights protections to include discrimination based on gender and sex stereotyping in 2016. 

Fear of discrimination causes many LGBTQ people to avoid seeking health care, and when they do enter care, studies indicate that they are not consistently treated with the respect that all patients deserve. Studies by Lambda Legal show that 56% of LGB people and 70% of transgender and gender non-conforming people reported experiencing discrimination by health care providers — including refusal of care, harsh language and physical roughness because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. According to a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 23% of transgender respondents did not see a doctor when they needed to because of fear of being mistreated as a transgender person and a startling 55% of transgender respondents who sought coverage for transition-related surgery were denied. 

According to HRC Foundation’s analysis of the 2018 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), the nation’s premier system of health-related telephone surveys, 17% of LGBTQ adults do not have any kind of health insurance coverage, compared to 12% of non-LGBTQ adults. Furthermore, 23% of LGBTQ adults of color, 22% of transgender adults and 32% of transgender adults of color have no form of health coverage. This can lead to avoidance of medical care even when medically necessary and to severe economic hardship when medical care is ultimately accessed. 

Learn more about Section 1557 in HRC’s fact sheet.

Read more

FDA Loosens Ban on Blood Donations from Gay and Bi+ Men

The Human Rights Campaign’s Equality magazine, the nation’s largest-circulation LGBTQ magazine, is going digital-only for the first time. Read more articles from the Spring 2020 issue at hrc.org/magazine.

One of the many crises the U.S. is facing during the COVID-19 global pandemic is a shortage of blood donors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has long had in place varying restrictions around how and when men who have sex with men can donate blood. In early April, the FDA announced that it was revising those restrictions again to shorten the period of time it requires men who have sex with men to remain abstinent before donating blood.

While this FDA announcement is a step in the right direction, it’s still not enough. We are not yet there with equality in the rules surrounding blood donations, and won’t be until the policy treats all potential donors based on the actual risk their blood poses to the blood supply rather than who they are.

“As the global pandemic wears on, the integrity and safety of the blood supply in this country must be preserved, strengthened and maintained,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “Continuing to enforce the de facto prohibition on blood donation by sexually active gay and bisexual men does not reflect the best science available.”

For decades, HRC has been advocating to bring an end to this policy, and has undertaken a variety of actions around this advocacy since the 1980s. These actions include holding meetings with the American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks, working with and calling on presidential administrations to support changes to the so-called blood ban and partnering with members of the U.S. House and Senate, as well as our coalition partners, to advocate for changes to the policy. 

This work centers on the need for a blood donation policy that reflects current science and an assessment of individual risk, rather than the sexual orientation or gender identity of the prospective donor.

But under the guidelines announced at the beginning of April, a person can give blood days after having unprotected sex, while a gay or bi+ man who has had sex with another man within three months of the date they would like to donate blood — even with condoms and taking HIV prevention medicine such as PrEP — cannot. It is unacceptable for this bias to be the basis for determining eligibility to donate blood.

“Modernization of the policy is essential to ensure that the blood supply remains as safe as possible while maximizing the donor pool,” David said. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., joined David on a virtual press conference with reporters and concurred that the FDA’s upcoming policies should be based on the best public health information, not anti-LGBTQ bias.

“It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic and the resulting urgent blood shortage to make progress on this issue,” Baldwin said. “It’s an important step to addressing an immediate dire blood supply shortage, but the administration needs to change their donation policies to be based on an individual’s risk, rather than blanket deferrals so that all healthy gay and bisexual men are able to donate blood.”

HRC will continue to advocate for full equality with blood donation rules and fight systemic anti-LGBTQ policies. Keep up with our ongoing national advocacy work at hrc.org/explore/topic/ federal-advocacy

Read more

HRC Mourns Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Black Trans Woman Killed in Philadelphia

HRC is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, a Black transgender woman killed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 9. Her death is believed to be at least the 13th violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person this year in the U.S. Local police have already ruled her tragic death a murder and are investigating. As we mourn this loss, HRC has also learned of a second death of a Black transgender woman in Liberty Township, Ohio, Riah Milton, also killed on June 9.

“Black Trans Lives Matter,” said Tori Cooper, HRC director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative. “In the same week countless people across the globe stand up for racial injustice, in the same week we honor the 49 victims of the Pulse massacre in Orlando, in the same week a billionaire author spouts transphobic rhetoric to millions — in this same week, we have lost two more Black transgender women to the same fate most of us worry about every day. Say their names. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. Riah Milton. Riah Milton. Riah Milton. Continue to say the names of every transgender and gender non-conforming person stolen from this Earth. Don’t wait until we are all gone to speak up. This fight belongs to us all.”

“This week, two Black transgender women were killed. This horrifying news comes the same week that we remember the 49 people gunned down at Pulse in Orlando, as millions continue to take to the streets to declare ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and as a billionaire author with a gigantic megaphone continues to spout off transphobic propaganda to her millions of followers,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “Tragedy does not happen in a vacuum, and each of these events show how much work we still must do to ensure dignity and justice for all. These two women — Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton — deserve to have their names known. As our country faces a long-overdue reckoning with the violence and indignities that Black people have dealt with for centuries, we must affirm that Black Trans Lives Matter. And we must do everything we can to ensure that we create policies and laws that lift up our transgender siblings, and communities where transgender people are not targeted for who they are. Today, we mourn alongside Dominique’s and Riah’s loved ones and call for all of us to confront transphobia.”

Friends of Fells are mourning her death online. One personal friend posted online, “Dom was a unique and beautiful soul who I am lucky to have known personally. I am beside myself right now. We need to fight!! We need to do more!!!! We will get justice.”

Local authorities are encouraging those who may have information concerning Fells’ death to contact Philadelphia Police Department by dialing 911, calling the PPD Anonymous Tipline at 215-686-TIPS, or submitting a tip via the PPD website (phillypolice.com). Anyone who is not comfortable contacting the police can get in touch with the Office of LGBT for facilitation.

The Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs also issued the following statement in response to Fells’ death: “As thousands take to the streets to proclaim that Black Lives Matter, it is critical we remember that this includes Black trans lives. Dominique Rem’mie Fells’ life mattered. We are reminded with this, and countless other painful losses — especially within our transgender communities — that there is much left to do until we achieve full equality, respect, and support for us all. The murder of transgender people — especially those of color — is truly an epidemic, and a crisis that we cannot afford to allow to persist any further. We are committed to ensuring that acts of discrimination, bigotry, and hatred are never tolerated in the city of Philadelphia. Know that we see you, we grieve with you, and we join you in solidarity at this time of great sadness.”

“This week, two Black transgender women were killed. This horrifying news comes the same week that we remember the 49 people gunned down at Pulse in Orlando, as millions continue to take to the streets to declare ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and as a billionaire author with a gigantic megaphone continues to spout off transphobic propaganda to her millions of followers,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “Tragedy does not happen in a vacuum, and each of these events show how much work we still must do to ensure dignity and justice for all. These two women — Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton — deserve to have their names known. As our country faces a long-overdue reckoning with the violence and indignities that Black people have dealt with for centuries, we must affirm that Black Trans Lives Matter. And we must do everything we can to ensure that we create policies and laws that lift up our transgender siblings, and communities where transgender people are not targeted for who they are. Today, we mourn alongside Dominique’s and Riah’s loved ones and call for all of us to confront transphobia.”

In November 2019, ahead of Transgender Day of Remembrance, HRC Foundation released “A National Epidemic: Fatal Anti-Transgender Violence in America in 2019,” a heartbreaking report honoring the trans people killed and detailing the contributing and motivating factors that lead to this tragic violence — a toxic mix of transphobia, racism and misogyny. Sadly, 2019 saw at least 26 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. We say at least because too often these stories go unreported — or misreported.

There are currently very few explicit federal legal protections for transgender or gender-expansive people. At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in Pennsylvania are not explicitly protected in employment, housing or in public spaces. They are also not covered under the state’s hate crimes legislation. Nationally, despite some marginal gains in state and local policies that support and affirm transgender people, recent years have been marked by anti-LGBTQ attacks at all levels of government. 

We must demand better from our elected officials and reject harmful anti-transgender legislation appearing at the local, state and federal levels because it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color. The intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, biphobia and homophobia conspire to deprive them of necessities to live and thrive.

This epidemic of violence that disproportionately targets transgender people of color — particularly Black transgender women — must cease.

For more information about HRC’s transgender justice work, visit hrc.org/Transgender.

Read more

Human Rights Campaign Designates Juneteenth as an Organizational Holiday

Today, the Human Rights Campaign announced the establishment of Juneteenth as an organizational holiday. 

“Juneteenth is the culmination of countless seen and unseen efforts by enslaved peoples and abolitionists. It is a clarion call that we still hear today, a call that we have been pressed to answer thanks to the millions of people who are advocating for racial justice at Black Lives Matter protests, and in less visible ways,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “Every Juneteenth from this year moving forward, employees at the Human Rights Campaign will have the opportunity to reflect on our shared journey, and how we can  further racial equity, individually, organizationally and globally. None of us is free unless all of us are free, a truth made clear by the very fact that it took more than two years for news of emancipation to reach enslaved people in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. With this designation, we proudly and publicly recommit to continue working on behalf of all marginalized people for full equality.”

The decision to make Juneteenth an organizational holiday is one more articulation of the vision and commitment that David made to make racial equity a cornerstone of HRC’s work when he joined the organization in August 2019 which includes adopting racial equity and inclusion principles for the staff, volunteer leadership and boards; launching a transgender justice initiative; launching an initiative to address voter suppression efforts that further marginalize minority communities at the ballot box; and expanding the scope of the organization’s work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Juneteenth is the annual commemoration emancipation and the end of slavery that has been celebrated in the United States since June 19, 1865. It is often celebrated by organizing politically to strengthen civil rights for Black people in America. 

Earlier this month, the Human Rights Campaign organized a letter, joined by prominent LGBTQ and civil rights organizations, condemning racism, racial violence and police brutality while calling for action to combat these scourges. The letter is now signed by 800+ leaders of the nation’s most prominent LGBTQ and civil rights organizations.

Read more