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John Lewis

Human Rights Campaign Remembers Civil Rights Icon Congressman John Lewis

HRC responded to the tragic news that U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-GA) has passed away at the age of 80.

“Congressman John Lewis is a hero and civil rights icon who pushed our country closer to the promise of a more perfect union,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “Future generations will learn how he faced down discrimination with courage and defiance, boldly challenging the United States to envision a future where every person, no matter their race, sexual orientation or gender identity, has an equal chance at the American Dream. His legacy will live on in the work we do every day to further his mission and continue to get into ‘good trouble’ in the name of equality and justice. We join the nation in mourning the loss of this giant, and share our deepest condolences with Congressman Lewis’ family and loved ones.”

In addition to his decades of service to the American people as a civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman, Congressman Lewis has been a long time, outspoken advocate for LGBTQ equality.Speaking at HRC’s 2016 National Dinner, he said of the LGBTQ community: “You and I are partners. We are part of an ongoing struggle to redeem the soul of America, to help people in this country and around the world come to grips with one simple truth: we are one people. We are one family. We are the human family.”

Congressman Lewis worked closely with Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) during the drafting of the Equality Act and was a lead sponsor of the legislation — a bipartisan bill which would finally add clear, comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people to our nation’s civil rights laws. He has a perfect 100 rating on HRC’s Congressional Scorecard and, among other things, was also the lead sponsor of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would prohibit federally funded child welfare service providers from discriminating against children, families and individuals based on religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status.

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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.

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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.

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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

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