A police officer caught in a Christmas Day bombing incident in Nashville has spoken about hoping to make it home to her wife ahead of the explosion.
Officer Amanda Topping is among six officers from the Metro Nashville Police Department who have earned praise for their actions preventing casualties on 25 December after a camper van exploded on Second Avenue in downtown Nashville.
Bombing suspect Anthony Warner, 63, is believed to have died in the blast, which occurred after police were called to the scene – with the vehicle rigged to play an ominous automated message and the vintage song “Downtown” as it counted down to the detonation.
Three civilians were hurt in the explosion, with Topping and her colleagues hailed as “heroes” by local officials for their quick work to prevent further casualties by evacuating the area.
Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Topping spoke about being called to the incident after an “odd” call on Christmas morning.
Topping, who has been with the department for two years, said: “We were sitting [in the station], and my wife had just called because it was toward the end of our shift, so she was seeing what time I was coming home.
“I’m talking to her, and I told her, ‘We’re about to head to this call, it’s a little strange.’ I hung up with her, and we get there but we didn’t really know. too much about it.”
After getting to the scene, she recalled: “I heard what the RV was saying, and it’s stuff that I’ll never forget – it was a female voice saying, ‘Your primary objective is to evacuate. Evacuate now.’
“I was pacing back and forth, having to turn pedestrians around… you just have a feeling, ‘Something’s not right.’ You just don’t get stuff like that.
“I was standing there by my car, and I heard [another officer] say that music just came on. I was about to get on the radio and say, ‘I know it’s not my place, but everybody’s getting out of the buildings, right?’
“I was getting really antsy… I had talked to my wife again and told her things were really strange.”
A gay Black man in Boston, Massachusetts, who was stabbed and left in a coma for four days, is living in fear knowing his attackers are still “out there”.
Anthony Crumbley was walking home from a bar in South Boston at about 10.45 pm on 18 December when he was attacked, according toCBS Boston.
The 25-year-old said: “The two males and a female approached me and two males attacked me and stabbed me in my neck and in my stomach, and pretty much ran and left me there.”
Suffering life-threatening injuries and left the bleed out on the ground, Crumbley was taken to Boston Medical Center where he spent four days in a coma in the hospital’s ICU.
Police have released a CCTV photo of people they would like to speak to in connection with the attack, but reportedly said they have no reason to believe the stabbing was a hate crime.
Crumbley insisted: “I believe it was an attack that had to do with gay hate because, you know, I dress very femme and I’m a very outspoken person.”
Still recovering in hospital, the young gay man said he is living in fear and struggling to make ends meet after being stabbed.
He wrote on a GoFundMe page: “No one has been arrested for doing this to me and I’m scared, truthfully, knowing they are still out there on the streets and could do this to me again at anytime.
“This traumatising situation has left me hopeless, after waking up from being in a coma for four days in the ICU at Boston Medical and I’m STILL here in the ICU now writing this on my birthday, December 26th.”
Crumbley’s mother passed away one year ago, and he is the legal guardian of his 12-year-old sister.
He continued: “Before all this happened I was very energetic and outgoing, always doing what was needed to make ends meet for me and my younger sister. I just don’t know how I’m going to make ends meet now with this gained disability from my attackers.”
He said that after the attack, his left arm is now not functional because of “the severed nerves in my C6 section of my shoulder”.
He continued: “I have to figure out how I’m going to ever finish raising my sister the way she deserves and give her everything I never had… Working won’t be an option for me at the moment until I can fully recover, so even though this hurts me and is so embarrassing to say I’m asking for help from anyone and everyone who knows me personally or who this even touches the slightest.”
Anyone with information is asked to call Boston Police at 617-343-4742.
LGBT+ campaigners have claimed a victory over Donald Trump, after the president sought to ban forms of diversity training among federal contractors and grantees.
Under the controversial executive order signed by Trump in September, organisations in receipt of federal funds are prohibited from training involving so-called “divisive concepts such as critical race theory, white privilege, systemic racism, or implicit or unconscious bias”.
As Trump issued the order, the White House lashed out at a “destructive ideology… grounded in misrepresentations of our country’s history and its role in the world”, as it barred federal contractors from teaching that white people bear collective responsibility for slavery.
Subsequent guidance issued by the Trump White House instructed federal agencies to clamp down on training about intersectionality – the idea that the intersections of race, class, gender and sexual orientation create intersecting layers of privilege and discrimination.
Judge hits pause on Donald Trump’s diversity training ban
While the executive order is already likely destined for the bonfire when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take office next month, a challenge brought by LGBT+ groups has secured a preliminary injunction to prevent the Trump administration from implementing it and cutting funding for federal contractors.
District court judge Beth Labson Freeman ruled on 22 December that a challenge on the grounds of free speech was likely to succeed, noting that “the executive order restricts a federal contractor’s ability to use its own funds, to train its own employees, on matters that potentially have nothing to do with the federal contract”.
The Trump administration had sought to argue it would be in the “public interest” to ban such training, but the judge hit out their claims as a “gross mischaracterisation of the speech [the groups] want to express and an insult to their work of addressing discrimination and injustice towards historically underserved communities”.
The challenge was brought by a coalition of LGBT+ and civil rights groups, including the the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Santa Cruz Diversity Center, the AIDS Foundation, and LGBT+ elder advocacy group SAGE.
Injunction will allow LGBT+ groups to continue providing diversity training
“This injunction could not come at a more crucial time,” said SAGE CEO Michael Adams. “We have already had trainings cancelled because of the threat of this executive order, trainings that are integral to SAGE’s ability to do its work on behalf of LGBT+ older adults in a meaningful and impactful way that recognises explicitly the impact of systemic racism, sexism, and anti-LGBT+ bias on our communities and the country writ large.”
Dr Ward Carpenter of Los Angeles LGBT Center said in a statement: “President Trump’s executive order struck at the very heart of our country’s core principles, limiting freedom of speech and curtailing efforts to explore root causes of inequality.”
Ward added: “We applaud the court’s decision to halt this mean-spirited and destructive executive order, and we look forward to a new administration that will actually support efforts to address systemic discrimination and promote equality.”
A Democratic politician has resigned from his leadership role on Providence City Council after he was recorded referring to a Black transgender activist as “it”.
Recordings surfaced last week of councilman Michael Correia, who represents ward 6 of Providence in Rhode Island, mocking trans activist Justice Gaines.
The recording sees Correia and an unnamed staffer mocking and misgendering Gaines over a run for city council, with the councilman saying: “[She’s] still working on developing [her] breasts and everything.”
Asked what Gaines would be called if elected, Correia responds: “An it. It.”
The Democratic lawmaker notably failed to apologise in his initial statement,claiming the secret recordings were a “grave intrusion of privacy” and had been taken out of context. He also suggested it was illegal to record someone without their consent in Rhode Island, which it is not.
Michael Correia ‘regrets’ causing hurt with ‘flippant’ remarks.
However, after a wave of anger in the city and calls from colleagues for him to step aside, Correia has since resigned from his position as the council’s president pro tempore.
Correia said in a Facebook post: “As someone who has spent the greater part of my adult life serving my community and city, I regret that my words may have hurt anyone in the LGBTQIA community, my friends, family colleagues and constituents in that community.
“I know that LGBTQIA people struggle, face discrimination and abuse and to think that I may have somehow contributed to that sentiment is unacceptable and for that I truly apologise.
“I would like to personally apologize to Justice Gaines for any hurt that I may have inflicted on her. My words were flippant and inappropriate as a leader and as a person.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I may from time to time try to joke around but I would do anything to help someone who needed it regardless of who they are or their station in life. There is no place for discrimination in our city and again I apologize to Justice for anything I have done to hurt her.”
Correia also called for “sensitivity training” to be offered to city council members and council staff “so that we can collectively understand the importance of a safe and respectful environment”.
Despite resigning from his leadership role, Correia will remain a member of the city council.
LGBTQ staffers who are familiar faces from the Obama years are among the choices for the upcoming Biden administration as the transition continues to ramp up. One prominent LGBTQ Trump supporter is among the appointments President Trump has made prior to his exit.
Stuart Delery, who served during the Obama years as acting U.S. associate attorney general and was the most senior openly LGBTQ official in the U.S. Justice Department’s history, was announced Wednesday as White House deputy counsel for President-elect Joe Biden.
Delery, currently a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP, was also assistant attorney general for the Civil Division, a role in which he supervised the defense of the U.S. law in court on behalf of the federal government, and was senior counselor to Attorney General Eric Holder, according to his bio. Delery now lives in Washington, D.C., with his husband and two children
Gautam Raghavan, who served as White House LGBTQ liaison under former President Obama and was chief of staff to Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), was also tapped as deputy director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office.
Annise Parker, CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement Wednesday Raghavan’s appointment “demonstrates the President-elect’s long-term commitment to building an administration that is reflective of America.”
“He believes a diverse administration best serves the president and our nation and will ensure appointing qualified LGBTQ people, women and people of color at every level of government remains a priority for the next four years,” Parker said. “Gautam also understands our community is not monolithic and that LGBTQ people of all races, sexual orientations and gender identities must be part of the new administration.”
More LGBTQ appointees may be on the way. Biden, to great fanfare, has previously announced Pete Buttigieg would be his pick for transportation secretary, potentially making him the first Senate-confirmed Cabinet appointee.
Few Cabinet-level positions are remaining for LGBTQ people to fill. Randi Weingarten and Denise Juneau, former superintendent of the Seattle public school system, had come up possible names for education secretary, but Biden ended up picking Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardono.
But the role of head of the U.S. Small Business Administration is still open. Fred Hochberg, who during the Obama years served as head of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, continues to be talked about as a possibility.
Biden has also yet to name his choice for U.S. attorney general. Maura Healey, who as Massachusetts Attorney General became the first openly gay state attorney general, has been named as a possibility, but she’s viewed as a long-shot amid reports Biden has narrowed his choice to either Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) or U.S. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland.
The LGBTQ Victory Institute, which seeks to help qualified LGBTQ people obtain positions in the U.S. government, has been renewing its efforts calling on Biden to name a transgender person for an appointment subject to Senate confirmation, sources familiar with the talks told the Blade. No openly transgender person has ever sought or obtained Senate confirmation for a presidential appointment in U.S. history.
Although no exact position was named, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, who was passed over for Biden’s choice as U.S. surgeon general, still comes up. Others are Amanda Simpson, who as the first transgender woman presidential appointee served in the departments of defense and homeland security during the Obama years, and Shawn Skelly, a transgender veteran and Obama alum who currently serves on Biden’s landing team for the Defense Department.
Securing the appointment of a transgender person during the Biden administration has openly been one of the main goals of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, in addition to the naming of a Senate-confirmed openly LGBTQ Cabinet official. Another goal is the naming of an LGBTQ woman, transgender person or person of color to a position of U.S. ambassador.
Jamal Brown, a Biden transition spokesperson, responded with a general comment when asked by the Blade via email about potential LGBTQ appointments.
“President-elect Biden is working to build an administration that looks like America, starting with the first woman of South Asian descent and first Black woman to be vice president-elect, as well as a slate of historic nominees and appointees, to-date,” Brown said. “Over the coming weeks, our team will continue to build upon President-elect Biden’s legacy of advancing LGBTQ+ equality by shaping a government that reflects the breadth and diversity of our nation.”
Meanwhile, on the same day, President Trump shook things up with a slew of pardons and railed in a video he posted to Twitter against the coronavirus spending package, the the White House announced he had selected Richard Grenell as a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.
Grenell, a Trump loyalist who as former acting director of national intelligence was the first openly gay Cabinet member and was the face of LGBTQ outreach for Trump’s re-election campaign, was among three individuals given seats on the council on Tuesday.
It remains to be seen whether Grenell will seek to amplify the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s mission to highlight gay and bisexual men who were victims of the Holocaust. Grenell didn’t respond via Twitter to comment.
“Club Kid Killer” Michael Alig — the famously flamboyant party promoter who ended up busted for murder — has been found dead of a suspected drug overdose in his Manhattan apartment, officials said Friday.
The 54-year-old former scene fixture and convict was discovered by a friend just before midnight Christmas Eve in his Washington Heights pad, authorities said.
Detectives recovered several zip-lock plastic bags, possibly containing heroin, from the home, as well as drug paraphernalia, officials said.
Growing up in a military family in Atlanta, Joshua Gravett said he knew he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Eddie, and older brother, Justin, both sergeants first class in the Army. There was just one problem: He was gay.
Despite the military’s policy at the time of prohibiting gay men and lesbians from serving openly, Gravett, then just 17, enlisted in the Army in 2003 and kept his sexuality a secret for eight years.
“You can’t have any type of relationships whatsoever. I wouldn’t be seen with anybody else that could be considered gay,” Gravett said, noting that just being suspected of being gay could get you kicked out.
President Barack Obama signed a bill setting in motion the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” on Dec. 22, 2010, but it wasn’t until after the policy was officially repealed in 2011 that Gravett finally started to come out to his friends and family. He also recalled the relief he felt just being able to put a photo of his partner on his desk at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and bring a same-sex date to a military formal.
“I could just be myself without risking the loss of my career that I had already put almost a decade into,” Gravett, now 35 and a sergeant first class stationed in Texas, told NBC News. “It was like a huge weight lifted off me.”
Gravett recalled being “happy” the day President Barack Obama signed the repeal bill but said he “still couldn’t be out until it took effect” nine months later.
“It was almost like finding out you are getting promoted, but it isn’t real until it actually happens,” he said.
An estimated 13,000 service members were discharged in the 17 years the policy was in effect, according to data the military provided to The Associated Press.
A decade after the demise of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” much has changed for LGBTQ Americans, but several gay service members and military experts say the policy’s dark shadow still lingers.
A defunct policy’s lingering shadow
When President Bill Clinton signed “don’t ask, don’t tell” into law in 1993, it was a compromise between the White House and Congress to end the existing policy of outright banning gay service members that had dated to World War II. Under the new policy — which passed 77-22, with bipartisan support — gay men, lesbians and bisexuals were in theory permitted to serve in the military, but they would be “separated from the armed forces” if they revealed themselves to be homosexual or bisexual, tried to marry a person of the same sex, or there was evidence they had engaged in same-sex sexual activity.
Gravett said the policy has left a “hurtful” legacy, and he mentioned being a part of several Facebook groups where former service members lament losing their military careers because of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and not being able to serve again.
He also noted that many service members who were ousted under the policy are not aware that they may be able to seek remedies from the military.
“Most people that got out under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ can get their discharges upgraded from general discharge to honorable discharge,” he said, encouraging those who haven’t tried already to do so.
Jennifer Dane, a Texas native who joined the military at 22 and served as an intelligence analyst in the Air Force from 2010 to 2016, said that when it comes to “don’t ask, don’t tell,” there are “still unintended consequences that aren’t even explored to the fullest, even 10 years later.”
Dane, now 33, said she was stationed in Tucson, Arizona, when she was investigated under “don’t ask, don’t tell” after reporting that she has been sexually assaulted by an airman. Over the course of the investigation, Dane said her sexuality came to light, which turned the investigation toward her. The investigation stopped after Obama signed the repeal bill, according to Dane.
Now the executive director of the Modern Military Association of America, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ veterans and their families, Dane said she would like to see some of these past “wrongs” caused by the policy “written right,” like a public apology from the government or even just “making sure that we don’t do policies that are harmful” again.
Dane added that some LGBTQ veterans who were discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” still do not get access to medical care, the GI Bill and military pensions. This does not include the emotional trauma that service members endured under the policy, she added.
Aaron Belkin is the founder of the Palm Center, an independent research institute in San Francisco that focuses on LGBTQ military issues. His organization helped make the case for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“We did 10 years of research into that question of whether it’s true that gay lesbians hurt the military, and what our research found was that it’s discrimination that hurts the military, not gays and lesbians,” Belkin said.
Belkin, Dane and Gravett all drew parallels between the former ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military and the current ban on transgender service members from doing so.
“The Trump administration’s transgender ban is ‘don’t ask, don’t tell for transgender troops, and the similarities are striking,” Belkin said. His organization, using 2016 data from the Department of Defense, estimates there are currently 14,700 transgender service memberson active duty or in the reserves.
‘A new era of LGBTQ rights’
One of the thousands of currently serving transgender service members is Iowa native Samuel Payntr. Now 22, Payntr began serving openly as a transgender man in the Navy at 19 when he got to his ship stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. He began hormone treatment the day before the ban on trans troops serving openly took effect on April 11, 2019. He said that while some were accepting of his transition, others weren’t sure how to respond, because it was seen as a “gray area” at the time.
“I had to really be careful about what I said around some people regarding my personal life and my sexual orientation in my transition, because there were quite a few people that had very negative remarks,” said Paytnr, who is able to serve openly as transgender because he joined the military before the transgender ban was reinstated. “I’ve had some kind of bad things happen, but the good kind of always outweigh the bad with the people that did support me.”
Transgender individuals with no history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria are technically still allowed to join the military and serve under the policy, though they must do so as their birth sex. Payntr explained that some hormone treatments make some service members ineligible to serve, adding he knows both trans service members who were terminated after the ban went into effect and those who were not depending on their diagnosis.
“Luckily, depending on the command we were at or the branch we were in, we had the people who were very knowledgeable in our transition defend us and be like, ‘No, this does not affect your service,’ and that’s literally what happened to me and quite a few other people that I know that are in the Navy who are transitioning,” he said.
In his policy platform, President-elect Joe Biden stated that he will “reverse the transgender military ban.” And since the ban was enforced as a presidential directive, Biden would be able to reverse it unilaterally. Payntr expressed optimism that Biden will make good on this promise.
At the 2020 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference this month, Biden honored Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for her work in repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” a decade ago and appeared to hint at a future repeal of the current trans military ban.
“I can’t wait to work together with you again and to continue to fight for full equality and usher in a new era of LGBTQ rights and the entire movement,” said Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20.
The newly engaged couple Kasey Mayfield and Brianna May did not expect to ignite an online backlash when they shared on Facebook a recent email exchange that Mayfield had with an employee at a North Carolina wedding venue.
In the exchange, Mayfield mentions potential wedding dates, the estimated number of guests and the “other bride.” In response, the venue informed her that The Warehouse on Ivy in Winston-Salem does “not host same sex marriage ceremonies.”
“If you’re wondering how wedding planning is going…thanks so much to The Warehouse on Ivy for letting us know we’re not welcome,” May captioned the photo of the exchange, which had over 1,400 shares on Tuesday.
“I was kind of speechless,” Mayfield said of reading the email. “I just had to like hand the phone over to Bri when I got it.”
“I had hoped that this wouldn’t happen in North Carolina, but I thought there was a chance it may. I didn’t expect it from a venue in Winston,” added Mayfield, 25, who has lived in the area for the past 10 years. May, 29, was born and raised in Winston-Salem.
The couple met on the dating app Bumble over two years ago and got engaged last month while listening to their favorite album, “Golden Hour” by Kacey Musgraves. They had only just started planning for their wedding, which they hope to hold in the fall of 2022. Mayfield said she and May first heard of The Warehouse on Ivy through the online wedding resource Wedding Wire.https://www.facebook.com/v2.10/plugins/post.php?app_id=&channel=https%3A%2F%2Fstaticxx.facebook.com%2Fx%2Fconnect%2Fxd_arbiter%2F%3Fversion%3D46%23cb%3Df3dc6d7212d2b2a%26domain%3Dwww.nbcnews.com%26origin%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.nbcnews.com%252Ff330e4902461704%26relation%3Dparent.parent&container_width=480&href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fbrianna.may.395%2Fposts%2F10220437554034235&locale=en_US&sdk=joey&show_text=true&width=auto
The venue did not tell May and Mayfield why it does not host same-sex marriage ceremonies. However, in an email exchange with NBC News, the same email account, which lists the sender’s name as Daniel Stanley, confirmed the couple’s assumptions surrounding the decision.
“We will allow anyone of any color, race, religion or belief to use our venue at any given time,” the email stated. “Although we love and respect everyone in our community, their own decision making and beliefs, we also strongly believe in our Christian values.”
Multiple attempts to confirm that the statement was sent by Stanley, whose LinkedIn account says he’s the venue’s director, were ignored, as were questions surrounding the venue’s ownership.
According to North Carolina incorporation filings, The Warehouse on Ivy is owned by STC Properties of Forsyth County and lists Thomas Collins and Scott Sechler as the company’s managers. Reporting from The Winston-Salem Monthly, which features interviews with the Sechler family about the recently opened venue, confirms Sechler’s ownership.
Multiple attempts to reach Sechler and Collins were unsuccessful, and by Monday the venue had taken down its Facebook and Instagram pages.
‘Free to discriminate’
The issue of where anti-discrimination laws begin and First Amendment and religious liberty rights end remains something of an open question legally — and much of it depends on state law.
In the high-profile 2018 case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled in favor of Christian baker Jack Phillips, who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. But instead of answering the fundamental question of whether it is legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation, the high court simply found that Phillips’ concerns weren’t fairly considered by Colorado officials.
In a similar case, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that Arlene Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, was in violation of that state’s anti-discrimination law for refusing to provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding ceremony. The shop has appealed, for the second time, to the Supreme Court. Its petition is pending.
With no explicit state protections and no federal legislation banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination in public accommodations, a state like North Carolina leaves little room for legal recourse, according to Paul Smith, a Georgetown Law School professor who argued the landmark 2003 LGBTQ rights case Lawrence v. Texas before the Supreme Court.
“The only shot would seem to be finding a state law that prohibits sex discrimination in the provision of goods and services and then convincing North Carolina to read ‘sex discrimination’ in its law as broadly as the majority did in Bostock [v. Clayton County, Georgia],” Smith said, referring to the landmark ruling this year that found that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 offered workplace discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Rick Su, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, was even less optimistic when it comes to the state.
“North Carolina has no state law on public accommodations not related to disabilities and no anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT identity,” Su told NBC News. “Given there is no federal law protecting LGBT [people] either, this would mean that the wedding venue is free to discriminate.”
There are, however, two things that could potentially change this in the near future: the Equality Act and Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The former is proposed federal legislation that would add LGBTQ protections to existing federal civil rights law. It passed in the House last year, and President-elect Joe Biden has said he would like to sign it within his first 100 days in office.
The latter is a case before the Supreme Court that will determine whether a government-funded, religiously affiliated child welfare agency can circumvent local nondiscrimination laws and refuse to work with LGBTQ people. If the justices issue a broad ruling in the case, it could have far-reaching implications, according to legal experts.
A silver lining
Mayfield said she and May “aren’t considering legal action at this time,” but she added that they are “urging our friends to email legislators to help try and pass discrimination laws for LGBTQ people.”
In addition to advocating for legislative action, the couple also wants to get the word out to the local LGBTQ community about The Warehouse on Ivy’s policies.
“We have a lot of gay friends in our circle, so I wanted to hopefully save people the time and, kind of, hurt and energy, from getting rejected based on our sexual orientation,” May said of their decision to go public about the ordeal.
In addition to receiving “kind and encouraging words” in response to her now-viral Facebook post, May said she’s also received some helpful wedding tips and offers.
“We’ve gotten so many wonderful recommendations for other vendors and venues, and we’ve had people offering services,” she said.
Summing up the experience — from the venue’s rejection to the viral social media response to the messages of support — Mayfield said it’s all been “definitely overwhelming, but in a good way.”
In the wake of extended deliberations, Congress included in its deal to provide coronavirus relief and fund the government for fiscal year 2021 an increase of $137 million for the Trump administration’s plan to beat HIV/AIDS, but stopped short of the full request, much to the disappointment of advocates fighting the epidemic.
The $1.4 trillion deal, unveiled Monday after days of negotiations amid fears of a potential government shutdown, notably includes $600 in stimulus checks to U.S. adults and new money for small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program. In mere hours after the deal became public, Congress voted to approve the measure Monday evening.
The deal, however, also contains funds for the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, which seeks to beat the HIV epidemic by 2030.
The FY-21 deal appropriated $403 million for the initiative, increasing the FY-20 funding levels by $137 million. The $137 million increase breaks down as follows:
$35 million for Centers for Disease Control’s HIV prevention efforts;
$35 million for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program;
$52 million for HRSA Community Health Centers to focus on PrEP to prevent HIV transmission;
$5 million for Indian Health Service for HIV and hepatitis; and
$10 million for National Institute for Health’s Centers for AIDS Research.
The final package also includes important funding increases for other domestic HIV programs, including an increase of $20 million for HUD’s Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS, or HOPWA, $1.5 million for the Minority HIV/AIDS Fund and $1 million for the CDC’s School Health program.
But the funding is a far cry from the $412 million increase sought by the Department of Health & Human Services, making a total appropriation of $678 million in FY-21, to ramp up the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative in each designated high-incident jurisdiction with testing, linkage to care and PrEP activities.
Carl Schmid, executive director of the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute, said in a statement the funds Congress appropriated aren’t what the Trump administration, or advocates against HIV/AIDS, were seeking, but he was hopeful they would be enough to keep the initiative going.
“We thank the president for initially proposing and now the Congress for including increased funding for the second year of the Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative,” Schmid said. “While it is not as much as we anticipated, it is reassuring that both the House and Senate, in a bipartisan fashion, support increases to our public health efforts so that we can continue the momentum already created and make further progress in ending HIV in the U.S.”
Evan Hollander, a House Appropriations Committee spokesperson, said the $403 million allocated by Congress represents a 48.8 percent increase, which he said “far outpaces the overall increase in non-defense discretionary spending.”
Taking a jab at the Trump administration, Hollander said the $678 million sought by the Trump administration sounds better than it is because it was “predicated on cuts to other labor, health and human services, and education programs.”
Hollander said House Democrats included $100 million in the Heroes Act, the $4 trillion COVID-19 relief passed in October, but Republicans “insisted on dramatic cuts to the emergency appropriations that were included in that bill.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article. The White House referred the Blade to the Office of Management & Budget, which didn’t respond to a request to comment. HHS also didn’t respond to a request to comment.
Jennifer Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was more bleak in her assessment and openly wondered if the amount Congress appropriated would be enough to complete the HIV initiative by its 2030 goals.
“The funding in the bill for the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative is below the president’s request, and it’s unclear if this will be sufficient for reaching the initiative’s goals within the timeline, particularly since the timeline itself has already been threatened by COVID-19,” Kates said.
Meanwhile, Congress also agreed to reject the draconian cuts the Trump administration had sought for global AIDS programs as part of its FY-21 budget request.
The deal allocated $5.9 billion for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, the same amount as FY-20 and $2.1 billion above Trump’s request. Congress also allocated $1.56 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is $903 million above Trump’s request.
Jessica Bassett, a spokesperson for the New York-based grassroots group Health GAP, said via email to the Blade, however, the allocation for global programs is “another punt from Congress when what people with HIV need is urgent, decisive action.”
“The U.S. was already underfunding its share of the global AIDS response via PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria – and that was before COVID-19,” Bassett said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated weaknesses in the HIV response, triggering life-threatening disruptions to HIV treatment, prevention, and care for adults and children, and undermining years of progress in the fight against HIV in just a matter of months.”
Bassett concluded she wants to see big changes when the Biden administration begins on Jan. 20, when she said Congress “won’t be able to use Trump’s perennial slash-and-burn budget proposals as cover for flatlining global AIDS funding.”
“The Biden-Harris administration should work with Congress to deliver a bold global HIV catch-up plan to save lives, particularly the lives of those who have suffered the most during the pandemics: LGBTQ+ people, children, pregnant people, sex workers, people who use drugs, and incarcerated people,” Bassett said. “Scaling up the U.S. investment to put the global AIDS response back on track must be a priority for the new administration, first to mitigate the harms done by COVID-19, and then year after year to successfully expand access to
Undeterred by being in the lame duck for Congress, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved the nomination of Stephen Schwartz to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Federal Claims, a nominee with an anti-LGBTQ record who rounds out the unprecedented number of judges confirmed under President Trump.
The vote on the Schwartz confirmation was a strict 49-47 party-line vote, with Republican senators, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), voting to approve the Trump pick while Democratic senators voted to reject him.
Nominated by Trump in June 2017, Schwartz’ nomination had been pending for more than two years and takes place in lame duck just before the end of the Trump administration and after the 2020 election when senators would be held accountable for their votes. Schwartz, 34, was confirmed to serve for a 15-year term on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Federal Claims.
When North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ House Bill 2 was challenged in court, Schwartz represented the North Carolina legislature in defending the law, which barred municipalities from enacting LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinances and transgender people from using bathrooms in state-owned properties consistent with their gender identity.
Schwartz has also served as counsel to the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia in seeking to bar transgender student Gavin Grimm from access the restroom consistent with his gender identity. After ruling in favor of Grimm, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in September refused to reconsider the case “en banc” at the request of the school.
Schwartz, in written responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee, denied his roles in the litigation would have any bearing on his approach as a federal appeals judge because he has “represented a diversity” of interests.
“Like many judicial nominees, I have represented a wide variety of clients in cases involving a wide variety of issues,” Schwartz wrote. “While some of them have been associated with political controversy, I have also been involved in a large amount of general commercial litigation with little, if any, political salience. I have represented farmers, small-boat cod fishermen, family business owners, and an inmate of the New York State prison system. I have been both aligned with and adverse to the federal government’s positions at various times.”
Asked specially about representing Gloucester County School Board against Grimm, Schwartz declined to offer go into details, but said he supports “privacy and dignity” for all people.
“This question refers to a pending case in which I currently represent one of the parties,” Schwartz wrote. “My obligations as an advocate make it inappropriate for me to answer this question in detail. I do believe that everyone is entitled to basic privacy and dignity.”
Sasha Buchert, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, said in a statement the confirmation Schwartz “another dark day for the U.S. judiciary and the latest attack on LGBTQ people from the Trump-Pence Administration.”
“Among the terrible catalogue of Trump’s nominees, Schwartz ranks at the top because of the extreme damage we know he would inflict upon our communities and institutions,” Buchert said. “Now, he will serve for 15 years on a consequential court that oversees LGBT issues in the military, and the balance between government actions and the people.”
To counterbalance Trump’s picks, progressives have been pushing the expansion of the judiciary, otherwise known as packing the court, when Biden takes office with Democratic choices, although that plan will likely not come to fruition after Democrats came up short in Senate pickups in the 2020 election.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Schwartz’s record of litigating against LGBTQ right makes him unfit for the judiciary.
“Schwartz has made his career by actively working to undermine LGBTQ rights — from defending North Carolina’s House Bill 2 that mandated discrimination against LGBTQ people to supporting Gloucester County School Board’s discriminatory restroom policy that segregrated transgender students from their peers,” David said. “Schwartz is unqualified and unfit for any court, yet the Republican leadership in the Senate is attempting to advance his nomination through the lame duck with only days until President-elect Biden takes office.”
Other anti-LGBTQ judges confirmed under Trump are U.S. District Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, who served as deputy general counsel First Liberty Institute, which represented an Oregon refusing to make a wedding cake of a same-sex couple; and U.S. Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan, who also had a role in litigation against Grimm. More recently as a judge, Duncan refused to recognize the personal pronouns of a transgender inmate.