Scotland’s gender recognition bill would have introduced gender self-identification in a similar way to that of Finland’s new law – and legislation which already exists in 18 other countries.
The new Finnish law – passed by 113 votes to 69 – removes the requirement for trans people to be sterilised and obtain a psychiatric diagnosis in order for them to get legal gender recognition.
Under Finland’s current legislation, which Amnesty International states is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, a person has to provide proof of infertility before they can be granted legal gender recognition.
“The vote comes as a result of more than a decade of campaigning by civil society groups and is a testament to the commitment of activists who have fought long and hard – often in the face of toxic rhetoric – to see this day.”
“While this new law will have a huge and positive impact and provide an important pillar for non-discrimination, more must still be done,” Pihlajamaa continued, “Excluding children from legal gender recognition violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“We will continue to call on the government to amend the legislation accordingly to ensure it advances the rights of children.”
In a statement, Finnish LGBTQ+ rights organisation Seta said: “Victory for human rights! #Translaki strengthens human rights in Finland. Next, the rights of children and young people must be protected!
“A huge thank you to all the organisations and partners who voted in favour of the law and made an impact!”
Tennessee’s recent decision to reject over $8 million in federal funds to combat HIV was motivated, at least in part, by right-wing provocateurs stoking anti-LGBTQ sentiment, according to four sources within the state Health Department.
The move by Republican Gov. Bill Lee will hamstring, if not cripple, efforts to combat one of the country’s most poorly controlled epidemics of the virus, HIV advocates said.
The announcement followed a political crisis in Tennessee that began in September when conservative media personalities, including Matt Walsh and Ben Shapiro, launched attacks on Vanderbilt University Medical Center over its care of transgender minors, which they alleged was barbaric.
In October, the pressure wound its way to the unit that combats HIV, sexually transmitted infections and viral hepatitis at the Tennessee Health Department.
On Oct. 24, the unit’s director, Dr. Pamela Talley, told employees that because of the social media firestorm over Vanderbilt, information about the Tennessee Transgender Task Force — a volunteer team the unit established in 2018 to focus on trans health and HIV prevention — and other trans resources had been scrubbedfrom the department’s website. That is according to two staffers present, who, like two of their colleagues, spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Then, on Nov. 7, Talley told the unit that federal HIV funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for both the task force and Planned Parenthood in Tennessee would terminate at the end of the year, according to three staffers at the meeting, which took place in person and on a conference call.
“There were at least three different levels of leadership on the call,” a staffer said. “It was discussed that there had been media attention around the Vanderbilt trans health clinic, which led those reporters to learn about the trans task force, and that they were funded by [the state Health Department] HIV prevention program and that all HIV prevention contracts were being reviewed.”
In mid-January, the Lee administration announced it would pull the plug not just on federal HIV-prevention funds for Planned Parenthood and the task force, which total $235,000, but on all $8.3 million from a pair of CDC grants for HIV prevention, treatment and monitoring in the state. The move shocked HIV experts and advocates.
In addition, the Lee administration, which has said it will replace the federal funds with state dollars, has pledged a shift in funding priorities that would effectively steerHIV prevention efforts away from groups at substantial risk of contracting the virus, including gay men and people who inject drugs.
“All of this is willful ignorance on the part of the state government,” said Greg Millett, the director of public policy at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. “People at risk for HIV are going to suffer because of these decisions.”
Right-wing media pile-on
A leading voice in the right’s opposition to the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors, Matt Walsh, a columnist for the conservative media outlet Daily Wire, published a series of widely read tweets on Sept. 20 targeting Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s treatment of minors at its Transgender Health Clinic. “They now castrate, sterilize, and mutilate minors as well as adults,” Walsh said.
The next day, Walsh appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to publicize his investigation, and Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator who co-founded Daily Wire, further amplified Walsh’s attacks on Vanderbilt on his YouTube channel and podcast, decrying the “nonsense garbage that a boy can be a girl and a girl can be a boy.”
The same day, Lee issued a statement calling for a “thorough investigation.”
“We should not allow permanent, life-altering decisions that hurt children or policies that suppress religious liberties, all for the purpose of financial gain,” he said. “We have to protect Tennessee children.”
Walsh, Shapiro, Daily Wire and Fox News did not respond to requests for comment, and the Lee administration did not respond to questions about the impact right-wing media personalities had on the state’s rejection of federal HIV funds.
A Daily Wire article published on Oct. 20, which denounced the Tennessee Transgender Task Force as an “extreme” activist group, appears to have drawn the Lee administration’s attention. The task force, according to its chair, Ray Holloman, is staffed by trans-identified volunteers and focuses on providing HIV educational resources, sharing health insurance information and connecting people to supportive health providers — including those at Vanderbilt.
The article took a victory lap, saying that the Lee administration and the state Health Department denounced the task force “in response to a Daily Wire inquiry” and that information about the task force on the department’s website was “only removed after the Daily Wire asked about it.”
Around the same time, two Health Department supervisors told staffers in private conversations that critical media coverage provoked the Lee administration to scrutinize the source of the task force’s $10,000 in annual funding — a $6.2 million CDC HIV prevention and surveillance grant — two Health Department employees said.
Also under new scrutiny after the article was published, fouremployees said, was Tennessee’s Planned Parenthood program, which received $225,000 a year from the CDC grant, largely for condom distribution.
In a Nov. 7 email that was among a collection of correspondence shared with NBC News by Ashley Coffield, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and Northern Mississippi, Talley informed Coffield that the Health Department’s separate arrangement to supply Planned Parenthood with about 500 HIV test kits a year would be canceled. Talley subsequently wrote to Coffield, “I want to thank you for your statewide efforts in HIV testing and reassure you that this discontinuation was not based on performance concerns.”
Three days later, Coffield said, she got a call from a director at the United Way of Greater Nashville, which distributes the CDC grant funds to dozens of community-based organizations in Tennessee, including Planned Parenthood. The director, Niki Easley, said Planned Parenthood would lose its $225,000 in CDC HIV prevention grant funds at year’s end. Coffield said Easley told her that politics were behind the funding cut. “I think you should fight back,” Coffield recalled Easley’s saying.
But there was a wrinkle in the state’s plan:Because of a 2013 legal injunction, the Lee administration could not legally block HIV-related federal funds specifically for Planned Parenthood.
In the collection of emails and letters Planned Parenthood provided to NBC News, the nonprofit’s attorneys threatened to sue. In an emailed response, the Health Department’s attorney, Mary Katherine Bratton, denied having tried to disqualify the organization for the funds but said the department was “currently reviewing all” CDC grants.
Several officials at the Health Department, including Talley, Bratton and communications staffers, did not respond to requests for comment.
After it contacted Easley and several of her colleagues at the United Way of Greater Nashville, NBC News heard from a spokesperson, who said the group “is working closely with the Tennessee Department of Health to understand the changes being made to this grant funding,” adding that “the details of the changes and how our partner agencies will be affected are still developing” and that “all funding decisions are made by” the Health Department.
‘The nuclear option’
Ultimately, instead of focusing on cutting funds for Planned Parenthood and the Tennessee Transgender Task Force, the Lee administration decided to pull the plug on the entire $8.3 million in CDC grants for HIV prevention, surveillance and treatment.
On Jan. 17, Health Department officials held an 8 a.m. meeting with HIV prevention staffers and informed them of the decision to end all CDC HIV grant funding effective June 1, according to two employees who were present.
“People have been crying all week,” a staffer said in a Jan. 21 interview.
Coffield said “it felt like they were punching me in the gut” when she found out the state was abandoning the grants.
“I couldn’t believe that the governor would take the nuclear option,” she said, adding that she views the decision as the culmination of a “political vendetta against abortion rights groups and transgender people.”
The rejected grants consist of the $6.2 million for HIV prevention and surveillance and $2.1 million for Shelby County, home to Memphis. The latter sum comes from a national plan focused, in part, on improving treatment and prevention of HIV in 50 local hot spots that account for about half of new HIV diagnoses nationally — a plan President Donald Trump endorsed in his 2020 State of the Union address.
Friends for Life, a nonprofit Memphis group that provides services to those living with and at risk for HIV, will lose about $500,000 a year, chief programs officer Mia Cotton said. The imminent lack of any federal grants will also render the organization’s health clinic ineligible for pharmaceutical rebates through a separate federal program that last year brought in $1.2 million to an overall operating budget of $8.5 million, Cotton said.
Molly Quinn, the executive director of OUTMemphis, Tennessee’s largest LGBTQ nonprofit group, said her organization would lose $120,000 a year, or 10% of its operating budget, compromising efforts to provide HIV testing, help clients access the HIV prevention pill, PrEP, and give financial assistance to people with the virus.
‘A fictitious epidemic’
The Lee administration says it will replace the $8.3 million in CDC grants with state funds, giving it freedom to target such resources as it sees fit.
“We think we can do that better than the strings attached with the federal dollars that came our way, and that’s why we made that decision,” Lee said Jan. 20.
Currently, the priority populations for the CDC grant for Shelby County, for example, include LGBTQ people, sex workers and those who inject drugs, are unhoused or are formerly incarcerated.
Lee’s press officer, Jade Byers, said in an email that the administration “is committed to maintaining the same level of funding, while more efficiently and effectively serving vulnerable populations, such as victims of human trafficking, mothers and children, and first responders.”
Those priorities, HIV prevention experts said, are in egregious conflict with the actual demographics of the people most at risk of the virus.
“Tennessee is preferring to fight a fictitious epidemic rather than their very real HIV epidemic,” said Millett, of amfAR. “First responders are just not at risk for HIV anywhere in the United States. Sexual trafficking is awful, but it’s not a major contributor for HIV cases in Tennessee or elsewhere.”
Women comprised 9% of HIV diagnoses in Tennessee in 2019, down from 14% in 2016, and only 1 to 6 babies were born with HIV in the state annually from 2016 to 2020.
More than half of new diagnoses in Tennessee were in men who have sex with men in 2019, according to the state Health Department’s surveillance reports. And in 2016, the CDC released a report warning that 220 of the country’s counties, including 41 in Tennessee, were at high risk of HIV and hepatitis C outbreaks among people who inject drugs (that population accounted for 5% of new Tennessee HIV diagnoses in 2019).
New U.S. HIV cases, the CDC estimates, declined by 8% from 2015 to 2019, but that masks considerable progress in some states and either stagnancy or increases in most Southern states, where the bulk of transmissions occur. Even as HIV has steadily declined in, for example, New York and California, where liberal governments have invested heavily in evidence-based HIV treatment and prevention programs, the CDC estimates that Tennessee’s transmissions increased slightly from 2017 to 2019.
While Lee announced Jan. 20 that the state would forgo the federal HIV dollars, a CDC spokesperson said Thursday that the agency had received no word from Tennessee that it intends to block the $8.3 million in grants.
The political climate has become increasingly toxic for LGBTQ people in Tennessee, advocates in the state say.
Nationally, lawmakersin at least 21 states have proposed bills to ban or restrict gender-affirming care for minors this year. Trump released a video Tuesday on Truth Social pledging to “stop” such care, which he described as “child sexual mutilation.”
Pope Francis, the head of the Anglican Communion and top Presbyterian minister together denounced the criminalization of homosexuality on Sunday and said gay people should be welcomed by their churches.
The three Christian leaders spoke out on LGBTQ rights during an unprecedented joint airborne news conference returning home from South Sudan, where they took part in a three-day ecumenical pilgrimage to try to nudge the young country’s peace process forward.
South Sudan is one of 67 countries that criminalizes homosexuality, 11 of them with the death penalty. LGBTQ advocates say even where such laws are not applied, they contribute to a climate of harassment, discrimination and violence.
Francis referred his Jan. 24 comments to the AP and repeated that such laws are “unjust.” He also repeated previous comments that parents should never throw their gay children out of the house.
“To condemn someone like this is a sin,” he said. “Criminalizing people with homosexual tendencies is an injustice.”
“People with homosexual tendencies are children of God. God Loves them. God accompanies them,” he added.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, recalled that LGBTQ rights were very much on the current agenda of the Church of England, and said he would quote the pope’s own words when the issue is discussed at the church’s upcoming General Synod.
“I wish I had spoken as eloquently and clearly as the pope. I entirely agree with every word he said,” Welby said.
Recently, the Church of England decided to allow blessings for same-sex civil marriages but said same-sex couples could not marry in its churches. The Vatican forbids both gay marriage and blessings for same-sex unions.
Welby told reporters that the issue of criminalization had been taken up at two previous Lambeth Conferences of the broader Anglican Communion, which includes churches in Africa and the Middle East where such anti-gay laws are most common and often enjoy support by conservative bishops.
The broader Lambeth Conference has come out twice opposing criminalization, “But it has not really changed many people’s minds,” Welby said.
The Rt. Rev. Iain Greenshields, the Presbyterian moderator of the Church of Scotland who also participated in the pilgrimage and news conference, offered an observation.
“There is nowhere in my reading of the four Gospels where I see Jesus turning anyone away,” he said. “There is nowhere in the four Gospels where I see anything other than Jesus expressing love to whomever he meets.
“And as Christians, that is the only expression that we can possibly give to any human being, in any circumstance.”
The Church of Scotland allows same-sex marriages. Catholic teaching holds that gay people must be treated with dignity and respect, but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”
LGBTQ+ activists have staged a defiant protest in Afghanistan to draw attention to the United States’ failure to offer protection from the Taliban.
At a private residence on Wednesday (1 February) in the country’s capital Kabul, around a dozen Afghan people from the Behesht Collective, an LGBTQ+ group, congregated to show the world that their lives are still in jeopardy.
Since the Taliban seized power in August 2021, reports have circulated of LGBTQ+ people being beaten, raped and even murdered in Afghanistan.
It’s a dire situation, but finding a route to safety isn’t always easy – numerous western governments have introduced policies making it harder for people to claim asylum in recent years, meaning many can’t access the support they need.
While countries like Canada have offered specific schemes for LGBTQ+ Afghans, others have yet to recognise the danger queer people face under Taliban rule.
Qadam, one of the LGBTQ+ people who took part in Wednesday’s protest, is now calling on the world to sit up and pay attention to what is happening to the country’s queer community.
“This is a regime that doesn’t believe in LGBTQ+ rights, human rights and the rights of women,” Qadam, who previously worked in a senior state security role before the Taliban takeover, tells PinkNews.
“We decided to stage this protest because the USA and western countries left us alone here.”
LGBTQ+ people living in hiding in Afghanistan
Immediately after the protest in Kabul, Qadam and others involved fled to a neighbouring country to protect themselves from the Taliban – but there’s still a long path to safety.
The country they’re now residing in is a Muslim country where same-sex sexual relations are criminalised – but as Qadam says, it’s still better than Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan, if they know that you are LGBT they punish you, they beat you, they arrest you. They even kill LGBT people… You are hiding everywhere.”
As the Taliban continues to wage war on LGBTQ+ Afghans, Qadam is pleading with governments in western countries to help them – to give them the chance to live their lives free from the threat of violence or persecution.
“My last message is that the world, the USA and western countries should help LGBT Afghans to flee because they are in a very bad situation here.”
Nemat Sadat, a gay Afghan who’s working to evacuate LGBTQ+ Afghans, says Wednesday’s private protest is signifiant because it took place “under the noses of the Taliban”.
“They are speaking for themselves and the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQI+ Afghans who have no future under Taliban-rule in Afghanistan,” Sadat tells PinkNews.
Like many LGBTQ+ Afghans, Sadat has been left disappointed by the response from the United States. He says the government hasn’t done enough to protect vulnerable people put in harm’s way by the Taliban takeover.
“The facts are as clear as day: the US did nothing for LGBTQI+ Afghans during the 20 years of US occupation in Afghanistan and continues to turn a blind eye to the savagery committed by the Taliban.
“Unless the US reverses course and proactively works with the Behesht Collective and Roshaniya, we will witness the total annihilation of the LGBTQI+ community in Afghanistan.”
The Rainbow Festival — an annual international theatre festival held in St. Petersburg, Russia — has changed its name to “The International Theater Festival” in order to avoid violating Russia’s recently-expanded law banning LGBTQ+ propaganda.
The festival, held in May at the St. Petersburg Bryantsev Theatre for Young Spectators, has run since 2000 and has hosted young performance groups from the U.S. and Europe.
Explaining the festival’s name change, the theater’s director, Svetlana Lavretsova, said, “When the law passed banning LGBT propaganda, we immediately started thinking, ‘We don’t want to look like we’re making LGBT propaganda.’ So we gathered our team to decide whether to change the name ahead of time or temporarily drop it. On the one hand, we’re aware of the insanity this all leads to in the surrounding reality. On the other hand, it’s our brand.”
Despite this, the festival’s URL still contains the word “rainbowfest,” and its website has rainbow colors on it.
State Duma deputy Alexander Khinshtein responded to the festival’s renaming, writing via Telegram, “No one put forward such demands to the festival… I want to reassure dear Svetlana Vasilievna. Our laws in no way prohibit or abolish the rainbow on one condition: if it is the classic 7-color rainbow that is depicted, and not the ‘castrated’ LGBT symbol, where there is no blue color.”
It’s unclear what Khinshtein’s talking about as most rainbow Pride flags have a blue stripe. He also said that other companies and products that have “rainbow” in their names won’t need to change their names.
Noting Vasilievna’s use of the word “insanity,” Khinshtein wrote, “Failure to implement our laws comes ‘to insanity.’” He also said that the renaming of the theatre festival was also a form of “insanity.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin first signed a law banning so-called “gay propaganda” in Russia in June 2013. The law ostensibly sought to “protect children” from any “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships,” as stated in the law’s text. The new law extends the restrictions to not just children but Russians of all ages.
The law has mostly been used to silence LGBTQ+ activist organizations, events, websites, and media, as well as to break up families and harass teachers. It has also been roundly condemned by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as civil rights activists around the world.
The newly signed law effectively outlaws any public expression of LGBTQ+ life in Russia by banning “any action or the spreading of any information that is considered an attempt to promote homosexuality in public, online, or in films, books or advertising,” Reuters reported.
Critics say the updated law will further endanger the lives of Russia’s LGBTQ+ population, which has already suffered increased harassment, violence, and hostility in recent years.
Anti-LGBTQ+ religious leaders and right-wing political figures in the U.S. have praised Putin for his law. Indeed, Republican legislators, so-called “parents’ rights groups,” and right-wing pundits have increasingly moved to ban kids from accessing any LGBTQ+ content, gender-affirming healthcare, or drag shows over misleading claims that these “sexualize” and “groom” children.
In 2013, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) President Austin Ruse said Russia’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws were a “good thing” that “most of the people in the United States” would support. In 2014, anti-LGBTQ+ evangelical leader Franklin Graham also defended the law.
A conversative Chilean newspaper’s article on Sunday that said the Women and Gender Equity Ministry was preparing to introduce a bill that would create an LGBTQ and intersex rights undersecretariat prompted mixed reactions across the country.
The ministry in 2022 launched its first “LGBTIQA+ Roundtable” that includes representatives of different public institutions, organizations and Chilean LGBTQ and intersex activists who are working to improve the quality of life for the country’s queer community that over the last year has seen an increase in attacks and hate crimes.
LGBTQ and intersex rights in Chile have gained ground over the last decade.
Civil unions, marriage equality, transgender rights and an anti-discrimination law are some of the successes that took time to take effect. There is, however, no state institution or public policy that works to ensure historically discriminated LGBTQ and intersex Chileans are included. This is why activists feel the “LGBTIQA+ Roundtable” that President Gabriel Boric’s government is promoting is an unprecedented opportunity.
Forty-two organizations from across Chile participated in the roundtable during its first year, which culminated on Jan. 6 with the signing of an agreement between the Women and Gender Equity Ministry’s Women and Gender Equality Undersecretariat and the Interior and Public Safety Ministry’s Crime Prevention Undersecretariat to assist people across the country who are victims of anti-LGBTQ attacks. The roundtable at the same time also announced it will send a bill to Congress later in 2023 that would expand the ministry’s mandate to ensure “the LGBTIQA+ community is included.”
There has yet to be an announcement on the creation of an LGBTQ and intersex undersecretariat.
Most Chilean media outlets covered this report after El Mercurio published it on Sunday. José Antonio Kast, an extreme right-wing politician who is a former presidential candidate, on his Twitter account criticized what turned out to be inaccurate.
“Chile is poorer, more violent and insecure than a year ago and the inept government is dedicated to enlarge the State to deepen its ideological agenda, instead of solving social urgencies,” wrote the Republican Party leader.
The ministry told the Washington Blade that “the roundtable with organizations from the LGBTIQA+ community has just been finalized.”
“One of the demands is to have an institutionality,” said the ministry. “During 2023 it will be defined which is the progressive path, while the anti-discrimination law is improved at the same time.”
Women and Gender Equity Undersecretary Luz Vidal Huiriqueo on her social media networks said “we met with LGBTQ+ organizations for seven months” and the ministry made “security, employment and health priorities.”
“On the 1st we advanced in an agreement with (the Crime Prevention Undersecretariat) to properly address and for the long challenges we committed to propose an institutional mechanism,” said Vidal.
Vidal said in an exclusive interview with the Blade before El Mercurio published its inaccurate report that “finding and giving answers to the demands of the LGBTIQA+ population in Chile is a commitment for President Gabriel Boric’s government that will not be put aside for anything.”
“We at the (Women and Gender Equality Ministry) have embraced the day-to-day needs that this community, in many cases, has to survive,” said Vidal from her office. “That is why, from our ministry, we have created this intergovernmental roundtable to have a fluid and permanent communication with LGBTIQA+ organizations.
Vidal added Boric “instructed us to move from discourse to action.”
“We have to get to work. We have to implement the agreements,” said Vidal. “We can’t just make pretty announcements and that is our commitment. The commitment we have today is to work for women, for gender equity, for and with the entire population, in favor of all citizens and of those who lack the presence of the State.”
The undersecretary told the Blade the need to incorporate the queer community into the ministry’s work is important because “the State, as of today, has no powers to specifically address the LGBTQ+ population.”
“We need to create a progressive path that, whether an institutional or other figure, allows us to implement public policies,” she said.
That supposed institutionality was the one that sparked controversy last Sunday and it will not be an easy path, regardless of the mechanism that Boric’s government ultimately chooses to implement.
“I think it is not going to be an easy process,” said Vidal. “It is not going to be a project that we can say, we are going to take them out at the end of the year, that is clear to us. Even today it is difficult to move forward with projects or the work that the ministry is doing because we currently have a Congress with political forces that are against inclusion and respect for diversity. This is present in our Congress, and it is also present in several Latin American countries.”
Emilia Schneider, Chile’s first trans congresswoman, on the other hand told the Blade that “it seems to me that the announcement of an institutional framework for the LGBTI community within the Women’s Ministry, and also in what has been working with the Justice Ministry to advance in an institutional framework against discrimination, regarding the reform of the Anti-Discrimination Law are two fundamental steps to advance in dignity and rights for sexual diversities and dissidences.”
Schneider said it is important “to make a permanent change in the State, which recognizes the importance of having a space that responds to the needs of the queer population and takes charge of combating inequality, discrimination and violence to which our community is exposed.”
“It seems to me that this is one of the most important commitments, which if realized would be a fundamental legacy of this government in matters of sexual diversity and dissidence,” she said.
Ignacia Oyarzun, coordinator of public policies for Asociación OTD Chile, the country’s most important trans rights organization, said the implementation of an institutional framework to advance LGBTQ and intersex rights “is an advance that goes in the direction of establishing what will be a trans labor quota to achieve a greater integration of the community in society.”
Oyarzun noted employers do not hire people who are trans, or fire them without reason. This lack of employment opportunities, according to Asociación OTD Chile, makes trans people more vulnerable to violence.
Jorge Muñoz of Movimiento Organizado de Gays, Lesbianas, Trans y Heterosexuales (MOGALETH) in Puerto Montt, a city that is roughly 640 miles south of the capital of Santiago, also participated in the roundtable. Muñoz told the Blade that “any approach from the central power to civil society, and especially to the regions, is positive.”
“In this context, we consider it an advance in terms of the demands of the collective in the struggle for the recognition of the historical violation of our rights,” said Muñoz. “The State’s recognition of mistreatment and hate speech towards dissidents has historically been centralized. The regions where we also suffer harassment, mistreatment, difficulties in access to health, education and work have been relegated throughout history. In this sense, what we value most is the recognition of our demands in the territorial context.”
A new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA finds older LGBTQ+ Americans were affected more negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic than their straight peers.
Using data from the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey, the report examined the demographics, health, and economic experiences of LGBTQ+ adults aged 50 and older during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study was led by Research Data Analyst Lauren J.A. Bouton, with Amanda M. Brush and Ilan H. Meyer, Distinguished Senior Scholar of Public Policy.
Among the findings:
Almost all LGBTQ+ people over 50 received the COVID-19 vaccine, a higher percentage than their straight peers.
More people aged 50–64 identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender than those 65 years of age and older.
More men than women over 50 identified as LGBTQ+, the opposite of younger age groups, where women predominate.
Similar proportions among all LGBTQ+ ethnic groups reported relying on credit cards or loans and savings or retirement to supplement their incomes during the pandemic.
More White LGBTQ+ people reported using the same income sources they used before the pandemic to meet their spending needs.
Reported anxiety and depression numbers during the pandemic were higher among LGBTQ+ individuals than their straight counterparts.
LGBTQ Nation spoke with the study’s lead author to find out what the data reveals and how it can be used to improve the quality of life for a vulnerable population.
LGBTQ NATION: What’s your top-line takeaway from the report?
LAUREN J.A. BOUTON: LGBTQ+ older people, especially older LGBTQ+ people of color, are particularly vulnerable to financial insecurity (food insecurity and housing instability) and health issues such as anxiety and depression symptoms. The vulnerability is compounded by the fact that they don’t have the support many non-LGBTQ+ people have in their lives. For example, they are more likely to live alone, not have children or other supportive family members, and lack LGBTQ+-affirming health care and other services for older people.
LGBTQ NATION: The report states: “Precarity is not new for LGBTQ+ older adults, and COVID-19 may be viewed as part of a continuum of disruptive events that impact the aging experiences of LGBT older adults.” What are some of the other disruptive events that impact aging experiences for older LGBTQ+ adults?
LB: LGBTQ+ older people have had a lifetime of discrimination and stressful events associated with their sexual orientation and gender identity, which research attributes to adverse outcomes. The pandemic is another mechanism by which inequality is perpetuated against the most vulnerable in our society, such as LGBTQ+ older people. Think about how a person with a low income, few resources, and a lack of supportive people around them were facing the pandemic compared with someone who has resources.
LGBTQ NATION: While vaccination rates were higher among LGBTQ+ older adults vs. their straight counterparts, so were mental health issues. Is that a paradox like it sounds? Shouldn’t a vaccination provide peace of mind in addition to protection from the virus?
LB: We don’t know from this report whether vaccination rates and mental health issues are connected. The mental health measures we used were general depression and anxiety symptoms; they did not specifically refer to the pandemic. What we do know is that LGBTQ+ people of all ages experience higher rates of mental health issues, and that was true even before the pandemic. But LGBTQ+ older people also seek mental health treatments, such as prescriptions and therapy, at higher rates, as well. It is plausible that a higher proportion of people getting vaccinated is related to this behavior of being proactive about seeking medical care.
LGBTQ NATION: The report finds a higher percentage of LGBTQ+ older adults reported anxiety and depression symptoms than straight older folks. Is that partly a greater willingness among LGBTQ+ people to speak candidly about mental health than their straight counterparts have? In other words, could you generalize that LGBTQ+ people are more in touch with their feelings?
LB: Minority stress research has demonstrated that people who are discriminated against systemically or individually experience more stress and that stress is related to higher rates of anxiety and depression symptoms, among other health issues. More LGBTQ+ than straight/cisgender people access mental health treatments, which may mean they are more open and honest about their mental health experiences, but we did not test this hypothesis and cannot say to what extent that may be a part of the explanation of the finding about depression and anxiety symptoms.
LGBTQ NATION: The report used the first U.S. Census Bureau data that included questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. How would you describe the impact that had on your study and will have on future LGBTQ+ research?
LB: We applaud the U.S. Census Bureau for including questions that allow us to identify LGBTQ+ people in the dataset. The Household Pulse Survey allows us to make stronger assessments about the experiences of LGBTQ+ people across the nation. The study makes us better able to understand their experiences with food and housing insecurity and we are able to compare these findings to what we’ve already seen in smaller studies. We are hopeful that the Census will continue to add these questions to other surveys such as the American Community Survey, Current Population Survey, and the Decennial Census so we may continue to make progress in understanding the lives and needs of LGBTQ+ people.
Dr. Charles Silverstein died this week at the age of 87.
Best known for making the presentation before the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 that led to the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’s list of mental illnesses, Silverstein was also a co-author of the landmark book The Joy of Gay Sex.
More than simply a sex manual with graphic drawings — though there was plenty of that — The Joy of Gay Sex, first published in 1977, was a first-of-its-kind guidebook for every aspect of the gay experience.
“The first time I had sex with a guy was a big learning experience. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Fortunately, he did,” Dr. Silverstein recalled when I spoke to him in 2021. That night would prove to be a catalyst for him. In his 2011 memoir, For the Ferryman, he writes that it was in that moment that he decided to dedicate his life to fighting for the acceptance of gay people. He wanted future generations of gay men to be spared the pain and struggles that he faced.
The full text of my conversation with Dr. Charles Silverstein (originally recorded for the LGBTQ&A podcast) is below. It was one of his last interviews. He talks about his work with the Gay Activists Alliance, the earliest Pride marches where the gay community would greet each other by saying “Happy Birthday,” and the lasting legacy of The Joy of Gay Sex.
Jeffrey Masters: I want to talk about your role in helping to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. But first, can you talk about why it was originally classified as that? What was the evidence that seemed to back that up?
Charles Silverstein: Well, everything about sexuality is based upon the moral beliefs of a society and since homosexuality had been condemned as immoral, it just automatically was assumed that it should go into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a mental disorder. Everything that wasn’t basically a heterosexual, missionary position, motivated by reproduction was considered abnormal. And homosexuality, since invariably, you waste your seed, was considered ipso facto a disorder.
JM: When you were getting your Ph.D. and being taught this, did you initially believe that?
CS: I was very confused then. When I was getting my Ph.D., I was in the closet because I certainly was not going to let anyone in the program know that I was gay, because that would get me thrown out. There was a period before I got to college where I wanted to change, and I went into therapy for the purpose of changing. Obviously, it didn’t work, and it never works, but it was what most people did in those days.
JM: We now refer to that as “conversion therapy,” but back then it was just considered “therapy,” right? The only purpose was to “cure” you.
CS: Yes, to change you into someone who was quote, “normal,” meaning heterosexual, and that was my goal. All I accomplished was I had the opportunity of going to bed with some nice women who thought I was an appropriate match, but I wasn’t.
JM: And eventually, you did make this presentation before the American Psychiatric Association. Was there a big debate over who would be the one to make the presentation?
CS: Since I was a psychologist, or at least working on my Ph.D. in psychology, it was decided that I should make the professional presentation, meaning the presentation, all the research and clinical work that suggested that homosexuality was not a mental disorder. And then Jean O’Leary, who had been a nun but was no longer a nun, she left the church. She would make the presentation from the point of view of ordinary people, about discrimination in the city of New York. So it was a very well-organized presentation. We knew what everybody was going to do.
JM: And this was identified as a goal of the movement. You weren’t simply working on your own.
CS: It had been started years before. Frank Kameny gets some of the credit for that. There are a number of psychiatrists who also were pushing to have homosexuality eliminated. Like every social movement, you always stand on the shoulders of the people who came before. Frank Kameny was not a part of this. Frank was a difficult person to get along with. Everyone who knew him would tell you that. He was a fierce fighter, but he could not have worked with us, and we wouldn’t have had him helping us.
JM: Thinking about people like Frank Kameny, Jim Obergefell, Aimee Stephens: We often connect historic events with people. Was your name connected to this? Did you feel like a celebrity in the gay community?
CS: In some places, my name is connected with it, but I really do like to say these changes that occurred, are not because of any one person at any one time, but it’s really the sum total of a number of people who fought, sometimes against the enemy, sometimes with each other, because we had lots of that. There is no one person that can claim responsibility for these changes. We worked together. I was chosen to make this presentation because I knew the research, I knew the data, and I could present it well.
JM: During all this time, you were a member of the Gay Activists Alliance, an early gay organization.
CS: They were a radical organization. Let me contrast it with Frank Kameny. When Frank had demonstrations, everybody had to be a good boy and good girl. There was a dress code, men had to wear suits, women dresses, shoes had to be shined. The GAA was quite the different. We weren’t good boys, we were bad boys, and we wanted to be bad boys, and therefore, we were out there not dressed nicely, but dressed in ordinary clothes to make as much trouble as possible. What Frank and his group wanted to do was knock on the door of society and say, “Let us in. Oh, please, let us in.” What the radical movement in the early ’70s did was, not to say that we want to knock on the door, we wanted to fucking break it down, and march through and tell society, “We’re changing you. You’re going to change, and you better live with it.” It was much more aggressive, but not violent. Aggressive, but not violent. And so, what we did, we had these, what were called zaps, and a zap was a demonstration where we would go to an organization and we’d break it up, and we found that professional organizations are the biggest sissies around, and they called us sissies, but they were the real sissies. They didn’t know how to deal with us. They would be having a meeting and some of our members would get up and say, “We’re taking over,” and they would step to the side, because they didn’t know what to do, and that’s why we kept winning everywhere we went.
JM: You wrote that the members of the GAA were the strangest group of people you’d ever met. Why is that?
CS: That was at The Firehouse. See, our center was The Firehouse on Wooster Street, because it was a place that we thought of as a place of liberation, that anyone could come in. You had to walk through the door, you didn’t need a membership card, you didn’t have to pay any dues. People who were oppressed could feel self-identified and walk in. Therefore, we had some lunatics that used to walk in through the door, and that’s what I was talking… We had some very strange people that came in, and no one was ever thrown out.
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To be trans in the U.S. is to know fear. It is a companion that travels with us constantly: from the moment we realize we are trans, to coming out, to transitioning, and now into our lives long past the point where we should have faded away into anonymity in days past.
We are in the midst of a second Lavender Scare, and in many ways this is far more dangerous: even Christine Jorgensen wasn’t barred from receiving hormones or being within 2,500 feet of children simply for being transgender.
I have been called a doomsayer who profits from prognosticating an inevitable end. This is not precisely true: there is hope, if precious little of it. We can all clearly see the situation deteriorating rapidly in red states, with (at best) spotty resistance from the Democratic Party as a whole. We can see the effects of this deterioration as transgender people not only ask how to flee, but actively do so now. But most in a poverty-stricken community, however, lack the money or resources to flee.
There’s an eerie similarity to 1933, when people sold everything they owned, with no job waiting for them, just to get away from what they saw happening and coming. Others look at what it will take to get to another country, even as those countries are not yet ready to grant trans people asylum or refugee status. Most can only tell you that it’s getting bad, and that they’re afraid of what their government is preparing to do to them, even if they don’t know exactly what that will be. However, with nowhere to go, and no country particularly wanting transgender people, I find myself dreading another S.S. St. Louis moment in history.
There’s an authoritarian party in permanent power in half of the U.S. They’re making it clear that they intend to seize permanent federal control and bring their vision of a shiny, godly America to the rest of the country by any means necessary. They’re ready to destroy the Union and our democracy to save it from “wokeness.” And they have sold their base on the idea that the No. 1 threat that the country must be saved from is transgender people.
State level anti-transgender bills are becoming both more numerous and draconian year after year. The Overton Window of anti-trans legislation keeps shifting further and further to the right. For example, first they wanted to ban transition-related health care for everyone under the age of 18. Then the bills started putting the age at 21. Then, this year, we saw Oklahoma propose banning it for anyone under 26. Texas followed by passing a resolution condemning it for people of all ages.
Now Oklahoma has proposed a law that would ban providers who take state or federal money of money of any sort (e.g. Medicare or Medicaid) from providing transition-related care to anyone of any age. This means thousands of people who transitioned years ago will no longer be able to refill their prescriptions. Access to medical care will become a right that exists in theory but not in practice, like suffrage in the Jim Crow South.
It’s not just medical care. It’s sports, bathrooms, birth certificates, driver’s licenses, bans on “drag”, required misgendering, and forced outing. The creativity of this performative cruelty seems endless. Of these though, the “drag” bans are the most devastating. These laws are deliberately written as to be so vague and overly broad that a symphony orchestra with a transgender 2nd clarinet, or a family with a trans child doing a sing-along in the car would be considered obscene. In West Virginia, SB252 and 278 single out transgender people (and not just drag performers) to declare that their mere presence in public is obscene.
Not only are the scope of laws increasing; the sheer number is growing exponentially. In 2018, there were 19 anti-trans bills proposed in state legislatures. By 2020 it was 60. Last year it was 155. Now, in 2023, we surpassed the 2022 total by the middle of January and are well on our way to more than 200. Even so, these numbers don’t tell the full tale.
In years past, only perhaps 10% of these bills would pass, usually after opposition and debate. Now, we’re seeing bills introduced, sent to committee, debated, and sent to the floor in 24 hours. There is simply so much happening so fast that trans people cannot put together opposition in time to speak against these bills, whereas conservative legislators coordinating with religious legal groups always have “experts” lined up and ready, since they know exactly when and where the bills will be heard ahead of time. The result is that in a year where a record number of anti-transgender bills are introduced, a record percentage, and a record total, will be passed.
Trans people are not doomed, but we’re clearly on an accelerating trajectory to the end of the community in at least half of the U.S. Reversing these trends, and preventing a nationwide destruction of the community, requires numerous highly improbable things to happen. This includes Republicans moving on from the moral panic about trans people, deciding that they’ve gone far enough already with their oppression at the state level, or the courts overturning anti-trans laws. None of these seems likely.
Additionally, there remains the fear that even states with sanctuary laws, like California, will not remain safe forever. Republicans in Congress have made it clear that should they take power in 2024, they intend to pass nationwide laws similar to those at the state level. The odds of the GOP taking full control are frighteningly high: the Senate map in 2024 for Democrats is very bad, Biden’s net approval is where Trump’s was in 2020, and gerrymandering makes taking back the House difficult.
Masha Gessen’s rules for surviving autocracy state that “your institutions will not save you.” This is true for trans people now in several ways: neither courts, the Democratic Party, nor the media seem prepared to stand up for us as the situation goes from hostile to non-survivable. There’s the open question of whether the courts will uphold sanctuary laws. When Texas demands the arrest and extradition of trans people (or parents of trans youth) who have fled to a sanctuary state, it seems unlikely that the current Supreme Court will do anything but what their Christian nationalist masters tell them to. It’s also unknown whether a state like California would defy the courts and break the union over trans people or women seeking an abortion.
Then there’s the news media, the fifth estate that is supposed to be the light of truth shining on darkness. Instead, half of the media ecosystem is leading the charge to brand transgender people as an existential threat to women, children, and society. The other half, like Reuters, the New York Times, and The Atlantic, produce poorly thought out “both-sideism” and concern troll pieces that amplify and reinforce the narratives of the side that believes the ideal number of transgender people in the U.S. is zero.
Trans people have precious few people that they know will go to the mattresses for them. We’re already seeing who on the left and center is stepping aside, or even joining in, to let self-proclaimed Christian fascists like Matt Walsh have their way. Not only can it happen here, but it is happening now, at this very instant, to the sound of deafening silence from the people who swore without irony “never again.”
The American public, for their part, either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. It’s just happening to “those people.” Most trans people cannot enunciate all the factors that have them afraid, and why they form an interlocking system of failures that make recovery from the trajectory we’re on improbable. They just know that things are getting worse, and they don’t see how it will get better. Like animals before an earthquake, they know something is very wrong, even if they can’t explain why, or get anyone to listen.
All they know is that they cannot get out, the unstoppable power of the government is coming, and no one is coming to the rescue. For those who cannot flee, and cannot survive the laws about to be passed, the end comes soon. Drums, drums in the deep.
Brynn Tannehill is a senior analyst at a D.C-area think-tank and author of ‘American Fascism: How the GOP is Subverting Democracy.’