A transgender woman in New Jersey has filed suit accusing a Walmart store and one of its managers of firing her due to anti-trans bias, after instances of harassment that saw her called “he/she” and “that fucking tranny.”
The woman, Samantha Azzarano, began working at a Walmart in Deptford, N.J., in September 2012, ThinkProgress reports. The following January, she told a manager that she is transgender, and later that year she began presenting in her female identity at work, and had the name on her ID badge changed to Samantha, replacing her birth name.
According to her suit, filed October 2 in Camden County Superior Court, there were no problems with Azzarano’s job performance, and no coworkers complained about her until manager Sheena Wyckoff joined Azzarano’s team in January 2014. Wyckoff, the suit says, referred to Azzarano as “Samantha, Robert … he/she … whatever” and “that fucking tranny.”
Wyckoff also began unjustly reprimanding Azzarano, yelling at her, and accusing her of undermining Wyckoff’s authority, according to the suit. In a meeting with a team leader, Wyckoff told Azzarano, “We are always walking on eggshells for you,” the filing states.
Wyckoff obviously “had a problem with Samantha being Samantha,” Azzarano’s lawyer, Kevin M. Costello, told ThinkProgress. He noted that the use of the term “tranny” was particularly objectionable. “It’s as unacceptable as a racial epithet to describe a black person,” he said.
Azzarano says she complained to a higher manager, who failed to inform the human resources department about the problems. Azzarano then went to human resources herself, after which Wyckoff warned her not to go to higher management again. In December 2014, Azzarano was fired, “ostensibly, for conduct that she had been performing since July of 2013,” although such conduct was “allowed, and encouraged” in other departments, according to the suit.
“Any proffered reason by the defendants for the termination would be pretext,” the suit says. “The plaintiff was terminated for her transgender status,” in violation of New Jersey’s antidiscrimination law. The suit accuses Walmart of violating this law and Wyckoff of aiding and abetting in the discrimination, and Azzarano seeks “compensatory and punitive damages, interest, attorneys’ fees, enhanced attorneys’ fees, equitable back pay, equitable front pay and equitable reinstatement,” reports legal news website Law360.
At least two other major discrimination suits have been filed against Walmart recently. One alleges denial of benefits to same-sex spouses of employees, while the other claims racial and age-related discrimination.
New York City will host WorldPride in 2019, it has been confirmed – 50 years on from the Stonewall riots.
The city has been chosen as the latest host of the international LGBT Pride event, which celebrates equality in cities around the world.
WorldPride was last held in 2014 in Toronto, and has previously been held in Rome, Jerusalem and London.
However, the organisers revealed this week that WorldPride will be heading back to the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement in New York, to mark 50 years since the Stonewall Riots.
The Stonewall riots took place in 1969 to protest police brutality and crackdowns on LGBT people – with some of the first Pride marches beginning on the anniversary in 1970.
David Schneider of NYC Pride said: “The Stonewall Uprising is considered the most significant event that ignited the modern LGBT rights movement, so it makes perfect sense to bring WorldPride to the birthplace of Pride in 2019.
“We are so grateful that our fellow Pride organizers from across the globe have chosen New York City for this momentous occasion.”
After more than three decades and millions of deaths, researchers may be one step closer to creating an HIV vaccine.
This month, the Institute for Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore launched the first phase of clinical trials for a new treatment. The immunogen, known as the Full-Length Single Chain (FLSR), could potentially induce protective antibody responses to HIV-1 strains, going where previous trial vaccines have fallen short.
“Maryland is one of the top science, bio-health, and research regions in the country and is home to some of the most brilliant minds in the world,” Maryland Lt. Governor Rutherford said in a statement announcing the new trials. “I am especially proud to help announce this first phase of a potential HIV vaccine that is being developed by a talented team at UMD. The Hogan administration will continue to place a priority on supporting the Maryland universities, start-ups, and institutions that are making these groundbreaking discoveries.”
When HIV strikes, it attacks the immune system’s T-cells. No cure for HIV/AIDS currently exists and researchers have noted that, even with the ongoing trial, much more work needs to be done before the vaccine hits the market for widespread use. Though antiretroviral drugs can target active forms of the virus, it has yet to be confirmed how they fare against its inactive counterparts.
Scientists say the new FLSR immunogen could contain the HIV surface protein and stop it from joining another attachment that often makes infections undetectable. This new vaccine, if proven effective, would be taken once or twice a year, less often than what’s required of the traditional antiretroviral cocktail treatment. The human trial follows extensive studies conducted on monkeys and efforts to collect funding to develop the drug into a human-grade vaccine.
Previous trials involving monoclonal antibodies — made from immune cells — have shown that the body can defend itself against HIV, perhaps explaining why some people don’t show symptoms years after contracting the virus. Notable trials include one by the name of RV 144 that took place in the early 2000s. By the end of that decade, researchers announced positive results, concluding that the vaccine batch could reduce the risk of HIV infection among a largely heterosexual population. That discovery laid the foundation for additional research.
Even so, hurdles exist in pinning down the ideal HIV treatment. Shortly after the string of announcements about people cured of HIV in 2013, researchers found that dormant HIV lingered in the body after treatment. These viruses, named proviruses, proved more dangerous because they could get reactivated and act more potently against the immune system. Until that time, scientists didn’t know the size of the dormant pool. The discovery, reported in the journal Cell, showed that the virus could be treated, but not cured.
“The findings suggest that there are a lot more of these proviruses that we have to worry about than we thought,” study leader Dr. Robert Siliciano, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland, told the Daily Mail. “It doesn’t mean that it’s hopeless, but it does mean we need to focus on getting an even clearer idea of the scope of the problem.”
These situations call into question the certainty that researchers will ever find an effective HIV treatment, an effort that costs nearly $845 million annually.
In these clinical trials, patients often received powerful anti-HIV regimens that most people don’t start until years after infection. This often stems from the high cost of HIV treatment. With the cocktail of medications and doctors’ visits required, the more than 1.2 million HIV-positive adults in the U.S. have to navigate a system, oftentimes without adequate health care coverage.
Partly because of these barriers to care, French investigators recently predicted that only 15 percent of patients who receive early treatment will likely see the dramatically positive results delivered in the cases of the patients who were thought to be “cured.” For instance, after a Mississippi baby was later found to have HIV again after initial reports of a “cure,” the news incited some commentary about the lack of quality health care for the HIV-positive mother.
Though it has yet to be seen what will come out of the current HIV vaccine trial, there seems to be some agreement that swift application of treatment after infection could significantly reduce the size of HIV’s presence. However, accounting for dormant HIV proviruses that can persist in the depths of body tissue can prove to be difficult. With more than 60 versions to account for, researchers will have to ensure that they can eliminate them with this vaccine.
“While we still have more important basic research to do to crack the antibody protection challenge, this first step is an important one for us to learn how people (rather than test animals) respond,” Robert Gallo, leader of the research team, said in a statement.
If Jackie Biskupski is successful in her bid to become the next mayor of Salt Lake City, an out lesbian will lead the city at the heart of the Church of Latter-day Saints.
Ahead of the non-partisan mayoral election of Nov. 3, Biskupski acknowledged in a phone interview with the Washington Blade the symbolic importance of her bid.
“We are in the capital city of the Mormon Church,” Biskupski said. “They were really behind Prop 8 in California. They were one of the bigger advocates for pushing Prop 8 and getting it passed in California. For our community, we’ve been really diligently working to overcome Prop 8 and our own ban on marriage [equality] here.”
A single mother, Biskupski has a child named Archie whom she’s been raising since she picked him up in the hospital when he was born in 2009. She formally adopted him in 2010.
Biskupski said she sought to challenge incumbent Mayor Ralph Becker because she felt key issues like the school-to-prison pipeline, drug trafficking and the high number of homeless people were “spiraling out of control” on his watch.
“The mayor was very focused on a federal appointment by the Obama administration that essentially turned the city over to his chief of staff,” she said. “That’s not who we voted for and certainly the mayor was not managing things well. That’s why I got in.”
As part of her vision for continuing to move Salt Lake City “in a very progressive direction,” Bikupski said she’ll focus on economic development. Additionally, she’s seeking improved administration of the city’s homeless shelter and streamlining processes for zoning and information sharing among law enforcement agencies.
The campaign isn’t Biskupski’s first foray into the political arena. From 1999 to 2011, she represented the 30th district in the Utah State House, which comprises parts of Sugar House, Central Salt Lake and South Salt Lake, as the first openly gay person in the Utah Legislature.
During her time in the state legislature, Biskupski said she took the lead in attempting to beat back anti-LGBT legislation. Among them were measures against same-sex marriage, although such efforts were ultimately successful.
At the time, Biskupski said she was able to incorporate language on the record to demonstrate the discriminatory intent of the laws, which she said enabled courts to overturn them.
“There were very strategic questions that I was asking, or gave to other people to get up and ask, to make sure we got specific things on record,” Biskupski said. “And then, those things were used later on in these court battles to help win marriage equality.”
Following the passage of LGBT non-discrimination legislation in the state for employment and housing, Biskupski said she’d like to see that measure expanded to include public accommodations and Salt Lake City should lead the way with an ordinance to that effect.
“For this community, now what it’s about is public accommodations and this kind of new uprising of religious freedom and being able to stand behind religious freedom to discriminate,” Biskupski said. “I want to make sure that our city doesn’t fall into a situation where we are kind of not being pro-active in making sure religious freedom is not used to discriminate in our city.”
Biskupski isn’t a Mormon, but said she has worked with the LDS Church and spoken with officials about “if they were going to try to run interference and my ability to be a candidate in this race.”
When she first ran for office as out lesbian in the 1990s, Biskupski said Mormons were speaking out in church about her candidacy, but said now the situation has changed.
“The relationship is evolving quite nicely, I think, and I’ve been very appreciative of their open door to me and they’ve been very appreciative of my very blatant question process,” she said.
An LDS spokesperson referred a question on Bikupski’s candidacy to the Mormon policy on political neutrality, which says the church is neutral on matters of politics in all nations where it is established.
Although she’s challenging an incumbent, Biskupski appears to be in a strong position. In the primary election on Aug. 11, she was the top vote-getter, snagging 46.2 percent of the vote compared to Mayor Ralph Becker, who won 30.7 percent.
Biskupski is challenging an incumbent with a pro-LGBT reputation. After the district court overturned Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2013, Becker married couples in Salt Lake City and penned an op-ed for the Salt Lake Tribune embracing the ruling.
“Those four hours, before the office closed and marriages could be performed, were a highlight of my years of public service,” Becker wrote. “It was thrilling. And more than anything, I don’t think I stopped crying for four straight hours.”
But Biskupski dismissed Becker’s efforts in the marriage lawsuit as minimal, saying he took no direct role in the litigation. As for her role, Biskupski said she performed 15 marriages in an eight-hour window.
“The mayor didn’t play a role at all in our ability to obtain marriage equality, but it was a great gesture on his part to show up and marry people,” Biskupski said. “I was there, he was there, Jim Dabakis was there. There were a lot of us who showed up to make sure as many people as possible could get married.”
Aisha Moodie-Mills, president of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, touted Biskupski’s experience in explaining the organization’s endorsement of her bid to become the next Salt Lake City mayor.
“Jackie Biskupski is a qualified leader with a demonstrated track record for improving the lives of Salt Lake City’s citizens over the past 15 years,” Moodie-Mills said. “Victory is proud to endorse a candidate who has made waves as the first openly LGBT person elected to public office in Utah. Jackie will continue to dedicate herself as the mayor of Salt Lake City.”
– See more at: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2015/10/14/lesbian-candidate-could-be-mayor-of-salt-lake-city/#sthash.W3d2i8Vu.dpuf
Thirty-two members of Congress on Thursday urged the Transportation Security Administration to reform the way it screens transgender passengers.
U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) and others, including Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), in their letter to TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger urge the agency to “complete a thorough review of its current procedures,” including the use of full-body scanners based on whether officers conclude a passenger is male or female.
The lawmakers also call upon TSA to publish “detailed guidelines” on its website about “security screening expectations” to ensure “transgender passengers are fully informed about” them.
They urge the agency to make its helpline and other resources more prominent on its website to ensure “those with additional questions have a clear and accessible way to gather information on remaining concerns.” The lawmakers also call upon TSA to ensure all personnel “are adequately trained to serve the transgender community.”
“We ask that such trainings should be required for all TSOs that work with the public, that they be held live and in-person (as opposed to the simple distribution of written materials) and that these trainings specifically cover the particular sensitivities and vulnerabilities of transgender travelers,” reads the letter.
The lawmakers wrote Neffenger in response to Shadi Petosky’s allegations that TSA officers detained her at Orlando International Airport in Florida on Sept. 21 due to a “misunderstanding about her gender identity as a trans woman.”
“Unfortunately, Ms. Petosky’s experience is just the latest of a string of reports from travelers across the country,” reads their letter. “In the days since Ms. Petosky’s story became public, we have heard from numerous members of the transgender community describing harassing and humiliating experiences while going through airport security. While we understand the importance of vigilant airport security, we cannot countenance a security protocol that subjects transgender travelers to this level of indignity.”
The TSA has launched an investigation into Petosky’s allegations.
“Ensuring that all travelers are treated with dignity and respect is a top priority for the Transportation Security Administration,” TSA spokesperson Mike England told the Washington Blade on Friday in a statement. “That some transgendered travelers feel that they’re receiving improper treatment by TSA personnel is of great concern to us. We will work with Congress to address the concerns raised in their letter and continue our dialogue with the transgender community about the screening process.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the Blade that her organization shares “the deep concerns expressed in this letter.”
“Airport security today is invasive and questionably effective — and anyone who appears to be different is bound to bear the brunt of this problem,” she said.
Keisling added Petosky’s experience “appears to be a common one,” noting TSA officers have described the bodies of National Center for Transgender Equality staffers as “anomalies.”
“While changing officer procedures and training are important, it’s clear that TSA’s technology and screening methods themselves are the problem,” said Keisling. “Body scanners and pat downs should not be first line of screening. Where scanners are used, they should be able to tell the difference between a bomb and a body part.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality is among the organizations that filed a federal lawsuit against TSA in July over regulations governing the use of body-scanners and pat-downs.
– See more at: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2015/10/09/tsa-urged-to-reform-screening-procedures-for-trans-passengers/#sthash.VVM83ruO.dpuf
Leo Soell came back to school with no hair, a new name and an announcement.
The Hall Elementary School fifth grade teacher left to undergo cancer treatment last fall as Brina. A double mastectomy and four rounds of chemotherapy clarified a few things.
For years, Soell had lived a double life. At home in Southeast Portland, friends knew Soell was transgender and used the gender-neutral pronoun “they.” At work in Gresham, coworkers called the 26-year-old “she.” But after treatment, Soell was ready to be known as “Leo” and “they” at school, too.
“Because I was dealing with cancer, you think about the fact that you need to be yourself and nothing less than that every single day,” Soell said. “I chose to stop lying.”
Soell returned from medical leave in May, and expected coworkers to celebrate. Instead, other teachers said, the principal told staffers they could not announce Soell’s gender transition or name change. Some coworkers stopped talking to Soell, teachers said. Others called Soell “lady” or simply “Soell.”
Oregon and Washington have long barred employers from firing workers because of their gender identity. Portland-area districts celebrate diversity in school mottos and warn against discrimination in board policies. Yet most schools remain unprepared for the coming wave of transgender teachers, staff and students.
In the worst cases, teachers and students say they have been harassed or bullied. Even in progressive Portland, where principals routinely remind educators to ask students their preferred pronouns, transgender teachers say they still worry about how administrators will respond to parents, who may not understand or care what the law requires.
And in Gresham, investigators are now reviewing what happened to Soell last spring.
“I honestly don’t think the district had any clue that all of this would happen,” Soell said. “The frustrating part is I knew without a clear policy this would happen. I don’t think it was malicious. I think it came from lack of understanding.”
Soell grew up in Boulder, Colo., and came to Portland in 2008 to study at Lewis & Clark College. Soell started teaching at Hall Elementary in 2013. That same year, Soell began telling friends and family that they did not identify as a woman.
Soell’s loved ones weren’t surprised: Soell had been a high-energy, androgynous kid and grew into a lanky, 5’10 soccer and basketball standout who wore a tie to graduation and job interviews.
Still, identifying as “he” didn’t feel right either, Soell told friends. Soell identified as “transmasculine” but existed somewhere between male and female. They asked friends to use the gender-neutral “they” rather than “he” or “she.”
At work, Soell stopped separating students by gender and won a grant to buy classroom books with characters who didn’t hew to gender stereotypes. Soell even spoke on a 2014 panel at Lewis & Clark about being a transgender teacher, but waited to come out at work.
In Oregon, teachers work their first three years on single-year, probationary contracts. Soell planned to wait the three years before coming out to administrators.
“It was getting harder to work in Gresham,” Soell said. “Even just a staff member leaving the room and saying, ‘Bye, ladies,’ was hurtful because I felt like I was lying.”
Then, last November, doctors diagnosed Soell with breast cancer. Surgeons removed Soell’s breasts and performed transgender reconstructive “top surgery” to give Soell a masculine-appearing chest. Soell went in for chemotherapy with a hospital wristband that said “female,” and came out ready for a new name.
Other Portland-area teachers have come out as transgender. In 2009, a longtime West Linn High School math teacher Nick Kintz became Nicole. The school principal wrote parents to explain, “We believe we have a teachable moment for ourselves, our students, and this community. As educators, we speak to authenticity, tolerance, honoring diversity and developing character.”
Kintz taught another six years before retiring this summer.
Two years ago, Reynolds School District leaders supported Micah Freeman when he transitioned to male while teaching seventh grade language arts. Freeman, 39, had taught at H.B. Lee Middle School for eight years and knew of other transgender teachers who had left their jobs to transition in secret. But that didn’t feel right for him.
“I wanted to be honest with kids because I wanted them to have a positive role model,” Freeman said. “More than 40 percent of transgender people attempt suicide. If I came to work and one of my trans students had committed suicide, and I had been stealth, closeted, I would wonder for the rest of my life if it would have made a difference if I — a happy, functional adult — had been honest.”
Three parents removed their children from Freeman’s class, but otherwise, the process went “incredibly smoothly,” Freeman said. Class went back to normal: Freeman’s students refer to him as “he,” and his transition rarely comes up.
When a transgender student enrolled, H.B. Lee’s principal welcomed the student and offered Freeman as a resource.
It’s impossible to say exactly how many transgender teachers work in Oregon. Though spokespeople for seven districts said they don’t have openly transgender teachers, The Oregonian/OregonLive spoke with several who agreed to talk privately about their situation but didn’t want their names used for fear of retribution.
Some said principals encouraged them to be open about their gender identity and keep books with transgender characters in their classrooms. But one second-year Portland high school teacher said they feared their contract would not be renewed if parents found out.
In 2011, parents called TV news stations to complain about a Vancouver, Wash. substitute, mislabeling the transgender woman as a “crossdresser,” a man who wears women’s clothing but does not identify as female.
Evergreen School District officials stood by the contract employee, the substitute teacher said, but students repeatedly called her names over the following four years. The teacher asked not to be identified by name.
Soell, wanting a smooth transition, sent a district-approved coming out video to coworkers and compiled a list of questions students might ask and possible responses for various grade levels.
That document “disappeared into the abyss,” Soell said. Instead, two of Hall’s coworkers said, the principal called an immediate staff meeting and told teachers they could not announce Soell’s name change or preferred pronouns to their classes.
Gresham-Barlow spokesperson Athena Vadnais said district administrators asked the principal “to notify staff to not engage in extensive conversations because of our need to honor the employee’s rights and to ensure the age appropriateness of the conversations with students.”
Still, students noticed differences. Chemotherapy caused Soell’s hair to fall out. Soell’s own class started using “Leo,” now their teacher’s legal name. When children asked questions, teachers said they weren’t sure how to reply.
“I felt incredibly uncomfortable,” said Tara Kerwin, a fourth grade teacher. “We were told what not to do but not what to do.”
A few local nonprofits that offer school-specific training on gender issues are seeing a jump in demand. Facilitators at Bridge 13, run by the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center, say they have four to six trainings a week booked this fall, most at Multnomah County SUN schools.
“There’s becoming more of an awareness that they need to get ahead of this,” said Danni/y Rosen, chair of Oregon’s Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and a transgender person who identifies as both a man and a woman. “Youth are coming out younger and younger, and schools are struggling with that.”
Rosen said most districts are saddled with a litany of state and federal requirements and make decisions by calculating cost and risk. If no one is openly transgender at a school, district leaders may not prioritize that kind of training.
In more conservative suburban districts, Rosen said, school leaders also worry parents will complain.
“There’s this fear that the community is not ready,” Rosen said. “‘Are we as a district the one that should be changing the culture of the community?'”
Even in rural areas, Rosen said kids are becoming emboldened: Sandy High School students last year successfully fought to have the district reclassify 11 staff bathrooms as gender-neutral for transgender students to use.
Eric Overby, a Troutdale resident whose stepdaughter is transgender, said officials at one Clackamas County district told him, “We don’t have that problem out here.”
“I told them, ‘First of all, it’s not a problem,'” Overby said, “‘And second, yes you do. I know several who go to your school.'”
Last year, Overby and his wife opened an East Multnomah County chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. As many as 30 families attend meetings; about 70 percent have a transgender child or sibling, Overby said.
TransActive Gender Center is working with more than 450 metro-area families with transgender children, said executive director Jenn Burleton. About 63 percent of those are younger than 12.
Students will eventually encounter transgender people, Rosen said, and a teacher’s reaction to a transgender coworker sets a model.
“If we want our youth to be successful in the world, we need to look at how they are going to work in diverse teams,” Rosen said. “You don’t want them in Fortune 500 companies, which have been very affirming for transgender workers’ rights, and they don’t know how to deal with diversity.”
A few weeks ago, Gresham-Barlow leaders hired TransActive to host a one-hour training at Hall Elementary. Facilitators told Hall staff that district employees are legally required to use Soell’s legal name and preferred pronouns. Soell now goes by Leo and they in class.
“I understand that for a lot of people, trans visibility is scary because it’s new,” Soell said. “I completely understand what it’s like to have things change when you don’t want them to. However, change is never an excuse to treat someone poorly.”
Nearly all of Soell’s students use the new monikers, though occasionally they have a playground debate.
“Are you a boy or a girl?” younger students have asked.
Equality California (EQCA), California’s largest statewide LGBT rights organization, has announced the formation of the EQCA Equality Council, a new advisory board that has been formed to better inform and develop strategic organizational policy. The council will support EQCA’s new mission by increasing visibility of the organization, assisting EQCA with outreach and supporting EQCA staff in areas corresponding to each council member’s expertise.“The members of the Equality Council are respected leaders and bring a broad range of skills and talents to Equality California,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “They will help shape and advance our newly-focused mission to advance LGBT civil rights and social justice.”
The members of the Equality Council are:
Daniel Allender of Los Angeles is an attorney at the law firm of Irell & Manella LLP. His pro-bono work has included immigration applications and helping victims of loan modification fraud.
Eric Andresen of San Francisco is president of West Coast Property Management and the San Francisco Apartment Association. He is also the National Vice President of Scouts for Equality.
Aaron A. Avery of Sacramento is a partner at Hefner Law with particular expertise in business insolvency matters.
Taylor Bazley of Los Angeles is a government relations consultant at Bob Burke & Company and a recent graduate of the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs.
Mike Cavalluzzi of West Hollywood is a criminal defense lawyer at the law firm of Cavalluzzi & Cavalluzzi, who defends clients in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Orange Counties.
Tina Choi of Los Angeles is a partner at Englander, Knabe & Allen and a government affairs and land use specialist.
Ivan Dominguez of West Hollywood is Founder and co-CEO of Creative Spirits Lab.
Katherine M. Forster of Los Angeles is a partner in the employment department at Munger, Tolles & Olson, past president of the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, and a member of the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association.
Chris Frahm of San Diego is a shareholder with the San Diego firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schrek and a frequent speaker before a wide variety of professional and community forums.
Susan Jerich of Los Angeles represents public safety officers and unions for the law firm Silver, Hadden, Silver & Levine and previously served as a San Francisco assistant district attorney and assistant U.S. attorney.
La Jolla residents Tom Maddox, a family medicine physician with Kaiser Permanente, and husband Randy Clark, a CPA, have been together over 30 years, and were among seven couples who sued the state of Nebraska for refusing to recognize their marriages.
Scott Malzahn of Los Angeles is a partner at Baker Marquart and focuses on business, tort and intellectual property disputes. He also teaches Constitutional Law at USC Gould School of Law.
Nicole Opper of San Francisco is a documentary filmmaker who directed and produced the Emmy‐nominated feature documentary “Off and Running” and is currently finishing her second feature documentary, “Búscame: Search for Me.”
Ernie Santora of Palm Springs is president of 1st Community Insurance Services, has served as president of Caballeros Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus, and is a member of the Partners for Life program at Desert AIDS Project.
Woody Sides of Long Beach is vice president of EnvisionRx, a national pharmacy benefit management company and a long standing board member of the Alliance for Housing & Healing.
Jeff Towns of Gardena is owner and general counsel for Clear View Sanitarium and Convalescent Center. He has served as a board member and program committee chair for the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation.
Mark Vargas of Los Angeles is president and CEO of FAVOR International Brands and serves as a member of the California Coastal Commission.
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Equality California is California’s largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization focused on creating a fair and just society. Our mission is to achieve and maintain full and lasting equality, acceptance, and social justice for all people in our diverse LGBT communities, inside and outside of California. Our mission includes advancing the health and well-being of LGBT Californians through direct healthcare service advocacy and education. Through electoral, advocacy, education and mobilization programs, we strive to create a broad and diverse alliance of LGBT people, educators, government officials, communities of color and faith, labor, business, and social justice communities to achieve our goals. www.eqca.org
Seeking and sharing information are important parts of the HIV journey – in fact, 80 percent of people living with HIV said they give advice or tell others where to find HIV-related information. In an effort to demonstrate the power of shared wisdom, provide a place for the HIV community to access and share information and support national HIV advocacy efforts, Janssen Therapeutics (Janssen) has announced the launch of Your Story, Your HIV Wisdom™.
Your Story, Your HIV WisdomTMhonors the experiences of people living with or affected by HIV. By sharing insights, perspectives and encouragement at ShareHIVWisdom.com in the form of words, pictures, audio or video, participants have an opportunity to make a difference for others affected by HIV. With these wisdom submissions, Janssen will make a donation to one of two national advocacy organizations serving the HIV community – AIDS United or the Black AIDS Institute – for a total campaign donation of up to $10,000 per organization. AIDS United focuses on community-driven responses to the HIV epidemic that reach at-risk populations. The mission of the Black AIDS Institute is to stop the AIDS pandemic in Black communities by engaging and mobilizing Black institutions and individuals in efforts to confront HIV.
Janssen has also brought together some of the leading voices in the HIV community to serve as advisers to Your Story, Your HIV WisdomTM.* Each month, Guy Anthony, Maria Mejia and Josh Robbins will share inspiring submissions in the Your Story, Your HIV Wisdom™ “Wisdom Gallery.” Each received powerful wisdom at key moments in their HIV journeys, learning firsthand the power of sharing information and the importance of passing wisdom on to their networks.
Guy Anthony is a published author and well-known HIV/AIDS blogger and vlogger. Guy encourages people to be open with their healthcare providers: “Ensure you are transparent and honest with your doctor – it’s important to share who you are outside of your HIV diagnosis, first. Without being fully aware of your sexual history, eating habits or housing status, your healthcare provider simply cannot provide you with comprehensive HIV-related care.” Read more of Guy’s wisdom here.
Maria Mejia is a powerful advocate for HIV education, treatment, testing and prevention, with a strong presence in traditional and social media. In her own words, Maria noted, “I am one of the faces of HIV. No more shame, no more stigma! We are just human beings that happen to have the condition of HIV. It’s that simple.” Read more of Maria’s wisdom here.
Josh Robbins is an HIV/AIDS activist and the founder of imstilljosh.com and “HIV Video Minute.” Josh commented, “Since being diagnosed, I’ve read and heard wisdom from thousands of people on the same journey as me. My piece of wisdom is simple – start talking. And make that talk encouraging to others.” Hear more of Josh’s wisdom here.
HIV was first reported in 1981 and remains a challenging disease and public health concern worldwide. In the United States today, an estimated 1.2 million people live with HIV and the number of Americans being diagnosed with HIV every year – about 50,000 – has not declined since the mid-1990s.
“Managing HIV requires more than medicine – it requires information and support, both from healthcare professionals and from others affected by the disease,” said Nefertiti Greene, president, Janssen Therapeutics. “Janssen has long been committed to providing resources for people living with HIV. We created Your Story, Your HIV Wisdom™ to support the community and provide a place to showcase the insights and experiences of people living with or affected by this difficult disease.”
Invented by Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s, the Kinsey scale plots individuals on a range of sexual dispositions from exclusively heterosexual at 0 through to exclusively homosexual at 6. Where the original study had a large number of methods for placing people, YouGov simply asked people to place themselves on the sexuality scale.
Taken as a whole, 72% of the British public place themselves at the completely heterosexual end of the scale, while 4% put themselves at the completely homosexual end and 19% say they are somewhere in between – classed as bisexual in varying degrees by Kinsey. Of the people that do place themselves in this 1-5 area, the majority incline away from homosexuality – 15% are closer to the heterosexual end, 2% directly in the middle and 2% are closer to the homosexual end.
With each generation, people see their sexuality as less fixed in stone. The results for 18-24 year-olds are particularly striking, as 43% place themselves in the non-binary area between 1 and 5 and 52% place themselves at one end or the other. Of these, only 46% say they are completely heterosexual and 6% as completely homosexual.
People of all generations now accept the idea that sexual orientation exists along a continuum rather than a binary choice – overall 60% of heterosexuals support this idea, and 73% of homosexuals. 28% of heterosexuals believe that ‘there is no middle ground – you are either heterosexual or you are not’.
But what does it mean to be at 1 on the scale, and what is the difference being here or at 2? According to the research, progressing further away from ‘completely heterosexual’ (0) towards the midpoint (3, or ‘completely bisexual’) increases the chance that you have had a sexual experience with a member of the opposite sex. 23% of those at level 1 have had a sexual encounter with a member of the opposite sex, while 52% of people at level 2 have had such an experience.
Clearly, these figures are not measures of active bisexuality – overall, 89% of the population describes themselves as heterosexual – but putting yourself at level 1 allows for the possibility of homosexual feelings and experiences. More than anything, it indicates an increasingly open minded approach to sexuality. In a further set of questions asking if respondents could conceivably be attracted to, have sex with or have a relationship with someone of the same sex (if the right person came along at the right time), level 1s were at least 35% more likely to say they could than level 0s.
For so long, David Denson desperately wanted to reveal to his baseball teammates that he is gay. He just never envisioned it happening in such impromptu and unstructured fashion.
A first baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers’ rookie affiliate in Helena, Mont., Denson had just entered the clubhouse a month or so ago when a teammate jokingly referred to him using a derogatory term for a gay male. It was the kind of profane, politically incorrect banter heard in that environment since team sports have been around.
That teammate had no way of knowing Denson actually is gay, but the 20-year-old slugger of African-American and Hispanic descent quickly seized the opportunity.
“Be careful what you say. You never know,” Denson cautioned the player with a smile.
Before he knew it, Denson was making the emotional announcement he yearned to share, and the group around him expanded to the point that he soon was speaking to most of the team. Much to Denson’s relief, when the conversation ended he was greeted with outward support and understanding instead of condemnation.
“Talking with my teammates, they gave me the confidence I needed, coming out to them,” recalled Denson. “They said, ‘You’re still our teammate. You’re still our brother. We kind of had an idea, but your sexuality has nothing to do with your ability. You’re still a ballplayer at the end of the day. We don’t treat you any different. We’ve got your back.’
“That was a giant relief for me,” Denson said. “I never wanted to feel like I was forcing it on them. It just happened. The outcome was amazing. It was nice to know my teammates see me for who I am, not my sexuality.”
The more Denson thought about it, though, the more he came to realize that a clubhouse confession wasn’t going to be enough. Until he came out publicly as gay and released that burden, Denson didn’t think he could truly blossom and realize his potential on the field.
With the help of former major-leaguer Billy Bean, who last year was named Major League Baseball’s first Ambassador for Inclusion, Denson reached out to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to tell his story in a telephone interview. In doing so, he becomes the first active player in affiliated professional baseball to reveal he is gay.
Sean Conroy, a pitcher for the Sonoma Stompers of the independent Pacific Association, revealed in June that he is gay, becoming the first active pro baseball player to do so. That league is not affiliated with MLB. In the history of the game, only two major-leaguers revealed they were gay — Glenn Burke and Bean — and both did so after leaving the game.
Former NBA player Jason Collins announced that he is gay after the 2013 season when he was a free agent. Collins played in 22 games with the Brooklyn Nets in 2014 before retiring, and therefore was the first active player in one of the major team sports to reveal he is gay.
When Denson learned of Bean and his new role with MLB, he reached out for advice and counsel, and the two have become like brothers. Bean long has rued not revealing his sexuality during his modest big-league career from 1987-’95 with Detroit, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego, and said he is immensely proud of Denson for having the courage to come forward.
“He is definitely cognizant of how it might affect his team,” said Bean, who eventually quit baseball over the personal conflict of hiding his sexuality. “I just wanted to make sure his parents were part of the conversation. David has two loving parents who obviously are very concerned. They’re worried about how this will affect him.
“Any player who happens to be gay and is a professional and has kept that secret, they just want to be judged for their baseball or football or basketball ability. David would not be playing professional baseball if he wasn’t an excellent baseball player.
“The beauty of what could come from this is he can be an example that can help change that perception and change the stereotype that there would never be a gay person on a men’s professional sports team. That was something I struggled with.”
Before revealing his secret to teammates, Denson figured it was time to finally tell his family, and did so in the spring. First, he told his sister, Celestine, a professional dancer married to former Brewers farmhand Jose Sermo.
“She said, ‘I’ve known since you were little,'” said Denson. “I said, ‘How did you know?’ She said, ‘You’re my little brother. I’m around you all the time.'”
Telling his parents, Lamont and Felisa, was not as easy. His father, a former athlete, needed some time to come to grips with the news.
“It took some stress off me, but it kind of built up a wall at the same time,” said Denson. “They weren’t too happy about it at first, though I think they sort of knew since I was little. They were afraid I’d be judged. They jumped right into the stereotype. No parents want to see their child discriminated against and talked about and put down.
“I don’t question that they love me. They never said they were upset about me being gay. It was harder on my dad than my mom. He’s a very hard-core Christian and he goes off the Bible and all that, which I completely understand, growing up in the church. I’m a Christian myself.
“It was an eye-opener for him. He finally came to terms with it. Coming out to my father was even harder than coming out to my teammates, because I knew how he felt about it. He grew up in sports, and I heard him talk (in derogatory fashion) about gay guys. That was hard for me to hear at the time.
“But I’m his son and he said, ‘It’s your life and it’s who you are. I love you.’ There’s a difference between accepting it, and supporting it and respecting it. I know he loves me and supports me and has my back.”
Denson had concealed the fact he is gay since being taken by the Brewers in the 15th round of the 2013 draft out of South Hills High School in West Covina, Calif. But the secret began to weigh more heavily on him, to the point he felt on the verge of a mental breakdown — or worse — at the outset of spring training this year.
“It became a depression level,” he revealed. “I wasn’t being myself. It was visible in my body language. I didn’t know if I should still stay in the sport.”
Denson sought advice from Becky Schnakenberg, a professional counselor contracted at that time by the Brewers to provide mental health assistance to players in need. He said those consultations convinced him it was necessary to let the Brewers know he is gay or risk a further downward spiral.
Denson requested a meeting at the Brewers minor-league complex with farm director Reid Nichols, who was accompanied by Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson and hitting coordinator Jeremy Reed.
“I was shaking and crying, and just very scared,” recalled Denson. “I didn’t know if it would go good or bad, or if they’d look at me any different.
“When I finally told them about my sexuality, Reid said, ‘To me, it doesn’t matter. You’re still a ballplayer. My goal for you, as well as anybody else in the organization, is to get you to the big leagues. You are who you are. That doesn’t make a difference. Just go out and play the game. This is a very brave thing for you to do.’
“I wasn’t doing it to be brave. I just couldn’t hide it anymore. For them to be so accepting and want the best for me, it showed they are looking at me for my ability, not my sexuality. They don’t treat me any different. They said if there was anything they could do to help, let them know. It was a huge relief.”
Nichols said his message to Denson at the time was simple: Concentrate on developing as a player with the knowledge that the organization was behind him.
“I told him we supported him and would continue to support him,” said Nichols. “I thought the meeting went well. We told him that was his personal business and we would judge him only on his career in baseball, as we do with every player.”
Denson was assigned to the Timber Rattlers, for whom he had played 68 games in 2014, batting .243 with four home runs and 29 runs batted in. The second time around, he struggled mightily at the plate, hitting only .195 with a .569 OPS in 24 games before being sent to Helena to regroup.
Denson was convinced the personal torment over concealing his sexuality from teammates contributed to his struggles on the field.
“There was that stereotype stuck in my head that there would never be a gay player on a team,” he said. “I was thinking that once they found out, they would shut me out or treat me different.
“That was one of the things that was holding me back. I was always saying, ‘Just keep it quiet. You don’t need to tell them. You don’t want them to see you different. You don’t want them to judge you.’
“It started to affect my game because I was so caught up in trying to hide it. I was so concerned about how they would feel. I was pushing my feelings aside. Finally, I came to terms with this is who I am and not everybody is going to accept it. Once you do that, it’s a blessing in itself.”
Since coming out to his Helena teammates, Denson said he has felt like a different person and player. He was selected for the Pioneer League All-Star Game in August and was named most valuable player, displaying his prodigious power with a home run.
As for Denson’s teammates living and playing with a gay player, Helena manager Tony Diggs said: “I don’t think there have been any problems whatsoever with the team. I’m pretty sure everybody on our team has an understanding of it.
“We are professional baseball players first, and I think that’s the way they’ve taken it. They’ve handled it well. David has always gone about his business professionally. He has shared with me that (keeping the secret for so long) was a burden for him and he feels more freedom after coming out.
“This is a new chapter as he decides to say it publicly. Now, there will be more people that know and they’ll have their opinions as to what they feel about it. At least, he’s being himself.”
With growing confidence and peace of mind, Denson hopes for understanding from those now learning about his sexuality. Rather than holding him back in any way, he believes coming out will help him reach his full potential.
“Growing up trying to hide it, knowing I’m an athlete, I was always nervous that my sexuality would get in the way of me ever having an opportunity, that people would judge me on my sexuality and not my ability,” he said.
“I wasn’t able to give fully of myself because I was living in fear. What if this person finds out? What if somebody else finds out? Instead of going out and just playing, I was trying to hide myself.
“I didn’t get drafted because of my sexuality. I didn’t start playing this game because of my sexuality. I started playing this game and got drafted because I have a love for this game. It’s a release for me to finally be able to give all of myself to the game, without having to be afraid or hide or worry about the next person who might find out.”
If Denson can serve as a role model for other gay professional athletes hiding their sexuality, he welcomes the opportunity to help others as Bean has helped him. He’s not sure what public reaction will be or how his story will be treated by the media going forward. If the folks at “60 Minutes” come calling, so be it. But there are no hidden agendas with Denson or Bean.
“David is not doing this for celebrity or publicity,” said Bean, who has remained in constant contact with Denson, using his own experiences as a compass. “David is very humble. It’s really about being his best self. He’s a great baseball player, but he needs to be his best self to get to the big leagues.
“I was just starting to understand how to play and when everything started to unravel, I just gave up on myself. I was consumed with the part I hated about my life.
“I’m excited to see David not have to worry about all of that. He can just tell the truth all the time. That’s a huge relief. When your life is a secret, you have to navigate on what levels of truth you’re allowed to share. And that becomes exhausting.”
What if this revelation in some way prevents Denson from attaining his goal of making the major leagues? He is not considered an elite prospect in the Brewers’ organization, but any player with his kind of power has a chance. During a showcase at Marlins Park in Miami before the 2013 draft, Denson crushed several home runs, including a 515-foot blast that scouts still talk about.
Football player Michael Sam, who revealed he is gay after his college career at Missouri, was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2014 but didn’t make the roster and recently cited mental health issues for leaving the Montreal team of the Canadian Football League. Did coming out prevent Sam from securing an NFL roster spot, or was he just not good enough?
“I don’t have any expectations of what might happen,” said Denson, who is batting .253 with four homers and 17 RBI in 41 games with Helena. “I’m hoping it will open the eyes of people in general that we’re all people, we’re human, we’re brothers in the sport. We’re all here trying to get to the big leagues. I’m excited to see where it goes from here, now that I don’t have that wall holding me back anymore.
“It has crossed my mind (that his revelation could be an obstacle). Baseball has taught me a lot of life lessons. One is to worry about what you can control and not worry about what you can’t control. I’m going to go out and do the best I can do, and hopefully make it one day.
“I think what I do on the field will matter more than my sexuality. At the end of the day, if I’m playing well, why should I not get the same opportunity as anyone else?”