Laieski vs. FDA

Caleb Laieski may be young, tall and lanky, but he’s a fighter.

At his Arizona high school, anti-gay bullying was so bad that he had to drop out and complete his education in a GED program. But the intense persecution he suffered had a sort of purifying effect – he channeled the bigotry against him into action. As he put it, he refused to “be another statistic.” In 2011 he advocated and lobbied for the Student Non-Discrimination Act in The Grand Canyon State and served as a diversity liaison in the Phoenix, Arizona mayor’s office. He also caught the attention of members of Congress and the White House and tried to take non-discrimination act to Capitol Hill.

Now he’s taking on the FDA. The 19-year-old LGBT activist, and good friend of mine, sued the FDA earlier this month for its “unnecessary” and “discriminatory” policy of banning MSM (men who have sex with men) blood donors from donating.

In 1985, the FDA began rejected blood donations from gay and bisexual men because they were at “increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion.” The AIDS epidemic was one of the defining tragedies of the 1980s. Thousands of healthy gay and bisexual men were suddenly becoming dangerously ill and dying from what some were calling the “gay cancer.” This new and terrifying virus was called AIDS and the FDA knew little about it, other than the fact that it was transmitted through the blood and sexual intercourse. Understandably, the administration banned MSM donors from donating to prevent accidental infections of blood transfusion patients.

Since then, our understanding medical science has exponentially increased. For one, the FDA scrutinizes and tests all blood donations it receives for viruses and cancers. Samples that don’t pass the tests are destroyed. People receiving blood transfusions are in very good and capable hands. But what has been one of the biggest breakthroughs in medicine has been the demotion of HIV/AIDS from a life-ravaging Grim Reaper to a treatable, chronic condition. The miraculous Truvada, for example, essentially prevents transmission.

And yet the blood ban is still on the books. Even though experts and the American Medical Association have denounced the lifetime ban as an unnecessary, bigoted policy, the FDA still turns away possibly millions of donors because of their sexual orientation. The American Red Cross has estimated that nearly two million more people could be saved if the ban were to be eliminated and that as many as three people can be helped from a single donation.

Laieski’s lawsuit uses the precedents set in famous historical cases, including Lawrence v. Texas (2003), Loving v. Virginia (1967), and United States v. Windsor (2013) to argue that turning away and singling out a group of people because of their sexual orientation is unconstitutional. Medical privacy is also cited; only homosexuals are asked to disclose if they’ve had multiple partners.

Laieski has a compelling case, to say the least. The FDA’s ban is discriminatory and not even needed to begin with. Asking gay and bisexual men how many people they’ve slept with may have been an uncomfortable precaution in the ’80s, but it’s 2014. HIV/AIDS doesn’t just effect millions of straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people – it’s a treatable condition that can be managed and prevented.

Is the FDA just nostalgic for the Reagan years or does it see all LGBT people as diseased and unworthy of blood donation? We will soon find out. With marriage equality sweeping the nation and renewed efforts to pass the Employment N0n-Discrmination Act (ENDA), I can’t think of a better time for the FDA to join the rest of the country in the 21st century than now.

Caleb Laieski

Caleb Laieski

 

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I spy with my little eye…outrage!

Sarah Silverman is in hot water over a video she did to comically highlight the alarmingly high wage gap between men and women in this country. Some transgender activists found it insensitive and took it literally.

 

 

The video is almost four minutes long, but it can be summed up in the following few sentences:

“Every year the average woman loses around $11,000 to the wage gap. Over the course of the working years of her life, that’s almost $500,000. That’s a $500,000 vagina tax! That’s why I’m taking matters into my own hands…I’m becoming a dude.”

To nearly everyone (gay, straight, bisexual, transgender) who watched, the message was pretty self-explanatory: Hey, I’m a woman and I earn less than a man because of it…so I’ll just be a man instead! It was hilarious and to-the-point: Working women deserve the same pay as their male counterparts.

Trans issues have nothing to do with the video. They just don’t. She’s not literally saying that women who undergo gender reassignment surgery will then go on to get equal pay. But transgender activist Janet Mock – whom I love and find incredibly inspiring – took to her Twitter account to claim Silverman was making that exact point. “Sex reassignment doesn’t help one advance in workplace,” she tweeted. “Ask one of the most underemployed populations: trans people.”

So much for irony and humor.

Silverman also took to Twitter to clarify what her intentions were in making the video (something she should not have had to do):

If I literally got a sex change I would indeed find the work force far less friendly. The video wasn’t transphobic it was transignorant – never crossed my mind. But to my *unintentional* credit- people are talking about it & so begins awareness. Please don’t punish this cause because of my video. I certainly don’t only fight for causes that concern or benefit me and I expect the same of the vital trans community.

The whole “backlash” highlights a little problem on the left (and I’m saying this as a progressive Millennial who cares deeply about LGBT rights): It’s become trendy and even expected to feign outrage for the purpose of being seen as socially aware. Let me be clear: Social justice is vitally important and fighting for the rights of all people is a liberal value that should be nurtured and encouraged. Injustice, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia…these ugly things exist and we must continually fight against and expose them where ever they are.

But there are too many progressives and liberals who take it to the next level. I can’t speak for everyone, but when one takes something that is not offensive to begin with (ie: the Silverman video), sprinkles it with accusations of bigotry or ignorance, and then condemns it publicly, it comes across as self-serving and self-righteous. It’s almost a way to say, “Look at how enlightened and socially conscious I am!” It serves no constructive purpose and only works to split hairs and as self-promotion.

Am I saying that Janet Mock is self-righteous? Not at all – she’s an incredible human being who has helped change the national conversation on what it means to be transgender. I love her work and I hope to meet her some day. But within activist and social justice circles, there’s a tendency to find problems and bigotry where none exists. Whether it’s accusing LGBT ally and liberal comedienne Sarah Silverman of being insensitive to trans issues in a comedic PSA or calling someone who critiques a religious doctrine “racist,” the theme is the same: Ego stroking disguised as awareness.

We need to move beyond this. There is too much injustice, bigotry and hate in the world that needs to be addressed and defeated.

still of Sarah Silverman from the video

still of Sarah Silverman from the video

 

Dear Brian Browns of the world….

With everything that has been written about the oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Supreme Court case challenging California’s Proposition 8 (spoiler alert: Prop 8 will most likely be a thing of the past), I’d like to take  a different approach and address the haters…….of the LGBT community, specifically those who frequently bring religion into the equation.

Brian Brown, head of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), recently compared same-sex marriage to slavery. He is one of many on the far religious right who have, for years, demonized and insulted members of the LGBT community. People like the American Family Association’s (AFA) Bryan Fischer and the Family Research Council’s (FRC) Tony Perkins have consistently outdone themselves in a sick game of who can say the most outrageous and degrading things about gays and lesbians. According to bigots like them, gays and lesbians are perverts, degenerates, pedophiles, into bestiality, unhealthy, Nazis, and unfit to raise children. Don’t believe me – simply visit the websites of these hate spewers.

Because actual  professionals in psychology, psychiatry, sociology and even biology long ago destroyed the many ridiculous arguments against homosexuality with reason, rationality and compassion, bigots like Brown and Perkins are left with using old-time, Hellfire and brimstone religion. However even that is becoming unacceptable as more and more religions and faiths move to accept members of the LGBT community just as they are. How do they respond: Homosexuality is wrong because sexist, homophobic, genocidal Bronze Age men said so!

To which I respond with this: If there really is a higher power, whether it is an actual being or energy force or what ever, I strongly suspect it does not care who I fall in love with just like it doesn’t care that women vote or people from different ethnic backgrounds marry. Your side of the argument has consistently used god and religion to fight against everything progressive, from the abolition of slavery to women’s rights and interracial marriage. What kind of deity punishes people with eternal damnation and suffering anyway?! What about the “God of Love?” The whole “You will burn in Hell for ________ (insert various actions)!” line is really getting old. Times change. Cultures change. The meaning behind words are in a constant state of change (Communication Theories 101). Religions, thankfully, also change.

If you still want to use hate, go right ahead; it’s a free country. However, here in the United States, there is separation of church and state. All citizens are seen as equal and are consitutionally guaranteed equality under the law. There’s a pretty big difference between consitutionally protected civil rights and religious doctrine. No one is coming or will come to your church and force you to marry same-sex couples. It’s not going to happen – get that myth and scare tactic out of your mind.

It is 2013 CE, not 2013 BCE. We don’t stone women and children and we no longer think Earth is the center of the known universe. America is not a theocracy, nor are its churches controlled by the state. It is time for your loud screaming and hate to go the way of Senator Joe McCarthy’s career – a disgraceful part of our history.

If you still cling to a brand of religious faith that preaches such hate and intolerance of everything different from it, that says something about your humanity (or lack thereof). The fact that there are countless compassionate, intelligent religious leaders and practitioners who accept their LGBT family, friends, doctors, lawyers, and coworkers just as they are delegitimizes your excuse for continuing to use religion as a tool to discriminate and oppress. Evolve or be left on the wrong side of history.

marriage equality

Uganda’s National Motto: We Still Hate Gay People

They’re at it again: The Ugandan legislature is set to vote – again – on a piece of legislation known internationally as the “kill the gays” bill.

Since 2009, Ugandan parliamentary member David Bahati has been trying to amend current Ugandan law (up to 14 years imprisonment for being gay) to throw LGBT Ugandans in prison for life.  An LGBT Ugandan could earn this sentence for simply being in a relationship with someone he or she loves. His sick, twisted dream also includes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”  In Bahati-speak, aggravated homosexuality includes “serial offenders” (having sex with the same person multiple times) and those who have gay sex with a disabled person. Seriously.

Bahati claims that the most recent version of this disgusting violation of human rights does not contain the death penalty. We’ve seen this sort of thing for three years: the international community pressures the Ugandan legislature to abandon the bill and they eventually do or say it’s going to be amended. Then it dies…only to reanimate like the undead the next year.

Once the legislature passes it, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will either sign it into law or veto it, in which case it is expected the legislature will override his veto.

This is the same David Bahati who revealed it is his goal to use the government of Uganda “to kill every last gay person.”

Currently, members of the international LGBT community face life imprisonment and death in many nations. On the same planet where same-sex couples can wed in nearly a dozen countries (and nine U.S. states), a large but thankfully shrinking portion of the world still treats homosexuality as a sickness and crime to be punished and snuffed out.

What is perhaps most disturbing about this bill is the fact that it was inspired by the same ideas that many “family” groups use here in America.

Bahati is one of the Ugandan leaders of a powerful and secretive far-right evangelical organization known as “The Family.” Despite The Family’s claims that they are not responsible for the hate in Uganda, Jeff Sharlet of Harper’s Magazine and Rolling Stone points out:

“They didn’t pull the trigger [by writing such a bill]. But there’s a sense in which they built the gun, which was the institutional idea of government being decided by small groups of elite leaders like Bahati, getting together and trying to conform government to their idea of Biblical law…this is what their American benefactors wanted them to do.”

For four decades, so-called “pro-family” groups have been screaming bloody murder because the government and society at large have had the gall to grant gays and lesbians the same rights and protections that all citizens enjoy.

Gays and lesbians have been routinely called “perverts,” “degenerates,” “child molesters,” “sodomizers,” and “sick” by groups whose sole purpose it is to “protect” America from things like equality and equal pay. Be afraid, America!

One example is the influential Family Research Council, headed by former Louisiana lawmaker Tony Perkins. Last year it was classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its consistent dissemination of hate and lies against the LGBT community.

Not all “pro-family” groups are given the hate group certification. It’s when they start citing discredited studies and phony statistics to attack gays and lesbians as degenerates that the label is then rightfully applied.

Before he claimed he never supported the “kill the gays” bill, Perkins praised it as a way “to uphold moral conduct” and a tool that Bahati could use to lead “his nation in repentance.” It turns out hate and ignorance have consequences….like inspiring loons like Bahati.

Thankfully, this hate and ignorance of the LGBT community is continually decreasing. As the 21st century continues more and more people are realizing that gays and lesbians are just like everybody else (shocker, right?!). Nine, and possibly soon to be ten, states now recognize gays and lesbians as equal citizens. The number of nations that are legalizing marriage equality grows by the month as well.

At the same time, ideals from the 16th century are making one last stand before dying out like the infection on humanity they are. Uganda is sadly one of many nations where LGBT persons face intense persecution and possibly their lives for being who they are. The international community must continue to pressure and possibly sanction Uganda for its gross human rights violations.

Call me idealistic or American, but governments are supposed to treat and protect all citizens equally. It is absolutely unacceptable for any nation to treat its citizens the way Uganda currently does. It is vital to everyone that the medicine of truth and knowledge be administered, and soon.

California Takes a Giant Leap in the Right Direction

It will soon be illegal for licensed therapists to try to “cure” minors of their homosexuality in the state of California. Governor Jerry Brown signed SB-1172 into law this past weekend, outlawing the dangerous, destructive practice for those under 18 statewide. So-called “reparative therapy” has been around since psychologists first began recognizing the complexities of sexuality. All credible psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals have rejected it for nearly 40 years. Trailblazing California is the first state to ban it altogether for minors (effective January 1, 2013).

“These practices[reparative therapy] have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery” – Governor Brown

The law itself is quite stunning and one of the many reasons I am proud to be California born-and-bred. Paragraph after paragraph, SB-1172, also known as the “Sexual orientation change efforts” law, destroys the myth that being LGBT is abnormal and somehow perverted. The first half of the very first section of the bill makes the case for why such a law is needed:

(a) Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming. The major professional associations of mental health practitioners and researchers in the United States have recognized this fact for nearly 40 years.
(b) The American Psychological Association convened a Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. The task force conducted a systematic review of peer-reviewed journal literature on sexual orientation change efforts, and issued a report in 2009. The task force concluded that sexual orientation change efforts can pose critical health risks to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, including confusion, depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.
(c) The American Psychological Association issued a resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts in 2009, which states: “[T]he [American Psychological Association] advises parents, guardians, young people, and their families to avoid sexual orientation change efforts that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and to seek psychotherapy, social support, and educational services that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support, and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth.”
(d) The American Psychiatric Association published a position statement in March of 2000 in which it stated:
“Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or ‘repair’ homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable. Furthermore, anecdotal reports of ‘cures’ are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. In the last four decades, ‘reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. Until there is such research available, [the American Psychiatric Association] recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to first, do no harm.
The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient. Many patients who have undergone reparative therapy relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction. The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization discussed.
Therefore, the American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.
…….
(n) California has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, and in protecting its minors against exposure to serious harms caused by sexual orientation change efforts.

The American Psychological Association and The American Psychiatric Association are not alone in their assessments. The American School Counselor Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Medical Association, The American Counseling Association, The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and The Pan American Health Organization (regional office of the World Health Organization) have all denounced reparative therapy. This isn’t some “liberal” conspiracy; they’re peer-reviewed, scholarly studies designed to discover the effects of reparative therapy. The findings of the professionals: stay far away from it.

The law delivers a major blow to one of the major pillars of the argument against same-sex marriage. The Prop 8 trials were filled with numerous claims that homosexuality was not a natural variant on human sexuality – despite all credible mental health organizations saying otherwise – and thus discrimination should be maintained in the state constitution. With an entire American state essentially slamming the door in the face of that argument, marriage equality is even more inevitable.

There is one exception to the law: minors 12-17 years of age have the ability to choose to undergo this ridiculous treatment. I worry that the LGBT youth “choosing” to undergo this quack treatment will actually be coerced or even forced by their families to go. Will there be a way to tell if parents and family are forcing their children to undergo this “treatment” under the guise of “choice?” We shall see what happens.

Despite this compromise, anti-gay groups are already preparing to sue over SB-1172. I must say, you gotta admire their determination: In spite of society moving to accept and treat all people equally, ironically labeled “pro-family, pro-America” groups have the gall to identify which groups deserve second class citizenship and which deserve first. It’s almost a  moving story on the perseverance of a small, organized and determined group… (*insert MEGA sarcasm*). Damn that United States Constitution and its equality for all! 😉

Citing the official positions of the world’s leading mental health organizations isn’t the only angle SB-1172 takes. This groundbreaking law also cites disturbing facts:

LGBT youth who experience family rejection for their identity are…
  • over eight times as likely to attempt suicide,
  • almost six times as likely to have high levels of depression,
  • over three times as likely to abuse drugs,
  • and over three times as likely to have dangerous, unprotected sex than their LGBT counterparts who experience little to no rejection from family.

This is one of the best things to come out of the California legislature in a while. Despite the fact that California is very dysfunctional politically and economically (thanks mostly, in my opinion, to an out-of-control ballot initiative/proposition process), the Golden State doesn’t condemn people for being who they are. California’s lead on this issue is already being emulated; New Jersey and other states are considering similar laws. Despite the protests of groups that are neither “pro-family” nor “pro-America,” society is moving forward. As Dick Cheney said (ironically, to say the least), “…freedom means freedom for everyone.”

Walker, Legal Ranger

Federal Judge Vaughn Walker – who has the distinction of being the judge to make the monumental and historic decision that overturned California’s Proposition 8 – wrote a well-thought out and articulated analysis explaining why not allowing two people of the same sex to legally marry is unconstitutional and regressive.

From the anthropological and evolutionary roots of marriage to the discriminatory laws and attitudes that hold back human progress, Judge Walker left no holds barred in his stunning and precise analysis. One of the many notable sections include the following:

The evidence shows that the movement of marriage away from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from state-mandated gender roles reflects an evolution in the understanding of gender rather than a change in marriage. The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry. FF 21. Rather, the exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed.

The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household. FF 19-20, 34-35. Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage. FF 33. Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouses’ obligations to each other and to their dependents. Relative gender composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. FF 48. Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.

Whether social conservatives admit it or not, human society is always evolving and changing with new ideas and breakthroughs as well as through human evolution itself. To ignore this simple fact in favor of antiquated views and prejudice is ignorant and contrary to the American ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Thankfully, we’re closer to equality for all in this country.

Prop 8 Overturned!

Prop 8 has been overturned. Today, California joins Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Washington DC in recognizing same-sex marriages. Regardless of how you feel about gay marriage, this is a great day for the Constitution.

Since all Americans receive – or are supposed to receive – equal treatment and protection under the law, logic would dictate that this also includes two people who are in a committed relationship.

America is a beacon of liberty and equality for all who are privileged to live here. If you’re not depriving anyone of their life, liberty or pursuit of happiness, you are encouraged to make your own life, live free and pursue your own happiness.

Just because one group – or groups – of people get together and declare another inferior does not in any way mean they then have the right to legally enslave them. Thomas Jefferson warned against this: he called it the “tyranny of the majority” in which the majority decides and dictates the rights of the minority.

In November 2008, California voters – many mislead through deceptive television ads and misinformation through “family” groups as well as the Mormon Church’s finances – approved Proposition 8 by a narrow 52%, which overturned the state court’s decision five months earlier allowing same-sex marriage in the Golden State.

21 months and two court challenges later, gay couples can now once again marry if they decide to.

Opposition has already planned to appeal to the 9th Circuit Court, whom I expect will uphold the decision. Should the US Supreme Court pick up the case (doubtful), they will either uphold today’s decision or maintain the ban. In that situation, I expect them to agree that homosexuals do in fact have the right to marry. This would strike down same-sex marriage bans in 41 states and overturn President Clinton’s “Defense of Marriage Act,” making the United States the 11th nation on the planet to legalize same-sex marriage.

Canada, Argentina, South Africa, Iceland, Portugal, Spain, The Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Sweden all recognize same-sex marriage. Isn’t it time that the pioneering and forward-thinking United States joined?