April 26, 2022

April LGBTQ+ Newsletter

Editorial: The Gay Agenda for 2022

by Martha McDevitt-Pugh, DA LGBTQ+ Global Caucus vice chair

The DAUK LGBTQ+ Caucus kicked off this election year with a discussion of “The Gay Agenda" for 2022.

During the webinar, we heard from Sam Alleman, LGBTQ+ Coalitions Director at the DNC, to hear about measures the Biden Administration has taken to advance protections for LGBTQ+ people. These efforts started with signing executive orders on LGBTQ+ rights within hours of taking the oath of office — including preventing and combating discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation and the whole-of-government initiative establishing efforts to advance equity and justice for communities who have been left behind, underserved, or discriminated against by federal policies, laws, and programs, including LGBTQ+ communities. They also included lifting the ban on transgender military service and providing Americans with same-sex partners with an equal pathway to registering their children born abroad as U.S. citizens.

I joined Alleman to speak about the state of play across the country — and the role each of us has to play in advancing LGBTQ+ rights ahead of the midterm elections. The event was moderated by Caroline Ruchonnet and organized by DAUK LGBTQ+ Caucus chair Austin Allaire.

Republican state legislatures across the country have been targeting some of society’s most vulnerable — LGBTQ+ youth. Nearly 240 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been filed in the first three months of 2022 alone, half of them targeting transgender people. From Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill to Iowa’s new anti-trans sports law, we are seeing Republicans enact a hateful, bigoted agenda which jeopardizes the hard-won progress of the LGBTQ+ community.

LGBTQ+ issues are expected to be highlighted throughout the 2022 election cycle, making it critical that Democrats use the opportunity to speak to the issues. Relational organizing will be more important than ever — checking in with friends and family to find out if they’re registered and ready to vote.

The panel noted that getting out the vote in the 2022 midterms is as important as it was in 2018 and 2020, when Democrats took power in the House, Senate and won the presidency. With Democrats Abroad mobilizing voters in all 50 states, DA is a good partner for the DNC and the DNC LGBTQ Caucus, to bring attention to local and state issues while encouraging Americans overseas to vote. U.S. democracy itself is at stake.

If you missed it, you can watch the event here.

(Let us know what you think about anything you read in the Newsletter. Or let us know if there’s something we should cover. Email us your feedback to [email protected].)

In the news: Trans Day of Visibility celebrated with X gender markers, a warning against anti-LGBTQ+ laws, and a “Jeopardy!” champ

by Fred Kuhr, editor

The annual Transgender Day of Visibility was March 31, and both the Democratic Party and the Biden White House marked the occasion.

“Every American deserves to be treated with dignity and respect — that includes trans and nonbinary Americans,” said DNC chair Jaime Harrison and DNC LGBTQ Caucus Chair Earl Fowlkes, in a statement. “Today, we celebrate the countless ways trans and non-binary Americans have and continue to make our nation great. From the arts to activism, our armed forces to the highest levels of government, trans and non-binary people have played an essential role in making our nation better and pushing it closer towards progress.”

They also took aim at Republican officials and legislators who are aggressively targeting LGBTQ+ Americans. “Republicans across the country continue to use their power in state and local government to target trans children and make life more difficult for these vulnerable kids and their families. Last year alone, we saw more than 100 anti-trans bills introduced across the country — many of them targeting kids.”

They also held a virtual town hall on March 31 along with Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride, San Francisco Democratic Party Chair Honey Mahogany, National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, and Dr. Rachel Levine, the U.S. assistant secretary for health who is the first transgender American confirmed to a federal post by the U.S. Senate.

Also marking Transgender Day of Visibility, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a letter reminding states that targeting trans people for discrimination is a violation of federal law.

In the letter addressed to states’ attorneys general from Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, she wrote, “The U.S. Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that transgender youth, like all youth, are treated fairly and with dignity in accordance with federal law. This includes ensuring that such youth are not subjected to unlawful discrimination based on their gender identity, including when seeking gender-affirming care. We write to remind you of several important federal constitutional and statutory obligations that flow from these fundamental principles.”

The letter also coincided with the recent passage of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, the so-called “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill, that was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 28.

“People who are transgender are frequently vulnerable to discrimination in many aspects of their lives, and are often victims of targeted threats, legal restrictions, and anti-transgender violence,” Clarke wrote. “The Department and the federal government more generally have a strong interest in protecting the constitutional rights of individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, nonbinary, or otherwise gender-nonconforming, and in ensuring compliance with federal civil rights statutes.”

The Biden Administration also used the occasion of the Transgender Day of Visibility to announce that its perviously announced decision to add an X gender marker to passports would go into effect on April 11.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) also announced it will be changing scanners to remove gender.

“The Department of State has reached another milestone in our work to better serve all U.S. citizens, regardless of their gender identity,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement. ”In June, I announced that U.S. passport applicants could self-select their gender and were no longer required to submit any medical documentation, even if their selected gender differed from their other citizenship or identity documents. Starting on April 11, U.S. citizens will be able to select an ‘X’ as their gender marker on their U.S. passport application, and the option will become available for other forms of documentation next year.”

Also in celebration on March 31, a special guest took questions in the White House Briefing Room — “Jeopardy!” champion Amy Schneider. She not only made history earlier this year as one of the most successful champions in the quiz show’s history, but also as the most successful trans contestant ever.

In the press room after her White House visit, she was asked if she had any comment on the plethora of anti-trans bills such as in Florida and Texas.

“They’re really scary,” she said, “and some of them in particular are denying medical services to trans youth. Those are life-saving medical treatments and these bills will cause the deaths of children, and that’s really sad to me and it’s really frightening.”

When asked what she hoped her White House visit would accomplish, she said, “Just the same thing that I’ve been accomplishing, which is being a trans person out there that isn’t monstrous and isn’t threatening and is just a normal person like we all are. So the more people like me can be seen, the harder it is to sustain the myths that are kinds driving a lot of this hate and fear.”

Starting a local DA LGBTQ+ caucus in a nutshell

by Betsy Ettorre, member of the LGBTQ+ Steering Committee and chair of the Global Seniors Caucus

Are you interested in starting a DA LGBTQ+ caucus in your local area? Do you feel isolated as an LGBTQ+ American living abroad? Would you like to have a group for support as an LGBTQ+ American living abroad? You can start a local LGBTQ+ caucus in your country and make links with the DA Global LGBTQ+ Caucus. Please see below about what you can do.

Here are the steps you can take (Do not worry, they are easy, and you can have help too):

  1. Tell your Country Chair and Vice Chair that you would like to set up an LGBTQ+ country caucus and ask for their help.
  2. Ask one of your country committee members who has access to DA Nation Builder to make a list for you of all the DA members names and emails who are interested in joining an LGBTQ+ Caucus.
  3. Before you are able to have this list you need to sign a DA Confidentiality Agreement and submit it to DA. Go to Confidentiality Agreement - Admin Access on NationBuilder - Confluence (atlassian.net)
  4. After you sign the Confidentiality Agreement, you are clear to receive the emails of all members in your country who are potential members of your soon-to-be established LGBTQ+ Caucus.
  5. Now you are ready to write a group email to these members. But first, answer the question below.
  6. How are you going to attract these members? There are some ways you can have your inaugural event. You can:
    • Have a specific DA country virtual event with a well-known LGBTQ+ American from your country or the U.S.
    • Have a shared virtual global event with the DA LGBTQ+ Caucus. Ask to be included in one of their global events or better yet co-host the event with the DA LGBTQ+ Global Caucus. Write to LGBTQ+ Caucus Chair Bob Vallier [email protected] and LGBTQ+ Caucus Vice Chair Martha McDevitt-Pugh [email protected] and suggest this type of event.
    • Have an email call for a local Zoom meeting with those interested in being members of a local LGBTQ+ caucus. At that meeting, introduce yourself and ask for volunteers to be on your caucus committee. Plan with those present what events you would like to sponsor locally. At the very least you need a vice chair, secretary and volunteers for events. You may want to have input into your country’s newsletter if your country has one – maybe “an LGBTQ+ Corner” — to keep members up to date on what is happening with your group.
  7. After you decide how you want to proceed, you need to draft an email to those interested members. Remember when you write to these individuals put their emails in the “Bcc” line or hidden area for their emails. At this stage, you need to keep their names hidden.
  8. The email should be informal and friendly. Give your reasons for wanting to start this local LGBTQ+ caucus. Tell potential members who you are, what you expect from this caucus, how often you would like to have meetings, and what sorts of events you envisage for the group.
  9. That is it! Good luck, and if you need any help, please contact Betsy Ettorre, Member of DA Global Caucus Steering Committee, at [email protected]

In a same-sex marriage and receiving Social Security? You may be eligible for a 50% increase

by Irene Chriss, associate editor

I expatriated from the United States to France in 2003 because, after 9/11, the obstacles for my partner, a French citizen, to legally remain in the United States became insurmountable.

I filed for early Social Security retirement benefits to assure a steady income and avoid straining my savings. We were able to marry shortly after France legalized same-sex marriage. Finances were tight but my monthly Social Security checks were always on time and were always welcome!

A few years after our marriage, an American friend of mine told me that my wife could receive an amount of 50 percent above my Social Security benefits. Nonsense, I said. Surely this benefit was limited only to straight couples and American citizens.

Not true! Even though my wife was not a U.S. citizen, she was eligible to file for a supplemental 50 percent of my retirement monthly income. One caveat, however: If both spouses are American citizens and receiving Social Security benefits, then the spouse with the lower income can opt to receive 50 percent of the benefits of the other spouse.

I contacted the American embassy, which confirmed she was entitled to apply for a supplemental 50 percent of my Social Security monthly check. We showed proof of our marriage and proof we were living together. Her checks began several months later and continue to this day.

Who knew?! Maybe you already did know this, but if you didn’t, then read on to discover other benefits your same-sex marital status offers you.

The Social Security Administration website states:

  • “We encourage you to apply right away for benefits, even if you are not sure you are eligible. Applying now will protect you against the loss of any potential benefits.
  • Gay men and lesbians can receive survivor’s benefits if they can show that they were in a committed relationship and would have married had that been possible.
  • We recognize same-sex couples’ marriages in all states, and some non-marital legal relationships (such as some civil unions and domestic partnerships), for purposes of determining entitlement to Social Security benefits, Medicare entitlement, and eligibility and payment amount for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). We also recognize same-sex marriages and some non-marital legal relationships established in foreign jurisdictions for purposes of determining entitlement to Social Security benefits, Medicare entitlement, and SSI.

“Here are five things you should know about our benefits for same-sex couples:

  1. Marital status is important — same-sex couples can receive Social Security benefits when a worker retires, becomes disabled, or dies. We also consider marital status when we determine eligibility and payment amount for Supplemental Security Income.
  2. What type of benefits can you receive — Social Security taxes pay for three kinds of benefits: retirement, disability, and survivors. If you are entitled to benefits, your spouse and eligible family members might receive benefits, too.
  3. Children may receive benefits — your children or stepchildren could also be entitled to benefits.
  4. When you apply for benefits is important — if you’re married or have entered a non-marital legal relationship, we encourage you to apply right away, even if you’re not sure you’re eligible. Applying now will protect you against the loss of any potential benefits.
  5. Report life changes right away — you should let us know immediately if you move, marry, separate, divorce, or become the parent of a child. Don’t wait until we review your benefits to tell us about any changes. You should report changes right away so benefits are paid correctly.

“Please call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 or at our TTY number, 1-800-325-0778, if you are deaf or hard of hearing. Or you can contact your local Social Security office. For more information, please visit our website for same-sex couples.

“Legal same-sex marriages will now be treated in the same manner as opposite-sex marriages regarding federal employee benefits. Including options to:

“The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) definition of a spouse covers a partner in any legally recognized marriage. You are entitled to use FMLA leave to care for a same-sex spouse with a serious health condition. For additional information, see OPM’s FMLA Fact Sheet.

“Benefits available to care for a domestic partner or available to domestic partners of federal employees include:

  • Voluntary Leave Transfer Program (VLTP): Can be used to care for qualifying family members who experience a medical emergency, including domestic partners
  • NIH Leave Bank: If you enroll as a member, program benefits can be used to care for qualifying family members who experience a medical emergency, including domestic partners
  • Long-Term Care Insurance: Can be treated as a qualifying relative to apply for coverage.
  • Designated beneficiary: You can designate your same-sex domestic partner as a beneficiary for your benefits.

“New Guidance from SSA on Spousal & Survivors Benefits for Married LGBT Individuals on March 1, 2017, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced it would reopen any decision to deny spousal or survivors benefits to a same-sex spouse based on a discriminatory marriage ban, which resulted in a loss of benefits to the individual who filed the claim. help individuals in same-sex marriages who were denied benefits because their marriage to a spouse of the same sex wasn’t properly recognized.”

Upcoming Events

If you missed them, reach out to the coordinators for the recordings!

Global Climate Rally
April 25, 2022

12-1:30 p.m. Eastern Time

Where are we headed and what can we do to change course? To conclude Earth Month, the Global Progressive Caucus and the Environmental and Climate Crisis Council co-host a global rally, highlighting our climate emergency and what we must do to address it effectively.

Hear from an inspiring roster of elected officials, NGO leaders, climate change experts, organizers, and Democrats Abroad members who will draw attention to the consequences we face and the urgent action we must take now.

RSVP and information

American & French Tax Experts Webinar
April 25, 2022
7:30-9 p.m. Paris Time

Due to popular demand, DA Strasbourg is pleased to host another online tax seminar with U.S. and French tax specialists, Benjamin Pik and Jonathan Hadida. They have both kindly agreed to lead another webinar on Zoom. So, if you could not join us in March - or you did, and still have questions or would just like to attend again and perhaps learn more - we hope that you can join us for an informative and lively seminar with these accomplished and knowledgeable professionals.

RSVP and information

Looking for Reporters/Writers
Help us report on key events related to the Democrats Abroad LGBTQ+ Caucus both at home and abroad.

What does being a reporter involve?

  • Good writing skills
  • Meeting via Zoom once a month (usually the 2nd or 3rd Thursday) for an hour (12.00 or 13.00 EST) with the Newsletter team 
  • Viewing the LGBTQ+ events during the month assigned to you and writing a 800-1000 word report
  • Submitting contributions by the deadline date
  • Being a member of DA LGBTQ+ Caucus

If you are interested in being a reporter and member of our Newsletter team, email [email protected] with the subject “Newsletter Reporter” and tell us about yourself, your experience and why you’d like to join our team. We look forward to hearing from you.