Editorial: Democrats are good for mental health

by Fred Kuhr, co-editor

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and we in the LGBTQ+ community have much to be thankful for this year. Most notably, we have a presidential administration full of allies, as well as members of our own community, instead of the hostile environment we all suffered through under the previous administration.

Many of us felt anxiety, depression and stress over those four years. And maybe you thought it was just you, your family, and your friends feeling this way.

But according to two new studies, those feelings were widespread. The conclusion? The Trump Administration was bad for LGBTQ+ mental health.

A report by Associate Professor Masanori Kuroki at Arkansas Tech University, which will be published in December in the journal Economics and Human Biology, shows that “extreme mental distress” increased among LGBTQ+ people during Trump’s rise and presidency.

The findings suggest “that the Biden Administration may have inherited higher rates of mental distress among LGBT people [than they would have] if Trump had not run and won the 2016 election.”

Another study from Adrienne Grzenda, an assistant clinical professor at UCLA, used data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to compare “frequent mental distress” reported by different populations.

"A clear association exists between the 2016 election and the changeover to a decisively anti-LGBT administration and the worsening mental health of sexual and gender minority adults,” according to the report published in the journal LGBT Health.

The study also shows that bisexual and transgender people were hit the hardest by mental health distress during those years.

While both studies show an increase of mental health issues during the previous administration, all is not back to normal. Researchers agree that even while the previous president is not in the White House, “The ongoing introduction of anti-LGBTQ legislation in the states continues to expose LGBTQ people, especially children, to the risk of significant mental health consequences,” reported NBC News.

So while it’s easy to get complacent now that an ally is in the White House, we have to continue to stay involved and vote like our mental health depends on it — because it does.

(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: New daddy Buttigieg and four-star admiral Levine make history, but not everyone is happy

by Fred Kuhr, co-editor

United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, the country’s first Senate-confirmed openly gay cabinet secretary, made the media rounds last month to talk about supply chain issues and global trade disruptions. But journalists were also interested in his and his husband Chasten’s new life as parents of infant twins.

“It’s been wonderful. It’s everything people tell you to expect and more ” Buttigieg told MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski on “Morning Joe.” “… I think the biggest thing that has surprised me is just how much joy there is even sometimes in the hard parts. It’s the most demanding thing I’ve ever done. I used to think of 5 a.m. as early, [but] now I think of it as nap time, if I’m lucky. And yet I catch myself grinning half the time. We’re just over the moon.”

Not surprisingly, some right-wing media personalities were not as happy to celebrate the couple’s newfound fatherhood.

Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson, for example, criticized Buttigieg taking paternity leave, saying that the new father was “trying to figure out how to breastfeed.”

But Buttigieg, who chose not to overtly address the dog-whistle homophobia and misogyny in Carlson’s comments, shot back on CNN’s “State of the Union. “As you might imagine, we’re bottle-feeding and doing it at all hours of the day and night. And I’m not going to apologize to Tucker Carlson or anyone else for taking care of my premature newborn infant twins. The work that we are doing is joyful, fulfilling, wonderful work. It’s important work and it’s work that every American ought to be able to do when they welcome a new child into their family.”

Buttigieg also used the flap to put a focus on paternity leave. He told Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” “Look, family leave is important. It’s important as a matter of family values. It’s important to our economy. And one more thing that I think is maybe underappreciated.”

Buttigieg has noted that Carlson’s comments are ironic given that the Republican Party had previously positioned itself as the party of “family values.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters, “I think what you’re getting at here is the question about whether men, parents, women should have paternity and maternity leave. And the answer is absolutely yes, in our view. That is the policy of this administration.”

Buttigieg, however, was not the only Biden Administration official to become the target of anti-LGBTQ+ wrath.

Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Rachel Levine was sworn in last month as a four-star admiral, making her the first transgender four-star officer in all eight of the country’s uniformed services. Admiral Levine is now also the first female four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Services Commissioned Corps. Previously, she became the first transgender federal official to receive Senate confirmation.

“Admiral Levine’s historic appointment as the first openly transgender four-star officer is a giant step towards equality as a nation,” Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “This is a proud moment for us at HHS.”

Carlson took the opportunity to go on an anti-trans rant, saying, “[The] Biden Administration declared that a biological man who wears a dress is now a female admiral.”

Congressman Jim Banks, an Indiana Republican, then tweeted his own anti-trans statement. “Calling someone that was born and lived as a man for 54 years the first ‘female’ four-star officer is an insult to every little girl who dreams of breaking glass ceilings one day,” he wrote.

Twitter subsequently suspended Banks’ official work account after thousands of other Twitter users flagged his comments for “targeted misgendering or dead naming of transgender individuals.”

Despite such anti-LGBTQ+ animus, the White House and Democratic Party continued showing their support for the community.

The DNC released a statement celebrating National Coming Out Day on October 11. The statement from DNC Chair Jaime Harrison and LGBTQ Caucus Chair Earl Fowlkes said, in part, “In a world where LGBTQ people, particularly transgender and gender non-conforming people, live in fear of violence or discrimination, we must also reaffirm our dedication to creating a world where LGBTQ people feel safe and valued, not negatively targeted because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

President Biden used the occasion to call for the defeat of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in state legislatures and for Senate passage of the Equality Act, which would ban anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.

“Despite the extraordinary progress our nation has made, our work to ensure the full promise of equality is not yet done,” Biden said in a statement. “Anti-LGBTQ+ bills still proliferate in state legislatures. Bullying and harassment — particularly of young transgender Americans and LGBTQ+ people of color — still abounds, diminishing our national character.”

The U.S. Department of State also issued a statement recognizing Intersex Awareness Day on October 26, denouncing forced genital surgery on intersex youth.


From the Chair: Remembering trans victims by fighting for trans rights

by Bob Vallier, LGBTQ+ Caucus Chair

This month, on November 20, the LGBTQ+ community will mark the 22nd Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). Begun in 1999 as a vigil for Rita Hester, an African-American transwoman killed in 1998, this day now commemorates all transgender people who have been victims of anti-trans violence.

Trans people — especially transwomen, and even more so transwomen of color — are subject to an inordinate amount of violence, ranging from physical attacks to murder. The simple, tragic fact is that transphobia kills. And like all fear, transphobia is rooted in ignorance. The TDoR not only commemorates, but also educates by bringing attention to the ways that transphobic violence is connected to race, gender, and class. Caitlyn Jenner might get deadnamed by Dave Chappelle, and Rachel Levine may have to deal with harassment from right-wing trolls on Twitter, but Laverne Cox and Victoria Cruz get death threats every day. The lives of transwomen of color, and indeed of all transpeople, are at risk on a daily basis.

It is a phenomenon worth noting that the preponderance of transphobic violence is directed at transwomen (which, to be clear, is not to say that it is not also directed against transmen, just significantly less so). One should take a moment to ponder why this is this case. Toxic masculinity is already at the root of much misogyny, and one need not have studied much psychoanalysis to arrive at the hypothesis that when men discover that a transwoman is “not a woman,” toxic masculinity is transformed into violent rage, directed at the person who “deceived” the patriarchy or who “perverted the natural order of things.” Transphobia is a cultural psychopathy.

Frighteningly, transphobia has been on the rise over the past few years, and we need only look to the election of 2016 to begin to understand why. Trump unleashed and channeled the worst instinctual fears, generalizing and normalizing transphobia in all its forms. While the families of victims of transphobic violence are able to see some justice thanks to hate crimes legislation, this possibility depends on the good will of the local district attorney or state prosecutor — and many states simply lack this will to see justice done.

In fact, several states are currently actively trying to undo justice and extend a more generalized violence against transpeople — once again, particularly transwomen and transgirls. Because transphobia has become normalized over the last few years, it has been turned into a political wedge issue: Transphobia is political. Just this week, an article in the New York Times detailed legislative initiatives in 10 Republican-led states to ban transgender athletes from girls’ sports. Why? What is their stated motivation? It’s unfair to cisgirls that transgirls — whom they claim have larger muscle mass and male hormones — can compete against them with an unfair advantage.

Take a moment to digest this. The Republicans are claiming that girls and women are treated unfairly in sports because cisboys and cismen are “naturally” better at sports. Of course there’s no mention of how women are treated unfairly in the workplace, no discussion of women’s rights, no plans to support the ERA or the Equality Act or universal child care or reproductive health issues. No, none of that. But nevertheless the Republicans in these 10 states are claiming to be the champions of ciswomen’s rights as part of their transphobic drive to ban transgender athletes from sport. Transphobia is a feminist issue.

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because not all that long ago — in 2016, in fact — Republicans were also using transphobia as a wedge issue, except then it was in the form of bathroom laws. Remember those? Remember the logic at the root of them? Transgender women should use men’s bathrooms, because otherwise, transgender women who “are really men” and “perverts” will be preying on little girls. Well, that rhetoric has not gone away — it is very much part of the discourse in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, deployed by Terry McAuliffe’s Republican opponent to fearmonger. The good news is that in 2016, this rhetoric not only failed but backfired — we won the North Carolina’s governor’s mansion because of the backlash against the bathroom bill that was passed there. Hopefully the same will be true in Virginia.

And all of this, friends, is why we must continue to fight — against transphobic bills at the state level, and for transgender protections at the federal level. Last May, Democrats Abroad passed a resolution condemning the Arkansas bill to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth. Subsequently, the governor vetoed that bill — not because of us, but because we added our voices to many others. We must continue to do so by opposing transphobic legislative initiatives at every level, working with other organizations and partners.

That is what the Transgender Day of Remembrance is all about. Yes, we remember those who were victims of transphobic violence, but we do so by fighting to make the lives or our trans brothers and sisters better and safer and to guarantee their basic rights. We look to the past to build a better future. So on this November 20, be an ally to the Trans community: call or write your representatives in both the Statehouse and Congress and let them know that you are opposed to transphobic legislation, that you support the trans community and the Equality Act, and that none of us is safe until all of us are safe from transphobic, misogynistic, and racial violence.


U.S. citizenship for son born abroad: a family’s story

by Martha McDevitt-Pugh, LGBTQ+ Caucus Co-chair

Two issues at the heart of Democrats Abroad’s platform and advocacy are the rights of families and equality for all, including the right to transmit U.S. citizenship to a child born abroad to a U.S. parent.

We reported (and rejoiced!) in June 2021 that after years of court challenges and advocacy from groups including Democrats Abroad, Immigration Equality and Lambda Legal, the Biden Administration updated the State Department policy to allow for children born abroad to married same-sex parents to have the same access to citizenship for their biological children born abroad as heterosexual parents. This change is retroactive and has had an immediate impact on LGBTQ+ Americans abroad with biological children born abroad as well as those planning to have a child through assisted reproductive technology.

On the heels of this policy change, one of our members in Spain shared with us his family’s journey to acquire U.S. citizenship for both of their children born abroad. We’re grateful to Bud Lake and his family for sharing their story and look forward to reporting again when his son receives his U.S. passport.

DA LGBTQ+ Caucus: We’re thrilled that families like yours can now pass on U.S. citizenship to their children. Can you tell us what it was like having access to citizenship for one of your kids and not for the other? Did this make travel or other logistics more difficult?

Bud Lake: Yeah, we are thrilled too!  When I read about the change in an article from the Democrats Abroad LGBTQ+ Caucus June newsletter, I was beside myself because I just saw a huge challenge evaporate before my eyes.

We have two children via surrogacy. Our first child, Álvaro who is 8 years old, is from my husband's sperm, and our daughter, Carmen who is 6 years old, is from mine. I have already been through years of administration — first getting my Spanish residency, then the process to get Álvaro his Spanish nationality when he was born, then my legal adoption of Álvaro in Spain, then getting Carmen her American nationality when she was born, then my husband Manuel’s legal adoption of Carmen in the US, which was made much easier when same-sex marriage was legalized.

Then focus shifted to getting the second-parent nationality for each child and on getting Carmen her Spanish residency and nationality since we live in Spain. We just achieved that for Carmen last year. I had already looked into the process to get U.S. citizenship for Álvaro, and it looked like the paperwork wasn't so straightforward, and we were about to start looking for an immigration lawyer in the U.S. to help us through the process. So that all disappeared when this change was made and we saw all that extra time, money, and stress evaporate and turn into the administration of just a regular CRBA (Consular Report of Birth Abroad) application.

Psychologically, it was a bit trying knowing that the family all had different nationalities and traveling was always a bit hectic shuffling around all the different passports and having to get the ESTA (Electronic System of Travel Authorization) for Álvaro and Manuel but not Carmen and me. With Álvaro’s Spanish passport, we really haven't had any problem traveling to the U.S. Although last year we were considering a move to the U.S. before the change in interpretation and it did seem that it was going to be more of an administration challenge for Álvaro, like enrolling him into the public school system. We decided to say in Spain for other reasons.

We haven't had to have the discussion of legality of nationalities with the kids yet, and now both kids will have both nationalities, maybe it won’t even be necessary since it is as simple as you have a Spanish dad and an American dad so you have both nationalities. Although this Christmas we will be traveling to the U.S. and Álvaro will still only have his Spanish passport.

Caucus: What has it been like for you and your husband since this policy changed?

Lake: I think the real change will be when we have Álvaro’s new U.S. passport in hand and we get to go through immigration entering the U.S. for the first time — the American dad and the two American kids. The kids won't really get it, but I will probably get all teary-eyed thinking of the importance and how far our family has come. We have an Instagram account (@twogaypapas) where we make our family visible to show not all families fall in the typical Mom/Dad plus kids. There are all different types of family structures out there and this change in interpretation of the regulations moves in the right direction of acknowledging this and giving our family equal rights.

Caucus: How is the citizenship application process going?

Lake: The CRBA application process seems to be going well so far. We had to get an appointment with the Valencia Consular Agency to submit the DS-2029 Consular Report of Birth Abroad application and DS-11 passport application. We filled out all the paperwork and gathered all the back-up documents and went with both kids to the appointment because we were renewing Carmen’s passport at the same time. The U.S. Consular Agent Brian K. Oberle and his assistant Maite were both really great. They were very clear with what needed to be done, answered all the questions we had before the appointment, and they treated us with so much respect at the appointment. This was the first time they had done this for a same-sex couple in Valencia and they were genuinely happy for us.

Since Álvaro was born in India the application needs to go to New Delhi, so it goes from Valencia to Madrid to the U.S. then to India and back again. So it will take a few months, but he’s already 8 years old so another few months isn't a big deal.

Caucus: Do you have anything to share that could be helpful to others?

Lake: Always try to move forward your residency/immigration administration processes as soon as possible — whether it is information gathering or beginning the actual application process. They are easy tasks to procrastinate because it may seem so hard and expensive and time consuming, but just get started and be aware — and update your awareness — of your options because criteria can change and what was once possible might not be in the future, or vice versa, or it could be such a long process that a year or two or three down the line you will be kicking yourself for not having started sooner.

Related links:

DA statement

State Department

Biden letter to Americans Abroad

Senator Kaine and Senate Foreign Relationships committee 2020 inquiry to State Department


Virginia’s first lesbian and transgender legislators speak to LGBTQ+ Caucus

by Irene Chriss, co-editor

On October 5, the Democrats Abroad LGBTQ+ Caucus hosted a webinar entitled “What’s At Stake in Virginia.” Special guests were House Delegate Danica Roem of Manassas, Virginia’s and the country’s first elected and serving transgender state legislator, and Dawn Adams of Richmond, the first out lesbian elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.
 
Adams, a nurse practitioner with over 35 years of experience as well as the former Director of the Office of Integrated Health, said that too many in the LGBTQ+ community carry an oppressive weight with them as they navigate through a daily environment of being disliked, sometimes hated, ignored, invisible, and defined as something lesser than who LGBTQ people really are.

As a health professional, Adams stated that each victory against this stigma “helps decrease suicides and lessens isolation. Only oppressed groups fully understand this. We love you enough to see you. We do this for all of our futures.”

Adams and Roem put Virginia politics into perspective. In 2016, Virginia was one of the top states for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. In 2017, a Virginia Democrat thought she'd won her race for the House of Delegates by a single vote, but a panel of judges ruled that a ballot — originally thrown out by officials — should be counted in favor of her Republican opponent, thus creating a tie. There was a coin toss and a Republican was put into office.

But in that same year, however, Roem was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and then re-elected in 2019. Roem has been awarded “Best Local Politician” as well as the Washington Blade newspaper’s award for Local Hero.

Roem is a step-mom, former newspaper reporter, a one-time member of Democrats Abroad, and a resident of Prince William County in Virginia. She was one of 23 Democrats to flip state legislative seats to the Democrats between 2017 and 2019, thus allowing Democrats to reclaim the majority in both chambers for the first time in 20 years. In her relatively short career, she has placed 23 bills into law including a repeal of same-sex marriage prohibition, expanded Medicaid to over 550,000 citizens assuring they were covered for COVID-19 care, banning school shaming by requiring prohibition of lawsuits against students or their parents because they could not afford the school lunches, increased teachers’ salaries, assured that a physician’s recommendation for transgender surgery is no longer viewed as a cosmetic or an elective procedure, domestic service employees are no longer excluded from employee protection laws, and students meeting criteria are now eligible for in-state tuition regardless of their citizenship 

Adams said she is keenly aware of the struggles that many seniors experience, from chronic health issues to aging-at-home to financial instability. Because the United States’ healthcare system is a for-profit structure, the “big players” are not motivated to drive healthcare costs down, she says. She believes that legislators have a responsibility to address this problem by decreasing barriers and providing pathways for  needed wraparound healthcare support.

She also strongly believes that gender and sexuality issues are underrepresented and has fought for Medicaid expansion and introduced over two dozen pro-equality bills for LGBTQ+ seniors.

Adams said that Virginia is now a nationwide leader on LGBTQ+ policy because it has a Democratic majority and that Democrats need to win and stay in power.

Both women agree, disagreements between candidates should not be personal, they should be about policies that are fair and all-inclusive; that campaigning is more about contrasts than voting for one party; and that if an American citizen is legally registered to vote and has American address, they should be able to vote the entire ballot

Watch the full webinar here.


November/December Events

November 15
DA Expat Tax Advocacy: What Are We Fighting For In 2021

3pm EST / 9pm CET

RSVP and information

November 20
Book Club: “This Is The Fire: What I Say To My Friends About Racism” by Don Lemon

7am EST / 1pm CET


RSVP and information

December 1
LGBTQ+ Asylum Seekers: A Discussion with Buffalo, N.Y.-based immigration attorney Adela Smehlik

8pm EST / 2am CET


RSVP and information

December 8
A Question of Loyalty: Discussion of PBS documentary “Asian Americans”

4am EST / 10am CET


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.