Thursday, December 26, 2013

Canadian Foreign Minister Baird Authors Letter Urging Russia To End Anti-Gay Discrimination, All Utah Counties Save Vacationing Plute Issuing Marriage Licenses To Gay And Lesbian Couples, Connecticut Health Insurance Department Instructs All Health Insurance Companies Operating In State To Cover Gender Transition Costs, Two Members Of 1993 Houston Oilers Were Openly Gay And Teammates Cared Not, Calls To Boycott Tournament Of Roses Parade Over Same Sex Marriage Float

Canada wants Russia to end discrimination against gays, both during the Sochi Winter Olympics and afterwards. In a letter obtained by the Toronto Star, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird urges Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government to act in the “Olympic spirit” of fairness and tolerance and uphold human rights for Russians — as well as foreign visitors — regardless of sexual orientation. “In the leadup to Sochi, Canada remains concerned about the legislation passed in June 2013 that places a ban on the ‘propagandizing of non-traditional sexual relations among minors,’ ” Baird says in the December 11 letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Baird says the International Olympic Committee and the Canadian Olympic Committee have received assurances from Moscow that the June 2013 law will not affect those taking part in the Sochi Games. But, Baird adds, “we encourage the Russian Federation to extend to all its citizens — as well as foreign visitors — full human rights protections, including freedom from violence, harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation.” Russia’s anti-gay laws have become a flashpoint in advance of the February 7-23 Olympics in Sochi. U.S. President Barack Obama will not be attending the Games and the White House has said the American delegation in Sochi would include three openly gay athletes: former tennis star Billie Jean King, Olympic figure-skating champion Brian Boitano and Olympic ice hockey medallist Caitlin Cahow. “I think the delegation speaks for itself,” Obama told reporters last week when asked if the group’s makeup was intended to send a message to Putin. “When it comes to the Olympics and athletic performance, we do not make distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation,” Obama commented. “We judge people on how they perform, both on the court and off the court, on the field and off the field.” Canada has yet to name its Olympic delegation but Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not be attending, according a PMO spokesperson. In his letter to Lavrov, Baird says Ottawa has established a consular strategy to manage any issues that may come up during the Games. Baird says he is confident that Canada can count on full co-operation from Russian authorities, including “speedy and regular access to any Canadian citizen, should the need arise," adding, “In the circumstances that any cases arise, our ability to respond quickly and effectively will contribute to the international perception of the success of the Games." Federal officials said a Canadian consular team will be deployed to Sochi to provide assistance to Canadians who might encounter problems. A consular office will be open at the Games and staff will also be reachable on-site 24 hours a day, officials said. Russian authorities have yet to respond to Baird’s letter, federal officials said.

In Utah, all but one of the state’s twenty-nine counties were poised to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples Thursday, after a federal appeals court denied Utah’s request to stop such unions. Piute County, whose population was about 1,500 in 2010, is the one hold out. With county Clerk Valeen Brown on vacation until Monday, Piute officials suspended all marriage licenses activity — no same sex or opposite sex couples seeking licenses would be given one until Brown returns. But the chances of couples breaking down the door to get married in Piute are slim to none. According to worker Lisa Tenney, the office has seen one marriage license request in the past three months. Utah County, which made national news this week when Shelly Eyre and her partner Cheryl Haws declared that they would sue its clerk for denying gay and lesbian couples licenses in the immediate aftermath of U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby’s ruling that overturned a statewide ban on same sex marriages, was doling out certificates Thursday to all. According to Bryan Thompson, the county’s clerk and auditor, about twenty-five couples came in Thursday seeking marriage licenses. Of those, five were same sex couples, all of whom were granted the certificates. "Moving forward, we probably won’t keep track of how many same-sex couples versus opposite-sex couples we issue licenses to," Thompson told the Salt Lake Tribune. "I don’t see any reason to differentiate between them." Several counties reported a significant uptick in marriage license applications since Shelby’s decision deemed same sex unions legal. But many of the counties with small populations said they’ve had zero takers. "We’ve literally had no one, zero," said Vicky McKee, the clerk of Daggett County, population 1,090. "There’s certainly no run on marriage licenses here."

In Connecticut, the Connecticut Insurance Department is directing all health insurance companies operating in the state to provide coverage of mental health counseling, hormone therapy, surgery and other treatments related to a patient's gender transition. Joining a handful of other states, the department issued a bulletin to insurance companies last week which seeks to ensure that "individuals with gender dysphoria … are not denied access to medically necessary care because of the individual's gender identity or gender expression." Deputy insurance Commissioner Anne Melissa Dowling said the state wanted to "go out and affirmatively make [the policy] very clear," adding, "As we were turning the corner into the new year, we just wanted to make sure every constituency was clearly heard." The insurance department based its position on two state statutes: A 2011 law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and expression, and laws requiring coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. Gender dysphoria — also known as gender identity disorder — is listed in the latest revised edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and qualifies for coverage, the insurance department stated in its bulletin, which was issued December 19. "Under these statutes, health insurers are required to pay 'covered expenses' for treatment provided to individuals with gender dysphoria where the treatment is deemed necessary under generally accepted medical standards,'' the insurance department wrote in the bulletin. "Gender dysphoria describes a condition in which an individual is intensely uncomfortable with their biological gender and strongly identifies with, and wants to be, the opposite gender." Representatives from CIGNA, Aetna and the Connecticut Association of Health Plans were unavailable for comment Thursday, reports the Courant. Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a Boston-based legal and advocacy group, hailed the bulletin as "a significant step forward." Zack Paakkonen, an attorney with GLAD, said there have been cases of patients' being denied coverage for treatment of gender dysphoria, defined as a "condition in which an individual is intensely uncomfortable with their biological gender and strongly identifies with, and wants to be, the opposite gender," Paakkonen saying Thursday that, "In some cases, transgender individuals would try to get coverage for this treatment and be categorically denied ... which led to people paying out of pocket or forgoing their treatment altogether." For a transgender individual, the consequences of an insurance company's denial of coverage can be dire, Paakkonen said. They include suicide attempts, substance abuse and relying on unlicensed practitioners and counterfeit hormones, he said. Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, Calif., said his organization regularly hears from people who have been denied insurance coverage because they are transgender. "Many have been told that because they are transgendered they have a preexisting condition,'' Davis said. "Many of the exclusions have also been used to limit access to coverage for basic health care that anybody would need. This kind of bulletin is so important to make sure that the health care needs of transgendered people are addressed." Regulators in California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, D.C., have issued similar bulletins instructing insurers to cover treatment for transgender patients, according to GLAD. The organization is pushing for similar insurance rules in every New England state. Insurance companies have 90 days to review their policies to ensure they are in compliance.

At least two key members of the tumultuous 1993 Houston Oilers team were gay, former teammates have told the Houston Chronicle. Not only did the team know about the situation, but players accepted their gay teammates and did not outcast them. “Listen, those guys that we’re talking about were unbelievable teammates. And if you wanted to go to war with someone, you would get those guys first. Because I have never seen tougher guys than those guys,” said Pro Bowl linebacker Lamar Lathon, who starred at the University of Houston. “And everybody in the locker room, the consensus knew or had an idea that things were not exactly right. But guess what? When they strapped the pads on and got on the field, man, we were going to war with these guys because they were unbelievable.” In April, NBA center Jason Collins became the first active athlete in any of the four major pro sports to declare he was gay. Collins is a free agent and hasn’t played for a team since the 2013-14 season began. No active NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL athlete has ever publicly declared being gay. A recent NFL Network documentary showed the ’93 Oilers – who started 1-4, won 11 straight but were bounced in their first playoff game – as the most dysfunctional pro football team ever to take the field. Players supported that general theme during interviews with the Chronicle. But they also insisted the ’93 Oilers were much more of an inclusive family than most have ever given them credit for. “I really enjoyed playing on that team, to be honest with you,” five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Ray Childress said. To prove how united they were in the face of constant adversity, players confirmed a rumor hinted at during the peak of a turmoil-filled era defined by The Choke and The Punch. “Everybody knew certain guys (were gay). Everybody speculated and people used to see these two guys come in by themselves. They’d leave at lunchtime and then come back,” Bubba McDowell said. McDowell echoed Lathon’s thoughts, saying the gay players were highly valued on the field and showering with them in the locker room was “no big deal.”

An update on a previous post: In California, a San Diego woman Thursday called for a boycott of the Rose Parade because two Los Angeles men will be married atop a float themed “Love is the Best Protection.” The cake-shaped float is sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and is the group’s third entry in the New Year’s parade. According to the Star-News, Karen Grube, of San Diego, said the Tournament of Roses should remove the AHF float from the parade. She has also called on corporate sponsors to remove their support of the parade if the wedding goes on as planned. And, she has set up a Facebook page seeking support for her cause. “Gay marriage is illegal in over 30 states, why would they promote something that is blatantly illegal?” Grube said. “That’s just stupid.” The 2014 Rose Parade is the first where gay marriage has been legal in California, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that deemed Proposition 8 unconstitutional. Grube also said she didn’t think the Tournament should be involved in a group’s “political agenda," adding that, “It used to be a family thing, to get up on New Year’s Day morning and watch the parade. It no longer is.” Danny Leclair said the negative reaction over the planned wedding to his long-time partner Aubrey Loots has not diminished his enthusiasm for his special day. “It’s something that they don’t understand and so I expected it,” he said. “We’re not dissuaded or upset or concerned. We’re simply acknowledging it.” While Leclair describes some of the negative comments he has read as “heinous,” others he says, are “people taking a stand for something they believe in," adding, “There’s a lot of people who think we’re doing this as a political statement. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Our stance is love is love and love will save lives.” Leclair said he hopes his wedding, which will be broadcast around the world to an estimated 68 million people, will show people that gay marriage isn’t something to fear. Ralph E. Shaffer, a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly, had a different opinion. He said the wedding is an “in your face” act that might only harden people’s views towards gays. “The problem is going to be the wedding kiss,” Shaffer said, adding that the couple will likely kiss several times during the parade as would be expected for a couple on their wedding day. “I don’t know what the response is going to be,” he said. AHF President Michael Weinstein said the boycotters should respect, “the law of the land” and denied the non-profit organization was making a political statement. “There are as many opinions in the world as there are people, but our motivation is to validate the love that exists between same-sex couples and what we believe is the importance of validating these relationships in terms of protecting, particularly gay men from HIV and other STDs,” he said. “We think the more we promote stable, long-term relationships, the better it will be.” In a prepared statement, TofR officials said they welcomed the entry — and the wedding. “Like all of our sponsors and float designers, AHF continues to help make the Rose Parade a premier event through original and creative expressions that connect to parade themes — as this float does,” the statement read. Grube said her call for a parade boycott has nothing to with religious convictions. She said she does not agree with having any marriage — gay or straight — celebrated during the parade. In recent days several area residents have expressed similar sentiments. Michael E. Thornton, a retired disabled veteran, said he will not be watching due to religious beliefs. “Celebrating this ungodly activity is repugnant to me spiritually and I will not support this practice financially by viewing the parade,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Star-News.

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