Greetings from DC
I'm in DC today for an LGBT policy briefing and a BBQ at Vice President Biden's residence. Today I am representing Florida and have had the opportunity to share some of the great work we are doing here with other statewide LGBT advocacy groups in other states. We also had the opportunity to hear from various departments about the work being done under President Obamas administration on behalf of LGBT people.
The first speaker today was John Berry, the Director of the US Office of Personnel Management. John is the highest ranking LGBT official within the Obama administration. He shared all of the different victories the administration has achieved on behalf of the LGBT community and reminded us while we have an ally in the White House, it is up to us all to continue to push for full equality.
Next we heard from a panel of State Department employees who work specifically on gender and LGBT issues around the world. The State Department was the first to enact LGBT no discrimination protections and led the way for over 20 federal governmental agencies to do the same. It's easier than ever for a transgender person to get a passport with the correct gender marker. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a groundbreaking speech to the UN on International Human Rights Day and received a standing ovation. A lot of progress has been made but they reminded us in 78 counties same-sex behavior is still criminalized and in 5 countries LGBT people can be put to death because of who they are.
Staff from the White House Counsels Office and the Department of Homeland Security addressed the group next about legal issues. They spoke a lot about the decision by the Obama Administration not to defend the "Defense of Marriage Act" and about all of the rights and benefits they have been able to afford to employees inspire of DOMA. Those benefits include relocation and travel expenses for same sex domestic partners or spouses of foreign workers; daycare services for children of domestic partners; protections for transgender employees; and sick leave to take care of domestic partners and their children.
Finally we were joined by Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education and Center for Disease Control employees to talk about efforts to address bullying and the epidemic of HIV/AIDS in our community. The administration has done work with homeless shelters to ensure services are provided to LGBT youth and supports both bills before Congress that address bullying. Much is being done to curb HIV infection rates but the numbers around our community are alarming. 64% of new HIV infections are gay and bisexual men. And while rates of infection for all other demographic groups ad going down, the rates of infection for gay and bisexual men- particularly those of color- are going up. This administration has written and is working on the first ever comprehensive HIV/AIDS plan in US history.
In about an hour I'll head to the residence of the Vice President. I'll be sure to give him a big hello from the entire Equality Florida family!