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LGBT Humanist News: 29 August, 2012 (vol. 1, issue 4)

Hello everyone, this is our fourth installment of the LGBT Humanist News. I want to focus primarily on two topics. These are both areas of discrimination faced by lesbian and gay persons that we Humanists should speak up on. My goal is to spark discussion, and create solutions.

The first is the lifetime blood donation deferment experienced by men who have sex with men (MSM). In the United States (since 1983), if you are a man who has had sex with a man even once since 1977, you are not allowed to donate blood in the United States. This is cited for HIV-prevention, and was put in place at the height of the HIV epidemic. This was at a time when we were just beginning to understand the causes and communicability of the virus. Nearly a dozen other countries have embraced a different policy more attuned to today’s greater detection abilities.

Number one is the LGBT Humanist Council’s website (www.lgbthumanists.org). The second major topic is that of couples discrimination. In this issue we highlight two recent instances of direct discrimination, followed by a rather dangerous situation brewing. A few years ago the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) released a fear mongering video talking about the “gathering storm” caused by equal marriage activists. There is a startling study recently out of the University of Texas Austin (UTA), startling not because of its findings, but its connection to NOM. This study used questionable data collection methods, and issued spurious findings which will inevitably generate fodder for our ideological opposition.

If there were Humanist proverbs, one would certainly be that one play fed more people than a million prayers. Please share these stories and let us know what you think. We encourage you to share this bulletin via email and Facebook to start the discussion. We would like to know your thoughts on these topics, and are soliciting your suggestions on how we can best respond to these issues. And if you have any ideas for other topics of discussion let us know. Please email us at lgbt@americanhumanist.org, and both like us, and comment on our Facebook page (LGBT Humanist Council). Together we can do great things, but it is up to us to start them, and other people working in concert with us to make them great.

 

yours in Humanism,

-Jason Frye
LGBT Humanist Council Coordinator

 

Bad Blood Between the ARC & FDA:
Ending the lifetime ban on men who have sex with men (MSM)

“Red Cross to Use Blood of Negroes.” The antiquated absurdity of this headline would read even worse by today’s sensibilities if it came from the New York Times, which it did on January 29th, 1942.[i] Eight days prior, led by American Red Cross (ARC) chairman Norman H. Davis, the Secretaries of War and Navy approved a new policy rejecting the exclusion of African Americans from donating blood. On July 4th, in the very essence of independence, the Journal of the American Medical Association featured an article stating, “The segregation of the blood of white persons from the blood of Negroes in the blood ban is not only unscientific but is a grievous affront to the largest minority in our country.”

The integration of new blood donors through the eradication of racial-prohibitions was not an easy road, but it happened. A strong item of support, was a critical blood supply shortage during the Second World War. Today we have another blood-donation-ban that some other countries have found less compelling than the United States. This is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) lifetime blood donation deferment of men who have sex with men (MSM). Though on the books for 29 years in response at the height of the HIV epidemic, critical blood supply shortages may once again confound this artifact of underdeveloped-diagnostic occlusions.

In the United States if you have recently been pierced, tattooed, or traveled abroad, you have a temporary deferment in donating blood. If you are a man who has had sex with a man even once since 1977 (the projected start of the U.S. AIDS epidemic), this ban is for life. The FDA cites (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDCP]) figures showing that gay men tend to be an increased risk group for HIV and Hepatitis B.[ii] The FDA says that the risk is substantially lower for sexually active heterosexuals with multiple partners, and though they continually revisit the policy, the risk of transfusion transmission is small (one out of two million units). The FDA says that they have yet to receive data “showing that a change in policy would not present a significant and preventable risk to blood recipients.” While we wait in deliberation, we may be missing out on an additional 89,000 annual donations, based on data from MSMs found to be eligible donors by other developed nations.[iii]

According to The Washington Post, the FDA doesn’t base its policy on “any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation,” only science. The FDA says that HIV rates are 60 times higher among men who have sex with men. The CDCP says that in 2008, out of the 1.18m million people living with HIV in the U.S. 580,000 got the virus through men having sex with men. The FDA calls this a “lifetime deferral” rather than a ban. The FDA “deferral” also applies to anyone who has received money, drugs, or other payment for sex since 1977, or who has injected drugs for a non-medical reason.[iv]

A question raised in The Washington Times (16 May, 2012) asks if “blood safety [can] be maintained or improved under a revised blood donation screening criteria that would permit donations by lower risk MSM donors.”[v] The CDC’s (2009) newer HIV infection rates data show that White MSMs represented 11,400 new cases, Black MSMs 10,800, Latino MSMs 6,000, and Black heterosexual women 5,400.[vi] Though these figures are used to maintain the FDA’s MSM lifetime deferment, the FDA only has a five year MSM deferment in the donation of human cells, tissues, and cellular and tissue-based products. [vii]  As critical blood shortage levels are inducing blood acquisition creativity, and as other developed countries already have surrendered these old policies in accordance with new diagnostic techniques; the U.S. may find itself answering yes to this question.

According to CNN, power outages by this summer’s storms have reduced the number of blood donations by 10 percent.[viii] In June ARC fell short about 50,000 donations fewer than it had expected for that month (CBS).[ix] The Williams Institute studied the “Effects of Lifting Blood Donation Bans on Men Who have Sex with Men,” and through examining General Social Survey ([2000-2008] GSS) data, and the 2008 American Community Survey, the percentage of men who report to have had at least one sexual partner for those since the age of 18: 6.4 percent, in the last five years: 4.0 percent, and in the last 12 months: 3.5 percent. If the deferral were lifted there is an estimated 2.6 million eligible donors of whom 219,200 pints would likely be taken by 130,150 men. If there were a 12 month deferral, 53,269 out of newly eligible 1.065 million men would likely donate 89,716 pints; and if a five-year deferral were implemented, 42,286 out of 845,714 newly eligible men would probably donate an additional 71,218 pints of blood.[x]

At the handle of supply hangs demand. Who needs this blood, and why do they need so much of it? The who is us, and there are many reasons that it is medically vital to have a stable working supply of healthy, transfusable blood. According to America’s Blood Centers, 4.5 million Americans will need at least one blood transfusion this year,[xi] and one in seven of us will need a transfusion at least once in our lifetimes (“Lifestrong”).[xii] Transfusions are so vital, that organ transplants may be canceled if there is a lack of supportive-compatible blood. Every unit of donated blood is thoroughly tested (13 tests, 11 for infectious diseases). Though the process of donation from entry to exit of takes roughly an hour (with approximately 10 minutes of donation), 15 percent of potential donors say that they are ‘too busy,’ and 17 percent say that they “never thought about it.” Once we do have a supply of donated blood, there is the challenge of level maintenance due to blood-product expiration. Donated red blood cells can be stored up to 42 days, donated platelets can be stored up to five days, and donated plasma can be stored up to one year. One pint of blood can save up to three lives.[xiii]

Though we have an MSM lifetime deferment, this is in spite of critical blood supply shortages, that each donated unit is thoroughly tested, that this deferment has lost significant ground overseas and is meeting with creative responses at home. Because of summer school closures, the ARC is getting creative by holding home-donation parties. Technicians and equipment are going block to block across this country to raise awareness and add to the blood supply.[xiv]

The U.K. also has decided to alter its policy. Formerly similar to the U.S. Britain’s National Blood Service lumped gay men in with intravenous drug users, but in 2011 shortened the lifetime deferral to donation-permission after one year of celibacy.[xv] Now if you are a man who has had sex with a man prior to one year’s time, you may donate blood in England, Scotland, and Wales.[xvi] And China recently lifted a 1998 ban on blood donations from lesbians. Now in China, that though if you are a sexual active MSM you may not donate blood, if you are a lesbian or celibate gay man you may.[xvii] Canada however, has not relented on pressure to follow their former colonial power. From 1980-1990, 32,000 people were infected via blood transfusions with HIV and Hepatitis C. According to The Globe and Mail, even though detection has improved, the Canadian residual trepidation must be taken into account.[xviii] Though we have a reticent neighbor to the north, the question becomes America’s willingness to join France, Italy, Japan, and eight other developed nations in a blood donation politics consistent with the current standing of diagnostic techniques.[xix]

According to The Washington Post, ARC chief medical officer Richard Benjamin and America’s Blood Centers, and the AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks) are calling for policy similar to the UK. Benjamin also said that everyone who donates blood to the ARC is screened for HIV, and that “on average infected people will test positive nine to 11 days after exposure.” National Gay and Lesbian Task Force deputy executive director Darlene Nipper said that the policy didn’t make sense because “everything is tested.”[xx] U.S. Congresspersons are getting in on the act. According to CNN, in June 64 Congressional seat holders led by Rep. Mike Quigley, D-IL, and Sen. John Kerry, D-MA signed and sent a letter to the Dept of HHS asking them to proceed with a study of necessity of the MSM deferral.[xxi]

On June 10-11, 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability (ACBSA) discussed scientific information on blood-donation risk assessments. The Committee asked: “Should the current indefinite deferral for men who have had sex with another man even one time since 1977 be changed at the present time?” (voted 6 yes to 9 no). The Committee found that “scientific data are inadequate to support change to a specific alternative policy;” The Committee further recommended that until further evaluation, “the current indefinite deferral for men who have had sex with another man even one time since 1977 not be changed at the present time.” The ACBSA recommended doing further research.[xxii]

Though the FDA says that “MSM account for the highest single group of blood donors who are found HIV positive by blood donor testing,”[xxiii] this may be attributable to gay men utilizing blood donation facilities and staff for the sake of obtaining their HIV-test results. As for a change in policy, the FDA says that they will remain “willing to consider new approaches to donor screening and testing, provided those approaches assure that blood recipients are not placed at an increased risk of HIV or other transfusion transmitted diseases.”[xxiv]

As Humanists, if able, we should support the American Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers for their tireless work in keeping the transfusable blood supply at plentiful and life-saving levels. There are few things more fulfilling than saving the life of another human being. The ARC has been advocating on changes necessary to the blood donation qualifying criterion in the U.S. I hope that this article can be a spring board for greater discussion on these matters.

Marriage Equality News: Discrimination, Bad Science (Regnerus Study), Prop 8 and More!

In today’s “Marriage Minute,” we bring up two cases of direct discrimination and its consequences. Following this, we will examine the recent firestorm over a highly contentious University of Texas at Austin study on the adjustment of the children of gay and lesbian parents. We will then highlight recent news relating to struggle for equal marriage in Maryland and California.

Domestic partners registered in Nevada since 2009 have been under the protection of states rights equivalent to that of married couples. This is the way that it is supposed be. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.[xxv] Brittney Leon checked into a Las Vegas’s Spring Valley Hospital in response to pregnancy complications and she and her partner Terri-Ann Simonelli were informed by hospital administrators that gay couples were required to have power of attorney. They were told that their state-issued domestic partner registration (and by that matter, Nevada law) was irrelevant.

Adding to the stress of the admissions obstacle, Leon lost her baby. When asked by a Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter if they were aware of Nevada’s domestic partnership law, a self-identified public relations representative of Spring Valley Hospital “accused the reporter of bias and hung up the telephone.”[xxvi] Leon and Simonelli will not be bringing charges against the hospital and hope that this travesty will raise awareness. There are others however, who have been more fortunate lately.

Kate and Ming Linsley of New York decided to hold their wedding reception at a 24-room resort billed on its website as a “Four Seasons for everyone,” even the family dog. According to Outworld Magazine,[xxvii] The Linsleys wanted to hold their ceremony at a nearby Buddhist retreat, and reception at a nearby inn. The former was fine, but not the latter. The Linsleys were refused service by the inn “because of the personal feelings of the owner [about gays and lesbian couples’ weddings].”

By discriminating against the brides-to-be, the Wildflower Inn had violated Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act. In Vermont it is illegal for any public accommodation, with the exception of religious organizations and inns of less than five rooms, to refuse goods and services based on a potential customer’s sexual orientation. The Linsleys contacted the ACLU of Virginia and pursued legal action; Wildflower settled.

Calling the action illegal, Kate Linsley said that the lawsuit was not intended to punish the Inn, but to bring light the discriminatory treatment her and her wife received for being gay. The Linsleys also wanted to send a message to others who “continue to think that they can discriminate.” In Vermont’s Superior Court, the Wildflower Inn settled for $30,000, which the Linsleys have said $10,000 will be given to the Human Rights Commission[xxviii] and the remainder allocated to both pay for the lawsuit and start a charitable trust donated to nonprofits. As per the settlement, Wildflower Inn has agreed to no longer host wedding receptions. This is another example of how everyone loses in acts of discrimination.

There has been a recent firestorm over a new study on gay versus  straight parenting. The New Family Structures Study (NFSS) conducted by the Population Research Center of the University of Texas Austin (UTA) by former evangelical Calvin College professor Mark Regnerus in the July 2012 issue of Social Science Research claims that the children of same-sex couples face “negative long-term consequences in employment, relationship stability, and mental health.”[xxix] There has been much criticism of Regnerus’s methodology—even by his UTA colleagues. There have been accusations of impropriety regarding the NFSS’s funding. And, there have been allegations that this study was coordinated to provide arsenal to discredit the marriage equality movement by one of its greatest current adversaries (the National Organization for Marriage [NOM]). It is vital that we LGBT persons and allies understand the NFSS and its broader socio-political implications.

The Family Structures Study was funded by a three-quarters of a million dollars ($785,000[xxx]) grant by the Witherspoon Institute[xxxi] and the Bradley foundation,[xxxii], “two socially conservative groups” (Daily Beast). The NFSS[xxxiii] collected a random sample [2009-2011] of [nearly 3,000] American young adults between the ages of 18-39 “raised in different types of family arrangements... [comparing] the young-adult children of a parent who has had a same-sex romantic relationship fare on 40 different social, emotional, and relational outcome variables when compared with six other family-origin types.”

The participants were contacted randomly by (KnowledgePanel) by phone (including landline), mail, and e-mail asking “From when you were born until age 18 (or you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?” The response choices were “Yes, my mother had a romantic relationship with another woman;” “Yes my father had a romantic relationship with another man;” or “no.”

Regnerus criticized previous studies’ methodologies as “non-random,” and “non-representative” in their data collection, “not [allowing] for generalization to the larger population of gay and lesbian families.” Regnerus cited the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study[xxxiv] and criticized it for its convenience sampling (self-selection from advertisements in lesbian-oriented publications and posting in lesbian-frequented establishments). Though criticizing the Longitudinal Lesbian study, Regnerus complimented a 2007 study by Michael Rosenfeld, The Age of Independence: Interracial Unions, Same-Sex Unions and the Changing American Family, for its broader subject-base.

Regnerus says that the difference of the NFSS is in surveying young adults rather than children or adolescents in larger numbers than similar studies. Regnerus disclaimed that though the NFSS was funded by Witherspoon and Bradley, other studies are sponsored by liberal-leaning foundations, and claimed that the source of funding “played no role at all in the design or conduct of the study, the analyses, the interpretation of the dat, or in the preparation of [the] manuscript.”

The NFSS concluded that, “When compared with children who grew up in biologically (still) intact, mother-father families, the children of women who reported a same-sex relationship look markedly different on numerous outcomes...” Though Regnerus is “thus not suggesting that growing up with a lesbian mother or gay father causes suboptimal outcome because of the sexual orientation or sexual behavior of the parent,” his point is that “the groups display numerous, notable distinctions, especially when compared with young adults whose biological mother and father remain intact;” and that while “previous studies suggest that children in planned gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) families seem to fare comparatively well, their actual representativeness among GLB families in the US may be more modest than research based on convenience samples has presumed.” According to Regnerus, although children do not need a married mother or father to turn out well, and taking into account the adverse social forces that gay and lesbian parents face, “the empirical claim that no notable differences exist must go.”

Regnerus defended the NFSS in Slate magazine.[xxxv] Regnerus said that though the NFSS had a “better method” of a random and larger sample than the convenience samples of its predecessors, “We didn’t have as many intact lesbian and gay families as we hoped to evaluate, even though they are the face of much public deliberation about marriage equality. But it wasn’t for lack of effort.”

In a Scientific American blog response,[xxxvi] Ilana Yurkiewicz (a second-year student at Harvard Medical School) wrote that what “Regnerus’ paper really compared were stable versus unstable households, regardless of sexual orientation of the parents.” Yurkiewicz goes on to state the “big difference between an empirical finding and a policy recommendation.” Yurkiewicz furthered her position by saying,

"Regnerus’ study had major flaws, and that fact should be known. But his findings shouldn’t have mattered that much, anyway. I for one don’t like the idea of using group outcomes data to determine basic rights. I don’t need to reject his paper to affirm that I support same-sex couples having children, and neither should you." 

The story is not yet complete. There are wild-biases running amuck below the surface, easily revealed by the slightest scratch. Amy Davidson blogged in The New Yorker on Regnerus’ flagrantly faulty methods.[xxxvii] Where the NFSS asked if the participant’s parent had engaged in a romantic relationship with someone of the same-sex, Davidson astutely noted that “even a single ‘romantic relationship’–put the person in the category of child of a gay or lesbian parent, and excluded them from the category of intact biological families, regardless of their living situations.” Davidson also points out that the NFSS failed to define “same-sex relationship” for its participants, and that “Regnerus says he chose his question because he doesn’t want to get into sorting out who’s really gay.”

The New Civil Rights Movement’s Scott Rose called the NFSS’s use of random-digit-dialing (RDD) inferior because it does not include households without landline phones (it excludes forty percent of persons aged 18-24, and 51 percent aged 25-29).[xxxviii] Beyond blog critiques, UTA Research Integrity Officer Dr. Robert Peterson told Rose (via email) that he will be conducting an inquiry into complaints of scientific misconduct in whether Regnerus’ study lacks scientific integrity, and if he engaged in an “improper relationship” with his funders.[xxxix] According to Rose, the “mastermind”[xl] of the NFSS funding was the National Organization for Marriage Chairman-Emeritus (and Princeton University professor) Robert George, who is both a Witherspoon Institute Senior Fellow and Bradley Foundation Board member, Family Research Council Board Member; and a co-author of the vehemently anti-gay Christian call-to-action: the Manhattan Declaration.[xli]

The NFSS was exclusively funded by Witherspoon and Bradley, by which Witherspoon extended a $35,000 planning grant to Regnerus with full funding contingent upon the approval of Witherspoon and Bradley (Regnerus’ website says that the planning grant was for $55,000[xlii]).[xliii] The NFSS was also developed in part by researchers from Brigham Young University (BYU). BYU finds the promotion of homosexual relations as morally acceptable against its educational system honor code.[xliv]

Interviewed by Kathryn Jean Lopez in The National Review,[xlv] Regnerus let his guard down by saying that “kids raised in a same-sex household were more likely to experience instability and shifting household arrangements.” Regnerus called “a married mom and dad” the “gold standard” of parenting. Regnerus also drags out his alleged methodology superior to previous studies.

UTA sociology professor and editor of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Debra Umberson, collaborated with other UTA family sociologists (including Journal of Marriage and Family editor Kelly Raley) to assess the scientific merits of Regnerus’ research and lambasted their colleague in the Huffington Post article: “Texas Professors Respond to New Research on Gay Parenting.”[xlvi]

On Regnerus’ methods and calling married-heterosexual couples the “gold standard” for parentage, Umberson wrote, “But in making this claim, he has violated the ‘gold standard for research.’ Regnerus’ study is bad science. Among other errors, he made egregious yet strategic decisions in selecting particular groups for comparison.” Umberson criticized Regnerus for “casting his net so widely for children of supposedly gay and lesbian parents, and so narrowly for the children of heterosexual couples,” in that it “practically guaranteed that his study would find that those with so-called gay and lesbian parents would fare worse than those with so-called heterosexual parents.”

The LGBT Humanist Council will be continuing to follow this story, and inform you on the latest details to come.

Moving on to the struggle for marriage equality: following the collection of 160,000 signatures by an anti-gay group, A Maryland marriage equality law has been approved by the Maryland Secretary of State for the November election.[xlvii] The state legislature and Gov. Martin O’Malley passed and signed the bill into law earlier this year, yet Maryland Marriage Alliance worked to put this new law up to the general population for voting. A recent (July) Hart Research poll has proponents of the marriage equality law with a 14-point lead. In the next issue of the LGBT Humanist News, we will feature the Baltimore chapter of the LGBT Humanist Council. We will be asking them what we can do to assist their work furthering equality in the Old Line State.

As for other state marriage referendums, former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and David Boies, (the lawyers who argued against each other in 2000’s Bush v. Gore, and successfully argued together-against California’s 2008 Proposition 8) have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to not review the 9th Circuit’s Prop 8 (Perry v. Brown) decision.[xlviii] In Perry the 9th Circuit ruled that Prop 8 serves no other purpose than “[lessening] the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.” The Supreme Court will let us know by October if they will grant a writ of certiorari. If rejected by the USSC, marriage equality will resume in the Golden State.

In international marriage equality news, one week ago, Sao Paulo Judge Fernando Henrique Pinto granted Sergio Kauffman Sousa and Luiz Andre Moresi the right to convert their civil union into a full-legal-marriage.[xlix] Moresi called it an “immense joy.” Though Judge Pinto did not fully open the doors to universe equal marriage, this is the first time that the South American nation will feature such a spousal arrangement.

In marriage health matters, according to CBS’s Cleveland (OH) affiliate, a University of Cincinnati study found that married women drink more than their unmarried and divorced counterparts.[l] By examining a 1993 and a 2004 study of 5,300 participants, researchers found that women consumed nine alcoholic beverages per month while married and 6.5 when divorced. Men in the study drank 22 alcoholic beverages per month while divorced as compared to a married average of 19. One of the study’s findings is that women probably are introduced to more drinking more frequently by their male counterparts. 

Update:

A couple of weeks ago, we reported that a woman was violently attacked in her Lincoln Nebraska home. Investigators came out last week alleging that Charlie Rogers (33) had faked this anti-gay hate crime. According to LGBTQNation,[li] last month Lincoln Police Department officer Katie Flood said that detectives had not found evidence indicating a staged attack, but were unable to identify any suspects in the case. Rogers has pled not guilty to misdemeanor charges of providing a false police report, and has been released by a judge on her own recognizance until her next court date. According to the Associated Press, investigators believe that Rogers fabricated the story in order to “spark change.” According to a July 18th posting on her Facebook page, Rogers wrote, “So maybe I am too idealistic, but I believe way deep inside me that we can make things better for everyone. I will be a catalyst. I will do what it takes. I will. Watch me.” Four days later (according to Rogers), three masked men entered her house, bound her limbs with zip ties, carved homophobic slurs into her body, and lit a small gasoline propelled fire in her home. Rogers then crawled away, naked and bleeding for help. Roger’s next court date is scheduled for September 14th.

Also, 28-year old Floyd Corkins, the alleged FRC shooter, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of the interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition, as well as the D.C. offenses of “assault with intent to kill while armed and possession of a handgun during a crime of violence.”[lii]

Get Well Rosie O’

And finally, a special quick wellness greeting for Rosie O’Donnell. Rosie is recovering from a recent heart attack. According to “showbiz411.com,”[liii]Rosie had apparently helped a large woman out of an automobile and the strain became too much for a 99 percent blocked artery. Rosie recognized the symptoms of the cardiac event and took aspirin. Thankfully O’Donnell survived. Rosie, we wish you well, and are sending our best wishes to you and your family for a speedy recovery.



[vii] http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/Guidances/Tissue/ucm073964.htm#THEDONOR-ELIGIBILITYDETERMINATION1271.50

[xliv] http://saas.byu.edu/catalog/2009-2010ucat/GeneralInfo/HonorCode.php#HCOfficeInvovement

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