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State of the Union Recap: LGBTQ Issues Largely Ignored

The president glossed over a plan to eradicate HIV/AIDS and did not acknowledge transgender service members in attendance.

President’s Trump second State of the Union address painted a rosy picture of the United States Tuesday night: the picture of a country on the brink of an “economic miracle,” peace, and helpful legislation for things like the eradication of HIV/AIDS. But it is a picture threatened, he said, by the “urgent national crisis” of “mass illegal migration” and “foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.”

“If there is going to be peace and legislation,” said Trump, whose administration is the subject of numerous investigations, “there cannot be war and investigation.”

U.S. Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), an openly bisexual first-term member of the House who has just been elected vice-chairman of the House oversight committee, told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow after the address that Trump’s statement about the investigations was “scary.”

“This is the kind of dangerous rhetoric that we’ve been hearing over and over again,” said Hill.

Trump spent an unusual amount of his 90-minute speech pointing out invited guests in the House visitors’ gallery and telling their dramatic stories of heroism and courage. There were World War II veterans, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, a 10-year-old girl with brain cancer who raised money for St. Jude’s Hospital, a SWAT officer who chased down the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, a Holocaust survivor, and the father of a sailor lost to the terrorist attack on the USS Cole, to name a few.

He said nothing to recognize any person with HIV, any AIDS activists, or the many transgender service members who were in the gallery Tuesday night.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi invited two active-duty transgender members of the U.S. Army as her guests to the State of the Union address, and a number of other members did too, including presidential candidate senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and House reps Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Donald McEachin (D-Va.)

Trump also said nothing to recognize the LGBT community or to repeat his 2016 campaign promise to protect the community. And while his address promised that his budget would seek “to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years,” he offered no dollar figure or specifics.

“The last time President Trump promised to help our community,” said Lorri Jean, executive director of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, “was in his campaign when he said he would fight for our freedoms and beliefs. But since taking office, he has done nothing but roll back our protections, foment discrimination against us, and appoint anti-LGBT ideologues to administration positions and as judges at every level.”

Jerri Ann Henry, executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans, said she was “thrilled” to see president Trump including HIV/AIDS in his State of the Union address.

“We have long been advocates for increased research and solutions for the crisis,” said Henry. She noted that she published an opinion piece in December in The Hill newspaper, “outlining some of the opportunities for the White House to take the lead on HIV/AIDS research,” said Henry. “I’m happy to see the White House heard us and agrees.”

Charles Moran, an openly gay businessman in Los Angeles who was a Trump delegate to the Republican National Convention, said he expects Trump’s plan to eradicate HIV/AIDS to be a “global game-changer.”

“If this 10-year project is successful, it lays a solid template that could be used in other countries for containment, treatment, and education,” said Moran. “Politically, it’s a recommitment to the LGBTQ and urban communities.”

But some AIDS experts worry that the president does not have a plan. He did not offer a dollar figure for his HIV plan, even though he did specify that Congress should appropriate $500 million over 10 years to fight childhood cancer (a number that many will find low compared to the $5 billion he wants this year to build a “steel barrier” along the border with Mexico).

Scott Schoettes, HIV project director for Lambda Legal, said, “Ending the AIDS epidemic in the United States by 2030 is a solid and ambitious goal…. But the announcement of a goal is meaningless without a solid plan and action to back up that plan. To date, the Trump administration has shown little inclination to create such a plan or to take the actions necessary.”

Lorri Jean, whose Los Angeles LGBT Center is the largest LGBTQ health provider in the nation, said Trump’s promise is “just another lie by our president in an effort to mislead the public about his true intentions.”

And Schoettes said the Trump administration has, in fact, taken actions that undermine his stated HIV goal. Schoettes cited things such as “attacking the [Affordable Care Act] and making it more difficult for people to access health care—including HIV testing, prevention, and treatment—on a consistent basis.” He noted the Trump administration did not even acknowledge gay men as a group hard hit by AIDS on World AIDS Day. And, he said, the Trump administration has been “mounting a sustained attack on the transgender community.”

In the Democratic response to the State of the Union address, Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams talked about the importance of the Affordable Care Act and noted that the “LGBTQ community remains under attack,” despite recent gains in marriage equality.

LGBT caucus guest list

Members of Congress often invite constituents to be their guests at the annual State of the Union address as a way to highlight an issue the member is particularly concerned with. Here are some of the guests invited by openly LGBT members of Congress:

  • U.S. senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) invited retired educator Diane Whitcraft, who has multiple sclerosis. Whitcraft’s presence underscores Baldwin’s focus on trying to bring down the cost of prescription medications.
  • U.S. senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) brought retired Air Force major Bryan Bouchard, a 20-year veteran of the military who serves on the senator’s veterans advisory council.
  • U.S. rep. David Cicilline (D-RIs.) invited air-traffic controller and former U.S. Navy veteran Jamie Green. She and her husband, also an air traffic controller, missed two paychecks during the most recent government shutdown.
  • U.S. rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) took a staff attorney for the Community Immigration Law Center in Madison. Aissa Olivarez’s work focuses on helping immigrants who are detained and processed for removal.
  • U.S. rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) invited air-traffic controller Shyan Lasater-Bailey.
  • U.S. rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) brought healthcare advocate Laura Robeson, whose seven-year-old son suffers from multiple disabilities.
  • U.S. rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH) invited a transgender former service member Tavion Dignard, who served in the U.S. Navy for four years before his honorable discharge in 2002.
  • U.S. rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) brought cattle farmer and agriculture advocate Katie Brenny.
  • U.S. rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) invited air-traffic controller, single mother, and Navy veteran Christina Lewis. Lewis is also a legislative activist with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

© 2019 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

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Lisa Keen

From the White House, Congress, and the U.S. Supreme Court to state ballot battles, right-wing tactics, and federal court cases around the country, Keen News Service aims to bring readers reliable information about significant news developments–and deliver that information in a way that is both coherent and in context.
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