A Victory for Dignity. A Right to Hospital Visitation.

This might be old news by now, but I thought it important to highlight.  There are lots of exciting things happening in the area of gay rights, and a lot of accusations of infidelity being thrown at the President when it comes to the civil and human rights of LGBT Americans.  The Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal process in the Senate is garnering headlines and a lot of attention.  But a sea change just happened for the dignity of same-sex partners, and it seems hardly anyone notices.

Medicare has finalized rules compelling any hospital that accepts Medicaid or Medicare (which is essentially every hospital in this country) to honor a patient's right to choose his or her own visitors, including a same sex partner.  Until now, hospitals have been free to refuse hospital visitation rights of a same sex partner (really, anyone other than family, except our families) in states that did not mandate visitation rights by law. In a press release, the HHS outlined the Presidential memorandum that made this possible:
Obama Rainbow
The President’s memorandum instructed HHS to develop rules that would prohibit hospitals from denying visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. It also directed that the rules take into account the need for a hospital to restrict visitation in medically appropriate circumstances.
Read the full Presidential Memorandum here.

This matters more than you can imagine.  In most parts of the country, if you are gay, you can still spend 30 years taking care of, loving, and cherishing someone and be denied access to the hospital when your loved one is in pain and wants no one more than she does you.  If you are gay, you can still be told that you are not family to the person you love the most.  Thanks to President Obama's order, the HHS has now forbidden this inhuman practice for essentially all hospitals throughout the United States.

Let this also be a lesson for those who are listening too much to the shouting matches out there, and are caught into a belief that President Obama is anything less than a strong advocate for the LGBT community.  It's easy to mock the President's promise of "fierce advocacy," but it is far harder to keep that promise.  President Obama has worked hard every day to keep his promise of fairness, justice and equal treatment under law - not by "bully-pulpitting" but actually making progress.  Fierce advocate?  You tell me:
  • He signed a federal hate crimes law protecting LGBT Americans.
  • Extended federal benefits to same sex partners of federal employees twice.
  • He signed the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
  • He lifted the HIV entry ban.
  • He appointed more openly gay officials in less than two years than any president in history did in their entire tenure.
  • He named the first Transgender presidential appointees.
Here is a more comprehensive list of Obama's achievements and advocacy for the community.  Every indication now is that the Senate is poised to pass, and the President poised to sign a Defense appropriations bill that will once and for end DADT, and allow gay Americans to serve our country with honor, with pride and with openness.  I don't believe it to be mere coincident that the Senators announced its inclusion in the bill to be debated on the Senate floor immediately after they met with the President, either.

If standing on a soap box and angrily yelling at Washington constitutes fierce advocacy, then the President has indeed failed at that.  But if fierce advocacy is making progress, signing legislation and protecting the dignity of life of LGBT Americans, then I am proud to call him a fierce advocate for me and for people like me.  And I am proud that this President has chosen to join the campaign assuring young victims of anti-gay bullying that things do get better and that their lives, too, are precious.

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