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Protesters again demand ENDA passage

Job bias bill remains pending in committee

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Local activists seeking an end to job discrimination against LGBT people protested last week outside the U.S. Capitol, urging Congress to take action on the issue.

Holding signs reading, “I can still be fired for being me” and “1 in 7 LGBTQ face job discrimination,” about one dozen protesters marched along Independence Avenue on May 20 to demand passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The bill, pending in committee in both chambers of Congress, would bar job bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity in most private and public workforce settings.

Supporters have said for months they’re expecting imminent action on the bill, but it has yet to move out of committee in either the House or Senate.

Jay Carmona, a D.C. lesbian, led much of the protest by shouting chants into a bullhorn. She said the protest was held because lawmakers made several promises on ENDA and now Democrats are “silent” on those promises.

“This is something that is really, really important, especially in these tough economic times,” Carmona said. “We can’t afford longer unemployment lines because people are being fired just because of their gender expression or their sexuality.”

Brad Catoe, a gay D.C. resident, said he wants to see ENDA pass because it’s “important for everybody to be treated equally under the law.”

Catoe, whose partner, Brian Fricke, is a gay former Marine and board member of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said passage of ENDA and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are particularly important issues for him.

“Obviously, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is important to me firstly because my partner was in the Marines, but I think that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is also very important to our entire community,” Catoe said. “They’re sort of connected in a lot of ways.”

Last week’s protest got the attention of some people working on Capitol Hill. A Democratic aide told the Blade the action alerted several officials in the Cannon House Building, including Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.).

Still, it was unclear when the House might take action. Federal lawmakers are taking a week off following the Memorial Day holiday.

Organizing the event was GetEqual, the group responsible for several recent protests and rallies in D.C. and elsewhere that have drawn attention to LGBT issues. Although previous GetEqual events have included arrests, nobody was detained during the May 20 protest.

Heather Cronk, managing director for GetEqual, said last week’s protest was intended to “give visibility” to LGBT people and their need for workplace protections.

“While other groups are lobbying and doing phone calls and doing e-mails, we also make sure that we’re feeling visible in that process,” she said.

Cronk, a lesbian who lives in Riverdale, Md., said passing ENDA is important because LGBT people “are one of the few groups left that are not protected by federal law.”

“We can continue working on a local and a statewide level, but folks in middle states who can be fired for who they are need protection at the federal level, so we’re standing up for those folks today,” Cronk said.

Much of the protest was directed at U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). At one point, protesters gathered just outside Pelosi’s office in the Cannon House Office Building and shouted, “Nancy Pelosi! We want ENDA!”

In an interview with The Hill newspaper last week, Pelosi said she’s supported passage of ENDA for decades and feels the pending bill is strongly positioned, but expressed some uncertainty about moving forward.

“When the opportunity is there, we want to bring that up, and I hope that will be soon,” she said. “We’ll see what people want to do. It’s not my own personal decision. We’ll just see where we go from here.”

Supporters of ENDA have expressed concern that opponents could use a legislative maneuver known as the motion to recommit to scuttle the bill when it comes to the floor. The maneuver could force a vote on stripping the gender identity provisions from the legislation.

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Indiana

Drag queen announces run for mayor of Ind. city

Branden Blaettne seeking Fort Wayne’s top office

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Branden Blaettner being interviewed by a local television station during last year’s Pride month. (WANE screenshot)

In a Facebook post Tuesday, a local drag personality announced he was running for the office of mayor once held by the late Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, who died last month just a few months into his fifth term.

Henry was recently diagnosed with late-stage stomach cancer and experienced an emergency that landed him in hospice care. He died shortly after.

WPTA, a local television station, reported that Fort Wayne resident Branden Blaettne, whose drag name is Della Licious, confirmed he filed paperwork to be one of the candidates seeking to finish out the fifth term of the late mayor.

Blaettner, who is a community organizer, told WPTA he doesn’t want to “get Fort Wayne back on track,” but rather keep the momentum started by Henry going while giving a platform to the disenfranchised groups in the community. Blaettner said he doesn’t think his local fame as a drag queen will hold him back.

“It’s easy to have a platform when you wear platform heels,” Blaettner told WPTA. “The status quo has left a lot of people out in the cold — both figuratively and literally,” Blaettner added.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle reported that state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, who has led the Indiana House Democratic caucus since 2018, has added his name to a growing list of Fort Wayne politicos who want to be the city’s next mayor. A caucus of precinct committee persons will choose the new mayor.

According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, the deadline for residents to file candidacy was 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday. A town hall with the candidates is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday at Franklin School Park. The caucus is set for 10:30 a.m. on April 20 at the Lincoln Financial Event Center at Parkview Field.

At least six candidates so far have announced they will run in the caucus. They include Branden Blaettne, GiaQuinta, City Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, City Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, former city- and county-council candidate Palermo Galindo, and 2023 Democratic primary mayoral candidate Jorge Fernandez.

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Arizona

Ariz. governor vetoes anti-transgender, Ten Commandments bill

Katie Hobbs has pledged to reject anti-LGBTQ bills that reach her desk

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Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs speaks with reporters at an April 8, 2024 press conference. (Photo courtesy of Hobbs’s Facebook page)

BY CAITLIN SIEVERS | A slew of Republican bills, including those that would have allowed discrimination against transgender people and would have given public school teachers a green light to post the Ten Commandments in their classrooms, were vetoed by Gov. Katie Hobbs on Tuesday. 

Hobbs, who has made it clear that she’ll use her veto power on any bills that don’t have bipartisan support — and especially ones that discriminate against the LGBTQ community — vetoed 13 bills, bringing her count for this year to 42.

Republicans responded with obvious outrage to Hobbs’s veto of their “Arizona Women’s Bill of Rights,” which would have eliminated any mention of gender in state law, replacing it with a strict and inflexible definition of biological sex. The bill would have called for the separation of sports teams, locker rooms, bathrooms, and even domestic violence shelters and sexual assault crisis centers by biological sex, not gender identity, green-lighting discrimination against trans Arizonans.

“As I have said time and again, I will not sign legislation that attacks Arizonans,” Hobbs wrote in a brief letter explaining why she vetoed Senate Bill 1628

The Arizona Senate Republicans’ response to the veto was filled with discriminatory language about trans people and accused them of merely pretending to be a gender different than they were assigned at birth. 

“With the radical Left attempting to force upon society the notion that science doesn’t matter, and biological males can be considered females if they ‘feel’ like they are, Katie Hobbs and Democrats at the Arizona State Legislature are showing their irresponsible disregard for the safety and well-being of women and girls in our state by killing the Arizona Women’s Bill of Rights,” Senate Republicans wrote in a statement. 

The Senate Republicans went on to accuse the Democrats who voted against the bill of endangering women. 

“Instead of helping these confused boys and men, Democrats are only fueling the dysfunction by pretending biological sex doesn’t matter,” Senate President Warren Petersen said in the statement. “Our daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and neighbors are growing up in a dangerous time where they are living with an increased risk of being victimized in public bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms because Democrats are now welcoming biological males into what used to be traditionally safe, single-sex spaces.”

But trans advocates say, and at least one study has found, that there’s no evidence allowing trans people to use the bathroom that aligns with their identity makes those spaces less safe for everyone else who uses them. 

In the statement, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Sine Kerr (R-Buckeye), claimed that the bill would have stopped trans girls from competing in girls sports, something she said gives them an unfair advantage. But Republicans already passed a law to do just that in 2022, when Republican Gov. Doug Ducey was still in office, though that law is not currently being enforced amidst a court challenge filed by two trans athletes. 

Republicans also clapped back at Hobbs’ veto of Senate Bill 1151, which would have allowed teachers or administrators to teach or post the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms, a measure that some Republicans even questioned as possibly unconstitutional. 

In a statement, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Anthony Kern (R-Glendale), accused Hobbs of “abandoning God” with her veto. 

“As society increasingly strays away from God and the moral principles our nation was founded upon, Katie Hobbs is contributing to the cultural degradation within Arizona by vetoing legislation today that would have allowed public schools to include the Ten Commandments in classrooms,” Kern said in the statement. 

In her veto letter, Hobbs said she questioned the constitutionality of the bill, and also called it unnecessary. During discussion of the bill in March, several critics pointed out that posting the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms, tenets of Judeo-Christian religions, might make children whose families practice other religions feel uncomfortable. 

“Sadly, Katie Hobbs’ veto is a prime example of Democrats’ efforts to push state-sponsored atheism while robbing Arizona’s children of the opportunity to flourish with a healthy moral compass,” Kern said. 

Another Republican proposal on Hobbs’s veto list was Senate Bill 1097, which would have made school board candidates declare a party affiliation. School board races in Arizona are currently nonpartisan. 

“This bill will further the politicization and polarization of Arizona’s school district governing boards whose focus should remain on making the best decisions for students,” Hobbs wrote in her veto letter. “Partisan politics do not belong in Arizona’s schools.”

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Caitlin Sievers

Caitlin joined the Arizona Mirror in 2022 with almost 10 years of experience as a reporter and editor, holding local government leaders accountable from newsrooms across the West and Midwest. She’s won statewide awards in Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin for reporting, photography and commentary.

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The preceding piece was previously published by the Arizona Mirror and is republished with permission.

Amplifying the voices of Arizonans whose stories are unheard; shining a light on the relationships between people, power and policy; and holding public officials to account.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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National

Senate committee: Republican attorneys general abused power demanding trans medical records

AGs used ‘abusive legal demands’

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U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee)

In a 10-page report released on Tuesday by staff for the Democratic majority of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, the Republican attorneys general of Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, and Texas are accused of using “abusive legal demands” to collect the medical records of transgender patients in furtherance of the attorneys general’ “ideological and political goals.”

According to the document, which is titled “How State Attorneys General Target
Transgender Youth and Adults by Weaponizing the Medicaid Program and their Health Oversight Authority,” the attorneys general used specious or misleading legal pretexts to justify their issuance of civil investigative demands to healthcare providers.

For example, the office of Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti framed the request as part of a probe into the potential misuse of Medicaid funds, while the offices of Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita and Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey cited suspected violations of consumer protection laws. The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, which demanded records from “at least two hospitals located in Texas as well as at least two medical providers” in Washington and Georgia, did not disclose why the requests were issued.

The report found that information requested by the attorneys general’s offices included “invasive items such as unredacted physical and mental health records, photographs of children’s bodies, correspondence to hospitals’ general email addresses for LGBTQIA+ patients, and lists of people referred for transgender health care.”

In response, and in what the committee called “a grave violation of patient privacy and trust,” some providers turned over “near-complete, patient-identifiable” information while others used legal processes available to them such as privacy protections in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to share fewer details with the attorneys general’s offices.

The report noted that Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville had “failed to object in any material manner to the Tennessee attorney general’s sweeping request and then caused undue terror to young patients and their families by supplying the Tennessee attorney general with some of the records requested and then, again, by erroneously notifying some patients of medical record disclosures that had not occurred.”

News concerning Vanderbilt’s receipt of and compliance with the demands from Skrmetti’s office was made public in June, sparking widespread concern and panic among many of the center’s trans patients and their families. Some, according to the report, experienced suicidal ideation and emotional distress including depression and anxiety.

A plaintiffs’ lawsuit was filed in July over VUMC’s failure to redact personally identifying information from the medical records. The following month, the center disclosed plans to comply with an investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights.

In a statement to NBC News, Michael Regier, the medical center’s general counsel and secretary, said the hospital disputes the findings published in the committee’s report and had submitted “a detailed letter outlining our concerns about its proposed findings before it was released.” 

“We made every effort to both protect our patients and follow the law,” Regier said, adding that “At no point did we violate privacy laws, and we strongly disagree with any suggestion that we did.”

However, the committee’s report notes that by contrast, providers in other states like the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis refused to turn over patient records, citing privacy concerns and HIPPA regulations. And after staff for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the committee chair, had requested and reviewed copies of correspondence between VUMC and the Tennessee attorney general’s office, they concluded that the documentation “sheds light, for the first time, on the full extent of VUMC’s acute and repeated failures to protect its patients.”

For example, the report explains that after Skrmetti’s office issued the initial request to VUMC, it followed up with two additional civil investigative demands for “confidential information across 18 categories without any bounds on the number of patients or people implicated” ranging from “employment contracts for physicians to volunteer agreements for the
VUMC Trans Buddy Program to communications to and from a general email address.”

In response, the hospital shared “65,000 pages of documents, including the medical records of 82 transgender patients.” The information that was provided pursuant to receipt of Skrmetti’s office’s third civil investigative demand is unknown.

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