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Advocates seek Obama order barring LGBT job bias

Directive could be alternative to ENDA

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An executive order to prohibit workplace discrimination against LGBT people is receiving renewed attention now that the makeup of Congress makes passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act highly unlikely for at least two years.

LGBT rights supporters are pressing President Obama to issue a directive requiring the federal government to contract only with companies that have non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity protecting their employees.

Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, said an executive order for LGBT workplace protections “ought to be something the president seriously considers doing.”

“It’s definitely an administrative device the president can use to help advance the cause of full equality, especially if the Congress is unwilling to take action,” Socarides said.

Even though some companies don’t contract with the federal government, Socarides said the directive would set an example for all U.S. businesses to comply with the new rules.

“Most people are going to want to do that — whether or not they contract with the government,” he said.

Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of communications, noted his organization has been calling on Obama to make the change since the beginning of the administration as part of a broad portfolio of proposals.

“The recommendation to issue an executive order is part of HRC’s ‘Blueprint for Positive Change,’ which includes the various policy changes that we have asked of the federal government,” Sainz said.

As it was introduced in the 111th Congress, ENDA would bar job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in most situations in the public and private workforce.

An executive order on LGBT workplace discrimination could be a workable alternative now that Republicans have taken control of the House and cut into the Democratic majority in the Senate after the 2010 midterm elections, making passage of ENDA in Congress significantly more challenging, if not impossible.

Whether Obama would be willing to issue such an executive order remains to be seen. The president has called for passage of ENDA, but hasn’t voiced an opinion about an administrative action instituting workplace protections for LGBT people.

“The president continues to examine steps the federal government can take to help secure equal rights for LGBT Americans,” said White House spokesperson Shin Inouye. “While I can’t speak to this specific proposal, we’ve already taken steps such as extending benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of federal employees and ensuring equal access to HUD programs, and we hope to continue making progress.”

Nan Hunter, a lesbian law professor at Georgetown University, said a directive protecting LGBT people would be a “terrific idea” because history has shown executive orders for non-discrimination often precede changes in law.

“I think the pertinent piece in terms of the civil rights history is that the federal contractor requirements were put in place prior to the enactment of the statutes,” Hunter said.

In 1964, President Johnson issued an executive order prohibiting most federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin — prior to the enactment of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which provides similar protections in statute. Johnson’s directive could be used as a model for a directive protecting LGBT people.

Hunter said she sees no legal impediment to Obama issuing a workplace non-discrimination order for LGBT people and noted the federal government has “long had the custom” of instituting requirements for contractors that the majority of businesses don’t satisfy.

“That kind of executive order exists with regard to race, sex, religion, other protected characteristics — there is no reason why it could not be issued with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity,” she said.

Still, Hunter acknowledged that Obama may face political challenges in issuing such an order — much like the difficulties Congress had in passing ENDA — if the directive includes protections for transgender people.

“I think that’s the political concern at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue,” she said. “On the other hand, I think that it would be unfortunate — or it would be wrong, really — to have an executive order that covered only sexual orientation and not gender identity.”

An executive order prohibiting the federal government from doing business with companies that don’t have non-discrimination policies protecting LGBT people would have less reach than ENDA.

According to the Williams Institute, the federal government contracts with 91,367 companies. The percent of the U.S. workforce that these companies employ is unknown. However, the executive order that Johnson issued in 1964, which covered most federal contractors, protected only an estimated 22 percent of the civilian workforce.

Sainz disputed the notion that an administrative action for workplace protections could take the place of legislatively passing ENDA.

“It is not an ENDA,” Sainz said. “It would only apply to companies that have contracts with the federal government. We believe it to be an incredibly important step forward but would not replace a fully inclusive ENDA that would apply to all workplaces, whether they be a federal contractor or not.”

Socarides acknowledged legislation would be the preferred route to provide workplace protections to LGBT people, but said an executive order would have some reach in lieu of an act of Congress.

“It sometimes comes after congressional hearings and often, after legislative action, there’s some sense that there’s been some national consensus around it,” he said. “But absent the willingness of Congress to move on it, I don’t think it would be as effective, but it could get a lot of the job done.”

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U.S. Supreme Court

LGBTQ groups commemorate 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Equality Florida staffers attended vice president’s speech in Fla.

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The U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022, overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that had been issued on Jan. 22, 1973. LGBTQ advocacy groups this week commemorated the 50th anniversary of the landmark decision. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 22, 1973, issued its Roe v. Wade ruling that ensured the constitutional right to an abortion for all American citizens. The Supreme Court last June overruled this landmark decision.

Fifty years later, LGBTQ activists are among those who have commemorated Roe, despite the fact the Supreme Court has overturned it. The decision, which has since caused tension between liberal and conservative groups, prompted federal and state lawmakers to act upon the sudden revocation of what many consider to be a fundamental right. 

Roe’s legal premise relied heavily upon the right to privacy that the 14th Amendment provided; however, legal experts argued that it was a vague interpretation of the amendment.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday delivered remarks on Roe’s anniversary in Tallahassee, Fla., saying how most “Americans relied on the rights that Roe protected.” 

“The consequences of the Supreme Court’s ruling are not only limited to those who need reproductive care,” said Harris. “Other basic healthcare is at risk.”

The overruling of Roe put into question the security of other long-held precedents, such as Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that legalized same-sex marriages, and Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 decision that legalized interracial marriages, because they rely on the same right to privacy that upheld Roe.

In that same speech, Harris announced President Joe Biden would issue a presidential memorandum to direct all government departments to ensure access to abortion pills at pharmacies.

“Members of our Cabinet and our administration are now directed, as of the president’s order, to identify barriers to access to prescription medication and to recommend actions to make sure that doctors can legally prescribe, that pharmacies can dispense, and that women can secure safe and effective medication,” Harris affirmed. 

LGBTQ organizations and other human rights groups continue to work to protect reproductive rights.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said she found it intolerable that “an extremist set of judges” had taken away an important right not only for women, but also nonbinary people, trans men, and the entire LGBTQ+ community.

“Because we know that reproductive rights are LGBTQ+ rights, and that so many in our community rely on access to abortion care and other reproductive health services,” said Robinson in regards to Roe’s 50th anniversary. “The ripple effects of this decision will impact the most marginalized among us the most, and we cannot stand for that.”

“Overturning Roe v. Wade was the first time in history that the Supreme Court has taken away rights, and we know that they will not stop there,” added Robinson. “This is a dangerous turning point for our country, and we have to affirmatively defend against this assault.” 

Robinson said HRC is working with coalition partners to fight the roll-back of abortion rights at the state and federal level. 

Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Garden State Equality, a statewide LGBTQ rights group in New Jersey, said his organization is “laser-focused on ensuring that people with trans and nonbinary experiences are experiencing lived equality, which includes bodily autonomy.” 

Equality Florida showed its support of Roe by standing alongside Harris during her Tallahassee speech with several other lawmakers and activists. They also denounced Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ antiabortion policies, as well as the Florida legislature. 

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Virginia

Va. Senate approves marriage equality affirmation bill

State Sen. Adam Ebbin sponsored SB 1096

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Virginia Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would affirm marriage equality in state law.

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)’s Senate Bill 1096 passed by a 25-12 vote margin. 

“My bill ensuring that Virginians have the right to marry who they love regardless of their sex, has passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote,” tweeted the openly gay Alexandria Democrat.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia also noted SB 1096 passed with bipartisan support.

“Virginia is for all lovers,” tweeted the ACLU of Virginia. “Our law should reflect our values.”

Ebbin has also reintroduced a resolution to begin the process of repealing a Virginia constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The resolution is currently before a Senate subcommittee.

SB 1096 now goes to the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates.

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Washington

Federal court upholds Wash. conversion therapy ban

State lawmakers in 2018 prohibited debunked practice for minors

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The William Kenzo Nakamura U.S. Courthouse for the 9th Circuit in Seattle. (Photo by Joe Mabel)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Monday rejected a therapist’s request for the court to reconsider its previous decision upholding Washington State’s law protecting minors from so-called conversion therapy by licensed health professionals.

Conversion therapy is a dangerous and discredited practice that attempts to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Washington prohibited licensed mental health professionals from subjecting minors to conversion therapy in 2018, as more than 20 other states have also done.

Last September, the 9th Circuit wrote: “In relying on the body of evidence before it as well as the medical recommendations of expert organizations, the Washington Legislature rationally acted by amending its regulatory scheme for licensed health care providers to add ‘performing conversion therapy on a patient under age eighteen’ to the list of unprofessional conduct for the health professions.”

“The 9th Circuit has affirmed that states can require licensed mental health providers to comply with ethical and professional standards prohibiting the use of unnecessary, ineffective, and harmful treatments on their minor patients,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter. “These are common sense protections that unfortunately are necessary to prevent unethical therapists from defrauding parents and causing severe harm to LGBTQ youth. Every major medical and mental health organization in the country supports these laws, which are supported by decades of research and clear standards of care.”

“We applaud the 9th Circuit for permitting states to protect survivors like myself from the unethical practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy,’ which has wreaked havoc on thousands of LGBTQ youth and their families,” said Mathew Shurka, a conversion therapy survivor and co-founder of Born Perfect. 

In 2018, Washington passed a law prohibiting state-licensed therapists from engaging in conversion therapy with a patient under 18-years-old. Every leading medical and mental health organization in the country has warned that these practices do not work and put young people at risk of serious harm, including depression, substance abuse and suicide. Twenty-five states and more than 100 localities have laws or administrative policies protecting youth from these practices or preventing the expenditure of state funds on conversion therapy.

In 2021, an anti-LGBTQ legal group filed a federal lawsuit challenging the new law on behalf of Brian Tingley, a therapist and advocate of conversion therapy.

Tingley, who is represented by the Scottsdale, Ariz.,-based anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom, identifies himself as a “Christian licensed marriage and family therapist” and alleges in the court filings that the provided definition of “conversion therapy” is “vague, content-biased and biased against one perspective or point of view.”

NCLR successfully moved to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of Equal Rights Washington, the state’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization and a primary supporter of the law during the legislative process. ERW and Washington State urged the court to uphold the law in light of the overwhelming consensus of medical and mental health professionals that conversion therapy poses a serious risk to the health and well-being of Washington’s youth. In August 2021, the federal district court for the Western District of Washington upheld the law and rejected Tingley’s challenge.

In September 2022, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, ruling that state laws protecting minors from conversion therapy by licensed health professionals are constitutional. Tingley then asked the full 9th Circuit to order the September decision to be reconsidered by a larger panel of 9th Circuit judges. Today, the court rejected that request. 

The court’s order means that the September 2022 panel decision upholding the Washington law will be the 9th Circuit’s final decision in the case.

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