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Carney mum on executive orders against LGBT bias

Directives could provide protections in workplace and U.S. military

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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Blade photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was mum on Monday when asked whether President Obama would be open to issuing executive orders that would provide non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the workplace and U.S. armed forces.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney said he wouldn’t venture out to say if Obama would be open to issuing a directive barring the federal government from contracting with companies that don’t have non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Such an order would offer similar protections that have been proposed under the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“I don’t want to speculate about what action he may or may not take,” Carney said. “His position is known. And again, he does not shy away from obstacles when he approaches an issue that’s important to him. But I don’t have a — I’m not going to speculate about what measure he might take.”

Passage of ENDA with protections based on both sexual orientation and gender identity was among Obama’s promises in the 2008 presidential campaign. However, the legislation failed to move during the 111th Congress, and Republican control of the House makes ENDA passage unlikely for at least two years.

An executive order has been seen as an interim alternative to ENDA passage, although the directive would have more limited protections because it would only directly impact employers that contract with the U.S. government. Last week in an interview with the Blade, gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) endorsed the order and said it would “show a lot of courage on behalf of the administration and demonstrate that they’re committed to moving to a discrimination-free workplace environment.”

Similarly, Carney had few words when asked whether Obama would be open to an executive order that would ensure LGBT service members have legal recourse if, after repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” they feel they’ve experienced discrimination in the U.S. military.

“Again, I don’t have — I don’t want to say what he may or may not be open to,” Carney said. “What I do know is that repeal is going along on schedule and successfully, and he is very closely monitoring that. And — but more than that I do not have.”

The repeal legislation that Obama signed in December would lift “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” from the federal code, but puts nothing in its place that would ensure gay service members have protections against discrimination.

Gay rights supporters have been calling on President Obama to issue an executive order that would provide explicit protections for gay service members who feel they’ve experienced discrimination in the armed forces. The White House hasn’t explicitly endorsed or rejected the idea, but has noted Pentagon policy guidance stating that harassment or abuse based on sexual orientation would be unacceptable in the military.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has called on Obama to issue an executive order with protections both on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Troops who disclose they are transgender are separated from the military as a medical discharge under military regulation.

Pressed on whether any impediment — legal, political or otherwise — is blocking the president from issuing either order, Carney declined to identify anything that’s preventing the president from taking these actions.

“Those kinds of questions about legal impediments are best addressed to lawyers, and I am not one,” Carney said.

A partial transcript of the exchange between the Blade and Carney follows:

Washington Blade: Jay, three questions. One of the president’s goals has been passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which bar job discrimination against gay and transgender Americans. That’s going to be a challenge with Republicans in control of the House.

One idea that’s being proposed as an interim alternative is an executive order that would bar the federal government from doing business with companies that don’t have their workplace protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Would the president be open to issuing this executive order?

Jay Carney: Well, I don’t want to speculate about what action he may or may not take. His position is known. And again, he does not shy away from obstacles when he approaches an issue that’s important to him. But I don’t have a — I’m not going to speculate about what measure he might take.

Blade: In a similar vein, as we move forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, is the president open to issuing an executive order to ensure that LGBT service members have legal recourse if they feel they’ve experienced discrimination in the U.S. military?

Carney: Again, I don’t have — I don’t want to say what he may or may not be open to. What I do know is that repeal is going along on schedule and successfully, and he is very closely monitoring that. And — but more than that I do not have.

Blade: But do you see any impediment — legal, political or otherwise — that would prevent the president from issuing either of these executive orders?

Carney: Those kinds of questions about legal impediments are best addressed to lawyers, and I am not one.

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

“LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased”

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Florida State Capitol building

TALLAHASSEE – A Republican majority Florida House Education & Employment Committee passed HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion Senate bill SB 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the Press Secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 47% felt nervous and/or scared, 45% felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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California mom claims school manipulated child into changing gender identity

Jessica Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her

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Fox News host Laura Ingraham & Center for American Liberty CEO Harmeet Dhillon with client, Jessica Konen (Screenshot Fox News)

A Northern California mother is claiming teachers in a small school district in the state manipulated her daughter into changing her gender identity and name in a legal claim. 

The claim, filed by the ultra-conservative Center for American Liberty on behalf of the mother, alleged “extreme and outrageous conduct” by the Spreckels Union School District, leading Jessica Konen’s 11-year-old daughter to change her gender identity and drive a wedge between them.

Specifically, the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, names two teachers – Lori Caldera and Kelly Baraki – at Buena Vista Middle who, in addition to teaching, ran the school’s Equality Club, later known as UBU (You Be You). Buena Vista is a part of the district. 

It comes after Abigail Shrier, the author of a book widely criticized as anti-trans, quoted what the two educators said last year at the California Teachers Association’s annual LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in a piece headlined “How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids.” Caldera and Baraki spoke about the difficulty of running a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in a socially conservative community. 

After the article was published, the teachers were put on administrative leave, and the district hired a law firm to investigate, which is ongoing. The UBU club was suspended. 

Spreckels is a town of about 400 people in the agricultural Salinas Valley, approximately 90 miles south of San Francisco

According to the complaint, Konen’s daughter began attending Equality Club meetings after being invited by a friend when she started sixth grade at Buena Vista. After attending one session, she decided it wasn’t for her until Caldiera convinced her to come back. At the gatherings, Caldera and Baraki held LGBTQ-centered discussions and introduced students to different gender identities and sexualities. 

During her time in the club, Konen’s daughter began exploring her own gender identity and sexuality, choosing to wear more masuline clothes. At some point, she decided to change her name and pronouns, which she has since changed back to her original name and pronouns. 

Konen said she was aware her daughter was bisexual but did not know she began using a male name and gender pronouns until she was called into the school when her daughter was in seventh grade. The meeting caught both Konen and her daughter by surprise – Konen’s daughter had said she wanted to notify her mother, but she did not know the meeting was that day. 

Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her. 

However, when Shrier’s article was published and circulated around the small town, everything changed. At this time, Konen’s daughter was again using a female name and pronouns.

In the leaked recording from the LGBTQ conference, Caldera and Baraki were discussing how they kept meetings private, among other things. 

“When we were doing our virtual learning — we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work,” Baraki said. “One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.”

However, Caldera told the San Francisco Chronicle that the quotes were either taken out of context or misrepresented. According to Caldera, the stalking comment was a joke. She also defended their work, saying students lead the conversation and they provide honest and fair answers to their questions.
In addition, a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association criticized the group bringing the lawsuit forward, according to the Associated Press: “We are concerned about a political climate right now in which outside political forces fuel chaos and misinformation and seek to divide parents, educators and school communities for their own political gain, which is evident in this complaint. The Center for American Liberty is concerned with pushing its own political agenda through litigation and has filed multiple lawsuits against various school districts and communities.”

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GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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