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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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Pennsylvania

Malcolm Kenyatta could become the first LGBTQ statewide elected official in Pa.

State lawmaker a prominent Biden-Harris 2024 reelection campaign surrogate

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President Joe Biden, Malcolm Kenyatta, and Vice President Kamala Harris (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Following his win in the Democratic primary contest on Wednesday, Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who is running for auditor general, is positioned to potentially become the first openly LGBTQ elected official serving the commonwealth.

In a statement celebrating his victory, LGBTQ+ Victory Fund President Annise Parker said, “Pennsylvanians trust Malcolm Kenyatta to be their watchdog as auditor general because that’s exactly what he’s been as a legislator.”

“LGBTQ+ Victory Fund is all in for Malcolm, because we know he has the experience to win this race and carry on his fight for students, seniors and workers as Pennsylvania’s auditor general,” she said.

Parker added, “LGBTQ+ Americans are severely underrepresented in public office and the numbers are even worse for Black LGBTQ+ representation. I look forward to doing everything I can to mobilize LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians and our allies to get out and vote for Malcolm this November so we can make history.” 

In April 2023, Kenyatta was appointed by the White House to serve as director of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans.

He has been an active surrogate in the Biden-Harris 2024 reelection campaign.

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The White House

White House debuts action plan targeting pollutants in drinking water

Same-sex couples face higher risk from environmental hazards

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President Joe Biden speaks with reporters following an Earth Day event on April 22, 2024 (Screen capture: Forbes/YouTube)

Headlining an Earth Day event in Northern Virginia’s Prince William Forest on Monday, President Joe Biden announced the disbursement of $7 billion in new grants for solar projects and warned of his Republican opponent’s plans to roll back the progress his administration has made toward addressing the harms of climate change.

The administration has led more than 500 programs geared toward communities most impacted by health and safety hazards like pollution and extreme weather events.

In a statement to the Washington Blade on Wednesday, Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said, “President Biden is leading the most ambitious climate, conservation, and environmental justice agenda in history — and that means working toward a future where all people can breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a healthy community.”

“This Earth Week, the Biden-Harris Administration announced $7 billion in solar energy projects for over 900,000 households in disadvantaged communities while creating hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs, which are being made more accessible by the American Climate Corps,” she said. “President Biden is delivering on his promise to help protect all communities from the impacts of climate change — including the LGBTQI+ community — and that we leave no community behind as we build an equitable and inclusive clean energy economy for all.”

Recent milestones in the administration’s climate policies include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s issuance on April 10 of legally enforceable standard for detecting and treating drinking water contaminated with polyfluoroalkyl substances.

“This rule sets health safeguards and will require public water systems to monitor and reduce the levels of PFAS in our nation’s drinking water, and notify the public of any exceedances of those levels,” according to a White House fact sheet. “The rule sets drinking water limits for five individual PFAS, including the most frequently found PFOA and PFOS.”

The move is expected to protect 100 million Americans from exposure to the “forever chemicals,” which have been linked to severe health problems including cancers, liver and heart damage, and developmental impacts in children.

An interactive dashboard from the United States Geological Survey shows the concentrations of polyfluoroalkyl substances in tapwater are highest in urban areas with dense populations, including cities like New York and Los Angeles.

During Biden’s tenure, the federal government has launched more than 500 programs that are geared toward investing in the communities most impacted by climate change, whether the harms may arise from chemical pollutants, extreme weather events, or other causes.

New research by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that because LGBTQ Americans are likelier to live in coastal areas and densely populated cities, households with same-sex couples are likelier to experience the adverse effects of climate change.

The report notes that previous research, including a study that used “national Census data on same-sex households by census tract combined with data on hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from the National Air Toxics Assessment” to model “the relationship between same-sex households and risk of cancer and respiratory illness” found “that higher prevalence of same-sex households is associated with higher risks for these diseases.”

“Climate change action plans at federal, state, and local levels, including disaster preparedness, response, and recovery plans, must be inclusive and address the specific needs and vulnerabilities facing LGBT people,” the Williams Institute wrote.

With respect to polyfluoroalkyl substances, the EPA’s adoption of new standards follows other federal actions undertaken during the Biden-Harris administration to protect firefighters and healthcare workers, test for and clean up pollution, and phase out or reduce use of the chemicals in fire suppressants, food packaging, and federal procurement.

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Maine

Maine governor signs transgender, abortion sanctuary bill into law

Bomb threats made against lawmakers before measure’s passage

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Maine Gov. Janet Mills congratulates members of Maine Women's Basketball. In March the team won the America East championship. (Photo courtesy of Mills’s office)

BY ERIN REED | On Tuesday, Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed LD 227, a sanctuary bill that protects transgender and abortion providers and patients from out-of-state prosecution, into law.

With this action, Maine becomes the 16th state to explicitly protect trans and abortion care in state law from prosecution. This follows several bomb threats targeting state legislators after social media attacks from far-right anti-trans influencers such as Riley Gaines and Chaya Raichik of Libs of TikTok.

An earlier version of the bill failed in committee after similar attacks in January. Undeterred, Democrats reconvened and added additional protections to the bill before it was passed into law.

The law is extensive. It asserts that gender-affirming care and reproductive health care are “legal rights” in Maine. It states that criminal and civil actions against providers and patients are not enforceable if the provision or access to that care occurred within Maine’s borders, asserting jurisdiction over those matters.

It bars cooperation with out-of-state subpoenas and arrest warrants for gender-affirming care and abortion that happen within the state. It even protects doctors who provide gender-affirming care and abortion from certain adverse actions by medical boards, malpractice insurance, and other regulating entities, shielding those providers from attempts to economically harm them through out-of-state legislation designed to dissuade them from providing care.

You can see the findings section of the bill here:

The bill also explicitly enshrines the World Professional Association of Transgender Health’s Standards of Care, which have been the target of right-wing disinformation campaigns, into state law for the coverage of trans healthcare:

The bill is said to be necessary due to attempts to prosecute doctors and seek information from patients across state lines. In recent months, attorneys general in other states have attempted to obtain health care data on trans patients who traveled to obtain care. According to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, attorneys general in Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri, and Texas attempted to obtain detailed medical records “to terrorize transgender teens in their states … opening the door to criminalizing women’s private reproductive health care choices.”

The most blatant of these attempts was from the attorney general of Texas, who, according to the Senate Finance Committee, “sent demands to at least two non-Texas entities.” One of these entities was Seattle Children’s Hospital, which received a letter threatening administrators with arrest unless they sent data on Texas patients traveling to Seattle to obtain gender-affirming care.

Seattle Children’s Hospital settled that case out of court this week, agreeing to withdraw its Texas business registration in return for Texas dropping its investigation. This likely will have no impact on Seattle Children’s Hospital, which has stated it did not treat any youth via telemedicine or in person in Texas; the hospital will be able to continue treating Texas youth who travel outside of Texas to obtain their care. That settlement was likely compelling due to a nearly identical law in Washington that barred out-of-state investigations on trans care obtained solely in the state of Washington.

The bill has faced a rocky road to passage. A similar bill was debated in January, but after coming under intense attack from anti-trans activists who misleadingly called it a “transgender trafficking bill,” the bill was voluntarily withdrawn by its sponsor.

When LD 227 was introduced, it faced even more attacks from Gaines and Libs of TikTok. These attacks were followed by bomb threats that forced the evacuation of the legislature, promising “death to pedophiles” and stating that a bomb would detonate within a few hours in the capitol building.

Despite these threats, legislators strengthened both the abortion and gender-affirming care provisions and pressed forward, passing the bill into law. Provisions found in the new bill include protecting people who “aid and assist” gender-affirming care and abortion, protections against court orders from other states for care obtained in Maine, and even protections against adverse actions by health insurance and malpractice insurance providers, which have been recent targets of out-of-state legislation aimed at financially discouraging doctors from providing gender-affirming care and abortion care even in states where it is legal.

See a few of the extensive health insurance and malpractice provisions here:

Speaking about the bill, Gia Drew, executive director of Equality Maine, said in a statement, “We are thrilled to see LD 227, the shield bill, be signed into law by Gov. Mills. Thanks to our pro equality and pro reproductive choice elected officials who refused to back down in the face of disinformation. This bill couldn’t come into effect at a better time, as more than 40 percent of states across the country have either banned or attempted to block access to reproductive care, which includes abortions, as well as transgender healthcare for minors. Thanks to our coalition partners who worked tirelessly to phone bank, lobby, and get this bill over the finish line to protect community health.” 

Related

Destie Hohman Sprague of the Maine Women’s Lobby celebrated the passage of the bill despite threats of violence, saying in a statement, “A gender-just Maine ensures that all Mainers have access to quality health care that supports their mental and physical wellbeing and bodily autonomy, including comprehensive reproductive and gender-affirming care. We celebrate the passage of LD 227, which helps us meet that goal. Still, the patterns of violence and disinformation ahead of the vote reflected the growing connections between misogyny, extremism, and anti-democratic threats and actions. We must continue to advocate for policies that protect bodily autonomy, and push back against extremist rhetoric that threatens our states’ rights and our citizens’ freedoms.”

The decision to pass the legislation comes as the Biden administration released updated HIPAA protections that protect “reproductive health care” from out-of-state prosecutions and investigations.

Although the definition of “reproductive health care” is broad in the new HIPAA regulations, it is uncertain whether they will include gender-affirming care. For at least 16 states, though, gender-affirming care is now explicitly protected by state law and shielded from out-of-state legislation, providing trans people and those seeking abortions with protections as the fight increasingly crosses state lines.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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