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ENDA passage effort renewed with Senate introduction

Merkley backs exec order barring LGBT job bias

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Sens. Jeff Merkley (left) and Mark Kirk introduced ENDA in the Senate on Thursday (Blade photo by MIchael Key)

The junior senator from Oregon introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. Senate on Thursday as he voiced support for an executive order that would bar the federal government from contracting with companies that don’t have their own workplace protections for LGBT people.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) endorsed the idea of an executive order an as interim alternative to passing ENDA during a news conference on Capitol Hill in response to a question from the Washington Blade after he announced the Senate introduction of the legislation

“Certainly, I share the perspective that it would be tremendous to accomplish this by legislation,” Merkley said. “But I also feel that this is a conversation that is going to reverberate at a number of levels. You have counties, you have state action and certainly, I feel, it’s a legitimate possibility, and I would support the president saying that contractors who are beneficiaries of federal funds should in fact practice non-discrimination, so I would support that.”

The executive order endorsed by Merkley has been seen as an interim alternative to ENDA passage while Republicans are in control of the House and progress on the measure in the lower chamber of Congress is unlikely. The White House hasn’t said one way or the other whether Obama would be open to issuing such a directive. Last month, Gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) also expressed support for the executive order.

However, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), an original co-sponsor of ENDA who was present at the conference, didn’t offer the same support for an executive order that was voiced by Merkley.

“I would just say when you have executive action without the statute, then quickly that would be wiped out by the next administration,” Kirk said. “The best way to go is a statute where you have a stable decision that can only be overturned by a subsequent act of Congress.”

Kirk also advised against an executive order because of what he said was a “tremendous of uncertainty right now” in the U.S. economy, which is still climbing its way out of recession.

“If we load executive order upon executive order, all which would be wiped out the day after the president of the other party takes power, you really haven’t advanced the ball much,” Kirk said. “That’s why the legislation is absolutely necessary.”

Merkley endorsed the executive order on the same day he introduced ENDA to the Senate, which as of the end of Thursday had 38 co-sponsors. The legislation would bar job discrimination against LGBT people in most situations in the public and private workforce.

Job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is legal in 29 states and legal in 38 states on the basis of gender identity. More than 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies already have their own workplace protections based on sexual orientation and more than one-third on the basis of gender identity.

Merkley said passage of ENDA is necessary because the “right to work and earn a living” for all Americans — including LGBT people — is a “fundamental right.”

“It is essential to the success of an individual, it is essential to the success of a family,” Merkley said. “It’s certainly essential to the pursuit of happiness — that value that we place right up front in our Declaration of Independence — and it’s part and parcel of equality under the law.”

Kirk said his support for ENDA, which puts him in the minority among Republicans, fits his model of public service in the image of the late U.S. Senator from Illinois Everett Dirksen, whom Kirk described as a “strong national security conservative, fiscal conservative and social moderate.”

“It was Sen. Dirksen that clinched the deal on the [1964] Civil Rights Act,” Kirk said. “I see this legislation as in that tradition to make sure that our country is a country not of equal outcomes, which would be a Communist state, but of equal opportunities, and to make sure that everyone has that opportunity regardless of orientation.”

A number of LGBT advocacy groups issued a statements on Thursday praising Merkley for introducing ENDA and calling on Congress to take action to pass the legislation.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said ENDA passage is essential to ensure LGBT Americans have equal access to the American workplace.

“In today’s economy job security is important to all Americans, especially LGBT people who can be fired for no other reason than their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Solmonese said. “Passing ENDA is essential to ensuring that all Americans have an equal opportunity to work and contribute to this country’s economy.”

Jeff Krehely, director of the LGBT Research at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, pointed to a 2009 Out & Equal Workplace Survey that found that 44 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people have said they’ve faced workplace discrimination and at least 47 percent of transgender people have made the same claim.

“ENDA will help end this discrimination by requiring workplaces to make their hiring and firing decisions based on a person’s ability to get the job done, and not irrelevant factors such as their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Krehely said.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, also reiterated President Obama’s support for passage of ENDA and noted the administration’s previous efforts in pushing for the legislation.

“The president’s support for an inclusive ENDA is well established,” Inouye said. “It’s worth noting that last Congress, when [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] Acting Chairman Stuart Ishimaru testified on behalf of the Obama administration on ENDA before the House Education & Labor Committee, it was the first time that any administration offered its support for this legislation.”

Despite the enthusiasm behind ENDA, most Capitol Hill observers says the legislation’s prospects for passage during the 112th Congress are slim at best. Last week, Rep. Barney Frank, a gay lawmaker, introduced the House version of ENDA as he categorically said the legislation wouldn’t pass with Republicans in control of the House.

A Senate Democratic aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was pessimistic about the chances of passing ENDA even in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“The prospects for passing ENDA in the Senate during the 112th Congress are not great, unless there is a major push from President Obama,” the aide said. “The Senate is narrowly controlled by Democrats, who generally will support ENDA. But unless there are enough common-sense Republicans who can help bring the total to 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster, ENDA won’t pass the Senate.”

Despite the challenges facing ENDA passage, the notable Republican support the legislation upon introduction could be a sign of hope. Three GOP senators — Kirk, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) signed on — have signed on as original co-sponsors.

Kirk said he’s hopeful that he can find enough Republican support for the legislation to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to end a filibuster if the legislation came to the Senate floor.

“I asked Sen. Merkley, ‘Let’s start this out very balanced with members that have reputations to be able to move legislation, and I think we’ve done that today,'” Kirk said.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said he talked with Kirk following ENDA’s introduction about finding sufficient Republican support to move forward with ENDA and was told “the votes are there” for passage.

“Our conversation was Senate focused, but could apply to the House as well,” Cooper said.

One possible strategy for passing ENDA in the Senate would be attaching it as an amendment to another legislative vehicle. Such a move could enhance ENDA’s chances for passage because standalone legislation could be vulnerable to hostile amendments on the Senate floor.

The anonymous Senate Democratic aide said ENDA would be fare better as an amendment on the Senate floor as opposed to standalone legislation because “any stand alone bills are tough to pass in the Senate these days.”

During the news conference, Kirk suggested that plans are in place to pass ENDA in the Senate as an amendment to another vehicle. The Illinois senator said he wants to move the legislation “as I’m now learning, hopefully by amendment.”

Following Kirk’s remark, Merkley said ENDA’s proponents have “no specific plans” to pass the legislation as an amendment to another bill at this time, but are on the lookout for potential opportunities to pass legislation that “may have trouble getting to the floor as a freestanding piece.”

Asked whether there would any candidates for legislation that would serve as vehicles for ENDA, Merkley replied, “If only I could forecast all the bills that are going to be on the floor.”

Whatever the prospects for pushing ENDA through both chambers of Congress, LGBT advocates are hoping for progress at least in the committee that holds jurisdiction over ENDA. Supporters of the legislation are already calling on Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), an original co-sponsor of the legislation, to hold a hearing on the legislation during the 112th Congress.

Tico Almeida, a civil rights litigator at Sanford, Wittels & Heisler in D.C., said a Senate hearing on ENDA would allow LGBT victims of workplace discrimination a public venue to tell their stories.

“Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate [HELP] Committee, can and should organize an ENDA hearing during the upcoming year,” Almeida said. “He can and should call one or more transgender Americans to testify at that hearing,”

In response to calls for a hearing, Justine Sessions, a Harkin spokesperson, said is committed to working with Merkley and other co-sponsors to move the legislation forward.

Merkley said he’s spoken with Harkin about an ENDA committee hearing or markup and said he’s “working with him and committee staff about that direction.”

The Oregon senator recalled that in 2009, Harkin held the an committee hearing on ENDA in which Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, represented the Obama administration during the hearing.

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34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. Guest

    April 15, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Total B.S.! Where was this bill 6 months ago when Dems controlled the House and could pass it?

    Memo to Dems: Gay people aren’t as stupid as you think, and we ignore the propaganda of your tool, HRC.

  2. torchmanner

    March 1, 2012 at 9:23 am

    First Amendment violation.

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Texas

Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill

HB 25 now heads to state Senate

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GenderCool Project leader and Trans activist Landon Richie (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.

Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.

However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.

HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.

“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.

“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.

“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.

During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.

He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”

He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.

Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”

González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.

Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.

He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”

“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.

“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.

The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”

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LGBTQ Youth web resource gone after Texas GOP candidate complained

Removal of the LGBTQ youth resource webpage appeared to be strictly political the Houston Chronicle reported

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Anti-LGBTQ Republican Don Huffines (Screenshot via Twitter)

AUSTIN – A late August video tweet from a wealthy Dallas-based real estate development company executive and conservative Republican gubernatorial challenger, blamed fellow Republican incumbent Texas Governor Greg Abbott for endorsing an LGBTQ+ agenda, because of the existence of a state online resource webpage for LGBTQ youth.

Within hours it was pulled down by the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, (DFPS) the agency responsible for the page.

In an article published Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported that Don Huffines claimed tax dollars were being used to “advocate for transgender ideology.” Huffines also went on to say that DFPS was publishing “disturbing information about our youth.”

“They’re talking about helping empower and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, non-heterosexual behavior. I mean really? This is Texas. These are not Texas values. These are not Republican Party values, but these are obviously Greg Abbott’s values,” 

A message on the website states that the previous content is now under review.

According to the Chronicle, the website for the Texas Youth Connection, a division of Family and Protective Services that steers young people to various resources, including education, housing and those on its LGBTQ page as they prepare for life after foster care. It was replaced by a message that states, “The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content. This is being done to ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.”

LGBTQ+ activists and advocates are furious. Among the resources on the page for LGBTQ+ youth were critical information including for housing and information for suicide prevention and crisis assistance.

GenderCool Youth Leader, Trans rights activist and University of Houston student Landon Richie told the Blade Tuesday;

“This is deplorable. To Governor Abbott, LGBTQ+ youth are nothing more than pawns on a political chessboard. Despite his cries of protection and fairness in justification of this session’s unprecedented attacks on LGBTQ+ — especially trans — youth, it has never truly been about any of those things; it has always been about his power.

Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ youth deserve safety, protection, support, and affirmation from the state — this year alone, the Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support, as a result of this legislative session. LGBTQ+ youth deserve better than to be treated like they are as easily discardable as a webpage,” Richie said.

Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights reacted telling the Blade in an emailed statement:

“Helping LGBTQ youth and their families prevent suicide is not a partisan issue, and any elected official who seeks to make it one has lost any sense of shame. This action by Governor Abbott is appalling and will needlessly harm vulnerable children and families who urgently need support.”

Removal of the page appeared to be strictly political the Chronicle reported.

Patrick Crimmins, the department spokesman, told the Chronicle that the review “is still ongoing” but declined to answer questions seeking more detail about why the website was removed or whether it had anything to do with Huffines.

But Family and Protective Services communications obtained through a public records request show that agency employees discussed removing the “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” page in response to Huffines’ tweet, shortly before taking it offline,” the paper wrote.

More telling was the events leading the page’s removal said the paper:

Thirteen minutes after Huffines’ video went up, media relations director Marissa Gonzales emailed a link to Crimmins, the agency’s communications director, under the subject line “Don Huffines video accusing Gov/DFPS of pushing liberal transgender agenda.”

FYI. This is starting to blow up on Twitter,” Gonzales wrote.

Crimmins then queried Darrell Azar, DFPS’ web and creative services director, about who oversees the page. “Darrell — please note we may need to take that page down, or somehow revise content,” he wrote.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth weighed in on the Chronicle’s reporting in an emailed statement to the Blade.

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system — and those who have been in foster care report significantly higher rates of attempting suicide. It is unconscionable that the Texas state government would actively remove vital suicide prevention resources from its website for the sole purpose of appeasing a rival politician. Mental health and suicide prevention are nonpartisan,” said Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs. “This story sends a terrible message to LGBTQ youth in Texas and will only contribute to the internalization of stigma and shame. We should be expanding access to support services for this group, not erasing what resources LGBTQ youth have to reach out for help.” 

The Chronicle reported that the deleted webpage also included links to the Texas chapters of PFLAG, a nationwide LGBTQ organization; a “national youth talk line” to discuss gender and sexual identity and various other issues; and LGBTQ legal services.

Huffines said the page also linked to a website operated by the Human Rights Campaign, a politically active LGBTQ advocacy group that he called “the Planned Parenthood of LGBT issues.”

Data on Texas:

  • Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
  • Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
  • While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
    • Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
    • Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.

Additional Research: 

  • The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered. 

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Colorado first state to require transgender care as essential health benefit

Biden officials sign off on change for state insurers

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Colorado has become the first state to require transition-related care for transgender people as essential health coverage.

Colorado has become the first state in the country to include transition-related care for transgender people as part of the requirements for essential health care in the state, the Biden administration announced on Tuesday.

As part of the change, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved the state’s request to provide gender-affirming care in the individual and small group health insurance markets as part of Colorado’s Essential Health Benefit benchmark.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a statement the change is consistent with the Biden administration’s goal of eliminating barriers faced by transgender people in access in health care, including transition-related coverage.

“Health care should be in reach for everyone; by guaranteeing transgender individuals can access recommended care, we’re one step closer to making this a reality,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud to stand with Colorado to remove barriers that have historically made it difficult for transgender people to access health coverage and medical care.”

According to HHS, Colorado plan will require insurers to cover a wider range of services for transgender people in addition to benefits already covered, such as eye and lid modifications, face tightening, facial bone remodeling for facial feminization, breast/chest construction and reductions, and laser hair removal.

In addition to these changes, Colorado s also adding EHBs in the benchmark plan to include mental wellness exams and expanded coverage for 14 prescription drug classes, according to the HHS. These changes, per HHS, will take effect beginning on Jan. 1, 2023.

CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement health care should be “accessible, affordable and delivered equitably to all, regardless of your sexual orientation” (notably leaving out gender identity from that quote).

“To truly break down barriers to care, we must expand access to the full scope of health care, including gender-affirming surgery and other treatments, for people who rely on coverage through Medicare, Medicaid & CHIP and the Marketplaces,” Brooks-LaSure said. “Colorado’s expansion of their essential health benefits to include gender-affirming surgery and other treatments is a model for other states to follow and we invite other states to follow suit.”

According to the Washington Post, Biden administration signed off on the change before officials made the announcement Tuesday in Denver in an event with Gov, Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States.

Katie Keith, a lawyer and co-founder of Out2Enroll, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying despite the change significant issues remains for transgender people in health care.

“There’s been significant progress, but we’ve seen exclusions by some health plans — it got worse under the Trump administration — and that’s why it’s important to see states like Colorado stepping up to fill those gaps,” Keith is quoted as saying.

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