Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s recently stated support for “equal rights in employment” for gays is raising questions about whether he supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — as well as the extent to which he would back other LGBT rights issues.
The current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination said he backs employment protections last week during an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan as he noted gay appointments made during his time as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.
Asked which gay rights he favors, Romney replied, “Well, equal rights in employment, equal rights in — for instance, as the governor, I had members of my team that were gay, I appointed a couple of judges, who, apparently, I find later, were gay.”
Romney didn’t say whether he thinks these protections should be instituted through legislation or some other manner.
A Romney campaign spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether the remarks mean that the the candidate supports ENDA, pending legislation that would bar job discrimination in most situations for LGBT Americans in the public and private workforce.
Romney’s support for employment rights — through ENDA or otherwise — is unusual for Republican presidential candidates early on during the primary season. Candidates usually veer hard right to win support among social conservatives who participate in Republican primaries. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, for example, have said they would reinstitute “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if elected.
Still, support for ENDA from Romney would be consistent with a previously articulated position he held in 1994 when he was running against the late Sen. Edward Kennedy for his seat representing Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate.
In a letter to the Log Cabin Republicans, Romney recalled earlier conversations he’s had with the group and said he would be a co-sponsor of ENDA and would seek to expand the provisions in the legislation.
Additionally, Romney pledged to “make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern” and said Kennedy, who was known as a champion of LGBT rights in the Senate, would be unable to make that promise to the LGBT community.
“We have discussed a number of important issues such as the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which I have agreed to co-sponsor, and if possible broaden to include housing and credit, and the bill to create a federal panel to find ways to reduce gay and lesbian youth suicide, which I also support,” Romney wrote.
It should be noted that the version of ENDA that was pending before Congress at the time offered protections based only on sexual orientation and didn’t include language protecting transgender people in employment.
Romney also said the then-recently enacted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law was the compromise that was a step in the right direction and “the first in a number of steps” that will ultimately lead to open service in the U.S. military.
According to a 1994 article from Bay Windows, Romney also articulated support for ENDA during a public meeting of the Massachusetts Log Cabin Club with his then-Republican opponent, John Lakian. The meeting between Republican candidates and the gay group was hailed as a milestone for LGBT rights in Massachusetts.
“I will fight against discrimination of any kind throughout our system,” Romney was quoted as saying. “I don’t know exactly where you legislate and where you don’t legislate or how you make that work and where you don’t. But I am not limiting my support of equal rights for all people just to [U.S. Rep.] Barney Frank’s legislation in the area of employment. I would be happy to continue the fight in other areas such as credit and housing.”
Romney reportedly touted that Bain & Company, a Boston-based management consulting firm whose board he chaired, had explicit directions regarding equal employment opportunity in hiring and promotions.
But Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality, said the support that Romney expressed for ENDA in 1994 doesn’t square with his later actions as governor and predicted he wouldn’t keep his promise to support the legislation.
“That’s all the same stuff that he said when he ran for governor in 2002, and then once he was governor, I mean, do a Google search, and you’ll find out how quickly he positioned himself as anti-LGBT in order to benefit his own political career,” she said.
Suffredini predicted that Romney would be “pretty bad” for the LGBT community as a whole as president because of the inconsistency with which he addressed LGBT issues as governor.
“I would say based on his record as governor here that the only thing consistent about Romney’s relationship with the LGBT community is how inconsistent he is,” Suffredini said.
Suffredini said during his campaign as governor, Romney pledged to sign a civil rights bill for the LGBT community. However upon taking office, she said he took several anti-gay actions, such as abolishing a governor’s commission on LGBT youth, which the legislature later reinstated; rescinding an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation; and discouraging the Massachusetts Department of Public Health from releasing data on public health disparities.
Romney also struck a markedly different tone on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Monday during the Republican presidential debate compared to what he expressed in his 1994 letter to Log Cabin.
“I believe it should have been kept in place until conflict was over,” Romney said, invoking an argument that opponents of repeal employed when legislation that would end the military’s gay ban was pending before Congress.
Romney’s position on ENDA could become a more prominent issue as he advances through the Republican primaries.
Romney remains the front-runner in the Republican presidential field among potential participants in the early primaries. According to recent polls from Public Policy Polling, Romney leads by six points in Iowa, 23 in New Hampshire, nine in South Carolina and 15 in Nevada.
Further, Romney could be the Republican presidential candidate who has the strongest chance against President Obama in 2012. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll published last week, Romney leads Obama in a head-to-head contest by a margin of 49-46.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization would hold Romney to his promises on ENDA should he win the Republican nomination and go on to challenge President Obama in 2012.
“Gov. Romney recently stated on CNN he opposes discrimination and supports equal rights in employment,” Cooper said. “We hope he would stand by his pledge from 17 years ago to prevent discrimination in the workplace and support ENDA.”
While Romney’s position on most LGBT issues may have changed over the years, on one issue he has maintained consistent opposition: same-sex marriage.
During his interview on CNN last week, Romney reiterated his previously stated opposition to same-sex marriage.
“What happened was that the gay community changed as to what they wanted,” Romney said during the CNN interview. “When I ran for governor, one of the big issues was marriage, gay marriage. My opponent said she would sign a bill in favor of gay marriage. I said I would not, that I opposed same-sex marriage. At the same time, I would advance the — if you will — the efforts not to discriminate against people who are gay.”
According to Bay WIndows, Romney stated his opposition to same-sex marriage at the Log Cabin forum 17 years ago when he was seeking the Republican nomination in the U.S Senate race.
“I stand with Gov. [Bill] Weld on that,” he was quoted as saying, “and say that in my view it is not appropriate to authorize legally same-sex marriages and I will continue to endorse that view.”
In 2003, After the Massachusetts State Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage rights for gay couples, Romney backed various state measures that would have rolled back marriage rights for gay couples in the Bay State. Romney also voiced support for a U.S. constitutional amendment known as the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would ban same-sex marriages throughout the country.
Additionally, Romney renewed enforcement of a 1913 law preventing out-of-state couples from marrying in Massachusetts to prevent gay couples from coming into the Bay State to wed. The law has since been repealed by the state Legislature.
Suffredini recalled that as governor, Romney “positioned himself as a national leader” during this time when the first state in the nation was attempting to advance marriage rights for gay couples.
“He did everything he could here to prevent marriage equality — even going so far as to resurrect what we call here the 1913 law, basically an anti-miscegnation law, which hadn’t been enforced in decades,” Suffredini said. “He resurrected it specifically in his words to prevent the spread of same-sex marriage to other states, and what it did was it prevented gays and lesbians from other states from coming here and marrying.”
Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of communications, said Romney’s frequent position changes on LGBT issues make it difficult to predict how friendly to the LGBT community he’d be as president.
“It’s hard to know which Mitt Romney will show up,” Sainz said. “He’s gone back and forth more on issues of equality than a revolving door at a hotel and appears willing to say whatever the audience in front of him will want to hear.”
Still, some remain hopeful that Romney will continue his support for ENDA. Sainz said the decision for Republican candidates on whether or not to support ENDA should be easy.
“It should be a no-brainer for Republican presidential candidates to support legislation that allows all Americans to work and support their families,” Sainz said.
Alarming numbers of Texas Trans kids in crisis over litany of anti-Trans bills
“Under the guise of protecting children- Texas legislators are directly harming thousands of transgender & nonbinary youth”
NEW YORK – The Trevor Project received nearly 4,000 crisis contacts from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas in 2021, with many directly stating that they are feeling stressed and considering suicide due to anti-trans laws being debated in their state.
This new data comes during a year when Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQ bills, including more than 40 bills that specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth — far more than any other state.
The Texas State Senate passed its anti-trans sports ban SB3 this week, and the companion bill HB10 is now moving forward in the Texas House.
Republican Texas Governor Abbott has prioritized SB 3 and called for a third consecutive special session of the legislature to consider this bill, which would ban transgender student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
“The Trevor Project’s crisis counselors have been hearing from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas who are scared and worried about anti-trans laws being debated in their state — and some have even expressed suicidal thoughts. This is a crisis. We urge Texas lawmakers to consider the weight of their words and actions — and to reject HB10/SB3,” said Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project.
- 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.
“As a transgender young person in Texas, this new data from the Trevor Project is not surprising, but it’s nonetheless harrowing and alarming to see this representation of the detrimental impact Texas Lege is having on our community — especially our kids. Lawmakers and proponents of bills like SB3 and HB10 should be alarmed by these statistics, too,” Landon Richie a Trans youth activist and GenderCool Youth Leader from Houston told the Los Angeles Blade.
“Under the guise of protecting children and promoting fairness, Texas legislators are directly harming thousands of transgender and nonbinary youth, denying them the dignity, respect, and childhoods that they deserve. It’s never an exaggeration to say that the passage — and merely debate — of these bills will cost lives,” Richie added.
National mental health organizations like The Trevor Project and state LGBTQ equality groups including Equality Texas and Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) are raising concerns about the impact of such legislation on the mental health and wellbeing of transgender and nonbinary youth.
The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. Further, Trevor released a new research brief earlier this month on LGBTQ youth participation in sports, which found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (nearly 66%) do not actively participate in sports — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.
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/Help, or by texting START to 678678.
2nd largest school district in Utah bans Pride & BLM flags as ‘too political’
“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can”
FARMINGTON, Ut. – Administrators this week in the Davis School District, which is Utah’s 2nd largest school district with 72,987 students, banned LGBTQ Pride and Black Lives Matter flags, saying they are ‘politically charged.’
According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, Davis Schools spokesperson Chris Williams told the paper; “No flags fly in our schools except for the flag of the United States of America.” Williams later walked that statement back adding a clarification that some of the Districts schools have flags from sports team or international countries which are considered “unrelated to politics.”
“What we’re doing is we’re following state law,” said Williams. “State law says that we have to have a classroom that’s politically neutral.”
Amanda Darrow, Director of Youth, Family, and Education at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, told multiple media outlets the school district is “politicizing the rainbow flag” which doesn’t belong on a political list.
“That flag for us is so much more,” said Darrow. “It is just telling us we’re included in the schools, we are being seen in the schools, and we belong in these schools.”
KUTV CBS2 News in Salt Lake City checked with the Utah State Board of Education. In an email, spokesman Mark Peterson said, “There is nothing in code that specifically defines a rainbow flag as a political statement so it would be up to district or charter school policies to make that determination.”
The local Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also weighed in saying in a statement;
“Whether or not a school district has the legal ability to ban inclusive and supportive symbols from classrooms, it is bad policy for them to do so,” the advocacy organization said in a statement. “Utah schools have an obligation to ensure that all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identify, feel welcome inside a classroom. We urge school administrators and teachers to adopt policies that make all students feel safe and included.”
Williams insisted the policy is not meant to exclude anyone and that all students are loved and welcomed – they just want to keep politics out of school he told the Tribune and KUTV.
“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can,” said Williams.
A Utah based veteran freelance journalist, writer, editor, and food photographer weighed in on Twitter highlighting the negative impact of the Davis Schools decision on its LGBTQ youth.
Davis County school district has banned BLM & pride flags and other symbols saying they are politically charged.— Kaz Weida (@kazweida) September 21, 2021
This is why the number 1 killer of Utah kids is suicide, especially among LGBTQ youth. Nearly 52% say they have frequent suicidal ideation.https://t.co/twSZwWvWVl
Davis County School District bans LGTBQ and BLM flags as ‘too political’
Non-binary person reports assault by Proud Boys near Portland
‘They nearly killed me’
It was a typical day for Juniper Simonis. The freelance ecologist decided to break from work for lunch at about 3 p.m. to take their service dog, Wallace, to the local dog park and grab a bite to eat.
But a planned peaceful afternoon quickly turned ugly. Simonis says they survived a gang assault of about 30 perpetrators in Gresham, Ore., a suburb outside of Portland. The Oregon resident encountered the group for only minutes but suffered a concussion, sprained jaw, extensive car damage and verbal assaults, they said.
“They nearly killed me,” they said.
Simonis said they turned into a parking lot to pick up lunch in Gresham, Ore., and stumbled upon a rally that included several members of the Proud Boys — a far-right, ultra-nationalist organization known for its anti-LGBTQ, anti-feminism and neo-fascist ideologies.
There was a “Flag Ride” right-wing rally in a parking lot earlier that day. Simonis was under the impression the event had ended after checking reports on Twitter. After pulling into the lot, originally to look for lunch options, Simonis saw a large gathering still in the lot.
Simonis decided to take pictures of what was happening to post online to warn others and was intentional in keeping their distance, they said. As Simonis was preparing to leave the area, they yelled from inside the car, “Fuck you, fascists, go home.”
“I did not expect this to escalate into violence,” they said.
The attack itself only lasted about three minutes, Simonis said. Simonis was quickly surrounded by several people and physically blocked from leaving the lot. People stepped in front of the parking lot exit, then a car was moved to barricade Simonis. People began to shout homophobic slurs at Simonis, they said.
“I’m in serious trouble now and I know it,” they said.
Simonis was then punched while inside their vehicle and was briefly knocked out. They regained consciousness a few seconds later, and a cinder block was thrown at the car and shattered the back window of their car inches away from their service dog, Wallace.
Simonis got out of the car to assess the damage and make sure their service dog was safe. They quickly got back in their car and was able to leave the lot by maneuvering around the blocked exit, Simonis said.
Looking back at the photos and videos Simonis took before the assault, Simonis said they saw people looking into the camera and acknowledging them taking photos.
“I honestly don’t know if I hadn’t said anything, that … things would have gone any different,” they said.
Last year, Simonis was targeted and arrested by federal police in Portland during the tumultuous Black Lives Matter protests in the city. They were denied medical attention, misgendered, jumped and aggressively handcuffed while taken into custody.
Simonis is still working through legal proceedings in a multi-plaintiff lawsuit.
A witness to the event called the Gresham Police Department, which was only a few blocks away from the incident. But the call went to voicemail and the witness did not leave a message, Simonis said.
Another witness called 911, Simonis said, which led to an officer calling Simonis about 45 minutes after the accident to take a report.
In the police report obtained by the Blade, Simonis is consistently misgendered. Simonis’ sex is also listed as “unknown” in the report. The incident was labeled as vehicle vandalism.
Simonis said the conversation with the officer was filled with victim-blaming and the officer wrote in the report that Simonis should avoid “approaching groups of this nature.”
“At no point in this conversation does he treat me as an actual victim of a crime,” Simonis said.
The Gresham Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Weeks after the assault, Simonis is struggling mentally and physically, they said.
The concussion makes working on a computer virtually impossible because of light sensitivity and trouble focusing, Simonis said. The pain caused by the sprained jaw makes it difficult to focus, as well.
Simonis is not able to begin physical therapy for their jaw until November because of long medical wait times, they said. The cost to repair the car damages will be about $8,000, as well, they said.
The times where Simonis is able to focus are usually taken up by piecing together what happened that day, they said.
“The part of my brain that I use for work has been hijacked functionally by the part of the brain that needed to know what happened to me,” they said. “There is such a painful need to understand what happened to me.”
Because of past traumatic events, like the experience of being in federal custody last year, Simonis said processing and living with the trauma is a bit easier to handle. But their ability to work will be forever changed yet again, they said.
“I’m not able to work at the pace that I used to work at before I was assaulted by DHS. I’ll never be,” they said. “And this is just a further knockdown.”
The trauma of the event has increased Simonis’ hyper-vigilance, as well.
“Every time I hear a car go by, I’m double-checking,” they said.
Even though Simonis has the tools to process and live with the immense trauma, they will never be the same person, they said.
“They fucking changed my life forever. Point blank,” they said. “Not just mentally, but physically and physiologically. I can’t go back to where I was before. I’m lucky that I survived.”
Simonis has reported the attack to the FBI and is pursuing legal action with two specific goals in mind: to heal and to prevent similar crimes from happening.
“I am somebody who believes in abolishing the carceral system and the justice system as it exists and policing,” Simonis said. “But also a 37-year-old trans and disabled person who somehow managed to survive this long. And so naturally has become pragmatic about the world.”
Because of the reaction of the Gresham Police Department, Simonis did not want to work with local officers and instead went to the federal level. But because of the alleged assault by agents in Portland last year, this decision wasn’t easy for them.
Perpetrators in the assault threatened to call the police on Simonis, even though Simonis did not commit a crime. Reporting the crime to the federal level is also a layer of protection, they said.
“All of this is forcing my hand,” they said. There is no easy decision in the situation, they added.
“We all know that crimes are underreported. We hear about it all the time,” they said. And there are reasons why people don’t report crimes and they’re totally understandable. A lot of victims are very concerned about what will happen if they break anonymity. In my situation, I’ve already broken anonymity.”
With recent arrests and crackdowns on the Proud Boys and other hate groups in the United States, Simonis is bracing for a long process.
“This isn’t just going to go on a shelf,” they said.
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