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EEOC settlement triggers call for ENDA executive order

Straight worker allegedly subjected to anti-gay epithets

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission secured a $155,000 settlement against a federal contractor in a workplace discrimination case last week, triggering a call from one LGBT advocacy group for action from the Obama administration to address the issue further.

On Jan. 6, EEOC announced that DynCorp International LLC, a military contractor and aircraft maintenance company in Fairfax, Va., agreed to pay $155,000 in relief in a sex-based discrimination case.

The case involves James Friso, a straight aircraft sheet metal/structural mechanic working in Taji, Iraq, who was allegedly subjected to gender-based harassment — including anti-gay epithets — by a male co-worker.

According to the EEOC complaint, one of Friso’s male co-workers began making derogatory sex-based comments to Friso on a daily basis around November 2006. The co-worker allegedly called Friso “faggot,” “dick-sucker,” and “queer” on a daily basis.

Other comments allegedly referenced Friso’s stature, who’s five-feet, four inches tall, including “whiney little bitch,” “short little mother fucker” and “short little bitch.”

Additionally, the co-worker accused Friso of engaging in homosexual acts, even though the co-workers knew Friso was married to a woman. The co-worker allegedly made this comment in front of management, but no action was taken.

The complaint states Friso regularly complained to DynCorp management, but no action was taken. After continued complaints, managers allegedly told Friso they “would get rid of him.”

That eventually came to pass. Friso was transferred to Mannheim, Germany to a post with lower pay. The co-worker who allegedly subjected to Friso to sex-based discrimination continued to work at Taji.

EEOC filed a complaint in August 2011 in federal district court in Virginia on the basis that the sex-based discrimination violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The announcement on Friday was the result of that complaint.

In addition to agreeing to pay $155,000 in relief to Friso, DynCorp must provide anti-harassment and anti-retaliation training to managers and human resource personnel. DynCorp is also enjoined from engaging in further sex-based harassment or retaliation and has agreed to allow EEOC to monitor it for the decree’s term.

Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for EEOC’s Charlotte District, whose jurisdiction includes Virginia, said in a statement the result of the case is a reminder that sex-based discrimination shouldn’t be tolerated.

“This lawsuit should remind employers that employees have a legal right to a workplace free of harassment, including harassment based on sex-based stereotypes,” Barnes said. “Employers must be careful about allowing comments concerning sexual orientation to be made in the workplace because if those comments are based on sexual stereotyping, they might violate the law.”

But Ashley Burke, a spokesperson for DynCorp, denied the company engaged in any wrongdoing even though it accepted the terms of the settlement.

“The Company was not involved in any wrongdoing and wholly denies all of the allegations contained in the Complaint,” Burke said. “This case involves a personal dispute that occurred five years ago, and the alleged harasser is no longer with the Company. We are pleased to put the matter behind us.”

One LGBT workplace rights advocate said the incident calls for additional administrative action from the Obama administration.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, took issue with the consent decree in the case for not mentioning sexual orientation.

“The company will not have to add sexual orientation or gender identity to its non-discrimination policy,” Almeida said. “Even after this case, DynCorp can discriminate against LGBT employees while getting fat on billions of dollars in taxpayer money.”

Almeida said the action against DynCorp demonstrates the need for an executive order prohibiting federal dollars from going to companies that do not have non-discrimination protections for employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The members of the civil rights enforcement team at the Department of Labor currently have their hands tied and are not allowed to investigate federal contractors like DynCorp for discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation because President Obama has not yet signed the ENDA executive order,” Almeida said.

DynCorp receives more than 96 percent of its revenue from federal contracts that amount to $2 billion each year, making it the 32nd largest federal contractor, according to Freedom to Work. However, protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t included in the company’s non-discrimination policy.

The “ENDA” executive order is so named because it would be similar to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would prohibit workplace discrimination against LGBT people.

The order would enable LGBT Americans who face workplace discrimination to file complaints with the Labor Department. Possible remedies include payment of back wages or reinstatement for LGBT employees who faced discrimination.

Almeida has called on Obama to issue the executive order before, and now says he’s “optimistic” that Obama will sign the order in early 2012.

“During just the past few months alone, the president has taken more than 20 strong executive actions under the slogan ‘We Can’t Wait’ for the current dysfunctional Congress to act,” Almeida said. “It’s a logical next step to sign an executive order granting LGBT Americans the freedom to work for federal contractors without fear of discrimination or harassment on the job.”

The White House hasn’t said whether it would be open to issuing such an executive order despite the president’s support for ENDA.

DynCorp’s Burke insisted the company already has protections in place for its workers, saying the company “encourages a positive, supportive work environment where harassment or retaliation of any kind is simply not tolerated.”

“In addition to anti-harassment training provided to all new hires, personnel receive refresher training, anti-harassment policies are posted throughout worksites, and our Code of Ethics and Business Conduct clearly states the Company’s zero tolerance of harassment and retaliation,” Burke said.

In the early 2000s, a DynCorp employee who alleged that company workers in Bosnia had purchased young women from brothels and kept them as sex slaves was terminated from her job and later won a $173,000 judgment from an employment tribunal in Britain.

In May 2008, a federal jury ordered DynCorp to pay $15 million to a minority-owned telecommunications contractor that charged DynCorp with terminating a contract on the basis of racial discrimination, according to the Washington Post.

Asked whether the settlement has prompted DynCorp to reconsider its non-discrimination policy, Burke replied, “Although there was no wrongdoing on the part of the Company identified in this case, we are always looking for ways to further strengthen our policies and procedures and this is one area that we are currently examining.”

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National

LGBTQ groups largely praise Biden’s State of the Union speech

HRC president attended with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)

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President Joe Biden delivers his 2023 State of the Union speech on Feb. 7, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBTQ rights groups have largely praised President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech that he delivered on Tuesday.

“It’s our duty to protect all the people’s rights and freedoms,” said Biden. “Make no mistake: If Congress passes a national abortion ban, I will veto it. Let’s also pass the bipartisan Equality Act to ensure LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender young people, can live with safety and dignity.” 

The Equality Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights law. The bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives in two previous Congresses, but did not come up for a vote in the U.S. Senate. 

“In re-upping his call for Congress to pass the Equality Act and protect transgender youth, the president is leading by example to expand freedom so no one is left behind,” GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis commented on Twitter. 

Likewise, Equality PAC, the political arm of the Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus, was committed to the president’s vision of a safer U.S. for LGBTQ+ people. 

“At a time where LGBTQ Americans, especially those who are trans, are increasingly under attack by right wing extremists, these [legal] protections have never been more dire,” remarked U.S. Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who co-chair Equality PAC. “We remain committed to working with President Biden and members of Congress to pass the Equality Act and enshrine additional LGBTQ rights into law.” 

The National LGBTQ Task Force in its response to the State of the Union noted how all of the issues on which Biden touched — Social Security, fair wages, Medicaid expansion, access to education, reproductive rights and police reform — have the LGBTQ community “at the center of all the issues.” 

“LGBTQ people are often disproportionately impacted because of the discrimination our community faces every single day. LGBTQ people are not fully able to participate or benefit from all that our country has to offer. For too many queer people, the American dream is out of reach,” said National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson. 

Research from the Trevor Project notes 36 percent of LGBTQ youth have reported they have been physically threatened or harmed due to either their sexual orientation or gender identity. Sixty percent of LGBTQ youth who wanted mental health care in the past year were not able to get it, and 89 percent of them said seeing LGBTQ representation in the media made them feel good about being LGBTQ.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson, who attended the State of the Union alongside House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), said “we appreciate that President Biden is making a point to focus national attention on this urgent topic and stand up for transgender kids, because we need our nation’s leaders to show up and prove that, collectively, we are greater than hate.” 

Log Cabin Republicans President Charles Moran had a far different take.

“Last night, all Americans heard from President Biden was a laundry list of expensive new spending bills and tired campaign slogans, couched between a series of lies about Republicans and the U.S. economy. Meanwhile, inflation is still wrecking American families, our debt is skyrocketing out of control, and nearly half of American families — including LGBT ones — are worse off financially than they were just a year ago,” said Moran in a statement. “Not surprisingly, we heard nothing from Biden condemning the woke, race-and-gender-obsessed forces coddled by his administration. LGBT conservatives are thankful that we now have a Republican House to put a stop to the Democrats’ radical policies and look forward to working with Republican leadership to advance our own pro-America, pro-equality and pro-freedom agenda.”

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Federal Government

Rachel Levine tackles bad information on COVID, gender-affirming care

Assistant health secretary is highest ranking transgender person in Biden administration

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Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a visit to one of America’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, Adm. Rachel Levine answered questions and offered insight about two of the most controversial healthcare issues of this decade, long COVID-19 and gender-affirming care.

Long COVID is the mysterious phenomenon in which patients endure debilitating, long-term effects from being infected by the coronavirus and gender-affirming care, treatments for transgender youth that are being targeted by lawmakers nationwide.

“Long COVID is real,” said Levine, the assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the highest-ranking transgender official in the Biden administration. “We heard from patients who have suffered heart issues, lung issues, issues of fatigue and brain fog, after their COVID-19 infection. And we heard from providers at Yale who are forming a multidisciplinary clinic in order to evaluate and treat these patients.” 

In a public session held Monday at the Yale Law School, four of these “long haulers” shared their challenges with the admiral: Shortness of breath, pulmonary disorders, lifestyle and work limitations and disabilities that are hidden to most observers.

“Hearing the patients tell their stories is so meaningful,” she said, calling it a privilege to better understand the challenges they face.

“That helps us drive policy as well as research,” Levine said. 

“I was very active,” said Hannah Hurtenbach of Wethersfield, Conn., a 30-year-old registered nurse who was diagnosed with post-COVID cardiomyopathy, cognitive brain fog and pulmonary issues. “I loved hiking and being outside. I was constantly on the move and now I barely leave my couch. I barely leave my house and I can’t really handle even a part time job now when I used to work full time. So that has been really difficult at age 30 to be facing those sorts of issues that I never really anticipated feeling.”

Hurtenbach told the Washington Blade she appreciated Levine’s visit.

“Sharing my experience today with the admiral was probably one of the more highlight moments of this experience,” she said. “Knowing that the federal government is taking action, is paying attention, and listening to these stories means more to me than anything else, and especially knowing that what I’ve gone through over the last couple of years can be led and used into the future research and help others just like myself.”

A woman named Christine told the Blade that even though she is so impacted by long COVID that she needs assistance to walk and has to pause as she speaks because of her shortness of breath, she felt attending this event was worth all the struggle to get there.

“I’m so glad I came. I learned a lot from hearing from the others,” she said, who like her are trying to recover from long COVID.

Levine told the Blade that so far, she herself has not contracted COVID, and that she is double-vaccinated and double-boosted. With the president announcing the end of emergency COVID declarations on May 11, she said the administration is pushing Congress to approve extra funding for long COVID and other related needs. But how can she expect to get that through a House of Representatives full of anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers and COVID-deniers, including in GOP leadership?

“Long COVID is real and we hear you,” she said. “We plan to engage Congress to talk about the funding that we need. And we’ll continue to work. We do have to get past misinformation in this country, but we are here to give the correct information about COVID-19 and long COVID, and we’ll continue to engage Congress on that.”

Hurtenbach expressed disappointment in those colleagues in healthcare who came out publicly in opposing vaccines and mask mandates.

“I just wish they had paid better attention in school and learned more of the science,” the nurse said. “I wish they would trust the science that they are supposed to be promoting for their patients as well.” 

Following Monday morning’s public meeting, Levine held a private session with long COVID patients and Yale doctors, researchers, counselors, physical therapists and other providers. Then in the afternoon, the admiral spoke at another event, held at Yale Medical School: “A Conversation on LGBTQI+ Health and Gender-Affirming Care.” Although it was closed to press, Yale Asstistant Professor of Medicine Diane Bruessow attended the event and shared with the Blade what Levine told those gathered, which is that she remains positive and optimistic. 

“I think over time, things will change, and things will get better,” said Levine, adding the caveats, “I don’t know if they will get better everywhere in the United States. I also don’t know if it’s going to be quick. I think the next two years will be really, really hard.” Especially with more than 270 anti-trans pieces of legislation moving their way through state legislatures.

“But I am going to stay positive. I’m going to think that over time, things will improve,” Levine said, pledging that both she and the Biden administration would do everything they can to help families with trans kids. “I think the tide will turn.”

Levine: Long COVID is real

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National

Patrons of The Eagle NYC robbed of thousands

NYPD investigators believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated

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The Eagle NYC (Screenshot/YouTube)

The New York City Police Department, (NYPD) confirmed that a series of robberies committed at The Eagle NYC, a Chelsea gay leather bar last Fall, had the three victims losing thousands of dollars after the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones.

NBC News Out correspondent Matt Lavietes reported the three men, who were in their late 30s and 40s, visited The Eagle NYC, on separate nights in October and November and were each robbed of $1,000 to $5,000, according to the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of public information. 

No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing, authorities said.

Capt. Robert Gault of the city’s 10th Precinct, who spoke about the incidents at a police community council meeting last week, told NBC News that NYPD investigators believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated.

“What we think is happening with this scheme is they’re being lured away from the club, maybe to say, ‘Hey, you wanna come with me? I got some good drugs,’ or something like that,’” Gault said. “And then, once they get into a car to do whatever it is that they’re going to do, at some point or another, they don’t know what happened when they wake up.”

Criminals use facial recognition to patrons at NYC gay bar:

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