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The next champion of LGBT workplace rights?

Shiu would enforce ENDA-like executive order for federal contractors

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Patricia Shiu (Photo courtesy the Labor Department)

The Obama administration official who would be responsible for enforcing a proposed federal ban on discrimination against LGBT workers by federal contractors boasts a long record of advocating for LGBT rights.

Patricia Shiu heads the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), which enforces contractual promises of equal employment opportunity for companies doing business with the federal government.

If, as advocates have been pushing him to do, President Obama issues an executive order requiring federal contractors to adopt non-discrimination policies inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity, Shiu would be responsible for ensuring companies live up to that obligation.

Federal contractors that discriminate against LGBT employees would have to answer to Shiu — and potentially have to pay back wages and reinstate workers fired for discriminatory reasons.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work and one of the chief advocates calling for the order, called Shiu a “smart and talented attorney” and said she’s “demonstrated throughout her career a real passion and commitment to enforcing civil rights laws.”

“As the executive order has advanced through the slow bureaucratic process over the course of the last year, I have felt reassured knowing that we have strong straight allies like Director Shiu on the inside advocating for workplace fairness for LGBT Americans,” Almeida said. “She knows the legal issues backwards and forwards, in part because she has real world experience at the Employment Law Center representing LGBT Americans who have faced workplace discrimination just because of who they are or whom they love.”

Because the measure is similar in its goal to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the directive has sometimes been referred to as the “ENDA” executive order, although the order would be more limited in scope because it only affects federal contractors. Multiple sources have said the Labor and Justice Departments have cleared such a measure, but the White House hasn’t said whether Obama will issue the directive.

Almeida said he met with staffers from OFCCP to advocate for the executive order, and had two meetings with Shiu herself. Almeida wouldn’t comment on the substance of the meetings, and Shiu declined an interview for this article.

If Obama issues the order, Shiu would be responsible for drafting and implementing regulations, putting them through a 90-day public comment period, revising the regulations and then publishing final rules.

“That could take six, eight, 10 or even 12 months, which is why it is so critical that President Obama get the process started by signing the executive order as soon as possible,” Almeida said.

No federal law protects LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace, but observers say Shiu has distinguished herself by protecting civil rights for other groups using as tools protections already in place since she took over at OFCCP in 2009.

Executive Order 11246, signed in 1965 by President Johnson, prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Several statutes also prevent companies doing business with the federal government from discriminating against employees. Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits job bias based on disability and Section 4212 of the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 prohibits job bias based on veteran status.

OFCCP’s work is focused on compliance evaluations of contractors who are scheduled for reviews, when compliance officers check to make sure contractors are meeting these obligations. According to the Labor Department, Shiu’s office investigated 356 complaints filed under Executive Order 11246, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 4212 of the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974.

Under the Obama administration, OFCCP has recovered more than $30 million in financial remedies on behalf of nearly 50,000 victims of discrimination. In the past three years, the agency has evaluated more than 12,000 businesses that employ almost 5 million workers. In addition to back wages, interest and benefits, OFCCP has negotiated more than 4,800 potential job offers for workers who have been illegally subjected to discrimination.

Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president for policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, had high praise for Shiu’s work in enforcing non-discrimination rules with federal contractors.

“Overall, her commitment to reinvigorate and ramp up the enforcement of the agency has been amazing, which is not surprising because she has dedicated her whole career to protecting workers and promoting diversity and enforcing the law,” Zirkin said. “In her previous role, she was always very well respected in the legal and policy advocacy community.”

Zirkin said the Employment Task Force of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has worked with her on the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, which was charged with cracking down on violations of equal pay laws affecting women.

“We think she has been throughout her career and continues to be a stellar point for the civil rights community,” Zirkin said.

If Obama were to issue the ENDA executive order, Zirkin predicted that Shiu would be an effective enforcer of that directive.

“Based on her entire life’s work, she would implement and enforce it, and as I said in the beginning, she has made a demonstrated commitment to reinvigorate and ramp up enforcement at the agency,” Zirkin said.

In June, Shiu secured one such major financial reward from a pharmaceutical giant and federal contractor as the result of allegations of gender discrimination in violation of Executive Order 11246.

AstraZeneca, among the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, agreed to pay $250,000 to 124 women subjected to discrimination while working at the corporation’s Philadelphia Business Center in Wayne, Pa. The action resolved a lawsuit filed by the Labor Department in May 2010 alleging the company discriminated against female sales specialists by paying them salaries that were, on average, $1,700 less than their male co-workers.

OFCCP conducted a scheduled compliance review of the business center in 2002 and found AstraZeneca had violated Executive Order 11246 by failing to meet its obligations as a federal contractor to ensure employees were paid fairly. According to the Labor Department, the company holds a contract valued at more than $2 billion with the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide pharmaceutical products to hospitals and medical centers throughout the country.

Shiu is credited with being a stalwart supporter of civil rights and LGBT rights even before she came to the Labor Department. Prior to joining the Obama administration, Shiu was an attorney for 26 years at the San Francisco-based Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center and worked on employment discrimination cases, including LGBT-related cases.

Elizabeth Kristen, current director of the Employment Law Center’s Gender Equity and LGBT Rights Program, said Shiu was her mentor at the organization before she left and “an incredible champion for civil rights.”

“She is a tough litigator and she’s a passionate advocate and she’s incredibly smart and she really when she was here just went to bat for her clients,” Kristen said.

Kristen said Shiu worked on cases at the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center affecting LGBT employees and said she “fully gets the issues and is a staunch, staunch ally to the LGBT community.” The Law Center wouldn’t reveal information about these cases, citing confidentiality agreements.

A lesbian who married her spouse in San Francisco in 2008, Kristen said Shiu in addition to her legal work was outspoken against Proposition 8, the ballot measure that ultimately eliminated marriage rights for gay couples in California.

“Many of our straight allies were working to get President Obama elected, which is great and wonderful but some of us also were fighting Prop 8 on Election Day, and Pat was also with us fighting Prop 8,” Kristen said.

Kristen added Shiu was involved in a Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center decision to gross up the pay for employees in same-sex marriages to offset the tax inequities faced by these individuals. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, individuals in same-sex marriages have to pay a federal tax on health care benefits, unlike those in opposite-sex unions.

Should Obama issue the ENDA executive order, Kristen said Shiu “would do everything in her power to enforce it.”

“She would do everything she could to make sure that this order was fully effective because I know the rights of the LGBT community are near and dear to her heart,” Kristen said.

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U.S. Supreme Court

US Supreme Court rules Idaho to enforce gender care ban

House Bill 71 signed in 2023

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BY MIA MALDONADO | The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed Idaho to enforce House Bill 71, a law banning Idaho youth from receiving gender-affirming care medications and surgeries.

In an opinion issued Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state of Idaho’s request to stay the preliminary injunction, which blocked the law from taking effect. This means the preliminary injunction now only applies to the plaintiffs involved in Poe v. Labrador — a lawsuit brought on by the families of two transgender teens in Idaho who seek gender-affirming care. 

Monday’s Supreme Court decision enforces the gender-affirming care ban for all other trans youth in Idaho as the lawsuit remains ongoing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador
Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador gives a speech at the Idaho GOP election night watch party at the Grove Hotel in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Idaho, both of whom represent the plaintiffs, said in a press release Monday that the ruling “does not touch upon the constitutionality” of HB 71. The groups called Monday’s ruling an “awful result” for trans Idaho youth and their families.

“Today’s ruling allows the state to shut down the care that thousands of families rely on while sowing further confusion and disruption,” the organizations said in the press release. “Nonetheless, today’s result only leaves us all the more determined to defeat this law in the courts entirely, making Idaho a safer state to raise every family.”

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador in a press release said the state has a duty to protect and support all children, and that he is proud of the state’s legal stance. 

“Those suffering from gender dysphoria deserve love, support and medical care rooted in biological reality,” Labrador said. “Denying the basic truth that boys and girls are biologically different hurts our kids. No one has the right to harm children, and I’m grateful that we, as the state, have the power — and duty — to protect them.”

Recap of Idaho’s HB 71, and what led to SCOTUS opinion

Monday’s Supreme Court decision traces back to when HB 71 was signed into law in April 2023.

The law makes it a felony punishable for up to 10 years for doctors to provide surgeries, puberty-blockers and hormones to trans people under the age of 18. However, gender-affirming surgeries are not and were not performed among Idaho adults or youth before the bill was signed into law, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported

One month after it was signed into law, the families of two trans teens sued the state in a lawsuit alleging the bill violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

In late December, just days before the law was set to take effect in the new year, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill blocked the law from taking effect under a preliminary injunction. In his decision, he said he found the families likely to succeed in their challenge.

The state of Idaho responded by appealing the district court’s preliminary injunction decision to the Ninth Circuit, to which the Ninth Circuit denied. The state of Idaho argued the court should at least enforce the ban for everyone except for the plaintiffs. 

After the Ninth Circuit’s denial, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office in February sent an emergency motion to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Idaho Press reported. Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision agrees with the state’s request to enforce its ban on trans health care for minors, except for the two plaintiffs.

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Mia Maldonado

Mia Maldonado joined the Idaho Capital Sun after working as a breaking news reporter at the Idaho Statesman covering stories related to crime, education, growth and politics. She previously interned at the Idaho Capital Sun through the Voces Internship of Idaho, an equity-driven program for young Latinos to work in Idaho news. Born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, Mia moved to the Treasure Valley for college where she graduated from the College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and international political economy.

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The preceding piece was previously published by the Idaho Capital Sun and is republished with permission.

The Idaho Capital Sun is the Gem State’s newest nonprofit news organization delivering accountability journalism on state politics, health care, tax policy, the environment and more.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Kansas

Kansas governor vetoes ban on health care for transgender youth

Republican lawmakers have vowed to override veto

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Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed two abortion bills and a measure criminalizing transgender health care for minors. House and Senate Republican leaders responded with promises to seek veto overrides when the full Legislature returned to Topeka on April 26. (Photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

BY TIM CARPENTER | Gov. Laura Kelly flexed a veto pen to reject bills Friday prohibiting gender identity health care for transgender youth, introducing a vague crime of coercing someone to have an abortion and implementing a broader survey of women seeking abortion that was certain to trigger veto override attempts in the Republican-led House and Senate.

The decisions by the Democratic governor to use her authority to reject these health and abortion rights bills didn’t come as a surprise given her previous opposition to lawmakers intervening in personal decisions that she believed ought to remain the domain of families and physicians.

Kelly said Senate Bill 233, which would ban gender-affirming care for trans minors in Kansas, was an unwarranted attack on a small number of Kansans under 18. She said the bill was based on a politically distorted belief the Legislature knew better than parents how to raise their children.

She said it was neither a conservative nor Kansas value to block medical professionals from performing surgery or prescribing puberty blockers for their patients. She said stripping doctors of their licenses for serving health interests of patients was wrong. Under the bill, offending physicians could be face lawsuits and their professional liability insurance couldn’t be relied on to defend themselves in court.

“To be clear, this legislation tramples parental rights,” Kelly said. “The last place that I would want to be as a politician is between a parent and a child who needed medical care of any kind. And, yet, that is exactly what this legislation does.”

Senate President Ty Masterson (R-Andover) and House Speaker Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) responded to the governor by denouncing the vetoes and pledging to seek overrides when legislators returned to the Capitol on April 26. The trans bill was passed 27-13 in the Senate and 82-39 in the House, suggesting both chambers were in striking distance of a two-thirds majority necessary to thwart the governor.

“The governor has made it clear yet again that the radical left controls her veto pen,” Masterson said. “This devotion to extremism will not stand, and we look forward to overriding her vetoes when we return in two weeks.”

Cathryn Oakley, senior director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the ban on crucial, medically necessary health care for trans youth was discriminatory, designed to spread dangerous misinformation and timed to rile up anti-LGBTQ activists.

“Every credible medical organization — representing over 1.3 million doctors in the United States — calls for age-appropriate, gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary people,” Oakley said. “This is why majorities of Americans oppose criminalizing or banning gender-affirming care.”

Abortion coercion

Kelly also vetoed House Bill 2436 that would create the felony crime of engaging in physical, financial or documentary coercion to compel a girl or woman to end a pregnancy despite an expressed desire to carry the fetus to term. It was approved 27-11 in the Senate and 82-37 in the House, again potentially on the cusp of achieving a veto override.

The legislation would establish sentences of one year in jail and $5,000 fine for those guilty of abortion coercion. The fine could be elevated to $10,000 if the adult applying the pressure was the fetuses’ father and the pregnant female was under 18. If the coercion was accompanied by crimes of stalking, domestic battery, kidnapping or about 20 other offenses the prison sentence could be elevated to 25 years behind bars.

Kelly said no one should be forced to undergo a medical procedure against their will. She said threatening violence against another individual was already a crime in Kansas.

“Additionally, I am concerned with the vague language in this bill and its potential to intrude upon private, often difficult, conversations between a person and their family, friends and health care providers,” the governor said. “This overly broad language risks criminalizing Kansans who are being confided in by their loved ones or simply sharing their expertise as a health care provider.”

Hawkins, the House Republican leader, said coercion was wrong regardless of the circumstances and Kelly’s veto of the bill was a step too far to the left.

“It’s a sad day for Kansas when the governor’s uncompromising support for abortion won’t even allow her to advocate for trafficking and abuse victims who are coerced into the procedure,” Hawkins said.

Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said HB 2436 sought to equate abortion with crime, perpetuate false narratives and erode a fundamental constitutional right to bodily autonomy. The bill did nothing to protect Kansas from reproductive coercion, including forced pregnancy or tampering with birth control.

“Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes trusts patients and stands firmly against any legislation that seeks to undermine reproductive rights or limit access to essential health care services,” Wales said.

Danielle Underwood, spokeswoman for Kansas for Life, said “Coercion Kelly” demonstrated with this veto a lack of compassion for women pushed into an abortion.

The abortion survey

The House and Senate approved a bill requiring more than a dozen questions be added to surveys of women attempting to terminate a pregnancy in Kansas. Colorful debate in the House included consideration of public health benefits of requiring interviews of men about reasons they sought a vasectomy birth control procedure or why individuals turned to health professionals for treatment of erectile dysfunction.

House Bill 2749 adopted 81-39 in the House and 27-13 in the Senate would require the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to produce twice-a-year reports on responses to the expanded abortion survey. The state of Kansas cannot require women to answer questions on the survey.

Kelly said in her veto message the bill was “invasive and unnecessary” and legislators should have taken into account rejection in August 2022 of a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have set the stage for legislation further limiting or ending access to abortion.

“There is no valid medical reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature if they have been a victim of abuse, rape or incest prior to obtaining an abortion,” Kelly said. “There is also no valid reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature why she is seeking an abortion. I refuse to sign legislation that goes against the will of the majority of Kansans who spoke loudly on Aug. 2, 2022. Kansans don’t want politicians involved in their private medical decisions.”

Wales, of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said the bill would have compelled health care providers to “interrogate patients seeking abortion care” and to engage in violations of patient privacy while inflicting undue emotional distress.

Hawkins, the Republican House speaker, said the record numbers of Kansas abortions — the increase has been driven by bans or restrictions imposed in other states — was sufficient to warrant scrutiny of KDHE reporting on abortion. He also said the governor had no business suppressing reporting on abortion and criticized her for tapping into “irrational fears of offending the for-profit pro-abortion lobby.”

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Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.

The preceding story was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished with permission.

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The Kansas Reflector is a nonprofit news operation providing in-depth reporting, diverse opinions and daily coverage of state government and politics. This public service is free to readers and other news outlets. We are part of States Newsroom: the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization, with reporting from every capital.

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Colorado

Five transgender, nonbinary ICE detainees allege mistreatment at Colo. detention center

Advocacy groups filed complaint with federal officials on April 9

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(Photo courtesy of GEO Group)

Five transgender and nonbinary people who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a privately-run detention center in Colorado say they continue to suffer mistreatment.

The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, the National Immigration Project and the American Immigration Council on April 9 filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Offices for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Immigration Detention Ombudsman and Inspector General and ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility on behalf of the detainees at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility near Denver.

Charlotte, one of the five complainants, says she spends up to 23 hours a day in her room. 

She says in the complaint that a psychiatrist has prescribed her medications for anxiety and depression, but “is in the dark about her actual diagnoses because they were not explained to her.” Myriah and Elsa allege they do not have regular access to hormones and other related health care.

Omar, who identifies as trans and nonbinary, in the complaint alleges they would “start hormone replacement therapy if they could be assured that they would not be placed in solitary confinement.” Other detainees in the complaint allege staff have also threatened to place them in isolation.

“They have been told repeatedly that, if they started therapy, they would be placed in ‘protective custody’ (solitary confinement) because the Aurora facility has no nonbinary or men’s transgender housing unit,” reads the complaint. “This is so, despite other trans men having been detained in Aurora in the past, so Omar is very likely receiving misinformation that is preventing them from accessing the treatment they require.”

Omar further alleges staffers told them upon their arrival that “they had to have a ‘boy part’ (meaning a penis) to be assigned to” the housing unit in which other trans people live. Other complainants say staff have also subjected them to degrading comments and other mistreatment because of their gender identity. 

“Victoria, Charlotte and Myriah are all apprehensive about a specific female guard who is assigned to the housing unit for transgender women at Aurora,” reads the complaint. “Victoria has experienced this guard peering at her through the glass on the door of her form. Charlotte, Myriah and the other women in her dorm experienced the same guard making fun of them after they complained that she had confiscated all of their personal hygiene products, like their toothbrushes and toothpaste, and replaced them with menstrual pads and tampons, which she knows they do not need.”

“She said something to them like, ‘If you were real women, you would need these things,'” reads the complaint. “The same guard told them that they had to ask her for their personal hygiene products when they wanted to use them, stripping them of their most basic agency.”

Victoria, who has been in ICE custody for more than two years, also says she does not have regular access to hormones. Victoria further claims poor food, lack of access to exercise and stress and anxiety because of her prolonged detention has caused has made her health deteriorate.

The GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates the Aurora Contract Detention Facility.

Advocates for years have complained about the conditions for trans and nonbinary people in ICE custody and have demanded the agency release all of them.

Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV, on May 25, 2018, died in ICE custody in New Mexico. Her family in 2020 sued the federal government and the five private companies who were responsible for her care.

Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans Salvadoran woman, on June 1, 2019, passed away at a Texas hospital four days after her release from ICE custody. Kelly González Aguilar, a trans Honduran woman, had been in ICE custody for more than two years until her release from the Aurora Contract Detention Center on July 14, 2020.

ICE spokesperson Steve Kotecki on Friday told the Blade there were 10 “self-identified transgender detainees” at the Aurora Contract Detention Center on April 11. The facility’s “transgendered units” can accommodate up to 87 trans detainees. 

A 2015 memorandum then-ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Thomas Homan signed requires personnel to allow trans detainees to identify themselves based on their gender identity on data forms. The directive, among other things, also contains guidelines for a “respectful, safe and secure environment” for trans detainees and requires detention facilities to provide them with access to hormone therapy and other trans-specific health care.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is committed to ensuring that all those in its custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments,” said Kotecki. “ICE regularly reviews each case involving self-identified transgender noncitizens and determines on a case-by-case basis whether detention is warranted.”

The complaint, however, states this memo does not go far enough to protect trans and nonbinary detainees.

“ICE’s 2015 guidance has some significant flaws,” it reads. “It fails to provide meaningful remedies for policy violations. It does not acknowledge the challenges that nonbinary people face when imprisoned by ICE and the lack of such guidance explains why the needs of nonbinary people are largely misunderstood and unmet.”

“Further, the language used to describe people who are TNB is not inclusive and does not reflect terminology adopted by the community it is meant to describe,” adds the complaint. “Although this list is not exhaustive, it addresses some of the primary concerns voiced by the complaints.”

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