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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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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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