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New push for 2012 Senate hearing on ENDA

Committee has votes to move pro-LGBT bill to floor



Mark Kirk, gay news, gay politics dc, enda

Republican ENDA co-sponsor, Sen. Mark Kirk is currently recovering from a stroke he suffered in January. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

LGBT rights supporters are calling for a Senate hearing and committee vote to draw attention to one of the longest sought pieces of pro-LGBT legislation in Congress: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

While the Republican takeover of the House in 2010 makes any movement of the legislation in that chamber unlikely, Democrats remain in control of the Senate and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a longtime supporter of ENDA, remains chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, called Harkin a “strong champion for workplace fairness for all Americans” and said ENDA supporters are fortunate the Iowa Democrat heads the panel responsible for the legislation.

“I hope he will use his chairmanship to organize an ENDA hearing this spring or summer,” Almeida said. “Given that 70 or 80 percent of Americans are in favor of ENDA, and that support crosses party lines, this is a winning wedge issue for Democrats to use in an election year.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said ENDA supporters have been asking the committee for a hearing “for a long time” throughout the course of the 112th Congress.

“When there’s nothing else going on, it’s always good to try to get a hearing,” Keisling said. “It keeps the ball moving. It keeps reminding everybody that there are some issues that we all know we have to cover eventually.”

ENDA has been a high priority for the LGBT community for decades. It would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in most situations in the public and private workforce. Even when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate in the 111th Congress, no committee or floor vote was taken on the legislation.

A hearing in the Senate presents a historic opportunity because no transgender witness has testified before the upper chamber on the importance of ENDA or told a story about being discriminated against on the basis of gender identity.

According to “Injustice at Every Turn,” a report published last year by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender people face significantly high rates of workplace discrimination. The study says transgender people have double the rate of unemployment compared to non-trans people. Ninety percent of those who participated in the survey reported experiencing discrimination on the job or took actions like hiding their gender identity to avoid it.

In 2009, the House Education & Labor Committee held a hearing that featured testimony from Vandy Beth Glenn, a former legislative editor at the Georgia General Assembly who was fired in 2007 after she announced she was undergoing gender transition. While no federal law prohibits discrimination against transgender people, the 11th Circuit of Court of Appeals issued a sweeping decision in December that Glenn’s employer unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of gender because she wasn’t conforming to gender stereotypes.

A similar hearing in the Senate in the same year had no transgender witness, although there was testimony from a high-ranking Obama administration official, Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Almeida said the inclusion of at least one — and preferably several — transgender witness at any hearing by the Senate HELP Committee on ENDA would be “absolutely critical.”

“I vividly remember sitting in the counsel’s chair on the House Labor Committee dais as Vandy Beth Glenn testified somberly about being fired on the same day she told her employer that she planned to transition from male to female,” Almeida said. “There’s a lot of important education that happens when transgender Americans get to share their stories and talk about their lives.”

While Almeida served as ENDA’s lead counsel in the U.S. House from 2007 to 2010, the House Education & Labor Committee held three separate ENDA hearings and called five transgender witnesses to testify. Almeida said one of the three hearings was “historic” because it exclusively focused on workplace discrimination against transgender people.

“That was the first time any congressional committee had ever held any hearing specifically about discrimination against transgender Americans,” Almeida said. “By comparison, the U.S. Senate is way behind.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Keisling said “a lot of people” could be qualified to testify as a transgender witness for a hearing on ENDA. Without naming anyone in particular, she said the candidate should be “as fresh as possible.”

“A six-month-old case is better than a 20-year-old,” Keisling said. “It’s a really tough thing. It’s has to deal with what members of the Senate on the committee, who you’re trying to reach out to, how you balance it geographically and demographically.”

In addition to holding a hearing on ENDA, the committee could easily report out the legislation to the Senate floor. Besides Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the chief sponsor of the bill, all 12 Democrats on the panel are co-sponsors as well as Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who’s one of three Republicans in the Senate who’ve signed on in support of the bill along with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

Moving the bill out of committee could draw media attention to the legislation similar to what happened in November, when the Senate Judiciary Committee along party lines reported out the Respect for Marriage Act — legislation that would repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

Almeida said Harkin could take a cue from Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who decided to move forward with the DOMA repeal markup, by applying the same standard to ENDA.

“I imagine Sen. Leahy realized that [the Respect for Marriage Act] was not going to pass the full Senate this session, but he held the hearing and mark-up anyway because those events are good ways to tell compelling stories, create good media attention in favor of equality, and build momentum for eventual passage,” Almeida said. “We need the same push and momentum for ENDA.”

But a committee vote on ENDA would likely be the most extensive action that could take place on the legislation in the current Congress.

The bill has 41 co-sponsors, which is short of the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster on the Senate floor. Last year, advocates said a floor vote in the Senate could be successful — but that was largely contingent on pressure from President Obama, who has been quiet on ENDA during the 112th Congress. Any movement on ENDA in the Republican-controlled House is unlikely.

Moreover, the offices of lawmakers who would be responsible for moving forward with ENDA in committee were reluctant to say much about the prospects of having either a hearing or a markup on the bill.

Justine Sessions, a HELP Committee spokesperson, said the panel hasn’t planned any hearing beyond the month of April.

Previous hearings have emphasized topics such as maintaining America’s global competitiveness, but nothing related to ENDA.

Julie Edwards, a Merkley spokesperson, said she’s unable to comment on the discussions her boss may have had with Harkin on the issue.

“Sen. Merkley continues to explore every avenue to make legal discrimination a relic of the past,” Edwards said. “We cannot discuss private conversations with colleagues, but he will explore every option.”

Nonetheless, LGBT groups insist they’ve been pushing for Senate action on ENDA. Freedom to Work, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force have each said they have been in contact with the committee to urge them to take action.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, an HRC spokesperson, said HRC has “worked with” the committee for action on ENDA.

“As with all of our priority bills, we constantly work with our allies to find every opportunity to move the ball down the field,” Cole-Schwartz said. “A Senate hearing and markup on an inclusive ENDA would represent tremendous progress and we’ve worked with Senators Harkin, Merkley, Kirk and others toward that end.”

Stacey Long, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s director of public policy and government affairs, said her group “has been advocating this position to Sen. Harkin and other lawmakers on the Hill.”

“The Task Force staunchly supports a trans-inclusive hearing and markup of ENDA this year,” Long said. “Political leaders need to hear the stories, see the startling data, and most importantly, pass an inclusive ENDA.”

But Keisling said one of the challenges with having either a hearing or markup on ENDA is Kirk “being out of the picture temporarily.” He’s been recovering from a stroke that he suffered in January.

“He’s by far the best Republican supporter on the HELP committee,” Keisling said. “Having him not there right now complicates the picture. … It would be great to have Sen. Kirk when there was a hearing, and I don’t have the slightest idea when he’s coming back.”

A Senate hearing on ENDA could represent an opportunity for renewed focus on another ask of the Obama administration: an executive order from Obama requiring companies doing business with the federal government to have LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies.

Harkin has already expressed support for the executive order, telling the Washington Blade last year he “would strongly support an executive order from President Obama that makes clear government contractors cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” As far as other members of the committee go, Merkley has said he’d support the directive, while Kirk has said the statute is the right way because a future president could rescind the order.

Almeida said discussion about the executive order during a committee hearing may come up, but he doesn’t think “anybody would make a big deal about it” — mostly because Republican senators opposed to ENDA and the executive order would likely skip the hearing as they’ve done in years past.

“I don’t think the topic of the executive order needs any more study given that the lawyers at President Obama’s Justice Department and Labor Department have already done more than a year’s worth of research and then recommended that the president sign the executive order,” Almeida said. “It’s now time for President Obama to sign the order.”

Multiple sources have told the Blade the Labor and Justice Departments have cleared such a measure, but the White House hasn’t said whether Obama will issue the directive.

Keisling also said she doesn’t think devoting any portion of the hearing to the executive order will be necessary.

“I think the president knows who in Congress would support it and who wouldn’t,” Keisling said. “I don’t see that would be helpful in moving it along at all. It would probably make us all feel good if there were more noise about it, but I don’t think it’ll help move along the issue.”



The White House

Country’s first nonbinary state lawmaker participates in Gaza ceasefire hunger strike

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner is Muslim



Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner in front of the White House on Nov. 30, 2023, while taking part in a hunger strike for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The country’s first nonbinary state lawmaker last week participated in a hunger strike for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that took place in front of the White House.

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner took part in the 5-day action alongside actress Cynthia Nixon, Virginia state Del. Sam Rasoul, Delaware state Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, New York State Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, Michigan state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, former New York Congressional candidate Rana Abdelhamid, Muslim Founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Adalah Justice Project Director of Strategy and Communications Sumaya Awad and Linda Sarsour. The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, Democratic Socialists of America, IfNotNowMovement, Dream Defenders, the Institute for Middle East Understanding and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee are the organizations that either participated in the hunger strike or endorsed it. 

“This is the place where you should be,” Turner told the Washington Blade on Nov. 30 while they were standing in front of the White House.

Turner is from Ardmore, Okla., and has been a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives since 2021. They are the first Muslim person elected to the Oklahoma Legislature.

“Oklahoma is no stranger to genocide, displacement, uprooting communities — beautiful, vibrant, vulnerable communities — just because they could,” said Turner, referring to the treatment of Native Americans in what became Oklahoma during the 1800s and early 1900s. “Specifically as a Muslim and as an Oklahoman it is my duty to be here.”

The hunger strike took place nearly two months after Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack against communities in southern Israel from Gaza.

The Israeli government has said roughly 1,200 people have been killed, including at least 260 people who Hamas militants murdered at an all-night music festival in a kibbutz near the border between Israel and Gaza. The Israeli government also says more than 5,000 people have been injured in the country since the war began and Hamas militants kidnapped more than 200 others.

Yarden Roman-Gat, whose gay brother, Gili Roman, spoke with the Washington Blade on Oct. 30 in D.C., is one of the 105 people who Hamas released during a truce with Israel that began on Nov. 24 and ended on Dec. 1.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says more than 15,000 people have died in the enclave since the war began. Israel after Oct. 7 cut electricity and water to Gaza and stopped most food and fuel shipments.

“It’s absolutely wild to think about what is happening to the Palestinian people in Gaza and in the West Bank,” said Turner.

Turner noted the war began two days before Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“By October the 10th, when the world was really seeing what was happening in Gaza,” they said. “So many people who had celebrated specifically Indigenous Peoples’ Day had also sided with the Israeli government over the indigenous people of the land.”

‘The death of civilians is absolutely horrible’

Turner in response to the Blade’s question about the Israelis who militants killed on Oct. 7 emphatically said “the death of civilians is absolutely horrible.” Turner added they “cannot stress enough that when we back people into a corner, we don’t know what will happen.”

“The truth of the matter is our governments, our governmental officials do not have to put people in a corner,” said Turner.

Turner was particularly critical of the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza after Oct. 7.

“I don’t think there’s any place where a government has the power to shut off right water, food, healthcare supplies, things like that,” they said. “It’s just in doing so against a population that has 2 million people … that’s not anyone looking for equitability or justice. That is genocide against its people.”

Turner noted Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt continues to publicly support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Turner told the Blade “when we oppress people over decades and decades … we cannot, we don’t get to cherry pick” or “we don’t get to tone police or however they are fighting back to be heard, to be, to live for vibrant lives.”

“We cannot tell oppressed people how to hurt out loud,” they said, specifically referring to Palestinian people. “We can create governments that care for people from a community standpoint who are thinking creatively about how we provide aid and support and we can ask our elected officials (members Congress, President Joe Biden, state and local officials) to teach truth. We can ask them to continuously make sure that we are providing the best care and understanding of the situations at hand. We can ask them to do a ceasefire to stop sending aid to the Israeli government and emboldening their military forces.”

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Climate change threatens LGBTQ resort communities

Provincetown, Cape Cod, other destinations face ‘existential’ challenge



The beach in Fire Island Pines, N.Y., on New York's Fire Island has been the scene of extreme erosion in recent years. (Photo courtesy Actum Vice President Savannah Farrell)

As the world reckons with worsening impacts of climate change, some LGBTQ communities and destinations are grappling with the “existential” threat posed by the crisis.

The United Nations’ annual climate conference will take place in the United Arab Emirates through Dec. 12. LGBTQ climate activists, however, are concerned about representation at COP28 because the meeting is taking place in Dubai, which is in a country that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

President Joe Biden on Nov. 14 delivered a statement on climate change policy during his administration. Biden spoke on the American Rescue Plan, the Fifth National Climate Assessment, new transparency about the state of the country’s climate and more. 

Biden emphasized “advancing environmental justice for disadvantaged communities, because they’re the ones always left behind.” Evidence of this trend can be found in LGBTQ destinations across the country.

Julian Cyr, a gay Massachusetts state senator who represents Provincetown and other towns on Cape Cod, recognizes the state’s importance to the LGBTQ community, stating that “according to the Census, it may be the highest per capita density of LGBTQ+ people certainly in the United States, and perhaps internationally.”

Provincetown, a popular gay destination located at the tip of Cape Cod, is facing worsening storms as climate change advances. These storms reshape the natural environment as well as damage the built environment. A series of Nor’easters in 2018 flooded Provincetown, damaging homes, businesses and the town hall. 

“The climate crisis is … already forcing us to do a lot of planning and reevaluation of coastal resilience of our built environment,” said Cyr. 

All hope isn’t lost yet for Massachusetts destinations. 

Then-Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, in 2022 introduced the Climate Roadmap, which aims for zero carbon emissions by 2050. The state also is building the country’s first offshore wind farm, Vineyard Wind. 

Cyr said citizens can push for climate change legislation by making the urgency known to their local elected officials.  

“This is truly existential for coastal, low-lying communities like those that I represent,” said Cyr. “It’s really important that constituents weigh in with their elected officials and make sure that they know that this issue is crucially important. I don’t know how we not solve this issue.”

Experts are seeing similar effects in nearby LGBTQ destinations, such as Cape Cod.

“One thing that we do see already is the effect of storms,” said Mark Adams, a retired Cape Cod National Seashore cartographer. “Those storms are the signal of sea level rise.”

Adams said that as a result of rising temperatures and new, intense storms, he is also starting to see damaged ecosystems, unnatural migration patterns of local wildlife, and planting-zones moving northward. Adams told the Washington Blade these changing ecological relationships may mean an uncertain future for life along the coast: the self-sustaining lifestyle and seafood could be at risk as ocean acidification puts shellfish in danger. 

“If you can’t get oysters and clams, that would really change life on Cape Cod,” he said. 

In addition to the damage caused by storms, Cape Cod’s natural environment is also facing the threat of littering and plastic pollution. While the area’s beaches keep tourism alive, fishing gear and marine debris washing up on the shore are growing concerns for the community. 

Adams said this is where the choices individuals make to avoid plastics will make a huge difference in the future of these communities. 

“There are little choices we can make to get off of the petroleum stream,” he said.

A car in floodwaters in Miami Beach, Fla., in July 2018. Climate change has made Miami Beach and other coastal cities more susceptible to flooding. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Aspen Gay Ski Week adapts to warmer winters

Aspen Gay Ski Week was the first gay ski week, and it is the largest such event in the world, and is the only non-profit gay ski week.

Rising temperatures and short winters are growing concerns for destinations like Aspen, Colo., that depend on snow, according to AspenOUT Executive Director Kevin McManamon.

“As our seasons get shorter … we have to plan for the future,” McManamon said.

Colorado has also faced increased forest fires in recent years.

The Marshall Fire in 2021 devastated the state, destroying buildings and killing two people. Increasingly dry conditions feed into these fires, which will mean more impacts on humans, nature, and infrastructure.

McManamon nevertheless said he is optimistic about Aspen Gay Ski Week’s future due to the organization’s forward thinking. One such initiative is its involvement with Protect Our Winters, an organization that advocates for protecting the environment with the support of the outdoor sports community. 

“The cool part about being here in Aspen and having a great relationship with Aspen Skiing Company is that they are … on the leading edge of climate change,” said McManamon. 

Stronger storms threaten Fire Island

Fire Island Pines on New York’s Fire Island has been a safe haven for the LGBTQ community since the 1950s.

Fire Island Pines Property Owners’ Association President Henry Robin notes natural disasters cause more damage in the community as opposed to those that are across the Great South Bay on Long Island because Fire Island is a “barrier island.”

“When Superstorm Sandy hit, or when a Nor’easter hits, or a hurricane hits, the brunt of the storm is first taken by the Pines,” said Robin. 

Robin said “the Pines is thriving” just over 11 years since Sandy, but there is no climate change response. The federal government implemented a beach restoration project for Fire Island, and later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created an engineered beach for the Pines. 

Robin also formed three task forces — comprised of community members — to address local concerns, many of which were climate related, according to focus groups and a survey. Robin is also hoping to introduce recycling programs and solar energy to the Pines. 

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The White House

US announces additional sanctions for Ugandan officials

Anti-Homosexuality Act signed on May 29



LGBTQ and intersex activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday announced sanctions against current and former Ugandan officials who committed human rights abuses against LGBTQ people and other groups.

“After Uganda’s flawed 2021 presidential elections, I announced a visa restriction policy targeting those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda,” said Blinken in a statement. “At that time, I implored the government of Uganda to significantly improve its record and hold accountable those responsible for flawed electoral processes, violence and intimidation.”

Blinken announced “the expansion of the visa restriction policy to include current or former Ugandan officials or others who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda or for policies or actions aimed at repressing members of marginalized or vulnerable populations.” 

“These groups include, but are not limited to, environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, LGBTQI+ persons and civil society organizers,” he said. “The immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions.”  

Blinken added the U.S. “stands by the Ugandan people and remains committed to working together to advance democracy, human rights, public health and mutual prosperity.”  

“I once again strongly encourage the government of Uganda to make concerted efforts to uphold democracy and to respect and protect human rights so that we may sustain the decades-long partnership between our countries that has benefited Americans and Ugandans alike,” he said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” The State Department a few weeks later announced visa restrictions against unnamed Ugandan officials.

The Biden-Harris administration in October said it plans to remove Uganda from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The White House has also issued a business advisory for Uganda in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

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