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More pressure on Obama to bar workplace discrimination

House Democrats call on president to issue executive order

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Supporters of an executive order barring discrimination against LGBT federal workers were buoyed this week by the results of a new poll showing that 73 percent of Americans support such a measure.

Brian Moulton, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, talked about the polling unveiled earlier this week by his organization during a briefing for staffers Thursday on Capitol Hill, saying support for the order comes from a diverse array of demographic groups — including conservatives.

“Rarely do we have support from this range of groups of people,” Moulton said. “The lowest support, which was 60 percent of support for the executive order, was among self-identified conservatives.”

Support came from 61 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of people 65 and older, 80 percent among black Americans, 72 percent among Hispanics, 77 percent of Catholics and 64 percent of born-again Christians.

“I think the data both on the executive order specifically, but the long-standing public polling we’ve had on the issue of non-discrimination over the years, shows that this is something that very much the American people support, and I think that’s also reflected in the fact that we have such strong support in corporate America,” Moulton said.

Other data, Moulton said, reveals that most people think federal workplace non-discrimination protections for LGBT people already exist. According to the poll, 87 percent think it’s illegal to discriminate against LGBT people in the workplace — even though no such law exists.

The survey of 800 likely voters nationwide was conducted for HRC by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research from Nov. 9 to Nov. 13, 2011. Even though the poll was conducted in November, the findings were published just this week.

Moulton was among five LGBT rights supporters who spoke on the panel, which was staged by the LGBT Equality Caucus and geared toward encouraging President Obama to issue an executive order requiring companies doing business with the U.S. government to have non-discrimination policies inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity.

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, speaking on condition of anonymity, have told the Blade the Labor and Justice Departments have cleared such a measure. The White House hasn’t said whether it will issue the executive order.

Reps. Lois Capps (left) and Frank Pallone speak before a panel of LGBT advocates (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Joining supporters during the briefing were Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.), who are circulating a letter among House Democrats calling for President Obama to issue the executive order.

Pallone said the executive order is needed to address the lack of workplace protections for LGBT workers.

The lawmaker said the ultimate goal is passage of ENDA, but the scenario is unlikely given the current leadership of the House.

“I think it’s fair to say it has probably no chance of passage whatsoever with the Republicans in control of the House,” Pallone said. “With the federal contractors, this is something we think we can do in the interim to set a precedent and help a lot of people, knowing full well that what we’d really like to see is ENDA.”

Capps said issuing the executive order would be in line with Obama’s decision to issue executive orders to facilitate job opportunities while most legislation remains deadlocked in a divided Congress.

“He’s calling it ‘We Can’t Wait,'” Capps said. “This is one more step he can take toward the agenda of clearly that’s something in the interest of the American public.”

Pallone and Capps are the initial signers of the letter they are circulating among colleagues — along with retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). They’ve set the deadline for signing the letter on Friday in anticipation of publication next week. An informed source told the Washington Blade the letter has attracted about 50 signatures as of Thursday.

Others on the panel presented different cases for why Obama should have no problem issuing the executive order and the extent to which it would facilitate non-discrimination in the workplace.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said companies that lack LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies can institute them easily and that most companies that haven’t done so have yet to make the change out of “laziness.”

“With President Obama’s order, I predict 100 percent compliance; I don’t think a single company is going to put at risk its livelihood in order to keep discriminating,” Almeida said.

Citing instances of workplace discrimination in which having the executive order already in place would be helpful, Almeida said the directive would allow the Obama administration to search actively for workplace discrimination without having to wait for individuals to file complaints.

“In a certain limited sense, the executive order is better than a civil rights act,” Almeida said. “Under the Civil Rights Act, an investigation can only start if the affected person files a complaint. Under the executive order, the Department of Labor can be proactive, go out and do investigations, find discrimination without the person filing — and that happens a lot.”

Almeida also articulated a sense of urgency in issuing the executive order, saying it would take at least six months for implementation of the policy. That process could be disrupted if a Republican defeats Obama in the upcoming election.

“There will after that be a process of no less than six months — six months is really optimistic — in which the Department of Labor will research and draft those rules implementing the executive order, and those rules will include all the minutiae with a host of different issues that we often hear as excuses not to do ENDA,” Almeida said.

The process involves a 90-day comment period where concerned parties — such as businesses and LGBT groups — can weigh in, followed by revisions based on the comments and the final rule being published in the Federal Register, Almeida said.

Deborah Vagins, American Civil Liberties Union’s senior legislative counsel for civil rights, talked about the history of other non-discrimination orders issued by earlier presidents — noting that President Franklin Roosevelt issued the first such directive based on race, creed, color or national origin for defense contractors.

“In 1941, some of our earlier civil rights leaders were preparing for a march on Washington to integrate the armed forces,” Vagins said. “Unfortunately, while full integration of the armed forces was not achieved at that time, during meetings between the administration and leaders of the march, Roosevelt agreed to sign this landmark EO prohibiting discrimination in federal defense contracting.”

The directive has been expanded by later presidents — most recently President Lyndon Johnson — to include all federal contractors and more categories of workers.

Nan Hunter, a lesbian law professor at Georgetown University and legal scholarship director at the Williams Institute of the University of California, Los Angles, said the authority for Obama to issue the executive order is sound under the Federal Property & Administrative Services Act, or the Procurement Act.

“There has never been a court decision that has struck down any of the anti-discrimination provisions in a federal executive order on the grounds that they did not advance the economy and efficiency of government operations,” Hunter said.

Jeff Krehely of the Center for American Progress (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Jeff Krehely, vice president for LGBT programs at the Center for American Progress, presented findings from the institute published in November on the impact that ENDA would have on small businesses.

According to the findings, most small businesses already have non-discrimination protections. Seven out of 10 small businesses already prohibit discrimination against gay employees, and six out of 10 prohibit discrimination against transgender employees.

“It’s really a good news story out of the small business community because it shows that they are of a fair mindset when it comes to workplace equality,” Krehely said. “They recognize the fact that in today’s economy and today’s world the more inclusive and open you are, the better it is for your business, and this really translates into better recruitment and retention practices, less turnover — all the things that can disrupt a business of any size really.”

For small business that didn’t have the protections, Krehely said the response was that these companies didn’t think to institute them or didn’t think they had LGBT employees.

 

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Police describe Wilton Manors Pride incident as ‘fatal traffic crash’

Pickup truck driver identified as 77-year-old man

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A screenshot from a video taken at the scene by Joey Spears. (Image courtesy of @pinto_spears, via Twitter.) Screenshot used with permission from South Florida Gay News.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday released additional information about an incident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

A press release notes a 77-year-old man who was “a participant who had ailments preventing him from walking the duration of the parade and was selected to drive as the lead vehicle” was behind the wheel of a 2011 white Dodge Ram pickup truck that struck the two people near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday.

“As the vehicle began to move forward in anticipation for the start of the parade, the vehicle accelerated unexpectedly, striking two pedestrians,” reads the press release. “After striking the pedestrians, the driver continued across all lanes of traffic, ultimately crashing into the fence of a business on the west side of the street.”

“The driver remained on scene and has been cooperative with investigators for the duration of the investigation,” further notes the press release. “A DUI investigation of the driver was conducted on scene and showed no signs of impairment.”

The press release confirms the driver and the two people he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus.

Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue transported both victims to Broward Health Medical Center “with serious injuries.” The press release notes one of the victims died shortly after he arrived at the hospital.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department, which is leading the investigation, has not publicly identified the victims and the driver, but the press release describes the incident as a “fatal traffic crash.” The press release notes the second victim remains hospitalized at Broward Health Medical Center, but “is expected to survive.”

“While no arrests have been made, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department continues to investigate this incident and will not be releasing the names of the involved parties due to the status of the investigation,” says the press release. “The Fort Lauderdale Police Department asks anyone who may have witnessed this incident, who has not already spoken to investigators, to contact Traffic Homicide Investigator Paul Williams at (954) 828-5755.”

The pickup truck narrowly avoided U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade. Florida Congressman Ted Deutch was also nearby.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the tragic accident that occurred when the Stonewall Pride Parade was just getting started,” said Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus President Justin Knight in a statement he issued after the incident. “Our fellow chorus members were those injured and the driver was also part of the chorus family.”

“To my knowledge, this was not an attack on the LGBTQ community,” added Knight. “We anticipate more details to follow and ask for the community’s love and support.”

Fort Lauderdale mayor initially described incident as anti-LGBTQ ‘terrorist attack’

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially described the incident as “a terrorist attack against the LGBT community,” without any official confirmation. Detective Ali Adamson of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Saturday confirmed to reporters that investigators are “working with” the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but stressed the “investigation is active and we are considering and evaluating all possibilities.”

“Last evening, at the start of what was to be a celebration of pride for the LGBT community and commemoration of our hard-won victories for equality, our community faced the worst of tragedies. The grief of our LGBT community — and greater Fort Lauderdale as a whole — is palpable,” said Trantalis on Sunday in a statement he posted to his Facebook page.

“I was an eyewitness to the horrifying events. It terrorized me and all around me. I reported what I saw to law enforcement and had strong concerns about what transpired — concerns for the safety of my community. I feared it could be intentional based on what I saw from mere feet away,” he added.

Trantalis added “law enforcement took what appeared obvious to me and others nearby and investigated further — as is their job.”

“As the facts continue to be pieced together, a picture is emerging of an accident in which a truck careened out of control,” he said. “As a result, one man died, two others were injured and the lives of two members of Congress were at risk. My heart breaks for all impacted by this tragedy.”

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ACLU and Justice Department to jointly challenge anti-Trans laws

Recently passed anti-transgender laws in West Virginia and Arkansas violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

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U.S. Department of Justice, Robert F. Kennedy Building (Photo Credit: GSA U.S. Government)

WASHINGTON – In court documents filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia and in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, the U.S. Department of Justice, in Statement of Interest filings, joined the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU), arguing that recently passed anti-transgender laws in West Virginia and Arkansas violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The suits filed by the ACLU challenges an Arkansas law that bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth and a West Virginia law banning transgender youth from participating in school sports.

Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice with the American Civil Liberties Union LGBTQ & HIV Project, issued the following statement responding to the Department of Justice submitting a statement of interest in two federal courts supporting transgender youth;

“Today’s filings from the Department of Justice send a powerful message that discrimination against transgender youth is not just wrong, it is also plainly unconstitutional. These filings from the Department of Justice confirm what we have been telling legislatures all year: Banning trans youth from sports and denying trans youth health care violates the Constitution and federal law. We hope that state legislatures finally get the message.” 

Law and Crime reported that in the West Virginia case filing, the Justice Dept. argued that House Bill 3293, which bans transgender athletes at public schools from competing in female sports at the middle school, high school, and collegiate level, violates both the Equal Protection Clause and  Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed by the parents of transgender girl who said their daughter was unlawfully prohibited from trying out for the school’s cross-country track team because of the measure.

In Arkansas, the Justice Dept. backed an ACLU-filed lawsuit challenging a state law (Act 626) which bans gender-affirming health care for transgender youths. The DOJ also claims that state ban violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Law & Crime reported.

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Immigrant rights groups demand ICE release transgender, HIV-positive detainees

Letter notes Roxsana Hernández case

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The Adams County Correctional Center in Natchez, Miss., is a privately-run facility that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses to house some of its detainees. Eight immigrant rights groups have demanded ICE release all transgender people and people with HIV in their custody. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Eight immigrant advocacy groups this week demanded the release of all transgender and HIV-positive people who are in immigrant detention facilities.

Immigration Equality, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Transgender Law Center, the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, the Center for Victims of Torture, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Mijente and the National Immigrant Justice Center made the request in a letter they sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tae Johnson on June 16.

“As you know, transgender and HIV-positive people are severely suffering in U.S. immigration detention facilities,” reads the letter. “Those who do not perish from mortally deficient medical negligence are regularly mistreated, isolated and sexually assaulted.”

The letter notes DHS “for years” has “attempted to create conditions of confinement that are safe for these historically disenfranchised minorities.”

“This has been a fool’s errand,” it says. “Under both Democrat and Republican leadership, DHS has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars attempting to overcome a simple and inevitable truth: It is not possible for the U.S. government to house transgender and HIV-positive asylum seekers safely. Every progressive policy, every well-meaning protocol and every specialized facility has utterly failed. This has to stop. It is in your exclusive power to put an end to this ongoing human rights atrocity.”

“What makes this situation even more intolerable, is that the vast majority of the transgender and HIV-positive people suffering in immigration detention fled to the U.S. to escape persecution and torture,” adds the letter. “To these asylum seekers, the U.S. is more than a symbol of liberty. It is one of the few places in the world where they may hope to build a safer future. And yet, by detaining trans and HIV-positive people in such inhumane and unsafe conditions, the U.S. government is subjecting them to some of the same kinds of mistreatment they sought to escape.”

The groups in their letter demand ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection “to immediately release all transgender and HIV-positive people in their custody” and “review its system for identifying transgender and HIV-positive individuals, and work with stakeholders to ensure that it is effective and safe.” The groups also seek the creation of a policy “that deems all transgender and HIV-positive individuals non-detainable.”

The letter notes the case of Roxsana Hernández, a trans asylum seeker from Honduras with HIV who died in a New Mexico hospital on May 25, 2018, while she was in ICE custody.

Hernández’s family in a lawsuit it has filed against the federal government and five private companies who were responsible for Hernández’s care allege she did not have adequate access to medical care and other basic needs from the time she asked for asylum at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego on May 9, 2018, to her arrival at the Cibola County Correctional Center, a privately-run facility in Milan, N.M., a week later.

ICE in 2017 opened a unit for trans women at the Cibola County Correctional Center. It closed last year.

A picture of Roxsana Hernández, a transgender Honduran woman with HIV who died in ICE custody in 2018, hangs on a wall inside the offices of Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa, an LGBTQ advocacy group in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The letter also notes the case of Johana “Joa” Medina León, a trans woman with HIV from El Salvador who asked for asylum in the U.S. in 2019 after she suffered persecution in her home country because of her gender identity.

Medina was in ICE custody at the privately-run Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, N.M., until her transfer to a hospital in nearby El Paso, Texas, on May 28, 2019. ICE on the same day released Medina from their custody.

Medina died three days later.

“She became worse, worse, worse,” Medina’s mother, Patricia Medina de Barrientos, told the Washington Blade in an exclusive interview in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador that took place a few weeks after Medina’s death. “She asked for help because she was a nurse, but they refused. She was denied help. There was no medical attention.”

Johana “Joa” Medina León, a transgender woman with HIV from El Salvador, died on June 1, 2019, at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, three days after ICE released her from their custody. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Medina de Barrientos)

The letter also includes testimonials from dozens of other trans and/or HIV-positive people who say they suffered physical abuse and survived sexual assault while in ICE custody. They also allege they did not receive adequate health care — including access to hormones and antiretroviral drugs — while in detention.

“Throwing LGBTQ and HIV-positive asylum seekers into prison is cruel, expensive and dangerous. For transgender and HIV-positive people, it can even be deadly,” said Immigration Equality Policy Director Bridget Crawford in a statement. “In response to years of consistently documented abuses against the community, the government has implemented ineffective half-measures that have utterly failed. That is why we have demanded that DHS release all transgender and HIV-positive people immediately. No one should ever be locked into prison because they fled persecution based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status. Doing so during a pandemic is a human rights atrocity.”

Immigration Equality is among the groups that have previously demanded ICE release all trans people who are in their custody. Advocacy organizations have also called for the release of people with HIV in ICE custody, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

DHS, which oversees ICE, has not responded to the Blade’s request for comment on the June 16 letter.

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