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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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Pennsylvania

Pa. House passes bill to repeal state’s same-sex marriage ban

Measure now goes to Republican-controlled state Senate

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Pennsylvania Capitol Building (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Democratic-controlled Pennsylvania House of Representatives on July 2 passed a bill that would repeal the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The marriage bill passed by a 133-68 vote margin, with all but one Democrat voting for it. Thirty-two Republicans backed the measure.

The bill’s next hurdle is to pass in the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), a gay man who is running for state auditor, noted to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the bill would eliminate a clause in Pennsylvania’s marriage law that defines marriage as “between one man and one woman.” The measure would also change the legal definition of marriage in the state to “a civil contract between two individuals.”

Kenyatta did not return the Washington Blade’s requests for comment.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country. 

Justice Clarence Thomas in the 2022 decision that struck down Roe v. Wade said the Supreme Court should reconsider the Obergefell decision and the Lawrence v. Texas ruling that said laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations are unconstitutional. President Joe Biden at the end of that year signed the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires the federal government and all U.S. states and territories to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages.

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin earlier this year signed a bill that codified marriage rights for same-sex couples in state law. Pennsylvania lawmakers say the marriage codification bill is necessary in case the Supreme Court overturns marriage rights for same-sex couples in their state and across the country.

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Pennsylvania

Western Pa. transgender girl killed, dismembered

Pauly Likens, 14, brutally murdered last month

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(Photo courtesy of the LGBTQIA+ Alliance Shenango Valley)

Editor’s note: The Philadelphia Gay News originally published this story.

BY TIM CWIEK | Prosecutors are pledging justice for Pauly Likens, a 14-year-old transgender girl from Sharon, Pa., who was brutally killed last month. Her remains were scattered in and around a park lake in western Pennsylvania.

“The bottom line is that we have a 14-year-old, brutally murdered and dismembered,” said Mercer County District Attorney Peter C. Acker in an email. “Pauly Likens deserves justice, her family deserves justice, and we seek to deliver that justice.”

On June 23, DaShawn Watkins allegedly met Likens in the vicinity of Budd Street Public Park and Canoe Launch in Sharon, Pa., and killed her. Watkins subsequently dismembered Likens’s corpse with a saw and scattered her remains in and around Shenango River Lake in Clark Borough.

On July 2, Watkins was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, aggravated assault, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. He’s being held without bail in the Mercer County jail.

The coroner’s office said the cause of death was sharp force trauma to the head and ruled the manner of death as homicide.

Cell phone records, social media and surveillance video link Watkins to the crime. Additionally, traces of Likens’s blood were found in and around Watkins’s apartment in Sharon, Pa., authorities say.

A candlelight vigil is being held Saturday, July 13, in remembrance of Likens. It’s being hosted by LGBTQIA+ Alliance Shenango Valley. The vigil begins at 7 p.m. at 87 Stambaugh Ave. in Sharon, Pa.

Pamela Ladner, president of the Alliance, mourned Likens’s death. 

“Pauly’s aunt described her as a sweet soul, inside and out,” Ladner said in an email. “She was a selfless child who loved nature and wanted to be a park ranger like her aunt.”

Acker, the prosecutor, said Likens’s death is one of the worst crimes he’s seen in 46 years as an attorney. But he cautioned against calling it a hate crime. “PSP [Pennsylvania State Police] does not believe it in fact is one [hate crime] because the defendant admitted to being a homosexual and the victim was reportedly a trans girl,” Acker asserted.

Acker praised the criminal justice agencies who worked on the case, including the Pennsylvania State Police, the Hermitage Police Department, the Sharon Police Department, park rangers from the Shenango Reservoir, Mercer County Coroner John Libonati, and cadaver dog search units.

“The amount of hours dedicated to the identification of the victim and the filing of charges against the defendant is a huge number,” Acker added. “We take the murder of any individual very seriously, expressly when they are young and brutally killed and dismembered.”

Acker also noted that all criminal defendants are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

This is a developing story.

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National

TransTech Social removing barriers to trans success

‘Technology was the key to my freedom’

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From left, TransTech members B Hawk Snipes, E.C. Pizarro III, Ang R Bennett, and Adrian Elim. (Photo by Lexi Webster Photography)

It is common knowledge that women earn 84% of the average worker. Less common knowledge? Trans women earn 60% of the average worker. Trans men and non-binary people come in at around 70%, while 16% of all trans people make less than $10,000 annually. 

E.C. Pizarro was lucky, and he knew it. He had a BFA in graphic design and had taught himself how to code. As a stealth trans man in a corporate job, he had access to a stable wage and good benefits. “People that do not have experiences in corporate America or with equitable employment don’t realize [these things] are privileges that a lot of people don’t have access to.” 

He wanted to give back and was gearing up to bring more volunteer work into his life by participating in a fraternity for trans men. When he went to a TransTech event and learned about the educational and career resources for trans people who face barriers to entering the workforce, he knew he had found his place. 

At the event he met, Angelica Ross. Yes, that Angelica Ross, of “Pose” and “American Horror Story.”

Before she was Candy, Ross was a self-taught coder. She went from posing for an adult website to doing its back-end coding to teaching her trans siblings how to succeed in tech. 

“Technology was the key to my freedom,” Ross said in an interview with The Plug. “Technology took me from being exploited on someone’s website to building my own websites and to building websites for other people and getting paid to do so.”

Pizarro was impressed and wanted to help. “I went up to Angelica and I was like ‘Hey, I’m a trans man. These are my skills. I’m down to volunteer and do any type of work—the one caveat is that I’m stealth. You can’t tell anybody that I’m trans.’”

For four years, Pizarro helped from mostly behind the scenes, sometimes getting side-eyed since people thought he was a cis man in trans spaces. “I was still stealth as the Director of Social Media and Communications for the National Trans Visibility March in 2019,” Pizarro says, chuckling a little.

But by that point, Ross — who headlined the 2019 march — was overextended trying to balance being a world-famous actress, advocate, and businesswoman. 

She needed someone to step in as executive director of TransTech and looked to the group of dedicated volunteers. Pizarro was elected by his peers to take the reins of the organization. 

This was a turning point for Pizarro. “I’m very passionate about tech and for me a small sacrifice of being open with my trans experience to liberate other trans people,” he said. “I felt like if that’s something I got to do, then I’m gonna do it.”

And he did it. The infrastructure Ross put together worked: with mentorship, education, community, and networking with trans-accepting employers, trans people were gaining financial security and independence. 

So, Pizarro focused on expanding TransTech as widely as possible. “We have grown exponentially over the last three years,” he says. “When I took over in 2021, we had about 800 members based in the United States. Now we support over 6,700 members across 50 countries.”

TransTech is filling a demonstrated need within specifically the trans community. New research from LGBT Tech found that 68% of transgender adults use the internet to find LGBTQ-friendly employment (compared to 38% of cisgender LGBTQ+ adults). More than 70% of all LGBTQ adults use the Internet to access educational content.

Accessibility is central to the TransTech programming. Despite the growth, everything remains free. “There’s no membership fee. All of our programming is free. All of the certifications and educational resources are free,” Pizarro says. 

They know the financial burden the trans community faces — 29% of trans adults live in poverty. “If we’re asking anyone to up-skill [for a cost] and these are the things they are going through, we are asking them to invest in their future versus their meal today.” 

Pizarro believes that accessibility is more than just making the training free. He wants the community to understand that tech work is something they are innately capable of doing. 

“TransTech was built on the foundation of nontraditional tech. It’s not always coding. It’s graphic design. It’s social media. It’s video editing. It’s anything that uses a piece of technology and nowadays almost everything uses a piece of technology,” says Pizarro.

He emphasizes to participants: “You’re in tech and you don’t even know it,” pointing out how many already utilize tech skills like marketing and monetization with their social media accounts.

Some people involved in the programming are nervous about entering the “tech world” because of headlines about tech layoffs. He makes sure to emphasize that unlike in some other jobs, tech companies often pay generous severance packages, which gives employees “breathing room.” Pizzaro explains that “once you have experience with one tech company, you can go someplace else and make a substantial amount of money as well.” 

While TransTech is designed for the gender-diverse community, the programming is open to everyone Pizarro explains. “We just ask that you don’t be transphobic.” (Or any of the other -phobics too, he says, listing them off.) He also emphasizes that this allows trans members who are not out to comfortably participate. 

Pizarro wants everyone to understand that they don’t just belong in tech, but they make tech better. “Tech is most profitable when you have diverse people building the tech and using the tech,” Pizarro says. “There is an intentional funding as well as support to diversity tech because they understand how that impacts the product.”

He also reminds participants that they have developed transferrable skills in every part of their lives. “I like to tell people if you can manage your life as a trans person in the United States or anywhere you can manage a project.”

Angelica Ross was a self-taught coder before she hit it big with ‘Pose.’ (Washington Blade file photo by Linus Berggren)
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