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72 lawmakers to Obama: Sign ENDA exec order

House members say directive would lay groundwork for bill’s passage

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A group of 72 U.S. House members is calling on President Obama to take administrative action to institute federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the workplace.

In a letter dated April 2, the lawmakers ask 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.

“This order would extend important workplace protections to millions of Americans, while at the same time laying the groundwork for Congressional passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a goal that we share with you,” the lawmakers write.

The executive order is similar in its goal to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar job bias. 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.

Reps. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) drafted the letter and circulated it among House members. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and retiring gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) were two other original signers.

The letter recalls that President Johnson in 1965 issued Executive Order 11246, which similarly banned discrimination among federal contractors for workers based on color, religion, sex and national origin, and says this order “continues to stand as an important protection.”

“The opportunity to expand protections against workplace discrimination to members of the LGBT community is a critical step that you can take today, especially when data and research tell us that 43 percent of LGB people and 90 percent of transgender people have experienced workplace discrimination,” the lawmakers write.

Lawmakers also make the case for the executive order by citing data that the majority of the 25 largest federal contractors have already adopted these policies and polling shows a majority of American people support such action.

“The majority of the 50 largest corporations in America, for example, say that adopting inclusive workplace practices — such as adding sexual orientation and gender identity to corporate non-discrimination statements — helps attract the best talent, reduce employee turnover, and overall is a plus to their bottom lines,” the letter states.

The letter also notes that the military contractor DynCorp agreed to adopt an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policy after media reports were published about a straight employee who allegedly endured anti-gay harassment working there and an online petition demanding the company make the change received 50,000 signatures.

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 and didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the letter.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work and chief advocate of the executive order, commended Pallone and other House members for who signed their names in support of the executive order.

“Now that more than 110,000 people have signed the Freedom to Work online petition, more than 70 members of Congress have signed Mr. Pallone’s letter, and 73% of the American people have expressed support for this policy in recent polling, it is clear that ‘We Can’t Wait’ any longer for the president to sign the executive order adding LGBT workplace protections to millions of American jobs,” Almeida said.

Among the signers are the four openly gay members of Congress: Frank, Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.). The letter marks the first time that Frank, Baldwin and Cicilline have publicly articulated support for the directive.

In an interview with the Washington Blade shortly after he announced his retirement in November, Frank said the executive order is a “reasonable thing to keep pushing for.” Still, he said at the time the president’s authority has limits and racial discrimination is “embodied in the Constitution” unlike discrimination against LGBT people, so the president has more power to take action on issues related to race.

Polis said in an interview in March 2011 with the Washington Blade that he backs the idea of Obama issuing an executive order — making him the first public official to go on the record in support of the directive.

Other notable signers are Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Education & the Workforce Committee, the House panel that has jurisdiction over ENDA. Another signer is Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor & Pensions, the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over ENDA.

Other House who signed are Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus; as well as Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (R-Md.) is also a signer.

But prominent members of House Democratic leadership aren’t among the signers. The names of both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) aren’t on the letter.

Pelosi endorsed the executive order when asked about it by the Blade during a news conference in July. Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said the Democratic leader doesn’t typically sign group letters because of “longstanding custom since she has been in leadership.”

Still, Pelosi has penned her name to LGBT-relevant petitions before. She was among 69 lawmakers who signed a letter calling on the Obama administration to issue explicit guidance saying bi-national same-sex couples will be included in policies that aim to take low-priority cases out of the deportation pipeline. Pelosi was also among 133 House members who signed an amicus brief supporting litigation contesting the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Daniel Reilly, a Hoyer spokesperson, said Friday his boss is “reviewing the letter” and noted that Hoyer is an ENDA co-sponsor. Hoyer also signed the amicus brief against DOMA.

Another notable absence is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chair of the Democratic National Committee. Her office didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the letter.

No Republicans signed the letter. It begins with a paragraph praising Obama — thanking him for his leadership on LGBT issues and saying his administration will be “long-remembered for its efforts to build an America that is fully inclusive of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity” — which Republicans would likely find unpalatable.

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District of Columbia

Trial for man charged with assaulting gay men in D.C. park postponed for third time

Indictment says attacker squirted victims with pepper spray

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Meridian Hill Park (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The trial for a 50-year-old man who was arrested July 14, 2022, on charges that he allegedly assaulted five men he believed to be gay at D.C.’s Meridian Hill Park between 2018 and 2021 was postponed for the third time last month and has now been rescheduled for Aug. 19 of this year.   

The arrest of Michael Thomas Pruden came two weeks after a federal grand jury handed down an indictment on June 29, 2022, charging him with five counts of assault on federal park land, one count of impersonating a federal officer and a hate crime designation alleging that he assaulted four of the men because of their perceived sexual orientation. 

Prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. filed a motion in court on Jan. 10 of this year opposing a request by Pruden’s defense attorney to postpone the most recent prior trial date set for Feb. 26. 

“Following indictment in June 2022, the defendant has delayed the trial in this case several times, including by firing two prior attorneys,” the prosecutors’ motion states. “While the government has not previously objected to any continuance, no further delay is warranted,” the motion says. “This is a straightforward case that should proceed to trial as currently scheduled.”

The indictment against Pruden by a U.S. District Court for D.C. grand jury provides some of the details surrounding the case.

“After nightfall, Meridian Hill Park was informally known in the Washington, D.C., community to be a meeting location for men seeking to engage in consensual sexual encounters with other men,” the indictment says. “This practice is colloquially known as ‘cruising,’” the indictment continues. 

“Michael Thomas Pruden frequented Meridian Hill Park after nightfall and on multiple occasions, including those described below, assaulted men in Meridian Hill Park by approaching them with a flashlight, giving them police-style commands and spraying them with a chemical irritant,” the indictment states. 

Virginia court records show that the D.C. indictment against Pruden was handed down 11 months after a U.S. District Court jury in Alexandria, Va., found him not guilty of a charge of assault with a dangerous weapon for allegedly pepper spraying and hitting in the head with a large tree branch a man in Daingerfield Island Park in Alexandria, which is also known as a gay cruising site. 

Federal Public Defender A.J. Kramer, who is representing Pruden in the D.C. case, said in his own motion calling for postponing Pruden’s Feb. 26 trial date that he has at least two other unrelated trials coming up soon and what he called voluminous documents recently provided to him by prosecutors made the latest postponement necessary. 

“Firstly, while Mr. Pruden prefers to go to trial as soon as possible, counsel cannot be ready by February 26, 2024,” his motion states. “Given that the case against Mr. Pruden is actually five cases spanning a three-year period, the discovery is extremely voluminous, in excess of 7,000 pages,” he states in his motion. “Due to this as well as counsel’s other pending matters in the coming weeks, counsel is unable to effectively prepare motions and prep for trial under the current timeline.”

By the 7,000 pages of “discovery” documents, Kramer was referring to the requirement that prosecutors turn over to the defense attorney in advance of a trial details of the evidence prosecutors plan to present at a trial. U.S. District Court Judge Jia M. Cobb approved Pruden’s request for the postponement in a Feb. 5 ruling. 

Court records also show that Pruden was released on personal recognizance following his arrest into the custody of his mother, who lives in Norfolk, Va., where he has been staying since his release. Among other things, conditions for his release prohibit him from having any contact with the individuals he is charged with assaulting and require that he always remain inside his mother’s residence from sunset to sunrise. 

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Texas

Abbott tells UN to ‘pound sand’ amid criticism of anti-LGBTQ policies in Texas

Governor signed seven anti-LGBTQ laws last year

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Texas Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs the “Save Women’s Sports Act” on Aug. 7, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Sunday dismissed news coverage of a letter issued last month to the United Nations that expressed alarm over the “deteriorating human rights situation” for LGBTQ people in the Lone Star State.

Signed by Equality Texas, ACLU of Texas, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and the University of Texas at Austin School of Law Human Rights Clinic, the letter details how Texas legislators introduced 141 bills targeting the LGBTQ community, passing seven into law.

“The UN can go pound sand,” Abbott wrote in a post on X.

In 2023, the governor signed a ban on gender affirming care for transgender youth, a ban on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at public universities, a ban on transgender athletes competing in college sports, a law allowing schools to use religious chaplains for counseling services, a ban on “sexually oriented performances” on public property accessible to minors (which targets drag shows), a law allowing schools to restrict LGBTQ books, and a ban on nondiscrimination ordinances by local governments.

The groups argued in their letter that these policies constitute a “systemic discriminatory policy” in violation of international human rights laws, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a multilateral treaty whose tenets are enforced by the UN Human Rights Committee.

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National

WATCH: Washington Post grills transphobic Libs of TikTok creator

Chaya Raichik reaffirmed anti-trans views

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Chaya Raichik, founder of Libs of TikTok is interviewed by Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz.in California. (Screenshot/YouTube The Washington Post)

Grilled on a range of topics during an interview with Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz, Chaya Raichik, spoke about the great replacement theory, the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary in high school student in Oklahoma, why she won’t delete her false accusations about the Uvalde shooter and other mass-shooters, her views on gender, feminism and more.

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