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. 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.
Louisiana lawmakers fail to overturn Edwards veto of Trans sports bill
Edwards further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.”
BATON ROUGE – Louisiana lawmakers failed to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) veto last month of a bill that would have barred trans girls and women from participating on athletic teams or in sporting events designated for girls or women at elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools.
The measure, Senate Bill 156 authored by Sen. Beth Mizell titled the ‘the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,’ in the Governor’s eyes, “was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in his veto statement;
“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana. Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue.
The Republican majority state House chamber failed to override the Governor’s veto after voting 68-30 to override it, according to the state legislature’s website.
The vote narrowly missed the 70-vote threshold needed in the lower chamber to override the veto.
Two-thirds of both the House and Senate must vote to override a governor’s veto, according to the local Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate.
The Governor reacted to the news that his veto withstood Republican efforts to overturn it in a press conference Wednesday.
Edwards noted that in his view he had “rejected a play” that had no place in Louisiana.
“I would rather the headlines going out from today be that Louisiana did what was right and best. We rejected a play out of a national playbook that just had no place in Louisiana. That bill wasn’t crafted for our state, I mean go read it and look at the arguments that were made. None of that applies here,” Edwards said.
He further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.”
“We have to be better than that,” Edwards said. “We have to be better than that.”
Federal court blocks West Virginia Law banning Trans youth sports
“It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A judge of the United States District Court, Southern District of West Virginia ruled Wednesday that 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson must be allowed to try out for the girls’ cross-country and track teams at her school, blocking West Virginia from enforcing a law that bans transgender girls and women from participating in school sports.
The ruling came in the lawsuit challenging the ban filed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of West Virginia, and Cooley LLP.
“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls’ cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” said Becky Pepper-Jackson, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed H.B. 3293 into law at the end of April. It was one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills pushed in state legislatures across the country in 2021. During legislative debate, it was not endorsed by any mainstream sporting or health organizations. A similar law in Idaho was blocked by a federal court in 2020, and a federal court in Connecticut recently dismissed a challenge to policies that allow all girls, including girls who are transgender, to participate on girls’ sports teams. Legal challenges are underway against similar laws passed in other states.
The Supreme Court recently refused to disturb Gavin Grimm’s victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where he prevailed in challenging his school’s anti-transgender discrimination against him. This decision — which is binding precedent in West Virginia federal court — said that federal law protects transgender students from discrimination in schools.
“This is great news for Becky, and while our work is not done yet, today’s ruling jibes with similar rulings in other courts across the country,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow, Lambda Legal. “It is our hope that courts recognize and address discrimination when they see it, and nowhere is it more visible than in these stark attacks against trans youth.”
“Becky — like all students — should have the opportunity to try out for a sports team and play with her peers,” said Josh Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We hope this also sends a message to other states to stop demonizing trans kids to score political points and to let these kids live their lives in peace.”
“We’ve said all along this cruel legislation would not survive a legal challenge, and we’re encouraged by the court’s decision today,” said ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark. “We hope trans kids throughout West Virginia who felt attacked and wronged by the passage of this legislation are feeling empowered by today’s news.”
“We are extremely gratified — for Becky, and for all trans youth — at the court’s recognition that the law and the facts clearly support treating people who are transgender fairly and equally. Discrimination has no place in schools or anywhere else,” said Kathleen Hartnett of Cooley LLP.
Conservative groups attack proposed Alabama capital city’s LGBTQ law
Allege law requires Christians to violate their religious beliefs
MONTGOMERY – The Alabama capital’s City Council is being urged to reject a proposed ordinance that would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under the law. Matthew Clark, the Executive Director of the conservative Alabama Center for Law and Liberty sent a letter on behalf of his group and six allied organizations asking the Council to abandon a vote implementing the ordnance.
According to the letter, the groups allege that the law would require Christians to violate their religious beliefs or face fines under certain circumstances. Prominent among the other signatures is Mathew D. Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group.
The SPLC, which has its headquarters in Montgomery, writes; “The Liberty Counsel has also been active in the battle against same-sex marriage and hate crimes legislation, which it claimed in a 2007 news release to be “’thought crimes’ laws that violate the right to freedom of speech and of conscience” and will “have a chilling effect on people who have moral or religious objections to homosexual behavior.” In that same release, the Liberty Counsel falsely claimed that the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., had nothing to do with homosexuality, but instead was “a bungled robbery.”
In the letter Clark noted; ““As we read the ordinance, churches could be fined if they refuse to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, and they might be fined if they refused to let same-sex couples use their facilities for weddings,” Clark said. “They could also be fined if they declined to hire non-ministerial personnel, such as facility managers or secretaries, whose sexual orientation or gender identity contradicts the tenants of the church’s faith.”
“Christian schools, small business owners, and homeowners are also in the crosshairs. Schools could face liability if they decline to let transgender students use the locker rooms of their choice,” Clark said. “Small business owners like Jack Phillips [referring to Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission] could face liability. And homeowners who list their homes on Airbnb could be fined if they declined to let a same-sex couple engage in sexual activities in their home that violate the tenants of their faith.”
Clark then warned the City Council that if it passes the ordinance, litigation could result and the City would likely lose.
The Montgomery Advertiser reported last month that City Mayor Steven Reed said a council vote in favor of the LGTBQ nondiscrimination ordinance that’s now being drafted in Montgomery would send a message.
“There are signals that communities can send, and this is an important signal not only to those residents that live here right now but people all over the country that have maybe one idea of Alabama and Montgomery, and we want to show them that there’s a different reality here,” he said.
Reed and his team have been working with the Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy groups to draft an ordinance that would expand protections for LGBTQ residents in the state’s capital city. The proposed measure, which would specifically target discrimination in government, employment and housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity the Advertiser reported.
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