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Boehner on ENDA: ‘I haven’t thought much about it’

Advocates continue to press Obama on exec order

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John Boehner

House Speaker John Boehner (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) expressed little interest Wednesday in advancing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the wake of an announcement from the White House last week that the Obama administration won’t take action against LGBT workplace discrimination at this time.

Although the administration insists it will work with Congress to pass legislation in lieu of an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers, Boehner seemed unaware of ENDA in response to a question from the Washington Blade, saying, “I haven’t seen the bill. I haven’t thought much about it.”

Asked whether passage of ENDA might alleviate the 8.2 percent unemployment rate if employers were barred from firing LGBT workers, Boehner said “ample laws” are in place and deferred further comment to the House Committee on Education & the Workforce. The committee didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“No one should face discrimination in the workforce,” Boehner said. “There are ample laws already in place to deal with this. Having been the chairman of the Education & Workforce Committee, I’m quite familiar with employment law. But if there are further changes that are necessary, I’m sure the committee will look at it.”

Even if Boehner were to bring the bill to a vote, it is unlikely to pass the House where Republican lawmakers hold the majority. ENDA has 161 co-sponsors in the House, far short of the 218 votes that would be needed for passage.

But Boehner’s lack of interest in ENDA raises questions about how the administration expects to move forward with legislation prohibiting LGBT workplace discrimination in the wake of announced plans to work with Congress to the pass the bill instead of taking administrative action and issuing an executive order.

On Monday, White House spokesperson Shin Inouye told the Blade and other media outlets that the “time is right” for a comprehensive legislative approach to passage of ENDA.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Boehner’s response indicates he doesn’t want to appear to go against the majority of the American public, which backs the idea of legislation protecting LGBT workers from discrimination, according to several polls. Some of those polls show that many Americans remain under the false impression that such a law is already in place.

“I think Speaker Boehner ducked this question from the Washington Blade because he does not want to have to publicly side with the small and decreasing number of Americans who tell pollsters that simply being gay should be grounds for firing a talented and hard working employee,” Almeida said. “Polling data shows that LGBT workplace fairness is quickly becoming a winning wedge issue to use against pro-discrimination politicians who hold antiquated and un-American beliefs.”

Meanwhile, LGBT advocates continue to push President Obama to issue the executive order — despite the announced “no” on the proposed action delivered to them last week — as they call for congressional action in the Democratic-controlled Senate on ENDA. The Blade reported extensively on the importance of a trans-inclusive hearing and markup on the bill last month.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, an HRC spokesperson, alluded to the importance of a hearing as he lambasted Boehner for his response to the legislation.

“If the speaker is so familiar with employment law he should know it’s perfectly legal to fire LGBT people in most states,” Cole-Schwartz said. “This attitude is precisely why we need congressional hearings on an inclusive ENDA so the costs of employment discrimination are put on full display.”

No federal law or federal regulation bars employers from firing LGBT workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Firing or discriminating against someone because they’re gay is legal in 29 states; firing or discriminating against someone because they’re transgender is legal in 34 states.

Despite calls for a Senate hearing on ENDA, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee hasn’t yet scheduled a hearing on the legislation.

Justine Sessions, a Senate HELP Committee spokesperson, said this week no plans are in place to hold a hearing on the bill.

“Sen. Harkin is strongly supportive of an inclusive ENDA and looks forward to working with Sen. Merkley and other supporters to advance this important issue,” Sessions said. “The HELP Committee has not planned any hearings beyond the month of May, but I am happy to keep you posted.”

On the same day Boehner punted to the House Committee on Education & the Workforce on ENDA, the committee in fact held a hearing on a related issue: the impact of regulatory and enforcement actions of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

The hearing is significant because it would have been an opportunity to discuss the proposed executive order requiring companies doing business with the U.S. government to have non-discrimination policies protecting LGBT employees. Multiple sources have said the Labor and Justice Departments cleared the measure before sending it to the White House, which announced last week it won’t take action at this time on the directive.

According to a news statement from Freedom to Work, no complaints were voiced about the executive order despite the nature of the hearing.

“Today’s congressional hearing featured three Republican-selected witnesses, including business representatives, and not a single one of them complained about the proposal to add LGBT Americans to the Labor Department’s rules that ensure taxpayer dollars are not squandered by discriminatory contractors who allow anti-gay hostile work environments,” Almeida said. “Not a single Republican member of Congress who attended the hearing complained either.”

In an email to the Blade, Almeida clarified that the executive order didn’t come up in any capacity during the hearing in addition to no one voicing any complaints about it. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the committee, was among 72 House members who wrote to Obama urging him to sign the executive order.

Almeida stressed the importance of signing the executive order as the most immediate way to provide protections to LGBT workers.

“Ever since I attended the White House meeting last Wednesday with Valerie Jarrett, White House spokesperson Jay Carney has been ducking questions from the press and making up lame excuses to justify the president’s delay in signing this executive order that Barack Obama promised four years ago he would sign if we helped elect him,” Almeida said. “I agree with the Center for American Progress and the Human Rights Campaign that President Obama should sign the LGBT order now.  To quote the president’s own words, ‘We can’t wait.’”

A transcript of the exchange between Boehner and the Blade follows:

Washington Blade: Mr. Speaker, the White House announced the president won’t issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to have non-discrimination policies in place preventing them from firing workers who are gay or transgender. Instead, they said he wants to work with Congress to pass legislation known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar most employers from discriminating against workers on this basis. What are your views on this legislation and would you be open to bringing it up for a vote?

Boehner: I haven’t seen the bill. I haven’t thought much about it.

Blade: Arguably, among those who are in the 8.2 percent who are unemployed are in that situation because they faced discrimination on this basis. Wouldn’t passage of this legislation —

Boehner: Well, no one should face discrimination in the workforce. There are ample laws already in place to deal with this. Having been the chairman of the Education & Workforce Committee, I’m quite familiar with employment law. But if there are further changes that are necessary, I’m sure the committee will look at it.

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Tim

    April 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    The Blade reporter should not have allowed Boehner to get away with that response. He actually made it sound like we have workplace protections in place already, and he knows that is a lie. In the past, I have observed the Democrats avoiding the discussion of our issues, because some of their members, (mainly conservative Blue Dogs) actually oppose LGBT rights. This is still a problem, but the GOP members are almost uniformally against us with a handful of exceptions. All of this lends credibility to the notion that Obama must issue an executive order to get things rolling, since the Republicans will never take action on the issue while they are in charge of the House.

    • Steve

      April 19, 2012 at 3:45 pm

      Issue an executive order, yes. But not before the November election.

      Issuing an Executive Order before then will not result in more votes for President Obama. The number of progressive/liberal/independents who won’t vote for Obama absent a pre-November EO is minimal. The number of right-wingers who will be galvanized by an EO is considerable. They are highly-motivated and good at getting out the hate-vote. Liberals and Independents are not good at getting out the progressive vote.

      The net result of a pre-November EO will be fewer votes for President Obama’s reelection.

  2. I'm Just Sayin'

    April 19, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Cue “chirps of crickets….”

    Very quiet over there in Log Cabin Republican land. Having had so much to say about Obama’s failure to sign the ENDA executive order, apparently Boehner’s dismissive attitude on the same subject has rendered his LCR apologists speechless.

  3. Matt

    April 19, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    Boehner: There are ample laws already in place to deal with this.

    Most Americans mistakenly believe that anti-LGBT job discrimination is already illegal. I think Boehner is deliberately encouraging that misperception to justify inaction. Tim is right, the Blade should never have let him get away with the deception.

  4. John-Manuel Andriote

    April 22, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    It’s astonishing–yet not at all surprising–that the Speaker of the House can give such a flip response to a legitimate question about a bill with implications for millions of American citizens and businesses. Yes, businesses. Surely with the corporate world to be affected, that alone would pique Republican interest–since obvious fairness and equal justice aren’t sufficient to these alleged Constitution-lovers. GMAB (Give me a break). As for LCRs…I find it sad that anyone is so wed to a nostalgic view of what a formerly great institution once stood for that they are willing to tolerate its outright hostility and utter disdain from their fellow Republicans, at least the moralizing right wing of the party. Why do we insist on being wed to this two-party system? It makes more sense to me, LCRs, to become a conservative wing of the Democratic party–where you are at least welcomed, rather than reviled. Then bring the good Republican ideas, the traditional ones you espouse, to reel in the Democrats and maybe help stiffen their spines.

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Federal Government

Veterans can now identify as transgender, nonbinary on their VA medical records

About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity

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Graphic via U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Wednesday that his department added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select their gender, in medical records and healthcare documentation.

“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”

The statement also noted that the change allows health-care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.

McDonough speaking at a Pride Month event last June at the Orlando VA Healthcare System, emphasized his support for Trans and LGBQ+ vets.

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

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Florida

Prominent LGBTQ+ activist found dead in Florida landfill

Diaz-Johnston was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz & he led the fight for marriage equality

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Photo courtesy of Don Diaz Johnston

Police in Florida’s capital city confirmed that the body of Jorge Diaz-Johnston, 54, who had been reported missing was found in a Jackson County landfill Saturday morning.

Diaz-Johnston was last seen alive Jan. 3 in Tallahassee, more than an hour from where his body was found, according to a missing person notice released by police. Detectives are investigating his death as a homicide, a police spokesperson said.

Diaz-Johnston, was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz. As an LGBTQ advocate he led the fight for marriage equality, he and his husband were plaintiffs in an historic 2014 lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Miami-Dade County.

ABC News reported at the time that a South Florida circuit court judge sided with Diaz-Johnston and five couples suing the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s Office for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Florida dropped its ban on same-sex marriage in 2015.

His husband wrote in a poignant Facebook post; “There are just no words for the loss of my beloved husband Jorge Isaias Diaz-Johnston. I can’t stop crying as I try and write this. But he meant so much to all of you as he did to me. So I am fighting through the tears to share with you our loss of him.”

“We are heartbroken to learn of the death of Jorge. He and his husband Don were two of the brave plaintiffs who took on Florida’s anti-gay marriage ban and helped win marriage equality for all Floridians,” Equality Florida said adding, “Our deepest condolences to Don and Jorge’s extended family.”

Detectives urge anyone who may have information to call 850-891-4200, or make an anonymous tip to Big Bend Crime Stoppers at 850-574-TIPS.

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National

Bill prohibiting ‘gay panic defense’ clears New Hampshire House

New Hampshire could soon join over a dozen other states which ban the use of ‘gay panic’ as a defense

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New Hampshire State House (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Legislation prohibiting defendants accused of manslaughter from using the victim’s gender, gender identity or sexual orientation as a defense, which had died in committee during the 2021 regular session of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, was reintroduced this session and passed with a 223-118 vote last week.

House Bill 238, stirred up controversary from opponents who claimed that state statues already covered murder and manslaughter. During a Criminal Justice committee hearing last Spring, Rep. Dick Marston, a Manchester Republican, voiced opposition, saying that the laws already cover murder and manslaughter and that “there’s no way in heck that you’re going to be able to say ‘Well because he or she was some deviant sexuality that I’m not–‘”

Marston was cut off by committee chairman Daryl Abbas, a Salem Republican, who gaveled him down and rebuked him for the derogatory language the Concord-Monitor reported

Later, the committee Republicans blocked an effort to move the bill out of committee alleging it needed more work and was not necessary because a jury could already strike down a similar attempted defense. The bill was then stalled in the committee, effectively killing it from being pushed further in last year’s session.

As the measure now heads to the state Senate, New Hampshire could soon join over a dozen other states which ban the use of the ‘gay panic’ as a defense.

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