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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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Anti-LGBTQ Colorado baker loses Trans birthday cake court case

Phillips violated Colorado’s ant-discrimination law citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression

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Jack Phillips (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

DENVER – A Colorado State District Court Judge ruled against the baker who had previously refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and won at the U.S. Supreme Court a partial narrow victory in that case in 2018.

CBSN Denver reported that Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones order that Jack Phillips violated Colorado’s anti discrimination law Tuesday citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression.

In court documents, Jones said that Phillips refusal to make the plantiff, Autumn Scardina a cake made with blue icing on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate her gender transition on her birthday because of her transgender status but without a written message, was in violation of the law. Phillips was ordered to pay a $500 fine.

Jones noted in his ruling that Phillips testified during a trial in March that ‘he did not think someone could change their gender’ and he would not celebrate “somebody who thinks that they can.”

“The anti-discrimination laws are intended to ensure that members of our society who have historically been treated unfairly, who have been deprived of even the every-day right to access businesses to buy products, are no longer treated as ‘others,‘” the judge wrote.

The Scottsdale, Arizona based Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal group that has been place on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch List for spreading propaganda and lies about LGBTQ people, told CBSN that the group would appeal Jones’ ruling.

“Radical activists and government officials are targeting artists like Jack because they won’t promote messages on marriage and sexuality that violate their core convictions,” ADF’s general counsel, Kristen Waggoner, said in a media statement.

The maximum fine for each violation of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act is $500. But it was not clear from the ruling if the fine was for the two attempts that Scardina made to order the cake or just one.

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Supreme Court rules for religious agency seeking to reject LGBTQ families

Unanimous decision bottled up to context of city contract

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in favor of a religious-affiliated foster care agency seeking to refuse child placement into LGBTQ homes, issuing a decision with limited reach that determined the City of Philadelphia’s enforcement of a contract with non-discrimination provisions violates freedom of religion under the First Amendment.

In a surprise twist, the ruling was unanimous with nine justices on the court agreeing to the result in favor of Catholic Social Services, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the opinion. As noted by SCOTUSblog, the court seemed much more divided in oral arguments, although inclined to rule for the foster care agency.

“The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless the agency agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny and violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Roberts writes.

Although Catholic Social Services had also contended a freedom of speech right under the First Amendment to reject same-sex couples, Roberts adds the court didn’t reach a conclusion on that part of the argument.

Becket Law, which had argued in case on behalf of Catholic Social Services, crowed in a statement over its win at the Supreme Court.

“It’s a beautiful day when the highest court in the land protects foster moms and the 200-year-old religious ministry that supports them,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket. “Taking care of children, especially children who have been neglected and abused is a universal value that spans all ideological divides.

A key portion of the Roberts decision that could limit its reach is language specific to Philadelphia’s contract with the city allowing for discretion on enforcement, which he says means the measure isn’t generally applicable measure.

“Section 3.21 of the contract requires an agency to provide services defined in the contract to prospective foster parents without regard to their sexual orientation,” Roberts writes. “But section 3.21 also permits exceptions to this requirement at the ‘sole discretion’ of the Commissioner. This inclusion of a mechanism for entirely discretionary exceptions renders the non-discrimination provision not generally applicable.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which had argued before the Supreme Court in the case and sided with the City of Philadelphia, claimed a small victory after the decision.

“The decision will not affect any foster care programs that do not have the same system for individualized exemptions that were at issue here,” Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project, said in a statement. “This is good news for the more than 400,000 children in foster care across the country, who are the ones who get hurt the most if placement decisions are made based on an agency’s religious beliefs rather than the child’s best interest. And this decision does not allow discrimination in other taxpayer-funded government programs such as homeless shelters, disaster relief programs and health care.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the LGBTQ Catholic group DignityUSA, initially issued a statement saying the decision opened the door to discrimination against LGBTQ families, but subsequently updated it with a reaction more attune to the decision’s language.

“While we are disappointed in the specifics of today’s ruling, we are relieved that the court did not allow a broad exemption to nondiscrimination provisions in foster and adoption care,” Duddy-Burke said. “It remains deeply problematic that some religiously affiliated agencies continue to seek the ability to ban same-sex couples from opening their hearts and homes to children in need and undermine our hopes for expanding our families. The biases that lie at the heart of this case need to be eradicated.”

David Flugman, a lawyer at the New York-based Selendy & Gay PLLC whose practice includes LGBTQ rights, said in a statement the technical nature of the Fulton is “sure to invite even more litigation.

“Today the Supreme Court held, on narrow, technical grounds, that the City of Philadelphia’s attempt to ensure that Catholic Charities abide by the same non-discrimination provisions applicable to all other city contractors could not withstand Catholic Charities’ religious right to refuse to screen loving same-sex couples to act as foster parents,” Flugman writes. “The Court did not take up Catholic Charities’ invitation to scuttle the 30 year-old test for free exercise claims that was announced in Smith v. Employment Division, which held that a neutral law of general applicability could survive even if it burdens religious practice.”

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded decision of the U.S. Third Circuit of Court of Appeals, which had ruled in favor of City of Philadelphia enforcing its contract with Catholic Social Services. Both the appeals courts and the lower trial court had come to the opposite conclusion of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Notably, although the City of Philadelphia in addition to the contract it struck with Catholic Social Services has in a place LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance, the Supreme Court determines that measure doesn’t apply in the context of foster care services because it’s limited to the services “made available to the public.”

“Certification is not ‘made available to the public’ in the usual sense of the words,” Roberts writes. “Certification as a foster parent is not readily accessible to the public; the process involves a customized and selective assessment that bears little resemblance to staying in a hotel, eating at a restaurant, or riding a bus.”

Fatima Goss Graves, CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement the decision from the Supreme Court is a harmful loss to the children in the foster care system in Philadelphia as well as the countless LGBTQ parents.”

“Weakening the government’s ability to protect their civil rights is hardly in their best interest, and we’re committed to ensuring this loophole is not stretched to further justify hatred or prejudice,” Graves added. “We must protect the right of every person to live without fear of discrimination because of who they are or who they love, and we must hold that value particularly close when it comes to the best interest of LGBTQ youth and the families who love them.” 

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U.S. Senate to consider apology for past anti-LGBTQ discrimination

Report shows 70-year history of gov’t persecution, purges of ‘sex deviates’

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Pioneering activist Frank Kameny, who was fired from his government job for being gay, received an apology from the government decades later, but that apology did not extend to the thousands of other LGBT Americans persecuted by their government. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are preparing to introduce a first-ever resolution calling on the Senate to acknowledge and apologize for the federal government’s discrimination against LGBTQ federal workers and members of the military over a period of at least 70 years.

The two senators have agreed to introduce the proposed resolution at the request of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., an LGBTQ group that specializes in archival research into the federal government’s decades-long policy of banning LGBTQ people from working in federal jobs and serving in the U.S. military and purging them when found to be in those positions.

The Mattachine Society, in partnership with the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery, prepared a 28-page white paper reporting in extensive detail the U.S. government’s history of what it calls discrimination and persecution of LGBTQ federal workers and LGBTQ military service members.
The white paper is entitled, “America’s Promise of Reconciliation and Redemption: The Need for an Official Acknowledgement and Apology for the Historic Government Assault on LGBT Federal Employees and Military Personnel.”

In a statement, the Mattachine Society says the paper is the product of a two-year research project involving a team of five attorneys with the McDermott Will & Emery firm and Mattachine Society.

“Over many decades, the United States government, led by teams within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and nearly every agency and branch of government, began the process of investigating, harassing, interrogating, court-martialing, terminating, hospitalizing, and, in some cases, criminally prosecuting LGBT Americans for no other reason than their sexual orientation or gender expression,” the paper says.

“This wholesale purging left tens of thousands in financial ruin, without jobs, with personal lives destroyed, and, in many cases, completely estranged from their own families,” the paper states.

“A straightforward acknowledgement of the mistreatment of these military and civilian employees and an official apology is overdue,” the paper continues. “Both the Congress and the Executive Branch were complicit in this pervasive mistreatment of LGBT citizens.”

The paper points out that over the past 30 years Congress has officially acknowledged and apologized on six different occasions for U.S. mistreatment of other marginalized groups.

Among the subject areas of those apologies were the enslavement of African Americans, the failure to enforce anti-lynching laws to protect African Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the mistreatment of Native Hawaiians, the mistreatment of Native Americans, and government polices of exclusion of Chinese immigrants.

The paper says the time has come for the federal government to issue its own “acknowledgement and apology” to the LGBT community by following the precedent established by Congress with respect to apologies to the other marginalized groups.

Jeff Trammell, a Mattachine Society board member who led the project to prepare the white paper, said Baldwin and Kaine were in the process of lining up other senators to sign on as co-sponsors of the resolution.

Baldwin is the Senate’s only out lesbian member. Kaine is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights.
Trammell said Mattachine of Washington considers the Senate resolution the first step in an ongoing effort to obtain a similar resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives and a possible similar statement of acknowledgement and apology from the executive branch, including the Biden administration.

He said he and the resolution’s supporters were hopeful that most senators, including Republicans, would view it as non-controversial and as a nonpartisan measure because it seeks only the acknowledgement of historical facts. Trammell noted that unlike other resolutions of apology pertaining to other minorities approved by Congress in the past, the LGBT apology resolution does not call for any financial reparations.

The eight-page proposed resolution addresses that question by stating, “Nothing in this resolution…authorizes or supports any claim against the United States or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”

Trammell noted that under the Obama administration, John Berry, the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, issued an official government apology for the firing of D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny from his government job in the late 1950s. But Trammell said the apology to Kameny, which was considered important and groundbreaking, did not extend to the thousands of other LGBTQ employees fired or harassed in the years before and after Kameny’s firing.

The white paper also points out that at least seven U.S. allied nations have issued apologies for past mistreatment of their own LGBTQ citizens. Among them are Spain, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Brazil, and The Netherlands.

“We believe the time has come to understand and acknowledge the historical animus that LGBT federal employees and military personnel faced for generations from their own government to ensure it can never happen again,” Trammell said.

The white paper can be accessed here.

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