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EEOC ruling on trans rights triggers new call for ENDA

Agency decision doesn’t affect gay, lesbian workers

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Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center (photo courtesy of the Transgender Law Center)

LGBT rights supporters are continuing to press for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, following a ruling this week from a U.S. agency expanding non-discrimination protections under existing law to  include transgender workers.

During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, emphasized the need for passage of ENDA, legislation that would bar employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Davis said ENDA would complement the ruling Monday from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that determined Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 covers gender identity.

“We still need ENDA,” Davis said. “This decision is incredibly important. It means that transgender people throughout the United States now have legal recourse … We need to make sure that we couple that with legal protections from Congress and the courts.”

Tobias Wolff, a gay law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said the ruling doesn’t provide non-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian workers — coverage that ENDA would provide. Additionally, Wolff said transgender workers could face discrimination based on sexual orientation if they’re in a same-sex relationship that an employer finds objectionable.

“If you’re a transgender lesbian, for example, then the question of whether you’re protected from discrimination based upon your gender identity is often put on the table at the same time the question of whether you’re protected from discrimination because you’re a lesbian,” Wolff said. “This ruling speaks to the first question; it doesn’t speak to the second question.”

LGBT organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force issued statements calling for the passage of ENDA after the EEOC decision was rendered.

HRC President Joe Solmonese said “it is critical” the entire LGBT community have “clear, strong protections against workplace discrimination in federal law.”

“Policymakers must take every step available to them to ensure all workers have a level playing field, including passage of an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the adoption of an executive order barring discrimination by federal contractors,” Solmonese said.

EEOC made the ruling after the Obama administration was criticized by many in the LGBT community for deciding at this time against issuing an executive order requiring federal contractors to have non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But the advocates say they believe the two decisions are unrelated.

Davis said he “doesn’t see any connection” between the White House decision not to issue the executive order and the EEOC ruling affirming transgender workers’ rights.

“This case has been in process for over a year now,” Davis said. “This has been with EEOC for several months. The EEOC is an independent agency and the decision was made by the five appointed commissioners.”

That observation was verified by the White House. Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said the EEOC “reached their conclusion on their own.”

Davis said the decision is almost certain to stand because it cannot be appealed to a higher court or anywhere else because the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would have to show the decision was “clearly erroneous.”

“This is the final word,” Davis said. “ATF could ask for reconsideration by the commission, but it’s very unlikely they would even ask for it … The agency would have to show that the decision was clearly erroneous in its interpretation of the law, which was plainly not the case [given] the EEOC issued the decision in light of the strong trans federal court decisions.”

However, Wolff noted that the Supreme Court could get involved in the issue if lower federal courts make their own decisions on whether Title VII should apply to transgender workers.

“I think it’s a little premature to say that this is a settled issue among the lower federal courts,” Wolff said. “I think it is correct to say that the trend among lower courts is … recognizing anti-trans discrimination is sex discrimination and that that is certainly the better argument. The question of whether or not the court gets involved will probably depend what types of opinions we see coming out of lower federal courts.”

The ruling will allow for the hiring of Mia Macy, a transgender woman who allegedly was denied a job as a ballistics technician at the ATF.

“That’s all she’s ever wanted,” Davis said. “She wants the ability use her skills and her talents and her tremendous experience … to serve as a member of ATF.”

Ilona Turner, legal director for the Transgender Law Center, said her organization would also seek the restitution of back pay, which could be resolved through settlement or the agency issuing a response to the discrimination complaint and ordering the appropriate remedy.

“As she mentioned, she lost her house as a result of this,” Turner said. “Her family has been seriously affected financially by what she went through.”

Wolff also spoke favorably about the presence on the EEOC of Chai Feldblum, a lesbian who’s had a long history of LGBT activism — authoring ENDA and fighting against the institution of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993.

“She is one of the most distinguished and brilliant minds of our generation on discrimination law and statutes that are aimed at prohibiting discrimination,” Wolff said. “I think that one can see her expertise certainly, among others, reflected in the analysis of this opinion. When the president selected her for this post, I think it represented a strong statement on the part of his administration about the importance of good and sensible thinking on anti-discrimination law enforced in the statutes like Title VII. It is because we have such good people on the EEOC that we see a ruling like this.”

CORRECTION: An initial posting of this article misattributed a quote about Chai Feldblum. The Blade regrets the error.

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

“LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased”

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Florida State Capitol building

TALLAHASSEE – A Republican majority Florida House Education & Employment Committee passed HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion Senate bill SB 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the Press Secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 47% felt nervous and/or scared, 45% felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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California mom claims school manipulated child into changing gender identity

Jessica Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her

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Fox News host Laura Ingraham & Center for American Liberty CEO Harmeet Dhillon with client, Jessica Konen (Screenshot Fox News)

A Northern California mother is claiming teachers in a small school district in the state manipulated her daughter into changing her gender identity and name in a legal claim. 

The claim, filed by the ultra-conservative Center for American Liberty on behalf of the mother, alleged “extreme and outrageous conduct” by the Spreckels Union School District, leading Jessica Konen’s 11-year-old daughter to change her gender identity and drive a wedge between them.

Specifically, the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, names two teachers – Lori Caldera and Kelly Baraki – at Buena Vista Middle who, in addition to teaching, ran the school’s Equality Club, later known as UBU (You Be You). Buena Vista is a part of the district. 

It comes after Abigail Shrier, the author of a book widely criticized as anti-trans, quoted what the two educators said last year at the California Teachers Association’s annual LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in a piece headlined “How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids.” Caldera and Baraki spoke about the difficulty of running a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in a socially conservative community. 

After the article was published, the teachers were put on administrative leave, and the district hired a law firm to investigate, which is ongoing. The UBU club was suspended. 

Spreckels is a town of about 400 people in the agricultural Salinas Valley, approximately 90 miles south of San Francisco

According to the complaint, Konen’s daughter began attending Equality Club meetings after being invited by a friend when she started sixth grade at Buena Vista. After attending one session, she decided it wasn’t for her until Caldiera convinced her to come back. At the gatherings, Caldera and Baraki held LGBTQ-centered discussions and introduced students to different gender identities and sexualities. 

During her time in the club, Konen’s daughter began exploring her own gender identity and sexuality, choosing to wear more masuline clothes. At some point, she decided to change her name and pronouns, which she has since changed back to her original name and pronouns. 

Konen said she was aware her daughter was bisexual but did not know she began using a male name and gender pronouns until she was called into the school when her daughter was in seventh grade. The meeting caught both Konen and her daughter by surprise – Konen’s daughter had said she wanted to notify her mother, but she did not know the meeting was that day. 

Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her. 

However, when Shrier’s article was published and circulated around the small town, everything changed. At this time, Konen’s daughter was again using a female name and pronouns.

In the leaked recording from the LGBTQ conference, Caldera and Baraki were discussing how they kept meetings private, among other things. 

“When we were doing our virtual learning — we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work,” Baraki said. “One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.”

However, Caldera told the San Francisco Chronicle that the quotes were either taken out of context or misrepresented. According to Caldera, the stalking comment was a joke. She also defended their work, saying students lead the conversation and they provide honest and fair answers to their questions.
In addition, a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association criticized the group bringing the lawsuit forward, according to the Associated Press: “We are concerned about a political climate right now in which outside political forces fuel chaos and misinformation and seek to divide parents, educators and school communities for their own political gain, which is evident in this complaint. The Center for American Liberty is concerned with pushing its own political agenda through litigation and has filed multiple lawsuits against various school districts and communities.”

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GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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