A Senate committee chair has agreed to hold a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act following calls for lawmakers to hear testimony on anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.
In a statement issued last week, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, announced he intends to hold a hearing on ENDA on June 12.
“Every American deserves an equal opportunity to earn a good living, judged by their talent, ability and qualifications free from discrimination,” Harkin said. “Workplace discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity is reprehensible and has no place in our nation.”
Harkin continued, “This upcoming HELP Committee hearing will provide an excellent opportunity to build on the Committee’s previous work and help advance our shared goal of equal rights for all Americans. I am hopeful that working together, we will reach a point where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons enjoy the same rights and protections, and full equality, as all our fellow Americans.”
According to the statement, further details about the hearing will be made public at a later time. Justine Sessions, a HELP committee spokesperson, said she doesn’t have information yet on witnesses.
The hearing could be the first opportunity for a transgender witness to testify before the Senate on LGBT workplace discrimination. In 2009, the committee held a hearing on ENDA, but no testimony came from a transgender witness. Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, testified on behalf of the Obama administration in favor of ENDA.
The announcement follows growing calls for a hearing on ENDA. In a letter dated May 9, Merkley, the lead sponsor of ENDA in the Senate, as well as co-sponsors Mark Kirk (R-Ill), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) call for the committee to hold a hearing.
“As strong supporters of this legislation, we urge you to schedule a time for Committee members to consider this proposed legislation,” the senators write. “ENDA embodies the American ideal of fairness: employees should be judged on their skills and abilities in the workplace, and not on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, joined the senators in a statement calling for the hearing on the same day.
“What matters in the workplace is how you do your job but unfortunately no federal law bans workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Solmonese said. “We encourage the Senate HELP Committee to schedule a hearing on this critical bill.”
The Washington Blade reported in March that LGBT advocates were pushing for a Senate hearing on ENDA as well as a markup of the legislation to move it to the Senate floor. All Democrats on the panel are co-sponsors of the bill — in addition as Kirk — so the committee would almost certainly be able to report out the legislation to the floor.
The full text of the letter from the senators follows:
May 9, 2012
The Honorable Tom Harkin
U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee
The Honorable Michael B. Enzi
U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
Dear Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Enzi:
We respectfully request that the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hold a legislative hearing to examine employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans to take testimony and consider acting on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (S. 811).
As you know, employment discrimination has profound effects on the wages, job opportunities, productivity, and health of LGBT workers. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) takes a balanced approach to ending workplace discrimination against the LGBT community. Specifically, ENDA would prohibit most workplaces in the United States, with exemptions for religious institutions, private membership clubs and certain small businesses, from discriminating against potential and existing employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As strong supporters of this legislation, we urge you to schedule a time for Committee members to consider this proposed legislation.
ENDA embodies the American ideal of fairness: employees should be judged on their skills and abilities in the workplace, and not on their sexual orientation or gender identity. While some states prohibit public and private employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, recent studies have found evidence of continued widespread employment discrimination against LGBT people. Sadly, it is still legal for businesses in many states to fire someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
We appreciate your past support for discussing this critical issue for millions of American workers, and we respectfully ask that you ensure an opportunity during this Congress for the full Committee to consider testimony on this bill.
Gay man shot to death on NYC subway train
Police say shooting was random and unprovoked
A gay man became the latest victim of a New York City subway shooting on Sunday when police say a male suspect shot Daniel Enriquez, 48, in the chest in an unprovoked random act inside a subway car traveling from Brooklyn to Manhattan.
Police on Tuesday arrested Andrew Abdullah, 25, who they identified as the sole suspect in the shooting, after attorneys representing him from the Legal Aid Society attempted to arrange for his surrender, according to a report by NBC 4 News in New York.
Police said the shooting occurred around 11:42 a.m. while the train was traveling over the Manhattan Bridge. The then unidentified suspect walked off the train and disappeared into a crowd of people when the train stopped at the Canal Street station minutes after Enriquez lay dying on the floor on the train car, police said.
Possibly based on the viewing of images from video surveillance cameras, police sources told the New York Times that investigators identified the suspect as Abdullah whose last known residence was in Manhattan, as a suspect in the fatal shooting. NYPD officials released two photos of Abdullah and appealed to the public for help in finding him.
Adam Pollack, Enriquez’s partner of 18 years, told both the Times and the New York Post that Enriquez took the subway to meet his brother for brunch. According to Pollack, Enriquez previously had taken Ubers into Manhattan, where he worked and socialized, from the couple’s home in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. But in recent weeks the cost of taking an Uber rose dramatically to more than $80 for the round-trip fare, prompting Enriquez to begin taking the subway, Pollack told the Times and Post.
“I don’t love the subway,” the Post quoted Pollack as saying. “I know how dangerous New York is. It took me two years to get back on the subway. I don’t feel safe on the subway,” he said.
The fatal shooting of Enriquez took place six weeks after another gunman identified as Frank R. James began shooting inside a crowded rush-hour subway car in Brooklyn, injuring at least 23 people.
Pollack told the Times his partner was a native New Yorker who worked as a researcher for the Goldman Sachs investment bank in Manhattan. Enriquez was the eldest of five children and a beloved uncle known for taking his nieces and nephews for ice cream in local parks and out to amusement parks when he visited them, Pollack told the Times.
When asked by the Washington Blade if any evidence has surfaced to indicate suspect Abdullah targeted Enriquez because he thought Enriquez was gay, a police public information officer said the investigation into the incident was continuing.
“There’s nothing on that now,” the officer said. “Everything, the motive, and all of that stuff, is part of the investigation and that is still ongoing. So, there’s no comment on that yet.”
The Times reports that court records show Abdullah, who is now in police custody, was charged along with others in 2017 in an 83-count indictment for alleged gang related activity. The following year he pleaded guilty to criminal possession of weapons and other charges in 2018 and was sentenced the following year to a prison term and released on parole several months later.
According to the Times, he faced new gun charges in 2020, was charged in 2021 with assault and endangering a child, and in April of this year was charged with possession of stolen property and unauthorized use of a vehicle.
“We are devastated by this senseless tragedy and our deepest sympathies are with Dan’s family at this difficult time,” Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said in a statement.
Federal judge blocks White House from ending Title 42
Advocacy groups say policy further endangered LGBTQ asylum seekers
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic was to have ended Monday, but it remains in place after a federal judge blocked the Biden administration’s plans to end it.
The White House last month announced it would terminate Title 42, a policy the previous administration implemented in March 2020.
U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays in Louisiana on May 20 issued a ruling that prevented the Biden administration from terminating the Trump-era policy. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement announced the Justice Department will appeal the decision, while adding the administration “will continue to enforce the CDC’s 2020 Title 42 public health authority pending the appeal.”
“This means that migrants who attempt to enter the United States unlawfully will be subject to expulsion under Title 42, as well as immigration consequences such as removal under Title 8 (of the U.S. Code),” said Jean-Pierre.
Advocacy groups and members of Congress with whom the Washington Blade has spoken since Title 42 took effect say it continues to place LGBTQ asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups who seek refuge in the U.S. at even more risk.
Oluchi Omeoga, co-director of the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, last month described Title 42 as a “racist and harmful policy.” ORAM (Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration) Executive Director Steve Roth said Title 42 “put asylum seekers in harm’s way in border towns and prevented them from seeking safety in the United States.”
Title 42 was to have ended less than a month after five members of Congress from California visited two LGBTQ shelters for asylum seekers in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.
The Council for Global Equality, which organized the trip, in a tweet after Summerhays issued his ruling described Title 42 as a “catastrophe.”
“The Biden administration cannot breathe a sign of relief until it’s a matter of the past,” said the Council for Global Equality on Saturday. “We remain committed to end Title 42.”
— The Council for Global Equality (@Global_Equality) May 20, 2022
U.S. Army considers allowing LGBTQ troops to transfer from hostile states
Proposed guidance remains in draft form
A draft policy is circulating among top officials of the U.S. Army that would allow soldiers to be able to request a transfer if they feel state or local laws discriminate against them based on gender, sex, religion, race or pregnancy.
Steve Beynon writing for Military.com reported last week the guidance, which would update a vague service policy to add specific language on discrimination, is far from final and would need approval from Army Secretary Christine Wormuth. But if enacted, it could be one of the most progressive policies for the Army amid a growing wave of local anti-LGBTQ and restrictive contraception laws in conservative-leaning states, where the Army has a majority of its bases and major commands.
“Some states are becoming untenable to live in; there’s a rise in hate crimes and rise in LGBT discrimination,” Lindsay Church, executive director of Minority Veterans of America, an advocacy group, told Military.com. “In order to serve this country, people need to be able to do their job and know their families are safe. All of these states get billions for bases but barely tolerate a lot of the service members.”
This policy tweak to the existing Army regulations pertaining to compassionate reassignment would clarify the current standard rules, which are oft times fairly vague.
A source in the Army told Beynon the new guidance has not yet been fully worked out through the policy planning process or briefed to senior leaders including the Army secretary or the office of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
“The Army does not comment on leaked, draft documents,” Angel Tomko, a service spokesperson, told Military.com in an emailed statement. “AR 600-100 and 600-200 establish the criteria for which soldiers may request for a compassionate reassignment. The chain of command is responsible for ensuring soldiers and families’ needs are supported and maintain a high quality of life.”
The Crystal City-based RAND Corporation had published a study on sexual orientation, gender identity and health among active duty servicemembers in 2015 that listed approximate six percent of LGBTQ troops are gay or bisexual and one percent are trans or nonbinary.
A senior analyst for RAND told the Washington Blade on background those numbers are likely much lower than in actuality as 2015 was less than four years after the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and prior to when the Trump administration enacted the trans servicemember ban in 2017, which has had a chilling effect on open service.
The Biden administration repealed the Trump ban.
Another factor is that the current 18-24 year old troops colloquially referred to as “Gen Z” are much more inclined to embrace an LGBTQ identity and that would cause the numbers to be higher than reported.
Also factored in is uncertainty in the tweaking of policy in light of the recent leak of the draft U.S. Supreme Court decision that would effectively repeal Roe v. Wade.
According to Military.com it’s unclear whether the Army’s inclusion of pregnancy on the list would protect reproductive care for soldiers if Roe v. Wade is overturned. That language could be intended to protect pregnant service members or their families from employment or other discrimination, but could also be a means for some to argue for transfers based on broader reproductive rights.
One advocacy group pointed out that the current wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation will negatively impact the moral of service members:
“What we’re seeing across the board is a small group of elected officials who are trying to politicize and weaponize LGBTQ identities in despicable ways. They’re not only doing that to our youth, but the collateral damage is hurting our service members,” Jacob Thomas, communications director for Common Defense, a progressive advocacy organization, told Military.com. “[Troops] can’t be forced to live in places where they aren’t seen as fully human.”
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