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Carney talks DOMA ruling, ExxonMobil vote

White House won’t issue EO in wake of failed shareholder resolution

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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Thursday the administration won’t revisit the idea of issuing an executive order barring anti-gay job bias in the wake of the failed vote among ExxonMobil shareholders to adopt a non-discrimination policy for LGBT workers.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney said the White House would continue to pursue legislation — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — to institute non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers as opposed to issuing an executive order that changes policies at U.S. contractors like ExxonMobil.

“We don’t expect that an EO of that nature will be issued at this time,” Carney said. “We are working, as I’ve said in the past, with Congress. We support legislation that has been introduced, and we will continue to work to build support for it. We believe that the legislative avenue here is the right avenue to pursue at this time.”

Congress is unlikely to pass ENDA while Republicans remain in the control of the House. Last month, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the Washington Blade in response to a question on ENDA that he hasn’t “thought much about it.”

Asked how the right avenue to pursue at this time can be legislation while Republicans are in control of the House, Carney replied, “Well, because it’s the right thing to do.”

On Wednesday, ExxonMobil stockholders voted down a resolution proposed by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to include LGBT protections as part of the company’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy. According to the company, 20.6 percent of shareholders approved the resolution. Still, the board can adopt the policy without action from the shareholders.

An executive order requiring federal contractors to institute LGBT non-discrimination policies would affect ExxonMobil. The company has won more than $1 billion in federal contractors in the past decade. In the last fiscal year, the company claimed $158 million in federal contracts.

But in April, the administration announced it won’t issue the executive order at this time — a line that Carney maintained during the Thursday news conference.

Carney said the day after during an April news conference that the administration is committed to “directly engaging with and educating all sectors of the business community — from major corporations to contractors to small business — and raising public awareness about the human and financial costs of discrimination in the work force.”

Asked by the Blade whether he would follow up on these words and call on ExxonMobil to adopt an LGBT-inclusive policy on its own accord, Carney reaffirmed his earlier position, but wouldn’t go into details about conversations.

“Well, that is certainly our position, and what I said in April holds true today,” Carney said. “And those kinds of conversations, broadly speaking, continue to take place — have taken place and will continue to take place. I don’t have anything specifically for you on this case and this vote, which just took place. But broadly, yes, that’s our position.”

Asked to clarify whether any conversations have taken place between the White House and ExxonMobil, Carney said that communications have taken place, but he wouldn’t go into details about talks with specific business leaders.

“I can tell you broadly that those kinds of conversations have [been] had,” Carney said. “Our position and views on this are well known. That’s why the president supports ENDA, a legislative solution to this discrimination. And those conversations will continue. I just don’t have anything to report to you on specific conversations with specific companies or business leaders.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Carney’s remarks on ExxonMobil are “ambiguous,” but said he chooses to interpret them to mean the White House wants the company to adopt the non-discrimination policy — in addition to offering domestic partner benefits, which the company doesn’t provide.

“The question, then, is will the White House put some action behind Jay Carney’s words?” Almeida said. “Will President Obama use his bully pulpit to publicly call on ExxonMobil to ban discrimination and offer equal benefits to LGBT employees? … I urge White House staff to do more, especially during the upcoming Pride Month, to promote LGBT Americans’ freedom to work without discrimination.”

Almeida renewed his call for the administration to issue the executive order barring LGBT job bias so that all federal contractors like ExxonMobil will have to adopt non-discrimination policies.

“I urge the White House staff to do more to move the ball forward so that LGBT Americans will have the freedom to work without discrimination at ExxonMobil and all other companies that profit from taxpayer-funded contracts,” Almeida said. “The president should fulfill his campaign promise from four years ago and sign the executive order right away.”

Questions also came up during the news conference about the First Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act earlier in the day. The Associated Press asked Carney whether he wants to see the Supreme Court take up the case.

Carney explained the Obama administration’s belief that DOMA is unconstitutional and noted it is no longer defending the law in court, but deferred further questions to the Justice Department.

“That’s the position the president has held for some time now, and it has been enforced by the Department of Justice,” Carney said. “With regards to this ruling, which the DOJ was an active participant in, I would refer you to the Justice Department. But there’s no question that this is in concert with the president’s views.”

Carney noted that Justice Department attorneys have participated in litigation.

“The Department of Justice participated in this very litigation in the First Circuit, consistent with the position that the president and the Attorney General have articulated, which is that they do not believe that Section 3 of DOMA is constitutional,” Carney said. “But I wouldn’t necessarily call that passive.”

In a follow-up question from the Blade on whether the administration wants to see a vote to repeal DOMA in the Democratic-controlled Seante, Carney said he’s not aware of any talks of that nature.

“I haven’t heard that discussed,” Carney said. “The president’s position is clear. The actions taken as a result of that position are clear. Participation of the Department of Justice in the specific litigation is clear. But I don’t have anything for you on that proposal, which I have not heard.”

A partial transcript of the exchange between reporters and Carney on ExxonMobil and DOMA follows:

Associated Press: The First Circuit ruled this morning on the Defense of Marriage Act. Can you comment on the ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional? Would you like to see the Supreme Court take this case? And if so, would this administration be actively arguing for the overturning of a law signed by a previous Democratic President?

Jay Carney: Well, Anne, as you know, the President has concluded that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional. So has his attorney general. And for that reason, the administration will no longer defend equal protection challenges against it in the courts. That’s the position the President has held for some time now, and it has been enforced by the Department of Justice.

With regards to this ruling, which the DOJ was an active participant in, I would refer you to the Justice Department.  But there’s no question that this is in concert with the President’s views.

Associated Press: But the question, though, is whether you would take your current somewhat passive position that you will not defend it and turn that around and actively argue for it — to overturn the law.

Carney: The Department of Justice participated in this very litigation in the First Circuit, consistent with the position that the president and the attorney general have articulated, which is that they do not believe that Section 3 of DOMA is constitutional. I can’t predict what the next steps will be in handling cases of this nature. I would refer you to the Department of Justice. But I wouldn’t necessarily call that passive. …

Washington Blade: Jay, I want to ask you about two topics. First of all, I want to follow up on the DOMA ruling from today. The president campaigned on the repeal of DOMA. He has endorsed legislation to meet that goal. He has stop defending the law in court. He has sent Justice Department attorneys to litigate against that law in court.

Carney: Well said. (Laughter.) Yes?

Blade: But does the administration see value in holding a vote in the Democratically controlled Senate on repealing the law as a symbolic stand against that statute?

Carney: Well, I haven’t heard that discussed. The president’s position is clear. The actions taken as a result of that position are clear. Participation of the Department of Justice in the specific litigation is clear. But I don’t have anything for you on that proposal, which I have not heard.

Blade: The other thing I want to ask you about is, there was a vote yesterday among Exxon Mobil shareholders to include LGBT non-discrimination protections for its more than 80,000 workers that work at the corporation. The shareholders voted down that proposal but it’s still possible for the board to accept it without the shareholders taking action. 

Back in April, when you talked about the executive order not happening at this time, you said that the administration was committed to “directly engaging with and educating all sectors of the business community from major corporations to contractors to small businesses, and raising public awareness about the human and financial cost of discrimination in the workforce.”

Following up with these words, will the administration call on Exxon Mobil to adopt that non-discrimination policy?

Carney: Well, that is certainly our position, and what I said in April holds true today.  And those kinds of conversations, broadly speaking, continue to take place — have taken place and will continue to take place. I don’t have anything specifically for you on this case and this vote, which just took place. But broadly, yes, that’s our position.

Blade: Has the administration communicated — any communications at all with Exxon Mobil?

Carney: Again, I can tell you broadly that those kinds of conversations have [been] had.  Our position and views on this are well known. That’s why the President supports ENDA, a legislative solution to this discrimination. And those conversations will continue. I just don’t have anything to report to you on specific conversations with specific companies or business leaders.

Blade: In the past decade, Exxon Mobil has taken more than $1 billion in federal contracts.  In the wake of this vote, will the administration revisit the idea of issuing that executive order, barring federal contractors from taking money if they don’t have non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity?

Carney: Well, we don’t expect that an EO of that nature will be issued at this time. We are working, as I’ve said in the past, with Congress. We support legislation that has been introduced, and we will continue to work to build support for it. We believe that the legislative avenue here is the right avenue to pursue at this time.

Blade: How can the legislative avenue be right at this time when Republicans control Congress?  How will that legislation get through the Republican-controlled Congress?

Carney: Well, because it’s the right thing to do.

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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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