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First trans witness ever to testify before Senate on ENDA

No Obama administration official scheduled to deliver testimony

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An openly transgender person for the first time is set to testify before the Senate on Tuesday about the lack of federal employment LGBT non-discrimination protections and the need to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, according to a committee notice published Thursday.

Kylar Broadus, founder of the Columbia, Mo., based Trans People of Color Coalition, is scheduled be among five witnesses who’ll speak during the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee hearing titled, “Equality At Work: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act.” The hearing is set to begin at 10 am, Room 106 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

According to his bio of the TPOCC website, Broadus is an attorney who hails from Missouri and founded the organization in 2010. He’s written essays of transgender rights, won awards for LGBT advocacy, is a board member of the National Black Justice Coalition and was formerly on the board for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.

Broadus is the first transgender person to testify before the Senate. A previous Senate hearing in 2009 had no transgender witnesses. A House hearing at around the same time featured testimony from Vandy Beth Glenn, who was fired from her job at the Georgia General Assembly for being transgender.

Other witnesses that Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) selected for the hearing are M. V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles; Samuel Bagenstos, a law professor at University of Michigan; and Ken Charles, vice president of diversity and inclusion, General Mills, Inc.

The Republican witness is Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Religious Broadcasters Association. Parshall had already testified in 2009 against ENDA.

Absent from the witness list is any Obama administration official. Members of the administration testified before the House and Senate in 2009: Stuart Ishimaru, then-acting chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, testified before the House and Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, testified before the Senate.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration wasn’t invited to testify.

“While the administration was not invited to testify, we welcome Chairman Harkin’s hearing to examine this important issue,” the official said. “The president has long supported an inclusive ENDA.”

Justine Sessions, a HELP committee spokesperson, said the committee has already heard from the Obama administration on ENDA.

“Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez testified at our last hearing on ENDA and fully endorsed the bill, as the White House did just recently,” Sessions said. “The focus of this hearing is putting a human face on the discrimination LGBT Americans face, which is why the Committee invited witnesses like Kylar Broadus, a transgender American who has experienced discrimination.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, praised Harkin for his selection of witnesses. Almeida said he worked with Senate staff to identify and vet witnesses for the hearing.

“Senator Tom Harkin and his staff have done an excellent job assembling an impressive and diverse panel of witnesses who will clearly outline the ongoing problem of workplace harassment and discrimination against LGBT Americans and explain how ENDA will give all Americans the freedom to work without fear of unfair treatment on the job,” Almeida said.

Almeida had harsh words for Parshall, who will likely reiterate his opposition to ENDA during the hearing, as has done in the past.

“The Republicans are phoning-in their opposition to ENDA by calling the exact same witness that already testified at the fall 2009 House and Senate hearings on ENDA,” Almeida said. “It shows that Republicans can’t find anyone willing to testify under oath in opposition to ENDA, which is supported by super-majorities of the American public. I predict Republican witness Craig Parshal is going to recycle his poorly written testimony for a third time, possibly only changing the date at the top of what he wrote three years ago.”

Almeida predicted that Parshall would criticize the religious exemption in ENDA, saying any  such criticism would “undercut the votes” of House Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who while in minority in 2007 all voted for the religious exemption as an amendment on the floor.

While Almeida served as counsel in the House of Representatives, he and another House attorney drafted the current religious exemption, which was affirmed by a vote of 402-25 in a vote that occurred on the floor of the House in November 2007 in an amendment offered by then House Education & Labor Committee Chair George Miller (D-Calif.).

According to Almeida, Republicans had the opportunity to select two witnesses for the hearing, but only one was chosen because another person who would testify against ENDA couldn’t be found. The minority spokesperson for the Senate HELP Committee didn’t respond to a request to comment on the assertion.

In addition to the hearing, LGBT advocates have been calling on the committee to markup the legislation to send it to the Senate floor. All 12 Democrats on the panel — in addition to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) — are co-sponors of the bill, so it should have no problem getting out of committee.

It’s possible the idea of an executive order requiring federal contractors to have non-discrimination policies for LGBT workers could come up at hearing. In April, the White House announced it wouldn’t issue such an executive order at this time, but LGBT advocates have been pressuring the administration to reconsider the decision.

Badgett, one of the scheduled witnesses, has written an op-ed piece for The New York Times calling on Obama to issue the executive order. The Williams Institute is among the organizations that have continued to consult with the administration after the decision was announced against issuing the executive order.

Commentary on the executive order could also come from Charles because of the company he represents. A federal contractor that won nearly $200 million in federal money in the last fiscal year, General Mills has non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation.

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The White House

Press secretary addresses ‘gut-wrenching’ death of Nex Benedict from the briefing room

‘Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported in school’

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre delivers a briefing on Feb. 23 2024 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began Friday’s press briefing by expressing how “absolutely heartbroken” she was to learn about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported in school,” she said. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, friends, entire school community in the wake of this horrific and gut wrenching tragedy.”

Jean-Pierre added, “I know that for many LGBTQ+ students across the country this may feel personal and deeply, deeply painful. There’s always someone you can talk to if you’re going through a hard time and need support.”

“The president and his administration launched the 988 line to help, and we have a line dedicated to serving LGBTQ+ young people that can be reached by dialing 933 and pressing 3,” she said. “Through devastating tragedies like these we must support each other and lift one another up.”

Authorities are still investigating the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death on Feb. 8, which allegedly came the day after they were attacked in a restroom at Owasso High School, which followed months of bullying from peers.

This week, political leaders including Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Jean-Pierre issued statements on X, formerly Twitter.

In recent years the state of Oklahoma has become a hotbed of anti-LGBTQ legislation, including an anti-trans bathroom bill signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2022.

Many LGBTQ advocates responded to news of Benedict’s death by calling out the escalation of hostile policies and rhetoric targeting transgender and gender-diverse communities, which advocates have warned can carry deadly consequences.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson has urged federal investigators at the Justice and Education Department to get involved in the case.

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Oklahoma

White House, national groups respond to nonbinary Okla. teenager’s death

Nex Benedict died after reported assault

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Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8 after a fight at their high school. (Family photo)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and national advocacy groups issued statements on Wednesday about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict after they were allegedly assaulted in a high school restroom.

Benedict died on Feb. 8. According to ABC News, officials investigating the incident said they will be interviewing students and staff “over the next few weeks” and plan to share findings with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.

The victim’s mother told the Independent that Benedict had suffered bullying over their gender since the start of the 2023 school year, shortly after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill to prohibit students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school,” Jean-Pierre said in a post on X. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, their friends, and their entire school community in the wake of this horrific tragedy.”

Calling Benedict’s death a “gut-wrenching tragedy that exposes the chilling reality of anti-trans hatred,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said. “We are reaching out to the DOJ, we are encouraging the community to speak out.”

Along with Robinson’s remarks, HRC’s Press Team included a link to the organization’s blog post about Benedict and a statement from Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the HRC Transgender Justice Initiative:

“Extremist anti-LGBTQ+ hate accounts, like online troll Chaya Raichik, the woman behind ‘Libs of TikTok’, who was recently appointed to Oklahoma’s library advisory board, are perpetuating a vile and hateful narrative that is permitting these types of public attacks,” she wrote.

State schools superintendent Ryan Walters, who last year called transgender youth using public restrooms “an assault on truth” and a danger to other kids, was responsible for naming Raichik to the library media panel.

“The assault on Nex is an inevitable result of the hateful rhetoric and discriminatory legislation targeting Oklahoma trans youth,” Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma wrote in a joint statement.

“We are deeply troubled by reports the school failed to respond appropriately to the altercation that preceded Nex’s death and demand a thorough, open investigation into the matter,” the groups wrote.

Their statement also notes the organizations’ lawsuit challenging Oklahoma Senate Bill 615, the bathroom bill signed by Stitt last year.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Alito renews criticism of the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality ruling

Obergefell decision allowed same-sex couples to marry around the country

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito speaks at a conference in D.C. in December 2023 (YouTube screenshot)

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Tuesday renewed his criticism of the landmark 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that established the nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

His remarks came in a 5-page order that was written in connection with the High Court’s decision not to hear Missouri Department of Corrections v. Jean Finney — a dispute over whether a juror’s position that “homosexuality, according to the Bible, is a sin” can be the basis for striking him from an employment discrimination case that was brought by a lesbian.

The conflict, Alito argued, “exemplifies the danger” he foresaw in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, which was decided by a 5-4 majority with Alito among the justices who dissented.

Specifically, Alito raised concern in his statement that “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.'”

“The opinion of the court in [Obergefell] made it clear that the decision should not be used in that way,” the justice wrote, “but I am afraid that this admonition is not being heeded by our society.”

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