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Trans advocate testifies before Senate on ENDA

‘I still sit here today with almost tears in my eyes’

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Kylar Broadus, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Senate heard for the first time ever testimony from a transgender witness in a hearing dedicated to highlighting workplace discrimination experienced by LGBT people.

Kylar Broadus, founder of the Columbia, Mo.-based Trans People of Color Coalition, discussed job discrimination he faced as a transgender man before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee on Tuesday as he called for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

In the early 1990s, Broadus worked for a major financial institution, although he didn’t disclose its name during the hearing. After announcing in 1995 he would undergo gender transitioning, Broadus said he was forced out of his role.

“At work, when I decided to actually transition, I had been there for a number of years, and I’m a workaholic, and it was disheartening to me that all this could be pulled out from under me because people weren’t comfortable with the person that I am,” Broadus said.

His written testimony details receiving harassing phone calls, receiving assignments after hours that were due early the next morning and being forbidden from talking to certain people.

“I still sit here today with almost tears in my eyes,” Broadus said. “It’s devastating, it’s demoralizing and dehumanizing to be put in that position.”

Broadus said his treatment at work and being forced out impacted him emotionally, causing him post-traumatic stress disorder, and led to a period of unemployment for about a year from which he still hasn’t financially recovered.

Noting other transgender workers who face discrimination and lose their jobs are unable to regain employment, Broadus called on Congress to pass ENDA to put into place workplace non-discrimination protections.

“I think it’s extremely important that this bill be passed to protect workers like me,” Broadus said. “There are many cases that I hear everyday, and people call me everyday with these cases around the country because I’m also an attorney that practices and deals with people that suffer employment discrimination.”

Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) confirmed during the hearing that Broadus was the first openly transgender person to testify before the Senate and commended him for his courage in speaking before the committee, saying he’s going to “give courage to a lot of other people.”

ENDA, sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) in the House and Jeff Merkley in the Senate (D-Ore.), would bar job bias against LGBT people in most situations in the public and private workforce. Firing someone for being gay is legal is 29 states; firing someone for being transgender is legal in 34 states.

Others who testified in favor of ENDA were M.V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles; Samuel Bagenstos, a law professor at the University of Michigan; and Ken Charles, vice president of diversity and inclusion at the breakfast foods company General Mills.

The Republican witness who testified against ENDA was Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel for the Manassas, Va.-based National Religious Broadcasters Association. Parshall previously testified against ENDA before the Senate in 2009.

Harkin called ENDA “important civil rights legislation” that would build off strides already made against workplace discrimination in the past 45 years.

“Many states and businesses are already leading the way toward ensuring full equality for all our fellow citizens,” Harkin said. “However, the harsh reality is that employers in most states can still fire, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity — and, shockingly, they can do so within the law.”

Merkley expressed the need for passing ENDA, saying without it on the books, LGBT workers would continue to face workplace discrimination.

“Let us not lose sight that each and every day, American citizens are discriminated against in their employment or their potential employment in ways that have a profound impact on their opportunity fully live their lives, to fully contribute, to fully pursue happiness, to be all that they can be, all that they are — which is a benefit to them and a benefit to our nation,” Merkley said. “This discrimination is absolutely wrong. It is morally wrong and we must end it.”

The hearing takes places after the White House announced in April it won’t issue at this time an executive order requiring federal contractors to have their own non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The directive didn’t come up during the hearing.

No Republican committee members attended the hearing. The only GOP co-sponsor who serves on the committee is Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). He’s been recovering from a stroke he suffered in late January. A minority committee spokesperson didn’t immediate respond to a request to comment on why all Republican committee members were absent.

Democrats who attended the hearing in addition to Harkin and Merkley were Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and, briefly, Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

LGBT advocates commended Harkin for bringing more attention to the lack of federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people by holding an ENDA hearing.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said ENDA reflects core American values of “giving everyone a fair shake and allowing them to fully and freely contribute their skills and talents” in the workforce.

“Many people think these protections already exist, but that’s not the case,” Carey said. “There is no clear federal law, and there are no such laws in over half the states. This jeopardizes our ability to have or keep employment, housing and feed our families. ENDA will level the playing field once and for all.”

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-sponsors of the bill, so it should have no problem getting out of committee.

Murray was explicit in calling for a markup of the bill during her committee remarks, saying she wants to see ENDA pass out of committee “expeditiously.” In response, Harkin said, “I hope so.”

Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin (Blade photo by Michael Key)

But speaking with the Washington Blade after the hearing, Harkin was more hesitant about the idea of holding a markup, saying, “I’m going to poll my committee and see. Right now, I’m kind of up to here in getting [Food & Drug Administration] bill through, as you know.   We got it through the Senate; we’ve got to work with the House on that trying to get that put to bed, and then I’m going to poll the committee and see what we want to do.”

Another organization is taking the call to advance ENDA a step further. On the same day of the hearing, Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), calling on him to schedule a floor vote on the legislation.

“[W]e respectfully urge you to bring ENDA to a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate this summer so that LGBT Americans do not have to wait any longer to know which of their Senators support their freedom to work without harassment or discrimination on the job, and which Senators still find it acceptable for Americans to be unjustly fired simply because of whom they love or their gender identity,” Almeida writes.

Reid’s office didn’t respond to a request to comment on the letter. The writing cites the Washington Blade’s questioning of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in January 2011 in which the spokesperson acknowledged that “there’s no doubt that whenever you get something done in one [chamber], you’re closer to certainly seeing it come to fruition.”

Harkin told the Blade he’d like to see a floor vote on ENDA, although he acknowledged he doesn’t control the schedule for the Senate.

“I wish we could have a floor vote, yes,” Harkin said. “I would like to see a floor vote on this because I think it’s something the American people ought to where we stand on this issue. This is not an issue that bothers me. As I said, it’s not difficult for me. It might be difficult for some people; it’s not difficult for me.”

The most significant point of contention during the hearing between supporters of ENDA and Parshall, who alone expressed opposition to the legislation. Section 6 of ENDA, titled “Exemption for religious organizations,” says the bill won’t apply to institutions that are exempt from the religious discrimination provisions of Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Parshall targeted the religious exemption as his reasons for his opposition to the legislation, saying ENDA “would impose a substantial unconstitutional burden on religious organizations” and “interfere with their ability to effectively pursue their missions.”

“It creates huge problems for future courts to iron out which organizations and under what conditions would be exempted, and which ones would not. I think that kind of uncertainty, obviously, raises constitutional problems,” Parshall said.

Bagenstos took Parshall’s objections to ENDA head on during the later question-and-answer portion of the hearing, saying Parshall’s assertions are without merit because the legislation clearly states which religious organizations are exempt from ENDA.

“Like any legal tests, there are sometimes cases at the edges, but employers have over 40 years of case law to enable them to understand what is covered and what is not covered here,” Bagenstos said. “There is no particular reason to believe that under ENDA, there would be any difficulty in understanding what the scope of the application of that exemption would be.”

But social conservatives aren’t the only ones unhappy with ENDA’s religious exemption. The American Civil Liberties Union says the exemption is too broad and should be narrowed to be more similar to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Ian Thompson, the ACLU’s legislative representative, said the current exemption “would provide a license for a religious organization to discriminate” against LGBT people for any reason and not just based on the organization’s religious teachings.

“We believe that the existing Title VII exemption — which allows religious organizations the ability to restrict their hiring based on religion, but not to engage in race, sex, or national origin discrimination, for example, offers sufficient protection to religious organizations,” Thompson said. “As we argue, there is no reason to adopt a different exemption for LGBT discrimination by those organizations.”

Thompson also called for the elimination of Section 8(c) of ENDA, which he said would allow employers in states where same-sex couples can legally marry to treat married gay and lesbian employees as unmarried for purposes of employee benefits.

“As more states continue to move in the direction of extending the freedom to marry to gay and lesbian couples and the ongoing legal challenges to DOMA work their way through the judicial process, Congress should not, in our view, pass legislation that expands the reach of a discriminatory and unconstitutional law,” Thompson said.

The committee didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the proposed changes, but Merkley expressed awareness of the proposed change during the hearing.

No Obama administration official testified at the hearing. A White House official had earlier said the administration wasn’t invited to testify, and committee spokesperson Justine Sessions said the panel had already heard from the administration in testimony from earlier hearings.

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Louisiana lawmakers fail to overturn Edwards veto of Trans sports bill

Edwards further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.”

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Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards (Photo Credit: Official state portrait)

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana lawmakers failed to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) veto last month of a bill that would have barred trans girls and women from participating on athletic teams or in sporting events designated for girls or women at elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools.

The measure, Senate Bill 156 authored by Sen. Beth Mizell titled the ‘the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,’ in the Governor’s eyes, “was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in his veto statement;

“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana. Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue. 

The Republican majority state House chamber failed to override the Governor’s veto after voting 68-30 to override it, according to the state legislature’s website.

The vote narrowly missed the 70-vote threshold needed in the lower chamber to override the veto.

Two-thirds of both the House and Senate must vote to override a governor’s veto, according to the local Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate.

The Governor reacted to the news that his veto withstood Republican efforts to overturn it in a press conference Wednesday.

Edwards noted that in his view he had “rejected a play” that had no place in Louisiana. 

“I would rather the headlines going out from today be that Louisiana did what was right and best. We rejected a play out of a national playbook that just had no place in Louisiana. That bill wasn’t crafted for our state, I mean go read it and look at the arguments that were made. None of that applies here,” Edwards said.

He further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.” 

“We have to be better than that,” Edwards said. “We have to be better than that.” 

 

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Federal court blocks West Virginia Law banning Trans youth sports

“It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”

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Becky Pepper-Jackson (Photo credit: ACLU/Raymond Thompson)


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A judge of the United States District Court, Southern District of West Virginia ruled Wednesday that 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson must be allowed to try out for the girls’ cross-country and track teams at her school, blocking West Virginia from enforcing a law that bans transgender girls and women from participating in school sports. 

The ruling came in the lawsuit challenging the ban filed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of West Virginia, and Cooley LLP.

“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls’ cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” said Becky Pepper-Jackson, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed H.B. 3293 into law at the end of April. It was one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills pushed in state legislatures across the country in 2021. During legislative debate, it was not endorsed by any mainstream sporting or health organizations. A similar law in Idaho was blocked by a federal court in 2020, and a federal court in Connecticut recently dismissed a challenge to policies that allow all girls, including girls who are transgender, to participate on girls’ sports teams. Legal challenges are underway against similar laws passed in other states.

The Supreme Court recently refused to disturb Gavin Grimm’s victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where he prevailed in challenging his school’s anti-transgender discrimination against him. This decision — which is binding precedent in West Virginia federal court — said that federal law protects transgender students from discrimination in schools.

“This is great news for Becky, and while our work is not done yet, today’s ruling jibes with similar rulings in other courts across the country,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow, Lambda Legal. “It is our hope that courts recognize and address discrimination when they see it, and nowhere is it more visible than in these stark attacks against trans youth.”

“Becky — like all students — should have the opportunity to try out for a sports team and play with her peers,” said Josh Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We hope this also sends a message to other states to stop demonizing trans kids to score political points and to let these kids live their lives in peace.” 

“We’ve said all along this cruel legislation would not survive a legal challenge, and we’re encouraged by the court’s decision today,” said ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark. “We hope trans kids throughout West Virginia who felt attacked and wronged by the passage of this legislation are feeling empowered by today’s news.”

“We are extremely gratified — for Becky, and for all trans youth — at the court’s recognition that the law and the facts clearly support treating people who are transgender fairly and equally. Discrimination has no place in schools or anywhere else,” said Kathleen Hartnett of Cooley LLP.

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Conservative groups attack proposed Alabama capital city’s LGBTQ law

Allege law requires Christians to violate their religious beliefs

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Alabama State Capitol, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade
Alabama State Capitol (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama capital’s City Council is being urged to reject a proposed ordinance that would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under the law.  Matthew Clark, the Executive Director of the conservative Alabama Center for Law and Liberty sent a letter on behalf of his group and six allied organizations asking the Council to abandon a vote implementing the ordnance.

According to the letter, the groups allege that the law would require Christians to violate their religious beliefs or face fines under certain circumstances. Prominent among the other signatures is Mathew D. Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group.

The SPLC, which has its headquarters in Montgomery, writes; “The Liberty Counsel has also been active in the battle against same-sex marriage and hate crimes legislation, which it claimed in a 2007 news release to be “’thought crimes’ laws that violate the right to freedom of speech and of conscience” and will “have a chilling effect on people who have moral or religious objections to homosexual behavior.” In that same release, the Liberty Counsel falsely claimed that the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., had nothing to do with homosexuality, but instead was “a bungled robbery.”

In the letter Clark noted; ““As we read the ordinance, churches could be fined if they refuse to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, and they might be fined if they refused to let same-sex couples use their facilities for weddings,” Clark said. “They could also be fined if they declined to hire non-ministerial personnel, such as facility managers or secretaries, whose sexual orientation or gender identity contradicts the tenants of the church’s faith.”

“Christian schools, small business owners, and homeowners are also in the crosshairs. Schools could face liability if they decline to let transgender students use the locker rooms of their choice,” Clark said. “Small business owners like Jack Phillips [referring to Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission] could face liability. And homeowners who list their homes on Airbnb could be fined if they declined to let a same-sex couple engage in sexual activities in their home that violate the tenants of their faith.”

Clark then warned the City Council that if it passes the ordinance, litigation could result and the City would likely lose.

The Montgomery Advertiser reported last month that City Mayor Steven Reed said a council vote in favor of the LGTBQ nondiscrimination ordinance that’s now being drafted in Montgomery would send a message. 

“There are signals that communities can send, and this is an important signal not only to those residents that live here right now but people all over the country that have maybe one idea of Alabama and Montgomery, and we want to show them that there’s a different reality here,” he said. 

Reed and his team have been working with the Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy groups to draft an ordinance that would expand protections for LGBTQ residents in the state’s capital city. The proposed measure, which would specifically target discrimination in government, employment and housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity the Advertiser reported.

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