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Fired gay employee sues Library of Congress

Lawsuit says boss cited anti-gay biblical passages before terminating staffer

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Peter TerVeer, gay news, gay politics dc

Peter TerVeer (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A gay man has charged in a lawsuit filed on Friday that he was fired in April from his job at the Library of Congress after being harassed and humiliated for more than a year by a supervisor who repeatedly quoted biblical passages condemning homosexuality.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, charges that management analyst Peter TerVeer, 30, suffered employment discrimination based on his gender, gender stereotyping and his religious beliefs in violation of Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The lawsuit charges that his supervisor John Mech and library official Nicholas Christopher, Mech’s immediate supervisor, further violated Title VII by retaliating against TerVeer when he attempted to challenge their actions in an internal library complaint.

“Mech imposed his sex stereotypes and fundamentalist religious beliefs on homosexuality upon the plaintiff, resulting in a hostile working environment,” the lawsuit alleges.

In addition, the suit charges the library with violating TerVeer’s Fifth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection; violating an internal Library of Congress policy banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and religious beliefs; and violating the Library of Congress Act, a federal law that calls for the library to consider decisions related to employees “solely” on an employee’s “fitness” for his or her job duties.

Library of Congress spokesperson Gale Osterberg said the library has no immediate comment on the lawsuit. She said the library’s official response would come in the form of a legal brief filed in court that addresses each of the allegations made in the lawsuit. Under court rules, the Library of Congress has 60 days to file its response from the time TerVeer’s attorneys serve the library with an official copy of the lawsuit.

In April, when TerVeer and his attorney disclosed that TerVeer had filed a complaint against Mech and other officials with the library’s Equal Employment Opportunity office, which adjudicates employment discrimination cases, Osterberg said TerVeer’s case was a personnel matter and the library never comments on personnel matters pertaining to an individual employee.

She told the Blade at that time that under library rules, neither Mach, an accountant and lead auditor for the library’s Office of the Inspector General, where TerVeer worked, nor any other library employee familiar with TerVeer’s case, would be permitted to comment on the case.

When asked about a Library of Congress internal policy adopted in the 1990s that bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, Osterberg said only that, “We adhere to Title VII, period.”

She was referring to the provision in the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, sex, and other criteria but not on sexual orientation.

Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU’s Washington, D.C. office, said TerVeer’s lawsuit’s claim that Mech and other Library of Congress officials violated Title VII by discriminating against TerVeer based on his sex and religious beliefs could make him eligible for relief under Title VII.

Spitzer noted that a U.S. District Court judge in D.C. ruled in 2008 that the Library of Congress illegally discriminated against a transgender woman on grounds of sex discrimination. Spitzer’s ACLU office represented the transgender woman, Diane Schroer, in the case along with the ACLU’s LGBT Rights Project.

The ACLU called the judge’s action “a groundbreaking decision that found that discriminating against someone for changing genders is sex discrimination under federal law.”

Spitzer said TerVeer’s case could potentially result in expanding the scope of Title VII, the federal civil rights statute, to cover gay people if the court issues a favorable decision on TerVeer’s lawsuit.

But Spitzer noted that unless the case is appealed by the library and an appeals court upholds the lower court decision, the favorable ruling would only apply to TerVeer.

Schroer was a retired and highly decorated Army colonel assigned to the Army Airborne Rangers before she applied for a Library of Congress job as a terrorism research analyst. The library hired her before reversing its decision and turning her down for the job when it learned she was transitioning from a man to a woman.

In its ruling against the library, the court ordered the library to pay Schroer nearly $500,000 in compensation for the discrimination it found the library to have committed. Schroer chose not to take the job there.

TerVeer is being represented for his lawsuit by attorneys Christopher Brown and Glen Ackerman of Ackerman Brown, PLLC; and Thomas Simeone of Simeone & Miller. (Ackerman Brown, PLLC also represents the Washington Blade in legal matters.)

The lawsuit says that when TerVeer began his job in February 2008 as a management auditor in the auditing division of the Library of Congress Office of the Inspector General, his work was well received and he soon received promotions.

The lawsuit says Mech and TerVeer had a cordial, professional relationship until Mach discovered TerVeer was gay in August 2009.

“Mech facilitated an introduction to his single daughter, Katie Mech, and the two became ‘friends’ on the social networking website Facebook in January 2009,” the lawsuit says.

It says that in August 2009 TerVeer missed noticing that Facebook changed its privacy settings, enabling Facebook friends to see certain postings on his site that previously could not be seen by people other than those he allowed to see them. One of the postings was a page linked to a group that supports gay fathers and advocates for ending discrimination against gay parents.

When Katie Mech apparently saw the “gay” link on TerVeer’s Facebook page she wrote him a message saying, “Don’t tell me you’re weird like that,” the lawsuit says. It says TerVeer responded offline by confirming that he was gay but noting that he was not “weird,” the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, from that time going forward John Mach dramatically changed his attitude toward TerVeer in a negative way, leading TerVeer to believe Katie Mach told her father he was gay.

“Now, at the beginning of almost every work-related conversation, Mech would engage in a religious lecture to the point where it became clear that Mech was targeting TerVeer by imposing his conservative Catholic beliefs on TerVeer throughout the workday,” the lawsuit says. “TerVeer proclaims a Christian faith, but one that is accepting of his sexual orientation,” says the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says that on June 21, 2010 Mech called TerVeer into an unscheduled meeting and delivered a stern lecture to “educate” TerVeer on “hell” and the sin of homosexuality.

Mech began reciting Bible verses to TerVeer, the lawsuit says, telling him, “I hope you repent because the Bible is very clear about what God does to homosexuals.” The lawsuit says Mech went on to quote the biblical passage of Leviticus that says, “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman…they must be put to death.”

TerVeer charges in the lawsuit that Mech, with help from Mech’s supervisor, Nicholas Christopher, “continued to manufacture a negative paper trail” to downgrade TerVeer’s work performance ratings. The lawsuit says this was an effort to justify Mech’s alleged goal of orchestrating TerVeer’s termination from his job.

“TerVeer was subjected to a hostile work environment and continued harassment from Mech based upon religious affiliation, sex stereotyping, and sexual orientation,” the lawsuit says. Christopher, Mech, and other supervisors failed to inform TerVeer of his right to file a discrimination claim and retaliated against TerVeer because he sought to and ultimately did file a discrimination claim, the suit says.

“The work environment became too hostile for TerVeer to continue working under Mech or Christopher’s supervision, and his requests for transfer were denied,” the lawsuit says. “TerVeer was constructively terminated on April 6, 2012 because he was unable to return to a workplace where he had to confront constant discriminatory treatment from Mech and Christopher.”

The suit calls for injunctive relief, including reinstatement and an “order restraining defendant from engaging in further discriminatory conduct…”

It calls for back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, including for emotional distress, and reimbursement for attorneys’ fees and other court related costs. The suit doesn’t seek a specific dollar amount for damages and compensation and other costs, saying the amounts would be determined at trial.

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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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National

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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