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Polis pledges to take the lead on ENDA

Gay Colo. lawmaker mulls bid for Democratic caucus vice chair



Rep. Jared Polis has pledged to become the lead sponsor of ENDA in the next Congress (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A Colorado congressman who’s set to become the most senior openly gay member of the U.S. House is pledging to take the lead on perhaps the most high-profile piece of pro-LGBT legislation: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said during a Washington Blade interview on Tuesday that he intends to become the chief sponsor of ENDA following the retirement of gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who’s championed the bill since 2007.

“I plan on introducing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the next session,” Polis said. “Across our country, gays and lesbians face discrimination in the workplace and lose their jobs and their livelihood. It’s wrong and it’s got to end. People shouldn’t be fired in this country just because of who they date in their private life.”

In addition to taking the lead on ENDA, Polis said he’ll remain the chief sponsor of another pro-LGBT measure called the Student Non-Discrimination Act — legislation based on Title IX that would prohibit the bullying and discrimination of LGBT students in school.

Polis said he still wants to see President Obama issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to institute LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies. The White House said Obama wouldn’t issue the directive at this time in April, but it’s unclear where that stands in the wake of Election Day.

“I, of course, believe that the White House should move forward with preventing discrimination toward contractors,” Polis said. “That’s always been my position.”

Polis became the first public official to go on record in support of the executive order when he told the Blade during an interview in March 2011 that he’s behind the idea.

And Polis has other goals. He’s weighing a run for a seat in the House Democratic leadership as vice chair of the Democratic caucus — and his win would be another milestone because no member of the LGBT community has ever been elected to House leadership.

“I’m still looking at doing that,” Polis said. “I think it would be great to have more diversity in our caucus leadership. There’s never been a member of the LGBT community in caucus leadership.”

But Polis said he isn’t certain if he’ll make the bid and is waiting to see what positions other House Democrats are seeking. One lingering question is whether House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will continue her role as head of the caucus.

“A lot of members of the caucus are waiting to see who’s returning and who’s running for the different positions, so until that’s known, there’s no definitive candidacy, but I certainly have been talking to a lot of members about it and I’ve got a lot of encouragement from them,” Polis said.

House Democrats are set to vote on caucus leaders on Nov. 29. The vice chair ranks just below the House Democratic caucus chair. In addition to other duties, the vice chair has a seat on the Steering & Policy Committee, which assigns committee membership to Democrats and advises them on policy decisions.

The current vice chair of the House Democratic caucus is Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), but he’s expected to leave that role to pursue the position as caucus chair. Polis may have competition if he launches a bid to replace him. Other names that have been mentioned as possibilities as vice chair are Reps. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

But as far as movement on pro-LGBT bills, Polis was pessimistic — either during the lame duck session or next year at the start of the 113th Congress — as long as Republicans remain in control of the House. Polis said the votes may actually be present in the Republican-controlled House to pass LGBT bills, but the problem is Republican leadership prevents the measures from coming to the floor.

“We have bipartisan support whether it’s ending workplace discrimination or my Student Non-Discrimination Act or housing non-discrimination,” Polis said. “Those would be very close votes if they were put to the House as a whole, but Republican leadership has refused to allow those bills to even advance to the floor.”

One possible way to skirt House leadership would be to move pro-LGBT bills to the floor via a discharge petition. If a majority of House members sign a discharge petition for any particular bill, it would go to the floor regardless of the desire of House leadership. Polis acknowledged that route as a possibility, but was skeptical about its chances.

“We can certainly file one,” Polis said. “Certainly in my time in Congress and long before it, there has never been a successful discharge petition … There certainly hasn’t been one in my time, or in the immediate past before my time.”

That last successful discharge petition was more than 10 years ago for the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which later became known as McCain-Feingold, in 2001.

But the situation in the Democratic-controlled Senate is a different story. As in the 111th Congress, which saw a Senate committee vote on the Respect for Marriage Act and a hearing on ENDA, Polis said some progress could be made on pro-LGBT bills in that chamber — and possibly a successful floor vote on some bills.

“You’d have to ask a senator about that, but I think they could forge a majority of senators to move forward on passing the bill out of the Senate,” Polis said. “That doesn’t mean that [House Speaker John] Boehner or [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor would take it up in the House, but at least we’d have it on record as passing the Senate.”

Despite the divided government, one initiative that may see progress in the 113th Congress is comprehensive immigration reform. House Speaker John Boehner has signaled he may be willing to work on this legislation in the wake of Republican losses and the party’s poor showing among Latino voters on Election Day.

LGBT advocates are interested in comprehensive immigration reform and are seeking a provision enabling gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners seeking residency in the United States. Standalone legislation that would address this issue is known as the Uniting American Families Act.

But Polis, who’s also been a leading advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, said he’s unsure at this time what provisions could be made part of the bill and whether the legislation would include the pro-gay language sought by LGBT immigration advocates.

“At this point, besides a few words of encouragement from Speaker Boehner, I really don’t know what an immigration package would look like,” Polis said. “I’ve long been active on this issue and would love to see comprehensive immigration reform, but we need to see what the Republicans are willing to agree to and we haven’t even seen the starting point for that discussion even.”

CORRECTION: An initial version of this article said Joe Donnelly was in contention as House Democratic vice chair. The Blade regrets the error.

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  1. Guest

    November 14, 2012 at 11:29 am

    “Other names that have been mentioned as possibilities as vice chair are Reps. Joe Donnelly (D-N.Y.)…”
    Um, what? Joe Donnelly is not from New York, nor will he be a member of the House next year.

  2. Robyn Carolyn Montague

    November 14, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Quite hoping Rep Polis intends to include Trans People in his rendition of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act as he intends to introduce it next session, his words here excluding Trans-identified people. Many feel that the EEOC ruling th.
    is year that enumerates Trans-identified people as protected class (under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as sex discrimination) do not understand that each instance of said discrimination is burden of proof on the individual, and not the employer. The Trans Community needs ENDA to codify the EEOC ruling.

    Mr Polis: Please do not take the "bathroom path of Barney." We are people, and don't need a panty check on how we have to pee. Include us, or lose us.

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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.”



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.”



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



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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