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Newly elected out House members talk LGBT issues

Takano wants Obama to revisit ENDA executive order

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The new LGB members of the House. From upper left clockwise: Kyrsten Sinema (photo courtesy Sinema), Mark Takano (photo courtesy Takano), Sean Patrick Maloney (Blade file photo by Michael Key) and Mark Pocan (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The Nov. 6 election resulted in four new lesbian, gay and bisexual candidates winning seats in the House of Representatives and all eyes are now on them to see what they’ll do on LGBT issues upon taking office.

A number of new faces will join the LGBT representation in Congress: Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who’ll be the first openly bisexual member of Congress; Sean Patrick Maloney, who’ll be the first out congressman from New York; Mark Takano of California, who’ll be the first openly gay Asian-American in Congress; and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, who’ll take lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s seat in the U.S. House.

Upon taking their seats, a total of seven LGB members will serve in Congress. The four new members will join Baldwin, who’s moving from the House to the Senate, as well as Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who last week told the Washington Blade he plans on taking the lead on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the next Congress.

While participating in training and orientation programs on Capitol Hill, each of the four of the new congresspersons-elect communicated with the Blade about initial plans they have for LGBT issues after being sworn in on Jan. 3 — despite the difficulty of moving any legislation forward in the Republican-controlled House.

Takano said he’s vying for a position of the Committee on Education and the Workforce because the panel has jurisdiction over ENDA and anti-bullying legislation for LGBT students.

“I know ENDA is reintroduced almost every session, and those are two parts of an equality agenda that I’d like to be able to work on,” Takano said. “I’m mindful that we have a Republican majority in the House … I want to spend time building relations with Republicans who might want to join in some aspects of an equality agenda.”

A public school teacher for 23 years specializing in British literature and member of Riverside Community College District’s Board of Trustees, Takano may have the experience that would land him a seat on the committee.

Takano also said he wants President Obama to revisit the idea of an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers, which the White House said in April Obama wouldn’t issue at this time.

“President Truman was right to stand on the right side of history when he used his executive powers to integrate the armed forces,” Takano said. “So will President Obama be when he uses his executive authority to bar discrimination in federal contracting against LGBT workers.”

Takano joins Maloney in saying the White House should rethink its position on the issue. The congressman-elect from New York told the Blade over the course of his campaign that he still wants Obama to issue the directive. Pocan said last year — before the White House said “no” — he backs the idea of an executive order.

For his part, Pocan said he’s more focused on getting his office and staff set up as he prepares to take his seat, but said he spoke with Polis about a possible new direction for the LGBT Equality Caucus — a group of House members committed to the advancement of LGBT issues.

“I did sit down with Jared Polis, and we had a good discussion about having the LGBT [Equality] Caucus pool some money and perhaps hire a staffer like some of the other caucuses do,” Pocan said. “That way we could hopefully be even more proactive on issues like ENDA, student non-discrimimation and some of the other bills that are out there.”

Maloney, a staffer in the Clinton White House, was more general when talking about initial plans on LGBT issues after taking his seat, saying his goal is to work toward full equality for the LGBT community.

“I want to continue the work I’ve done for 20 years to secure full equality under federal law,” Maloney said. “I think the most important thing is to work with my colleagues in the House to pass legislation across party lines, and keep focused on a goal, which is full equality under federal law.”

Asked if he could name any bills or initiatives he wants to spearhead, Maloney replied, “I don’t see it as my job to put myself in front of others who have already been working on these issues. It’s my job to support and work cooperatively with folks who’ve been in the fight for years.”

None of the new LGB members of the House were able to identify pieces of legislation for which they want to be chief sponsor or other initiatives they want to spearhead, saying it’s too soon in the process to know where responsibilities will be allocated.

Pocan noted the issues affecting the LGBT community are known and what remains to be decided is the best way to approach them over the course of the next few years.

“Clearly, we know some of the issues that are out there — whether it be ENDA, whether it be tax fairness, whether it be benefits for federal employees, other non-discrimination laws,” Pocan said. “I think it’s just a matter of now figuring out — having seven of us total — how can we best move those forward either through legislation and working with the president to issue orders.”

Sinema issued a statement to the Blade saying she’s “thrilled” the next Congress will be the most inclusive ever and she’s proud to be a part of it. On her to-do list is finding ways to work across the aisle on LGBT issues.

“The first thing I plan to do is what I did while serving in Arizona’s legislature — and that was to seek out members that I often disagreed with on important issues,” Sinema said. “It was through our authentic relationships and mutual respect that we found common ground on legislation that helped people. The challenge for Congress is to move past the harsh partisanship that we saw in the last term. This is a critical step in advancing policies that will strengthen and protect LGBT families.”

NOTE: This story has been updated to include a statement from Kyrsten Sinema.

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ACLU and Justice Department to jointly challenge anti-Trans laws

Recently passed anti-transgender laws in West Virginia and Arkansas violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

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U.S. Department of Justice, Robert F. Kennedy Building (Photo Credit: GSA U.S. Government)

WASHINGTON – In court documents filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia and in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, the U.S. Department of Justice, in Statement of Interest filings, joined the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU), arguing that recently passed anti-transgender laws in West Virginia and Arkansas violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The suits filed by the ACLU challenges an Arkansas law that bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth and a West Virginia law banning transgender youth from participating in school sports.

Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice with the American Civil Liberties Union LGBTQ & HIV Project, issued the following statement responding to the Department of Justice submitting a statement of interest in two federal courts supporting transgender youth;

“Today’s filings from the Department of Justice send a powerful message that discrimination against transgender youth is not just wrong, it is also plainly unconstitutional. These filings from the Department of Justice confirm what we have been telling legislatures all year: Banning trans youth from sports and denying trans youth health care violates the Constitution and federal law. We hope that state legislatures finally get the message.” 

Law and Crime reported that in the West Virginia case filing, the Justice Dept. argued that House Bill 3293, which bans transgender athletes at public schools from competing in female sports at the middle school, high school, and collegiate level, violates both the Equal Protection Clause and  Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed by the parents of transgender girl who said their daughter was unlawfully prohibited from trying out for the school’s cross-country track team because of the measure.

In Arkansas, the Justice Dept. backed an ACLU-filed lawsuit challenging a state law (Act 626) which bans gender-affirming health care for transgender youths. The DOJ also claims that state ban violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Law & Crime reported.

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Immigrant rights groups demand ICE release transgender, HIV-positive detainees

Letter notes Roxsana Hernández case

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The Adams County Correctional Center in Natchez, Miss., is a privately-run facility that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses to house some of its detainees. Eight immigrant rights groups have demanded ICE release all transgender people and people with HIV in their custody. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Eight immigrant advocacy groups this week demanded the release of all transgender and HIV-positive people who are in immigrant detention facilities.

Immigration Equality, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Transgender Law Center, the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, the Center for Victims of Torture, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Mijente and the National Immigrant Justice Center made the request in a letter they sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tae Johnson on June 16.

“As you know, transgender and HIV-positive people are severely suffering in U.S. immigration detention facilities,” reads the letter. “Those who do not perish from mortally deficient medical negligence are regularly mistreated, isolated and sexually assaulted.”

The letter notes DHS “for years” has “attempted to create conditions of confinement that are safe for these historically disenfranchised minorities.”

“This has been a fool’s errand,” it says. “Under both Democrat and Republican leadership, DHS has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars attempting to overcome a simple and inevitable truth: It is not possible for the U.S. government to house transgender and HIV-positive asylum seekers safely. Every progressive policy, every well-meaning protocol and every specialized facility has utterly failed. This has to stop. It is in your exclusive power to put an end to this ongoing human rights atrocity.”

“What makes this situation even more intolerable, is that the vast majority of the transgender and HIV-positive people suffering in immigration detention fled to the U.S. to escape persecution and torture,” adds the letter. “To these asylum seekers, the U.S. is more than a symbol of liberty. It is one of the few places in the world where they may hope to build a safer future. And yet, by detaining trans and HIV-positive people in such inhumane and unsafe conditions, the U.S. government is subjecting them to some of the same kinds of mistreatment they sought to escape.”

The groups in their letter demand ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection “to immediately release all transgender and HIV-positive people in their custody” and “review its system for identifying transgender and HIV-positive individuals, and work with stakeholders to ensure that it is effective and safe.” The groups also seek the creation of a policy “that deems all transgender and HIV-positive individuals non-detainable.”

The letter notes the case of Roxsana Hernández, a trans asylum seeker from Honduras with HIV who died in a New Mexico hospital on May 25, 2018, while she was in ICE custody.

Hernández’s family in a lawsuit it has filed against the federal government and five private companies who were responsible for Hernández’s care allege she did not have adequate access to medical care and other basic needs from the time she asked for asylum at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego on May 9, 2018, to her arrival at the Cibola County Correctional Center, a privately-run facility in Milan, N.M., a week later.

ICE in 2017 opened a unit for trans women at the Cibola County Correctional Center. It closed last year.

A picture of Roxsana Hernández, a transgender Honduran woman with HIV who died in ICE custody in 2018, hangs on a wall inside the offices of Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa, an LGBTQ advocacy group in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The letter also notes the case of Johana “Joa” Medina León, a trans woman with HIV from El Salvador who asked for asylum in the U.S. in 2019 after she suffered persecution in her home country because of her gender identity.

Medina was in ICE custody at the privately-run Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, N.M., until her transfer to a hospital in nearby El Paso, Texas, on May 28, 2019. ICE on the same day released Medina from their custody.

Medina died three days later.

“She became worse, worse, worse,” Medina’s mother, Patricia Medina de Barrientos, told the Washington Blade in an exclusive interview in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador that took place a few weeks after Medina’s death. “She asked for help because she was a nurse, but they refused. She was denied help. There was no medical attention.”

Johana “Joa” Medina León, a transgender woman with HIV from El Salvador, died on June 1, 2019, at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, three days after ICE released her from their custody. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Medina de Barrientos)

The letter also includes testimonials from dozens of other trans and/or HIV-positive people who say they suffered physical abuse and survived sexual assault while in ICE custody. They also allege they did not receive adequate health care — including access to hormones and antiretroviral drugs — while in detention.

“Throwing LGBTQ and HIV-positive asylum seekers into prison is cruel, expensive and dangerous. For transgender and HIV-positive people, it can even be deadly,” said Immigration Equality Policy Director Bridget Crawford in a statement. “In response to years of consistently documented abuses against the community, the government has implemented ineffective half-measures that have utterly failed. That is why we have demanded that DHS release all transgender and HIV-positive people immediately. No one should ever be locked into prison because they fled persecution based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status. Doing so during a pandemic is a human rights atrocity.”

Immigration Equality is among the groups that have previously demanded ICE release all trans people who are in their custody. Advocacy organizations have also called for the release of people with HIV in ICE custody, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

DHS, which oversees ICE, has not responded to the Blade’s request for comment on the June 16 letter.

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Anti-LGBTQ Colorado baker loses Trans birthday cake court case

Phillips violated Colorado’s ant-discrimination law citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression

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Jack Phillips (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

DENVER – A Colorado State District Court Judge ruled against the baker who had previously refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and won at the U.S. Supreme Court a partial narrow victory in that case in 2018.

CBSN Denver reported that Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones order that Jack Phillips violated Colorado’s anti discrimination law Tuesday citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression.

In court documents, Jones said that Phillips refusal to make the plantiff, Autumn Scardina a cake made with blue icing on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate her gender transition on her birthday because of her transgender status but without a written message, was in violation of the law. Phillips was ordered to pay a $500 fine.

Jones noted in his ruling that Phillips testified during a trial in March that ‘he did not think someone could change their gender’ and he would not celebrate “somebody who thinks that they can.”

“The anti-discrimination laws are intended to ensure that members of our society who have historically been treated unfairly, who have been deprived of even the every-day right to access businesses to buy products, are no longer treated as ‘others,‘” the judge wrote.

The Scottsdale, Arizona based Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal group that has been place on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch List for spreading propaganda and lies about LGBTQ people, told CBSN that the group would appeal Jones’ ruling.

“Radical activists and government officials are targeting artists like Jack because they won’t promote messages on marriage and sexuality that violate their core convictions,” ADF’s general counsel, Kristen Waggoner, said in a media statement.

The maximum fine for each violation of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act is $500. But it was not clear from the ruling if the fine was for the two attempts that Scardina made to order the cake or just one.

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