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Tenn. activists rally for ENDA executive order

Sanders faults nat’l groups for not providing strategy

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Barbara Stover (left), Darren Crawford (center) and Janet Moore protest for employment protections in Cookevile, Tenn. (photo by R.G. Cravens)

Faced with living in a state with no non-discrimination law protecting them, LGBT activists demonstrated in three Tennessee cities on Sunday to call on President Obama to issue an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in job bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Chris Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project, said he organized the demonstration as part of 24 Tennessee groups because of a law signed last year by Gov. Bill Haslem (R) prohibiting cities from passing LGBT non-discrimination ordinances. That measure rescinded a contractor non-discrimination ordinance that passed a couple months earlier in Nashville.

“We had experienced in 2011 Nashville passing a contractor non-discrimination ordinance only to have the state nullify it,” Sanders said. “So, we have no option but this executive order and ENDA ahead of us in Tennessee. We have no hope for getting state employment protections at the state level when now we can’t even pass them in our city.”

The Obama administration has thus far withheld issuing an executive order along these lines. Just last week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama prefers legislation known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because that measure would “provide lasting and comprehensive protections for LGBT people across the country regardless of whether they happen to work for a government contractor.”

A White House spokesperson declined to comment over the weekend about the Tennessee demonstration.

Protestors demonstrated at the three places in Tennessee: in front of the federal building in Memphis; in front of the Putnam County Courthouse in Cookeville and the War Memorial Plaza in Nashville. Sanders estimated that a total of 115 people showed up for the rallies: 30 in Memphis; 15 in Cookeville and 70 in Nashville.

The Tennessee Equality Project has also launched an online petition at the White House website calling on Obama to issue the executive order. As of Sunday evening, the petition had 4,700 signatures. If a total of 25,000 people sign the petition by Wednesday, the White House will issue an official response.

“If this item is signaled as a priority in our movement, which is what we’ve been reading, then we as our community ought to be showing that it’s important to us,” Sanders added. “That’s why did these rallies, that’s why we started the petition.”

Sanders didn’t limit his protest to the White House, but faulted national groups and bloggers for not providing a strategy to build grassroots support for the executive order, saying local activists “haven’t really been given marching orders of what we’re all supposed to be doing to get it done.”

“I would think that either the national bloggers or the national organizations that serve our community would have put together some public strategy for building support for it,” Sanders said. “I know they’re lobbying to get things going along, and we think that’s absolutely critical. We do that at the state and local level and we know the value of that, but you also have to build public support, and we haven’t seen a lot of that.”

Sanders declined to identify which national groups and bloggers weren’t doing enough on the executive order, but said he sent out the news release and didn’t find much interest.

“We’re just hoping that other states begin movement because we’re not getting a clear signal at the national level of what we’re supposed to be doing,” Sanders said. “Again, I thought the signal was clear that it’s a priority, but we’re supposed to do, that’s been ambiguous, so we just took matters into our own hands here.”

Tico Almeida, president of the national LGBT group Freedom to Work, said he agrees “it’s important to build public support for the executive order in addition to traditional lobbying” and said he undertook efforts to collaborate with the Tennessee activists and alert media about the demonstration.

“We were very glad to receive an email this weekend with a press release about the Tennessee rallies for the executive order, and we wrote back to Chris Sanders to offer our help getting the word out,” Almeida said. “We then forwarded the press release to the Washington Blade so that the Tennessee efforts could get news coverage. We are very eager to collaborate with any state or local LGBT organizations interested in pushing for the executive order and for ENDA the statute.”

The Human Rights Campaign, another national LGBT group calling for the executive order, didn’t respond to a request to comment on Sanders’ remarks.

Gray Alexander addresses the rally for employment non-discrmination protections in Nashville (photo courtesy Chris Sanders)

In addition to having a law prohibiting cities from passing non-discrimination ordinances, Tennessee has no state law on the books protecting LGBT people against job bias in the workforce. LGBT people in the state would need either federal action for protection, such as the executive order or passage of ENDA.

Among those demonstrating was Gray Alexander, who’s 15 and co-president of the gay-straight alliance at Martin Luther King, Jr., Magnet High School in Nashville.

Alexander, who identifies as pansexual, said he participated in the protest because he says the executive order is “the only way for us to get equality in the workplace.”

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “It’s an important thing that needs to happen for all our states. There’s no need discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in the workplace anywhere in the U.S., or anywhere in the world.”

Alexander said he hasn’t personally been the victim of discrimination in employment, but says harassment of LGBT students in commonplace within his school.

“My school is a much more progressive school than other schools in the state, but there’s obvious discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Alexander said. “It’s not as confrontational as a lot of other places. A lot of it is just calling someone ‘gay’ or ‘faggot’ behind their back, or pointing at them as they walk by.”

Kal Dwight, who’s 21 and a transgender Memphis resident, said he demonstrated because as a volunteer at the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center he’s seen employment discrimination against transgender woman.

“They definitely have a really hard time getting a job anywhere,” Dwight said. “Anytime we can get them more protections is good — especially here in the African-American community.”

Despite the stated reluctance on behalf of the White House, Dwight was optimistic that Obama would issue an executive order protecting LGBT workers.

“I think he’s going to do it; I just don’t think he’s going to do it right this second,” Dwight said. “I have faith that he’s going to do it.”

A prominent incident of alleged LGBT employment discrimination in Tennessee has occurred in recent years.

Former Belmont University head soccer coach Lisa Howe in 2010 may have been dismissed from her post because she’s a lesbian.

At the time, Howe and her partner were expecting a baby. After the Christian college denied her permission to share this information with her team, Howe resigned. According to an article in The Huffington Post, those familiar with the situation alleged Belmont University told Howe her sexual orientation wasn’t consistent with the school’s values and she’d would have to resign or be fired.

The school ultimately sent out a statement saying her removal was a mutual decision between officials and Howe.

According to a search on USASpending.gov, Belmont University is a federal contractor. However, as a Christian-affiliated school, the college may be still free to discriminate against LGBT workers even under ENDA or an executive order barring workplace discrimination because of the religious exemption.

Alexander recalled that incident and said the loss of Howe’s job was “unacceptable” — particularly because she did exceptional work as the soccer coach for the school.

“They went from losing professionally and to a winning season, and so then she wanted to come out, and she quit for working for them,” Alexander said. “The fact that she had to leave because she was gay, even though she was phenomenal soccer coach is really frustrating. Her track record didn’t make up for that fact that she was gay.”

According to the news release for the protests, a coalition of 24 Tennessee-based groups organized the demonstrations: Austin Peay State University Gay/Straight Alliance, Out & About Newspaper, Tennessee Tech Lambda, Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce, PFLAG Nashville, Greater Nashville Prime Timers, GLSEN Middle TN, Metro Human Relations Commission, Nashville Pride, OutCentral, Just Us at Oasis Center, PFLAG Maryville, Human Rights Campaign Nashville Steering Committee, CHOICES: Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, Vanderbilt Lambda Association, Tennessee Democratic Party, Latino Memphis, First Congregational Church Memphis Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, Shelby County Democratic Party, Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center, Perpetual Transition, Tennessee Friends of People’s World and Tennessee Citizen Action.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. brian

    December 10, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    The Obama administration has thus far withheld issuing an executive order along these lines. Just last week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama prefers legislation known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because that measure would “provide lasting and comprehensive protections for LGBT people across the country regardless of whether they happen to work for a government contractor.”
    **********

    Good for those Tennessee activists! We’re all in their debt.

    By refusing to do what it can easily do through an EO to end federal contractor discrimination, the Obama Administration is really sending a de facto ‘back door’ message to Congress which implies something like this…
    “Despite what I say publicly to you all about ENDA– that’s really for my LGBT supporters’ consumption. I’m not all that worried about LGBT workplace discrimination and ENDA passage.”

    The Prez and Carney just aren’t credible on this.

  2. Dee Ann Miller

    December 11, 2012 at 4:17 am

    Good for Gray Alexander. It takes moral intelligence for a young man this young to be taking such a bold stand! I'm forwarding this to several people I know in the GLBT community here in Lawrence, KS.

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Federal Government

Veterans can now identify as transgender, nonbinary on their VA medical records

About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity

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Graphic via U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Wednesday that his department added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select their gender, in medical records and healthcare documentation.

“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”

The statement also noted that the change allows health-care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.

McDonough speaking at a Pride Month event last June at the Orlando VA Healthcare System, emphasized his support for Trans and LGBQ+ vets.

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

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Florida

Prominent LGBTQ+ activist found dead in Florida landfill

Diaz-Johnston was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz & he led the fight for marriage equality

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Photo courtesy of Don Diaz Johnston

Police in Florida’s capital city confirmed that the body of Jorge Diaz-Johnston, 54, who had been reported missing was found in a Jackson County landfill Saturday morning.

Diaz-Johnston was last seen alive Jan. 3 in Tallahassee, more than an hour from where his body was found, according to a missing person notice released by police. Detectives are investigating his death as a homicide, a police spokesperson said.

Diaz-Johnston, was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz. As an LGBTQ advocate he led the fight for marriage equality, he and his husband were plaintiffs in an historic 2014 lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Miami-Dade County.

ABC News reported at the time that a South Florida circuit court judge sided with Diaz-Johnston and five couples suing the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s Office for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Florida dropped its ban on same-sex marriage in 2015.

His husband wrote in a poignant Facebook post; “There are just no words for the loss of my beloved husband Jorge Isaias Diaz-Johnston. I can’t stop crying as I try and write this. But he meant so much to all of you as he did to me. So I am fighting through the tears to share with you our loss of him.”

“We are heartbroken to learn of the death of Jorge. He and his husband Don were two of the brave plaintiffs who took on Florida’s anti-gay marriage ban and helped win marriage equality for all Floridians,” Equality Florida said adding, “Our deepest condolences to Don and Jorge’s extended family.”

Detectives urge anyone who may have information to call 850-891-4200, or make an anonymous tip to Big Bend Crime Stoppers at 850-574-TIPS.

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National

Bill prohibiting ‘gay panic defense’ clears New Hampshire House

New Hampshire could soon join over a dozen other states which ban the use of ‘gay panic’ as a defense

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New Hampshire State House (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Legislation prohibiting defendants accused of manslaughter from using the victim’s gender, gender identity or sexual orientation as a defense, which had died in committee during the 2021 regular session of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, was reintroduced this session and passed with a 223-118 vote last week.

House Bill 238, stirred up controversary from opponents who claimed that state statues already covered murder and manslaughter. During a Criminal Justice committee hearing last Spring, Rep. Dick Marston, a Manchester Republican, voiced opposition, saying that the laws already cover murder and manslaughter and that “there’s no way in heck that you’re going to be able to say ‘Well because he or she was some deviant sexuality that I’m not–‘”

Marston was cut off by committee chairman Daryl Abbas, a Salem Republican, who gaveled him down and rebuked him for the derogatory language the Concord-Monitor reported

Later, the committee Republicans blocked an effort to move the bill out of committee alleging it needed more work and was not necessary because a jury could already strike down a similar attempted defense. The bill was then stalled in the committee, effectively killing it from being pushed further in last year’s session.

As the measure now heads to the state Senate, New Hampshire could soon join over a dozen other states which ban the use of the ‘gay panic’ as a defense.

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