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Illinois marriage bill author defends non-vote

Harris rebuts critics, says delay puts measure in better position for fall



Greg Harris, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay state Rep. Greg Harris drafted the same-sex marriage bill. (Photo by Leah Jones via Wikimedia)

LGBT rights advocates expressed anger on Friday after the Illinois House adjourned its legislative session without voting on a same-sex marriage bill.

Some of the criticism fell on gay Rep. Greg Harris, the author of the bill, for failing to bring it to a vote. The Illinois House speaker, Michael Madigan, has extended a deadline for the bill, which will allow it to come to a vote in a November veto session.

In a conversation with the Washington Blade on Monday, Harris said that a last-minute media blitz by marriage equality opponents had rankled some of the bill’s likely supporters. Harris said the decision to table the bill would lead to a better result in the long term, as colleagues could avoid having to go on the record before they were prepared to.

“I think that at the very end they realized that back in their home districts for some folks that there were horrendous distortions of the truth,” Harris told the Blade. “They wanted to be sure that their constituents understand that — one — this bill treats all people equally and — two — that we also respect the rights and freedoms of religions.”

Though following the vote, some same-sex marriage advocates criticized the bill’s author for not getting his colleagues on record, Harris said he believes the bill will have a better chance of passing before the end of the year if he’s able to give his colleagues more time to lay the groundwork in their districts.

“I think it is very clear that at the end when some of my colleagues came to me and said should the bill be called that day, they would not be able to vote for it, until they had time to get back to their districts and undo some of the misconceptions and misinformation out there and truly explain what the bill meant,” Harris said. “If a bunch of people had voted no, then it becomes incredibly difficult then to change those votes to yes should it come back later.”

But some longtime Illinois activists remain angry over the decision to table the measure, and claim the process was bungled due to secrecy and a myriad of political miscalculations.

“I am extremely angry at him,” said longtime Illinois gay activist Rick Garcia, senior policy adviser at Illinois advocacy group The Civil Rights Agenda. “I think it’s justified anger. But there are few with [Rep. Harris’] history of advocating for the gay community, and people with HIV, and his successes are innumerable.”

Garcia, who called Friday’s aborted vote “a disaster,” mixed praise with scorn when discussing Harris’ handling of the bill with the Blade on Monday.

“But I don’t want to point fingers or cast blame, because I’m just as much to blame,” Garcia said.

“I’m really angry and pissed off,” Garcia told the Blade. “I’m very angry at myself for allowing this fiasco to happen. I’ve passed all sorts of gay rights legislation in Illinois, and for months and months and months have been urging a true coalition approach — there was none — I have been urging we do something as simple as a roll call, and the sponsor would not share his roll call with any of us. Without a roll call we might as well just have blinders on, because we don’t know where we’re going or who to talk to or what to do. I also urged that we have a campaign manager for this, and then a guy who was Mr. Madigan’s staffer was the one that was hired. Shaw Decremer.”

Garcia told the Blade that he’s working with other Illinois LGBT community leaders to assemble a new coalition to work toward passage in the veto session, and is actively seeking leaders of a multitude of community organizations and people of color, “not just straight white boys.”

“They can hire as many straight professional lobbyists as they desire but they’re not going to drive the bus anymore,” he said. “Our community is, our supporters are, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Rep. Harris disputes the idea that community leaders were kept in the dark regarding the legislative process.

“I think there are layers and layers of involvement,” Harris said. “Each one is important and each one overlaps and interacts. There’s the public relations messaging. There’s the organizing of business leadership, there’s organizing of leadership in the Latino community, the African-American community, there’s on-the-ground, in-district organizing, there’s organizing of PFLAG families. There are many, many layers of organizing and I think people did wonderful, wonderful jobs.”

“Look at how fast we’ve moved on this issue,” Harris continued. “We didn’t get the result we wanted when we wanted, but we’re perfectly positioned to win.”

Harris said that opponents of same-sex marriage attempted to scuttle the legislation by turning historically marginalized communities against one another, and did so by using “robocalls” to pressure lawmakers and mobilizing religious leaders to lobby against the bill in a public, and — as Harris sees it — deceptive way.

“We’ve seen in state after state the same tactics from some of our opponents that have been used to try to drive a wedge between communities, and that is just not what this bill does,” Harris said. “If you read the press releases from some of the different religious groups that are affiliated with our opposition, they are crowing and taking credit,” he says.

Harris says that groups like the Urban League and the NAACP, as well as prominent African-American supporters of the bill worked very hard to try to combat what Harris called the “misinformation” that opponents of the bill were pushing in districts where support was tenuous, but that not enough work had been done to promote the religious liberties espoused in the bill, and that he believes his colleagues need more time to secure their positions with their constituents back home, or risk being threatened in the primaries.

Harris sounded resolute when asked about not backing down and calling a vote on the marriage bill in the November veto session.

“[My colleagues] made a commitment that when we come back they will be willing to call a vote, so I’m going to take them at their word.”

Harris did not comment on whether speaker Madigan had been as supportive and enthusiastic about this legislation as he had been during the successful 2010 push for civil unions, saying the speaker had publicly stated his support for the marriage bill.

Harris praised the members of the African-American legislative caucus and the Republican caucus — namely GOP co-sponsors Ron Sandak and Ed Sullivan — who backed the bill despite strong pressure from opponents. However, Harris said that an impending battle over the minority leader position in the House forced some GOP lawmakers to hold back from supporting the bill at this time, saying they could not vote in favor of the bill because of “intra-party politics.”

The longtime lawmaker — who authored the state’s comprehensive non-discrimination bill, and the state’s successful civil unions bill — confirmed that the leader of the African-American caucus, Rep. Ken Duncan — also a sponsor of the bill — had encouraged him to call the vote “earlier in the session.” However, Harris said the caucuses themselves took no position on the bill, so pressure to not call the bill to a vote did not come from the  Black Caucus or the Republican caucus, but rather from individual lawmakers who Harris said expressed nervousness about coming primaries, and other issues specific to their home districts.

Harris encouraged same-sex marriage supporters not to get bogged down in looking for someone to blame, but to keep the pressure on lawmakers in anticipation of another chance at a vote in this fall’s session.

“We need to also remember our history and focus on the fact that our opponents will do whatever they need to stop full equality from coming, but the direction of this country is clear, and equality and fairness will win out,” Harris said.

“Also remember other history in the state of Illinois — back in 1975, the very first time that the Human Rights Act was put into place that protected people who are LGBT from being fired or denied housing or public accommodation because of their sexual orientation. And that took 30 years to pass, and there were ups and downs during that process. When I first introduced the marriage bill in 2007, I’m not sure that anyone thought that we would be as a nation in the position we are today where there’s been so much progress on this issue. But we have to remember that there is still hard work, that our opposition is fierce, that they have a strategy. We have to be sure that we are uniters and not dividers of communities, and we have to stand up for equality — not just for ourselves — but for all other people who suffer at the hands of repression.”




63% of LGBTQ people have faced employment discrimination: report

Finding shows majority ‘don’t feel included and welcomed at work’



A majority of LGBTQ+ workers have experienced discrimination, according to a new study.

A newly released report on the findings of a survey of 2,000 people in the U.S. who identify as LGBTQ says 63 percent of respondents have faced workplace discrimination in their career, 45 percent reported being “passed over” for a promotion due to their LGBTQ status, and 30 percent avoid “coming out” at work due to fear of discrimination.

The report, called “Unequal Opportunities: LGBTQ+ Discrimination In The Workplace,” was conducted by EduBirdie, a company that provides s professional essay writing service for students.

“The research shows basic acceptance remains elusive,” a statement released by the company says. “Thirty percent of LGBTQ+ people are  concerned they will face discrimination if they come out at work, while 1 in 4 fear for their safety,” the statement says. “Alarmingly, 2 in 5 have had their orientation or identity disclosed without consent.”

Avery Morgan, an EduBirdie official, says in the statement, “Despite progress in LGBTQ+ human rights, society stigma persists. Our findings show 70% of LGBTQ+ people feel lonely, misunderstood, marginalized, or excluded at work, and 59% believe their sexual orientation or gender identity has hindered their careers.”

According to Morgan, “One of the biggest challenges businesses should be aware of is avoiding tokenism and appearing inauthentic in their actions. Employers must be genuine with their decisions to bring a more diverse workforce into the organization.”

The report includes these additional findings:

• 44% of LGBTQ people responding to the survey said they have quit a job due to lack of acceptance.

• 15% reported facing discrimination “going unaddressed” by their employer.

• 21% “choose not to report incidents that occur at work.”

• 44% of LGBTQ+ workers feel their company is bad at raising awareness about their struggles.

• Half of LGBTQ+ people change their appearance, voice, or mannerisms to fit in at work.

• 56% of LGBTQ+ people would be more comfortable coming out at work if they had a more senior role.

At least 32 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The EduBirdie report does not show which states participants of the survey are from. EduBirdie spokesperson Anna Maglysh told the Washington Blade the survey was conducted anonymously to protect the privacy of participants.

The full report can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal court blocks Title IX transgender protections

Ruling applies to Idaho, La., Miss., and Mont.



(Bigstock photo)

BY GREG LAROSE | A federal judge has temporarily halted enforcement of new rules from the Biden administration that would prevent discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana issued a temporary injunction Thursday that blocks updated Title IX policy from taking effect Aug. 1 in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Montana. 

In April, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would expand Title IX to protect LGBTQ students, and the four aforementioned states challenged the policy in federal court.

Doughty said in his order that Title IX, the 52-year-old civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, only applies to biological women. The judge also called out the Biden administration for overstepping its authority. 

“This case demonstrates the abuse of power by executive federal agencies in the rule-making process,” Doughty wrote. “The separation of powers and system of checks and balances exist in this country for a reason.”

The order from Doughty, a federal court appointee of President Donald Trump, keeps the updated Title IX regulations from taking effect until the court case is resolved or a higher court throws out the order.

Opponents of the Title IX rule changes have said conflating gender identity with sex would undermine protections in federal law and ultimately harm biological women. Gender identity refers to the gender an individual identifies as, which might differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill, who filed the suit in the state’s Western District federal court, had called the new regulations “dangerous and unlawful.” In a statement Thursday evening, she said the rules would have placed an unfair burden on every school, college and university in the country.

“This (is) a victory for women and girls,” Murrill said in the statement. “When Joe Biden forced his illegal and radical gender ideology on America, Louisiana said NO! Along with Idaho, Mississippi, and Montana, states are fighting back in defense of the law, the safety and prosperity of women and girls, and basic American values.”

Title IX is considered a landmark policy that provided for equal access for women in educational settings and has been applied to academic and athletic pursuits. 


Doughty’s order comes a day after a similar development in Texas, where Judge Reed O’Connor, an appointee of President George W. Bush, declared that the Biden administration exceeded its authority, the Texas Tribune reported. 

Texas filed its own lawsuit against the federal government to block enforcement of the new rules, which Gov. Greg Abbott had instructed schools to ignore. Texas is one of several states to approve laws that prohibit transgender student-athletes from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect. 

Earlier Thursday, Republicans in Congress moved ahead with their effort to undo the revised Biden Title IX policy. Nearly 70 GOP lawmakers have signed onto legislation to reverse the education department’s final rule through the Congressional Review Act, which Congress can use to overturn certain federal agency actions.

Biden is expected to veto the legislation if it advances to his desk.

“Title IX has paved the way for our girls to access new opportunities in education, scholarships and athletics. Unfortunately, (President) Joe Biden is destroying all that progress,” U.S. Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.), author of the legislation, said Thursday.

States Newsroom Reporter Shauneen Miranda in D.C. contributed to this report.


Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune |, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg’s other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.


The preceding article was previously published by the Louisiana Illuminator and is republished with permission.

The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians. Our in-depth investigations and news stories, news briefs and commentary help residents make sense of how state policies help or hurt them and their neighbors statewide.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Federal Government

Adm. Levine, Admin. Guzman visit LGBTQ-owned dental and medical practices

Officials talked with the Blade about supporting small businesses



Second from left, Dr. Robert McKernan, co-founder of Big Gay Smiles, U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabel Guzman, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine, Big Gay Smiles Co-Founder Tyler Dougherty, and SBA Washington Metropolitan Area District Director Larry Webb. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

The Washington Blade joined Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Administrator Isabel Guzman of the U.S. Small Business Administration as they toured two LGBTQ-owned small businesses on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. — Big Gay Smiles and Price Medical.

The event provided an “amazing opportunity” to “talk about the different synergies in terms of small businesses and the SBA, and health equity for many communities,” including the LGBTQ community, Levine told the Blade.

Representation matters, she said, adding, “that’s true in dental care and medical care,” where there is a tremendous need to push for improvements in health equity — which represents a major focus for HHS under her and Secretary Xavier Becerra’s leadership, and in the Biden-Harris administration across the board.

“Small businesses identify needs in communities,” Guzman said. With Big Gay Smiles, Dr. Robert McKernan and his husband Tyler Dougherty “have clearly identified a need” for “dentistry that is inclusive and that is respectful of the LGBTQIA community in particular.”

She added, “now that they’re a newly established business, part of the small business boom in the Biden-Harris administration, to see their growth and trajectory, it’s wonderful to know that there are going to be providers out there providing that missing support.”

The practice, founded in 2021, “is so affirming for the LGBTQIA community and we certainly wish them luck with their venture and they seem to have a great start,” Levine said. “They’re really dedicated to ending the HIV epidemic, providing excellent dental care, as well as oral cancer screenings, which are so important, and they’re really providing a real service to the community.”

Big Gay Smiles donates 10 percent of its revenue to national and local HIV/AIDS nonprofits. McKernan and Dougherty stressed that their business is committed to combatting homophobia and anti-LGBTQ attitudes and practices within the dental field more broadly.

“We try to align our practices here within this dental office to align with the strategic initiatives being able to help reduce HIV transmission, reduce stigma, and help to ensure people have the knowledge and [are] empowered to ensure that they’re safe,” Dougherty said.

McKernan added, “With the Academy of General Dentistry, we’ve done a lot of discussions around intersex, around trans affirming care, in order to help educate our fellow dental providers. It’s very important that every dentist here in the [D.C. area] provide trans affirming care and gender affirming care because it’s very important that someone who comes to a medical provider not be deadnamed, not get misnamed, and have an affirming environment.”

Trans and gender expansive communities face barriers to accessing care and are at higher risk for oral cancer, depression, and dental neglect. Levine, who is the country’s highest-ranking transgender government official, shared that she has encountered discrimination in dental offices.

After touring the office, Levine and McKernan discussed the persistence of discrimination against patients living with HIV/AIDS by dental practices, despite the fact that this conduct is illegal.

“I’ve traveled around the country,” the assistant health secretary told the Blade. “We have seen that many FQHCs [federally qualified health centers] or community health centers as well as LGBTQIA community health centers have had dentists, like Whitman-Walker, to provide that care because many people with HIV and in our broader community have faced stigma and have not been able to access very, very important dental care.”

Prior to opening his practice, McKernan practiced dentistry at Whitman-Walker, the D.C. nonprofit community health center that has expertise in treating LGBTQ patients and those living with HIV/AIDS. Big Gay Smiles is a red ribbon sponsor for the organization’s Walk & 5K to End HIV.

After their visit with Big Gay Smiles, Levine and Guzman headed to Price Medical, a practice whose focus areas include internal medicine/primary care, HIV specialty care, immunizations, infectious disease treatment, and aesthetics like Botox.

There, the officials talked with Dr. Timothy Price about his office’s work advancing health equity and serving LGBTQ patients including those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as the ways in which small businesses like his have benefitted from access to electronic health records and telemedicine.

Levine, Dr. Timothy Price of Price Medical, and Guzman 

“People being able to access medical care from the comfort of their home or workplace can be very important,” Price said, with technology providing the means by which they can “ask questions and get an answer and have access to a health care provider.”

Often, LGBTQ patients will have concerns, including sexual health concerns, that need urgent attention, he said. For instance, “we’ve had patients need to access us for post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV,” in some cases when “people are vacationing and they have something that might be related to their health and they can reach us [via telemedicine] so that’s the way it’s really helped us and helped the patients.”

Access to technology for small businesses is an area in which the SBA can play a valuable role, Guzman noted.

“The Biden-Harris administration has focused on a whole-of-government approach to making sure we can support the community, and that includes in entrepreneurship,” she told the Blade.

“There’s a surge in [small] businesses starting and that includes” those founded by members of the LGBTQ community “and so you see that there’s products and services that need to be offered,” and the administration is “committed to making sure that we can fund those great ideas.”

Guzman said she sees opportunities for future collaboration between her agency and HHS to help encourage and facilitate innovation in the healthcare space. “Small businesses are innovators creating the future of health tech,” she said.

Levine agreed, noting “we have been talking about that, about different ways that we can work together, because as we think about the social determinants of health and those other social factors that impact health, well, economic opportunity is absolutely a social determinant of health,” and small businesses are certainly a critical way to broaden economic opportunity.

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