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Senate panel approves LGBT-inclusive education bill

By 12-10 vote, committee reports out bill with anti-bullying protections

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HELP, Health, Education, Labor and Pension, Tom Harkin, United States Senate, Washington Blade, gay news
HELP, Health, Education, Labor and Pension, Tom Harkin, United States Senate, Washington Blade, gay news

The Senate HELP Committee under Sen. Tom Harkin approved an LGBT-inclusive education reform bill (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

A Senate committee approved on Wednesday by party-line vote an education reform bill that includes language aimed to protect LGBT students against bullying and harassment.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reported out legislation to reauthorize the Elementary & Secondary Education Act by a vote of 12-10 after a two-day period of considering amendments.

The 1,150-page education bill, known as the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, incorporates two standalone bills aimed to protect LGBT students: the Student Non-Discrimination Act, or SNDA, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, or SSIA.

Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said she’s “thrilled” the education reform bill is moving forward and even more encouraged that the legislation includes SNDA and SSIA.

“These provisions serve as a model for federal legislation that would create safe, supportive and healthy school environments for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” Byard said.

Modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments, the SNDA-like provision in the bill establishes LGBT students as a protected class and prohibits schools from discriminating against any student based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The discrimination includes allowing bullying against them.

The bill also contains provisions similar to SSIA that advocates for a positive school climate and requires reporting on incidents of bullying, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s up to Democratic leadership to determine when the bill will come up for a floor vote. The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the timing for a vote.

Following the hearing, Harkin told the Washington Blade he expects that a floor vote on the legislation will happen “probably after Labor Day.” He declined to comment on the inclusion of SSIA and SNDA as part of the larger legislation.

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), a member of the committee, told the Blade she’s pleased the panel reported out legislation that includes the LGBT provisions without any qualms from senators on the committee.

“I think it’s terrific that those measures are in the base bill and that during the course of the markup, certainly there were no efforts to remove that language, or question that language,” Baldwin said. “I think that’s a great step forward.”

On Tuesday, the committee rejected a substitute bill for education reform proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the panel. That measure lacked both SNDA and SSIA.

Among the “no” votes to the LGBT-inclusive bill was Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who voted against the bill by proxy. His opposition to the larger bill is noteworthy because he’s an original co-sponsor of SSIA. Kirk’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on his “no” vote.

The party-line vote in committee raises questions about whether the measure will find bipartisan support to meet the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster on the Senate floor. It also raises concerns about whether a similar measure could pass in the Republican-controlled House.

Nonetheless, Baldwin said she sees a path forward for the legislation on the Senate floor and the possibility of Republican support.

“I listened carefully to Sen. Alexander’s remarks at the end of this,” Baldwin said. “And he sees a path forward to reauthorizing the Elementary & Secondary Education Act, and getting it to the president’s desk. That’s less likely to happen if there’s a filibuster. So if he continues in the vein that he has, understanding that there’s differences, but that we can resolve those in a conference committee after the Senate has acted, that would be great. But, you know, it’s far from assured.”

The same committee has also jurisdiction over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which is expected to face a panel vote this summer.

But Baldwin says she doesn’t anticipate the proceedings on the LGBT-inclusive education bill to predict what will happen with ENDA.

“Not necessarily — very different bills,” Baldwin said.

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Senate confirms lesbian, trans nominees to high-profile defense roles

Skelly is second out transgender appointee to obtain confirmation

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The U.S. Senate confirmed on Tuesday two Biden nominees — one lesbian, another transgender — for high-profile positions at the Defense Department by unanimous consent.

Gina Ortiz Jones, a lesbian former Air Force pilot and Texas congressional candidate, was confirmed as under secretary of the Air Force, and Shawn Skelly, a transgender 20-year U.S. Navy veteran and a defense appointee in the Obama administration, was confirmed as assistant secretary of defense for readiness.

For the second time in U.S. history, the Senate has confirmed an openly transgender person as a presidential appointee — and did so without controversy by unanimous consent.

Just months ago, Rachel Levine was confirmed as assistant secretary of health on a party-line basis after enduring rude, invasive questioning from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) during her confirmation hearing on transgender health care.

Jones has also made an achievement through Senate approval: She’s the first out lesbian to win confirmation to serve in a high-level defense position.

The Senate confirmation of the nominees by unanimous consent is consistent with their confirmation hearing, which both Jones and Skelly breezed through without hostility.

Annise Parker, president of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, pointed out in a statement the two newly confirmed presidential appointees both served in the U.S. military under bans against LGBTQ people in the armed forces.

“Gina and Shawn served their country when living openly could result in discharge and a lost career, so their ascension to key leadership positions is a powerful moment for those servicemembers who served or continue to serve in silence,” Parker said. “Their confirmation will transform perceptions of LGBTQ people within the ranks of the U.S. military, but also among the leaders of militaries we work with around the world.”

Another out LGBTQ person nominated by Biden for a high-profile defense role is Brenda Sue Fulton, whom Biden nominated to become assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs. Her nomination, however, has not even had a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee. It’s unclear why her nomination hasn’t moved forward.

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House resolution apologizes for treatment of LGBTQ troops, federal workers

U.S. gov’t workers once faced explusion for being gay

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Rep. David Ciciiline has introduced a resolution apologizing for treatment of LGBTQ federal workers.

A new resolution introduced in the U.S. House apologizes for the federal government’s treatment of LGBTQ federal civilian workers and U.S. service members, who were once subject to expulsion from their positions because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The measure, introduced on Wednesday by Rep. David Ciciline (D-R.I.), is a companion to an identical resolution introduced last month in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

“Our government spent years persecuting or wrongfully terminating LGBT individuals for no reason other than they loved the wrong person,” Cicilline said in a statement. “The call to service is one of the greatest acts of patriotism, but to be denied that opportunity because of who they were is one of our country’s greatest injustices. It’s long past time the government acknowledged this horrific practice, apologize to those who were harmed and commit to full equality for all Americans.”

LGBTQ federal civilian workers, Foreign Service officers and U.S. service members are addressed in the apology in the resolution. Although they can now serve in their positions freely, that is a change after decades of policy and law requiring them to be discharged for being LGBTQ.

The 1993 law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” required the discharge of U.S. service members for being openly gay, although that law was repealed in 2010 under former President Obama. Previously, the U.S. military had an administrative policy that allowed investigations into service members and their discharge if they were found to be gay.

Civilian federal workers also have a history of facing discharge for being gay. Most famous is Frank Kameny, who was fired from his job in the U.S. government as an astronomer in 1958, prompting his work as a gay rights pioneer.

Most recent among the categories enumerated in the resolution are transgender service members, who until the Biden administration were essentially barred from military service as a result of policy under President Trump. Biden reversed that prohibition in his first week in office via executive order.

Joining Cicilline in introducing the resolution as an original co-sponsor is Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who along with Cicilline is an openly gay member of Congress and a co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus.

“LGBT civil servants and service members have served with honor, distinction, and often, in the face of intense discrimination and fear of termination,” Takano said in a statement. “They heroically committed their lives to the betterment of our nation, only to be met with longstanding policies barring them from service or forcing them to conceal who they are. In our ongoing effort to create a more equal, inclusive, and accepting country, we must acknowledge our past shortcomings and reaffirm our commitment to treating all people with fairness and respect.

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Defending Chick-Fil-A, Lindsey Graham Vows To “Go To War”

The latest skirmish in a decade plus long running cultural war battle over the company’s founding family’s support of anti-LGBTQ groups

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Screenshot via Mashed on YouTube

WASHINGTON – In a series of tweets Wednesday, South Carolina’s Republican senior U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham wrote; “I hope we don’t have to, but I will go to war for the principles Chick-Fil-A stands for.”

The controversy that provoked Graham’s ire was the news that University of Notre Dame students and faculty signed an open letter calling on the university’s Campus Dining division to nix a proposed Chick fil-A on the campus of the 178 year old private Catholic research university.

This fight over the chicken sandwich fast food company’s proposed outlet at University of Notre Dame du Lac is just the latest skirmish in a decade plus long running cultural war battle over the company’s founding family’s support of anti-LGBTQ groups, some designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, for lies and malicious propaganda attacking LGBTQ+ Americans.

In an Instagram post on May 12, the university’s Campus Dining division disputed a purported claim by the Chick fil-A that the company would be opening an on campus outlet.

The resulting open letter followed an op-ed in The Observer, on July 1 in the student-run, daily print and online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross.

“Our first concern relates to Chick-fil-A’s long history of antagonism toward the LGBTQ+ community. Over the past two decades, Chick-fil-A has donated significant sums to groups that oppose LGBTQ+ rights. From 2003 to 2012, the restaurant’s charitable arm gave over $5 million to queerphobic groups, including groups supporting conversion therapy. Despite public outcry and promises to halt anti-LGBTQ+ donations, in 2017, the donations to anti-LGBTQ+ organizations resumed, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Paul Anderson Youth Home, and the Salvation Army,” the op-ed states. 

The brewing fight over Chick-fil-A caught the attention of a right-wing news letter and blogsite, ‘Campus Reform,’ which defines itself; “As a conservative watchdog to the nation’s higher education system, Campus Reform exposes liberal bias and abuse on the nation’s college campuses. Our team of professional journalists works alongside student activists and student journalists to report on the conduct and misconduct of campus administrators, faculty, and students.”

This past April, independent journalists at The Intercept wrote an in-depth piece on Campus Reform and its financial backers noting that Campus Reform is emblematic of the raging battle in American public discourse over so-called cancel culture, which the site’s writers have regularly lamented even as they set out to cancel the reputations and jobs of the people they attack. 

This so-called expose on Notre Dame’s Chick-fil-A conflict was then in turn was then given additional signal boost by right-wing media giant Fox News on July 13 based on the Campus Reform Coverage.

Enter Senator Graham in a series of tweets defending the chicken sandwich outlets empire.

On May 21 of 2019, YouTube Food Channel Mashed covered the decade long battle over the chicken sandwich chain.

Why Chick-Fil-A Really Keeps Getting Banned From Places

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