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Polis, Miller seek House hearing on ENDA

Lawmakers say chamber should act “in meaningful way” against LGBT workplace discrimination

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Jared Polis, Democratic Party, Colorado, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade, Victory Fund, Congressional LGBT Pride Reception
Jared Polis, Democratic Party, Colorado, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade, Victory Fund, Congressional LGBT Pride Reception

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) seeks a House hearing on ENDA (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

In an attempt to build off the momentum of a successful Senate committee vote, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and the lead House Democrat on workplace issues are calling for a House hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

In an open letter dated July 11, Polis, who’s gay and lead sponsor of ENDA in the U.S. House, and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Education & the Workforce Committee, seek a hearing in the Republican-controlled House on ENDA. The letter is addressed to Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.).

“It is time for this committee and this Congress to act in a meaningful way and ensure that LGBT individuals are not denied the right to work and earn a living because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Polis and Miller write.

The letter comes on the heels of a successful vote on ENDA in the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee in which 12 Democrats were joined by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.,) Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in voting in favor of the bill.

Polis and Miller emphasize that a House hearing on ENDA would capitalize on the momentum that the measure enjoys after the committee vote in the Senate.

“The vote sends a strong message that employment decisions should be based on merit and not prejudice,” Polis and Miller write. “The House must seize the moment and stand on the side of fairness and equality by holding a hearing that will kick start the process of moving this important legislation through this body.”

The last time the House held a hearing on ENDA was in 2009. Democrats at the time were in control of the chamber and Miller was chair of the committee, which was then known as the House Education & Labor Committee.

Kline’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment. The Minnesota lawmaker voted against a version of the legislation in 2007 and he spoke out against ENDA during the hearing in 2009.

“H.R. 3017 represents a significant departure from longstanding civil rights law,” Kline said at the time. “It creates an entirely new protected class that is vaguely defined and often subjective.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Polis and Miller “should be commended” for acting quickly in the aftermath of the Senate committee vote on ENDA.

But in the event that Kline is unresponsive, Almeida invited Polis and Miller to ask Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.,) a committee member with experience on ENDA, to hold a hearing on the legislation in the House Democratic Steering & Policy Committee, which Andrews co-chairs.

“The Democrats could set that hearing without Republican approval for September or October, and they could call two or three LGBT victims of workplace discrimination and some pro-LGBT business leaders to testify about how ENDA is good for business,” Almeida said. “I’d love to see the Democrats invite Exxon’s CEO to testify and explain why they refuse to adopt the same LGBT fairness policies that competitors like Chevron have adopted.”

Such a hearing, Almeida said, would lay the foundation for a successful discharge petition on ENDA in the House and a successful Senate floor vote between 60 and 70 votes.

The complete letter from Polis and Miller follows:

July 11, 2013

The Honorable John Kline
Chairman
Committee on Education and the Workforce
2181 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Kline:

We write to respectfully request that you hold a committee hearing as soon as possible on H.R. 1755, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that would end employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and make clear that Americans in the workplace should be judged on whether they can do the job.

We believe that the strong bipartisan vote by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) on June 10in favor of ENDA reflects the overwhelming consensus that LGBT Americans should have the freedom to work and be full participants in our economy.  The vote sends a strong message that employment decisions should be based on merit and not prejudice.  The House must seize the moment and stand on the side of fairness and equality by holding a hearing that will kick start the process of moving this important legislation through this body.

As you may know, H.R. 1755 enjoys bipartisan support in the House and currently has 177 cosponsors. The legislation would prohibit employers from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against those employed or seeking employment, on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. Such protections are already in place prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability.  More than 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies already extend workplace protections based on sexual orientation and more than one-third on the basis of gender identity.

Chairman Kline, business leaders, advocates, and an overwhelming supermajority of Americans – nearly 75 percent – support prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is time for this Committee and this Congress to act in a meaningful way and ensure that LGBT individuals are not denied the right to work and earn a living because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

We look forward to working with you on this and many other issues important to our nation.

Sincerely,

GEORGE MILLER
Senior Democratic Member
JARED POLIS
Member of Congress

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Phyllis Nowacki

    July 12, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    It is time for this stand up and fight.

  2. Pass ENDA now.

    July 12, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    Vaguely defined like religion?

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Politics

Bill would require universities to apply for Title IX religious exemption waiver

Measure seeks to highlight anti-LGBTQ higher education institutions

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Four members of Congress on Thursday introduced a bill that would require federally-funded universities to apply for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education before they can receive a religious exemption from Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

A press release that U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) issued notes the Exposing Discrimination in Higher Education Act would also require “the Department of Education and the exempted higher education institutions to prominently display the waiver on their websites in order to inform students of their beliefs before arriving on campus.”

The members of Congress note “several higher education institutions across the U.S.” beginning in 2013 “applied for religious exemptions with the Department of Education that would allow them to discriminate against LGBTQ students on campus.” The Department of Education during the previous White House sought to revoke the waiver application requirement.

“These exemptions allow students to be removed from extracurricular organizations, leadership posts, sports teams, and even be expelled simply for being members of the LGBTQ community,” reads the press release.

The previous White House rescinded guidance to public schools that said Title IX requires them to allow transgender students to use restrooms based on their gender identity. The Biden administration last month said Title IX bans discrimination against LGBTQ students.

“Every student deserves to attend a college where their entire identity is accepted and celebrated,” said Clark. “Without transparency about a school’s beliefs, students may arrive on campus only to learn that their school has policies in place that infringe on their civil rights. I’m proud to introduce the Exposing Discrimination in Higher Education Act to ensure that students can apply to college with all the information necessary to set them up for success.”

Davids added “every student deserves an educational experience free from discrimination and harassment.”

“At the moment, we are letting down our LGBTQ+ community on college campuses, as more taxpayer-funded universities quietly skirt around civil rights law,” said the Kansas Democrat. “By reinstating the waiver requirement for universities who seek exemption from anti-discrimination protections, we are not only protecting LGBTQ+ students from unfair treatment, but we are reminding them that their experience is visible and valuable.”

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Politics

Bill would create LGBTQ veterans advisory committee at VA

Advocacy groups back U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.)’s measure

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U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) (Photo courtesy of Chris Pappas for Congress)

New Hampshire Congressman Chris Pappas has introduced a bill that would create an LGBTQ veterans advisory committee at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A press release that the New Hampshire Democrat’s office released notes “many LGBTQ+ veterans faced systemic discrimination and were unfairly denied their VA benefits under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and continue to run into roadblocks when attempting to access benefits or programs afforded to non-LGBTQ+ veterans, such as health care, burial and memorial, education, and home loan benefits.”

“LGBTQ+ veterans, whether they served during the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ era, in the years following, or more recently during the Trump administration’s transgender military ban, all face unique challenges after separation or retirement,” said Pappas. “LGBTQ+ veterans’ voices need to be heard and effectively represented at the highest levels of VA. Establishing an LGBTQ Veterans Advisory Committee will ensure that VA benefits and services are accessible and responsive to the needs of the LGBTQ+ veterans community.”

The committee that Pappas’ bill would create would “reflect the diversity and unique needs of the LGBTQ+ veterans community by including professionals in fields related to health care and other needs unique to LGBTQ+ veterans, at least one lesbian, gay, or bisexual veteran with a service-connected disability, at least one transgender veteran with a service-connected disability, minority LGBTQ+ veterans, and LGBTQ+ veterans who have been both voluntarily and involuntarily separated from service.”

The committee, among other things, would assess “the needs of LGBTQ+ veterans with respect to benefits and programs” the VA administers. The committee would also recommend “needed adjustments and improvements to best meet the needs of LGBTQ+ veterans.”

Pappas’ office notes the Minority Veterans of America, Out in National Security and the Modern Military Association of America are among the groups that support his bill.

“It remains as important as ever to get the ground truth on how LGBTQ+ veterans experience VA services — and then to use that information to improve the system,” said Out in National Security President Luke Schleusener in the press release that Pappas’ office released. “The historical discrimination that LGBTQ+ veterans experienced in service to their country and from American society make culturally competent and informed care a special responsibility and obligation of the VA. We are grateful for Rep. Pappas’ leadership on this effort, and applaud his work for us across the LGBTQ+ community.”

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Local

Judge dismisses lawsuit against Va. school guidelines for transgender students

Christian Action Network and other conservative groups filed suit

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Connor Climo, gay news, Washington Blade

Lynchburg Circuit Court Judge J. Frederick Watson on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies for transgender students that are to be implemented for the 2021-2022 school year.

The VDOE introduced the policies in March to better protect and affirm trans and non-binary students in schools, considering they are more likely to face discrimination and harassment from their peers and students. The directives would require Virginia schools to allow them to use school bathrooms and locker rooms that conform to their gender identity and pronouns and a name that reflects their gender identity.

Several conservative organizations, including the Christian Action Network, and families whose children attend Lynchburg public schools had sought to overturn the VDOE’s policies. The groups cited their need to protect their right to free speech and religion under the First Amendment.

Challenging the enactment of non-binary and trans-inclusive school policies in Virginia is not a new occurence. 

Tanner Cross, a Loudoun County teacher, was suspended in May after stating he would not use trans students’ preferred pronouns. Circuit Judge James E. Plowman, Jr., who invoked Pickering v. Board of Education,  a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of a teacher that stated they have the right to provide commentary on issues of public importance without being dismissed from their position, reinstated Cross after he filed a lawsuit,  

Equality Virginia on Tuesday a statement celebrated what they described as “a win for Virginia schools and students.”

“This ruling is important progress and emphasizes the continued need to protect transgender and non-binary youth in Virginia,” said Executive Director Vee Lamneck. “These policies will create safer classrooms and will reduce bullying, discrimination and harassment. It’s imperative school boards adopt these policies as soon as possible because the lives of transgender students are at risk.”

Equality Virginia, ACLU of Virginia, and more than 50 other organizations and school board leaders across the state filed an amicus brief earlier this month encouraging the court to deny the lawsuit.

The brief’s arguments included references to historic lawsuits like Brown v. Board of Education and Grimm v. Gloucester City School Board that specifically addressed inequalities in schools for minority students.

While Tuesday’s ruling is a win for LGBTQ rights advocates in education and their respective students, there still remains a final barrier to ensure that the VDOE’s policies are sanctioned in the fall. 

“The dismissal clears one statewide hurdle for the guidelines and limits future challenges,” reports the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. “But it leaves the fight to continue at local school boards, which are currently debating how or if to implement policies before the start of the school year.”

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