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Reid sets up Senate vote Monday for ENDA

Advocates confident 60 votes are present to overcome filibuster

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) set up a Senate vote on ENDA for Monday (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) set up a Senate vote on ENDA for Monday (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) officially set up a Monday vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act by filing cloture for the bill on the Senate floor Thursday evening.

Reid made the announcement on the Senate floor with little fanfare before he moved on to other business and adjourned the Senate until Monday at 2 pm.

Faiz Shakir, a Reid spokesperson, estimated the cloture vote on ENDA will take place around 5:45 on Monday and a final vote will take place sometime on Wednesday.

By filing cloture on the bill, Reid starts for the time period for when cloture vote will take place to enable the bill to move to the floor. After filing for cloture, the vote will take place after an intervening day and one hour pass. For a successful vote on cloture, 60 votes are required in the Senate.

After cloture is invoked, up to 30 hours of debate can take place before a vote happens on final passage, which requires a simple majority. But the vote for final passage could take place sooner if both parties agree to give up the time.

Confidence persists there are at least 60 votes in the Senate to invoke cloture on ENDA. All 55 members of the Senate Democratic caucus support ENDA, and there are two Republican original co-sponsors: Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). Assuming the two Republicans who voted in committee for ENDA, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), vote for cloture as well, only one more vote is required to move forward with ENDA.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, expressed confidence in a statement sufficient votes are in place to pass ENDA.

“After months of lobbying and meetings with the overwhelming majority of Republican Senate offices, we’re confident we have the 60 votes to defeat any attempted filibuster,” Almeida said. “We’re keeping the pressure up with phone-banking in key states to help thousands of registered voters patch-through and urge Yes votes from key Senators in Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. It’s long past time the Senate approved LGBT workplace protections.”

During a taped interview on The Rachel Maddow Show that aired Wednesday, Reid expressed confidence there would be enough votes to invoke cloture on ENDA. Noting that all 55 Democrats are on board, Reid predicted “we’re going to get a least five Republicans” to reach 60 votes.

Other Republicans seen as possible “yes” votes on ENDA are Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). However, Flake this week told the Blade he’s voting “no” because of the transgender protections in the current version of the bill.

The Human Rights Campaign, and the $2.5 million Americans for Workplace Opportunity campaign it helped organize, is also touting its action in anticipation of an ENDA vote.

According to HRC, 30 field organizers in New Hampshire, West Virginia, Ohio, Arizona, Arkansas, Nevada and Pennsylvania have generated over 200,000 constituent contacts in favor of ENDA. Additionally, grassroots organizers have held 150 events in these critical states generating over 108,000 emails, 78,000 postcards, 13,000 calls and 800 letters, HRC says.

But anti-gay forces are also being outspoken against ENDA as the vote approaches.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, railed against the LGBT legislation in a statement, saying the bill “threatens the free market, undermines employers’ rights, and violates the free exercise of religion.”

“The vast majority of employers would not consider an employee’s sexual orientation relevant or even want to know about an employee’s sex life,” Perkins said. “However, ENDA would transform the workplace into an environment in which certain sexual lifestyles are given a special status by the federal government and religious expression is suppressed.”

The vote will be historic in many ways. It will the first time the either chamber of Congress has considered a version of ENDA that includes transgender workers. It’s also the first time the Senate has considered ENDA since 1996, when the legislation failed by one vote.

Amendments to ENDA are expected. Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) told the Blade, “There’ll be some amendments, yeah.” Harkin added he doesn’t know what the nature of the amendments will be.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of ENDA, also expressed excitement over the possibility the Senate approving legislation to end job bias against LGBT workers.

“We have a chance next week to pass a landmark civil rights bill that will enshrine in law an issue of fundamental fairness: no one should be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Merkley said. “Discrimination is just plain wrong. Everyone should have the freedom to work hard and earn a living. I am pleased that the U.S. Senate will consider this fundamental issue of equality under the law.”

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Oklahoma

Police release Nex Benedict bodycam footage

Nonbinary teenager died earlier this month after a fight in school

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Owasso Police Department bodycam footage. (YouTube screenshot)

The Owasso Police Department on Friday released bodycam footage from the interview conducted by the Owasso High School resource officer taken at the emergency room, investigating the attack on a nonbinary high school student who died a day after the attack.

In the video, 16-year-old Nex Benedict describes how they were bullied by three girls for “the way that we dress.” After Benedict dumped some water on them, the girls pinned them to the floor of the restroom and beat them until they blacked out.

Benedict’s mother stresses that they did not throw any punches or get physically combative during the attack. Facts that Benedict then verified in their account to the investigating officer.

Police have confirmed to multiple media outlets that the school failed to follow procedure and notify law enforcement about the beating.

Owasso police department bodycam footage (video courtesy of the owasso police department)

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The White House

Press secretary addresses ‘gut-wrenching’ death of Nex Benedict from the briefing room

‘Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported in school’

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre delivers a briefing on Feb. 23, 2024 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began Friday’s press briefing by expressing how “absolutely heartbroken” she was to learn about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported in school,” she said. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, friends, entire school community in the wake of this horrific and gut wrenching tragedy.”

Jean-Pierre added, “I know that for many LGBTQ+ students across the country this may feel personal and deeply, deeply painful. There’s always someone you can talk to if you’re going through a hard time and need support.”

“The president and his administration launched the 988 line to help, and we have a line dedicated to serving LGBTQ+ young people that can be reached by dialing 933 and pressing 3,” she said. “Through devastating tragedies like these we must support each other and lift one another up.”

Authorities are still investigating the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death on Feb. 8, which allegedly came the day after they were attacked in a restroom at Owasso High School, which followed months of bullying from peers.

This week, political leaders including Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Jean-Pierre issued statements on X, formerly Twitter.

In recent years the state of Oklahoma has become a hotbed of anti-LGBTQ legislation, including an anti-trans bathroom bill signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2022.

Many LGBTQ advocates responded to news of Benedict’s death by calling out the escalation of hostile policies and rhetoric targeting transgender and gender-diverse communities, which advocates have warned can carry deadly consequences.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson has urged federal investigators at the Justice and Education Department to get involved in the case.

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Africa

Kenyan advocacy groups join fight against femicide

30 women have been murdered in the country this year

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Kenyan flag (Photo by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Some LGBTQ rights groups in Kenya have devised new security strategies to protect female community members from the risk of femicide that has been on the rise in the country in recent years. 

The strategies employed include hiring trained security response teams, emergency toll-free numbers for swift intervention and training queer women on safety as they go about their daily lives in homophobic societies.  

The LGBTQ rights organizations’ move to come up with their safety measures is driven by laxity by security agencies that they accuse of “personal bias, discrimination and victimization” of the complainants based on their sexual orientation whenever they seek help.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are outlawed in Kenya under Sections 162 and 165 of the Penal Code and the queer rights groups the Washington Blade interviewed said the authorities exploit this criminalization. 

“We have contracted two security response focal persons in our organization to respond to violations of LBQ womxn in Kenya,” noted Elly Doe, the executive director of KISLEB, a Kisumu-based organization that champions the rights of lesbian, bisexual and queer women.

Doe, whose organization also advocates against femicide, said KISLEB is part of a special security situation room formed to explore ways of tackling rising cases of insecurity among the LGBTQ community in the country. 

The Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination, an LGBTQ rights organization also contacted by the Blade, stated it has been conducting advocacy programs that include creating safer spaces forums to address femicide and violence against women both physical and online.   

One of the forums convened last September in Mombasa, for instance, explored how communities and institutions can work together to prevent violence against marginalized women, effective support for survivors, mentorship and awareness campaigns. The participants included lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender women, women in politics, sports, media, women living with disabilities and sex workers.    

INEND Communications Officer Melody Njuki, who expressed her organization’s concern over growing cases of femicide, oppression and violence against women, including those who identify as queer that go unchecked is caused by several social factors that include economic exclusion. 

“The intersectional issues faced by marginalized communities and structurally silenced women particularly sex workers and LBQT+ individuals adds complexity to the challenges experienced by victims of femicide due to discrimination, stigma and systemic inequalities exacerbating the vulnerability of women to violence,” Njuki said. 

Both INEND and KISLEB last month joined other LGBTQ rights groups, feminists and dozens of human rights organizations in Kenya in a nationwide street protest against rising cases of femicide and violence against women. 

The Jan. 27 protests were in response to the brutal killing of 16 women across the country since the beginning of the year. Hundreds of women, including those who identify as queer, during a Valentine’s Day vigil donned black outfits and held lit candles and red roses in honor of this year’s femicide victims, whose number had risen to more than 30.

“KISLEB as an organization that champions the rights of the LBQ womxn could not sit back and watch as women are being intentionally violated and killed yet in recent years the number has been rising rapidly and so many culprits go unpunished,” Doe said over her organization’s participation in the protest. “Participating in the protest was our way of expressing our solidarity with other women’s rights organizations in condemning femicide.”

Doe raised a concern over a rise in the number of homophobic threats against queer women, particularly on social media and residential areas, and called for police officers to be sensitized on LGBTQ issues to deal with this menace without discrimination. 

“We have also seen the cases of the murders of the LGBTQ community rising such as a trans woman activist Erica Chandra in August in Nairobi and a nonbinary lesbian woman Sheila Lumumba in April 2022,” she said. 

INEND, together with the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Galck+ which participated in Lumumba’s murder case last December, were disappointed with the court after sentencing the suspect Billington Mwathi to 30 years in jail. The three LGBTQ rights groups described the sentence as “lenient” and said it didn’t meet the justice Lumumba deserved — the suspect raped her before killing her.

The organizations said they wanted Mwathi to receive a life sentence because Lumumba’s killing was not just an act of violence on an individual, but an attack on the dignity and safety of the LGBTQ community.  

INEND, nonetheless, attributes the rise in femicide to victim blaming on the part of the public and some leaders, which leads to a disconnect on the protection of the victims’ rights and its subsequent erosion as witnessed in the LGBTQ community.  

“The road to genocide starts with the dehumanization of the most marginalized, then continues to devour its way up the hierarchy of patriarchal systems,” Njuki said.  

She disclosed INEND was organizing a collective movement dubbed “#EndFemicideKe” to enlighten policymakers on the dire need to enforce strict measures on the killing of women. Njuki, however, commended jurists who are members of the Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association for their partnership with INEND and willingness to show a deeper understanding of human rights particularly the protection of LGBTQ rights.

She cited last year’s launch of a judicial guidebook to help judges better protect queer people’s rights and the High Court’s ruling that allowed the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to register as a non-governmental organization in promoting freedom of association.

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