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HISTORIC: Senate votes to advance trans-inclusive ENDA

By vote of 61-30, senators start debate on pro-LGBT job bias bill

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Employment Non-Discrimination Act, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade, ENDA, Mark Pryor, Democratic Party, Joe Manchin
Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Senate invoked cloture on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In another milestone moment in the pursuit of equal rights for LGBT Americans, the U.S. Senate voted by a narrow margin on Monday to bring to the floor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

By a vote of 61-30, senators invoked cloture on the legislation as Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) presided. The vote enables up to 30 hours of debate and amendments before a vote for final passage, which is expected Wednesday.

The 54 Democrats who voted for ENDA, whose chief sponsor is Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), consisted of the Democrats who co-sponsored ENDA as well as Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), an ENDA co-sponsor, didn’t vote.

On the Republican side, additional votes came from Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Other votes came from Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who voted for the bill in committee, and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who articulated his support earlier in the day. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who also voted for ENDA in committee, didn’t vote.

Tammy Baldwin, gay news, Washington Blade, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, United States Senate, Democratic Party, Wisconsin

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) addressed reporters following the vote. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Including the Republican original co-sponsors of ENDA — Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) — the bill had seven Republican votes. As he indicated he would, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) voted “no” after entering the Senate chamber following Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), apparently after a conversation with her.

As the vote took place, there were concerns there would be insufficient votes to invoke cloture on ENDA because of Murkowski’s absence, but Portman and Toomey, after intense conversations with colleagues, entered the Senate chamber just before the vote was called to vote “yes.”

The roll call of the vote for cloture on ENDA can be found here.

Prior to the vote, lawmakers who support the legislation spoke out in favor of the bill, touting it as a means of advancing equal opportunity and the “American Dream.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said ENDA is necessary because discriminating against gay workers is legal in 29 states and for being transgender in 33 states.

“The patchwork of state laws excludes tens of millions of Americans from basic protection against discrimination,” Reid said. “It is simply not good enough. It is [time to] pass a federal law that ensures all Americans regardless of where they live can go to work unafraid to be who they are. As long as hardworking, qualified Americans can be denied job opportunities, fired, or harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, all workers are at risk.”

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee from which the legislation originated, said passage of ENDA would say LGBT Americans “deserve the same civil rights protections as all other Americans.”

“We are here because, even though most Americans believe firing or refusing to hire someone based their sexual orientation is illegal, they are incorrect,” Harkin said. “The majority of Americans, more than 56 percent, live in states where it is perfectly legal to fire someone or to refuse to hire them because of who they are, a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender citizen.”

Amid concerns that the religious exemption is too broad and calls from some LGBT advocates for lawmakers to speak out against it, Harkin said the language is necessary to ensure bipartisan support.

“This is a compromise that has been hard for strong advocates of civil rights and civil liberties, including me, to accept,” Harkin said. “But it is an exemption that has helped to persuade some members of strong faith that ENDA should become law. I would point to my friend Sen. Hatch, who supported this bill in committee, as just one important example of senators who are satisfied that this exemption serves to reconcile the strictures of their faith with fundamental fairness in the workplace.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only openly gay member of the Senate, said she understands some lawmakers may have political difficulties in supporting the legislation, but encouraged her colleagues to stand on the right side of history.

“I realize that for some, this is not an easy vote,” Baldwin said. “I understand that for some they may believe that it’s not good politics. But I want to say that I have a deep respect for those who choose to stand on the side of progress for our country this week. So for those that stand up this week and answer the call for courage, I can say with confidence your courage will be respected and remembered when this struggle is written.”

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a Republican and original co-sponsor of ENDA, spoke on the Senate floor for the first time in two years after suffering a stroke.

“I have been silent for the last two years due to a stroke a little under two years ago,” Kirk said. “I have risen to speak because I’m so passionate in enacting the ENDA statute.”

It’s the first time a version of ENDA with transgender protections has come to the floor of either chamber of Congress. In 2007, controversy ensued after gay former Rep. Barney Frank dropped the transgender provision from the bill over the concern an inclusive bill couldn’t be passed.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the cloture vote on ENDA is “an important step” toward ensuring workplace fairness for everyone, including transgender workers.

“Tonight’s procedural vote is an important step toward making sure our country gives every worker, including transgender workers, the same chance at having security at work and caring for the ones they love,” Keisling said. “The Employment Non-Discrimination Act does just that.”

It’s also the first time the Senate has considered ENDA since 1996, when the bill came to the floor as part of a deal to consider the Defense of Marriage Act and failed by one vote.

The cloture vote is also significant because the 60-vote threshold necessary to overcome a filibuster is higher than the simple majority needed for final passage. It means the legislation is almost certain win final approval in the Senate.

Amendments are expected in the coming days. After his “yes” vote on cloture, Portman announced he’ll introduce an amendment that would prevent retaliation against religious organizations and make changes to the introductory section that highlight and explain the importance of religious liberty.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney praised lawmakers for voting for cloture on the legislation, saying President Obama welcomes the bipartisan support for the bill.

“He thanks the lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who have stood up for America’s core values of fairness and equality, and looks forward to the Senate’s consideration of ENDA,” Carney said. “He also encourages lawmakers to ensure that the legislation remains true to its goals as it is considered.”

LGBT advocates praised the vote on ENDA as a milestone moment in anticipation of additional debate that will take place in the days to come.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the cloture vote indicates the time has come for ENDA’s passage.

“Today we saw American democracy in action with the U.S. Senate finally following the will of a diverse and bipartisan collection of Americans calling for workplace fairness,” Griffin said. “With a super majority of Senators, more than 100 major American companies, and more than two-thirds of Americans all standing proudly in support of ENDA, there is tremendous momentum behind this common-sense bill. ENDA’s time has come, and we’re not going to stop fighting until it is passed once and for all.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, drew attention to the bipartisan support the legislation won on the Senate floor.

“The U.S. Senate has taken a historic step toward ensuring that gay and transgender Americans have the same workplace protections that give all Americans a fair shot to succeed on the job,” Almeida said. “Today’s strong bi-partisan vote total for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act reflects that majorities of Americans from both parties believe nobody should get fired or harassed just because of who they are or whom they love.”

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Biden administration announces global LGBTQ rights priorities

Homosexuality remains criminalized in upwards of 70 countries

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The U.S. Embassy in Cuba in 2016 flew the Pride flag in commemoration of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. State Department spokesperson Ned Price on May 14, 2021, discussed the Biden administration's global LGBTQ rights priorities. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba).

 

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on May 14 said the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five priorities for the Biden administration in its efforts to promote LGBTQ rights abroad.

“The United States over the course of years has made some progress, but neither I, nor I think any objective observer should be satisfied with where we are,” Price told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “There’s a lot more work to do.”

President Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. Price told the Blade the decriminalization of homosexuality is “one of the many reasons why” the White House issued it.

“It is one of the many reasons why Secretary Blinken is so focused on this issue as well,” said Price.

Homosexuality remains criminalized in nearly 70 countries around the world.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the handful of countries that impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of engaging in consensual same-sex sexual relations. Bhutan and Gabon are among the nations that have decriminalized homosexuality in recent years.

The Trump administration in 2019 tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead a decriminalization initiative. Price declined to tell the Blade whether he feels the campaign was effective.

“Across the board I generally have a posture of not characterizing the last administration,” said Price. “I’ll leave them to speak to their record.”

Migration mitigation efforts must be ‘holistic’

Price told the Blade the Biden administration will also work to protect LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers.

“When it comes to the (issue of) irregular migration, this is not just a challenge at our border,” he said. “This is fundamentally a challenge that starts in the region and if we are to address the migrant flows that reach our borders, we’re going to have to start in the region and that’s precisely what we’re doing.”

Activists in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and other countries with whom the Blade has spoken say violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation are among the factors that prompt LGBTQ people to flee their homes and travel to the U.S.

Price did not say whether any of the $4 billion in aid the Biden administration has pledged to spend in order to help mitigate the causes of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle will specifically go to LGBTQ rights groups or HIV/AIDS service organizations. Vice President Kamala Harris late last month announced an additional $310 million in aid to “address” what Price described as “the root causes of irregular migration and to provide people with the confidence that they need not undertake the very dangerous journey north to the United States and that they can be confident in their lives in their home countries.”

“Oftentimes that is about economic opportunity, but there are cases in which it has more to do with discrimination and persecution,” Price told the Blade. “And so, we recognize that our approach to addressing those underlying drivers has to be holistic, given there are a range of factors and that’s why we’re working with a variety of groups on the ground and also understanding that marginalized communities, including the LGBTQI community, in the region, that there needs to be meaningful partnership there as well.”

“USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) is deeply engaged in this work, the State Department is engaged in this work as well and will continue to be, knowing that if we’re going to make progress, if we’re going to address the underlying root causes of irregular migration, we need to attempt to address all of them,” he added.

Price told the Blade the administration’s three other global LGBTQ rights priorities are funding efforts “to protect human rights and to advance nondiscrimination around the world,” respond to anti-LGBTQ human rights abuses and “building coalitions and engaging international organizations in the fight against this discrimination.”

“We have said across the board that one of the pillars of our foreign policy is the recognition that, yes, the United States is the most powerful country on the face of the Earth,” said Price. “We have tremendous sway and influence the world over, but we also recognize that in every challenge in virtually every arena, we will be able to do more, we will be able to be more effective, we’ll be able to be more persuasive and act more decisively when we bring our allies and partners along with us and this administration has put a great deal of emphasis on our alliances, our partnerships, but also those like-minded, as we call them, partners.”

Price added the U.S. recognizes “the values we share with our closest partners in the world are incredibly important.”

“They provide us with a similar framework and a set of priorities on which to act and of course working together to protect, but also to promote the rights of LGBTQ populations around the world,” he told the Blade. “It is a core tenet of what we share with our like-minded allies and partners. You will see us doing this on a bilateral basis. You will see us doing this on a multilateral basis, within blocks and groupings, and also at the U.N. as well. We will seek to press this case in all of those contexts.”

Blinken issues IDAHOBiT statement

Price spoke with the Blade three days before the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, which commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. Blinken on Sunday in a statement acknowledged IDAHOBiT.

“The message of ‘Together: Resisting, Supporting, Healing!’ is especially poignant as this year’s IDAHOTB theme,” said Blinken. “Ending hatred and violence against LGBTQI+ persons requires collaborative action from us all.”

“The United States is doing its part,” he added. “Within the first weeks of his administration, President Biden issued a memorandum instructing all U.S. federal agencies working abroad to ‘ensure that U.S. diplomatic efforts and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.’ And that important work is well underway.”

Blinken in his IDAHOBiT statement also referenced the same five priorities that Price discussed with the Blade.

“Working together, we can create a world that respects and celebrates the dignity of all individuals,” said Blinken. “It is in partnership that we will achieve our goal of a rights-respecting, inclusive society where no one lives in fear because of who they are or whom they love.”

(Photo courtesy of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia committee)

Blinken in March announced the State Department has disbanded the Commission on Unalienable Rights, a human rights advisory committee his predecessor created that LGBTQ activists sharply criticized.

He announced last month the State Department will once again allow U.S. diplomatic installations to fly the Pride flag. The position of special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has remained vacant since 2017, but Blinken has pledged to make it an ambassador level post.

The Trump administration in 2018 withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council, which in recent years has emerged as a vocal champion of LGBTQ rights around the world. Blinken in February announced the U.S. will “reengage” with it.

Price is the first openly gay State Department spokesperson.

“I know that every time I say something I am speaking on behalf of the Department of State, on behalf of Secretary Blinken, on behalf of the U.S. government, sometimes on behalf of President Biden,” he told the Blade. “I’m not sure what I fully appreciated before actually coming into this job is that I’m actually speaking to the LGBTQ community around the world.”

Price said he received emails and tweets from around the world after the Biden transition team announced his appointment. Price told the Blade that some people were “seemingly in shock,” while others had “some degree of delight that a member of the LGBTQ community would be put in such a public facing role in an American administration.”

“I understand this work is not about me,” Price told the Blade. “I’m never offering my personal opinion, but I think that I’ve come to understand that there is meaning in having an openly gay man in a role like this. There is meaning for the LGBTQ community at home, but especially in this role there is meaning and value attached to having that be the case around the world, and especially around the world where members of the community are routinely and often times systematically persecuted.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price

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Biden names civil rights veteran to U.S. Education Dept.

Catherine Lhamon’s portfolio will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct, racial discrimination

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Nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. (Photo public domain))

The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon currently serves as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House, where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio. She is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

She has also served as Legal Affairs Secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Her portfolio at Education, where she previously served in the same position under former President Barack Obama, will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct and racial discrimination in the nation’s K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Lhamon was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, to which President Obama nominated her and the Senate confirmed her in 2013.

“I am thrilled that President Biden is nominating Catherine Lhamon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Catherine has devoted her career to ensuring equity is at the core of all her work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

“She has a strong record of fighting for communities of color and underserved communities, whether as the current Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or as a civil rights educator at Georgetown University. We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students.”

Lhamon has also litigated civil rights cases at National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel Law Center, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.  Lhamon taught federal civil rights appeals at Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and clerked for the Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Catherine Lhamon is the right choice to lead the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights at such a critical time for the country and the agency. There is much work to do in order to roll back the harmful policies and legacies of Betsy DeVos, from her attacks on transgender students to her unconscionable revocation of discriminatory discipline guidance and rewrite of Title IX rules,” Adele Kimmel, Director of the Students’ Civil Rights Project at Public Justice told the Blade in an email.

“During her previous tenure in the same job, Catherine embraced equality, enforced Title IX and ensured students had an ally inside the federal government. She will do so again, and the Senate should move to quickly confirm her so she can begin the work of restoring the Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights and dignity of students and implementing the Biden Administration’s pledge to undo the damage that DeVos has done,” Kimmel added.

Born in Virginia and raised in California, Lhamon graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School. Lhamon and her husband and two daughters are transitioning between California and Maryland.

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University student becomes first non-binary mayor in Wales

‘Coming out and living my true me is still the best decision I’ve ever made’

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Owen J. Hurcum (Photo courtesy of Instagram)

 

The small city in Gwynedd in northwest Wales holds the distinction of being the oldest city in Wales. Now, it has earned itself a pair of new accolades, the first city in Wales to elect its youngest mayor and in fact to have the first elected non-binary gender queer mayor in the world.

Owen J. Hurcum, a 23-year-old university student, was chosen by their fellow councilors on the city’s governing council to become the mayor. The post, which is mainly ceremonial, acts as a goodwill ambassador for city in Wales and the greater U.K. as well as overseas.

Hurcum, who identifies as genderqueer or agender, told BBC Radio Wales Wednesday it “wasn’t a huge shock” when they were chosen to take up the reins, having served as a Bangor councilor for five years, including one term as the city’s deputy mayor. But they said it was a shock when they were initially asked to put their name forward because fellow councilors felt they would be a good representative for the city.

 

 

Their election to the office has created considerable controversy in some quarters with hateful vitriol being directed at both them and their fellow councilors. On Thursday the mayor tweeted;

“I would quickly like to point out that whilst I do indeed receive regular amounts of hate online, coming out and living my true me is still the best decision I’ve ever made and if you are thinking of doing it yourself, I promise there will be loved ones around to support you”

According to the BBC, they thanked fellow councilors for their support when facing online abuse. Noting that the city may be viewed as hardly the place one would expect to be a bastion of tolerance, they told the BBC;

 
“There was a trepidation because, obviously, local government has this unfair reputation of possibly being old and backwards, and I was worried that those views may come from fellow councilors. But I have had the exact opposite. Every single councilor has been extremely supportive, and the previous mayor has called me when he has seen that I have been getting hate online, and he has said he is there if I need him. It has been really nice.”
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