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LGBT workplace protections at what cost?

Religious exemptions threaten push for full equality

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

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) addressed reporters following the vote on cloture on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. Senate. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BY BRIAN SILVA AND HEATHER CRONK

On Monday, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed a Senate cloture vote. This bill has been floating around Congress for decades, and needs to be passed — workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity remains one of the biggest hurdles that LGBT Americans face, and nearly 90 percent of the American public supports workplace equality.

However, there are fundamental problems with this version of the bill that give us pause. Though LGBT workers desperately need workplace protections, the current version of ENDA includes broader religious carve-outs than have ever been granted in civil rights legislation, allowing opponents of full LGBT equality a powerful tool to discriminate in ways they have never been allowed before with any other protected class of Americans.

We agree that religious institutions should continue to be afforded the same exemptions they have had since the 1964 Civil Rights Act — but creating special rights for religious institutions to discriminate more broadly against LGBT Americans than against others is simply un-American. In the past, employers like hospitals and universities were required to have a religious reason to deny someone a job, i.e. there might be a religious requirement to be a hospital chaplain. Those exemptions were sensible in order to preserve religious liberty.

This version of ENDA, however, creates such broad religious exemptions that even a nurse at a Catholic hospital or a secretary at a Baptist university would be subject to discrimination for no other reason than being LGBT.

Imagine if we allowed that type of exemption for other protected classes from the Civil Rights Act. Would it be acceptable to fire a janitor at a Catholic hospital just because he was Jewish? Would we allow a Baptist university to deny a woman a job solely because of her gender? Given that religiously affiliated institutions are often the largest employer in many towns across the country, these special discriminatory rights will leave behind all of those non-clergy employees who are currently forced to live in the closet in order to take care of themselves and their families.

The legislative process is always a matter of compromise — but our core values should never be up for negotiation. And these special rights to discriminate will set a negative precedent for future work on LGBT equality, potentially creating questions around sheltering homeless LGBT youth or marriage equality.

Earlier this month, Tippi McCullough was fired after 15 years of outstanding teaching at Mount St. Mary Academy, a Catholic school in Arkansas. Was it because the quality of her work had dropped? No. The leadership of the school said that because she was a lesbian and chose to marry her partner in a civil marriage ceremony, she had been terminated. With such broad religious exemptions in the latest ENDA proposal, Tippi and thousands of other LGBT Americans will have to choose between marrying the person they love, or staying in the closet in order to keep their job.

We believe that legislation ending LGBT workplace discrimination should pass the Senate and the House and be signed into law by the president. And we certainly won’t stand in the way of this bill moving through the Senate because we know that, if passed by the House, it could offer much-needed protections to millions of LGBT workers. However, we believe there is still time to work with and educate those legislators who are still evolving as to why LGBT Americans deserve the same protections granted to others under the 1964 Civil Rights Act — no more, no less. In that spirit, we cannot stand by silently as this bill compromises our ability to gain full workplace equality for LGBT Americans.

Brian Silva is executive director of Marriage Equality USA. Heather Cronk is co-director of GetEQUAL.

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Trans rights have reached a crisis point

We should fear DeSantis more than Trump

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Michael Knowles speaks at CPAC. (Screen capture via Vimeo)

Trans rights have reached a crisis point. There’s no other way to say it. 

On March 4, CPAC speaker Michael Knowles plainly stated that “if [transgenderism] is false, then for the good of society, transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely – the whole preposterous ideology.”

To liken transness as a mere ideology is problematic on many different counts, but that paled in comparison to Knowles’s need for us to be eradicated. Eradication rhetoric is a genocidal tool, to ask and plead for an entire subpopulation to go away in one fell swoop is murderous and brutal. Genocides begin with this kind of rhetoric, then escalate to dangerous politicians being elected to office, then escalate even more to harsh policy, then escalate yet again when those harsh policies force humans to have to do many things — be locked in a cage, move out of the country, or even detransition, in this case. 

Look no further than what happened at the southern border during Trump’s years in office, when images of migrants and their children surfaced at maximum security facilities, lying on the floor with nothing but a meager blanket and barbed wire surrounding their bodies. 

Indeed, a lot of the CPAC conference was dedicated to engaging in these culture wars — but Knowles’s statement of eradication goes beyond the normal cultural bickering. This is why trans politics are at a dangerous turning point. 

Adding to this chaos are bathroom bills and sports policies that prevent trans high schoolers from accessing the bathroom they need, or playing on the right side of their sports team. 

In conversations with professionals, academics, and friends, I like to mention the fact that Republicans take peoples’ rights away when they notice that those people have gained more freedom. Think of it this way: when I was in high school, in 2010, far fewer trans people were out with their identities. Transness didn’t take a center stage in culture — be it on the left or on the right. And as a result, trans students were only attacked by bullies and in locker rooms, not by state politicians. 

But the rise of Gen Z has witnessed many high schoolers now flouting gender norms, going by nonbinary pronouns, and being proud of their gender variance. Moreover, society is filled with many more trans models and celebrities. When our presence becomes celebrated and known, Republicans will then take the necessary tools to push us back into the closet. 

What’s adding to the concern is the rise of smarter Republican candidates for the 2024 election who have exactly the same feelings of Trump but with higher intellects. Ron DeSantis is an example of a presidential contender who mirrors Trump’s bigotry and policies but is far more targeted and intelligent in his approach to public speaking and politics. Indeed, Democrats should be more afraid of DeSantis than of Trump. 

On an end note, I like to summon an old saying by the late Martin Luther King. “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” No matter how much cruelty Republicans will put us through, they won’t succeed in the long run. More and more of society is catching up to the fact that trans people deserve respect and fairness. There will come a day when we have to sigh less and less about the state of our rights. 

Isaac Amend (he/him/his) is a trans man and young professional in the D.C. area. He was featured on National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ in 2017 as a student at Yale University. Amend is also on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Find him on Instagram @isaacamend.

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The ‘Find Out’ generation: A new generation for a new America

We are willing to face down the forces of status quo

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(Photo by Ben Gingell/Bigstock)

In an op-ed I wrote in April entitled “On Gun Violence, the New Generation Will Not Be Silenced,” I wrote about Tennessee State Representative Justin Thomas and Justin Pearson being expelled from the Tennessee Legislature.

Since then, both have been reinstated by local county governing boards that sent them back to the legislature unanimously. Let’s recall they and the remaining legislator Gloria Johnson’s “crime,” was deciding enough was enough by protesting against gun violence on the legislative floor. The national support they have received since then has been enormous. 

Similarly, in Montana, Zooey Zephyr, the first transgender legislator there, was silenced by the Republican majority legislature there, being censured (prevented from public speaking) for saying there would be “blood on the hands” of members that voted on an anti-trans piece of legislation.

Zephyr and the “Tennessee Three,” as they’ve come to be called, are part of a new generation of leaders in America, or the “find out” generation that won’t settle for business as usual and are willing to face down the forces of status quo that want to maintain a system built on White supremacy and assimilation. 

They follow a lineage of resistance of those willing to cause “good trouble,” as the late Congressman John Lewis once said. As the former head of the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee in the 60s, Lewis was arrested multiple times and was part of the Tennessee sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. (He would later, in 2016, bring Congressional House proceedings to a halt in a protest against gun violence.)

Justin Jones himself has been arrested 13 times for non-violent protest and jokes that one of the reasons he ran for the state legislature is that “members of the Tennessee Legislature can’t be arrested,” which is true, at least while in session. But Justin’s arrests are part of the tradition of the civil rights movement in the South. Tennessee was indeed the home resistance. 

In May of 1960, over 150 students were arrested by the police for attempting to desegregate lunch counters in downtown Nashville. During the trial, the students, including Diane Nash, were defended by a group of 13 lawyers, headed by Z. Alexander Looby, a Black lawyer from the British West Indies, whose house was later bombed by segregationists. Looby and his wife were thankfully unharmed.

Later that day, 3,000 protesters marched to Nashville City Hall to confront Mayor Ben West to demand something be done about the violence. He agreed the lunch counters should be desegregated but that it should be up to the store managers.

The city later reached an agreement to desegregate numerous stores before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited desegregation altogether. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. later came to Nashville, saying he “did not come to bring inspiration, but to find it.” 

Meanwhile, in Montana, Zooey Zephyr, the first transgender state legislator in Montana, follows in the footsteps of early LGBT activists/officeholders like the late Harvey Milk of San Francisco. Zephyr’s courageous stance against a majority of the legislature who voted for an anti-trans bill prohibiting gender-affirming healthcare for minors resulted in Zephyr being censured and prohibited from giving speeches on the House floor. Since then, there has been a tremendous national backlash against such fascist tactics both there and in Tennessee. 

As we look ahead to Junteenth and Pride next month, Jones, Pearson, and Zephyr are visible symbols of the rise of a new generation coming up, the “find out” generation that refuses to accept the status quo and who is willing to put everything on the line to face injustice in the name of service to their communities.

Whether it is gun violence, housing, or hate, leadership like this will create the multigenerational, intersectional leadership we need at the local, state, and federal levels in the Halls of Congress to bring about solutions to the issues we have been facing. To create a new America that works for everyone. And I’m here for it. 

A millennial based in Los Angeles, Steve Dunwoody is a veteran, college educator, and community advocate.

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Pride month should be every month

Let’s not keep supportive CEOs and LGBTQ police out of our parades

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

I find it interesting we celebrate our Pride only one month a year. I take pride in being gay all year long. I am not opposed to celebrations in June; parades and festivals are great fun. I appreciate Capital Pride naming me a Pride Hero in 2016. Those magnetic signs decorating the convertible I rode in, now adorn my refrigerator. But for me Pride in being gay is something I have all year long.

It took me many years to feel that way. I was 34 when I finally came out, sharing who I was with others. One of the factors keeping me in the closet as a young person was the desire to run for public office. That wasn’t possible as an openly gay man, even where I grew up in New York City. It was only moving to Washington, D.C., away from family and childhood friends, that finally focused me on my true self, allowing me to come to grips with who I was, a gay man.

In 1978, D.C. was a place people could feel comfortable taking those first steps toward coming out. Many people were away from their family and old friends, ready to take a step into their own reality. You could go to a bar like Rascals in Dupont Circle, meet congresspersons, congressional staff, government officials, non-profit and business CEOs, teachers and reporters, all still in the closet and not afraid they would be outed. Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, before AIDS, many of us were still in the closet.

Thankfully, there were some who were not. In the 1978 D.C. mayoral race, won by Marion Barry, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the gay Democratic club in D.C., played a major role in his victory. Barry openly thanked them. He was a four-term mayor who supported the LGBTQ community. It wasn’t until the end of his career, when he was a Council member from Ward 8, that he came out against gay marriage. I remember how jarring it was for so many when he stood on Freedom Plaza with some homophobic ministers, and told us he opposed our right to marry. But he was the anomaly in D.C. The work of activists over the years, I was proud to be one of them, won. The D.C. Council passed marriage equality.

In today’s troubling times the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, the African-American community, and all minorities, are at risk. With white supremacy on the rise, and anti-Semitism once again rearing its ugly head, it’s important to celebrate our Pride all year long. I want every month to be a Pride month, so people in Florida will know they cannot deprive us of our rights, or erase us from their schools. So, a young boy or girl in Mississippi or Montana, who struggle with who they are, and who they love, will be able to see they are great and loved, and can live their life fully, and safely, being their true self.

I hope by the time we celebrate World Pride in D.C. in 2025, inviting the world in to see who the United States really is, we can be proud of who we are. Today that is not the case in many ways. I want a transgender person to come to the United States for World Pride and feel comfortable, not only on the streets of D.C., but anywhere in our country. I want us to be able to show off and say, here you are safe. I want the feeling I had, as a privileged white cisgender man, coming out safely in D.C., to be the feeling everyone has. To do that we will have to fight not only homophobia, but racism, and sexism. It is all interconnected and we must recognize that and join hands, if we are to be successful. While today in D.C. we have African-American Pride, Transgender Pride, Youth Pride, and Latino Pride, maybe we can all join together for World Pride. Let us have pride in each other, as well as ourselves. Let us have that pride every month, every day, and every hour, all year long.

We can do this and still have fun in June. Let’s not keep LGBTQ police, and military, out of our parades. Let us be as proud of them, as they are of themselves. Let us invite the corporate entities that support us. I would be proud to march with Disney CEO Robert Iger. We will only make progress if we do so together.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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