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LGBT workers caught in standoff as ENDA blocked

Boehner won’t bring up bill; White House continues to withhold executive order

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John Boehner, Republican Party, Ohio, Republican National Convention, Florida, Tampa, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade
John Boehner, Speaker of the House, GOP, Republican, gay news, Washington Blade

House Speaker John Boehner opposes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

After Senate passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, progress toward protecting LGBT workers has hit a wall amid an apparent standoff between the U.S. House and the White House.

On the one hand, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he sees “no need or no basis” for ENDA, which would bar most employers from discriminating against LGBT workers. On the other, the White House insists the House of Representatives must take  action and is continuing to withhold an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT discrimination.

Boehner made the comments in opposition to ENDA, articulating a view he previously expressed through a spokesperson, when asked by the Washington Blade last week whether he would allow a vote on the legislation despite his own misgivings about the bill.

“I think this legislation that I’ve dealt with as chairman of the Education & The Workforce Committee long before I was back in the leadership is unnecessary and would provide a basis for frivolous lawsuits,” Boehner said. “People are already protected in the workplace. I’m opposed to continuing this.”

LGBT advocates immediately pounced on Boehner’s remarks, saying there’s no basis to believe the bill would lead to “frivolous lawsuits,” citing a recent study by Government Accountability Office finding that the enactment of similar state laws have resulted in “relatively few employment discrimination complaints.” Advocates also noted an employee can be fired for being gay in 29 states and 33 states have no protections for transgender workers.

The next day, the Blade asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney whether Boehner’s continued obstruction of a House vote on ENDA has led to any reconsideration of an executive order from President Obama barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors. Carney restated Obama’s support for ENDA and redirected attention to Boehner in his response.

“So we are not at all ready to believe that the fight is over in the House, because it is the president’s strong conviction that this is the right thing to do and that the arguments against it do not hold up to scrutiny or the test of history,” Carney said. “So we’re going to keep fighting for the House to take it up and urging the House to take it up.”

Despite the outward appearance of a standoff between the White House and the House of Representatives, LGBT advocates dismiss the notion of gridlock and say movement continues behind the scenes.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said some of the momentum seen in the Senate continues in the House.

“More than a dozen House members have joined as ENDA co-sponsors within the last month alone, and we just reached the 200 sponsor mark,” Almeida said “By the end of this week, Freedom to Work will have met with and lobbied more than 15 Republican House offices in the two weeks since the Senate vote, and we think the number of ENDA co-sponsors will continue to grow.”

Almeida predicted that ENDA “would pass if allowed to reach the floor of the House,” joining Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Rep. Jared Polis and the Human Rights Campaign in making that assessment.

Laura Durso, director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, said the standoff on action for LGBT workers actually exists elsewhere.

“I personally see the standoff really between the Republican leadership in the House and the bipartisan majority of the American public, the bipartisan majority in the Senate who had supported ENDA,” Durso said.

Meanwhile, ENDA supporters are continuing to draw attention to the lack of federal workplace non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers.

Last week, a coalition of groups including the Movement Advancement Project, issued an update to its series of reports on the state of LGBT workers with a new study that examines the particular plight faced by LGBT workers of color.

The report, titled “A Broken Bargain for LGBT Workers of Color,” takes a broader look at issues for LGBT people of color other than workplace discrimination, but finds they have higher rates of unemployment in comparison to their straight counterparts.

The unemployment rate for LGBT Asian and Pacific Islanders is 11 percent compared to 8 percent for straight Asian and Pacific Islanders; for LGBT Latinos it’s 14 percent compared to 11 percent for straight Latinos; and 15 percent for LGBT African Americans compared to 12 percent for straight African Americans.

Additionally, the report found unemployment rates for transgender people of color have reached as high as four times the national unemployment rate.

“Hiring bias and on-the-job discrimination mean that qualified LGBT workers of color may not have the opportunity to find jobs that match their abilities and aspirations and that allow them to support themselves and their families,” the report concludes.

CREDO, a progressive social change organization, has prepared an online petition calling on Boehner to allow a vote on ENDA. As of last week, more than 49,000 people had signed.

“The Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the Senate,” the petition states. “Stop blocking an up-or-down vote, and let all members of the House go on the record about where they stand on equal rights in the workplace.”

Meanwhile, calls continue for President Obama to sign an executive order to bar LGBT discrimination among federal contractors. If the order were along the lines of Executive Order 11246 signed by President Lyndon Johnson, it would bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for federal contractors that earn more than $10,000 a year in federal contracts.

Sarah Trumble, policy counsel for the centrist group known as the Third Way, said the White House may decide to issue the executive order “as a down payment” for LGBT workers while anticipating later action from Congress.

“Because these issues are actually separate, even if the White House does issue the executive order, we would still need ENDA and Speaker Boehner would continue to feel the pressure to give the bill a vote,” Trumble said.

Almeida expressed frustration that the Obama administration continues to hold out on the executive order.

“There’s no need to wait months, or even wait days, before adding strong LGBT workplace protections to millions of American jobs,” Almeida said. “The unexplained delays by the Obama administration are perplexing.”

Almeida said that last week the company Bechtel, a global engineering and construction company, received a $143 million contract from the U.S. government even though protections for transgender workers aren’t included in its non-discrimination policy.

“The existing federal contractor Executive Order 11246 already bans sex discrimination, giving the Labor Department the authority to insert transgender protections into the language of contracts like the one Bechtel signed last week,” Almeida said. “But the Labor Department is sadly allowing those opportunities for progress to slip away.”

Such action from the Labor Department, Almeida noted, would bring the existing executive order into alignment with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity’s decision in Macy v. Holder that found transgender discrimination amounts to gender discrimination prohibited under current law.

“We will keep pushing for both President Obama and Labor Secretary Perez to take concrete action to ensure American taxpayer money is not squandered on harassment or discrimination,” Almeida concluded.

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Sheila Alexander-Reid to step down as director of D.C. LGBTQ Affairs Office

Veteran community activist to take new job workplace bias consultant

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Mayor's Office of GLBT Affairs, Sheila Alexander-Reid, gay news, Washington Blade

Longtime LGBTQ community advocate Sheila Alexander-Reid, who has served since 2015 as director of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Affairs, is stepping down from her city job in mid-July.

Alexander-Reid told the Washington Blade she will take a few weeks of accumulated leave beginning June 15 to recuperate from follow-up knee surgery before officially leaving her current job to take on a new role as a private sector consultant in the area of workplace bias and diversity training.

She said will announce the name of the private sector company she will be joining as a senior vice president when she begins her new job in mid-July.

Among her duties at the Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office has been to lead the office’s staff in providing LGBTQ related diversity or competency training for D.C. government employees at all city agencies.

According to the office’s website, other activities it carries out include connecting LGBTQ residents with city services they may need, advocating on behalf of programs and policies that benefit the lives of LGBTQ residents, providing grants to community-based organizations that serve the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ homeless youth; and host events that “enrich, promote, and bring together” the LGBTQ community in D.C.

“That work is always going to be part of who I am,” Alexander-Reid said. “But now I will be expanding on that work to look at racial equity and gender bias as well as LGBTQ bias,” she said. “I feel like I will be doing the same work but in a different format.”

Prior to starting her job at the mayor’s office, Alexander Reid served as Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at the Washington Blade, Director of Strategic Engagement at the Washington City Paper, and Founder and Executive Director of the D.C. based Women in the Life Association. She has also served as host of Inside Out, a local FM LGBTQ radio show.

Alexander-Reid noted that when she began work at the LGBTQ Affairs Office in late January 2015, less than a month after Bowser took office as mayor, the office consisted of two full-time employees, including her, with a budget of $209,000. In the current fiscal year 2021, the office now has four full-time employees and two additional detailed employees, from the Department of Health and Department of Human Services. The mayor is proposing a budget of $561,000 for the office for fiscal year 2022.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t say what a pleasure it has been to work for Mayor Bowser,” said Alexander-Reid. “I was excited to work for her and I don’t regret it for one second. “It’s been an amazing journey and I appreciate her having faith in me.”

She said she expects an interim director to be named to run the office in mid-July while a search is conducted for a permanent director.

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Attack on trans woman in D.C. laundromat captured in video

Police seek help from community in identifying suspects.

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(Screen capture via the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's YouTube channel)

D.C. police on Thursday night released a dramatic video taken from a surveillance camera showing two women and a man repeatedly punching and shoving a transgender woman at a laundromat on Benning Road in Northeast Washington in an incident in which the victim was stabbed in the head.

Police, who have listed the Sunday, June 6, incident as a suspected anti-LGBTQ hate crime, are appealing to the community for help in identifying the three suspects, who are shown in the video attacking the trans woman before escaping in a black SUV while carrying laundry bags.

Detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department’s Sixth District obtained the video from a surveillance camera at the Capital Laundry Mat at 1653 Benning Road, N.E., according to a police report and a police statement released Thursday night.

The video shows that the suspects were accompanied by two young children. It shows one of the adult female suspects appearing to be dancing by herself in front of a row of washing machines seconds before the three suspects lunged at the victim and began punching her.

“One of the suspects brandished a knife and stabbed the victim,” the police statement says. “The suspects fled the scene in a vehicle. The victim was transported to a local hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries,” the statement says.

“Anyone who can identify these individuals, or vehicle, or has knowledge of this incident should take no action but call police at 202-727-9099 or text your tip to the Department’s TEXT TIP LINE at 50411,” the statement adds. It says the department’s Crime Solvers program offers a reward of up to $1,000 to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and indictment of a person or persons responsible for a crime committed in D.C.

Police spokesperson Alaina Gertz told the Washington Blade that because the investigation is ongoing, police could not immediately disclose whether they know if the victim knew one or more of the attackers before the incident took place or what, if anything, prompted the suspects to attack the victim other than due to her status as a transgender person.

The video released by D.C. police can be accessed here:  https://youtu.be/7v8lthvUPcg

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North Dakota lawmakers okay regulation banning Conversion Therapy

This rule change will stop the vast majority of mental health providers in North Dakota from subjecting LGBTQ youth to conversion therapy

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Capitol Building of North Dakota in Bismarck (Photo Credit: State of North Dakota)

BISMARCK, ND. – The North Dakota House Administrative Rules Committee voted 8-7 on Tuesday, June 8, to authorize the rule proposed by the North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners, implementing new regulations prohibiting licensed social workers from subjecting LGBTQ youth to the widely discredited practice of conversion therapy.

The North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners, which oversees licensing for social workers in the state, created the new rule which states that “it is an ethical violation for a social worker licensed by the board to engage in any practices or treatments that attempt to change or repair the sexual orientation or gender identity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals.”

The West Hollywood based Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people, had worked with Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Josh Boschee, the National Association of Social Workers ND Chapter, the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, and local advocates like Elizabeth Loos to advance these critical protections for LGBTQ youth.

 “This rule change will stop the vast majority of mental health providers in North Dakota from subjecting LGBTQ youth to the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy. This practice is not therapy at all— it’s abusive and fraudulent,” said Troy Stevenson, Senior Advocacy Campaign Manager for The Trevor Project. “There is still more work to be done in North Dakota, but this bold action will help save young lives. The Trevor Project is committed to an every state strategy to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy and North Dakota has proven that progress is possible anywhere.”

“Thank you to the North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners for restricting licensed social workers in North Dakota from being able to practice conversion therapy! LGBT North Dakotans, especially youth, are safer now as you hold licensees responsible to the NASW Code of Ethics,” said Minority Leader Boschee. 

The proposed ban on therapist-administered conversion therapy in North Dakota was met with opposition by several of the committee’s most socially conservative members, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, told the paper that he worries the new prohibition is limiting because it would prevent people seeking “some kind of treatment” from getting help. Bell said the rule is written so clients who are LGBT or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity are not inhibited from seeking care.

Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown, said he’s concerned the rule would interfere with religious counseling, adding “there are some cases where people want to change.”

“There are licensed counselors that are also Christians, and basically my concern in all of this is that we’re telling the Christian counselors ‘you can be a licensed counselor, but you can’t practice your Christianity,'” Satrom said.

Satrom and West Fargo Republican Rep. Kim Koppelman said approving the social workers’ ban on conversion therapy is outside of the committee’s scope and ought to be scrutinized by the full Legislature.

Boschee, the North Dakota Legislature’s only openly gay member, told the Grand Forks Herald that he was disappointed in some of his colleagues for standing behind the “harmful” practice of conversion therapy and trying to muddy the conversation over what is a simple self-imposed rule for social workers. The Fargo Democrat said he was ultimately pleased that seven lawmakers joined him in upholding the proposed ban.

Research: 

  • According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 13% of LGBTQ youth reported being subjected to conversion therapy, with 83% reporting it occurred when they were under age 18. LGBTQ youth who were subjected to conversion therapy reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not.
  • According to a peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project published in the American Journal of Public Health, LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than 2.5 times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year.
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