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Mississippi legislature approves ‘turn away the gays’ bill

Legislation along the lines of Arizona bill vetoed by Jan Brewer

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Mississippi, Jackson, Turn Away the Gays, gay news, Washington Blade
Mississippi, Jackson, Turn Away the Gays, gay news, Washington Blade

The Mississippi legislature has approved a “turn away the gay” bill. (Photo by Chuck Kelly; courtesy Creative Commons)

The Mississippi legislature approved late Tuesday a “turn away the gays” measure that would enable businesses and individuals in the state to discriminate against or refuse services to LGBT people on religious grounds — making a signature from the governor the last remaining step before the bill becomes law.

In a development that largely went unnoticed on the national stage, the State House and Senate on the same day both approved a conference report for S.B. 2681, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The vote in the Republican-controlled House was 78-43 and the vote in the Republican-controlled Senate vote was 38-14.

Much like the controversial Arizona bill known as SB 1062 vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, the six-page legislation never once mentions the words “sexual orientation,” “gender identity” or “gay.” Still, LGBT advocates insist the legislation would have the effect of allowing discriminatory practices against LGBT people seeking services in Mississippi.

Sarah Warbelow, the Human Rights Campaign’s state legislative director, said the bill would in essence make “LGBT people strangers to the law.”

“Before Mississippi has had the opportunity to robustly discuss the lived experiences of LGBT people, this bill would hollow out any non-discrimination protections at the local level or possible future state-wide protections,” Warbelow said. “Just as we’ve seen in other states, this bill is bad for business, bad for the state’s reputation, and most of all, bad for Mississippians. Gov. Bryant must veto the measure.”

Notably, the measure also contains language modifying the state seal in a way adds to it the words “In God We Trust.” The bill also has language that says nothing in the measure “shall create any rights by an employee against an employer if the employer is not the government,” which is different from the Arizona legislation.

Now that the legislature has approved the bill, the last remaining step before it becomes law is a signature from Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who’s known for his conservative views as chief executive of a state in the Deep South. Still, Brewer has the same reputation, but she vetoed the Arizona bill after pressure from LGBT advocates, businesses, religious groups and faith leaders.

If Bryant signs the bill, it’ll go into effect on July 1. Bryant’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether he’ll sign the legislation.

It should be noted that sexual orientation and gender identity currently aren’t protected under civil rights law in Mississippi. Based on state and federal law, individuals and businesses could refuse services to LGBT people, such as services for a same-sex wedding, without fear of reprisal regardless of whether or not the bill signed into law.

No municipalities in Mississippi have non-discrimination ordinances, although Starkville, Hattiesburg and Oxford have all passed pro-LGBT resolutions.

Still, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the measure could undermine future state non-discrimination laws, interfere with licensing organizations that have professional regulations protecting LGBT individuals and undermine public university non-discrimination policies.

The measure is part of a nationwide trend of “turn away the gay” bills advancing in state legislatures. Including the one vetoed in Arizona, other similar bills in Georgia, Idaho, Maine, and Ohio were rejected. But similar bills are still pending in Missouri and Oklahoma.

The measure advanced through the legislature after the Mississippi House voted last month to strike text related to religious liberty and instead created a study committee on how to pass such a bill in the future. Despite changes made by the House, the conference committee produced a report that advocates say would subject LGBT people to discrimination anyway.

The legislature’s passage of the bill has won praise from at least one anti-gay group, which says the legislation is along the lines of a federal religious exemption law introduced by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer before being passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the measure simply ensures religious freedom for individuals and businesses in Mississippi.

“This is a victory for the First Amendment and the right to live and work according to one’s conscience,” Perkins said. “This commonsense measure was a no-brainer for freedom, and like the federal RFRA, it simply bars government discrimination against religious exercise. The legislature gave strong approval to a bill that declares that individuals do not have to trade their religious freedom for entrance into public commerce.

Morgan Miller, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, told the Blade although lawmakers attempted to align the Mississippi bill with federal law, the end result “falls short.”

“This bill still could open the door for someone who wants to use their religion to discriminate against others,” Miller said. “It exposes virtually every branch and office of the government to litigation; our state will have to spend taxpayer money to defend lawsuits. It’s unnecessary: the Mississippi legislature has been unable to articulate why this law is needed in our state.”

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South America

Chilean government launches LGBTQ, intersex rights campaign

Women and Gender Equity Undersecretary Luz Vidal Huiriqueo spoke exclusively with the Blade

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Women and Gender Equity Undersecretary Luz Vidal Huiriqueo has participated in the Chilean government's LGBTIQA+ Roundtable. (Photo courtesy of Chile's Women and Gender Equity Ministry)

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chilean President Gabriel Boric on Wednesday launched his government’s first LGBTQ and intersex rights campaign that seeks to reduce discrimination against the country’s queer community. 

According to the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (Movilh), a Chilean LGBTQ and intersex rights organization, hate crimes against the community have increased this year by 66 percent. Five people have also been murdered because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression.

Boric during his campaign against José Antonio Kast, a far-right former congressman, pledged to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights and policies during his administration. The #LivingWithPride campaign is part of these efforts.

Boric’s first gesture towards the queer community was to appoint Marco Antonio Avila, a gay man, as his government’s education minister and Alexandra Benado Vergara, a lesbian woman, as Chile’s next sports minister. Ávila and Benado arrived at La Moneda, the Chilean presidential palace, with Boric on March 11 when he took office. 

“President Gabriel Boric Font’s government has implemented a series of measures that seek to advance in safeguarding the rights of LGBTQ+ people,” Women and Gender Equity Undersecretary Luz Vidal Huiriqueo told the Washington Blade in an exclusive interview after the government launched the #LivingWithPride (#VivirConOrgullo in Spanish) campaign.

Vidal said “one of the relevant lines of work that the Ministry of Women and Gender Equity has developed since we took office … seeks to highlight the structural difficulties experienced by people of the LGBTIQA+ community, move towards state representation, since there is currently no institutionality that welcomes this community.”

“This is why we have taken the mandate to welcome this population, within the legal possibilities that govern the ministry,” Vidal emphasized to the Blade.

Vidal said “the gender mainstreaming network that has been reactivated with our government has opened a door to the organizations of the LGBTIQA+ community in all portfolios.” 

“The advisors in charge of gender mainstreaming do not understand gender in a binary way, they have the conviction that we must also develop public policies for the LGBTIQA+ community.” she told the Blade.

Boric directed the Women and Gender Equity Ministry and his administration’s sociocultural coordinator to create and lead an “LGBTIQA+ Roundtable,” which includes organizations, activists and members of the LGBTQ Congressional Caucus to work to implement their demands because Chile thus far does not have a government institution that specifically addresses queer rights. 

“The roundtable’s objective is to generate and prioritize, together with the LGBTIQA+ community, guidelines for the development of public policies on the matter, from an intersectoral perspective,” said Vidal. “More than 35 civil society organizations from all over the country, representatives of the Legislative Branch and different (Executive Branch) portfolios have participated.” 

Vidal stressed “this space of constant linkage with social organizations has allowed us to know the reality that social organizations of the LGBTIQA+ community live when linking with State agencies.” She also noted “the experience has been successful, being a valuable space that will allow us to build a work path for the design of gender equality public policies relevant to the LGBTIQA+ community, to improve their lives and eradicate gender-based violence and hate crimes against the community.”

The roundtable has been meeting once a month since May. It’s last 2022 meeting will take place this month, and it will resume its work next year.

Vidal told the Blade that transgender women can now use her ministry’s public policies.

“We consider trans women as part of the diversity of women, which implies that they can access the different benefits of the National Service for Women and Gender Equity (SernamEG), which is the executing body of the ministry’s programs,” she said. 

Another initiative Vidal highlighted is the incorporation of a “social name” section in the public employment pages for those who have not yet legally changed their name. This option allows people to identify themselves as trans or nonbinary.

The Education Ministry “has developed a participatory process for the design of the Bill on National Policy on Education on Affectivity and Comprehensive Sexuality. It has also made it possible for students, mothers, fathers, parents, guardians and education workers to participate in what Vidal described as “non-sexist” education workshops.

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Federal Government

Nonbinary Energy Department official charged with second luggage theft

Sam Brinton placed on administrative leave after first allegation

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Sam Brinton (Photo courtesy of Sam Brinton)

Sam Brinton, the first openly genderfluid person appointed to a senior government post, was served with a felony arrest warrant Friday following a second incident in which they were accused of stealing luggage from an airport.

New charges accuse Brinton of grand larceny of property valued between $1,200 and $5,000, for stealing luggage at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. They were previously charged with a felony for lifting a suitcase from baggage claim at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Sept. 16.

Brinton joined the U.S. Department of Energy this year as deputy assistant secretary for spent fuel and waste disposition. The New York Post reported they were put on leave following the first incident.

“The Department of Energy takes criminal charges against DOE employees and clearance holders very seriously,” a Department of Energy spokesperson told the Washington Blade in a statement. “Sam Brinton, a career civil servant, is on administrative leave. The department is limited by law on what it can disclose on personnel matters, such as an employee’s clearance status. Generally, as the department has previously stated, if a DOE clearance holder is charged with a crime, the case would be immediately considered by DOE personnel security officials, and depending on the circumstances, that review could result in suspension or revocation of the clearance.”

On Dec. 7, a group of 16 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, including far-right Congress members Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (Texas), called on Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to demand Brinton’s resignation.

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Congress

Sen. Sinema changes party affiliation from Democrat to independent

Lawmaker made history in 2018, becoming first bi member to serve in Senate

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said during an interview with POLITICO on Friday that she will switch her party affiliation from Democrat to independent but pledged not to change the way she has voted over the past four years in the Senate.

Sinema’s announcement comes just two days after Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia prevailed in a runoff election against Republican challenger Herschel Walker, widening Democrats’ razor thin majority in the upper chamber.

“I don’t anticipate that anything will change about the Senate structure,” Sinema told POLITICO. “I intend to show up to work, do the same work that I always do. I just intend to show up to work as an independent.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement on her decision:

“Senator Sinema has been a key partner on some of the historic legislation President Biden has championed over the last 20 months, from the American Rescue Plan to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, from the Inflation Reduction Act to the CHIPS and Science Act, from the PACT Act to the Gun Safety Act to the Respect for Marriage Act, and more.

“We understand that her decision to register as an independent in Arizona does not change the new Democratic majority control of the Senate, and we have every reason to expect that we will continue to work successfully with her.”

Sinema’s reputation as an iconoclast has occasionally frustrated her Democratic colleagues in the chamber as well as progressives more broadly. Critics were puzzled by what they saw as the Arizona Senator’s fealty to multinational pharmaceutical companies, hedge funds, and venture capital firms.

More recently, however, Sinema was credited for her instrumental work earning her GOP colleagues’ support for the Respect for Marriage Act, which earned a filibuster proof majority and is now on its way to be signed into law.

Sinema made history with her election to the Senate in 2018, becoming the first bisexual and second LGBTQ person (behind Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin) to serve in the upper chamber.

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