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HISTORIC: Obama signs executive order barring anti-LGBT job bias

Directive prohibits discrimination among 22 percent of the nation’s workforce



Barack Obama, United States of America, White House, Democratic Party, executive order, discrimination, gay news, Washington Blade
Barack Obama, United States of America, White House, Democratic Party, executive order, discrimination, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama signed an executive order barring anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors on Monday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Fulfilling a long-awaited action that LGBT advocates had pursued since the start of his administration, President Obama signed on Monday morning an executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors and in the federal workforce.

Seated before nine LGBT advocates — some of whom had experienced anti-LGBT discrimination on the job — Obama signed the directive in the East Room of the White House at 10:45 am, but not before speaking out against the continued lack of protections against LGBT workplace discrimination throughout the country.

“It doesn’t make any sense, but today in America, millions of our federal citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of what they do and fail to do, but simply because of who they are — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender — and that’s wrong,” Obama said. “We’re here to do what we can to make it right, to bend that arc justice just a little bit in the other direction.”

The effects of the executive order are two-fold: It prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination among companies that do $10,000 a year or more in business with the U.S. government in addition to barring discrimination against federal workers who are transgender.

Obama amended Executive Order 11246 — which prohibits federal contractors from engaging in discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin — to prohibit these companies from engaging in anti-LGBT bias in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people,” Obama said.

Additionally, Obama amended Executive Order 11478 — which prohibits discrimination in the federal civilian workplace — to bar discrimination based on gender identity. In 1998, President Clinton  amended the directive to prohibit discrimination against employees of the U.S. government based on sexual orientation.

The action from Obama barring federal contractors from engaging anti-LGBT bias was sought by LGBT advocates for years. LGBT advocates had called such an executive order a 2008 campaign promise from Obama, and media had questioned the White House about why it hadn’t been signed since 2011.

“Many of you have worked for a long time to see this day come,” Obama said. “You organized, you spoke up, you signed petitions, you sent letters — I know because I got a lot of them…Thanks to your passion and advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government — the government of the people by the people and for the people — will become just a little bit fairer.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, was among those who made the executive order a priority in his engagement with LGBT advocacy and was present at the ceremony when the directive was finally signed.

“It’s an honor to witness President Obama signing this LGBT executive order and to be here for such a watershed moment in our country’s march toward LGBT equality under the law,” Almeida said. “We’re celebrating the successful conclusion of a strong and sustained campaign by Freedom to Work and so many other LGBT advocates who kept reminding the White House about this delayed campaign promise, and we’re celebrating that President Obama has continued to secure his legacy as the greatest presidential champion for LGBT Americans.”

The nine individuals who joined Obama on stage were Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director Pat Shiu, Maryland pastor Rev. Delman Coates, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Rabbi David Saperstein as well as LGBT workplace equality advocates Kylar Broadus, Michael Carney, Anne Vonhof and Faith Cheltenham.

Among those present in the East Room during the signing ceremony, but not on stage, were lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who have led efforts to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate, as well as Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin; the Center for American Progress’ Winnie Stachelberg; the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s Rea Carey; and gay lobbyist Steve Elmendorf.

Stachelberg was among a handful of LGBT advocates who met privately with Obama on Monday prior to the signing of the executive order. About a dozen people were part of this private group, Stachelberg said.

“Among those were those who joined the president on stage and a few of us who have worked on the EO for the past several years,” Stachelberg said. “Brad Sears, Chad Griffin and I were honored to be part of that group who had the chance to thank the president for his leadership and commitment as he had the opportunity to thank us for our advocacy.”

Now that Obama has signed the order, federal contractors are expected to include explicit protections in their equal employment opportunity policies for LGBT workers. According to the Williams Institute, the order will protect 34 million workers, or about 22 percent of the Americans workforce.

Chief among federal contractors without explicit LGBT workplace protections is oil-and-gas giant ExxonMobil, which has received more than $1 billion in federal contracts over the past 10 years. For the 17th time, shareholders in June rejected a resolution to amend the company’s policies with these protections.

Richard Keil, an ExxonMobil spokesperson, on Saturday told the Blade that company has “an across-the-board no tolerance policy for any form of discrimination,” but had no updates on whether the company would change its policy.

According to the White House, the part of the executive order barring anti-transgender discrimination in the federal workforce take effects immediately, but the component anticipate barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT discrimination should take effect “early next year” after regulations are written by the Labor Department.

The executive order, which is enforced by the Labor Department, governs federal contractors and federally-assisted construction contractors and subcontractors doing more than $10,000 in business with the federal government each year, but doesn’t impact the administration of federal grants.

Prior to the signing, faith leaders called on Obama to include an exemption for religiously affiliated organizations in the executive order so they could engage in anti-LGBT discrimination while still being able to receive federal contractors. After subsequent pushback from civil rights organizations, House Democrats and legal scholars who called for the exclusion of such language, Obama didn’t include in his directive any sweeping carve-out for religious organizations.

However, Obama left in Executive Order 11246 an amendment from President George W. Bush that allows religiously affiliated federal contractors to discriminate on the basis of religion by favoring workers of the same religion in hiring practices.

LGBT advocates hold differing views on whether religiously affiliated federal contractors could continue discriminate against LGBT workers under the pretext of religion, although the general agreement is that it would be unlikely.

Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, director of social policy and politics for the centrist known as the Third Way, said that language could enable a scenario where LGBT employees could be subject to discrimination from religously affiliated federal contractors, but it would be up for the courts to decide.

“Just as under Title VII, religious organizations will still be able to require their employees to abide by their religious tenets,” Erickson Hatalsky said. “That means they can’t fire someone for being gay, but they could argue they could apply a standard to all employees equally that says they cannot be engaged in premarital sex, or marry outside the requirements of the religion. The court would then have to determine whether they were applying that rule equally to all employees. They can’t be just using it as a pretext for firing gay people. But they can still prefer employees who follow their religious principles, as long as those principles are neutral with regard to sexual orientation and applied equally.”

Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, said on the other hand religiously affiliated federal contractors won’t be able to discriminate against LGBT workers under this language, although his organization continues to argue the Bush language should be rescinded.

“In no way does that exemption provide a backdoor to undermine these new protections for LGBT people,” Thompson said. “The final sentence of the exemption clearly states that these contractors ‘are not exempted or excused from complying with the other requirements.’ As of Monday, those other requirements will include a prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

For his part, Obama said prohibitions against LGBT workplace protections should extend further through passage of legislation that would prohibit LGBT discrimination among companies at large and wouldn’t just be limited to federal contractors or the federal government. A version of the bill has passed the Senate, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has refused to let the bill come up in his Republican-controlled chamber.

The White House continues to support ENDA, although many groups have withdrawn support from the bill because of an exemption that would allow religious organizations to continue to discriminate against LGBT workers in non-ministerial positions that is broader a similar exemption for other groups under existing civil rights law. Notably, Obama never mentioned ENDA by its name in his remarks.

“I’m going to do what I can, with the authority I have, to act,” Obama said. “The rest of you, of course, need to keep putting pressure on Congress to pass federal legislation that resolves this problem once and for all.”

Obama’s reference to legislation elicited a shout of “Amen!” from an audience member, to which Obama responded by saying, “Got the “amen” corner here. You don’t want to get me preaching, now.”

“We’ve got an obligation to make sure that the country we love remains a place where no matter who you are, or what you look like, or where you come from, or how you started out, or what your last name is, or who you love — no matter what, you can make it in this country,” Obama concluded. “That’s the story of America.”

CORRECTION: An initial version of this article misspelled the name of Richard Keil. The Blade regrets the error.

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards



Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade


A Puerto Rico Senate committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy on the island.

Members of the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against Senate Bill 184 by an 8-7 vote margin. Three senators abstained.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, a spokesperson for Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad, a coalition of Puerto Rican human rights groups, in a statement sharply criticized the senators who opposed the measure.

“If they publicly recognize that conversion therapies are abuse, if they even voted for a similar bill in the past, if the hearings clearly established that the bill was well-written and was supported by more than 78 professional and civil entities and that it did not interfere with freedom of religion or with the right of fathers and mothers to raise their children, voting against it is therefore one of two things: You are either a hopeless coward or you have the same homophobic and abusive mentality of the hate groups that oppose the bill,” said Pagán in a statement.

Thursday’s vote comes against the backdrop of continued anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in Puerto Rico.

Six of the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were reported murdered in the U.S. in 2020 were from Puerto Rico.

A state of emergency over gender-based violence that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared earlier this year is LGBTQ-inclusive. Then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 signed an executive order that banned conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico.

“These therapies lack scientific basis,” he said. “They cause pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Rosselló issued the order less than two weeks after members of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party  he chaired at the time, blocked a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in the U.S. commonwealth. Seven out of the 11 New Progressive Party members who are on the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against SB 184.

“It’s appalling. It’s shameful that the senators didn’t have the strength and the courage that our LGBTQ youth have, and it’s to be brave and to defend our dignity and our humanity as people who live on this island,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, in a video. “It’s disgraceful that the senators decided to vote down this measure that would prevent child abuse.”

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Undocumented LGBTQ immigrants turn to Fla. group for support

Survivors Pathway is based in Miami



Survivors Pathway works with undocumented LGBTQ immigrants and other vulnerable groups in South Florida. (Photo courtesy of Francesco Duberli)


MIAMI – The CEO of an organization that provides support to undocumented LGBTQ immigrants says the Biden administration has given many of his clients a renewed sense of hope.

“People definitely feel much more relaxed,” Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli told the Washington Blade on March 5 during an interview at his Miami office. “There’s much hope. You can tell … the conversation’s shifted.”

Duberli — a gay man from Colombia who received asylum in the U.S. because of anti-gay persecution he suffered in his homeland — founded Survivors Pathway in 2011. The Miami-based organization currently has 23 employees.

Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli at his office in Miami on March 5, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Duberli said upwards of 50 percent of Survivors Pathway’s clients are undocumented. Duberli told the Blade that many of them are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking and victims of hate crimes based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Part of the work that we have done for years is for us to become the bridge between the communities and law enforcement or the justice system in the United States,” said Duberli. “We have focused on creating a language that helps us to create this communication between the undocumented immigrant community and law enforcement, the state attorney’s office and the court.”

“The fear is not only about immigration,” he added. “There are many other factors that immigrants bring with them that became barriers in terms of wanting to or trying to access the justice system in the United States.”

Duberli spoke with the Blade roughly a week after the Biden administration began to allow into the U.S. asylum seekers who had been forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under the previous White House’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

The administration this week began to reunite migrant children who the Trump administration separated from their parents. Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place.

Duberli told the Blade that Survivors Pathway advised some of their clients not to apply for asylum or seek visa renewals until after the election. Duberli conceded “the truth of the matter is that the laws haven’t changed that much” since Biden became president.

Survivors Pathway has worked with LGBTQ people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in South Florida. American Civil Liberties Union National Political Director Ronald Newman in an April 28 letter it sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called for the closure of the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami, the Glades County Detention Center near Lake Okeechobee and 37 other ICE detention centers across the country.

The road leading to the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami on June 7, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Survivors Pathway responded to trans woman’s murder in 2020

Survivors Pathway has created a project specifically for trans Latina women who Duberli told the Blade don’t know they can access the judicial system.

Duberli said Survivors Pathway works with local judges and police departments to ensure crime victims don’t feel “discriminated, or outed or mistreated or revictimized” because of their gender identity. Survivors Pathway also works with Marytrini, a drag queen from Cuba who is the artistic producer at Azúcar, a gay nightclub near Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

Marytrini and Duberli are among those who responded to the case of Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera, a trans woman and well-known activist and performer from Cuba who was murdered inside her downtown Miami apartment last November. Carey’s boyfriend, who had previously been charged with domestic violence, has been charged with murder.

“That was an ongoing situation,” noted Duberli. “It’s not the only case. There are lots of cases like that.”

Duberli noted a gay man in Miami Beach was killed by his partner the same week.

“There are lots of crimes that happen to our community that never gets to the news,” he said. “We got those cases here because of what we do.”

Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera was murdered in her downtown Miami apartment in November 2020. (Photo courtesy of social media)

















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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness



Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: emcgowan[email protected].

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