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Future of DP benefits uncertain

Many employers dropping plans after marriage ruling

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domestic partner benefits, gay news, Washington Blade
domestic partner benefits, gay news, Washington Blade

Verizon, Delta Airlines and IBM are among the large companies that have discontinued DP benefits for employees.

Questions about the future of employee domestic partner benefits offered by many of the nation’s most prominent private sector employers emerged several years ago when states began passing same-sex marriage laws.

Verizon, Delta Airlines, IBM and the Corning glass and technology company were among the first to announce they were discontinuing domestic partner benefits for employees living in states where same-sex marriage had been legalized.

Each of those firms along with others said they were pleased to offer full spousal benefits to their gay and lesbian employees who marry.

According to sources who monitor trends in employee benefit programs, the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling in June legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states has prompted more private sector employers as well as public employers such as county governments and state-affiliated universities to drop domestic partner benefits for their employees.

“We have heard in part through news reports but also through our health desk that there are some private companies and also some public entities that are now wrapping up their domestic partner benefits programs because same-sex couples can marry,” said Camilla Taylor, an attorney with the LGBT rights group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“And that’s unfortunate because we believe people should not have to get a legal marriage in order to be respected as a family,” Taylor told the Washington Blade.

Lambda Legal and several other national LGBT rights organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, have issued statements calling on employers to retain domestic partner benefits for unmarried employees.

Some LGBT rights advocates have said forcing employees in a same-sex relationship to marry as a condition for receiving partner benefits such as health insurance coverage could subject them to discrimination in states where anti-LGBT discrimination remains legal.

“If an LGBT employee is, in effect, ‘outed’ by being required to obtain a public marriage license in a state that doesn’t provide explicit nondiscrimination protections, it could place that employee and their family at risk of being denied credit, housing and public accommodation,” HRC legal director Sarah Warbelow told the New York Times in June shortly after the Supreme Court ruling on marriage.

Other LGBT advocates, including Taylor of Lambda Legal, have said they don’t see marriage exposing same-sex couples to discrimination to a significant degree greater than same-sex partners living as couples and receiving domestic partner benefits.

“If you’re talking about solely private employers quietly offering health benefits to their employees who may not be married to their significant others then that may be what people are talking about when they say you may not want to get married because that’s a public record document,” Taylor said.

“However, there are so many ways in which someone’s relationship is discoverable that it seems like choosing not to marry is not very effective in today’s information age,” she said.

Lambda Legal, HRC and five other national LGBT organizations issued a joint statement in June saying an employer cannot legally fire someone who is married to a same-sex partner.

“Even though no federal statute explicitly prohibits sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has determined that firing someone because they married a person of the same sex constitutes impermissible sex discrimination under federal law,” the statement says.

Taylor and other LGBT activists who favor retaining domestic partner benefits for unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples say the most important reason for doing that is to offer gay and straight couples a choice.

Todd Solomon, an attorney with the Chicago-based law firm McDermott Will & Emery, which specializes in employee benefits law, said nearly all of the companies that have dropped domestic partner benefits since same-sex marriage became legal had limited those benefits to same-sex couples.

“If their starting point was covering same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples, which many companies do,” Solomon said, “they’re not changing anything in my experience because they’re already accustomed to covering a sector of employees who can legally marry but have just chosen not to.”

Solomon said companies he knows that have dropped domestic partner benefits have a record of being LGBT supportive due, in part, to their earlier decisions to provide those benefits to same-sex couples that were barred by law from marrying.

From an administrative standpoint, said Solomon, company domestic partner programs are complex and burdensome due to federal tax laws that require the employee receiving the partner benefit to pay a tax as if it were taxable income.

“So it’s not being dropped in the spirit of now we don’t have to offer this benefit and we don’t want to protect gay and lesbian employees,” Solomon said. “It’s being dropped in the spirit of halleluiah – now we have marriage equality. Everybody can get married if they want this benefit. And we can get rid of this ridiculous tax regime that we’ve had to manage for years and years and this burdensome administrative scheme we’ve had to do to cover same-sex partners under our plan.”

Earlier this month, Tennessee-based companies Bridgestone Americas, Hospital Corporation of America and Vanderbilt University announced they were phasing out their employee domestic partner benefits, according to WSMV-TV News in Nashville.

In October, the Orange County, Fla., Commission voted unanimously to discontinue its employee domestic partner benefits effective Jan. 1, 2016. Employees currently enrolled in the county’s DP program were given a one-year grace period to get married as a condition for receiving full spousal benefits, the blog Business Insurance.com reports.

Taylor noted that Cook County, Ill., in which the city of Chicago is located, is also phasing out its domestic partner registration program.

Meanwhile, several states that have enacted domestic partner or civil unions laws in past years have also either phased out or automatically converted their domestic partner or civil union registrations into marriages after the states passed same-sex marriage laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont are among the states that converted civil unions to marriages, the NCSL says.

The D.C. City Council included a provision in the same-sex marriage law it passed in 2009 that explicitly retains D.C.’s domestic partner law and DP registrations. The D.C. marriage equality law, which took effect in 2010, gives same-sex and opposite-sex couples who were registered as domestic partners the option to convert their partnerships into a marriage free of charge if they wish to do so.

Jesus Ranon, an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, said data on employee domestic partner benefits that the BLS began collecting in 2012 shows that the availability of DP benefits had not changed significantly as of March 2015.

A chart published on the BLS website shows that as of March, 37 percent of all U.S. “private industry workers” are estimated to have access to same-sex domestic partner benefits for health care. The chart shows that 32 percent of all workers in private industry had access to opposite-sex domestic partner benefits for health care.

A separate BLS chart shows that 36 percent of “civilian workers,” a category that includes private sector and civilian public employees working for government agencies, had access to health-related DP benefits for same-sex couples. Thirty-one percent of those in the civil workers category had access to health-related DP benefits for opposite-sex couples, the BLS data show.

In its 2016 Corporate Equality Index report, which surveys private sector employers on LGBT-related personnel policies, HRC reports that 64 percent of U.S. Fortune 500 companies offered domestic partner benefits in 2015 to LGBT employees. HRC released the 2016 report in November.

The report says 94 percent of the Fortune 500 companies that participated in the HRC survey reported they offered domestic partner benefits in 2015. It says that among Fortune 500 companies that did not participate in the survey, 40 percent offered DP benefits.

The HRC Corporate Equality Index report rates companies for policies pertaining to LGBT employees on a scale of 0 to 100, which is the highest possible score. The report says 25 rating points are awarded to companies that provide various forms of domestic partner benefits, including health insurance and other partner-related benefits. It says 10 rating points are given for “equal health coverage for transgender individuals without exclusion for medically necessary care.”

An HRC spokesperson couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether HRC is keeping track of companies surveyed in its Corporate Equality Index report that have dropped domestic partner benefits for same-sex or opposite-sex employees.

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D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested

Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011

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shooting, DC Eagle, assault, hate crime, anti-gay attack, police discrimination, sex police, Sisson, gay news, Washington Blade

A D.C. man arrested in August 2020 for allegedly threatening to kill a gay man outside the victim’s apartment in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and who was released while awaiting trial was arrested again two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill another man in an unrelated incident.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Jalal Malki, who was 37 at the time of his 2020 arrest on a charge of bias-related attempts to do bodily harm against the gay man, was charged on May 4, 2021 with unlawful entry, simple assault, threats to kidnap and injure a person, and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon against the owner of a vacant house at 4412 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Court charging documents state that Malki was allegedly staying at the house without permission as a squatter. An arrest affidavit filed in court by D.C. police says Malki allegedly threatened to kill the man who owns the house shortly after the man arrived at the house while Malki was inside.

According to the affidavit, Malki walked up to the owner of the house while the owner was sitting in his car after having called police and told him, “If you come back here, I’m going to kill you.” While making that threat Malki displayed what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, but which was later found to be a toy gun, the affidavit says.

Malki then walked back inside the house minutes before police arrived and arrested him. Court records show that similar to the court proceedings following his 2020 arrest for threatening the gay man, a judge in the latest case ordered Malki released while awaiting trial. In both cases, the judge ordered him to stay away from the two men he allegedly threatened to kill.

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police in the 2020 case states that Malki allegedly made the threats inside an apartment building where the victim lived on the 2300 block of Champlain Street, N.W. It says Malki was living in a nearby building but often visited the building where the victim lived.

“Victim 1 continued to state during an interview that it was not the first time that Defendant 1 had made threats to him, but this time Defendant 1 stated that if he caught him outside, he would ‘fucking kill him.’” the affidavit says. It quotes the victim as saying during this time Malki repeatedly called the victim a “fucking faggot.”

The affidavit, prepared by the arresting officers, says that after the officers arrested Malki and were leading him to a police transport vehicle to be booked for the arrest, he expressed an “excited utterance” that he was “in disbelief that officers sided with the ‘fucking faggot.’”

Court records show that Malki is scheduled to appear in court on June 4 for a status hearing for both the 2020 arrest and the arrest two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill the owner of the house in which police say he was illegally squatting.

Superior Court records show that Malki had been arrested three times between 2011 and 2015 in cases unrelated to the 2021 and 2020 cases for allegedly also making threats of violence against people. Two of the cases appear to be LGBTQ related, but prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not list the cases as hate crimes.

In the first of the three cases, filed in July 2011, Malki allegedly shoved a man inside Dupont Circle and threatened to kill him after asking the man why he was wearing a purple shirt.

“Victim 1 believes the assault occurred because Suspect 1 believes Victim 1 is a homosexual,” the police arrest affidavit says.

Court records show prosecutors charged Malki with simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in the case. But the court records show that on Sept. 13, 2011, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin found Malki not guilty on both charges following a non-jury trial.

The online court records do not state why the judge rendered a not guilty verdict. With the courthouse currently closed to the public and the press due to COVID-related restrictions, the Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain the records to determine the judge’s reason for the verdict.

In the second case, court records show Malki was arrested by D.C. police outside the Townhouse Tavern bar and restaurant at 1637 R St., N.W. on Nov. 7, 2012 for allegedly threatening one or more people with a knife after employees ordered Malki to leave the establishment for “disorderly behavior.”

At the time, the Townhouse Tavern was located next door to the gay nightclub Cobalt, which before going out of business two years ago, was located at the corner of 17th and R Streets, N.W.

The police arrest affidavit in the case says Malki allegedly pointed a knife in a threatening way at two of the tavern’s employees who blocked his path when he attempted to re-enter the tavern. The affidavit says he was initially charged by D.C. police with assault with a dangerous weapon – knife. Court records, however, show that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office lowered the charges to two counts of simple assault. The records show that on Jan. 15, 2013, Malki pleaded guilty to the two charges as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

The records show that Judge Marissa Demeo on that same day issued a sentence of 30 days for each of the two charges but suspended all 30 days for both counts. She then sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for both charges and ordered that he undergo alcohol and drug testing and undergo treatment if appropriate.

In the third case prior to the 2020 and 2021 cases, court records show Malki was arrested outside the Cobalt gay nightclub on March 14, 2015 on multiple counts of simple assault, attempted assault with a dangerous weapon – knife, possession of a prohibited weapon – knife, and unlawful entry.

The arrest affidavit says an altercation started on the sidewalk outside the bar when for unknown reasons, Malki grabbed a female customer who was outside smoking and attempted to pull her toward him. When her female friend came to her aid, Malki allegedly got “aggressive” by threatening the woman and “removed what appeared to be a knife from an unknown location” and pointed it at the woman’s friend in a threatening way, the affidavit says.

It says a Cobalt employee minutes later ordered Malki to leave the area and he appeared to do so. But others noticed that he walked toward another entrance door to Cobalt and attempted to enter the establishment knowing he had been ordered not to return because of previous problems with his behavior, the affidavit says. When he attempted to push away another employee to force his way into Cobalt, Malki fell to the ground during a scuffle and other employees held him on the ground while someone else called D.C. police.

Court records show that similar to all of Malki’s arrests, a judge released him while awaiting trial and ordered him to stay away from Cobalt and all of those he was charged with threatening and assaulting.

The records show that on Sept. 18, 2015, Malki agreed to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors in which all except two of the charges – attempted possession of a prohibited weapon and simple assault – were dropped. Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. on Oct. 2, 2015 sentenced Malki to 60 days of incarnation for each of the two charges but suspended all but five days, which he allowed Malki to serve on weekends, the court records show.

The judge ordered that the two five-day jail terms could be served concurrently, meaning just five days total would be served, according to court records. The records also show that Judge Irving sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for each of the two counts and ordered that he enter an alcohol treatment program and stay away from Cobalt.

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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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IDAHOBiT events to promote intersectionality, resilience, allyship

HRC president to participate in virtual panel in Canada

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

 

Intersectionality, resilience and allyship are among the themes that this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia events will highlight.

Dignity Network Canada and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention on May 17 will hold a virtual panel that will feature Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity Executive Director Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Kaleidoscope Trust Executive Director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, COC Nederland Executive Director Marie Ricardo and Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. The British High Commission and the Dutch Embassy in Canada have co-sponsored the event.

“We hope that this will be a really interesting and important conversation on intersectionality and transnational solidarity — and what it means for these leaders and their organizations during these times,” reads a description of the event.

The U.N. LGBTI Core Group on May 17 will host a virtual IDAHOBiT event that will focus on ways to develop an “inclusive and diverse post-pandemic world.” The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American and Asian Development Banks host a similar IDAHOBiT commemoration.

“In order to heal from the economic, social, and public health dire impact the pandemic has had and still has, every plan of recovery must take into account a human-rights based, intersectional and gender responsive approach that addresses the specific needs of LGBTI persons in order not to leave them further behind,” reads a description of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group event.

Several Russian LGBTQ rights groups on May 17 will hold a “Vaccine for Acceptance” event that seeks to bolster allyship in the country.

Retired South Africa Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron on May 16 will moderate a virtual panel that will focus on religion and anti-LGBTQ violence.

Workplace Pride and the Dutch Embassy in Budapest on May 17 will host a symposium on LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces in Hungary. M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, on the same day will participate in a webinar the U.S. Embassy in Singapore is hosting with Oogachaga, a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

Haver Srbija, a Serbian NGO, on May 15-16 will hold Falafel, a film festival that seeks to build “bridges and promotes Israeli, Jewish and LGBTQI culture and communities” and highlight “various social issues in the context of the fight against prejudice, discrimination, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia and encourages the audience to develop critical thinking on the issue of these topics.” Proud Lebanon is slated to hold a series of six webinars between May 17-22 that will focus on feminism, LGBTQ rights and other topics.

The National Center for Sexual Education in Cuba will hold a series of virtual forums and other events through the month to commemorate IDAHOBiT.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro, whose father is former Cuban President Raúl Castro, during a May 4 press conference in Havana said the IDAHOBiT events are part of the process of amending the country’s family code to make it more equitable for LGBTQ Cubans. Mariela Castro said a bill to amend it will be introduced in the Cuban Parliament in July.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference, according to Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba.

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s events will take place against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to exacerbate existing inequalities for LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups around the world.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries. Violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains rampant in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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