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Trump budget assailed for ‘troubling’ cuts to LGBT civil rights

Proposal would zap agency charged with enforcing Obama LGBT order

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impeachment, gay news, Washington Blade

President Donald Trump has proposed a budget that includes cuts to civil rights agencies. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Trump’s commitment to upholding civil rights for LGBT people has come into renewed question in the wake of a budget proposal that makes substantial cuts to agencies enforcing non-discrimination laws and cumulative actions over the course of his administration undermining those statutes.

Trump’s $4.1 trillion budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 — unveiled late last month — calls for major cuts from Obama-era levels to civil rights agencies within federal departments across the board, including the Justice Department, the Department of Health & Human Services and the Education Department.

Also, the budget proposes the elimination of the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance — which is charged with enforcing President Obama’s executive order barring anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors — and merging it with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. agency that enforces federal employment non-discrimination law.

Sharita Gruberg, associate director of LGBT research and communications for the Center for American Progress, said the proposed cuts are “really troubling” for the continued enforcement of laws barring discrimination against LGBT people.

“There are cuts across every single federal agency charged with enforcing civil rights laws and it would undo a lot of the gains that we’ve gotten over the last administration in ensuring that civil rights are robustly enforced,” Gruberg said.

A White House Office of Management & Budget official pointed to other aspects of the Trump budget the administration says demonstrates a commitment to civil rights, such as $2.7 million for the Education Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection program, which is three times more than what was planned for FY-17.

“The president’s budget proposal maintains the administration’s commitment to the enforcement of the nation’s civil rights laws,” the official said. “It straightlines funding for DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, supporting efforts to combat human trafficking; prosecute hate crimes; protect the rights of U.S. workers, service members, and veterans; safeguard the voting rights for all Americans; and promote fair housing and educational opportunities.”

For the HHS Office of Civil Rights, the Trump budget proposes a 15 percent cut — down from an estimated $53 million from FY-17 to $44 million in FY-18 — and a 10 percent staff reduction, from 177 to 161.

That office is charged with enforcing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex in health care. The Obama administration issued a rule clarifying that provision applies to transgender people, ensuring access to transition-related care and gender reassignment surgery.

Although U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Texas issued an injunction barring the Obama administration from applying the Section 1557 to cases of transgender discrimination, Gruberg said the HHS Office of Civil Rights “presumably should still be investigating complaints from LGBT people of discrimination in health care” and the cuts would be harmful.

“These are complaints that would not get the resources or staffing needed to ensure that they are investigated and that LGBT people are getting the health care that they’re entitled to without discrimination,” Gruberg said.

For the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, which is charged with enforcing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the funding is maintained between FY-17 and FY-18 at $107 million. However, with the same level of funding the proposed budget calls for a seven percent reduction in staff, from 569 employees to 523.

Courts are beginning to construe Title IX, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex, to apply to LGBT students. The Obama administration issued guidance indicating schools that bar transgender kids from the restroom consistent with their gender identity may lose funding under this law, but U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revoked the guidance.

Even though the Trump administration rescinded the guidance, Gruberg said the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is still charged with investigations under Title IX, citing a 75 percent increase in complaints from 2009 to 2015.

“The law is still the law and this would hurt the office’s ability to provide technical assistance about what their obligations are under the law even without the guidance in place,” Gruberg said.

For the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the Trump budget proposes the elimination of 121 staff positions. That division is responsible for upholding civil rights laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination based on sex, and the Violence Against Women Act, which specifically bars anti-LGBT discrimination in domestic abuse relief programs.

Under former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the civil rights division filed a lawsuit against North Carolina’s anti-LGBT House Bill 2 based on the laws before the litigation was withdrawn under Trump.

“At a time when they filed the most criminal civil rights complaints and trafficking complaints ever, this staffing cut will severely diminish the ability of DOJ civil rights to file and prosecute criminal and civil rights violations,” Gruberg said.

In addition to merging OFCCP with EEOC, the budget calls for the elimination of 130 full-time staff positions from the latter agency since FY-17, although funding would be flatlined at $364 million.

Gruberg said the cuts were “shocking” and the proposed merger spells trouble because OFCCP has oversight authority to investigate federal contractors for violations unlike EEOC, which generally awaits discrimination complaints filed by employees before taking action.

“They’re able to proactively investigate the status of equal opportunity at companies receiving taxpayer funds and ensure that they are not discriminating in ways that individuals employees might not be able to really grasp, such as hiring disparities, pay disparities, some of these systemic issues that an individual employee in their position might not know what’s happening to them,” Gruberg said.

The Department of Housing & Urban Development is also charged with enforcing a non-discrimination policy for LGBT Americans, a Obama administration rule barring anti-LGBT discrimination in government-sponsored housing and homeless shelters.

But assessing the capacity to enforce the rule is hard, Gruberg said, because that task is spread out across the agency. Primarily, HUD implements the rule through the Office of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity, but the gender identity equal access piece is primarily implemented by the Office of Community Planning & Development, she said.

In Trump’s proposed budget, staffing levels for the Office of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity would decrease by 10 and 26 full-time equivalents would be cut from Office of Community Planning & Development.

The proposed reductions in the budget for the enforcement of civil rights law are consistent with assertions the Trump administration has undertaken actions undermining civil rights, including a travel ban, review of police consent decrees and formation of an “election integrity” task force that seems to attempt to justify voter suppression efforts. On LGBT rights, the Trump administration has made anti-LGBT appointments, omitted LGBT questions from federal surveys and declined to defend LGBT rights measures in court.

Led by the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, a coalition of more than 100 groups this week co-signed a letter to Trump earlier this week urging him to reverse course and defend civil rights.

“Our nation should honor equal protection for all, view its diversity as its strength, and strive to be an inclusive place where all in America can live, work, study, and participate in our democracy as free and equal people,” the letter says. “We call on you and your administration to take affirmative steps to halt the problematic policies and initiatives we have outlined, and to provide positive leadership on these issues in order to promote inclusion and respect for the basic rights and dignity of every person in America.”

The EEOC doesn’t seem fazed by the prospects of having to implement the duties of OFFCP in addition to investigations and prosecutions already underway.

Kimberly Smith-Brown, an EEOC spokesperson, said the merger wouldn’t happen until FY-19 and the agency expects a “smooth transition” into the change.

“The FY 2018 budget refers to the proposed merger which would take place in FY 2019, with 2018 being a transition year during which OFCCP and EEOC would engage in transition talks and planning,” Smith-Brown said. “There were no financial or staffing implications for EEOC in FY 2018. Should the proposal to merge OFCCP and EEOC be approved by Congress, we are committed to a smooth transfer and transition.”

The OFFCP never publicly announced any investigations, charges or victories under Obama’s 2014 executive order against LGBT discrimination. It seems unlikely there were any because the Labor Department usually announces them as they occur.

The Labor Department for a span of years under the Obama administration and Trump administration hasn’t responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether investigations under the order had taken place.

Even though the EEOC has stated it can handle the transition, Gruberg said she thinks those remarks are aspirational and the proposed changes under the Trump budget aren’t “practically feasible.”

“You’re combining two offices that play very different roles in equal opportunity enforcement,” Gruberg said. “At the same time, you’re severely cutting staffing at these offices. And so, I think the combination of these two moves are really going to hinder the ability of these agencies to secure equal opportunity in the workforce for LGBT people.”

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News

Rep. Pocan introduces legislation to create nat’l LGBTQ history museum

Bills seek answer on including site as part of Smithsonian

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Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) has introduced legislation seeking to create an LGBTQ history museum.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) has introduced legislation that would set up the process to create a National Museum of American LGBTQ+ History & Culture, potentially as an official site within the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Pocan, one of nine openly gay members of the U.S. House and co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, said in a statement Thursday the measures would are effort to preserve LGBTQ history “as our community faces unprecedented attacks and attempts to erase our history.” The pair of bills is H.R.9070 and H.R.9071.

“It is vital to remember our collective past – particularly when certain states seek to constrain and repeal existing rights by passing bills that harm LGBTQ+ youth and our community at large,” Pocan said. “Let’s tell these stories, and honor the many contributions the LGBTQ+ community has made to this nation with a museum in Washington, D.C.”

The first bill, according to a news statement, would creates an eight-member commission of individuals with expertise in museum planning or LGBTQ+ research and culture “to look into the viability of establishing such a facility in the nation’s Capital.”

Among other things, the commission would be charged with recommending a plan on action for museum, including fundraising for the museum, and submitting to Congress a plan for construction of the museum, the statement says.

The bill would also instruct the commission to address whether the museum should be part of the Smithsonian Institution, based in the nation’s capital and the world’s largest museum and research complex, per the news statement. The full study, the statement says, would have to be completed in 18 months.

If the Smithsonian were to adopt the a museum on LGBTQ history and culture, it would be similar to other museums under its jurisdiction focused on minority populations in the United States, including the National Museum of African American History & Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian.

The second bill, according to a news statement, would be eligible for consideration by Congress after the commission completes its work and issues its recommendations and allow for formal creation of the museum. More than 50 lawmakers, including all nine openly gay members of the U.S. House, co-sponsor the legislation.

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District of Columbia

Judge postpones ruling on whether Casa Ruby should be dissolved

Request by Corado for gag order to stop ‘one sided’ information denied

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A judge denied Ruby Corado’s request for a gag order in the ongoing case. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Thursday said she was not ready to issue a ruling on whether the LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby should be dissolved as recommended two and a half weeks earlier by a court-appointed receiver that took control of Casa Ruby’s operations.

Judge Danya A. Dayson stated at a Sept. 29 court status hearing that the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which filed civil charges against Casa Ruby and its founder and former executive director Ruby Corado in July, needed more time to complete its investigation into Casa Ruby’s operations.

“We think it may be premature to immediately commence proceedings for dissolution while our investigation is still pending,” Cara Spencer, an official with the Office of the Attorney General, told the judge. “We’re still gathering information. We still intend to shortly serve discovery so we can bring it to a resolution promptly,” she said.

The AG’s office filed a civil complaint against Casa Ruby and Corado on July 29 alleging that the LGBTQ group had violated the city’s Nonprofit Corporations Act for the past several years. The complaint says improper actions by Corado, including the unaccounted-for expenditure of funds and a failure by the Casa Ruby Board of Directors to provide oversight led to a financial crisis.

The complaint notes that Casa Ruby employees were not getting paid and over $1 million was owed to landlords in back rent for at least three buildings Casa Ruby used for its offices and to provide emergency housing for homeless LGBTQ youth.

With Corado spending most of the past year in El Salvador, according to Casa Ruby employees, the employees and managers struggling to keep its operations going said they were forced to shut down all operations in late July.

Corado, who attended the Sept. 29 status hearing through a phone hookup, said she had yet to retain a lawyer due to a “shortage of funds.” She told Dayson she expects to finally retain an attorney but said she had not received a copy of the receiver’s report that recommended Casa Ruby be dissolved. One of the attorneys with the AG’s office told Dayson the office sent a copy of the report to four email addresses it had for Corado and Casa Ruby.

At the judge’s request, one of the AG office officials sent another copy of the report to Corado during the hearing to an email address that the judge asked Corado to provide.

Dayson on Aug. 12, at the recommendation of the AG’s office, appointed the Wanda Alston Foundation, a D.C. organization that provides housing for homeless LGBTQ youth, as the Casa Ruby receiver. One day earlier, Dayson approved the AG office’s request that Casa Ruby be placed under receivership.

On Aug. 3, also at the request of the AG’s office, the judge issued an order that all of Casa Ruby’s bank accounts and financial assets, which had been under the sole control of Corado, be frozen. Dayson lifted that freeze after the Alston Foundation assumed control of Casa Ruby under the receivership.

As she had at the Aug. 11 court hearing, Corado stated in the Sept. 29 hearing that Casa Ruby’s financial problems were caused by the D.C. government withholding as much as $600,000 in grant funds for services Casa Ruby had provided.

Officials with the D.C. Department of Human Services, which initially approved the grants, have said some of the grant funds were withdrawn or cancelled because Casa Ruby failed to comply with the terms of the grants. In some cases, the officials said, required financial reports were not filed to substantiate how the funds were spent.

Corado also asked Dayson at the Sept. 29 hearing to order the receiver and officials with the AG’s office stop releasing “one-sided” information that she said was falsely placing her and Casa Ruby in a negative light through reports in the press.

“The story that has been painted is that Casa Ruby left the clients in the cold,” Corado said. “That is not accurate.”

When asked by Dayson what she wanted the court to do, Corado said, among other things, she did not want the receiver to be allowed to disclose information about what happened in the court proceedings that Corado said was being reported by the press inaccurately.

She said highly negative publicity resulting from the release of information from the previous court hearing resulted in her receiving death threats and damage to the engine of her vehicle in an act of vandalism that cost $1,700 to repair.  

Dayson said Corado appeared to be seeking a gag order to prohibit the receiver or the AG’s office from discussing or releasing information that was part of the public record. Saying there were insufficient grounds for such an order, Dayson announced she was denying a request to seal court records or issue a gag order against the receiver.

The judge ruled in favor of a request by the AG office attorney to file an amended complaint for the case, directing them to file the amended complaint by Nov. 28. Court records show that Dayson directed the parties to return to court for scheduling hearings on Oct. 28 and Jan. 6. 

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Mississippi

Art used to spotlight people of color lost to AIDS in the South

National AIDS Memorial, Southern AIDS Coalition created Change the Pattern exhibit

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The National AIDS Memorial and Southern AIDS Coalition have announced a new initiative to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS among communities of color in the South. (Photo courtesy of the National AIDS Memorial)

The National AIDS Memorial has joined forces with the Southern AIDS Coalition to stage a series of art exhibitions and educational forums to honor Black and Brown people in the South who have been lost to HIV/AIDS.

The initiative, titled Change the Pattern, began in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday with curated quilt exhibitions, displays, educational forums, advocacy, storytelling and quilt-making, according to a press release from the National AIDS Memorial. A $2.4 million grant from the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Inc., funded Change the Pattern.

More than 500 hand-stitched quilt panels from the area were featured in what the National AIDS Memorial says is “the largest display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt ever” in Mississippi.

“By creating an empowering message and safe spaces for conversation, we can uplift, inspire and make progress toward ending the HIV epidemic, challenge cultural stigmas and continue the legacy of advocacy that the quilt represents,” said National AIDS Memorial CEO John Cunningham in the release. 

Change the Pattern was announced in honor of Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day during the Southern AIDS Coalition’s annual Saving Ourselves Symposium that took place in August. 

The conference, which was heavily attended by LGBTQ activists from the South, featured 100 quilt panels, and attendees participated in quilt-making workshops to make new quilt panels representing their loved ones.

Interested LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the South were invited to apply for funding to support local quilt-making workshops in their communities so as to ensure that the legacies of Black and Brown people are captured through newly-sewn panels on the quilt through the Memorial’s Call My Name program, according to the National AIDS Memorial press release. 

The application process opened on Sept. 15 with up to 35 eligible organizations receiving as much as $5,000 to support hosting local workshops. 

The first major Change the Pattern Quilt was founded 35 years ago as a visual representation of the need to end stigma and provide equitable resources to communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS, according to Southern AIDS Coalition Executive Director Dafina Ward.

“Change the Pattern is a call to action and change in the South,” said Ward. “Quilt-making has such a deep cultural connection in the Black community and in the South. The sharing and telling of these powerful stories through the quilt, coupled with advocacy and open dialogue, can help end HIV-related stigma and bring the stories of those we’ve lost to light.”

As the Change the Pattern initiative occurs, conversations about how to handle health epidemics within LGBTQ communities of color have become national topics, especially with the prevalence of monkeypox cases amongst Black gay men.

Despite earlier panic about the disease, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a report released on Wednesday said that individuals who were vaccinated against the disease were less likely to be affected over the summer compared to those who weren’t. 

The effectiveness and duration of immunity after a single dose, however, is not known, and few individuals in the current outbreak have completed the recommended two-dose series, according to the report. 

The most recent CDC data reports that 25,509 monkeypox cases have thus far been confirmed in the U.S. Only one death has been reported.

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