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Trump nominee refuses to say foreign laws criminalizing gays unjustified

Brownback nominated as U.S. ambassador for int’l religious freedom

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Gov. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), nominated as U.S. ambassador for religious freedom, speaks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 4, 2017. (Screen capture public domain)

President Trump’s pick as U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom faced tough questioning Wednesday over his anti-LGBT record during which he refused to say laws in foreign countries criminalizing LGBT status were always unjustified.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, whom Trump nominated in July to become U.S. ambassador at-large for international religious freedom, was non-committal on opposition to these foreign laws, which in some cases penalize homosexuality with death, under questioning from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Seeking to connect the issue of anti-LGBT discrimination to religious freedom, Kaine asked Brownback if he’s aware that countries have laws punishing homosexuality with imprisonment or death.

When Brownback replied, “I believe that’s correct,” Kaine pointed out the justification for these draconian anti-gay laws is religious reasons.

In response, Brownback said the day before his confirmation hearing, he had a “lengthy conversation” with Randy Berry, who continues to serve during the Trump administration as U.S. envoy for the State Department for international LGBT human rights issues, and how he worked with the Obama administration’s U.S. ambassador for religious freedom David Saperstein.

“We had a good conversation about how these two offices work together,” Brownback said. “I don’t see doing anything any different than what they worked together.”

Kaine started to reply, “That wasn’t really my question,” but Brownback responded, “But that really is the point.”

Seeking to get back on topic, Kaine asked the nominee if there’s any situation in which religious freedom could be used to justify laws imprisoning or executing people for being LGBT, but Brownback didn’t directly answer.

“I agree with what Randy Berry did around the world on that topic,” Brownback said. “I’m not fully briefed on the various specifics of what he basically did and described to me yesterday and the work he did back and forth with ambassador Saperstein, I wouldn’t see changing.”

With his question unanswered, Kaine asked again if there’s any circumstance in which criminalizing homosexuality for religious reasons is justified, but Brownback again declined to directly answer.

“I don’t know what that would be and what circumstance, but I would continue the policies that had been done in the prior administration in work on these international issues,” he said.

Kaine wasn’t satisfied: “I really would expect an unequivocal answer on that, but my time is up.”

Brownback refused to say outright laws criminalizing homosexuality are always unjustified days after the Trump administration faced criticism for voting against a U.N. resolution condemning the death penalty for homosexuality. The Trump administration defended that action by saying the resolution was about the death penalty in general, not specific to gays, and previous administrations declined to support similar resolutions.

The choice of Brownback as ambassador for religious freedom overseas has inspired consternation among LGBT rights supporters since Trump announced his choice based on the Kansas governor’s anti-LGBT record, which was explored during the hearing.

Brownback also faced tough questions from Kaine about rescinding as governor an executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination in the state workforce.

Referencing Brownback’s decision in 2015 to reverse the order established by his Democratic predecessor Kathleen Sebelius, Kaine asked the nominee to defend his actions.

“That was an order that created a right by the executive branch that wasn’t available to other people and it wasn’t passed by the legislative branch,” Brownback replied. “I believe those sorts of issues should be passed a legislative branch.”

But Kaine wouldn’t have Brownback’s explanation the protections should be left the legislature, asking the nominee, “Isn’t that kind of the point to an executive order?”

“You issue an executive order on something that the legislature doesn’t pass,” Kaine added. “If it was clearly in statute, you wouldn’t need to issue an executive order.”

But Brownback said an executive order against anti-LGBT discrimination would be inappropriate because it was “a foundational issue that you were creating a right for state employees that wasn’t available to the rest of the people in the state.”

When Kaine replied “was it bad” to give state employees a course of action under anti-LGBT discrimination, Brownback insisted the state legislature should be responsible for those protections.

Kaine asked Brownback a series of questions on whether as Kansas governor he appoints Cabinet secretaries and agency heads, and the nominee more or less affirmed that was the case. When Kaine asked Brownback if he applies a high standard to state employees, Brownback replied “yes.”

Kaine’s follow up: Why then, as Kansas governor, could he also not protect LGBT state employees through executive order?

“If you’re hiring for honesty, if you’re hiring for competence, wouldn’t that be an appropriate thing that the governor as a chief of state personnel operation would want to know about leaders in state government,” Kaine said.

Brownback’s defense: “I think that would be a rational thing. I just don’t think it’s a right the executive branch should create without the legislative branch.”

Reversing the executive order isn’t the only anti-LGBT action Brownback took as governor. Last year, he signed into law a “religious freedom” bill allowing student groups at taxpayer-funded public universities in Kansas to deny membership to LGBT students.

As a member of Congress — first as U.S. House member, then as U.S. senator — Brownback built a significant anti-LGBT reputation. Among other things, Brownback championed a U.S. constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.

Kaine recalled during his tenure as Virginia governor issuing an executive order against anti-gay discrimination in state employment, saying that was the first action he took as governor even though he faced resistance from then-Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell over the legislature not having acted on the issue.

“Can’t you see that the retraction of an executive order like this that had been in place for eight years sends a message that that is not a value, non-discrimination against folks on the grounds of sexual orientation, that’s not a value that you share?”

Brownback disagreed and insisted for the role at hand as ambassador for religious freedom, he wouldn’t engage in any kind of discrimination.

“I look forward to working with people, working with everybody regardless of their ideas or views on how we can advance the agenda of religious freedom,” Brownback said.

Also questioning Brownback on LGBT rights was Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who after raising the issue of Indonesian refugees in her state facing deportation asked Brownback if he’s willing to work with civil society groups working not just on religious freedom, but LGBT and women’s rights.

In response, Brownback insisted his focus will be religious freedom to maintain bipartisan support for that role.

“I will work with anybody that I can on the topic of religious freedom and not veer out of that lane because I think if you start to veer out of that lane, you get pulled to other topics that other people are charged with doing, you’re going to lose bipartisan support for the position, which is critical to have,” Brownback said.

Coming to Brownback’s defense was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who was chairing the hearing and said his colleagues were asking him about topics other than religious freedom.

“If there is persecution on the basis of religion, or oppression on the basis of religion, or the denial of liberty on the basis of religion, your job would be to advocate for that freedom for them to practice in peace religion in peace,” Rubio said. “That is the scope of the job that you’d been nominated to, is that correct, not to litigation theological points or policy differences beyond the scope of that liberty?”

Brownback affirmed that view and repeated his response that bipartisan support for his role is important, adding a distraction into other issues would make the position “less effective if effective at all.”

David Stacy, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of government affairs, said after the hearing his organization remains “deeply concerned” about Brownback’s nomination.

“Brownback’s long history of anti-LGBTQ actions in Congress and as governor was reflected in his refusal at his hearing today to unequivocally condemn the inhumane treatment, including execution, of people based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Stacy said. “While he expressed some support for the LGBTQ human rights work at the State Department, his other responses give us every reason to believe that Brownback will continue to use his own narrow view of ‘religious freedom’ as permission to discriminate against LGBTQ people.”

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Congress

Anti-LGBTQ provisions removed from NDAA

New version omits restriction on gender affirming care, book and drag bans

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Anti-LGBTQ provisions submitted by House Republicans to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) have been removed from the defense spending bill, triggering outrage from conservative lawmakers and praise from LGBTQ groups.

The conference version of the bill was released on Thursday.

This week saw the revocation of two measures targeting gender affirming care along with the book ban and drag ban. Language stipulating the list of approved flags that can be flown at military bases was amended such that more flags can be added on a discretionary basis.

“MAGA members of Congress tried to hijack the National Defense Authorization Act to advance their anti-LGBTQ+ agenda, attempting to riddle it with discriminatory riders,” Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf said in a statement to the Washington Blade.

His statement continued, “They failed and equality won. Anti-LGBTQ+ provisions, including efforts to restrict access to gender affirming care, were rejected. The anti-LGBTQ+ agenda continues to be deeply unpopular across the country and a failing political strategy.”

Wolf thanked U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) for “defending equality and defeating attacks on the community.”

Pledging to vote “no” on the bill, Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) said in a post on X, “I was appointed to the NDAA conference committee but NEVER got to work on the final version of the NDAA bc they made the deal behind closed doors and here are the horrible results.”

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India

Transgender people seek government job consideration in India’s Maharashtra state

Court petition filed on Nov. 29

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Transgender flags (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ancient texts in India have recorded the history and cultural importance of transgender people, but the community is still marginalized and vulnerable in the country. Although the government offers many vulnerable castes a specific number of slots for education and government jobs, trans people still have no such benefit and continue to face discrimination across the nation. 

Three trans people from Maharashtra state on Nov. 29 filed an application to the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal seeking slots for trans people in government jobs and a “third gender” option in online job applications. Two applicants had applied for police officer posts, while the other had applied for a revenue officer post — both of which are government jobs in India.

While hearing the application, the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal, a court that has all the powers of the High Court, said it cannot direct the state government to give slots for trans people in public employment and education. The Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal did say, however, that the state government should take more steps towards inclusivity for the community in mainstream society.

Maharashtra’s government told the tribunal it would not be possible to provide slots to trans people in government jobs or education. 

The Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal in a 26-page order directed the state government to give applicants the necessary points to qualify for the job if the applicant has secured 50 percent of the total marks for the concerned post. The tribunal also directed the government to provide age relaxation to trans applicants if they earned 45 points.

In India, every government job seeker goes through an examination to qualify for the job. Government job examinations are one of the toughest in India because there are millions of applications for a few positions, resulting in the need to secure higher marks to get a position.

More than one million applicants applied for 18,331 police officer positions in 2022. The government, however, provides slots to backward class applicants and gives points relaxation in examinations. Trans people in India are most marginalized and vulnerable with no slots in education or employment.

Retired Justice Mridula Bhatkar, who chairs the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal and member Medha Gadgil in the ruling said the fact that not a single trans person who has come out received a job in the government sector speaks volumes.

“The transgender people are humans and are citizens of our great country who are waiting for their inclusion in the mainstream,” said the tribunal. “We have historical, mythological and cultural instances of eunuchs and their participation in political, social or cultural fields.”

The tribunal also said trans people are in the minority. 

Although the majority forms the government, the majority cannot suppress the rights of marginalized sections of society. The tribunal further added the situation in which the trans community finds itself is worse than what women faced in the past while demanding equality.

The tribunal highlighted the mere acknowledgment of the separate identity of trans people was not enough, but they also need to be given opportunities in government jobs.

“The State of Maharashtra has been very progressive in its thought and culture,” said the tribunal. “Therefore, it is desirable on the part of the government to take necessary measures to enable these transgender applicants to get jobs in the government sector.”

The tribunal mentioned Indian Constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination based on sex under articles 15 and 16.

“To get into public employment is a handicapped race for transgenders,” said the tribunal. “Though they are not physically disabled and are able-bodied persons, their activities, actions, growth are paralyzed due to the negative approach of society, family in all schools, colleges in all places at all levels.”

While representing the petitioners, Kranti LC, a lawyer, said that the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Bihar have provided reservations to trans people. The tribunal, however, noted it understands the state has reached the limit of vertical slot of 62 percent, but ordered the law can reach equality and harmony through social engineering.

“The courts are for justice and cannot ignore any societal problem when placed before it,” said the tribunal. “Under such circumstances, though courts are not the lawmakers while interpreting the law, a legally permissible solution is to be applied to meet the ends of justice.”

According to the Indian Supreme Court’s 1992 Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India ruling, nine judges upheld the 50 percent ceiling on slots and denied slots in promotion in government jobs. This means no government agencies or institutions can give slots more than 50 percent of total job openings. Maharashtra state already crossed the limit.

“It is very unfortunate, because transgender people are one of the most vulnerable people in India, and of the most marginalized population in our country,” said Kalki Subramaniam, a trans rights activist and founder of Sahodari Foundation, an organization that works for trans Indians. “For the horizontal reservation, we need to get the support of our government. We need to sensitize our members of Parliament. I think, all political parties do support (the) transgender community, and do understand the plight of the community and difficulties we face.”

Kalki told the Washington Blade the community needs to work hard. She said the community needs to start campaigning for horizontal slots. She said the community needs to MPs to get the necessary support for it.

While talking to the Blade, Rani Patel, an activist and founder of Aarohan, a nonprofit organization that works with trans Indians, said that it is right that the trans community needs to have reservations in jobs and education so that they can be mainstreamed in the society.

“I have been working with the transgender community for last 11 years in Delhi. We had worked very hard for the scraping of section 377,” said Patel. “All the equality and rights given by the Supreme Court of India is of no use until and unless they are not provided with reservation, because there is a stigma in the society against the transgender people, the community feel rejected and detached from the society.”

Patel told the Blade that only a few trans children are getting an education in the country. She said most of the trans people in India need to be skilled in whichever field for which they have an interest. Patel further said that while getting skills, the government should provide slots to trans people, otherwise giving skills will be of no use.

Patel and Aarohan were instrumental in drafting the Delhi government’s trans bill.

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion.

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Congress

New bill would protect LGBTQ-owned businesses from lending discrimination

Legislation introduced by Sens. Padilla, Gillibrand and Rep. Torres

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U.S. Capitol
U.S. Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A bicameral bill introduced on Wednesday by U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), along with U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) would require financial institutions to collect data on access to credit and capital by LGBTQ-owned businesses.

The legislation would thereby allow regulators to better identify and potentially remedy instances of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in these areas.

CNBC reported in June that a study by the Movement Advancement Project found LGBTQ-owned businesses encountered more rejections than non-LGBTQ-owned businesses that applied for funding, amid a tightening of lending standards across the board.

Specifically, the bill would “clarify that Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) requires financial institutions to collect the self-identified sexual orientation and gender identity of the principal owners of small businesses, in addition to their sex, race, and ethnicity,” according to a press release by Padilla’s office.

The California senator said, “With anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and hate crimes on the rise, LGBTQ+ business owners continue to face persistent and unjust barriers to financial success,” adding that “LGBTQ+-owned small businesses are a cornerstone of local economies, and they deserve equitable resources to help them grow and thrive.”

Padilla’s press release notes the legislation “would also add a definition for businesses owned by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex individuals to the ECOA statute.”

Additionally, “The legislation also includes a Sense of Congress confirming that sexual orientation and gender identity are already covered under the ECOA (including the current data collection requirements)” while clarifying “that the sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity of the principal owners of a business should be collected as three separate forms of information.”

The Congressional Equality Caucus, Ali Forney Center, Center for American Progress, Destination Tomorrow, Drag Out The Vote, Human Rights Campaign, Immigration Equality Action Fund, InterAct, and New Pride Agenda have backed the bill.

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