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Walmart’s score suspended in Human Rights Campaign rankings

LGBT group cites findings of reasonable cause of anti-trans discrimination

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Walmart, gay news, Washington Blade
Walmart, gay news, Washington Blade

The Human Rights Campaign suspended Walmart’s score in the Corporate Equaluty Index. (Photo by Mike Mozart of JeepersMedia; courtesy Flickr)

The retail giant Walmart, which has long been the subject of criticism over its employment practices, has found a new critic in the Human Rights Campaign’s latest corporate scorecard.

The nation’s LGBT organization suspended Walmart’s score in the 2018 Corporate Equality Index, which was unveiled last week. The cited reason for the suspension was the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. agency charged with enforcing federal employment civil rights law, finding probable cause for anti-trans discrimination within Walmart in 2017.

“During the CEI survey cycle, two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determinations were made public in the cases of Jessica Robison (EEOC Charge Number 511-2015-01402) and Charlene Bost (EEOC Charge Number 430- 2014-01900),” the report says. “These determinations pointed to significant enforcement gaps in Wal-Mart’s non-discrimination policy, specifically with regards to sex and gender identity. Pending remedial steps by the company, the CEI rating is suspended.”

Deena Fidas, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Workplace Equality Program, said the suspension will be lifted when Walmart addresses EEOC’s findings of anti-trans discrimination.

“When Walmart addresses the determinations by the EEOC, their company policies and practices will be assessed and given a score based on the CEI criteria,” Fidas said.

The suspension stands in contrast to scores Walmart has obtained before. In the 2017 index, the retail giant had a perfect score of “100” for having an LGBT non-discrimination policy, affording same-sex spousal benefits, providing health insurance that includes transition-related care for transgender employees and having an LGBT employee affinity group.

Tara Raddohl, a Walmart spokesperson, said the retailer maintains a positive environment for LGBT employees despite the suspension of its score in the Corporate Equality Index.

“We are proud of our work on LGBT-inclusive and non-discriminatory policies,” Raddohl said. “We’re disappointed with the HRC’s decision to temporarily suspend our score, which was going to be rated at 100 percent for the second year in a row. While we respect the HRC’s work, we are confident in Walmart’s leading practices that support our LGBTQ communities and look forward to further educating them on our policies.”

The EEOC findings cited in the Corporate Equality Index were the result of the two lawsuits filed by the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. The findings of reasonable cause for discrimination by EEOC means the two cases will now move forward to litigation in federal court.

One lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jessica Robison, an employee in Florida of Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart. Although she was rewarded with several promotions, a supervisor allegedly subjected her to harassment and intimidation in 2014 after she began her gender transition. After filing a complaint, Robison was disciplined and demoted.

In July, EEOC ruled in Robison’s favor, finding “there is reasonable cause” to believe Sam’s Club discriminated against Robison “due to her transgender status/gender identity” and retaliated against her.

The other lawsuit was filed on behalf of Charlene Bost, who allegedly faced employment discrimination as a member service supervisor at a Sam’s Club store in Kannapolis, N.C., in her position.

In Auguest, the EEOC found reasonable cause to believe Bost was subjected to unlawful discrimination and a hostile work environment because of being transgender for several years until her retaliatory firing in 2015.

Jillian Weiss, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, said in a statement the suspension of Walmart’s score in the Corporate Equality Index was a positive step.

“Seven hundred fifty major companies have strong corporate policies protecting transgender people, backed up by proper enforcement procedures,” Weiss said. “We hope this will deliver the message to Walmart and others that good corporate policy is not enough. It must be accompanied by strong enforcement mechanisms, or it is mere window dressing. TLDEF will continue to bring suits on behalf of transgender people who experience discrimination in employment, education, health care access and public accommodations.”

The Human Rights Campaign has long faced criticism from progressive voices for giving Walmart high scores in the Corporate Equality Index. Most of the criticism has focused on employment practices at large in Walmart, which has been accused of thwarting efforts by employees to unionize.

The Human Rights Campaign also faced criticism for refusing to dock Walmart points in 2016 amid a class-action lawsuit filed by GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders alleging the company refused to provide same-sex spousal benefits promised to employees. The lawsuit was settled in December for $7.5 million for all employees who were affected.

Jerame Davis, executive director of Pride at Work, said in a statement the Human Rights Campaign “deserves credit” for suspending Walmart’s score in 2017, but added the LGBT group waited too long to take action.

“In the last CEI, Walmart received a perfect score despite the fact that the company had just settled a class action lawsuit brought by LGBTQ people who had been denied spousal benefits,” Davis said. “In light of this development, it is our sincere hope that HRC will take the necessary steps to ensure the CEI is an accurate measure of a corporation’s commitment to LGBTQ equality. Until the CEI includes a mechanism to ensure these policies are followed and enforced, it is impossible to consider these scores as anything other than aspirational.”

The suspension of Walmart’s score stands in contrast to the record number of high scores in the Corporate Equality Index won by other companies. According to the Human Rights Campaign, a record-breaking 609 businesses earned the top score of “100.” That’s up from 517 from last year and represents a single-year increase of 18 percent.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement “top American companies are driving progress toward equality in the workplace” as the Trump administration undermines LGBT rights.

“The top-scoring companies on this year’s CEI are not only establishing policies that affirm and include employees here in the United States, they are applying these policies to their operations around the globe and impacting millions of people beyond our shores,” Griffin said. “In addition, many of these companies have also become vocal advocates for equality in the public square, including the dozens that have signed on to amicus briefs in vital Supreme Court cases and the 106 corporate supporters of the Equality Act. We are proud to have developed so many strong partnerships with corporate allies who see LGBTQ equality as a crucial issue for our country and for their businesses.”

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In a historic first, Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries

The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date

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Governor Jared Polis and 1st Gentleman Marlon Reis exchange vows (Screenshot via CBS News Denver)

DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Governor Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting Out governor in the United States.

The couple was married Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date.

“We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR).

In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year-old son as the ring bearer.

The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said CPR reported.

Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?”

Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit.

In 2008 Polis is one of the few people to be openly Out when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on November 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States.

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Gov. Jared Polis And First Gentleman Marlon Reis Are Newlyweds

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U.S. Catholic theologians call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

Joint statement says church teachings support equality

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More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.

The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.

“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.

“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.

The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.

“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.

“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said. 

DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.

The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.

“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.

He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.

Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Bridgeport, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.

Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”

The full text of the statement and its list of signatories can be accessed at the New Ways Ministry website.

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Activists reflect on Black Trans Lives Matter movement resurgence

Blade speaks with Alex Santiago, Jasmyne Cannick

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An I Am Human Foundation billboard along Atlanta's Downtown Connector expressway on Feb. 22, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The world came to a standstill last year as a video surfaced online that showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The video went viral and sparked numerous protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and around the world as many people felt it a potent time to relay their frustrations with and to their governments.

For the LGBTQ community, these protests brought to light the need for human rights for transgender individuals as the murders of people like Tony McDade in Florida and Nina Pop in Missouri reawakened the flame within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement.

A tribute to Tony McDade in downtown Asheville, N.C., in June 2020. McDade was a Black transgender man who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Tallahassee, Fla., on May 27, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Washington Blade more than a year later spoke with Alex Santiago, executive director of the I Am Human Foundation in Atlanta, and Jasmyne Cannick, a Democratic political strategist and journalist in Los Angeles, to reflect on last year’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement, how far it has come, and what’s in store for the future. 

Uplifting voices often silenced

Participating in the Black Lives Matter protests was an easy decision for Santiago. He is a member of the Legendary House of Garcon, a ballroom house headquartered in D.C. 

Although the house is composed mostly of LGBTQ members, Santiago still felt the need to center trans voices and experiences by visually representing them during Black Lives Matter marches. 

“[I decided that] when I go I’m going to have signs that say ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ After talking to a couple of the people in the house, they said it was a great idea. So, they got these t-shirts made that incorporated the trans colors [baby blue, baby pink and white],” says Santiago.

Out of the 250 people in the Legendary House of Garcon, 175 showed up to D.C. from other states to march in solidarity with Black trans people. Santiago says that from what he was told, his was the largest group of activists representing Black trans lives at protests. 

“At first I thought people were going to look at us crazy, like, ‘Why are you separating yourselves or being exclusive?’. But, we got a great response from the general population that was there that day. It was a good day,” says Santiago.

Cannick, who was in Los Angeles during the protests, lent her efforts to platforming pertinent issues. She identifies herself as an ally and a “friend” to the LGBTQ community. 

“I’m active in the LA community and everybody knows me. So, whenever something happens, someone is hurt, someone is killed or someone needs to get the word out about something that’s going on particularly as it relates to the trans community, I’m always asked to get involved, and I do,” says Cannick. 

Over the past year, she reported on multiple LGBTQ issues including the trial of Ed Buck, a Democratic political fundraiser who was convicted in the deaths of two gay Black men who he injected with methamphetamine in exchange for sex.

What happened to the BTLM movement and what needs to change?

The nature of many social movements is that as the intense emotion surrounding them fades, people’s fervor for change wanes as well. This is especially true with allies who are not directly linked to the cause.

“Fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege — has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak,” US News reports about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cannick believes this is the same for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. She says Americans allow the media to dictate how it behaves and responds to issues. Thus, when stories “fall out of our media cycles … they fall out of our memories.”

“I think that’s not going to change, and that’s a psychological thing, until we learn how to not let the media necessarily dictate our issues,” says Cannick. 

She suggests that individuals remain plugged into their communities by “doing anything to make sure they keep up with an issue” including following the “right people” on social media and setting up Google alerts for any breaking news. 

Jasmyne Cannick (Photo courtesy of Jasmyne Cannick)

Santiago also echoes Cannick’s sentiments. 

“We wait until something happens before we do something. And, I don’t want to be retroactive; I want to be proactive. I want people to see me when things are going well [and when they’re not going well],” says Santiago. 

Upon returning to his home in Atlanta after the D.C. protests, Santiago contacted a billboard installation company and paid for a billboard labelled, “Black Trans Lives Matter” to be displayed on University Avenue near downtown Atlanta. He says that the billboards got attention and helped to spread much-needed awareness. Following this success, he is now in the process of installing a new billboard labelled, “Black, Trans and Visible. My life Matters.”

“Unless you’re in people’s faces or something drastic happens, people forget. Unless you’re living it, people forget,” says Santiago.

As time progresses, both Santiago and Cannick nest hope for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. However, this hope can only persist when crucial steps are taken to ensure Black trans individuals around the country are protected, most importantly through legislation.

The New York Times reports there are close to 1,000 elected LGBTQ officials in the U.S., with at least one in each state except Mississippi. 

“We need to have more legislation. We need more voices in power like the council Biden has right now,” says Santiago. 

“You know that [Biden] has a lot of trans people and Black trans people [involved], and a part of that’s a positive step in the right direction, but we need that times 10,” says Santiago.

He believes that political representation should extend to local governance where ordinary Black trans individuals can be trained to assume leadership roles. 

Cannick’s focus is on the Black community. 

“[Trans women] are usually murdered by Black men. If we ever expect that to change, we need to start talking about that,” says Cannick.

She’s open to having conversations that put people, including her as a cis-identifying woman, in uncomfortable and awkward spaces. 

She hosts a podcast titled “Str8 No Chaser” and recently aired an episode, “Why Are Black Men Killing Trans Women,” where she discussed with three Black trans women about the gender and sexuality dynamics within the Black community and their perils. 

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