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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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Pennsylvania

Pride Franklin County welcomes rural LGBTQ community

Pennsylvania organization planning October celebration

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When Pride Franklin County held its first Pride celebration in 2018, it sought to address a lack of LGBTQ programming in rural southern Pennsylvania. Greeted by more than 1,000 attendees at its inaugural event, Pride Franklin County’s leadership was reassured the event was something the area not only wanted, but needed. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the local organization has once again sought to address community needs — in new and broadened ways.

Pride Franklin County operates under the Franklin County Coalition for Progress, a local social justice nonprofit that formed in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. “We live in a very rural, conservative area, but that election was a turning point all across the country,” explained Noel Purdy, a founder of Pride Franklin County and founder and president of FCCP.

“People came out of the woodwork who were worried about the LGBTQ community … and other populations that had experienced different forms of oppression in our community,” Purdy explained. This interest in supporting the local LGBTQ community led to a group of LGBTQ community members and allies leading the 2018 Pride celebration.

“We just really wanted to create a space where people know that they’re accepted, no matter who they are,” said Nathan Strayer, vice president of FCCP and a founder of Pride Franklin County. “We want people to know that you fit in. There are a lot of people here that are going to love you.”

But in 2020, at the peak of the event’s popularity — Strayer noted that upwards of 3,000 people attended Pride the year prior — Pride Franklin County had to cancel its programming in light of public health concerns. 

With the “momentum” it has going, Strayer explained that the organization did not want the pandemic to limit its ability to serve the Franklin County community: “ That’s when we really decided to make the entire initiative something bigger,” he said. “We’re not just here to throw a party.”

In 2021, the organization began advocating for a local non-discrimination ordinance codifying inclusivity for all community members, regardless of their identity. The Borough of Chambersburg Council, which represents the largest borough in the county, adopted the ordinance that fall — a major win for LGBTQ activists and allies in a rural Pennsylvania county that leans conservative socially and politically.

Yet, just months after the organization celebrated its achievement, new council members were elected in the borough in January 2022, and soon thereafter a majority of the council decided to repeal the non-discrimination ordinance.

While the ordinance’s revocation greatly disappointed Pride Franklin County, it also reminded its leaders and activists how much work was left to be done.

“From the growth of Pride to the pushback we’ve gotten from some of our elected officials here locally, it’s definitely lit a fire in us to continue pushing ahead so that we can truly make Franklin County an inclusive place for everyone,” Strayer emphasized.

This year, the organization launched its Franklin County Welcoming Project, which spearheads public displays of support to the LGBTQ community. In June, the organization received a media grant to create billboard and radio advertisements throughout the county advocating for inclusivity within the Franklin County community.

The organization also reached out to local businesses, providing them with custom decals to put in their windows after signing a pledge stating that they are a “diverse, inclusive, accepting, welcoming, safe space for all,” Strayer said, adding that, despite some initial hesitation, more than 100 local businesses signed the pledge and displayed the logo in their storefronts.

Pride Franklin County has also looked to meet the local demand for LGBTQ programming throughout the year while maintaining public health precautions. More recent projects have included mental health LGBTQ programming, community picnics, drag shows and a Taste of Pride food event. Strayer added that there has been significant demand from the community for more programming centering LGBTQ youth.

Purdy added that voting rights advocacy has become a center point of current efforts from the organization, as it hopes to educate the local community on the importance of their political involvement. “Hopefully, we’re inspiring more people to learn to pay attention more to what’s going on, and trying to understand the connection between policy and voting,” Purdy explained

While the process of founding a grassroots organization has come with obstacles, Purdy and Strayer both noted that the community response has been rewarding.

 “One thing that I’ve been surprised about is how you have this cultural context of being in a conservative area, thinking that that’s going to be a barrier to doing an event that supports the LGBTQ community, and that it’s going to be super controversial,” but ultimately receiving a positive reception from many community members and resources needed to keep the organization running, Purdy explained.

Getting Pride Franklin County up and running has “definitely been very emotional,” Strayer noted. When Strayer decided to come out in 1999, he turned to leaders in his school — a guidance counselor and principal — for advice, but he recalled them “both sitting down and looking at (him) like, ‘We don’t really know what to do,’” making him feel alone in a particularly important part of his life. But with Pride Franklin County, Strayer is “seeing how things are growing and changing.”

“There’s help out there for youth that are struggling with the same things I was struggling with,” Strayer said. “When I look back at when I was coming out, I thought, ‘This is never going to happen here.’ Seeing now that it is happening here, it’s just such an amazing feeling and it just gives me so much pride in my community.”

Pride Franklin County will host its Pride Festival 2022 on Oct. 9 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information can be found on the organization’s website at pridefranklincounty.org

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Florida

Over 100 LGBTQ-themed books in a Florida school district labeled with advisory warning

They warn: “this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students.”

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Advisory Notice (via Twitter)

A southwest Florida district put parental “advisory notice” on over 100 books, many of which are race or LGBTQ-themed. 

A great number of books in Collier County Public Schools, either digital or physical, now have warning labels writing “Advisory notice to parents,” according to an NBC report,

The label, tweeted by nonprofit free-speech-promoting group PEN American, states, “This Advisory Notice shall serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students. This book will also be identified in the Destiny system with the same notation. The decision as to whether this book is suitable or unsuitable shall be the decision of the parent(s) who has the right to oversee his/her child’s education consistent with state law.” 

Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which means to fight book banning, told NBC that she had a call from Elizabeth Alves, the associate superintendent of teaching and learning for Collier County Public Schools. In the call, Alves told her that the district added the labels starting in February. 

These measures, which Alves described as a “compromise,” happened after the district’s legal representative talked with the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group which initiated a “Porn in Schools Report” project last year. The report included a list of books that “promote gender self-identification and same-sex marriage” as well as titles that include “indecent and offensive material,” as the group explained. 

Chad Oliver, the Collier County Public Schools spokesperson, on the other hand offered a different story. 

Oliver sent an email to NBC News and said, “Based upon advice from the General Counsel, we placed advisory notices on books about which parents and community members had expressed concern and in accordance with the recently passed Parents’ Bill of Rights Law (HB 241).” 

The law referred by Oliver is also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

According to PEN America, there are 110 labeled books in total, and the list greatly overlaps with the one Florida Citizens Alliance inquired about with Collier County Public Schools. 

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National

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney introduces bill to make monkeypox testing free

Health insurers would be required to cover costs

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has introduced legislation to make monkeypox testing free to the public. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), amid the ongoing monkeypox affecting gay and bisexual men, has introduced legislation in the U.S. House seeking to make testing for disease free to the public.

Maloney, one of seven openly gay members of Congress and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement the measure, called the No Cost for Monkeypox Testing Act, would testing amid the monkeypox outbreak would be accessible to all.

“It is critical that we eliminate cost as a barrier to testing for monkeypox to ensure we can identify cases and prevent further spread,” Maloney said. “This legislation takes the lessons we learned from past public health emergencies and protects those at risk of contracting monkeypox by making tests accessible to everyone.”

The legislation would require private health insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid to cover the costs of monkeypox testing at no expense to the patients, either through deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance.

The bill introduction comes the week after the Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency and the same it has issued new guidance to enhance to the accessing of existing vaccines doses amid criticism federal officials were too slow in distributing shots.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Centers for Disease Control seeking comment on the legislation. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said Tuesday the federal government has the capacity to conduct an estimated 80,000 tests each week.

Maloney has been representing New York’s 18th congressional district, but after redistricting is now seeking re-election in the 17th district. Amid controversy over a potential showdown between Maloney and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who’s Black, another openly gay member of Congress and the current representative of that district, Jones has since opted to run for re-election in the New York’s 10th congressional district. Maloney is now running unopposed in the 17th.

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