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High stakes for LGBT Americans at Supreme Court next week

Eyes will be on Roberts, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch in Trump-leaning court

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marriage equality, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade
marriage equality, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court is set Tuesday to hear a trio of cases that will determine not just whether firing workers for being LGBT is legal under federal law, but will also have ramifications for LGBT people in education, health care and housing.

At issue is whether anti-LGBT discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and therefore prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex, but says nothing explicitly about sexual orientation or gender identity.

At a time when only 20 states have complete laws banning anti-LGBT discrimination, a Supreme Court ruling affirming Title VII prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination would guarantee federal protections across the board — even for LGBT people who live in states with no protections.

But if the decision goes the other way, the ruling would leave LGBT people in those states with nothing.

Ria Tabacco Mar, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a briefing with reporters the outcome of the decision will “in many ways” have greater impact than the marriage cases.

“We’re talking about the ability to earn a living, the ability to support our families [and] the ability to secure a safe place to live,” Mar said. “I mean, this goes to the very heart of what it is to live and work in this country.”

The Supreme Court agreed to take up the cases alleging anti-LGBT discrimination in April after they ended up with varied outcomes in the Second, Sixth and Eleventh circuits.

Whichever way the Supreme Court rules, the decision will have a profound impact on civil rights law protections for LGBT people, particularly in employment.

For starters, a decision against the LGBT workers would uproot the practices of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which accepts LGBT charges in its enforcement of Title VII as a result of changes made in the Obama administration.

LGBT workers have made good use of these changes. According to data from the EEOC, LGBT workers have filed about 1,800 charges alleging anti-LGBT discrimination each year in recent fiscal years.

Those charges, the latest data show, have resulted at least 1,300 merit resolutions in favor of the workers and at least $22.2 million in monetary benefits awarded since fiscal year 2013.

That opportunity to obtain relief for workplace discrimination would be in jeopardy, if not outright eliminated, if the Supreme Court were to rule Title VII doesn’t cover LGBT people.

(Check out the related chart on the breakdown of LGBT-related charges at EEOC for each fiscal year.)

But because other federal rights laws besides Title VII bar discrimination on the basis of sex without explicitly banning anti-LGBT discrimination, the Supreme Court’s ruling will have an impact on areas besides employment.

Among the federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination are the Fair Housing Act, the Affordable Care Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. That means non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in housing, health care and education are at stake in the resolution of these cases.

The ACLU’s Mar said, “civil rights laws often run in tandem with Title VII,” noting the Supreme Court decision will impact not just employment.

“If the court says it’s perfectly lawful to fire someone for being LGBT, that is going to have trickle down consequences as to how lower courts interpret similar federal statutes and prohibit sex discrimination in housing, and education and in health care,” Mar said.

The high stakes for the Title VII cases are making many LGBT legal observers nervous amid a perception the Supreme Court has tilted to the right under the Trump administration.

During oral arguments, all eyes will be on three justices — Chief Justice John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch — to determine which way they’re leaning.

Roberts is a justice of interest because he’s considered the new moderate and swing vote in the aftermath of former U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy stepping down from the bench.

Moreover, during the Obergefell arguments on same-sex marriage in 2015, Roberts included in his questioning a line suggesting he has at least considered the idea of sexual orientation discrimination being a form of sex discrimination.

“I mean, if Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t,” Roberts said. “And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?”

(Roberts ended up ruling in the minority of the court, concluding that bans on same-sex marriage are constitutional.)

Observers will be watching Kavanaugh because he’s new to the court and doesn’t have a developed LGBT record. (The exception is joining with the majority in April to allow the Trump administration to proceed with the transgender military ban.)

Kavanaugh will be under scrutiny because many progressives are angry he won confirmation last year despite Christine Blasey Ford testifying he sexually assaulted her as a teenager. Kavanaugh continues to face calls for impeachment over this allegation and other reports of sexual misconduct.

Finally, Kavanaugh suggested during his confirmation hearing he’d oppose anti-gay discrimination at the Supreme Court when he read a statement from the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision under questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

“In Masterpiece Cakeshop, and this is, I think, relevant to your question, Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice [Samuel] Alito and Justice Gorsuch and Justice [Stephen] Breyer, the days of discriminating against gay and lesbian Americans as inferior in dignity and worth are over,” Kavanaugh said.

When Harris asked Kavanaugh whether he agreed with that statement, Kavanaugh declined to answer on the basis that he couldn’t comment on court rulings during his confirmation process.

For Gorsuch, expectations may be low given his previous support for religious freedom in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case at the expense of LGBT rights, but he has built a legal career on being a textualist.

“Judges should instead strive (if humanly and so imperfectly) to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward, and looking to text, structure, and history to decide what a reasonable reader at the time of the events in question would have understood the law to be — not to decide cases based on their own moral convictions or the policy consequences they believe might serve society best,” Gorsuch wrote in 2016.

LGBT rights advocates have argued their belief Title VII covers anti-LGBT discrimination is a textualist argument, so will be looking to see if Gorsuch holds true to his convictions in the Title VII cases.

Mar insisted the LGBT side in the cases “really have the more conservative side in the argument because we’re the textualists here.”

“We’re the ones who are pointing to the words of the statute and saying discrimination because of sex necessarily covers discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Mar said. “It’s the concrete concept of sexual orientation turns on one’s own sex in relation to the sex of the people to whom one is attracted.”

Sharon McGowan, legal director for Lambda Legal, made a similar case.

“Part of what will see here is this moment of accountability, right?” McGowan said. “Will they actually follow that doctrine and where it leads in these cases or will they be engaged in the calisthenics to take sex out of sexual orientation?”

The litigation before the court consists of two consolidated cases — Zarda v. Altitude Express and Bostock v. Clayton County — seeking clarification on whether Title VII cover sexual orientation discrimination and one case — EEOC v. Harris Funeral Homes — that will determine whether Title VII bans anti-transgender discrimination.

Representing gay workers in the sexual orientation cases is Pamela Karlan, who’s director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at Stanford Law School. During the Obama administration, Karlan served as deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and helped worked to implement the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Windsor v. United States.

On the opposite side, the lawyer for the employers is Jeffrey Harris, an attorney with Consovoy McCarthy Park PLLC.

Set to represent Aimee Stephens, a transgender worker in Michigan who was terminated from her job as a funeral director after she announced she’d transition, is David Cole, national legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The attorney for Harris Funeral Homes is John Bursch, who’s vice president of appellate advocacy and senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.

Bursch previewed his arguments before the Supreme Court at a forum hosted by Alliance Defending Freedom earlier this month.

“The basic bottom line is that applying a sex specific dress code based on biological sex is not sex discrimination, unless the notion of sex itself is discrimination,” Bursch said. “And if that’s the case, then you lose any ability to have sex-segregated dress codes, restrooms, locker rooms, overnight facilities and a whole variety of things.”

The Trump administration, which has already filed briefs before the Supreme Court arguing neither gay, lesbian and bisexual people or transgender people are entitled to protections under Title VII, will be represented by U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco.

Although the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is named a plaintiff in the Harris Funeral Homes case, defense of the U.S. government positions before the Supreme Court is exclusively the job of the solicitor general. Instead of arguing the EEOC’s position LGBT people are covered under Title VII, Francisco will likely articulate the government’s position, consistent with his legal briefs, they are not.

Given the Trump administration’s participation in the arguments, Mar said the litigation presents the court with “a test” to determine if it will “become sort of a partisan foil for the Trump administration, or whether it will maintain its own legitimacy.”

“I say that because in the sexual orientation cases, the United States was not a party,” Mar said. “But the Justice Department has sort of stepped in gratuitously on the side of the employers to say that it should be perfectly lawful to fire someone because of their sexual orientation.”

LGBT-based sex discrimination Charges at EEOC

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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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