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U.S. agency seeks to cut LGBTQ protections in union contract talks

NLRB denies meeting with employees concern about anti-LGBTQ move

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The National Labor Relations Board is seeking under the Trump administration to axe LGBTQ non-discrimination language — as well as protections based on race, sex and religion — from its union contract with professional attorneys within the U.S. agency as part of collective-bargaining negotiations, according to union representatives.

The union, known as the National Labor Relations Board Professional Association, is made up of about 120 attorneys at the NLRB headquarters in D.C.

“They’re taking it all out,” one NLRBPA member said. “They’re basically saying it’s duplicative, it’s covered by statute, so we don’t want to do anything through grievance and arbitration. If you think there is discrimination, then you need to a file complaint with the EEOC.”

The NLRBPA is pleading with Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to step in and urge the agency to keep those non-discrimination protections in place within the union contract. Individually, LGBTQ employees with concerns over removal of the non-discrimination protections also sought to meet with management on the issue, but were rebuffed, union members told the Washington Blade.

For the time being, NLRB is required to maintain the non-discrimination protections from the previous contract, even though that contract expired last year. But that situation is expected to change soon. As a result of executive orders signed by President Trump last year, federal employee unions are required to engage in negotiations with their respective agencies to form new contracts.

In a pair of letters dated March 5, the NLRPA calls on Raskin and Feinstein to engage in oversight of the agency as it seeks to eliminate those non-discrimination protections. One letter calls the proposal “a giant step backward in the fight to ensure that LGBTQ workers receive equal treatment under the law.”

“It is a mark of shame that employment discrimination against LGBTQ employees, including federal employees, has been tolerated for so long, and to callously take any protections away after so long a struggle for equal treatment would be unconscionable,” one letter says. “In that spirit, we would be most grateful for any oversight of the agency and help that you can provide to defend the workplace rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.”

The letters also express other concerns. Among them is NLRB proposing to eliminate a standing joint labor-management Equal Employment Opportunity Committee, a reversal the union says turns “historically a cooperative relationship between management and the union into an adversarial relationship.” The NLRB also proposes to undercut the grievance and arbitration system in other ways, the letter says.

Raskin, in a statement to the Blade responding to the letter, said NLRB’s proposed removal of LGBTQ protections is unjust, especially from a U.S. agency charged with enforcing federal labor law.

“Trump’s administration has tried from the start to purge all mention of LGBTQ rights from federal law and policy,” Raskin said. “Now, by proposing to eliminate protections for LGBTQ employees from its collective bargaining agreements, the NLRB — which is supposed to be a leader for workplace fairness—becomes the latest perpetrator of the administration’s political assault on equal protection and equal employment rights for the LGBTQ community.”

NLRB, according to members of the union, justified its proposed removal of the non-discrimination protections on the basis that employees could seek recourse against discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that bars discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

But that law as it stands affords no protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Although the U.S. Supreme Court is considering litigation that will decide whether anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, thus illegal under Title VII, there is no certainty that will happen.

Should the Supreme Court rule Title VII doesn’t cover anti-LGBTQ discrimination, NLRBPA attorneys would have no recourse under federal law for LGBTQ discrimination claims.

NLRBPA employees — even though they work within D.C. — also aren’t covered by the D.C. Human Rights Act. Although the law bars anti-LGBTQ discrimination, the D.C. Human Rights Act doesn’t have jurisdiction over federal entities, such as NLRB.

Over the course of contract negotiations, one NLRBPA member said, management was unmoved by the argument LGBTQ non-discrimination protections are needed in the union contract because the Supreme Court might be against them under Title VII.

“There’s a possibility we’re not going to be covered by statute, so we will have no protections whatsoever,” the NLRBPA members said. “And my understanding was the agency response was, ‘We can’t control what the Supreme Court does.”

According to the NLRBPA, non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation have been part of the NLRBPA contract since 2002 and non-discrimination protections based on gender identity have been part of the contract since 2017. Although that contract was terminated in 2019, the agency remains legally obligated to enforce it until a new contract agreement with the union is reached.

“So you can imagine our dismay when we received contract proposals from management eliminating the contractual provisions prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and stating that any ‘prior MOUs, agreements, or settlements executed prior to the latest date below are not incorporated into this agreement,’” the letters say.

Outside of union negotiations, the letter says, a group of LGBTQ employees sought to meet with senior management to discuss concerns over the removal of the non-discrimination language, but were unsuccessful.

Adam Naill, an NLRB attorney and NLRB union official, affirmed to the Blade via email a group of LGBTQ employees were denied a meeting with management outside the negotiations.

“A number of LGBTQ folks at the agency attempted to meet with NLRB senior leadership to just express their concerns about the proposal and how they’re feeling — frightened and alarmed — about management’s position on this and were rebuffed, senior leadership said they wouldn’t meet with employees about the issue,” Naill said.

The NLRB justified denying the meeting, one NLRBPA member said, by giving assurances the agency is committed to LGBTQ equality and saying the meeting would be inappropriate amid ongoing contract negotiations.

But the NLRBPA member expressed doubt about that commitment to LGBTQ equality based on attorneys in the workforce overheard making homophobic statements.

“Among some of the rank and file attorneys, those people who very likely in the coming years will probably be promoted to supervisors, there’s been several times overhearing some very problematic homophobic, misogynist statements coming from them,” the NLRBPA member said.

The office of Feinstein didn’t respond Monday to the Blade’s request to comment on the proposed removal of LGBTQ protections. The NLRB declined to comment for this article, citing a practice of withholding commenting on contract negotiations with unions.

Jerame Davis, executive director of the LGBTQ labor group Pride at Work, condemned NLRB in a statement to the Blade, but said this move is consistent with the policy of the Trump administration.

“As taxpayers, we should expect that all working people — including LGBTQ working people — would be protected from discrimination in a federal government job,” Davis said. “But it is particularly insulting that these protections are being stripped from the working people who protect our country’s workforce from unfair labor practices. There is little that has been consistent with this administration, but their attacks on LGBTQ people have come regularly, like clockwork.”

The union for the professional attorneys at NLRB is different from the union for the 1,200 employees in the field offices, which is the known simply as the National Labor Relations Board Union, or NLRBU.

According to NLRBPA, the sister union is also currently engaged in contract negotiations, but they’re still bargaining over ground rules and haven’t made substantive proposals. The Blade emailed NLRBU seeking a comment on the situation.

NLRB chair John Ring and NLRB general counsel Peter Robb are set to testify on Wednesday before the House Appropriations Committee on the Trump administration’s budget request. It remains to be seen whether the agency officials will be questioned on the proposed non-discrimination omission from the union contract.

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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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