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Harris, Murray urge DOJ to drop anti-trans memo after Supreme Court ruling

Senate Dems say Sessions memo ‘poses an ongoing threat’ to trans workers

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Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Colo.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are urging the Justice Department to drop an anti-trans memo. (Photos public domain)

Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are leading a new effort calling on U.S. Attorney General William Barr to rescind a memo against protecting transgender people in the workforce in the wake of the recent landmark Supreme Court decision prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

In a joint letter dated June 30, the 27 Senate Democrats who signed the letter write the 2017 memo signed by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions “misstates the law, poses an ongoing threat to the well-being of transgender workers and invites liability for employers that misguidedly rely upon it.”

“In light of the landmark Bostock decision, there can remain no justification for leaving in place an enforcement policy that flatly contradicts Supreme Court precedent,” the letter says. “Accordingly, we call on you to rescind the Sessions memorandum immediately.”

In 2017, Sessions issued a memo declaring the Justice Department won’t enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in cases of anti-transgender discrimination in the workforce, reversing an Obama-era memo from former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder assuring protections for transgender people.

At the time, Sessions was defying the determination from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that transgender people are protected under Title VII, as well as strong legal precedent from five federal appeals courts. Now that the Supreme Court has confirmed anti-LGBTQ discrimination is prohibited under Title VII in Bostock v. Clayton County, there’s no doubt the law is trans-inclusive.

“The Sessions memorandum is now at odds with controlling Supreme Court precedent,” the letter says. “The department’s current position therefore misstates the law, poses an ongoing threat to the well-being of transgender workers, and invites liability for employers that misguidedly rely upon it. The Supreme Court’s Bostock decision compels DOJ to rescind the Sessions memorandum and we urge you to abandon it immediately.”

The Senate Democrats also draw on the unemployment rate during the coronavirus crisis and challenges transgender people face in the workplace as reason for withdrawal of the Sessions memo.

“Before the widespread unemployment of the past six months, the unemployment rate for transgender people was an estimated 15 percent — a rate three times higher than the rest of the U.S. population, which suggests that many transgender applicants are refused a job because of their gender identity or expression,” the letter says.

Further, the letter raises complaints about a previous request from Harris and Murray to document each of the legal cases of anti-trans discrimination the Justice Department abandoned after the Sessions memo. The Justice Department never responded to that request, the letter says.

Harris is widely considered a top contender for Joe Biden’s running mate.

The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the letter regarding the Title VII memo.

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As NYC Pride nears, ban on police seen as support for trans, BIPOC attendees

Organizers to provide ‘community-based security and first responders’

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A scene from NYC Pride in 2019. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

NYC Pride announced last month that it would no longer allow corrections and law enforcement exhibitors to participate in NYC Pride events until 2025. The decision is in accordance with NYC Pride’s commitment to create safe spaces for marginalized LGBTQ groups including BIPOC and transgender individuals at their Pride festivities.

“Effective immediately, NYC Pride will ban corrections and law enforcement exhibitors at NYC Pride events until 2025. At that time their participation will be reviewed by the Community Relations and Diversity, Accessibility, and Inclusion committees, as well as the Executive Board,” reads NYC Pride’s statement. NYC Pride is scheduled for June 27. 

To make sure that safety regulations are still adhered to at events, NYC Pride will “transition to providing increased community-based security and first responders, while simultaneously taking steps to reduce NYPD presence at events.”

Police officers being banned from participating in Pride parades and festivities is not an unfamiliar conversation to LGBTQ advocacy and activist groups in North America. In 2018, Capital Pride in D.C. announced that uniformed officers would not be allowed to march in the Pride parade. In 2019,  Pride Toronto announced that uniformed police officers would not be permitted to attend any Pride Toronto events. 

The announcement was preceded by a voting session that took place among Pride Toronto members. Global News, a Canadian news platform, reported a final result of 163-161, disallowing police participation in Pride Toronto events.

Global News also reports that Pride Toronto committed to using their $1.25 million federal grant to examine the LGBTQ community’s feelings regarding police, and to forge a way forward. 

In solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Vancouver Pride Society announced in 2020 that police officers were no longer welcome to march and exhibit during any of Vancouver Pride Society’s festivities. 

“The roots of Pride are in righteous anger, riot and uprising against police brutality. These riots against the violence of the police were led by Black and Brown trans women and queer people. The Stonewall Riots propelled gay movements from assimilationist tactics towards unapologetic Pride. These riots worked,” reads Vancouver Pride Society’s statement. 

The organization also pledged to ensure public safety by participating in calls to defund the police and “commit to learning and convening community dialogues about what these alternative forms of managing public safety look like.”

Why ban the police? The decision from NYC Pride was simple: given the law enforcement’s history of police brutality in America, there is a need to ensure that BIPOC and transgender individuals who attend Pride events can do so comfortably, without feeling vulnerable at events meant to be safe havens that allow full, unabashed identity expression and manifestation. 

“After many interactions between the police and LGBTQ community locally, [including] the passive aggressive moves between the NYPD and peaceful protestors in Washington Square Park last year, we have to look at the history,” said André Thomas, NYC Pride co-chair. “The ability to welcome Black, Brown, and trans Americans at our events is an even higher priority than for someone to be able to wear police uniform in a parade.”

It is no secret that BIPOC and transgender communities are some of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to interactions with corrections and law enforcement officers. 

Mapping Police Violence reports that in 2020, Black people constituted 28% of those killed by the police despite only constituting 13% of the country’s population. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey also reports that Black transgender people were 50% more likely to report that their interactions with police officers as suspecting them of soliciting sex work and leading to an arrest. In addition, the Movement Advancement Project reports in a 2017 study that nearly 40% of incarcerated girls identify as LGB and 85-90% of incarcerated LGBTQ youth are LGBTQ youth of color. 

With this in mind, NYC Pride’s goal is to make their events harm-and-fear-free for members of the LGBTQ community. 

To supplement the absence of corrections and law enforcement officers at NYC Pride events, the organization will provide community-based security companies and first responders who will ensure that Pride events are secure and will also be on standby in case of emergencies. 

As part of their training, the security companies are primed on how to deal with all kinds of situations including responding to an active shooter. 

“Our staff has gone through active shooter training and everything it entails including what they’re wearing and how they’re identifiable to the community,” said Thomas. “We want to ensure people that even though the NYPD may be a block away, there is still security [present] to take care of your needs.”

A lot of NYC Pride’s information regarding security measures is currently being relayed through social media and reportage from various news sources. 

“We tweeted about our meetings that we had with the NYPD to reinforce public safety after the initial news broke out of what’s been going on,” said Thomas. 

Regarding whether NYC Pride will implement this year’s model for next year’s Pride, “[NYC Pride is] figuring out what works and what doesn’t,” said Thomas. “We’re trying to do things in a hybrid model with some limited in-person and some virtual events. We’re going to figure out what to keep and what to change, and this will influence the planning and processes that we do.”

As for future Prides, Thomas wants everyone to remember this: “It’s always someone’s first Pride, and so, you want to be able to give someone that special experience. So, for future Prides, we’ll be working on greater inclusivity and representation.”

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National LGBTQ Task Force welcomes new leadership

Mayra Hidalgo Salazar named deputy executive director

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Mayra Hidalgo Salazar is the new deputy executive director of the Task Force. (Photo courtesy Task Force)

Earlier this month, the National LGBTQ Task Force named Mayra Hidalgo Salazar as its new Deputy Executive Director. Hidalgo Salazar joined the then newly appointed Executive Director Kierra Johnson as part of the Task Force’s new and growing leadership team that will continue to advocate for LGBTQ individuals across the country while paying close attention to intersectionality as a crucial component of LGBTQ activism. 

As part of a statement released by the Task Force, Hidalgo Salazar said, “I am overjoyed to stand on the shoulders of the giants, elders in our movement who started the National LGBTQ Task Force over 40 years ago. The seeds that the Task Force has planted in training and developing LGBTQ+ leaders for nearly 5 decades are in full bloom.”

As Hidalgo Salazar embarks on this new journey, it is clearer for her that fighting for LGBTQ rights is important now more than ever. 

Hidalgo Salazar was introduced to LGBTQ activism at age 17. She worked on the Trail of Dreams in 2010, a 1,500-mile walk from Miami to Washington, D.C., in support of immigrant rights. The Trail of Dreams’s goal, according to Amnesty International, was to “[raise] awareness about broken U.S. immigration laws and to demand fair and humane immigration law and policy.” 

During her time working on this campaign, Hidalgo Salazar became more personally acquainted with the concept of intersectionality, in addition to her basic academic understanding of the concept. 

“Before I could really understand what intersectionality meant…this campaign really showed me, in action, a great example of what it looks like to support people and support our community, which is not living single-issue lives,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “Two of the walkers [at the Trail of Dreams] were actually a queer couple: Isabel Sousa Rodriguez and Felipe Matos, and, it’s interesting because all of the demands that the campaign was making people really understood them as solely immigrant rights or immigrant justice issues.”

This realization, showed Hidalgo Salazar that to adequately advocate for the LGBTQ community, activists must recognize that LGBTQ individuals inhabit multiple identities, such as undocumented immigration status, that shape their realities as members of the queer community. 

Being a young activist did not come without its challenges for Hidalgo Salazar. She acknowledges that while passionate about her work, she was not prepared for the emotional baggage that accompanies leadership. 

“I will say that now at 29, I can recognize that I wasn’t emotionally prepared for a lot of things leadership would bring my way,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “I was part of the first generation of undocumented people in Florida that started coming out publicly, and it was a very different time for immigrant justice than it is now.”

Hidalgo Salazar further remarked, “There were so many people who were afraid and even outraged, people who said ‘No don’t do that; you can’t do that; you’re putting yourself at risk; you’re putting yourself and your family in danger’ and, I think so many of us were at a place where our current existence was unbearable.”

Hidalgo Salazar is grateful that she did not let those remarks cloud her vision and stand in the way of the work she was doing. Given this, her main advice to young and upcoming activists is to “actively listen and carve your own path” amid people whose relationship to risk will force them to impose their problems on young activists. Simultaneously, she also believes in practicing self-care as it establishes longevity within the activism world.

“I can’t tell you how many gifted, incredible organizers I know who have burned out before they were even 25. There’s environmental reasons for this and also, it’s about how we hold — or don’t — our boundaries. So, self-care is really important,” said Hidalgo Salazar. 

Spearheading new era of leadership

As Hidalgo Salazar embarks on her new role with the LGBTQ Task Force, one of the goals at the forefront of her mind is to “level-up” the work that has already been done by her predecessors and existing leaders within the LGBTQ activism space. 

“I think [that in] any role I undertake, it’s super important that I’m building a bench, that I am leveling up the existing leaders. That’s just important for me when I think about the longevity of this work and really building a culture of passing on the torch and normalizing it,” said Hidalgo Salazar. 

Hidalgo Salazar will also support Kierra Johnson’s vision to build the Task Force’s organizing efforts, and better train, support, and defend local grassroots power. Having worked with undocumented youth at United We Dream  as the development director, Hidalgo Salazar understands the importance of having an organized front of directly impacted people ready to mobilize and hold those in power accountable.

“The Task Force used to have a field organizing team that was in the double digits in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Right now, our organizing team is three people, and as we’ve seen these past four years, no one advancement and policy is actually ensured unless we have an organized base of grassroots leaders,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “So, part of what Kierra Johnson is wanting to settle down at the Task Force is really building out [our] local organizing arm.” 

In addition to this, Hidalgo Salazar brings a deep understanding of America as it exists today and how integral youth are to mobilizing masses to demand change. She is aware of the power and fervor Generation Z possesses and how this passion has become one of the main driving forces of modern day activism. 

“[Young people] are at the forefront of social change across so many different issues from climate change, to immigrant justice, to uprisings against police brutality, and so many more,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “We are forging a future for ourselves and we’re inviting people to come with us; and we’re going [in full force].” 

Ultimately, Hidalgo Salazar’s work will be aimed at preserving and continuing the tradition at the Task Force of approaching LGBTQ activism and advocacy with a strong consciousness surrounding intersectionality, a tradition that she appreciates. 

“I think the Task Force has done such an amazing job at really focusing not just on how different genders and sexualities are criminalized, but also working from this place of really innovating and creating a space where folks can enter a sex-positive framework really young,” said Hidalgo Salazar. 

Hidalgo Salazar’s modus operandi will focus on participating in an exercise where LGBTQ individuals outline and work toward what they would like their liberation to look like. 

“I think it’s about being able to articulate the alternative worlds we want to live in. And when I think about intersectionality at the Task Force, we have the first-ever Black bisexual woman and the first woman with an undocumented immigrant experience in leadership,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “So, there’s so much opportunity for us to really leverage our own stories so that more people that maybe didn’t see themselves as part of the LGBTQ movement per se, can see this work as relatable.” 

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Nellie’s fires security firm after woman dragged down stairs

Pride weekend incident triggers protests, investigation by liquor agency

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Keisha Young was dragged down the stairs by her hair at Nellie’s. (Screen capture via Instagram)

Nellie’s Sports Bar, a gay bar in the city’s U Street commercial district, announced on Monday that it has dismissed a security company whose employee was captured on video dragging a Black woman down a flight of stairs inside the bar during the city’s Capital Pride celebration last Saturday.

The video of the male security employee dragging Nellie’s customer Keisha Young down the staircase and the brawl that erupted when other customers intervened has triggered expressions of concern by city officials and LGBTQ activists, including the local Black Lives Matter group that organized a protest outside Nellie’s on Sunday.

Young, who said she was injured during the incident, has said the security staffer mistakenly thought she was part of a group of customers who brought into the bar their own alcoholic beverages, which Nellie’s does not allow.

“Nellie’s Sports Bar has terminated, with immediate effect, the independent security vendor hired to protect our guests during Pride Week,” Nellie’s said in a statement released to the media.

“Our investigation into the matter is ongoing, and we will cooperate with any law enforcement investigation, however we do not need to wait for the investigation’s conclusion before we take decisive action,” the statement says. “We offer a heartfelt apology to all who witnessed the horrific events of this past weekend,” it says. “No matter what behavior occurred prior, nothing warrants mistreating and disrespecting one of our guests.”

The statement adds that Nellie’s will be closed this week “as we evaluate this regrettable situation.” It says all non-security staff will continue to be paid their regular wages during the temporary shutdown.

“In the interim, we will use this time to listen and understand what more we can do to create the safe and friendly atmosphere our guests have come to expect from Nellie’s Sports Bar over the past 14 years,” the statement says.

Brandon Burrell, an attorney representing Young, told D.C.’s Fox 5 News that Nellie’s had yet to offer an apology directly to Young. Fox 5 News reported on Monday that Young was considering filing a police report over the incident and a possible lawsuit against Nellie’s depending on how Nellie’s responds to Young’s concerns. 

A D.C. police spokesperson told the Washington Blade that Young had not contacted police to file a report about the incident as of early Monday.

The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, which issues liquor licenses to bars and restaurants, has opened an investigation into the Nellie’s incident, the agency confirmed to Fox 5 News.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the local group that organizes D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride events, including Saturday’s Pride Walk and Pridemobile Parade, issued a statement on Monday expressing concern over the Nellie’s incident.

“The Capital Pride Alliance condemns the reprehensible actions taken by Nellie’s staff over the weekend,” the statement says. “The incident resulted in Keisha Young being dragged by the hair down the stairs, which was a violent response to the trivial action of allegedly bringing into the bar a bottle of liquor,” the statement says.

“Capital Pride Alliance is committed to creating safe spaces for all,” says the statement. “We expect Nellie’s to take immediate, remedial action in response to this incident. Their response will impact the future of CPA’s relationship with Nellie’s.”

Nellie’s owner Doug Schantz couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also expressed concern about the Nellie’s incident when asked about it by reporters at an event on Monday.

“Obviously, entrepreneurs enforce rules in their restaurants, but they’re not allowed to assault anybody,” the mayor said. “If that’s a matter for the Metropolitan Police Department, we’ll take it up.”

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