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Zero Democrats lend name to GOP compromise on LGBTQ rights

All 21 original co-sponsors are Republicans

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Fairness for All Americans Act, gay news, Washington Blade
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) speaks at a press conference following the introduction of the ‘Fairness for All Americans’ Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Vanessa Pham)

Despite signals the Fairness for All Act counterproposal from Republicans on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom would have bipartisan support upon its reintroduction on Friday, the final list of original co-sponsors has no Democrats.

Although the list of 21 co-sponsors is more than double the nine who support the first iteration of the Fairness for All in the previous Congress, they’re entirely made up of Republicans. The absence of any Democrats dashes hopes from supporters the legislation could be a starting point for negotiations across the aisle on the Equality Act in the Senate.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), the chief sponsor of the bill, nonetheless hailed the Fairness for All Act upon reintroduction as a way to bring the gap on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom.

“It is hard to really love our neighbors when we are fighting with them over whose rights are more important,” Stewart said. “This country can accommodate both civil liberties for LGBT individuals & religious freedom. We have wasted enough time, energy, and money fighting over who deserves which legal protections. It is time to define the federal protections for our LGBT and religious friends and neighbors.” 

The Fairness for All Act, like the Equality Act, would amend all aspects of federal civil rights law to expand the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, housing, public accommodations, federally funded programs, education, credit and jury service. A copy of the bill reviewed.by Blade revealed the Fairness for All Act doesn’t have substantive changes from its previous iteration in terms of LGBTQ issues, but other than clarity for protections based on race, color and national origin.

Stewart, in a statement to the Washington Blade, said he won’t give up on finding Democratic for the legislation.

“I am grateful to my colleagues who joined me today,” Stewart said. “We are still working with our Democratic colleagues and have high hopes that this bill will ultimately be bipartisan.”

Stewart had signaled as of Wednesday via a spokesperson the Fairness for All Act “will have bipartisan support by the end of the week” and would hold off on plans to introduce the legislation until after the U.S. House voted on the Equality Act, the flagship comprehensive bill to expand anti-discrimination principles for LGBTQ people under federal civil rights law.

The House approved the Equality Act on a largely party-line vote Thursday with just a blemish of bipartisan support. Three Republicans voted for the Equality Act, compared to the eight who voted for the legislation in 2019.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the sponsor of the Equality Act in the House, told the Washington Blade on Thursday amid uncertainty of the legislation in the Senate the Fairness for All Act would “very clearly be worse than nothing.”

“For the first time in our history, it would actually put in federal statute provisions that permit discrimination against the LGBTQ community,” Cicilline said, “It would be a tremendous step backward, which is why it’s not supported by any major LGBT organization, all of the major LGBT organizations support the Equality Act. The Stewart bill is a tremendous step backward in our fight for full equality.”

Asked if he has any issues with fellow Democrats co-sponsor the Fairness for All Act, Cicilline held firm.

“I would hope that people are committed to equality for the LGBTQ community would not support this bill because it would put in statute and authorize expressly discrimination against the LGBTQ community,” Cicilline said.

Among the co-sponsors are Republicans who voted for the Equality Act, including Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Tom Reed (R-N.Y.). Other co-sponsors are Republicans who voted for the Equality Act in 2019, but not 2021, including Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.). One Republican who voted twice for the Equality Act, Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), isn’t a co-sponsors of the Fairness for All Act.

Although both the Equality Act and the Fairness for All Act would expand the prohibition on anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal law, they have key differences. For example, the Equality Act would specify the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act couldn’t be raised as a defense in court against allegations of illegal anti-LGBTQ discrimination, but the Fairness for All Act would not.

Additionally, the Fairness for All Act would provide an exemption under Title II of the Civil Rights Act to allow stores, shopping centers or online retailers to refuse service to LGBTQ people if they have 15 or fewer employees, but the Equality Act provides no such exemption. The Equality Act would clarify transgender people should have access to locker rooms and bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, while the Fairness for All Act implies that but doesn’t spell it out. The Equality Act is silent on whether its ban on sex discrimination would prohibit medical providers from refusing to perform an abortion, the Fairness for All Act specifies it would not.

(The Washington Blade is preparing a detailed chart on the differences between the Equality Act and the Fairness for All Act, as well as the situation with current law after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found anti-LGBTQ discrimination is an illegal form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, therefore not only illegal in employment, but under all laws that ban sex discrimination.)

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World

Two LGBTQ people named to Chilean president-elect’s Cabinet

Gabriel Boric and his government takes office on March 11

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Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric. (Photo via the Chilean government)

Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric on Friday named two openly LGBTQ people to his Cabinet.

Marco Antonio Ávila, who is a gay man, will be the country’s education minister. Alexandra Benado, who is a lesbian, will be Chile’s sports minister.

Javiera Zúñiga, a spokesperson for Movilh (Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual), a Chilean LGBTQ rights group, applauded Boric for naming Ávila and Benado to his Cabinet.

“The visibility of sexual orientation and gender identity is no longer an impediment to access any position in Chile,” said Zúñiga in a press release. “Sexual orientation and gender identity are irrelevant for the positions, whether they are public or private. Capability is the only thing that matters.”

Boric and his government will take office on March 11. Chile’s marriage equality law goes into effect the day before.

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National

Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

Equality Florida quickly condemned the measure

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The Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The Republican majority Florida House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Los Angeles Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66 percent) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56 percent of transgender and non-binary youth said it made them feel angry, 47 percent felt nervous and/or scared, 45 percent felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, the Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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World

Lesbian couple murdered, dismembered in Mexico border city

Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez killed in Ciudad Juárez

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From left: Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez. (Photo via Facebook)

Authorities in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez on Sunday found the dismembered bodies of a lesbian couple along a local highway.

The dismembered body parts of Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez were found in plastic bags that had been placed along the Juárez-El Porvenir Highway.

El Diario, a Mexican newspaper, reported the married women lived in El Paso, Texas, which is across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juárez. Authorities said relatives last spoke with Ramírez and Medina on Saturday afternoon.

A source in Ciudad Juárez with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Thursday confirmed Ramírez and Medina “were lesbian women” and their murder was “very violent.”

Members of Comité de la Diversidad Sexual de Chihuahua, an LGBTQ rights group in the state of Chihuahua in which Ciudad Juárez is located, and Chihuahua Gov. María Eugenia Campos Galván are among those who have expressed outrage over the women’s murders. Comité de la Diversidad Sexual de Chihuahua on Wednesday also urged local and state authorities to investigate whether the murder was a hate crime.

“People of sexual diversity are questioned, including their existence through heteronormative discourse,” said the group in a statement. “They have the right to a life free of violence in which they exercise all their rights, in addition to living without fear or fear of rejection and aggressions that can unfortunately escalate to hate crimes.”

El Diario reported Ramírez and Medina are two of the nine women who have been reported killed in Ciudad Juárez since the beginning of the year.

Personas de las Diversidades Afectivo Sexuales, an LGBTQ rights group in Ciudad Juárez, and feminist organizations on Thursday organized a protest during which participants demanded local, state and federal authorities do more to end to violence against women in the city. The press release that announced the demonstration specifically cited Ramírez and Medina.

“We seek justice and clarification in the murder of Nohemí and Yulissa, a lesbian couple who was found in Juárez-Porvenir Highway,” it reads.

LGBTQ activists and feminist groups participate in a protest against femicides in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on Jan. 20, 2022. (Courtesy photo)
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