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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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Rep. Pocan introduces legislation to create nat’l LGBTQ history museum

Bills seek answer on including site as part of Smithsonian

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Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) has introduced legislation seeking to create an LGBTQ history museum.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) has introduced legislation that would set up the process to create a National Museum of American LGBTQ+ History & Culture, potentially as an official site within the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Pocan, one of nine openly gay members of the U.S. House and co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, said in a statement Thursday the measures would are effort to preserve LGBTQ history “as our community faces unprecedented attacks and attempts to erase our history.” The pair of bills is H.R.9070 and H.R.9071.

“It is vital to remember our collective past – particularly when certain states seek to constrain and repeal existing rights by passing bills that harm LGBTQ+ youth and our community at large,” Pocan said. “Let’s tell these stories, and honor the many contributions the LGBTQ+ community has made to this nation with a museum in Washington, D.C.”

The first bill, according to a news statement, would creates an eight-member commission of individuals with expertise in museum planning or LGBTQ+ research and culture “to look into the viability of establishing such a facility in the nation’s Capital.”

Among other things, the commission would be charged with recommending a plan on action for museum, including fundraising for the museum, and submitting to Congress a plan for construction of the museum, the statement says.

The bill would also instruct the commission to address whether the museum should be part of the Smithsonian Institution, based in the nation’s capital and the world’s largest museum and research complex, per the news statement. The full study, the statement says, would have to be completed in 18 months.

If the Smithsonian were to adopt the a museum on LGBTQ history and culture, it would be similar to other museums under its jurisdiction focused on minority populations in the United States, including the National Museum of African American History & Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian.

The second bill, according to a news statement, would be eligible for consideration by Congress after the commission completes its work and issues its recommendations and allow for formal creation of the museum. More than 50 lawmakers, including all nine openly gay members of the U.S. House, co-sponsor the legislation.

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District of Columbia

Judge postpones ruling on whether Casa Ruby should be dissolved

Request by Corado for gag order to stop ‘one sided’ information denied

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A judge denied Ruby Corado’s request for a gag order in the ongoing case. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Thursday said she was not ready to issue a ruling on whether the LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby should be dissolved as recommended two and a half weeks earlier by a court-appointed receiver that took control of Casa Ruby’s operations.

Judge Danya A. Dayson stated at a Sept. 29 court status hearing that the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which filed civil charges against Casa Ruby and its founder and former executive director Ruby Corado in July, needed more time to complete its investigation into Casa Ruby’s operations.

“We think it may be premature to immediately commence proceedings for dissolution while our investigation is still pending,” Cara Spencer, an official with the Office of the Attorney General, told the judge. “We’re still gathering information. We still intend to shortly serve discovery so we can bring it to a resolution promptly,” she said.

The AG’s office filed a civil complaint against Casa Ruby and Corado on July 29 alleging that the LGBTQ group had violated the city’s Nonprofit Corporations Act for the past several years. The complaint says improper actions by Corado, including the unaccounted-for expenditure of funds and a failure by the Casa Ruby Board of Directors to provide oversight led to a financial crisis.

The complaint notes that Casa Ruby employees were not getting paid and over $1 million was owed to landlords in back rent for at least three buildings Casa Ruby used for its offices and to provide emergency housing for homeless LGBTQ youth.

With Corado spending most of the past year in El Salvador, according to Casa Ruby employees, the employees and managers struggling to keep its operations going said they were forced to shut down all operations in late July.

Corado, who attended the Sept. 29 status hearing through a phone hookup, said she had yet to retain a lawyer due to a “shortage of funds.” She told Dayson she expects to finally retain an attorney but said she had not received a copy of the receiver’s report that recommended Casa Ruby be dissolved. One of the attorneys with the AG’s office told Dayson the office sent a copy of the report to four email addresses it had for Corado and Casa Ruby.

At the judge’s request, one of the AG office officials sent another copy of the report to Corado during the hearing to an email address that the judge asked Corado to provide.

Dayson on Aug. 12, at the recommendation of the AG’s office, appointed the Wanda Alston Foundation, a D.C. organization that provides housing for homeless LGBTQ youth, as the Casa Ruby receiver. One day earlier, Dayson approved the AG office’s request that Casa Ruby be placed under receivership.

On Aug. 3, also at the request of the AG’s office, the judge issued an order that all of Casa Ruby’s bank accounts and financial assets, which had been under the sole control of Corado, be frozen. Dayson lifted that freeze after the Alston Foundation assumed control of Casa Ruby under the receivership.

As she had at the Aug. 11 court hearing, Corado stated in the Sept. 29 hearing that Casa Ruby’s financial problems were caused by the D.C. government withholding as much as $600,000 in grant funds for services Casa Ruby had provided.

Officials with the D.C. Department of Human Services, which initially approved the grants, have said some of the grant funds were withdrawn or cancelled because Casa Ruby failed to comply with the terms of the grants. In some cases, the officials said, required financial reports were not filed to substantiate how the funds were spent.

Corado also asked Dayson at the Sept. 29 hearing to order the receiver and officials with the AG’s office stop releasing “one-sided” information that she said was falsely placing her and Casa Ruby in a negative light through reports in the press.

“The story that has been painted is that Casa Ruby left the clients in the cold,” Corado said. “That is not accurate.”

When asked by Dayson what she wanted the court to do, Corado said, among other things, she did not want the receiver to be allowed to disclose information about what happened in the court proceedings that Corado said was being reported by the press inaccurately.

She said highly negative publicity resulting from the release of information from the previous court hearing resulted in her receiving death threats and damage to the engine of her vehicle in an act of vandalism that cost $1,700 to repair.  

Dayson said Corado appeared to be seeking a gag order to prohibit the receiver or the AG’s office from discussing or releasing information that was part of the public record. Saying there were insufficient grounds for such an order, Dayson announced she was denying a request to seal court records or issue a gag order against the receiver.

The judge ruled in favor of a request by the AG office attorney to file an amended complaint for the case, directing them to file the amended complaint by Nov. 28. Court records show that Dayson directed the parties to return to court for scheduling hearings on Oct. 28 and Jan. 6. 

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Mississippi

Art used to spotlight people of color lost to AIDS in the South

National AIDS Memorial, Southern AIDS Coalition created Change the Pattern exhibit

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The National AIDS Memorial and Southern AIDS Coalition have announced a new initiative to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS among communities of color in the South. (Photo courtesy of the National AIDS Memorial)

The National AIDS Memorial has joined forces with the Southern AIDS Coalition to stage a series of art exhibitions and educational forums to honor Black and Brown people in the South who have been lost to HIV/AIDS.

The initiative, titled Change the Pattern, began in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday with curated quilt exhibitions, displays, educational forums, advocacy, storytelling and quilt-making, according to a press release from the National AIDS Memorial. A $2.4 million grant from the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Inc., funded Change the Pattern.

More than 500 hand-stitched quilt panels from the area were featured in what the National AIDS Memorial says is “the largest display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt ever” in Mississippi.

“By creating an empowering message and safe spaces for conversation, we can uplift, inspire and make progress toward ending the HIV epidemic, challenge cultural stigmas and continue the legacy of advocacy that the quilt represents,” said National AIDS Memorial CEO John Cunningham in the release. 

Change the Pattern was announced in honor of Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day during the Southern AIDS Coalition’s annual Saving Ourselves Symposium that took place in August. 

The conference, which was heavily attended by LGBTQ activists from the South, featured 100 quilt panels, and attendees participated in quilt-making workshops to make new quilt panels representing their loved ones.

Interested LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the South were invited to apply for funding to support local quilt-making workshops in their communities so as to ensure that the legacies of Black and Brown people are captured through newly-sewn panels on the quilt through the Memorial’s Call My Name program, according to the National AIDS Memorial press release. 

The application process opened on Sept. 15 with up to 35 eligible organizations receiving as much as $5,000 to support hosting local workshops. 

The first major Change the Pattern Quilt was founded 35 years ago as a visual representation of the need to end stigma and provide equitable resources to communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS, according to Southern AIDS Coalition Executive Director Dafina Ward.

“Change the Pattern is a call to action and change in the South,” said Ward. “Quilt-making has such a deep cultural connection in the Black community and in the South. The sharing and telling of these powerful stories through the quilt, coupled with advocacy and open dialogue, can help end HIV-related stigma and bring the stories of those we’ve lost to light.”

As the Change the Pattern initiative occurs, conversations about how to handle health epidemics within LGBTQ communities of color have become national topics, especially with the prevalence of monkeypox cases amongst Black gay men.

Despite earlier panic about the disease, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a report released on Wednesday said that individuals who were vaccinated against the disease were less likely to be affected over the summer compared to those who weren’t. 

The effectiveness and duration of immunity after a single dose, however, is not known, and few individuals in the current outbreak have completed the recommended two-dose series, according to the report. 

The most recent CDC data reports that 25,509 monkeypox cases have thus far been confirmed in the U.S. Only one death has been reported.

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