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Activists urge pro-LGBTQ companies stop to funding anti-LGBTQ lawmakers

Thursday, July 18th, 2019
By almost all measures, AT&T has been a stalwart supporter of LGBTQ equality for a long time. It has protected workers from sexual orientation discrimination since 1975. It sponsors the Trevor Project to help LGBTQ youth in crisis. It received a perfect 100 score from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in its annual equality index, ranking among the nation’s most inclusive places to work.By any measure, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) is among the nation’s most anti-LGBTQ bigots. He defended bans on same-sex marriage as “sound public policy” and spearheaded the effort to block the elected government in Washington, D.C., from enacting marriage equality. He boasted of receiving a “True Blue Award” from the Family Research Council, a Souther Poverty Law Center (SPLC)-designated anti-LGBT hate group. He consistently earns a 0 score on HRC’s congressional scorecard, ranking among the lawmakers most virulently opposing equality.

Yet, AT&T’s corporate political action committee has given tens of thousands of dollars to Jordan’s campaigns since 2010, helping bankroll the re-elections of a man who HRC once inducted into its anti-equality “Hall of Shame” for “proactively [working] to undermine existing legal protections and promote anti-LGBT discrimination.” And AT&T’s PAC has given more than $400,000 to other firmly anti-LGBTQ members of Congress in recent years.

AT&T did not respond to a ThinkProgress request for comment about its support for Jordan and other opponents of equality. But it is hardly alone in its seemingly contradictory political giving.

A new activist pressure group called Zero for Zeros aims to change that. In recent days, it has released a list of more than two dozen major companies with 100 HRC scores, urging them to stop their donations to Jordan and other lawmakers with zero HRC ratings.

Lane Hudson, a longtime LGBTQ-rights activist, is campaign manger of the effort. He explained in an interview with ThinkProgress that “to really glean out the worst of the worst, the ones who take extra actions to work against our community, the ones that really fight against equality,” the group filtered the people with zero ratings even further. After picking 10 U.S. representatives and 19 senators with the worst ratings, the group found 49 had used their corporate PACs to support the worst.

Hudson explained that he understands that companies make PAC contributions based on more than just LGBTQ issues. “[I]t doesn’t surprise me,” he said, that the companies’ corporate PACs are “supporting politicians that are connected to those other issues.” But, he added, it is important that these companies hold lawmakers to a higher standard.

“What we’re asking those companies to do is to apply their corporate values to their political giving,” he said. “They create safe and welcoming workspaces for their LGBT employees. They market to LGBT customers. They support their LGBT employee resource groups. They march in full force at [Pride events] around America and sometimes abroad … These are companies that have been with us for a long time and helped us win a lot of the progress that we made and their political contributions to these people threaten to undermine everything we’ve done, and undermine their own efforts.”

On Tuesday, Zero for Zeros released a list of 14 technology and lifestyle companies with otherwise stellar pro-equality records, but also a history of PAC contributions to anti-LGBTQ extremists. On Wednesday, it released an additional list of 13 financial services giants in the same category.

ThinkProgress reached out to each of the 27 companies for comment. Four responded with statements. Two declined comment.

Those responding included:

American Airlines

American Airlines has been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign for nearly two decades as a leader among U.S. companies when it comes to workplace policies and practices for LGBTQ team members. American participates in the political and public policy process in a number of ways, including by making contributions from our political action committee. With respect to the contributions that we make, we don’t agree on every issue with the lawmakers to whom we make contributions, but we fundamentally believe that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect — and equally under the law. We are proud to stand with the LGBTQ community, and our commitment to equality for all of our team members and customers is unwavering.

Capital One Financial Corp

Capital One’s longstanding support for the LGBTQ+ community reflects our core values and our commitment to diversity, inclusion and equality. Our efforts to ensure non-discrimination and equal opportunity in the workplace include the early adoption of policies, benefits and other practices that apply equally to our LGBTQ+ associates. We work with and support legislators and policymakers who are relevant to our business, our associates, our customers and our communities. We support candidates on a bipartisan basis. Our support for any candidate should not suggest that we agree with their positions on every issue.

Intel

Intel does not support discrimination in any form. The Intel PAC continuously evaluates its contributions to candidates.

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance

[T]hank you for recognizing MassMutual’s stellar pro-LGBTQ record and 100% HRC rating year over year. At MassMutual, we help all customers secure their future and protect the ones they love, regardless of race, gender, age, abilities, place of birth, religion or who they love. We actively advocate for inclusion, fairness and equality, value people for who they are, and celebrate all diversity. From our people policies to our involvement in pro-LBGTQ amicus briefs to lending our voice to specific ballot initiatives, we have an established record of active and engaged support for the LGBTQ community.

Citigroup and Wells Fargo each said that they had no comment.

Amazon, AT&T, Cigna Corp, Cisco Systems, Compass Bank, Dell Inc., Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Facebook, Google, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Mastercard, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Oracle, PNC Financial Services, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sap America, T-Mobile, and Visa did not respond as of publication time.

HRC national press secretary Sarah McBride told ThinkProgress in a statement that while the corporate equality index “captures LGBTQ-inclusive policies, practices and benefits, there isn’t a one size fits all way to consistently score companies on the scope and impact of their political donations.”

“We do monitor employers’ contributions to anti-LGBTQ ballot measures and organizations whose primary mission includes anti-LGBTQ advocacy,” she added. “It is important for reporting like this that asks tough questions of corporations and brings these donations into the public discussion. The Corporate Equality Index is a critical tool for advancing LGBTQ equality in the workplace, but it is not the only tool.”

Hudson said he and his team are talking with the companies and are hopeful that they will take anti-LGBTQ extremism into account more in their future PAC giving.

“This effort is meant to not be an attack on these companies, because we view them as our allies. They have invested in their employees and customers and been with us in these court battles,” Hudson said. “We sent letters to their CEOs and I also reached out to the government affairs staff and asking them for a conversation about this, so we can talk about why it’s important not only to the LGBTQ community but to their employees and their customers and to the overall movement in general and how it can be beneficial to their business.”

Americans are underestimating discrimination against LGBTQ people

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

Many Americans think there has been a lot of progress on LGBTQ rights. But there is a long way to go.

An overwhelming majority of Americans think there has been progress in the LGBTQ rights movement, according to recent polls. But they are also underestimating the amount of discrimination LGBTQ people face.

Eighty-four percent of Americans think there has been a great deal or some progress in the LGBTQ rights movement, compared to only 14% who say there has not been much or none at all, found a new CBS News poll.

When it comes to discrimination against lesbians and gay men, 44% said there is a lot of discrimination, but 31% said there was only some and 22% said there was only a little or none. People were more likely to believe transgender people face a lot of discrimination if they know a transgender person. Fifty-six percent believed there is a lot of discrimination against transgender people, but 66% of those who know transgender people believe the same. The poll did not ask about discrimination against bisexual people.

Among those who were asked what changed their mind about marriage equality, 12% said they knew someone who is gay or lesbian, 22% said they knew more about the issue, and 26% said people should be able to make their own choices.

Perhaps so many Americans think there has been major progress on LGBTQ rights because a large share don’t understand that there aren’t many federal protections for LGBTQ people. Despite the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized marriage equality across the country, LGBTQ people don’t have explicit national nondiscrimination protections in the workplace, housing, public accommodations, and credit.

A Reuters poll released earlier this month found that 45% of all Americans believe that federal law currently protects queer people from discrimination. Only one in three Americans knew that transgender people were not protected from discrimination in federal law. Forty-three percent of Americans said LGBTQ people were treated “about the same” as cis and straight people when it comes to health care access, and just 17% said LGBTQ were treated worse. Others said they did not know the extent to which LGBTQ people were treated differently.

LGBTQ folks have successfully argued that they’re covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the past. But there is no national law with explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has rolled back Obama-era rules and guidance protecting LGBTQ people and banned transgender people from the military.

On the state level, protections are uneven. Currently, only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination and gender identity in employment and housing and 20 states and D.C. prohibit discrimination in public accommodations. Fourteen states have nondiscrimination laws covering credit discrimination.

The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in housing, employment, education, federal programs, jury service, public accommodations, and credit and lending. The legislation would also update the law to include protections against discrimination in public spaces and services like retail stores, transportation services, banks, and legal services. It passed the House in May. Nearly all House Republicans, or 173 members, voted against it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) does not plan to bring the bill to the floor, and a senior Trump administration official has said that President Donald Trump won’t support the Equality Act.

Although there have been signs of progress in LGBTQ acceptance in the long term, a 2019 national GLAAD survey found a decline in overall comfort and acceptance of LGBTQ people among people ages 18 to 34 in 2018. GLAAD said there has been a steady decline in comfort in personal situations among this age group since 2016. Thirty-six percent of cis and straight people said they were uncomfortable learning a family member is in the LGBTQ community, and a third said they would be uncomfortable with a child being placed with an instructor in the community in 2018, compared to 24% and 25% in 2016, respectively.

In addition to legal barriers and personal discomfort with LGBTQ people in family and education environments, LGBTQ people still face threats of violence. At least 10 trans black women have been murdered in 2019. In 2018, the FBI reported a 17% year-over-year rise in federal hate crimes in the United States, and threats of violence and assault against queer people continue.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan covers policy issues related to gender and sexuality. Their work has also been published in The Establishment, Bustle, Glamour, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, The Atlantic, and In These Times. They studied economic reporting, political reporting, and investigative journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where they graduated with an M.A. in business journalism.

Pride Month Profiles: Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our next profile is Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen.

In the early 1970s, Steve D’Inzillo was the business agent for New York City’s Motion Picture Projectionists Local 306, an affiliate of the Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). He had built a reputation as a maverick and had a particular passion for expanding civil rights. He wanted  women to gain equal footing in the local, but the prospect was daunting.

For women to win respect and acceptance in the union, they would need both the skills to do the job well and the toughness to deal with the small-minded men that opposed women’s inclusion. D’Inzillo found the right women to challenge the system with Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen, a lesbian couple who were willing to fight for their rights. Laberge had a union background and loved the idea of taking on the status quo. Jacobsen had been a “hidden child” during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

In 1972, D’Inzillo sponsored Jacobsen’s apprenticeship and she got her license a year later, making her New York City’s first female “booth man.” Laberge also applied and was admitted to the trade in 1974. D’Inzillo watched the women on the job and in the union hall and was impressed at how well they supported each other. Jacobsen and Laberge soon proposed that Local 306 sponsor a pre-apprenticeship program for women. D’Inzillo eagerly agreed. Many of those who signed up for the program were the sisters, wives and daughters of booth men, and they were paid less to work in lower-skilled jobs.

Laberge spoke about the success of the program:

We got several licenses out of that first class. It was the first crack of having not just fathers and sons in the trade. We were into the feminist thing. We had the union change how they addressed the letters, to get rid of ‘Dear Sir and Brother.’ The men could be pretty derisive at meetings, so our women’s group dealt with their disruptions.

Laberge and Jacobsen were the proximate cause for Local 306 adding sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination policies in the late 1970s. After working with the women for years, the local’s membership had no interest in excluding them. The local also began to regularly make contributions to lesbian and gay charities, and supported three gay members who were sick from AIDS.

This early success led D’Inzillo to ask Jacobsen to join the local’s executive board, but she wasn’t interested in board politics. Laberge, on the other hand, was enthusiastic about it and joined the board herself. Soon after she started a local newsletter, writing most of the articles. She became D’Inzillo’s right-hand woman as he rose up the ranks of IATSE. He twice ran for the national presidency and was elected to be an IATSE vice president, with Laberge by his side the whole time. During his time as a leader in IATSE, Laberge said D’Inzillo was the only person at national conventions who pushed proposals that dealt with larger social and political issues, and she was a key part of those efforts.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on June 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Pride Month Profiles: Irene Soloway

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. The first profile this year is Irene Soloway.

As a young adult in 1978, Irene Soloway moved from St. Louis to New York. She was working in a bar that had a significant clientele who were roofers. Soloway referred to the behavior of her boss at the bar as “appalling,” so she quit. The roofers in the bar that she knew jokingly offered her a roofing hammer. She took it as a challenge, and it made her want to show them that she could do the job.

Soloway did some roofing work, but hated it. She moved through various jobs in the construction industry, but settled on carpentry, both because she liked the work and the Carpenters union opened its doors to women. She became a member in 1979, when she began the Women in Apprenticeship Program. Soloway and other women were made to feel that they belong, that the program was more than tokenism.

At the time, not only were there few women in the building trades, even fewer of them were feminist Jewish New York lesbians. Soloway said that she rarely faced any direct discrimination. Instead, the concerns of rank-and-file members, women or otherwise, were largely ignored in her local at the time. She said:

The union and the apprenticeship in the Carpenters Union was now what I would consider sexist…we were never discriminated against within the school—but the specific issues that were barriers to women were never addressed specifically. So it was a second hand…diffuse kind of way that sexism was expressed.

Even when concerns were raised, leaders in the local were told to keep their concerns quiet, as they were all “brothers” in the union. Soloway explained:

We tried to inform the Carpenters Union of what we thought they needed to do to make the union receptive to women and to be inclusive. And we…became aware…that the Carpenters Union was not interested in fresh, new ideas coming from rank and file. We came in with ideas about having sexual harassment for the men in construction. We came in with ideas about having a Women’s Committee that would address the issues of women in construction. We actually came in with ideas about how the apprenticeship school could be more in touch with the apprentices around issues of ethnicity and race and issues….And what we were always told was: We’re all one Union and we’re all brothers, and there’s no need…to point out these differences because we’re all carpenters.

This was the first time she had been in a union and Soloway was very excited about it because she believed that it was a structure that was supposed to support her and provide a steady job. But her local at the time was very undemocratic and her concerns weren’t taken seriously. Despite the fact that she was often the only woman in the meetings, she kept attending for the next five years, never backing down from the agenda that she pursued.

In 1979, Soloway had been a founding member of United Tradeswomen, a group of diverse women working in the building trades. The organization was originally formed to recruit women into apprenticeship programs but quickly grew to provide support and advocacy for women who were starting to enter the construction industry in New York. Much of Soloway’s early activism took place outside the union hall.

Fear and intimidation weren’t limited to the union hall, they were also present in the workplace. Rumors were rampant that members who spoke out against union leadership were met with violence or had their careers and lives destroyed. Soloway wasn’t intimidated. By 1994, she noted in an interview that many of the things she and allies had pushed for at the time have come to pass:

Now almost fifteen years later—they actually are being addressed, so that in terms of, yes, there is actually a Women’s Committee now that’s…sanctioned to meet within the Carpenters school, and it’s advertised in the Carpenters paper that there is such a committee, and who the contact people are—so there’s, at least, an acknowledgement of this committee. And there is specific training—sexual harassment training—for men and being done by women who are Carpenters—graduates of our school—who are now teaching at the school—which is an important part of the program. And another one of our other ideas was about teaching labor history in the Carpenters school, which was then ignored, and now, you know, like history’s being taught in the Carpenters school.

During the mid-1980s, she got a job with the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation. The shift from at-will work that was left to the whims of the local’s power structure to a secure job with security was a major turning point in her life. When she started working for the city, she felt that her job was more secure and she could speak out more. In the civil service, they had elected stewards, not ones chosen by the power structure. She won the steward position after becoming outspoken about asbestos problems on her worksite. She started refusing to work in contaminated areas. Management wasn’t prepared for the problem and had to deal with it because of her. Several men came and asked her to run for steward. She won.

Soloway also helped produce the newspaper “Hard Hat News” and had to use pseudonyms like Brick Shields, to disguise her identity. She worked on a long, but successful, campaign to expand representation for rank-and-file members within the district council. In 1990, she appeared with other carpenters before the New York City Commission on Human Rights to testify about gender and race relations in the industry. She shared widespread reports that women in the industry faced threats of rape and physical violence and were subjected to pornography and insulting personalized graffiti on the worksite.

While she was working as a carpenter at Lincoln Hospital, she began taking pre-med classes and completed the coursework to become a physician’s assistant. She left carpentry and began work at a methadone clinic. She looked back on her activism and those of her fellow carpenters and what impact it had:

We still felt very much on the outside of the construction industry. It felt very kind of scary to us, but we kind of created cultural groups that supported ourselves and each other, that was able to move forward into that industry. Now I think that women are more into the industry, so I think we did do something. I think we did, like, move ourselves inside—from the outside to the inside—by creating an identity for ourselves, as well as educating ourselves and each other, and trying to educate the union about us….I think our presence and our strong continued presence for each other and ourselves was the main accomplishment of this group.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on June 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Profiling Labor Leaders and Activists for Pride Month

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. First, let’s take a look back at LGBTQ Americans we’ve profiled in the past:

 

 

Check back throughout June as we add more names to this prestigious list.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on June 3, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Supreme Court will decide if it is legal to fire someone for being LGBTQ

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

When Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he would leave the Supreme Court last June, he gave a giant middle finger to millions of gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans who saw the Court slowly begin to respect their humanity. Though Kennedy was very conservative on most issues, he was relatively moderate on gay rights questions, and often joined with the Court’s liberal bloc to vindicate these rights.

Kennedy’s replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, is a much more doctrinaire conservative who is unlikely to have much sympathy for LGBTQ plaintiffs. So the shift from Kennedy to Kavanaugh is likely to be felt hard in three cases the Supreme Court agreed to hear on Monday.

Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County both ask whether existing federal law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC asks the same question about anti-trans discrimination.

In all three cases, the legal arguments against saying that such discrimination is forbidden are exceedingly weak. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employment discrimination “because of . . . sex” (the word “sex” in this context refers to gender and not to sexual intercourse), and it is difficult to argue that firing someone for being LGBTQ is not a form on gender discrimination.

As the appeals court explained in Harris Funeral Homes, the trans discrimination case, “it is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex.” The whole point of such a firing is that the employee’s boss does not believe that the employee identifies with the proper gender.

Similarly, suppose that a woman is fired because she is a lesbian. A lesbian is a woman who is sexually attracted to women, but presumably the same employer would not fire men who are sexually attracted to women. Thus, this woman was fired because she has desires that male employees are allowed to have. That is gender discrimination.

Additionally, in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the Supreme Court held that “sex stereotyping” is illegal gender discrimination. Firing an employee because you believe them to be a man who is behaving too much like a woman is sex stereotyping. Similarly, the notion that only men may have sex with women and vice-versa may be the ultimate sex stereotype.

So if the Supreme Court follows the law in ZardaBostock, and Harris Funeral Homes, they will rule in favor of the plaintiffs in a 9-0 decision. That outcome, however, is unlikely.

If a decade of increasingly ridiculous judicial opinions striking down Obamacare has taught the legal profession anything, it should be that, in politically charged cases, judges are more likely to behave like raw partisans rather than as jurists.

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Republicans control a majority on the Supreme Court. Republicans oppose LGBTQ rights. It’s not hard to guess how ZardaBostock, and Harris Funeral Homes are likely to be decided.

About the Author: Ian Millhiser is a columnist for ThinkProgress, and the author of Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

These are the stories of LGBTQ people who need the Equality Act’s protections

Monday, March 18th, 2019

Congressional Democrats reintroduced a sweeping nondiscrimination bill last week to bolster protections for LGBTQ Americans. If passed into law, the bill would clarify existing protections and fill the gaps in federal nondiscrimination laws.

The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in housing, employment, education, federal programs, jury service, public accommodations, and credit and lending. It would also update the law to include protections against discrimination in public spaces and services like retail stores, transportation services, banks, and legal services.

According to the Movement Advancement Project, only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination and gender identity in employment and housing. Twenty states and D.C. explicitly prohibit discrimination in public accommodations. Only 14 states have non-discrimination laws covering credit discrimination.

A 2017 nationally representative survey conducted by the Center for American Progress found that among those who experienced sexual orientation or gender identity-based discrimination in the last year, 43.7 percent said it negatively affected their physical well-being. Nearly 40 percent said it negatively impacted their school environment and 52.8 percent reported that it negatively impacted their work environment. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at the Center for American Progress.)

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LGBTQ people have successfully argued that they’re covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the past. The term “sex-based stereotypes,” for example, has been used in cases to defend the rights of both queer couples and trans people. In 2017, a federal appeals court ruled for the first time that the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ workers from employment discrimination. Judge Richard Posner wrote at the time, “I don’t see why firing a lesbian because she is in the subset of women who are lesbian should be thought any less a form of sex discrimination than firing a woman because she’s a woman.”

Still, the legal landscape’s protections right now are unclear and uneven. The Equality Act would bolster protections for LGBTQ people, and would help prevent stories like the following from happening again.

Employment
In 2013, a transgender woman named Aimee Stephens told her funeral home employer that she was going to dress differently to better reflect her gender. Her employer responded by firing her and offering her a severance package, which she did not accept. She worked there for six years, and co-workers testified that she was a “very good embalmer” and that people were happy with her work.

Stephens filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Then, the EEOC sued the funeral home. In 2018, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor and said, it is impossible to fire a worker based on their status as a trans person without an employer participating in sex-based discrimination.

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“Discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex,” the court said.

The lawyers representing the funeral home have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice recently disagreed with the idea that queer workers are covered by the civil rights law. In 2017, the department filed a brief in the case Zarda v. Altitude Express, arguing that the federal law’s prohibition of sex discrimination does not include the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Zarda v. Altitude Express centers on Donald Zarda, a New York skydiver who is now deceased. In 2010, Zarda said he was fired because of his sexual orientation. Given his physical proximity to students during the skydive, Zarda said he thought it would make female clients more comfortable to know about his sexual orientation before the skydive. One female client told her boyfriend of Zarda’s sexuality and the boyfriend decided to complain to Altitude Express. Then, the company fired him.

The Second Circuit did not accept the argument that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on sexual orientation. The LGBTQ civil rights organization Lambda Legal requested that the ruling be reconsidered, but the Justice Department argued against including sexual orientation under the civil rights law. It also referred to the Equality Act of 1974 sponsored by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), which would have prohibited discrimination on the account of sex, marital status, or sexual orientation in public accommodations, federally assisted programs, housing, and financing. The bill died in committee.

“Congress neither added sexual orientation as a protected trait nor defined discrimination on the basis of sex to include sexual orientation discrimination,” the Justice Department wrote in its brief. “… In fact, every Congress from 1974 to the present has declined to enact proposed legislation that would prohibit discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation.”

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Clarification from Congress would certainly help strengthen protections for LGBTQ people and make it more difficult to argue that it’s unclear whether LGBTQ people have these rights.

Housing
A married couple in Denver — Rachel Smith, a trans woman, and Tonya Smith, a cis woman — were looking for a new home with their two children in 2015.

When the couple found the right home, a rental townhouse, Tonya Smith emailed the landlord and described her family, including the fact that Rachel Smith is transgender. The couple visited the townhouse and met a couple that lived nearby. But the Smiths said that after they returned, they received an email from the landlord telling them they were not welcome to rent the townhouse because the neighbors were concerned. The landlord claimed their family would be the talk of the town, making it difficult for their neighbors to “keep a low profile.”

In 2017, U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore ruled that they were protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, and wrote, “Such stereotypical norms are no different from other stereotypes associated with women, such as the way she should dress or act (e.g., that a woman should not be overly aggressive, or should not act macho), and are products of sex stereotyping.”

But other housing discrimination cases involving LGBTQ people have not succeeded. In January, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from a married lesbian couple in Missouri, Mary Walsh and Beverly Nance, who said they were denied housing by a senior living community called Friendship Village. According to their lawsuit, they were denied occupancy in 2016 because Friendship Village has a policy that defines marriage as “the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible.”

The couple claimed Friendship Village’s actions violated the Fair Housing Act and Missouri Human Rights Act. But U.S. District Judge Jean C. Hamilton said the Fair Housing Act did not protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Given the courts’ disagreements on whether queer couples are covered by the Fair Housing Act, it would make a difference for Congress to weigh in through the Equality Act.

Public accommodations
Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — the part of the law focusing on public accommodations, such as hotels, restaurants, theaters, and sports stadiums — doesn’t cover protections against sex discrimination, but only includes race, color, religion, and national origin. That means there is no legal remedy for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations under current federal law.

In 2013, Ally Robledo, a trans woman, was denied access to an Idaho grocery store, and workers called the police on her when she used the restroom. Lewiston Police Captain Roger Lanier referred to Robledo as a “a male subject who was using the female restroom” and said customers were uncomfortable. She was given a no trespass order after leaving the grocery store.

Robledo said at the time that she doubted it would have been more socially acceptable for her to use the men’s restroom and that when she has used the men’s restroom, “I found myself in a lot of dangerous situations.”

The Equality Act would protect Robledo, and others like her. The legislation would be the first national nondiscrimination bill of its kind for LGBTQ people.

The Equality Act has been introduced before — first in 2015 — but has not been able to get through the Republican-controlled Congress. Last fall, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who is now House speaker, said that if Democrats won the majority they would make the Equality Act a top priority. If the bill does pass the House, it’s unclear if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would even bring it up for a vote. His press secretary would not give NBC News a yes or no answer.

According to a 2018 PRRI survey, 71 percent of Americans said they favor laws protecting LGBTQ people against discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and employment. But 64 percent of Republicans said business owners should be able to refuse service to gay and lesbian people compared to 24 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of independents.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering gender and sexuality. Their work has also been published in The Establishment, Bustle, Glamour, The Guardian, and In These Times.

‘Religious freedom’ arguments kill Nebraska’s LGBTQ employment protections bill

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019

Nebraska is one of more than two dozen states that have no LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections at the state level. That’s not changing anytime soon, as a bill to create employment protections came to an abrupt end this week.

State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks (D) introduced LB 627 in January this year. The legislation would have updated all relevant state statutes to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Pansing Brooks, whose son is gay, pleaded with fellow lawmakers Tuesday to consider the bill.

Pansing Brooks nearly secured the 25-vote majority she needed for passage, but could not find the 33 votes she needed to overcome a filibuster-ending cloture motion. Opponents of the bill claimed that it would be used to target religious business owners in the state and punish them for their beliefs.

Sen. Robert Clements (R) suggested that LGBTQ people didn’t deserve protections because he wasn’t aware of any science suggesting they were “born at birth that way.” Moreover, he took umbrage that “what the Bible teaches, and Christians and Jews have affirmed for 2,000 years, is being called hateful,” claiming the bill constituted “reverse discrimination.”

After reading an email from a constituent claiming that the protections would punish people of faith for their religious beliefs, Sen. Dave Murman (R) also claimed the bill “would threaten small-business owners with liability for alleged discrimination based on perceived gender.”

Many of the lawmakers who supported LB 627 warned of a brain drain, with young people leaving the state to find a more welcoming community. Sen. Megan Hunt (D), who identifies as bisexual and Nebraska’s first-ever LGBTQ senator, is herself a business owner and employs 12 young women, and knows first-hand how challenging it is to keep young people in the state. “I think there’s a lot to learn about why Nebraska struggles to keep young people here,” she said.

Sen. Adam Morfeld (D) similarly recalled the story of an attorney who lost a position at a Nebraska law firm after he inquired about same-sex partner benefits, and talked about a constituent in his district who was fired from a fast-food restaurant after it came out he had a boyfriend.

But opponents of the bill were not convinced. Murman instead insisted that young people were supposedly flocking to Nebraska because of the state’s conservative values.

Though LB 627 is essentially dead for the session, Pansing Brooks is still optimistic that the debate helped create some change that will allow it to pass in the future. Writing on Facebook after its defeat, she took hope that the politics of the state were changing and that “Nebraska will ultimately see the light.”

“I will continue to fight with every fiber of my being for the protection of LGBTQ people’s civil rights,” she wrote.

Democrats in Congress are expected to introduce the Equality Act soon, which would create nationwide LGBTQ protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and credit. Though the bill has previously been introduced in the past two sessions of Congress, Republicans never brought it up for a vote.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 5, 2019. Reprinted with permission 

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news.

Missouri Supreme Court opens the door to LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a gay employee’s case alleging sex discrimination in the workplace could proceed, reversing a lower court ruling and establishing a new precedent that could help protect embattled non-heterosexual workers in the future.

The court also ruled on a separate but similar case involving a transgender student who claimed his school discriminated against him by blocking him from bathrooms and other facilities, saying the student deserved a fair hearing.

At stake in the first case is the extent to which gay, lesbian, and bi people in Missouri are protected on the basis of their sex. State law does not extend employment nondiscrimination protections on the basis of “sexual orientation,” meaning it’s fully legal to fire someone based on their sexuality. But in this case, while the plaintiff acknowledged that he is gay, he claimed that he faced discrimination because of sex stereotyping, not because of his sexual orientation.

Harold Lampley, an employee in the state’s Department of Social Services Child Support Enforcement Division, filed a complaint arguing that he was harassed at work for his non-stereotypical behaviors, noting that employees with stereotypical behaviors were not similarly treated. He claimed to have experienced regular verbal abuse and forced closed-door meetings about his performance. After he complained, he also alleged that he experienced retaliation in the form of poor performance evaluations not consistent with his work.

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Lampley’s friend and coworker Rene Frost likewise claimed that she suffered discrimination merely for her affiliation with Lampley. The employer allegedly violated her privacy by publicly announcing her performance review. After she complained, she said she faced retaliation, such as having her desk moved away from Lampley’s and other coworkers with whom she collaborated. Frost claimed she was also banned from eating lunch with Lampley and allegedly faced similar verbal abuse and harassment.

The Missouri Commission on Human Rights concluded this discrimination wasn’t actionable because Lampley’s sexual orientation isn’t protected, and a lower court agreed. It relied on a similar ruling against a recycling company employee named James Pittman, who claimed he had been called a “cocksucker,” asked if he had AIDS, and harassed for having a same-sex partner. The Western District Missouri Court of Appeals ruled in 2015 that Pittman could find no relief under state law, and a circuit court concluded the same must be true for Lampley and Frost.

But in Tuesday’s ruling, the Missouri Supreme Court concluded that being gay does not preclude an employee from protection on the basis of “sex,”which includes sex stereotyping. “[A]n employee who suffers an adverse employment decision based on sex-based stereotypical attitudes of how a member of the employee’s sex should act can support an inference of unlawful sex discrimination,” the majority wrote.

“Sexual orientation is incidental and irrelevant to sex stereotyping. Sex discrimination is discrimination, it is prohibited by the Act, and an employee may demonstrate this discrimination through evidence of sexual stereotyping,” they explained. The Commission was wrong not to give them an opportunity to demonstrate their sex-stereotyping claim, and the Court ordered it to issue Lampley and Frost right-to-sue letters.

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The second case on which the Court ruled this week similarly focused on the debate over protections on the basis of sex.

Student “R.M.A.” filed a complaint against Blue Springs School District for denying him access to the boys’ restrooms and locker rooms. The school initially countered both that “gender identity” was not protected under the state’s “sex” protections and also that it should not be considered a “public accommodation” and thus the nondiscrimination law should not apply to it at all. Without specifying which reasoning informed its opinion, a lower court dismissed R.M.A.’s complaint outright.

In a 5-2 ruling this week, the state Supreme Court reached a different conclusion. Rather than considering sex stereotyping, the majority recognized that once a transgender individual has legal changed their sex, as R.M.A. has, they are protected on the basis of that sex. In a footnote, the majority called out the dissenting justices for relying on a distinction between “legal sex” and “biological sex” that is not actually found anywhere in the law. R.M.A. is a boy, and if he’s not being allowed to use boys’ facilities, then he deserves his day in court.

This pair of rulings opens the door to far greater protection for LGBTQ people under Missouri state law — but with some limitations.

The first ruling, for example, accepts the premise that sexual orientation is not itself connected to sex stereotyping, even though expectations about the gender of a person’s romantic partners are obvious stereotypes themselves. This means that while Lampley and other gay, lesbian, and bi workers will now have an opportunity to pursue discrimination claims moving forward, it will require them to prove that they were targeted because of sex stereotypes not directly connected to their sexual orientation.

Likewise, the ruling in favor of R.M.A. seems to rely on transgender people legally changing their sex designation before they are eligible for protection. State law requires transgender people provide proof of surgery to update their birth certificates, although some judges have granted the new gender markers without that requirement. This means that there may still be inconsistent financial and medical obstacles to qualifying for legal protection.

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Neither ruling weighs the merits of the discrimination claims, so it also remains to be seen whether Lampley or R.M.A. will prevail once their complaints are given due consideration.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 26, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news.

Federal judge blocks military from discharging service members with HIV

Friday, February 15th, 2019

A federal judge in Virginia ruled Friday that the U.S. military must suspend its practice of discharging service members because they have HIV.

The injunction followed a lawsuit filed by two airmen who learned in November that they would not be permitted to continuing serving in the military because of their HIV status. This is despite the fact that both were in treatment and had undetectable viral loads, making it virtually impossible for them to transmit the virus to others.

The discharges were part of a policy the Pentagon implemented last year colloquially known as “deploy or get out” (DOGO). It was an attempt to trim military personnel based on who was fit to serve across the globe at any given time. In the case of the two plaintiffs, they were deemed unfit to deploy despite supporting recommendations from medical personnel.

Judge Leonie Brinkema, a Clinton appointee, agreed the new policy discriminated against people with HIV. “Plaintiffs have made a strong and clear showing that defendants’ policies are irrational, outdated, and unnecessary and their decisions arbitrary, unreasoned, and inconsistent,” she wrote.

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The military, she explained, is operating “based on a flawed understanding of HIV” that is causing HIV-positive service members to be “irrationally and arbitrarily swept from the ranks.”

“Because of advances in medicine and science, HIV is no longer a progressive, terminal illness,” Brinkema wrote. Considering the medical expertise the plaintiffs brought forward, she noted that even if there is a sustained disruption to an HIV-positive service member receiving their medication, “an individual’s risk of transmitting HIV during military service remains vanishingly low.”

The military, by contrast, could not present any recorded cases of accidental HIV transmission on the battlefield.

Plenty of other medical conditions, including some that require regular medication, still allow for service members to be deployed. “There appears to be no reason why asymptomatic HIV is singled out for treatment so different from that given to other chronic conditions, all of which are subject to worsening upon disruption of daily medication,” the decision read.

Moreover, the military did not present a single expert of its own to justify the double standard. Brinkema chastised the military for citing a report that “contains no scientific data, evidence, or real-life accounts, but rather is a mere recitation of defendants’ policies.”

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In addition to the two plaintiffs, the LGBTQ military organization OutServe-SLDN also joined the lawsuit on behalf of several other service members who feared they might also be discharged based on their HIV status, and Brinkema agreed that the DOGO policy could potentially impact others.

The judge’s order enjoins the military from separating or discharging not only the plaintiffs, but any similarly situated active-duty member of the Air Force because of their HIV status.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news.

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