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San Antonio passes LGBT rights ordinance

The San Antonio City Council voted 8-3 on Thursday to add protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity to an existing city ordinance that bans discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and city contracting.

The vote came after more than 700 people testified for and against the proposed expansion of the ordinance in a marathon hearing that lasted past midnight on Wednesday and continued Thursday morning before the vote.

Approval of the ordinance in the nation’s seventh largest city also followed a heated campaign by the state’s conservative Republican leaders and religious-right activists to oppose the bill. Much of the opposition targeted the bill’s provision to protect transgender people from discrimination.

Among the bill’s strongest supporters was San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a Democrat, who told the City Council minutes before the vote, “This is a city that belongs to everyone.”

Among the most vocal opponents of the bill was Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is a Republican candidate for governor. Abbott argued that the expanded ordinance would trigger a flurry of lawsuits by people of faith and others who oppose homosexuality on religious grounds. He predicted opponents would challenge in the courts the bill’s provision preventing them from refusing to hire or refusing to sell goods such as wedding cakes to LGBT people.

Supporters of the measure noted that the cities of Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and El Paso passed similar legislation years earlier banning discrimination against gays and transgender people and predictions of problems such as multiple lawsuits never materialized.

“The right wing extremists really threw everything at this and really put on a major offensive and they lost,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington.

“And that is a big deal,” Keisling said. “Our side stood up. Our allies were just rock solid and we won.”

Chad Griffin, president of the D.C. based Human Rights Campaign, which was part of a coalition of LGBT and mainline civil rights groups pushing for the ordinance, said the City Council’s action reflects what he believes is the support by a majority of San Antonio residents for equality under the law.

“Today’s vote is a victory, but the attacks we saw from our opposition in the run-up to this – particularly the trans phobic messaging – remind us of the ruthless tactics they use to promote discrimination against LGBT people,” Griffin said.


Why won’t Obama act on anti-LGBT job bias?

Joe Biden, Barack Obama, White House, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Two weeks ago, Vice President Biden announced two new executive policies related to getting more guns off the streets in the United States. The first makes it harder for Americans not eligible to buy certain types of weapons to skirt the law and get them through trusts or corporations. Under the new policy those associated with the trusts or corporations will have to undergo the same background checks as individuals to buy guns. The second policy will ban all re-importation of military style weapons back into the United States.

I applaud the president for taking these actions and using his executive authority to try to save lives. As Vice President Biden said, “The Obama administration remained committed to the pursuit of new legislation designed to reduce gun deaths.” In announcing these two new executive policies Biden also said, “We are going to get this done.” The takeaway is the administration still wants the legislation passed by Congress but is willing to use its constitutional authority to act when it realizes this Congress won’t. While many still want Congress to pass legislation proposed by the president to make it harder to buy guns without comprehensive background checks, and to again pass legislation prohibiting civilians from owning assault weapons, most acknowledge that won’t happen in this Congress. There is broad support for the president’s efforts to do everything he can with the extensive powers of the presidency.

The administration also deserves tremendous credit for continuing to act in response to the Supreme Court decision to repeal Section 3 of DOMA. The IRS made it clear that legally married same-sex couples could file joint federal tax returns no matter where they currently live. This is a huge step forward. In addition, gay spouses of retired military will get benefits, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid announced new policies that relate to married same-sex couples being entitled to many of the same benefits from Medicare Advantage policies that heterosexual couples receive.

The question many in the LGBT community continue to ask is: If he can act on guns and other issues why is the president so reluctant to act to ban employment discrimination against LGBT individuals who work for federal contractors? Biden made it clear in announcing the new policies on guns that the administration hasn’t totally given up on trying to work with Congress on gun control but they recognize getting anything done in this Congress is a long shot. The time has come for the administration to also accept that Congress will not act in 2013 to ban employment discrimination against the LGBT community and it must act on this issue, something Obama first committed to doing when he ran in 2008. Adding insult to injury on this issue was a recent email from Jon Carson at asking us to donate to Organizing for America to get Congress to pass ENDA and telling us how much the president cares.

It is perplexing that the president is able to commit the administration to work with Congress on gun control even as he acts unilaterally but continues to refuse to do the same thing with regard to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It is time for the president to sign the executive order that by all accounts has been ready for his signature for the past year and ban discrimination against members of the LGBT community in all federal contracting.

The president was willing to move forward and evolve on marriage equality. He speaks up for the rights of the LGBT community in many speeches in front of many diverse audiences and even met with LGBT activists in Russia. But when he talks about the need for jobs and how a good job enables people to move into the middle-class he seems willing to leave out the LGBT community. With the stroke of a pen he can ensure that at least in all federal contracting, members of the LGBT community will have the same right to compete for and have protection from being fired from a job as everyone else.

The vice president can make the same statement on this that he made regarding guns. He can say that the administration will continue to work with Congress to pass ENDA, but that in the meantime, the president will do all he can to ensure that LGBT workers will have protections against being discriminated against by federal contractors.


Puerto Rico mayor signs LGBT orders

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, Gay News, Washington Blade

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. (Photo by Melvin Alfredo via Wikimedia Commons)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—The mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital on Monday signed two executive orders designed to end discrimination against her city’s LGBT residents.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz ordered her city’s police department to apply the island’s current domestic violence laws with what the Primera Hora newspaper described as “the highest degree of respect” regardless of the reported victim’s sexual orientation. She also banned discrimination against San Juan municipal employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Primera Hora reported gay boxer Orlando “Fenómeno” Cruz was among those who attended the press conference during which Yulín signed the orders.


Carney says first lady ‘brilliantly’ handled heckler

Michelle Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

Michelle Obama (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Wednesday that First Lady Michelle Obama “brilliantly” handled a lesbian heckler who called for an LGBT workplace non-discrimination executive order.

Carney made the remark in response to a question from CBS News’ Mark Knoller, who asked Carney if he had spoken to the President about the incident. Carney says he has not yet spoken to Obama about the issue but offered his own views.

Under previous questioning from the Chicago Tribune, Carney pointed to comments he made in the previous day’s briefing on the executive order, reiterating that the White House prefers a legislative path to addressing LGBT workplace discrimination.

Carney’s remarks come a day after lesbian activist Ellen Sturtz, who is affiliated with GetEQUAL, shouted out to Michelle Obama, during a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at a private residence in Washington D.C. for an update on the president’s action to combat LGBT workplace discrimination.

Please return to the Washington Blade for more updates.


Work to make Harvey Milk proud

Harvey Milk, California, San Francisco, Castro District, gay news, Washington Blade

Harvey Milk (Photo by Daniel Nicoletta via Wikimedia Commons)


In the late 1970s, when a nascent LGBT equality movement was under attack across the country, Harvey Milk urged us all to fight back by coming out. “You must come out … to your parents … to your relatives … to your friends … to your neighbors … to your fellow workers,” Milk said. “Once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions.” He believed coming out was the key to winning, and he was right.

More than 30 years later, his advice is changing our country. We are coming out, and the reality of who we are is replacing the lies and distortions pedaled by our opponents.  That’s why voters in Maryland and Washington last year rejected attempts to reverse marriage equality laws. It’s why California enacted an LGBT history requirement for public schools. And it’s the reason the Massachusetts Legislature finally passed a transgender rights law.

Being ourselves, and living our lives with integrity, has opened the eyes of our friends, neighbors, families and coworkers, and research has shown that the more out LGBT people someone knows, the more likely they are to support our equality. Today, brave young people are coming out in high school and even earlier, and the result is record high support among those under 30 for issues like marriage equality and nondiscrimination laws.

That’s why it’s so important that we do more to make it safer for people to come out in places where equality is slow to arrive. Our victories in regions like New England and the West Coast are remarkable, but elsewhere in our country that type of progress seems otherworldly and impossible. Harvey would be proud of our success, but I bet he wouldn’t celebrate for too long before asking how we planned to replicate it in Mississippi, Kansas or Alaska.

The obvious answer is to press for federal laws and policies that would end the patchwork of municipal and state laws that leave so many LGBT Americans living in fear. But until those are in place, we must work to bring hope to a lesbian teenager in Arkansas afraid to hold her girlfriend’s hand, a trans woman in North Dakota who hides her identity to keep a job, or a kid with two dads in Alabama who wonders why others don’t see the loving parents he does.

Coming out delivers that hope. Seeing yourself reflected in a gay local elected official, a lesbian school principal, a bisexual member of Congress — that has the power to transform how people think about themselves and what they can accomplish. They begin to hope that they can change their own communities, and then they turn that hope into action.

Harvey believed in personal politics and making change where he lived. He helped spark a generation of LGBT people to live more authentic lives, but that started in his tiny Castro camera shop.

“To sit on the front steps — whether it’s a veranda in a small town or a concrete stoop in a big city — and to talk to our neighborhoods is infinitely more important than to huddle on the living-room lounger and watch a make-believe world in not-quite living color,” he once said.

We have much left to do before all LGBT Americans enjoy the equal protection of our laws, so let’s make Harvey proud. Come out, stand up and help deliver hope. Everywhere.

Chuck Wolfe is president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute.


Gay rights 101

‘Same-Sex Legal Kit for Dummies’
By Carrie Stone and John G. Culhane
John Wiley & Sons
366 pages + CD

Same-Sex Legal Kit for Dummies, books, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image courtesy of John Wiley & Sons)

You know your rights.

You’ve watched enough TV to know that you have the right to remain silent. You have the right to party all night. You have the right sides of the bed, the sofa and seating arrangements at the table.

But kidding aside, what are your legal rights?  In “Same-Sex Legal Kit for Dummies” by Carrie Stone and John G. Culhane, you’ll learn some eye-opening rights — and wrongs.

Fifty years ago, needing to know your rights as an LGBT individual would’ve largely been a moot point: there were no rights. Today, you have rights but since they seem to change daily, you might need help understanding them.

Take, for instance, marriage.

Most states, of course, don’t recognize same-sex marriage and won’t honor a marriage performed in another state. The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) further “cripples” gay and lesbian marriage by “roping off” federally granted rights that straight married couples enjoy, thus complicating tax returns, government benefits, immigration and more.

Expanding the mess created by DOMA, if a state doesn’t recognize your marriage or civil union, you may (or may not) still need a divorce, should you split with your ex-beloved. Other issues boggle the mind: what if you’re bisexual and you marry a same-sex partner in a right-to-marry state? Could you also legally marry an opposite-sex partner in a state that doesn’t recognize your first wedding?

Once you’ve untangled partnership legalities, it’s natural that you’d want to create a family. There are several ways to bring children into your household and the authors have advice on protecting the rights of all concerned. You’ll also get tips on dealing with bullying, schools and nosy neighbors.

Know where to seek help to combat discrimination. Know what to do if you’re refused housing based on your sexual orientation. Learn how to mesh finances, protect joint assets and buy a house with a partner. Find out how to ensure your rights on medical issues. And, though you hope you never need it, learn the right way to dissolve your “legal LGBT relationship.”

And now you know why you need “Same-Sex Legal Kit for Dummies.”

Yes, it’s all complicated, but authors Stone and Culhane manage to make it just a little less so by giving readers a broad overview of the important issues, starting with marriage.

Since that’s not the only LGBT issue in the courts, however, they also cover wills and trusts, health directives, power-of-attorney issues, immigration and many issues relating to LGBT families and children. Also helpful are a CD that includes forms and sample documents, and a section called “The Part of Tens,” in which you’ll get tips on things that are not necessarily legalities, but are useful nonetheless.

Overall, this is a handy book and a good start for those times when something’s amiss legally. True, it’s not a replacement for an actual lawyer, but if you think having “Same-Sex Legal Kit for Dummies” would be good to have around, you’ll likely benefit from it.


‘We’ve got Ph.D.s working as file clerks’

Bob Witeck, Allyson Robinson, Ruby Corado, Gay News, Washington Blade

Allyson Robinson (left) was forced out of her role as head of OutServe-SLDN this week, offering a reminder of the need for more trans visibility in the LGBT movement. Ruby Corado (middle) is a local trans rights advocate who welcomes the new Association of Transgender Professionals; and Bob Witeck (right) is a local adviser to ATP, which is headquartered in New York.

Employment discrimination against transgender people is a staggering problem for LGBT rights advocates in the United States with unemployment rates twice the national average, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

But the newly formed Association of Transgender Professionals is taking on an even broader mission — fighting for inclusion on a global scale.

“We’re already getting requests to help other countries, like the U.K.,” says ATP’s executive director Denise Norris. “There are folks in a lot of places who are excited that we are available to the public.”

The very term “transgender,” she notes, is an imperfect one.

“‘Transgender’ is a very U.S. concept,” says Norris. “It’s very Western in its model; it’s based upon the gender binary, so the challenge is how do we look at workplace inclusion on an international scale.”

ATP, co-founded by Norris and Joe McCormack, is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving employment rates for transgender people by building acceptance in the workplace, helping trans people learn how to find jobs and by providing businesses a channel to reach out to transgender talent. The organization is headquartered in New York, but has advisers in most major urban areas of the country. In D.C., longtime advocate Bob Witeck of Witeck Communications is an ATP adviser.

“The rate of unemployment is about 200 percent of the national average for the trans community in general, and 400 percent for trans people of color,” Norris says. “ATP is about building acceptance inside the workplace and in employers, and about helping our community learn how to get jobs. Many of us thought we wouldn’t have real jobs and don’t know how to interview, or don’t know how to dress for success.”

Just this week came a reminder about the need for more trans visibility in the broader LGBT movement, as Allyson Robinson, a trans woman, was forced to resign as executive director of OutServe-SLDN.

Norris noted that many ATP members are military veterans.

“One cannot serve with Pride if one is commanded to do so in the closet,” she said. “Allyson’s role at OutServe-SLDN was a beacon to all by demonstrating that transgender was finally an equal partner in the struggle for LGBT equality.”

ATP helps trans people find jobs in all sectors of the economy, and is not limited to helping those who have MBAs or other degrees. Unemployment at the entry level is considered just as important to combat.

In addition to directly helping transgender people seek employment, ATP also helps companies and organizations seek transgender employees. As Norris explains, it is difficult for many accepting companies to advertise that they are transgender friendly.

“There are no avenues for the companies that are transgender friendly,” she says, “they don’t know how to recruit to us. There are no recruiting channels. … In many cases of employment, we don’t even know who wants to hire us — who doesn’t care about gender expression.”

Both Norris and McCormack have corporate backgrounds. In 1993, McCormack founded McCormack and Associates (now McCormack and Warren), which he says was the first gay-identified executive search firm in the U.S.

“My observation as a recruiter is that the transgender population, of which many people are talented and accomplished, is the most unemployed and underemployed sector of our community because of this discrimination,” McCormack says. “Recruiters who often are gatekeepers are concerned that their clients may be biased against transgender people. They don’t even give them the opportunity to consider them, so the company would be trans friendly, but there is this bias in the recruiting profession that is a real barrier for transgender people.”

Norris founded the educational and direct-action group, The Transsexual Menace, in 1993. She has worked in the corporate sector since around that same year, and currently is a consultant for the multinational management-consulting firm, Accenture. In addition to working with clients, Norris advises the firm on how to be more inclusive and accepting of diverse gender expression.

McCormack and Norris said that based on their corporate experience, they know that inclusion appeals to many large corporations.

“I can talk corporate. I know what motivates employers. A lot of advocacy groups are not talking the same language as employers,” Norris says. “There’s this concept called ‘corporate talent,’ which is why ‘LGB’ recruiting is very hot. We know diverse teams have a statistical likelihood of making better products. Trans is the last untapped pool of diversity talents. We’ve got Ph.D.s working as file clerks, and geologists working in back stores.”

As ATP undergoes the process of gaining its own non-profit status, the association is operating under the auspices of the New York LGBT Center. It is mostly funded by donations, and by grants from large foundations. ATP has received a $10,000 grant from the Pallette Foundation of New York, and a $25,000 challenge grant from the Calamus Foundation.

ATP is inclusive of those in the transgender community who do not identify within the binary of male or female. The association’s goal is to make the workplace accepting of all forms of gender expression, not just gender expression that complements traditional views of masculinity and femininity.

“Every 25 years, there’s this convulsion. Stonewall was the first convulsion, 25 years later, our community convulsed again, and out of that convulsion came ‘LGBT.’ What we’re seeing now is that the next generation coming in on that 25 year cycle is forcing us to redefine LGBT in their terms,” Norris says. “I believe since other people allowed me to stand on their shoulders in the ‘90s, I have an obligation and stewardship that the soil we till with ATP in the workplace must accommodate genderqueer and omnisexual. It cannot be latched onto the gender binary.”

Casa Ruby (2822 Georgia Ave., N.W.) is a multicultural center and safe space for the D.C. Latino transgender community. The organization provides housing assistance, employment advocacy, HIV testing and other services. Ruby Corado, the organization’s director, is excited by the founding of the Association of Transgender Professionals and the work they are doing.

“It is such a needed area of work. It comes down to another pressing issue, which is violence. I think the fact that people are not employed puts them at risk, because they are confined to living in neighborhoods where it’s not safe,” Corado says. “I will say ‘kudos’ to the people putting this together. As a transgender organization in D.C. focusing on the local needs of trans people, we certainly welcome them and will help to work with them.”

Although the ATP specifically advocates for the transgender community, Norris describes the organization as inclusive of all individuals who are gender non-conforming, including those who are gay and lesbian.

“I see us all as one people. I’m in favor of getting rid of the acronym. I prefer the word ‘queer,’ she says.

For more information on the Association of Transgender Professionals, visit


Colorado activists focus next on health care

Denver, Health Care, Gay News, Washington Blade

Denver Colorado skyline. (Photo via Wikimedia by Matt Wright)

DENVER — LGBT activists in Colorado have health care, workplace and gay youth issues on their list next according to an article this week in the Denver Post.

A study from the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved said LGBT residents account for about 2.6 percent of the state’s population (about 135,000 people) and are twice as likely as straights to earn less than $35,000 per year and are twice as likely to be unemployed. Gay activist group One Colorado surveyed 1,300 LGBT state residents and found that 15.8 percent were uninsured compared with 14 percent of the overall population while 27 percent of trans residents were uninsured, the Post reported.

One Colorado is working with the Colorado Medical Society and the Denver Medical Society to survey doctors on their attitudes toward treating LGBT patients, the Post reported. Later this year, the three groups will develop better training for medical professionals, which they hope will be duplicated nationwide. The national Gay and Lesbian Medical Association will hear about the plan during its annual conference in Denver in September.

A Civil Unions law extending to same-sex couples many of the same rights and obligations of opposite-se married couples went into effect in May of this year.


Florida county adopts trans ordinance

Pinellas County, Florida, transgender, gay news, Washington Blade, ordinance

The new ordinance passed in Pinellas County would prohibit most organizations in the county from discriminating against trans people. (Image public domain, modified with trans flag photo by Michael Key)

CLEARWATER, Fla.—The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday voted 6-1 to add gender identity to the county’s human rights ordinance.

The Tampa Tribune reported the proposal would prohibit most organizations in the county from discriminating against trans people in employment, housing and public accommodations. These include access to public restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity and expression.

“We cannot legislate against what is people’s hearts and minds, but we can set policy to protect every member of our community,” Commissioner Charlie Justice said as the Tampa Tribune reported.

The vote took place a week after Alachua County, in which the city of Gainesville and the University of Florida are located, approved a similar ordinance. Palm Beach, Broward, Monroe and Leon Counties and the cities of St. Augustine and Venice are among the other Florida municipalities that have enacted trans-inclusive human rights ordinances.


Small Kentucky village bars job bias

Vicco, Kentucky, employment non-discrimination, gay news, Washington Blade

Vicco, Ky. (Image by Seth Ilys via Wikimedia Commons)

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A tiny Appalachian village near Kentucky’s border with Virginia is the first municipality in a decade, and the fourth in state history to pass an ordinance barring discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to the ACLU, tiny Vicco with only 334 residents as of the 2010 Census, was originally named for the Virginia Iron Coal and Coke Company, which still dominates employment in the area.

“Vicco is a community that believes all folks should be treated fairly,” Vicco City Attorney Eric Ashley told the ACLU. “We believe everyone deserves the opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Fairness is a Kentucky value, a Vicco value, and one of our most American values.”