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Advocates seek LGBT inclusion in State of the Union

Joint Session of Congress, gay news, Washington Blade, Barack Obama

Advocates are calling on President Obama to mention LGBT workers during his upcoming State of the Union address. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Amid expectations that President Obama will issue a national call to address income equality in his upcoming State of the Union address, some advocates are asking him to take the opportunity to speak out against anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.

With no explicit federal language in place protecting LGBT workers from job discrimination, advocates are calling on Obama to incorporate as part of his speech a call to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a pledge to sign an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors.

The details of the speech are under wraps, but Obama already hinted earlier this month the address — which will be delivered Tuesday before a joint session of Congress — will seek to mobilize the country to ensure “the economy offers every American who works hard a fair shot at success.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said including the executive order or ENDA in the speech would fit right in with the president’s larger theme.

“The president is going to spend much of his State of the Union talking about economic inequalities and it’s important that he highlight those faced by the LGBT community,” Sainz said. “There are many ways to address these issues including signing a federal contractor non-discrimination executive order and calling on Congress to send ENDA to him for his signature.”

The call for inclusion of the executive order and ENDA in the State of the Union is the same request that LGBT advocates made early in 2013 prior to that year’s speech. Instead, Obama made a veiled reference to gay people when he said the economy should work for Americans “no matter…who you love” and gave himself props for starting the process to secure partner benefits for gay troops.

But the situation has changed this time around. The Senate last year passed ENDA on a bipartisan basis by a 64-32 vote. The only thing stopping ENDA from reaching Obama’s desk is House Republican leadership. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said he opposes the bill when asked if he’ll allow a vote on it.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said including ENDA in the State of the Union would place significant pressure on Boehner to move forward.

“By explicitly calling on Speaker Boehner to allow ENDA to come to a vote, and by explaining the current gaps in employment law to the American people, President Obama can help build political momentum and do important public education to help correct the fact that 80 or 90 percent of Americans mistakenly think ENDA is already law,” Almeida said. “The president’s words would be a catalyst for millions of important conversations around the country.”

Almeida pointed to Obama’s words in his previous State of the Union speech calling for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act as “model language” for what he could say about ENDA. Following that speech, the House voted to send  an LGBT-inclusive VAWA reauthorization to Obama’s desk after a version without the protections failed on the House floor.

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether Obama will include a reference to ENDA or the executive order in the State of the Union address.

If Obama calls for passage of ENDA during the State of the Union, it wouldn’t be the first time that a president has mentioned the legislation during the annual speech. In 1999, then-President Clinton said discrimination based on factors such as sexual orientation “is wrong and it ought to be illegal,” calling on Congress to turn ENDA as well as hate crimes protections into law.

As for the executive order, Obama has recently threatened to take executive action if Congress fails to act on legislation important to his agenda. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he had no updates when asked by the Blade if the use of the pen applies to non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers, but suggested Obama would take the route only for other agenda items.

Still, the lingering issue of LGBT workplace discrimination isn’t the only issue advocates want addressed during the State of the Union.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said ENDA and the executive order are part of a group of agenda items Obama should mention during his speech “to build on his stellar track record in the area of LGBT freedoms and justice.”

“This includes signing an executive order that bans discrimination against LGBT people working for federal contractors and pushing Congress on passing ENDA and fair immigration reform legislation,” Carey said. “We would also like to see him include LGBT people and families as examples in his references to domestic issues that all Americans care about such as jobs, the economy, and health care. And finally, we would like him to use use the word ‘transgender’ and to call for an end to violence against transgender people.”
22
Jan
2014

Michael Sam becomes first out gay man drafted to NFL

Michael Sam, football, Missouri, gay news, Washington Blade

The St. Louis Rams on Saturday picked Michael Sam in the seventh round of the National Football League draft. (Photo by Marcus Qwertyus; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Michael Sam on Saturday became the first openly gay man drafted into the National Football League after the St. Louis Rams picked him in the seventh round.

ESPN broadcast a video that showed the former University of Missouri defensive end breaking down as he received the telephone call from Rams coach Jeff Fisher that told him the team had picked him. His boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, was among those who were him in San Diego.

Fisher noted during a post-draft press conference that his team in 1946 drafted the first African American into the league.

“This is a second historic moment in the history of this franchise,” he said. “I’m honored to be part of it. Michael’s a good football player. They’re pretty excited to have him in the building.”

Rams defensive end Robert Quinn told Dan Hellie of the NFL Network that Sam has “proven himself on the field” with the Associated Press naming him the 2013 defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference. He was also selected as one of 10 unanimous first-team All-Americans.

“He’s a great player,” Quinn told Hellie. “He proved himself while he was in college.”

Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins, who is the first openly gay person to play in a major American professional sports league, are among those who congratulated Sam.

“The St. Louis Rams just helped athletes everywhere feel more confident in their ability to be who they are and play the game they love,” said former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. “I am thrilled that Michael Sam is being judged by his ability on the football field and look forward to supporting him in anyway to ensure that that he finds a welcoming environment in the NFL.”

“We congratulate Michael Sam and the St. Louis Rams on their terrific decision to draft him,” added Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “Today, LGBT young people can look to Sam as proof that being open and proud of who you are doesn’t keep you from achieving your dreams.”

President Obama also congratulated Sam, the Rams and the NFL.

“From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove everyday that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are,” a White House official told the Washington Blade on Sunday.

The Miami Dolphins late on Sunday announced it had fined safety Don Jones after he described Sam kissing Cammisano as “horrible” on Twitter.

The team also suspended Jones until he completes “education training for his recent comments.”

“We met with Don today about respect, discrimination and judgment,” said Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin in a statement. “These comments are not consistent with the values and standards of our program. We will continue to emphasize and educate our players that these statements will not be tolerated.”

Jones apologized.

“I take full responsibility for them and I regret that these tweets took away from his draft moment,” he said.

Sam, 24, came out in a February during a series of interviews with the New York Times and ESPN.

“Michael Sam has made a historic and courageous decision to live his authentic truth for the world to see,” said National Black Justice Coalition CEO Sharon Lettman-Hicks after Sam came out. “Sam continues the tradition of breaking down barriers for not only LGBT athletes who dream of playing professional sports, but all LGBT people, young and old, who seek to live openly, honestly and safely in their neighborhoods and communities.”

Sam on Thursday signed an endorsement deal with Visa.

Sam’s spokesperson, Howard Bragman, told the Washington Blade on Saturday the defensive end is not available for interviews.

10
May
2014

Victory Fund’s dangerous endorsement

Richard Tisei, Republican, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Republican Richard Tisei is challenging a pro-LGBT Democrat for Congress in Massachusetts. (Photo courtesy of Tisei).

By JOE RACALTO

 

Recently, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund endorsed former Massachusetts Republican Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, who is openly gay, for Congress. Although I applaud Tisei — and all LGBT political candidates who run for public office — this endorsement is not justified and sets a dangerous precedent.

Tisei’s opponent, Democratic Rep. John Tierney, has been a staunch champion for LGBT rights — even when it wasn’t popular. He backed marriage equality in Massachusetts, despite the criticism. He has supported the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act; he was a strong and early supporter of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and he has a HRC score of 100 percent in the 112th Congress.

Tierney’s support for LGBT causes is clean, clear and perfect.

And, Congressman Tierney will do one thing Tisei will not do — vote for Leader Nancy Pelosi as the next Speaker of the House.

It is no secret that Speaker John Boehner does not support ENDA, claiming it is not necessary. Nor is it a secret that the GOP continues to block or stall every single LGBT advancement at all levels, and in all parts of the country. Given the recent events in Arizona, ENDA is needed now more than ever and if Democrats were in control, ENDA would be the law of the land. Make no mistake, Tisei’s potential vote for Boehner would be a vote to further delay justice for LGBT Americans who face employment discrimination.

Torey Carter, COO of the Victory Fund, said Tisei’s election to Congress would “shatter a glass ceiling for the Republican Party” and “further the dialogue within the GOP about LGBT issues.”  With all due respect to Carter, at what cost and at whose expense? Should those who fight for LGBT rights have to sit by and wait for the Republicans to understand? Additionally, in order to “further” one must “start.” They have had 40 years to start the dialogue and who is gullible enough to believe Tisei can help them with that process?

This country has moved on and the election of Tisei over Rep. Tierney would represent a major setback for LGBT Americans. We must never, ever turn our backs on those who have championed our causes, like Tierney, simply to “shatter glass” or “further dialogue (within the GOP)” or whatever other reason the Victory Fund uses to describe this dangerous endorsement.

Joe Racalto is president of Giesta Racalto, LLC. He served as former Rep. Barney Frank’s senior policy adviser and is a board member at Freedom to Work.

04
Mar
2014

Reel revival

Randy Harrison, Michael Urie, Such Good People, gay news, Washington Blade, Reel Affirmations

Randy Harrison and Michael Urie in ‘Such Good People.’ (Photo courtesy of Reel Affirmations)

Girl Trash

Friday, 7 p.m.

 

Such Good People

Friday, 9 p.m.

 

Heterosexual Jill

Saturday, 7 p.m.

 

Five Dances

Saturday, 9 p.m.

 

‘Just Gender’

Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.

 

Human Rights Campaign

1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.

Reel Affirmations, a program of the D.C. Center

 

$10 general admission

$30 VIP pass for all four films this weekend

$50 host committee tickets

reelaffirmations.org

Reel Affirmations, Washington’s long-running LGBT film festival, is back with a crop of new films to be shown this weekend and into next week.

The festival, now part of the D.C. Center Arts Program, is partnering with Human Rights Campaign, where its offerings will be screened. It’s re-launching its monthly film series, Reel Affirmations XTRA and offering “The Pride Film Festival,” which offers the five films  slated for a Tuesday screening.

Visit reelaffirmations.org or thedccenter.org for details.

05
Jun
2014

2013 in photography

2013 was a banner year for the LGBT community. Here are the top Washington Blade photos of the year. (Washington Blade photos by Blake Bergen, Tyler Grigsby, Michael Key, Kevin Majoros, Damien Salas, Lee Whitman and Jon Wooten) buyphoto 

03
Jan
2014

Two years later, Macy decision’s impact shown on LGBT rights

Mia Macy, gay news, Washington Blade

Mia Macy was the plaintiff in a case establishing transgender people are protected under civil rights law (Photo courtesy of Mia Macy).

For Mia Macy, being part of a landmark decision that said transgender workplace discrimination is illegal under existing civil rights law is “still amazing” on the day of its second anniversary.

“It’s weird; I have to set myself outside of it and look at it,” Macy said. “It’s a blessing and great thing on one side. Now that we’ve had a couple years it’s kind of disappointing the LGBT community hasn’t embraced the fact that lawyers and employment specialists around the country have known for the last couple years: We have LGBT workplace protection rights.”

The unanimous decision in Macy v. Holder, handed down by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on April 20, 2012, established for the first time that anti-trans bias in the workplace amounts to gender discrimination under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. From that time forward, it was clear the EEOC would represent trans victims in litigation.

After a California-based Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives laboratory denied her a job as a ballistics technician when she announced she would transition, Macy filed the complaint. She said at the time she “had no clue” the litigation would result in such a landmark ruling.

“I thought it would just have an impact maybe over maybe ATF or the Justice Department,” Macy said. “In no way did I ever imagine that it would be a federal decision. There came a part closer to when the decision came out that we knew there might be some bigger ramifications with the decision, but until we saw the decision, we had no idea.”

Macy said prior to her filing to complaint, she and her wife were allowed to consider additional causes for seeking relief. Driving in their car, they decided to add “gender stereotyping” to the complaint, which Macy added with Sharpie marker by writing on the roof of her vehicle. That was the rationale by which the EEOC came to the conclusion the Macy experienced illegal discrimination when seeking a job.

“Thus, we conclude that intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition, discrimination ‘based on… sex,’ and such discrimination therefore violates Title VII,” the decision states.

LGBT advocates say since the decision was handed down, the ruling has helped other trans victims of workplace discrimination. The EEOC didn’t respond on short notice to provide information on damages won or the number of LGBT victims, but pledged to provide the information in the coming days.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said the Macy decision was essential in reaching a settlement with a federal contractors for a Maryland trans victim of workplace discrimination represented by his organization and Lambda Legal.

“I was impressed with the EEOC staff for conducting such a thorough investigation and interviewing so many witnesses to the anti-transgender harassment,” Almeida said. “This case shows that the EEOC takes very seriously its role enforcing LGBT workplace protections and that the Macy decision is being implemented in a very real way.”

According to Freedom to Work, EEOC investigated the complaint under Title VII based on the victim’s complaint her co-workers regularly harassed her with slurs like “tranny,” “drag queen” and “faggot.” In September 2012, the agency issued a “cause determination letter” finding reasonable cause the company violated the law.

The name of the plaintiff, the company and the damages won remain under wraps as part of the settlement. It’s likely the first time in history that the EEOC has investigated allegations of anti-trans harassment and ruled for the trans employee after the Macy decision.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the Macy decision has formed the basis for “hundreds of cases” of trans discrimination filed since that time.

“Trans people really are standing up for themselves a lot, lot more with this tool,” Keisling said. “I don’t mean they didn’t have a spine before, I mean now they have a tool, and that’s empowered them to stand up for themselves with that tool.”

Keisling emphasized the Macy decision was the culmination of a “trend” started by courts ruling in favor of trans people in sex discrimination cases. That trend, Keisling said, continues with developments like the Department of Health & Human Services determining the sex discrimination provision in the Affordable Care Act covers gender identity.

Despite the nature historic of the decision that her lawsuit produced, Macy said she’s been unable to secure employment following the ruling and blames the Internet record of her case as the reason why companies are deterred from hiring her.

Although as part of settlement, Macy was supposed to be instated in the job at ATF, she said that ultimately didn’t happen, but refused to say why. She said she’s been unsuccessful in trying to find other work despite what she says are hundreds of attempts, and instead has returned to school on a pre-law track with the intent to go to law school to study employment law.

Further, Macy said the Transgender Law Center, which initiated the lawsuit on her behalf, “fired” her as a plaintiff and other attorneys handled the litigation going forward. Macy was reluctant to go into much detail, citing attorney-client privilege, but mentioned she “didn’t want to continue the promotion side with them.”

“I was terminated at the end of 2012,” Macy said. “They sent me a letter and said they would no longer be my attorneys and called me and said we’re no longer representing you.”

Ilona Turner, a spokesperson for the Transgender Law Center, said in response to Macy’s assertion she was terminated that the organization helped Macy find other representation following the initial stages of her lawsuit.

“We are very proud of the contribution we were able to make in Mia’s case,” Turner said. “After we represented her through her initial filing and appeal and won the historic EEOC decision establishing that Mia and all other transgender employees are protected under Title VII, we helped connect her with another firm to represent her through the next stage of the process.”

One issue that remains is whether Title VII also protects gay, lesbian and bisexual people from employment discrimination under the Macy just as the EEOC determined it affords protections to trans people.

The view that LGB people are protected is espoused by Chai Feldblum, a lesbian member of the EEOC, who said earlier this month during an interview with the Washington Blade that anti-gay discrimination “for the purposes of the law” is sex discrimination.

Just recently, a federal court in D.C. allowed a gay man, Peter TerVeer, to sue the Library of Congress on the basis of gender discrimination on the basis of his allegations of anti-gay bias on the job.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, noted that Macy doesn’t explicitly address sexual orientation, but looking at legal precedent, gay people should be covered under Title VII.

“We think are claims to be made by LGB people under Title VII,” Warbelow said. “It’s not as clear-cut based on the court decisions as this point as Macy’s case made it for trans people.”

But it’s the doubt on whether the Title VII protects against anti-gay discrimination — not to mention that lack of explicitly statutory language informing the courts that discrimination against trans people is unlawful — that makes LGBT advocates say additional action is necessary.

One is passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar many employers from firing or discriminating against LGBT people in the workplace. The other is an executive order for LGBT people along the lines of Executive Order 11246, which bars federal contractors doing $10,000 a year or more in business with the U.S. government on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Despite the heavily sought-after nature of both these initiatives, neither have yet come to fruition. The Senate last year passed ENDA by a vote of 64-32 on a bipartisan basis, but it has stalled out in the House as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has continually said he opposes the legislation. And President Obama continues to withhold an executive order for LGBT people as the White House has said he prefers a legislative approach to the issue.

Warbelow said these added protections are necessary for trans people in addition to Macy — let alone to protect LGB people — in case courts don’t side with EEOC in the legal reasoning that sex discrimination occurred.

“While I’m hopeful that when a case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, they will apply the same legal reasoning as Macy, there’s no guarantee when it comes to the Supreme Court,” Warbelow said. “Until that happens, we want to make sure that transgender people are explicitly protected.”

Additionally, Warbelow said more explicit non-discrimination protections for trans people would “put employers on notice” because posters would be updated in the workplace indicating gender-identity discrimination is just as illegal as discriminating on race, gender or religion.

But Macy said non-profit LGBT advocacy groups continue to say they need ENDA and the executive order to keep pushing for donations, even though the Macy decision already provides protections to LGBT people under the law.

“They don’t want somebody saying publicly they have something already,” Macy said.

Advocates are also pushing the Labor Department to interpret the existing sex discrimination provisions in Executive Order 11246 to enable to Office of Federal Contract Compliance to investigate and assign damages for cases of trans discrimination. In February, Labor Secretary Tom Perez told the Blade that potential move was under review, but the Labor Department has provided no updates since then.

Keisling said the Macy decision is “not the end” for what trans workers need for workplace non-discrimination protections in part because of the symbolic of nature of both ENDA and the executive order.

“It creates other enforcement mechanisms, other roads to educate employers,” Keisling said. “Ultimately, that’s what the LGBT movement is. It’s about educating people and educating them some more and winning them more and embracing them and then winning over more people until we can stop doing that hopefully some day in the future — maybe never.”

20
Apr
2014

Obama’s State of the Union light on LGBT issues

State of the Union, 2014, Barack Obama, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama was criticized by LGBT advocates over his State of the Union address. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama had few words in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night on LGBT issues, disappointing advocates who had wanted him to address the lack of federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

Devoting a large portion of his speech to income equality, Obama called on on Congress to pass other initiatives — such as a Voting Rights Act, a measure to ensure equal for pay women, immigration reform — and pledged to sign an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contractors.

“In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together,” Obama said. “Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want: for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.”

LGBT advocates had been pushing Obama to include in his speech a call to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a pledge to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

Obama’s continued decision to withhold the LGBT executive order became more pronounced after he promised during his speech to take executive action if Congress doesn’t pass legislation, and enumerated a specific plan to boost the minimum wage through executive order. That raised questions about why he hasn’t done the same for LGBT workers.

“What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class,” Obama said. “Some require congressional action, and I am eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still — and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

But Obama’s speech wasn’t completely devoid of any references to the LGBT community. The president identified marriage equality as one of those issues with which the White House is partnering with “mayors, governors and state legislatures” on throughout the country.

Further, he said the administration pursues a robust foreign policy because “we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being” regardless of categories like sexual orientation. Obama also said American values “equality under law” in his speech, which is of importance as courts decide the issue of marriage equality.

Joe Biden, John Boehner, Democratic Party, Republican Party, State of the Union, 2014, Barack Obama, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner at the 2014 State of the Union Address. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Nonetheless, the speech fell short of what LGBT advocates were calling in terms of federal workplace non-discrimination policy, prompting disappointment.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, responded the president’s failure to address LGBT issues in his speech with criticism, a striking change in tone from the organization’s usual praise of Obama as a strong LGBT ally.

“The President’s message tonight failed to address the needs of LGBT workers looking for a fair shake in this economy,” Griffin said. “Not only was there no call for the House to pass a federal law to protect LGBT workers nationwide, President Obama also sidestepped his commitment to take action where Congress has left off, leaving out an order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors.”

Griffin added Obama “missed a real opportunity” to commit in the State of the Union to “executive action to address anti-LGBT discrimination for the millions of Americans employed by federal contractors.”

The absence of ENDA was particularly noteworthy because just months ago, for the first time in history, the Senate approved the measure on bipartisan basis, leaving the House as the only obstacle toward passage.

Although the president made no mention of ENDA during his speech, the White House included the legislation as part of a fact sheet distributed to reporters prior to the address, identifying LGBT non-discrimination as an issue in which the administration is “continuing to work with Congress.”

“Today, federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and disability,” the fact sheet states. “It’s time to add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list, so that no American worker can lose his or her job simply because of who they are or who they love. ”

After noting that the Senate last year passed ENDA by a bipartisan vote, the fact sheet says Obama “renews his call for the House to do the same.”

Others advocates said they would continue to push Obama on the executive order despite the president’s exclusion of the directive from the State of the Union address.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Obama’s pledge to issue an executive order on minimum wage was “great news” because it means there’s an opportunity for Obama to sign an executive order against LGBT discrimination.

“It’s disappointing ENDA did not make it into the State of the Union,” Almeida said. “But no matter what was omitted from this one address, we can still make 2014 a year of action for LGBT workplace protections by pushing the House of Representatives to allow an ENDA vote and pushing the President to keep his promise of the federal contractor executive order.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, gave Obama mixed reviews after previously calling on Obama to use the word “transgender” and address immigration reform during his speech in addition to LGBT workplace protections.

“The President is right to urge congress to fix our broken immigration system this year, the creation of more jobs, equal pay for women, and the restoration of the Voting Rights Act,” Carey said. “We are also pleased that the President is using his pen like he said he would to move things forward: in this instance by signing an executive order to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers. However, he must go further and sign an executive order that bans discrimination against the same contract workers who are LGBT.”

Carey noted some of the workers who are set to receive pay raises because of the minimum wage executive order are vulnerable without the executive order for LGBT workplace non-discrimation.

“The irony is that some LGBT federal contract workers will get a pay raise but they could still be fired for who they are and who they love,” Carey said. “The longer the President waits the more damage LGBT people will face; discrimination is a painful reality that is too often the lived experience of LGBT people. The President has to act when Congress won’t.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, took issue with the speech as a whole, not simply for Obama’s handling of workplace issues.

“For a moment, I thought the news accidentally re-ran last year’s State of the Union, because all I really saw was more of the same,” Angelo said. “In the midst of a stagnant economy, understated unemployment, and ballooning debt, the only new ideas presented by the President involved using ‘a pen and a phone’ to push a liberal agenda for which hard-working Americans have no appetite.”

Coming off a victory in which Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) agreed to sign on as co-sponsor of ENDA, Angelo also chided Obama for his lack of attention in the State of the Union to LGBT non-discrimination in the workforce.

“While the President’s calls for a more equal nation are welcome, there is a profound irony in the absence of any mention of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for LGBT workers tonight, and likewise in the President’s threat to exercise unilateral Executive actions with the explosive potential to ignite class warfare, while at the same time remaining silent on signing a common-sense Executive Order barring federal workplace discrimination: an empty promise to LGBT Americans that stands unfulfilled after six years,” Angelo said.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, defended the speech by saying it wasn’t “a comprehensive list of all of the president’s positions or priorities. ”

“The President has long supported ENDA, and its inclusion in our fact sheet reflects the President’s belief that Congress needs to act,” Inouye said.

Among the guests seated behind first lady Michelle Obama in her box during the speech was Jason Collins, a former Washington Wizards center who made headlines last year after coming out as gay.

Following the speech, lawmakers who spoke to the Washington Blade on Capitol Hill said they noted the absence of the ENDA in his speech, but felt assured by the president’s leadership.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she thinks the minimum wage executive order will be a “down payment” on an LGBT directive the president will issue at a later time, but took issue with the lack of any mention of ENDA.

“I would love to have seen a mention, and I don’t think I saw, other than a passing mention of the LGBT community,” Norton said. “I think the way to have done it, frankly, would have been with ENDA, because ENDA is overwhelmingly supported by the American people. It’s already been supported by the Senate. It’s ripe, so I am disappointed that that did not occur, but I’m heartened that he’s going to move, and, frankly, I think we can get ENDA out of here in the next year or two.”

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), one of seven openly gay members of the U.S. House, said he was confident Obama would take executive action to protect LGBT workers based on his previous actions.

“I tell you, 2013 was one of the gayest years in the history of human kind, and this president has used his executive orders already in how he’s interpreted the Supreme Court decisions, the way he’s applied in the ruling in the Windsor case, in ways that have been very favorable,” Takano said. “He’s done that through executive orders and interpretations, so he’s already used his executive order in the gayest way possible. So, I have hope that he’ll continue to do so.”

Mark Takano, California, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, Congress, gay news, Washington Blade, State of the Union Address, 2014

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) at the 2014 State of the Union Address. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

29
Jan
2014

Boggs says views ‘may or may not’ have changed on marriage

Judicial nominee Michael Boggs says his views 'may or may not' have changed on marriage (Screenshot courtesy U.S. Senate).

Judicial nominee Michael Boggs says his views ‘may or may not’ have changed on marriage (Screenshot courtesy U.S. Senate).

A controversial judicial nominee said during his confirmation hearing Tuesday his views “may or may not” have changed since he backed Georgia’s anti-gay marriage amendment in 2004 — and he would defer to the Supreme Court precedent on any possible marriage cases that come before him as a judge.

Michael Boggs, whom President Obama nominated in January for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, said his current views on same-sex marriage may not reflect his previous opposition when asked by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) about a statement he made on the issue 10 years ago.

“I clearly meant, Senator, that my personal opinion was at the time over a decade that I was in support of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage,” Boggs said. “My position on that, Senator, may or may not have changed since that time — as many people’s have over the last decade.”

It’s customarily for judicial nominees not to definitively state during the confirmation process their personal views on matters, such as same-sex marriage, because if they did and the issue came before them as a judge, they would have to recuse themselves.

Boggs also emphasized that his stated opposition to same-sex marriage has had no impact of any cases over which he has presided since he became a state judge in 2004.

“Moreover, my position on that, as reflected by those personal comments in 2004, have never had any import whatsover in how I’ve decided cases or how I analyzed issues both as a trial court and an appellate court judge,” Boggs said.

Asked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) whether he would now back a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Boggs replied, “No, sir.” Boggs added that view wouldn’t inform his decision-making as a federal judge.

Three same-sex couples have filed a lawsuit against Georgia’s ban on same-sex marriage that’s now pending before federal court. Asked by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) about the case, Boggs said he “would not” believe that a ruling against the law would be an example of judicial activism.

In a follow-up question from Hirono on whether he had considered as a state judge any cases involving gay people, Boggs revealed he indeed considered such a case involving a lesbian parent seeking second-parent adoption of her son.

Although Boggs said the “record is sealed,” he disclosed he agreed to take it up after the chief judge in his circuit refused to hear the case. After hearing the woman’s case on why she’d be a good parent, Boggs said he “approved the adoption.”

Under later questioning from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Boggs said her personal views wouldn’t influence his ruling on marriage cases and he would defer to the landmark Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act for guidance on how to rule. Asked by Klobuchar whether he would defer to the DOMA decision as a judge, Boggs replied, “absolutely.”

Boggs reasserted that view on his judicial philosophy when asked about the DOMA decision by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the lead sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act in the U.S. Senate.

“My personal feelings would be irrelevant to how I would act as judge,” Boggs said. “You have my commitment that I would follow the decision in Windsor; I would follow any precedent or the Supreme Court on marriage equality on the issues, as I would any issues.”

The Boggs nomination has invoked the wrath of progressive groups across the board — ranging from civil rights groups, women’s groups and LGBT groups — over his voting record in the Georgia State Assembly, which includes his vote in favor of Georgia’s state constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage in 2004, his votes against abortion rights and support for keeping the Confederate symbol in the state flag.

Running for election as a state judge in 2004, Boggs reportedly said, “You don’t have to guess where I stand — I oppose same-sex marriages.”

Among those opposing the nominee are the national LGBT groups the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and GetEQUAL. Those groups are among 27 organizations signed a letter asking the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject the nominee.

Two of the LGBT groups who have opposed his confirmation didn’t change their views of Boggs as a result of what was said during his confirmation hearing.

Heather Cronk, manager director for GetEQUAL, was unmoved by Boggs’ testimony, saying his “record on issues of justice for women and LGBTQ individuals is abysmal.”

“His long public record of stances on everything from choice to the confederate flag puts him out of step with not just the Obama Administration’s stated values, but also out of step with the American public,” Cronk said. “Stating during this make-or-break confirmation hearing that he ‘might’ have changed his views on one issue is not comforting — it’s simply a political move to take some heat off of his nomination.”

Stacey Long, policy and government affairs director for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, also said her organization’s view hasn’t changed.

“He may or may not have changed his views on marriage equality,” Long said. “We on the other hand have not changed our view of his nomination; he should be withdrawn. There are plenty of other qualified jurists out there.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, on the other hand, said as the hearing was ongoing his organization needed more time to reassess the nomination.

“We remain very concerned about his record and his approach as a judge,” Sainz said. “Once his hearing concludes, we will review his testimony and based on that decide how to proceed.”

Although the issue of marriage came up, Democratic senators on the panel primarily questioned Boggs about his support for keeping the confederate symbol within the Georgia state flag and his opposition to abortion rights. Boggs said he believed he was acting on behalf of his constituents and his personal views wouldn’t influence his rulings as a federal judge.

Whether Boggs was being completely forthcoming with the committee was also an issue with Democratic senators. Blumenthal expressed concern that he added new material to his record that previously wasn’t disclosed prior to his hearing, asking whether he had disclosed the entirety of his public statements. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) suggested Boggs was less than truthful when he told the senator his initial vote on the Confederate flag would have brought the issue to referendum when, in fact, it did not.

Obama selected Boggs as a judicial nominee as part of a deal with the Republican U.S. senators in the state — Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson — to move forward a group nominees to fill judicial vacancies in the state.

Boggs was among seven judicial nominees who faced their confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Blumenthal presided over the hearing.

13
May
2014

Maryland House committee holds hearing on transgender bill

Luke Clippinger, Maryland House of Delegates, Democratic Party, Baltimore, gay news, Washington Blade

Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

ANNAPOLIS, Md.–A Maryland House of Delegates committee on Wednesday heard testimony on a bill that would add gender identity and expression to the state’s anti-discrimination law.

Supporters and opponents of House Bill 1265 that state Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) introduced in January testified before the Health and Government Operations Committee.

“All Marylanders deserve to be treated and protected equally under the law,” said Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown as he spoke in support of the measure on behalf of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration.

State Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County) testified in support of HB 1265 alongside Jenna Fischetti of the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality, Gender Rights Maryland Board Chair Sharon Brackett, Carrie Evans and Keith Thirion of Equality Maryland, Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado, Maryland Commission on Civil Rights Acting Executive Director Cleveland Horton, Hyattsville City Councilman Patrick Paschall and others. Attorney General Doug Gansler and state Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) – who are running against Brown in the Democratic gubernatorial primary – also support HB 1265.

“I have not had a job in my chosen career in nearly 10 years,” said Fischetti, telling lawmakers a suburban Baltimore car dealership fired her in 2004 because of her gender identity and expression.

The Maryland Catholic Conference, Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Diocese of Wilmington (Del.) that includes Maryland’s Eastern Shore are among the groups that oppose HB 1265. State Del. Nic Kipke (R-Anne Arundel County) asked Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive coordinator of the National Coalition of American Nuns, about the Vatican’s decision to sanction her because of her LGBT-specific advocacy.

“It’s opposite to the position of those bishops,” said Gramick after she testified in support of HB 1265.

Elaine McDermott of Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government cited five reports of attacks and assaults committed by men in restrooms during her testimony against HB 1265. She also described Chrissy Lee Polis, a trans woman who was attacked at a Baltimore County McDonald’s in 2011, as a “prostitute.”

“This bill is unfair to me,” said McDermott. “My facilities should not become an open place, a free for all.”

The hearing took place one day after the Maryland Senate by a 32-15 vote margin approved a trans rights bill – Senate Bill 212 or the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014 – that state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) introduced in January.

“I was very happy to see the bill come out of the Senate,” Clippinger told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “We’ve got great momentum to get the bill out of the House.”

Clippinger, Evans and others continue to applaud Madaleno for introducing SB 212. Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer, who announced her candidacy against the Montgomery County Democrat in January, has repeatedly praised state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) for his efforts to secure the measure’s passage last month in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

State Sens. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s County), James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) and Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) are among the committee members who voted against a trans rights bill in 2013. They backed SB 212 last month when Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee moved to advance it to the Senate floor.

“We’re pleased to see this is becoming a common sense issue that several senators on JPR who voted against the bill last year voted for it this year,” Sarah Warbelow of the Human Rights Campaign told the Blade last week. “They can see it is where we are headed as a country which is ensuring that everyone is treated fairly under the law.”

Baltimore City, Hyattsville and Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery Counties have already enacted trans-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinances.

Neighboring Delaware is among the 17 states along with D.C. and Puerto Rico that ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania, New York and other states have introduced similar measures.

The Maryland House in 2011 approved a trans rights bill with 86 votes. It subsequently died in a Senate committee.

The House Health and Government Operations Committee is expected to vote on HB 1265, which has 61 co-sponsors, on March 12.

06
Mar
2014

Bowser wins Stein Club endorsement

Muriel Bowser, gay news, Washington Blade

Muriel Bowser won the endorsement of the Stein Club in her bid for mayor. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, voted Monday night to endorse D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) for mayor.

The club also voted to endorse Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) in her re-election bid, Ward 1 Council candidate Brianne Nadeau and Ward 6 Council candidate Charles Allen. Bonds, Nadeau and Allen each won the Democratic nomination for their respective Council seats in the city’s April 1 primary.

Bowser also won the Democratic primary, beating Mayor Vincent Gray and three other Council members who ran for mayor.

The club’s vote on the endorsements followed a town hall meeting in which Bowser, Nadeau and Allen spoke and answered questions from club members about their positions on both LGBT and other issues.

The meeting was held at the Human Rights Campaign building at 17th Street and Rhode Island Ave., N.W.

The endorsements also came after at least five club members who are supporting D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) for mayor sought to block an endorsement vote, citing provisions of the club’s bylaws that they said did not allow such a vote unless a special endorsement forum was held or unless a separate vote was taken to suspend the rules.

Stein Club President Angela Peoples said the club’s executive committee carefully reviewed the bylaws and determined they did not prevent the club from voting to endorse Bowser and the three Council candidates as well as shadow Senate incumbent Paul Straus, who also won the Democratic nomination for his post in the April 1 primary.

The vote on Monday night came in the form of a motion introduced by Stein Club member Jeri Hughes that called for endorsing all Democratic nominees that the club didn’t endorse for the primary.

The club didn’t make primary endorsements for mayor, the three Council seats and the shadow Senate seat because no candidate obtained the required 60 percent of the vote needed for an endorsement as specified by the club’s bylaws.

At Monday night’s meeting, the club voted 35 to 8 to approve a motion calling for the endorsements. There were two abstentions, two “no votes,” and one spoiled ballot. The vote for the endorsements passed with 73 percent of those voting, easily clearing the 60 percent rule.

“I’m glad the Democrats are going to support the Democrats,” Bowser said after the vote. “That’s what the Gertrude Stein is all about.”

Bowser was referring to the discussion last month by some club members, including the officers, that an endorsement vote for Bowser and the Council candidates wasn’t needed because it should be assumed that a Democratic club would support the Democratic nominees.

Other club members, however, speaking on condition that they not be identified, suggested that the club’s officers wanted to avoid a direct endorsement vote in the general election out of fear that Catania supporters might line up enough votes to block the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement.

Peoples said the officers never sought to avoid an endorsement vote. She said the officers waited before scheduling an endorsement vote to ensure that the process was open and club members had a chance to weigh in on the decision. Peoples said the officers also wanted to hold a town hall meeting to give members the opportunity to listen and ask questions of the candidates before voting on an endorsement.

Monday’s vote suggests that Catania supporters could only muster about 13 votes, which fell short of the 40 percent needed to block an endorsement.

The club members that spoke out against an endorsement of Bowser on Monday night were Don Haines, Paul Kuntzler, Lane Hudson, Pat Hawkins, Robin Helprin and John Klenert. All except Haines are supporting Catania. Haines said he’s undecided on whom to back for mayor.

After the endorsement vote Haines introduced a motion calling for the club to ask the City Council to withhold a salary for the mayor in his or her first two years in office. Haines said the motion was directed at Bowser, whom he said has sought to impose a similar withholding of a salary for the city’s shadow House and Senate members, who currently work as volunteers without a salary.

He noted that Bowser proposed that no salary should be approved for the Shadow positions for at least two years during which time the people holding those positions must “prove their worth.”

At the request of former Stein President Kurt Vorndran members voted to table Haines’ motion.

10
Jun
2014