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Cruz introduces bill to limit fed’l recognition of marriage

government, Ted Cruz, Texas, Republican Party, United States Senate, Values Voters Summit, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has introduced the State Marriage Defense Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced legislation on Thursday in the U.S. Senate to prohibit the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states without marriage equality.

The Texas Republican said he introduced the bill, called the State Defense Marriage Act, in response to the Obama administration’s recognition of same-sex marriage in federal programs ‚ÄĒ even for gay couples living in non-marriage equality states ‚ÄĒ following the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

‚ÄúI support traditional marriage,” Cruz said in a statement. “Under President Obama, the federal government has tried to re-define marriage, and to undermine the constitutional authority of each state to define marriage consistent with the values of its citizens. The Obama Administration should not be trying to force gay marriage on all 50 states.”

Known for his filibuster of health care reform legislation, Cruz is a freshman senator and hasn’t been in the Senate long enough to establish an anti-LGBT record while in Congress. However, he voted last year against an LGBT-inclusive version of the a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

Among the co-sponsors of the legislation is Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), another Tea Party favorite known for his opposition to same-sex marriage. Cruz and Lee are currently the only sponsors of the bill.

Lee is also chief sponsor of the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which would prohibit the federal government from discriminating against organizations that exercise ‚Äúreligious conscience‚ÄĚ against same-sex marriage.

Cruz introduced the legislation on the heels of complaints from conservatives over U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that the Justice Department would recognize same-sex marriages in courtrooms and federal programs ‚ÄĒ even in jurisdictions without marriage equality.

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, praised Cruz for introducing the legislation in the wake of policy developments along the lines of Holder’s announcement.

“The Department of Justice (DOJ) is the latest agency to announce a policy of recognizing same sex couples as ‘married’ – even if they live in a state that does not,” Perkins said. “These announcements not only contradict other agency guidance, but also undermine state laws on marriage, a result directly condemned by the Windsor Court’s ruling.”

Companion legislation already exists in the House, where a bill was introduced Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Texas). Counting Forbes, the legislation has 58 sponsors.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the legislation an effort “to reincarnate DOMA under a new name.”

“The bill would force the federal government to disrespect the legal marriages of same-sex couples in (currently) more than half the country,” Thompson said. “Rather than wasting time trying to, once again, enshrine anti-gay discrimination in federal law, Congress should pass the Respect for Marriage Act to provide married same-sex couples with certainty that the federal government will recognize their marriages regardless of where in the country they live in or move to.”

13
Feb
2014

Months after court ruling, DOMA issues remain unresolved

Eric Holder, United States Justice Department, Barack Obama Administration, Lincoln Memorial, the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, civil rights, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has pledged to extend federal benefits to married gay couples to the furthest extent possible under the law. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act last year, the Obama administration has been rolling out on a continual basis new federal benefits for married same-sex couples ‚ÄĒ but access to some benefits remains uncertain months after the decision.

While the administration has afforded a preponderance of the 1,138 federal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, other benefits ‚ÄĒ including Social Security, veterans and family leave benefits ‚ÄĒ are still in limbo for those living in non-marriage equality states. For these benefits, federal policy looks to the place of residence, not the place of celebration, in determining whether a person is married.

The policy of the Obama administration has been to expand benefits to married same-sex couples to the furthest extend possible under the law following the court decision against DOMA. That position was formalized last week in a memo from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder extending certain federal benefits under the purview of the Justice Department to married gay couples.

“It is the Department’s policy, to the extent federal law permits, to recognize lawful same-sex marriages as broadly as possible, and to recognize valid in the jurisdiction where the marriage was celebrated,” Holder writes.

Thus far, the administration has extended numerous benefits to married same-sex couples related to taxes, immigration, federal employee benefits, employer-provided pensions and, most recently, the ability to refuse to testify against a spouse in federal court ‚ÄĒ even if these couples live in non-marriage equality states. The Justice Department has also ceased enforcement of a provision in Title 38, which governs veterans benefits, that independently defines marriage in opposite-sex terms.

But things get dicier when it comes to other benefits where the law governing them looks to the state law where a couple resides, rather than the state law where the couple was married in determining whether a marriage is legitimate. Does the spirit of the Supreme Court ruling against DOMA mean that these portions of these laws should also not be enforced, or are they so far removed from the ruling they require a legislative fix?

One such issue is with Social Security benefits. Although the Social Security Administration is processing retirement and survivor benefits for same-sex couples living in marriage-equality states, for the time being, it’s placing applications on hold for married same-sex couples living in places that don’t their recognize their union.

Kia Anderson, a Social Security spokesperson, said work coordinated with the Justice Department is still underway to determine whether her agency can recognize these same-sex marriages for benefits purposes.

“We are working with the Department of Justice to develop and implement policy and processing instructions on this issue,” Anderson said. “However, we encourage people to apply right away for benefits, even if they aren’t sure they are eligible. Applying now will protect against the loss of any potential benefits.”

Yet another benefit on hold for married same-sex couples living in non-marriage equality states is veterans benefits, which include disability benefits, survivor benefits and joint burial at a veteran‚Äôs cemetery for the spouses of former service members. As with Social Security law, a portion of veterans’ law, 103(c) of Title 38, looks to state of residence, not the state of celebration, to determine whether a couple is married.

Genevieve Billia, a spokesperson for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said her department is still reviewing the issue of these benefits with the Justice Department.

“VA is working closely with the Department of Justice to develop guidance to process cases involving same-sex spousal benefits, and to implement necessary changes swiftly and smoothly in order to deliver the best services to all our nation‚Äôs veterans,” Billia said. “Our commitment to provide all veterans and their families with their earned care and benefits will continue to be our focus as VA implements the Supreme Court‚Äôs decision in Windsor, and the president‚Äôs direction on Title 38.”

The continued enforcement of 103(c) of Title 38 to discriminate against gay couples has been a cause for concern for U.S. senators. Last month, seven senators ‚ÄĒ led by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) ‚ÄĒ called on the Obama administration to stop enforcing the law in a way that blocks gay veterans in same-sex marriages from receiving spousal benefits.

Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association, called the issue “a top concern” among veterans belonging to the LGBT military group.

“While we understand it takes time to review existing policies and laws in light of the Windsor decision, for the sake of our veterans and their families, our hope is that the administration will take swift action in extending full and equal VA benefits no matter what state the veteran and their family live in,” Peters said. “These veterans have earned these benefits and there is no valid reason why they should continue to be denied them.”

The American Military Partner Association has launched an online petition calling on Holder to stop enforcing U.S. code governing veterans benefits in a way that discriminates against same-sex couples. According to the organization, a little more than 1,000 people had signed the petition as of Wednesday.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, expressed confidence the administration would be able to come to a conclusion on these issues as it has done with other benefits in the aftermath of the DOMA ruling.

“Federal agencies have moved with commendable speed to extend recognition to married same-sex couples, and to do so in a way that recognizes that these marriages don‚Äôt dissolve when a couple crosses state lines,” Thompson said. “While more work remains, including with SSA and the VA, we are confident that these issues can be properly addressed.”

The Justice Department didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the pace with which these benefits are being rolled out or when these outstanding issues will be resolved.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, touted the administration’s work so far in implementing benefits as he acknowledged “some work remains.”

“Following the Supreme Court‚Äôs ruling in Windsor, the president directed the attorney general to work with the Cabinet to review federal law to ensure the decision and its implications for federal benefits and obligations are implemented swiftly and smoothly,” Inouye said. “That process is ongoing, and while some work remains, the administration has worked to affirm the principle that all couples who are legally married receive full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law.”

Should the administration determine it must continue enforcing these laws, a legislative fix from Congress would be necessary to ensure these benefits can flow to gay couples. For the Social Security benefits, that would mean passage of the Social Security Equality Act, sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanchez in the House. For the veterans benefits, that would mean passage of the Charlie Morgan Act, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) in the Senate.

The federal benefits of marriage across the board would be assured for married gay couples regardless of where they live after passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which is sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in the House and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in the Senate.

A Senate Judiciary Committee aide told the Blade last year that a Senate hearing was in the works for fall 2013 on the legislation. Although the hearing never took place, a Senate aide told the Blade plans are still underway for a hearing.

‚ÄúChairman Leahy continues to push for timely and comprehensive implementation of the Windsor decision, including last week‚Äôs landmark announcement that the Justice Department will treat all lawfully married couples equally in federal legal matters,” the Leahy aide said. “Chairman Leahy is committed to taking discrimination out of our laws, and he is working to schedule a hearing and build support for the Respect for Marriage Act.”

Not all the outstanding issues in the aftermath of the DOMA ruling are related to law. Benefits are blocked from flowing to married same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states under the Family & Medical Leave Act not because of statute, but by regulation, which the administration could change at any time without action from Congress.

And that change is already taking place. Last last year, the Department of Labor announced it was changing the regulations for the Family & Medical Leave Act ‚ÄĒ along with regulations for a slew of other laws ‚ÄĒ to ensure those benefits flow to married same-sex couples living in non-marriage equality states. According to Thompson’s HR Compliance Expert, the change will be implemented in March.

Laura Fortman, principal deputy administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage & Hour Division, wrote about the proposed change in a little-noticed blog post at the time.

“No one should have to choose between succeeding at work and being a loving family caregiver,” Fortman said. “The FMLA‚Äôs protections help ensure that people have the opportunity to be both and our proposed rulemaking is an important step in ensuring the law keeps up with the needs of all families in this country.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said her organization looks forward to the day when the DOMA decision is “fully implemented” by the federal government.

“Steady progress is being made and more is to come,” Carey said. “For example, we are working with the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that health insurance plans offer coverage for same-sex spouses regardless of where they live. Big picture, we fully expect this landmark decision to continue to positively impact the lives of LGBT people and their families for years to come and in ways that we haven’t even imagined.”

19
Feb
2014

Will Congress take up a comprehensive LGBT rights bill?

National Equality March, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT advocates are calling for the introduction of a comprehensive LGBT bill in a subsequent Congress (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

A new idea is gaining traction for advancing LGBT rights after controversy over the stalled Employment Non-Discrimination Act: a  comprehensive federal non-discrimination bill.

As several LGBT groups have announced they would no longer support ENDA because of its broad religious exemption, the idea of a comprehensive bill stands in contrast to ENDA because it would address discrimination in areas other than the singular issue of employment.

It’s for that reason ‚ÄĒ and not just the religious exemption ‚ÄĒ that the New York-based LGBT group Queer Nation has urged for the rejection of ENDA in favor of a comprehensive bill that would institute non-discrimination coverage in a plethora of categories.

Andrew Miller, a member of Queer Nation, said in a phone interview with the Washington Blade that his organization doesn’t back any version of ENDA ‚ÄĒ either with or without the expanded religious exemption.

“If you believe, as I do, that LGBT Americans are equal in every way to our fellow Americans, then it makes sense to pass legislation that affords the same civil protections as our fellow Americans,” Miller said. “I think that strategy of incrementalism behind ENDA, telegraphs or signals that LGBT Americans are not equal to our fellow Americans. If we want full equality because we know that we are equal in every way to our fellow citizens, then that’s what we should be demanding.”

The content of a comprehensive bill isn’t clear as the idea is just beginning to take hold, but the general sense is the legislation would aim to eliminate anti-LGBT discrimination across the board and would be introduced in the subsequent Congress. The presence of an employment component would be contingent on the likely event that ENDA won’t pass the U.S. House this year before Congress adjourns.

But Miller said his organization has a more concrete view of what issues should be included in the legislation: housing, employment, public accommodations, credit and federal programs.

“I think that what it would be is a bill, a law, that would afford the same civil rights protections that all other Americans have to LGBT Americans,” Miller said. “Those protections are from discrimination in not just employment, but in housing and in public accommodations, in housing and credit and federal programs. Those are the categories that are covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Gay people should be afforded all those protections themselves.”

Many national LGBT groups have already endorsed the idea of a comprehensive LGBT bill to address discrimination, including the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Work. The categories that Queer Nation enumerated (with the exception of federal programs) were along the lines of the categories that HRC President Chad Griffin envisioned for the legislation in an op-ed published in Buzzfeed that also explained the organization’s continued support for ENDA.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, said his organization also backs the idea of a comprehensive bill as a means to institute “explicit, effective and, above all, equal protections in federal law” for LGBT people.

“The concept of a more comprehensive bill is something that we are supportive of, but what we want to ensure at the end of the day is that LGBT people have explicit, effective and, above all, equal non-discrimination protections in federal law,” Thompson said.

The idea of a comprehensive LGBT bill as opposed to an incrementalist strategy isn’t new. Gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has said for years he was considering an omnibus LGBT bill that would act as a symbolic measure. The grassroots group GetEQUAL also has called for a full civil rights bill for LGBT people.

Heather Cronk, co-director of GetEQUAL, said her organization has been speaking out for the need to pass comprehensive LGBT legislation since its inception.

“For too long, our movement has fought for piecemeal legislation,” Cronk said. “It isn’t what we need; it isn’t what we deserve. We’ve been talking about some kind of larger civil rights bill since we began four years ago. Whether that looks like an omnibus bill, or a collection of smaller bills that is passed at the same time, we don’t really know what it looks like. We just want to make sure that we’re fighting for it and putting that on the table.”

In an attempt to build support for a comprehensive bill, Queer Nation has called on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the eight openly LGB members of Congress to endorse the idea.

Drew Hamill, a Pelosi spokesperson, confirmed his boss supports the idea of a comprehensive bill in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade.

“She supports such legislation and would want to work closely with the leading LGBT national organizations to see it become a reality in the next Congress,” Hammill said.

Spokespersons for four of the eight openly LGB members of Congress ‚ÄĒ Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Sean Patrick Maloney and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) ‚ÄĒ said the lawmakers also support the idea of a comprehensive bill.

Scott Overland, a Polis spokesperson, said his boss “is committed to passing legislation to ensure that LGBT Americans have equal protection under the law in all of these dimensions.” He didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up question on whether that means support for a singular, comprehensive bill.

The remaining three ‚ÄĒ Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Mike Michaud (D-Maine) as well as Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) ‚ÄĒ didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment. Michaud is in the middle of a campaign to become the next governor of Maine.

The process for passing a comprehensive LGBT bill in Congress would be different than efforts to pass other bills with a singular focus because such legislation would likely be referred to multiple committees. That would be similar to the process leading to the passage of health care reform legislation, which was approved by five different committees in the House and Senate before being combined into one piece of legislation for President Obama to sign.

In the Senate, the piece on employment and education would likely mean a referral to the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee and the piece on public accommodations would mean a referral to the Judiciary Committee, while the component on credit may mean a referral to the Finance Committee and the component on federal programs may send the bill to the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee.

Assuming the legislation introduced is favorable enough for lawmakers to seek to advance the bill, the most challenging piece may be credit because it’s an area where the history of discrimination against LGBT people isn’t as widely known.

Thompson said he would be “not at all surprised” if a comprehensive bill would be referred to multiple committees, dismissing the notion that referrals would hamper passage.

“I think what would be the first, important step in that is doing the education and the outreach to congressional offices to make sure that they have a very good understanding about why a proposal like this is needed, why its time has come,” Thompson said.

Another possible approach to enacting comprehensive legislation would be amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ‚ÄĒ which provides protections based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin ‚ÄĒ to include the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity. Such a move would ensure the religious exemption to discriminate against LGBT people would be the same as it is for other categories of people.

According to some LGBT advocates familiar with ENDA, other civil rights groups are wary of amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include LGBT people because it would make the historic law seem too easy to change. Moreover, amending that law wouldn’t institute non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in housing because those protections are in the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Ayofemi Kirby, a spokesperson for the Congressional Black Caucus, said she “can’t speak” to whether lawmakers in her caucus would support that idea because that discussion hasn’t taken place, but noted a number of members of her caucus support ENDA.

A more likely scenario for the bill would be an amalgamation of other LGBT non-discrimination bills combined into one piece of legislation.

For example, the employment piece could consist of the version of ENDA with the narrower religious exemption that Polis introduced as a resolution before the House Rules Committee following controversy over the bill in a possible attempt to start a discharge petition on the legislation. The piece related to education may be the Student Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would prohibit harassment and discrimination against students in K-12 schools.

Another question is whether President Obama would make the push in the final years of his administration to pass a comprehensive bill. Despite the progress seen on LGBT issues under his administration and strongly articulated support for legislation to end discrimination in the workforce, Obama has made no announcement in support of a comprehensive bill.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to commit support when the Washington Blade asked about such legislation earlier this month, saying, “We‚Äôd consider it…but not I‚Äôm personally familiar with it.”

GetEQUAL’s Cronk said an endorsement from Obama of a comprehensive LGBT bill “would be helpful” in generating additional support for the bill.

“I think that would be a very core part of his legacy would be to go beyond advocating for things that other people have put on the table,” Cronk said. “I think it would be very powerful for President Obama to say, ‘Look, I endorse full equality for LGBT people, and this is what I mean by that.’”

Still, not every LGBT organization is offering a ringing endorsement of a comprehensive bill as the way to advance LGBT rights.

Stacey Long Simmons, policy and government affairs director for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, was non-committal about backing a singular bill, but insisted the goal should be comprehensive protections.

“While tackling employment discrimination is extremely important, it is but one piece of a much bigger, more wide-ranging set of changes needed to deliver real freedom and justice for all LGBTQ people,” Simmons said. “These changes include ending discrimination in housing, health care, education and in our democracy. In other words, a 360 approach that helps to create a nation where we all can equally access the promise of America. We care less about whether it‚Äôs done in one comprehensive bill than getting it done comprehensively.”

29
Jul
2014

LGBT-inclusive education reform bill introduced in Senate

Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin has pledged to move ENDA this year (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin has pledged to advance ENDA this year. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The lead Democrat on education issues in the U.S. Senate introduced on Tuesday an education reform bill that includes provisions aimed at prohibiting bullying and discrimination of LGBT students.

For the first time, Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced the LGBT-inclusive legislation to reauthorize the Elementary & Secondary Education Act with language along the lines of  the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe School Schools Improvement Act.

In a statement to the Washington Blade, Harkin touted the inclusion of the LGBT bills in his 1,150-page long bill known as the  Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013

‚ÄúBecause every child deserves a safe and healthy place to learn, we have included the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act in this year‚Äôs reauthorization of ESEA,” Harkin said. “These provisions will help to ensure that all students, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, are treated fairly and afforded equal opportunities to succeed in the classroom.”

Modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the SNDA-like provision in the bill establishes LGBT students as a protected class and prohibits schools from discriminating against any student based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The discrimination includes allowing bullying against them.

The bill also contains provisions similar to SSIA that advocates for a positive school climate and requires reporting on incidents of bullying, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Plans are already underway to advance the bill out of committee. In a statement, Harkin announced he’ll start the markup of the bill, which is co-sponsored by every Democratic member of the committee, starting Tuesday.

The LGBT provisions are a small portion of the bill. The reauthorization of the Elementary & Secondary Education Act, which intends to restructure “No Child Left Behind,” aims to support teachers and principals to help provide high-quality instruction and¬†focus federal attention on supporting states in turning around low-performing schools.

Given that every Democrat on the panel is a co-sponsor of the education reform bill, the measure should have sufficient support for a successful committee vote. It remains to be seen whether any Republicans will vote in favor of the measure.

On the same day that Harkin introduced the education reform bill, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced the standalone version of the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

‚ÄúNo child should dread going to school because they don‚Äôt feel safe,‚ÄĚ Franken said. ‚ÄúOur nation‚Äôs civil rights laws protect our children from bullying due to race, sex, religion, disability and national origin. My proposal extends these protections to our gay and lesbian students who shouldn‚Äôt ever feel afraid of going to school.”

Franken’s legislation has 30 co-sponsors, including lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), although the co-sponsors are Democrats.

In the House, SNDA has already been introduced. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a gay lawmaker who’s sponsoring the bill, commended Harkin for including the LGBT measure as part of his education reform bill.

“SNDA‚Äôs inclusion in this important bill is reflective of how important protecting all students is and I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Education & Workforce Committee to move forward on our bipartisan bill in the House,” Polis said.

SSIA has also already been introduced in the House and Senate. In the House, the bill is sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) while in the Senate, the chief sponsor is Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

Last year, Harkin introduced a version of ESEA reauthorization that lacked either SNDA or SSIA. During committee markup, advocates pressured Franken and Casey to introduce their legislation as amendments during the committee markup. They ultimately withdrew their amendments in committee while promising to offer the bills as amendments on the Senate floor. However, the full Senate never considered ESEA reauthorization.

LGBT advocates praised Harkin for introducing the LGBT-inclusive education reform bill and said they’d work to make sure the measure is signed into law.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, said his organization is “very pleased” Harkin included in ESEA reauthorization a piece of LGBT legislation the ACLU has long sought.

“The fact that there is still no federal law ‚Äď in the year 2013 ‚Äď that explicitly protects LGBT students from discrimination and harassment in our nation‚Äôs public schools is unacceptable,” Thompson said. “We look forward to working with Chairman Harkin and Sen. Franken, SNDA‚Äôs longtime Senate champion, to advance this much-needed and long-overdue civil rights measure through the HELP Committee.”

Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, called the introduction of the LGBT-inclusive bill “a significant moment for our nation‚Äôs education system.”

‚ÄúWe are thrilled that the Senate is moving to address the long overdue issue of school bullying and harassment” Byard said. “This bill includes critical components to ensure safer learning environments. We will continue to work with the Senate as the process moves forward to make sure that key provisions remain intact so that every student can reach their fullest potential.‚ÄĚ

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, also expressed support for working with Congress on issues of bullying and harassment as the legislation goes forward.

“As the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is being considered, we look forward to working with Congress to ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment,” Inouye said.

04
Jun
2013

Republican’s proposal would make it easier to harass gay service members

John Fleming, Louisiana, Republican Party, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) is introducing an amendment to expand the “conscience” provision in defense law. (Photo public domain)

A House Republican from Louisiana is proposing a measure to expand the “conscience provision” in defense law in a way that would make it easier for service members to harass their gay comrades, according to a copy of his amendment provided by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The amendment, proposed by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), puts the burden on the Pentagon to prove that the expression of religious beliefs would be an “actual harm” to good order and discipline in refusing to make an accommodation.

Further, the measure requires the Pentagon to implement regulations within 120 days after the defense secretary consults with “official¬†military¬†¬†faith-group¬†representatives¬†who¬†endorse¬†military¬†chaplains.”

Fleming introduced the amendment before the House Armed Services Committee as a proposed change to the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill. The markup of that bill started at 10 a.m. on Wednesday and is expected to conclude late in the evening.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the ACLU, said the language proposed by the three-term House Republican would have a detrimental impact on a commanding officer’s ability to protect gay service members from harassment.

“It would tie the hands of commanders, prohibiting them from responsibly addressing threats to unit cohesion that an accommodation might create,” Thompson said.

The amendment would expand an existing “conscience provision” already in the law that President Obama signed under Section 533 as part of the Fiscal Year 2013 Defense Authorization Act. At the time of the signing, Obama called it “unnecessary” and said he was signing the defense package under assurances the Pentagon wouldn’t “permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct.”

Sexual orientation isn’t mentioned anywhere in the amendment, nor in the existing provision in the law that it would expand, but the amendment is likely intended to protect anti-gay service members.

Fleming’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the amendment or to verify the language offered by the ACLU.

The language of the amendment as provided by the ACLU follows:

SEC. 5 EXPANSION AND IMPLEMENTATION OF PROTECTION OF RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE OF MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES AND CHAPLAINS OF SUCH MEMBERS

(a)¬†¬†ACCOMMODATION¬†¬†OF¬†MEMBERS’¬†¬†BELIEFS, ACTIONS,¬†¬†AJ’\JD¬†SPEECH.-Subsection¬†¬†(a)(1)¬†¬†¬†of¬†section 533¬†of¬†the¬†National¬†Defense¬†Authorization¬†¬†Act¬†for¬†Fiscal¬†Year¬†2013¬†¬†(Public¬†¬†Law¬†112-239;¬†126¬†¬†Stat.¬†¬†1727;¬†¬†10¬†¬†U.S.C.¬†prec.¬†1030¬†note)¬†is¬†amended -

(1) by striking “The¬†¬†Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs” and inserting “Except in cases of military necessity, the Armed¬†¬†Forces¬†¬†shall¬†accommodate¬†¬†the¬†¬†beliefs,¬†actions,¬†¬†and¬†¬†speech”;¬†¬†and

(2)¬†¬†by¬†¬†inserting¬†¬†¬†”,¬†¬†¬†actions,¬†¬†¬†or¬†¬†speech”¬†¬†¬†after¬†”such¬†¬†beliefs”.

(b)¬†NARROW¬†EXCEPTION.-Subsection¬†(a)(2)¬†¬†of this section¬†is¬†amended¬†by¬†striking¬†¬†”that¬†threaten”¬†and¬†inserting¬†”that¬†actually¬†harm”.

(c)   DEADLINE  FOR   REGULATIONS;    CONSULTATION.-The  implementation regulations required  by subsection  (c) of such  section  shall  be issued  not  later  than 120 days after the  enactment  of this  Act.  In preparing such regulations,  the Secretary of Defense shall consult  with  the  official military  faith-group representatives who endorse military chaplains.

05
Jun
2013

White House objects to ‚Äėconscience‚Äô language in defense bill

The White House “strongly objects” to “conscience” language aimed to make it easier for service members to harass their gay colleagues that was inserted to the House version of major defense budget legislation ‚ÄĒ while exercising a veto threat over the bill as a whole.

In a Statement of Administration Policy on Monday, the White House Office of Management and Budget says the language would undermine a commander’s authority to maintain discipline in his unit.

“The administration strongly objects to section 530, which would require the Armed Forces to accommodate, except in cases of military necessity, ‘actions and speech’ reflecting the “conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member,” the statement says. “By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment.”

The language was added last week to the House version of the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill as an amendment during the committee markup by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.)

Fleming‚Äôs measure puts the burden on the Pentagon to prove that the expression of religious beliefs would be an ‚Äúactual harm‚ÄĚ to good order and discipline in refusing to accommodate them. It’s seen as way for troops to harass their gay colleagues for religious reasons without fear of reprisal.

The language expands on existing “conscience” provision that were signed into law last year by President Obama, who at the time called them “unnecessary” and gave assurances the Pentagon would implement it in a way that was consistent with good order.

The White House enumerates other concerns over the defense legislation, such as the restrictions on the administration to align the armed forces in a way consistent with Obama’s military strategy.

The statement also objects to the way the defense authorization bill “assumes adoption of the House Budget Resolution framework,” saying Obama’s senior advisers would recommend a veto if the legislation were sent to this desk under this framework. No such veto threat is explicitly made for the conscience provision in the bill.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, says the ACLU is “pleased” the administration has objections to the language and called on Congress to remove language as the legislative process goes further.

“We are pleased to see the administration‚Äôs very strong objections to this unnecessary, dangerous provision,” Thompson said. “Members of Congress should heed the warnings about this provision having a ‘significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment’ by removing it before the defense bill is sent to President Obama later this year.”

Fleming’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the White House’s objections to the lawmaker’s amendment.

The House is expected to vote on its version of the defense authorization bill this week. Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee, where Democrats hold a majority, was set to consider its version of the legislation on Wednesday.

11
Jun
2013

Pentagon pressured to act on Nat’l Guard units denying gay benefits

Adam Smith, Congress, Washington, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Carl Levin (left) and Rep. Adam Smith are calling on the Pentagon to ensure gay troops can apply for spousal benefits at state National Guards. (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Top congressional Democrats on defense issues are calling on the Pentagon to take action as additional state National Guard units are refusing to process spousal benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, according to a letter obtained Wednesday by the Washington Blade.

In a letter dated Sept. 30, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) write to the Defense Department to express “deep concern” over the unwillingness of certain state National Guard units to process spousal benefits for troops in same-sex marriages.

“Recently, the states of Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Oklahoma have refused to issue or have stopped issuing ID cards in state facilities to same-sex spouses of service members,” the lawmakers write. “Citing statewide bans on marriage for same-sex couples, local policymakers have forced these spouses to travel to federal military installations to apply for their military benefits.”

The letter is significant because it’s the first time federal lawmakers have weighed in on the issue of National Guard units refusing benefit applications for same-sex couples and because Smith and Levin are the top Democrats on the House and Senate armed services committees.

Smith and Levin urge Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to take action to reaffirm guidance he issued in August saying spousal benefits for troops in same-sex marriages should be available nationwide following the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“We urge you to issue further guidance on this matter, reaffirming that all married military couples must be treated equally, and clarifying the state National Guards, because they are funded in large part by federal tax dollars, cannot choose to ignore this order by denying some lawfully married military couples equal access to the federal benefits to which they are entitled,” Smith and Levin write.

The number of state guard units that have announced they won’t issue spousal military IDs for troops in same-sex marriages continues to grow. On Tuesday, the South Carolina National Guard announced that in the wake of the decision, it would stop processing benefit applications altogether and direct all married couples ‚ÄĒ gay and straight to federal military installations.

According to American Military Partner Association, Indiana has started to deny benefits applications at state-run installations. The Indiana National Guard didn’t respond to a request to confirm that these benefits are being blocked. [UPDATE: After the initial publication of this article, the American Military Partner Association said Indiana rescinded the decision and will process same-sex spouses.]

Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association, echoed the sense of Smith and Levin and said the time has come for the federal government to take action.

“These service members and their families deserve better than to be treated poorly by state governors trying to score political points,” Peters said. “We again call on the Secretary of Defense for quick and decisive action.‚ÄĚ

The Obama administration has said little in response to the state National Guard units declining the benefit applications for same-sex troops despite the Pentagon directive saying these benefits should be made available even in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage. The Pentagon has directed troops to apply for these benefits at federal installations.

Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, declined to comment on the correspondence or its call for a federal response to the guards.

“It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the secretary’s correspondence,” Christensen said. “He responds directly to correspondence received.”

Ian Thompson, legislative representative from the American Civil Liberties Union, said the letter from House Democrats demonstrates that continued withholding of benefits at national guard installations “cannot go unaddressed.”

“The Department of Defense needs to reaffirm that, consistent with the Supreme Court‚Äôs ruling in¬†U.S. v. Windsor, all married military couples must be treated equally, and state National Guards cannot choose to ignore this order by denying some lawfully married couples equal access to the federal benefits to which they are entitled,” Thompson said.

03
Oct
2013

Obama signs ‚Äėconscience‚Äô clause-inclusive defense bill

President Obama signed into law Wednesday a defense bill including a "conscience" provision (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama signed into law Wednesday a defense bill including a “conscience” provision (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama signed into law a $633 billion package of major Pentagon budget legislation on Wednesday that includes a “conscience” provision prohibiting troops for being punished for their beliefs as he maintained the language “will not alter” the rights of gay service members.

In his signing statement, Obama identifies the conscience provision as one of many parts of the fiscal year 2013 defense authorization bill with which he disagrees ‚ÄĒ calling it “an unnecessary and ill-advised provision” ‚ÄĒ but says he’s received assurances from the Defense Department that its implementation won’t permit discriminatory actions or interfere with military discipline.

“Section 533 is an unnecessary and ill-advised provision, as the military already appropriately protects the freedom of conscience of chaplains and service members,” Obama said in the signing statement. “The Secretary of Defense will ensure that the implementing regulations do not permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct. My Administration remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members; Section 533 will not alter that.”

A bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers agreed to include the provision, known as Section 533, as part of the conference report for the defense legislation. At the time, most LGBT groups called the language disheartening, but determined it would have no substantive impact  on gay service members. However, the American Civil Liberties Union had strong objections to the language, saying it could lead to claims to discriminate and to opt-out of anti-harassment training.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the ACLU, said Obama’s interpretation of the “conscience” provision is “a welcome step” and the Pentagon should ensure implementation of the provision is consistent with that explanation.

“Providing this explanation of how Section 533 will be implemented by the Department of Defense was a welcome step from President Obama,” Thompson said. “Going forward, it is essential for DOD to ensure that no accommodation of religious belief or conscience can result in discrimination or harm to others.”

The provision is a watered-down version of an amendment inserted into the House version of the bill by outgoing Rep. W. Todd Akin (R-Mo.). The House language gave even greater leeway to troops and military chaplains and had more anti-gay overtones, saying the U.S. military must accommodate service members’ beliefs concerning “appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality.‚Ä̬†The conference report ultimately tamed this language in addition to omitting another provision found in the House bill that would have prohibited same-sex weddings on military bases.

03
Jan
2013

ENDA under review prior to April reintroduction

Jared Polis, Colorado, United States House of Representatives, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) acknowledged a review process is underway for ENDA. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A long-standing piece of pro-LGBT legislation is under review and may be redrafted prior to its expected introduction in the U.S. House next month.

In an interview with the Washington Blade on Wednesday, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the senior openly gay member of the U.S. House, announced that he plans to introduce in April the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a measure that would bar workplace discrimination against LGBT people.

“I’ll be the lead author of ENDA, which we are at least planning to reintroduce in April,” Polis said.

Multiple sources familiar with ENDA say the legislation is being reconsidered before its reintroduction in the 113th Congress, and maintain no final decisions on the bill have been made.

It’s unclear what the nature of the changes might be, but one source familiar with ENDA told the Washington Blade the bill is being reconsidered with respect to religious exemption and disparate impact to make the legislation’s protections stronger for LGBT workers than previously written.¬†The changes are being considered under the assumption the legislation won’t pass anyway with Republicans in control of the U.S. House.

ENDA has previously included a strong religious exemption. In the most recent version of the bill, Section 6 provided an exemption for religious organizations and businesses that were also exempt under Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964.

The legislation also avoided the issue of disparate impact. Under that doctrine, which is found under Title VII, a violation of the law may be found if an employer has a practice that discriminates against workers, even though it doesn’t seem discriminatory on its face.

For example, a company that says it won’t hire anyone for a job who’s shorter than 5’10″ could be found in violation of the law on the basis of gender discrimination because most women aren’t that tall. It’s unclear how disparate impact would apply to LGBT people.

Polis declined to identify any specific changes being contemplated to ENDA, but acknowledged a review process is underway.

“We’re going through ENDA now and have been working with many of the advocacy groups and my staff, and the [LGBT] Equality Caucus staff to make sure that concerns are addressed, and we’re going through that now,” Polis said.

In response to a follow-up question about whether changes would be made with respect to the religious exemption or disparate impact, Polis reiterated that a review process is happening.

“There haven’t been any decisions made yet about that,” Polis said. “We’re listening. We’re listening to folks in the equality community, and there are many different ideas on how to improve ENDA and we’re evaluating them and seeing where we have consensus.”

There may be other ways in which the bill is being reconsidered but no sources specifically identified any such changes to the Blade.

One possible change may be the way ENDA applies to small businesses. Under previous versions of the bill, the law would only apply to employers with 15 or more employees. Companies with fewer employees would be free to discriminate under federal law even if ENDA were passed.

LGBT advocacy groups that work on ENDA responded to the Blade’s inquiries on whether changes would be made to the bill by confirming the review process is underway.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said all pro-LGBT legislation is reviewed prior to reintroduction at the start of a new Congress.

“Every Congress, legislation is reviewed with an eye toward making any needed changes or improvements,” Sainz said. “The goal is always to better the lives of LGBT people. This process is underway with every piece of legislation.”

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, also acknowledged the review process and said he welcomes changes that would provide stronger protections for LGBT people.

“Prior to reintroduction in any Congress, legislation should always be reviewed in light of political and legal developments that may necessitate changes,” Thompson said. “I am firmly of the belief that this should always be done with an eye toward securing the strongest possible protections for LGBT people.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, declined to comment.

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) told SiriusXM Out Q’s Michelangelo Signorile in an interview this week that stakeholders are working the bill by “getting it in final form.”

‚ÄúRight now the author of the legislation is engaged in negotiations to put finishing touches on the version of the bill that will be introduced, perhaps right after the break for Easter and Passover,” Baldwin said.

It’s not yet clear whether the final language for ENDA ¬†in the House version of the bill sponsored by Polis and the Senate bill that Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has previously sponsored¬†would be identical.¬†Polis suggested the two versions of the bill may be different when asked if his introduction of ENDA would be concurrent with Merkley’s introduction of the bill.

“No decision made in terms of that,” Polis said. “Those are also [decisions] to be made in terms of do you do it on the same day, and do you do different versions or the same version. There are always all those decisions to be made around timing of bills.”

Jamal Raad, a Merkley spokesperson, said a bipartisan group of lawmakers is at work on ENDA prior to its reintroduction, identifying Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who’s been an original co-sponsor in the past.

“We are currently working with Senator Kirk‚Äôs team and stakeholders, and hope to reintroduce soon,” Raad said.

Asked if any changes would be made to ENDA, Raad replied, “We are reviewing the language with cosponsors and stakeholders, but no decision has been made.”

Stakeholders affirmed that they’re committed to ensuring the bill includes protections based on gender identity and expression.¬†Polis maintained he wants an inclusive bill.

“I’m firmly committed to ensuring this is an inclusive bill and will address the issue of discrimination in the transgender community,” Polis said.

Asked to clarify whether the gender identity protections would be modified in any way, Polis said a listening process is underway without identifying any change in particular.

“We are in the process of listening to folks in the equality community ‚ÄĒ both the transgender community as well as the gay community,” Polis said. “We’ve gotten a lot of good input into improving the bill. We’re trying to see where we can forge consensus, and again, no decisions have been made about the final language.”

In 2007, former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) invoked the ire of many in the LGBT community when he advanced a version of ENDA without the gender identity protections, saying the votes weren’t present to pass a transgender-inclusive bill. Frank later came to believe ENDA must be passed with gender identity protections.

 

21
Mar
2013

Polis reintroduces bill to protect LGBT students

Jared Polis, Colorado, United States House of Representatives, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has reintroduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The most senior openly gay member of the U.S. House on Thursday introduced legislation to protect LGBT students in public schools from bullying and harassment.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a former chair of the Colorado State Board of Education, announced during a conference call with reporters his plans to reintroduce the Student Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. House.

“We need to protect kids at school regardless of what adults think about the different ways that people live their lives,” Polis said. “Our schools need to be a safe place where everybody can go to learn; nobody should be forced to drop out or not attend school for fear. Education is the right of every student, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, SNDA establishes LGBT students as a protected class and prohibits schools from discriminating against any student based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including by allowing bullying against them. According to the LGBT Equality Caucus, the language in the new bill is the same as it has been in previous years.

The bill has bipartisan support right off the bat.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a former Florida certified teacher and is known as the most pro-LGBT Republican in the U.S. House, is among the original co-sponsors of SNDA.

“There are currently no protections for federal law against this discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity, so the federal law is failing LGBT students and this is an injustice that needs to be corrected,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

Ros-Lehtinen added she hopes that “every legislator ‚ÄĒ whether they’re Democrat or Republican” can look at the legislation “in a sensible way” and realize that LGBT students should be a protected class against discrimination.

Polis said each of the six openly LGB members of Congress ‚ÄĒ himself, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.) ‚ÄĒ are among the co-sponsors of the legislation. Polis also identified House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as an original co-sponsor.

Joining the lawmakers on the conference call was a student and a parent of a student who say they’ve experienced discrimination in schools based on LGBT status.

Becky Collins talked about how her son Zach Collins was bullied for being gay while attending school in Chillicothe, Ohio.

“I have called the school several times while he was in grade school, then middle school came ‚ÄĒ and it’s more hurtful words, it’s shoving him into the locker, it’s touching him inappropriately,” Collins said. “My son, he just kind of took it with a grain of salt, even though I kept calling, kept calling. They said, ‘We’ll talk to him. We’ll talk to him.’ And still nothing changed for my son.”

After this bullying led to her son being beaten in the classroom two years ago, Collins said she had to involve the local sheriff because the school wouldn’t take action. Instead, the school principal urged her son to be the one to make the change so that he would no longer be targeted.

“The principal looks at my son and says, ‘I don’t have any other problem with any other student but you. What can we do to change you?’” Collins said. “They wanted my son to change, not the children that are torturing him daily, shoving him into walls and lockers and touching him in places that you shouldn’t touch another person.”

Also on the call was Bayli Silberstein, a bisexual eighth grade student from Florida who spoke about the difficulties she’s facing in her attempts to create a Gay-Straight Alliance to address the bullying that she and her friends face.

“My friends and I tried to start one last year, and our principal said ‘no,’” Silberstein said. “But they already had some clubs; they had a Christian club and they had a bullying club. So I was a little confused, and I wanted to try again. And the principal said we had to submit it to the school board. They made a really big deal out of it, and tried to cancel all extracurricular clubs for every middle school in the county.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, students already have the right to form GSAs under the Equal Access Act, a 1984 law that compels secondary schools to provide equal access to extracurricular clubs.

Ellen Kahn, director of the Human Rights Campaign Family Project, offered statistics demonstrating the degree of bullying that LGBT students face in schools.

According to an HRC survey cited by Kahn, 64 percent of LGBT teens ‚ÄĒ compared to 47 percent of non-LGBT teens ‚ÄĒ never participate in afterschool activities out of fear of discrimination or bullying. She also said LGBT youth are twice as likely as their non-LGBT peers to experience to bullying or harassment in school.

“While most of the bullying and exclusion is the perpetuated by their peers, we also know that adults who work in our schools ‚ÄĒ from bus drivers, to teachers ‚ÄĒ engage in anti-LGBT behavior and discrimination as well,” Kahn said.

Passage of SNDA ‚ÄĒ as with any pro-LGBT bill ‚ÄĒ will be difficult along as a Republican majority controls the House, but Polis nonetheless saw an opportunity for passage if Congress takes up the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“There’s dozens, if not hundreds, of education bills and certainly a number of others that I co-sponsor that we hope to include in ESEA reauthorization,” Polis said. “We don’t know the overall likelihood of ESEA reauthorization, but it certainly remains one of my top priorities, and of course, including SNDA as part of that is critical.”

Last year, LGBT groups urged the Senate Education Labor and Pensions Committee to include SNDA when it marked up ESEA reauthorization. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who has sponsored SNDA in the Senate, gave an impassioned speech against anti-gay bullying before the committee, but withdrew the measure as an amendment. After the larger vehicle was reported out of committee, it didn’t go anywhere and ultimately died in the Senate.

Polis acknowledged another more challenging route for the bill is passage of the measure as a standalone bill through a markup process in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The Colorado said he intends to speak with Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) about the legislation to pursue this path, but the more co-sponsors would build pressure on him to markup the bill.

LGBT groups praised SNDA upon Polis reintroduction of the bill as means to ensure LGBT youth are protected from discrimination and harassment while attending school.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the ACLU, was among those who hailed the bill and called it “the single most important step” that Congress could take to help LGBT students.

‚ÄúThough the pace of positive progress on LGBT rights over the past several years has been dizzying, there is shockingly no federal law that explicitly protects LGBT students from discrimination and harassment in our nation‚Äôs public schools,” Thompson said. “We urge Congress to pass this bipartisan legislation and in doing so affirm that every student deserves the opportunity to attend school and learn without fear.”

On the same day that Polis introduced SNDA, a group of more than 82 advocacy organizations sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to sign on in support of the legislation.

“The Student Non-Discrimination Act presents us with a historic opportunity to offer critical protections to current and future generations of LGBT youth and their student allies by ensuring that discrimination against and harassment of students on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity will have no place in our country‚Äôs public elementary and secondary schools,” the letter states.

Signers of the letter include LGBT groups, such as the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and Log Cabin Republicans, and other groups, such as the ACLU, the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza.

The exact timing for Senate introduction of SNDA is unknown. A Senate aide said Franken is planning on introducing the bill in the upcoming weeks.

Another bill that would address anti-gay bullying is the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would require schools to adopt codes of conduct against bullying, including on the basis of LGBT status, and report bullying data to Department of Education Education. That legislation is sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) in the House and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in the Senate.

Following calls from LGBT advocates, the White House announced last year that President Obama had endorsed both SNDA and SSIA. Asked whether Obama still holds the position on both bills today, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said Obama supports “the goals” of SNDA.

“We support the goals of the Student Non-Discrimination Act introduced by Congressman Polis today,” Inouye said. “We look forward to working with Congress to ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying, and harassment.”

18
Apr
2013