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Mississippi city passes LGBT ordinance

Oxford, Mississippi, gay news, Washington Blade

Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Kathy Jean; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

OXFORD, Miss.–A third Mississippi city has passed a resolution in support of adding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to its diversity statement.

The Oxford Board of Aldermen on March 4 unanimously approved the resolution.

“Tolerance and acceptance creates the strongest bonds between neighbors,” said Alderman Jay Hughes in a Human Rights Campaign press release. “I am proud to be on the right side of history in reaffirming Oxford’s long-standing commitment to that most fundamental principle.”

Hattiesburg last month added LGBT-specific language to its diversity statement. The Starkville Board of Alderman in January approved the state’s first pro-LGBT municipal resolution.

05
Mar
2014

EU dumps gays, says Ukraine can have visa-free travel without “non-negotiable” LGBT non-discrim guarantee

Ukraine and the EU have conspired to undermine the human rights of gay and trans Ukrainians.

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24
Mar
2014

Lesbian EEOC commissioner re-nominated for 2nd term

Chai Feldblum, gay news, Washington Blade

Chai Feldblum was renominated for a 2nd term on the EEOC (Photo courtesy of Feldblum)

A lesbian member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is poised to serve another term after having played a part in a ruling that provided non-discrimination protections to transgender workers.

On Thursday, the White House announced that President Obama has selected Chai Feldblum for another five-year term on the bipartisan panel, which enforces federal laws against workplace discrimination.

Feldblum, the first openly LGBT person to serve on the EEOC, is credited with coordinating a unanimous decision last year in the case of Macy v. Holder that interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect transgender people. The commission reasoned the existing prohibition against gender bias in the workplace applies to transgender people.

Tico Almeida, president of the LGBT group Freedom to Work, praised Feldblum’s re-nomination and said she has “worked tirelessly to build bi-partisan consensus” to improve employment laws.

“Feldblum deserves our praise not only for her leading role in the unanimous EEOC decision in Macy v. Holder, but also for her leadership in drafting the EEOC’s new Strategic Enforcement Plan, which explicitly lists workplace protections for LGBT Americans among the Commission’s national priorities,” Almeida said. “Commissioner Feldblum has demonstrated a strong commitment to opening the EEOC’s doors to the LGBT victims of unfair discrimination who were previously turned away when they sought help from the Commission.”

Prior to serving on the EEOC, Feldblum was a nationally recognized gay rights attorney. She’s credited with the drafting the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has yet to become law.

She’s also had experience in LGBT activism. Feldblum was the legal director for the Campaign for Military Service, a group that unsuccessfully fought in the early 1990′s against the enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She’s also the partner of Nan Hunter, a Georgetown University law professor with experience in LGBT cases.

Feldblum’s initial nomination to the EEOC faced difficulties in the Senate. One or more unidentified senators placed a secret hold on her and four other EEOC nominees. In March 2010, Obama cleared the way for her to serve by making a recess appointment. The Senate later confirmed her in December 2010.

24
May
2013

DeMaurice Smith: We must act to realize King’s dream for all

DeMaurice Smith, National Football League, NFL Players Association, gay news, Washington Blade

DeMaurice Smith is executive director of the NFL Players Association and is responsible for empowering, protecting and improving the lives of members past, present and future. (Photo by the NFL Players Association via Wikimedia Commons)

By DeMAURICE SMITH

When we engage in a dialogue about the meaning of our own history, we have to accept that this history can have both an empowering and corrupting influence on all of us. The real issue isn’t simply the existence of the historical fact, but also the significance that we attach to it.

However, every now and then, we can identify an event that is indisputably empowering and the significance of it is universally accepted as something that impacted the course of our nation’s history.

Aug. 28, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of one such event: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The March was the vision of A. Philip Randolph, the Union leader of the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Care Porters, who drew the support of not only Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and future Congressman John Lewis, but hundreds of thousands who chose this day to make their statement, voice their support and leave their mark on the history that they committed themselves to create.

The significance that I attach to this is rooted in the fact that everyone on that day chose to participate in a movement despite not knowing how this bold story would end. Medgar Evers had been assassinated just two months prior to the March and six little girls would die in a Birmingham church due to a coward’s bomb only a month after the March. These were by no means safe times. In fact one of the thousands who made that March that day was my father, my mother, pregnant with me stayed home uncertain of the outcome of a daring public display that was opposed by several public officials.  When you ask my father why he went, he simply says: “I had to go.”

Today, our fear should be that as generations move on, we forget or fail to recognize the significance of bold steps by ordinary and extraordinary people who dare to make history and thus fail to seize our own days for a better future. The only way to overcome that fear is to employ just some of the same courage that we are blessed to remember occurred 50 years ago.

Our nation’s love of sports has made professional athletes some of the most visible figures in America’s social change. We hold up icons such as Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens and Kenny Washington because we understand that fighting for equality is our duty, and because driving progress is a legacy of which we are proud. We draw strength from the significance we attach to their stands, their fights, and their accomplishments.

We have to know that there will always be a battle for equal rights, and that there will always be the necessity for a civil rights movement. The significance of that fact is that there will always be those who will need to fight for their rights and there will always be those who believe certain people shouldn’t have them and will commit themselves to taking away the rights as they currently exist.  The reality is that while we can always hope and bear witness to “change,” we know that there is still work to be done.

In the most recent NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL Players Association insisted that the non-discrimination section be amended to address today’s fight: “There will be no discrimination in any form against any player by the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.”

The addition of two words, sexual orientation, could have been easily overlooked, but their inclusion speaks volumes to our belief that every individual deserves to be treated and protected equally under the law.

The legacy of the March on Washington is for us to remember that it was a fight for jobs and freedom. That legacy means we will need the individual courage to act and the inspiration of others to act without assurances of how it will all “work out.”  Dr. King knew and believed that, despite what others might say, the cause and sacrifice was not only right but the dedication to others (some not yet born) required it. Our actions must become the pathway to realizing his continued dream of equality for all.

DeMaurice Smith is executive director of the NFL Players Association and is responsible for empowering, protecting and improving the lives of members past, present and future.

27
Aug
2013

Fla. lobbying efforts pay off after 7 years

Boca Raton, Florida, gay news, Washington Blade

The City Council of Boca Raton, Fla., voted to extend health insurance partner benefits to same-sex municipal employees. (Photo public domain)

WILTON MANORS, Fla. — The City Council of Boca Raton, Fla., voted 4-1 last week to update its 47-year-old anti-discrimination policy and extend the same health insurance partner benefits to same-sex municipal employees that it offers opposite-sex partners, South Florida Gay News reported.

Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, had been lobbying the group for years, the paper reported.

Between Hoch’s first request seven years ago and the city’s vote to expand coverage last week, in January 2011 the city council voted to opt out of a Palm Beach County Equal Employment Ordinance that protected its LGBT employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, the Gay News reported.

“No city resident asked for this invidious action to be taken,” Hoch was quoted as having said in the Gay News article. He credited Ahnell and City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser with the legal maneuver in a press release.

“There is no record of any elected officials, anywhere in the United States of America, who have opted out of any civil rights laws in this century, and perhaps longer,” Hoch said in the article.

But during the vote to expand equal protection and insurance benefits for the city’s LGBT employees, however, Boca Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie, now a 2014 mayoral candidate, took a different position.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Haynie said, according to the South Florida Gay News report.

18
Sep
2013

HRC pledges $25K match for Md. trans fight

Gay News, Washington Blade, Carrie Evans, Gay Maryland, gender identity

‘Without HRC, we would not have won,’ said Equality Maryland’s Carrie Evans of the state’s marriage fight. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

At the conclusion of Equality Maryland’s 25th Anniversary Brunch on Oct. 27, there was a challenge from Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign that his organization will match up to $25,000 in donations to Equality Maryland to help pass a statewide gender identity non-discrimination law. Following that announcement, thousands of dollars were pledged by supporters in attendance. The last total available indicated Equality Maryland still lacked $8,000 toward the goal.

Earlier in the proceedings Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, praised HRC for its efforts and contributions toward winning the ballot referendum on same-sex marriage.  “Without HRC, we would not have won,” she said.

06
Nov
2013

Herring unveils LGBT agenda

Mark Herring, gay news, Washington Blade, gay virginia

Mark Herring says he will push for greater protections for transgender, lesbian, bisexual and gay Virginia residents. (Photo courtesy of Herring for Attorney General)

Virginia attorney general candidate Mark Herring on Friday unveiled an agenda he maintains would extend equality to transgender, lesbian, bisexual and gay Virginia residents.

The Democratic state senator who represents portions of Loudoun and Fairfax Counties said during a conference call that he would adopt a non-discrimination policy in the Attorney General’s office that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Herring also stressed he would support boards of visitors of the commonwealth’s public colleges and universities’ efforts to ban anti-gay discrimination against their employees and students — current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in 2010 recommended these institutions remove LGBT-specific provisions from their non-discrimination policies.

Herring said he would work with local school districts to implement anti-bullying policies that “protect all students.” He added he would continue to oppose efforts to ban students from forming Gay-Straight Alliances.

Herring, who also supports marriage rights for same-sex couples, said he would work with advocates to end what he described as Virginia’s discriminatory adoption and foster care policies to ensure “placement decisions are always based on the best interests of the child and that no child in Virginia is denied a loving home.”

“I am committed to an equality agenda because I believe it’s time we have an attorney general who will protect and defend the civil rights of all Virginians,” he said. “It’s important for folks to understand that defending the civil rights of Virginians is not just an abstract concept.”

Herring spoke with reporters three days after the Washington Blade reported Cuccinelli, who will likely face former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe in the commonwealth’s November’s gubernatorial election, asked the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond to review a three-judge panel’s decision last month that struck down Virginia’s sodomy law.

“Ken Cuccinelli is wrong on this,” Herring said.

Herring further criticized Cuccinelli for his opposition to other LGBT-specific issues in the commonwealth.

“Ken Cuccinelli has taken action and supported policies that are divisive,” he said. “They’ve hurt Virginians; they’ve damaged the state’s reputation.”

Gay Virginia Sen. Ebbin to chair ‘LGBT Virginians for Herring’

Herring, who would face either state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) or state Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) in November if he defeats former assistant U.S. attorney Justin Fairfax in the Democratic primary in June, also announced the formation of an LGBT steering committee that gay Virginia state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) will chair.

“The public is more than ready for an attorney general like Mark Herring who not only covered the gamut of issues, but particularly stands up for equality,” Ebbin said, referring to Cuccinelli’s opposition to abortion and other issues. “Not only are they ready for it, they expect it. Mark will meet those needs.”

Former Alexandria City Council candidate Sean Holihan; former Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Kris McLaughlin; LGBT rights advocates Danny Barefoot and Seth Morrison; Richmond resident Jim Schuyler and Charley Conrad, former chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia’s LGBT Caucus, are also part of the “LGBT Virginians for Herring” steering committee.

“We cannot afford to have any more of this craziness come out of the attorney general’s office,” Conrad, who is a substitute teacher in Arlington and Fairfax County schools, said. “The attorney general is the person that can look out for all the citizens of Virginians and not just some of the citizens of Virginia.”

05
Apr
2013

Pa. lawmakers introduce non-discrimination bill

Brian Sims, Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Rep. Brian Sims is co-sponsoring a non-discrimination bill in Pennsylvania. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

HARRISBURG, Pa.—Pennsylvania lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a bill that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations in the commonwealth.

Gay state Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) co-sponsored the Pennsylvania Non-Discrimination Act alongside state Reps. Dan Frankel (D-Pittsburgh) and Chris Ross (R-Kennett Square) and state Sens. Daylin Leach (D-Wayne,) Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) and Pat Browne (R-Allentown) in their respective chambers.

“I’ve been prepping for this, like many of my colleagues, for a long time,” Sims said.

Philadelphia Weekly reported state Rep. Mike Fleck (R-Three Springs,) who came out as gay late last year, also attended the Harrisburg press conference at which Sims and other legislators formally introduced the bill.

08
May
2013

Small Kentucky village bars job bias

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

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

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

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

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

17
Jan
2013

Mixed reaction to Boy Scouts plan on gay members

Zach Walls, gay news, Washington Blade, Boy Scouts of America

‘This would be an incredible step forward in the right direction,’ said Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and founder of the group Scouts for Equality. (Photo courtesy of Change.org)

A statement issued by the Boy Scouts of America on Monday saying the organization is considering dropping its national policy banning gay scouts and scout leaders was hailed by LGBT advocates as an important breakthrough in the fight for equality.

But two of the nation’s leading anti-gay groups warned that if the BSA’s board votes next week to drop its ban on gays, as predicted by sources familiar with the Boy Scouts, it would lead to a “mass exodus” of scouts and scout leaders from traditional, religious-oriented families and communities.

In its statement released on Monday, the BSA said the change it was considering would allow the religious, civic and educational organizations that are chartered to operate scouting units throughout the country to make the final decision on whether or not to accept gays.

“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation,” the statement says.

“This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs,” says the statement.

“BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families,” it says.

NBC News, which first reported that BSA was considering lifting its gay ban prior to the release of the statement, also reported that the organization was expected to approve the changes at a board of directors meeting within the next week.

Janelle Moritz, a public relations representative for the Boy Scouts of America, told the Blade she could not confirm the NBC report about the timing of a board meeting or what the board would decide. She said BSA would not comment on the matter beyond what it said in its statement, which doesn’t say when the group will decide on the issue.

Other news media outlets, however, reported that BSA sources confirmed that the board meeting would take place next week, mostly likely at the BSA national headquarters in Irving, Texas.

“The Boy Scouts of America have heard from scouts, corporations, and millions of Americans that discriminating against gay scouts and scout leaders is wrong,” said Herndon Graddick, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. “Scouting is a valuable institution and this change will only strengthen its core principles of fairness and respect,” he said.

“This would be an incredible step forward in the right direction,” said Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and founder of the group Scouts for Equality. “We look forward to working with BSA Councils and chartering organizations across the country to end the exclusion of our gay brothers in scouting, as well as the gay and lesbian leaders who serve the organizations so well.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Boy Scouts’ expected policy change follows the growing support for LGBT equality from the American people.

“The pulse of equality is strong in America, and today it beats a bit faster with news that the Boy Scouts may finally put an end to its long history of discrimination,” Griffin said in a statement. “Our nation and its leaders respect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens, and it’s time the Boy Scouts echo those values.”

A far different response emerged from leaders of the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, two national conservative groups that oppose LGBT rights.

“The Boy Scouts of America board would be making a serious mistake to bow to the strong-arm tactics of LGBT activists and open the organization to homosexuality,” said FRC President Tony Perkins in a statement.

“The mission of the Boy Scouts is to ‘instill values in young people’ and ‘prepare them to make ethical choices,’ and the Scouts’ oath includes a pledge ‘to do my duty to God’ and keep himself ‘morally straight,” he said. “It is entirely reasonable and not at all unusual for those passages to be interpreted as requiring abstinence from homosexual conduct.”

The American Family Associated posted on its website a column by anti-gay advocate Bryan Fischer, who quipped that Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant coach convicted on child molestation charges, would become “the new poster boy” for the Boy Scouts.

“This move, unless the BSA dramatically reverses itself in the immediate future, represents the capitulation to the forces of sexual deviancy,” he said. “The Scouts will have made a deliberate decision to put the sexual integrity of every young man in their care at risk.”

Within a day of the BSA’s announcement that it was considering changing its policy on gay scouts and scout leaders, the FRC and the American Family Association posted appeals on their websites urging members and supporters to call the BSA to urge the group to leave its ban on gays in place.

“As the BSA board meets next week, it is crucial that they hear from those who stand with them and their current policy regarding homosexuality,” FRC said.

Possibly in anticipation of strong opposition by conservative and religious groups, the BSA emphasized in its own statement that the change would allow local units to decide whether or not to admit gays.

“The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a policy to units, members, or parents,” the statement says. “Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs.”

The BSA website says more than 100,000 scouting units are owned and operated by independent chartered organizations.

“Of these, 64.9 percent of all units are chartered to faith-based organizations, 22.7 percent of all units are chartered to civic organizations, and 7.9 percent of all units are chartered to educational organizations,” it says.

It says the chartered organizations are responsible for providing meeting facilities, providing “quality leadership for the scouting unit,” and appointing a representative to coordinate unit operations

A list of BSA chartered organizations posted on its website shows a wide range of religious and civic groups that are likely to differ on whether or not to admit gay scouts and scout leaders.

Among them are the Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and “Baptist Churches,” which traditionally have condemned homosexuality. Others, however, include the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church and Lutheran churches, which have had more accepting policies toward LGBT people.

Civic groups listed on the BSA website as chartered organizations include local Chambers of Commerce, Lions and Rotary clubs, American Legion organizations, Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, YMCA groups, “non-profit agencies,” and “home owners” groups.

The BSA’s statement saying it is considering removing its national policy banning gay scouts and scout leaders comes seven months after the BSA announced it had conducted a two-year review of the ban and decided to leave it in place.

Monday’s announcement also comes after several prominent corporations, including United Parcel Service and Intel Corporation, withdrew as BSA financial sponsors, saying the gay ban violated their corporate polices of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Others opposing the Boy Scouts ban on gays have organized online petition drives that have gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures calling on the BSA to drop its gay ban.

Among those drawing attention to efforts to end the ban is Eagle Scout Wahls of Iowa, who is straight but has spoken publically about his two lesbian moms.

Sharon Brackett, co-founder and board chair of the statewide transgender advocacy organization Gender Rights Maryland, said she experienced firsthand how at least some Boy Scout troops and the chartered organizations that operate them are LGBT supportive.

Brackett said she served as a scout master for the local Boy Scout troop in Savage, Md., where her sons were members, before she transitioned from male to female. She said after taking a break during her transition period, the troop and a local Methodist church that served as the chartered organization, welcomed her back once she completed her gender transition.

“My experience has been positive,” she said, noting that women have long served as Boy Scout troop leaders and officials in the chartered organization covering her area had no problem with her coming back.

Brackett said she supports the proposed change by the BSA to leave it up to the chartered organizations to decide whether gay scouts or troops can be admitted. At least in Maryland, she said, there are enough local troops and chartered organizations to choose from that would result in gay youth finding one that will be welcoming.

“Having that choice is the best next step for us at this time,” she said.

30
Jan
2013