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Perez says ENDA executive order under consideration

Labor Thomas Perez said the administration continues to "contemplate" the issue of an ENDA executive order (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Labor Thomas Perez said the administration continues to “contemplate” the issue of an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said Wednesday the issue of an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors is something ”we continue to contemplate and work on” as he declined to comment on whether his department could implement the order.

Under questioning by the Washington Blade, Perez said during a surprise appearance at the regular White House news briefing that he’s aware of the long-sought directive to protect workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I can’t get into what ifs,” Perez said. “I’m certainly aware of the executive order that was proposed that you’re talking about, and the president takes a back seat to no one in his commitment for equal access to opportunity for people regardless of race, religious, sexual orientation or gender identity. And it’s an issue that we continue to contemplate and work on.”

Sources close to the administration have already told the Washington Blade the Labor Department, as well as the Justice Department, have already green-lighted the executive order for the White House.

Also during the briefing, Perez was asked by the Blade whether the Labor Department would apply Executive Order 11246 — the existing directive that prohibits gender discrimination among federal contractors — to transgender workers in the wake of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s decision two years ago in Macy v. Holder.

“That issue is under review in the aftermath of the Macy decision,” Perez said. “I’ve asked my staff to expedite that review so that we can bring that issue to a conclusion at the Department of Labor.”

Asked when the process of review would come to an end, Perez said, “I’m hoping it will to come to an end as soon as possible.”

As Buzzfeed notes, his comments indicate the Labor Department isn’t currently implementing the existing executive order to protect transgender workers in the same way that Title VII is enforced — even though that law governs the enforcement of the executive order.

Ever since the decision two years ago in Macy v. Holder, which interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect transgender workers from discrimination, the Labor Department previously hasn’t responded to requests for comment on whether it will implement Executive Order 11246 to protect transgender workers.

Buzzfeed published a series of reports saying the Labor Department has refused to comment on whether it would extend the protections via executive order. Most recently, a Buzzfeed reporter was blocked from accessing a news conference with Perez on Monday reportedly because officials didn’t believe he would ask questions relevant to the veterans event.

With regard to a new executive order for both sexual orientation and gender identity, Perez’s remarks that the administration continues to “contemplate” the issue is consistent with White House counselor John Podesta’s remarks that the directive is “under consideration” as well as other hints the order is coming.

But when Reuters’ Jeff Mason followed up during the same briefing on Perez’ “contemplate” comments, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney attempted to tamp them down and reiterated support for legislation known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. However, Carney spoke generally about discussions taking place.

“I think what I can say is what I’ve said in the past is that I don’t have updates for you on obviously the discussion in Washington and beyond about that kind of executive action,” Carney said. “What our position is and has been is that we strongly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We note the progress made in the Senate, there’s been movement in the Senate, against some of the conventional wisdom, we’ve seen movement on this.”

Carney concluded, “I just don’t have any update on the discussion around other hypothetical EOs, and I think that’s what Secretary Perez has indicated.”

Asked by Reuters for clarification about whether the media should read any shift from the administration in Perez’s remarks, Carney spoke broadly about “opportunities” under examination.

“I think broadly speaking, the administration looks at all opportunities to advance an agenda that expands opportunity that levels the playing field that sustains the equal opportunity for all that is part of the president’s vision,” Carney said. “That’s a broad matter. On specific, would the president do this executive action or that executive action? That list could be endless, and I don’t have any update for you that kind of proposition.”

Workplace protections issues weren’t the only LGBT matter that came up during the briefing. CBS News’ Major Garrett asked for an update from the White House on Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, who recently came out as gay, seeking placement on a team in the NFL.

Carney said since the last White House briefing he talked to President Obama about the development, but didn’t convey whether Obama called Sam as he did with NBA player Jason Collins.

“I don’t have any details on the president’s conversations or phone calls,” Carney said. “I can tell you that I have spoken about this with him and he, like the first lady, like so many others, admires Michael Sam’s courage and believes that the action he’s taken is an important step and looks forward to seeing him playing in the NFL.”

A transcript of the exchanges on workplace issues follow:

Washington Blade: Speaking of executive orders, there’s been a lot of discussion recently about a potential executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. If the President were to sign such an executive order, could the Labor Department implement it?

Secretary Tom Perez: Well, I can’t get into what-ifs. I’m certainly aware of the executive order that was proposed that you’re talking about. And the President takes a backseat to no one in his commitment for equal access to opportunity for people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. And it’s an issue that we continue to contemplate and work on.

Blade: On a related note, there’s also been talk about implementing existing order — Executive Order 11246, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, and apply that to transgender workers to prohibit discrimination against them in the wake of Macy v. Holder. Will the Labor Department take that step?

Perez: That issue is under review in the aftermath of the Macy decision. And I’ve asked my staff to expedite that review so that we can bring that issue to conclusion at the Department of Labor.

Washington Blade: When will the review come to an end?

Perez: I’m hoping it will come to an end as soon as possible.

Reuters: Jay, two questions. One, I’d like to follow up on something that Secretary Perez said in response to Chris’s question. Is the administration contemplating executive action on LGBT workplace non-discrimination? That was the word that he used.

Jay Carney: Well, I think what I can say to that is what I’ve said in the past, is that I don’t have any updates for you on obviously the discussion in Washington and beyond about that kind of executive action. What our position is and has been is that we strongly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We note the progress made in the Senate, the fact that there’s been movement in the Senate on this, and I think against some of the conventional wisdom we’ve seen movement on this.

On the broader range of issues around LGBT rights, we’ve seen dramatic progress, and we’re going to keep pressing Congress to catch up with the country on these issues. Turning the Employment Non-Discrimination Act into law would be a huge step forward by Congress, and the President looks forward to that happening. But I just don’t have any update on the discussion around other hypothetical EOs, and I think that’s what Secretary Perez was indicating.

Reuters: It wasn’t a hypothetical, so I just wanted to clarify, should we read into that any sort of a shift in the position of maybe going away from just a congressional push back to the possibility of an executive order?

Jay Carney: I think broadly speaking, the administration looks at all opportunities to advance an agenda that expands opportunity, that levels the playing field, that sustains equal opportunity for all that is part of the President’s vision. That’s as a broad matter. On specific — would the President do this executive action or that executive action, I mean, that list could be endless, and I don’t have any update for you on that kind of proposition.

What I can tell you is that it is our policy position that the House ought to and the Congress ought to send the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the President’s desk so he can sign it into law.

12
Feb
2014

ENDA’s long, frustrating path

Bella Abzug, ENDA, Democratic Party, New York, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Bella Abzug (Photo public domain)

May 1974 — Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), along with Rep. Ed Koch (D-N.Y.), introduce the Equality Act, which would have amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation under the protected classes for employment as well as housing and public accommodations.

 

Gerry Studds, ENDA, Democratic Party, Massachusetts, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Gerry Studds (Washington Blade photo by Clint Steib)

June 1994 — Gay Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) introduces the modern version of ENDA, which includes protections only for employment.

 

Ted Kennedy, ENDA, Democratic Party, United States Senate, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Edward Kennedy (Washington Blade photo by Doug Hinckle)

July 1994 — Under the leadership of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Senate Committee on Labor & Human Resources holds the first-ever congressional hearing on ENDA. Lesbian attorney Chai Feldblum is among the witnesses.

October 1994 — Running for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney pledges in a letter to the Log Cabin Republicans to co-sponsor ENDA “and if possible broaden to include housing and credit.” Romney would later say in 2006 he sees no need for ENDA before he pursued his presidential bid.

September 1996 — A deal is struck in the Senate to bring ENDA to a floor vote along with the Defense of Marriage Act. Although DOMA passes the Senate by a wide margin, ENDA fails narrowly by a 49-50 vote.

 

Bill Clinton, Democratic Party, Arkansas, gay news, Washington Blade

President Bill Clinton (Official White House Photo by Barbara Kinney public domain)

January 1999 — President Bill Clinton becomes the first U.S. president to call for ENDA passage during a State of the Union address, saying discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation “is wrong, and it ought to be illegal.”

April 2002 — Under the leadership of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reports out ENDA to the Senate floor. The legislation never sees a floor vote.

 

Barney Frank, Massachusetts, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Barney Frank (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

April 2007 — Gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) introduces a version of ENDA in the House that for the first time includes language barring employment discrimination against transgender people.

September 2007 — Much to the consternation of LGBT advocates, Frank introduces a new version of ENDA that strips the bill of its transgender provisions, saying the votes are lacking in the House to pass a trans-inclusive bill.

October 2007 — Even though the bill has been stripped of its transgender protections, the Human Rights Campaign is a signatory to a letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights urging members of Congress to continue to support ENDA.

November 2007 — The sexual orientation-only version of ENDA passes the House by a 235-184 vote. It’s never brought up for a Senate vote.

 

Barack Obama, ENDA, United States of America, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

May 2008 — In a heated primary with Hillary Clinton, then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama vows in an open letter to the LGBT community to “place the weight of my administration” behind the enactment of a fully inclusive ENDA.

June 2009 — Following the inauguration of President Obama, Frank again introduces a transgender-inclusive version of ENDA, saying “we’re beyond” any possibility of removing that language.

August 2009 — Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduces a trans-inclusive ENDA. It’s the first time a Senate version of the bill contains protections for the transgender community.

 

Thomas Perez, Obama Administration, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Thomas Perez (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 2009 — Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez testifies on behalf of the Obama administration before the Senate, calling the bill “a top legislative priority for the Obama administration.”

 

Nancy Pelosi, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, California, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

June 2010 — After the House votes on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tells the Washington Blade a House vote on ENDA won’t take place until the Senate acts on the military’s gay ban. The House never acts on ENDA before Democrats lose control of the chamber.

 

Kylar Broadus (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kylar Broadus (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

June 2012 — Kylar Broadus testifies on behalf of ENDA before the Senate HELP Committee, becoming the first openly transgender person to testify before the chamber.

April 2013 — Gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduces ENDA as its new chief sponsor in the U.S. House following the retirement of Barney Frank.

June 2013 — President Obama makes ENDA passage a major component of his speech during a Pride reception at the White House, saying, “We can make that happen — because after the last four and a half years, you can’t tell me things can’t happen.”

July 2013 — Under the chairmanship of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions reports out on ENDA by 15-7 vote, marking the first time a trans-inclusive bill has passed out of committee.

November 2013 — The Senate votes 64-32 on a bipartisan basis to approve ENDA, marking the first time the chamber has passed ENDA and the first time either chamber of Congress has passed a version of the bill with transgender protections.

 

John Boehner, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

House Speaker John Boehner (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 2013 — House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he sees “no basis or no need” for ENDA when asked by the Washington Blade if he’ll allow a vote on the bill. The House has yet to vote on the legislation.

14
May
2014

Labor Dept. to protect trans employees under current policy

Thomas Perez, Obama Administration, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Thomas Perez announced the Labor Department will transgender workers under current policy (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Following persistent questions over the course of more than two years, the Labor Department announced on Tuesday that it’s set to extend employment non-discrimination protections under current policy to transgender workers.

In a blog post on Monday, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez announced his department is set to prepare guidance to make clear that anti-trans discrimination is discrimination based on sex.

“As we celebrate Pride month and approach the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the Labor Department is reaffirming its commitment to equal opportunity for all,” Perez said. “That’s why we are updating enforcement protocols and anti-discrimination guidance to clarify that we provide the full protection of the federal non-discrimination laws that we enforce to transgender individuals.”

LGBT advocates had been pushing for the Labor Department to interpret Executive Order 11246, which prohibits gender discrimination among federal contractors, to protect trans workers from bias in the workforce. In February, Perez told the Washington Blade during a White House news briefing that the decision on whether to extending these protections to trans workers was “under review.”

Implementing the existing directive to protect trans workers would be consistent with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s 2012 decision in Macy v. Holder, which determined that trans discrimination amounts to gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

In his blog post, Perez said the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which is responsible for enforcing Executive Order 11246, will issue the guidance along with the Civil Rights Center and the Employment & Training Administration. Further, Perez says the Labor Department will seek additional opportunities to extend protections under the law to trans workers.

“Our workforce and our entire economy are strongest when we embrace diversity to its fullest, and that means opening doors of opportunity to everyone and recognizing that the American dream excludes no one,” Perez concludes.

A Labor Department spokesperson said the new updates would apply wherever the department interprets or enforces sex-based nondiscrimination laws. The question of retroactivity will be determined based on appropriate legal principles for the relevant programs, the spokesperson said.

Unknown is the timing for when the guidance will be formally handed down. The spokesperson said the policy change is an ongoing effort and the department will continue to examine its programs and issue updated guidance as appropriate.

The development comes on the heels of an announcement from President Obama that he’s poised to take related actions by signing two executive orders: one barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, the other barring discrimination on the basis of gender identity for federal workers.

In the wake of these decisions, interpreting trans protections under current policy may be redundant.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, praised the move from the Obama administration.

“With the impending signing of the President’s two gender identity executive orders, we are very pleased that Secretary Perez agrees with us on the need to publicly clarify the law that the Department enforces,” Keisling said.

01
Jul
2014

New guidance grants gay couples access to pension benefits

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez has issued new guidance for giving gay couples health care and pension benefits (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Gay workers are now fully eligible to participate with their spouses in employer-provided health care and pension benefits plans organized under federal law — even if they live in a state that doesn’t recognize their marriage — thanks to new guidance issued in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

On Wednesday, the Labor Department issued guidance stating that the definition of “spouse” and “marriage” would now include married gay couples under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

“This is the most natural reading of those terms; it is consistent with Windsor, in which the plaintiff was seeking tax benefits under a statute that used the term ‘spouse’; and a narrower interpretation would not further the purposes of the relevant statutes and regulations,” the guidance states.

Most large corporations operating in multiple states organize their health care and pension plans under ERISA to bypass state laws and achieve a standardized system for employees working across the country. Whereas previously a company would not have recognized an employee’s same-sex spouse as a beneficiary, from this point forward, the spouse will now be designated as such.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez noted the significance of the Windsor decision in a statement accompanying the news of the guidance.

“This decision represents a historic step toward equality for all American families, and I have directed the department’s agency heads to ensure that they are implementing the decision in a way that provides maximum protection for workers and their families,” Perez said. “The department plans to issue additional guidance in the coming months as we continue to consult with the Department of Justice and other federal agencies to implement the decision.”

According to the guidance, couples will be eligible for participating in ERISA programs even if they marry in one state and move to another where their marriage isn’t recognized under state law. The guidance describes why this interpretation of the court decision against DOMA is most appropriate in terms of ERISA.

“A rule for employee benefit plans based on state of domicile would raise significant challenges for employers that operate or have employees (or former employees) in more than one state or whose employees move to another state while entitled to benefits,” the guidance states. “Furthermore, substantial financial and administrative burdens would be placed on those employers, as well as the administrators of employee benefit plans.”

However, like other post-DOMA decisions from the administration, the guidance notes that couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships won’t be eligible for this federal benefit. They need a legal marriage.

“The terms ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage,’ however, do not include individuals in a formal relationship recognized by a state that is not denominated a marriage under state law, such as a domestic partnership or a civil union, regardless of whether the individuals who are in these relationships have the same rights and responsibilities as those individuals who are married under state law,” the guidance states.

Still, Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization is happy with the guidance.

“It’s yet another positive indication of the way in which this administration is interpreting the Windsor decision,” Sainz said.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, commended Perez after the guidance was issued, but said his department could do more for the LGBT community by aiding transgender employees “who too often face harassment and workplace discrimination.”

“Secretary Perez should officially recognize and adopt the bipartisan EEOC decision in Macy v. Holder, and he should instruct the Labor Department to start adding transgender protections into the newly signed federal contracts that are covered by the existing Executive Order 11246,” Almeida said.

Notably, the Labor Department is providing ERISA benefits for couples in legal same-sex marriages living in states that don’t recognize those unions, but made no such clarification in earlier guidance granting couples benefits under the Family & Medical Leave Act.

Almeida also called on the Labor Department to clarify this earlier guidance to grant couples FMLA benefits nationwide.

“It’s great that the Labor Department has adopted the ‘state of celebration’ rule so that gay and lesbian couples from Texas can go to California to get married and then have ERISA protections at their Texas jobs, and the Labor Department now needs to re-write the Family Medical Leave Act regulations to adopt that same ‘state of celebration’ rule so that all married couples — no matter where they live — can have job protections when a same-sex spouse is diagnosed with a serious illness,” Almeida said.

18
Sep
2013

Labor Dept. says gay couples eligible for family and medical leave

The Labor Department under Secretary Thomas Perez is preparing guidance for gay couples under the Family & Medical Leave Act (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The Labor Department under Secretary Thomas Perez is preparing guidance for gay couples under the Family & Medical Leave Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The Labor Department is preparing guidance to inform employers throughout the country that married same-sex couples are now eligible for family and medical leave under the law.

A Labor Department spokesperson affirmed for the Washington Blade the department will issue guidance to inform employers about the change under the Family & Medical Leave Act in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

“The Wage & Hour Division is working closely with the Department of Justice and looking through all the materials that touch on this issue to determine what public guidance is necessary,” the spokesperson added. “We expect to have additional information available in the near future.”

The Family & Medical Leave Act entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. Prior to the ruling against DOMA, the Labor Department didn’t require employers to grant married gay couples leave if one spouse in the relationship fell ill and needed  care because DOMA prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage. But with DOMA out of the picture, the Obama administration is free to enforce FMLA on behalf of married same-sex couples.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, praised the Labor Department for moving forward with this guidance and credited it to the leadership of the recently confirmed Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

“Freedom to Work endorsed Tom Perez for Labor Secretary because we know him to be a champion for good jobs for everyone, so we are thrilled that the Wage & Hour Division is moving forward now with public guidance that will let employers know that gay and lesbian married couples must be treated with respect when they seek workplace leave to take care of a same-sex spouse that gets into an accident or is diagnosed with an illness,” Almeida said.

In 2010, the Labor Department enacted a change with DOMA in place that enabled a gay employee to take absence under the Family & Medical Leave Act to care for a non-legal, non-biological child of a partner. But that change was obstensibly as far as the Obama administration could go with DOMA in place.

Almeida continued to call for further action in the form of additional guidance saying an existing executive order issued under President Lyndon Johnson prohibiting gender discrimination applies to transgender workers as well. Such guidance would align the Labor Department’s enforcement of the directive with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision last year in Macy v. Holder interpreting Title VII to protect transgender workers.

“We are told by numerous government sources that it was the White House senior staff that decided to disregard American law and ignore Macy vs. Holder for federal contractors,” Almeida said. “These sources say that the White House has forbidden the Labor Department from doing what everyone knows is morally right and legally correct. Given the incredible passion and intellect that Secretary Perez brings to these important issues, we remain hopeful that he will persuade the White House staffers to stand on the right side of American history.”

07
Aug
2013

AFL-CIO pledges to ‘redouble’ efforts to pass ENDA

Labor Thomas Perez has commended the AFL-CIO for supporting ENDA (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez has commended the AFL-CIO for supporting ENDA. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The nation’s largest federation of labor unions on Wednesday passed a resolution pledging to “redouble” its efforts to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The AFL-CIO approved the measure, Resolution 37, to reaffirm its support for ENDA at its constitutional convention this week in Los Angeles.

“The AFL-CIO will redouble our support for the passage of ENDA and continue this work until every worker — gay or straight, transgender or not — is treated with dignity and respect on the job,” the resolution states. “We urge all national and international unions to join in the effort to pass ENDA and to use their influence to sway those members of Congress who will be instrumental in the bill’s passage.”

The resolution was initiated by the American Federation of Teachers, an organized headed by Randi Weingarten, a lesbian and Democratic activist.

In a statement after the resolution was approved, Weingarten said recent victories for marriage equality at the ballot and the Supreme Court are generating “momentum on our side for ENDA to become the law of the land.”

“The fear of being discriminated against based on sexual orientation deters people from stepping up to serve our communities and reach for the stars,” Weingarten said. “We need to recommit ourselves to knocking down barriers for working people and stand up for equal treatment under our laws.”

The AFL-CIO was previously on the record in support of ENDA. According to the Americans for Workplace Opportunities campaign, the labor organization had signed a letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights in favor of the legislation. The resolution itself says AFL-CIO had a adopted a similar measure in 2009.

But the latest resolution emphasizes that a stronger voice is needed at this time to pass ENDA as the legislation nears a vote.

“The momentum of marriage equality, and the changing tide of public opinion, clears the way for the swift passage of ENDA,” the resolution states.

The resolution touts without federal law, union contracts are the only thing in place prohibiting discrimination against LGBT workers in states lacking workplace protections.

“Without ENDA, the only protection many LGBT workers have is their union contracts,” the resolution states. “Union workers can be fired only with just cause and often have access to grievance procedures and arbitration. Additionally, many union contracts do what the law does not: protect workers against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The manner in which the AFL-CIO passed the resolution or the vote by which it succeeded wasn’t immediately known. AFL-CIO didn’t immediately respond to a request to answer questions about the resolution.

The labor organization passes the resolution in the aftermath of a speech from Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on Tuesday to the AFL-CIO in which he noted members have previously worked in support of the ENDA among other initiatives.

Perez said the AFL-CIO has “worked as hard as anyone” and was there “to ensure pay equity for women and work together to pass ENDA so our LGBT brothers and sisters can’t be fired for who they are.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, praised the AFL-CIO for passing the resolution and said it will help move ENDA through both chambers of Congress.

“In the year 2013, nobody should be making excuses for why we can’t launch a full campaign to pass ENDA through both chambers of Congress, not just quitting after one chamber,” Almeida said. “The labor movement does not make excuses, and neither should LGBT organizations.”

Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity, also said he welcomes the endorsement from AFL-CIO because it demonstrates ENDA has strong support.

“The AFL-CIO’s strong endorsement of workplace protections is a major and welcome development in the fight to protect American workers from discrimination,” McTighe said. “It’s rare to see an issue where the leading voices in the labor movement and the business community are so united, but most Americans fundamentally agree that employees should be judged on job performance, nothing more, nothing less.

The AFL-CIO approves the resolution just as lawmakers return from August recess and LGBT advocates anticipate on Senate floor on ENDA sometime this fall.

Almeida said he thinks passage of the resolution will help persuade the three undecided Senate Democrats on ENDA — Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — to vote in favor of the bill because of their support for labor.

For example, Almeida said Manchin would be more inclined to vote for ENDA because West Virginia has many labor workers in the mining industry.

“The United Mine Workers of the AFL-CIO is a very important voice for fairness in West Virginia, and we hope that Senator Manchin will hear that call from our labor movement friends who want to give all American workers a fair shot at a job no matter who they are or who they love,” Almeida said.

12
Sep
2013

Puerto Rico police agree to strengthen hate crime response

Gay News, Washington Blade, Puerto Rico, Hate Crimes

Pedro Julio Serrano (Photo courtesy of Pedro Julio Serrano)

The Puerto Rico Police Department agreed to strengthen its response to hate crimes in a settlement the Justice Department announced on Dec. 21.

DOJ ordered the PRPD to “collect accurate and reliable data hate crimes” on “an ongoing basis” and submit it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for inclusion in its annual Hate Crimes Statistics report. (The FBI currently reports statistics based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity and expression. It will begin to collect transgender-specific data this year as outlined in the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act that President Obama signed in 2009. The agency will begin to report them in 2014.)

The department agreed to develop policies that will improve the way its officers interact with transgender people while in custody. The PRPD will also provide officers with bias-free police trainings at least every two years and annually after 2017. Components of these sessions will include “the protection of civil rights as a central part of the police mission” and “arbitrary classifications and stereotyping” based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and other factors.

“These provisions are designed to promote police services that are equitable, respectful, and free of unlawful bias in a manner that supports broad community engagement and effective crime prevention,” the agreement reads. “These provisions will enable PRPD to provide members of the public with equal protection of the law, without bias based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”

“We appreciate the hard work of [then-Gov. Luís] Fortuño, [PRPD] Superintendent Hector Pesquera and their staff,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ Civil Rights Division, said in a press release that announced the agreement. “Together, and with great input from the public, we have designed a comprehensive blueprint for reform that provides a solid foundation that will professionalize and support the hardworking men and women of PRPD as they protect the people of Puerto Rico.”

The DOJ’s announcement comes after its damning Sept. 2011 report that listed an inadequate response to hate crimes as among the PRPD’s numerous deficiencies.

More than 30 LGBT Puerto Ricans have been killed since gay teenager Jorge Steven López Mercado’s decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body was found alongside a remote roadside in Nov. 2009.

A judge sentenced Juan José Martínez Matos to 99-years in prison after he pledged guilty to the crime, but the Puerto Rico Department of Justice’s own reports indicate Puerto Rican prosecutors have yet to convict anyone under the island’s hate crimes law that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The Puerto Rico Senate in late 2011 approved a proposal that would have eliminated LGBT-specific protections from the aforementioned statute.

Pedro Julio Serrano and other Puerto Rican LGBT advocates repeatedly criticized Fortuño and his administration for what they contend was an unwillingness to speak out against anti-LGBT violence in the American commonwealth in the wake of López’s brutal death that sent shockwaves across the island and around the world.

“It’s definitely too little too late for the outgoing administration,” Serrano told the Washington Blade in response to the DOJ agreement. “But it’s a good blueprint and protocol that is necessary to finally have this in place for the prosecutors in Puerto Rico so they can work on the hate crimes on the island and make sure they are correctly prosecuted and investigated as hate crimes because it hasn’t happened in Puerto Rico.”

The DOJ also met with Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, who succeeded Fortuño on Wednesday, to discuss the agreement.

“We look forward to working with Governor-elect García Padilla and his incoming administration to finalize the agreement and begin the critical work of rebuilding PRPD,” Perez said before the current governor took office. “Ensuring effective, constitutional policing is not a partisan issue, and we appreciate the commitment of Gov. Fortuño and Governor-elect García Padilla to the reforms embodied in the agreement. The successful implementation of the reforms contained in this agreement will help to reduce crime, ensure respect for the Constitution and restore public confidence in PRPD.”

García pledged during his campaign he would support a number of LGBT-specific proposals that include the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the island’s anti-employment discrimination law, civil unions for same-sex couples and including LGBT Puerto Ricans in the island’s domestic violence statutes. Serrano urged the incoming administration to amend the hate crimes law to allow prosecutors to introduce bias-related evidence at the start of a trial as opposed to during the sentencing phase.

“We want it from the get go to be prosecuted as a hate crime so the evidence and a way the case is prosecuted is a following the motivation of the crime and it’s not left to the end of the process where usually after they get a conviction or someone pleads guilty then they don’t have to deal the motivation because they already got what they wanted,” he said, adding he feels both the PRPD and the Puerto Rico Justice Department do not understand how to address hate crimes. “The only way to curb anti-LGBT violence in Puerto Rico is we finally prosecute these as hate crimes and people understand the motivation behind them was anti-LGBT.”

The DOJ agreement will take effect on April 15.

03
Jan
2013

Ohio hospital to pay for HIV-based bias

Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — Glenbeigh Hospital in Rock Creek, Ohio, must pay $32,500 plus $5,000 in civil penalties to an unidentified man who sued the hospital for unlawfully refusing to admit him to an alcohol treatment program because of side effects of his HIV medication, the Justice Department announced last week.

The department found that Glenbeigh could not show that treating the man would have threatened his health or the health and safety of others. The settlement resolves allegations from the man that Glenbeigh violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Department said this is the fourth settlement it has reached in six weeks addressing HIV discrimination by a medical provider.

Glenbeigh must also train its staff on the Americans with Disabilities Act and develop and implement an anti-discrimination policy.

“Ensuring access to medical care for people with HIV requires that those in the medical field make medical decisions that are not based on fears or stereotypes,” said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

20
Mar
2013

Obama criticized for lack of LGBT Cabinet appointments

Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

HRC is criticizing President Obama for not naming an openly LGBT person to his Cabinet. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT rights group, criticized President Obama Friday for failing to nominate an openly LGBT person as part of his Cabinet.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for HRC, said, “it is quite disappointing” that no openly LGBT Americans are among Obama’s nominees in the wake of him finalizing his Cabinet.

“While the Cabinet is full of staunch allies, there is no reason why qualified LGBT Americans willing to serve their country should be overlooked, especially in a day and age when LGBT people are an integral part of the fabric of our nation as everyone from doctors to teachers to professional basketball stars,” Cole-Schwartz said. “The president has said it’s our job to remind him when he’s fallen short and while there’s much for which to applaud him, on this issue this president has fallen far short.”

President Obama rounded out his selections for the 15 posts in his second-term Cabinet without naming an openly LGBT person. Before leaving for Mexico and Costa Rica for discussions with leaders in those countries, Obama on Thursday nominated Chicago businessperson Penny Pritzker as commerce secretary as well as White House economic adviser Michael Froman as U.S. trade representative.

Earlier in the week, Obama named Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx as his pick for transportation secretary. The president nominated Foxx, who’s black, for the position in the wake of criticism that his Cabinet lacked diversity and a stern letter from Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marsha Fudge (D-Ohio) who criticized Obama for not having more black people in his Cabinet.

Meanwhile, LGBT groups have been calling for the nomination of an LGBT person as part of Obama’s Cabinet and for an openly LGBT nominee as a G-20 ambassador.

Such a nomination would be historic because no openly LGBT person has ever before been named or served as a Cabinet member.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, responded to the criticism about the lack of LGBT nominees in the Cabinet by pointing to Obama’s record on LGBT issues.

“The president is deeply committed to diversity in his administration, and he’s proud of the of LGBT appointments he’s made throughout all levels of his administration,” Inouye said. “Moreover, he has a strong record of accomplishment on issues of concern to the LGBT community and will continue to make progress in that area.”

Another group that has called for the appointment of an openly LGBT Cabinet member is the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. Chuck Wolfe, the Victory Fund’s CEO, told an audience at the Equality Forum in Philadelphia on Friday that Obama’s failure to make such a pick was “disappointing.” But Wolfe noted that there remains time for an openly LGBT Cabinet pick before the end of Obama’s second term.

Obama has had opportunities to name an openly gay person as part of his Cabinet since the start of his second term, but none were taken. For example, many hoped that John Berry, the former head of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, would be named as interior secretary because of his background heading the National Zoo and a junior position he held within the department during the Clinton administration.

But that Cabinet role ultimately went to Seattle-based businessperson Sally Jewell, who helped with the effort to legalize marriage equality in Washington State. Still, the Washington Post has reported that Berry is on Obama’s short list for a nomination as U.S. ambassador to Australia.

Another name drawing speculation was Fred Hochberg — who’s gay and headed the U.S. Export-Import Bank during Obama’s first term — for a nomination as commerce secretary. An administration official told the Blade in December that Obama was closely looking at Hochberg for the role, but the president made another choice for that Cabinet post this week.

Yet another opportunity for an openly gay Cabinet nominee was California Assembly Speaker John Perez, who reportedly was on Obama’s short list for the role of labor secretary. That position instead went to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez. Although he’s straight, he has one of the strongest records on LGBT rights in the Obama administration because he testified before the Senate in 2009 in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and helped implement the hate crimes protection law.

Despite the lack of an openly LGBT Cabinet member, Obama is known for making more openly LGBT appointees than any president before and named more than 260 openly LGBT appointees within his administration. Just last month, the Senate confirmed Eric Fanning for the role of Air Force under secretary — the second-highest civilian position for that service. And Obama has nominated 10 openly gay people to serve as federal judges — including Pamela Ki Mai Chen, the first confirmed openly gay Asian-American nominee — when only one openly gay person had previously served on the bench.

04
May
2013