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In uphill fight, Dems make case for Equality Act

Supporters confident bill would pass if GOP leaders allow a vote

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Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) speaks at the reintroduction of the Equality Act at the U.S. Capitol on May 2. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Trump’s November victory and Republican majorities in Congress aren’t stopping Democrats from reintroducing legislation seeking to enshrine into law comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

At an event Tuesday at the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), lead sponsors of the legislation in their respective chambers of Congress, touted the Equality Act as a means to extend LGBT progress in the face of current obstacles.

Cicilline, lead sponsor of the Equality Act in the U.S. House, said the legislation has more supporters than ever in the House and “reflects the simple idea that everyone, including members of the LGBT community, is entitled to equal treatment under the law and right to live free of discrimination.”

“It’s long past time to guarantee that equal protection under the law applies to every single American regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that’s exactly what the Equality Act will accomplish,” Cicilline said.

Merkley, lead sponsor of the legislation in the Senate, said the Equality Act is the answer to the question of what constitutes a just and equal society.

“Every American deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” Merkley said. “Every American deserves to be able to pursue their full potential without the door of discrimination being slammed in their face. When we pass the Equality Act, non-discrimination will be the law of the land here in America once and for all, and that day could not come sooner.”

As when it was first introduced in the previous Congress, the Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit.

The bill also seeks to update federal law to include gender in the list of protected classes in public accommodation in addition to expanding the definition of public accommodations to include retail stores, banks, transportation services and health care services. Further, the Equality Act would establish that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a 1994 law aimed at protecting religious liberty — can’t used to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) invoked the recent ruling from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that found anti-gay discrimination on the job constitutes sex discrimination under current law, but said the Equality Act is needed to expand protections into other areas.

“Now we must pass the Equality Act to remove all doubt that sexual orientation and gender identity warrant civil rights protection, not just in the workplace, but every place,” Pelosi said.

Lawmakers at the event characterized the legislation as an effort to make a distinction between supporters of LGBT rights and their opposition in the White House and Congress.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, lamented being at “a different place” with Trump in the White House than expected when Hillary Clinton was leading in the polls.

“The truth is there has never been a more important time to keep up this fight, to lay out a vision for the kind of country that we all know we can be and to come together to pass the Equality Act,” Murray said. “Since the moment he walked into the White House, President Trump has laid out a hateful, damaging agenda to undo the hard won progress for the LGBTQ community.”

Upon its reintroduction in the 115th Congress, the Equality Act has a greater number of total co-sponsors in the House and Senate than ever before. The legislation has 195 co-sponsors in the House and 46 co-sponsors in the Senate. But the only Republican co-sponsor in either chamber is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), an LGBT-supportive Republican who this weekend said she plans to retire from Congress at the end of next year.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has been a Republican who has taken the lead on pro-LGBT measures in the past, such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but isn’t an Equality Act co-sponsor. The Washington Blade has placed a call to her office seeking comment on why she doesn’t co-sponsor the bill.

The remaining co-sponsors are all members of the Democratic caucuses. In the House, the only two Democrats who aren’t co-sponsors are Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). Lipinski is a rare member of the Democratic caucus who’s known for holding anti-LGBT views. In the Senate, the only two Democrats who aren’t co-sponsors are Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).

Despite the lack of Republican support in a Republican Congress, Cicilline expressed confidence Congress would approve the measure if the measure is allowed to come up for a vote when asked by a reporter about GOP support.

“It’s like so many things: The ultimate decision on whether or not this bill comes to the floor for a vote rests with the speaker of the House,” Cicilline said. “I have every confidence that if the bill came to the floor it would pass because I think most members of Congress recognize voting to continue practices of discrimination against individuals is un-American, and we would be successful in passing it.”

On the same day Democrats reintroduced the Equality Act, the Center for American Progress unveiled the results of a new report titled “Widespread Discrimination Continues to Shape LGBT People’s Lives in Both Subtle and Significant Ways,” which found 1 in 4 LGBT people report having experienced discrimination in 2016.

The Equality Act has been a source of heartburn for members of the civil rights community who fear the consequences of moving to the floor legislation that seeks to amend the Civil Rights Act. Poison pill or “religious freedom” amendments to the Equality Act could weaken the historic measure if they become law along with the Equality Act.

But that seems to be abating. Of the 47 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, 46 are co-sponsors, including Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Cedric Richmond, chair of the caucus. That’s up from the last Congress when just more than two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus were co-sponsors of the legislation.

Trump is unlikely to support the legislation given anti-LGBT actions from the administration, such as reversal of Obama-era guidance protecting transgender kids from discrimination in school and ensuring they have access to school restrooms consistent with their gender identity. (The Equality Act was introduced just hours before a breaking news report in Politico that Trump intends to sign on Thursday a “religious freedom” executive order, which critics fear would enable anti-LGBT discrimination.)

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal court blocks part of Alabama trans medical treatment law

“Kids in Alabama can now continue to receive this lifesaving care, & doctors cannot be prosecuted simply for doing their jobs”

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Hugo L. Black United States Courthouse, Birmingham, Alabama (Photo Credit: US Courts/DXR)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In a 32 page ruling released Friday evening, U.S. District Judge Liles Burke preliminarily enjoined the state from enforcing the law criminalizing medical care for transgender minors in Alabama.

The law made it a felony for Doctors and licensed healthcare providers to give gender-affirming puberty blockers and hormones to transgender minors.

Burke, who was nominated to the bench by former President Donald Trump to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, wrote that the section of the Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act that makes treatment of trans minor children a felony; “the Court finds that there is a substantial likelihood that Section 4(a)(1)–(3) of the Act is unconstitutional and, thus, enjoins Defendants from enforcing that portion of the Act pending trial.”

Judge Burke however ruled that all other provisions of the Act remain in effect, specifically: (1) the provision that bans sex-altering surgeries on minors; (2) the provision prohibiting school officials from keeping certain gender-identity information of children secret from their parents; and (3) the provision that prohibits school officials from encouraging or compelling children to keep certain gender-identity information secret from their parents.

The U.S. Department of Justice had challenged the state’s  SB 184 – a bill that would criminalize doctors for providing best-practice, gender-affirming care to transgender and nonbinary youth.

In the filing by the Justice Department, the complaint alleges that the new law’s felony ban on providing certain medically necessary care to transgender minors violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The department is also asking the court to issue an immediate order to prevent the law from going into effect.

S.B. 184 makes it a felony for any person to “engage in or cause” specified types of medical care for transgender minors. S.B. 184 thus discriminates against transgender youth by denying them access to certain forms of medically necessary care.

It further discriminates against transgender youth by barring them from accessing particular procedures while allowing non-transgender minors to access the same or similar procedures. The penalties for violating the law include up to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000. S.B. 184 would force parents of transgender minors, medical professionals, and others to choose between forgoing medically necessary procedures and treatments, or facing criminal prosecution.

The United States’ complaint alleges that S.B. 184 violates the Equal Protection Clause by discriminating on the basis of sex and transgender status.

LGBTQ legal rights advocates SPLC, GLAD, NCLR, and HRC, joined by co-counsel King & Spalding LLP and Lightfoot, Franklin & White LLC, had previously filed a legal challenge in federal district court against Alabama SB 184.

Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the legal rights advocacy groups who had sued Alabama told the Blade late Friday night:

“We are thrilled by this outcome, which will provide enormous relief to transgender children and their families. As the court recognizes, this is well established medical care that has been endorsed by 22 major medical associations. Thanks to this decision, kids in Alabama can now continue to receive this lifesaving care, and their doctors cannot be prosecuted simply for doing their jobs. This is a huge victory for compassion and common sense and a much needed antidote to the tidal wave of hostile legislation targeting these youth.”

In addition to the U.S. Justice Department,  the doctors challenging SB 184 in Ladinsky v. Ivey are Dr. Morissa J. Ladinsky and Dr. Hussein D. Abdul-Latif, both providers at the Children’s Hospital of Alabama and members of the medical staff at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital and the teaching staff at UAB School of Medicine. Dr. Ladinsky and Dr. Abdul-Latif have long-term expertise in caring for transgender children of Alabama families. Under SB 184, they both face criminal penalties including up to 10 years in prison if they continue to provide that support to their patients.

The Alabama family plaintiffs are proceeding anonymously to protect their children. They include Robert Roe, and his 13-year-old transgender daughter Mary, of Jefferson County; and Jane Doe and her 17-year-old-transgender son John, of Shelby County. These families have deep ties to Alabama. If SB 184 is allowed to go into effect both families will be forced to choose between leaving the state, breaking the law, or facing devastating consequences to their children’s health.

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Utah

Suspect named in murder of lesbian newlyweds had committed suicide

The suspect named by the Sheriff’s Office was a co-worker of one of the victims at the McDonald’s in Moab, Adam Pinkusiewicz

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Kylen Carrol Schulte, 24, and Crystal Michelle Turner, 38, also known as Crystal Beck (Facebook)

MOAB, Ut. – The Grand County, Utah Sheriff’s Office released a statement that a suspect was identified in the double homicide last August of a newlywed lesbian couple Kylen Schulte, 24, and Crystal Beck Turner, 38. The suspect named by the Sheriff’s Office was a co-worker of one of the victims at the local McDonald’s fast food restaurant in Moab, Adam Pinkusiewicz, 45.

The women’s bodies were discovered August 18, 2021 at their campsite in the South Mesa area of the La Sal Loop Road in Grand County located less than 50 miles from the Colorado-Utah state line.

Grand County Sheriff Steven White said that he had asked for the assistance of agents from the Salt Lake City field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation along with law enforcement agents from the Utah State Bureau of Investigation, as the investigation into the shooting deaths of the women.

Investigators with the Grand County Sheriff’s office say that Pinkusiewicz allegedly told an unidentified source that he “killed two women in Utah and provided specific details that were known only to investigators.” According to the Sheriff’s office he had been camping at the same time as the two women and then left Utah shortly after the bodies were found. He later committed suicide although details are not being released due to an active ongoing investigation.

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

First woman to lead a branch of the military confirmed by Senate

While women have served as service branch secretaries- Fagan would be the first servicewoman to serve as the leader of a military branch

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Vice Adm. Linda L. Fagan is promoted to the rank of admiral during a ceremony at Coast Guard Headquarters, June 18, 2021. Fagan is the Coast Guard’s first woman to serve as a four-star admiral. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ltjg. Pamela Manns).

WASHINGTON – The Senate has confirmed Admiral Linda L. Fagan as the 27th Commandant of the United States Coast Guard. The current Commandant Admiral Karl L. Schultz is set to retire at the end of this month. President Joe Biden nominated Adm. Linda Fagan to lead the service, a military branch that operates within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in peacetime this past month.

Fagan, promoted to the rank of four-star Admiral in June of 2021, is the Coast Guard’s first woman to serve as a four-star flag officer and currently serves as the service’s Vice-Commandant.

Task & Purpose magazine noted that while women have served as service branch secretaries — Christine Wormuth is the current Secretary of the Army — Fagan would be the first servicewoman to serve as the leader of a military branch. 

In a statement issued Thursday,  President Biden congratulated her.

“It is with deep pride that I congratulate Admiral Linda L. Fagan on her confirmation by the Senate as Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Admiral Fagan is the Coast Guard’s first woman to hold the rank of four-star admiral. Today, she again makes history not only as the first woman to lead the Coast Guard—but also as the first woman Service Chief of any U.S. military service. Admiral Fagan’s leadership, experience, and integrity are second to none, and I know she will advance the Coast Guard’s mission to ensure our nation’s maritime safety and security. 

My administration is committed to seeing more qualified women in senior leadership and command roles; making sure women can succeed and thrive throughout their military careers. Today, Admiral Fagan’s confirmation as Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard signals to women and girls across our nation they have a place in protecting their country at the highest level.”

The admiral is a1985 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut and over the course of career spanning 36 years she has served on seven continents, the Coast Guard’s New York Sector, Commander First Coast Guard District in Boston, Coast Guard Defense Force West, Coast Guard Pacific Area, as well as stints as the service’s headquarters in Washington D.C. apart from her post as Vice-Commandant and duty at sea aboard the only heavy icebreaker in the Coast Guard’s inventory, the USCG Cutter Polar Star.

Task & Purpose also reported;

It wouldn’t be the first milestone for Fagan to achieve in the Coast Guard. When she was promoted to vice commandant in 2021, she became the first-ever four-star admiral in the branch. In an interview with “CBS This Morning” that year, she described nearly being pulled from her first sea deployment, as the ship’s executive officer was hesitant to have her aboard as the only woman in the crew. 

She also noted her commitment to helping the Coast Guard continue to recruit and retain women, including her own daughter, in its ranks. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the junior ranks, we need to keep making progress,” she said.

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