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National LGBT Bar Assn asks lawyers to repudiate anti-LGBT law firms

DOJ joins FRC for task force defending “religious liberties”

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The National LGBT Bar Association is asking attorneys across the United States to repudiate anti-LGBT legal groups as the Trump-Pence administration takes their predilection toward divisiveness to a new level. On Monday, July 30, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a Religious Liberties Task Force alongside anti-LGBT extremists from the ubiquitous anti-LGBT Alliance Defending Freedom, as well as the Colorado baker who refused to serve a gay couple in violation of the state’s nondiscrimination law. The taxpayer-funded task force will be led by Jesse Panuccio, the acting Associate Attorney General at the Department of Justice who worked for attorney Chuck Cooper in 2010 defending Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban, during the federal trial that struck down the ban.

“This taxpayer funded task force is yet another example of the Trump-Pence White House and Jeff Sessions sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ people,” said Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Over the last 18 months, Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions have engaged in a brazen campaign to erode and limit the rights of LGBTQ people in the name of religion. The Attorney General standing shoulder-to-shoulder this morning with anti-LGBTQ extremists tells you everything you need to know about what today’s announcement was really all about.”

“Under this administration, the federal government is not just reacting—we are actively seeking, carefully, thoughtfully and lawfully, to accommodate people of faith,” Sessions said. “Religious Americans are no longer an afterthought.”

“Religious freedom is important – and, as many of the speakers at today’s Department of Justice event noted – it’s already concretely protected in our Constitution and laws, Jon Davidson, Chief Counsel of Freedom for All Americans Education Fund, told the Los Angeles Blade. “No one is trying to change that. Despite that, today’s DOJ action is just the latest step this administration has taken to undermine the rights of LGBTQ Americans under our nation’s laws. Time and again, Jeff Sessions’ DOJ has seized the opportunity to side in court with those who seek to be permitted to violate those laws and discriminate against LGBTQ Americans. Decades of legal precedent make clear that religious freedom is not a justification for harming others, and that should apply to LGBTQ people as well.”

Davidson is part of a new campaign by the National LGBT Bar Association to reach out to and dissuade their colleagues not to take up cases that defend or advocate for anti-LGBT causes.

“For more than 25 years, groups like Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel have overseen an army of litigators and waged a systematic, insidious, and well-funded crusade to strip protections from LGBT people,” says LGBT Bar Association Executive Director D’Arcy Kemnitz. “With the recent Supreme Court decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the announced retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, and more and more court victories for those seeking a license to discriminate, fair-minded attorneys committed to diversity must push back. If we don’t take these threats seriously and act accordingly, we could face long term legal setbacks for LGBT people.”

The campaign, COMMIT to INCLUSION, includes a fact sheet detailing the history of these anti-LGBT legal groups, their enormous budgets, and a sample list of cases in which they have sought to harm LGBT people. It also includes a one-minute video featuring: Kemnitz; Davidson; and Cathy Sakimura, Family Law Director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The COMMIT to INCLUSION campaign pledge reads in part: “We commit to inclusion by ensuring that our personal pro bono and volunteer capacity and personal financial resources will not be used to support the work of ADF and Liberty Counsel.”

“As someone who has been on the other side of the Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel in more than a dozen lawsuits, I can say with certainty that, if a member of the National LGBT Bar Association were to provide their services to the Alliance Defending Freedom or Liberty Counsel, they would be working directly in opposition to the mission of association they have joined. I commend the LGBT Bar for educating the public about these groups’ anti-LGBT activities and urging its members to work to end discrimination against LGBT people through the bar’s Commit to Inclusion campaign,“ Davidson, tells the Los Angeles Blade in an email.

“We strongly support this campaign the same way we’d urge law firms to fight against those legal groups which support discrimination on women’s rights, immigrant rights, and more often than not also support discrimination against LGBTQI people,” Shannon Minter, Legal Director for the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian rights tells the LA Blade.

“This campaign is a call to action to warn attorneys about anti-LGBT legal groups and their dangerous and strategic efforts to chip away at legal protections for LGBT people,” says Kemnitz. “We are imploring the legal profession to hold back pro bono resources that would help these groups advance their discriminatory agenda. When you help anti-LGBT legal groups – even on matters not relating to LGBT issues – you hurt LGBT people.”

Tony Perkins, head of the anti-LGBT extremist group the Family Research Council and close advisor to Vice President Mike Pence, put out a press release both slamming the LGBT Bar Association move and foreshadowing AG Session’s “religious liberties” task force announcement – otherwise construed as a declaration of holy war against LGBT people.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins is among those who participated in a religious freedom conference the State Department held in D.C. this week. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“First, LGBT activists wanted conservatives out of the wedding business. Then came professional sports, the restaurant industry, big tech, teaching, broadcasting, the police force, fire department, local government, the Olympics, military, counseling, adoption and foster care. What’s left? According to one extremist group, the law,” says Perkins.

“The legal profession has already seen its share of bullying from LGBT extremists. In at least four states, judges have been threatened, suspended, or otherwise punished for their marriage views. In two states, they’ve been professionally disciplined. Of course, there’s been an effort to shun lawyers who express any sort of support for natural marriage for years,” Perkins continues.

“The LGBT Bar Association is hoping to persuade people that mainstream organizations like Liberty Counsel and Alliance Defending Freedom are waging ‘a systematic, insidious, and well-funded crusade to strip protections from LGBT people,’” Perkins opines. “In the end, the people who avoid a debate are the ones scared of losing. They scream about freedom when it suits their purpose, only to deny others the freedom to even be heard. Like so many people outside the mainstream, this group’s call for tolerance is just a cover for social tyranny.”

Here’s the video from COMMIT to INCLUSION, which runs from July 24 through September 27. 

Reporting by Karen Ocamb, the staff of the Los Angeles Blade and wire service reports

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NBC Universal cancels Golden Globe awards broadcast for 2022

NBC Universal announced the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes awards ceremony

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Screenshot NBC coverage of the Golden Globes from previous years on YouTube

BURBANK – In the wake of an in-depth investigation into the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the organization responsible for the Golden Globes by the Los Angeles Times, which revealed a lack of racial diversity among its voting members and various other ethical concerns, NBC Universal announced Monday the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes ceremony.

This past February ahead of the HFPA’s 78th Annual Golden Globes ceremony, HFPA board chair Meher Tatna told Variety magazine that the organization that the organization of international journalists which covers the film, television, and entertainment industry has not had any Black members in at least 20 years.

Actor Sterling K. Brown,  a Golden Globe winner and two-time nominee, posted to Instagram; 

Criticism of the HFPA, which puts on the Globes and has been denounced for a lack of diversity and for ethical impropriates, reached such a pitch this week that actor and superstar celebrity Tom Cruise returned his three Globes to the press association’s headquarters, according to a person who was granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the decision, the Associated Press reported.

“We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform. However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right,” a spokesperson for NBC said in a statement.

“As such, NBC will not air the 2022 Golden Globes,” the spokesperson added. “Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”

NBC’s decision comes as Vogue reported that the backlash to the HFPA came swiftly and decisively. Some of Hollywood’s biggest studios, including Netflix, Amazon, and WarnerMedia, announced they were severing ties with the organization until efforts were made to increase diversity and stamp out corruption, while a group of more than 100 of the industry’s biggest PR firms released a statement in March in which they pledged to boycott the ceremony for the foreseeable future. 

The HFPA did not immediately respond to inquiries by media outlets requesting comment about NBC’s decision.

In February, the organization said it was “fully committed to ensuring our membership is reflective of the communities around the world who love film, TV, and the artists inspiring and educating them.”

“We understand that we need to bring in Black members as well as members from other underrepresented backgrounds, and we will immediately work to implement an action plan to achieve these goals as soon as possible,” it said.

HFPA also announced a full timetable through this summer for implementing promised reform initiatives in response to NBC’s decision.

“Regardless of the next air date of the Golden Globes, implementing transformational changes as quickly — and as thoughtfully — as possible remains the top priority,” the HFPA board said in a statement. “We invite our partners in the industry to the table to work with us on the systemic reform that is long overdue, both in our organization as well as within the industry at large.”

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Coronavirus

LA County expected to hit herd immunity by mid summer

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County could reach COVID-19 herd immunity among adults and the older teenagers by mid- to late July, public health officials announced Monday. Over the weekend LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that appointments are no longer needed for Angelenos to get COVID-19 vaccinations at any site run by the city.

Garcetti’s move is intended to give people who don’t have the time or technological resources to navigate online booking platforms a chance to get the shot.

The percentage of the population the County needs to vaccinate to achieve community immunity is unknown, however Public Health officials estimate it’s probably around 80%. Currently, 400,000 shots each week are getting into the arms of L.A. County residents, and there are over 2 million more first doses to go before 80% of all L.A. County residents 16 and older have received at least one shot.

At this rate, Public Health expects the County will reach this level of community immunity in mid- to late July and that assumes the County continues to at least have 400,000 people vaccinated each week. That would include both first doses that people need as well as their second doses.

This news came as Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced that attendance numbers at all grade levels in the District have been considerably lower than expected as extensive safety measures have failed to lure back the vast majority of families in the final weeks of school.

Only 7% of high school students, about 30% of elementary school children and 12% of middle school students have returned to campuses.

As of May 7, more than 8,492,810 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to people across Los Angeles County. Of these, 5,146,142 were first doses and 3,346,668 were second doses.

On Monday the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15 years of age. The Pfizer vaccine is already authorized for people 16 years old and older.

Pfizer’s testing in adolescents “met our rigorous standards,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said. “Having a vaccine authorized for a younger population is a critical step in continuing to lessen the immense public health burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a statement released Monday by the White House, President Joe Biden the FDA’s decision marked another important step in the nation’s march back to regular life.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is growing, and today it got a little brighter,” Biden said.

Los Angeles County will offer the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirms the FDA recommendation, which can happen as early as Wednesday. All adolescents 12-17 will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to get vaccinated.

To find a vaccination site near you, to make an appointment at vaccination sites, and much more, visit: www.VaccinateLACounty.com (English) and www.VacunateLosAngeles.com (Spanish). If you don’t have internet access, can’t use a computer, or you’re over 65, you can call 1-833-540-0473 for help finding an appointment or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound. Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that unvaccinated people — including children — should continue taking precautions such as wearing masks indoors and keeping their distance from other unvaccinated people outside of their households.

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Health

HHS takes steps to reverse Anti-LGBTQ+ healthcare policy

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule”

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HHS the Hubert H. Humphrey Building (Photo: GSA)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday morning that the Biden-Harris Administration will interpret and enforce Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Title IX’s prohibitions on discrimination based on sex to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in BAGLY v. HHS, Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule.”

The Trump-era policy undermines the ACA’s nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sex — including pregnancy, gender identity and sex stereotyping — as well as protections for patients with limited-English proficiency and those living with chronic illnesses, including HIV. Because the issues in BAGLY v. HHS are broader than what the Administration announced today, the Court scheduled a hearing on the government’s motion to dismiss for June 3rd at 2:30 PM EST.

In reaction to the HHS announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Monday:

“Today, the Biden Administration has taken essential and potentially life-saving action to affirm that all people in America have the right to quality, affordable health care – no matter who they are or whom they love.  During this time of pandemic and always, it is vital that the most vulnerable have access to care, including LGBTQ Americans, who have long suffered injustice and discrimination that has left them dangerously exposed to health risks.
 
“The Trump Administration’s decision to greenlight anti-LGBTQ discrimination in health care in the middle of a pandemic was an act of senseless and staggering cruelty, made in blatant defiance of our values and a Supreme Court ruling made just a month prior.  
 
“Congressional Democrats together with the Biden Administration are proud to uphold the equal right of every American to access the care that they need to pursue a life of dignity and health.  We must now build on this progress and enact the House-passed Equality Act to fully ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination in our nation.”

In addition to Equality California, co-plaintiffs in BAGLY v. HHS include Darren Lazor, The Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (BAGLY), Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Campaign for Southern Equality, Equality California, Fenway Health, and Transgender Emergency Fund.

Lazor is a transgender man near Cleveland, Ohio, who experienced numerous counts of discrimination from healthcare providers on the basis of his gender identity from 2012 to 2017. He is a member of Equality California. Plaintiffs are represented by National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the Transgender Law Center (TLC), the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) of Harvard Law School and law firm Hogan Lovells.

The lawsuit asserts that the new rule violates the Administrative Procedures Act by being contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Notably, it was published on June 19,  just days after the June 15, 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that it is unlawful sex discrimination to fire employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The lawsuit also asserts that the new rule will embolden discrimination and harm LGBTQ+ patients and people seeking reproductive health care, further stigmatize abortion and other pregnancy-related care, harm patients with limited-English proficiency, especially immigrants, and harm people with chronic illnesses, including those living with HIV. The rule will also create confusion about the scope of protections against discrimination under federal law. 

Trans people, like plaintiff Darren Lazor, already face disproportionate discrimination in health care settings, including mistreatment by insurers and humiliation and harassment by doctors – problems that are exacerbated for trans people of color and trans people living in rural regions and the U.S. South. In seeking to deny trans people access to the healthcare they need, the Trump Administration had placed trans people, and especially Black trans women, in danger through deliberately harmful governmental action.

“We are thrilled by the news that the Biden-Harris Administration will take initial steps to reverse President Trump’s dangerous, discriminatory Rollback Rule, which undermined healthcare nondiscrimination protections critical to the LGBTQ+ community, and trans people in particular,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur.

“As the world recovers from a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever that every American have access to quality, affordable healthcare without fear of harassment and discrimination. We remain hopeful that under Secretary Becerra and Assistant Secretary Levine’s leadership, HHS will continue to take further steps to rescind the Trump-era regulation and address the harms that it has caused,” he added.

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