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Ending a long silence

Los Angeles Blade publisher and news editor share their #MeToo stories

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Troy Masters is publisher of the Los Angeles Blade.

(Editor’s note: Brave Andrea Constand’s testimony against Bill Cosby and trans survivor Harper Jean’s comments at a #BelieveSurvivors rally highlight the fact that the #MeToo movement also impacts the LGBT community. To encourage more discussion, we are coming out with our stories, too. – Troy Masters and Karen Ocamb) 

As a very young child growing up in 1970s Nashville, it was no secret I was gay. Not at all.

I adored my mother and grandmothers; loved Princess, my German Shepard; treasured my action figure dolls; worshiped David Cassidy; and ran home every day from school to watch Dr. Smith protect himself with Will Robinson on “Lost In Space.” I had a gallery of the latest male teen heartthrob Tiger Beat posters above my bed.  If there was a beauty pageant on TV, I was making cardboard crowns and dressing my sister up to make her the winner.

I was also adventurous and trusting, loved talking to adults about current events, art and music. For most people at that time, the presumption might have been that I was precocious rather than gay. But being gay was something I had already, though privately, embraced as my own truth.

When I was 14 or 15 years old I traveled alone for the first time in my life, taking “The Floridian” from Dothan, Ala., where I had spent my summer, returning home to my family in Nashville. 

I was not at all afraid.

On that train, I remember the first time I saw the maitre’d of the Amtrak dining car. “He’s gay like me,” I thought. It was my first independent encounter with another person like me, unshielded by family.

And, yes, I accepted his attention. I needed the very private affirmation of his glances. It wasn’t sexual attraction, at least not for me, but I was overjoyed to be able to interact, unmonitored with someone else like me.

But that day has impacted me in the most profound ways, ways that I am still comprehending.

The maitre’d, after my meal, found me in another car on the train and invited me on a tour that eventually led to his private cabin, behind a locked door and into his bed.

What I thought was innocent and flirtatious affection quickly turned sexual and into a full-fledged rape. I panicked as he undressed me, unable to yell out and frozen by fear. I was falling into a deepening shame that was almost like a dissociation, something I found myself doing in moments of childhood stress from that moment on. Occasionally, even now.

Eventually I was able to cry. But instead of relenting, he placed a pillow over my face and continued, pressing himself ever harder, more aggressively as I screamed and tried to get away.

He did give up and he let me go.

I ran back to my seat and found an elderly woman who I sat next to, thinking she would protect me. He came back and he charmed her, inviting us both back to the dining car and to my horror she wanted to go. So we did and it turned out she was the sister of House Judiciary Committee chair Peter Rodino.

Our conversation that day saved my life and she listened to my crazy fantastic tales and dreams, helping me avoid focusing on the trauma I had just experienced.

But it was a formative sexual experience that over the years has never fully left me. It robbed me of innocence, disrupted my enjoyment of sex, and slowed the development of my confidence. It blurred my focus and made trust an extremely difficult prospect for me. Even into my adulthood it has made me vulnerable, sometimes accepting bad bargains rather than negotiating to put my best interests forward.

I have not used it as a crutch. I honestly haven’t given the experience much thought over the years. I spent so much energy as a child, after all, not letting on that anything had happened.

There was no safe person to tell. While I knew without a doubt that I was gay, telling anyone about the rape would not only have outed me (and I was not prepared for that), it would have forced me to deal with anger and hatred toward gays I was already trying to avoid at home.

What authority would believe a gay kid in 1975?

In writing this article, I shared it first with my mother and sister, neither of whom have any memory of me traveling alone. My memory of these events is as bright as sun but I can understand their resistance. For my mom, I think, it just felt jarringly out of her parental playbook that I would ever be allowed to travel alone.  My sister may have been too young to remember. I can allow them that; we have an extraordinary and loving relationship that was never affected in anyway. But this memory is seared in my brain.

I completely understand why these incidents go unreported. Rapists are gifted opportunists, looking for people in situations they can exploit.

#MeToo is a complex movement that seeks an even more complex variable of justice. But it is not a subterfuge of due process, as some have argued, unqualified by the lens of trauma and time or lack of evidence.

Victims should be believed and those accused should face their accusers. Very few are ever accused.

I cannot imagine that Brett Kavanaugh sees himself as Dr. Ford’s rapist. I’m sure my rapist, who I hope is dead and rotting in hell, would never have seen himself as my rapist.

LGBT people are part of a vanguard movement that has made it possible for gay youth to report rape and find justice. And the Women’s Movement has made it possible for women like Dr. Ford to fight back.

But the forces that seek to shunt aside the allegations against Kavanaugh—devil-be-damned—are the same forces that support a president who brags about sexually harassing women.

By refusing to stay silent anymore, by refusing to let that rapist claim space in my head, by coming out as a survivor of sexual assault, I proudly stand with others as part of the #MeToo movement.

 

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Powerful anti-LGBTQ priest caught on gay sex app at work

Grindr is a sex app. Men use it to meet other men for sex. Journalists at the Catholic news site The Pillar legally purchased Grindr data

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Jeffrey Burrill addressing the USCCB Fall 2020 General Assembly. (YouTube screen capture.)

By James Finn | WASHINGTON – Last autumn as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops actively lobbied Congress to kill a proposed national suicide hotline because it directed help to suicidal LGBTQ people, the Conference elected Jeffrey Burrill as their general secretary. He had worked as a high-level staffer since 2016. His promotion made him the highest-ranking, most powerful Catholic priest in the United States who is not a bishop.

On Inauguration Day, Burrill remained general secretary as the Conference’s senior bishop chastised President Biden for supporting LGBTQ equality, claiming the president’s policies “advance moral evils.” Many lay Catholics rolled their eyes, having long since rejected the Catholic clergy’s relentless homophobic hate speech.

Burrill said nothing.

Nobody expected him to. His colleagues knew him as a conservative and staunch traditionalist who was “all in” with Church teachings that gay people are “depraved” and “disordered” and that transgender people “annihilate nature.” He had been an enthusiastic participant for years advancing institutional homophobia and transphobia.

He continued to administer the day-to-day work of the Conference and lead its staff as the bishops took steps to religiously punish President Biden for refusing to enforce Catholic doctrine about abortion, for refusing to make abortion a crime for all women and doctors, including those who are not Catholic.

Burrill again said nothing.

The U.S. bishops are notoriously conservative, and they chose their man well, grooming him for more power and influence in the Church as he executed their homophobic policies, including promoting an official Catholic organization called Courage that claims homosexuality is a result of mental illness and that encourages conversion therapy, a practice every major mental health association in the world acknowledges is intensely harmful and likely to result in suicide attempts.

Then Burrill’s other shoe dropped. He’d been using Grindr at work. Constantly. For years.

Grindr is a sex app. Men use it to meet other men for sex. Journalists at the Catholic news site The Pillar legally purchased data Grindr sells to third-party vendors. The data included unique mobile-device ID numbers and geo-time stamps that allowed investigators to identify Burrill’s mobile phone as he used Grindr in his office, his homes, family members’ homes and on his travels.

They say that information is non-identifiable. This is another example of how it’s an utter lie.

— Professor Ari Ezra Waldman

The general secretary of the US Bishops Conference was using Grindr practically every day. He was spending time at gay bars and at The Entourage in Las Vegas, an upscale bathhouse where wealthy gay men meet one another for casual sex. He often used Grindr before and while driving to private residences he never visited again.

Three disturbing stories pop out in this scandal about a homophobic gay priest

The first implicates Grindr and other tech companies that behave recklessly as they betray user privacy. The second centers around a continuing Catholic tendency to conflate gay men with pedophiles and sexual abusers. The third is the hypocrisy of homophobic Catholic clergy pushing official Church anti-LGBTQ hate speech. Let’s break each of these stories down.

1.) Privacy implications are dystopian in scale

This story is at least as worrisome as the Pegasus spyware scandal that also rocked the privacy world this week. But while Pegasus is sold to governments for tens of millions of dollars, the techniques that outed Burrill don’t require expensive software and are available to almost anyone.

The Pillar investigators were able to legally buy aggregated Grindr data from third party sources and use it to identify Burrill based on his movements. This should trouble anyone who uses a mobile device. Grindr routinely sold highly granular location and demographic data to advertising networks and analytic firms.

Pretty much every social media app on the Internet does this.

Grindr defends its privacy policies by pointing out they “anonymize” data before selling it, meaning they strip out names and phone numbers. But that didn’t help Burrill. Pillar investigators bought the data, observed that somebody was using Grindr on a unique mobile device just about every day at USCCB offices. From there, checking to see where else that unique device popped up in their data set was trivial. They correlated the device to Burrill’s homes, his family’s vacation home and to his publicly available travel records. They had their man for the nominal price of a data set.

Experts have long warned of the potential for this sort of tracking. Some say they’re surprised privacy violations like this haven’t already become common.

They warn that this is just the beginning.

“There’s an entire multi-hundred billion dollar industry of companies you’ve never heard of,” Northeastern University Professor Ari Ezra Waldman told Slate. “Their business model is collecting info from all corners of the internet and selling it to people so they can make general conclusions about a population and advertise to it. They say that information is non-identifiable. This is another example of how it’s an utter lie.”

Indeed, The Pillar suggests they have more stories on tap, more gay priests to out.

2.) Religious news sources are falsely framing this story as a fight against pedophilia and sex abuse while morally condemning LGBTQ people at large

The Pillar story itself is rather breathless, making one illogical leap after another to correlate consensual gay sexual activity with risks of predatory abuse. The authors describe Burrill as having engaged in “serial and illicit sexual activity” immediately after writing “he is widely reported to have played a central role” in coordinating the U.S. Church’s response to the ongoing clerical child sex abuse scandal.

Their plain implication is that sexually active gay men are incapable of protecting children from predators and present a heightened risk of being predators themselves.

The authors are not not coy about linking Grindr to the risk of child sexual abuse. They cite three examples of priests using Grindr to meet teenagers for sex but fail to make any case that Burrill himself is attracted to minors or has any track record of predatory behavior. Instead, they write, “There is no evidence to suggest that Burrill was in contact with minors through his use of Grindr. But any use of the app by the priest could be seen to present a conflict with his role in developing and overseeing national child protection policies.”

They quote Thomas Berg, a professor of moral theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary, to make their point more directly: “When it becomes evident that a cleric is regularly and glaringly failing to live continence, that can become only a step away from sexual predation.”

This assertion, repeated by many other Catholic publications in the past two days, shocks the conscious of LGBTQ people everywhere, many of whom work with children as teachers, social workers and community leaders — overseeing child protection policies without the least conflict with their private adult sexual lives.

Religion News Service jumped on the gay-bashing wagon fast, Steven P. Millies opining, “I am a sinner. So are you. So is Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill. Not one of us has a personal life that would withstand the sort of scrutiny The Pillar has applied to Burrill. Every single one of us has had a shameful moment we regret, and I suspect most of us must be caught up in cycles of sinfulness that we repeat less because we want to than because we are sinners and cannot help being sinners.”

Notice how Millies appears to defend Burrill even as he heaps hate speech on gay people, calling us shameful and sinful while implying that our sexuality is regretful.

I choked on story after hateful story like his while preparing this piece, both in nominally liberal and more conservative religious publications. The Burrill scandal has prompted a tiring and toxic wave of overt homophobia from religious writers who seem more interested in targeting gay people for moral condemnation than in focusing on the hypocrisy that should be the center of this tale.

3.) Jeffrey Burrill is a hypocrite who worked to hurt LGBTQ people while living his off hours as a sexually active gay man

First, let’s shoot down a disingenuous liberal Catholic talking point. The accusations The Pillar printed are not innuendo. They are not mere gossip. Look, I’m angry Grindr sold private data, but the data is out there now and it’s clear. Jeffrey Burrill used Grindr for years, often every day, for its intended purpose — to have sex with other men.

Gay men don’t use Grindr to talk about the weather. We don’t use it to idly chat. We use it to have sex. That’s what it’s for. Gay men don’t go to The Entourage and other bathhouses to have a steam and a cup of tea. Gay men go the Entourage for only one reason — to have sex with other men.

That’s not innuendo. It’s reality. It’s truth.

So let’s stop playing silly games, liberal Catholic press. Jeffrey Burrill, the highest ranking Catholic priest in the United States who is not a bishop, has been having sex with men for years, on purpose, on a regular basis, and often while traveling on the Church’s dime.

He did this while working for The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, arguably the most cruel homophobic organization in the United States. You don’t get more cruel, more immoral, than trying to stop a suicide hotline because it reaches out to queer people in crisis. American Catholics and Americans in general reacted with shock and horror when they learned of the moral depravity of the U.S. Catholic bishops in that episode.

But LGBTQ Americans have long understood the Conference’s moral depravity. The fact that the USCCB website (under Burrill’s direction) actively promotes Courage International’s conversion therapy is just another example of moral depravity. PFLAG and ILGA, respected LGBTQ human rights organizations of long standing, group Courage with extremist anti-LGBTQ hate groups.

Rightfully so!

Conversion therapy hurts people. Badly. It causes suicide. Which makes the USCCB’s effort to stop suicide-prevention outreach to LGBTQ people even more despicable.

That all this morally despicable behavior happened under the watch of a sexually active gay (or possibly bisexual) man is jaw dropping. The English language has words for vicious hypocrites like Burrill, but I won’t use them here. I already have in private, and I’ll leave the color and depth of my vocabulary as an exercise for the reader.

Can we stop feeling sorry for this homophobic gay priest, please? Patheos suggests we should “feel bad” for Burrill given he was doing nothing illegal and nothing to feel ashamed of. But this overlooks the critical fact that Burrill was complicit with oppressing and persecuting LGBTQ people, including working to pass laws to hurt gay and transgender people. (LGBTQ Nation has published a summary of the USCCB’s recent homophobic track record.)

No, there’s no shame in using a gay hookup app. There’s nothing shameful about visiting gay bars and bathhouses. That goes without saying. Anyone who suggests otherwise is indulging an ancient human habit of reviling and hurting members of gender and sexual minorities.

The shame here lies in Burrill’s complicity with evil.

He IS a member of a reviled sexual minority and he chose to climb into the highest ranks of an ancient organization that has been making life hell for LGBTQ people for centuries. He lived well. He enjoyed a luxurious (rent free) residence in Washington DC while maintaining a luxury apartment in Wisconsin and jetting around the world on Church business.

His shame lies in his fronting for a Church that pillories gay people for engaging in the very “acts of grave depravity” he indulged in all the time. His shame lies in living with one foot in a Catholic clerical world that constantly flings hate speech at LGBTQ people even as his other foot danced in a world of gay men who know the Church is dead wrong in its baseless moral condemnation and scientifically absurd diagnoses of mental disorders.

I’m glad The Pillar exposed Burrill. It needed to be done.

I’m not happy that Grindr and other tech companies make privacy invasion easy. I’m deeply troubled by the probability that meaningful privacy is no longer possible in today’s high tech world.

I’m equally troubled by the motivations of the conservative Catholic journalists at The Pillar. I know they are engaged in a witch hunt. I know they printed their story to hurt gay people and to strengthen the false notion that gay men are likely to be predatory.

But nobody in their right mind is buying that nonsense, not outside Catholic clerical circles and small numbers of extremist lay Catholics.

Lay Catholics in the United States as a group are fed up with the hierarchy’s homophobia. Unlike members of the clergy, U.S. lay Catholics are slightly more likely than the average American to support LGBTQ equality measures like equal marriage and the proposed federal Equality Act.

It’s a mystery to me why lay Catholics keep funding the Church as it works so hard to stop equality and so hard to hurt queer people, whether those queer people be Catholic or not.

This exposure of extreme hypocrisy elegantly underlines how out of step the all-male, toxically homophobic Catholic clergy are with the flock they say they lead.

American Catholics are good, decent, moral people who don’t put up with injustice. The same cannot be said for their nominal leaders. This episode of hate and hypocrisy underlines that perfectly well.

Isn’t it time for the flock to fight back against the morally depraved shepherd? Isn’t it time to end the Church’s extremist anti-LGBTQ hate speech? If not now, when?

James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

The preceding piece originally appeared at Prism & Pen, ‘Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling,’ and is republished by permission.

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Proud Boys & QAnon expose dangerous hatred of Trans people at Wi Spa

They have one agenda and that is to do harm to and in this case to denigrate and do political, social and physical harm to trans people.

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Proud Boys and QAnon supporters face off against LAPD and counter protestors (Photo by Exile in LA, on Twitter)

By Bamby Salcedo | LOS ANGELES – Proud Boys are great at stirring things up but perhaps not so great at staging their protests.

As the leader of Los Angeles based The [email protected] Coalition, a nationally recognized organization that provides direct services to trans people in Los Angeles, I am alarmed by the events that have unfolded around WiSpa in Koreatown.  

At WiSpa, a transgender woman is said to have exposed her male genitaliia in the presence of children. One of the accusers says her children were unwittingly naked in a hot tub with a trans woman who was also naked.

All the problems with the last paragraph aside (and there are quite a few), the person(s) who made that complaint has remained anonymous and the transwoman who is accused has never come forward and has never been identified.

The complaints went viral on a video, however and has resulted now in 2 protests, the most recent becoming a threat to public safety and resulting in the arrest of 41 people and the seizure of a cache of weapons.

At the protests, to my knowledge, none of our clients nor I was present and none of us had any significant knowledge that there would be such a protest as no one has reached out for us to participate.

I have many friends who are trans-identified and no local activists we are familiar with participated in either of the protests, at least no one from our side of the fence. Not a single person who participated in the protest are individuals known to me and I have heard of no members of my organization who knew any of them, either.

And we would know, as word runs fast in our community.

Our offices are less than 3 blocks from WiSpa and the protests took place near our front door. Perhaps there’s some strategy in that. And to me, the strategy is simply orchestrated by people who are not even connected to the local trans community.

The [email protected] Coalition is in the business of showing up to support our trans siblings and advocate and defend our rights. The fact that we have not shown up should speak volumes to every concerned party in the nation.

I believe the whole situation was wholly manufactured and manipulated, particularly by people who are trying to gain followers and those in the right who with their continued efforts are trying to create violence against our community.

Right wing agitators created the situation to give them a platform to spread anti-trans propaganda. They are happy to use lies and bring weapons such as mace, pepper spray, knives and guns, happy to incite violence and to seek wider support for their hate with faux-outrage.

It is a known fact that where Proud Boys go, their counterparts follow, giving the appearance of a much greater threat. We’ve seen it in Berkeley, in Charlottesville, in DC, at BLM marches around the country and in many other places. This is what they are known for.

They have one agenda and that is to do harm to and in this case to denigrate and do political, social and physical harm to trans people.

Whether we knew the counter-protestors or not, the LAPD needs to be called out for using excessive force to intervene, especially where, as it was assumed, counter protesters were LGBTQ community members exercising their free speech rights. 

The LAPD’s violence at the protest of course also amplifies the intended anti-trans and anti-left message of the Proud Boys and the right. It fuels the optics.

There have been reports that the counter-protestors were unknown actors and followers of the right wing, raising the possibility that the counter-protestors were there just for the thrill of the fight.

Let me be clear:  Extremist right-wing forces do not have anything better to do and are trying to keep busy attempting to continue to spark the national debate about public accommodation laws and transgender bodies.

We know they are willing to bring and use weapons. They have no regard or respect for other people who are not like them. 

Our community and our allies need to be cautious. The LGBTQ community has long been mindful of the need to vet situations before we respond to them the way this crazy group of people are doing it. That’s why we need to be strategic about how we participate in these types of situations. .

Proud Boys, Q-Anon and many other conservative groups are looking for a fight. We need to keep our community safe because we need all of us to change the narrative that they are trying to portray. We need to let all of those conservative groups and LAPD that we are better than them

The stakes are too high and we must be smart, vigilant and strategic about creating a better world for all of us.

Stand down Proud Boys:  we will not take your bait.

Bamby Salcedo is the President and CEO of Los Angeles Based [email protected] Coalition. She is a highly regarded, nationally and internationally recognized activist, advocate, community organizer and social justice advocate and professional.

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Why it’s so urgent to tell Senators to pass the Equality Act now!

Today, millions of Americans lack basic non-discrimination protections just because of who they are or whom they love.

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U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lab employees raise progress pride flag in Germantown, MD for Pride 2021 (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Energy)

By Karen Ocamb | Concerned that passage of the Equality Act isn’t seen by Congress with the same urgency as the LGBTQ and allied communities, the Freedom & Opportunity For All coalition held a tele-town hall on July 14 to urge advocates to urgently call U.S. Senators and press for LGBTQ protections now.

President Biden had pledged to sign the bill — which has support from a majority of Americans — within his first 100 days. Speaker Pelosi ushered passage of the bill (H.R. 5) through the House in February by a vote of 224 to 206. But the Equality Act has since stalled in the Senate with no apparent strategy to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary for passage.

Advocates are calling on the LGBTQ community and allies to pressure the Senate before the window closes on securing full equality for LGBTQ Americans. Public Justice is proud to support their efforts and encourages our own supporters to join this critical outreach to lawmakers.

Representatives from Freedom & Opportunity For All, which includes 18 national LGBTQ and ally organizations, told the tele-town hall audience of 2,000 listeners that the LGBTQ community “needs non-discrimination protections now more than ever” as LGBTQ people and their families “face an unprecedented legal barrage of attacks around country.”

That assessment seems confirmed by recent research about LGBTQ youth that has largely, and unfortunately, gone unnoticed.

In its 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental HealthThe Trevor Project, the national suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, indicates that 75 percent of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity at least once in their lifetime; 42 percent seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth; and LGBTQ youth attempted suicide at more than twicethe rate of those who did not experience discrimination in the past year.

In an earlier survey, The Trevor Project estimated that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 seriously consider suicide each year in America, and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds. The message our federal government sends to these young people when it refuses to take action to respect and protect the dignity of LGBTQ people is both unmistakable and unquestionably harmful.

Discrimination and suicide statistics for LGBTQ people of color are even more striking. According to a June report from Cornell University’s What We Know Project, LGBTQ people of color — especially those who live in states with active anti-LGBTQ laws or no protections — experience egregiously disproportionate rates of discrimination impacting the full range of their humanity, leading to poorer mental and physical health and serious attempts to die by suicide.

LGBTQ people of color also experience greater economic insecurity. For instance, the majority of Black LGBT people (56%) live in low-income households (below 200% of the federal poverty level) compared to 49% of Black non-LGBT Americans, and Black LGBT adults are also more likely to experience food insecurity than Black non-LGBT adults (37% compared to 27%).

“This research brief makes clear the tangible harms that discrimination inflicts on LGBTQ people of color, and the urgent need for public policy that reflects what the research tells us about how we can reduce those harms,” said the study’s author, Dr. Nathaniel Frank.

As Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David told the town hall audience, “despite all the progress that has been made, LGBTQ people with multiple marginalized identities face discrimination in their day to day lives.” There are gaps in the rights for women and people of color and “there are no federal protections for us from discrimination in business. As a Black and gay man, I could take an Uber or Lyft and be thrown out for who I am.” The Equality Act would provide those protections and “deliver on the promise of our democracy.”

Advocates’ hopes were high during Pride Month in June when the White House seemed to be taking up the cause.

“Freedom and equality are fundamental American values. But today, millions of Americans lack basic non-discrimination protections just because of who they are or whom they love. President Biden believes that every American must be able to live freely, openly, and safely. That’s why he continues to call on the Senate to swiftly pass the Equality Act, legislation which will provide long overdue federal civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans and their families, while strengthening some key civil rights laws for people of color, women, people with disabilities, and people of faith,” said the White House in a June 25 release.

Public Justice is a strong ally in this fight for civil rights. That’s why we announced support for the Equality Act when it was first re-introduced on February 18 by Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and out gay Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island.

As we said then, The Equality Act seeks to secure gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes under the federal Civil Rights Act and would ban discrimination against LGBTQ people in nearly every aspect of American life, from the workplace to housing and the marketplace. Last year, the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton Countyestablished protections for LGBTQ people under federal law, prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people in the workplace on the basis that anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination is sex discrimination.

However, passage of the Equality Act would take it a step further and amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit anti-LGBTQ and sex discrimination in public accommodations and federal programs while ensuring that it would be much harder to undo future bans on discrimination. Additionally, the Equality Act would expand the definition of public accommodations, including spaces like retail stores, banks, transportations services, and healthcare services. Americans in every state — and regardless of religion, party affiliation, and economic status — support this measure.

During the Freedom & Opportunity For All coalition tele-town hall, Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania and National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen asked respondents to talk to family, friends and “recruit all the people we care about” to press for the Equality Act. We hope Public Justice supporters will heed their call and join the push to pass the Equality Act today.

As dedicated public interest advocates, we know that injustice is America’s enemy, holding us all back and preventing our country from working the way it was meant to work. Passage of the Equality Act is consistent with our advocacy fighting bullying, advocating for safer schools and working for transgender inclusion, especially in schools and school athletic programs. We have long believed those values — of opportunity, equality under the law and the full inclusion of all people in our justice system and our society — should be non-partisan. In fact, they should be bipartisan.

That’s also why Heng-Lehtinen encouraged the town hall audience to talk to both Democratic and Republican senators. “We cannot take any support for granted,” he said, asking advocates to tell their own stories about experiencing or fearing discrimination, not just their policy position. “Stories can lead to meaningful change,” he added. “Your mission is to persuade them.”

Scanlon, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the Equality Act is “close to my heart” because her baby sister came out to her 40 years ago. “You have to do whatever you can to make sure the person you love can live fully. Everyone should have an equal chance at the American Dream.”

Today, we call on all advocates for justice, and our entire Public Justice family, to do just that. To help, call the capitol switchboard at (202) 224–3121 and ask your Senators to support the Equality Act now.

Karen Ocamb is the Director of Media Relations for Public Justice, a national nonprofit legal organization that advocates and litigates in the public interest. The former News Editor of the Los Angeles Blade, Ocamb is a longtime chronicler of the lives of the LGBTQ community in Southern California. 

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