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Becerra opposes Trump anti-LGBTQ religious exemption in federal contracts

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President Donald Trump’s core political base is anchored by power-hungry, hypocritical  Christian evangelicals. But despite being called out, even by Democratic Christians on the campaign trail,Trump-whispers such as Vice President Mike Pence, the recently exposed “self-dealing” Jerry Falwell, Jr., Focus on the Family and the hate group Family Research Council have been given carte blanche to dictate anti-LGBTQ positions to roll back the equal rights progress made under former President Barack Obama.

One of the latest pushes is to call religious bigotry a “civil right” that requires an exemption to existing civil rights laws with LGBTQ protections in the workplace. Last August, the Trump administration proposed a rule change to the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs that would better shield self-proclaimed “religion-exercising organizations” and “closely held” companies from discrimination claims in hiring and areas where actions were taken ostensibly motivated by religious beliefs.

“The proposed rule is intended to clarify the longstanding civil rights protections afforded to religious organizations that contract with the federal government,” one official told Bloomberg Law. The proposal would ensure the “religious protections are given the same federal recognition as all other civil rights.”

LGBTQ and other civil rights groups said the proposal would essentially weaponize religious freedom. “Once again, the Trump administration is shamefully working to license taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion. Nearly one-quarter of the employees in the U.S. work for an employer that has a contract with the federal government,” Ian Thompson, American Civil Liberties Union senior legislative counsel, said in a statement. “We will work to stop this rule that seeks to undermine our civil rights protections and encourages discrimination in the workplace.”

On Monday, Sept. 16, the final day of the public comment period, the Trump proposal opponents gained some major allies. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro led a coalition of attorneys general in submitting a comment letter urging the Department of Labor (DOL) to rescind the proposal that they say needlessly conflicts with protections afforded under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“This is 2019, not 1920. No one should fear losing their job because of whom they love,” Becerra said. “The Trump Administration is paving the way for federal contractors to openly discriminate against the LGBTQ community and anyone else who might not conform to their personal beliefs. Here in California we’re standing up for workers and refuse to roll back the clock on the civil rights of all Americans.”

Becerra and the coalition note that the re-interpretation of the religious exemption contained in Executive Order 11246, which mandates equal employment opportunity in federal government contracting and prohibits all federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin, would “loosen the standards regarding the types of organizations that can self-identify as religious.”

As a result, Becerra says in a press release, “DOL is opening the door for a broad range of employers, including for-profit corporations, to claim the exemption and discriminate against their employees based on any worker’s non-adherence to specific religious beliefs or practices as understood by the contractor. For example, as a result of the proposal, a gay or transgender employee could potentially be required to adhere to the religious tenets of a for-profit corporation’s owners or board or face the possibility of termination.”

That directly conflicts with existing protections afforded under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and inflict harm on states’ residents.

As most Californians know, longtime LGBTQ ally Becerra has been leading the challenge to Trump’s civil rights rollbacks. In fact, last May, Becerra filed his 50th lawsuit against the Trump administration, including against a rule that would allow care providers to deny basic healthcare on the basis of religious or moral objections. Two months later, in July, Becerra joined a coalition of attorneys general in defending Title VII’s prohibition against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The comment letter is signed by Becerra and the Attorneys General of Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

 

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U.S. Federal Courts

U.S. Appellate Court rules trans people have legal protections under ADA

“This is a thorough, well-reasoned opinion recognizing that the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with gender dysphoria”

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Lewis F. Powell Jr. Courthouse, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Richmond VA (Photo Credit: GSA)

RICHMOND – Transgender people have additional protections from discrimination in the eyes of federal law for having a disability if they experience gender dysphoria, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in a consequential decision that marks a first for a federal appeals court.

A three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, determined the Americans with Disability Act prohibits discrimination against people with gender dysphoria — despite explicit language in the law excluding “transsexualism” and “gender identity disorder” as a protected classes.

U.S. Circuit Court Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, an appointee of Bill Clinton, wrote in a 56-page decision gender dysphoria doesn’t fall under the those two categories in the law because “gender dysphoria is not a gender identity disorder.”

“[T]he ADA excludes from its protection anything falling within the plain meaning of ‘gender identity disorders,’ as that term was understood ‘at the time of its enactment,’” Motz writes. “But nothing in the ADA, then or now, compels the conclusion that gender dysphoria constitutes a ‘gender identity disorder’ excluded from ADA protection.”

As a result, the appeals court remanded the case for additional review to the lower trial court, which had come to the opposite conclusion and determined transgender aren’t covered under ADA.

The case was filed a Kesha Williams, a transgender woman with gender dysphoria who spent six months, incarcerated in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. Although she was initially housed in a women’s prison, she was transferred to a man’s prison when officials learned she was transgender and was faced delays in getting transition-related care as well as harassment from fellow inmates and prison officials.

Among the group advocating in the case for additional protections under ADA were LGBTQ groups, including GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the Fourth Circuit.

Jennifer Levi, GLAD’s transgender rights project director, said in a statement the decision is a “huge win” for transgender advocates because “there is no principled reason to exclude transgender people from our federal civil rights laws.”

“It’s incredibly significant for a federal appeals court to affirm that the protections in our federal disability rights laws extend to transgender people,” Levi said. “It would turn disability law upside down to exclude someone from its protection because of having a stigmatized medical condition. This opinion goes a long way toward removing social and cultural barriers that keep people with treatable, but misunderstood, medical conditions from being able to thrive.”

The idea transgender people are covered under ADA has been controversial even among transgender people. On one hand, reading the law to include transgender people gives them added legal protections. On the other hand, transgender advocates have fighting hard for years to make the case being transgender isn’t a mental disorder. The American Psychological Association removed “gender dysphoria” as a type of mental disorder with the publication of DSM–5 in 2013.

“This is a thorough, well-reasoned opinion recognizing that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with gender dysphoria,” said NCLR’s Legal Director Shannon Minter. “This decision sets a powerful precedent that will be important for other courts considering this critical issue.”

Although the Fourth Circuit is the first federal appeals court to rule transgender people have protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, other courts have come to the same determination. In 2017, a federal trial judge in Pennsylvania ruled transgender people are able to sue in cases of discrimination under ADA despite the exclusions under the law.

“The effort to exclude transgender people from their rightful protections under the ADA was always baseless and discriminatory,” said Joshua Block, Staff Attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, “and we’re thankful the Fourth Circuit affirmed that reality today. Transgender people are denied a multitude of reasonable rights and accommodations, particularly while incarcerated, and today’s ruling is a step forward for their fairness and equality.”  

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Mississippi

Police: Murder ‘isolated’ incident- no ongoing threat to LGBTQ community

Police arrested Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr., a 22-year-old Ole Miss graduate, for Lee’s murder, & he is currently being held without bond

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Jimmie “Jay” Lee (Photo courtesy of the Oxford Mississippi Police Department)

By Molly Minta | OXFORD – The Oxford Mississippi Police Department released a statement Friday afternoon that the killing of Jimmie “Jay” Lee, a Black student who was well-known in the town’s LGBTQ community, is an “isolated incident” that does not reflect a broader threat to queer people in Mississippi. 

The statement comes three days after a Lafayette County judge determined there was probable cause for police to arrest Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr., a 22-year-old Ole Miss graduate, for Lee’s murder, and that he should be held without bond. 

“Based on the information collected to date, our investigators believe this crime represents an isolated incident stemming from the relationship between Jay Lee and Tim Herrington,” the release states. 

Members of the LGBTQ community in Oxford have been asking police to release more information about the nature of the case ever since Herrington was arrested three weeks ago. Many members said more transparency from police would help them make decisions about how to stay safe. 

Police nodded to this perspective in the release: “More broadly, we want to stress that our agencies are committed to doing all that we can to maintain a safe environment for everyone in our community.”

Members of the LBGTQ community are more likely to be the victim of physical harm from domestic and intimate partners. This is especially true for Black queer people who face compounded discrimination due to homophobia and racism — a routine threat of violence that is personal and systemic, with roots much deeper than any one case.

The release also follows a story Mississippi Today published earlier this week based on accounts from 11 LGBTQ students, faculty and University of Mississippi alumni who said they no longer felt safe in Oxford. At least one community member is afraid to leave their house, said Jaime Harker, the director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies at UM and the owner of Violet Valley, a feminist bookstore near Oxford. 

Harker said she felt that OPD’s silence contributed to harrowing rumors in the community about the nature and reason for Lee’s killing. 

“I think people are filling the void with what their biggest fears are,” she said. 

Lee, 20, was a well-known member of Oxford’s LBGTQ community who regularly performed at Code Pink, a local drag night. An open, confident person, Lee ran for homecoming king last year to promote a platform of “self love and living your truth.” He repeatedly spoke out about the harassment received for wearing women’s clothing. 

For many people in the community, Lee’s outspokenness made his disappearance all the more terrifying. 

Lindsey Trinh, a senior journalism student at Ole Miss, told Mississippi Today that after weeks of receiving no information about Lee’s killing, she decided she was too fearful and anxious to return to classes in person. She wrote an email to the university provost and her professors explaining how Lee’s case had affected her. 

“At the time and because of the unknown of why this has happened to Jay and the whereabouts of his body, I have decided that I cannot physically come back to Oxford for my last semester this Fall,” Trinh wrote in her email. “I fear for my safety and well-being as an outspoken and proud gay person of color.”

Authorities believe that Lee’s body, still missing, is somewhere in Lafayette or Grenada County. But the circumstantial evidence that police have so far gathered was enough to bring charges, Lafayette County Assistant District Attorney Tiffany Kilpatrick argued in court on Tuesday. 

“In 2022 you do not need a body,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s not the 1870s.” 

During the preliminary hearing, Kilpatrick alleged that Herrington’s casual relationship with Lee was unknown to his friends and family. She said that early in the morning on July 8, Herrington “lured” Lee to his apartment, strangled him, and then “staged a cover up” by driving Lee’s car to Molly Barr Trails, a student housing complex. 

Herrington then picked up a box truck belonging to his moving company, Kilpatrick said, and drove it to his parent’s house in Grenada where he retrieved a long-handle shovel and wheelbarrow. 

Kilpatrick argued that Herrington should have been denied bond because his charge – first-degree murder – will likely be elevated to capital murder as police uncover more evidence; some of which is still being processed at a private crime lab. Kilpatrick also argued Herrington was a flight risk, noting that a forensic search of his MacBook showed he had searched for flights from Dallas to Singapore. 

Herrington’s defense attorney, state Rep. Kevin Horan, disputed that Herrington, who has $1,910 in his bank account, could afford to flee the state. In his closing statement, Horan said the prosecution’s case amounted to “suspicion, conjecture and speculation.” 

Horan called four witnesses who testified, in an effort to obtain bond for Herrington, to his character and connections to the community in Grenada. The witnesses included Herrington’s mother, an elder at his church, one of his teachers, and ??Emily Tindell, the principal of Grenada High School. 

Tindell said that Herrington and his family have “the best of character in Grenada County.”

In her closing statement, Kilpatrick said that Herrington was not the same person that his teachers and family described. 

“They don’t know this other Tim Herrington, his double life,” she said. “They don’t know the Tim Herrington who lives in anonymity. This Tim Herrington, your honor, is the Tim Herrington who killed Jay Lee.”

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Molly Minta, a Florida native, covers higher education for Mississippi Today. She works in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on higher education. Prior to joining Mississippi Today, Molly worked for The Nation, The Appeal, and Mother Jones.

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The preceding article was previously published by Mississippi Today and is republished with permission.

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Mississippi Today is building a better Mississippi by providing news and resources centered on the lived experiences of the people who live and work here. By donating, you’re joining the thousands of members who voluntarily pay to provide all Mississippians with free and accessible nonprofit journalism that holds public officials accountable and puts a human face on the issues.

MississippiToday.org is supported by grants from foundations, by contributions from donors and sponsors and by advertising. All donations are tax deductible.  A complete list of the Mississippi Today donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor bans conversion therapy using state funds

Pennsylvania is now the 27th state in the country to enact statewide protections against the practice of conversion therapy

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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, (D) signed an executive order Tuesday that banned use of state funds for conversion therapy and also directs state agencies to discourage conversion therapy. The order will also put measures in place to ensure state offices implement culturally appropriate care and services to LGBTQ constituents.

“Conversion therapy is a traumatic practice based on junk science that actively harms the people it supposedly seeks to treat,” said Governor Wolf in a press statement. “This discriminatory practice is widely rejected by medical and scientific professionals and has been proven to lead to worse mental health outcomes for LGBTQIA+ youth subjected to it. This is about keeping our children safe from bullying and extreme practices that harm them.”

Advocates from The Trevor Project attended Tuesday’s signing of the executive order, commemorating it as a victory for LGBTQ young people in the state. On Wednesday, The Trevor Project will be hosting a town hall meeting in Philadelphia to discuss the impact of the executive order with community members.

“Taxpayers’ dollars must never again be spent on the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion ‘therapy’ — which has been consistently associated with increased suicide risk and an estimated $9.23 billion economic burden in the U.S.,” said Troy Stevenson, Senior Campaign Manager for Advocacy and Government Affairs of The Trevor Project.

“Thank you Gov. Wolf for your leadership and for taking bold action to protect and affirm LGBTQ young people across the Commonwealth. We urge the state legislature to pass comprehensive state-wide protections and for governors across the nation to follow the Keystone State’s lead in ending this abusive practice.”

After the signing the Governor also noted:

“The Trevor Project’s Youth Mental Health Survey showed that rates of negative mental health outcomes among LGBTQIA+ youth are much lower in communities, schools and families that are accepting and supportive of LGBTQIA+ people. That’s why I signed this executive order to protect Pennsylvanians from conversion therapy and the damage it does to our communities. Because all of our youth deserve to grow up in a commonwealth that accepts and respects them.

“I want LGBTQIA+ youth and individuals across Pennsylvania to know that I stand with you. I see you, I respect you and I support you. My administration will continue to support policies to keep children safe from bullying and harmful practices.”

“We have worked tirelessly over the last year to collaboratively get this executive order drafted, through discussions with advocates, parents, and many stakeholders. With this action, the practice of conversion therapy has its days numbered in Pennsylvania​,” said Rafael Alvarez Febo, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs. “Young people should never be punished for being who they are and that’s what socalled conversion therapy does, while causing sometimes irreparable trauma to individuals.” 

With the signing of this executive order, Pennsylvania is now the 27th state in the country to enact statewide protections against the practice of conversion therapy.

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