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High stakes for LGBT Americans at Supreme Court today

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marriage equality, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court is set Tuesday to hear a trio of cases that will determine not just whether firing workers for being LGBT is legal under federal law, but will also have ramifications for LGBT people in education, health care and housing.

At issue is whether anti-LGBT discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and therefore prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex, but says nothing explicitly about sexual orientation or gender identity.

At a time when only 20 states have complete laws banning anti-LGBT discrimination, a Supreme Court ruling affirming Title VII prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination would guarantee federal protections across the board — even for LGBT people who live in states with no protections.

But if the decision goes the other way, the ruling would leave LGBT people in those states with nothing.

Ria Tabacco Mar, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a briefing with reporters the outcome of the decision will “in many ways” have greater impact than the marriage cases.

“We’re talking about the ability to earn a living, the ability to support our families [and] the ability to secure a safe place to live,” Mar said. “I mean, this goes to the very heart of what it is to live and work in this country.”

The Supreme Court agreed to take up the cases alleging anti-LGBT discrimination in April after they ended up with varied outcomes in the Second, Sixth and Eleventh circuits.

Whichever way the Supreme Court rules, the decision will have a profound impact on civil rights law protections for LGBT people, particularly in employment.

For starters, a decision against the LGBT workers would uproot the practices of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which accepts LGBT charges in its enforcement of Title VII as a result of changes made in the Obama administration.

LGBT workers have made good use of these changes. According to data from the EEOC, LGBT workers have filed about 1,800 charges alleging anti-LGBT discrimination each year in recent fiscal years.

Those charges, the latest data show, have resulted at least 1,300 merit resolutions in favor of the workers and at least $22.2 million in monetary benefits awarded since fiscal year 2013.

That opportunity to obtain relief for workplace discrimination would be in jeopardy, if not outright eliminated, if the Supreme Court were to rule Title VII doesn’t cover LGBT people.

(Check out the related chart on the breakdown of LGBT-related charges at EEOC for each fiscal year.)

But because other federal rights laws besides Title VII bar discrimination on the basis of sex without explicitly banning anti-LGBT discrimination, the Supreme Court’s ruling will have an impact on areas besides employment.

Among the federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination are the Fair Housing Act, the Affordable Care Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. That means non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in housing, health care and education are at stake in the resolution of these cases.

The ACLU’s Mar said, “civil rights laws often run in tandem with Title VII,” noting the Supreme Court decision will impact not just employment.

“If the court says it’s perfectly lawful to fire someone for being LGBT, that is going to have trickle down consequences as to how lower courts interpret similar federal statutes and prohibit sex discrimination in housing, and education and in health care,” Mar said.

The high stakes for the Title VII cases are making many LGBT legal observers nervous amid a perception the Supreme Court has tilted to the right under the Trump administration.

During oral arguments, all eyes will be on three justices — Chief Justice John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch — to determine which way they’re leaning.

Roberts is a justice of interest because he’s considered the new moderate and swing vote in the aftermath of former U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy stepping down from the bench.

Moreover, during the Obergefell arguments on same-sex marriage in 2015, Roberts included in his questioning a line suggesting he has at least considered the idea of sexual orientation discrimination being a form of sex discrimination.

“I mean, if Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t,” Roberts said. “And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?”

(Roberts ended up ruling in the minority of the court, concluding that bans on same-sex marriage are constitutional.)

Observers will be watching Kavanaugh because he’s new to the court and doesn’t have a developed LGBT record. (The exception is joining with the majority in April to allow the Trump administration to proceed with the transgender military ban.)

Kavanaugh will be under scrutiny because many progressives are angry he won confirmation last year despite Christine Blasey Ford testifying he sexually assaulted her as a teenager. Kavanaugh continues to face calls for impeachment over this allegation and other reports of sexual misconduct.

Finally, Kavanaugh suggested during his confirmation hearing he’d oppose anti-gay discrimination at the Supreme Court when he read a statement from the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision under questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

“In Masterpiece Cakeshop, and this is, I think, relevant to your question, Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice [Samuel] Alito and Justice Gorsuch and Justice [Stephen] Breyer, the days of discriminating against gay and lesbian Americans as inferior in dignity and worth are over,” Kavanaugh said.

When Harris asked Kavanaugh whether he agreed with that statement, Kavanaugh declined to answer on the basis that he couldn’t comment on court rulings during his confirmation process.

For Gorsuch, expectations may be low given his previous support for religious freedom in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case at the expense of LGBT rights, but he has built a legal career on being a textualist.

“Judges should instead strive (if humanly and so imperfectly) to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward, and looking to text, structure, and history to decide what a reasonable reader at the time of the events in question would have understood the law to be — not to decide cases based on their own moral convictions or the policy consequences they believe might serve society best,” Gorsuch wrote in 2016.

LGBT rights advocates have argued their belief Title VII covers anti-LGBT discrimination is a textualist argument, so will be looking to see if Gorsuch holds true to his convictions in the Title VII cases.

Mar insisted the LGBT side in the cases “really have the more conservative side in the argument because we’re the textualists here.”

“We’re the ones who are pointing to the words of the statute and saying discrimination because of sex necessarily covers discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Mar said. “It’s the concrete concept of sexual orientation turns on one’s own sex in relation to the sex of the people to whom one is attracted.”

Sharon McGowan, legal director for Lambda Legal, made a similar case.

“Part of what will see here is this moment of accountability, right?” McGowan said. “Will they actually follow that doctrine and where it leads in these cases or will they be engaged in the calisthenics to take sex out of sexual orientation?”

The litigation before the court consists of two consolidated cases — Zarda v. Altitude Express and Bostock v. Clayton County — seeking clarification on whether Title VII cover sexual orientation discrimination and one case — EEOC v. Harris Funeral Homes — that will determine whether Title VII bans anti-transgender discrimination.

Representing gay workers in the sexual orientation cases is Pamela Karlan, who’s director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at Stanford Law School. During the Obama administration, Karlan served as deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and helped worked to implement the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Windsor v. United States.

On the opposite side, the lawyer for the employers is Jeffrey Harris, an attorney with Consovoy McCarthy Park PLLC.

Set to represent Aimee Stephens, a transgender worker in Michigan who was terminated from her job as a funeral director after she announced she’d transition, is David Cole, national legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The attorney for Harris Funeral Homes is John Bursch, who’s vice president of appellate advocacy and senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.

Bursch previewed his arguments before the Supreme Court at a forum hosted by Alliance Defending Freedom earlier this month.

“The basic bottom line is that applying a sex specific dress code based on biological sex is not sex discrimination, unless the notion of sex itself is discrimination,” Bursch said. “And if that’s the case, then you lose any ability to have sex-segregated dress codes, restrooms, locker rooms, overnight facilities and a whole variety of things.”

The Trump administration, which has already filed briefs before the Supreme Court arguing neither gay, lesbian and bisexual people or transgender people are entitled to protections under Title VII, will be represented by U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco.

Although the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is named a plaintiff in the Harris Funeral Homes case, defense of the U.S. government positions before the Supreme Court is exclusively the job of the solicitor general. Instead of arguing the EEOC’s position LGBT people are covered under Title VII, Francisco will likely articulate the government’s position, consistent with his legal briefs, they are not.

Given the Trump administration’s participation in the arguments, Mar said the litigation presents the court with “a test” to determine if it will “become sort of a partisan foil for the Trump administration, or whether it will maintain its own legitimacy.”

“I say that because in the sexual orientation cases, the United States was not a party,” Mar said. “But the Justice Department has sort of stepped in gratuitously on the side of the employers to say that it should be perfectly lawful to fire someone because of their sexual orientation.”

LGBT-based sex discrimination Charges at EEOC

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Community Services - PSA

Restoring hope during a Pandemic

CalHOPE is made up of many teams of Peer Crisis Counselors located in many areas throughout the Golden State

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By Paulina Angel | When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, no one had any idea how severe it was going to be, and more importantly, how long it would last. As case numbers increased to the thousands, we found ourselves entering a new but temporary norm where community events, concerts, movie theatres and basically anything that has to do with gatherings being put on hold.

The most important and vulnerable aspect of the human species is community, and being deprived of social interaction can be damaging to a person’s mental health. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, & Queer Community was hit particularly hard.

As we’ve seen community events such as Prides around the world being canceled, to LGBTQ community centers closing their doors, and adding the political climate of GOP-led states passing Anti-LGBTQ laws, definitely put a strain on the community’s mental well-being. 

Now that we are entering a post-COVID world, even though cases are currently on the rise with the new Delta Variant, there is a new project that has been established to provide peer crisis support as part of recovery efforts for California, CalHOPE.

Funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and run by the California Department of Health Care Services, California Hope or CalHOPE, provides free outreach, crisis counseling and support services to Californians that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A couple of ways that we provide services to individuals are our CalHOPE Connect online chat that can be accessed via a computer, smartphone or tablet. The other option is our Warm Line, which individuals can call and speak with one of our counselors.  

CalHOPE is made up of many teams of Peer Crisis Counselors located in many areas throughout the Golden State such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. We have counselors that specialize in many communities such as Veterans, African-Americans, Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders, Parents & Caregivers, Latinx, Youth & Young Adults, and lastly the LGBTQ community.

CalHOPE also provides support groups and workshops, created personally by our many counselors accessible via Zoom or Google Meet. These workshops include topics such as coping with loss, which can range from losing your job to losing a loved one, dealing with anxiety, stress reduction, and more.

Currently, as social distancing restrictions are being lifted, CalHOPE counselors are getting ready to start going out into the community and talk to folks at local community gatherings. A lot of our counselors have so far spoken to folks at vaccination sites and city council meetings, as well as some of the Mini-Pride events that have occurred towards the end of June. 

Since the establishment of CalHOPE, we have seen support from organizations that are focused on medical and mental health, local city councils, elected officials, and several universities in California, as well as the Los Angeles Kings, San Francisco 49ers, and performers such as Sofia Carson, Los Lobos, Laura Marano, Krewella, and Grace Potter.

CalHOPE and its many groups throughout California are happy and honored to do this work and to ensure many Californians that they are not alone, there is someone here that is ready to help you or lend an ear. 

For more information on how you can utilize our services, visit us at www.CalHOPE.org

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Community Services - PSA

Shark Tank star Daymond John & Lowe’s to help LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs

Diverse small business owners are invited to pitch Lowe’s executives for a chance to sell their products online and in stores nationwide

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Daymond John, star of ABC’s Shark Tank (Photo by Cody Norman)

MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Lowe’s and Daymond John, star of ABC’s Shark Tank and New  York Times best-selling author, are announcing the next round of Making It…With Lowe’s, a nationwide pitch program that gives diverse entrepreneurs a chance to take their business to  the next level by selling on Lowes.com and in Lowe’s stores nationwide.  

Nearly one-third of small businesses in the U.S. were forced to close due to the pandemic, and  one-quarter of minority-owned businesses have temporarily shut their doors. Although the economy is re-opening, entrepreneurs continue to face extraordinary challenges as they work  hard to stabilize their businesses. Lowe’s is bringing back Making It… With Lowe’s at a time  when it is needed most, providing opportunities for diverse entrepreneurs to grow their  businesses amid obstacles that can feel overwhelming.

Lowe’s encourages people of color, women, veterans, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community to apply. 

Making It…With Lowe’s shines a light on the remarkable stories of diverse small business  owners who are often overlooked and underrepresented,” said Daymond John, star of ABC’s  Shark Tank, entrepreneur and investor who will once again host and lend his expertise to give  advice to the program finalists.

“Last year’s program underscored the importance of giving them an opportunity to break through traditional processes. This year, as so many diverse small  business owners begin the recovery process, it is even more important to provide them with a  much-deserved space to succeed,” John added.

The first round of Making It…With Lowe’s attracted more than 1,300 product submissions and the top suppliers received invaluable mentorship from Daymond John and Lowe’s merchants that helped them expand their reach, grow their business and connect with new consumer  audiences.

“As a company that began as a single store 100 years ago, we know firsthand how important  small businesses are to the communities they serve. Through Making It… With Lowe’s, we can  help diverse entrepreneurs reach their dreams of growing and scaling their businesses, all while  helping us find innovative, clever and solution-driven products that we’re proud to offer,” said  Marvin R. Ellison, Chairman and CEO of Lowe’s. “Making It… With Lowe’s is an extension of  our commitment to underserved communities and helps us ensure our products are as diverse  as our associates and customers.”

Lowe’s especially encourages applicants who are members of  the LGBTQ+ community, minorities, people with disabilities, veterans and women to apply, with  innovative products both in and beyond home improvement categories. Hundreds of  entrepreneurs will be evaluated for the opportunity to sell their product on Lowes.com, then 75  suppliers will be invited to meet with Lowe’s merchandising teams to be considered for  additional promotion.

Consumers will be invited to vote for their “fan favorite” among the top 15  suppliers. The field will then narrow to the five top suppliers and the fan favorite, who will pitch  their products to Lowe’s executives for an opportunity to receive a truly unique mentorship and  land on Lowe’s shelves and Lowes.com to reach millions of customers. 

Making It… With Lowe’s offers:

  • Thousands of dollars in business grants
  • Mentorship from Daymond John
  • Opportunity to sell products at Lowes.com and at Lowe’s stores nationwide

Making It… With Lowe’s is just one part of the company’s efforts to support small businesses,  and its overall efforts to increase supplier diversity as part of its Total Home Strategy. Last year,  Lowe’s committed $55 million to fund grants for minority- and women-owned small businesses,  as well as rural small businesses. Lowe’s and partner LISC distributed these grants to more  than 2,700 small businesses, making Lowe’s the largest donor to LISC’s Small Business Relief  & Recovery Program and COVID Rapid Relief & Resiliency Fund. 

As part of Lowe’s continued support of small businesses, the company will put the inspiring  stories of Making It… With Lowe’s finalists on display during an in-person pitch event at a  Charlotte-area Lowe’s store later this year. Visit Lowes.com/MakingItWithLowes to learn more about the program.

Today through July 30 at midnight PST, applicants are invited to apply at Lowes.com/MakingItWithLowes

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Community Services - PSA

“Parks make life better month,” proclaims LA County Board of Supervisors

Parks Make Life Better Month recognizes the positive community benefits of parks, open space, trails, recreation facilities and programs

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Santa Fe Dam Recreational Area (Photo Credit: Mayra Vasquez, Los Angeles County)

LOS ANGELES – The LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion Tuesday proclaiming July as “Parks Make Life Better!” Month in recognition of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation (LA County Parks) and the vital role local, community, regional parks, dog parks, nature centers, trails, open space, and facilities have on contributing to healthy people and communities.

The motion, made by Chair Hilda L. Solis, Supervisor of the First District, comes after LA County Parks experienced its highest number of visitors and demand on services in decades as County residents looked for critical recreation programs and facilities during COVID-19. LA County Parks never closed parks, trails or restrooms and hosted programs such as food distributions, providing thousands of families stability, and supported recovery through COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites. During a time of great uncertainty, loss, sadness and isolation, LA County Parks staff stood together in the service of others to continue the safe operations of parks and outdoor spaces.

“Los Angeles County parks serve as an essential component of the County’s social fabric that unites people across regions and provides recreational opportunities for residents to live, play, and learn,” said Chair Solis. “Throughout the pandemic we saw a surge in foot traffic across parks and trails, affirming the importance of outdoor spaces in enhancing and supporting the overall health and well-being of communities. By declaring July as Parks Make Life Better Month, we acknowledge the role of parks in supporting community health and elevate the work of our park employees who have worked diligently to ensure the continuation of park programming at a time when it was most needed.”

LA County Parks also initiated grab-n-go events while simultaneously delivering pre-recorded and live virtual programming through LA County’s Virtual Recreation Center Parks From HomeThis exceedingly high volume of usage not only proves that parks are a crucial part of every, individual community they are in, but that they also serve as an entry point to care and social safety nets while being an anchor for those most impacted by community instability to seek refuge, rest and resilience.

“Now more than ever, youth, families and seniors need access to parks and spaces to reconnect with others, engage in physical activity and experience the health benefits being in nature and outdoors offers.” said Norma Edith García-González, Director of the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation. “As we safely re-emerge from the pandemic this year, eliminating barriers to programs and services that promote health equity is essential. Parks Make Life Better month highlights the value of our Every Body Plays programming in providing access to swim, nature centers, recreational park programming in promoting health equity.”

LA County’s parks, recreation programs and facilities build healthy, active communities that aid in the prevention of chronic disease, and also improve the mental and emotional health of all community members. Recreational programs and services help residents experiencing violence heal from trauma and serve as safe havens. LA County’s open space and natural recreation areas ensure the ecological beauty of the community is preserved and provide a place for children and adults to connect with nature as they enjoy the outdoors.

Parks Make Life Better Month recognizes the positive personal and community benefits of parks, open space, trails, recreation facilities and programs, nature education, and sports for able and disabled children, teens, adults, and seniors. By elevating the role of parks in building healthy people and communities, our goal is to inform the public on the many benefits of accessing parks, facilities, programs and services.

The Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation manages 183 parks and operates a network of 70,079 acres of parkland, 475 sports amenities such as futsal, basketball, tennis, lawn bowling and multipurpose fields, 42 swimming pools, 15 wildlife sanctuaries, 10 nature centers that serve as a refuge for over 200 animals, 14 lakes – 3 of which are boating and swimming lakes, 5 equestrians centers, more than 210 miles of multi-use trails, the largest municipal golf system in the nation, consisting of 20 golf courses, in addition to the world-class Arboreta and Botanic Gardens and performance venues – Descanso Gardens, Los Angeles County Arboretum, Virginia Robinson Gardens and South Coast Botanic Gardens and the Hollywood Bowl and Ford Theaters.

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