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Fairness for All Act seeks middle ground on LGBT rights

Legislation seen as alternative to Equality Act

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Fairness for All Act, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) has introduced the Fairness for All Act. (Photo public domain)

Newly introduced legislation in the U.S. House backed by the Mormon Church seeks to strike a middle ground on LGBT rights and religious freedom in federal civil rights law, although major proponents of each refuse to support the legislation.

Introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) on Friday, the Fairness for All Act would strike balance between LGBT rights and religious freedom in way proponents say would protect the First Amendment rights. That way, however, permits anti-LGBT discrimination from religious institutions and small-business wedding vendors.

“All of God’s children, regardless of sexual orientation or religion, deserve dignity, respect and the right to pursue happiness,” Stewart said. “This legislation allows us to settle the legal questions and get back to the business of loving our neighbors.”

The Fairness for All Act is seen as an alternative to the Equality Act, legislation approved by the House in May under the Democratic majority — with five Republican votes. The Equality Act would make anti-LGBT discrimination a form of sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and clarify the Religious Freedom Restoration Act can’t be a justification for discrimination.

Much like the Equality Act, the Fairness for All Act would make anti-LGBT discrimination against federal law, but it would also institute an accommodation for institutions like religious organizations and small-business wedding vendors.

The Fairness for All Act would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, jury selection, credit, federal programs and public accommodations, but do so without defining anti-LGBT discrimination as sex discrimination. The bill would also expand the definition of public accommodations beyond the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But in contrast to the Equality Act, the Fairness for All Act would preserve the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and protect the tax-exempt status of religious colleges and universities that oppose same-sex marriage, such as Brigham Young University, Bethel University and Catholic University.

The Fairness for All Act would also extend protections to small business whose owners refuse to provide services to same-sex weddings based on religious objections. Among them is Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who gained notoriety when his reached the Supreme Court and justices ruled narrowly in his favor based on the facts of the case.

The measure would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination at “any store, shopping center or online retailer or provider of online services that has 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year,” but states the threshold doesn’t apply to claims of discrimination based on race, color or national origin or the small business wedding vendors excluded under the measure.

Similarly, the measure says “a property owned or operated primarily for noncommercial purposes by a non-profit religious corporation that holds itself out to the public as substantially religious, has as its stated purpose in its organic documents that it is religious, and is substantially religious in its current operations” is not a public accommodations under the legislation.

Lastly, the Fairness for All Act purports to protect religiously affiliated adoption agencies “so they can continue to serve vulnerable children and willing couples, while at the same time ensuring the ability of LGBT persons to adopt and foster children too.”

Unlike the Equality Act, the Fairness for All Act also makes clear access to abortion services aren’t protected, but stipulates the measure shouldn’t be construed to impose a penalty on women who have had an abortion or seek abortion-related services.

Among the proponents of the Fairness for All Act is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which expressed support for the legislation in a statement Friday.

But the nation’s leading advocacy group for LGBTQ rights says the Fairness for All Act doesn’t go far enough, and an anti-LGBT legal firm that purports to protect religious freedom also doesn’t support the legislation.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said he “strongly oppose[s]” the Fairness for All Act because it sells LGBTQ people short and erodes existing protections under federal civil rights law.

“The so-called Fairness for All Act is an unacceptable, partisan vehicle that erodes existing civil rights protections based on race, sex and religion, while sanctioning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people,” David said. “For LGBTQ people living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, this bill is a double whammy of dangerous rollbacks and discriminatory carve-outs. This bill is both wrong and harmful, and we strongly oppose it.”

David said the right path for advancing LGBTQ rights is the Equality Act, which he said is necessary because “LGBTQ people deserve full federal equality, period.”

“The Equality Act, on the other hand, has already passed through the House of Representatives with a bipartisan majority, the support of more than 260 leading companies and more than 500 civil rights, religious, medical and social welfare organizations, and is our movement — and, most importantly, our community’s — top legislative priority,” David said.

A spokesperson for Alliance Defending Freedom, the anti-LGBT legal firm that has represented Masterpiece Cakeshop and schools seeking to deny transgender kids access to bathroom consistent with their gender identity, referred to the Washington Blade to a 2018 statement from the organization against the Fairness for All Act Act.

“Every person should be treated with dignity and respect,” said ADF Senior Vice President of U.S. Legal Division Kristen Waggoner. “Unfortunately, sexual orientation and gender identity laws like the so-called ‘Fairness for All’ proposal undermine both fairness and freedom. This proposal is a SOGI law under different branding, with special — and likely temporary— exemptions that protect only a favored few.

A chief proponent of the Fairness for All Act, however, is the American Unity Fund, a pro-LGBTQ Republican organization backed by philanthropist and GOP donor Paul Singer. Another supporter of the legislation is Republican LGBT ally Margaret Hoover, who voiced support for the measure in an interview last month with the Los Angeles Blade.

The Fairness for All Act is introduced as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering litigation that would clarify whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex in employment, also applies to cases of anti-LGBT discrimination.

If the court rules in favor of LGBT workers, it could have far reaching implications and make federal legislation against anti-LGBT discrimination moot in employment, housing and education (although a legislative change would still be necessary to ban anti-LGBT bias in public accommodations and federal programs). If the court rules against LGBT workers, they would have no protections under federal law, and a legislative fix would be all the more needed.

The Trump administration, through White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere, signaled an openness to the Fairness for All Act when asked by the Washington Blade about the legislation.

“President Trump has protected human dignity, fought for inclusion, promoted LGBTQ Americans and strongly protected religious freedom for everyone while in office,” Deere said. “The White House looks forward to reviewing the legislation.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lawsuits against Ohio State over sexual predator sports doctor tossed

“The judge just threw 300 survivors in a trash can,” Steve Snyder-Hill said then adding, “a trash can with an OSU logo on it”

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Screenshot via WBNS-TV, CBS News 10, Columbus, Ohio

COLUMBUS, Oh. – A Federal judge Wednesday dismissed hundreds of pending lawsuits against Ohio State University, (OSU) in cases related to a former OSU sports team doctor Richard Strauss, who had sexually molested young male athletes and other students for twenty years.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson of the Southern District of Ohio wrote;

It is beyond dispute that Plaintiffs, as well as hundreds of other former students, suffered unspeakable sexual abuse by Strauss. It is also true that many Plaintiffs and other students complained of Strauss’s abuse over the years and yet medical doctors, athletic directors, head and assistant coaches, athletic trainers, and program directors failed to protect these victims from Strauss’s predation.”

According to Judge Watson he dismissed the cases because the statute of limitations for criminal rape cases in Ohio is 20 years to report for criminal prosecution or otherwise have legal proceedings initiated.

“If there is a viable path forward for Plaintiffs on their claim against Ohio State, it starts with the legislature rather than the judiciary,” Watson wrote.

Taking aim at Ohio lawmakers Watson noted; ““At all times since the filing of these cases, the Ohio legislature, has the power, but not the will, to change the statute of limitations.” The legislature can provide a “path forward for Plaintiffs on their claim against Ohio State.”

Strauss preyed on hundreds of young men from the time of his employment at OSU in 1978 until he retired in 1998, and allegations about his misconduct didn’t become public until an ex-wrestler named Mike DiSabato spoke out in 2018, years after Strauss’ death by suicide in 2005.

The former athletes were represented by several legal teams including Washington D.C./Oakland, California-based legal advocacy group Public Justice.

Today’s ruling is not only deeply disappointing,” the legal team said in reaction to the ruling today, “but also sends a disturbing message that the very real challenges sexual abuse survivors often face in understanding what has happened to them – and who enabled the abuse they experienced – is irrelevant when they ultimately ask for the court’s help in holding abusive people and institutions accountable.

OSU spent decades denying, hiding, and evading the truth about its role in concealing the abuse that happened on its watch. Today’s ruling punishes survivors already traumatized by the university’s callous campaign of deception. The court’s decision cannot, and must not, be the final word in the survivors’ journey towards justice.”

The case against OSU brought widespread attention as one of the cases involved Strauss victim Steve Snyder-Hill, a a prominent LGBTQ activist and a U.S. Army veteran. Upon hearing of Watson’s ruling, a palpably angered Snyder-Hill told several media outlets; “The judge just threw 300 survivors in a trash can,” he said adding, “a trash can with an OSU logo on it.”

Steve Snyder-Hill (Screen shot via WCMH-TV, NBC 4 Columbus, Ohio)

NBC News had reported on the case and profiled Snyder-Hill in 2019:

[…] In the years following the alleged assault, Snyder-Hill would go on to serve in the Iraq War, publicly fight against the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and become an outspoken advocate for same-sex marriage. He and his husband, Josh, married in 2011 in Washington, D.C., in front of the tombstone of Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam War veteran who had been discharged by the Air Force for being gay. The couple were involved in a lawsuit filed by Service Members Legal Defense Network that challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevented the military from giving benefits to legally married same-sex couples, and successfully fought in court to have their surnames combined in Ohio.

Snyder-Hill was unexpectedly thrust into the media spotlight in 2011 after submitting a question during the Republican presidential debate about whether the candidates would reverse the 2011 repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Some members of the audience booed Snyder-Hill, who submitted his question by video from his military base in Iraq. That an active-duty soldier in uniform would be booed during a presidential debate shocked and angered many Americans during a time when acceptance for same-sex marriage was mounting. […]

The publicity over the OSU cases also ensnared conservative right-wing Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), renewing questions over his failure to stop Strauss from molesting former wrestlers Jordan had coached more than two decades ago at OSU. Jordan was accused of that neglect in 2018 by those former wrestlers.

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National

2.3 million Latinx LGBTQ adults live in the US

More than one-third are living in low-income households

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Graphic via Fenway Health LATINX Center, Boston, Massachusetts

LOS ANGELES – A new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds that an estimated 2.3 million adults in the U.S. identify as Hispanic or Latino/a and LGBTQ.

Researchers found that Latinx LGBTQ people fare worse than their non-LGBTQ counterparts on some measures of economic and social vulnerability, including unemployment and food insecurity. In addition, Latinx LGBTQ adults face disparities in mental and physical health such as depression, asthma, and chronic health conditions compared to non-LGBTQ adults.

However, similarities were found between the two groups, including household annual income and experiences of victimization and discrimination.

This study provides information on the well-being of Latinx adults in the U.S., as well as additional analyses of Latinx LGBTQ subgroups, such as Mexican, Central American, and South American LGBTQ people in California.

“In terms of economic security, we see both similarities and differences between Latinx LGBTQ and non-LGBTq adults,” said lead author Bianca D.M. Wilson, Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “The fact that Latinx LGBT adults tend to be younger may contribute to  disparities in employment and food insecurity, while U.S. citizenship—which many Latinx LGBTQ adults in California have—may help close the poverty gap.”

KEY FINDINGS

Demographic Characteristics

  • There are an estimated 2.3 million Latinx LGBTQ adults in the US.
  • 65% of Latinx LGBTQ adults are under age 35, compared to 45% of non-LGBT adults.
  • Just over half (52%) of LGBTQ Latinx adults are women, and 48% are men. 
  • Fewer Latinx LGBTQ adults (44%) than non-LGBTQ adults (57%) are raising children.

Economic Characteristics

  • Latinx LGBTQ adults are more likely to be unemployed (10% vs. 8%) and to experience food insecurity (32% vs. 25%) than Latinx non-LGBT adults.
  • 37% of Latinx LGBTQ adults and 39% of non-LGBTQ adults live with a household income below $24,000 per year.
  • Latinx LGBTQ adults are less likely to live in low-income households than non-LGBTQ adults, however, the rates of poverty are high for both groups: 60% of Latinx LGBTQ adults live below 200% of the federal poverty level, compared to 63% of non-LGBTQ Latinx adults.

Mental and Physical Health

  • Nearly one-third (30%) of Latinx LGBTQ adults have been diagnosed with depression, compared to 16% of Latinx non-LGBTQ adults.
  • Latinx LGBTQ women have the highest rates of depression (35%) compared with non-LGBTQ women (20%) and both groups of men.
  • Latinx LGBTQ adults (12%) are more likely to have Medicaid as their primary insurance compared to Latinx non-LGBTQ adults (9%).

Discrimination and Stress

  • 17% of Latinx LGBTQ adults disagreed with the statement “You always feel safe and secure” compared to 11% of non-LGBTQ adults.
  • 42% of Latinx LGBTQ adults reported experiencing physical assault and threats, and 69% reported experiencing verbal assault or abuse at some point in their lives.

Social Support

  • The majority (64%) of Latinx LGB adults and 40% of Latinx transgender adults reported feeling connected to the LGBT community.
  • Less than half (43%) of Latinx LGBTQ adults reported feeling connected to the Latinx community.

This study is part of the Williams Institute’s LGBTQ Well-Being at the Intersection of Race series, which examines demographic characteristics and key indicators of well-being, including mental health, physical health, economic health, and social and cultural experiences, of different racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. The series also includes analyses by region.

Read the report

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Congress

Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment legislation reintroduced

The legislation has failed to garner enough congressional support for passage beginning with its initial introduction in 2011

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Photo courtesy of the Tyler Clementi Foundation

WASHINGTON – Democratic U.S. Senators Patty Murray of Washington and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, along with Democratic U.S. House Representative Mark Pocan, also from Wisconsin, reintroduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act Wednesday.

If enacted, the legislation would require colleges and universities that receive federal student aid to have in place a policy that prohibits harassment of students based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Schools would have to distribute that policy to all students, along with information about the procedure to follow should an incident of harassment occur, and notify students of counseling, mental health, and other services available to victims or perpetrators of harassment.

The legislation would also require schools to recognize cyber-bullying as a form of harassment, and would create a new grant program at the U.S. Department of Education to help colleges and universities establish programs to prevent harassment of students.

“No student should live in fear of being who they are at school,” Baldwin said in a statement. “By reintroducing this legislation, we are taking a strong step forward in not only preventing harassment on campus, but also making sure our students have the freedom to learn and succeed in safe and healthy environments. Everyone at our colleges and universities deserves to pursue their dreams free of harassment and bullying.”

The lawmakers action was to mark eleventh anniversary of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi’s death, a suicide, after he lept from George Washington Bridge which connects North New Jersey to New York City on September 22, 2010. 

The Rutgers University freshman jumped to his death just days after his college roommate broadcast live images on the internet of him having a sexual encounter with another man. Fellow students Dharun Ravi, who was Clementi’s roommate, and Molly Wei were later charged. Wei struck a plea deal with prosecutors and a New Jersey Superior Court judge sentenced Ravi to 30 days in prison and three years probation for his actions.

The proposed law has failed to garner enough congressional support for passage over the past decade in beginning with its initial introduction in the 112th Congress in 2011. 

During a dedication ceremony on Monday February 4, 2013 of the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, (D-N.J.) announced that he and U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) had reintroduced the legislation in Congress.

The legislation failed to get the required support for passage and it again languished.

Last year in the 116th Congress, it was introduced again by Pocan in the House and Murray and Baldwin in the Senate in May 2019.

“Today we honor the life of Tyler Clementi by reintroducing this critical legislation. No one should be bullied because of who they are or who they love,” Pocan said in a statement. “This bill will help ensure that students can learn in peace and not have to worry about living in fear or humiliation for being themselves.”

Tyler’s parents founded a non-profit organization in their son’s name committed to end online and offline bullying, harassment, and humiliation.

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