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Equality Act at an impasse, Trans kids in sports may be sticking point

All kids deserve the opportunity to play school sports with their friends

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Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) speaks at the reintroduction of the Equality Act at the U.S. Capitol on May 2, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – With the Equality Act remaining at an impasse in the U.S. Senate, one sticking point for potential supporters is whether or not the legislation will address the hot button issue of transgender kids participating in sports, as one prominent LGBTQ legal group says it will draw a red line on the issue in any negotiations on the bill.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said his organization “will certainly hold firm” on protecting transgender kids from all forms of school-based discrimination, including in sports, which he noted is already law in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County.

“There seem to be a lot of misconceptions about this issue, so this may well turn out to be an area where more discussion will show there is little if any real disagreement.,” Minter said. “For example, current law already allows for reasonable regulations, such as those adopted by the NCAA, to ensure both inclusion and fairness in elite competition. Nothing in the Equality Act would change that.”

After the court ruling in Bostock, which found anti-LGBTQ discrimination is an illegal form of sex discrimination under the law, transgender legal advocates have argued — and won in court — the ban on sex discrimination in schools under Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 requires them to allow transgender students to compete consistent with their gender identity.

Moreover, U.S. government discrimination on the basis of sex is subject to heightened scrutiny under legal jurisprudence, which in theory after Bostock would apply to schools prohibiting transgender athletes from participating in sports.

Amid a wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation throughout the country targeting transgender kids in sports — most recently in Oklahoma, where the state House approved legislation essentially barring them from participation — legal advocates have already declared they will look to the courts for the legal protections afforded under Bostock to challenge any new laws.

Transgender advocates are pointing to the policy of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which allows transgender athletes to participate consistent with their gender identity provided they meet certain sex-based characteristics, such as testosterone suppression treatment for transgender women to compete in women’s sports.

Although the NCAA had held out on commenting on anti-transgender state legislation, the organization last week issued a statement affirming its commitment to transgender athletes and hinting it would move events from states with those measures in place.

Other transgender groups echoed the sentiment that current law already protects transgender students and the NCAA’s policy could provide a model for schools writ-large, although they stopped short of saying they would draw the line on the issue in negotiations on the Equality Act.

Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, pointed to both existing law and the NCAA in response to an inquiry from the Blade on talks about the legislation.

“NCTE is committed to protecting transgender youth from discrimination in every aspect of education, including school sports,” Heng-Lehtinen said. “The Bostock decision also reinforces that anti-transgender discrimination is illegal. Notably, the NCAA already has policies to allow for transgender student-athletes to compete, and nothing in the Equality Act would change that.”

NCTE didn’t respond Wednesday to a follow-up inquiry on whether that means the transgender sports issue would be a red line in talks over the Equality Act.

Andy Marra, executive director of the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, said in response to an inquiry the need for allowing transgender athletes to compete consistent with their gender identity will become apparent as talks continue.

“For a decade now, the NCAA has maintained an inclusive policy that allows for transgender athletes to participate fully in sports. We are confident that as we continue to clarify this issue, it will become clear that not only is discrimination against transgender students both harmful and wrong, it is also already illegal.”

If advocates hold firm on the issue of transgender athletes in sports, it may well mean the Equality Act will have no chance of winning the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.

A recent PBS Newshour poll found two-thirds of Americans oppose anti-transgender laws proposed in the states, including measures prohibiting students from participating in sports.

That opposition to anti-trans sports bills is seen across party lines, with 69 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of independents saying they opposed the measures. However, Americans are most closely divided when it comes to the actual issue of transgender participation in sports.

“For grade school, 50 percent of people said transgender children should be allowed to play on teams that match their gender identity, while 44 percent said they should not. In middle school, the split was 49 percent for, and 47 percent against,” writes Matt Loffman, PBS NewsHour’s deputy senior politics producer. “In high school, 47 percent were for and 48 percent against. And in college, 49 percent were in favor and 45 percent opposed.”

Seeming to pick up on that hesitation, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) — who had co-sponsored the Equality Act in the previous Congress, but not now — has articulated the sports issue as a point of contention she wanted to address as a condition for renewed support of the Equality Act. Collins was among the senators who voted for an amendment proposed as a part of Biden’s COVID relief package that would have zeroed out Title II funding for schools allowing transgender athletes to participate in sports.

Joining Republicans in voting for the amendment was Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who remains the lone Democratic hold out on the Equality Act as a Democratic insider says he’s facing a deluge of calls in opposition to the legislation. Some insiders are looking to Sen. Shelley Capito (R-W.Va.), an unlikely Republican who may be a surprise supporter of the Equality Act, to lock up support from Manchin.

Transgender advocates may have good reason to be concerned negotiators on the Equality Act may buckle on the transgender sports issue. After all, when the Blade asked Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the lead co-sponsor of the Equality Act, during an interview upon introduction of the bill in February whether he’d be willing to make accommodations for the issue, he hedged as opposed to ruling it out.

“In terms of the dialogue that is held between the two chambers and with the Republican colleagues, that dialogue will happen in close consultation with the civil rights groups that have enormous expertise and working to make sure that no modification or clarification is anything that undermines the opportunity of LGBTQ Americans to thrive in our society,” Merkley said.

Many key negotiators on the Equality Act are staying silent on the transgender sports issue as they continue to keep their cards close to their vest on talks. The Human Rights Campaign, for example, didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment for this article.

Merkley said in a statement to the Blade provided by his office in response to an inquiry for this article that he remains committed to transgender athletes in his efforts to pass the Equality Act.

“All kids deserve the opportunity to play school sports with their friends,” Merkley said. “That experience of forming camaraderie, being part of a team, and discovering something you love is so valuable, and no kid should be turned away. Every child deserves equal dignity, respect, and opportunity, and that’s why I’m working hard in the Senate to pass the Equality Act.”

Merkley said his focus is finding the 60 votes in the Senate needed to end a filibuster on the legislation and get the measure to the desk of President Biden, who campaigned on signing the legislation into law within his first 100 days in office.

“I am deeply committed to working on a bipartisan basis to find the necessary votes to pass this landmark law and replicate the bipartisan success of the 2013 Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” Merkley said. “Those conversations are ongoing. I am gathering feedback and working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle — and with civil rights organizations — to find a path forward that will bring senators together behind a vision of full equality for LGBTQ Americans.”

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NBC Universal cancels Golden Globe awards broadcast for 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coronavirus

LA County expected to hit herd immunity by mid summer

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Health

HHS takes steps to reverse Anti-LGBTQ+ healthcare policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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