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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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Vote like your family’s rights are on the line – Because they are

“The most important thing we can do is to share our stories- Intellectual arguments rarely change minds – but empathy changes everything”

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

By Nesta Johnson | SAN FRANCISCO – On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court decided in Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women Health Organization that there is no federal constitutional right to abortion.

Justice Thomas all but cackled at the prospect of “reconsidering” other legal cases that established rights based in substantive due process, including our right to privacy in making decisions about our bodies, our relationships, and our families. Justice Alito, writing for the majority, attempted to reassure us that we need not fear the loss of time-honored rights. 

We are not reassured.

Across America, people are panicking. LGBTQ+ Americans – frightened for their freedoms and for their families – have flooded NCLR’s Legal Helpline.

We at NCLR have done our best to help, including by creating a post-Dobbs FAQ for LGBTQ+ families. We pledge to continue working toward a future in which every person is free to choose how, when, and whether to have children, and remains free to make private decisions about their lives and their bodies. 

But lawyers alone cannot win this fight. Americans’ right to safe, legal abortion across the country must be restored, not in a courtroom, but at the ballot box. In that sense, the Supreme Court is not, and never has been, the highest court. In a democracy, the true court of last resort is the court of public opinion. And that “court” has seemed hopelessly deadlocked for decades. 

In our increasingly polarized nation, abortion rights have long been an especially divisive issue. According to Gallup, when asked whether they are “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” just five percent of Americans described themselves as “mixed” or “unsure.” The gradual growth of the pro-choice opinion appears to reflect generational, not individual, shifts.  

And yet, after the Dobbs draft leaked in June, fifty-eight percent of Americans described themselves to Gallup as pro-choice – an unprecedented jump of six percentage points in just one year. Minds can change on abortion rights – rapidly.

Anti-abortion rights advocates long enjoyed an advantage in the stories they told. Before Dobbs, pro-choice stories of life without abortion access were less immediate, less compelling, less relatable – Secret networks. Coat hangers. Herbal concoctions. Sinister quacks. Back-alley butchers. Those stories, from faraway times and places, felt like fiction. Abortion is far safer than pregnancy and childbirth; most people suffer no complications, but some do. The vast majority of people who have abortions do not regret their decision, but some do. Children of unwanted or forced pregnancies, and their parents, often suffer – but some live in joy.

While the many whose abortions were uncomplicated, un-regretted, and un-traumatic rarely were heard, anti-abortion rights advocates used the painful stories of some to justify revoking the rights of all. Stories were the ribbon atop a package of lies: that our country has changed so much since Roe that abortion is no longer needed, that because of sonogram imaging everyone believes that personhood begins at conception, that “unwed mothers” are legally protected and socially accepted, that pregnant people have access to medical care and parental leave, and that safe-haven laws and demand for adoptable infants guarantee there will be no such thing as an unwanted child, or an unwilling parent. 

Now, the tragic tale of Ohio’s ten-year-old rape victim will be the first in an anthology of new American horror stories – unless we elect representatives committed to restoring our reproductive rights.

The history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement illustrates the power of storytelling. When LGBTQ+ Americans began cautiously sharing their stories, many encountered rejection and discrimination. Some still do – but many find acceptance and love. As people realized that LGBTQ+ people were their relatives, friends, colleagues, and neighbors, they discarded the lies they learned – that we were sick, dangerous, predatory; that we could, or should, be “cured”; that allowing same-sex couples to wed would cause the death of marriage, the end of religion, and the collapse of civilization. Surveys have confirmed that personal relationships greatly impacted Americans’ views on LGBTQ+ rights.

Until the November midterm elections, the most important thing we can do is to share our stories, and to listen. Intellectual arguments rarely change minds – but empathy changes everything. Our neighbors need to hear stories that challenge common myths about who has abortions, and why. They need to hear stories from people whose views do not fit neatly into political boxes – including the voices of those who believe abortion is immoral, and yet believe that it should be legal. Most importantly, voters need to hear the stories of people they know, respect, and love who have had abortions.

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Nesta Johnson is the Family Law Staff Attorney for NCLR, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of LGBTQ community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

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LGBTQ people under cancerous barrage led by Florida’s Ron DeSantis

He is infatuated with the idea of being President, drunk on the potential of his power and, as a result, is willing to do anything…

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The author confronting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis outside Pulse, 2021 (Courtesy of Brandon J. Wolf)

By Brandon J. Wolf | ORLANDO – No, your eyes are not deceiving you. LGBTQ people in America are under assault. Right-wing radicals, in their quest to dismantle democracy and install Christian Nationalist rule, are (once again) breathlessly obsessed with scapegoating LGBTQ people, using our existence as a political lightning rod.

As a result, every day has become more treacherous for the community than the last. Make no mistake, their tactics are not new. Transgender and nonbinary people, as they often have been, are squarely in the crosshairs. Their existence is debated, their humanity called into question. They are told when and where to use the bathroom, when and where their names will be respected, when and where they are safe to walk — when and where society will allow them to be.

And while the onslaught is happening all over the country, many of those desperate to see LGBTQ people relegated to second-class citizenship are looking to Florida, under the reckless leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, for their cues. It should be said: DeSantis does not care. He does not care about Floridians, the state’s economy, or the constitutionality of his extremist policies. And he certainly does not care about the health and wellbeing of the populations he crushes along the way.

Ron DeSantis cares about Ron DeSantis. He is infatuated with the idea of being President, drunk on the potential of his power. And, as a result, is willing to do anything — and step on anyone – to score another Fox News chyron and rake in a few more six figure donations.

The governor’s attacks on LGBTQ people are coming from every angle. In dragging his signature Don’t Say LGBTQ Law over the finish line, DeSantis twisted his legislative minions in knots, publicly haranguing anyone who dared defy him. He took aim at Disney, one of the globe’s most recognizable brands, decimating a local government to drive his point home.

He bullied the Agency for Health Care Administration into withdrawing Medicaid funding for gender-affirming care, plunging tens of thousands of transgender Floridians into uncertainty in the coming weeks. He bludgeoned the Board of Medicine into considering similarly brutal action, potentially putting the licenses of health care providers on the line for providing the best care possible to their patients.

His Department of Education told school districts to ignore Title IX protections for LGBTQ students, warning (falsely) that offering protection from discrimination to those young people could put districts in legal jeopardy. And he used the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to target an LGBTQ-owned small business, threatening to destroy them for daring to host drag brunch on Sundays.

Governor DeSantis is so drunk on ego that he is weaponizing any agency he can get his hands on against a population fighting to keep its head above water. And along the way, he has revived vile anti-LGBTQ rhetoric to rationalize his naked cynicism. His office led a surge in the term “groomer” being hurled across the country, his now former press secretary trafficking in the trope during a desperation Twitter rant.

The strategy is straightforward: disparage and dehumanize LGBTQ people to score polling points with the base and justify cruel policies aimed at erasing us. If you can reduce LGBTQ people to something less than human – an ideology, an agenda – your most ardent supporters will sign away any liberty necessary for you to put a stop to us. Curriculum censorship. Book banning. Government dictating what medical care someone can access, the haircuts they can sport, the clothes they can wear. An end to freedom greenlit in service to the political ambitions of the one man who says he can put a stop to the LGBTQ “contagion”.

If that sounds like an authoritarian nightmare, it is. But it’s not just a Florida or Texas nightmare, it’s a crisis encircling the windpipe of the nation, threatening to suffocate us all. What DeSantis has unlocked in Florida – the weaponization of every government apparatus against his constituents to lock up his grip on power – isn’t an end game. It’s a trial run.

There is nothing he would relish more than the chance to use the US Department of Education to rip protections from transgender students in every corner of the country. He would salivate at the opportunity to use the full might of the Federal Government to pummel his political adversaries, dismantling any business who dares sport a Pride flag in June. Right wing extremists look to DeSantis for the roadmap to an authoritarian America not just because they want to emulate his policy success; but because they want to see him at the helm.

Your eyes are not deceiving you. And yes, it’s heavy and overwhelming. That is by design. The DeSantis Doctrine is one ripped from the teachings of Donald Trump and put on political steroids: create a tempest so chaotic and all-consuming that it feels inevitable. Squash your opposition by making them feel like fighting back is hopeless. But fighting back is our only hope. Apathy is fuel for systems of oppression. Despair is an ally to the status quo. Our best option is our only option: refuse to be erased and demand political accountability for the unbridled cruelty.

Our community is no stranger to attacks like these. For centuries, our presence has been hyper-sexualized, demonized, and used to stoke fear in those around us. We dare to imagine a world where people are celebrated exactly as they are. And for that – we have long been political targets. But that means we are also no stranger to what must come next.

Throughout history, with our backs against the wall, we’ve won by telling our stories, living our truth, and demanding equality. This moment requires us to find that strength once again. It requires us to stand firmly as accomplices to the trans and nonbinary community, refusing to jettison them in the shortsighted hope of being spared by the right-wing monster. It requires us to mobilize our people – LGBTQ and allied alike – to see our very humanity as reason to wade into the political fight. It requires us to make November’s elections a referendum on hate, refusing to let it fester and consume the country.

LGBTQ people are under assault in America, a cancerous barrage being led by Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis. Our job now is to stop its spread.

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Photo courtesy of Brandon J. Wolf

Brandon J. Wolf is Press Secretary for Equality Florida, the largest statewide LGBTQ+ equality rights organization.

Additionally, Wolf is Vice-President and co-founder of the Dru Project, an Orlando-based LGBTQ+ 🌈 advocacy org on a mission to spread love, promote GSAs, and send future leaders to college in honor of his best friend Drew Leinonen, one of the 49 people lost in the 2016 Pulse nightclub mass-shooting of which Wolf is also a survivor.

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Monkeypox

Monkeypox vaccines coming- we must mitigate risk & spread for now

Clinics are expected to have vaccines available by summer’s end. In the meantime, we need community-informed prevention & treatment strategies

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

By Jim Mangia | LOS ANGELES – Monkeypox virus (MPV) is on the rise – and many are understandably frustrated by the federal government’s slow response. The LGBTQ+ community has been demanding vaccines since day one, with many drawing similarities between today’s lackluster approach to MPV and the inhumane response to HIV/AIDs in the ‘80s and ‘90s. 

MPV is a serious health concern that indeed deserves swift action from elected officials. But truly drawing from lessons learned during the HIV/AIDs crisis means not relying on vaccines alone – especially while waiting for the federal government and supply chain to catch up to our demand for them. We need community-wide education, prevention, and treatment strategies around MPV – and we need them now. 

I was a young, gay man during the HIV/AIDs crisis. Last week, a friend and I reflected on how, out of our large social group from our early twenties, we are the only two left alive. Everyone else we loved during those years was killed by AIDS.

The Republican dominated government at the time didn’t care if we lived or died – and many preferred the latter. As AIDS dominated our lives, groups like the Gay Men’s Health Crisis mobilized, setting up hotlines to circulate information, writing and disseminating guidelines for safer sex, and creating tight-knit networks to support the sick or suffering. Simultaneously, ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) activated the LGBTQ+ community and allies to demand governmental action.

Now, we can draw on our community’s past resilience. We must keep ourselves safe, from both MPV and from the dangerous, homophobic messaging that’s emerging around it. 

First, LGBTQ+ people must avoid perpetuating the dangerous myth that MPV only impacts us. The scientific truth is that pathogens often first spread among social groups in close contact with one another – for example, outbreaks of meningitis among college students. MPV is continuing to primarily impact the LGBTQ+ community because the virus hasn’t yet had the biological need to move onto another social group. This is important both in terms of combating homophobia, and also in recognizing our community’s responsibility to help prevent MPV’s spread. 

We also need to emphasize that MPV is not an STI. While it is spread through close physical contact, that contact can be nonsexual. Day care workers, nannies, massage therapists, tattoo artists, and others whose livelihoods involve skin-to-skin contact are also at high risk right now, and we need to be educating and advocating for those folks as well. 

Direct contact with the rash or body fluids and sexual contact are the most risky activities; kissing, cuddling, and being in crowds of non fully clothed people are moderately risky; and sharing dishes, beds, towels, toiletry items or being in crowds with fully clothed people are possible ways of contracting MPV. Limiting those activities for now and communicating with each other about exposure are essential ways to prevent spread. 

There are other tools we should be advocating for in addition to vaccines. One is Tpoxx, an antiviral medication that hasn’t been approved by the FDA but is being widely and successfully used in Europe. Another is faster MPV tests – currently, the results can take several days. Only a few lab companies are approved to test MPV specimens sent by clinics and hospitals, and we need faster results to prevent further spread in real time.

Today, a multibillion dollar industry fuels many issues that plague our community – including major circuit party promoters, hookup apps, and corporations who infiltrated our pride events. These industries depend on our money, and are only interested in getting our bodies where they need them in order to cash in. 

Exploitative messaging from these industries can permeate our collective consciousness. They tell us we need and deserve certain things, and we need and deserve them immediately. They don’t care about our safety, and they aren’t advocating for our actual lives. They’re just contributing to a sense of urgency in the name of their bottom line. It’s up to LGBTQ+ people to get to the root of what’s important. We must organize ourselves, act with care for each other, and demand a comprehensive strategy from LGBTQ+ institutions and the government – rather than just looking for quick-fix solutions for ourselves.   

Clinics in California are expected to have thousands of vaccines available by summer’s end. In the meantime, we need community-informed prevention and treatment strategies from our leaders. And now more than ever, with both MPV and COVID-19 threatening our health, we must treat each other with consent and respect. 

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Jim Mangia is the president and CEO of St. John’s Community Health, a network of public health clinics serving South, Central, and East Los Angeles.

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