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Former Republican U.S. House members call for Equality Act passage

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Former U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – In a letter addressed Tuesday to party leaders on Capitol Hill, 11 former Republican members of Congress urged federal lawmakers to pass anti-discrimination legislation to protect members of the LGBTQ community.

Former U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), Claudine Schneider (R-R.I.), Bob Dold (R-Ill.), Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.), Chris Shays (R-Conn.) and Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.) all signed the letter.

“The status quo is not working for LGBTQ Americans nor is it emblematic of our country’s founding values of freedom, fairness, and equality,” the signatories wrote in the letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Ros-Lehtinen told the Washington Blade that supporting and urging the passage of nondiscrimination legislation was “the right action to take.”

“That is why I am so proud to have spearheaded this letter, signed by 10 other former Republican members of Congress, encouraging lawmakers to pass this bill so that discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community will be a thing of the past,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

The Equality Act has been introduced in Congress multiple times dating back to the 1970s. Its latest iteration was introduced by U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) in early 2021 and was later passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. 

“Equality is a founding principle of our country, and everyone knows discrimination is wrong,” Cicilline told the Blade. “I introduced the Equality Act to guarantee that every LGBTQ+ American would be protected from discrimination in all aspects of our lives. With so much anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being proposed and even passed in some state legislatures across the country, we must pass the Equality Act to end discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community once and for all.”

The current form of the legislation would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in a number of different areas including public accommodations, employment, housing and education. The bill has now awaited a vote in the U.S. Senate for nearly 16 months, where many see it as unlikely that the bill would be able to garner the 60 votes needed to withstand a potential filibuster and subsequent failure to move forward for President Biden to sign.

In lieu of federal legislation, the president has taken alternative, executive steps to codify LGBTQ protections into areas under his jurisdiction. On Wednesday, President Biden held an event at the White House where he signed an executive order aimed at combatting discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

“As President Biden said during his first joint address to Congress, the president has the back of LGBTQI+ people across the country,” the White House said in a statement marking the signing that took place during a Pride Month event. “That is why he [is] taking these bold actions and continuing to fight for full equality for every American — including urging Congress pass the Equality Act and provide overdue civil rights projections for LGBTQI+ people.”

The president’s executive order took aim at the continued practice of so-called conversion therapy and hundreds of discriminatory state laws passed in the last year. The order tasked entities under his command, such as the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, with combatting such legislation and harmful practices.

LGBTQ nondiscrimination advocates have similarly been able to make strides in certain areas in recent years without the Equality Act. 

The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County in 2020 ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was illegal in employment under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. However, multiple states still permit such discrimination in areas outside of employment. 

Ros-Lehtinen described how she believes passing comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation would make fairness and equity in all states a reality.

“The sad truth is that in our wonderful nation, it is still permissible to discriminate against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We need federal protections and not a patchwork of state laws that may or may not grant protection from this unfair discrimination. I urge the U.S. Senate to pass the Equality Act which will grant this protection.”

But despite the current wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation in numerous states, largely sponsored by members of her party, Ros-Lehtinen expressed continued optimism that a greater share of her party would soon support efforts to make nationwide LGBTQ protections omnipresent.

“I remain hopeful that members of my Republican Party will move away from extremist views and walk toward the light of acceptance and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “They are our family members, our neighbors, our work colleagues.”

And, as signaled by the language of the letter submitted to congressional leaders, her fellow signatories agree.

“Bipartisan leadership on this issue is possible,” the former congresspeople wrote. “Americans from all walks of life — across political party, demographics, and geography — support protections and are ready for Congress to act. The current Congress has momentum and the go-ahead from the public to outlaw LGBTQ discrimination once and for all.”

Additional reporting by Michael K. Lavers.

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California Politics

Abortion rights: California Constitutional Amendment heads to ballot

The state is expanding efforts to protect women seeking abortions or reproductive care as well as anyone assisting those women

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Capitol building in Sacramento (Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO – In November, California voters will have an opportunity to amend the state’s constitution to include the right to an abortion and today, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to further protect women coming to California from other states.

“California will not back down from the fight to protect abortion rights as more than half the states in this country, enabled by the Supreme Court, ban or severely restrict access,” said Newsom. “We are ensuring Californians will have the opportunity this November to enshrine the right to choose in our state constitution. And we’re not waiting until November to take action, today’s executive order ensures that the state will not hand over patients who come here to receive care and will not extradite doctors who provide care to out-of-state patients here. In California, women will remain protected.”  

The order signed today prevents any information, including medical records and patient data, from being shared by state agencies or departments in response to inquiries or investigations brought by other states or individuals within those states looking to restrict access. The state is expanding efforts to protect women seeking abortions or reproductive care as well as anyone assisting those women.

SCA 10 was passed by the California State Assembly today and now heads to the November ballot.  

Within hours of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last Friday, Governor Newsom signed legislation to help protect patients and providers in California from civil liability for providing, aiding, or receiving abortion care in the state. In addition, Governor Newsom and the governors of Oregon and Washington launched a new Multi-State Commitment to defend access to reproductive health care and protect patients and providers.  

The budget agreement announced yesterday includes more than $200 million in additional funding for reproductive health care services. Governor Newsom recently signed legislation eliminating copays for abortion care services and has signed into law a legislative package to further strengthen access and protect patients and providers.  

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California Politics

Newsom, Senate & Assembly leaders announce budget agreement

23 million Californians will benefit from direct payments of up to $1,050 & additional funds to help people pay rent & utility bills

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Governor Newsom with some of the state's leadership Friday (Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO – California Governor Gavin Newsom, Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) announced they had were able to reach an agreement on the framework for the 2022-23 state budget.

In a statement released Sunday evening, the state’s leadership said:

“California’s budget addresses the state’s most pressing needs, and prioritizes getting dollars back into the pockets of millions of Californians who are grappling with global inflation and rising prices of everything from gas to groceries.

“The centerpiece of the agreement, a $17 billion inflation relief package, will offer tax refunds to millions of working Californians. Twenty-three million Californians will benefit from direct payments of up to $1,050. The package will also include a suspension of the state sales tax on diesel, and additional funds to help people pay their rent and utility bills.

“In addition, California is doubling down in our response to the climate crisis – securing additional power-generating capacity for the summer, accelerating our clean energy future, expanding our ability to prepare for and respond to severe wildfires, extreme heat, and the continuing drought conditions that lie ahead.

“This budget builds on our unprecedented commitment to transform the resources available in our state, from a $47 billion multi-year infrastructure and transportation package to education and health care, showing the nation what a true pro-life agenda looks like. With these new investments, California will become the first state to achieve universal access to health care coverage.

Newsom and his legislative counterparts also highlighted that in the wake of Friday’s stunning U.S. Supreme Court decision, California is reaffirming its commitment to defending reproductive rights, providing more than $200 million in additional funding for reproductive health care services. The state will also be investing in key programs that help California families, from funding for homeownership programs and billions of dollars in additional ongoing funding for education, to universal preschool, children’s mental health, and free school meals.

“In the face of growing economic uncertainty, this budget invests in California’s values while further filling the state’s budget reserves and building in triggers for future state spending to ensure budget stability for years to come,” the statement read.

Yesterday the governor and the leadership agreed to the framework to offset the high cost of gas prices and the hit inflation has created on the wallets of taxpayers, particularly those who least able to bear the added cost burden. Under the budget compromise most California taxpayers would get hundreds of dollars in cash to help offset the high price of fuel and other goods.

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Politics

Activists gather & prepare for post-Roe America

“For a country about personal rights, we’re doing an awful lot right now to limit women’s ability to do what they want with their body”

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U.S. Senator Catherine Marie Cortez Masto (D-NV) speaking to crowd after SCOTUS overturned Roe v. Wade (Photo by Josh Alburtus)

WASHINGTON – Just moments after the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its decision on Friday overturning its landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade that had legalized abortion nationwide for 49 years, hundreds gathered outside the Court to both protest and celebrate the ruling.

In its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the court found that access to abortion was not a right guaranteed under the language of the Constitution. The ruling effectively reversed the Court’s 1973 decision that mandated states to allow the procedure in most instances throughout the first two trimesters of pregnancy.

Immediately following the decision, a group of those welcoming the decision quickly gathered in front of the Court.

Anna Lulis, a member of Students for Life of America, welcomed the decision as long overdue.

“I think it is a huge victory for human rights,” Lulis said. “For far too long, since 1973, human rights have been infringed upon at an egregious level.”

Beside Lulis, Olivia Cowin, a member of Survivors LA, shared a similar reason for gathering outside the Court.

“This is a celebratory day to show our support of the unborn and of women and support both simultaneously,” Cowin said.

But not all that were gathered immediately after the unveiling of the decision were encouraged by the decision’s implications. 

Across the way from the Court’s west side, Virginia resident Alysia Dempsey feared what the verdict in Dobbs could mean for women’s rights – including those of her four daughters.

“I believe in women’s rights, and I think that our country needs to be able to start listening to each of our stories and to have empathy for them in so many different aspects,” Dempsey said. “I feel like we’re sort of going back in time with regard to so many rights.”

Hailing from Arizona, a state under Republican legislative leadership where Planned Parenthood has already halted all abortion services pending legal clarity from the state, Hannah Waldrip cast doubt on the sincerity of anti-abortion rationale.

“For a country about personal rights and personal freedom, we’re doing an awful lot right now to limit women’s or people with uterus’ ability to do what they want with their body,” Waldrip said.

Stark divisions between the groups arose as ideological lines could be seen physically emerging between the crowds. 

And as the day progressed, those protesting the ruling quickly began to outnumber its supporters.

Among the protesters, the color green – a symbol for abortion rights activists borne out of similar movements in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America – could be seen lining the street on scarves, shirts, stickers, and elsewhere.

As the crowd continued to grow and green began to eclipse the heat-simmering pavement beneath the protesters, several speakers emerged amidst the epicenter of the crowd.

One of those speakers was Elizabeth Paige White, a civil rights lawyer working under nationally renowned attorney Ben Crump.

Elizabeth Paige White (Photo by Josh Alburtus)

In connecting Friday’s decision to the United States’ history of patriarchal structure, White called into focus the disproportionate effect the repeal of nationwide abortion access is widely expected to have on minorities and communities of color with less resources to travel to abortion-friendly states.

“As Black, Brown, and all these women out here know, we’ve been fighting for our rights since the inception of this country,” White said. “We have been fighting to have rights over our own bodies since the inception of this country.”

With the repeal of Roe, decisions on whether to legalize or outlaw abortion will now be left to each individual state. As of Friday’s ruling, 13 states are now set to make almost all abortions illegal, having passed “trigger bans” designed to take effect in the immediate aftermath of Roe’s demise or within the next month.

However, many abortion rights supporters, activists and lawmakers still fear that the curtailing of reproductive rights won’t end with the Court’s decision.

Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.) addressed the crowd with a message of urgency and revelation.

“At the end of the day, let me just say, here’s what’s next,” Cortez-Masto said. “I’ve got some of my Republican colleagues based on this decision who are already drafting legislation to restrict abortion in this country. If they win this election, they will pass that legislation and it will preempt all of the state laws we have protecting women in this country when it comes to our right to choose.”

Even beyond nationwide restrictions on abortion, some fear even more privacy restrictions are now under fire.

Such privacy rights have been established in other past Supreme Court rulings based on the same Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment that justices used to interpret nationwide abortion rights nearly half a century ago. These cases have included those that established access in all states to contraception, same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, and the right to same-sex relations in the privacy of one’s home.

Among the crowd gathered on Friday, such was a sobering outlook for many.

Pro-Choice protestors in front of SCOTUS June 24, 2022 (Photo by Josh Alburtus)

“Gay marriage, interracial marriage, gay sex are going to fall like fucking dominoes if we let them,” one speaker outside the Court said.

Anger and fear could be felt permeating those in the crowd. Activists, however, were determined to turn their compatriots’ fears into action and change.

“We must get out in the streets,” the speaker said. “We need millions of people all around the country because this affects every single living, breathing person in this country whether they realize it yet or not.”

Among protesters’ trepidation regarding the future of women’s rights and privacy rights in America, many clung to a message of hope as speakers and activists pledged to continue fighting.

“They have worked to keep us down, they worked to keep us enslaved, they worked to keep us out of the polls, they worked to keep us out of political offices, they’ve worked to keep us in the home,” White said. “But we know, as we fought for centuries, that this will not stand.”

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