The WWE smack down you may have missed: Rafael McDonnell v. Matt Krause

—  James Russell

Study: LGBT community faces discrimination by law enforcement

A new study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law reports the LGBT community faces ongoing and pervasive discrimination and harassment by law enforcement.badge

LGBT people of color and transgender individuals are adversely impacted by discrimination and harassment.

Key findings from the Williams Institute report based on several national surveys include:

  • More than one-fifth (21 percent) of LGBT people who interacted with police reported encountering hostile attitudes from officers and 14 percent reported verbal assault by the police.
  • Nearly half (48 percent) of the LGBT violence survivors who interacted with police reported that they had experienced police misconduct, including unjustified arrest, use of excessive force and entrapment.
  • Two-thirds of Latina transgender women in Los Angeles County who interacted with police reported that they were verbally harassed by law enforcement, 21 percent report that they were physically assaulted by law enforcement, and 24 percent report that they were sexually assaulted by law enforcement.
  • Nearly half (46 percent) of transgender respondents in a national survey reported being uncomfortable seeking police assistance, 22 percent reported that they had been harassed by law enforcement because of bias, and 6 percent reported having been physically assaulted by an officer.

Williams Institute researchers also documented widespread and frequent incidents of misconduct toward LGBT people by law enforcement in all regions of the country, including many instances of severe physical and sexual abuse.

Such discrimination, harassment and abuse undermine effective policing by weakening community trust, reducing reporting of crimes by victims in the LGBT community and challenging law enforcement’s ability to effectively meet the needs of members of their communities.

The study comes as President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing issued recommendations today (Tuesday, March 3), to build stronger and more collaborative relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Among the recommendations, numerous local law enforcement agencies should:

  • adopt and enforce policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression
  • implement training for officers to improve interactions with the LGBT population
  • improve data collection on misconduct by officers against LGBT people.

Among the Task Force members was former Dr. Cecil Alexander, the former federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at DFW Airport.

—  James Russell

Ask Lambda Legal: Discrimination As Religion

By Jennifer Pizer, national director

Lambda Legal’s Law and Policy Project

 

Q: I was reading about a bakery that didn’t want to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because it goes against the baker’s religion. Can’t the couple just go somewhere else?

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Jennifer Pizer

A: Private businesses, such as bakeries and grocery stores that offer goods to the public, are usually bound by public accommodation laws. These laws say that a business that is open to the public must be open to everyone, regardless of whether the business owner or employees approve of who each customer is.

This is an important protection against discrimination because the law treats bakeries, groceries and other stores — businesses operating to make profits — differently from churches and other organizations that exist for religious purposes. If a bakery, store or restaurant were allowed to turn away gay people, it would open the floodgates to all kinds of discrimination against many different groups in all kinds of business settings, not just gay people.

For example, medical clinics often are private businesses. What if a for-profit clinic decided for religious reasons not to care for a pregnant woman because she isn’t married? Or, if a landlord believes that men should be the head of the household and refuses to rent to single mothers?

Freedom of religion is already firmly protected by the state and federal constitutions. But that freedom does not give any of us the right to discriminate against others when operating a business.

And yet, that is exactly what many lawmakers across the country are attempting to allow. Last year saw numerous bills in state legislatures aiming to expand religious rights to ignore laws. Fortunately, in Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, South Dakota and Tennessee those efforts were dropped or stopped. However, the movement pushing these bills continues.

Indiana is currently considering this type of legislation, and it illustrates why we’re worried. The intention to facilitate discrimination against gay and transgender people is all too clear. But the bill also threatens to encourage a broad range of other harms because, in other states with this kind of law, individuals have argued that non-discrimination laws, child abuse laws and domestic violence laws don’t apply to them if they have a religious objection.

As Arizona lawmakers realized after hastily approving their similar bill last year, vastly expanding religious rights in business settings would interfere with employers’ ability to manage employees who misbehave in the name of religion while badly tarnishing the state’s reputation. Thankfully, then-Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed that bill.

But now, in Indiana and other states, “discrimination as religion” bills again are trying to provide a “freedom to discriminate,” using freedom of religion as a misleading excuse. And we must remain vigilant to ensure that these harmful bills do not become law.

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If you have questions or feel that you have been discriminated against based on your sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status, please contact our Legal Help Desk.

—  Tammye Nash

Indiana Senate votes for religion-based discrimination

The Indiana Senate voted yesterday (Tuesday, Feb. 3) to allow organizations such as hospitals and universities with religious affiliations to discriminate against employees who refuse to follow the employers’ religious beliefs, even if the employing organization receives state funds.

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Indiana Sen. Travis Holdman

Senate Bill 127 would allow those employers to make hiring decisions based on religious beliefs and to require employees to follow the religious tenets of the employer. The Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill on a vote of 39-11. All 10 Democrats in the Senate voted against the measure, and they were joined by one Republican: Sen. Ron Grooms of Jeffersonville.

Republican Sen. Travis Holdman, who authored the bill, said it does not grant license to discriminate, but instead follows federal law which allows similar exemptions from nondiscrimination requirements. But Democratic Sen. Karen Tallian said the part of the bill that allows such employers to require employees to adhere to employers’ religious tenets goes way beyond federal exemptions, and called the measure outrageous.

Outrageous or not, such “religious liberty” bills are definitely all the rage this year, being pushed by right-wingers furious over advances in marriage equality and LGBT civil rights try every tactic they can think of not to have to comply with court rulings striking down marriage equality bans — including an expected ruling this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court. The 2015 Texas Legislature, in session for less than a month, has already seen its share, as the Texas Observer points out here.

—  Tammye Nash

Join the discussion, join the battle to end discrimination

Marriage equality efforts are getting the lion’s share of the headlines these days: Texans wait on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on marriage equality in The Lone Star State (and Louisiana and Mississippi), and the nation waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the question once and for all.

But as the LGBT community makes great strides toward marriage equality, hundreds of thousands of LGBT people in the U.S. daily face the very real threat of discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and more.

Today (Monday, Jan. 26), LGBT equality groups nationwide began holding public awareness events, including launching an online discussion using #discriminationexists, to shine a light on the fact that so many hardworking people still do not have basic legal protections from discrimination.

(You can follow the discussion at DiscriminationExists.org.)

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Here in North Texas, and across the state, community leaders took the chance today to speak out against discrimination, issuing a call to action to LGBTs and their supporters in all areas and in all walks of life to join the fight for real equality,

Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas: “The Texas I believe in is a land of opportunity and freedom, where people who work hard and meet their responsibilities have a chance to get ahead. Clear protections from discrimination would help ensure that all Texans, including those who are gay or transgender, have a fair opportunity to earn a living, meet their obligations, provide for themselves and their families and build a better life. Changing the law won’t end all unfair treatment overnight. But it provides one more tool to ensure that all Texans are treated fairly and equally.”

Cece Cox, chief executive officer at Resource Center: “Discrimination exists against LGBTQ people at many levels. We have no statewide protections in areas like employment and public accommodations, and even in those few cities where protections exist, some state lawmakers want to see those protections removed. Texans overwhelmingly support fairness and equal opportunity for all people.”

Lou Weaver, trans outreach specialist for Texas Wins: “We have been talking about same-sex marriage for a long time in the U.S. We need to also think about basic rights for everyone: ‘Can I get a job? Can I find a place to live?’ Transgender people are still facing discrimination at high rates, and we need to take an honest look at our policies. We need access to basic fairness and equality in order to survive. That is what this is about, living our lives and having access to the same opportunities as everyone else.”

The Rev. Steve Sprinkle, professor of practical theology at Brite Divinity School: “Faith leaders of every background believe that everyone is created with God-given dignity. Our faith calls upon us to speak out for everyone’s dignity and security in the work they do, and for full access to housing. No one in our country should live in fear of losing their job or being denied fair housing just because of who they are.”

Todd Whitley, board chair for Hope for Peace & Justice: “It is hard to imagine any person being able to enjoy a sense of peace on their job or entering a public accommodation if that person has no assurance they won’t legally be discriminated against because of who they are. Sadly, this is exactly the reality for gay and transgender people in our state, -a grave injustice that must be resolved so that we can all enjoy the same opportunities without fear of legalized discrimination.”

A recent poll found that 9 of out 10 voters think that a federal law is already in place protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination. Unfortunate, that is not true. There is no federal nondiscrimination law, and here in Texas, there is no state law either. We remain vulnerable in so many areas.

But Equality Texas officials say their organization is working to change that, partnering with business leaders, faith leaders and community members to put the necessary protections in place.

Toward that end, Equality Texas is holding three advocacy days, beginning Feb. 17 with Faith Advocacy Day in Austin. More than 225 faith leaders and members of clergy and 65 first responders in Texas have signed on to publicly demonstrate their support for nondiscrimination already.

Visit EqualityTexas.org to find out what you can do to help.

—  Tammye Nash

UPDATE: Justice Department releases new policy to curb police profiling

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Update:

The Justice Department released today, Dec. 8, new policies aimed to curb profiling by law enforcement based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religion and national origin, expanding on a 2003 decision to bar profiling based on race and ethnicity. You can read the new policy here.

“As Attorney General, I have repeatedly made clear that profiling by law enforcement is not only wrong, it is profoundly misguided and ineffective – because it wastes precious resources and undermines the public trust,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

Holder said the policy is necessary especially in light of numerous recent incidents involving police brutality. “It brings enhanced training, oversight, and accountability to federal law enforcement across the country, so that isolated acts of discrimination do not tarnish the exemplary work that’s performed by the overwhelming majority of America’s hard-working law enforcement officials each and every day.”

The new guidance also applies to state and local law enforcement law officers who participate in federal law enforcement task forces.

The National Center for Transgender Equality in a statement welcomed the extension but criticized its numerous loopholes. “Discrimination is not something we need to keep us safe— it’s bad police work, it’s unconstitutional, and it makes us all less safe,” said NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling.

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 46% of transgender people say they would feel somewhat or very uncomfortable seeking police assistance, while only 35% said they would feel comfortable doing so. 22% of all trans people and 38% of Black trans people report experiencing transphobic police harassment—while 6% of all trans people, 9% of trans Latinos, and 15% of Black trans people report having experienced a transphobic assault by police.

Holder announced his resignation last month. President Obama nominated federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch of Brooklyn to replace him.

Original story:

Attorney General Eric Holder is set to announce today, Dec. 8, a new policy barring law enforcement officials from profiling based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, national origin and religion, The Washington Blade reports.

The policy expands a 2003 decision to bar profiling based on race and ethnicity.

The policy has been in five years in the making.

“With this new guidance, we take a major and important step forward to ensure effective policing by federal law enforcement officials and state and local law enforcement participating in federal task forces throughout the nation,” Holder said in a statement.

—  James Russell

Pack your bags and head for Ole Miss to git hitched later this week. Maybe.

mississippi-flag-e1387132309472“Gay couples could start obtaining marriage licenses in Mississippi as early as this week if the predictions of at least six top legal scholars nationwide hold true,” according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

That’s Jackson, MISSISSIPPI.

Mississippi with the Confederate flag in its state flag. Yes, the state that beats Texas with worse healthcare and a worse education system. Looking at a map, it’s the one two states to the right. Mississippi might beat Texas to marriage equality by 15 states.

And Mississippi was our only real competition in the race to be last in equality. A Mississippi victory positions Texas nicely to be last.

However, the 5th Circuit, one of the most conservative courts in the country, would almost certainly stay a decision to allow marriage equality. Wouldn’t they?

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves heard the case on Monday, Nov. 17. He was appointed by President Barack Obama. No Obama or Clinton appointee has ruled against marriage equality since the Windsor decision in June 2013. A quick decision is expected. Like this week. And they just might sneak in a few marriages before the 5th Circuit stays any ruling.

The 5th Circuit is scheduled to hear appeals of Texas and Louisiana cases on Jan 5. If this ruling is issued quickly, it could be heard then as well.

—  David Taffet

AMPA issues Veteran’s Day challenge to VA’s discrimination against LGBT vets

AMPAFor Veteran’s Day, The American Military Partner Association, the nation’s largest organization for the partners, spouses, families, and allies of America’s LGBT service members and veterans, once again called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to grant full and equal benefits to legally married LGBT veterans and their spouses.

“This is completely unacceptable and must be fixed now,” said Gene Silvestri, a U.S. Army veteran and AMPA’s Veterans Affairs Coordinator. “It’s unconscionable that legally married LGBT veterans are still being denied their full veterans benefits if they happen to live in a state that doesn’t respect their marriage. These are earned federal benefits, not benefits from the state.”

“How much longer do these families have to wait for the benefits they’ve sacrificed for and earned serving our nation?” asked Ashley Broadway, spouse of a U.S. Army officer and AMPA’s Director of Family Readiness. “More importantly, why does no one seem to care that these families are being treated differently? Where are the members of Congress who are supposedly champions of our veterans and their families?”

Even after the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act that prevented the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages, the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to follow discriminatory language in Title 38 section 103c when determining the validity of marriages for veteran benefits purposes. As service members transition from active duty, same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states are denied full and equal access to many earned veterans’ benefits from the VA. Legally married active duty service members living in non-marriage equality states are also denied access to the full backing of VA home loans.

In August, AMPA filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of the VA challenging the VA’s regulations.

“Having weathered the federal government’s past, longstanding discrimination against them, lesbian and gay veterans and their families find themselves once again deprived of equal rights and earned benefits by the government they served and the nation for which they sacrificed.”

The challenge is now pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [AMPA v. McDonald, No. 14-7121 (Fed. Cir. 2014)].

—  David Taffet

This Week in Marriage Equality: Kansas poised to become No. 33

PrintKansas

Kansas officials asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to place a stay on marriage equality while its case works its way through the courts. Either Kansas officials are just dumb or they’re looking for ways to delay equality.

The 10th Circuit already ruled that marriage bans in Oklahoma and Utah violate due process and were created out of animus toward gays and lesbians. Why Kansas officials think that same court would rule the Kansas law doesn’t violate due process and there’s no animus there because, well, Dorothy is from Kansas, is anyone’s guess.

The court gave the state a one-week stay. That stay ends on Tuesday, Nov. 11, unless Justice Sonia Sotomayor grants a stay. However, even though the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the 8th Circuit’s Utah and Oklahoma rulings, they’ve already said they didn’t want to hear those cases. There’s no reason to stay the Oklahoma and Utah rulings for Kansas.

Mississippi

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves will hear a challenge to Mississippi’s marriage ban on Wednesday, Nov. 12. Reeves was nominated to the court by President Barack Obama. Bye bye Mississippi marriage ban.

A decision would be appealed to the 5th Circuit, which also includes Texas and Louisiana and which has not yet weighed in on marriage equality. That court is considered among the most conservative and could come down on the side of discrimination. The 5th Circuit will hear the Louisiana and Texas appeals in January.

Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky

Plaintiffs in the cases in the four states in the 6th Circuit — Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky — whose marriage bans were upheld last week will all appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In any of the cases, plaintiffs could have asked for an en banc hearing in which all of the 6th Circuit judges would have heard the case. Instead, rather than delaying the case and hoping for a nationwide resolution of the issue by the end of June 2015, they each decided for a direct appeal.

Because of the split among circuits, the U.S. Supreme Court is compelled to take a marriage case, but could delay hearing a case until next session. Since the 6th Circuit issued just one decision for all four states, the court could decide to hear from all states or could choose just one appeal.

—  David Taffet

Oral arguments set in Texas and Louisiana marriage cases

Attorney General Greg Abbott

Atty. Gen Greg Abbott pandering in front of the 11 Commandments monument at the Texas Capitol. Yes, I know there are 10, but look closely at the monument and you’ll find 11 listed, which makes this among my favorite fake religion monuments.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will hear the Texas and Louisiana marriage equality cases on Jan. 5.

In September, Judge Martin Feldman in Louisiana became the first federal district court judge to uphold a state’s marriage ban since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last year.

Texas’s marriage ban was ruled unconstitutional by San Antonio District Judge Orlando Garcia in DeLeon v. Perry. His decision is stayed pending appeal.

In his appeal, Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott resorted to using the “pedophile, incest and marrying farm animals” defense. Because underpopulation has been a worldwide plague, Abbott uses the responsible procreation defense that’s been thrown out by court after court.

What we found most interesting was his inclusion of a story from Dallas Voice written by Anna Waugh about a case from Fort Worth that is still pending before a trial court. Two Fort Worth men who claim they are heterosexual would like to get married in Texas.

From the brief (pages 23-24):

Not all persons who wish to marry a same-sex partner will have a homosexual orientation. The plaintiffs in McNosky v. Perry, No. 1:13-CV-00631-SS (W.D. Tex.), have publicly admitted that they have a heterosexual orientation and plan to marry each other as a statement of solidarity with same-sex couples. See Anna Waugh, Tarrant County Marriage

 

—  David Taffet