Georgia gov vetoes discriminatory bill and Lambda Legal sues North Carolina

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Gov. Nathan Deal

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a discriminatory “religious protection” bill that’s been sitting on his desk for several weeks after passing both houses of the Georgia legislature.

“This is about the character of our state and our people,” Deal said. “Georgia is a welcoming state full of kind and generous people.”

Well, actually it was about money. The state’s major corporations — OK, not Chik-fil-A — but the state’s other major corporations and employers threatened to pull business from the state. Disney, for example, which does quite a bit of filming in the state, said it would move production elsewhere.

“Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to,” Deal said according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way.”

North Carolina

Lambda Legal is representing Equality North Carolina in a suit against that state’s new anti-LGBT law, House Bill 2, signed by Gov. Pat McCrory earlier this month.

Lambda Legal represents Joaquín Carcaño and Payton Grey McGarry, who are trans, and a lesbian named Angela Gilmore.

“This outrageous new law targets them for no reason other than prejudice and puts them at risk every day for simply living their lives — for going to work and school,” Lambda Legal Legal Director Jon Davidson wrote in a press release. “Let’s be clear: HB2 violates the constitution and federal law.”

Once this gets to the Supreme Court, the discriminatory law will be thrown out and the LGBT community will be given more rights than the North Carolina legislature ever thought of taking away. That will take several years. In the mean time, I reached out to Lambda Legal to find out if they’ll be filing an injunction preventing the law from going into effect while the lawsuit makes its way through the courts.

—  David Taffet

Petition to support gay ambassador needs your signature

Brewster.James

Ambassador James Brewster

Anti-gay forces are circulating a White House petition to have President Barack Obama recall James Brewster as ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Their only objection to Brewster is that he is gay.

A petition has to get at least 100,000 signatures to get a response from the White House, and the anti-Brewster petition already has about 25,000.

But there’s a pro-Brewster petition that’s been started that only has 2,300 signatures as of this writing. Click here to sign the petition supporting Brewster. You must confirm your signature on the petition by clicking a link in a confirmation email.

Since coming into office, Obama has named a number of gay diplomats. The year the president appointed Brewster, State Department officials assigned four other gay diplomats to posts abroad, but they all went to gay-friendly countries in northern Europe.

The year Obama took office — 2009 — his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, changed the rules for gay and lesbian diplomats assigned overseas. Previously, a same-sex partner could live at the embassy with his or her spouse. However, things like moving expenses were not covered for the spouse. The cost of moving furniture, for example, was split in half if they were moving as a couple. The diplomat’s dog was covered. But the diplomat’s spouse was not.

Since 2008, spouses have been treated equally, whether they are same sex or opposite sex.

—  David Taffet

S.D. governor vetos anti-trans legislation

Gov. Dennis Daugaard

Gov. Dennis Daugaard

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed a bill that would restrict use of bathrooms by transgender students, according to the Rapid City Journal.

Daugaard decided to veto the legislation after meeting with transgender South Dakotans and realizing they presented no threat. In his veto message he said the legislation “does not address any pressing issue.”

The law would have been a first of its kind by legislating bathroom use by anatomy and targeting minors.

“Thank you Governor Daugaard for meeting with transgender people to see through their eyes that they are our friends, family, and neighbors, worthy of the same fair treatment and dignity as everyone else,” said Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of Equality Federation. “The more people get to know about the real lives of transgender people, the more empathy prevails. All students, including transgender students, should be able to fully participate and have a fair opportunity to thrive in school.”

“We salute Governor Daugaard for meeting with students and listening to the concerns of legal experts and medical professionals about the serious harms caused by denying students equal access to all school programs and activities,” said Erik Olvera, communications director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “School policies should be based on evidence, not irrational stereotypes and fears, and should support the health and well-being of all students.”

—  David Taffet

A transgender discrimination case with a quick, happy ending

KFC_LogoGeorgia Carter, a transgender woman, was hired by a Richmond, Va., KFC and then fired within an hour, because of her gender identity, according to an ABC News report.

The restaurant’s manager of the location initially said he fired the woman because he didn’t know which bathroom she would use. Then he said she was fired because her gender was listed as male on her identification. He said if her gender was changed, she could have the job. Finally, he said she only had an interview and was never hired.

When KFC’s corporate office was contacted, a spokesperson made it clear the company doesn’t tolerate discrimination.

“KFC will not tolerate discrimination. The franchisee terminated this manager & Ms Carter was offered a job at any Richmond KFC,” KFC tweeted.

So the manager was fired by the franchisee and Carter has a job.

—  David Taffet

Does Metzger also discriminate at DCCCD?

Dallas County JP Bill Metzger

Dallas County JP Bill Metzger

Dallas County Justice of the Peace Bill Metzger, who is refusing to perform same-sex marriages, is also a Dallas County Community College District trustee. Metzger made news a week ago by suddenly deciding his religion prevents him from performing same-sex marriages but allows him to continue to perform opposite-sex marriages.

A judge or justice of the peace in Texas may perform marriages, but is not required to do so. However, a judge that performs weddings may not discriminate against certain couples. Either that judge performs a wedding for any couple who presents themselves in the court with a valid marriage license or for no couple.

Most judges have no problem with that, but it presents a special problem for a justice of the peace. The fee paid to a JP goes right into that official’s pocket. The money JPs make doing weddings on top of their salary paid by the county makes some of them the highest-paid judges in Texas.

So Metzger doesn’t want to give up his extra income, but he wants to retain the right to discriminate.

Metzger is also a DCCCD trustee, as we noted above. As a DCCCD trustee, does he feel he has the right to discriminate against LGBT students, faculty and staff, as well? That’s an important question because DCCCD is the largest college in Texas.

Before a complaint can be filed against JP Metzger for his refusal to perform weddings for same-sex couples, there has to be a couple who has gone to Metzger for a wedding ceremony and been turned away and that has not since been married elsewhere, according to one attorney who asked his name be left off this story. In other words, if you go to Metzger to get married and he says no, then you go to another JP or someone else and get married, then you can’t file a complaint against him. Got it?

If you’re a couple planning to get married, but not in any rush, and if you are willing to go to Metzger for the wedding and, when rejected, follow through by filing a complaint, please contact Dallas Voice first. We’ll refer you to counsel to walk you through the process from marriage license to complaint.

—  David Taffet

NCTE launches survey of trans Americans

Keisling Mara

Mara Keisling

The National Center for Transgender Equality today (Wednesday, Aug. 19) opened the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey in an effort to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the lives of trans men and women in the U.S., NCTE officials said.

The new survey is a follow-up to NCTE’s National Transgender Discrimination Survey, and is, officials said, the largest, most extensive survey  of transgender Americans ever undertaken. It will cover a wide range of topics to assess transgender people’s experiences in employment, housing, healthcare, HIV/AIDS, disabilities, immigration, sex work and police interactions.

Participants will have at least one month to complete the survey, and results are expected to be released in the spring of 2016.

NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling said that the trans community in the U.S. is a “a critical moment,” but that “there is basic fundamental knowledge that we do not have. While we’re aware that trans people face extraordinary challenges, we cannot discern how frequent or widespread they are without up-to-date data. The survey will provide us with robust, fresh data, which will translate into significant knowledge about the trans community.”

Keisling continued, “This is a survey for all trans, genderqueer and non-binary people. It is for us, about us and by us. Just like the the first survey, the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey will help expand our understanding … and inform life-saving laws and policies that meet the needs of our communities. It will help us develop the information we need to understand the realities of our lives.

“Because this is the community’s study, the results will be available to community members, organizations and researchers for years to come,” she concluded.

Click here to participate in the survey.

—  Tammye Nash

A few thoughts from last night’s Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats meeting

Texas-CountiesThe Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats hosted their monthly meeting at Tommy’s Hamburgers in Fort Worth last night (Monday, July 13) celebrating the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision.

Couples who got a license but hadn’t wed were invited to get hitched. Had a couple already gotten married, they were invited to share their stories.

Three couples stood up and shared their stories. After their humorous and touching speeches, the invaluable — and, as he noted, single —  David Mack Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth, shared his experiences helping local couples get hitched.

While my intent was to share photos from the meeting, my camera card unfortunately thought otherwise. But I do have a few takeaways worth noting.

First, it turned out for the best I couldn’t get photos. One man approached me after the meeting adjourned requesting their photos not appear on the site. His husband is “insecure in the workplace,” he said. Whether because he fears losing his job or for some other reason, I don’t know. But I know LGBT Texans can still be fired from their jobs simply because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Texas is, in fact, one of 28 states that doesn’t protect LGBT employees from workplace discrimination aside from a few federal protections.

Texas is also among the 29 states without laws protecting LGBT individuals in public accommodations. Cities like Dallas and Fort Worth have made strides to protect their citizens from being denied service, or face harassment, from the grocery store to the doctor’s office. But I’d avoid going to any bakery owned by Rep. Molly White, R-Belton.

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David Mack Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth

As the saying goes, you can get married at night but still be fired from your job the next morning.

This past legislative session, legislators filed or sponsored nearly 40 anti-LGBT bills. Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, filed two bills  criminalizing transgender individuals for using a bathroom. Rep. Gilbert Pena, R-Pasadena, filed similar bills. Rep. White, as we learned, won a gold star for filing legislation legalizing discrimination against any groups not straight, white, Protestant and Republican — so, like, everyone.

After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, the statements started pouring in. Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia,  author of numerous bills barring state recognition of same-sex marriages, lead the crusade. He announced the “Pact for Constitutional Restoration of State Sovereignty” on Monday, July 6 in response to the ruling.

David Simpson, a Longview Republican running for an open state senate seat, denounced the ruling and called for a special session abolishing government issuance of marriage licenses altogether. I don’t oppose the latter idea, though I prefer that decision not come following the Supreme Court ruling. Unfortunately, yesterday (Monday, July 13), he went even further, calling on the state’s Republican leadership to address the consequences of the ruling. He was furious state employee benefits were now extended to same-sex spouses.

For the record, Simpson has yet to be endorsed by a single socially conservative group. His primary opponent in the senate race, Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, has received those honors.

Not all Republicans denounced the decision of course. But if it helps with fundraising, why not throw shade at two individuals of the same gender in love?

During the meeting, Henderson told a harrowing and touching story about a local couple just wanting to get married. The situation wasn’t easy though. As far as I remember it, a HIV-positive, 60 percent deaf undocumented man was jailed. His partner wanted to avoid deportation. David helped them find an avenue to get married. (Knowing Henderson, he’ll chime in the comments below, which I would prefer he do. The story is at once tragic and beautiful.)

Before I left, a straight ally approached two friends and I. He was thrilled by the decision, he said, but the fight isn’t over yet.

I’ve harped on this before but he’s right. Until we’re all equal, the rainbow is frankly just one color.

—  James Russell

Couples must sign forms about JP’s religious beliefs before he’ll marry them

DePiazza.JamesIf you’re getting married in Denton County, getting the license isn’t the problem. Finding the right person to officiate over the ceremony is.

Justice of the Peace James R. DePiazza will marry couples, even though he’s not happy about marrying same-sex couples. But that damn state law doesn’t allow him to discriminate.

So he only has two choices: He can marry any couple with a marriage license issued by Denton County or he can marry none. He’s opted to marry couples.

But that little glitch in the law won’t stop DePiazza from helping to make it the most miserable day in your life.

DePiazza is having couples — all couples, same-sex or straight — sign a form of his own design that says same-sex marriage is against his religious beliefs. Because, after all, his religious beliefs are part of his job as justice of the peace.

And whether a same-sex couple can marry or not is just what an opposite-sex couple has on their minds on their wedding day.

And his religious beliefs are important to any couple who has decided to be married by a justice of the peace rather than clergy.

And creating his own forms is what he was elected to do.

What may be unconstitutional is a government official having members of the public sign a form regarding his religious beliefs.

DePiazza’s office is at The Colony Government Center, 6301 Main Street, The Colony.

—  David Taffet

Hood County Clerk refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples

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Hood County Clerk Katie Lang is refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing Attorney General Ken Paxton’s “legal opinion” saying that clerk’s can refuse to issue those licenses based on their own personal religious beliefs. She has even included a post on the county clerk website, under “Services,” noting that she will not issue the licenses and explaining why.

Paxton’s opinion does include some basic CYA language noting that while individual clerks and assistant clerks can refuse to issue the licenses, county clerk offices as a whole have to follow the law and those clerks who do not allow someone in the office to issue the licenses those clerks can be held personally liable and sued. And that the county nor the state will pay for their defense.

A quick call to the Hood County Clerk’s office this morning (Tuesday, June 30), confirmed that the office as a whole WILL NOT issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That, of course, opens County Clerk Katie Lang up to lawsuits. Kelly Shackleford of the far-right-wing Liberty Institute has reportedly said he will represent Lang in any legal action against her.

Personally, I am wondering if Katie Lang is TRYING to get sued, so that she can become a “Christian martyr,” victimized by all those horrible heathen gays, and then use that “martyrdom” as a springboard for a bid for higher political office.

Here’s another personal opinion for you: I respect the fact that some people have religious beliefs that would prevent them for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I don’t agree with those beliefs, but I respect your right to believe that, and I will defend your right to your beliefs. But when you hold a public office or work for the government, then you also have a civil duty to serve all people. If your deeply held religious beliefs keep you from serving all people, then you need to find another job.

Dana Guffey, county clerk for Cleburne County in Arkansas (and no, that’s not Johnson County Clerk in Cleburne, Texas), understands that. She has held that office for 24 years but yesterday announced she is resigning because her religious beliefs prevent her from issuing marriage licenses but the duties of that office require it. I respect Ms. Guffey’s beliefs. I respect her decision. I wish her the best.

—  Tammye Nash

Supreme Court rulings benefit the LGBT community

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Outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 25. (Courtesy Dreanna Belden)

The U.S. Supreme Court today (Thursday, June 25) decided two major cases — one on housing and one healthcare — that affect members of the LGBT community. The housing case originated in Dallas.

King v. Burwell (Affordable Care Act subsidies)

While acknowledging in the majority opinion supporting the Affordable Care Act that many passages are poorly written, the decision upholds the subsidies that have allowed millions of people to obtain health insurance. The ruling particularly affects Texas because the suit took aim at states — like Texas — that didn’t create their own health insurance exchanges.

For people with HIV, that coverage has meant being able to see a private doctor and go to a hospital other than Parkland. For AIDS agencies providing direct healthcare, it’s meant a new revenue source and the ability to help more people without insurance.

AIDS Arms, with two medical clinics, has seen an increase in the number of its patients with insurance. Services provided to those same clients previously would have been covered by grants.

Not everyone is happy with the Supreme Court’s rulings.

“This is unfortunate news for the millions of Americans who have experienced first-hand the devastating effects Obamacare has had on their families and businesses,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said. “While today’s ruling is disappointing, Obamacare remains one of the broadest overreaches of federal authority in our nation’s history and we must continue to call on our leaders in Washington to step up and put an end to this job-killing law.”

The job-killing Paxton was referring to is that 2014, the first year of implementation of the ACA was the strongest year for job-creation since the 1990s.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, said, “The impact of a different decision would have been devastating” and would have affected insurance for about 830,000 Texans.

Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said, “Now that this ruling has been cemented in stone by the highest court of the land, it is my hope that House Republicans can finally move past their partisan obsession with obstructing and dismantling the Affordable Care Act and begin to work with House Democrats on responsible and bipartisan efforts to lower health care costs, create jobs, and strengthen our economy.”

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum weighed in as well.

“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is yet another reminder that if we are to rid our nation Obamacare once and for all, we need to elected [sic] a conservative President prepared to lead on day one.”

Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project (disparate impact and the Fair Housing Act)

The second case upheld the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Attorney Mike Daniel, former husband of County Commissioner Theresa Daniel, represented Dallas’ Inclusive Communities Project, and prevailed in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision allows the Dallas nonprofit to sue for discrimination, even if the bias wasn’t intentional. Money for housing projects usually went to Dallas’ poorest neighborhoods rather than placing low-income housing throughout the city. That could affect plans for Dallas Housing Authority’s largest project slated for Kings Road between Maple Avenue and Cedar Springs Road.

However, the decision affects housing across the country.

“Disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act are key to addressing systemic housing discrimination and segregation in the United States, including against LGBT people,” said Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “As the LGBT community seeks to gain explicit protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, this decision from the court is welcome news and reinforces this important tool for addressing housing discrimination.”

“We are elated that the U.S. Supreme Court protected health insurance for millions and reinforced the importance of rooting out discrimination in housing,” said Kate Kendall, National Center for Lesbian Rights executive director. “These two rulings reaffirm the most basic principles of equality, access, and fair dealing.”

—  David Taffet