Obama makes pitch for gay rights bill

Unknown-2

President Barack Obama

WASHINGTON — The Senate is set to vote Monday on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a day after President Barack Obama blogged in the Huffington Post, encouraging Congress to pass the measure.

Obama wrote that while Americans can’t lose their jobs because of race, religion, gender or disability, “in many states a person can be fired simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” Yahoo News reported.

ENDA would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“It’s offensive. It’s wrong,” Obama wrote. “And it needs to stop, because in the United States of America, who you are and you love should never be a fireable offense.”

The same legislation failed by a single vote, 50-49, the last time it was considered by the Senate in 1996, the Washington Post reports. Along with 55 Democratic senators, the bill currently has the support of at least four Republicans.

—  Steve Ramos

Appeals court dismisses suit accusing AG’s office of anti-gay discrimination

Texas AG Greg Abbott

Greg Abbott

A state appeals court on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit accusing Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office of anti-gay employment discrimination.

In February 2009, Vic Gardner resigned from his job at a Tyler call center run by the AG’s office, where he’d worked for about three years, alleging a hostile work environment.

Gardner received excellent performance reviews until an office costume party, where his supervisor concluded he was gay, according to his lawsuit. Once the supervisor determined Gardner was gay, he was repeatedly disciplined until he resigned.

In dismissing Gardner’s case, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals said Gardner presented no evidence he was dismissed from the job and not enough evidence of a hostile work environment. The court said Gardner presented no evidence he was demoted, lost job responsibilities or was given a choice of being fired or quitting.

—  David Taffet

Gay discrimination claim against Exxon advances; Resource Center sends letter

Almeida.Tico

Tico Almeida

The Illinois Department of Human Rights has agreed to investigate a discrimination claim against ExxonMobil brought by the group Freedom to Work.

The Illinois department said the investigation would take up to a year.

Tico Almeida, founder of Freedom to Work, said his group brought the charges in Illinois because that state has some of the country’s strongest protections based on sexual orientation.

In May, the organization sent similar resumes to ExxonMobil for an open position. The difference was that one applicant was lesbian while the other was straight and slightly less qualified. The company contacted the straight woman and held the job open for her even when she didn’t respond. The more qualified lesbian candidate was never contacted.

Locally, Cece Cox, CEO of Resource Center Dallas, sent a letter this week to two ExxonMobil executives — Malcolm Farrant, vice president of human resources, and David Rosenthal, vice president of investor relations and board secretary. Last year, she met with them along with LGBT executives from Dallas-area Fortune 500 companies to discuss implementing nondiscrimination policies.

“As most of my subsequent inquiries to you have gone unanswered, I am writing today to see where things stand on the matters that were discussed,” she wrote.

She references the recent ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act and bipartisan Senate committee approval of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act this week.

Cox’s full letter is below:

—  David Taffet

WATCH: 6 Texas activists arrested at ENDA protest in Boehner’s office

Screen shot 2013-06-13 at 12.25.42 PM

Three members of GetEQUAL in Speaker John Boehner’s office.

Eight members of GetEQUAL were arrested outside the office of House Speaker John Boehner this morning, including six from Texas.

The group wants Boehner to move the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the House floor for a vote. The other two arrested were from Ohio, which also has no statewide LGBT employment protections.

According to Texas GetEQUAL organizer Michael Diviesti, those arrested were Tiffani Bishop, Austin; Koby Ozias, Corpus Christi; Carey Dunn, Austin; Erin Jennings, San Antonio; and Kaya Candia-Almanza and Cindy Candia. He said about 20 GetEQUAL members were in the room.

After speaking to staff members in Boehner’s office, they protested inside the office. When asked to leave, the continued their protest outside the office, where they were arrested.

Bishop was the first arrested.

The group called on President Barack Obama to issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to add sexual orientation and gender identity to their equal employee opportunity statements.

“It’s clear that Speaker Boehner has absolutely zero intention of supporting or moving forward the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives,” Sean Watkins, a gay Iraq War veteran and constituent of Speaker John Boehner, said in a statement issued by GetEQUAL.

Watch video of the eight in Boehner’s office below.

—  David Taffet

WATCH: Gay Congressman Mark Pocan denounces Exxon from House floor

Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 3.35.55 PM

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., denounced ExxonMobil from the floor of the House of Representatives today. He referred to the vote in Dallas last week on a resolution to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its employment nondiscrimination policy.

“The government shouldn’t be in business with companies that discriminate,” he said.

He said ExxonMobil has received more than $1 billion in government contracts over the last decade.

“BP doesn’t discriminate,” he said. “Chevron doesn’t discriminate. Shell Oil doesn’t discriminate, but ExxonMobil does and their anti-equality policies should start to hurt their bottom line.”

He said ExxonMobil’s policies demonstrate why we need a comprehensive Employment Nondiscrimination Act.

Pocan co-chairs the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.

Watch the video of Pocan’s speech below.

—  David Taffet

Freedom to Work sues ExxonMobil for anti-LGBT discrimination

Almeida.Tico

Tico Almeida

Freedom to Work, a national workplace discrimination organization, filed a complaint against Irving-based ExxonMobil today charging it with violating Illinois’ ban on anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.

The lawsuit comes one week ahead of ExxonMobil’s annual meeting in Dallas, where shareholders will again consider a resolution to add LGBT employees to the company’s nondiscrimination policy.

Two test resumes were submitted for a position with the company, according to the complaint. One was an LGBT applicant who was highly qualified for the position. Another was a less-qualified straight woman.

Exxon responded by treating the better-qualified LGBT applicant far worse than the less qualified non-LGBT applicant, the suit alleges. On three occasions, Exxon contacted the non-LGBT and less-qualified candidate for an interview, and Exxon even suggested that it would hold open the job for the non-LGBT applicant.

The better qualified LGBT candidate was never contacted by Exxon about the position.

“Exxon broke the law, defies industry standards and continues to betray the American people’s sense of fairness,” said Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work in a press release. “This case is one more reminder that Exxon stands virtually alone in the Fortune 100 in denying qualified gay and transgender Americans a fair shot to get a job based on their talents and hard work. Exxon must obey the Golden Rule and do onto others as they would want others to do onto them.”

ExxonMobil shareholder resolutions to add LGBT protections have been voted down every year since 1999. ExxonMobil is the only company that has ever received a negative score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. The company rescinded domestic partner benefits and discrimination protections for gay employees after Exxon and Mobil merged.

More coverage of the meeting in Friday’s Dallas Voice. Freedom to Work’s full press release is below.

—  David Taffet

Man appeals dismissal of suit alleging Texas AG fired him for being gay

Jason_Smith

Jason Smith

The case of a gay Tyler man who sued the Texas Attorney General’s office for employment discrimination comes before the Court of Appeals in Austin this week.

Vic A. Gardner worked for the AG’s child support division for about three years. He received excellent performance reviews until an office Halloween costume party, the suit alleges. When he attended dressed as a geisha girl, his supervisor determined he was gay.

Once his sexual orientation was assumed by the supervisor, he was repeatedly disciplined until he resigned in February, according to his attorney, Jason Smith of Fort Worth.

In a sworn affidavit, the supervisor admitted he had a religious objection to Gardner being gay.

“You are who you are, but try not to be so out,” Smith said his client was told.

Knowing Gardner’s father was a Baptist minister, the supervisor asked Gardner at one point how he could do that to his father.

In October 2010, a lower court judge ruled the AG had immunity from prosecution and dismissed the case. Gardner appealed in November 2010 but withdrew his appeal in January 2011.

Gardner’s new appeal is asking the court to order a jury trial. The AG contends all Gardner can do is ask for reinstatement. Smith said his client is entitled to lost wages and more.

—  David Taffet

5 GetEQUAL TX activists arrested for blocking traffic in Austin ENDA protest

photo2

Five GetEQUAL TX activists were arrested this evening for blocking traffic near the state Capitol while protesting for LGBT nondiscrimination in the workforce.

Holding a sign that read, “We Work Together,” the group blocked the intersection at 11th and Congress in Austin, calling for the Texas Senate to stop blocking the progress of SB 237, which was left pending in committee. This is the second set of arrests in as many weeks for activists protesting SB 237.

The Austin action was part of a new national GetEQUAL campaign that launched today to urge Congress to pass the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which was recently reintroduced. In Washington, D.C., activists held light panels on the grounds of Congress, reading “PASS ENDA NOW.”

The campaign, “Workplace INclusion: Winning LGBT Workplace Protections (WIN),” kicks off a week of action across the country to draw attention to need for workplace protections for LGBT employees. The actions will end May 14, the anniversary of Bella Abzug’s Equality Act of 1974, which was the first piece of pro-LGBT legislation in the U.S.

“For LGBT Americans from California to Connecticut and from Alabama to Alaska, the need for federal workplace protections is clear,” said Heather Cronk, co-director of GetEQUAL. “We hear story after story after story of folks who are simply trying to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families — but who encounter harassment on the job, who are refused jobs because of who they are, or who face insurmountable options for promotion because of who they love. In America, anyone qualified for a job should be able to get and hold that job without fear of violence, harassment, or termination. We need Congress to act now!”

A Dallas rally is planned for Saturday from11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at Dallas County Courthouse, 600 Commerce St., to educate voters on the importance of passing SB 237 before the Texas Legislature ends its session in three weeks.

—  Anna Waugh

GetEQUAL TX activists released on bail, promise more actions

Sit-in2

Cd Kirven as she was escorted out of the Capitol

Cd Kirven and four other GetEQUAL TX activists were released on $1,500 bail each on Wednesday. They were charged with class-B misdemeanors.

The five held sit-ins in state Senate offices to protest Senate bill SB 237 not being moved to the Senate floor for a vote. The legislation is a statewide LGBT employment nondiscrimination law.

“We have three weeks to push hard,” Kirven said.

GetEQUAL TX had threatened action if the bill was not moved to the Senate floor by May 1. Kirven said additional actions are planned.

While they were being arrested, Kirven said she was talking to officers about the lack of workplace protection for LGBT people.

“No wonder you’re doing this,” she said her arresting officer told her.

Kirven said a vote from just one of four Republican Senators targeted is needed to move the bill to the floor.

A preliminary hearing for the arrested activists is set for May 15, but defense attorney Dax Garvin left the country this morning for several weeks. His associate Makenna Hatter said the first hearing is always reset in Travis County so the case will probably be rescheduled for the end of the month.

Garvin also represents Dallas marriage-equality demonstrators Major and Beau Jiminez.

Kirven said GetEQUAL plans polling place demonstrations on May 11 when municipal elections are held throughout the state to let the public know about the lack of workplace protections. She said other actions are planned in and around the Capitol through the session until the bill moves to the floor of both houses for a vote.

Class-B misdemeanors are punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to 180 days. The court may also impose a maximum of two years of probation or three years of community supervision with an extension.

Kirven said she’s not sure if the charges against the group will stick. The Texas Capitol is considered public park land.

“You can’t criminally trespass on public land,” she said.

In 2010, Kirven was arrested in former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in Washington, D.C., demonstrating for the federal ENDA bill. After serving six months probation, charges were dismissed.

After posting bail in Austin on Wednesday night, Kirven returned to Dallas and got home about 3 a.m.

“They haven’t seen the last of us,” Kirven said.

—  David Taffet

LEGE UPDATE: State ENDA pending; another pro-LGBT bill advances

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

Two state House bills that would end anti-LGBT job discrimination were left pending in committee Wednesday, but Equality Texas is hopeful the measures will make it out of committee by next week.

Testimonies were given in favor HB 238 by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, and HB 1146 by Dallas Democrat Eric Johnson before the House Economic and Small Business Development Committee.

Daniel Williams, Equality Texas field organizer, said he was confident the bills would make it out of the committee by next week, as it is common for committees vote on a bill a week after its hearing. The Senate version is still pending in committee.

Williams urged advocates to contact members of the House committee and ask them to advance the bill. Members are: Chairman John Davis, R-Houston, Vice Chairman Hubert Vo, D-Houston, Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, Jason Isaac, R-Drippings Springs, Jim Murphy, R-Houston, Mary Ann Perez, D-Houston, Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and Paul Workman, R-Austin.

Earlier this week, LGBT state Rep. Mary Gonzalez’s HB 2403, which would protect same-sex minors in intimate relationships under the “Romeo and Juliet” defense, was voted out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. The Senate version was voted out of committee earlier this month.

Anti-gay HB 1568 also passed out of committee earlier this week. The bill by Republican Drew Springer of Muenster originally aimed to cut state funding for school districts that offered domestic partner benefits and was withdrawn from consideration by the committee last week.

But Williams said a committee substitute bill was passed. The substitute would allow the Texas attorney general to defund and decertify school districts that offer domestic partner benefits without an appeals process. Williams said the substitute bill is “much worse than the first one.”

“As the bill progresses through the system we’ll have a better understanding of how to kill it,” he said, adding that people should contact their lawmakers now to tell them they oppose the bill.

Two pro-equality bills have hearings scheduled for Monday, April 29. HB 201, which would allow same-sex parents to sign an adopted child’s supplementary birth certificate, will be heard by the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee.

And HB 1701, which would remove the state’s “homosexual conduct” law found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 from the Texas Penal Code, will have a hearing by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. The Senate version has already passed out of committee.

Equality Texas is trying to get HB 1696 a hearing before the deadline on May 6.

“We’re very much on a deadline,” Williams said.

The bill authored by Democrat Jessica Farrar of Houston would remove language form public school curriculum that condemns homosexuality.

He’s urging advocates to contact House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, at 512-463-0684 and tell him to give HB 1696 a hearing.

—  Anna Waugh