WATCH: Gay Congressman Mark Pocan denounces Exxon from House floor

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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


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

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


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.

—  Dallasvoice

GetEQUAL TX activists released on bail, promise more actions


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.

—  Dallasvoice

LGBT advocates say federal ENDA to be introduced in Congress on Thursday

ENDA Houston 4The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is expected to be reintroduced in both chambers of Congress on Thursday.

The bill would prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBT advocates have been reviewing the legislation the past few months to revise language for small companies and religious entities that would be exempt. However, the changes are not expected to be in the introduced bill, the Washington Blade reports.

In the last session, 40 senators and 171 representatives signed as co-sponsors to the bill. More are expected this session, especially since an increasing number of senators have come out for marriage equality. Dallas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson was a co-sponsor last session, and freshman Reps. Marc Veasey and Beto O’Rourke are expected to support the legislation.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, told the Blade the organization wanted the legislation advanced quickly and hoped to time a vote in the Senate with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in two marriage equality cases.

“After the Supreme Court rules in the Windsor marriage case, many right-wingers are going to denounce marriage equality for same-sex couples, but claim that they don’t believe in discrimination against LGBT Americans,” Almeida said. “That’s the time when we should call some of those bluffs by putting ENDA on the Senate floor and letting all 100 senators go on the record about whether hardworking Americans should get fired just because of who they are or who they love.”

In Texas, a bill to prohibit statewide job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender expression had a hearing in the Senate, but was left pending in committee.

The House versions of the bill, HB 238 by San Antonio Rep. Mike Villarreal and HB 1146 Dallas Democrat Eric Johnson, have hearings scheduled Wednesday in the Economic and Small Business Development Committee.

—  Dallasvoice

2 TX lawmakers join call for executive order protecting LGBT workers

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson

On Wednesday, 110 members of Congress — including Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Al Green of Houston — sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies.

Johnson and Green were the only Texas representatives who signed the letter.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth said the letter had not gotten to their office or the congressman would have added his name. She added that when ENDA is introduced this session, his name will be on it as a co-sponsor.

The letter indicates that 43 percent of gays and lesbians and 90 percent of transgender people have experienced workplace discrimination.

“Our request begins with a simple premise,” the letter said. “It is unacceptable that it remains legal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In February, 37 senators sent Obama a similar letter.

The executive order would expand one signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, which has been expanded several times to include contractors and subcontractors doing more than $10,000 in business with the federal government. Categories currently covered are race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

While an executive order does not replace a comprehensive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, it would cover everyone but it would extend nondiscrimination protections to more than 16 million workers.

Some states have enacted workplace protections, but it remains legal to fire employees for their sexual orientation in 29 states and for their gender identity in 34 states including Texas.

During his 2008 campaign, Obama said he would sign such an order. Since then he has backed off that pledge saying he would prefer the legislative solution of ENDA.

—  David Taffet

Eric Johnson files duplicate bill to ban anti-LGBT job discrimination in Texas

Rep. Eric Johnson

Rep. Eric Johnson

A second LGBT-inclusive employment nondiscrimination bill (HB 1146) has been filed in the Texas House of Representatives — this one authored by Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas.

“Employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is reprehensible, but in Texas, it’s perfectly legal,” Johnson said in a statement. “It’s time for that to change.”

Johnson, whose district includes Oak Lawn, cited a 2010 Equality Texas poll that found 75 percent of Texas voters support prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and housing.

Johnson’s bill is identical to one filed earlier (HB 238) by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, and Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso.

Johnson’s openly gay chief of staff, Juan Ayala, said there are strategic advantages to having two bills. A second bill could be assigned to a different committee. Villarreal’s bill was referred to Economic & Small Business Development. Johnson’s bill, filed Monday, has not been referred to committee yet.

Ayala said one committee might give the bill a fairer hearing or one committee opposed to the bill could simply not schedule a hearing and let it die. With two bills, there’s a better chance one of will reach the floor.

Should either bill emerge from committee, Ayala said he expects the two to be merged into one.

Ayala described the mood of the Legislature this session as “less hostile, perhaps more open” compared to last session and said he thinks the bill has a chance.

Also, some of the anti-gay language was removed from the Texas Republican Party platform last year, possibly giving some Republicans cover to vote for nondiscrimination.

In the last session, Republicans held a 102-48 supermajority in the House, allowing them to pass anything without Democratic input. This session, Republicans still have an overwhelming 95-55 majority, but Democrats are not shut out of the legislative process.

—  David Taffet

Study finds Texas ENDA would protect more than 400,000 LGBT workers

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

If the Texas Legislature passes a bill to ban anti-LGBT employment discrimination in the upcoming session filed by state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, the law would protect more than 400,000 workers, a new study finds.

The Williams Institute, a prominent LGBT think tank at UCLA, estimated that 431,095 LGBT workers live in Texas, according to U.S. Census data.

Research found adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected categories would have a minimal impact on state agencies and the budget, estimating that the changes would result in 203 more complaints a year. The number of additional complaints came from applying the national average of 4.7 complaints alleging discrimination in the workplace for every 10,000 LGBT workers to Texas’ number of LGBT workers.

The institute focused on research from 2008 that found 37 percent of gay and lesbian respondents to a survey had experienced workplace harassment and 12 percent were fired because of their sexual orientation. A 2010 survey of transgender people revealed that 78 percent experienced mistreatment at work.

“Data from other states show that the LGBT population files discrimination complaints at a rate similar to other protected groups, such as, women and people of color filing on the basis of sex or race,” co-author Christy Mallory, Reid Rasmussen Fellow of Law & Policy, said in a release. “However, the absolute number of complaints we expect to see from LGBT people is very low, because the LGBT population is small compared to other protected populations.”

The cost of reviewing and investigating the complaints by administrators would be low, costing $267,500–$334,400 in the first year and $248,600–$310,800 each subsequent year.

“We expect that enforcing these additional complaints will only cost the state approximately $300,000 in the first year; and the expenses will drop in the following years,” said co-author M.V. Lee Badgett, Williams Institute research director. “Although there is some administrative cost associated with enforcing these laws, they can also have positive effects on businesses and the state.”


—  Dallasvoice