Justice Department rules transgender is included under Title VII

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Atty. Gen. Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder said sex discrimination listed in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be interpreted to include transgender.

“I have determined that the best reading of Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination is that it encompasses discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status,” Holder wrote in his letter.

He said the most straightforward reading of discrimination “because of sex” includes whether a person is a member of a particular sex or is transitioning or has transitioned to another sex.

“For these reasons, the Department will no longer assert that Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex does not encompass gender identity per se,” Holder wrote.

He wrote that he was not encouraging any course of litigation, but that gender identity is part of sex discrimination.

—  David Taffet

Plano passes nondiscrimination ordinance, but with limits

PlanoWith Toyota moving U.S. headquarters to Plano, the Plano City Council this week addressed concerns expressed by the company earlier this year about the city and state’s lack of protections for its LGBT residents.

Last night (Monday, Dec. 8), the council expanded its nondiscrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity — but the ordinance comes with quite a few restrictions. Religious, political, governmental, educational and non-profit organizations are exempt, except those doing business with the city.

There’s a bathroom clause that allows businesses to segregate restrooms based on gender. That condition may be taken by some as a green light to discriminate against transgender employees and patrons of businesses, despite protection based on gender identity.

The governmental exemption doesn’t exempt Plano from discriminating, but it doesn’t require Collin County to provide the same protections in order to continue working with the city.

Liberty Institute was at the Plano City Council meeting to call the ordinance unconstitutional and threatening to sue the city if it passed.

Plano had a population of 270,000 in the last census, making it the ninth largest city in Texas and 70th largest city in the U.S.

—  David Taffet

Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth top Texas cities in HRC Municipal Equality Index

MEI-2014-map-650x375The Human Rights Campaign released its third annual Municipal Equality Index today (Wednesday, Nov. 12) assessing LGBT equality in 353 cities across the nation, including 22 in Texas, according to a press release from HRC.

The MEI, the only nationwide rating system of LGBT inclusion in municipal law and policy, assesses cities on a one to 100 scale.

The average score for the 22 Texas cities is 28 out of 100 points, far below the national average of 59. Only Austin achieved a perfect 100 score. Dallas came in second with 91 points and Fort Worth third with 83 points.

San Antonio, El Paso and Houston earned scores of 72, 52 and 54 respectively, the only other cities to score more than 50 points.

Other surveyed Texas cities included Amarillo: 14,  Brownsville: 20, Corpus Christi: 16, Killeen: 10, Laredo: 2, Lubbock: 0, McAllen: 0, Pasadena: 10, Waco: 24.

The MEI rates cities based on 47 criteria falling under six broad categories: Non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, employment policies, including transgender-inclusive insurance coverage, contracting non-discrimination requirements, and other policies relating to equal treatment of LGBT city employees, inclusiveness of city services, fair law enforcement practices and leadership on matters of equality.

Check out the full list here and this week’s edition of the Voice for comments from local leaders.

—  James Russell

Ask Lambda Legal: The Executive Order and You

A few details may have gotten lost in all the hoopla surrounding the executive orders President Obama signed last month prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. So here’s some info from Lambda Legal that may help clear up some questions:

By Greg Nevins, counsel for Lambda Legal

Question: I work for a local social service agency and read about President Obama’s executive order protecting LGBT workers. What does this mean for me?

Answer: President Obama’s historic executive order banning employment discrimination against LGBT employees of federal contractors and protecting transgender federal government employees was a needed step towards equality.

The executive order will provide explicit protection against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination for millions of hard-working, tax-paying Americans, and Lambda Legal applauds President Obama for taking this important action.

The order is very important because federal statutes concerning job discrimination don’t explicitly use the words “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.” This leaves vulnerable to discrimination those workers in states that don’t provide separate legal protections.

With a stroke of his pen, the president changed the legal landscape for employees of federal contractors, especially those in states without LGBT-specific protections, but also for those workers in states that already have good non-discrimination statutes, because, to use a football analogy, discrimination now doesn’t result in just a penalty but may get a contractor tossed out of the game.

One of the major advancements of equality contained in the executive order is that it also will make explicit the protection against gender identity discrimination for federal government employees. This will clarify that executive branch policies are consistent with federal court decisions and the position of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Clarity and consistency about non-discrimination requirements are crucial. It is important that employees have a policy and remedy in place that protects them when they endure discrimination. But what we all really want is for the discrimination not to occur in the first place, and the executive order’s clear language furthers that goal.

Unfortunately, the order does not protect all employees of private companies and businesses, and explicit protections for LGBT workers in the private sector vary from state to state. We have increasing recognition and obvious momentum towards nationwide workplace fairness, but there is still a ways to go.

Over the last several years, the EEOC has ruled that employees alleging anti-LGBT discrimination had legitimate Title VII sex discrimination claims; similar rulings have come from federal district courts in cases involving lesbian or gay workers, and from numerous federal district and appellate courts in cases brought by transgender workers.

Additionally, 18 states, the District of Columbia, and more than  200 jurisdictions — from small towns to large cities — have inclusive non-discrimination laws that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

In the meantime, we are deeply grateful to President Obama for continuing his administration’s progress toward full equality for LGBT workers, and Lambda Legal will continue to fight to expand protections for LGBT employees across the country.

If you have any questions, or feel you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk by calling 1-866-542-8336 go online to www.lambdalegal.org/help.

—  Tammye Nash

BREAKING: Obama will sign executive order banning discrimination

Barack ObamaPresident Obama announced today he will sign an executive order on Monday that bars federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The president said last month that he planned to sign the two orders.

The announcement follows the recent collapse of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — ENDA — in Congress. LGBT groups withdrew their support for the bill in opposition to its sweeping religious exemptions, which many feared would basically gut protections  following the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices editor-at-large Michelangelo Signorile has more on the collapse here.

UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute’s research suggests that up to 34 million employees, or one fifth of the national workforce, will be included.

Senior White Officials noted that President Obama will not include exemptions for contractors based on their religious beliefs, as many activists initially feared. But he will keep intact an amendment signed by George W. Bush in 2002 allowing religiously affiliated contractors to discriminate on the basis of religion.

—  James Russell

Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas refuses to add trans protections for employees

Logo_FRB_Eleventh_DistrictThe Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is refusing to add gender identity protections to its nondiscrimination policy, despite repeated attempts over several months from the Resource Center.

Rafael McDonnell, communication and advocacy manager at the center, said he was researching government contracts held by Texas-based businesses and checking to see if those businesses had comprehensive nondiscrimination policies.

He found that the bank offered sexual orientation protection, but not gender identity employment protections. FRB Dallas and its branches in Houston, San Antonio and El Paso had around 1,200 employees in 2011.

McDonnell sent a letter in June to meet with FRB Dallas representatives about adding gender identity and expression protections, to which he received an email declining a meeting. After an email response that went unanswered, McDonnell sent a second letter in August, but received no response. He then sent a follow-up email in September. that has gone unanswered.

“It’s baffling,” McDonnell said about the process. “Other branches of the Federal Reserve Bank offer fully inclusive employment protections. Many of the nation’s largest commercial banks offer full LGBT employment protections. To be dismissed in an email, without responding to other attempts to contact, makes me wonder how truly committed FRB Dallas is to inclusivity.”

FRB Dallas senior Vice President Tyrone Gholson did not respond to requests for comment.

The Federal Reserve is fiscally independent because it receives no government appropriations and remained open during the government shutdown. The Fed funds its activities with the interest earned from loans to banks and investments in government securities and from the revenue received from providing services to financial institutions.

The Fed’s financial goal in providing services is to generate only enough revenue to cover costs. Any excess earnings — money made above the cost of operations — is turned over to the U.S. Treasury.

Despite its leadership’s resistance to the change, FRB of Dallas’ board of directors has many members connected to inclusive companies.

McDonnell encouraged people to email Gholson, as well as call 214-922-6000 to urge him and FRB of Dallas CEO Richard Fisher to add the protections. Fisher is a Democrat who ran against Kay Bailey Hutchison for U.S. Senate in a special election in 1993 and in the regular election in 1994.

Read the two letters below.

—  Dallasvoice

UPDATE: Abbott changes mind, unlikely to sue for right to discriminate in San Antonio

Texas AG Greg Abbott

Greg Abbott

UPDATE: Here is the response that came from the Attorney General’s office:

We will continue to review and monitor the ordinance.  I’ve attached the letter sent to Mayor Castro before the vote was taken.  The final ordinance did not include the most problematic language, which led to our response:

“We are pleased the city council heeded our advice and deleted this provision, which surely would have been grounds for a constitutional challenge to the ordinance.  We will continue to review the ordinance and monitor the situation.”

I have requested information on what will be monitored, how the AG views this ordinance differently than the Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin ordinances and why he threatened to sue after the ordinance passed without the offending language.

ORIGINAL POST: Attorney General Greg Abbott now says it is unlikely he will file suit against the San Antonio nondiscrimination ordinance. As reported in Dallas Voice when the ordinance passed, the issues Abbott had with the law were removed before the final version went before the council.

Abbott’s office has not returned a call from Dallas Voice but a spokesman told Texas Tribune and other news outlets that the AG is unlikely to sue.

“We are pleased the city council heeded our advice and deleted this provision, which surely would have been grounds for a constitutional challenge to the ordinance,” Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the AG’s office, said in a statement.

Except the threat of a lawsuit came after the provisions preventing someone accused of discrimination from holding office or sitting on a board or commission were removed.

“We will continue to review the ordinance and monitor the situation,” Strickland said.

It’s unclear what the spokesman meant by continuing to “monitor the situation.” There’s no situation and once passed, ordinances don’t freely change, requiring constant monitoring.

What bothers Abbott is that in San Antonio, as in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and El Paso, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is now illegal. The only thing to monitor is that this sort of discrimination doesn’t happen. Anywhere. But that’s probably not what Abbott’s office will be doing.

—  David Taffet

Mayor Annise Parker says it’s time for LGBT protections in Houston

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Mayor Annise Parker

When San Antonio passed its nondiscrimination ordinance, Houston became the only major city in Texas without such protections for its LGBT community.

In a press conference Wednesday, Mayor Annise Parker said it was time for the Bayou City to follow suit.

“It is something we should do,” she said. “And the majority of council members have publicly stated they are in support of a nondiscrimination ordinance. This is an issue that requires all of the council to be engaged and agree it’s time to move it forward.”

However, in Houston, the council is unable to pass an ordinance without a voter approval. Because of a charter amendment, an ordinance similar to the ones in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin or the one recently passed in San Antonio would have to face a voter referendum.

“We watched what happened in San Antonio and we’ll certainly talk to them about the process and then we’ll make our own decision,” Parker said.

But the process in Houston would be quite a bit different than in the other Texas cities where ordinances passed without going to voters for charter amendments.

Parker is up for re-election for a third and final term as mayor. Jessica Michan, a spokeswoman in the mayor’s office, said she did not expect any action on an ordinance until after the election.

—  David Taffet

SMU adds transgender protections

SMUSouthern Methodist University has issued a new statement of nondiscrimination. The previous policy covered sexual orientation but not  gender identity and expression. The new policy reads:

SMU will not discriminate in any employment practice, education program, or educational activity on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, genetic information, or veteran status. SMU’s commitment to equal opportunity includes nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

The policy reportedly went into effect on Jan. 1 after being approved in December. SMU is believed to be the first four-year university in North Texas with a fully inclusive policy. For the first time in several years, SMU was not included in the Princeton Review’s 2012 list of most homophobic campuses.

Dallas County Community College added gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policy last year.

Representatives from SMU couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the change.

—  David Taffet

Defining Homes • How Swede it is

Gay agent Fredrik Eklund is a shark above the rest in Bravo’s new ‘Million Dollar Listing: New York’

By Rich Lopez

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With European charm and no-holds-barred ambition, Eklund swoops in on competitors’ clients and cleverly negotiates the right price for his own in the cutthroat market of New York City.

Turning its eye to the high-rise luxury space of the Big Apple, the Bravo network premieres its latest entry into reality programming with Million Dollar Listing: New York. Three hungry young agents navigate through myriad clients looking to unload jaw-dropping apartments with three floors, major closet space and automatic toilets, and buyers willing to throw down millions for them.

But Fredrik Eklund might just be the show’s breakout star with his good looks, major ambition and a slightly checkered past he has no shame about. Really, he’s a softie at heart with fond nostalgia for the TV show Dallas.

“I was so obsessed with that show when I was growing up in Sweden,” he laughs (and hums the theme music). “But I’ve never worn a cowboy hat. Do they wear those in Dallas?”

He talks with a sincere and almost childlike interest, but he’s anything but when it comes to competing in the intense market of New York City. In MDL: NY, he’s one of three young bucks with one thing on their minds: closing the deal. And Eklund is quick to boast his billion dollars in sales to impress potential clients and make his mark.

“You just have to work harder at [real estate]. Even after eight years of doing this, I am still obsessive about it. I eat and breathe it,” he says.

We see his handiwork when he slyly negotiates offers to his clients’ advantage and will even take a cut in his commission to get it done.

But with commissions running in to the tens of thousands of dollars, he’s hardly missing out. While the money is nice, Eklund says this isn’t what drives him to be the best.

“This fits my brain really well and there’s always something new,” he says. “The number one thing I want to put my mark on is new developments here in New York. Any agent can put up a website and wait for the phone to ring, but with new buildings, I can create a brand for that. That is something I’m very proud of for the future.”

On paper, Eklund has had a privileged life. A successful father provided a blueprint for the success he wanted and ultimately achieved. He studied economics in Stockholm, owned an Internet company by the age of 23, he managed a cadre of music producers to churn out Billboard charting songs in Singapore and Latin America.

Now, at 34, he’s the youngest managing director for Prudential Douglas Elliman, the largest real estate company on the East Coast. Even with his golden career in his hands, the decision to add the show into a busy life was only a positive one — as well as advantageous.

“I knew it was going to be a lot of fun and I have some vanity, but to go so deep into your own life, it does become comical,” he laughs. “But the more serious answer is the international outreach is so important. Everyone wants to own something in New York and so the power of TV is unparalleled. For me, this is an opportunity to showcase my business.”

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The new kids on the Bravo block include, left to right, Ryan Serhant, Michael Lorber and Eklund.

A priceless moment in the pilot comes out of nowhere when cast mate Ryan Serhant outs Eklund’s work in gay porn to a client over lunch.

Without batting an eye, Eklund owns it and swoops in on Serhant’s guest to deliver his card. Eklund is an open book without faulting any past decisions or experiences.

“I’ve always been open about it, but it has never affected my business,” he says. “When people hear me talk about it, I hope they can see in my eyes that it’s nothing. It was a short period of my life, but it’s helped make me who I am and I’m proud of who I am.”

Fortunately for local Realtors, he doesn’t have his sights set on conquering Dallas anytime soon, but if he did …

“I would do what I did in New York and walk around open houses, scan all the top brokers,” he says. “I used to pretend to be a buyer to note who the big brokers are. Every top broker has something that makes you want to really work with that person.”

But his plans right now only include taking over New York, celebrating his engagement to his partner he met during the season and making time to enjoy his whole new life in front of the camera.

“The world s very big and our lives are pretty short. Before we know it, it’s over,” he says. “I want to do so many things and even though I’m calmer about things, I still have that urge.”

Million Dollar Listing: New York premieres March 7 on Bravo. For more information, visit BravoTV.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 2, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas