Lambda Legal offers advice for LGBT Mississippians

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Gov. Phil Bryant

The discrimination law Mississippi passed and Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law this week is more draconian than the North Carolina law. There’s also less businesses and people in other states can do.

North Carolina is headquarters for a number of prominent businesses. Bank of America, the country’s largest bank, is based there. Charlotte is American Airline’s largest hub.

But Mississippi? New York’s governor banned official state travel to Mississippi by New York state employees. Nice gesture, but why would anyone from New York be traveling to Tupelo. They’re not. And businesses? Nissan and Ashley Furniture. That’s about it. Nissan manufactures there and Ashley, well, if that’s where you buy your furniture, please return your gay card. A boycott won’t be effective. Number 3: Choctaw Indians. They run casinos across the state. Boycotting Native Americans won’t exactly hurt the bigoted white guys that passed this law.

But for the LGBT community, the new law will cause a number of problems. It allows county clerks to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples without offering alternatives. While no state law protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, this law reinforces companies’ ability to fire at will.

Lambda Legal has come out with some guidance to help the state’s LGBT community navigate the legal waters. They discuss whether you can still get married in the state to what to do if your health-care provider decides to stop providing hormone therapy.

A more helpful approach might have been this:

Step 1: Call U-Haul.

Step 2: Get the hell out of that hell hole.

—  David Taffet

Lambda Legal, ACLU to sue N.C. over discriminatory law

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North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, left, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Dean

Lisa Keen | Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

Lambda Legal and the ACLU announced Monday they are filing a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of a law passed by North Carolina last week to prevent local governments from protecting LGBT people against discrimination.

The announcement came the same day that Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced that he will veto House Bill 757, a so-called “religious freedom bill” passed earlier this month by the Georgia Assembly. HB 757 would have allowed religious officials to refuse to perform “marriage ceremonies in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion.”

The North Carolina law also prohibits transgender people from using a public restroom for the gender they are living, is one of two anti-gay measures under consideration by several other states.

The state’s Republican governor, Pat McCrory, on March 23 signed the two-punch law that effectively bars transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity and bars any local government from having an ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Kansas’ Republican Gov. Sam Brownback on March 22 signed a bill that prohibits colleges and universities from denying to any “religious student association” any benefit available to other student groups because the religious group requires members to “comply with the association’s sincerely held religious beliefs” and “standards of conduct.”

The North Carolina law drew the most media attention and response, going to a new extreme to limit the civil rights of LGBT people. The National Basketball Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have both issued statements saying the state’s new law might prompt them to withdraw upcoming major events from Charlotte. Carolina’s National Hockey League team issued a statement saying it is “devoted to providing a welcoming and respectful environment for all fans.”

American Airlines, which has a hub in Charlotte, said, “Laws that allow such discrimination go against our fundamental belief of equality and are bad for the economies of the states in which they are enacted.” Even the mayor of San Francisco has banned city employees from any publicly funded travel to North Carolina on city business.

Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and Equality North Carolina issued a press release Sunday night, March 27,saying they would challenge the law in federal court.

The Carolina law requires that all public schools facilities have bathrooms or changing facilities “designated for and used only by students based on their biological sex.” Biological sex is defined by what gender is indicated on a person’s birth certificate.

It also declares that state law concerning “discriminatory practices” will “supersede and pre-empt any ordinance” or regulation of any local government. North Carolina state law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“This outrageous new law not only strips away the ability of local jurisdictions to protect LGBT people from discrimination, but it goes further and targets transgender students who deserve to be treated equally at school — not harassed and excluded,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin.

McCrory allowed the state legislature to hold a special session just to consider the measure, aimed specifically at an ordinance approved by the Charlotte City Council in February. The city sought to prohibit discrimination based on their gender identity. But the new state law, “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act,” prohibits any local government from passing non-discrimination ordinances.

HRC said legislators had only five minutes to review the bill before voting on it and that Democrats in the Senate walked out, rather than vote on the measure.

In a statement released Wednesday, McCrory called Charlotte’s ordinance a “radical breach of trust and security under the false argument of equal access” and said it endangered the “basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said 76 percent of transgender people do not have an updated birth certificate. Jenny Pizer, law and policy director for Lambda Legal, said the law makes it impossible for transgender people to stay in school, hold jobs or access public services because “as a practical and safety matter” they are barred from using bathroom facilities.

The legislature’s debate echoed remarks heard frequently during the recent battle over a non-discrimination ordinance in Houston, where a referendum overturned the city’s non-discrimination law, HERO, which prohibited numerous categories of discrimination, including race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

But in Houston, the referendum simply repealed the ordinance. In North Carolina, the new law repeals all existing local ordinances that prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination and forecloses any future local ordinances.

According to HRC, North Carolina is the first state “to enact such a law attacking transgender students.” Kansas is bucking to be next. Kansas legislators on March 16 introduced bills to the House and Senate that call for all public schools to label restrooms by gender and enables students who encounter “a person of the opposite sex” in their restroom or locker to sue the school for $2,500 for “each instance” and monetary damages for “all psychological, emotional, and physical harm suffered.”

Earlier this month, South Dakota’s Republican governor, Dennis Daugaard, vetoed a bill similar to North Carolina’s, though it required transgender people to use “single-occupancy” restrooms or locker rooms.

But a number of states are still considering such legislation. The Illinois legislature has a similar bill pending before a House committee. Other states considering laws relating to gender identity and/or religious justifications for discrimination against LGBT people include Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Washington and Wisconsin.

Two bills seeking to limit use of public bathrooms by transgender people failed in the Virginia legislature last month, including one that sought to fine students $50 if they used the wrong bathroom.

Similar bills died in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Massachusetts is considering a pro-trans bill; to provide “equal access to public places regardless of gender identity.”

© 2016 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  David Taffet

Lambda Legal wins Texas Social Security case

lambda legalLambda Legal announced today (Tuesday, March 8) that it has won a case against Social Security Administration brought on behalf of a Texas widow.

Kathy Murphy was denied survivors benefits after her wife died in 2012. She and her wife were together 30 years and married in Massachusetts in 2010. Because Texas didn’t recognize the marriage and Social Security is based on place of residence, she was denied benefits.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage allows couples to filed amended tax returns and now to update their retirement benefits.

In it’s announcement of the ruling, Lambda Legal wrote:

“We are also pleased to announce that the SSA has finally updated its instructions to its staff in accordance with the historic Obergefell v. Hodges ruling last June. SSA has also issued other guidance to staff to manage claims from the LGBT community.”

Social Security is now instructing its staff to recognize the date of marriage no matter where the couple married or where the couple now lives.

 

—  David Taffet

Ed-U-Care presents compassion fatigue symposium

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Ed-U-Care CEO Sharyn Fein

Ed-U-Care, an organization that provides programs and volunteer opportunities for groups and families that have traditionally been marginalized or neglected including older LGBT adults, presents “Compassion Fatigue Awareness, Education Cultural Humility Training for Caregivers.”

According to Ed-U-Care CEO Sharyn Fein, the program is designed to educate and teach seal-healing methods for those who provide care. The day is designed for professionals who can receive CEU credits for the day as well as individuals who are caring for an elderly parent or a partner with an ongoing condition.

Burnout can be so severe, Fein said, the caregiver dies before the person being cared for in some cases.

Fein said the sessions will be fun with presenters who including a music therapist, Nia practitioner and trainer, QiGong Master and more.

“Find what makes us happy,” she said. “Live without guilt.”

AIDS Arms and Lambda Legal are among the sponsors. The Dallas area Alzheimer’s Association, Parkinson’s Society and Senior Source are some of the others presenting the symposium.

The event takes place from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on April 1 at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church, 9200 Inwood Road. Early bird registration is $30 until March 1. After that it’s $35. The price includes two catered meals.

Get tickets here.

—  David Taffet

Lambda Legal, AMPA drop lawsuit after VA updates benefits policies

Screen shot 2016-01-20 at 2.55.12 PMLambda Legal and the American Military Partner Association announced today (Wednesday, Jan. 20), that they are ending their lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in light of the VA’s changes to benefits policies that effectively ended discrimination against U.S. military veterans and their same-sex spouses.

The new policies, according to a Lambda Legal statement, “are consistent with” the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling legalizing marriage equality.

“We are very pleased that now, nationwide, gay and lesbian veterans who have served their country and risked the ultimate sacrifice for their nation — all while facing discrimination against them — will have access to deserved and long-awaited benefits,” said Susan Sommer, Lambda Legal’s director of constitutional litigation. “Married veterans and their spouses, regardless of their sexual orientation or where they live, will now have the critical veterans’ benefits they need to take care of their families.”

Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit on AMPA’s behalf in federal circuit court in August 2014, arguing that refusing veterans’ benefits to same-sex spouses based on states’ non-recognition of their marriages was unconstitutional.

VA officials recently issued internal guidance to staff and updated its website to reflect policy changes that bring the agency into compliance with the Obergefell ruling. The agency has also urged married gay and lesbian veterans “who believe they are entitled to benefits (including those whose claims were previously denied on a ground related to their marriage) to promptly apply for benefits.”

Read the VA’s guidance for the public here, and its internal guidance to staff here.

AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack said the new policies “pave the way for veterans and their same-sex spouses, no matter where they live, to access such important rights as survivors benefits, home loan guarantees, and burial together in national cemeteries. We are happy to see more barriers to equality for LGBT servicemembers, veterans and their families fall.”

Those with questions or concerns about discrimination or denial of a protection to which they are entitled can contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 1-866-542-8336 or visit the organization’s website.

—  Tammye Nash

SSA will apply marriage benefits retroactively, grant pending spousal benefits

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Lambda Legal plaintiff Kathy Murphy of Texas

The U.S. Department of Justice announced today (Thursday, Aug. 20), that the Social Security Administration will apply the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide retroactively and process pending spousal benefits claims for couples that lived in jurisdictions that didn’t recognize their marriages prior to the ruling.

The announcement came in a status conference with Lambda Legal in a Chicago federal court. The DOJ said the new policy will apply to previously filed claims still pending in the administrative process or litigation.

Lambda Legal filed federal lawsuits last year on behalf of widower Dave Williams, formerly of Arkansas and now living in Chicago, Texas widow Kathy Murphy, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Williams and Murphy were both denied benefits after the deaths of their spouses because although they were legally married, they lived in jurisdictions that did not legally recognize those marriages.

Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, said today that her organization is pleased to have gotten this confirmation from the SSA, and although SSA has not announced when the policy change will be posted and implemented, “we look forward to reviewing the details and working with the agency to ensure that those who had been wrongly denied in the pas will not have to wait longer to have their relationships treated with dignity by the federal government. … We urge the SSA to move quickly to right the injustice to same-sex spouses whose marriages were unconstitutionally disrespected and who await Social Security protections.”

—  Tammye Nash

EEOC rules federal law prohibits discrimination based on a sexual orientation

US-EEOC-Seal_380w_crop380wThe Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled this week existing civil rights laws protect discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In the 3-2 decision, commissioners ruled the sex discrimination provisions of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protect employees from discrimination because of their sexual orientation.

The independent federal commission is one of the nation’s enforcers and interpreters of federal nondiscrimination laws.

“This landmark opinion from the EEOC confirms what we have long argued in our cases: discriminating against gay, lesbian and bisexual employees violates federal law. This ruling is likely to have enormous positive effects because EEOC interpretations of Title VII are highly persuasive to the courts — they tend to be predictive,” said Greg Nevins, Counsel and Employment Fairness Strategist for Lambda Legal in a statement.

The decision should serve as precedent for future court decisions, he said.

“Given the clarity and logic of this opinion, most courts are likely to stop simply referring to old, illogical rulings about Title VII coverage. A few may disagree, but most probably will be guided by the Commission’s straightforward approach.”

In 2012, the EEOC ruled discrimination against a transgender individual is also protected under Title VII in the case Macy v. Department of Justice.

“Freedom to Work applauds this historic decision by the EEOC, and we encourage gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals who face harassment or discrimination on the job to consult an attorney and file Title VII claims with the EEOC and eventually the federal courts,” Tico Almeida, the group’s president said in a statement.

He urged LGBT activists to take further claims of nondiscrimination to the federal courts “to win workplace protections in all fifty states.”

Currently 31 states, including Texas, lack employment and housing protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to a new report from the Human Rights Campaign.

Rea Carey, National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director agreed with Almeida.

“This is another historic victory for LGBTQ people and their families. We need to further attack the scourge of discrimination in a comprehensive manner — and while LGBTQ people may file employment discrimination cases with the EEOC, we still need more. We must push for legislation that provides clear and strong protections for all LGBTQ people in every area of life — from housing to health care,” she said in a statement.

—  James Russell

More than 100 attend Senior Summit to discuss issues facing aging LGBTs

Senior Summit

The first Senior Summit for Aging LGBT was held on Saturday at Senior Source on Harry Hines Boulevard. More than 100 people attended.

Population estimates from the Census Bureau show there are about 371,000 LGBT people 45 years and older in Texas and 60,000 in Dallas County. Organizers of the summit called those figures an upcoming crisis in the LGBT community.

“We’ve been focused for 35 years on HIV/AIDS,” said organizer Cannon Flowers. “We’ve ignored trans people, elders and youth.”

Among the biggest fears addressed was gays and lesbians having to go back into the closet to live safely in assisted living or nursing facilities. As the baby boomer generation ages, more people who were never in the closet and don’t know how to live in the closet or who fought for equality refuse to live miserably pretending to be someone they’re not.

Several approaches were offered.

Rob Emery discussed plans for an Oak Lawn area assisted living facility. He said management is not a problem. Nor is financing. The biggest obstacle at this point is securing the right property. Two are currently being negotiated.

Sharyn Fein is CEO of Ed-U-Care and its Bridge Building Network supports marginalized groups like the LGBT community by encouraging healthy living choices through education, cultural sensitivity training, exploration and self- awareness. She talked about working with existing nonprofits to provide services of interest to LGBT elders.

Lambda Legal Community Educator Omar Narvaez spoke about case work his organization is doing for LGBT elders. Social Security is one of the federal programs that still doesn’t offer equal benefits to gay and straight couples.

Other speakers included Bart Poche who spoke about research going on at University of North Texas on LGBT elders and the Rev. Steve Sprinkle gave the morning’s keynote address.

A second summit dealing more specifically with some of the issues addressed in smaller breakout sessions is being planned.

—  David Taffet

Lambda Legal to file federal discrimination suit against officials of the Employee Retirement System of Texas

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Ken Upton, Lambda Legal senior staff attorney

The Employee Retirement System of Texas discriminates against its LGBT employees by not offering equal pension benefits to same-sex couples.

Lambda Legal will announce today (Friday, June 19) that it is filing suit against the state retirement plan in federal court on behalf of Texas state employees and retirees. Ken Upton, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal who works in the Dallas office, will announce the case at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, 501 W. Fifth St., Austin.

Pensions are federally regulated and subject to federal regulations. The federal government recognizes marriages performed in marriage equality states even if the state of residence is not a marriage equality state.

—  David Taffet

BREAKING: Amendment to Indiana RFRA would include gender identity and sexual orientation

IndianaRepublican legislators in Indiana have proposed changes to the state’s controversial new Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would bar discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, the Associated Press reports.

The amendment would also bar discrimination by private businesses based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military service.

The changes come amidst increasing vocal opposition to the state’s new law, signed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence.

But not all groups are happy.

Eric Miller, CEO of Advance America, a group that backs the current bill, denounced the move in a statement.

“The Indiana General Assembly should not destroy in less than 36 hours the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that took over 65 days to go through the legislative process earlier this year,” Miller stated. “The proposed change to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not a ‘fix’ but a hammer to destroy religious freedom for Hoosiers around the state – and it was all done behind closed doors!”

Miller added if the amendment passed, it would discriminate against “Christian bakers, florists and photographers [who] would no longer have the benefit of Indiana law to help protect them from being forced by the government to participate in a homosexual wedding.”

Others opposed it for different reasons.

“This bill reduces the threat but is far less than this situation requires. It recognizes there are problems, but does not fix it as LGBT Hoosiers and others urgently need. Now that there’s broad public understanding that gay and transgender people in much of Indiana are terribly vulnerable to arbitrary discrimination by businesses, refusal of housing, and being fired just for being who they are — and even Gov. Pence has agreed that that is wrong — that unacceptable situation requires a full solution,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, national director of Lambda Legal’s Law and Policy Project, in a statement.

Pizer was joined by the Human Rights Campaign and more than 70 CEOs of technology companies in calling for changing, or outright scrapping, the bill.

“Though this legislation is certainly a step back from the cliff, this fight is not over until every person in Indiana is fully equal under the law. At the federal level and in all 50 states, the time has come in this country for comprehensive legal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people that cannot be undermined,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement.

“If anything can be learned from the battle for fairness and equality in Indiana, Arkansas, and other states, it’s that LGBT people deserve to be protected from unjust discrimination,” said Max Levchin, CEO of Affirm, and the organizer of the joint statement with other CEOs. “We are proud to stand on the side of liberty and justice and call on all legislatures to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in non-discrimination protections. This will ensure that no one faces discrimination while everyone preserves their right to live out their faith.”

—  James Russell