UPDATE: Gates tells Boy Scouts to change policy

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Boy Scouts President Robert Gates

Robert Gates, president of the Irving-based Boy Scouts of America, has called on the organization to change its policy on gay scout leaders.

“I remind you of the recent debates we have seen in places like Indiana and Arkansas over discrimination based on sexual orientation, not to mention the impending U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer on gay marriage,” he said.

He said he wasn’t asking the board to make any changes at this meeting, but said he was speaking to them as bluntly as he did when he headed the CIA and Defense Department.

“We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained,” he said.

Gates said more councils will contest the gay ban and the BSA could revoke their memberships. As states implement nondiscrimination policies, he said, the Boy Scouts could simply be ordered to change its employment policies.

“We must all understand that this probably will happen sooner rather than later,” he said.

Gates said it was better to act sooner and create policies that would allow church-chartered troops to set standards consistent with their religious beliefs and allow others to follow their beliefs.

Resource Center CEO Cece Cox released the following statement:

“The Center supports President Gates’ call for the Boy Scouts of America to end the ban that has forced LGBT Scout leaders to lie about who they are. It is a common-sense reflection of where the nation is on LGBT issues and involvement in everyday life.

“We urge Scouting leadership to take formal action and repeal the ban. Qualified LGBT Scout leaders should be able to participate in and contribute to an iconic American institution where honesty and trustworthiness are bedrock principles, without a dated and arcane policy standing in the way.

“The announcement from President Gates is yet another step toward comprehensive change that the Center first called for in February 2013. We would like to see the Scouts ensure open participation in all its activities by adopting a comprehensive LGBT nondiscrimination policy. The Center is hopeful that Scouting will make this positive change.”

—  David Taffet

Politics can sometimes hit too close to home

Russell.JamesI received a campaign solicitation this morning from a fellow prep school graduate whose husband is running for office. The generic donation solicitation e-mail, titled “Why Our Family is Running,” espoused the virtue and wisdom of her husband, Bo French, a candidate running to the right of incumbent Republican Charlie Geren of Fort Worth. (Geren’s family attended the school as well.)

Sheridan French, who graduated from high school a few years before me, describes in her e-mail how a combination of courage and faith has prepared them to enter the “difficult arena” otherwise known as politics. In a bold font indicating a clear sense of urgency, Sheridan writes, “Both Bo and I are deeply concerned about the direction of our country and strongly believe Texas is the light that can lead the way to a better America.”

I’ve been casually following French’s and other right-wing challengers’ campaigns against perceived moderate Republicans like Geren since their April announcements. French has so far remained mum on social issues, largely denouncing “radical Islam” and “burdensome taxes.” But Sheridan’s e-mail, with references to faith and family and freedom, gave me a sense of things to come. Given its veiled language, if his campaign unfolds as I expect, he’ll soon garner the support of hard-right groups, including the anti-LGBT Texas Values PAC, Texas Eagle Forum PAC and Empower Texans. He’ll pursue traditional values, extolling marriage as an institution between a man and a woman that should be kept that way by the state. Maybe he’ll oppose extending protections based on gender identity and expression and sexual orientation. (It’s part of a formula I’ve documented here and here.)

I don’t want to speculate. But I don’t want to be silent either.

Having shared teachers and hallways and classrooms and textbooks and the struggles of senior year with Mrs. French, her e-mail felt like a punch in the gut.

Even before landing my gig at the Voice, I regularly heard about and experienced suicides, bullying and hate crimes. While rarely on the receiving end of the bullying anymore, I am still reminded of high school. I remember being called a “fag,” cornered in the men’s bathroom and picked on more often than not. That type of vitriol was not representative of the student body as a whole, much less the amazing faculty and staff. And to them I am grateful.

In the ongoing struggle for acceptance, I also learned we must have courage and strength. I thank my privileged life for helping me develop enough strength to stick up for myself in even the most adverse situations. Yet I recognize not all LGBT Texans share that privilege. Not all Texans have the ability to fight back after being called a “fag” or the option of going to counseling when on the verge of suicide or, even, the confidence that comes from being out.

We all know the facts because we’ve likely all experienced them first hand. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a study of LGBT youth in grades 7–12 found that LGBT youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their straight peers. According to a 2011 National Center for Transgender Equality, 82 percent of transgender youth feel unsafe at school while 44 percent of them had been abused physically.

Bullying and discrimination are not confined to youth though: lesbian, gay and bisexual adults can still be fired from their jobs in 31 states. Trans people can be fired from their jobs in 39 states, and 14 percent all of reported hate crimes are LGBT-related. We still live in fear of the police, of losing our friends to self-loathing suicides, of winding up on the streets.

Which brings me to my point.

Legislation is not an end, but a means to an end. Discrimination and hate do not have to be ways of life. There are opportunities for aspiring and incumbent state lawmakers to help inch Texas toward creating an equal working environment, where you’re fired based on performance; where you feel safe enough to report a crime without fear of retribution; where you’re free to hold your girlfriend’s hand in the hallway.

But is that the way Texas can be a light to the country, as Mrs. French suggests?

Our alma mater has, since its humble beginnings, regularly pumped out leaders. We in fact were all taught to use our knowledge to change the world. Its logo, per aspera ad astra or through difficulty reach for the stars couldn’t make that any more clear.

At the end of her e-mail, before the links to the various social media accounts, she requests  prayers for resilience and strength as they go on the campaign trail. I briefly felt a sense of pride that may not be familiar to someone outside our cloistered alma mater. Hopefully in the race for the 2016 Republican nomination, she’ll remember the courage of her LGBT classmates, who overcame enormous obstacles to become leaders. And hopefully, should her husband be elected, he will not make it any more difficult for any of us to reach for the stars.

—  James Russell

Federal workplace discrimination rules go into effect today

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President Barack Obama signed executive orders to protect LGBT employees from federal workplace discrimination on Monday, July 21. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

A new federal rule barring discrimination against LGBT employees of federal contractors and subcontractors went into effect today (Wednesday, April 8), a little less than a year after President Obama announced the historic move.

In a blog post, Labor Secretary Tom Perez called the move a civil rights victory.

“It will mean a more dynamic and inclusive workforce that captures the talents of more of our people. It advances the principle that we should be leaving no one on the sidelines, that America is strongest when it fields a full team,” Perez wrote.

Until today, Perez wrote, neither sexual orientation nor gender identity were considered protected classes under federal contracting ordinances. This is the first time the rule has been changed since 1974.

“Today is an important mile marker on the path to workplace equality, but our efforts are far from finished. We will move with all haste, bringing to bear the full resources of this department to implement and enforce these new protections on behalf of the LGBT Americans who work for federal contractors,” wrote Perez.

—  James Russell

To RFRA or not

Religious liberty bills promise freedom, but for whom?

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JAMES RUSSELL  |  Staff Writer

In a 1989 decision, Employment Division v. Smith, involving two men who were fired for smoking peyote as part of a sacred Native American ritual and then denied state unemployment benefits, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a lower court ruling declaring that the two were not fired out of religious bias but because they violated state drug laws.

The U.S. Supreme Court returned the case to the Oregon Supreme Court to decide if a state could deny unemployment benefits to a worker fired for using illegal drugs for religious purposes? The Oregon Supreme Court ultimately sided, in a 6-3 decision, with Oregon’s Employment Division.

That ruling concerned both secular civil libertarians and those with deeply held religious beliefs, said Elizabeth Oldmixon, an associate professor of political science at the University of North Texas in Denton. A broad coalition then worked with Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and President Bill Clinton signed it into law.

That bill, said Oldmixon, told the Supreme Court that in such cases, to give the benefit of the doubt to the plaintiffs, not the government.

Among the groups in that earlier coalition was Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a nonpartisan educational organization that preserves church-state separation.

Today that group is actively involved in debate over state versions of religious freedom restoration bills popping up in legislatures across the country, primarily in response to court rulings legalizing same-sex marriage and an upcoming decision from the U.S. Supreme Court expected to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.

The first RFRA to pass and be signed into law this year came in Indiana. Gov. Mike Pence signed that bill on Thursday, March 26.

Sarah Jones, AU’s communications associate, said the federal RFRA “passed as a shield to protect religious minorities, such as non-theists, Muslims and Jews. It strikes a balance between religious expression and the federal government’s interest in enforcing laws.”

But the federal law soon fell under scrutiny again, when the Supreme Court again struck down a portion of the 1997 Boerne v Flores ruling, said Chicago Kent College of Law Professor Sheldon H. Nahmod. That case asked whether or not the city of Boerne, Texas could prevent a Catholic church from expanding because of historical landmark and preservation laws. The court ruled for the church.

Striking RFRA’s application to state and local governments left only the federal application intact, Nahmod explained. Then another act of Congress resulted in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, signed by President Clinton in 2000.

That ruling set a precedent for another Supreme Court ruling, however.

In 2012, Hobby Lobby, the national arts and crafts chain, sued the federal government over a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable  Care Act requiring employers to provide contraception coverage. Hobby Lobby v Burwell claimed covering contraception was a violation of the chain’s owners’ religious beliefs under the RFRA.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby.

What conservative groups praised about the ruling, others panned.

At the state level
If one term could sum up the dispute between the two factions in the battle over state religious freedom laws, it’s “broad.” In the Burwell case, the term means either an unconstitutional overreach or a victory for religious liberty.

Supporters of current religious liberty bills, said Jones, “claim they just reaffirm what the federal bill already says. That isn’t true. These state level bills are written much more broadly and contain discriminatory provisions that aren’t present in the federal bills.”

She said additionally the Hobby Lobby decision ultimately “granted special privileges. One of the most common ‘special privileges’ is allowing small businesses the right to discriminate against customers, such as same-sex couples.”

But Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, author of the Texas bill — HJR 125 — disagreed. Krause, a lawyer, interprets the federal RFRA much like Oldmixon or Jones. In written answers emailed to him, Krause said the federal RFRA “walks that fine line by asserting that the federal government can only burden the free exercise of religion (or conscience) if it has a compelling interest in doing so and it’s done in the least restrictive means possible. It gives citizens a cause of action to challenge the actions of government in these certain contexts.”

The bill, if enacted, he wrote, would codify in the state Constitution the state’s current religious freedom act, which passed in 1999.

In its current state, according to the Texas Freedom Network, the Texas RFRA bars measures that “substantially burden” the free exercise of religion. In addition, it includes other carefully crafted language that has helped avoid unnecessary lawsuits while providing various remedies and ensuring that the law is not abused. It currently mirrors the federal RFRA.

Passage of HJR 125 would change nothing, according to Krause.

“All I am trying to do is give our Texas RFRA constitutional protection,” he wrote. “There were efforts to make Texas’ RFRA language constitutional as far back as two sessions ago. It’s important to remember this is not a reaction to recent events … before we had any instances of bakers, florists or photographers. The intent was by no means an ‘intent to discriminate’ or ‘license to discriminate’ but rather good policy that has served Texas well for over a decade and it deserved constitutional protection.”

Selisse Berry, founder and CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, is convinced that bills like Krause’s and its Senate companion, HJR 10 by Sen. Donna Campbell, are discriminatory.

“It reminds me of people of color not being served. It’s an overall sad state of affairs, especially given the advances of LGBT workplace equality,” she said by phone.

After signing Indiana’s religious freedom bill into law amidst backlash from a wide variety of groups, Gov. Mike Pence asked that state’s legislature to assure discrimination against LGBT people will not be allowed. But, if Krause and others said discrimination is not their intention, are activists wrong about the RFRAs?

Chicago Kent’s Nahmod said it’s difficult to tell if these pieces of legislation are motivated by anti-LGBT animus.

“Indiana doesn’t have a statewide nondiscrimination ordinance,” he said, and while it could be argued signing the RFRA was a last-ditch push to prevent passage of a statewide nondiscrimination ordinance, that can’t be proven.

“But if discrimination is the intention, then they may be seriously unconstitutional,” Nahmod said.

But Berry disagreed.

“It’s naïve to say Pence’s decision to sign the bill was not motivated by discrimination,” she said. “Whether [these bills are] intentionally meant to discriminate or not, it’s clear the LGBT community needs a federal nondiscrimination ordinance,” she said. “We have state and city nondiscrimination ordinances [but] we still need a federal law to protect LGBT people.”

……………………

Religious liberty bills currently under consideration in the Texas Legislature include:

• HB 3567 by Rep. Scott Sanford. Would prevent the government from punishing a clergy member  or person of faith who does not perform same-sex marriages.

• HB 3864, also by Rep. Sanford. Would allow child welfare organizations to deny care to children of LGBT parents based on religious beliefs. Sen. Donna Campbell filed its Senate companion, SB 1935.

• HB 3602 by Rep. Cecil Bell. Would bar retaliation against “conscientious objectors” who refuse to perform same-sex marriages. SB 1799 by Sen. Larry Taylor contains similar language.

• HB 55 by Rep. Jason Villalba and SJR 10 by Sen. Campbell. Would allow Texas’ businesses to refuse service or deny employment to LGBT people based on individual’s or religious organization’s beliefs. Villalba has since said he would reconsider his resolution, but Rep. Matt Krause filed the identical HJR 125 late on March 12.

• HB 2553 by Rep. Molly White. Would allow business owners to decide whom they serve or conduct business with based on religious convictions.

• HB 1355 by Rep. Matt Shaheen. Would make it a criminal offense for an elected official to threaten, punish or intimidate a person based on the person’s religious beliefs.

— James Russell

 

—  James Russell

Former Arkansas AG condemns ‘religious freedom’ bill, current AG moves nondiscrimination forward

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge

Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge

A proposal to add sexual orientation to a list of categories protected from discrimination by state law may go to Arkansas voters if enough signatures are collected, after Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge approved the potential measure, according to Little Rock’s ABC affiliate KATV.

The ballot initiative would be in response to a so-called “religious freedom” bill that would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians if someone claims a deeply held religious belief.

Meanwhile, former Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel wrote an op-ed in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette condemning the “religious freedom” bill passed this week by the legislature but that Gov. Asa Hutchinson has refused to sign.

“Arkansas is a state where discrimination has no place,” McDaniel wrote. “Our true values are based on compassion and respect and lifting up one another.”

McDaniel believes the law would allow discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“The truth about HB1228 is that it would allow individuals and businesses across this state to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Arkansans, to women, to religious minorities — and to any other Arkansan who may face regular discrimination.”

—  David Taffet

Indiana Repubs admit anti-LGBT discrimination is legal


Despite Gov. Mike Pence’s insistence that Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is all about protecting religious freedom and not about discriminating against folks, two Indiana lawmakers have admitted that even without the RFRA, businesses in their state can legally post “no gays allowed” signs.

Raw Story reports that Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, acknowledged that because the state has no law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, such discrimination is legal in most parts of the state.

The admission came during the two lawmakers’ press conference  during which they said they plan to “clarify” that the RFRA doesn’t allow businesses and individuals to deny service to LGBT people on religious grounds. But one reporter pointed out glaring lack of protections:

“You guys have said repeatedly that we shouldn’t be able to discriminate against anyone, but if you just ignore the existence of this law, can’t we already do that now? Can’t so-and-so in Richmond put a sign up and say ‘No Gays Allowed?’” the reporter asked. “That’s not against the law, correct?”

Bosma admitted that unless the local community has a local ordinance protecting LGBTs such discrimination would, indeed, be allowed, and when pressed further by the reporter, he admitted that most areas of the state have no such ordinances.

The fact of the matter is, the same is true in Texas. Unless you are lucky enough to live in a town or county that has passed a non-discrimination ordinance prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination, if you are LGBT, you have no protections because there is no statewide nondiscrimination law that includes LGBTs. AND, even worse, Republicans have introduced bills in this current legislative session to negate such local ordinances that already exist and prohibit the passage of any such local ordinances in the future.

Maybe folks need to boycott our state, too. Maybe then the Republicans will pull their heads out of their asses.

Watch the Raw Story video above.

And in more Indiana RFRA news, Duke University — whose men’s basketball team is headed to Indianapolis for the Final Four — has joined the NCAA in speaking out against the law, according to Human Rights Campaign.

Duke, the University of Kentucky, Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin are headed to Indianapolis this weekend for the final three March Madness tournament games, including the championship game. Wisconsin and Michigan State both released statements relating to the passage of the bill but Duke is the only Final Four contender to publicly come out against RFRA.

Michael Schoenfeld , Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations said in a statement issued Monday (March 30), that “Duke University continues to stand alongside the LGBT community in seeking a more equal and inclusive world, and we deplore any effort to legislate bias and discrimination. We share the NCAA’s concern about the potential impact of the new law, and will be vigilant to ensure that our student-athletes, supporters, and indeed all citizens and visitors are treated fairly and with respect.”

 

—  Tammye Nash

Villalba to reconsider religious liberty bill, vows collaboration with stakeholders

State Rep. Jason Villalba

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas.

Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, announced yesterday (Monday, March 9) he would reconsider HJR 55 after the Texas Association of Business, Equality Texas and others expressed concern it would discriminate against LGBT people.

He also announced his intention to work with various stakeholders, including TAB, who came out against the joint resolution and SJ 10, its senate companion, filed by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, at a meeting last month.

“I came to Austin to solve problems, to help create jobs and to grow the Texas economy by supporting Texas businesses.  I have done this through voting to cut taxes for Texas businesses, reducing unnecessary regulations and by supporting initiatives to build our Texas infrastructure,” Villalba said in a statement.

While he called his resolution “well-intentioned and narrowly crafted,” he said he took the concerns of the business community and others seriously. “I cannot and I will not support legislation, however well-intentioned, that would result in harming the job creators who are so very valuable to the Texas economy.”

The resolutions propose a constitutional amendment to the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a bipartisan 1999 law signed by Gov. George W. Bush.

Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, lauded Villalba’s statement. “We need more of his brand of common-sense conservatism in the Texas Legislature. The Texas Association of Business is grateful for Villalba’s careful re-consideration of HJR 55 and we look forward to working with him to ensure that Texas businesses and jobs are protected.”

“We congratulate Rep. Villalba in reconsidering his proposed state constitutional amendment, HJR 55. No Texan should be turned away from a business or government office because of who they are or what they believe or don’t believe,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

Chuck Smith, Executive Director of Equality Texas, lauded Villalba’s willingness to reconsider the resolution as well. “Rep. Villalba has done the right thing in announcing he can no longer support HJR 55, which would harm Texas business and allow religion to be used as a weapon. Texas’ existing RFRA has worked well for 15 years to ensure the protection of religious liberty, and serves as a model for other states. Any proposed amendment is unnecessary.”

No word if Sen. Campbell also plans to reconsider her bill.

—  James Russell

BREAKING: Kansas governor rescinds nondiscrimination order

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Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas today (Tuesday, Feb. 10) rescinded a nondiscrimination order signed by his predecessor barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by most government agencies.

According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed the executive order in 2007 requiring “agencies under the governor’s direct control to ensure they have programs to prevent harassment against gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and people who have had surgery for sex changes.” It covered 25,000 of the 41,000 state employees, the CJ reported.

Brownback said Sebelius’ order was unilateral and should have occurred at the legislative level.

“This Executive Order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did,” Brownback said in a statement. “Any such expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be done by the legislature and not through unilateral action. The order also reaffirms our commitment to hiring, mentoring and recognizing veterans and individuals with disabilities.”

Equality Kansas slammed the move in a statement. “This action by the governor is an outrage. Gay, lesbian, and transgender state employees across Kansas have trusted they would be safe from discrimination and harassment in their workplace but Sam Brownback has, by erasing their job protections, declared “open season” on every one of them,” said the group’s head Tom Witt.

—  James Russell

BREAKING: ExxonMobil adds sexual orientation, gender identity to EEO policy

exxonmobil.siAfter 15 years of fighting shareholder resolutions, ExxonMobil added sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies.

Media relations manager Alan Jeffers confirmed the policy in an email to Dallas Voice:

ExxonMobil’s U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity and Harassment in the Workplace policies have been updated to include sexual orientation and gender identity, which is consistent with ExxonMobil’s long-standing practice of listing enumerated protected classes as defined by federal law.

ExxonMobil’s policies prohibit all forms of discrimination in any company workplace, anywhere in the world.  ExxonMobil supports a work environment that values diversity and inclusion, and has numerous inclusive programs and policies that help make ExxonMobil a great place to work.

The link to the policies are available here.

—  David Taffet

Plano mayor addresses anti-gay venom spewed at rally

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Rally attendees signed a petition to repeal Plano’s nondiscrimination ordinance

About 24 pastors and 100 spectators gathered at a library in Plano today (Jan. 7) to denounce the new Plano equal rights ordinance.

Liberty Institute attorney Jeff Mateer, who explained that his Plano-based group “defends religious liberty,” called the ordinance unconstitutional and said it “threatens the religious liberty of Plano citizens and businesses.”

Opponents have 10 days to collect 3,800 signatures to force the city council to repeal the ordinance or call an election. A pastor from Prestonwood Baptist Church said ministers would be denouncing the ordinance from the pulpit and collecting signatures in church. He claimed that doesn’t violate their non-profit status because they are not supporting a candidate or party. He called the issue bi-partisan.

Dave Welch, an agitator from Houston who heads the Houston Pastors Council, said his group collected more than 50,000 signatures and verified more than 30,000. He didn’t tell the group that fewer than the 17,000 required signatures were actually valid.

“There was no discrimination in Plano and no need for this ordinance,” Welch said to a standing ovation.

Members of Collin County’s delegation to the state House of Representatives pledged to pass a law that would outlaw any LGBT protections by cities.

Pat Gallagher, a Plano city councilman who voted against the ordinance, rose to address the group. He was shouted down because he voted against the proposal for the wrong reason, wanting to delay the vote rather than because he had strong religious views on the issue.

Plano Mayor Henry LaRosiliere spoke to reporters at Plano City Hall about an hour after the library rally.

“It’s fair. It’s legal. It’s constitutional,” LaRosiliere said about the ordinance.

Welch said at his rally that he wanted to debate the ordinance with the mayor.

“The debate is over,” LaRosiliere said. “We respect the rights of all 270,000 citizens.”

The mayor said he will let the petitioning go through its process and have the city secretary verify the signatures. If 3,800 signatures are valid, the council will vote to either repeal the amendment or put it on the ballot.

LaRosiliere stood firm repeating several times the debate about equality was over. He said companies such as Toyota moving to the city had nothing to do with passage of the ordinance, but that Plano respects every one of its citizens.

—  David Taffet