See? You can be a more embarrassingly stupid governor than Rick Perry

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Greg Abbott pandering in front of the 11 Commandments monument at the state Capitol

The U.S. military is conducting regular military exercises in South Texas. That, of course, led to the conspiracy theorists gathering at town hall meetings and worrying that Obama was invading Texas and confiscating our guns. The exercise is dubbed “Jade Helm 15.”

Rather than ignore the people wearing tin foil hats, Gov. Greg Abbott is making a name for himself nationally by addressing the controversy and protecting the state from being overrun by putting the Texas State Guard on standby.

Progress Texas ran five headlines, including a plea from the newspaper that endorsed him, The Dallas Morning News: “Please don’t feed the conspiracy theorists, Gov. Abbott.”

Well, since Progress Texas ran its piece, the story has caught on across the country.

“U.S. military says it isn’t invading Texas, but Gov. Greg Abbott isn’t taking any chances,” reads the headline in The Birmingham News. Embarrassing when an Alabama newspaper is making fun of Texas.

Wait, it gets better. By the time Abbott gets through with his term, we won’t be able to proudly proclaim, “Thank God for Mississippi.”

Here’s a quote I got from Abbott about how he’s protecting the state (It’s embarrassingly from the Biloxi Sun-Herald. Yes, even Mississippi is in on the fun, but who can blame them?):

“It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed,” Abbott wrote. “By monitoring the Operation on a continual basis, the State Guard will facilitate communications between my office and the commanders of the Operation to ensure that adequate measures are in place to protect Texans.”

Daily Beast headline: Texas Guv Surrenders to Conspiracy Nuts

Salon: Right-wing lunatics think the military is planning to invade Texas

Dallas Morning News: Ex-GOP lawmaker blisters Abbott for ‘pandering to idiots’ over military exercise

Wait, you endorsed him, right?

Well, Abbott has set the tone. It should be a fun four years covering him and his antics. You ever think you’d be saying these words? “Remember the good old days when Rick Perry was governor?”

—  David Taffet

Obama: SCOTUS ‘about to make a shift’ on marriage equality

President Obama

President Barack Obama

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Monday, Feb. 9, that seven of his eight colleages on the nation’s highest court erred on Monday when they chose not to extend the stay on a trial court ruling striking down Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage, since the Supreme Court has yet to rule on four marriage equality cases it has agreed to hear. Justice Thomas also indicated that in refusing to extend the stay, the justices gave a pretty clear indication just how they rule in those cases when the time comes.

On Tuesday, Feb. 10, President Barack Obama told BuzzFeed News that he, too, believes the Supreme Court’s direction on marriage equality is pretty obvious.

“My sense is that the Supreme Court is about to make a shift, one that I welcome, which is to recognize that — having hit a critical mass of states that have recognized same-sex marriage — it doesn’t make sense for us to now have this patchwork system,” Obama told BuzzFeed. “It’s time to recognize that under the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution, same-sex couples should have the same rights as anybody else.”

Alabama state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has basically told probate judges (the ones in Alabama who issue marriage licenses) not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because they don’t have to listen to the U.S. Supreme Court because he is against marriage equality.

But President Obama noted that Moore is just going to have to face facts and get out of the way. “When federal law is in conflict with state law, federal law wins out,” the president said.

The president also took the opportunity of the BuzzFeed  interview to suggest that his former advisor, David Axelrod, is “mixing up” his personal feelings with his position on the issue of same-sex marriage in Axelrod’s recently published book, in which Axelrod says that Obama supported same-sex marriage long before making his support public in May 2012, just before he was elected to his second term, but that Obama lied about his feelings on marriage equality due to political concerns.

Obama told BuzzFeed, “I always felt that same-sex couples should be able to enjoy the same rights, legally, as anybody else, and so it was frustrating to me not to, I think, be able to square that with what were a whole bunch of religious sensitivities out there. So my thinking at the time was that civil unions — which I always supported — was a sufficient way of squaring the circle.”

—  Tammye Nash

Obama budget includes Social Security for same-sex married couples

Obama

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama unveiled his fiscal year 2016 budget today (Monday, Feb. 2), and it includes a proposal allowing legally married same-sex couples to receive Social Security benefits, even if they live in a state where there marriage is not legally recognized, according to numerous reports including this one at TalkingPointsMemo.com.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in the U.S. v Windsor decision in June 2013. Last June, a number of regulatory changes were announced that made most of the federal benefits that are available to legally married opposite-sex married couples also available to legally-married same-sex couples. But not Social Security or veterans benefits.

Government officials  said small number of provisions in federal law explicitly prohibit the government from providing benefits to same-sex couples when it comes to the Social Security agency and the Veterans Affairs Department. President Obama can’t extend those benefits through regulatory changes; those changes will have to come through a vote in Congress.

Given that the Republicans control Congress right now, it’s not likely we’ll see the necessary changes made any time soon. But having the president include those changes in his budget proposal and call on Congress to make the necessary changes is some progress at least.

And of course, if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality this spring, it might not make any difference anyway, since same-sex marriage will be legal in every state then.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said Monday that Obama’s proposal “would fix a crucial gap in federal protections for same-sex couples. President Obama’s leadership in helping bring the freedom to marry to all Americans will be a shining part of [his] legacy.”

Not being eligible for Social Security survivor benefits “can mean a significant drop in benefits after the death of spouse, a hardship that non-gay married couples do not face,” Wolfson said, pointing to the case of Arlene Goldberg, a Florida woman who was forced to leave her home after her wife died. As of Jan. 5, however, same-sex marriage is legally recognized in Florida.

—  Tammye Nash

‘A landmark moment’ for trans Americans, but there’s so far left to go

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President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama made history Tuesday night (Jan. 20), when he actually said the words “lesbian,” “bisexual” and “transgender” during the his State of the Union speech. It was the first time those words had ever been uttered in a SOTU address.

President Obama said: “As Americans, we respect human dignity. … That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We do these things not only because they are the right thing to do, but because ultimately they will make us safer.”

It was, I think, an especially sweet moment for the thousands and thousands of transgender Americans. We are making progress toward full equality every day, but still, our trans brothers and sisters are the ones still being left behind. So hearing the president of the United States truly acknowledge them had to be a great moment.

The press releases and written statements I found flooding my email inbox this morning reinforced what I already believed:

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said: “What President Obama said about trans people last night … he actually said it. …. His mention of us [last night] let’s us know that whenever he’s spoken of children, he has meant transgender children too. Or when he’s spoken out about immigrants, he’s meant transgender immigrants too. And when he’s talked about service members and veterans, he meant transgender service members too.”

A statement from the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund called the mention “a landmark moment,” adding: “This is a moment of promise for transgender people, who before now, had never been mentioned in a State of the Union address. We are grateful to President Obama for including our entire community in his speech, and for highlighting and condemning the persecution of LGBT people. Through his stirring and heartfelt words, the president has again demonstrated his commitment to creating a world where people are treated equally regardless of who we are or who we love.”

As uplifting and empowering as that moment was, though, my email inbox also provided ample proof that we still have a very long way to go, especially in protecting transgender Americans — their rights, their freedoms and their very lives.

A press release from the National Center for Lesbian Rights notes that NCLR and the Human Rights Campaign on Tuesday filed a joint friend of the court brief in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, supporting a former Saks Fifth Avenue employee, Leyth Jamal, who says the company discriminated against her because she is trans.

Saks attorneys have asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender workers.

I also had an email from a group called Care2, “a community of 27 million standing together for good,” taking to task InTouch Weekly for its horrendous cover story speculating on the gender identity of Olympic champion Bruce Jenner.

I saw that cover while standing in the check-out line at the grocery store; it made me sick, and it made me angry. It depicts a heavily altered photo of Jenner to show what he would look like as a woman. I didn’t read the article — although Care2’s statement says it was full of speculation and nothing else. Us Magazine reports Jenner himself is “upset” with the cover and story.

According to the press release, there is a new Care2 petition by Julie Mastrine demanding that “David Perel, editorial director of InTouch Weekly, be more sensitive to the struggles that actual transgender people face and refrain from gossipy speculation about someone’s gender identity.”

Mastrine said: “Publicly speculating as to whether or not someone will be coming out as transgender illustrates a flippant lack of empathy toward people who actually struggle with making a gender transition. It robs Jenner of his right to identify as he wishes.”

BuzzFeed says the magazine likely imposed Jenner’s face over British actress Stephanie Beacham’s body, and even comedian/actor Russell Brand condemned InTouch, calling it “bullying.”

 

—  Tammye Nash

Obama appoints gay former Plano man to Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board

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Maneesh Goyal

President Barack Obama has appointed Maneesh K. Goyal to the board of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Goyal is an out gay men who grew up and went to high school in Plano, where his parents, Madan and Sneh Goyal, still live.

The 12-member J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board oversees the U.S. State Department’s Fulbright Scholarship program. The board members also select students, scholars, teachers and others to participate in the Fulbright exchange program.

Goyal  is founder and president of MKG, an event marketing agency with headquarters in New York City. Started in 2001, the company now has offices in Los Angeles and Chicago. His clients include Delta Airlines, Evian, Chase Bank, JCPenney, Neiman Marcus and Levis. MKG was named as one of Crain’s New York’s “Fast 50″ companies in 2013, honoring companies that have found “unique methods for powering phenomenal growth.”

Also in 2013, Goyal co-founded “Live in Grey,” a resource and consultancy effort focused on workplace culture. And from 1999 to 2001, he was a program officer at Dyson Foundation where he built a national program to train pediatricians.

Goyal helped found and lead Duke University’s gay alumni network was a board member for Empire State Pride Agenda, a New York state LGBT rights organization. He has also established a gay entrepreneurs breakfast group in New York City and he  requires all his employees to spend five paid volunteer days and an annual fund on their favorite non-profit. He is on the U.S. Advisory Council for the American India Foundation, and has served on boards for LifeBeat, South Asian American Forum and Stonewall Community Foundation.

Goyal has a bachelor’s degree from Duke University and a master’s degree in public health from Yale.

—  Tammye Nash

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

Exxon will comply with executive order banning anti-LGBT discrimination

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In a statement to the Associated Press on Tuesday, officials with ExxonMobil said the company will “abide by the law” and comply with President Obama’s executive orders, signed Monday, prohibiting the federal government and companies with federal contracts from discriminating against LGBT employees.

ExxonMobil spokesman Alan Jeffers would not comment on whether the company will change its own policies to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination. But he insisted ExxonMobil prohibits “discrimination on any basis.”

In May, shareholders for the company, headquartered in Irving, voted down a proposal to change its policies to explicitly prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment. It was the 15th straight year shareholders have rejected the proposed changes, despite ongoing efforts of activists. When Exxon and Mobil were separate companies, Mobil had specific policies protecting LGBT employees and offered domestic partner benefits Once Exxon took over, though, those policies and benefits were abolished.

In May, Exxon shareholders voted down a proposal for the 15th consecutive year to add such language to its equal employment opportunity statement, maintaining that the business standards stated on a company web site ensure protections without having to specifically name them.

ExxonMobile began offering benefits to legally married same-sex couples among its employees in May 2013 after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. But the company faces a discrimination complaint in Illinois where a group called Freedom to Work submitted two fictitious resumes to the company, which ignored a more qualified applicant identified in the resume as gay and responded to a less qualified applicant who didn’t identify as gay.

According to government records, ExxonMobil won more than $480 million in federal contracts in 2013 and more than $8 billion since 2006.

—  Tammye Nash

Obama signs executive order banning discrimination

Barack ObamaPresident Barack Obama signed an executive order this morning barring federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law estimates that the order would protect nearly 34 million employees nationwide, or about one-fifth of the nation’s workforce.

A fact sheet provided by the White House cites wide-ranging public support for barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

You can read the full text of the order here.

Check out the video here:

—  James Russell

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

Obama to sign order banning anti-trans discrimination

President Obama announced earlier this month that he intends to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Today, according to Politico.com, he President Obamaended National Gay Pride Month by announcing that the White House is also preparing an executive order banning job discrimination among federal employees on the basis of gender identity.

The president mentioned the second executive order during a Pride Month reception at the White House. Spokesman Shin Inouye said Monday he had no details on the second executive order.

—  Tammye Nash