SCOTUS Will Rule If Existing Civil Rights Laws Ban LGBTQ Discrimination

The United States Supreme Court has announced it will weigh in on whether existing civil rights laws prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The current U.S. Supreme Court (image via SupremeCourt.gov)

The United States Supreme Court has announced it will weigh in on whether existing civil rights laws prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Currently, federal law bans discrimination in the workplace on the basis of religion, race, color, sex or national origin. While there is no specific federal law that protects LGBTQ individuals at work, advocates for the LGBTQ community say Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964prohibits being fired due to sexual orientation because that is a form of sex discrimination.

Lower courts have been split on the issue.

Of the cases that SCOTUS accepted for review Monday, two appeals courts ruled that the firings of a gay man and a transgender woman were illegal discrimination under Title VII, while a third case court ruled being fired for being gay does not fall under the purview of the civil rights law.

According to NBC News, here are the three cases:

• A New York skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, said he was fired after telling a female client she didn’t need to worry about being tethered together by confiding he is gay. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found, in that case, that sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination.

• A transgender woman in Michigan, Aimee Stephens, sued her former employer, a funeral home, after she was fired in the aftermath of sharing that she is transgender. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said transgender discrimination is banned due to Title VII.

• A Georgia man, Gerald Bostock, was dismissed by his employer after discovering his participation in a gay softball league (yes, that really happened), the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the 1964 civil rights law does not include sexual orientation.

Judge Diane Wood, of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote in a 2017 ruling that “it is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex.”

But over in the 11th Circuit, Judge William Pryor pointed to lawmakers in his ruling saying that Congress “has not made sexual orientation a protected class.”

The high court will hear the cases during its next term that begins in October.

JoLynn Markison, a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney in its labor and employment practice and an advocate for the LGBTQ community, has been following this issue closely.

“This shift in the Supreme Court’s willingness to rule on the issue of whether Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination extends to gender identity and sexual orientation—which are quintessential expressions of “sex”—has been a long time coming,” Markison says.

Markison points to the newest member of the high court, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, as a fairly substantial ‘unknown’ in the upcoming deliberations in that he doesn’t have a clear judicial record on LGBTQ issues.

However, we do know his nomination was heavily supported by far-right, conservative groups like the Family Research Council, which has long advocated against LGBTQ equality.

That said, there’s another wild card player to watch here.

“Is there a swing vote on the Supreme Court? Or is this issue already as good as decided? The balance could lie with Chief Justice John Roberts, who notably did not join the conservative dissenters in Pavan v. Smith, in which the Supreme Court held that married same-sex couples are entitled to be listed on their children’s birth certificates the same as married heterosexual couples,” said Markison.

GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, tweeted, “With more than 100 anti-LGBTQ attacks from the Trump Administration, this is exactly why we need to pass the #EqualityActnow and look toward explicitly protecting LGBTQ people with a constitutional amendment.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, followed that with her own tweet: “With Trump stacking the Supreme Court with anti-LGBTQ judges it’s clear that we need a constitutional amendment that protects LGBTQ people and all marginalized communities.”

In terms of state laws, it is currently legal to fire an LGBTQ person in more than 26 states across the nation. You can find information about your state at the Movement Advancement Project.

India’s High Court Overturns Dehumanzing Anti-LGBT Law

Awesome news from India this morning as the country’s high court has overturned a colonial-era law which made same-sex relations illegal.

From The New York Times:

In a groundbreaking victory for gay rights, India’s Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down one of the world’s oldest bans on consensual gay sex, putting to rest a legal battle that stretched for years and burying one of the most glaring vestiges of India’s colonial past.

After weeks of deliberation in the Supreme Court and decades of struggles by gay Indians, India’s chief justice, Dipak Misra, said that the colonial-era law known as Section 377 was “irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary.”

“We have to bid adieu to prejudices and empower all citizens,” he told a packed courtroom.

The court said that gay people were now entitled to all constitutional protections under Indian law and that any discrimination based on sexuality would be illegal.

“This monumental decision by India’s Supreme Court finally ends a deeply discriminatory law that violated the dignity and most fundamental human rights of LGBTQ people in India,” said HRC Global Director Ty Cobb. “We congratulate the plaintiffs in this case and the LGBTQ advocates who worked tirelessly for decades to achieve this tremendous victory.”

“We hope this decision in the world’s largest democracy and second most populous country will set an example and galvanize efforts to overturn similar outdated and degrading laws that remain in 71 other countries,” Cobb added.

“The soul of this nation had been bruised and battered because of this archaic law,” said Harish Iyer, an Indian LGBTQ advocate who was involved in the legal challenge to Section 377. “Today, we have reaffirmed our right to our bodies and our right to love. The rainbow flag is proudly hoisted in our hearts and minds as we celebrate this victory.”

With a population of more than 1.3 billion, which accounts for 17% of the world’s population, India is the largest democracy in the world.

Until this ruling, India was the most populous of 72 countries that criminalize same-sex relations.

In 10 countries around the world, homosexual activity may be punishable by death.

Philippines’ House Of Representatives Overwhelmingly Approves LGBT Rights Bill

Excellent news from the House of Representatives in the Philippines which has overwhelmingly approved a bill that would protect the rights of the LGBT community.

From ABS-CBN.com:

Lawmakers voted 198-0 in favor of House Bill No. 4982 or the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression Equality (SOGIE) bill.

The measure prohibits and penalizes discriminatory acts by a fine not less than P100,000 and not more than P500,000, or imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years, or both.

It mandates existing women’s desks in police stations to be renamed as Women, Children, and LGBTQ++ Protection Desks, to attend to complaints.

The measure also orders establishments to make available their existing toilets with facilities designated for persons with disabilities as gender-neutral toilets.

It also prohibits publishing information seeking to reveal a person’s SOGIE without their consent.

A similar bill is working its way through the Senate.

Hillary Clinton’s Eulogy For Civil Rights Hero Edie Windsor

Hillary Clinton speaks at memorial for LGBT civil rights hero Edie Windsor

Hillary Clinton was among the many who showed up today to honor and eulogize LGBT civil rights hero, Edie Windsor.

From Hillary’s eulogy:

The day Edie won, much of America cheered with her. Not with the style or the pink scarf. That was uniquely hers. But with a recognition that a wrong had been righted. Through it all, her strength never wavered. Though she did confess to one moment of panic. The day she saw her name in print as United States v. Windsor. It is fitting that she will be immortalized in history books in that landmark decision – synonymous with equal rights and dignity under the law. But she didn’t stop there. She continued to support the needs and the rights of the LGBT community. She helped change hearts and minds, including mine. And we are forever grateful to her for that.

[snip]

How she experienced loss, grief, and injustice made her only more generous, more open-hearted, and more fearless in her fight. She refused to give up on the promise of America. There wasn’t a cynical, defeatist bone in her body. That’s especially important for us to remember now. Through her determination and sheer force of will, she brought us another step closer to that more perfect union. Now, in this moment when so much hard-fought progress is hanging in the balance, it is up to all of us to pick up where she left off.

Hillary closed with this quote from poet Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

“Let us continue to be inspired by Edie’s wild and precious life,” Clinton said. “And let us make her proud every day of how we answer that question for ourselves. Thank you, Edie.”

Really – stop and watch. Really quite wonderful.

For the record – not even a tweet from Donald “Better for the gays” Trump about Edie’s passing.

Hillary said she would be there for us. And there she was today. No votes to be had. Just support.

House Of Representatives Unanimously Passes Resolution Condemning Torture & Killing Of Gay Men In Chechnya

After months of news that gay and bisexual men of Chechnya were being rounded up, tortured and, in some cases killed, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution condemning the actions of the Chechen government.

Via press release:

The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus commended the House of Representatives for passing H.Res.351, a bipartisan resolution condemning the detention, torture, and murders of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya. H.Res.351 was introduced by LGBT Caucus founding member and former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) on May 23rd and passed in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on May 25th by unanimous voice vote. H.Res.351 has 83 bipartisan cosponsors. H.Res.351 passed by voice vote.

“I’m proud that the House passed this strong resolution condemning the recent violence targeting gay men in Chechnya. Now, it’s critical that we do more to ensure those fleeing horrific violence can relocate somewhere safe,” said LGBT Caucus CoChair Rep. David Cicilline (RI-01). “This is an important step, but there is much more work left to be done.”

“We will continue to stand united with the LGBT community and shine a bright light on these atrocities, which are encouraged by the evil Putin regime in Russia, in order to help ensure that those who are responsible for these crimes are held to account for their despicable actions,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27)

“The People’s House has now made its collective and unanimous voice known: the situation in Chechnya cannot stand,” said LGBT Equality Caucus Vice Chair Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47). “We as a nation must lead the world in acting. It is our duty and responsibility to be the beacon on the hill that leads the way. It is now up to President Trump, Secretary of State Tillerson, and our United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley to follow through on the consensus of the House and bring as much domestic and international political pressure as possible on the Russian government to rein in these deplorable human rights violations.”

Hillary Clinton: “We May Never Be Able To Count On Trump Administration To Lead On LGBT Issues”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

While giving a speech last night at a dinner for The LGBT Center, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton warned of “clouds gathering on the horizon” for LGBT rights.

“The progress that we fought for, that many of you were on the front lines of, and that we’ve celebrated and maybe even taken for granted, may not be as secure as we once expected,” said Clinton.

She later added, “I think we have to face the fact that we may never be able to count on this administration to lead on LGBT issues.”

Clinton also addressed the situation in Chechnya, where gay men have been reportedly detained, beaten, tortured and killed just for being gay.

“In recent weeks, we’ve heard terrifying accounts from Chechnya of gay and bisexual men being taken from their homes and families, tortured, even killed. And when government authorities were confronted with these reports, their response was chilling. They said that you cannot arrest or repress people – who do not exist. The United States government — yes, this government — should demand an end to the persecution of innocent people.”

The New York Times recently published an op-ed taking President Trump to task for his “record of empty talk” on LGBTQ rights.

As we all know, during the presidential campaign, Hillary was endorsed by just about every LGBT organization in the U.S.

Taiwan’s Constitutional Court Hears Arguments For Marriage Equality

A panel of 14 judges will hear a case today that could make Taiwan the first country in Asia to legalize marriage equality.

Veteran gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei and the Taipei city government filed the petitions with the Constitutional Court asking for a ruling on whether Taiwan’s civil code, which states that marriage is between a man and a woman, is constitutional.

The ruling, expected within two months, would be legally binding. If the law is found to be unconstitutional, Taiwan’s parliament would have to change the laws to accommodate same-sex couples.

President Tsai Ing-wen has previously said she would support marriage equality.

Obama’s LGBT Envoy Randy Berry To Continue With Trump Administration

Randy Berry

ForeignPolicy.com reports that President Obama’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons at the State Department, Randy Berry, will continue in that position for the Trump administration.

The special envoy position was created during the Obama years to fight back against the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people around the globe. The job’s focus has been to promote the human rights and dignity of LGBT individuals worldwide.

Berry, an openly gay career Foreign Service officer became the first person to hold the position in February 2015.

LGBT advocacy groups expressed cautious support for the move.

Ross Murray, the director of programs at GLAAD, told Foreign Policy, “This is really surprising to me. I don’t think I can applaud it until I see what his mandate becomes in this administration. But, Berry has been really effective in that job.”

Radio Show: Today In LGBT News – President Obama’s LGBT Legacy, WILL & GRACE Is Officially Coming Back To NBC

On this mid-week episode of The Randy Report:

• President Obama, speaking at his final news conference with the White House press corps, spoke about the progress of LGBT rights and protections under his administration. While he acknowledged his team was proud of the movement forward, he gave props to all the out and proud Americans who, through their sheer visibility, helped to bring about a huge change in the way society views LGBTs.

“I think we made useful contributions… but the primary heroes are the activists.”

• President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, billionaire Betsy DeVos, was directly questioned about her past support for anti-LGBT organizations, and especially so-called “ex-gay” therapy.

• And it’s finally official – the hit TV show that many say helped give much exposure and visibility to the LGBT community, Will & Grace, is coming back to NBC for a 10 episode season next year.