Showing posts with label Gay Civil Rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay Civil Rights. Show all posts

September 25, 2019

Can Someone Be Fired For Being Gay? Arguments on The Court Without The Old Guard







ATLANTA —
 The Supreme Court has delivered a remarkable series of victories to the gay rights movement over the last two decades, culminating in a ruling that established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. But in more than half the states, someone can still be fired for being gay.

Early in its new term, on Oct. 8, the court will consider whether an existing federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, guarantees nationwide protection from workplace discrimination to gay and transgender people, even in states that offer no protections right now.

It will be the court’s first case on L.G.B.T. rights since the retirement last year of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinions in all four of the court’s major gay-rights decisions. And without Justice Kennedy, who joined four liberals in the 5-to-4 ruling in the marriage case, the workers who sued their employers in the three cases before the court may face an uphill fight.

“Now that we don’t have Kennedy on the court, it would be a stretch to find a fifth vote in favor of any of these claims that are coming to the court,” said Katherine Franke, a law professor at Columbia and the author of “Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality.”  

She added that lawyers working to expand gay rights might have focused too narrowly on the right to marry. “The gay rights movement became the marriage rights movement,” she said, “and we lost sight of the larger dynamics and structures of homophobia.”

Other experts said the court should have little trouble ruling for the plaintiffs.

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans continue to face widespread job discrimination because of their same-sex attraction or sex identities,” said William N. Eskridge Jr., a law professor at Yale and the author of an article in The Yale Law Journal on Title VII’s statutory history. “If the justices take seriously the text of Title VII and their own precedents, L.G.B.T. Americans will enjoy the same job protections as other groups.”

The Supreme Court’s earlier gay rights rulings were grounded in constitutional law. Romer v. Evans, in 1996, struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that had banned laws protecting gay men and lesbians. Lawrence v. Texas, in 2003, struck down laws making gay sex a crime. United States v. Windsor, in 2013, overturned a ban on federal benefits for married same-sex couples.

And Obergefell v. Hodges, in 2015, struck down state bans on same-sex marriage, ruling that the Constitution guarantees a right to such unions.

The new cases, by contrast, concern statutory interpretation, not constitutional law.

The question for the justices is whether the landmark 1964 law’s prohibition of sex discrimination encompasses discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Lawyers for the gay and transgender plaintiffs say it does. Lawyers for the defendants and the Trump administration, which has filed briefs supporting the employers, say it does not. 

The common understanding of sex discrimination in 1964 was bias against women or men, Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco wrote. It did not encompass discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The ordinary meaning of ‘sex’ is biologically male or female,” he wrote. “It does not include sexual orientation.”

image with the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in all four of the Supreme Court’s major gay-rights decisions, gay rights advocates may face an uphill battle at the court.

[With the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in all four of the Supreme Court’s major gay-rights decisions, gay rights advocates may face an uphill battle at the court.CreditAl Drago/The New York Times]

In response, lawyers for one of the plaintiffs, Gerald Bostock, wrote that “a person’s sexual orientation is a sex-based classification because it cannot be defined without reference to his sex.”

Mr. Bostock, who spent a decade building a government program to help neglected and abused children in Clayton County, Ga., just south of Atlanta, said his story illustrated the gaps in protection for gay workers.

“Everything was going amazingly,” he said in an interview in his home. “Then I decided to join a gay recreational softball league.”

He played catcher and first base for his team, the Honey Badgers, in the Hotlanta Softball League. A few months later, the county fired him for “conduct unbecoming a county employee.” 

Mr. Bostock’s case is at an early stage, and the reason for his dismissal is contested. His former employer has said it fired him after an audit indicated he had misused county funds, which Mr. Bostock denies.

In an email, Jack R. Hancock, a lawyer for the county, said, “Mr. Bostock’s sexual orientation had nothing to do with his termination.”

The justices will decide whether Mr. Bostock is entitled to try to make his case to a jury. The county insists that Title VII allows it to fire workers for being gay, meaning that the case should be dismissed at the outset.

“When Congress prohibited sex discrimination in employment approximately 55 years ago,” Mr. Hancock wrote in a brief, “it did not simultaneously prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Mr. Bostock, 55, grew up in southern Georgia, where he said he “learned the three F’s very quickly: family, faith and football.” But he found his own calling, he said, when he was assigned to recruit volunteers to represent children from troubled homes in juvenile court.

“It was my passion,” he said. “My employer loved the job I was doing. I got favorable performance reviews. We had great success.”

Things took a turn, he said, when he became more open about his sexual orientation.

“When I joined the gay softball league in January of 2013, that’s when my life changed,” he said. “Within months of that, there were negative comments about my sexual orientation.” In particular, he said, he was criticized for recruiting volunteers for the program from the gay community in Atlanta. 

Mr. Bostock said he would attend the Supreme Court arguments in his case, Bostock v. Clayton County, No. 17-1618. “I hope they give me the right to have my day in court, to come back to Georgia and clear my name and have the truth come out,” he said. 


James Obergefell, center, the plaintiff in the same-sex marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges that resulted in a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, leaving the Supreme Court after the ruling in 2015.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times



The justices will also hear a companion case, Altitude Express v. Zarda, No. 17-1623. It was brought by a skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, who said he was fired because he was gay. His dismissal followed a complaint from a female customer who had expressed concerns about being strapped to Mr. Zarda during a tandem dive. Mr. Zarda, hoping to reassure the customer, told her that he was “100 percent gay.”

Mr. Zarda sued under Title VII and lost the initial rounds. He died in a 2014 skydiving accident, and his estate pursued his case. His lawyers told the justices that the case could be decided “without ever using the term ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gay.’”

“The claim could accurately be framed entirely in terms of sex and nothing else: Zarda was fired for being a man attracted to men,” they wrote. “That is sex discrimination pure and simple.”

Most federal appeals courts have interpreted Title VII to exclude sexual orientation discrimination. But two of them, in New York and Chicago, have ruled that discrimination against gay men and lesbians is a form of sex discrimination.

Last year, a divided 13-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, allowed Mr. Zarda’s lawsuit to proceed. Writing for the majority, Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann concluded that “sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination.” 

Mr. Hancock, in his brief for Clayton County in Mr. Bostock’s case, urged the justices to be wary of what he called a novel interpretation of an old law. “One would expect that, if Congress intended to enact a statute of such magnitude — socially, culturally, politically and policy-wise — as one prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” he wrote, “Congress specifically would have so stated in the text of Title VII.”

The Supreme Court has ruled that it is race discrimination to fire a worker for being a member of an interracial couple. Lawyers for Mr. Zarda said the same principle should apply to same-sex couples.

“Just as firing a white employee for being married to an African-American person constitutes discrimination because of race,” they wrote, “so firing a male employee for being married to another man constitutes sex discrimination.”

Mr. Francisco, in his brief for the administration, wrote that the analogy did not hold.

“An employer who refuses to hire an applicant in an interracial relationship would rightly be branded a racist,” he wrote. “But no ordinary speaker of English would call an employer who refuses to hire an applicant in a same-sex relationship a sexist.”

At the bottom, the cases may turn on whether the justices focus on the words of the statute or their sense of what the lawmakers who voted for it in 1964 understood they were doing. In a 1998 decision in a Title VII case, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that it was the words that matter.

“Statutory prohibitions,” he wrote, “often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed.”

If nothing else, Professor Franke said, the cases will explore divisive and difficult issues. “Sex,” she said, “is a confounding term in our culture, in our language and certainly in the law.”

by Adam Liptak on Twitter: @adamliptak.

January 9, 2019

Bayard Rustin A Black Gay Activist with Dr. King, A Nonviolent Fighter Until he Died at 75




We have published the story of Bayard Rustin before and its amazing the work this man did for the black community and as a nonviolent LGBTQ social justice activist.
                                             
 Bayard Rustin (R) and his Love Walter Naegle



BY MATT TRACY


Newly released audio of gay civil rights icon Bayard Rustin reveals the extent to which he valued the intersection of his racial and his sexual identity — and how his life as an openly gay man nearly derailed his ability to fight for equality.

Rustin, an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. who became more vocal on LGBTQ issues later in his life, said during an interview with the Washington Blade in the 1980s that he recalled a time in the 1940s when a mother warned her daughter not to touch him because he was black. He felt that it was important to educate the young child about race, and as a gay man, he also realized that she needed to learn that gay people also existed. That attitude prompted him to be more open about his sexuality that was at all customary for public figures of his era.

“It occurred to me shortly after that that it was an absolute necessity for me to declare homosexuality because if I didn’t, I was a part of the prejudice,” he said several years before he died at age 75 in 1987. “I was aiding and abetting the prejudice that was a part of the effort to destroy me.”

An activist who believed in nonviolent resistance, Rustin spearheaded the organizing effort of the 1963 March on Washington and helped play a major role in the civil rights movement alongside King. But his sexual orientation wound up becoming a serious roadblock in his work.

“At a given point, there was so much pressure on Dr. King about my being gay — and particularly because I would not deny it — that he set up a committee to explore whether it would be dangerous for me to continue working with him,” Rustin recalled in the newly available audio, which will be aired on the Making Gay History podcast.

Robt Seda-Schreiber of the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice, which provides advocacy, education, and a safe space for LGBTQ and intersex people, said the newly surfaced clip “solidifies and spotlights the undeniable truth” of Rustin’s courage.

“Too few folks nowadays are aware that Bayard Rustin planned the March, inspired the Freedom Riders, & brought non-violence to Dr. King himself, among many other extraordinary accomplish­ments,” Seda-Schreiber said in an email message. “This lack of recognition is directly related to him not hiding in the shadows at a time when it was de rigueur for one’s very survival.”

Rustin’s surviving partner, Walter Naegle, provided the audio, according to NPR. Naegle, who lives in Chelsea, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


December 6, 2018

3 Month Anniversary of The Lynching Death of LGBTQ Advocate in Greece Zak Kostopoulos

Activist and LGBTQI advocate Zak Kostopoulos. Photo widely circulated online.
On September 21, well-known Greek LGBTQI activist Zak Kostopoulos was lynched in Athens in a case that shocked and divided Greek society, and whose repercussions are still being felt.
The case first became known to the public through a series of three citizenvideos [trigger warning: disturbing content] showing a man being beaten up by two others on Gladstone Street in Omonoia Square while a crowd watched. His identity at that point was unknown. One of the videos shows two police officers kicking and then handcuffing the victim as he lied unconscious on a pool of blood on the ground.
One day after the videos circulated, the man's identity was released: he was Zacharias Kostopoulos, 33, better known as Zak or Zackie Oh, an LGBTQI and HIV-positive activist, writer, and drag queen.
While the two perpetrators — the jeweller himself and a neighbouring shopkeeper — were arrested soon thereafter, the revelation of Zak's identity turned out to be a pivotal moment in the story — it unleashed both overwhelming demands for justice from LGBTQI communities from across the country, as well as hate speech against such communities and Zak himself.
Inflaming that hate speech, in particular, was Greek mainstream media, who portrayed Zak as a “junkie robber” and the perpetrators as the victims who were merely trying to protect their businesses.
For example, while the media reported the cause of death as “undetermined“, the initial forensic notes actually said “cannot be determined yet” — meaning that a definite conclusion could only be made after the histological and toxicological exams had been cleared.
The “junkie” narrative was echoed by many on social media, where it latched on homophobic views as well. In September, journalist and author Vassilis Kasimatis posted on Facebook an opinion that resonates with that of many other Greeks:
Zak Kostopoulos. FROM A CRIMINAL ROBBER… [to a] A HERO!!
[…]
The fact that this tramp Zak was gay should not influence our judgement. Because we subconsciously target again the gay community for no real reason. Same with the unscrupulous gay parades. The only aim of SYRIZA [the ruling political party] is to provoke hatred among the people. The fact that they have appointed an openly declared homosexual as director of the Anti-racist Violence Department, who makes casually unacceptable announcements (such as the latest solidarity call with the robber Zak) serves the same purpose. (He must be moved IMMEDIATELY!!)
[…]
A gay man (Zak) did the felony of robbery. The jeweller rightly defended himself. End of story. Enough.
I want to believe that the “landlord” will be fully acquitted in court and all will end up there.
Do not wonder if they make a statue to Zak as they did with Pavlos Fyssas [an antifascist Greek rapper murdered in 2013].
[…]
Meanwhile, the investigation into Zak's murder was fraught with delays and shortcomings.
Besides the apparent use of excessive force on a person who was unconscious, police officers failed to collect evidence from the crime scene in time, nor did they obtain testimony from eyewitnesses — the owner even managed to tidy up the store afterwards.
However, police trade union officers have lauded their colleagues’ behaviour. The president of the union, Dimosthenis Pakos, told TV station ANT1:
All police practices say the same thing. They are going to an incident where they have to deal with an armed and running amok person. That's what they know; nothing else. In order to be handcuffed and not to injure a passing citizen or himself, the practice is the same. Take it or leave it.
The attitude of National Emergency Center's staff was also questioned — one video shows two EKAB men standing aside as the police kick the victim.
On November 20, the final postmortem's results were released: Zak has suffered ischemic-type myocardial lesions due to the multiple injuries in his body, which caused intense stimulation and consequently his death. The results of the toxicology tests were also clear.
But Faye Karavasili made a reflection on her Facebook page: what if the victim was a “junkie”?
So, there goes the “junkie robber” theory.
His tox screen was clean and he died as a direct result of the lynching he received. He didn't overdose. He didn't catch a cold.
But that is not the scary part. What really scares me is the need for the side of the victim to prove they were a “good guy” after all, as if “bad guys”” and “junkies” and “petty criminals”, none of which was the case for Zak, can have their rights revoked and their lives removed without due process or trial by any crowd at any time. I know that if I didn't know him, maybe I wouldn't have been so vested into finding out what happened to him. All the same, I refuse to live in a society that justifies the mob killing of a weakened man of less than 50 kg in the middle of the day in the middle of Athens at the hands of a crowd. If that really were a junkie, we would not be having this conversation now and it is a bloody crucial conversation to have. You can't both love law and order AND applaud such suspension of BOTH. You can't complain about the violence if you are the one justifying it or inflicting it directly. Every day, Greece disgusts me more.

Displays of solidarity

A moment from a protest dedicated to Zak Kostopoulos in Athens, October 2, 2018. Photo by FB public timeline of photojournalist Marios Lolos. Used with permission.
On October 2, LGBTQI organisations, anti-racist collectives and non-parliamentary left-wing organisations held a mass protest in central Athens. On October 6, activists visited the President of the Hellenic Parliament and filed a petition demanding the case to be investigated. Soon afterwards, the attorney general opened an investigation of a possible racist motive behind the murder of Zak Kostopoulos.
Over 200 Greek journalists and photographers signed a statement critiquing the sensational and accusatory way Greek media covered the story. Dozens of artists have also signed an open letter demanding clarification of the circumstances under which Zak lost his life.
About a month after the incident, Zak's mother, Eleni Kostopoulou, sent a letter to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras calling for the “fair punishment” of those who participated in the murder of her son. The Prime Minister replied two days later saying that her loss shall not be forgotten by those who are committed to the struggle for a society where human life is the ultimate value.
On November 20, the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, a 2011 speech by Zak was screened for a mass gathering in Athens. Afterwards, the participants marched towards the Greek Parliament while holding candles. A similar event was also held in Thessaloniki.
The Forensic Architecture Research Center has announced its support to Zak's family and for this reason, it has established an exclusive platform for the collection of audiovisual material about his case, and submission of content can be made anonymously.
A volunteer initiative, Justice 4 Zak/Zackie, was also set up to bring justice to Zak Kostopoulos.
Zak's Facebook profile, which is now a memorialised account, is flooded with thousands of messages of solidarity.

April 19, 2018

120 Proposed Bills in The U.S.Which Are Threats To LGBT Civil Rights



 Mike Pompeo, past CIA director and now nominee for Secretary of State, purely  anti gay rights including gay marriage whch is the law of the land. The President who nomineted Pompeo have nominated more judges ina year than any othe Presdient. All these judges just like nominees for his administration (with the exception of one to deflect) have one thing in common: Anti Gay. ๐ŸฆŠ




 In a striking shift from recent years, major legislation curtailing LGBT rights has been completely stymied in state capitols around the country this year amid anxiety by Republican leaders over igniting economic backlash if they are depicted as discriminatory.

In the thick of this year’s legislative sessions, LGBT activists were tracking about 120 proposed bills that they viewed as threats to their civil rights. Not one of them has been enacted as many sessions now wind down; only two remain under serious consideration.

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A key factor in the shift: In the Republican-led states where these types of bills surface, moderate GOP lawmakers and business leaders are increasingly wary of losing conventions, sporting events and corporate headquarters.

North Carolina, Indiana and Arizona were among the states that faced similar backlash in recent years over such legislation.

“Being anti-equality is not considered good politics anymore,” said legislative specialist Cathryn Oakley of the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT rights organization.

Just two years ago, it seemed that the state-level bills might proliferate. North Carolina passed a bill restricting transgender people’s bathroom access and Mississippi enacted a sweeping law allowing state employees and private businesses to deny services to LGBT people based on religious objections. Seven states have passed laws allowing faith-based adoption agencies some degree of protection if they refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

To the extent that the tide has turned, it’s due partly to the fallout over the North Carolina bill in 2016. The NCAA and NBA pulled games from the state; there were projections before lawmakers rolled back the restrictions that the law would cost the state several billion dollars in lost business.


The change in momentum at the state level comes at a time when conservatives have a strong ally in President Donald Trump on the issue. His administration is seeking to exclude transgender people from military service and promoting exemptions that could enable businesses, health care providers and others to refuse to accommodate LGBT people based on their religious beliefs.

Later this year, perhaps in June, a potentially momentous ruling is expected from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether businesses that serve the public can cite religious objections to refuse service to LGBT people, even in states that protect them in their nondiscrimination laws. The case involves a Colorado baker who did not want to make a cake for a same-sex couple to celebrate their wedding.

Some conservatives suggest legislative leaders are treading softly on these issues now for fear of provoking big corporations and pro sports leagues that support LGBT rights.

“The left is leveraging the cultural and economic power of big businesses like Amazon and Apple to force smaller businesses and nonprofits that hold traditional views on marriage to shut down,” contends attorney Emilie Kao, a religious freedom expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

This year, certainly, conservatives have struggled to gain much traction at the state level on LGBT-related issues. Among the many bills that failed:

—A Tennessee measure that would have required the state to defend schools in court if they were sued for limiting transgender students’ access to bathrooms.

—A South Dakota bill that would have required signs on some public restroom doors notifying users that a person of the opposite sex might be inside.

—A “religious liberties” bill in Georgia that would have given legal protection to faith-based adoption agencies that decline to place children with same-sex couples.

An ever-growing number of states — at least a dozen — have passed bills banning the practice of “gay conversion therapy” on minors. And voters in Anchorage, Alaska, rejected a ballot measure that would have restricted transgender people’s access to public restrooms.

The two remaining bills being tracked by LGBT groups — in Kansas and Oklahoma — are similar to Georgia’s adoption bill. Supporters say they are needed to ensure that faith-based agencies which oppose same-sex marriage can still help accommodate the rising number of children entering foster care due to the opioid crisis.

Without the bills, Kao says faith-based agencies face potential lawsuits by LGBT-rights groups “because they follow their beliefs that every child deserves both a mother and a father.”

The changing dynamics across the U.S. reflect the growing political clout of LGBT groups.

Megadonor Tim Gill has become one of the nation’s leading philanthropists for LGBT causes, spending tens of millions of dollars from his fortune accrued from a software company he started. One of his priorities now is to move beyond “the easy states” and build new alliances in Republican-controlled states that could pave the way for non-discrimination laws.

His Denver-based foundation is helping bankroll a national campaign being launched this week by the Ad Council, known for iconic public service ad campaigns including Smokey the Bear and “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk.” Called “Beyond I Do,” it makes the point that while same-sex marriage is now legal nationwide, LGBT people still face legal discrimination in a majority of states — including getting evicted, fired or denied services.

Only 19 states — mostly Democratic strongholds — offer comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for gays, lesbians and transgender people.

The new ad campaign is projected to get at least $15 million in donated media support — including TV and radio time, and billboard space. Among the people featured in more than 25 video spots are a Michigan couple who said a pediatrician refused to treat their newborn daughter because of objections to their same-sex marriage, and an Ohio woman who says she was fired as a teacher because she is a lesbian.

“We have to make new and different friends,” Gill said. “Ultimately a federal solution is better, but it always comes after the states have demonstrated the need.”

By David Crary | Associated Press


March 30, 2018

What Do You Do As a Lawyer, Head of Justice Dept.Civil Rights and You Can't Protect The LGBT Community?







 Diana Flynn (Picture by Buzzfeed)



One of the government’s top civil rights lawyers since the Reagan administration told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday she will leave to become the litigation director for Lambda Legal, a high-profile exit that will put her at the vanguard of LGBT rights and likely place her in conflict with former colleagues at the Justice Department.
The departure of Diana Flynn, who has been chief of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Appellate Section since the ’80s, is the most recent example of legal veterans abandoning their posts since Jeff Sessions became attorney general.
“I never really expected to leave,” Flynn, a transgender woman, said Wednesday in an interview about her role as head of the influential office that seeks to sway circuit courts by asserting the government’s agenda.
She reflected on a three-decade tenure under four Republican presidents and two Democratic presidents, saying, “There have been some good times in the Civil Rights Division, regardless of the party.”
“But it appears to me — at this crucial time for LGBT rights — to make the arguments I want to make and take positions I want to take, I would be much better situated at Lambda Legal than I am at Justice,” she said.
Some turnover among lawyers is typical at the Justice Department, particularly among political appointees, but it’s less common for a high-ranking career servant who had long planned to stay on the job until retirement, especially for one to depart for a role where she could be at odds with the attorney general.
Sessions, who leads the department, has used the Trump administration’s weight to argue anti-LGBT discrimination is legal under federal law in workplaces and by businesses open to the public. He has rolled back policies that Flynn helped establish for transgender workers during the Obama administration.
Flynn declined to comment specifically on activity under the current administration — or whether the department has become politicized under Sessions — but she warned of a general push to curtail civil rights.
“I see a danger to some of the principles that have been established in the civil rights arena generally,” she said. “I see attempts to roll back specifically LGBT rights in the courts and society, and I want to be in the position where I can aggressively resist that and make the arguments that I think will be most effective.” “I see attempts to roll back specifically LGBT rights in the courts and society, and I want to be in the position where I can aggressively resist that." 
Lambda Legal, founded in 1973, is the country’s largest LGBT litigation organization and a frequent adversary to the Trump administration. The group has sued to block Trump from banning transgender people from the military, presenting one of the cases in which Flynn and Sessions could face off.
“If I find myself on the opposite side of the courtroom from someone I had worked with, it would be something different,” said Flynn, who began as a career lawyer for the Justice Department in 1984 after graduating from Yale Law School. “It would be strange, but it’s something we could deal with.”
The Justice Department has reversed course on several LGBT issues under Sessions’ watch. In a memo to his lawyers last fall, Sessions said Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex, does not protect transgender workers — thereby reversing a position that the Justice Department adopted, in part to Flynn’s work.
Sessions also took the unusual step of arguing at the Supreme Court that a baker in Colorado could turn away a same-sex couple who wanted a wedding cake, even though the Justice Department wasn’t a party to the case and the state’s law forbids businesses from anti-gay discrimination.
Sharon McGowan, the strategy director of Lambda Legal and a former principal deputy chief of the Appellate Section at DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said the attrition of civil rights lawyers at DOJ is unusual under Sessions.
“You are seeing a brain drain out of the DOJ that is not normal, and it is a reflection of how aberrant this attorney general has been, with not only reversal of positions but targeting of communities,” McGowan said. “From the first day Sessions came to the DOJ, he has been dismantling decades of work that Diana Flynn had been doing.”
Sessions also argued at the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that Title VII did not protect a gay worker — again, even though the Justice Department wasn’t named in the lawsuit and the department doesn’t normally handle private workplace matters.
Despite Sessions’ advocacy, some courts have ruled in the last year that Title VII does protect gay and transgender workers, and likewise, that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protect transgender students.
Vanita Gupta, the former head of DOJ’s civil rights division under Obama, added that Flynn played a key role in turning the department into an advocate for LGBT civil rights.
“With this administration devolving further into chaos,” Gupta said, “it comes as no surprise that the administration continues to lose incredibly talented attorneys like Diana.”
Flynn will start her new job in May.
Dominic Holden is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. 
Contact Dominic Holden at dominic.holden@buzzfeed.com.
This story originally posted at BuzzFeed Inc

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September 6, 2017

Who Will Eat Cake? Supremes Will Take Up Gay Rights and Religious Liberty







Jim Obergefell sat in the Supreme Court on a June morning more than two years ago and listened as Justice Anthony Kennedy read an opinion that would re-shape the lives of LGBT Americans by clearing the way for same-sex marriage nationwide.
"They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right," Kennedy wrote in the opinion.
"Sitting in the court room, once it finally stuck that Justice Kennedy was saying we had won," Obergefell remembered in a recent interview. "I realized for the first time in my life as an out gay man, that I felt like an equal American."
    Since the opinion, Obergefell -- the lead plaintiff in the case -- says he's been stopped in the street and at times thanked by supporters for the fight he waged. "That decision for them represented our nation getting it right. Something that doesn't always happen."
    Another Supreme Court term is set to begin in October, however, and there will be a new plaintiff in town.
    Masterpiece Cakeshop
    Jack Phillips is bringing a different LGBT-related fight to the highest court in the land, and he hopes the justices will deliver a victory to like-minded people who say they are waging a fight for religious liberty. 
    Phillips -- who owns a bakery in Colorado called Masterpiece Cakeshop -- argues he can't be compelled to violate his sincerely held religious beliefs and create and decorate a cake for a same-sex couple to celebrate their marriage.

    Two plaintiffs -- past and present -- will watch this term to see how the Supreme Court handles the language of Obergefell v. Hodges
    To be sure, the core holding of the landmark case is not in jeopardy. But supporters of LGBT rights fear the court could chip away at its principles concerning equality and dignity. And opponents place emphasis on the parts of Kennedy's opinion that stress respect for "those who adhere to religious doctrines."
    Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is the "next logical step" after Obergefell, said University of Chicago Law School professor William Baude, adding the case "will feature arguments about how broadly the principles of Obergefell reach both in the law and society as a whole."
    "The question is whether Obergefell was supposed to end the conversation with a definitive victory for one side, or whether there are still further questions to fight over," Baude said.
    Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a dissent in Obergefell and foreshadowed future challenges.
    "Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage" the chief wrote.
    Indeed, Phillips' faith is central to the upcoming arguments. One of his lawyers, Jeremy Tedesco of the Alliance Defending Freedom, said the new case -- that began before gay marriage was legalized nationwide -- will "test" the language of Obergefell.
    "That people who disagreed with the redefinition of marriage, would be able to continue to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and act on those beliefs," he said.
    All the way back to 1993, when Phillips decided to open his bakery, he knew there were certain kind of cakes he would not want to make in order to abide by his religious beliefs.
    "We didn't want to make cakes for Halloween, for example," Phillips said. He and his wife also knew that they wouldn't want to make cakes to celebrate same-sex marriage because their Christian faith teaches them that marriage should be between one man and one woman.
    Flash forward to 2012 when same-sex marriage was not yet legal in Colorado, but two men walked into the bakery. 
    "The conversation was fairly short," Philips remembered. "I went over and greeted them. We sat down at the desk where I had my wedding books open."
    The men -- David Mullins and Charlie Craig -- told Phillips they wanted a cake to celebrate their planned wedding that would be performed in another state.
    Phillips says he knew right away that he couldn't create the product they were looking for without violating his faith.
    "The Bible says 'in the beginning there was male and female,'" he said.
    For Phillips, his religious beliefs guide his decisions in every aspect of his life. So he cannot, in good conscience, create a cake for an event he says contradicts God's teaching, he said.
    He offered to make any other baked goods product for the men.
    "At which point they both stormed out and left," Phillips said. 

    Previous ruling 

    The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights division, which ruled in favor of them citing a state anti-discrimination law. Phillips took his case to the Colorado Court of Appeals arguing that requiring him to provide a wedding cake for the couple violated his constitutional right to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. 
    The court held that the state anti-discrimination law was neutral and generally applicable and did not compel Masterpiece to "support or endorse any particular religious view." It prohibited Phillips from discriminating against potential customers on account of their sexual orientation.
    Louise Melling, an ACLU lawyer representing Mullins and Craig, says that the Masterpiece case is "making a radical argument."
    "When you look at it, they are saying there is a constitutional right, whether it's rooted in speech or religion, to discriminate," she said.
    "A ruling for the bakery would have implications far beyond LGBT people and would put in jeopardy our longstanding laws against discrimination," she said.
    But for Phillips, the argument is about artistic freedom under the First Amendment. He says he declined to create the cake because of the message it would have communicated, not because of the sexual orientation of the couple.
    "Homosexual men are always, always, always welcome in my shop -- it has nothing to do with their orientation," he said. "There are just events that I cannot create cakes for. ... I cannot create cakes to help celebrate things that go against my core faith."
    It's an argument that Obergefell is not buying. He sees the case as a "full-frontal assault" on the right to marriage.
    "Not that they'd use this to rescind the right to marry," Obergefell said, "but they are using it to reinforce their belief to say in law and in practice, that my right to marry is not as valid as someone else's right to marry."
    The case will be heard sometime this fall.


    June 4, 2017

    One of Britain's Biggest Gay Clubs refuses Entrance to Gay Man Carrying HIV Meds


    Patrick Strudwick

     One of Britain's most famous LGBT clubs has been accused of refusing to let a man into the venue because he was carrying HIV medication.
    The young gay customer, who is HIV positive, told BuzzFeed News that on the evening of Wednesday 24 May, when he reached the front of the queue at G-A-Y Late, security staff searched his bag, found the pills, and grilled him loudly about what they were – in front of many others queuing.
    When he informed them it was treatment for HIV, they denied him entry, the man says.
    The incident has prompted two of Britain's biggest HIV charities to call on bars and clubs to improve staff training so they are aware of such medication, and can deal with the matter sensitively. It is a breach of the Equality Act 2010 for any business to turn someone away on the basis of their HIV status.
    The customer, who we will call Oliver and spoke to BuzzFeed News on the condition of anonymity, explained he has to take the pills every evening, and so brought them with him on the night out.
    "I take two tablets for HIV: one was loose in a pouch and the other one was still in its foil," he said, adding that the name of the drug was printed on the foil. When the security staff discovered them, he said they asked what they were. "I explained it was medication," he said, prompting the bouncer to ask what it was for.  This meant that Oliver, who was only diagnosed two-and-a-half years ago, was required to disclose his HIV status to a stranger in a public setting. "I said, 'It's HIV medication.'"
    At this, he said, the security guard fetched another member of staff, who began asking further questions. Although the friends Oliver was with knew he was HIV-positive, he told BuzzFeed News it was only luck as many don't know – and the conversation unfolded within earshot of other customers waiting outside.
    "I was stood there in front of a load of people. I told him it was HIV medication, told him the name of the medication, and they were like, 'You can’t bring this into the club’ and I said, ‘Why?' And they said, “Because you can’t take pills into a nightclub.'”
    Oliver said he tried to explain that it was medicine he has to take but alleged the staff refused to accept this as he could not "prove" it and repeatedly told him he could not come in.
    "So then I offered to take them in front of them," he said – in an attempt to show that it was indeed antiretroviral medication, as opposed to illicit drugs. "I was trying to negotiate with them, I offered to leave the medication with them and pick them up at the end of the night. And they said no. I even offered to throw them away and they said no."
    Sensing that there was no hope of gaining entry to the venue, Oliver and his friends left.
    G-A-Y Late in central London – the sister venue to the G-A-Y club, where many pop icons have performed – is one of the biggest and most popular early hours venues in the capital, particularly among young LGBT people. Both venues are owned and run by Jeremy Joseph, who has embarked on several sponsored fund-raising events for HIV charities. The fact that the incident took place at such a club was particularly disappointing, said Oliver.





    Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    "Even when I’ve had situations at airports where [security] people have asked me what my medication is, they always take you to one side and ask you quietly and don’t make a huge fuss out of it," he said. "Whereas [in this situation] I was still stood at the front of the queue, in front of everyone else in there, in front of all the smokers, in front of my friends, in front of all the other staff."
    "I thought it was inappropriate. It’s quite humiliating. I was mortified – as a gay venue, that [explaining it's HIV medication] should have been the end of the conversation. I’ve had similar things at other nightclubs where I’ve had my bag, and they’ve gone, 'What’s that?' And I’ve explained it’s HIV medication and instantly they go, ‘OK of course, come in, don’t worry.’"
    The two pills Oliver had with him – Truvada and Efavirenz – are the most commonly prescribed antiretrovirals in Britain. As well as being used to treat HIV, Truvada, when taken on its own, is also the medication used for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), the medication regime that prevents HIV.
    Although some people on PrEP simply take one a day, another method is to take it before and after sex, so they take it with them on a night out in the event of a sexual encounter. Its sky blue colour and brand name are well known among the LGBT community.
    "It’s the biggest gay venue, so they should know better," said Oliver, who urged the venue to train the security staff to understand the issues and recognise certain medication.
    "I think it’s really irresponsible and really disappointing. It’s an extra layer of challenges that people with HIV have to deal with – it shouldn’t be this complicated. I’m not going to be going back to that venue."
    Deborah Gold, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust, told BuzzFeed News: “Antiretroviral drugs are essential for people living with HIV. They need to be carefully adhered to and - as with any medical condition - people with HIV are perfectly entitled to have their medication on their person in any situation.




    Inside G-A-Y Late
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    Inside G-A-Y Late
    "We would strongly encourage any venue where bags are searched to train staff to recognise these medicines. We would also hope that any doubt could be handled sensitively without disclosing the HIV status of an individual to groups of strangers, something with the potential to cause a lot of unnecessary distress.”
    A spokesperson for the Terrence Higgins Trust told BuzzFeed News: "Our service users tell us door staff typically either recognise HIV medication during a search, or discreetly ask what it is without issue. This is important because there will inevitably be times when someone has to bring their medicine with them on a night out, as treatment has to be taken at specific times of the day in order to be effective."
    She added: “There is of course potential for things to go wrong, which can be very distressing for an individual, particularly if this involves having to disclose their HIV status in a public setting. Thankfully these instances are rare, and highlight the importance of training so that all staff are able to handle situations sensitively and discreetly."
    Three days after the incident, Oliver emailed G-A-Y Late to raise his concerns about what happened. In the email, seen by BuzzFeed News, Oliver explained: "I understand that the guys on the door have to be careful but it did feel as though it was handled insensitively... it's a shame that the biggest gay club in London would act in this way."
    Two days later, the manager of the venue responded to say he would forward it to the general manager who would "respond shortly".
    "I still haven't heard anything back," said Oliver. "I think they don't care."
    Jeremy Joseph did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News prior to publication.
    Patrick Strudwick

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