LGBT Rights Hub




Saks Fifth Avenue Is No Longer Claiming It Has A Right To Discriminate Against Transgender Workers

Jamal.Leyth

After weeks of pressure from LGBT groups, Saks Fifth Avenue has withdrawn a court filing in which the department store chain alleged it has a right to discriminate against transgender workers. 

BuzzFeed reports that attorneys for Saks on Monday withdrew their motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Leyth Jamal (above), a transgender woman who worked at the company's Houston Galleria store. 

Jamal sued Saks for wrongful termination based on sex in violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, in addition to a hostile work environment, retaliation and breach of contract. 

In their motion to dismiss, attorneys for Saks shockingly alleged that transgender workers aren't protected against discrimination under Title VII — despite findings to the contrary from both the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and US Attorney General Eric Holder. 

Attorneys for Saks also misgendered Jamal and argued that Saks isn't bound by the nondiscrimination policy in its employee handbook, which includes gender identity. 

In response to Saks' filings, the Human Rights Campaign suspended the company's score of 90 on the Corporate Equality Index. HRC also joined the National Center for Lesbian Rights in filing a brief in Jamal's case supporting her claim under Title VII. Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation into Saks' transgender-related employment practices in the Empire State. 

Saks finally relented, and in withdrawing their motion to dismiss, the company's attorneys wrote: 

“Saks is confident that, as this matter proceeds, the facts will demonstrate that Plaintiff’s allegations are wholly without merit, that Saks did not discriminate against Plaintiff, and that Saks’ policies and procedures are effective in ensuring an inclusive and diverse workplace free of discrimination and harassment."

Also Monday, the Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest in the case supporting Jamal's claim under Title VII, BuzzFeed reports. 

It will be interesting to see how Jamal's case plays out from here, but it's already had a lasting impact. If nothing else, it's doubtful we'll see too many more major corporations with a record of support for the LGBT community claiming Title VII doesn't protect transgender workers. 


Houston Equal Rights Ordinance Goes On Trial

Parker

Eight months after the Houston City Council passed an Equal Rights Ordinance prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination, a jury trial is scheduled to begin today in the lawsuit aimed at repealing the measure. 

But don't expect a verdict anytime soon: The trial could last six weeks or more as jurors go over thousands of pages of signatures on a petition to repeal the ordinance to determine how many are valid.

The trial will have little to do with the merits of the ordinance, which prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Houston was the last major US city to pass such an ordinance, but its enforcement is on hold pending the outcome of the legal proceedings. 

After the council approved the ordinance in May, anti-LGBT groups said they turned in more than 30,000 signatures on a petition to repeal it. However, city officials rejected the petition, saying it had only 16,500 valid signatures, fewer than the 17,269 needed to force the City Council to repeal the ordinance or place it on the ballot.

Anti-LGBT groups responded by filing a lawsuit, which resulted in a right-wing media firestorm after attorneys for the city subpoenaed the sermons of pastors who led opposition to the ordinance. Mayor Annise Parker eventually withdrew the subpoenas, but that didn't stop the anti-LGBT groups from staging an "I Stand Sunday" rally featuring Mike Huckabee, Phil Robertson and the Benham brothers. 

In court documents, the city's attorneys have accused anti-LGBT groups of fraud and forgery in gathering signatures, and they've filed a motion seeking summary judgment that could end the trial before it begins

If the trial proceeds and the anti-LGBT groups prevail, the ordinance likely would appear on the ballot in November. If the city prevails, the ordinance would finally go into effect. However, knowing the opposition, we're pretty sure they'd appeal. 

Out lesbian Houston Mayor Annise Parker has said she feels sorry for jurors who must sit through the trial but added the city will do whatever's necessary to defend the ordinance.   

Jury selection was scheduled to begin this morning, with opening arguments set for Tuesday. Stay tuned to Towleroad for continuing coverage. 


Idaho House Committee Holds Historic Hearing On 'Add The Words' Bill Seeking LGBT Protections

Idaho

Add the Words, Idaho. 

That will again be the simple message from LGBT advocates to state lawmakers as an Idaho House Committee holds the first-ever hearing on a proposal to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's Human Rights Act. 

Hundreds are expected to testify at the hearing, which begins this morning but could last for up to three days.

The hearing comes nine years after the legislation was first introduced and is a major milestone for the colorful Add the Words, Idaho campaign, which last year staged a demonstration at the Capitol leading to dozens of arrests. 

KTVB-TV reports: 

This weekend training was offered at the Democratic Party headquarters to people who wish to testify at the hearing. They learned about the legislative process and what they can expect if they approach the microphone.

"A lot of people have concerns and they have questions," said Evangeline Beechler, who is the state chair of the LGBTA Democratic Caucus and helped organize the training. "We want to make sure they feel OK going in. You know this is people's livelihood, housing, employment, and it can be very scary because at this point without the 'Add the Words' bill they could lose their job." ... 

Chair of Add the Words Idaho, Cindy Gross, says this year it's more important then even to have their voices heard.

"Now that Idaho has marriage equality there will be more gay and transgender people going to work with a ring on their finger, and it will be more likely that they'll be discriminated against," said Gross. "It is now more important we add the words sexual orientation and gender identity to the Human Rights Act."

The hearing before the House Committee on State Affairs begins at 8 a.m. Mountain time. Watch it live here

Watch KTVB's report, AFTER THE JUMP ...

Continue reading "Idaho House Committee Holds Historic Hearing On 'Add The Words' Bill Seeking LGBT Protections" »


Founder Of Russian LGBT Teen Support Group Fined For Violating 'Gay Propaganda' Law

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The founder of Russia's version of the "It Gets Better" campaign has been fined 50,000 rubles for violating the country's "gay propaganda" law.

Journalist Elena Klimova (above), founder of the Children 440 group on the Russian social network VKontakte, was fined the equivalent of $775, BuzzFeed reports

Klimova launched the group shortly before Russia passed its anti-gay law in 2013. The name Children 404 is a reference to the “Page Not Found” online server error.

Most users who post photos on the site obscure their faces and include the message, "We exist." They also share stories and can interact with volunteer psychologists who offer counseling.

BuzzFeed reports on Thursday's hearing: 

LGBT activists said that Klimova’s lawyer could not attend today’s hearing for medical reasons and she was left without counsel when the judge declined to postpone the proceedings.

“Today the court has violated the article 48 of the Russian Constitution, according to which everyone shall be guaranteed the right to qualified legal assistance,” Maria Kozlovskaya, a lawyer with the Russian LGBT Network, said in a statement. “We are going to challenge this decision at all levels including the European Court on Human Rights.”

View photos from Children 404's Facebook page and watch a trailer for the film about the campaign, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "Founder Of Russian LGBT Teen Support Group Fined For Violating 'Gay Propaganda' Law" »


As Michigan's Republican Governor Plugs Gay Rights, GOP Lawmaker Reintroduces 'License To Discriminate' Bill

If you need evidence of the growing divide on LGBT issues within the Republican Party, look no further than Michigan. 

On the same day that Republican Gov. Rick Snyder (top right) made headlines by calling for more dialogue on LGBT protections, a GOP state lawmaker reintroduced a "license to discriminate" bill that would take the state in the opposite direction. 

From The Huffington Post

SnyderDuring a State of the State address marking his fifth year as governor, Snyder called for legislators to continue discussions on amending Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The law prohibits discrimination based on race, age, sex, religion and more, but does not offer protections based on sexual orientation.

"Let's keep up that dialogue and let's show that we can deal with issues of discrimination in our state," he said.

Perhaps Snyder should have delivered an advance copy of his speech to Republican Sen. Mike Shirkey (bottom right), who earlier in the day reintroduced the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, according to Mlive.com:  

ShirkeyThe state RFRA, modeled after a federal version, would allow individuals or businesses to seek exemptions to government regulations they feel may substantially burden their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Critics who opposed the bill last year called it a “license to discriminate” against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals, a charge that supporters denied before a straight party-line vote in the House.

Former House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, introduced RFRA legislation last year alongside a separate bill that would have expanded the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Bolger said at the time that he wanted to “strike a balance” between protecting individual rights and defending religious liberty, but the non-discrimination bill stalled in committee due to a dispute over protecting transgender residents.

Meanwhile, the "license to discriminate" bill passed the House but died in the Senate — which is where Shirkey has reintroduced it. 

The Michigan bill joins a wave of anti-LGBT state legislation across the nation, and the Associated Press took a look at the trend on Saturday:   

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in April and could decide by June whether gay couples can marry, and national opinion polls show U.S. voters increasingly unopposed to gay rights. Yet lawmakers in a handful of states are backing longshot legislation targeting gay rights, doubling down on the culture wars. Most, if not all, of the efforts are led by Republicans. ... 

If the bills' backers manage to force a sharp debate in coming weeks, and the Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage a few months later, supporters of the bills would be exposed to criticism that they've been fighting for a fringe issue.

"On no issue during my 40-year career have opinions moved as rapidly as they have on the issue of the morality of gay relationships and ultimately gay marriage," said Whit Ayres, a Republican consultant for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the National Rifle Association. "When you have conservative organizations like the U.S. military and the Boy Scouts openly accepting gay members, the debate is close to being over."


California Judges Barred From Joining Boy Scouts Due To Discriminatory Ban on Gay Leaders

State judges in California can no longer be members of the Boy Scouts beginning next year — at least until the Scouts lift a ban on gay adult leaders. 

The California Supreme Court voted unanimously this week to eliminate an exception for youth nonprofits to a rule that prohibits judges from belonging to groups that discriminate based on sexual orientation. 

The San Francisco Chronicle reports: 

Scouts“The people of California have a right to an impartial and unbiased judiciary,” Richard Fybel, a state appeals court justice in Santa Ana and chairman of the high court’s ethics advisory committee, said Friday. “This is important to accomplishing that.” ... 

In a statement that responded to the committee’s proposal last year, Deron Smith, a spokesman at Boy Scouts headquarters in Irving, Texas, said the Scouts “would be disappointed with anything that limits our volunteers’ ability to serve more youth. ... Today, more than ever, youth need the character and leadership programs of Scouting.”

The proposal had drawn a mixed response from judges. In written comments to the court, one opponent said the prohibition would elevate “gay rights above religious freedom rights,” and another said it would interfere with judges’ rights to raise their children as they choose.

California judges have been barred from membership in groups that discriminate based on sexual orientation since 1996 — with the exception of youth nonprofits. In 2003, the state's high court amended the rule to say judges who are members of the Boy Scouts must disclose their affiliation in gay-rights cases and recuse themselves if there's a conflict of interest. 

Last year, the ethics advisory committee recommended eliminating the exception altogether, and the proposal was backed by the California Judges Association, which represents three-quarters of the state's judges.

The Chronicle notes that judges can still be members of religious groups that discriminate, but not groups that discriminate based on religion. The Boy Scouts is not considered a religious group but does discriminate based on religion — barring atheists in addition to gays.

In 2013, the Boy Scouts of America voted to lift a ban on gay youth but continue to bar gay adult leaders. The organization recently reported that membership dropped 7.4 percent in 2014 in the wake of the decision.  


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