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Obama may extend job bias rules to federal contractors
Washington, D.C.--The capital’s Metro Weekly LGBT newspaper reported on January 31 that President Barack Obama is readying an executive order barring discrimination on sexual orientation and gender identity for federal contractors.
The story said that the measure has been given the go-ahead by both the Labor and Justice Departments. Issuing an executive order circumvents the need to have it passed by Congress, but also limits the scope of the measure.
The order affects contractors doing more than $10,000 in government contracts a year.
The administration’s press secretary could not confirm the report on January 30, but Center for American Progress executive vice president Winnie Stachelberg told Metro Weekly, “There have been conversations among a number of people in the administration, both the agencies and the White House, about this issue. I’m not going to guess about timing, but I am extremely optimistic that it is going to happen, sooner or later.”
Civil rights group challenges DOMA
Los Angeles--Another challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act was filed in federal court on February 1.
The suit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights powerhouse, on behalf of veteran Tracey Cooper-Harris and her wife Maggie. Tracey tried to have Maggie added to her Veteran’s Administration benefits as a spouse, but was denied because statutes--as mandated by DOMA--define spouse as opposite sex.
Charging that DOMA discriminates on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, the suit also takes aim at the VA definition of spouse.
Tracey suffers from multiple sclerosis, and sought to have Maggie added to her benefits to ensure her financial stability. The couple were legally married in California during the five-month window before the passage of Proposition 8, which was struck down but is still in effect pending appeal.
“We’ve never given up the fight for equal rights, and we never will,” said SPLC founder Morris Dees. “Four decades ago, we went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure that women serving in the U.S. military receive the same benefits as men. Our landmark victory paved the way for servicewomen--and all other women--to be treated equally under the law.”
About ten other challenges to DOMA are in the federal courts. The only ones to reach the appellate level, so far, are a pair of Massachusetts cases where a judge has ruled the law unconstitutional.
Bistro owner ejects anti-gay senator
Knoxville, Tenn.--An anti-gay state senator found himself on the wrong side of a political debate when he entered Bistro at the Bijou, only to have owner Martha Boggs tell him he was not welcome in her restaurant.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield went into the restaurant on January 29, only to leave as quickly as he went in. The sponsor of legislation barring any mention of homosexuality in Tennessee schools, his efforts to have brunch were quickly rebuffed by Boggs.
“I didn’t want his hate in my restaurant,” said Boggs, according to Knoxville’s Metro Pulse. “I told him he wasn’t welcome here. I feel like he’s gone from being stupid to being dangerous, and I wanted to stand up to him.”
Nominee to recuse from marriage case
Trenton, N.J.--New Jersey Supreme Court nominee Bruce Harris, the black, gay Republican put forward by Gov. Chris Christie, will likely recuse himself if a same-sex marriage case makes it to the court, because he sent legislators representing his town of Chatham an email in 2009 urging them to vote in favor of same-sex marriage.
He directed legislators to Garden State Equality’s website, and noted the highest court in the state had already ruled in favor of equal protection for same-sex couples.
The move to nominate Harris, the mayor and former borough councilor of Chatham, was viewed as an attempt by Christie to straddle a line, showing his support to the LGBT community who are incensed by his decision to veto marriage legislation if it makes it to his desk, and to conservatives, since despite being black and gay, Harris is a Republican.
Oral HIV test is as good as blood test
Montréal--McGill University researchers released a study on January 24 concluding that OraQuick HIV testing, which returns results in 20 minutes, is nearly as accurate as a blood sample test.
OraQuick uses a swab of the inside of the mouth, and detects HIV antibodies in saliva.
According to the study, which was published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, the oral test is 99 percent accurate in high-risk populations, and 97 percent accurate in other populations.
In countries where the stigma against people with HIV causes people to be less likely to be tested at clinics, these results could provide the basis for in-home tests to protect people from fear of public exposure.
Secondary testing to confirm positive results will still be necessary due to the small possibility of false positive results. Mental health professionals historically have worried about the effects of a positive result on a home test, which is why most HIV testing centers offer counseling to patients being tested.
HUD announces LGBT equality rules
Washington, D.C.--Regulations proposed last year to extend antidiscrimination protections in the Department of Housing and Urban Development were announced on January 30 by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.
Donovan told the annual LGBT Creative Change conference, “The Obama administration has viewed the fight for equality on behalf of the LGBT community as a priority and I’m proud that HUD has been a leader in that fight. With this historic rule, the administration is saying you cannot use taxpayer dollars to prevent Americans from choosing where they want to live on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity--ensuring that HUD’s housing programs are open, not to some, not to most, but to all.”
The rules were expected to be published in the Federal Register this week, and will go into effect 30 days after publication.
HUD-assisted housing and HUD-insured financing, across both rental assistance and home ownership programs, cannot use gender identity or sexual orientation as a criteria under the new rule. Lenders also cannot use LGBT status in determining eligibility for Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgage lending. Landlords of HUD-assisted or -insured housing also cannot ask about the sexual orientation or gender identity of applicants.
J.C. Penney stands by Ellen
Plano, Texas--J.C. Penney announced on January 25 that they were hiring Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson for the retail chain, and in the following week, stood firm against a threatened anti-gay boycott.
“Importantly, we share the same fundamental values as Ellen,” said J.C. Penney president Michael Francis in a statement. “We couldn’t think of a better partner to help us put the fun back into the retail experience.”
The company is shaking up its retail outfits with a move from almost constant “special sales” to what they call “fair and square pricing.”
It also marks a return to the store for DeGeneres, who worked at one in Metairie, Louisiana when she was young.
She received support from an unlikely quarter when Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly on February 6 likened the threatened One Million Moms boycott of the retailer to McCarthyism.
“If you remember with the McCarthy era, in the ’50s and they were trying to hunt down communist sympathizers and not let them work and put them . . . What is the difference between McCarthy era Communist blacklist in the ’50s and the million moms saying, ‘Hey, J.C. Penney and all you other stores, don’t you hire any gay people, don’t you dare.’ ” he told guest Sandy Rios, a previous president of Concerned Women for America and current president of Culture Campaign, an anti-gay, conservative Christian activist group.
Court allows counseling student to sue
Ypsilanti, Mich.--A conservative Christian graduate student who was ejected from Eastern Michigan University’s counseling program can sue the school for religious discrimination, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on January 27.
The school’s practicum for its counseling program follows the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics, which requires compassionate care for LGBT clients. Former graduate student Julea Ward said she would counsel clients that homosexuality was sinful and they need to change their lives.
The administration tried to work with her, to explain why that was an inappropriate response, but instead of following a mediation plan, she instead withdrew and filed suit.
The appeals court did not rule on the merits of her claim, but instead said that it should be heard by a jury in federal court in Detroit. U.S. District Judge George Steeh, who will likely preside over the trial, ruled in favor of Eastern Michigan University in 2010.
Wedding bells for lawmakers
Boston--Barney Frank, the long-time openly gay Massachusetts representative who is retiring after his current term, will marry his partner, Jim Ready.
The couple have been together since early 2007. They have not set a date yet.
While Frank’s home state allows same-sex marriage, Ready will not enjoy spousal benefits from Frank’s tenure in Congress, since the Defense of Marriage Act precludes extending federal benefits to same-sex partners.
A little south, New York Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, brother of comedian Rosie O’Donnell, got his marriage license on January 25. O’Donnell, who long championed his state’s efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, was engaged to his partner of 31 years, John Banta.
Four days later, thanks to O’Donnell’s own efforts and the signature of Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the legislation last year, O’Donnell and Banta were married before hundreds of guests, include many of his fellow Assemblymembers.
Compiled by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.