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November 5, 2015 2

Prioritizing Trans Rights in the Face of Hate and Lies

On Elec­tion Day, 60% of just one quar­ter of eli­gi­ble Hous­ton vot­ers dis­ap­point­ingly rejected the Hous­ton Equal Rights Ordi­nance (HERO) when they voted No on Prop #1. HERO cre­ated a broad swath of nondis­crim­i­na­tion pro­tec­tions for the city of Hous­ton, includ­ing pro­tec­tions based on race, reli­gion, sex, mil­i­tary sta­tus, preg­nancy, genetic infor­ma­tion, dis­abil­ity, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, and gen­der iden­tity. The cam­paign to repeal HERO was grounded in fear and decep­tion, rely­ing on the lie that the anti-discrimination ordi­nance would per­mit men to use women’s bathrooms.

Credit to Flicker user: torbakhopper

Credit to Flicker user: torbakhopper

There is a sad irony here. Oppo­nents of the ordi­nance can­not cite a sin­gle instance of a trans­gen­der per­son harass­ing a non-transgender per­son in a pub­lic restroom. Why? Because it doesn’t hap­pen. Not in Hous­ton nor in the 17 states and 200 cities that already have explicit pro­tec­tions for trans peo­ple. To the con­trary, it is trans­gen­der peo­ple them­selves who are most vul­ner­a­ble, with 70 per­cent of trans­gen­der or gen­der non-conforming respon­dents in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. report­ing that they have been, “denied access, ver­bally harassed, or phys­i­cally assaulted in pub­lic restrooms.” And it is pre­cisely this vio­lence that high­lights the need for com­pre­hen­sive hate crime laws in all 50 states.

But while the loss in Hous­ton still stings, the news for LGBT peo­ple around the coun­try is not all bad. Just last week, in the 4th Cir­cuit Court of Appeals in a case out of Vir­ginia, the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice and Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion filed a friend-of-the-court brief sup­port­ing a trans­gen­der stu­dent barred by his school from using the restroom that cor­re­sponds with his gen­der iden­tity.  And in Illi­nois, the Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion found Mon­day that an Illi­nois school dis­trict vio­lated anti-discrimination laws when it did not allow a trans­gen­der girl who par­tic­i­pates on a girls’ sports team to change and shower in the girls’ locker room with­out restrictions.

In other good news, a dis­trict court in Alabama recently issued a deci­sion in Isaacs v. Felder Ser­vices LLC that agreed with the EEOC that dis­crim­i­na­tion based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion is always a form of sex discrimination.

But make no mis­take, the ugli­ness and hate we saw in the cam­paign lead­ing up to the vote in Hous­ton was real and has a real impact on the lives of trans­gen­der peo­ple — not just in Hous­ton, but across the coun­try. Rather than retreat, this is an oppor­tu­nity for LGBT com­mu­ni­ties and allies to rally. We must pri­or­i­tize trans­gen­der rights, hold elected offi­cials account­able for their words and actions, and find ways to edu­cate com­mu­ni­ties, and par­tic­u­larly to reach young peo­ple.

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September 3, 2015 11

Public Officials: If Your Religion Prevents You From Doing Your Job, Step Aside

Many of us make impor­tant deci­sions in our daily lives grounded in our reli­gious val­ues and beliefs. That should be respected, even per­haps, applauded. How­ever when one chooses to take an oath of office or accepts a posi­tion as a pub­lic offi­cial in a sec­u­lar con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy like ours, she has a respon­si­bil­ity to do the job she was hired to do. Rowan County Ken­tucky Clerk Kim Davis’s job requires her to issue mar­riage licenses to any­one who may legally get married.

LGBT Zip code

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court for­mally rec­og­nized the dig­nity of les­bian, gay, bisex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple when it extended the free­dom to marry to same-sex cou­ples nation­wide. The Court ruled that the Con­sti­tu­tion for­bids states to ban mar­riage for same-sex cou­ples. Since the deci­sion, a small minor­ity of pub­lic offi­cials, most notably Ms. Davis, have argued that they should be exempt from hav­ing to issue mar­riage licenses to same-sex cou­ples, cit­ing their sin­cerely held reli­gious beliefs. The Supreme Court dis­agrees, and yet Davis con­tin­ues to defy the Court by deny­ing same-sex cou­ples mar­riage licenses. Now, she and, at her direc­tive, her staff, are refus­ing to issue mar­riage licenses mak­ing it impos­si­ble for any­one to obtain a mar­riage license in that county.

No one should ques­tion or chal­lenge Ms. Davis’s reli­gious beliefs. The fact that some news arti­cles and com­men­ta­tors have crit­i­cized Davis’s beliefs as incon­sis­tent or hyp­o­crit­i­cal is beside the point. The bot­tom line is that she has no right, con­sti­tu­tional or oth­er­wise, to refuse to do the job the state of Ken­tucky pays her to do.

The real­ity, as ADL’s ami­cus brief argued, is that over­turn­ing mar­riage bans ensures that reli­gious con­sid­er­a­tions do not improp­erly influ­ence which mar­riages the state can rec­og­nize, but still allows reli­gious groups to decide the def­i­n­i­tion of mar­riage for them­selves. That remains true. Rab­bis, priests, min­is­ters can­not be com­pelled to par­tic­i­pate in mar­riages of which they do not approve. Reli­gions are not required to sol­em­nize any kind of mar­riage they don’t want to rec­og­nize. How­ever, that does not mean that gov­ern­ment employ­ees may aban­don their duties nor may they seek to impose their reli­gious beliefs on oth­ers by inter­fer­ing with their con­sti­tu­tional right to marry.

If Ms. Davis or oth­ers feel that they can­not ful­fill the duties they were selected to per­form, they should step aside and allow oth­ers to serve the community.

A 501(c)(3) non­profit orga­ni­za­tion, ADL nei­ther sup­ports nor opposes any can­di­date for polit­i­cal office.

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August 18, 2015 0

Reactions to the Jerusalem Gay Parade Stabbing

Almost three weeks after the stab­bing attack dur­ing Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, which left six­teen year old Shira Banki dead, Israeli soci­ety is engaged in a con­tin­u­ing soul search­ing over the attack and the sta­tus of Israel’s LGBT community.

Israel has a vibrant LGBT com­mu­nity and it cel­e­brates in its strong record of free­doms and pro­tec­tions.  Nonethe­less, there are clear homo­pho­bic ele­ments in Israeli society.

Yishai Schlis­sel, the parade stab­ber – who had pre­vi­ously attacked a pride parade in 2005 – is a mem­ber of the ultra-orthodox com­mu­nity in Bnei Brak.  While acknowl­edg­ing that there is homo­pho­bia among reli­gious Jews in Israel, atti­tudes toward the LGBT com­mu­nity are not monolithic.

Credit: Ludovic Bertron

Credit: Ludovic Bertron

Accord­ing to a Haaretz report, a group of ultra-orthodox Jews from Bnei Brak reached out to the LGBT com­mu­nity and met with their rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the Gay Com­mu­nity Cen­ter in Tel Aviv.  Although the Ultra-Orthodox par­tic­i­pants decided to stay anony­mous, the impor­tance of the dia­logue and the dis­cus­sion lay in the fact that it took place and was reported in the press. Such an unmedi­ated encounter enables know­ing each other on the basis of open­ness and an attempt to accept the other – a pos­i­tive sign after the dark events.

On the other side of the spec­trum came the much pub­li­cized com­ments of Beza­lel Smotrich, an ultra-nationalist and a mem­ber of Knes­set from the Jew­ish Home Party, who serves as Deputy Knes­set Speaker.  Over the years Smotrich has made numer­ous anti-gay state­ments, and has described him­self as a “proud homo­phobe.”  Days after the attack, he referred to gay pride events as “abom­i­na­tion parade” (a term he has used before).  In an inter­view he gave a few days ago on Galei Israel radio, Smotrich said: “There are a lot of gays in the media and they decide for us what to think and what to say.” Smotrich said that their “con­trol” of the media has cre­ated legit­i­macy and pub­lic sup­port for them. I am con­fi­dent that 95% of Israelis want their chil­dren to raise a model fam­ily and have grand­chil­dren. That’s what a healthy, nor­mal per­son wants… These peo­ple have enor­mous power in shap­ing our con­scious­ness. They num­ber dozens of dom­i­nant peo­ple. So nat­u­rally, peo­ple can’t hear a voice like mine and when I speak to the media, I’m cut off after half a sen­tence and I sound deluded because I’m unable to explain myself.”

Jew­ish Home head and Edu­ca­tion Min­is­ter, Naf­tali Ben­net, responded, “I reject these state­ments with dis­gust…” and many oth­ers rose to con­demn Smotrich.  Mean­while, Ometz, an orga­ni­za­tion whose mis­sion is to pro­mote eth­i­cal gov­er­nance, is ask­ing the Knes­set Ethics com­mit­tee to review Smotrich’s comments.

 

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