Blog Posts Related to the LGBT Community

  • Liberty, Opportunity and Equality for All: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act Vote

    Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from the United States Department of Justice.

    The fact remains that, across the country, far too many LGBT Americans suffer discrimination each and every day. That’s why the Department will keep working to promote opportunity and access for every individual. It’s why this will continue to be a priority for this Department as long as I have the privilege to serve as Attorney General. It’s why we will continue to advocate for essential legislative changes and reforms, like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to extend workplace protections to all Americans.

    -Attorney General Eric Holder, June 2013

    Right now, in 29 states, lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGBT) Americans lack sufficient protections against employment discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This week, the Senate passed a bill—the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)—that would close this gap in our nation’s civil rights laws.

    Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal law has prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Yet five decades later, while we wait for ENDA to pass the House of Representatives, no federal law exists that explicitly prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and the majority of states lack basic workplace protections for LGBT Americans.

    As President Obama has stated: “[O]ur journey as a nation is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

    If signed into law, a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act would explicitly prohibit workplace discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA’s prohibition of intentional discrimination makes clear that LGBT Americans deserve the same types of protections that are available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    The ability to earn a living and climb up the economic ladder is at the heart of the American dream. No individual should be denied a job or the opportunity to earn promotions and pay raises because of who they are or who they love. That’s why President Obama, Attorney General Holder, the Civil Rights Division, and the administration as a whole have been committed to the passage of an inclusive ENDA.

    In 2009, Tom Perez, then Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division, testified on behalf of the department before the Senate HELP Committee in support of this legislation, stating: “We have come too far in our struggle for ‘equal justice under the law’ to remain silent or stoic when our LGBT brothers and sisters are still being mistreated and ostracized for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their skills or abilities.”

    The Civil Rights Division regularly receives letters from LGBT individuals all over the country documenting instances of employment discrimination. This discrimination takes many forms—from cruel instances of harassment, to explicit denials of employment or career-enhancing assignments. It is painfully disappointing to have to tell these men and women that, in the United States of America in 2013, insufficient legal tools exist to address this discrimination. While the Division makes every effort to address these complaints, because there are no federal laws that provide explicit protection against sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination, far too many people are left without clear protections.

    Four years ago, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to protect LGBT individuals from hate-fueled violence. Now it’s time for Congress to make certain that these Americans enjoy equal opportunity in the workplace and equal access to the American dream.

    Fifty years after the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Division seeks to advance this nation’s long struggle to embrace the principle so eloquently captured by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—that persons should be judged based on the content of their character, and not on their race, color, sex, national origin, religion or any other irrelevant factors.

    Our existing civil rights laws, enforced by the Civil Rights Division, reflect and uphold this noble principle. So does the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Its passage would move this great nation one step closer to fulfilling our Constitution’s promise of liberty, opportunity and equality for all.

    Jocelyn Samuels is the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.

  • What is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act? (ENDA)

    This week, the Senate will vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which would provide strong federal protections against discrimination, making it explicitly illegal to fire someone because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).

    In this explainer video, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney highlights the importance of ENDA – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s good for business and the economy.

    Watch on YouTube

    In case you missed it, read President Obama’s Op-Ed in support of ENDA.

  • President Obama Speaks Out in Support of ENDA

    This week, the Senate is expected to take up a critically important piece of legislation: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. This bill would make it explicitly illegal under federal law to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity – and it’s long overdue.

    President Obama has long supported a fully inclusive ENDA and he has expressed this support repeatedly over years. In an op-ed published in The Huffington Post, the President speaks directly to the American people to ensure everyone understands what’s at stake and why it’s so important that Congress move forward on this legislation.

    Read the full text of the op-ed below.

    Congress Needs to Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

    Here in the United States, we're united by a fundamental principle: we're all created equal and every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. We believe that no matter who you are, if you work hard and play by the rules, you deserve the chance to follow your dreams and pursue your happiness. That's America's promise.

    That's why, for instance, Americans can't be fired from their jobs just because of the color of their skin or for being Christian or Jewish or a woman or an individual with a disability. That kind of discrimination has no place in our nation. And yet, right now, in 2013, in many states a person can be fired simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

    As a result, millions of LGBT Americans go to work every day fearing that, without any warning, they could lose their jobs -- not because of anything they've done, but simply because of who they are.

  • Commemorating the Fourth Anniversary of the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crime Prevention Act

    Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Justice

    “Using new tools and authorities, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, we’ve improved our ability to safeguard our civil rights and pursue justice for those who are victimized because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. We will continue working to guarantee that – in our workplaces and military bases; in our housing and lending markets; in our schools and places of worship; in our immigrant communities and our voting booths – the rights of all Americans are protected.” - Attorney General Eric Holder testifying before Congress May 15, 2013
     

    In 1998, Matthew Shepard— a 21 year old student at the University of Wyoming was robbed, tortured, tied to a fence along a country road and left to die by two men who offered him a ride home from a local bar.

    That same year, James Byrd Jr.—a 49-year-old African-American man living in Jasper, Texas—also accepted a ride home from three men. They drove him to the remote edge of town where they beat him severely, tied him by the ankles to the back of a pickup truck, and dragged him to his death.

    The investigation into Matthew Shepard’s death found strong evidence that his attackers targeted him because he was gay. In the case of James Byrd Jr., the three men responsible for his killing were well-known white supremacists. His brutal murder stands as one of the most nightmarish recent incidents of racially motivated violence.

    But while the men responsible for the Shepard and Byrd killings were later convicted of murder, none of them were prosecuted for committing a hate crime. At the time these murders were committed, neither Wyoming nor Texas had a hate crimes law, and existing federal hate crimes protections did not include violent acts based on the victim’s sexual orientation and only covered racial violence against those engaged in a federally protected activity, such as voting or attending school.

    Four years ago today, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act. This landmark legislation, championed by the late Senator Ted Kennedy, greatly expanded the federal government’s ability to prosecute hate crimes.

    The law enables the Justice Department to prosecute crimes motivated by race, color, religion and national origin without having to show that the defendant was engaged in a federally protected activity. The Shepard-Byrd Act also empowers the department to prosecute crimes committed because of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender or disability as hate crimes.

    The law also marked the first time that the words, “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender” appeared in the U.S. Code.

    Under the leadership of Attorney General Holder, the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country have used the law to address the most serious hate crimes. Over the last four years, 44 people in 16 states have been convicted under the Shepard-Byrd Act for their discrimination and crimes against others on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

    Just this month, the Civil Rights Division brought federal hate crimes charges against two Latino men associated with the Compton 155 street gang in California. These men attacked a 17-year-old African-American who was walking down a street in the city of Compton—striking him in the head with a metal pipe—and pointed a gun at another African-American juvenile who was present. Both attackers admitted their actions were substantially motivated by race and color.

    Earlier this year, a Justice Department investigation and prosecution in response to the beating of an Atlanta man resulted in the first conviction in Georgia under the sexual orientation provision of the Shepard-Byrd Act. In this case, two men pleaded guilty to assaulting a 20-year-old gay man as he left a grocery store in Atlanta’s Pittsburgh neighborhood. Video footage of the incident showed not only physical violence but also the use of anti-gay epithets. The two men were sentenced to serve 10 months in prison on federal hate crimes charges as well as five years on state charges for aggravated assault, robbery by force, and theft by receiving stolen property and obstruction.

    In addition to these enforcement efforts, the Civil Rights Division has held trainings for thousands of law enforcement officials – federal, state and local – to ensure that first responders to an assault or other act of violence know what questions to ask and what evidence to gather at the scene to allow prosecutors to make an informed assessment of whether a case should be prosecuted as a hate crime.

    Four years after the passage of the Shepard-Byrd Act, and more than a decade after the brutal murders of the men for whom it was named, prosecuting hate crimes remains a top priority for the President, the Attorney General and the Civil Rights Division.

    Jocelyn Samuels is Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.

  • U.S. on Protecting and Promoting LGBT Rights in Europe

    Ed. Note: This blog is cross posted from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, of the U.S. Department of State.

    Prepared Remarks by Uzra Zeya at the ILGA-Europe Annual Conference 2013 in Zagreb, Croatia

    October 24, 2013

    First, thank you very much Evelyne and to ILGA Europe for including me in this panel. I am so glad to be here.

    In response to your question, the most important thing to understand about the work of the U.S. government is that protecting and promoting the human rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is a foreign policy priority. That’s why I am here in Zagreb to deliver this message personally. The fundamental principle that guides our LGBT work is that the human rights of LGBT persons are not different than or separate from the human rights of everyone else. All people deserve to be treated with dignity no matter who they are or who they love.

    Looking across the region over 2013, there is a lot to be excited about. Both France and the UK have legalized same sex marriage and more countries are taking steps to make sure that LGBT persons can make the choices that work for them and their families. It is also encouraging to see new anti-discrimination and hate crimes legislation specifically including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories.

    But the United States remains extremely concerned about negative trends in a number of countries. The anti-gay propaganda law in Russia and the proposed law to strip gay parents of their parental rights are alarming. Laws, even when it is unclear how they will be enforced, are incredibly important. They are a statement of a country’s values and they have a teaching effect. Laws that validate discrimination, as we have seen in Russia, can lead to an increase in violence and harassment. This is particularly true when authorities don’t act to protect all of their citizens and when they fail to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by or against particular groups.

    I’ve singled out Russia but, as you all know, it is not the only place where there were disturbing events in 2013. We saw too many Pride and IDAHO marches confronted by counter-protestors, or, as just happened in Serbia, canceled altogether because of the threat of violence. Throughout Europe, LGBT persons continue to be harassed and discriminated against in employment, housing, education, and many other areas of public life.

    There is clearly work to be done. In the United States, we pursue this work guided by a Presidential Memorandum which lays out five main lines of effort: Decriminalization of LGBT status and conduct, protection of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, foreign assistance to protect human rights, swift response to violence against LGBT persons, and engaging international organizations to fight LGBT discrimination.

    We raise the human rights of LGBT persons in our diplomatic engagement at all levels – from the President, to Secretary Kerry, to our Ambassadors and officers at post and in Washington. Our Ambassadors and officers march proudly in Pride celebrations. Advancing equality for LGBT persons isn’t just the right thing to do; it is fundamental to advancing democracy and human rights. As societies become more inclusive, they become better partners within the global community, joined together by common values and common interests.

    The U.S. also knows that change on the ground comes from within. At the State Department, same-sex partners and spouses at overseas missions enjoy the same benefits allowed by law as all our employees’ families. We’ve included a category for same-sex partners in our personnel system. It is now easier for transgender Americans to change the gender on their passport. And we’ve stated unequivocally that we do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

    We regularly engage with and support civil society organizations to ensure our work “does no harm” and supports long-term change. In December 2011, then-Secretary Clinton launched the Global Equality Fund to support civil society advocates working to strengthen the human rights of LGBT persons. The United States has partnered with eight-like minded governments – France, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark – as well several foundations to raise and allocate more than $7 million dollars for projects in over 50 countries. The Fund provides emergency legal, medical, and relocation assistance to LGBT individuals and activists; capacity building programs to civil society organizations; and, through our embassy small grants programs, short-term funding to nascent LGBT organizations. This year, we’re excited about the Fund’s focus to increase the capacity of transgender organizations in Europe to document and respond to incidents of violence targeting transgender people.

    Uzra Zeya is Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

  • Obamacare and LGBT Health

    Ed. Note: This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Blog

    Throughout the Administration, we operate on the fundamental belief that every American deserves equal opportunity, equal protection, and equal rights under the law. That’s why the Affordable Care Act is so important for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans.

    The health care law prevents health insurance companies from charging anyone a higher premium just because they happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. It also prevents insurers from raising rates or denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition like HIV/AIDS, cancer, or mental health concerns.

    Thanks to the law, insurance companies can no longer impose a lifetime limit on your coverage. This is particularly important to HIV/AIDS patients, and anyone who has a chronic condition.

    The Affordable Care Act also includes critically important, non-discrimination provisions. For example, starting in January 2014, it will be illegal for any of the insurance companies who offer coverage through the Marketplace to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. We’ve also taken action to strengthen the civil rights provision in the law, by clarifying that the new law’s prohibition on sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sex stereotyping, and on gender identity.

    All of this is good news for the LGBT community, particularly when we consider that one in three lower income LGBT adults in our country do not have health insurance. Starting October 1, they are going to have the opportunity to sign-up for quality, affordable coverage through the new Health Insurance Marketplace for coverage beginning as early as January 1, 2014.

    But here’s the thing: most of these Americans are not yet aware of their new options.

    You don’t have to be an expert to figure out what we need to do to get the word out. It’s outreach. It’s education. It’s communication.

    That’s why, last week at the White House, I joined Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, and nearly 200 LGBT community leaders and allies from across the country for a briefing on Obamacare and the LGBT community. The purpose of this briefing was to equip community leaders with the tools, information, and resources they need to get involved and help local LGBT communities get access to quality, affordable health care.

    And that’s why we are excited to work with organizations like Out2Enroll, a new initiative to educate the LGBT community about the Affordable Care Act. Rooting for more of our neighbors to sign up for health care is not enough. It’s going to take work at the grassroots. And so Out2Enroll has a very important mission.

    Dr. King taught us, “Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless effort and the persistent work of dedicated individuals.”

    So in the weeks and months ahead, we look forward to working with a diverse range of partners – national advocates, LGBT community centers, HIV/AIDS service providers, Pride organizations, PFLAG chapters – to ensure that members of the LGBT community have the information, resources, and tools they need to sign up for quality, affordable health care.

    I hope you will join us in this important work.

    In case you missed it:

    Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

  • Russian Civil Society Leaders Inspire

    Despite a packed G-20 schedule filled with meetings on economic issues and the situation in Syria, President Obama also took the time while in St. Petersburg to meet with representatives of Russia's civil society. He holds such meetings in nearly every country he visits, because, as he told these leaders, he believes that "a country's strength ultimately comes from its people and that as important as government is -- and laws -- what makes a country democratic and effective in delivering prosperity and security and hope to people is when they've got an active, thriving civil society." These engagements are an opportunity not only to hear candid views about the country in which these representatives live, but also about the United States.

    The meeting in St. Petersburg was no exception. The President, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and I met with a fascinating group of activists that included Boris Pustyntsev, Ivan Pavlov, Yevgeniya Chirikova, Yana Yakoleva, Dmitry Makarov, Igor Kochetkov, Yelena Milashina, Olga Lenkova, and Pavel Chikov. The group represented a broad cross-section of Russian NGOs and activists who work on issues such as human rights, the environment, media freedom, rights of business entrepreneurs, LGBT rights, and fighting corruption, racism, and discrimination.

    President Obama Meets With Members Of The Civil Society

    President Barack Obama meets with civil society leaders at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, during the G20 Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 6, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Our colleagues gave President Obama a strong sense of the challenges facing civil society leaders in Russia today, especially new laws that place restrictions on foreign-funded NGOs and discriminate against the LGBT community. Like others around the world, the President has been following with particular concern the increased climate of intolerance and violence that have accompanied the new law affecting the LGBT community, and he had the chance to hear from two courageous LGBT activists from St. Petersburg who described the challenging environment for their work. Participants urged him to keep human rights, including LGBT rights, on his agenda; to correct mischaracterizations of American policy and laws (especially the false analogy between Russia's "foreign agent" law and U.S. legislation on lobbying); to empower multilateral organizations to pressure the Russian government to meet its international commitments; and to stand up against discrimination and for freedom of assembly and expression.

    The President learned not only about the situation in Russia but also how the Administration's policies on the environment, whistle-blower protections, and Syria affect the work of civil society activists in Russia. President Obama acknowledged the complexities of balancing national security and individual rights on a variety of issues, but he also expressed faith in the power of American democratic institutions, including a free press, to provide the proper context for resolving specific issues and ultimately to make the American system more democratic. President Obama gave particular attention to the role of civil society in making governments more representative and accountable. He noted his own background as a community organizer, highlighting the significant and important role civil society plays in bettering the lives of ordinary people.

    President Obama carefully took notes and responded to all of the questions raised during the meeting. He was clearly energized intellectually and inspired. A meeting planned for forty minutes turned into almost an hour-and-a-half interactive discussion. The President pledged to consider every concrete proposal and later tasked me to follow up on some practical ideas proposed by our roundtable participants.

    In the car ride to the Air Force One after the event, the President commented on the articulate, passionate, and practical presentations these leaders had made, and we had a very wide-ranging discussion about civil society in Russia, civil society and human rights around the world, and democracy more generally. After two long days at the G-20, I was struck by how invigorated the President seemed after the discussion.

    I thank our Russian participants for such a stimulating session and, like the President, applaud their courageous and important efforts in Russia.

    Michael McFaul is Ambassador of the United States of America to the Russian Federation

  • Watch Live on Thursday: The impact of “Obamacare” on the LGBT community

    Despite the tremendous progress we’ve made in achieving equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, many LGBT individuals still face limited access to health care and insurance, and are less likely to get the preventive care they need to stay healthy.

    Thankfully, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it’s also known, directly addresses some of these needs, by:

    1. Protecting the right to access quality, affordable health insurance. Starting in 2014, the health care law prevents insurers from denying us coverage or charging us a higher premium because of a pre-existing condition or because we are LGBT.
    2. Removing lifetime dollar limits on coverage. That means that people with chronic diseases, like HIV/AIDS, cancer and mental health concerns, can get the care we need. And starting in 2014, all annual limits will be illegal, too.
    3. Promoting wellness by requiring insurers to cover preventive care at no additional cost. LGBT adults and teens can get screened by a health professional for HIV and depression without paying co-pays or deductibles. Other preventive services, like cervical cancer screening for sexually active women, obesity counseling for people at risk, and well-woman visits are also covered at no extra cost.
    4. Helping more LGBT Americans find affordable health insurance. Starting October 1, 2013, all Americans without insurance and those looking for better options will have a new place to shop for plans, the Health Insurance Marketplace, and may qualify for lower costs on monthly premiums.

    The Affordable Care Act could truly transform the health and well-being of the LGBT community for generations to come, and the upcoming open enrollment period in the Health Insurance Marketplace, – from October 2013 to March 2014 – provides an important opportunity to get folks enrolled.

    That’s why the White House Office of Public Engagement and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are teaming up to host a Briefing on Obamacare and the LGBT Community, this Thursday, September 12th. The event will include remarks by Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, as well as an exciting presentation of important new research on how LGBT communities perceive and access health care, and suggested messaging strategies for reaching key sub-communities.

    And you can watch it live from home or work! Visit http://whitehouse.gov/live this Thursday, September 12th, starting at 1:15 p.m. EDT to tune in.

    Gautam Raghavan is an Advisor in the White House Office of Public Engagement. Matthew Heinz, MD, is Director of Provider Outreach and Director of LGBT Outreach at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.