A Familiar Form of Discrimination

This piece originally appeared in U.S. News & World Report and was authored by Stephen Peters, HRC National Press Secretary.

It was with a familiar sickness of heart that I watched as President Donald Trump launched an all-out assault on the LGBTQ community and active duty service members by tweeting that he is reinstating a transgender military service ban.

You see, I’ve been there. My own service in the Marine Corps was cut short because of “don’t ask, don’t tell” – the archaic and deeply discriminatory law that barred gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans from serving openly in the military. I was discharged because I am gay. I still mourn the loss of the career I had aimed for, serving the country I love.

Sadly, Trump’s heinous and disgusting action – which could lead to the discharge of as many as 15,000 transgender Americans serving our country at this critical time – is “don’t ask, don’t tell” all over again. Trump’s nakedly political aim to isolate, target and discriminate against transgender troops courageously serving our country has, in a few hundred Twitter characters, threatened to return us to a deeply shameful policy that weakens our military. Discharging thousands of highly trained and talented troops just because of their gender identity would be unconscionable.

I was just out of college when I decided to enlist, after the tragic events of Sept. 11. Though I was proud to honorably serve my country in the U.S. Marine Corps, after re-enlisting for another four years, I knew I could no longer go on pretending I wasn’t gay.

I wanted to continue to serve, but the law said I was suddenly unfit for duty, simply because of who I am. A huge burden was lifted off of my family’s shoulders when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was finally repealed under President Barack Obama, allowing my Marine husband to keep his distinguished career. He’s now serving a year-long deployment in one of the world’s most dangerous areas.

So you can imagine my outrage that Trump would seek to implement this kind of discriminatory, unpatriotic policy. Our transgender service members wear the same uniform, take the same oath and are heroes who put their lives on the line to protect our country and promote security around the globe.

All of our brave troops – including my husband, who is currently serving in harm’s way – are counting on us to have their backs, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Instead, since the day he set foot in the White House, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have appointed anti-LGBTQ extremists across the government and sought to roll back our rights at every turn. It’s bad enough that Trump and Pence oppose marriage equality, that they endorse license to discriminate laws, that they defend anti-LGBTQ measures like North Carolina’s HB2, that they appoint anti-equality justices and that they campaign with anti-LGBTQ hate groups.

It is a new low to target thousands upon thousands of actively serving transgender members of the U.S. military, and impugn the honor of tens of thousands more who have served with valor and distinction — including more than 134,000 transgender veterans who are alive today. This attack undermines military readiness and harms the military’s ability to recruit and retain the best and the brightest, regardless of their gender identity.

I hope that every service member and veteran who has fought for our country will see the injustice in what Trump and Pence have done. I hope they will join me in standing up to this disgraceful assault on our fellow service members.

We enlist and commission to protect our most fundamental values: freedom, justice, equality under the law. It is an outrageous tragedy that our commander in chief has decreed transgender troops – who are fighting for those ideals we all share – should be treated so shamefully.

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TN Lawmakers Vote to Undermine Protections for Women & LGBTQ People in Effort to Challenge Marriage

HRC condemned a vote by the Tennessee Senate passing HB 1111 — a measure that could undermine certain protections under state law for women and LGBTQ people in a shameful effort to challenge the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision on marriage equality. The bill now heads to Governor Bill Haslam’s desk.

The measure would require that courts and agencies apply a so-called “natural” meaning interpretation of gendered statutory language, including those involving the rights of husbands and wives. This unconstitutional proposal would be in direct conflict with state and federal law that requires gender-specific words be interpreted as gender-inclusive.

“In a shameful haste to undermine marriage equality, the Tennessee State Legislature is opening a Pandora’s box of harmful consequences that could impact more than just the LGBTQ community,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “This measure would no doubt result in multiple, expensive legal challenges, forcing the state to divert crucial resources that need to be focused on other truly important issues. Governor Bill Haslam must protect the state from the fallout and veto this bill.”

The measure could have both intended and unintended consequences. For example, a woman may not be able to place her wife’s name on the birth certificate of their child. In court proceedings, a married opposite-sex couple could be entitled to confidential communications, but not a married same-sex couple. The measure could even prohibit surrogacy for same-sex couples.

It could have consequences beyond the LGBTQ community as well. It would impact state constitutional protections for women by prohibiting state courts from reading the term “man” to also include “woman.” The Tennessee law requiring no “man’s” services or property be taken without consent or compensation, for example, could suddenly be interpreted to exclude women from these same protections.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued an opinion stating the proposed bill could create conflict with current state laws.

HRC has been working in partnership with the Tennessee Equality Project, ACLU of Tennessee, and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition in working to stop this legislation from becoming law.

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Chicago, California Join Growing List of Cities and States Banning Official Travel to NC

HRC and Equality NC hailed the news that Chicago and California are maintaining their bans on taxpayer-funded travel to North Carolina. The announcements come after North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, Senate President Phil Berger, and House Speaker Tim Moore passed a law doubling down on many of the worst aspects of the state’s notorious anti-LGBTQ HB2 law.

“We thank California Governor Jerry Brown and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for their leadership — and we commend Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for taking action in the wake of fresh attacks on equality in North Carolina,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs. “This sham ‘deal,’ passed without a single LGBTQ person at the table, actually doubles down on discrimination against millions of North Carolinians. It’s far past time North Carolina politicians — both Republican and Democrat — stop using LGBTQ people and other communities as political pawns to target for discrimination. In order for North Carolina to move forward, lawmakers must fully repeal HB2 and pass inclusive non-discrimination protections.”

“Cities across the country are seeing HB142 for what it really is — a fake repeal of HB2,” said Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro. “The new law continues to make North Carolina the only state in the nation to reserve for itself the exclusive ability to regulate bathroom access and one of only three states to ban cities from passing crucial non-discrimination protections. Cities like Chicago want to ensure that all of their employees are safe when traveling. It is unfortunate that HB142 continues to put LGBTQ people in harm’s way when a simple full repeal of HB2 would have resolved the issue.”

Chicago and California join an ever-growing chorus of cities and states not fooled by North Carolina’s new anti-LGBTQ law, including MinnesotaNew York CityWashington, DCSan FranciscoSeattlePortland, ORAtlantaBaltimoreBurlington, VTLos AngelesOaklandSanta FeCincinnatiSalt Lake CityPalm Springs, CAWest Palm BeachPortland, ME; and Wilton Manors, FL.

HB 142 is not an HB2 repeal, and replaces one discriminatory, anti-transgender, bathroom bill with another. It bans local LGBTQ non-discrimination protections statewide through 2020, and it substitutes the previous anti-transgender bathroom provisions with a new provision that forbids state agencies, public universities, primary and secondary schools, and cities from adopting policies ensuring transgender people have access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

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South Dakota Senate Passes “License to Discriminate” Bill For Taxpayer-Funded Adoption Agencies

Today, HRC and the ACLU of South Dakota slammed a vote by the South Dakota Senate passing Senate Bill (SB) 149 — discriminatory legislation targeting LGBTQ people and other minorities. SB 149 would enshrine taxpayer-funded discrimination into state law by allowing state-funded adoption and foster care agencies to reject prospective LGBTQ adoptive or foster parents based on the agency’s purported religious beliefs.

“Let’s be clear. This ‘license to discriminate’ proposal is a direct assault on LGBTQ South Dakotans and their families,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Taxpayer money should never be used by state-funded adoption agencies to discriminate against prospective parents based on factors that have nothing to do with good parenting. This measure could have consequences not just for LGBTQ couples, but for single people, divorced people, or even those of a different faith. The South Dakota House of Representatives must reject this atrocious legislation allowing discrimination contrary to the best interests of children in desperate need of loving, caring homes.”

“This bill works against the needs of vulnerable children in the foster care system in South Dakota by denying them access to good families and important services,” said ACLU of South Dakota Policy Director Elizabeth A. Skarin. “Our legislators must take a stand for all South Dakotans — and especially vulnerable children — and ensure that discrimination doesn’t get in the way of loving families seeking to provide homes for those who don’t have them.”

SB 149 would allow state-licensed and taxpayer-funded child-placement agencies to disregard the best interest of children, and turn away qualified South Dakotans seeking to care for a child in need — including LGBTQ couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a purported religious objection. The measure would even allow agencies to refuse to place foster children with members of their own extended families — a practice often considered to be in the best interest of the child. A qualified, loving LGBTQ grandparent, for example, could be deemed unsuitable under the proposed law.  It would also allow agencies to refuse to provide appropriate medical and mental health care to LGBTQ children if the agency has a purported moral or religious objection to providing those services. Shockingly, under SB 149, an agency couldn’t lose its license or contract as a result of subjecting a child to abusive practices like so-called conversion therapy if it claimed such “therapy” is compelled by religious belief.

Research consistently shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, as many have been rejected by their families of origin because they are LGBTQ. These young people are already especially vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment while in foster care, and SB 149 would only exacerbate the challenges they face.

The attack on fairness and equality in South Dakota is part of an onslaught of bills being pushed in 2017 by anti-equality activists around the country. HRC is currently tracking more than 70 anti-LGBTQ legislative proposals in 24 states. For more information, visit http://hrc.im/2017legislature.

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