Thursday, November 10, 2016

The New Dignity Conversation

by Jeremiah Ho
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I would agree with a recent NPR article online about the disjointed, state-by-state progress for gay rights in 2016, a year after marriage equality had prevailed at the Supreme Court. (See 2016 Has Been a Mixed Bag for LGBT Politics)  In part, that’s understandable as we have been preoccupied with electoral politics since that time.  It's also very much in line with how the incremental politics of gay rights progresses in general when a state has obtained marriage equality.  Things slow down for a little bit for gay rights.
 
But that's not to say that this slowing is excusable.  The divisive Presidential election is over.  LGBTQ individuals still deserve the full equality and anti-discrimination protections that they do not yet fully possess.  In the year after marriage equality, we have seen the backlash toward LGBTQ people in various context from healthcare to bathrooms.  Last week, the most recent case to be taken up by the Supreme Court hopefully is our next wake-up to moving on with what is left to be done in fulfilling advances for sexual minority protections and rights under the Constitution.  The Gloucester County case, which we recently posted on, has now crystallized into our next step. However, several challenges do exist to affect whether or not a victory will be eminent for transgender individuals facing public discrimination over the right to access the bathroom that reflects the gender with which they identify. The composition of the High Court with only eight Justices is one possibility that whatever ruling they give will not necessarily be as solid as if there were a full Court of nine Justices.  What if the Court reaches a decision where the eight justices were to divide evenly on the doctrinal resolution of this issue?
 
Despite that uncertainty for doctrinal progress in that event, incremental politics of LGBTQ equality and rights advancement must continue to urge that sexual minorities are seen in the politics of dignity and respect.  The last major words that the Supreme Court had in regards to the rights of sexual minorities--meaning from the decision to extend the fundamental right to marry same-sex couples--were written in a politics and a connotation of subdued and restrained respect for same-sex couples.  Despite the legal significance for same-sex couples, the Obergefell v. Hodges decision couched their rights within a reverence for traditional marriage. Sure that did  give gay couples the right to marry. But it was done in a way that showed how much they qualified for traditional marriage--instead of saying that same sex couples could create their own merits for unions without qualification. But only because under equality principles they always should have been allowed to do so.
 
Now with transgender bathroom rights, we have a new opportunity to use the existing dignity rhetoric from cases such as Lawrence v. Texas (and not the marriage cases, Windsor or Obergefell) to articulate the respect for sexual minorities for inherently who they are.  Even if doctrinally the advancement for LGBTQ anti-discrimination were to receive a less stable and lasting treatment because of a gridlocked 4-4 decision by the High Court, I hope that the conversation about the right for transgender individuals to choose their own bathrooms will be framed within a discussion of respect and dignity for inherently who they are and not the respectability rhetoric left over from Justice Kennedy's marriage equality decision.  A new conversation of respect and dignity in this context free from the marriage decisions would hopefully give us a restart toward the preferred inherent dignity and respect that will more easily move us to further progress for the advancement of sexual minority rights without and away from the lens of heteronormativity.  Even if that is the only thing that comes from the Gloucester case, I would find that as a welcomed victory because it'll set us up better for the next challenge.

November 10, 2016 in Gender, Jeremiah Ho, LGBT, Marriage Equality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Financial Cost of Hate

by Jeremiah Ho

Jeremiah Ho's faculty portrait.

The fall-out from the North Carolina anti-LGBT bill seems to continue. With the numerous businesses taking their ventures out of the state (including notables such as PayPal and Angie’s List) and big-name entertainers (Bruce Springsteen, the band Pearl Jam, and Ringo Starr) cancelling shows in North Carolina, the question of the economics of the business backlash is obviously inevitable.  According to a PBS Newshour’s piece that aired this week, the economic backlash based on cancelled conventions has cost the state at least $8 million dollars.  That’s not chump change, given that the bill (HB2) was passed only within the last two months.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law recently weighed in on the answer to the fiscal question for such anti-LGBT legislation—this time examining the fiscal impact of the Tennessee anti-LGBT bill (HB 2414) and the costs beyond the boycotts and backlash of private businesses. Instead, the Institute released a report this month that examines the fiscal impact from an administrative angle.  In sum, the researchers note that there are three major areas in which there would be negative financial impact to Tennessee with the bill in effect.  First the study notes that there might be a loss of federal educational funding of up to $1.2 billion annually as a result of Title IX violations.  Secondly, the loss of federal contracts to educational institutions could rise up to $3 million to $9 million annually as a result of violations of Executive Order 13672, which prohibits federal contractors that receive more than $10,000 in federal contracts annually from discriminating against their employees and job applicants based on gender identity.  Lastly, there likely will be costs incurred as a result of litigation and federal administrative enforcement.  The report can be found here.

If the report is accurate, then are these costs that both the citizens and the state of Tennessee will tolerate because of legislative intolerance? Is this a worthy cost of fear and hate?  

May 1, 2016 in Economics, Jeremiah Ho, LGBT, Transgender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

LGBT Update - Moving Forward With Irony

Last week the federal appeals court for the 4th Circuit ruled that a Virginia student could sue his school board for prohibiting him from using the bathroom matching his gender identity.  The Court found that the prohibition imposed upon Gavin Grimm violated Title IX.  The ruling, in what is generally considered a conservative state, may have influence in other states that are resistant to endorsing bathroom use by gender identity.   Among the states struggling to prevent  gender identity from deciding which bathroom is used are: South Dakota, Illinois, Texas and Mississippi.   A pathway  for the issue to arrive at the US Supreme Court perhaps?

And let's not forget North Carolina where activists against the newly enacted law restricting the rights of LGBT individuals were arrested for refusing to leave a state building where a demonstration was taking place.  However, the arrests could have been a major breakthrough for the activists. Whether intended or not, the situation is not without its irony, if not humor.  Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, was among those arrested.  Not only did she describe the arresting officers as respectful,  Ms. Keisling reported that transgender men were put into cells housing males while transgender women were housed in the women's cell.  Also, at the jail, arrestees used bathrooms that matched gender identity. 

All to prove that you cannot make this stuff up.

 

April 27, 2016 in LGBT, Margaret Drew, Sexuality, Transgender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Coming Soon to a Supreme Court Near You

Last week, a Massachusetts state judge ruled that a Catholic high school discriminated against a gay man when it rescinded a job offer upon learning that the candidate's spouse is male.  The decision is believed to be the first in the nation employment discrimination case since the enactment of marriage equality.  The candidate, Matthew Barrett, accepted an offer as food service director.  But when he listed his husband as his emergency contact in completing employment forms, the school withdrew its offer. 

Mr. Barrett is represented by GLAD attorney, Ben KleinJudge Douglas Wilkins, in deciding the case, rejected the school's argument of a religious exemption under the Massachusetts' anti-discrimination law.  The school argued that it was justified in not hiring Mr. Barrett because his marriage was inconsistent with the school's religious teachings.  Judge Wilkins based his decision on several findings.  Noting that the school was entitled to control its message, he said that right is limited to those in a position to shape the message, including teachers, ministers and spokesperson. Justice Wilkins noted that Mr. Barrett's position was not in a message shaping catagory and Mr. Barrett has not been an advocate for same sex marriage.  In what is a disappointing ruling for those asking to have sexual identity acknowledged as a protected class, Judge Wilkins noted only that Mr. Barrett was subject to gender discrimination when he was denied employment to which a woman applicant married to a man would have been entitled. As previously discussed in this blog, a protected class analysis has been lacking in the same sex and sexual identity cases that have come before a variety of U. S. courts.

This decision is ripe to wend its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Advocates for conservative Catholic organizations, such as the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, are already voicing dismay over the decision. That statement may be said too lightly.  The group's website headline says that it "condemns" the decision.  I suspect that those advocating for the acknowledgement of sexual identity as a suspect classification would welcome this case being accepted for cert.  The facts are favorable for consideration of the protected class argument that was avoided in Obergefell.  On the other hand, those who believe that this case is wrongly decided may be cautioned against appeal if the consequence might be a ruling that not only affirms the trial court but expands constitutional protections on sexual identity grounds. 

Stay tuned! 

December 20, 2015 in Advocacy, Discrimination, Equality, LGBT, Margaret Drew, Marriage Equality, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (1)