Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Second-class status looms for LGBTQs


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The Trump administration released its "license to discriminate" memo last week, giving carte blanche to business owners to cite their own religious views in order to exempt them from complying with numerous anti-discrimination laws. In what was a horrible week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions decreed that his interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender workers from employment discrimination, and the Department of Health and Human Services expanded the rights of employers to deny women insurance coverage for birth control. We have been waiting for these memos and policy changes for months. It's just the latest example of Trump strengthening support among his anti-gay base at the expense of specifically harming women and LGBTQ people, and potentially everyone.

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to take up a case involving the "religious liberty" argument. Masterpiece Cake Shop owner Jack Phillips refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple because otherwise it would violate his Christian beliefs. Sessions' memo makes the same argument as Phillips' case, which the justices will hear in December.

"Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law," Sessions wrote. He then went on to outline 20 principles that "should guide administrative agencies and executive departments in carrying out this task." Crucially, the fourth principle states that "Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with the government." This is the logic that anti-LGBTQ religious freedom bigots have been using for years to justify their freedom to discriminate as it means that people's actions based on their religious views are not constrained by laws. And, because there is no federal anti-discrimination law protecting LGBTQs, attorneys and advocates have been using laws like Title VII, which are now being reinterpreted and reversed by the Trump administration.

As others have noted, Sessions' sweeping memo will enable systematic, government-wide discrimination. Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said it will have "a devastating impact on LGBTQ people and their families."

HRC did a preliminary analysis of the memo and Trump's announcement Friday that employers will no longer be required to provide insurance coverage for birth control if it's against their religious beliefs, and the results are frightening:

● A Social Security Administration employee could refuse to accept or process spousal or survivor benefits paperwork for a surviving same-sex spouse.

● A federal contractor could refuse to provide services to LGBTQ people, including in emergencies, without risk of losing federal contracts.

● Organizations that had previously been prohibited from requiring all of their employees from following the tenets of the organization's faith could now possibly discriminate against LGBTQ people in the provision of benefits and overall employment status.

● Agencies receiving federal funding, and even their individual staff members, could refuse to provide services to LGBTQ children in crisis, or to place adoptive or foster children with a same-sex couple or transgender couple.

LGBTQs living in California have some of the strongest protections in the country, but this federal nightmare will affect us here, too. The Social Security ramifications alone could be shattering, perhaps returning to the days before same-sex marriage when couples had to cobble together agreements.

But it's LGBTQs in other states who will really bear the brunt of this. According to HRC, more than 50 percent of Americans live in an area of the U.S. where LGBTQ people are at risk of being fired, evicted, or declined services because of who they are, and two-thirds of LGBTQ people report having faced such discrimination in their lives.

Trump knows that he can't change Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. But he and his administration are chipping away at hard-fought rights one by one, led by Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence are two of his most anti-LGBTQ officials. It's something Republicans have done for years with African-Americans (think of the Voting Rights Act that was gutted by the high court in 2013), immigrants, and women.

When the going gets tough, this president lashes out at the most vulnerable – in this case, LGBTQs, for which there is no specific federal non-discrimination policy despite decades of trying by the Human Rights Campaign and politicians. The administration is relegating LGBTQs to second-class citizenship. Activists have long warned about this, even after securing marriage equality. This president poses a dangerous setback by using the federal government to repeal the gains we have made.


Alice club's strange award choice

We know lots of hard-working politicians in San Francisco who have demonstrated leadership. Sunset district Supervisor Katy Tang is not one of them. Yet, Tang, a straight ally, will receive the Legislator of the Year Award from the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club at its Fall Awards next week. Count us confused as to why the club would honor a supervisor who was a driving force behind the board's vote last week to torpedo a proposed medical cannabis dispensary in her district. In an email, Alice club Co-Chair Louise "Lou" Fischer wrote, "We are honoring Supervisor Tang for her groundbreaking work on the HomeSF legislation that is increasing the stock of affordable housing in the city's outlying neighborhoods for families, teachers, firefighters, first responders and middle-income workers."

OK, but Tang was among the nine board members who fell for a misinformation campaign propagated by the anti-LGBT Pacific Justice Institute. The institute, which is labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, whipped Sunset residents into a frenzy, leading them to besiege the board with unverified information that a medical marijuana dispensary would lead to an increase in crime, which would in turn lower property values. In the months leading up to last week's hearing, which was to appeal a planning commission determination that approved the Apothecarium project, a church pastor claimed – without evidence – that relatives of parishioners have died from pot overdoses.

On Thursday (October 12), the planning commission will hear another request for a different medical cannabis dispensary in the Sunset, at 2161-2165 Irving Street. Should the commission approve the project, it will be interesting to see if the same forces appeal this one, which is proposed by Barbary Coast Dispensary.

The medical cannabis and recreational marijuana industries are only going to grow more robust as adult use of cannabis becomes legal January 1. Yet San Francisco officials still seem stuck drafting regulations, even after the city formed a task force last year to prepare for legal pot sales. Supervisor Jeff Sheehy and Mayor Ed Lee have preliminary legislation that needs to be finalized soon by the board. If there was ever a time for leadership on this issue by Tang, whose district is more conservative than other parts of the city, it is now. At the least, she should stop opposing medical cannabis dispensaries, especially when her district has none and people have to travel across town to obtain their medicine.

San Diego, where Democrats have a one-seat advantage on the City Council, last week legalized a local supply chain for marijuana in advance of Proposition 64, the adult use measure, taking effect in January. Surely progressive San Francisco can do better than opposing medical dispensaries and setting up bureaucratic roadblocks.

In the meantime, an ally such as Tang should not be lauded by an LGBT political club after voting to support an anti-gay hate group's ridiculous claims over progressive and humane policies. There are many others who are more deserving.




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