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North Carolina Rebuffs Transgender Bathroom Law Repeal

RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature on Wednesday rejected a bid to repeal a state law restricting bathroom access for transgender people, which has drawn months of protests and boycotts by opponents decrying the measure as discriminatory.

A one-day special legislative session ended abruptly after the state Senate voted against abolishing a law that has made North Carolina the latest U.S. battleground over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

The repeal legislation was rejected 32-16, leaving the bathroom restrictions in place statewide. The rejection followed Republican-led political maneuvering that tried repeal to a second provision that would have temporarily banned cities from affirming transgender bathroom rights.

Democratic Senator Jeff Jackson said the repeal effort was defeated because Republicans reneged on their deal to bring the measure to a floor vote with no strings attached.

“They got here with strings attached so it failed,” Jackson said. The moratorium on municipal bathroom regulations, described by Jackson as a “poison pill,” withered Democratic support, and in the end all 16 Senate Democrats joined 16 Republicans in voting against repeal. Another 16 Republicans voted for it.

The Senate then adjourned without acting on the temporary municipal ban. The state’s House of Representatives already had called it quits.

Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper accused Republican leaders of back-peddling on an agreement ironed out in lengthy negotiations. He said both chambers had the votes for a full repeal, but divisions within the Republican Party killed it.

“The Republican legislative leaders have broken their word to me, and they have broken their trust with the people of North Carolina,” he said.

Senate Republican leader Phil Berger earlier defended the proposal to link repeal with temporary municipal restrictions as a “good-faith” effort to reach a compromise, citing “the passion and disagreement surrounding this issue.”

BACKLASH OVER BATHROOM RESTRICTIONS

Earlier in the week, outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory had called the special session to consider scrapping the law, which passed in March and made North Carolina the first state to bar transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity.

Supporters of the statute, known as House Bill 2 (HB 2), have cited traditional values and a need for public safety, while opponents called it mean-spirited, unnecessary and a violation of civil liberties.

The national backlash was swift and fierce, leading to boycotts that have been blamed for millions of dollars in economic losses for the state as events, such as business conferences and the National Basketball Association’s 2017 All-Star Game, were moved out of North Carolina.

The pushback contributed to McCrory’s razor-thin defeat in a fall re-election bid against Cooper, an opponent of the law. On Monday, Cooper had said he reached a deal with state Republicans to do away with the law.

HB 2 was enacted largely in response to a local measure in Charlotte that protected the rights of transgender people to use public bathrooms of their choice.

The Charlotte City Council on Monday repealed its ordinance as a prelude to the state repealing HB 2.

Civil liberties and LGBT rights groups condemned the outcome, accusing the legislature of breaking its promise to do away with HB 2.

“It is a shame that North Carolina’s General Assembly is refusing to clean up the mess they made,” said James Esseks, an American Civil Liberties Union executive.

The North Carolina Values Coalition hailed the legislature for upholding the law and refusing to give in to “demands of greedy businesses, immoral sports organizations or angry mobs.”

(Writing by Letitia Stein, Daniel Trotta and Steve Gorman, additional reporting by David Ingram; editing by Tom Brown, G Crosse and Lisa Shumaker)

IMAGE: Opponents of North Carolina’s HB2 law limiting bathroom access for transgender people protest in the gallery above the state’s House of Representatives chamber as the legislature considers repealing the controversial law in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. on December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Two New Reports On LGBT Poverty Shatter Media Myth Of LGBT Affluence

Published with permission from Media Matters for America

Contrary to media misperceptions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) affluence, two new reports by the Williams Institute and Center for American Progress show the LGBT community continues to face higher rates of poverty, low wages, and economic insecurity than non-LGBT people.

The Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), released its findings “that poverty remains a significant problem for LGBT people” in a report on September 13. The study found that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would dramatically cut the poverty rate for same-sex couples — a 46 percent drop for lesbian couples and a 35 percent decline for gay male couples. The author, economist M.V. Lee Badgett, noted that the study showed that the notion that the entire LGBT community is wealthy is nothing more than “a misleading stereotype” and that “raising the minimum wage would help everybody.” From the Williams Institute:

The Williams study follows a September 8 report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) that focused on the significant barriers that LGBT people face in accessing middle-class economic security. The study analyzes how anti-LGBT discrimination in employment and housing creates major hurdles for economic security, contributing to wage gaps faced by the LGBT community. CAP reported that up to 28 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans have been fired, not hired, or passed over for a promotion as a result of their orientation. As many as 47 percent of transgender Americans have experienced an adverse job outcome, such as “being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion” because of their gender identity, according to the report. CAP also noted that “LGBT people often struggle to find stable, affordable housing” and experience disparately higher out-of-pocket health care costs, which compounds the impact of economic insecurity experienced by LGBT people and their families.

Media frequently focus on the buying power and affluence of the LGBT community, and on companies that eagerly court the “pink dollar.” On July 20, when one marking firm — Witeck Communications — published its findings that LGBT American buying power reached $917 billion in 2015, it was picked up by Bloomberg, The Huffington Post, CNBC, and USA Today. While another study quoted by Business Insider claimed LGBT Americans take “16% more shopping trips” and have more disposable income than their straight counterparts — claims echoed by a Nielsen study published in the National Journal in 2015.

Gary Gates of the Williams Institute told The Atlantic in 2014 that the downside of this media-created perception “is that those marketing studies looked at the LGBT community as a consumer market” and may only be seeing LGBT Americans who are in an economically secure enough situation to come out. Marketing studies don’t show that LGBT individuals face higher rates of poverty than their non-LGBT counterparts, or that 29 percent of LGBT Americans have experienced food insecurity in the last year. Right-wing media use the myth of LGBT affluence to dismiss LGBT discrimination and claim laws protecting the LGBT community are not needed. Currently, there is no federal law that protects people from being fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. CAP concluded its reporting by noting that the best way to address LGBT economic insecurity would be the passage of a broad-based federal nondiscrimination law called The Equality Act — which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations, employment, and housing.

Photo via Flickr/Ted Eytan

After Orlando, a Small-Town Pastor Finds Her Voice

Last Sunday started to bloom as it usually does for the Rev. Robin LaBolt, layer upon layer of her morning ritual gently unfurling.

Pastor Robin, as her parishioners call her, awakened at 5:30 a.m. and headed for the kitchen of her home in Sycamore, Ohio — population 847, by the most recent census count. She made coffee for herself before strolling into the living room and settling into her favorite chair. She reached into the basket on the floor and pulled out her iPad to check the news.

She doesn’t remember which news organization’s headline she saw first. Doesn’t matter. They all said the same thing: Twenty people were dead and dozens more were wounded after a gunman opened fire in a gay bar in Orlando, Florida.

“Dear God,” she said aloud in the empty room. “Dear God. No.”

Her immediate conclusion: It was a hate crime. “He goes into a gay bar and starts shooting?” she said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “It’s a hate crime.”

Pastor Robin knew the challenge waiting for her at Sycamore United Church of Christ.

“We’re a small town,” she said. “It’s not exactly an LGBT-friendly area. Not that anyone says bad things about them. They’d just rather not talk about it.”

Last fall, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, she approached her church’s governing board. “I need to know if I’m going to be able to officiate these weddings,” she said.

Permission denied.

“They were worried about backlash in the congregation and in the community,” she said. “I was devastated.”

After the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, silence at Sycamore United Church of Christ was no longer an option, she decided.

At 8 a.m., Pastor Robin walked out her front door and across the street to the church where she has served as head pastor for seven years. She sat down at her desk to think about how to alter her sermon. She had planned to talk about community. She still would, she decided.

She didn’t write down what she wanted to say about the massacre in Orlando. She didn’t have to. Her mind was full of thoughts for the people she knew in Sycamore’s LGBT community.

Later that day, she would send a text message to a close friend who is gay: How are you? I have been thinking of you. I love you.

I love you, too, her friend responded.

She sent another text to the mother of a gay child: I imagine you may be afraid … I will continue to work to make this a safe community. The mother forwarded the text to her children.

“Sometimes people don’t want to talk,” Pastor Robin said. “They just want to know that somebody cares.”

At the 10 a.m. service, Pastor Robin talked about the church community, lifting up the good works of the congregation. She celebrated a woman’s fifth anniversary of church membership, too.

Then she turned to the tragedy in Orlando.

When she mentioned the 20 dead victims, she could tell by the look of shock on so many faces that most had not heard the news.

“Something took hold of me,” she said. “It really was one of those Holy Spirit moments when I suddenly knew what to say.”

She told them, “I’m not interested in what your personal feelings are about gay people. But I am interested in what God has to say about all of us. God loves all of us, without exception — period. And that’s what we are called to do, too: Love everyone.”

Immediately, she felt such relief.

“I felt no fear,” she said. “Not being as explicit about this as I’ve wanted to be has taken a toll on me emotionally and spiritually. I was respecting them at the cost of my theological integrity. It felt like a sin of omission. It felt like a betrayal to my friends and my family.”

Pastor Robin and a few members of the congregation are organizing a vigil for the Orlando victims on Friday at 7 p.m. on the Wyandot County Courthouse lawn. She hopes that other pastors in the community will join her. It’s a fitting ending for her, as she is leaving the Sycamore church later this month. Long before the Orlando shootings, she had accepted a new position at a more progressive UCC church.

“I took this church as far as I could,” she said. “There are wonderful people here, but I am an activist. Our LGBT friends need us, their allies, to stay strong for them, to speak out for them. And right now, they need to know that we support them, that we know they are grieving.”

Her new church is in Spring Hill, Florida, only an hour and a half north of Orlando, where 49 innocent people were killed and more than 50 others are injured.

“Yeah, I thought about that,” she said. “I am ready.”

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate.

Photo: People take part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 13, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

House Republicans Block Their Own Spending Bill Because of LGBT Protection Amendment

A domestic energy and water spending bill was defeated last Thursday over an amendment that would prevent the U.S. government from hiring contractors that discriminate based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The amendment, which would enforce a 2014 executive order from President Obama, was sponsored by Rep. Sean Maloney and added by the full House on Wednesday night with a vote of 223-195. 43 Republicans sided with Democrats and voted to add the amendment and bar LGBT discrimination by federal contractors.

But when the House voted on the spending measure the next day, it ended up failing with a vote of 305-112, with House Democrats screaming “Shame! Shame!” as some Republicans changed their votes and blocked their own bill. According to the Democrats, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy stepped in and pressured seven GOP members to switch sides.

Minority Leader Nansy Pelosi said the bill’s blockage was a product of “House Republicans’ discrimination against the LGBT community,” adding that “they are willing to vote down their own appropriations bill in order to prevent progress over bigotry.”

Republicans argued, as they usually do when fighting anti discrimination legislation, that the amendment was an attack on religious liberties. “I could not, in good conscience, vote for the appropriations bill with this damaging amendment included,” said Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee. CNN reported that a Georgia Republican opened a morning meeting with a prayer warning colleagues that any Republican who voted for the LGBT provision “was going to hell.”

This isn’t the first time that Republicans hold the U.S. budget hostage. Last year, the appropriations process was delayed over a fight about flying the Confederate flag on federal ground. Last week, GOP leaders blocked another Maloney-sponsored LGBT amendment by keeping the vote open and convincing members to switch their vote. The amendment was meant to protect federal LGBT workers under a spending bill for military construction and veterans program.

The $37 billion spending measure is one of twelve annual appropriations bills that Congress must pass — and that are often used as vehicles for other proposals. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan blamed Democrats of this, accusing them of “looking to sabotage the appropriations process” by attaching anti-discrimination language to it.

Maloney, who is new York’s first openly gay congressman, plans to revive the amendment by adding it to other bills, and said that “the only way discrimination is going to win is if Kevin McCarthy keeps rigging the votes.”
Photo: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 25, 2016.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts