Tag Archives: sexual orientation

Federal court weighs key decision on LGBT-workplace bias

A rare full-court session of a U.S. appeals court in Chicago heard arguments this week on whether protections under a 1964 Civil Rights Act should be expanded to cover workplace discrimination against LGBT employees, as hopes dim among some gay rights activists that the question will be resolved in their favor following Republican election victories.

Several of the 11 judges at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals signaled they are ready to enter what would be a historic ruling broadening the scope the 52-year-old landmark law, with the court directing the toughest questions during the hourlong hearing at a lawyer who argued only Congress could extend the protections.

Judge Richard Posner repeatedly interrupted the lawyer representing an Indiana community college that was sued by a lesbian for alleged discrimination and at one point asked: “Who will be hurt if gays and lesbians have a little more job protection?” When attorney John Maley said he couldn’t think of anyone who would be harmed, Posner shot back, “So, what’s the big deal?”

Even if the 7th Circuit becomes the first U.S. appellate court to rule that the law covers sexual-orientation bias, legal experts say the issue is likely to land before the Supreme Court. Chances of a majority of justices agreeing that workplace protections should include LGBT workers will be slimmer if President-elect Donald Trump fills a high court vacancy with a social conservative.

A GOP-majority House and Senate also makes it unlikely the next Congress will amend the statute, said Chicago-based labor lawyer Barry Hartstein.

“You can’t count on Congress or the courts,” said Hartstein, who wants the act to cover LGBT workers.

President Barack Obama’s administration has taken the position that the law already prohibits discrimination of LGBT workers. It has criticized courts for a reluctance to reach the same conclusion.

The 7th Circuit decided in October to rehear the case of teacher Kimberly Hively, who claimed Ivy Tech Community College didn’t hire her full time because she is a lesbian. The full court vacated the July finding by three of its own judges that the civil rights law doesn’t cover sexual-orientation bias. A new ruling is expected within several weeks.

The hearing focused on the meaning of the word ‘sex’ in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the provision that bans workplace bias based on race, religion, national origin or sex. Multiple court rulings back Maley’s contention that Congress meant for the word to refer only to whether a worker was male or female. Given that, he said it would be wrong to stretch the meaning of ‘sex’ in the statute to also include sexual orientation.

The school’s lawyer conceded the law is imprecise, but added: “That makes it an issue for Congress.”

Several judges challenged him for arguing it’s not a federal court’s place to mandate that a law do something lawmakers didn’t originally intend for it to do.

“You seem to think the meaning of the statute was frozen on the day it passed,” Posner said to Maley. “That, of course, is false.” And the judge added: “Are we bound by what people thought in 1964?”

He and other judges pointed to bans on interracial marriage as examples of laws that changed or were expanded by courts as societal norms changed.

In his presentation, the teacher’s lawyer pointed to what he described as the absurdity of one 1980s Supreme Court finding that if workers are discriminated against because they don’t behave around the office by norms of how men or women should behave, then that does violate the Civil Rights Law. But if a man or woman is discriminated against at work for being gay that was found not to violate the Civil Rights Act.

“You can’t discriminate against a woman because she rides a Harley, had Bears tickets or has tattoos,” attorney Gregory Nevins said. “But you can if she’s lesbian.”


EEOC: Landmark sex discrimination lawsuit settled

A landmark lawsuit alleging sex discrimination based on sexual orientation has been settled for more than $200,000, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced this week.

The EEOC said in a statement that Pallet Companies, doing business as IFCO Systems, will pay just over $182,000 to Yolanda Boone, who alleged she was fired after complaining that her supervisor made comments regarding her sexual orientation and appearance.

The supervisor made comments including, “I want to turn you back into a woman” and “You would look good in a dress.”

The EEOC said in its lawsuit filed earlier this year in Baltimore that Boone’s supervisor made comments including “I want to turn you back into a woman” and “You would look good in a dress.”

The EEOC says IFCO Systems, which supplies and recycles wood pallets, will also donate $20,000 to a foundation set up by the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group. The EEOC says IFCO Systems, which has its North America headquarters in Tampa, Florida, has agreed to hire someone to develop a training program on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workplace issues.

In a court document explaining the settlement, IFCO Systems denies that it discriminated against Boone but agrees to the settlement terms. In a statement released through a lawyer, the company noted it did not admit to any discrimination, harassment or retaliation. The statement says that the company’s core values and corporate code of conduct have “long recognized the value of preventing sexual orientation discrimination and the benefit of ensuring diversity in the workplace.”

EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said in a statement that the settlement was the first resolution of a lawsuit challenging discrimination based on sexual orientation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The EEOC’s lawsuit says IFCO Systems hired Boone as a forklift operator in 2013 and fired her in 2014.

Consumer fraud complaint filed against ‘conversion therapy’ organization

A federal consumer fraud complaint was filed this week against People Can Change, an organization that uses “damaging and discredited claims that it can change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to the complainants.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed the complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the agency charged with protecting consumers.

The groups said “the junk pseudoscience that Virginia-based People Can Change uses to expose the American people to ineffective and dangerous ‘conversion therapy’ practices that have for decades been linked to serious harm, including depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.”

The organizations asked the FTC to stop PCC’s deceptive practices and investigate all practitioners making similar claims.

The complaint alleges that PCC’s advertisements and business practices, which expressly and implicitly claim that they can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, constitute deceptive, false and misleading practices and can cause serious harm to consumers, all in direct violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.

The complaint also alleges that, in violation of FTC guidelines, PCC, like other practitioners in the “conversion therapy” industry:

• Defrauds consumers into believing that being LGBT is a mental illness or emotional defect that needs to be cured, a false claim rejected for decades by the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, multiple United Nations committees, and every other major medical and mental health organization in the country;

• Falsely claims that its “services” have a basis in science, and fails to disclose that its practices can lead to depression, substance abuse, decreased self-esteem, and self-harm, including suicide;

• Targets and exploits highly vulnerable groups, including LGBT youth, who already experience bias and rejection at alarming rates in society and their own homes;

• Uses unsubstantiated testimonials, endorsements, and scientific claims to justify charging hundreds and thousands of dollars to give vulnerable individuals false hope that their core identity is something to be cured.

“Today, after decades of advocacy, the voices of conversion therapy survivors have carried all the way up to the highest levels of government,” said NCLR #BornPerfect campaign coordinator Samantha Ames. This historic complaint is not only the first clear opportunity the Obama Administration has had to end these deadly practices for good, but, if investigated fully, could very well be the final nail in the coffin of the entire conversion therapy industry.”

HRC president Chad Griffin, in a news release, added, “Conversion therapy is abusive, harmful to children, and we urge the FTC to join our call to ban its practice once and for all. This is dangerous junk science that uses fear and shame to tell young people the only way to find love and acceptance is by changing the very nature of who they are.”

“This complaint builds on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s groundbreaking lawsuit against New Jersey conversion therapy provider JONAH, in which a state jury unanimously found that its so called ‘therapy’ program, which incorporated PCC’s weekend-in-the-woods conversion therapy services, was consumer fraud and an unconscionable commercial practice,” said Scott McCoy, SPLC senior staff attorney. “Our case shut JONAH down, shed light on PCC’s harmful practices, and helped develop this important action to stop PCC and others in this industry from misleading and harming more people.”

California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia have passed laws protecting LGBT minors from “conversion therapy” and more than 20 states have introduced similar legislation this year. New York also is adopting regulations to protect youth from “conversion therapy” as a result of executive action by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The law firm Cooley LLP serves as counsel on the complainants’ case. 

Houston voters reject equal rights ordinance

Houston voters on Nov. 3 failed to affirm an ordinance that would have secured protections from discrimination for the people of the fourth largest city in the country.

The measure, Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which appeared on the ballot on Election Day, fell short of a majority vote.

The ordinance would have prohibited discrimination in places of employment, city contracting, housing, public accommodations and private employment at businesses on the basis of sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity and pregnancy.

American Civil Liberties Union national political director Karin Johanson, said, “The work in Houston must continue until everyone is protected from discrimination. Houston continues to be the only major American city without a law protecting its residents from discrimination. As a result, the only protection Houstonians have is a costly federal lawsuit. In the case of LGBT Houstonians there are no explicit protections at the federal or state level. A strong local coalition will continue to work to end discrimination against all Houstonians and the ACLU will support them.”

ACLU of Texas executive director Terri Burke added, “It’s a tragedy that Houston remains the only major city in Texas—indeed, the last big city in the United States — that does not extend equal rights protections to all of its residents and visitors. Those of us who have worked to bring equality to Houston will continue the fight to ensure that everyone can live fairly and equally under the law. The next mayor and newly elected members of Houston’s city council must prioritize the passage of a new equal rights ordinance as quickly as possible.”

The city council approved Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance in May 2014, but enforcement was placed on hold pending the outcome of the citizens’ vote on Election Day.

Kenneth D. Upton Jr., senior sounsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas, said after the election, “We knew this vote would be an uphill battle and we witnessed the opponents of HERO pull out all the stops, launching a campaign full of distortions and fear-mongering designed to mislead and confuse voters.

“But we also saw an impressive coming together of the Houston business, faith and civic communities in Houston Unites, which campaigned tirelessly in support of HERO and for ensuring that all Houstonians can live their lives and provide for their families without fear of discrimination. Sadly, the ugly and divisive tactics of the opponents of HERO succeeded in persuading a majority of Houstonians to vote no. But we have faced disappointments before that did not stop us — this fight for fairness is far from over.”

The coalition that makes up Houston Unites includes the ACLU of Texas, Equality Texas, NAACP Houston Branch, Texas Freedom Network, Freedom for All Americans and the Human Rights Campaign.

The coaliton’s statement read, in part, “Although Houston won’t yet join the 200 other cities that have similar nondiscrimination measures, the fight continues. We will continue telling the stories of Houstonians whose lives would be better off because of HERO – including people of color, people of faith, veterans who have served our country, women, and gay and transgender people.”

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

Survey: Two-thirds of small businesses oppose the right to refuse services to LGBT customers

Two-thirds of small business owners surveyed by the advocacy group Small Business Majority said businesses shouldn’t be able to refuse goods or services to LGBT customers. Fifty-five percent said businesses shouldn’t be allowed to deny wedding-related services to same-sex couples because of an owner’s beliefs.

Five hundred small business owners were surveyed on the issue in late April, two months before the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality.

A majority of the survey participants said they would support laws giving additional legal discrimination protections for LGBT people. Eighty percent said they’d support a federal law to prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals in restaurants, hotels and other businesses that are open to the public.

In addition, 81 percent said favor a federal law banning employment discrimination based on the sexual orientation or gender identity of a prospective or current employee. For decades, equality advocates have tried — and failed — to enact such a federal law.

Despite their responses to the survey, however, the two-thirds of the companies that participated said they had no policy in their companies protecting LGBT employees from discrimination. Of the companies that did have such a policy, 64 said they created it because all customers and employees should be treated equally, and about 40 percent said having such a policy makes it easier to attract and retain good workers and draw more customers.

The Small Business Majority said that 47 percent of the survey participants identified as Republicans, 33 percent as Democrats and 19 percent as independents.

Bruce Jenner: ‘I am a woman’

Former Olympic champion Bruce Jenner told the world that “for all intents and purposes, I am a woman” in an extraordinary television interview aired Friday about gender confusion he first felt as a youngster trying on his mother’s and sister’s dresses.

The 1976 decathlon champion, known better to a new generation as the patriarch of television’s omnipresent Kardashian clan, took out his ponytail to let his long hair flow past his shoulders.

“I’m not this bad person,” said Jenner, who hoped the two-hour interview could help others struggling with gender identity issues. “I’m just doing what I have to do.”

The E! Entertainment network announced that Jenner would be part of a documentary series about the transition that would begin on July 26.

The two-hour interview with Diane Sawyer was filmed in February in Los Angeles and New York, before a fatal car accident in which Jenner was involved.

Jenner said he self-identifies as “her,” not a specific name. But he told Sawyer he felt comfortable using the pronouns “he” and “him,” a designation that is an important issue for many in the transgender community, which believes that transgender people should be referred to by the pronouns with which they choose to identify.

Jenner said his “brain is more female than it is male.” He said he began gender reassignment therapy in the 1980s — taking hormones, having surgery to make his nose smaller and having hair removed from his face and chest — but gave it up. As Jenner, 65, got older, he realized that if he got sick and faced death without facing up to this issue, “I’d be so mad that I didn’t explore that side of my life.”

As a young boy, Jenner felt an urge to try on his mother’s and sister’s dresses.

“I didn’t know why I was doing it,” he said. “It just made me feel good.”

Jenner said he has never been sexually attracted to men, and he wanted to make clear to viewers that gender identity and sexuality were separate things.

“I am not gay,” he said. “I am, as far as I know, heterosexual. I’ve always been with a woman, raising kids.”

Jenner said he has not decided whether he will undergo sexual reassignment surgery.

“These are all things that are out there in the future for me to explore,” he said. “There’s no rush for that. And I would do it so quietly that nobody in the world would know.”

Jenner’s four oldest children appeared on the interview special to support their father, but not the two girls he had with Kris Kardashian. He said his stepdaughter Kim has been a big supporter, urged on by husband Kanye West, but that his stepdaughter Khloe was taking it the hardest.

Jenner’s first two wives offered messages of support; Kris Kardashian told ABC she had no comment but tweeted after the interview aired, “Not only was I able to call him my husband for 25 years and father of my children, I am now able to call him my hero.”

Jenner told Sawyer that Kris was having a difficult time with it, and that if she better understood it, the couple would probably still be together.

Jenner’s 89-year-old mother also was interviewed, saying she was more proud of Bruce than when he stood as an Olympic champion in Montreal.

The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund offered a statement of congratulations to Jenner.

“We hope that Jenner inspires others to find the courage to be open about who they are,” said Michael Silverman, the fund’s executive director. “And we hope that Jenner’s message of authenticity and openness will shine a light on the unique challenges that transgender people face and help further equality.”

Jenner showed Sawyer a closet filled with dresses and men’s clothes. Sawyer said she had a private dinner with Jenner where he wore a dress, but the former Olympian did not appear in one in the ABC special.

Jenner said his two youngest daughters, suspecting that each other was secretly using her clothes, set up a computer to catch the other in the act — only to find out it was their father raiding their closets.

“I would like to think that we can save some lives here,” said Jenner, who admitted he once considered suicide at a low point when seen by paparazzi heading to a surgery to have his Adam’s apple shaved back. “I have a feeling this is my cause in life. This is why God put me on this Earth, to deal with this issue.”

20 anti-LGBT bills introduced in Texas Legislature

At least 20 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in the Texas Legislature this cycle, more than in any other state, according to a tally by the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Texas.

Leaders of the two civil rights groups say the anti-gay lawmakers are outside the mainstream in Texas, where polls increasingly show public opposition to discrimination against LGBT people.

“Business leaders in Texas have pushed back against proposed anti-LGBT legislation citing its negative consequences for the economic health and well-being of the state,”said Equality Texas executive director Chuck Smith. “The clearest way for the Lone Star State to demonstrate that it is truly an open and welcoming environment for everyone in the labor force is to pass pending legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in employment, housing, and public accommodations.”

HRC national field director Marty Rouse said, “These bills are nothing more than despicable attacks on LGBT people and their families. It’s time for all fair-minded Texans to stand up and say enough is enough; these are our family members, neighbors, friends, and coworkers. It’s time to move forward and embrace fairness and equality for all Texans.”

The anti-LGBT bills include:

• SJR 10, HJR 55, HJR 125, HB 1355, which would allow individuals to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT people and other minorities. These bills go beyond the religious protections already in Texas’ laws and the U.S. Constitution.

Similar legislation, including the newly signed law drawing so much controversy to Indiana, have been opposed by major companies including Apple and Wal-Mart out of concern that the measures undermine existing civil rights law and harm the business climate.

• HB 1556, SB 1155, HB 1911 and SB 343 would nullify all standing non-discrimination ordinances and resolutions and making any future nondiscrimination efforts by local governments illegal.

• HB 1747, HB 1748, HB 2801 and HB 2802, dubbed “bathroom surveillance bills,” would make it illegal for transgender people to use appropriate sex-segregated facilities, such as bathrooms, in accordance with their lived gender.

• HB 623, HB 1745, SB 673 and HB 4105 aim at stopping marriage equality in Texas by limiting the ability to use state funds or the ability of local officials to engage in activities that support the marriages of same-sex couples.

• HB 2555 would seek to provide that the prohibitions against marriage equality in the Texas Constitution and statutes would still be enforceable regardless of a federal court ruling on the issue.

• HB 3567 and HB 3602 seek to allow religious organizations and individuals to not recognize valid same-sex marriages.

• HB 3890 would prevent same-sex spouses in legally recognized marriages from receiving equal marriage benefits. Specifically, the bill would make same-sex marriages ineligible to qualify for public retirement benefits.

The civil rights groups identified four pro-LGBT measures offered in Texas: 

• SB 856 would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in employment, housing and public accommodations.

• HB 627 would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in employment.

• HB 2860 would prohibit discrimination in housing based upon sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

• HB 1522 would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in public accommodations.

Mormon church backs LGBT anti-discrimination bill in Utah

More than 20 years ago, Troy Williams was a young Mormon missionary who didn’t know how he would reconcile his sexual orientation with his faith when he came home to live in conservative Utah.

“I was just scared. As a gay Utahn, I couldn’t imagine for myself a positive future,” said Williams, now 45 and an outspoken advocate for gay rights.

As a young man, Williams said he never would have envisioned a scene like the one that unfolded at Utah’s state Capitol on March 4, where state lawmakers, Mormon church leaders and LGBT advocates joined together to back a landmark proposal that bars discrimination against gay and transgender individuals while protecting the rights of religious groups and individuals.

“This is a historic day,” said Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah. “People from diverse backgrounds have come together to craft what no one thought was possible.”

The measure has a rare stamp of approval from the Mormon church and stands a high chance of passing in Utah, where the church is based and many state lawmakers and the Republican governor are members of the faith. The bill gets its first hearing on March 5.

State Sen. Stuart Adams, a Republican who led negotiations on the proposal, said at the news conference on March 4 that they’ve found a way to respect the rights of some while not infringing on the rights of others.

“If Utah can do this, my opinion, it can be done anywhere else in the nation,” Adams said.

The proposal prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation when it comes to housing or employment. Religious groups and organizations would be exempt from the requirement, as would Boy Scouts of America, which has a ban on gay adult Scout leaders and has close ties to the LDS Church.

The church said it is fully behind the legislation, which follows the principles set out in the faith’s recent nationwide call for laws that balance both religious rights and LGBT protections.

“In this approach, we acknowledged that neither side or no party may get all they want,” D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said. “It is better if both sides get most of what is desired than to have a winner-take-all where one side loses.”

LGBT activists have spent years pushing for a statewide non-discrimination law in Utah, but their efforts were fast-tracked this year after the Mormon church issued its call for this type of legislation.

Sen. Steve Urquhart, a St. George Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said the Boy Scouts were not involved in negotiations on the Utah proposal and did not request the exemption. He said the organization was included because of a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision recognizing the organization’s constitutional right to exclude gay members.

The Boy Scouts now allow openly gay youth.

Boy Scouts of America national spokesman Deron Smith said the organization didn’t have any comment on the legislation. Utah Boy Scouts leaders deferred comment to the national organization.

Scouts for Equality, an organization critical of the Scouts’ ban on gay leaders, criticized the exemption.

“The fundamental principle of non-discrimination means that there aren’t special exemptions,” Scouts for Equality executive director Zach Wahls said in a statement. “Non-discrimination means `non-discrimination,’ not `non-discrimination except for the Boy Scouts.'”

The compromise also attracted criticism from some conservatives.

“It’s heavy on protection for special classes of people that I don’t believe should be a special class, but it’s very light on religious protections,” Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative family-values group Utah Eagle Forum.

Ruzicka said the proposal needed more protections for religious individuals to act in accordance with their beliefs.

Beyond banning discrimination based on identity and sexual orientation, the proposal stipulates that employers can adopt “reasonable dress and grooming standards” and “reasonable rules and polices” for sex-specific restrooms and other facilities, as long as those standards also include accommodations for gender identity.

It protects the right of an individual employee to express their religious or moral beliefs in “a reasonable, non-disruptive or non-harassing way,” as long as it doesn’t interfere with the company’s business. It likewise bars employers from punishing someone who expresses those beliefs, as long as they don’t hurt business.

The Mormon campaign pushing for these types of laws is the latest example of a shift in tone by the LDS Church. While it has moved away from harsh rhetoric and is preaching compassion and acceptance, the church insists it is making no changes in doctrine and still believes that sex is against the law of God unless it’s within a marriage between a man and a woman.

Associated Press writers Brady McCombs and Kelly Catalfamo contributed to this story.

LGBT activists launch #DiscriminationExists campaign

Same-sex couples can legally marry in 37 states, but in some of those states the newlyweds can be fired for simply coming out and telling co-workers how they celebrated on their wedding day.

So LGBT activists across the country are engaged this winter in the #DiscriminationExists campaign, reminding people that nondiscrimination laws must be enacted or updated to provide protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“We’ve made great progress securing the freedom to marry in many states, but some of those states still do not have nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, leaving many of us vulnerable to unfair treatment,” said Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of Equality Federation, a national coalition of state LGBT civil rights groups. 

In the first days, more than a million Twitter users joined the #DiscriminationExists campaign and drew attention to efforts to:

• Halt a Christian right push to enact religious exemption legislation allowing businesses to discriminate or refuse to serve LGBT people. The American Civil Liberties Union is tracking religious exemption bills in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Indiana and Michigan.

• Pass federal legislation protecting LGBT people. The proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act would ban discrimination in employment based on gender identity and sexual orientation. However, the number of LGBT groups pushing Congress to take up a comprehensive civil rights bill is on the rise.

• Adopt or expand state and local laws to ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity. More than 111 million people — 35 percent of the population — live in states where same-sex couples can marry but where LGBT people can be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“A majority of states still struggle to reach even a basic level of equality for LGBT people,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “Most states lack statewide non-discrimination laws to protect LGBT people — putting countless individuals and families at risk and creating inequalities in adoption and surrogacy, employment benefits and youth safety and well-being.”

HRC recently released its annual State Equality Index, which provides an assessment of legislation affecting LGBT equality.

Wisconsin has non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation but activists continue to work to build support for amending the statute to protect transgender people. On the index, HRC placed Wisconsin and six other states in the category of “Building Equality” — states with marriage equality that have taken steps toward “more robust LGBT equality.” 

There are two higher categories on the index, “Working Toward Innovative Equality,” which includes seven states and the District of Columbia, and “Solidifying Equality,” which includes seven states.

But the majority of states — 29 —fall into the lowest category, “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality.” These states have laws undermining LGBT equality — from criminalizing HIV and sodomy to allowing religious-based discrimination — and lack any protections from discrimination for LGBT people.

“Leaders in every state are making enormous progress to ensure equality for all, yet there remains a patchwork of nondiscrimination laws and policies,” said Isaacs. “I know we can do better so that all Americans have the freedom to be our authentic selves.”

Justice Department releases guidelines against profiling by feds

The Obama administration issued guidelines on Dec. 8 that restrict the ability of federal law enforcement agencies to profile on the basis of religion, national origin and other characteristics, protocols the Justice Department hopes could be a model for local departments as the nation tackles questions about the role race plays in policing.

The policy, which replaces decade-old guidelines established under the Bush administration, also will require federal agencies to provide training and to collect data on complaints.

Civil rights advocates said they welcomed the broader protections, but were disappointed that the guidance will exempt security screening in airports and border checkpoints and won’t be binding on local and state police agencies.

“It’s so loosely drafted that its exceptions risk swallowing any rule and permit some of the worst law enforcement policies and practices that have victimized and alienated American Muslim and other minority communities,” Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, said in a statement. “This guidance is not an adequate response to the crisis of racial profiling in America.”

Though the policy – five years in the making – was not drafted in response to recent high-profile cases involving the deaths of black individuals at the hands of white police officers, it’s nonetheless being released amid an ongoing national conversation about standards for police use of force, racial justice and the treatment of minorities by law enforcement.

“Particularly in light of certain recent incidents we’ve seen at the local level – and the widespread concerns about trust in the criminal justice process which so many have raised throughout the nation – it’s imperative that we take every possible action to institute strong and sound policing practices,” said Attorney General Eric Holder, referring to the August shooting by a white police officer of an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, and the chokehold death weeks earlier of a man in New York City.

Holder, who has made the release of the guidelines a priority before leaving the Justice Department next year, called the guidelines a “major and important step forward to ensure effective policing” by federal law enforcement.

The policy extends a prohibition on routine racial profiling that the Justice Department announced in 2003 under then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. Civil rights groups have long said those rules left open too many loopholes by allowing an exemption for national security and by failing to extend the ban to characteristics beyond race and ethnicity. The new guidelines would end the carve-out on national security investigations and widen the profiling curbs to prohibit the practice on the basis of religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The rules cover federal agencies within the Justice Department, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They also extend to local and state officers serving on task forces alongside federal agents. Some activities of the Department of Homeland Security are covered, such as civil immigration enforcement, though border and airport security screening are exempt along with interdictions at ports of entry.

The policy was laid out in a memo that provides concrete examples of law enforcement actions that would and would not be permissible. The memo makes clear that agents may take race, ethnicity and other factors into account during investigations in limited circumstances, such as if they have information linking a person of a particular characteristic to a specific crime.

That means, for instance, that if U.S. Park Police officers are told to be on the lookout for a fleeing bank robbery suspect of a particular race and gender, they’d be permitted to use those factors in deciding which drivers to pull over on a highway.

Still, the policy’s practical impact remains to be seen, especially since local police officers are the ones primarily responsible for traffic stops, 911 calls and day-to-day interactions with the communities they patrol. Though not binding on local agencies, the Obama administration views the guidelines as a roadmap, with Holder encouraging local law enforcement officials to adopt the federal policy.

The administration would welcome “any decision that’s made by local law enforcement to apply these policies at the state and local level as well,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Monday.

Some advocacy groups for minority communities said the new guidelines didn’t go far enough, in part because they don’t cover state and local law enforcement and would still permit circumstances in which religion and national origin can be taken into account. Muslim Advocates, a national organization, noted that federal law enforcement would still be permitted to “map communities based on race, ethnicity or religion” and use that information to recruit informants.

“You can’t be against profiling in some contexts but for it in other contexts,” said Rajdeep Singh, policy director of the Sikh Coalition.

Some also complained about the airport and border exemptions for the Department of Homeland Security, which agency officials attributed to “the unique nature of border and transportation security as compared to traditional law enforcement.”

“This does not mean that officers and agents are free to profile,” the department said in a statement. “To the contrary, DHS’ existing policies make it categorically clear that profiling is prohibited,” while allowing for limited circumstances in which race, ethnicity and other characteristics could be considered.