Friday, December 11, 2009

Meet Cynthia Nixon and help ACLU of Florida LGBT Advocacy Project Kick off the Adoption Campaign

Please join the ACLU of Florida's LGBT Advocay Project on Saturday, January 9, 2010 at The Shore Club in South Beach, for a poolside cocktail party featuring Cynthia Nixon, Sex and the City star and LGBT rights advocate. Proceeds will support the ACLU's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights work in Florida and across the country.

Florida's Adoption Ban is the only law in the country that categorically prohibits gays and lesbians from adopting. This discriminatory law hurts thousands of children who are languishing in Florida's foster care system by denying them a permanent home.

For tickets, go to:

Poolside Cocktail Party:

$25/person, 8:30-10:30 p.m.
Open Bar and hors d'ouevres
Guest DJ

VIP Reception:

$250/person, 7:30-9:00 p.m.
Open Bar and hors d'oeuvres
Sponsorships available

Attire: Miami Chic/Cocktail Party

Featured Guests:

Cynthia Nixon,
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen,
Florida Senator Nan Rich,
Florida Representative Mary Brandenburg,
Howard Simon,
ACLU of Florida Executive Director,
Robert Rosenwald,
ACLU of Florida LGBT Advocacy Project Director

U.S. Senate to markup domestic partnership bill

A Senate committee has set Wednesday as the day it will markup legislation that would provide benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees, DC Agenda has learned.

The Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee will consider the bill — known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act — during a business meeting starting at 10 am. Dec. 16. The markup will occur in Room 342 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The panel will consider amendments to the legislation before voting on whether to report out the bill to the Senate floor.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), who chairs the committee, is the sponsor of the legislation. It currently has 26 co-sponsors.

On the House side, the Oversight & Government Relations Committee reported out its version of the bill last month, 23-12. Lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is the sponsor of the bill, which has 138 co-sponsors. A time for a floor vote has not yet been announced.

Monday, December 7, 2009

TLDEF Files Employment Discrimination Complaint Against McDonald's for Refusing to Hire Transgender Woman

TLDEF today filed a Complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations against an Orlando McDonald's restaurant for refusing to hire 17-year-old Zikerria Bellamy because she is transgender. We want you to be the first to know.

On July 10, 2009, Zikerria applied online for a position as a Shift Manager or Crew Leader at McDonald's. On July 28, after managers at McDonald's learned that Zikerria is transgender, she received the a voicemail message from one of the managers. The hear the voicecmail, go to:

Zikerria never received the job interview she sought. McDonald's refused to hire her.

Zikerria's story is all too common. Transgender people face tremendous discrimination in the workplace. According to a recent survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, 47% of transgender people report being fired, or denied a job or promotion, just because of who they are.

Few protections exist for transgender people who experience employment discrimination. In 38 states, there is no law protecting transgender people from being fired because of who they are. Federal law similarly offers no job protection for transgender people.

In Florida, while no law explicitly addresses discrimination based on gender identity, administrative agencies in Florida have ruled that transgender people are protected by the Florida Human Rights Act's prohibitions on sex and disability discrimination. The Competitive Workforce Bill, which would add gender identity and sexual orientation to the Florida Civil Rights Act, was introduced in the Florida legislature on November 20.

At the federal level, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) (S.1584) would address discrimination in the workplace by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote an employee based on the person's gender identity or sexual orientation at companies with fifteen or more employees. The legislation was introduced in the United States Senate on August 5, 2009. On November 5, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held the Senate's first hearing on the latest version of ENDA. A version of ENDA was also introduced in the United States House of Representatives on June 24, 2009. The House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on the measure on September 23. Little has happened since.

According to a 2007 survey, 72 percent of Americans agree that "fairness is a basic American value and employment decisions should be based solely on qualifications and job performance, including for transgender people." In a 2002 poll, 61 percent of those polled said that we need laws to protect transgender people from discrimination. President Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and has stated his belief that anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
What You Can Do


As you've done in the past, please help us spread the word about what happened to Zikerria. Let's do our best to make sure it never happens again. Post the voicemail on Facebook, tweet about it, write about it in your blogs and embed the voicemail there, too. The louder we raise our voices, the more people will listen!


We've joined with our friends and partners at organizations around the nation to demand that Congress take swift action to pass the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA). In light of continuing delays in the House of Representatives, we must state clearly and unequivocally: Passing basic job protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people must happen now.

Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121 and ask to speak to your Representative (have your zip code handy and they'll help identify your member of Congress).

When you are connected with your Representative's office, give your name and your city and then let them know:

I am calling in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H. R. 3017/S. 1584), which will protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from job discrimination. No one deserves to be fired from their job because of who they are. No more delays--it is time to pass ENDA.

You can also tell them that you've heard about Zikerria Bellamy's case. If you get voicemail instead of a person, leave a message - they count just as much as if you reach a staff member. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you've called in the past, no problem. Call again.


McDonald's is one of the largest corporations in the world. To say that its resources dwarf ours is an epic understatement. We can't win this alone. We need your help to do it. Please donate now to help us win this fight for equal rights. Your support continues to inspire us. Thank you!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sen. George LeMieux of Florida: ENDA Legislator of the Day

Senator George LeMieux was recently appointed by Florida Governor Charlie Crist after the resignation of former Senator Mel Martinez. Will he support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, S1584?

There have been some press reports that Senator LeMieux may be somewhat friendly towards gay rights, at least in his heart. However, the political climate in Florida doesn't make it easy to express these thoughts openly. Even the senior Senator from Florida, Senator Bill Nelson, who is reckoned a friend of the LGBT community, has not come out in favor of ENDA.

What they need, in order to come out with support of ENDA, is to hear that there is support for it. That comes from one place: telephone calls from you. Please call Senator LeMieux and ask him to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, S1584.

According to Wikipedia, Senator LeMieux was Chairman of the Florida-based law firm of Gunster Yoakley & Stewart, P.A. and served as Chief of Staff to Governor Charlie Crist, was former Deputy Florida Attorney General, and is credited with spearheading Crist's successful campaign for Governor. At 40, LeMieux is the youngest member of the U.S. Senate.

It has been reported that he has taken very public stands in favor of LGBT rights: health benefits for same sex couples, gay adoption, and publicly counseled against a Broward County petition drive to overturn the county's gay rights law.

An important wrinkle here is the fact that Gov. Crist will be running for Florida's Senate seat in 2010.

In the cheekily titled "Governor Crist Plays Both Sides," an article in the South Florida Blade suggests that Senator LeMieux might be amenable to supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

If LeMieux votes in favor of ENDA, it will appeal to liberal voters, and Crist can take the credit for appointing him. But then when it's Crist's turn to run for office, he can just shrug, point at LeMieux, and say "I didn't tell him to do it, don't blame me." With both sets of voters on his side, he'll be a sure thing in 2010.

An interesting read, and definitely fodder for the Machiavellian among us. While there may be some risk to Crist in this strategy, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is making a rare pre-primary endorsement of Crist over one of his main opponents, Mario Rubio.

Senator LeMieux is clearly very fiscally conservative, and it's notable that the issues he is pushing as a freshman Senator are all fiscal issues. There's nary a social issue in there. In addition, he has specifically excluded the possibility that he would run for the Senate seat in 2010. However, he has indicated that he loves public service and that it's "the greatest job in the world," and is working hard to create a public profile on fiscal issues.

The Miami Herald has an article about him today: Florida's new senator battles `placeholder' stigma He wants to be seen as politically active. That suggests a possible run for office in Florida And where would he likely run for office? He's from Broward County, which is quite liberal. What would Broward County voters want to see from George LeMieux if he ran for office there? I would think voting for ENDA would be a feather in his cap in Broward County, and voting against ENDA would be seen as a political problem.

No doubt Senator LeMieux wants to please his friend, Governor Crist, and Governor Crist himself might be against ENDA, but not very strongly. Senator LeMieux could secure his own political future by voting for ENDA, and such a vote could, as pointed out by the South Florida Blade, even help Gov. Crist in his Senatorial bid.

It all remains to be seen. Certainly, it would make a big difference for Senator LeMieux to hear of widespread high-profile support for ENDA.

Please call Senator LeMieux (pronounced "leh-mew," according to his voicemail) and ask him to support S1584.

Here's his contact info.

LeMieux, George S. - (R - FL)
DC Office: (202) 224-3041
(Toll free DC Capitol line: 866-220-0044)
Fax: 202-228-5171

District Offices:
Orlando 407-254-2573
Tampa 813-977-6450
Fort Myers 239-332-3898
Coral Gables 305-444-8332
Palm Beach Gardens 561-842-8300
Pensacola 850-433-2603
Jacksonville 904-398-8586

If you're not sure what to say when you call, click here for a "Step-by-Step Script For Calling Legislators On ENDA."

This was originally written by Dr. Jillian T. Weiss at Bilerico. It is reposted here with her permission.

Florida Activists Frustrated On Gay Rights

By Carlos Santoscoy. On Top Staff Writer

December 03, 2009

Gay activists in Florida are growing increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of progress on gay rights in the state.

“Almost two decades have passed since Florida passed a law addressing the gay and lesbian community,” said Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. “It's frustrating.”

Hoch's group is among the handful of grassroots organizations working for change at the local level. He talked to On Top Magazine about his concerns after a new scorecard ranked Florida among one of the lowest states on gay and lesbian rights.

The report compiled by the group ranked Florida at 43 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only Ohio, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi and Tennessee ranked lower. While no state received a perfect score, California, Iowa, New Jersey and Vermont received high marks. Only Iowa and Vermont have legalized gay marriage.

Florida is the only state that specifically forbids gay adoption. Failure to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations also effected Florida's low score.

Hoch said his group has sponsored a non-discrimination bill for the past three years.

“Although 25% of state legislators signed on as sponsors for the bills in 2009, all were Democrats and the bills went nowhere,” he said. “With Republicans still firmly in control of the Legislature, there is a long way to go.”

R. Zeke Fread, director of Pride Tampa Bay, agreed, saying the report's conclusions were “very disappointing but not surprising”given the political climate in Tallahassee.

“I don't see that changing anytime soon, because it's run by the Republicans,” he added.

But Fread said he sees hope in local politics, pointing to Tampa's recent passage of a transgender non-discrimination law, the election of several openly gay mayors – Steve Kornell in St. Pete and Ken Keechl in Broward County – and the appointment of Jane Castor, who is openly lesbian, as police chief of Tampa.

While Hoch and Fread might be frustrated, they both remain optimistic.

“I'm optimistic that we are turning the corner here in Florida,” Hoch said. “Last July, Organizations United Together (OUT) – a newly formed federation of Florida's local LGBT and allied organizations – received a $150,000 grant to strengthen local organizations to create an environment where statewide LGBT policy change is possible.”

And Hoch said plans are already underway to reintroduce a gay protections bill in the Legislature next year. The Access to Opportunity Act (ACT) is expected to attract support from Republicans and the business community because it creates a framework for business owners to address discrimination complaints.

“The proposed law would also allow Florida to retain $2 million in federal funding to investigate housing discrimination claims,” Hoch added.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Meredith Baxter comes out on Today Show

'Family Ties' actress to reveal she's lesbian, source says

December 2, 2009
BY BILL ZWECKER Sun-Times Columnist

It's just a coincidence Meredith Baxter recently appeared in the Hallmark Channel's ''Bound By a Secret,'' but ironically the actress revealed a very personal secret on ''Today'' this morning.

Baxter, perhaps best known for her seven years playing TV mom Elyse Keaton on ''Family Ties'' in the 1980s, will be the latest star to come out of the closet, revealing she is a lesbian.

Meredith Baxter took a Caribbean cruise catered to lesbians, according to the National Enquirer.

Baxter's TV career

While Baxter's spokesman, Howard Bragman, declined to comment on the story Tuesday, a solid source confirmed the actress will talk about her decision to go public on the NBC morning show.

Married three times and the mother of five children, Baxter is the focus of a current National Enquirer story revealing that the former Emmy nominee had been on a ''Sweet Caribbean Cruise'' specifically targeted to lesbians -- a cruise also taken by openly gay actress Kelly McGillis. According to the Enquirer report, Baxter was ''traveling with a female friend, and seemed very relaxed and comfortable.''

In another intriguing twist, the official Web site of the Meredith Baxter Fan Club states the actress is ''noted for her accessible portrayals of intelligent, independent women who struggle with the challenges before them.''

• Following in the footsteps of her aunt, ''All About Eve'' star Anne Baxter, Meredith first found fame in the 1970s, co-starring on TV's "Bridget Loves Bernie" with David Birney, who would later become her second husband. She went on to receive two Emmy nominations for playing Nancy Lawrence Maitland on the esteemed TV drama ''Family.''

After her long '80s run with ''Family Ties,'' Baxter directed and starred in a long list of TV movies, including the CBS after-school special ''Other Mothers,'' in which she played a lesbian mother raising a young son -- a performance that garnered a Daytime Emmy nomination in 1993.

• The appearance on ''Today'' is something of a mini-reunion for Baxter, who temporarily co-hosted with Matt Lauer in 2006.

• Baxter's five-year marriage to Robert Lewis Bush ended in 1971, a union that produced two children. The actress and Birney are the parents of three children. After 15 years of marriage, the couple divorced in 1989.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Benefits for same-sex partners are expanding

By Ashley Surdin, Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, November 27, 2009

LOS ANGELES -- With public attention focused largely on battles over whether gay couples should be able to marry, a less-noticed movement to grant health and other benefits to same-sex partners is gaining significant ground across the country in courtrooms, in legislatures and at the ballot box.

In New York last week, the state's highest court upheld policies granting spousal benefits to some gay public employees who were married in another state or country.

In Washington state, voters recently endorsed an "everything but marriage" bill that expands domestic partnership rights to lesbians, gays and unmarried elderly couples.

In California last week, two federal judges ruled in separate cases in favor of awarding individual same-sex couples benefits for their spouses that previously had been denied.

And in Congress last week, a House committee approved legislation that would provide benefits, including health insurance, retirement and disability, to same-sex partners of federal employees.

"The picture on benefits and domestic partnerships has moved quite dramatically for same-sex couples, but marriage is the issue that has gotten all the attention and energy, so some of that progress has been eclipsed," said Jane Schacter, a law professor at Stanford University. "Certainly, there has been movement on marriage as well, but nothing as much as domestic partnerships."

Much of the attention has focused on a stinging loss for gay rights advocates in Maine this month, when voters repealed a state law that would have allowed same-sex couples to wed. The vote made Maine the 31st state to block same-sex marriage through a public referendum.

Although advocates of marriage equality had drawn more money, political support and volunteers in Maine than in similar campaigns nationwide, the outcome affirmed what some polls already indicated. About 57 percent of Americans oppose granting same-sex marriages legal status, compared with 40 percent who support it, according to a May Gallup poll. But 67 percent of Americans say same-sex domestic partners should have access to health insurance and other benefits, the same poll found.

Even one of the most prominent opponents of same-sex marriage, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has shown willingness to support rights outside of marriage. This month, in a surprise move, the church backed proposed Salt Lake City laws that would prohibit discrimination against gays in housing and employment.

Many private employers already offer domestic partnership benefits. About 57 percent of Fortune 500 companies, for example, provide domestic partner health insurance benefits, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization.

While states are offering benefits as well, the federal government has lagged behind because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, thus barring spousal benefits to same-sex partners.

But that is changing, according to Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Sears cited President Obama's memorandum in June that extended a limited set of benefits to same-sex partners, allowing them to be added to long-term-care insurance policies and to use sick leave to care for partners.

"I think really the newest thing happening here is that it's reaching the federal level," Sears said. "For the public sector to remain competitive, it needs to offer domestic partnership benefits."

And gay rights groups believe the nation's support for same-sex marriage will also grow.

"Public support for marriage hasn't caught up to public support for relationship recognition benefits, but it will," said Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a New-York based discrimination watchdog. "Because at the end of the day, the public sees that marriage and all the benefits associated with it are about . . . what people need to honor their commitment to their spouses and protect them."

D.C. Council votes to legalize same-sex marriage

By Tim Craig, Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to legalize same-sex marriage in the District, as the city moves quickly to join five states in allowing gay couples to marry.
After months of debate, the council passed the bill 11 to 2. It still must take a second vote in two weeks before the measure can go to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who has said he will sign it.

If the bill survives a required congressional review period, the District will join New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Massachusetts in allowing same-sex marriage.

Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), one of two openly gay members of the council, said before the vote he thought it was a day that "would never come."

"It really speaks to the long and rich tradition of tolerance and acceptance that does make up the sense of place in the District of Columbia," said Catania, the chief sponsor of the bill.

Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), another key sponsor, said the vote is a culmination of a decades-long struggle by gay rights leaders in the District.

"I don't think it's a giant step; it's a final step," Mendelson said.

Council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) were the only two members to vote against the bill.

Before casting his vote, Barry gave an impassioned speech noting that he is a longtime supporter of gay rights. But Barry said that his constituents oppose same-sex marriage, and that he believed the council should have authorized a referendum on the issue.

"I stand here today to express in no uncertain terms my strong commitment to the gay and lesbian, bisexual, transgender community on almost every issue except this one," Barry said.

He then went on to plead with gay and lesbian residents not to hold his "no" vote against him.

"It's not fair to make this one issue a litmus test as to one's commitment to human rights, to justice, and I resent those who would make it a litmus test," Barry said.

Private polls show that black voters are far more likely than white voters in the District to oppose same-sex marriage. Both Barry and Alexander represent majority black wards and they also have stated that they were under considerable pressure from African-American ministers in their wards to vote against the bill.

But council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) said he had no choice but to support the bill, even though many of his constituents oppose same-sex marriage.

"I sit here as a ward member and worry about the consequences but remind everyone . . . we must stand up for the least of those among us" Thomas said.

Bill Filed in Florida House Would Ban Bias Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity


Staff Writer, Government Employee Relations - a BNA Publication

December 1, 2009

Florida Rep. Kelly Skidmore (D) Nov. 20 filed a bill (HB 391) that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

The bill, known as the Competitive Workforce Act, defines ‘‘sexual orientation’’ as ‘‘an individual’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, or isexuality,’’ and defines ‘‘gender identity or expression’’ as ‘‘a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.’’

It applies to all employers of 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.

‘‘I am proud to be the sponsor of this very important legislation,’’ Skidmore said. ‘‘I look forward to working with OUT, Save Dade, the Palm Beach County Hu,man Rights Council and other organizations and individuals in Florida who believe that discrimination is wrong and ought to be illegal,’’ she added.

Bill Introduced Previously.

Skidmore has introduced previous incarnations of the measure, including one during a special legislative session in October 2007. That bill included sexual orientation but not gender identity discrimination, which was added last year, according to Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.

The bill was praised Nov. 20 in a statement by the OUT Advocacy Network, part of Organizations United Together (OUT), ‘‘a federation of local lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender and allied organizations dedicatedto achieving equality and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians.’’ PBCHRC is a member of OUT.

‘‘OUT strongly supports passage of antidiscrimination legislation, and we will work with local advocacy organizations throughout the state to build support for the law at the local level, district by district,’’ Executive Director Ted Howard said in the statement.

‘Interesting Strategy.’

Hoch told BNA Nov. 24 that ‘‘it’s an interesting strategy we have this year’’ for securing passage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender anti-discrimination legislation. He noted that historically LGBT activities only have been able to secure
the support of Democrats, which represent the minority in the Florida Legislature.

However, he said, a ‘‘comprehensive bill’’ currently is in the works that would, in addition to prohibiting sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination,
redefine ‘‘public accommodation’’ in line with federal law—which currently cover more establishments than state law—so that businesses can defend actions before
state administrative agencies rather than in federal court.

That bill also would amend the language of Florida’s fair housing statute to match that of the federal Fair Housing Act, allowing the state to retain $2 million in
federal funding that could be withdrawn without such a change, Hoch said.

‘‘We understand that discrimination is a problem and needs a solution,’’ but that defending against charges should be ‘‘easier and more affordable,’’ he added, noting
that he believes these provisions will garner the additional support of both the business community and the disability community.

Howard added that the anti-discrimination bill last year ‘‘has a record number of sponsors,’’ and ‘‘we hope to increase the number of sponsors this year.’’

Hoch said that the legislative session runs between March and May, giving his and other organizations time to educate legislators and the public about why a statutory
change is necessary. ‘‘It is not illegal in most parts of Florida to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and a lot of people do not know that," he said.

Whether or not HB 391 moves forward ‘‘really depends on what else is going on in the legislature,’’ Hoch told BNA. Because of the short legislative session, other
measures may be given priority, such as last year, when state budget problems took center stage, he said.

‘‘This year, we have reason to hope for improved chance for progress on the bill,’’ Howard added.