The “Equality Act” Offers a Path Toward Eliminating LGBT Discrimination

Last month, the country took an important step toward guaranteeing equality for LGBT Americans when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. With varying levels of enthusiasm, all states are acknowledging that marriage equality is now the law of the land. However, same-sex couples are not out of the woods yet when it comes to discrimination. In more than half of all states, an LGBT person who simply tells a coworker about his or her nuptials could be given a pink slip for no other reason than their sexual orientation.

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Although many Americans assume that workers cannot be fired for identifying as LGBT, the fact is that in 29 states, laws banning discrimination in the workplace, as well as in housing and public accommodations, do not protect people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Workers can be fired simply for being gay. In a move that we hope will address this problem, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled earlier this month that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bans workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, as we’ve seen in the past, the courts frequently disagree, and this decision only protects against anti-LGBT discrimination at work.

Thankfully, we have at our fingertips the permanent solution we need. Last week, Democrats in both chambers of Congress introduced the “Equality Act,” robust antidiscrimination legislation designed to protect the LGBT community not just in the workplace, but also in housing, education, public accommodations, and federal programs. The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes and will prevent individuals from using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to legally discriminate against the LGBT community.

The decision for our lawmakers is simple. Acceptance of the LGBT community is well beyond the tipping point in this country. According to a poll released earlier this year by the Human Rights Campaign, almost 70 percent of likely voters support a federal nondiscrimination law. Another poll released earlier this month found that nearly 60 percent of small business owners across the political and religious spectrum oppose laws allowing individuals, associations, or businesses to legally refuse service to anyone based on religious beliefs.

In a relatively short amount of time this country has made dramatic progress toward equality for LGBT individuals, yet discrimination persists. To root out inequality and discrimination, our lawmakers must take a proactive approach to protecting our most vulnerable communities. We hope that Congress will capitalize on the promise of the “Equality Act” to make our country safer and more equal for LGBT Americans, including our Hispanic LGBT brothers and sisters.

Our Changing Conversation on Race and Ethnicity: Fostering Dialog for Millennials

By Patricia Foxen, PhD, Deputy Director of Research, NCLR
enGRtub - ImgurThere is no doubt that our country is going through a profound period of reflection regarding the treatment of race. Last Friday, the elation produced by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the legality of same-sex marriage was contrasted, later that day, by the overwhelming sadness behind President Obama’s eulogy at Clementa Pinckney’s funeral. The death of Reverend Pinckney, one of nine victims killed in Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church by a 21-year-old racist, reminds us how very far we still have to go in confronting and healing race relations.

Watch the moving speech below:

By his own admission, the shooter’s beliefs were largely influenced by organizations, such as the Council of Conservative Citizens, that foment racial fear and hatred through disinformation. As history buffs know, such hate mongering, used by powerful actors to rationalize the social exclusion of entire groups of people, has long involved dehumanizing “others.” The contrast between this hateful imagery and the kind, generous spirit of those killed in Charleston made the violence all the more shocking. But while most Americans are appalled by the explicit and virulent racism the killer demonstrated, more subtle forms of structural racism and implicit bias continue to taint the everyday experiences of our nation’s minorities.

Latinos have not been spared from this “othering” process, as Donald Trump’s recent derisive comments on Mexican immigrants clearly illustrate. Thankfully, leading Latino organizations (including NCLR) responded swiftly to Trump’s characterization of Mexican immigrants as criminals, drug dealers, and rapists, leading Macy’s and NBCUniversal, among others, to cut ties with the presidential candidate. However, the consequences of negative stereotyping of Hispanics and immigrants—which can range from bias and discrimination in housing, employment, and education all the way to violent hate crimes—have tended to be largely absent from our nation’s on-going discussions on race.

YvhqQYr - ImgurGiven the rapidly changing demographic landscape in this country, where non-Whites will become a majority of the population within the next two decades, and the various forms of racial and ethnic tensions that lurk beneath the surface, it is high time that we open up the national discussion to include everyone: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Arab Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and White Americans.

In an effort to help in this process, NCLR partnered last year with MTV’s Look Different campaign, which helps young people think through and speak about race and other forms of bias. Recently, Look Different announced the July 22 release of White People, a groundbreaking television documentary that explores whiteness in America. In addition, the campaign’s website has added Look Deeper, a powerful interactive feature and safe space where young people can hold conversations about bias in their own lives and in the news. A Creator Competition will also allow people to submit ideas for video projects about racial privilege.

If we want to prevent the propagation of racism and exclusion in future generations, we must encourage youth to speak openly and honestly about race and ethnicity, and we must provide them with the language, tools, insight, and empathy to do so.

Our Students Deserve a Better Opportunity

On April 22, in a 6–2 decision (Justice Elena Kagan recused herself), the Supreme Court found that a state can prohibit considering an applicant’s race when determining admission for public colleges and universities. The decision, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, ruled on a question that was taken up by the court centered on a 2006 Michigan referendum known as Proposal 2, which added language to the state’s constitution that prohibits using race as a factor when determining admission. The decision leaves the court’s 2003 Gratz v. Bollinger case intact, which affirmed a public institution’s ability to make race-conscious decisions.

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The larger implication of this decision is that states with growing or prominent Latino populations can pass amendments similar to Michigan’s, which could prevent a public institution from making race-conscious decisions. This means that the benefits of experiencing diversity that come with interacting with people who are different from you, which were so eloquently outlined in the military and Fortune 500 amicus briefs, and were mentioned in Grutter v. Bollinger, may be lost for allstudents. In addition, according to Lyle Denniston from SCOTUSblog, while this ruling was “focused on the use of race in selecting new students for public colleges, it presumably also would permit voters to end race-conscious policies in [the] hiring of state and local employees and in awarding public contracts.”

NCLR is concerned with the ramifications of this decision and will be monitoring the situation carefully in the coming months. Latino students deserve a better opportunity to succeed in this country and this decision doesn’t bring us any closer to equality.

Justice Sotomayor made the unusual move of reading her dissenting opinion from the bench. In it, she chided the majority for wanting to “wish away” this country’s problems with race rather than tackle them. We agree with Justice Sotomayor and thank her for standing up for the minority communities that will be affected by the court’s misguided opinion.

You can also say “thanks” to Justice Sotomayor. Just fill out the form below and we’ll send her your message of support.

SB 1070 Taken Down Yet Another Notch

SCOTUS_picEarlier this week, the Supreme court dealt another blow to supporters of the infamous anti-immigrant SB 1070 law. The court declined to review a specific provision of SB 1070 that would have made it illegal to transport or harbor undocumented immigrants. That provision had already been blocked by the U.S. District court in Phoenix and an injunction was later upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Were it not for the tireless work of our Arizona Affiliates, this case might still be making its way through the courts. The case was led by our Affiliates in Arizona, with Valle del Sol listed as the lead plaintiff.

NCLR President and CEO, Janet Murguía, applauded the court’s decision in the statement below.

“The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold this injunction unequivocally affirms what we have known to be true since this law was passed in 2010: SB 1070 is an unconstitutional infringement on the civil rights of all Arizonans. This legislation is a reckless attempt to make racial profiling and discrimination the law of the land in Arizona, tarnishing the state’s reputation and needlessly costing millions of dollars to defend it in the courts. We applaud the efforts of our Affiliates in Arizona, including the lead plaintiff in this court case, Valle del Sol, and the supporting plaintiff, Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as well as our allies throughout the state. They have all tirelessly pushed back against this legislation in order to ensure that all Arizonans, especially Latinos, are treated by law enforcement fairly, with dignity and respect.”

Score One for the Voters!

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When it comes to voter registration, the federal government trumps all jurisdictions.  That was the ruling the U.S. Supreme Court issued today in the voter ID case known as Gonzalez v. Arizona.

At issue was an Arizona law that would have required potential eligible voters to prove their citizenship in order to register to vote.  The federal government, however, requires no such provision.  In a decisive 7–2 opinion, handed down by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court said that federal law “forbids states to demand an applicant submit additional information beyond that required by the federal form.”

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