TIME LGBT

Everything You Need to Know About the Debate Over Transgender People and Bathrooms

Peter Dazeley

This is the latest civil rights fight over America's restrooms

This week a judge in Virginia district court will consider a question coming before lawmakers and school principals across the country: should transgender Americans always be allowed to use the restrooms where they feel the most comfortable? And is it discrimination when they’re forced to do otherwise? Here is a primer on why the bathroom question is such a hot-button issue and why it’s likely to show up our newsfeeds in coming months.

Bathrooms and fights for civil rights go hand-in-hand. In the Jim Crow era, bathrooms—along with water fountains and lunch counters—were places that might be marked with “white only” signs. The bathroom has also been a battleground for women and handicapped workers fighting for equal treatment in the workplace. Because of the nature of things people do in the bathroom, it can be a space where they feel exposed or vulnerable and therefore resist change. It is also, as transgender icon Janet Mock says, “the great equalizer for all of us.”

Transgender people have to fight for authenticity as well as equality. The average person might have their age questioned when buying liquor or their ID checked at the airport, but people doubt transgender people’s true identity on a much more regular and deeper level. For transgender kids, that might take the form of parents insisting that they’re going through a phase or putting them in conversion therapy. For adults, that might be people questioning whether Caitlyn Jenner is really just doing it all for the publicity. “There is still this reluctance to accept trans people for who they are,” Mock says.

To opponents, “bathroom bills” suggest that what transgender people feel isn’t valid. So-called “bathroom bills” introduced by social conservatives in states such as Arizona, Maryland, Kentucky and Florida typically mandate that people use the bathroom that matches the sex on their birth certificate. That’s a marker that is difficult for most transgender people to change, as well as one that, for them, is a bureaucratic indicator decided by someone else that should not be weighed against their innate sense of self. Just a handful of states have “modernization” processes that make it easier for transgender people to change their birth certificates. Some in the community have protested by taking selfies in the bathrooms that they would have to use under such laws, highlighting how those spaces don’t jibe with their appearance or their feelings.

Conservatives argue that such bills are necessary to protect people’s privacy and public safety. Some social conservatives will say that they think transgender people are deluded. “I don’t want men who think they are women in my bathrooms,” testified a Maryland woman in a 2014 hearing on an LGBT non-discrimination bill. But a more common argument is that allowing transgender women to use the women’s room would open the doors up for sexual predators or peeping teenage boys to use those protections as a dangerous ruse to get into female spaces. GOP politician Mike Huckabee made this point in a much-talked-about joke that made the rounds earlier this summer.

No evidence has been uncovered showing that such fears are warranted. Several states, school districts and corporations have adopted their own policies affirming transgender people’s right to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and have not reported problems, opponents of bathroom bills say. Progressive media watchdog Media Matters called up the 17 largest school districts governed by such policies and asked them if they had experienced any incidents of harassment or inappropriate behavior; they reported none had. Liberal lawmakers and activists say such rhetoric is just fear-mongering cloaking LGBT phobias.

Bathroom policies affect transgender people in serious ways. Transgender students have reported being told that they needed to use a unisex nurse’s office or staff restroom—missing out on class time, being teased and feeling “quarantined.” More than a quarter of transgender adults say they’ve been denied access to “gender-appropriate facilities.” In a study from UCLA’s Williams Institute, nearly 70% of transgender people said they had experienced verbal harassment in a situation involving gender-segregated bathrooms, while nearly 10% reported physical assault. Transgender people will often seek out unisex bathrooms to avoid conflict that makes them feel like they don’t belong in one space or the other.

More political fights about this issue are coming. Members of Congress recently introduced the Equality Act, a non-discrimination bill that would help protect LGBT Americans in spheres from the workplace to the jury box to the bathroom. Currently, there is no federal law that explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Most states also lack such statutes. Social conservatives in California, meanwhile, have vowed to get a “Privacy For All” initiative on the ballot that would require people to use school and government facilities that correspond with the marker on their birth certificate.

In the meantime, courts will continue to help decide the issue. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice have found that discrimination against transgender people—including denying them bathroom access—is a form of sex discrimination covered under the Civil Rights Act. While some have said this proves that additional protections are not necessary, advocates for explicit non-discrimination laws say that they’re important for enforcement, educating the public and making sure a person doesn’t have to go to court to make their case. The decision from Virginia’s district court will add to the precedents, spurring on the debate as LGBT activists choose their next battles after marriage equality.

TIME LGBT

Exclusive: Facebook, Corporate Giants Back New LGBT Protections

The leading companies aim to expand LGBT rights and also their customer base

The makers of Cheerios cereals and Nike sneakers will join the makers of iPhones and Ziploc baggies Tuesday in supporting proposed sweeping legislation that would ban discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans at their jobs, homes and schools.

Food conglomerate General Mills, Nike, American Airlines and Facebook were set to sign onto anti-discrimination legislation known as the Equality Act, the companies said in statements obtained by TIME ahead of their release. The corporate giants, long supporters of gay rights, are joining peers Apple, Dow Chemicals and Levi Strauss in lobbying Congress for that legislation. It was the latest sign that opponents of gay rights are finding themselves standing opposed to business interests. And while the public messaging is clear — the makers of such everyday goods want LGBT Americans to have easier everyday lives — there is an admitted financial interests in adding loyal customers to these brands.

“At General Mills, we have a long history of supporting LGBT equality and the time has come in this country for full, federal equality for the LGBT community,” said the food-maker behind Cheerios, Haagen-Dazs ice creams and Progresso soups. “Ensuring fairness in our workplaces and communities is both the right thing to do and simply good business.”

Indeed, it is that business case that has begun to break through. When Indiana lawmakers moved forward with a bill earlier this year that would have made it more difficult for gay and lesbian employees of major corporations to go about their daily lives, industry worked with liberal activists to beat back the legislation. Apple, American Airlines, Salesforce and the NCAA college leagues all threatened action unless Indiana lawmakers reverse course.

It’s a model that organizers are hoping to replicate with Congress.

Federal lawmakers now are considering a sweeping non-discrimination law that would bar individuals from being denied services — including housing and jobs but also mortgages and education — based on their sexuality or gender identity. Although the Supreme Court ruled that all Americans have the right to wed, regardless of whether the couple is heterosexual or homosexual, many gays and lesbians still face discrimination in their everyday lives.

More than 206 million Americans — nearly two thirds of the country — live in states where employers can fire someone for being gay. Only 18 states and the District of Columbia prohibit housing discrimination based on a tenant’s sexuality or sexual identity. Three others prohibit discrimination based on sexuality. The remaining 166 million Americans live in states where landlords can evict someone for their sexuality.

Polls find most Americans think these rights are already protected for LGBT residents. Activists and businesses are counting on that false but widespread belief to minimize political opposition that is fading in numbers but not in intensity for those who remain. Social conservatives are willing to buck the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party on this issue, and it is likely to be a driving factor as a crowded field of hopefuls vies for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

In crafting the bill, lawmakers consulted a coalition that included the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and National Council on La Raza in the hopes of pitching the new legislation as a civil rights bill for the 21st Century. The American Civil Liberties Union, the National Women’s Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign also offered their advice.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest civil rights group for LGBT Americans, has been aggressively lining up corporate backing, too. The lobbying group already scores major corporations on how well they serve their gay and lesbian employees and is enjoying momentum after a rapid expansion of public support for same-sex marriage. The group helped General Mills, Nike, American Airlines and Facebook come out in support of the proposals.

Nike, a global brand of sporting gear headquartered in Oregon, explained why it was backing the bill, co-authored by its home-state Sen. Jeff Merkley. “We believe that diversity drives innovation and allows us to attract and retain world class talent. We need fair and equitable laws that prevent discrimination,” the company said in a statement.

The nation’s largest airline in passenger traffic said it was good for morals as well as the bottom line. “We at American Airlines are proud of our long history of supporting LGBT equality,” the airline said in a statement. “Now is the time for full equality for the LGBT community in the United States.”

At the same time, Facebook said in a statement of its own: “Ensuring fairness in the workplace is a fundamental principle at Facebook and we support legal protections for LGBT Americans as outlined in the Equality Act.”

For the Human Rights Campaign, a million-dollar lobbying organization with a shining headquarters in Dupont Circle, the new allies were merely the most recent additions to its victories. Yet the group has shown no signs of receding after the marriage victory and is expanding its efforts to states to end their laws that sanction discrimination against LGBT neighbors.

“We are tremendously grateful to these corporate leaders for their support of the Equality Act and the basic principle that all Americans should be able to live their lives free of discrimination,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said. “These companies agree: equality is good for business and the time for full federal equality is now.”

TIME LGBT

Mormon Church to ‘Re-Evaluate’ Relationship After Boy Scouts End Gay Ban

Robert Alexander/Getty Images A Boy Scout wears a sash displaying his earned merit badges at a ceremony in New York City. The merit badge sash is worn by a Boy Scout during formal activities and events and not during Troop meetings or campouts.

The Church says its relationship with the Scouts "will need to be examined"

The Boy Scouts of America’s decision on Monday to lift a ban on openly gay adult leaders and employees has “deeply troubled” the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that institution announced.

The church has had a formal relationship with the Scouts since 1913, and organizes its own troops in Mormon communities. As of 2010, the Church’s troops counted 142,085 Cub Scouts and 205,990 Boy Scouts.

Now, the church said in a statement, it will be reevaluating the relationship with the Scouts. “The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation,” the organization wrote. “However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America.”

Members of the church’s governing councils are not in the office at this time of year, but will meet in August to “examine” the relationship with the Scouts.

TIME LGBT

Boy Scouts Officially End on Ban on Gay Leaders

Church-sponsored Scout units will be able to keep the ban for religious reasons

(NEW YORK) — The Boy Scouts of America on Monday ended its blanket ban on gay adult leaders while allowing church-sponsored Scout units to maintain the exclusion for religious reasons.

The new policy, aimed at easing a controversy that has embroiled the Boy Scouts for years, takes effect immediately. It was approved by the BSA’s National Executive Board on a 45-12 vote during a closed-to-the-media teleconference.

“For far too long this issue has divided and distracted us,” said the BSA’s president, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “Now it’s time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good.”

The stage had been set for Monday’s action on May 21, when Gates told the Scouts’ national meeting that the long-standing ban on participation by openly gay adults was no longer sustainable. He said the ban was likely to be the target of lawsuits that the Scouts likely would lose.

Two weeks ago, the new policy was approved unanimously by the BSA’s 17-member National Executive Committee. It would allow local Scout units to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation — a stance that several Scout councils have already adopted in defiance of the official national policy.

In 2013, after heated internal debate, the BSA decided to allow openly gay youth as scouts, but not gay adults as leaders. Several denominations that collectively sponsor close to half of all Scout units — including the Roman Catholic church, the Mormon church and the Southern Baptist Convention — have been apprehensive about ending the ban on gay adults.

The BSA’s top leaders have pledged to defend the right of any church-sponsored units to continue excluding gays as adult volunteers. But that assurance has not satisfied some conservative church leaders,’

“It’s hard for me to believe, in the long term, that the Boy Scouts will allow religious groups to have the freedom to choose their own leaders,” said the Rev. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“In recent years I have seen a definite cooling on the part of Baptist churches toward the Scouts,” Moore said. “This will probably bring that cooling to a freeze.”

Under the BSA’s new policy:

—Prospective employees of the national organization could no longer be denied a staff position on the basis of sexual orientation.

—Gay leaders who were previously removed from Scouting because of the ban would have the opportunity to reapply for volunteer positions.

—If otherwise qualified, a gay adult would be eligible to serve as a Scoutmaster or unit leader.

Gates, who became the BSA’s president in May 2014, said at the time that he personally would have favored ending the ban on gay adults, but he opposed any further debate after the Scouts’ policymaking body upheld the ban. In May, however, he said that recent events “have confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and which we cannot ignore.”

He cited an announcement by the BSA’s New York City chapter in early April that it had hired Pascal Tessier, the nation’s first openly gay Eagle Scout, as a summer camp leader. Gates also cited broader gay-rights developments and warned that rigidly maintaining the ban “will be the end of us as a national movement.”

The BSA faced potential lawsuits in New York and other states if it continued to enforce its ban, which had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000. Since then, the exclusionary policy has prompted numerous major corporations to suspend charitable donations to the Scouts, and has strained relations with some municipalities that cover gays in their non-discrimination codes.

Stuart Upton, a lawyer for the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal, questioned whether the BSA’s new policy to let church-sponsored units continue to exclude gay adults would be sustainable.

“There will be a period of time where they’ll have some legal protection,” Upton said. “But that doesn’t mean the lawsuits won’t keep coming. … They will become increasingly marginalized from the direction society is going.”

Like several other major youth organizations, the Boy Scouts have experienced a membership decline in recent decades. Current membership, according to the BSA, is about 2.4 million boys and about 1 million adults.

After the 2013 decision to admit gay youth, some conservatives split from the BSA to form a new group, Trail Life USA, which has created its own ranks, badges and uniforms. The group claims a membership of more than 25,000 youths and adults.

 

TIME Television

The Most Moving Tweets About I Am Cait

Here's how Twitter reacted to the premiere of Caitlyn Jenner's reality show

Twitter on Sunday night was overflowing with praise for Caitlyn Jenner’s new E! reality show I Am Cait. Trans advocates, celebrities and viewers alike lauded the show, more than anything, for ensuring that the spotlight was no more trained on Jenner personally than the issues facing the larger transgender community, and especially those without the resources or privileges enjoyed by the legendary Olympian.

From fellow transgender advocate Jazz Jennings to singer Courtney Act, the Twitterverse was full of gratitude that a show like I Am Cait not only exists, but appears to be taking every measure to make the most of its platform. Several tweeters also pointed out the significance of the support shown to Jenner by her mother, Esther, and as well as son-in-law Kanye West.

 

TIME Kenya

Obama Defends Gay Rights on Kenya Trip

The African country sentences homosexuals to prison time

There is perhaps no wider chasm between the United States and Africa than over the issue of gay rights. The tension was thrown into sharp relief during U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Kenya, the first visit of a serving U.S. President to this East African Nation. In a joint press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday, following what appeared to have been a warm and productive meeting behind closed doors, Obama made it clear that the issue of gay rights in Kenya remained unresolved.

“I believe in the principle of treating people equally under the law, and that they are deserving of equal protection under the law and that the state should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation,” Obama said. “I’m unequivocal on this.”

Kenyatta’s government has staunchly defended laws imposing up to 14 years in prison for homosexuality. Kenya and the United States, he said, shared many values, from a love for democracy, entrepreneurship and families.

Gay rights were not one of those values.

“There are some things that we must admit we don’t share—our culture, our societies don’t accept. It is very difficult for us to be able to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept.”

As I wrote in a recent cover story on gay rights in Uganda, this issue has resonance across the continent.

By and large, Africa as a whole is far behind the United States and Europe in regards to acceptance of homosexuality. Legislated homophobia is on the rise across the continent, even as LGBT people have made historic gains elsewhere in the world. According to a 2013 report by the Pew Research Center, a large majority of North Americans, Latin Americans and residents of the European Union now accept homosexuality. Same-sex marriages are legal in 20 countries, including the United States. But in Africa, where the vast majority of people—98% in Nigeria, 90% in Kenya and 96% in Uganda, Senegal and Ghana, according to the Pew poll—say homosexuality is unacceptable, many religious leaders have watched that progress with alarm. Conservative politicians have also sought to protect their nations from what they see as a Western import by drafting anti-gay legislation even more draconian than the colonial-era sodomy laws that remain on the books in many African countries.

“Over the last five years, we have seen more laws being proposed and being passed into law in Africa,” says Laura Carter, Amnesty International’s adviser on sexual orientation and gender identity. “Even in places where the laws have not changed, enforcement has increased.” Thirty-four of 54 African nations currently criminalize homosexuality. According to Amnesty, South Sudan, Burundi, Liberia and Nigeria have implemented increasingly punitive penalties for people who engage in homosexual acts. Gambia now calls for life in prison. Mauritania, Sudan and parts of both Somalia and Nigeria permit courts to impose the death penalty in certain cases for individuals found guilty of same-sex activity.

The Pew survey also describes how intolerance for homosexuality tends to be more intense in communities where there are high levels of religious observance, and African nations stand out as some of the most observant in the world. Religious conservatives, Christian and Muslim alike, may be losing ground with the public on LGBT rights in the West, but in Africa, where church and mosque remain the cornerstones of society and politics, anti-­homosexual campaigners are determined to hold ground. Ty Cobb, global director for the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT-rights advocacy group, says the growing backlash against homosexuality in Africa over the past several years is a proxy war in the cultural conflict that is being lost by the evangelical Christian movement in the U.S. and beyond.

Kenyatta argued that Kenya had other priorities, listing heath, education and road development, along with greater representation of women in society. “This is why I repeatedly say that, for Kenyans today, the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue,” he said. “Maybe once, like you have overcome some of these challenges, we can begin to look at new ones.”

But when it comes to human rights, Obama made clear, it’s not so much a matter of priorities, but a matter of what is right. Drawing a comparison between anti-gay discrimination and the U.S. laws that once justified slavery and segregation, he brought in an unexpectedly personal angle. “As an African-American in the United States, I am painfully aware of the history of what happens when people are treated differently, under the law, and there were all sorts of rationalizations that were provided by the power structure for decades in the United States for segregation and Jim Crow and slavery, and they were wrong.”

He was not calling for a change in religious doctrine in Kenya, he said. “The state just has to say we’re going to treat everybody equally under the law.”

As Kenyatta made clear, little is likely to change in terms of Kenyan laws regarding gay rights. That was not the expectation, says U.S. presidential spokesman Ben Rhodes, who was accompanying Obama on the trip. Obama, he said, has been raising the issue during all his Africa travels. “Frankly, what we can do is keep a spotlight on [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender] rights and raise this issue and make sure that governments know that they are going to be hearing about this from us and hopefully from our partners in the international community.”

Nonetheless, Obama’s passionate defense of equality in a country that has long claimed him, a grandson of Kenya, for their own, may yet plant a seed that leads to greater acceptance down the line.

TIME Kenya

Obama Pushes African Nations to Treat LGBT People Equally

"When a government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those habits can spread"

(NAIROBI, Kenya)—President Barack Obama nudged African nations Saturday to treat gays and lesbians equally under the law, a position that remains unpopular through much of the continent. Obama’s Kenyan counterpart responded by calling the matter a “non-issue” for his country.

Obama tackled the sensitive issue on his first full day in Kenya, the country of his father’s birth. He drew on his own background as an African-American, noting the slavery and segregation of the U.S. past and saying he is “painfully aware of the history when people are treated differently under the law.”

“That’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode and bad things happen,” Obama added during a joint news conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. “When a government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those habits can spread.”

Kenyatta was unmoved, saying gay rights “is not really an issue on the foremost mind of Kenyans. And that is a fact.”

A number of Kenyan politicians and religious leaders had warned Obama in outspoken terms that any overtures on gay rights would not be welcomed in Kenya, where gay sex is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Obama’s visit to Kenya — the first by a sitting U.S. president — has been long sought by this East African nation where he is widely considered a local son.

Acknowledging that some Kenyans have been frustrated that it took him until the seventh year of his presidency to visit, Obama joked that he didn’t want the rest of Africa to think he was “playing favorites.” He will also visit Ethiopia on this trip.

Still, he noted the U.S. had concerns about violence that erupted in Kenya after its 2007 election. Kenyatta faced charges related to that violence in the International Criminal Court, though those charges were later dropped. Deputy President William Ruto, however, still faces charges at the ICC.

Obama said he was encouraged by statements Kenyatta has made about the need to root out corruption in the country, saying that’s one issue that could slow down Kenya’s economic growth and development.

Much of Obama’s discussions with Kenyatta centered on counterterrorism cooperation. Kenya has been grappling with deadly attacks from extremists, most notably Somalia-based al-Shabab, a network linked to al-Qaida.

Al-Shabab has conducted major attacks in Kenya, including the 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall and an April attack in Garissa town that killed nearly 150 people.

“This is an existential fight for us,” Kenyatta said.

The two leaders opened their day-long meetings with a joint appearance at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, a U.S.-sponsored business conference. Obama announced $1 billion in commitments from the U.S. government, as well as American banks, foundations and philanthropists.

“Africa is on the move,” Obama declared.

TIME Congress

Lawmakers to Introduce Historic LGBT Non-Discrimination Bills

Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong—Getty Images Same-sex-marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage in Washington on June 26, 2015

After marriage equality, the fight for full civil rights begins

On Thursday, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. David Cicilline are set to propose historically broad non-discrimination bills that will protect Americans from losing their jobs—or from being evicted from their apartment or other forms of discrimination—because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Supporters of the bills are using the fact that marriage is newly legal in all 50 states as both a springboard and justification for this next battle to win civil rights for the LGBT community.

The Equality Act will cover the areas of employment, education, housing, public accommodations, jury service, federal funding and credit. “You can be married on Saturday, post your wedding pictures on Facebook on Sunday and be fired from your job or kicked out of your apartment on Monday,” says Cicilline, who became the fourth openly gay member of Congress in 2010. The legality of same-sex marriage, he says, “creates a sense of urgency,” because it will lead to LGBT people living more openly but consequently expose them to the possibility of more discrimination.

There is a vast misconception that it is already illegal to discriminate against gay people—one poll put the number at 87% who believe so—but there are no federal laws that set out protections for LGBT Americans. Twenty-one states currently prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 18 of those, as well as the District of Columbia, also include gender identity. “There is a huge hurdle our community needs to overcome to convince people that this kind of discrimination is—A—perfectly legal, and—B—actually exists,” says Winnie Stachelberg from the Center for American Progress.

In December, that progressive think tank put out a report to refute the notion that protections for LGBT Americans are “unnecessary,” as conservatives such as House Speaker John Boehner have argued. One in ten lesbian, gay or bisexual people say they’ve been fired from a job because of their sexual orientation, they reported, while nearly one in three transgender people reports being treated unequally at a retail store.

A lesbian couple in Michigan, where a GOP lawmaker tried but failed to pass a non-discrimination law last year, says a pediatrician recently refused to see their six-day-old baby after she “prayed” on the matter. There was no statute under which the couple could file a complaint, says report author Sarah McBride. But, she adds, non-discrimination laws aren’t just about recourse. “They’re also about preventing bad behavior,” she says. “They’re also about making clear what our values are as a country and what we expect our citizens to do, and that’s to treat everyone fairly and with respect.”

A bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBT people when it comes to hiring and firing has been introduced in some form—and then failed to become law—in nearly every Congress for the past two decades. But rather than have another go at passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or even a broader bill that creates a new law, Merkley and Cicilline are trying a different strategy: amending existing statutes like the Civil Rights and Fair Housing acts so that those long-established protections are extended to cover sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to race, sex, religion or national origin.

“The only way that we can achieve full equality for the LGBT community,” says Cicilline, “is to make them part of this well-accepted civil rights construct.”

The move is designed, in part, to make it harder to object to the bill—because the Equality Act will “literally be extending the exact same protections” other classes already have—and to stymie the inevitable objections about religious freedom, which almost always crop up alongside debates over such non-discrimination bills.

“It has the value of saying, Look, whatever religious exemptions currently exist in these other protected categories—race, religion, gender, ethnic origin—those same religious exemptions would exist in the context of the LGBT community,” Cicilline says. “Not a single person’s right to exercise their religious tradition or to honor the practices of their own religion are compromised by this legislation.”

Critics of such bills say that legally obliging, say, a pizzeria to cater a same-sex wedding, violates a person’s right to oppose such unions based on religious or moral beliefs. With the battle over same-sex marriage lost, many conservatives are turning their efforts to pushing “religious freedom” or “First Amendment defense” bills to give people legal arguments for such refusals. A poll released earlier this month found that a small majority of small business owners—55%—believe businesses should not be allowed to deny wedding-related services to a same-sex couple based on religious beliefs.

Republicans Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Raul Labrador introduced companion bills in June aimed at “protecting religious freedom from Government intrusion,” stating that “conflicts between same-sex marriage and religious liberty are real.” While they say their bill is aimed at making sure organizations like religious schools can’t lose their tax-exempt status for opposing same-sex marriage, progressives say it threatens to “undermine” protections Obama extended to millions of LGBT workers with an executive order, as well as the future of a broad non-discrimination law.

Merkley announced in December that a big proposal was coming. The scores of lawmakers he and Cicilline expect to co-sponsor the bills are rehashing this old fight in a time when there are new levels of awareness and acceptance for LGBT Americans, particularly among young people. According to Gallup, a record high 60% of Americans now support same-sex marriage, up from 50% in 2012 and 40% in 2009. Once people learn that protections for LGBT people don’t exist federally or in many states, “they overwhelmingly support the basic idea that LGBT Americans should be judged only on their merits, just like everyone else,” Merkley tells TIME. “It’s time to act.”

TIME

Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox Finally Got to Meet

The two finally met in real life

For weeks now, Orange Is The New Black star Laverne Cox has been loudly championing Caitlyn Jenner on social media and in interviews. (Her praise can be summed up with this quote: “Yasss Gawd! Werk Caitlyn! Get it!”)

And for her part, Jenner has reciprocated Cox’s praise, posting to Twitter that the actress is “fierce and fabulous” and that her support “means the world.”

But it wasn’t until Sunday night that the two women actually met face to face, at a special private advance screening of Jenner’s upcoming E! docuseries about her transition, I Am Cait.

The two were joined by a number of other well-known transgender women for the screening, including actress and performance artist Candis Cayne.

TIME LGBT

Discrimination Against LGBT Workers Is Illegal, Commission Rules

A man waves the LGBT rainbow flag in support of gay marriage
Craig Ferguson—LightRocket via Getty Images A man waves the LGBT rainbow flag in support of gay marriage as a campaign march calling for the legalization of gay marriage passes by. (Craig Ferguson/LightRocket-- Getty Images)

The 1964 Civil Rights Act now protects gay workers from discrimination

Workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded this week, in a groundbreaking ruling that provides new protections for LGBT Americans.

In a decision dated Thursday, the EEOC said that employers who discriminate against LGBT workers are violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination “based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”

In the past, courts have ruled that Title VII does not cover discrimination based on sexual orientation because it’s not explicitly mentioned in the law, but the EEOC’s ruling disputes that reasoning. “Sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of the employee’s sex,” the EEOC concluded. The committee argued that if an employer discriminated against a lesbian for displaying a photo of her wife, but not a straight man for showing a photo of his wife, that amounts to sex discrimination.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts hinted at similar reasoning earlier this year when considering the same-sex marriage case, even though he ultimately dissented on the court’s June 26 ruling in support of gay marriage. “If Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t,” Roberts argued in April. “And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also argued this week that since courts have consistently ruled that the racial protections of Title VII apply to relationships, the sex protections should apply to relationships as well. Under Title VII, employers can’t discriminate against employees based on the races of their spouses or friends (so, for example, you couldn’t be fired for being in an interracial marriage). The EEOC’s Thursday ruling ensures that the same standard applies to sex as well, which means you can’t be fired based on whom you choose to date or marry.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created to enforce and implement the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This new interpretation radically expands the scope of those protections.

The ruling could be seen as a victory for LGBT activists, who have been advocating for greater workplace protections for years, and have redoubled their efforts in the wake of the landmark same-sex marriage ruling last month. Presidential candidates like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush have come out in support of laws to protect LGBT workers against discrimination, saying at a recent campaign event, “I don’t think you should be discriminated because of your sexual orientation. Period. Over and out.”

Housing and employment law are seen as the next battleground for LGBT activists, but the EEOC decision suggests that LGBT workers are already covered under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which may complicate the push to pass legislation with specific protections for LGBT workers.

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