September 15, 2014

Transgender protections come before Miami-Dade commission — again

BY PATRICIA MAZZEI
PMAZZEI@MIAMIHERALD.COM

A pair of Miami-Dade commissioners will attempt for the second time to add transgender protections Tuesday to a county law that bans discrimination in government employment and the delivery of public services.

“This country is evolving in a way where we’re more accepting, so I think this is a good time to bring it back,” Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said.

She and Bruno Barreiro withdrew the legislation last summer when it faced resistance in a key committee made up of five commissioners, some of whom indicated they would oppose expanding the county’s human-rights ordinance.

The difference now: One of those commissioners is on her way out the door.

Lynda Bell lost her reelection bid last month to Daniella Levine Cava, who was elected with the vocal support of SAVE, Miami-Dade’s leading gay-rights group that blamed Bell for the failure of last year’s trans-inclusive amendment. Bell, who received the backing of conservative activists, countered that hers was merely a single vote.

Levine Cava won’t be sworn in until Nov. 18. That means Bell will still be on the dais Tuesday, when Edmonson and Barreiro’s proposal is scheduled for a preliminary vote.

But Levine Cava would be on the board by the time the measure winds through the commission’s legislative process. A final vote would take place in December at the earliest.

That’s assuming the proposal advances Tuesday. It did so last year, with only one commissioner — Bell — voting against.

Edmonson, the chairwoman of the health committee, acknowledged the changing composition of the board in an interview Monday, but also noted a shift in society and popular culture as a reason for resuscitating the proposal now. After withdrawing it last year, she and Barreiro had to wait at least six months, under county rules, before bringing it back.

“It’s something that has to be dealt with,” Barreiro said.

As proposed, the amended law, which is also co-sponsored by Commissioner Sally Heyman, would extend the discrimination ban to “gender identity” and “gender expression.”

It’s already illegal in county government to discriminate against someone — in terms of their public employment, family leave, accommodations, credit and financing, or public housing — on the base of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, marital status, familial status or sexual orientation.

Adding “sexual orientation” to the law was a decades-long political fight recently examined in The Day It Snowed In Miami, a documentary co-produced by the Miami Herald.

But much has changed since voters approved the addition in 2002, passed by the commission in 1998. In 2003, Monroe County and Key West widened their human-rights ordinances to include transgender protections. Miami Beach did the same in 2004, Palm Beach County in 2007 and Broward County in 2008. Last year, Gainesville’s Alachua County passed a similar law.

In June, Miami Beach commissioners voted to provide city employees with transgender health insurance, which would cover treatments such as gender-reassignment surgery and hormone and psychological therapy but not cosmetic procedures.

Opponents organized by the conservative Christian Family Coalition last year claimed the county’s expanded definition would allow people who are not transgender to dress up as the other sex and walk into public restrooms to prey on victims. A flier produced by the group featured a man with beard stubble wearing a blonde wig and leering at a frightened little girl.

Anthony Verdugo, the organization’s executive director, said he doesn’t plan to attend Tuesday’s meeting because he’s out of town. But he continues to oppose the policy, calling it “a solution in search of a problem.”

“It legalizes discrimination, because it gives a reason for employers to fire employees,” Verdugo said. He cited the case of a Macy’s employee in Texas who lost her job in 2011 because the employee said she didn’t allow a transgender customer to use a women’s dressing room.

“There just simply is no evidence for the need for this,” Verdugo said.

Edmonson, however, dismissed that criticism — and the idea that expanding the county’s anti-discrimination law would somehow legalize preying on people in restrooms or other public places.

“That was just a smoke screen,” she said. “We’ve got at least 10 counties already in the state [with similar legislation], and no one’s having that problem.”

IF YOU GO

The Miami-Dade County Commission meets at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the 2nd floor chambers of the Stephen P. Clark Center, 111 NW 1st St., Miami.

‘Orange is the New Black’ writer Lauren Morelli leaves husband for actress who plays Poussey

BY LISA GUTIERREZ
THE KANSAS CITY STAR

Talk about a major plot twist.

Lauren Morelli, a writer for “Orange is the New Black,” is divorcing her husband to pursue a new relationship with Samira Wiley, who plays Poussey Washington on the show.

Morelli revealed in May that she realized she was gay while working on the Netflix hit series. And fans shouldn’t be surprised that she’s found love with Wiley. The two appear in several photos on Morelli’s Instagram account, including pictures of the two going to the Emmys together last month.

Now, TMZ reports that Morelli and her husband, Steve Basilone, have filed for divorce and have split amicably.

Morelli wrote that she realized she was gay in the fall of 2012, “one of my first days on the set.”

“I went through it all on set: I fell in love with a woman, and I watched my life play out on screen,” she wrote. “And now, as we are gearing up for the release of Season 2, it feels liberating and appropriate to live my life in front of you.”

September 13, 2014

Man wins fight to get same-sex union recognized in Arizona

BY JACQUES BILLEAUD
ASSOCIATED PRESS

PHOENIX  - In a ruling that calls into question Arizona's gay marriage ban, a judge handed a victory Friday to a gay man who lost his spouse to cancer last month and was denied death benefits because the state prohibits same-sex unions.

U.S. District Judge John Sedwick allowed Fred McQuire to be listed on his spouse's death certificate, marking another development in the national debate over gay marriage as state and federal judges across the country have struck down bans in more than a dozen states at a rapid rate since a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year.

Friday's decision only applied to McQuire, but the judge signaled that Arizona's gay marriage ban may not hold up after he hears a broader challenge to the constitutionality of the law.

"The court has not yet decided whether there is a conflict between Arizona law and the Constitution, but the court has decided that it is probable that there is such a conflict that Arizona will be required to permit same-sex marriages," said Sedwick, who was nominated to the federal bench in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush.

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September 12, 2014

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi appeals several gay-marriage rulings statewide

BY KELLI KENNEDY
Associated Press

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed appeals late Friday on several rulings overturning the state’s ban on gay marriage.

The motion argues the sole legal issue is the constitutional validity of the state ban and any changes should come from voters, not the courts. Florida voters approved the ban in 2008.

Bondi’s office said the agency joined the appeals to promote an orderly and consistent resolution after several judges around the state recently overturned Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage. Bondi has asked judges to stop ruling on same-sex marriage cases until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether states can ban gay marriage. A number of similar rulings around the country have been put on hold while appeals are pursued.

Judges in four Florida counties – Palm Beach, Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward– have overturned the ban. A federal judge has also overturned the ban. U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle in Tallahassee ruled on Aug. 21 that the ban violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. Hinkle issued a stay delaying the effect of his order, pending possible appeals.

The latest Florida ruling came in a pair of lawsuits brought by gay couples seeking to marry in Florida and others who want to force Florida to recognize gay marriages performed legally in other states.

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