Some Questions for the Republican Candidates

As the leading Republican presidential candidates prepare to take the stage on Thursday for the first official presidential debate, we know that they all share a common goal of promoting an far-right agenda in the White House.

We don’t expect to get much clarity on the Republicans’ extreme positions on Thursday. But if we had the chance to moderate the debate, here’s some of the questions we’d ask each of the candidates:

  • Jeb Bush: Why are you catering to the anti-immigrant base of the Republican Party by condemning undocumented immigrants to second class status through denying them any path to citizenship?
  • Scott Walker: You have an abysmal record when it comes to the environment and fighting against climate change. But just like you’ve punted on so many other critical questions, you’ve never actually told us your position on climate change. So, do you deny the science of climate change or do you accept that it’s a reality that must be addressed?
  • Mike Huckabee: You’ve compared Obama and abortion rights to the Nazis and their genocide. How and why did you think that was appropriate?
  • Ted Cruz: Why did you cook bacon on a machine gun?
  • Ben Carson: You’ve compared Obamacare to slavery. How is ensuring access to quality, affordable healthcare – as the ACA does – like slavery in any way?
  • Marco Rubio: This past April, before the Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality, you said that anyone who believes that gay people have a constitutional right to marriage has a “ridiculous and absurd reading of the U.S. Constitution.” Is that still your belief today?
  • Rand Paul: In a talk you once explained that while direct cheating is off the table, “I would sometimes spread misinformation. This is a great tactic.” What are some examples of times that you’ve “misinformed” the American people?
  • Donald Trump: How does deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants or denying spousal rape make America great again?

What the GOP Is Calling for When They Advocate Defunding Planned Parenthood

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Today Senate Republicans are preparing to vote on legislation to defund Planned Parenthood. GOP presidential candidates including Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Rand Paul have jumped on the bandwagon, with Paul calling for a stop to "any penny of money" going to the organization. Jeb Bush called for a congressional investigation.

It's obvious that these attacks are the latest right-wing tactic aimed not only at destroying Planned Parenthood but also at a woman's right to control her own body. It's a campaign borrowing a page from a very old, very repetitive playbook.

But let's be clear about what it means when Republican politicians crusade, over and over, to defund Planned Parenthood. 

Calling to defund Planned Parenthood is calling to prevent low-income women from getting lifesaving cancer screenings. It's calling to prevent HIV testing, well-woman exams, and other basic medical services. No matter how you cut it, it's an attack on the health and well-being of women, especially on those least able to afford cuts in services.

Reproductive health advocate Clare Coleman, who formerly headed up a network of Planned Parenthood clinics in New York state, said that although their medical centers nationwide serve patients of all ages, races, genders, and incomes, she described their typical patient as "a working woman between 20 and 24, maybe in school, often with children." That patient, Coleman wrote, lives on an "edge" where "you know you're always one emergency away from everything falling apart."

Calling to defund Planned Parenthood is calling to take away medical care from women who are already struggling to make ends meet. 

I have dedicated decades of my life to the opposite work: the movement to make sure women can make our own medical decisions and shape our own futures in a system that respects our autonomy. The struggle to make sure all women, especially women of color and low-income women, have access to reproductive health and reproductive justice.

These GOP leaders, despite lip service to "rebranding" efforts aimed at reaching more women, seem dead-set on just the opposite.

If they are truly concerned about reaching women, maybe they should avoid making the most marginalized women the target of their regressive policy proposals. Maybe they should avoid attacking medical centers that one in five women has relied on. 

While GOP politicians repeat tired, dishonest talking points about defunding the "abortion industry," dedicated staff at Planned Parenthood health centers willcontinue to provide critical medical care to people across the country. Who's really fighting for women?

Read our new Right Wing Watch In Focus report on the right-wing activists behind the attacks on Planned Parenthood. 


Conservatives, As Well As Liberals, Can't Stand Big Money in Politics

 The unpopularity of our post-Citizens United campaign finance system knows no partisan bounds. As wealthy donors have continued to pump larger and larger amounts of money into our elections, a vast majority of Americans, including Republicans, have decided that the system needs to be changed. Three-quarters of self-identified Republicans want more disclosure by outside spending groups, and only 12 percent of Republicans believe that the new campaign finance laws have made the process of nominating presidential candidates better.

 While many in Washington treat this as a partisan issue, at the local and state levels, Republican officials have joined the fight to get money out of politics.  Resolutions urging Congress to adopt an amendment that would set limits on campaign expenditures passed in statehouses with bipartisan support, and 159 Republican officials mostly at the state level have stated their opposition to the Citizens United decision. Now, conservative grassroots activists are starting to turn their attention to this issue.  

 Last Friday, conservatives from organizations such as the Weekly Standard and the American Enterprise Institute met at a forum titled “Finding Common Ground on Money-In-Politics in Washington,” where they explored ways to improve the campaign finance system that could appeal to Americans on both sides of the aisle. Some ideas floated were to reform the makeup of the gridlocked Federal Election Commission, to better enforce bans on foreign contributions to elections, and to incentivize small donations through tax credits.


“To leave the field void, to say no one on the right is talking about money in politics, I think is a problem,” said John Pudner, a GOP strategist and executive director of Take Back Our Republic, an organization that promotes campaign finance reform from a conservative perspective.


 Public officials from both major parties have spoken out in favor of campaign finance reform, including Democratic Senator Todd Udall, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Even former Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has expressed her frustration with the “absurd” amount of money in our political system. With the movement to get money out of politics enjoying bipartisan support, it’s only a matter of time until this passion turns into real reform at the legislative level.



Jeb Bush Thinks 50 Years of Medicare Is Long Enough

In 1965, 29 percent of people above the age of 65 were living in poverty. Fifty percent were uninsured. One in four went without medical care due to cost concerns.

That started changing 50 years ago today, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare and Medicaid programs into law. In the half-century since then, these programs have guaranteed some of the most vulnerable members of our society access to lifesaving healthcare when they need it most. Today, 98% of seniors – that’s 46 million people -- are covered by Medicare. Life expectancies have increased, and the poverty rate among seniors has decreased by half. There’s no question that Medicare is helping older Americans live longer, healthier lives in 2015.

But under a Jeb Bush presidency, we could see that progress backslide. Bush told attendees at a town hall event in New Hampshire last week that we “need to figure out a way to phase out” Medicare. Bush’s campaign later said that he would support dramatic changes to the Medicare program, like those proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, that would privatize Medicare and turn it into a voucher system. But while Republicans claim these changes are meant to strengthen the program, the truth is that they would  end the guaranteed benefit of Medicare for all seniors.

For a man who still has no regrets about his horrific handling of the Terri Schiavo controversy, Jeb certainly does seem to be showing a lack of interest in keeping millions of Americans alive.



No to ALEC: California Fights Back

This post was written by Johnson Pham, a Young People For fellow.

Last Wednesday, I joined thousands of folks as we gathered together to rally against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during their annual meeting in San Diego. This was a massive protest to resist this right-wing organization, and they were met with many faces including workers, community organizers, faith-based leaders, and an assortment of other progressives.

ALEC is a national, corporate-funded organization that marries the interests of conservative legislators and corporate lobbyists. ALEC has been instrumental in drafting harmful legislation in many states, ranging from the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, to legislation  weakening environmental sustainability measures, to bills challenging women’s access reproductive health services. Notorious allies of ALEC include figures like Scott Walker and the Koch brothers.

ALEC pays for legislators to go on extravagant trips, where they collaboratively write legislation to be introduced word-for-word in their home states. ALEC’s event at the Hilton in San Diego was one of these opulent vacations afforded to legislators, and their presence in California was naturally met by resistance from progressive groups, who have clear stakes in resisting flagrant conservatism.

I went to this rally with the United Domestic Workers (UDW) Local 3930, a worker union that represents home-care providers in California. Homecare providers are one of the targets of ALEC, which has written bills targeting worker unions and pushing lower wages and benefits. We arrived at the Embarcadero Marina Park in San Diego close to noon and were met by hundreds of other progressives who greeted everyone with an embrace. It was truly a staggering experience to see such unconditional love and community expressed across the board.

The speak-out portion of the rally was studded with champions from the labor movement, including the legendary Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) movement and now sits on the board of PFAW. Dolores has been one of my heroes since I learned who she was, and I had the opportunity to meet her in living flesh at the rally. She spoke with conviction and presence and talked about our individual ability to bring others into the movement. She implored us to never give up this good fight, and communicated her love for this community and for the movement.

pham and dolores

The rally was a short walk from the park to the hotel, where folks continued to give their testimonies about why they are in this fight, and the challenges we face. This continued until 5PM, until hotel security brought in a squadron of police officers in response to rumors of a civil disobedience action occurring soon in the hotel lobby. I left the rally on my bus with the union, and we were unified in our sweat, laughter, and fulfillment from the day.

As a new YP4 fellow, I shared a lot about my love for the labor movement during our regional retreat, and this experience has only further cemented this deep-set appreciation. As someone who comes from a working-class background, there I’m deeply committed to making sure that families do not have to struggle to feed themselves or their children. Seeing for myself how resilient working families are in the face of billionaires and their lobbyists gives me incredible hope for this movement.

alec rally

Corporate-backed institutions like ALEC are antithetical to the values my parents passed to me when I grew up, like having respect and compassion for everyone, and supporting the people who need it the most. I learned from this action that this collective movement is larger than what I could have ever believed. That this movement consistsed of leaders who came before me, my elders, and will continue on past what I will be able to do in this line of work. It is indisputable that ALEC got the point that they are not welcome or liked in California, and even now, organizers behind the protest are getting ready for a follow-up action in the coming weeks.

The fight continues.

PFAW Foundation

Jeb Bush, Of All People, Says He Wants Lobbying Reform

On Monday, July 20th Jeb Bush announced that he wants to curb the influence of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. by setting a six-year moratorium on former members of Congress registering as lobbyists.  Bush said, ““We need to help politicians rediscover life outside of Washington… which — who knows? — might even be a pleasant surprise for them.” His comedic interjection is an indication of the stance he has decided to take on this issue, posing as a Beltway outsider who can see, and wants to reform, Washington’s corruption.

But Bush is anything but a political outsider. His father and brother spent a combined 20 years in the White House and he was Florida’s governor for eight years, after which he became a political consultant. Neither is he rejecting the money that lobbyists are currently collecting on his behalf: he has eight lobbyists working together to raise more than $228,000 for his campaign. That’s on top of his efforts to skirt campaign finance rules by spending months raising millions of dollars for a superPAC that purports not to coordinate with his own presidential campaign. Bush is the ultimate establishment candidate, regardless of whether or not he has spent time on the Hill.

And while this specific proposal is well and good, it’s also glaringly insufficient. The reforms Bush supports would not stop much of the lobbying that does occur in Washington. The six-year ban would only apply to registered lobbyists, a designation easily avoided by not engaging in specific activities or spending less than 20 percent of one’s time actually lobbying. There are simply too many loopholes Bush’s plan would not cover for real reform to occur.

Jeb Bush made this announcement in an effort to capture some of the grassroots anger at the role of money in politics. But, hopefully it will also ignite some real debate and raise public awareness of the reforms we would need to make a meaningful difference.


Yet Another Poll Shows Americans' Frustration With Big Campaign Spending

 As the primaries for the 2016 elections get closer, we can expect to see the effects of big money in politics – the new normal after the 2010 Citizens United decision – in full force. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has raised $114 million through both his campaign and Right to Rise, a super PAC backing him. With the Koch brothers alone already pledging to raise $889 million through their network of wealthy donors, it’s likely that this election’s expenditures will well exceed the over $1 billion spent in the 2012 federal elections. As a result, many Americans are fed up with this new campaign finance system.

 A Monmouth University survey released yesterday revealed that only 10 percent of Americans say that the influx of campaign spending post Citizens United has made the presidential nominating process better. Further, 42 percent expressed concern that the new campaign finance landscape makes it more likely that an unqualified or unserious candidate would be able to stay in the race longer.

 These statistics are hardly surprising. A New York Times poll showed that 85 percent of Americans think that the campaign finance system needs either “fundamental changes” or to be “completely rebuil[t].” In addition, three out of four Americans support a constitutional amendment that would limit campaign spending, and 5 million have signed a petition in favor of such an amendment. All around the country, Americans are organizing to let their legislators know that they’re tired of big money’s undue influence in their elections.

 “The public is starting to worry that the Wild West nature of campaign finance is damaging the way we choose presidential candidates,” said Patrick Murray, the polling institute’s director. 


 With the public standing strong against letting the wealthy few buy their elections, a national conversation about the harmful effects of Citizens United is taking place, blazing a trail for real reform.


Organizations Unite in Fight Against Big Money

Today PFAW and 11 other organizations released “Fighting Big Money, Empowering People: A 21st Century Democracy Agenda,” a money in politics reform agenda directed at 2016 presidential candidates. The memo details a specific set of policies and encourages candidates to commit to supporting them.

Goals of the agenda include amplifying the voices of everyday Americans through meaningful contribution limits, real-time disclosure of political contributions, overturning cases like Citizens United through the Democracy For All constitutional amendment, and enforcing existing campaign finance laws to help ensure that money is not allowed to overshadow the priorities of the people.

According to the agenda:

The size of your wallet should not determine the strength of your political voice. But, in a long series of decisions beginning with Buckley v. Valeo and escalating with Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court has cemented a flawed reading of our Constitution that strips the ability of We the People to impose common sense limits on election spending.

"Fighting Big Money, Empowering People” has been distributed to every announced 2016 candidate, many of whom have already voiced their support for fighting big money in elections. It’s time to move from rhetoric toward a commitment to specific, comprehensive solutions.

You can share the graphic below to show your solidarity with getting big money out of politics and returning power to everyday Americans. Together we can make a democracy where everyone participates, everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone plays by fair, common-sense rules.


Dolores Huerta and Activists Protest ALEC and Scott Walker

The call and response chant, “Tell me what democracy looks like,” “This is what democracy looks like!” rang true as activists rallied against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during its annual meeting in San Diego this week.

ALEC is a far-right organization that connects corporate executives to policy makers in order to craft and enact state-by-state legislation that raises corporate profits while stomping on the rights and economic prospects of working families. For instance, ALEC is behind Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 law and the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida that helped George Zimmerman to walk free.

At the protest, more than a thousand participants from faith communities, labor unions, environmental groups, immigration groups, and more proclaimed that ALEC corrupts democracy by allowing corporations to – literally – buy a seat at the table with state legislators.  Common Cause President Miles Rapoport described the ALEC meeting as “a festival of closed-door deal-making by politicians, corporate executives and lobbyists. They gather to do the public’s business in private, fashioning legislation that undercuts the public interest.”

Civil rights leader and People For the American Way board member Dolores Huerta revved up the crowd, telling activists, “The only way we can stop [ALEC] is to go back to our communities, we’ve got to organize. People do not know how perilous this organization is. Let’s say ‘abajo (that means down) con ALEC!’”

After Huerta’s speech, activists – including a Young Elected Official (YEO) with the YEO Network, a project of People For the American Way Foundation – sought out Huerta to introduce themselves and share the work they're doing in their communities.

Activists then walked to the hotel where the ALEC meetings are being held to continue the protest. Huerta and others highlighted the message that Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker – who spoke this morning at the conference – and ALEC are unified in their support for corporations at the expense of working families.

In addition to participating in the rally, PFAW released Spanish- and English-language digital ads criticizing Walker for his alliance with ALEC. The Huffington Post also published an opinion piece yesterday by Huerta that details the anti-immigrant, anti-worker efforts of ALEC and how Walker has a long history of partnering with ALEC.


Harry Reid Teaches GOP Basic Math and Civics

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid stood up on the Senate floor this morning to remind Republicans of one of their basic constitutional duties as senators: to consider the president’s nominees for federal judgeships.

He pointed out the stark contrast with how the Democratic-controlled Senate processed judicial nominations in George W. Bush’s last two years:

So far this Congress, Republicans have confirmed only 5 judges. By this same point in the last Congress of George W. Bush’s presidency, under my leadership, the Senate had confirmed 25 judges. Republicans are being outpaced 5-to-1. And there are real repercussions when Republicans refuse to act. If there aren’t enough judges to hear the cases that are piling up, a vacant judgeship is declared a judicial emergency. At the beginning of the year, there were only 12 judicial emergencies that deserved priority attention.  Yet in the mere 7 months of this Republican-controlled Senate, that number has doubled, and is on its way to tripling. As of today, there are 28 judicial emergencies – including four judges currently pending on the floor.

Of course, as much as Republicans try to obscure it, the fact is that 25 ≠ 5.

Reid also explained how the GOP’s abdication of responsible governing is hurting the American people:

By neglecting to live up to their constitutional duty to provide “advice and consent” for the President’s judicial nominees, the Republican Leader and his party are denying justice for the American people. Federal courts depend on the Senate to do its job so justice can be dispensed in courtrooms across the country. But Republicans clearly have no interest in seeing courtrooms and judicial chambers adequately staffed.

Reid also slammed Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton for blocking a confirmation vote last week for five nominees to the Court of Federal Claims.  These are nominees who were approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee last year and again this year to a court whose chief judge has urged the Senate to fill its vacancies so the court can handle its caseload.  Nevertheless, Cotton blocked the Senate from voting on the nominees, saying that the judges on the court are willing to carry the caseload themselves without new judges.  (Reid also mentioned yesterday’s report from CQ on how Cotton’s action seems to line up with the financial interests of a law firm he used to work for whose employees gave generously to his campaign.)

Courts matter.  So do the judges who are selected to serve on those courts.  Republicans are weakening our federal court system, even though our most important rights depend on being able to have our day in court front of a fair and unbiased judge.  Senator Reid is right to call on the GOP to do better by the American people.


The Planned Parenthood Smear & The Right's 'Abortion Industry' Lie

This post originally appeared on PFAW's Right Wing Watch.

By now, it has been proven and proven again that Planned Parenthood is not “selling aborted baby parts” for profit, as a pair of deceptively edited videos from a conservative group with close ties to a number of extreme anti-choice groups purport to show.

Yet this new line — the women’s health organization as a horror-movie butcher looking to enrich itself off helpless pregnant women — has quickly become an established “fact” not only within the anti-choice movement, but in the larger conservative movement and among Republican politicians.

This is not because they have been given any new information. Again, the central premise of the new videos is easily disproved — Planned Parenthood follows standard medical guidelines in donating fetal tissue for medical research with the patient’s consent. It is because the videos (or what they claim is in the videos) illustrate an attack that the anti-choice movement has been attempting to level at legal abortion providers for years.

As the anti-choice movement has rebranded itself to be about “protecting” women from legal abortion, it has taken to calling abortion providers the “Abortion Industry,” alleging that they are more interested in turning a profit than in providing health care. This charge is most frequently leveled at Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that both the health care provider and its advocacy affiliate are nonprofit organizations.

Back in January, the anti-choice legal group Americans United for Life released a report titled “ Abortion, Inc.,” which attempted to show that Planned Parenthood is on a “Big Abortion, Big Profits trajectory.” The report concludes by alleging that the health group’s advocacy arm fights anti-choice laws that chip away at abortion access in order to “protect its abortion business’ financial success.”

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins made a similarly outlandish claim last week when he tied the false claims about Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue and its advocacy affiliate’s opposition to laws banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregancy. “This suggests why they may have been opposed to bans such as this, these five-month bans, because the longer the pregnancy goes, the more valuable the parts,” he claimed.

In recent years, the Religious Right has attempted to portray itself as the victim of LGBT rights, a David-and-Goliath scenario in which conservative Christians are the brave warriors outspent and outnumbered by “Big Gay” — no matter that the very same activists previously spent decades trying to drive LGBT people out of public life.

A similar rhetorical trick is going on here. Anti-choice groups want to stamp out legal abortion and drive women seeking abortion to dangerous, underground alternatives. They also want to destroy Planned Parenthood, which provides a wide range of medical services to more than five million people a year, only a small percentage of which include abortion. But in order to do so, they are painting abortion providers as a big, bad industry out to get the very women who seek their services.

It’s clear that these videos were made with the “Abortion Industry” talking point in mind. There is a legitimate debate to be had over the legal use of fetal tissue for medical research, which has led to a number of medical advances, including vaccine development. But that isn’t the point of this smear. Instead, it is a dishonest attempt to undermine abortion rights by portraying abortion providers and pro-choice groups as profit-hungry predators. This smear is nothing new — this is just its most lurid and best-publicized iteration.


PFAW's New Spanish Language Ad Highlight's Scott Walker's Allegiance to Corporate Interests

With Scott Walker set to address the annual meeting of the far-right, corporate-led American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), PFAW released Spanish-language and English-language digital ads highlighting Walker's choice to headline the corporate bill factory's national conference in San Diego. Civil rights icon and PFAW board member Dolores Huerta released the following statement:

Voters need to know that this week, Scott Walker is choosing to headline the annual convention of ALEC, the corporate-run organization that brought us Arizona's anti-immigrant law SB 1070 and has long championed anti-worker, anti-environment legislation.

"Given Walker's decades-long alliance with ALEC, it's no surprise that he's standing with them now as he begins his presidential campaign. While Walker has turned his back on working families, he gladly stands up for corporate interests that hurt our community through his work with ALEC."

Read more about PFAW's Scott Walker ads.


The Vice President Calls for Action to Fight Big Money in Politics

Last week the fight against big money in politics received renewed, and passionate, support from Vice President Joe Biden. During a speech to young activists at the Make Progress summit on July 16th, Biden issued a call to action:

"We can do something about the corrosive impact of massive amounts of money. We can demand that the people we support don't yield to millionaires and billionaires. [Instead, they can] take their money in limited amounts, but what are we doing?"

The Obama administration has already declared its support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United (2010), but the Vice President called for a more immediate form of action: holding candidates accountable. "Folks, we ought to start in our own party. You ought to be demanding of all of us, all of us, because at least in our own party fights among ourselves, in primaries, that we adhere to a policy that doesn't rest on millionaires and billionaires."

This was a speech tailored to mobilize activists who have been part of a slow fight since 2010. Although progress has been made, with over 650 cities, 16 states, and 73% of Americans in support of a constitutional amendment, we have yet to see any real change in the way campaigns are funded. The 2016 presidential race is already seeing the effects of Super PAC funding and that influence will only continue to grow.

Biden clearly intended to inspire a new generation of activists by focusing on what the attendees themselves could do to help fix the system, saying, “If you're ever going to be involved in public service this is the time to do it, because things are changing.”

Hopefully the Vice President’s passion and optimism is an indication of the change that is coming in our campaign finance system. As Vice President Biden put it, the current system of auctioning our elections to the highest bidder is “a hell of a way to run a democracy."



PFAW Convenes Panel on Globalizing Homophobia at Netroots Nation 2015

From anti-adoption rules in Russia to laws banning same-sex intimacy in the Caribbean, the right-wing global movement against LGBT rights – especially its U.S. leaders working transnationally – was under the microscope this weekend during a panel at Netroots Nation.

On Friday, People For the American Way Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery moderated a powerful session on the globalization of anti-LGBT activism featuring Urooj Ashad of Advocates for Youth, Gillian Kane of Ipas, Miranda Blue of PFAW’s Right Wing Watch, and Maurice Tomlinson of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Gillian Kane kicked off the presentations by highlighting that those attacking the rights of LGBT people across the world are also often leading attacks on other rights, including reproductive freedoms. She noted that U.S.-based anti-LGBT activists working transnationally, like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), strategically frame themselves as victims of religious persecution rather than those working to undermine the rights of others. Kane recently published an article on ADF's expansion in Latin America.

Maurice Tomlinson gave a snapshot of the current status of anti-LGBT laws in Jamaica and across the Western hemisphere. He pointed out that Belize and Trinidad & Tobago both ban the entrance of gay people into the country, and that a total of 11 countries in the Western hemisphere still criminalize same-gender intimacy.  In Jamaica, Tomlinson noted, “our culture has been perverted” by the exportation of homophobia from the global North for many decades. He also highlighted some of the work happening in Jamaica to fight anti-gay laws, including everything from lawsuits to flashmobs.

Miranda Blue, who authored People For the American Way’s report on Globalizing Homophobia, highlighted the case study of the push for anti-LGBT legislation in Russia, a campaign which she pointed out "hasn’t come out of a vacuum.” She said that Putin is both trying to silence dissent and frame Russia as a bastion of traditional values. Many on the Right in the U.S., she said, have bought into this framing, cheering on the laws and saying that the U.S. should have similar ones. Blue noted that Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage even traveled to Moscow to testify in front of the parliament in support of an anti-gay adoption law.

Urooj Arshad focused on how to do solidarity work with LGBT activists based in the global South and warned against the conflation of the West with LGBT rights.  She urged U.S.-based LGBT rights activists to always be in communication with those working and living locally. Arshad, who grew up in Pakistan, noted that in many formerly colonized countries, the criminalization of homosexuality came with colonization, with many of the anti-sodomy laws from that era still on the books.

Peter Montgomery pulled all of the speakers' presentations together by framing the anti-LGBT attacks happening around the world as a unified right-wing movement rather than isolated campaigns. He pointed out the number of laws globally that have been directly supported by right-wing organizations in the U.S., and said that activists here can help support LGBT activists abroad by chipping away at the credibility of U.S. groups that are helping fuel this work internationally.

For more about the exporting of anti-gay activism transnationally, you can read PFAW’s 2014 report on Globalizing Homophobia here.


EEOC Says Anti-Gay Discrimination Is Illegal Sex Discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency tasked with enforcing federal laws prohibiting job discrimination, issued an order yesterday with substantial impact on millions of people throughout the country.  In a case involving allegations of discrimination at the Federal Aviation Administration, the EEOC has concluded that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In other words, the agency that enforces Title VII says that it’s illegal to discriminate against someone because they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual.  (It had already made a similar finding about gender identity.)

This makes perfect sense.  Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have long held that employers may not rely upon sex-based considerations or take gender into account when making job-related decisions.  As the EEOC now notes:

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is premised on sex-based preferences, assumptions, expectations, stereotypes, or norms. “Sexual orientation” as a concept cannot be defined or understood without reference to sex. …

Sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of the employee's sex. For example,  assume that an employer suspends a lesbian employee for displaying a photo of her female spouse on her desk, but does not suspend a male employee for displaying a photo of his female spouse on his desk.  The lesbian employee in that example can allege that her employer took an adverse action against her that the employer would not have taken had she been male.

The agency also notes that just as the law prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee because of the race of that person’s spouse, the same applies to the spouse’s sex.

This is not the first time that the EEOC has expanded the frontiers of justice and equality through an obvious but overdue interpretation of Title VII, which was passed in 1964.  For instance, today it’s common knowledge that sexual harassment in the workplace violates Title VII.  Yet, as anyone who lived through the 1960s (or watched Mad Men) can tell you, sexual harassment was quite common, Title VII notwithstanding.  It was not until 1980 that the EEOC issued guidelines prohibiting sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination.  And it took until 1986 before the Supreme Court made that interpretation the law of the land in a case called Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson.

Some courts have already addressed this issue and reached the opposite conclusion of the EEOC.  Dale Carpenter notes in the Volokh Conspiracy:

The EEOC’s view on sexual orientation, however, runs counter to the rulings of several circuit courts. These courts have reasoned that “sexual orientation” is not among the list of prohibited bases for employment action, that Congress did not intend to eliminate anti-gay discrimination when it enacted Title VII, and that Congress has repeatedly refused to add “sexual orientation” to employment protections.

The EEOC calls these earlier circuit court decisions “dated,” and some of them have been undermined by subsequent precedents in the same circuits recognizing that gender stereotyping, including gender stereotypes evidenced by anti-gay comments, is sex discrimination.

This week’s action from the EEOC certainly isn’t the end of the story.  Usually, if an agency interprets the law it’s charged with implementing, courts are required to give substantial deference to its interpretation, as long as it’s a reasonable way of reading the law.  But courts are not required to give that same level of deference to the EEOC’s interpretation of Title VII.  So while its recognition that sexual orientation discrimination is a manifestation of sex discrimination is a step forward, it could be undone by the courts (as well as by EEOC commissioners nominated by a future administration hostile to LGBT equality).  Indeed, we may see this issue ultimately decided by the Supreme Court.

PFAW Foundation