Tag Archives: civil rights

Are Workplace Rights Equal For All?

The struggle at the core of every movement for equality is a right. The right to vote. The right to marry. The right to not be killed. At the core of each is a struggle for respect, to be treated like a human being and to exist without prejudice or discrimination.

Legalizing gay marriage is considered a huge step in favor of LGBTQ+ rights in American history. But people often dismiss the post-legalization discrimination that occurs by assuming that gay people are “equal” now. However, the decision of nine supreme court justices cannot change a longstanding culture of internalized homophobia and discrimination.

On June 15, the Supreme Court of the US made a milestone decision: firing people on the basis of being LGBTQ+ is unconstitutional. This  case Bostock v Clayton County, clarified  the stipulations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, becoming the first national bill to do so. Though it advocates for gender and sexuality rights and ensuring people get the rights they deserve, the bill  does not cover all people and situations, which could let discrimination continue.

Bostock v Clayton County began because the Trump administration questioned whether or not Title VII extends the protection of people based on sex to protecting people based on gender identity and sexuality. Title VII, passed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin”. In other words, people cannot be fired on the basis of things they cannot control.

While the prohibition only mentions “sex”, the interpretation is that it also bans employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but that was not confirmed until the SCOTUS decision in June.

The Bostock v Clayton County decision is as important as the Obergefell v Hodges decision of 2015 which legalized gay marriage. Before this, the LGBTQ+ community had to rely on a “patchwork of state nondiscrimination laws,” and in 25 of the 50 states, there was no protection at all. 

Another important aspect of the decision is the grouping together of gender identity and sexual identity rights which will allow future decisions applicable to the entire LGBTQ+community. One issue, however, is how Title VII is applied. By definition, LGBTQ+ people in workplaces of less than fifteen can still be discriminated against and can still be fired.

The Religious Freedom Act of 1993 (RFRA)  may call this decision into question. RFRA prohibits the government “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion”, which means that those who are religious could theoretically say that their religion does not allow them to hire LGBTQ+ people. RFRA actually supersedes Title VII, operating as a “super statute” according to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. But it is unclear as to how much the RFRA interacts with Title VII because that only applies when governments attack religious freedom, such as banning crosses.

The major conflict between the LGBTQ+ community and the government is how religious freedom interacts with human rights because many religions claim that their religious tenets allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ folk. It will be the focus of Fulton v the city of Philadelphia, a case that will examine whether religious (childrens) organizations can reject those ( LGBTQ+ parents for example), who in their view are not aligned with their doctrine. 

The case is essentially about whether gay couples can adopt children. Religious rights are constitutionally protected  in the Bill of Rights,  so what’s at stake is whether religious institutions can manipulate that right to discriminate against others.

But shouldn’t the basic right  to exist as a human being be upheld above religious rights?

Religion cannot be used as an excuse to discriminate against entire communities, especially those who are so marginalized.  Currently, the Trump administration is trying to roll back medical care for the LGBTQ+ community, which could cost lives, depending on how states respond. Which is why cases like this matter so much. Last year nine Republicans introduced the Fairness for All Act, which prohibits discrimination except when religious groups find it against their doctrine. While it is marketed as a compromise, it could possibly greenlight LGBTQ+ discrimination, making it dangerous.

The government has to explicitly give the community these rights, so people’s livelihoods and lives are not at risk. 

A government that risks its people’s lives is a government that has failed its people. 

Congress will be the next battleground for LGBTQ+ rights. The Equality Act passed in the House last year but has not come closer to becoming law. It bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation/identity in employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service. The bill’s sponsor, Rhode Island Democrat Representative David Cicilline is hopeful, as five years ago, such a bill wouldn’t have been heard on the floor, let alone pass the House. Sadly, the bill never made it to the Senate floor. 

While people in the Bay Area and other progressive parts of the country may assume that LGBTQ+ people have “equal for all” rights, that’s not the case on a federal level.  In the ideal world, LGBTQ+ people would unquestionably have equal rights and never would have needed additional legal protection. We cannot pretend otherwise. 

Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon, and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents.


Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

 

Can We Move Beyond ‘Wash, Rinse, Repeat’ Cycle Of Protests?

Nothing has changed except the year

The COVID 19 pandemic, which has dominated the news throughout much of 2020, took a knee this week, as the U.S. turned its collective zeitgeist to the issue of police brutality against African American men.

Cities across the nation erupted in civic unrest over the alleged murder of Minnesota resident George Floyd. Former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, not letting up even as the victim pleaded: “I can’t breathe,” before becoming unresponsive. Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder and manslaughter. Three police officers, Tou Thao, Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane, have been charged as accomplices in Floyd’s death and jailed.

“Black lives just don’t matter. That is the bottom line here. Black lives haven’t mattered since the inception of this nation,” said Dr. Jody Armour, a professor of law at the University of Southern California, during a June 5 briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services.

Armour said there is a “wash, rinse, repeat” cycle to addressing the civil rights of African Americans.

Armour’s first book, ‘Negrophobia & Reasonable Racism: The Hidden Costs of Being Black in America’ was published in 1997 by New York University Press. “It was really about every one of the issues we’re talking about today,” he said.

“Nothing’s changed, except what year it is,” said Armour, adding that each time there’s an eruption over police brutality. commissions are convened, public hearings are held, people vent their frustrations, and interventions — such as the use of body cams and implicit bias training — are put in place.

“And here we are looking at a moment in Minneapolis, Minnesota where the police department had all those interventions. They were one of the early departments to start implementing all those interventions and it didn’t solve the problem. I think we’re coming to the realization that there’s not a technological fix,” said Armour.

Armour, along with three other speakers, called for cities to de-fund their law enforcement budgets and re-route the money to social services, with an aim to staunching the numbers of African American hostile encounters with police and addressing structural racial and ethnic inequities.  He encouraged cities like New York, where 200 police officers actively arrest subway turnstile jumpers, to re-focus on high-level crimes.

Dr. Tung Nguyen, an internal medicine specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, described racism as both a social determinant of health and as a disease itself.  “Police brutality is a disease vector,” Tung said.

“Chronic exposure to racism causes the body to change adversely to the release of stress, hormones, and neurotransmitters,” said Nguyen, adding: “We also know that acute exposure to racism can lead to death,  as in the case of the recent killings of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.”

An expert on health disparities, Tung noted that one out of 2000 black Americans have died in the pandemic, and their mortality rate is two to three times more than white people.

“The pandemic has severely stretched all of our dysfunctional systems — health, economic, legal, and political — to their limits and broken them. We can no longer pretend that they were good enough. They were never good enough, except for those of us who enjoy privilege,” stated Nguyen.

Nguyen noted the absence of data for minority communities needs to be corrected but added that “I’m not a typical academic research who only asks for more data. At my university, it seems like every single black man, from the janitor to the tenured professor has a police encounter story. To me, that’s data.”

Nguyen reiterated the point in his final statement. “One out of 1000 black men can be expected to be shot by the police in their lifetime. We don’t need more data.”

Thomas A. Saenz, President and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, expressed his hope that the nationwide rage against Floyd’s brutal death, would result in some tangible interventions.

“It’s ironic that today we are experiencing these crises under perhaps the most openly racist and exclusionary president,” said Saenz.

Saenz warned against “perpetuating and even facilitating discriminatory disparities which our underlying culture still accepts… if we cannot attribute them directly to intentional and openly-expressed racial discrimination.”

As the nation begins to recover, Saenz predicted that people of color will be the last to be hired.

The civil rights advocate noted that most undocumented people have Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers and pay taxes but did not receive $1,200 stimulus checks. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has stated that immigrant students are ineligible for emergency financial aid.

Saenz also warned that the pandemic has already impacted the 2020 Census and will likely lead to an under-count of African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos. “This will have long-term impacts throughout the decade, not only on political representation of those groups, but on funding for services to those communities,” he said.

John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC)  noted that Asian Americans have had a history of both implicit and explicit bias against African Americans.

“Asian Americans have not always stood up for the African American community, and that has to change,” stated Yang, adding: “I do think that this moment with George Floyd has caused us to see things differently.”

“The community, I think, has responded with more solidarity that have, I have seen than in past incidents,” he said.

Many Asian American civil rights organizations have lambasted former Minnesota officer Thao for standing by as Chauvin pressed into Floyd. In the video, Thao can be seen trying to shoo away bystanders.

“We recognize that there was racism within our own community, and we recognize that has to be addressed,” said Yang.

“Part of the answer is having those hard conversations with our own community, recognizing our own biases and trying to come up, developing a path forward from there,” he said.

Civil Rights Groups Come Together for Census 2020

As the 2020 Census gets underway, a group of four civil rights organizations has organized telephone hotlines in a range of languages to provide information and, when needed, legal referrals for people unsure about filling out the questionnaires.

The once-every-10-years census provides the government with information it uses to annually distribute hundreds of billions of tax dollars’ worth of services and guide the creation and realignment of political boundaries for allocating representation in Congress, the Electoral College and local governments across the United States.

The census, included in the original 18th century wording of the U.S. constitution, is the country’s largest peacetime project and participation is required by law. It invariably falls short of its mission to count absolutely everyone, no matter if they’re citizens, English speakers, homeowners, renters or homeless.

But the census is intended and widely understood to be risk-free and a benefit to all who participate, so the four organizations: the Arab American Institute; Asian Americans Advancing Justice; the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights; and NALEO (the National Association of Latino Elected Officials), are stepping up to provide confidential information to the communities they serve. 

The telephone hotlines will operate throughout the census data collection period. Census questionnaires have already been distributed to some communities, but the effort begins in earnest in mid-March and April. Follow-up operations to include those who have not responded to initial Census Bureau outreach efforts will continue through July. The hotlines will operate throughout that entire time.

Callers who speak Arabic are invited to call 833 333-6864, or 844-3DDOUNI (“Count me,” in Arabic). This line is staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST already. As of March 1, the hours will be extended to 9 p.m. EST. The Arab American Institute promises to return voicemail messages within 24 hours.

Those whose preferred language is Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Urdu, Hindi or Bengali/Bangla can call (844) 202-0274, or (844) 2020-API. This line is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. EST through the end of July, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice promises to return all voice mail messages within 24-48 hours.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights will operate its hotline (800) 268-6820, also 888-Count20, through the end of July. It’s working now from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST and beginning March 2 will remain staffed until 9 p.m. EST. The organization promises to return voice mail messages left at other times on the following business day.

NALEO’s line, for Spanish speakers, (877) 352-3676 or 877-EL-CENSO, is operating from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. EST. Voice mail messages will be responded to on the next business day after they are received.

The hotlines will all also field calls from English-language speakers.

The organizations expect to field a range of calls about the census from basic information requests to legal questions or concerns about incidents that require follow-up.

Together with the Leadership Conference, the Brennan Center and MALDEF (the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund), the groups have also organized a network of legal specialists across the country to respond to questions ranging from basic obligations regarding the census to concerns about threats to disrupt census participation.

The organizations have previously performed hotline services to protect election integrity.

One widespread concern about the 2020 Census is whether respondents can trust that personal information they provide will truly be kept confidential, as promised and required by law. Applicable laws include some of the strictest confidentiality regulations anywhere in government, such as fines of up to $250,000 and years of incarceration for anyone who shares people’s personal information with other government agencies such as police, ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or the Border Patrol, to name just a few examples.

But in case those laws and promises aren’t enough, the organizations, with MALDEF leading the way, have also developed a census confidentiality protection pledge. Intended to boost confidence among so-called hard-to-count populations, it commits a coalition of individuals and organizations to using their power and influence to address, deter and end any breaches of census data confidentiality.

The Census Bureau, as part of its own efforts to overcome language barriers, has prepared a series of 27 instructional videos about the census. They range from nearly 10 to almost 20 minutes in length in each of the following languages: Amharic12:47, Arabic13:53, Armenian11:29,  Bengali13:19, simplified Cantonese9:51, traditional Cantonese9:52, English9:25, Farsi14:21, French11:02, German12:29, Greek11:57, Haitian Creole10:37, Hindi11:55, Italian10:59, Japanese11:39, Korean11:13, simplified Mandarin10:01, traditional Mandarin10:02, Polish13:34, Portuguese10:45, Russian11:58, Somali14:38, Spanish11:43, Tagalog12:10, Thai, Ukrainian12:50 and Vietnamese10:33.

 

New Leadership at SAALT

SAALT recently announced the appointment of new Executive Director Lakshmi Sridaran who previously led SAALT’s policy and legislative agenda for four years. Simran Noor, an expert in philanthropy, movement building, and organizational development will now serve as  SAALT’s new Board Chair.

Lakshmi Sridaran comes to the Executive Director role at SAALT with 15 years of experience working in nonprofits. She holds a Masters degree in City Planning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a B.A. in Ethnic Studies from The University of California, Berkeley.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to lead SAALT after being grounded in our communities and the issues we confront during the last five years. I look forward to helping strengthen our movement and shift narratives within and about South Asian American communities,” said Lakshmi.  

 As SAALT’s Interim Executive Director in the past year, she played a crucial role managing the organization’s operations and infrastructure while simultaneously leading on policy and campaigns. 

Before that Lakshmi served as Director of National Policy and Advocacy at SAALT on core issues including immigration, racial profiling, and combating hate violence at the federal level. During this time she worked with national and regional partners including the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations to build movements for justice across communities of color.  Lakshmi expanded the scope of SAALT’s coalition partners at the local and national levels, and facilitated more influence for South Asian American communities on Capitol Hill.

Before joining SAALT, Lakshmi served as the Policy Director for The Praxis Project, a national organization focused on health justice in communities of color. Prior to that, Lakshmi spent six years in New Orleans working with directly impacted communities on recovery and economic justice issues immediately after Hurricane Katrina.

Simran Noor currently runs her own strategy firm and works with organizations to institute processes and programs to achieve racial equity. She has over a decade of experience working in the public policy and nonprofit worlds to advance racial, social and economic justice. She’s a past Race Forward fellow and served as Vice President for Policy and Programs for the Center for Social Inclusion. Simran holds a bachelor’s degree in American Studies and Political Science from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a master’s degree in Public Administration and Social Policy from the University of Pennsylvania. She has served on the SAALT Board since 2017. 

“I couldn’t be more excited to support Lakshmi and SAALT in the coming years. We look forward to continuing to position SAALT to be a national leader in visibilizing the issues faced by South Asian communities and working with awesome local and national partners to create more power and justice,” said Simran. 

SAALT, a national, non-profit organization that fights for racial justice and advocates for the civil rights of all South Asians in the US, will celebrate its 20 anniversary in 2020.

 

Reducing Disparities for Communities of Color in Higher Education

A coalition of civil rights organizations has concrete suggestions for Congress as it considers how to update the 1965 Higher Education Act (HEA).

That law informs a vast array of college, university and post-graduate issues, from the provision and terms of student grants and loans to funding educational institutions themselves.

Since the law was last updated 11 years ago, there have been “significant changes to the student body in the country. It’s overdue for an update,” said Liz King of the Leadership Conference Education Fund (LCEF) on an August 30, 2019 telebriefing with ethnic news media.

The LCEF, with almost four dozen other organizations, recently drafted a list of 10 recommendations to Congress to consider “to achieve equity and protect civil rights.”

That document, “Civil Rights Principles for Higher Education” (https://tinyurl.com/LCEF7-19), describes a host of challenges that are particularly steep for students of color pursuing college educations.

Nicole Dooley of the NAACP spoke of “unprecedented challenges and significant barriers for minority students.”  Other speakers included Adrienne Elliott of the National Indian Education Association, Stephanie Roman of UnidosUS and Quyen Dinh of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center.

Among the challenges the coalition is urging Congress to address are enforcing civil rights laws that protect students who face discrimination over their skin color, foreign birth, pregnancy, sexual orientation, age or other factors.

Another is for-profit institutions and predatory lenders that saddle students with debt that limits their ability to study while still in school and their financial well-being upon graduation.

Overcoming these barriers is “at the center of what the HEA was created to do,” Roman said.

Higher education is understood within the Latino community as “still a person’s best chance of getting a good job and achieving social mobility,” Roman said.  Twenty percent of college students now are Latino, but “completion remains a problem, especially if students borrow and don’t graduate.”  A third of those burgeoning numbers of Latino students don’t graduate.

Three-quarters of Latino college students are the first in their families to attend college and many have to take out loans to do so, which has “serious implications” for their success, Roman said.

Adrienne Elliott described a typical path a Native American student might travel on the way to college: elementary and high school environments where racism, myths and stereotypes about their cultures thrive, but resources to prepare them for higher education, even for things as simple as applying, are absent.

For such a student, Elliott said, “the barriers to higher education begin long before they become a high school senior” and continue through adulthood when they are raising their own children and paying their own bills.

Asked about the circumstances of students from indigenous backgrounds such as Mixtecs and Zapotecs from Mexico, Elliott emphasized the coalition’s recommendation to dis-aggregate data on education, to better distinguish the circumstances of different population segments.

Quyen Dinh also highlighted the urgency of disaggregating data.  When relatively good numbers are touted for Asian American students in general, the “extreme challenges” faced by the largest refugee community in the country – people from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam who have been in the United States for decades – are overlooked.  “The first step to addressing inequities for these students is to be seen,” Dinh noted, and that means more specific data.

Other recommendations from the coalition include ensuring adequate funding for historically black universities or HBUs and other institutions that serve underrepresented populations, better teacher training and a renewed emphasis on improving graduation rates.

For black students, college enrollment is decreasing even as high school graduation rates improve, the coalition’s report found.

Although the coalition’s focus is on higher education, speakers also cited broader needs for more culturally competent resources, such as for the five million English language learners in the U.S. K-12 system, or the lack of access to Internet in the reservations.

Asked about opposition to their recommendations, Liz King cited President Trump  and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for “creating opportunities for exploitation of students” and North Carolina Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, former chair and currently ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee, for “undermining all of the issues that we speak to in our principles and in our policy recommendations.

“We have seen opposition to the rights of immigrants and the rights of language minorities. We have seen opposition to LGBTQ people and people with disabilities. We have seen opposition to black people, other people of color and to native peoples’ success in the country.  But we are confident that if we all come together, we will be able to advance higher education policy that ensures equity and equal opportunity.”

Mark Hedin is a reporter with Ethnic Media Services.