Supreme Court Rules Federal Civil Rights Law Protects LGBTQ+ Workers

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that existing federal civil rights protections forbids job discrimination against LGBTQ+ workers. The decision said that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on a person’s sex, also covers sexual orientation.

Twenty-two states plus the District of Columbia currently have laws prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Monday ruling will extend similar protections to millions of workers nationwide.

The decision is a major, long-awaited victory for LGBTQ+ rights activists, many of whom consider discrimination protections more important than the right to marry given the high rates of unemployment and economic insecurity in the LGBTQ+ community.

“Today, the law, justice, and fairness are on our side,” said Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal, in their statement. “We have a long way to go in securing the full and undeniable civil rights of LGBTQ+ people, especially those in our community who are Black, Indigenous and people of color for whom their sexual orientation or gender identity is only one of many barriers to equal opportunity in this country. But today’s victory is a necessary step forward on the journey toward equal justice for all.”

The decision came only days after the Trump administration announced the roll-back of Obama-era healthcare protections for women and transgender people. The Department of Health and Human Services revised a rule that prevented healthcare workers and insurance companies that receive federal funds from denying services like abortion or gender-affirming care.

This decision came in the middle of Pride Month and on the fourth anniversary of the Pulse massacre, when 49 people were murdered inside a beloved gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

The ruling was a surprise coming from the increasingly conservative court, but Republican-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberal Democratic appointees to form a 6-3 majority. Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas dissented.

The Supreme Court ignored suggestions made by the Trump administration with this decision. The Justice Department had previously urged the court to rule that Title VII does not cover sexual orientation because the common understanding of sex discrimination in 1964 did not encompass discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The decision conceded that the authors of Title VII likely did not consider sexual orientation or gender identity when they wrote the law. Still, they said that an employer who fires a female employee for dating women, but not a male employee for dating women, violates the nondiscrimination clause based on sex.

“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender first that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” wrote Justice Gorsuch in the majority opinion. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Sources: NBC News 6/15/2020; CNN 6/15/2020; Politico 6/15/2020; The New York Times 6/15/2020

Egypt Arrests Female Social Media Influencers for Promoting “Immorality”

Four young Egyptian women on the popular social media app TikTok have been arrested by state authorities accusing them of spreading “immorality” with their content.

These women are the most recent targets of state authorities monitoring social media accounts for “offensive” content. Since President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s election in 2014, hundreds of dissident public persons, including journalists, authors, activists, academics, and lawyers, have been arrested under the guise of state security.

Cairo University student Haneen Hossam was arrested April 21 for allegedly promoting prostitution after posting a clip in which she told her 1.3 million TikTok followers that girls could make money on the app. Another influencer with more than two million followers on Instagram and TikTok, Mowada al-Adham, was arrested in late May for posting inflammatory satirical videos.

The 22-year-old TikTok star, Mawada Eladhm, was arrested on May 14. Her arrest generated significant press attention and outrage from her five million followers. Many pointed to the fact that, unlike Hossam and al-Adham’s content, most of Eladhm’s videos were the type of videos a majority of users post on TikTok: dancing and lip-syncing to popular songs and showing off recent purchases, such as clothing and make-up.

The three women were all charged with “attacking the family values of Egyptian society.” Reports from private citizens to the General Department for the Protection of Moral Values instigated their arrests.

Hossam was released on bail earlier this week, but she was re-arrested on Thursday. According to a statement by the prosecutor general, “new evidence was brought against her” that necessitated her re-arrest and would bring additional charges.

Menna Abdel-Aziz, a 17 year-old-girl, was also arrested in late May for posting a clip on TikTok in which she alleged that she was gang-raped by a group of young men. The video shows her sobbing, her face battered and visibly bruised.

She was promptly arrested, along with her six accused attackers. All were charged with “promoting debauchery.”

The non-governmental organization Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights swiftly called for her immediate release. In their statement, they demanded that the young woman be “treated as a rape victim and survivor” rather than a criminal. Prosecutors announced Thursday that she had been transferred from police custody to a rehabilitation center for female victims of abuse and sexual violence.

The targeting of social media influencers fits into a pattern of state interest in squashing dissent online, said Joey Shea, who studies cybersecurity at the Washington-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

“This is yet another attempt to increase and legitimize surveillance of digital platforms,” she told the Guardian, pointing to other laws meant to limit freedom of expression.

Hossam, al-Adham, and Eladhm all remain in state custody and await formal criminal proceedings. At least three other social media influencers, whose names have not been released, have also been arrested in the last month.

Sources: The Guardian 6/12/2020; The North Africa Journal 6/11/2020; Egyptian Streets 5/19/2020

Kentucky Governor Pledges Universal Health Care Coverage for Black Residents

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear (D) announced plans to provide healthcare coverage to 100 percent of Black and African American Kentuckians in an effort to address racial inequalities in health care on Monday morning.

The governor made the announcement during his daily COVID-19 press briefing. Beshear began the briefing by acknowledging the racial disparities in Kentucky’s coronavirus cases. According to his report, Black Kentuckians make up 16.5 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths but only 8.4 percent of the population.

“I believe that health care is a basic human right. And when I ran for governor, I made a pledge that we would sign every Kentuckian up for some form of health care coverage,” Beshear told NPR. “But COVID-19 has laid bare what health care inequality results in, and that’s death. And so what I’ve tried to do is listen – listen to the demonstrations that are going on, listen to leaders in the black community.”

According to the 2018 American Community Survey, there are approximately 20,000 uninsured Black Kentuckians, about 5.8 percent of the Black population. This reflects the state’s overall uninsured rate at 5.6 percent.

Beshear’s plan would hire “health insurance connectors” to reach out to Black Kentucky residents directly to assist them in applying for insurance private insurance or Medicaid. Kentucky started a similar program after the state expanded Medicaid coverage in previous years. This plan will differ by prioritizing Black and African American Kentuckians.

“We are gonna begin an effort to cover 100 percent of our individuals in our black and African-American communities,” Beshear said. “Everybody. We’re gonna be putting dollars behind it, we’re going to have a multifaceted campaign to do it.”

The governor did not specify how the state would provide coverage to those who do not qualify for Medicaid and aren’t eligible for private insurance through employers. Beshear also did not answer concerns that the program promotes illegal race-based discrimination.

The announcement came in the wake of protests over the murder of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black front-line health care worker, by Louisville police. Beshear also announced several other actions aimed at reducing racial inequality and anti-Black racism in policing on Monday.

When asked if the changes would sufficiently address systematic racism in law enforcement, Beshear said, “No, it’s not. But it’s a start.”

Sources: NPR 6/9/2020; The Hill 6/9/2020; Kentucky Herald-Leader 6/8/2020

Immigrants Arrested on Mistaken Charges at Phoenix Protests Face Deportation

Four undocumented people were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement after being arrested at protests condemning the murder of George Floyd in Phoenix, Arizona. The Phoenix Police Department arrested all four immigrants the night of Saturday, May 30. They were held overnight in a Maricopa County jail before being transferred to ICE custody.

One of the arrestees, Jesus Manuel Orona Prieto, was not involved with the protests. According to his girlfriend Corina Paez, who was also arrested, the couple was pulled over driving home from a dinner date in downtown Phoenix. Police served him felony rioting charges. Due to his immigration status, Orona Prieto is facing imminent removal proceedings and will likely be deported to his home state of Chihuahua, Mexico.

“[Orona Prieto] wasn’t even at the protest, but what was wrong with him? His skin was brown, and because his skin was brown and he was in the area where a protest was happening, he was pulled over, pulled out of his car and given felony charges,” said Ybarra Maldonado, the attorney representing those arrested at Saturday’s protest.

The other three arrestees, Roberto Cortes, Johan Montes Cuevas, and Máxima Guerrero have protected immigration status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The new arrests could cause them to lose their DACA status and lead to their deportation.

Cortes, Cuevas, Guerro, and Orona Prieto were among 114 people arrested by Phoenix police in connection to the Saturday protests. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona called the arrests a violation of “civil rights en masse.” Maricopa County Superior Court has since ordered the release of many arrestees after finding they were detained without probable cause.

Phoenix police have since lowered the charges against the four undocumented arrestees from a felony to a misdemeanor for unlawful assembly after admitting that they were all labeled with the wrong charges while being booked.

The arrests are still garnered the attention of ICE agents and will compromise their immigration status. Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone allows immigration agents to screen every person arrested and booked in county jails. As such, ICE agents often wait for undocumented people outside jails to detain them as soon as they are released from police custody, as was the case with Cortes, Cuevas, and Guerro.

Guerro, who is a community organizer with the Puente Human Rights Movement, was released from ICE custody Monday morning after a national social media campaign. The two other dreamers were also released Monday. All three will face deportation if the charges from Phoenix Police are not dropped.

Orona Prieto is still awaiting his removal hearing. He is being detained at the Florence Correctional Center, a private prison that also houses immigrant detainees. The facility currently has a COVID-19 outbreak with five active cases and 15 confirmed cases of prisoners and staff.

Sources: The Intercept 7/8/2020; AZ Central 7/2/2020; AZ Mirror 7/1/2020

Chicago Protests Amplify Demands that Police Be Removed from Schools

Outrage over the murder of George Floyd by police has sparked activists in Chicago to demand that police officers be removed from Chicago Public Schools. Young people are urging the district to nullify the $33 million contract it entered into with the Chicago Police Department in August to station officers in CPS buildings.

Approximately a thousand teachers, parents, and students attended a North Side rally and march Thursday evening. A few hundred protestors later gathered outside the Zenos Colman Elementary school where youth activists spoke about police presence in schools making them feel unsafe. Student groups have also collected more than 20,000 signatures on an online petition calling for the removal.

After years of fighting to have the police removed, student activists said they believe now is the time for it to happen.

“We have all these beautiful people fighting against this cause right now,” Alicia Kamil, a student at King High School, said to the crowd. “We have the numbers, we have the energy, we have the spirit, we have the passion to do it so they finna listen to us.”

Chicagoans have taken to the streets in large numbers to protest police violence every night the last week. Protests have raged across the country to demand justice for George Floyd, a Black man who was murdered by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The call to remove the police from Chicago schools has come on the tail end of the announcement that the Minneapolis Board of Education and the Minneapolis Parks Department are ending their contracts with the Minneapolis Police Department. The Minneapolis City Council also announced Thursday that they would be holding an emergency meeting to consider disbanding the police entirely.

Minneapolis was previously undergoing a lauded three-year program meant to increase trust between police and community members and decrease police violence. Many activists believe that these reforms were not enough. The rallying cry of #DefundThePolice has gone viral on social media.

Other cities have responded similarly to protestors’ demands. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti canceled this year’s slotted budget increase for the Los Angeles Police Department. The New York City Council voted to cut the New York Police Department’s $6 billion by $1 billion in the next year. The cities of Dallas, Philadelphia, and Nashville, among others, are all considering similar moves.

Activists have argued that defunding the police and instead investing in social services will strengthen and protect communities. Protestors in Chicago cited the same concerns.

“The city of Chicago should be investing that money… in our communities. They should be investing that money in after-school programs and mental health resources,” high school senior Diego Garcia, 18, told the Chicago Tribune. “We don’t need more cops. At the end of the day, we are just being set up for the school-to-prison pipeline.”

In a statement Thursday, Chicago Public School officials said that they value the “feedback” but made no commitment to reconsidering their contract with the Chicago Police Department.

Sources: WBEZ 6/5/2020; Chicago Tribune 6/4/2020; WBEZ 6/2/2020

Activists Respond to Video of Black Trans Woman Being Attacked by Group of Men

Iyanna Dior, a 21-year-old Black transgender woman from Minneapolis, Minnesota, was brutally attacked by a group of mostly cisgender men on Monday, according to a video that has gone viral on social media this week.

The video shows a group of between 15 and 30 assailants beating Dior and calling her homophobic slurs outside a convenience store after a reported fender bender. Dior was able to escape into the store and through the back entrance with the help of bystanders, who stood between her and her attackers.

Dior has since posted a video on Facebook saying that she was okay. She suffered some swelling and bruising on her face and arms, as well as minor injuries to her forehead and teeth.

News of Dior’s attack has enraged activists, prompting a flood of demands for justice and increased awareness of the high rates of violence against Black transgender women. The rallying cries of #JusticeForIyannaDior and #BlackTransLivesMatter have circulated social media amongst nationwide protests against police violence and anti-Black racism.

Several high-profile Black trans women expressed solidarity with Dior on social media, including Janet Mock and Raquel Willis. Activists also circulated Dior’s CashApp and advised that allies to the LGBTQ+ community donate.

Dior’s attack comes shortly after the murder of Tony McDade, a 38-year-old Black transgender man in Tallahassee, Florida, by police officers. Activists have also drawn comparisons to the brutal murder of another Black trans woman, Nina Pop, 28, who was found dead in her Missouri apartment in early May. Police have not established a motive for Pop’s murder but suspect it was a hate crime.

No arrests have been made in either case. Police departments initially misgendered both McDade and Pop when releasing information about their murders.

The Human Rights Campaign reported that at least 26 transgender or gender-nonconforming people were violently killed in 2019, at least 91 percent of which were Black trans women. Eighty-one percent were under the age of 30.

“This violence has got to stop. All of our heats should hurt watching the videos of this young trans woman being hit by a group of people. Black lives matter and that includes trans, non-binary, queer, cis and straight Black lives,” Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative, told Rolling Stone. “The time is now for us to make changes through an intersectional lens that includes all Black lives.”

Activists in Minneapolis have planned a march in solidarity with Dior for June 4. To those who cannot march, they recommend sending donations to The Okra Project or the Trans Women of Color Collective in Dior’s honor.

Sources: VOX 6/4/2020; Rolling Stone 6/4/2020

Man Pleads Guilty to Threatening to Bomb Jacksonville Abortion Clinic

Rodney Allen, 43, of Beaufort, South Carolina, pled guilty in federal court Friday, May 29, to threatening to bomb a Jacksonville, Florida abortion clinic.

Allen pled guilty to one count of intimidating and interfering with the clinic’s employees with a fake bomb threat and one count of making false statements to a Special Agent Robert W. Blythe from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“Federal law makes it illegal to threaten to blow up people and to lie to the FBI about bomb threats,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “The Civil Rights Division will continue to enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act to protect all people in our nation from the kind of cowardly threats and lies that led to this case.”

On August 29, 2019, Allen made a total of nine phone calls to the reproductive health clinic to prevent a woman he was formerly in a relationship with from receiving an abortion that day. He even called the clinic’s owner on her cell phone. He made an additional seven calls to other local reproductive health centers between August 18 and 30.

Employees recognized Allen’s voice from a previous visit to the clinic and notified the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to search and protect the office. The FBI later acquired subscriber information for the number and positively identified Allen as the caller. In a secretly recorded interview with Special Agent Blythe, Allen falsely denied calling the clinic and making the bomb threats.

According to the affidavit submitted to federal court, these events took place after Allen sexually assaulted his former girlfriend – referred to in the affidavit as A.S. – which resulted in her becoming pregnant.

A.S. had previously made almost a dozen attempts to terminate the pregnancy, making appointments at clinics in North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. Each time she made an appointment, a person believed to be Allen called the clinics on her behalf and canceled them. Employees of the Jacksonville clinic testified they believed that Allen had access to A.S.’s phone calls and text messages and had somehow obtained A.S.’s personal patient code, which allowed him to cancel her appointments without her consent.

In her testimony, A.S. alleged that Allen had been physically abusive throughout their relationship and had threatened to kill members of her family if she terminated the pregnancy. Clinic employees testified that Allen’s behavior made them fear for A.S.’s life.

Court documents do not confirm whether or not A.S. was able to obtain the abortion.

“Health care facilities, and those who receive their services, should be able to operate free from fear of threats or harm,” said U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez, the lead prosecutor on the case. “We will continue to work with our public safety partners to ensure that no one is prohibited from exercising their right to work or access to care.”

Sources: WJXT News 6/1/2020; Office of Public Affairs Press Release 5/29/2020; Vice 10/7/2019

Inclusion of Transgender Student Athletes Found to Violate Title IX

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has found that a Connecticut high school athletics policy that allows transgender students to participate in sports teams that match their gender identity violates federal law and could cost the state federal education funding.

A 45-page letter, dated May 15, explained that the decision was based on the finding that the policy violated Title IX: the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in all programs that receive federal funding.

The office began their investigation after the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian organization, filed a Title IX complaint and a federal lawsuit on behalf of three female track athletes against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

The lawsuit alleged that the policy gave transgender students an unearned advantage in athletic competitions and in attracting scholarships and college recruiters. The ruling agreed, stating that the policy “denied female student-athletes athletic benefits and opportunities, including advancing to the finals in events, higher level competitions, awards, medals, recognition, and the possibility of greater visibility to colleges and other benefits.”

In March, Idaho became the first state to bar transgender student-athletes with the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act. The law intensified national debate about transgender athletes, which has now become a key conservative wedge issue and rallying cry for Trump supporters.

As the title suggests, the Idaho bill only prevents students assigned male at birth from participating in women’s sports, based on the idea that transgender girls have specific biological advantages over their cisgender classmates. This logic relies on the dangerous myth that transgender women are really men and therefore will automatically win competitions, despite ample evidence that women can be good at sports, even when competing against men. There is also no evidence that transgender women and girls have any sort of competitive advantage in female sports.

At the time of the Idaho bill’s passage, the state attorney general and other Idaho lawmakers expressed concern about the constitutionality of the law due to Title IX. Although not legally binding, the decision from the Education Department suggests that the law will stand.

According to Sam Brinton, vice president of The Trevor Project’s department of advocacy and government affairs, the use of Title IX to further a policy that excludes transgender women and perpetuates gender stereotypes about women’s inferiority is particularly frustrating.

“Title IX was meant to ensure that gender would never be a barrier to opportunity in our nation’s schools,” Brinton said in a Thursday statement. “This decision by the administration to use it instead to exclude transgender athletes completely warps this landmark civil rights law into a tool of discrimination.”

The Office for Civil Rights ruling said that it will “either initiate administrative proceedings to suspend, terminate or refuse to grant or continue and defer financial assistance” to the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and the school districts that have allowed transgender students to compete.

Sources: The New York Times 5/29/2020; Time 5/28/2020; NBC Connecticut 5/28/2020

DeVos Demands Public Schools Share Pandemic Relief Funds with Private Schools

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Friday that she would force public school districts to share a portion of federal relief funds provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, on private schools. The rescue package set aside more than $13 billion to help public schools struggling with pandemic-related deficits.

DeVos announced that she would be enforcing the controversial policy in a letter to the Council of Chief State Officers, which represents state education chiefs. The council had previously allocated funds from the CARES Act only to public schools.

“The CARES Act is a special, pandemic-related appropriation to benefit all American students, teachers and families,” DeVos wrote in her statement. “There is nothing in the act suggesting Congress intended to discriminate between children based on public or nonpublic school attendance, as you seem to do. The virus affects everyone.”

According to a letter written by members of the House Committee on Education and Labor, the CARES Act intended to allocate funds on a district-level based on how many low-income students a district serves – the same way that the federal government distributes Title I funds.

Following DeVos’s guidance would result in millions of taxpayer dollars being diverted from disadvantaged students and districts struggling without their typical tax revenues, to private schools with no regard for their income. The money would be allocated based on the overall number of students a district serves. This could force taxpayers in districts with large private school populations to spend money on wealthier private school students rather than on low-income students. Nationwide, school districts would have to reserve funds for roughly 5.7 million private school students, of which approximately 300,000 qualify as low-income.

“This will only increase the challenges that the highest poverty schools face,” Dereck W. Black, University of South Carolina law professor and expert on federal education policy, wrote for The Daily Beast. “Before the pandemic even hit, public schools serving the highest-poverty communities had $1,000 less per student than those educating affluent students. These shortfalls are likely to expand based on current economic conditions.”

This announcement came alongside accusations that DeVos has exploited the coronavirus pandemic to further an agenda that favors private religious schools. DeVos has been a vocal advocate for district-level school choice programs that provide taxpayer money to children attending private and religious schools. Critics have suggested that she is using the pandemic to actualize this kind of policy.

Resistance to DeVos’s policy has been swift. A recently passed House bill would clarify the intent of the CARES Act to limit private schools from obtaining any pandemic-related emergency relief funding moving forward.

The national association of school superintendents has directed school districts to ignore Devos’s order. Two states, Indiana and Maine, previously said they would ignore the guidance as long as it was non-binding.

Sources: The New York Times 5/27/2020; Politico 5/26/2020; NPR 5/21/2020

New Mexico Has the Historic Opportunity to Elect First All-Female U.S. House Delegation

New Mexico voters may send a historic all-female U.S. House delegation to Congress next year. The state’s three congresswomen could all be women of color, which would be another national first.

Women are seeking the Democratic and Republican nominations in all six of the state’s primary races. At least one Latina or one Native American woman is running in each district. These women candidates have been among the highest gleaning fundraisers in their races and could all become their respective party’s nominees.

These wins would make history. In 2013, New Hampshire became the first state with an all-female Congressional delegation (Sens Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte, and Reps. Ann McLane Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter). Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester, who is a Black woman, became the nation’s first all-female of color delegation in 2017 as Delaware’s sole member of the U.S. House.

New Mexico could elect the largest U.S. House delegation of women or women of color in the nation’s history. Professor Christine Marie Sierra, who studies women in politics at the University of New Mexico, has anticipated this moment for decades.

“Women are now seen as viable candidates, and both parties in New Mexico are doing their part to recruit women to run for office,” Sierra said. “And what you see here is a reflection of the state’s diversity.”

The state’s 1st Congressional District is currently represented by one of the nation’s first Native American congresswomen, Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland. Michelle Garcia Holmes, a Hispanic former police officer, is one of three Republicans seeking to challenge Haaland for the seat, which represents the Democratic-leaning Albuquerque region.

The GOP nomination for the state’s southern 2nd Congressional District is another three-way contest currently dominated by oil executive Claire Chase and former state lawmaker and Cherokee Nation member Yvette Herrell. Both women are seeking to unseat Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who is running unchallenged within her party.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan left his seat to run for Senate, leaving New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District up for grabs. Former CIA operative Valerie Plame and lawyer Teresa Leger Fernandez are currently leading a crowded field competing for the Democratic nomination. Navajo Nation member and businesswomen Karen Bedonie is the sole candidate running on the Republican side. Bedonie’s campaign, which she has done in total social isolation, recently garnered media attention for boosting its social media presence.

But New Mexico isn’t alone in its historic wins for women candidates. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, a record number of women have filed as candidates for U.S. House seats nationwide in 2020. In the 2018 midterm election, 476 women launched campaigns for House seats. This year, 490 women have filed as candidates.

In the past two years alone, women candidates have broken the records for the number of women running for governor, U.S. House, and U.S. Senate.

“In 2018, amidst the excitement of a record-breaking year for women candidates, we often asked whether we were in the middle of a one-time spike in candidacies driven by unique circumstances or if we were seeing the emergence of a new normal,” said Center for American Women and Politics Director Debbie Walsh in a statement earlier this year. “This is a sign that the momentum isn’t letting up.”

Sources: Associated Press 5/25/2020; Santa Fe New Mexican 5/26/2020

Coronavirus Cases Among Health Care Workers Tops 62,000

More than 62,000 front-line doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers have been infected with COVID-19, the Center for Disease Control reported on Tuesday. At least 291 healthcare workers have died from coronavirus complications.


The previous CDC analysis, released April 17, reported that there were only 9,888 documented cases of coronavirus among healthcare workers. At that time, only 27 healthcare workers had died of coronavirus.


The April report found that the median age of infected workers was 42. Nearly three-quarters of sick healthcare workers were women, which reflects the overall gender distribution of doctors and nurses. A disproportionate number of healthcare professionals of color had contracted COVID-19. Black healthcare workers made up approximately 5 percent of those surveyed by the CDC who self-identified their race and 21 percent of coronavirus cases. The more recent report did not provide these statistics.


The real number of healthcare workers infected with coronavirus may be much higher than either of these figures. The CDC based its conclusion on a survey of 1.3 million Americans, but only a quarter among them reported their profession. Mortality data were also only available for just over half of healthcare workers, meaning that the death toll could be much higher.


Christopher Friese, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Population Health and a nurse currently seeing patients, said that he is alarmed by the number of health care professionals getting sick. He also expressed concern about the fact that official records with the names of people who have died are so hard to find.


“It’s an insult that we can’t even honor or respect these colleagues in a respectful way,” Friese told the Guardian. “We cannot even grieve properly. We can’t even honor them because we may not even know who we’ve lost.”


The reasons behind the spike in sick health care workers remain unclear. Whether doctors and workers contracted the coronavirus while working with sick patients or from other community members is difficult to track on a national scale.


As of May 27, more than 5.6 million COVID-19 cases and 351,000 deaths have been documented worldwide, according to data compiled by the CDC. Many believe the actual numbers are much higher, due to testing shortages, unreported cases, and fears that some governments are hiding the seriousness of outbreaks in their nations.


 Sources: CDC 5/27/2020; NBC News 5/27/2020; ABC News 5/27/2020


White Woman Calls Police On Black Man After She Violated Leashing Laws

On Monday, May 25 Amy Cooper, a white woman, called the police on a Black birdwatcher after he requested that she leash her dog, who was allegedly ripping up plants and disrupting his birdwatching. The area of Central Park, known as the Ramble, has mandatory leashing laws that the woman disregarded.

Christian Cooper (no relation) recorded a video of part of their encounter and posted it on Facebook. The video has since been viewed more than 20 million times on Facebook and gone viral on Twitter, where #FireAmyCooper is currently trending.

“I’m taking a picture and calling the cops,” said Amy Cooper in the video, before taking out her phone to call the police. “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”

The incident is being pointed to as another example of white people calling the police on African Americans for ordinary activities. Others are highlighting the long and specific history of white women accusing Black men and boys of crimes that they did not commit. The fact that Cooper was comfortable calling the police despite breaking the law herself is also a particularly potent example of white privilege and entitlement.

“I don’t think there’s an African American person in America who hasn’t experienced something like this at some point,” Christian Cooper told the Washington Post in an interview.

“I’m not going to participate in my own dehumanization. I’m not going to feed into this,” he added in conversation with NBC New York. “We live in an age of Ahmaud Arbery, where Black men are gunned down because of assumptions people make about Black men, Black people, and I’m just not going to participate in that.”

The New York Police Department told CNN that neither Amy nor Christian Cooper was present when officers responded to the scene at 8:10 AM. The NYPD has made no arrests or summons at this time.

Amy Cooper has since been put on administrative leave, her employer Franklin Templeton announced on Twitter. The investment firm has launched an independent investigation into the incident and her previous conduct at work. Cooper also voluntarily surrendered her dog, Henry, to Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue, Inc. after being accused of animal abuse.

Amy Cooper apologized to Cooper and his family for the incident Monday evening, telling NBC New York that her “entire life is being destroyed right now.”

Despite the harm done, Christian Cooper said he is willing to accept her apology.

“I’m not interested in repercussions,” he said. “It’s unfortunate what happened. There was definitely a lapse in judgment. But she put the dog on the leash, and I don’t need to see anything else happen to her.”

Sources: CNN 5/26/2020; Huffington Post 5/26/2020; Washington Post 5/25/2020

Americans Support Medical Care but Not Economic Aid for Undocumented Immigrants

A Pew Research Center survey published May 22 found that a majority of U.S. adults (68 percent) believe the federal government has a responsibility to provide medical care to undocumented immigrants who are sick with coronavirus. Only 32 percent believe that the government should provide economic relief, such as stimulus checks, to undocumented immigrants who have lost their jobs due to pandemic shutdowns. The study surveyed 10,957 adults as part of the Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel between April 29 and May 5.

Views on this issue varied widely based on partisan identification, race and ethnicity, and other demographic characteristics, Pew reports.

The Pew study found that the most reliable indicator of views on this issue was partisan identification. Fifty-six percent of Democratic-leaning respondents supported providing economic relief to undocumented immigrants while only 14 percent of self-identified Republicans agreed. There was also a sharp partisan divide on the issue where two-thirds of Americans agreed: 85 percent of Democrats and 14 percent of Republicans supported providing medical care.

This data reflects the observation that American’s views on immigration have become increasingly polarized in recent years. Polling on all issues related to the government response to the coronavirus pandemic has also shown significant partisan divides.

There are approximately 10.5 million undocumented or unauthorized immigrants in the United States. None are eligible for unemployment benefits and 45 percent are uninsured. Before the economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, undocumented immigrants made up approximately 4.6 percent of the United States’ labor force.

In the last two months, 36 million Americans filed unemployment claims and received unemployment benefits, a benefit for which undocumented immigrants are not legally eligible. Undocumented immigrants also received no economic relief from the CARES Act, which passed in late March. The $2 trillion economic relief package provided one-time cash payments, $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for married couples, plus $500 for each dependent, to all eligible Americans.

The CARES Act was criticized for neglecting undocumented immigrants, as well as their spouses and families. A second government stimulus package, which passed the House on Friday May 15, includes expanded protection for undocumented immigrants. The bill, known as the HEROES Act, would provide the same $1,200 cash payments to workers with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) and who pay taxes. The bill would also temporarily protect people working in essential fields from deportation.

“Right now, the American people have focused on their own survival and that of their families,” said House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), co-sponsor of the bill, to The Hill. “I want to make it very clear: COVID-19 does not discriminate or differentiate on immigration status.”

These results were released in the wake of Senator Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) announcement that he will be introducing legislation to expand legal immigrants’ access to federal health care subsidy programs. The bill, known as the HEAL for Immigrant Women and Families Act, would allow legal immigrants who meet the income requirements to enroll in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). If passed, the bill would also allow undocumented immigrants to purchase health insurance from the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Sources: Pew Research Center 5/21/2020; The Hill 5//2020; ABC News 5/20/2020; Vox 5/20/2020, Vox 5/15/2020

Rwanda Announces Release of 50 Women Jailed for Abortion

On May 20, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda announced the release of 50 women imprisoned for undergoing, seeking, or helping others locate an abortion.

Their pardoning was part of Rwanda’s plan to reduce the number of people in prison to slow the spread of coronavirus. A total of 3,596 convicts were granted conditional release by the government this week. An additional 1,182 inmates were released last month.

Although the release of these women is welcome, human rights groups say that pardons are not enough. “While this is a good move, women and girls should never, in the first place, be imprisoned for exercising their reproductive rights,” said Dr. Agnes Odhiambo of Human Rights Watch in Kenya. “The government of Rwanda should remove all punitive measures for women who undergo abortions.”

In 2018, Rwanda updated its penal code to allow abortions in cases of rape, incest, forced marriage, and when the pregnancy poses a significant health risk. Rather than petitioning the courts, the revision allowed women to receive approval for abortions from recognized medical doctors.

The change was celebrated, but requiring a doctor to approve and perform abortions remains difficult in a country where medical professionals are in short supply. “There should be more conversation about the penal code that prohibits health professionals such as midwives from providing abortions,” women’s rights organizer Sylvie Nsanga told the Associated Press. “[The law] means that girls will continue to get pregnant, abort, be imprisoned and then get pardoned by the president.”

As Nsanga suggested, a large number of Rwandan women undergo illegal abortions as a result of these restrictive laws. A 2013 Guttmacher Institute report estimates that 60,000 abortions are carried out annually, a majority of which occur in unsafe conditions. The rate of complications for illegal abortions in Rwanda is estimated at 55 percent.

The criminalization of abortion also deters women from seeking additional medical care when experiencing complications from illegal abortions.

President Kagame released an additional 367 people for seeking or assisting abortions in 2019. Still, it is unclear how many women remain in prison on abortion-related charges. The most recent figures available show that 227 women were jailed in 2014 alone.

“Access to safe and legal abortions is a basic healthcare need and right,” said Niki Kandirikirira, Equality Now’s Global Director of Programs, in a statement. “Rather than punishing individuals who are dealing with unwanted or forced pregnancies, the Rwandan government should be removing legal restrictions, barriers to medical assistance, and stigma that force women and girls to resort to clandestine and unsafe procedures.”

Sources: The Guardian 5/21/2020; The Independent 5/20/2020; The Associated Press 5/19/2020; Time 4/6/2019

Anti-Mask Protests Are Using Disability Rights Laws to Avoid Following State Orders

As of Wednesday, May 20, 13 states currently have orders mandating that Americans wear masks in public, according to U.S.-based science collective #Masks4All. These orders differ in scope, but most establish the need to wear a mask in high-density public spaces, including businesses, public transportation, and public parks. Anti-mask protestors are using U.S. laws protecting the rights of disabled people to avoid wearing protective face coverings in public.

Many are following recommendations made by a legal guide circulating online that advocates for people’s right not to wear a mask. The legal guide was posted online in April and continues to gain recognition among conservative groups across social media platforms. James Marter, a Republican candidate for the 14th Illinois District, posted the guide to his Facebook page on May 3.

The guide directs individuals to inform business owners that they have an undisclosed medical condition that prevents them from wearing face coverings. Their right to refuse to wear a mask is supposedly covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The guide further instructs individuals to warn business owners that ADA violations result in a $75,000 fine for a primary violation and $150,000 for subsequent violations.

According to the language of the ADA, protections for people with disabilities do not apply when doing so would be a “direct threat” to public health and safety. A direct threat is defined as a “significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies.” Although the U.S. Department of Justice has declined to comment on these claims, the 2019 novel coronavirus would likely qualify as a “direct threat” and therefore should supersede ADA protections. Moreover, an anonymous spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told Insider that these actions are not “issued or endorsed by the US Department of Health and Human Services.”

A second guide posted by conservative blogger Vladislav Davidzon on Twitter suggests that protestors cite Roe v. Wade because the ruling established the constitutional right to privacy. The right not to self-incriminate, covered under the Fifth Amendment, is also being invoked by protestors.

These guides are one particular iteration of a series of anti-mask and anti-shutdown protests. Escalating antagonism regarding government precautions has incited several instances of violence in recent weeks.

In reality, wearing protective face coverings in public spaces is a way to protect disabled people. People with pre-existing conditions are high-risk for coronavirus complications, and disabled people have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic due to decreased access to essential medical care. Disability law professor Doron Dorfman writes: “The cruel irony of this phenomenon? Anti-maskers are attempting to use disability law in ways that put disability communities at greater risk.”

Sources: Newsday 5/21/2020; The Insider 5/19/2020; Washington Post 5/15/2020, Washington Post 5/5/2020; Time 4/24/2020


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