How do you know your extra virgin hasn’t been mixed with inferior oils? When you pick up a bottle of extra virgin olive oil from the supermarket shelf, how confident are you that it’s all that it seems?
The olives have had a long journey: from the tree to the mill, where the oil is extracted, which then goes on to the bottling plant before distribution over land and sea to reach the store.
Unfortunately, at any of these stages, it’s possible for fakery to creep in.
"Fraud in the olive oil market has been going on a very long time," says Susan Testa, director of culinary innovation at Italian olive oil producer Bellucci.
"Seed oil is added maybe; or it may contain only a small percentage of Italian oil and have oil from other countries added, while it just says Italian oil on the label."
In February the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) warned that poor olive harvests are likely to lead to a big increase in such adulterated oil this year.
And it’s far from the only producted affected, with the European Union’s Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality recently highlighting wine, honey, fish, dairy products, meat and poultry as being frequently faked.
Moreover, 40% of food companies believe traditional methods of countering food fraud aren’t working any more, according to research from PwC. From tree to supermarket shelf, the olive goes through many stages and many countries Food suppliers, like Bellucci are making efforts to guarantee the provenance of their food themselves, using new tools such as blockchain technology.
Best-known for its role in crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, blockchain is a way of keeping records in which each block of data is time-stamped and linked irreversibly to the last, in a way that can’t be subsequently altered.
That makes it possible to keep a secure record of the product’s journey to the supermarket shelf.
Since the company was founded in 2013, Bellucci has aimed to build a reputation around the traceability of its oil. Customers can enter the lot number of a particular bottle into an app to see its precise provenance, right back to the groves where the olives were harvested. Andrea Biagianti from Bellucci says blockchain paves the way for more information to be shared And over the last year, Bellucci has introduced a blockchain-based system, created by Oracle, to underpin this traceability which it says will make the process more efficient.
"We expect an improvement in the exchange of information throughout the supply chain," says Andrea Biagianti, chief information officer for Certified Origins, Bellucci’s parent company.
"We would also like the ability [to have] more transparency in the supply chain and the genuine trust of consumers."
IBM’s Food Trust network, formally launched late last year, uses similar techniques.
"In the registration phase, you define the product and its properties – for example, the optical spectrum you see when you look at a bottle of whisky," explains Andreas Kind, head of blockchain at IBM Research. Blockchain tech aims to make it much more difficult to interfere with bottles’ contents The appearance of the whisky is precisely recorded within the blockchain, meaning that the description can’t later be altered. Then transport companies, border control, storage providers or retailers, can see if the look of the liquid no longer matches the description or "optical signature".
Meanwhile, labels holding tamper-proof "cryptoanchors" are fixed to the bottles. These contain tiny computers holding the product data – encrypted, or encoded, so it can’t be tampered with. The labels break when the bottle is opened.
Linking the packaging and the product in this way offers a kind of proof says Mr Kind, "a bit like when you buy a diamond and get a certificate."
IBM is also working with US supermarket chain Walmart, which is rolling out a blockchain-based system that will require all its leafy greens suppliers, along with packing companies and transport operators, to take part. Alibaba’s online retail site, Tmall Global, uses blockchain tech to help consumers check product authenticity Meanwhile, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba uses blockchain to track food products shipped from Australia and New Zealand; suppliers like New Zealand’s largest dairy firm, Fonterra, have adopted the technology. But they go one step further.
"In addition to blockchain technology, the framework will also tag products using QR codes to authenticate, verify, record and provide ongoing reporting throughout the product’s lifecycle," says Fonterra president for greater China, Christina Zhu.
One product Fonterra provides detailed information for is its Anmum infant nutrition range, including the results of factory inspections and product quality sampling tests.
But it’s not only in the area of tracking supply chains that technology is providing new avenues to approach food fraud.
In recent years, there has been progress in identifying food fraud through closer examination of the product itself using DNA analysis.
But this approach has one big limitation: to detect an unauthorised ingredient, you have to know what you’re looking for. So it’s possible to test whether, say, a beef lasagne contains horsemeat, but not to scan a product for unauthorised ingredients without any idea in advance of what it might contain. Back in 2013 traces of horsemeat were found in ready meals labelled as beef Now, though, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has developed a new scanning tool that can identify all the ingredients in a product, along with their biological sources. It uses Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) – a large-scale testing method that allows whole genomes to be sequenced rapidly.
The FSAI has tested the scanner on 45 random samples and found that four contained plant species that weren’t listed on the label. More Technology of Business Why are Venezuelans seeking refuge in crypto-currencies?
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One of them was mustard – a known allergen that should always be declared.
"We don’t have to wait for tip-offs any more," says Dr Patrick O’Mahoney, chief specialist, food science and technology at the FSIA. Nevertheless he cautions against interpreting the results too literally.
"As regulators, we have to be pragmatic about what could be a labelling error rather than food fraud," he says. "We go for the ones where there’s an obvious financial benefit for somebody."
Follow Technology of Business editor Matthew Wall on Twitter and Facebook
Commuters across England faced widespread cancellations throughout 2018 A more exacting standard for punctuality will be brought in on UK railways next month in an attempt to improve performance.
From 1 April, train times will be recorded to the minute at every stop.
This is against the current measure which deems a train to be "on time" if it reaches its final destination within five minutes of the timetable, or 10 minutes for a long distance.
Rail punctuality across the UK sank to a 13-year low in 2018.
Punctuality information will let passengers get a more accurate picture of exactly how good their service is.
UK rail passengers have become increasingly frustrated by delays in recent years as creaking networks, staff shortages, and industrial action have taken their toll.
In the year to the middle of October 2018, trains clocked up 32 years of delays .
According to the Office of Rail and Road, total delay hours have increased 22% since 2008-9, compared with a 10% increase in the number of trains running.
With rail fare increases digging ever deeper into consumers’ wallets, passengers do not believe they are getting the service they are paying for .
In September 2018 regulator the Office of Rail and Road said "no-one took charge" during timetable chaos that caused severe disruption on Britain’s railways in May of that year.
It blamed a lack of "responsibility and accountability" and said passengers were "badly treated".
Cancellations and delays continue to plague thousands of commuters. For example, on Friday morning all of the trains coming into and going out of Waterloo, a major London transport hub, were cancelled after over-running engineering work. On time?
Industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said the punctuality information will help train operators pinpoint the causes of delays and improve their services.
It won’t lead to more compensation for passengers because companies will continue to be held to the standards set down in their franchise agreements, which don’t take account of the new measures.
However, passenger group Transport Focus welcomed the move towards greater transparency.
Anthony Smith, its chief executive, said: "Train timetables need to be a work of fact, not fiction.
"It is good to see train operators reporting true on-time performance to the minute at every station."
Train firms will publish a spread of information about their services, such as how many were early, within a minute of the timetable or within three, five, 10 or 15 minutes.
The proportion of trains cancelled will also be shown.
RDG chief executive Paul Plummer said: "Every second matters to us and our customers which is why rail companies have together developed and are now using these to-the-minute measures for train punctuality at every station as part of our plan to improve the railway today.
"Record investment to upgrade the railway, including the roll out of thousands of new carriages, will continue to help improve journeys over the coming years and in the shorter term, we’re using a more transparent measure of punctuality to help us cut delays and reduce disruption."
Colleagues and Democrats are urging him to resign
Kevin Breiser, the school official and local politician accused of sexual assault | Photo: Video/NBC 7 Democrats and colleagues are urging a gay school official and local politician in San Diego, California to resign following allegations of sexual assault and misconduct .
Four young men have accused Kevin Beiser of various types of sexual misconduct. One of them filed a lawsuit against Beiser on Monday (18 March).
Beiser is a San Diego Unified School District trustee and a middle school teacher in Chula Vista. He is also a member of the Democratic Party and opened a committee to run for City Council.
The lawsuit accuses Beiser of sexual harassment, hostile work environment, gender violence, sexual battery, sexual assault and emotional distress. It also names Beiser’s husband, Dan Mock.
Both men have denied all accusations.
‘There is no truth to these allegations,’ they said in a joint statement. ‘We believe they are politically motivated and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves.’ Allegations of forced sexual contact and more
The plaintiff is identified as John Doe in the lawsuit. He spoke to NBC 7 about what he alleges happened between him and Beiser.
He said he first met Beiser in 2013. Beiser invited him to a bar with some friends, but when the plaintiff arrived, only Beiser was there.
John Doe claimed he woke up the next day in a hotel room and believed he had been date raped.
Three months later, John Doe accepted a position with Beiser’s school board campaign, which was run out of Beiser and Mock’s home. John Doe said the sexual harassment continued with unwanted touching and walking around in his underwear.
Five years later, in 2018, the plaintiff worked on another campaign with Beiser.
‘Again, it didn’t stop. It continued,’ he said in the lawsuit. ‘From that moment I had the rule of consent. I had to yell “consent” at him for him to stop and he would pull back [and say it’s fine]… It was more like a joke, it was playful for him that I told him ‘Consent matters, stop touching me.’
John Doe said he didn’t want to stay silent and ‘see further abuse of young men that are trying to make a way in politics’. ‘I was violated’
Another accuser, Paul Crawford, described to the Voice of San Diego how Breiser ‘violated’ him. He got involved in local politics in Chula Vista and that’s how he met Breiser.
Breiser allegedly invited Crawford to a pool party, claiming he wanted to set Crawford up with someone. The man, however, was ‘indifferent’ to Crawford.
After the man left, Breiser followed Crawford into a bathroom and propositioned him with a threesome with another man, but Crawford turned him down.
Still, Breiser led Crawford to a bedroom with another man.
As the Voice of San Diego explained: ‘Crawford then said he lay down on the bed, closed his eyes and lay still while both men performed sexual acts on him.’
‘He told me I was a good boy,’ Crawford said of Breiser, who masturbated while laying beside him to finish.
Looking back on it, Crawford explained: ‘Was I raped? No, I don’t think I was raped. I’m not scarred for life. But I’ll never forget it.’ Calls for resignation
‘Due to the heinous nature of the allegations against SDUSD School Board President Kevin Beiser, the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee will consider a resolution calling for his resignation tonight,’ said Will Rodriguez-Kennedy of the SDCDP.
They voted 57-4 in favor of Breiser’s resignation on Tuesday (19 March).
The San Diego Unified School District initially told NBC 7 they had no comment. They responed the matter ‘will be handled by the courts’.
More recently, SDUSD President Sharon Whitehurst-Payne said they would discuss ‘board member conduct and expectations’ at the next meeting on 16 April.
‘As elected officials, especially those leading an organization dedicated to the future of our youth, we must hold ourselves to higher standard,’ she added.
LGBTI elected officials also put out their own joint statement.
‘As LGBT elected officials who are committed to changing the overarching cultural and political climate to prevent sexual harassment, we want to ensure that every complaint is fully investigated and appropriately decided,’ it read.
‘That said, even following the principles of due process, there are cases, especially those with multiple and severe allegations, where the obvious right thing is for the accused to step away from their position. This is one of those cases.’ See also
HAVE YOUR SAY
BluedBaby is offering surrogacy services (Photo: Weibo)
The world’s largest gay dating app, Blued, has launched a surrogacy service.
According to its website, BluedBaby connects Chinese couples with surrogates in the US, Canada and Russia.
Bloomberg reports the first baby born through Blued’s service will be born next month.
Blued CEO, Geng Le, was inspired by his own experiences of finding a surrogate in California, according to Bloomberg.
As surrogacy is illegal in China, the process is long and costly. Geng told Bloomberg the process cost him US$200,000.
BluedBaby, with an office in China’s capital Beijing, walks clients through choosing an egg donor, finding a surrogate, signing contracts, and navigating paperwork and cultural differences.
‘We want to showcase a Chinese company diligently serving the LGBT community,’ Geng told Bloomberg.
‘Showing that we do things with value, with philanthropy’ Geng Le told Bloomberg. Blued
Geng Le, whose birth name is Ma Baoli, was working as a policeman when he started up a popular gay website.
His employer discovered the site and told him he could keep his job if he shut it down.
Instead, he found investment of US$30 million and created a smartphone app.
It now claims to have 40 million users, making it the largest in the world.
Blued differs from other gay networking apps with a video broadcast feature.
Followers can reward broadcasters with cash gifts, and Blued takes a cut.
Blued is also trying to get into pharmaceuticals, according to Bloomberg. It is applying for a license to market PrEP in China.
Earlier this year, Blued stopped accepting new users for a week.
It conducted a ‘comprehensive content audit and regulation’ after newspapers reported underage users contracted HIV from dates arranged on the site.
Dex Frier (Photo: YouTube) A school in the USA is reportedly trying to remove a transgender male student from the prom king ballot.
Students at Johnson High School, Georgia nominated Dex Frier as a potential prom king, according to WSB-TV.
He would run as one of six nominees at prom this Saturday (23 March).
But, Frier claims, last week he attended a meeting in the principal’s office.
‘They called me there to tell me I couldn’t run for prom king ’cause I wasn’t legally male,’ he told Buzzfeed.
‘The only way I was eligible to run for prom was to be put on the prom queen ballot.’
He told the new site it was ‘upsetting’ and that he felt ’suppressed’ by school officials.
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield spoke to WSB. He said the district had ‘never removed any student from any prom’.
He did not want to ‘disrupt us from our core mission of providing an education for the boys and girls in our community’. Petitions
Frier’s classmates have started an online petition. It calls for Frier to be allowed to run as prom king. What’s more, it accuses Hall County Schools of a ’transphobic attitude’.
‘We, the Johnson High School student body, elected Dex Frier to represent us as a male member on Prom Court’ the petition says.
‘Not only are we confused at this decision, but we are severely disappointed in the Hall County School Board’ it goes on to say.
The petition seeks ‘solidarity in the fight for human rights regardless of gender, race, class, or any other perceived difference’.
More than 12,000 people have signed the change.org petition.
WSB reports students also launched a petition calling for the school to disallow Frier.
President of Costa Rica Carlos Alvarado (Photo: Facebook) Costa Rica will legislate same-sex marriage before it becomes legally automatically in line with a Supreme Court ruling, the country’s president said.
Alvarado told the Associated Press he would take action before a May 2020 court deadline.
‘We are, as a government, do everything that [same-sex marriage] is respected as a right’ he said.
In August last year, Costa Rica’s Supreme Court found the Family Code, which prevents same-sex marriage, was unconstitutional.
The ruling said that if there was no legislation within 18 months, same-sex marriage will automatically come into law.
Alvarado in December passed legislation to afford LGBTI citizens more rights.
New measures allow same-sex couples in Costa Rica the right to receive a housing allowance for low-income families.
Legislation also recognizes same-sex transnational partnerships and extends the recognition of gender identity to migrants.
Costa Rica also passed legislation last year which will allow trans individuals to register under their assigned gender. Long wait for equality
LGBTI Costa Ricans have already become agitated at parliament’s failure to act on August’s ruling.
The ruling says that ‘acts of open discrimination, whether they are expressed or implied, cannot be justified in any way in a democratic society that respects fundamental rights’.
Writing the law is ‘complex’. That’s what interim president of the Constitutional Chamber, Fernando Castillo, said earlier this month.
He said also said some lawmakers had not finalized their notes.
What’s more, Enrique Sanchez, the country’s first openly gay legislator, has accused the chamber of purposefully delaying the law change.
The legislative chamber has 57 seats. Evangelical, anti-LGBTI members, however, hold 14 of the seats.
An independent Jewish school has been warned by Ofsted that it is unlikely to meet required school standards because it does not give pupils an understanding of different sexual orientations.
Gateshead Jewish Primary School, in Tyne and Wear, which has 250 pupils aged 5 to 11, previously separated girls and boys over two sites.
It decided to separate into boys’ and girls’ schools when told that this segregation was no longer lawful. Some teaching staff have moved to the girls’ school site.
The Department for Education commissioned the latest Ofsted inspection to establish whether the site designated to be wholly a boys’ school was ready to make the required changes for this switch.
Ofsted inspectors said in their report that the school was “unlikely to meet the relevant independent school standards if the material changes relating to the school provision are implemented”.
Pupil segregation: DfE does not know how many schools illegally segregate pupils
They said school leaders “have a clear understanding of the requirements of the standard which asks that schools do not discriminate against pupils contrary to the Equalities Act 2010”. ‘Against the Jewish faith’
But they found that: “Leaders do not feel that they are able to identify to their pupils groups of people who are gender-reassigned or have sexual orientation other than heterosexuality, as this contravenes some aspects of the community’s Jewish faith. As a result, this standard cannot be met.”
This meant that leaders felt unable to recognise all groups protected by the Equalities Act 2010 and discuss them with pupils, and “as a result, pupils are unaware that families may be made up of a range of different adults, including same-sex parents”.
Inspectors did, however, praise other aspects of the school, including the fact that pupils understand what constitutes British values. They also recognised the caring culture at the school.
Oliver Knight (Courtesy of ACLU/Kate Donaldson) A transgender man has claimed that a Catholic hospital in California refused to perform scheduled surgery at the last minute for “ethical reasons.”
Oliver Knight was due to have a hysterectomy—where the womb and cervix are removed—on August 30 2017 at St Joseph Hospital in Eureka, California.
However, Knight said that the operation was cancelled “minutes before” the scheduled time. He was allegedly told that they would not be rescheduling the surgery because it was a Catholic hospital. “It seems the hospital doesn’t understand how it feels to be treated inhumanely just because your body parts do not match your soul.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in California today filed a lawsuit with law firm Rukin Hyland & Riggin LLP against St Joseph Health for denying care to a transgender patient. Oliver Knight did not expect ‘anti-trans bigotry’ from hospital
Knight, who is now 29 years old, said he has had to deal with “a lot of anti-trans bigotry” in his life – but that he did not expect that treatment from a hospital.
“It seems the hospital doesn’t understand how it feels to be treated inhumanely just because your body parts do not match your soul,” he said.
Knight also wrote a blog post for the ACLU in which he explained that he felt “hopeful” when he arrived at St Joseph Hospital on August 30 2017, but that his hopes were quickly dashed. “Fifteen minutes after that, the hospital staff asked me to leave. I still had booties on my feet as a nurse led me outside. I felt humiliated and queasy as I sat on the curb waiting for my roommate to pick me up.”
He said that he was repeatedly misgendered by hospital staff—and was made to wear a pink gown instead of a blue one because he was undergoing “female surgery.” In the blog, Knight said that he was waiting for an hour before the surgeon came in and announced that the surgery would not be going ahead due to the hospital’s Catholic ethos. Pexels “Fifteen minutes after that, the hospital staff asked me to leave,” Knight said. “I still had booties on my feet as a nurse led me outside. I felt humiliated and queasy as I sat on the curb waiting for my roommate to pick me up.” Hospital’s actions were ‘discriminatory’, says attorney
Jessica Riggin, partner at Rukin Hyland & Riggin LLP, said that the hospital’s refusal to allow the surgery to go ahead was “discriminatory.”
“This is a hospital that is open to the general public so even though it’s religiously affiliated, it’s illegal for them to turn away someone based on gender identity,” Riggin said.
“Everyone should be able to get the care they need.” “This is a hospital that is open to the general public so even though it’s religiously affiliated, it’s illegal for them to turn away someone based on gender identity.”
According to the ACLU, Knight did not want to have to travel for the surgery as it would increase the burden on him and his family.
However, after his surgery was cancelled at St Joseph Hospital in Eureka, he went on to have the procedure at Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata.
PinkNews contacted St Joseph Hospital in Eureka, California, for comment, but no response had been received at the time of publishing.
Dissident priest Fr. James Martin addresses the Los Angeles Religious Education Conference in 2018. ANAHEIM, California, March 21, 2019 ( LifeSiteNews ) — Concerned Catholics will protest this weekend outside the massive Los Angeles Religious Educators Congress (L.A. REC) over the scandalous presence of many pro-LGBT presenters seeking to influence young Catholic minds.
The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property ( TFP ) claims that L.A. REC is “ spreading confusion where clarity is needed ,” so its members will be stationed outside the Anaheim Convention Center in order to alert participants to the heterodox elements of the conference.
“There are dangers to the faith present there,” Michael Whitcraft, TFP’s chief organizer for the protest, told LifeSiteNews.
“Many people who attend this congress have no idea of the errors that are being taught there,” he warned. He and other members of TFP want to “alert them to the terrible things that go on that they may not be aware of so that they have their guard up against dangers to the faith present there.”
“It’s not just people presenting orthodox Catholic doctrine,” said Whitcraft. “There are presenters there who are trying to mislead them and take them away from the faith.”
TFP has a different message for those flocking to the event because they are attracted to the message of the dissident speakers: “Stop trying to change the Church.”
“We have two thousand years of immutable teaching,” said Whitcraft. “It’s been the foundation for society, for all of Christian civilization. That’s something that’s not going to change.”
TFP has already asked Catholics across the nation to send letters of protest concerning the presence of the problematic speakers to José Gómez, archbishop of Los Angeles, asking him to remove the dissidents from the roster of presenters.
Whitcraft hopes Archbishop Gómez gets the message.
“Following the teaching of John Paul II, which stated the overthrow of morality brings with it the overthrow of society, Archbishop Gómez holds a tremendous responsibility to shore up the moral errors that are being taught at this conference,” said Whitcraft.
If the archbishop fails to do so, these errors “will have a terrible, terrible trickle-down effect on all of society,” he added. Jesuit Father James Martin, who has dissented consistently from Church teaching on the family and insists Catholics must “reverence” homosexual unions, affirms transgenderism for children, and has said he favors homosexual kissing during Holy Mass.
Fr. Chris Ponnet, currently the director of the Office of Catholic HIV/AIDS Ministry for the Los Angeles Archdiocese and the archbishop’s spiritual director for Catholic ministry with lesbian and gay persons, has spoken openly in favor of the homosexual lifestyle.
Fr. Thomas Reese, who has said, “I personally think the Church’s battle against the legalization of gay marriage is misplaced. The idea that gay marriage is somehow a threat to family life or heterosexual marriage doesn’t make sense.”
Fr. Bryan Massingale, who at last year’s congress claimed that Church doctrine is not clear on transgenderism and that the biggest danger gender-dysphoric children face comes when the family fails to accept the child’s “reality.”
Dr. Arthur Fitzmaurice, a homosexual who has argued that the description of homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered” should be removed from the Catechism.
Perhaps most troubling of all, Cardinal Roger Mahony, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, is slated to speak. Mahoney was relieved of his diocesan duties after it was discovered he had covered for a sexually molesting priest, resulting in a $660-million payout to victims, the largest in Church history.
Quoting ex-gay Catholic activist Joseph Sciambra, Whitcraft notes that “the ‘mere presence’ of these speakers at an official congress of the archdiocese ‘imparts on them a certain imprimatur.’”
“The confusion has persisted long enough. It must stop now,” wrote Whitcraft. “While many thought that the problematic elements in the REC were due to Cardinal Mahony alone, this has proven untrue. The abuses have continued during the reign of his successor, Archbishop José Gómez. There is no more room for wishfully thinking that these abuses will resolve themselves. It is time to take a stand.”
Polls show that most Americans oppose discrimination against LGBT people, and many believe that it’s already illegal . But federal laws don’t ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity the way they do regarding sex and religion. And the odds of Congress changing that in the immediate future are slim.
While courts and federal agencies have found some protections for gay and transgender Americans under existing statutes, efforts to pass a law that explicitly makes it illegal to deny them an apartment or fire them from a job have faltered.
LGBT rights advocates have been pushing to pass such laws for decades, starting long before their successful fights to legalize same-sex marriage and allow gay people to serve open in the military. And in March, lawmakers from both chambers of Congress launched yet another attempt, introducing the Equality Act of 2019, a sweeping measure that would ban discrimination in areas ranging from housing to public accommodations (a realm that includes public bathrooms as well as bakeries , two areas of recent contention).
In the past, such bills have faced opposition based on the notion that being gay is immoral and a choice. And, though public attitudes toward gay people have radically shifted since the first bill of this kind was introduced in the 1970s, transgender rights have recently ascended as an area of controversy between the right and left. The Brief Newsletter
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Past years saw arguments that it would be easier to pass a bill focused only on protecting gay, lesbian and bisexual people. But advocacy groups and lawmakers have chosen to fight for a more comprehensive bill that covers all LGBT people. The strategy for the last decade has been “all of us or none of us,” says Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Though advocates believe the Equality Act will pass the Democratic-controlled House, they don’t have high hopes that it will be brought up for a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. And several efforts by the Trump Administration, such as pushing to ban transgender people from serving openly in the military, lend doubt to whether the President would sign it. ‘A slippery slope’
The first version of the Equality Act was introduced in 1974, during a productive time for civil rights but a fraught time for gay Americans. “America didn’t even know gay people,” says Keisling. And the word transgender was hardly in use. The bill, which covered only sexual orientation, didn’t get a hearing for six years and faced opposition once it did, including allegations that being gay was an “abomination.”
Twenty years later, the bill had been introduced repeatedly but failed to become law. So legislators decided to try a more tailored approach focused on the workplace, introducing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, in 1994. That measure still faced objections based on the notion that being gay was an objectionable “lifestyle,” as well as allegations that the protections amounted to special treatment.
“For many opponents, there’s a slippery slope that begins with anti-discrimination law and ends up with affirmative action,” explains Marc Stein, a historian specializing in LGBT issues at San Francisco State University.
From 1994 until 2005, lawmakers introduced what Keisling describes as “non-inclusive ENDA,” meaning that it did not protect people on the basis of gender identity. This was a sticking point among movement groups and lawmakers from the outset, as some asserted that a narrower bill would be easier to pass.
In 2007, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank, an openly gay lawmaker and a hero of the gay rights movement, introduced a bill that, for the first time, included gender identity as well as sexual orientation.
But after a contentious hearing involving debate about bathrooms and dress codes — and a whip count that apparently showed there weren’t enough votes to pass the bill — he switched course and introduced another one covering only sexual orientation, subsequently arguing that “something [was] better than nothing.” Many advocacy groups expressed outrage. Some scrambled on what position to take. Democrats split. As Keisling recalls, “all hell broke loose.” Neither bill became law. But from that point on, she says, the consensus was that equality must be equality for all.
In the immediate aftermath, that decision helped push the fight for an anti-discrimination law further down Democrats’ list of priorities.
When Democrats swept the White House, Senate and House of Representatives in 2008, advocates had a rare window to enact legislation. It was the first time they had controlled all three since 1994. David Stacy, head of government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, a major LGBT rights group, says there were lingering doubts about being able to pass a version of ENDA that included gender identity. The clearer path, he says, was for Democrats to pursue the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law banning the open service of gays and lesbians in the military.
Stacy says that while the votes were in question then, “we have the votes today.” He points out that a version of ENDA that included both sexual orientation and gender identity passed the Senate with bipartisan support — including “yes” votes from 10 Republican senators — in 2013. But Republican leaders, at that time and since, have been loathe to bring up any bills focused on advancing LGBT rights. The nature of ‘freedom’
Even if the Equality Act passed the House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could be persuaded to bring the bill up for a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate, the measure would likely face contentious hearings.
As transgender Americans have become more visible, that attention has helped rally support for the community. A recent survey from non-partisan research organization PRRI found that 69% of Americans are in favor of laws that protect all LGBT people from discrimination, including a majority in every state.
But that visibility has also made them a target, advocates say. In recent years “there’s been a tendency on the part of conservative thought leaders to scapegoat transgender people as everything they dislike about contemporary society and liberalism,” says Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
During a recent debate in a House committee about the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, Republicans focused on trying to remove provisions that had been added to protect transgender people, such as a measure that could require prisons to house transgender individuals in facilities that match their gender identity. One lawmaker made an argument describing transgender women as “biological males,” a preview of debate that will likely accompany the consideration of the Equality Act in Congress.
In recent years, arguments about religious freedom have been also levied at attempts to shore up protections for LGBT people. The Trump Administration, for example, sided with a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding because he felt the act violated his religious beliefs. Stein, the San Francisco State University professor, notes that while issues like same-sex marriage and military reform primarily targeted “discrimination” by the government, bills like the Equality Act have implications for businesses and corporations everywhere.
A long list of companies has come out in support of the measure, arguing that any discrimination is bad for business. But the perceived clash of rights has also proved a rallying cry for the socially conservative base. ‘The sky has not fallen’
In past decades, critics of non-discrimination bills also made the argument that protections for LGBT people are an “ unnecessary ” solution in search of a problem, likely to engender nothing but frivolous lawsuits. LGBT rights groups countered by releasing studies that attempt to show the extent of discrimination that people face. Among the most vulnerable are transgender people. One survey found that 30% reported mistreatment at the workplace, ranging from verbal harassment to being fired because of their gender identity.
Though no federal law explicitly bans firing a transgender woman because she is transgender, there are avenues of recourse. Twenty-one states have laws that ban discrimination against LGBT in employment and housing; 20 ban it in public accommodations as well. Agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have also taken the position that such treatment is illegal under bans on sex discrimination. But courts have split on the issue of exactly what “sex” means in federal law, and the Supreme Court has yet to resolve the debate.
The fact that a patchwork of protections exists makes it both easier and harder to argue that the Equality Act must pass, says HRC’s Stacy. On the one hand, it makes messaging ” a little more complicated” around why it is necessary, even though the bill would bring sprawling legal changes. “On the other hand, the fact that these protections have existed and the sky has not fallen is an incredibly strong argument,” he says.
Though polls show that the majority of Americans oppose discrimination, Stein questions how accurate those numbers are — how people really feel once the debate starts touching on issues like identity politics, religious minorities, feminism and freedom.
“People may say that when asked in very general terms,” he writes in an email, “but if asked in more specific terms, I’m not sure that it’s true.”
Write to Katy Steinmetz at email@example.com .