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US top court divided as it ponders LGBT rights



LGBT rights

The US Supreme Court appears divided over whether a civil rights law barring workplace discrimination applies to gay and transgender workers. The top court heard arguments regarding two cases of alleged discrimination against gay employees, and a third involving transgender discrimination. Protesters from both sides gathered outside the court as arguments began.

The cases may be a landmark for LGBT rights in the US, four years after gay marriage became legal nationwide. The top court’s liberal quartet indicated their agreement with the plaintiffs and the argument that LGBT workers should be covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Of the conservative justices, only Trump-appointed Neil Gorsuch appeared sympathetic to the plaintiffs – an early signal that he may cast the decisive vote. Decisions from the nine justices on America’s highest court are due by next June.

What are the cases?

The first two cases have been consolidated as both address the purported discrimination of gay employees.

Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor from New York, and Gerald Bostock, a former child welfare services co-ordinator from Georgia, both say they were fired because of their sexual orientation.

Mr Zarda, who died in a skydiving accident in 2014 , was dismissed after joking with a female client with whom he was tandem-diving not to worry about the close physical contact because he was “100% gay”.

The company maintained he was fired because he shared personal information with a client, not because he was gay, but a court in New York ruled in Mr Zarda’s favour.

Mr Bostock says he lost his job after joining a gay recreational softball league, thereby publicly revealing his sexual orientation.

His employer, Clayton County, said his dismissal was the result of “conduct unbecoming of a county employee”.

Mr Bostock lost his discrimination case in a federal court in Atlanta.

Michigan funeral home employee Aimee Stephens says she was fired for coming out as transgender.

She had worked as Anthony Stephens for six years before writing a letter to colleagues saying she would return to work “as my true self, Aimee Australia Stephens, in appropriate business attire”.

Two weeks later, Ms Stephens was fired for insisting to work in women’s clothes.

In a court filing last year, the funeral home owner argued it wanted Ms Stephens to comply with a dress code “applicable to Stephens’ biological sex”.

A lower court sided with Ms Stephens.

The US Department of Justice under President Donald Trump has supported the employers in each case.

What’s the legal background?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex as well as gender, race, colour, national origin and religion.

The legal arguments hinge on whether “sex” may apply to sexual orientation and gender identity.

So far, most federal appeals courts in the US have interpreted the law to exclude discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

But two courts, in New York and Chicago, recently ruled that discrimination against LGBT people is a form of sex discrimination.

Conservative groups argue that sexual orientation and gender identity may not be equated to the forms of discrimination already delineated in the Civil Rights Act.

“Congress never intended sexual orientation or the personal feelings of transgender individuals to be included in the concept of sex discrimination,” said Walker Wildmon, vice president for The American Family Association, in a statement.

He added that religious individuals should be allowed “to operate their businesses according to their deeply held religious beliefs” – a defence broadly dismissed by LGBT advocates.

“In 29 states, a person can be fired for their gender identity and sexual orientation,” Human Rights Council press secretary Charlotte Clymer told the BBC. “It’s not about religious freedom, it’s about pushing LGBT people out of the public square.”

“The fact that you can get married on Sunday and fired on Monday for being LGBTQ, I believe, presents a pretty massive problem for our community and for society,” she said.

What happened in court?

The Supreme Court justices appeared divided on Tuesday on whether Title VII protects gay, lesbian and transgender employees.

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito said that if the provision is found to cover LGBT individuals, the court would be seen as deciding “a major policy question” – taking the place of the legislature.

Chief Justice John Roberts, sometimes seen as the ideological centre of the bench, was considered a possible swing vote on the issue.

He asked on Tuesday whether, if the court were to rule that sexual orientation is covered by Title VII, exemptions would be granted for employers with strong religious beliefs.

Of the conservative justices it was the Trump-appointed Mr Gorsuch who voiced sympathy for the fired workers, saying sex seemed to be a “contributing cause” for their dismissals.

He also seemed amenable to the argument that “sex” in the Civil Rights Act could be applied to sexual orientation, whatever Congress had in mind during the law’s writing in 1964.

He later expressed concern, however, of judicial overstep. Echoing Mr Alito, Mr Gorsuch warned of “massive social upheaval” if the court were to rule in favour of LGBT workers, instead of allowing Congress to legislate on the subject.

But liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked “at what point” a court could “continue to allow individuous discrimination”.

She continued: “We can’t deny that homosexuals are being fired just for who they are.”

It is the first time the top US court has heard a case involving gay rights since 2018.

Since then the balance of the court has tilted to a 5-4 conservative majority, including Trump appointees Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The closely-watched Mr Kavanaugh has so far said little to indicate his stance.


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Toxic Metals Found in 95% of Baby Foods




Baby Foods

Rice-based products were found to have the highest levels of arsenic, the study commissioned by Healthy Babies Bright Futures found

A disturbing new study might have parents triple-checking the labels of their baby food.

Commissioned by Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) and conducted by Abt Associates, the study found that of the baby foods it tested, 95 percent were found to contain toxic chemicals, including arsenic and lead.

Of the popular store brands tested, one in four contained toxic chemicals, the study found. In addition to arsenic and lead, cadmium and mercury were also found.

Of the 168 baby foods tested for the study, rice-based products posed one of the biggest threats.

“Puffs and other snacks made with rice flour contain arsenic, lead and cadmium at relatively high levels compared to other baby foods,” the study said, while “teething biscuits and rice rusks often contain arsenic, lead, and cadmium.”

But the number one culprit for arsenic in infants’ diets? Infant rice cereal, the study found.

“Rice is a leading source of arsenic exposure for young children,” the report stated, suggesting parents instead serve their children “other grains like oats, wheat and barley instead of rice to help cut their family’s exposures.”

But if parents are using rice-based foods, it is suggested that the rice be cooked in extra water “that is poured off before serving,” which can “cut the arsenic levels by up to 60 percent, according to FDA studies (FDA 2016).”

Basmati rice grown in California, India, and Pakistan has the lowest arsenic levels, while rice from Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, “or simply ‘U.S.’” has the highest levels, the study said. That data was based on testing by Consumer Reports, the study said.

In addition to rice-based products, other problematic foods included apple, pear, grape and other fruit juices as well as carrots and sweet potatoes, which “contain higher levels of lead and cadmium than other fruits and vegetables, on average.”

HBBF encouraged parents to provide their children with tap water and a variety of fruits and vegetables to avoid risk of exposure to the harmful toxins.

The organization warned that the chemicals in question “can permanently alter the developing brain, erode IQ, and affect behavior.”



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3 killed in multi-vehicle crash on I-80 in NJ: authorities




Accident • Christopher Columbus Highway

PARSIPPANY, N.J. — Three people are dead after a major multi-vehicle crash on the Interstate 80 highway in New Jersey early Friday, authorities confirmed.

State troopers responded around 1:45 a.m. for a crash involving at least two vehicles in the eastbound express lanes of I-80 in Parsippany-Troy Hills in Morris County, according to the New Jersey State Police.

Authorities confirmed there were at least three fatalities in the crash but had no further information about the deadly incident or the victims’ identities.

The eastbound express lanes remain closed while authorities investigate the accident.

PIX11 News was on the scene early Friday and witnessed two cars that were involved, including one turned on its side with extensive damage.

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Potential Tropical Cyclone 16 likely to become tropical storm today; warnings issued for parts of Florida




Potential Tropical Cyclone

A disturbance in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico, Potential Tropical Storm 16, strengthened overnight and is expected to become a tropical or subtropical storm today, the National Hurricane Center said Friday.

At 5 a.m. (EDT) Friday, the disturbance was located about 390 miles southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph. The system was moving toward the northeast at 14 mph.

“The disturbance is expected to develop into a tropical or subtropical storm later today, and a slow strengthening is then anticipated. An Air Force plane will investigate the disturbance again in a few hours,” Senior Hurricane Specialist Lixion Avila wrote in Friday morning’s advisory.

Typically, a maximum sustained wind speed of 39 mph is when a tropical storm is designated, but so far “there is no evidence that a well-defined center has formed yet,” the hurricane center said.

If and when it becomes a tropical storm, and if no other storms form elsewhere in the Atlantic sooner, it would be named Nestor.

“On the forecast track, the system will approach the northern Gulf Coast later today and tonight, and then move over portions of the southeastern United States on Saturday,” Avila wrote. By early Saturday, the system is expected to be approaching the western Part of Florida’s Panhandle.

That part of Florida is still recovering from the devastation wrought by the Category 5 Hurricane Michael, which obliterated Mexico Beach a year ago, in October 2018.

As of Friday morning, a tropical storm warning was in effect from the Mississippi-Alabama border to the Ochlockonee River in Florida. The mouth of the Ochlockonee River is about 30 miles south of Tallahassee.

A tropical storm warning was also in effect from Grand Isle, Louisiana, about 50 miles south of New Orleans, to the mouth of the Pearl River at the Mississippi-Louisiana border.

A tropical storm watch was in effect from the area east of the Ochlockonee River to Yankeetown, Florida.

Tropical storm warnings mean that tropical storm conditions are expected. Watches mean that tropical storm conditions are possible.



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