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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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9-year-old genius to graduate university




Laurent Simons

(CNN) – A child prodigy from Belgium is on course to gain a bachelor’s degree at the tender age of 9.

Laurent Simons is studying electrical engineering at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) — a tough course even for students of an average graduate age.

Described by staff as “simply extraordinary,” Laurent is on course to finish his degree in December.

He then plans to embark on a PhD program in electrical engineering while also studying for a medicine degree, his father told CNN.

His parents, Lydia and Alexander Simons, said they thought Laurent’s grandparents were exaggerating when they said he had a gift, but his teachers soon concurred.

“They noticed something very special about Laurent,” said Lydia.

Laurent was given test after test as teachers tried to work out the extent of his talents. “They told us he is like a sponge,” said Alexander.

While Laurent comes from a family of doctors, his parents have so far not received any explanation as to why their child prodigy is capable of learning so quickly.

But Lydia has her own theory.

“I ate a lot of fish during the pregnancy,” she joked.

The TUE has allowed Laurent to complete his course faster than other students.

“That is not unusual,” said Sjoerd Hulshof, education director of the TUE bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, in a statement.

“Special students that have good reasons for doing so can arrange an adjusted schedule. In much the same way we help students who participate in top sport.”

Hulshof said Laurent is “simply extraordinary” and praised the youngster.

“Laurent is the fastest student we have ever had here,” he said. “Not only is he hyper intelligent but also a very sympathetic boy.”

Laurent told CNN his favorite subject is electrical engineering and he’s also “going to study a bit of medicine.”

His progress has not gone unnoticed and he is already being sought out by prestigious universities around the world, although Laurent’s family wouldn’t be drawn on naming which of them he is considering for his PhD.

“The absorption of information is no problem for Laurent,” said his father.

“I think the focus will be on research and applying the knowledge to discover new things.”

While Laurent is evidently able to learn faster than most, his parents are being careful to let him enjoy himself too.

“We don’t want him to get too serious. He does whatever he likes,” said Alexander. “We need to find a balance between being a child and his talents.”

Laurent said he enjoys playing with his dog Sammy and playing on his phone, like many young people.

However, unlike most 9-year-olds, he has already worked out what he wants to do with his life: develop artificial organs.

In the meantime, Laurent has to finish his bachelor’s degree and choose which academic institution will play host to the next stage in his remarkable journey.

Before that, he plans on taking a vacation to Japan for an undoubtedly well-deserved break.

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New award to honor arts and activism named after Lena Horne




Lena Horne

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Gang members slam BMW into rival and his 8-year-old son in Harlem




Gang members slam BMW into rival and his 8-year-old son in Harlem

Two gangbangers aimed their BMW like a missile at a father and his 8-year-old son on a Harlem sidewalk in a horrifying incident captured by video distributed by police Thursday.

The BMW — driven by a man police believe is a member of the Gorilla Stone Bloods Gang — was zeroed in on the father, a rival gang member, said cops.

Around 3:45 p.m. Nov. 6, the boy and his father were walking on W. 112th St. by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. when the BMW jumped the sidewalk and slammed into them both, said cops.

Father and son were both knocked through a gate.

The BMW driver then backed up — and its driver and passenger, also believed to be a gang member, jumped out of the car and ran toward the father and the son.

One of the attackers slashed the father, identified by sources as 32-year-old Brian McIntosh, who’s served prison time for robbery and bail jumping.

McIntosh and his son went to Harlem Hospital. Miraculously, the boy escaped serious harm.

McIntosh was so adamant about refusing to help police catch his attackers that the young boy’s mother had to file a police report alleging he was the victim of a crime, police sources said.

Cops released video of the attack, and ask anyone with information about the suspects to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS.


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