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GOP Senator Blocks Lesbian’s EEOC Appointment

Bias cases poised to hit backburner in 2019, but Trump also delayed in seizing control of agency

EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum speaking at an LGBTQ Pride celebration at the Department of Agriculture in 2017.
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A Republican senator is crusading against the re-confirmation of a lesbian commissioner on the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) in a move that could temporarily force the federal agency to shelve civil rights cases in the next year.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah is objecting to the appointment of former Georgetown law professor Chai Feldblum over what he says are “radical views on marriage,” triggering a prolonged confirmation process that would bog down the federal agency responsible for enforcing civil rights cases in employment.

“It’s not likely [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell will extend the session for this,” an anonymous congressional staffer told NBC News in reference to the looming conclusion of the current legislative session. “Barring a miracle, unfortunately it looks like the EEOC will lack a quorum in the new year.”

Ironically, Lee blocking Feldblum delays the Trump administration from finally gaining control of the EEOC after nearly two years in office. Given staggered terms, Democrats have held onto majority control of the five-member commission, which has articulated the view that gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination are already illegal under the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s sex discrimination provisions — a view Trump officials reject. Feldblum was re-nominated on a slate that included two Republicans (the commission can have no more than three members from one party), but the Senate takes an up or down vote on the entire slate.

The blocking of Feldblum strays from the traditional practice of routinely reconfirming members of the commission, who are typically appointed by members of both parties.

Lee blasted her earlier this year in a post on his Senate.gov page entitled “A Threat to Marriage from the EEOC.” He wrote that Feldblum “wants to turn her opinions into federal policy through the EEOC” and that she “has described modern-day politics as a ‘zero-sum game,’ where rights for LGBT Americans are secured only by curtailing the rights of religious Americans.”

While Lee accused Feldblum of infiltrating the EEOC with her views, he ironically offered his own opinion and beliefs on the Senate floor on Wednesday when he said his objection to her appointment “relates to my belief and religious freedom.”

Washington Senator Patty Murray defended Feldblum the same day against what she said was “unpreceden­ted and partisan obstruction of a highly qualified nominee to a critical agency.”

In response to Lee’s blocking of Feldblum, Murray said she will boycotting any effort by the Senate to “jam through” any nominees on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) until Feldblum and Mark Pearce — whose place on the National Labor Relations Board has been on hold for months — are re-confirmed to their posts.

Feldblum, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009, has penned a series of posts on Medium — including one on Friday in which she said she “did not recognize the person Senator Lee was talking about” on the Senate floor on Wednesday. In a separate Medium post earlier in the week, Feldblum reaffirmed her independence and sought to clear the air about her stances on LGBTQ rights and religion.

“I believe there are some situations in which the rights of religious liberty for organizations who believe homosexuality is sinful will conflict with and should prevail over the rights of LGBT people who might experience discrimination at the hands of such religious organizati­ons,” she wrote. “The reason I believe that is because I care deeply about preserving religious pluralism in our country — even if it that means protecting religious organizations whose views I disagree with. That is the point of pluralism.”

A spokesperson for Lee avoided questions from Gay City News about the potential impact the move could have on the federal agency’s ability to move forward on cases in the near future. The senator also refused to comment on Feldblum’s post on Medium.com.

Winnie Stachelberg, who serves as the executive vice president for external affairs at the Center for the American Progress, called on the Senate to reappoint Feldblum to a third term “without delay.”

“Senator Lee fails to recognize that religious liberty and LGBTQ equality exist in harmony… One senator’s objections to LGBTQ equality should not prevent the EEOC from fulfilling its mission of fighting employment discrimination in every workplace.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a written statement provided to Gay City News that Lee is openly discriminating against Feldblum — and that is among the reason why she belongs on the commission.

“Commissioner Feldblum has served the EEOC with integrity and is experienced and highly qualified for the job,” Ellis said.

Updated 5:05 pm, December 21, 2018
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