LGBTQ Discrimination and Sex Rights Discussed by Constitution Day Lecturer

On Monday, September 23rd, the Siena community came out to attend “Constitution Day 2019: Sex Rights and the Liquor of Bureaucracy” featuring guest lecturer, Dr. Anthony Michael Kreis. A national holiday, Constitution Day exists to commemorate the signing of the Constitution in September, 1787. Here on campus, Constitution Day serves as an annual opportunity to discuss a relevant concern regarding constitutional law. This year’s Constitution Day took on a question that has been recently creating turmoil in American legislation: who really is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? 

The discussion was opened by Professor of Political Science, Dr. Leonard Cutler. Dr. Cutler elaborated on the relevance of this year’s theme, “A few weeks ago, the Trump administration took it’s staunchest position to date in legalizing anti-gay discrimination..” he continued  “..when it asked the supreme court of the United States to declare that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act permits private companies to fire workers based on their sexual orientation.” 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. As explained by Dr. Cutler, the current presidential administration has taken on the stance that members of the LGBTQ community are not protected under Title VII in regards to private employers discriminatory practices. Following Dr. Cutler was Professor of Political Science, Dr. Jack Collens. Dr. Kreis and Dr. Collens attended graduate school together at the University of Georgia and after sharing his accolades with the crowd, it was time for Dr. Collens to invite Dr. Kreis to the stage. 

Dr. Anthony Michael Kreis currently teaches legal writing at Chicago-Kent College of Law. He authored the Illinois state law banning gay and transgender panic defenses in murder trials in 2017, which is the second of its kind in the U.S. Dr. Kreis opened by discussing how the accidental discovery of gay and lesbian bars during the Prohibition era sparked an ongoing dispute of the LGBTQ, immigrant, and working class communities versus American law-makers and private groups that wanted to maintain the social norms of pre-Industrial Revolution times. 

“If you had too many feminine men in your bar, they deemed it a place of disorderly conduct. And they put pressure on wholesalers to deny those establishments of liquor” Kreis stated. “In the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s the state said ‘If we see too many feminine men in a bar, we’re assuming it’s a gay bar and we’re shutting it down” he said about the determination if establishments could remain open post-prohibition. Basically, the battle between the LGBTQ community and American law-makers has been occurring for over a century.

At this point in the lecture, the question still remained, what does all of this mean for today’s concerns surrounding a new interpretation of Title VII? “The idea here is that you cannot discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation without also discriminating against them because of their sex.” He elaborated that the stereotypes surrounding gender roles used by employers to justify discriminatory practices against LGTBQ employees directly plays into sex discrimination. 

Dr. Kreis closed out his discussion by stating “Title VII is ultimately supposed to reflect our constitutional values and the law has been shaped by an understanding that sex stereotypes are dangerous..” Following the lecture, Dr. Kreis opened the floor for Q&A and soon after, Constitution Day 2019 came to an end. After all was said and done, attendees walked away from the event with a greater understanding on a topic that Dr. Kreis referred to as, currently, “the greatest civil rights case of our time.”

Constitution Day

Hey guys!

This past Tuesday we had a really awesome event on campus! This event was Constitution Day, an event that is hosted annually. The theme of this Constitution Day was New York State’s 2017 Referendum regarding the Constitutional Convention. If you aren’t aware of what this means, let me explain it a bit:

According to Section 2 of Article XIX of the state constitution, every twenty years there has to be a ballot question asking if there should be a convention to revise the constitution. If the voters vote for it, a convention is held, if they do not vote for it, nothing is held.

The speakers who debated this issue of whether or not to hold a convention were Gerald Benjamin and Jerry Kremer. Gerald is for holding a convention whereas Jerry is opposed to it.

Gerald believes that the constitution was born out of the concept of popular sovereignty. This means that government is created and subject to the people that it serves. Under these pretenses, Gerald believes that not only do the people of the state of New York have the right to a constitutional convention but that they should because that is why the constitution was created.

He understands that it is difficult that the proposal is on the back of the ballot and that people don’t like to vote on propositions, but he believes it is important that there is some democratic accountability.

On the flip side, Jerry Kremer believes that having a convention is too costly and unnecessary. He explains that anywhere from 75-100 million dollars would be spent on a referendum. He also believes that if the voters voted on having a convention,  he fears that a lot of important things that are in the constitution would possibly get taken out.

Another thing that frustrated Jerry was the fact that people who are pro-referendum have had twenty years to fight for voting yes on having one but have only recently been advocating the idea. Now that there is 45 days until the vote he feels as if people want a referendum just to have one, not because they actually have changes in mind.

All in all, the debate was very interesting and it opened my eyes to something I didn’t even know about. I think it’s important to attend events on campus that don’t necessarily interest you right off the bat because you may find out that after going to the event that it is actually interesting after all!

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