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Although air pollution was the 2019 theme for World Environment Day (celebrated June 5), the official host country ironically was China, which is renowned for its poor air quality. Even as officials with the UN Environment Programme lauded significant strides made by China over the past two decades to improve air quality, a new study indicates that a rise in emissions of banned trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11) can be traced to new gas production in eastern China. CFC-11 was originally used for home insulation and refrigeration but was found to be responsible for the rapid destruction of Earths ozone layer. It was subsequently banned and was to be phased out universally by 2010. Instead, researchers with the Environmental Investigation Agency report its use in 70 percent of Chinas domestic sales, resulting in a 110-percent increase in emissions from 2014-2017 compared to the period of 2008-2012.

A new thirty-one-page guide released by the Vatican on June 10--in the middle of Pride month--drew immediate criticism from LGBTQ groups and human rights activists. Entitled Male and Female He Created Them, the "teaching" guide rejects transgenderism and criticizes the modern understanding of gender identity, arguing that "the true nature of human persons" is based on "clear and convincing anthropology." New Ways Ministry, a US advocacy group for LGBT Catholics, describes the guide as "harmful" and warns it will confuse those struggling with their gender identity and sexual orientation. Other activists believe the position promulgated by the guide will alienate vulnerable people from the church and encourage discrimination.

Despite recent efforts by the Trump administration to roll back or rescind nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community, LGBTQ rights have scored some recent victories. On May 28 the US Supreme Court declined to hear Doe v. Boyertown Area School District, rejecting the school's claim that transgender students are a threat to other students and allowing school districts across the country to allow transgender students to use restrooms that match their gender identity. On May 17, the US House of Representatives passed the landmark Equality Act (H.R.5) providing explicit protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. And in April the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, are forbidden to use religious criteria to discriminate against same-sex couples as prospective foster families.

However, there have been setbacks as well. In May the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a change to the Health Care Rights Law (Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act), that would remove sex discrimination protections for transgender people and allow health care institutions and workers to refuse to provide medical services if they have a moral or religious objection. The Department of Housing and Urban Development also announced in May that it would allow taxpayer-funded shelters to turn away transgender people experiencing homelessness based on a number of factors, including the shelter provider's religious views.

On May 14 members of the US House of Representatives introduced bipartisan legislation that would outlaw discrimination against pregnant workers. The Pregnant Worker Fairness Act would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees, such as providing a stool to sit on, a schedule change, or a break from lifting heavy boxes. It would also ban employers from denying a pregnant employee job opportunities or forcing her to take a leave of absence.

On April 9 the BE HEARD Act was introduced in both chambers of Congress, proposing sweeping reforms to prevent and address harassment in workplaces across the country. The Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejection Discrimination in the Workplace Act would expand existing protections to small business employees and independent and federal contractors who are currently excluded from Title VII law, provide new protections, and address discrimination against LGBTQ and older workers.

The death penalty is dead in New Hampshire. With a sixteen-to-eight vote on May 30, state lawmakers overrode Governor Christopher Sununu's 2018 veto of the bipartisan death penalty repeal bill, making New Hampshire the twenty-first state to abolish capital punishment. The death-penalty repeal bill, which applied only to future cases, had passed the state senate by a fourteen-to-ten vote in March 2018, and passed the house by a 223-116 vote the following month but was then vetoed by the governor on June 21. A year later, the death penalty has officially been repealed.

Lawmakers have introduced legislation in both the US House (H.R.51) and Senate (S.631) to recognize the District of Columbia as the fifty-first state of the United States. Currently the 700,000 residents of the nation's capital are denied the full rights of citizenship. Passage of the Washington DC Admission Act would grant them full voting representation, self-government, and equal civic participation. The new state would be called the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.

KAREN ANN GAJEWSKI is a contributing editor to the Humanist and a documentation project analyst.
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Author:Gajewski, Karen Ann
Publication:The Humanist
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jul 1, 2019
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