Lambda Legal, ACLU to sue N.C. over discriminatory law


North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, left, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Dean

Lisa Keen | Keen News Service

Lambda Legal and the ACLU announced Monday they are filing a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of a law passed by North Carolina last week to prevent local governments from protecting LGBT people against discrimination.

The announcement came the same day that Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced that he will veto House Bill 757, a so-called “religious freedom bill” passed earlier this month by the Georgia Assembly. HB 757 would have allowed religious officials to refuse to perform “marriage ceremonies in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion.”

The North Carolina law also prohibits transgender people from using a public restroom for the gender they are living, is one of two anti-gay measures under consideration by several other states.

The state’s Republican governor, Pat McCrory, on March 23 signed the two-punch law that effectively bars transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity and bars any local government from having an ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Kansas’ Republican Gov. Sam Brownback on March 22 signed a bill that prohibits colleges and universities from denying to any “religious student association” any benefit available to other student groups because the religious group requires members to “comply with the association’s sincerely held religious beliefs” and “standards of conduct.”

The North Carolina law drew the most media attention and response, going to a new extreme to limit the civil rights of LGBT people. The National Basketball Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have both issued statements saying the state’s new law might prompt them to withdraw upcoming major events from Charlotte. Carolina’s National Hockey League team issued a statement saying it is “devoted to providing a welcoming and respectful environment for all fans.”

American Airlines, which has a hub in Charlotte, said, “Laws that allow such discrimination go against our fundamental belief of equality and are bad for the economies of the states in which they are enacted.” Even the mayor of San Francisco has banned city employees from any publicly funded travel to North Carolina on city business.

Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and Equality North Carolina issued a press release Sunday night, March 27,saying they would challenge the law in federal court.

The Carolina law requires that all public schools facilities have bathrooms or changing facilities “designated for and used only by students based on their biological sex.” Biological sex is defined by what gender is indicated on a person’s birth certificate.

It also declares that state law concerning “discriminatory practices” will “supersede and pre-empt any ordinance” or regulation of any local government. North Carolina state law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“This outrageous new law not only strips away the ability of local jurisdictions to protect LGBT people from discrimination, but it goes further and targets transgender students who deserve to be treated equally at school — not harassed and excluded,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin.

McCrory allowed the state legislature to hold a special session just to consider the measure, aimed specifically at an ordinance approved by the Charlotte City Council in February. The city sought to prohibit discrimination based on their gender identity. But the new state law, “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act,” prohibits any local government from passing non-discrimination ordinances.

HRC said legislators had only five minutes to review the bill before voting on it and that Democrats in the Senate walked out, rather than vote on the measure.

In a statement released Wednesday, McCrory called Charlotte’s ordinance a “radical breach of trust and security under the false argument of equal access” and said it endangered the “basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said 76 percent of transgender people do not have an updated birth certificate. Jenny Pizer, law and policy director for Lambda Legal, said the law makes it impossible for transgender people to stay in school, hold jobs or access public services because “as a practical and safety matter” they are barred from using bathroom facilities.

The legislature’s debate echoed remarks heard frequently during the recent battle over a non-discrimination ordinance in Houston, where a referendum overturned the city’s non-discrimination law, HERO, which prohibited numerous categories of discrimination, including race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

But in Houston, the referendum simply repealed the ordinance. In North Carolina, the new law repeals all existing local ordinances that prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination and forecloses any future local ordinances.

According to HRC, North Carolina is the first state “to enact such a law attacking transgender students.” Kansas is bucking to be next. Kansas legislators on March 16 introduced bills to the House and Senate that call for all public schools to label restrooms by gender and enables students who encounter “a person of the opposite sex” in their restroom or locker to sue the school for $2,500 for “each instance” and monetary damages for “all psychological, emotional, and physical harm suffered.”

Earlier this month, South Dakota’s Republican governor, Dennis Daugaard, vetoed a bill similar to North Carolina’s, though it required transgender people to use “single-occupancy” restrooms or locker rooms.

But a number of states are still considering such legislation. The Illinois legislature has a similar bill pending before a House committee. Other states considering laws relating to gender identity and/or religious justifications for discrimination against LGBT people include Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Washington and Wisconsin.

Two bills seeking to limit use of public bathrooms by transgender people failed in the Virginia legislature last month, including one that sought to fine students $50 if they used the wrong bathroom.

Similar bills died in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Massachusetts is considering a pro-trans bill; to provide “equal access to public places regardless of gender identity.”

© 2016 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  David Taffet

Arkansas bans anti-discrimination laws; is Texas next?


Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, right, allowed legislation prohibiting cities and counties from enacting anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people to pass into law without his signature. Texas Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, left, has introduced a similar bill in the Texas Legislature.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday allowed legislation prohibiting cities and counties in his state from passing statutes and ordinances protecting LGBT people from discrimination to become law without his signature. The law, SB 202, goes into effect 90 days after the legislative session ends this summer.

Hutchinson said earlier this month that he had “reservations” about the legislation, but not enough to actually veto it. He chose instead to demonstrate those reservations by letting the bill become law without his signature. He did so despite what The Washington Post called mounting pressure from civil rights advocates nationwide.

A press release issued by a coalition of groups including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal and the ACLU declared, “There is nothing but discriminatory intent here. And no valid public interest can possibly be served by allowing private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity or other characteristics that might be covered by local ordinances.” Even Cher skewered Hutchinson in a Tweet, accusing him of “hanging [the] LGBT community out the dry.”

But before all you Texans start looking down your noses at those ridiculous rednecks in Arkansas, be warned: The same kind of bill has been in the Texas Legislature this session. Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.

According to Equality Texas, “SB 343 would restrict the ability of local elected officials to pass or enforce ordinances, rules or regulations that are not identical to state protections, restricting local governments to only protecting the attributes covered under state law: race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.”

That means that ordinances in Fort Worth and Dallas and Houston and even in Plano that protect LGBT people from discrimination would be, in effect, rendered useless. Of course, it also means that ordinances in Houston, San Antonio and, again, Plano that protect U.S. military veterans from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations would also be effectively overturned. But hey, the vets have already sacrificed for their country one time; surely they’ll be willing to sacrifice their right not to be discriminated against to make sure all us evil LGBTs don’t get any protections. I mean, we are a huge threat to the American way of life, after all.

As I said, Huffines’ bill, if it becomes law, would nullify the amendment adding LGBT protections to the Dallas city charter, an amendment approved last November by 76 percent of Dallas voters. I guess overturning measures overwhelmingly approved by voters — you know, like the amendment to the Texas Constitution banning legal recognition of same-sex marriage, approved by 76 percent of Texas voters in 2005 — is ok as long as you are only overturning things that Republicans don’t like.

—  Tammye Nash

LGBT legal organizations withdraw support for ENDA

Five national LGBT legal organizations issued a joint statement today withdrawing their support for the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — ENDA — because it would allow religious organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.ENDA

Organizations signing onto the statement are: American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights and Transgender Law Center.

The statement reads:

“The provision in the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that allows religious organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity has long been a source of significant concern to us.  Given the types of workplace discrimination we see increasingly against LGBT people, together with the calls for greater permission to discriminate on religious grounds that followed immediately upon the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it has become clear that the inclusion of this provision is no longer tenable.  It would prevent ENDA from providing protections that LGBT people desperately need and would make very bad law with potential further negative effects.  Therefore, we are announcing our withdrawal of support for the current version of ENDA.

“For decades, our organizations have challenged anti-LGBT workplace discrimination in the courts and worked for the passage of inclusive non-discrimination laws at the local, state and federal level.  We do this work because of the devastating toll workplace discrimination has had, and continues to have, on the lives of LGBT people.  It is unacceptable that in the year 2014, men and women are forced to hide who they are or whom they love when they go to work.

“The current patchwork of legal protections at the state and local level has left LGBT people vulnerable to discrimination. For this reason, we have supported federal legislation to explicitly protect LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace, and have urged President Obama to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

“ENDA’s discriminatory provision, unprecedented in federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, could provide religiously affiliated organizations — including hospitals, nursing homes and universities — a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people.  The provision essentially says that anti-LGBT discrimination is different — more acceptable and legitimate — than discrimination against individuals based on their race or sex. If ENDA were to pass and be signed into law with this provision, the most important federal law for the LGBT community in American history would leave too many jobs and too many LGBT workers, without protection. Moreover, it actually might lessen non-discrimination protections now provided for LGBT people by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and very likely would generate confusion rather than clarity in federal law. Finally, such a discrimination provision in federal law likely would invite states and municipalities to follow the unequal federal lead.  All of this is unacceptable.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby has made it all the more important that we not accept this inappropriate provision. Because opponents of LGBT equality are already misreading that decision as having broadly endorsed rights to discriminate against others, we cannot accept a bill that sanctions discrimination and declares that discrimination against LGBT people is more acceptable than other kinds of discrimination.

“Our ask is a simple one: Do not give religiously affiliated employers a license to discriminate against LGBT people when they have no such right to discriminate based on race, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Religiously affiliated organizations are allowed to make hiring decisions based on their religion, but nothing in federal law authorizes discrimination by those organizations based on any other protected characteristic, and the rule should be the same for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Religious organizations are free to choose their ministers or faith leaders, and adding protections for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression will not change that.

“These concerns are not hypothetical. Increasingly, this is what employment discrimination against LGBT people looks like. Take the example of Matthew Barrett.  In July 2013, Matthew was offered a job as food services director at Fontbonne Academy, a college prep high school in Milton, Massachusetts that is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston. Fontbonne Academy has employees and admits students of various faiths. Yet, two days after Matthew listed his husband as his emergency contact on the standard employment paperwork, and despite twenty years of work in the food services industry, his job offer was rescinded. Although nothing about the food services job involved religious rituals or teaching, Matthew was told by an administrator that the school was unable to hire him because “the Catholic religion doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.” The current version of ENDA would authorize this sexual orientation discrimination.

“As the national outcry against SB 1062 in Arizona (and similar proposals in numerous other states) demonstrates, the American people oppose efforts to misuse religious liberty as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT people.  It is time for ENDA (and the LGBT non-discrimination executive order for federal contractors) to reflect this reality. Until the discriminatory exemption is removed so that anti-LGBT discrimination is treated the same as race, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information under federal workplace laws, we think ENDA should not move forward in Congress. In addition, we will oppose any similar provisions at the state and local level. We are hopeful that the many members of Congress who support this historic, critically important legislation will agree that singling out LGBT people for an unequal and unfair exemption from basic workplace protection falls unacceptably short of the civil rights standards that have served our nation well against other types of discrimination for fifty years. We stand ready and eager to work with them to achieve the long-sought goal of explicit, effective federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.”


—  Tammye Nash

Houston couple wins ACLU same-sex wedding contest


A Texas couple is among the five winners of the national American Civil Liberties Union’s Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding contest.

Jeff Robertson and Jeremiah Pyant of Houston were one of 23 same-sex couples from the Lone Star State vying for the chance to win $5,000 toward their dream wedding. Contestants had to live in state like Texas where same-sex marriage is prohibited to be eligible to enter.

Pyant, a flight attendant, and Robertson, an ad executive, met four years ago aboard a plane that Pyant was working on. They got engaged in December and want to marry aboard a hot air balloon taking off from Texas and flying over New Mexico, where the marriage will be legal.

Winners were chosen out of the top 25 couples that received the most votes. ACLU told The Associated Press nearly 200,000 votes were cast for the 400 entries since the contest’s December launch.

After the contest began, more court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage started coming out of states, including a decision in Texas back in February.

“As soon as we entered the contest, the court decisions started coming out,” said Jeff Robertson. “We’re living a civil rights movement right before our eyes.”

James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project, said the wedding contest highlights the type of problems faced by gay couples in the nearly 30 states where marriage-equality lawsuits have been filed.

“We live in this crazy time, with a patchwork of protections, where you can go across the border and get married,” he said. “The problem is that when you turn around and go back, you’re not going to be considered married by your home states. That’s not the way it should work in America.”

—  Dallasvoice

Gay men say they were kicked out of bar for dancing to country music

aclu2The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas is supporting a gay couple after the men said they were kicked out of a South Texas nightclub for dancing together to country music.

The incident occurred Saturday night at a Victoria nightclub when Justin Meyer, 21, said he and his partner danced together to the country song “Cowboys and Angels,” the Victoria Advocate reported.

The men said a manager approached them and told them Cactus Canyon has a policy barring two men from dancing together to country music.

Meyer’s partner, James Douglas, 30, said the manager told them they could dance together to rap or hip-hop music, but not country.

“So you’re telling me it’s OK for me to bump and grind my boyfriend to the song `Bubble Butt,’ but we can’t dance a two-step?” Douglas told the newspaper.

But Cactus Canyon’s director of operations, Robert Dillender, says the men were asked to leave because they were being disruptive.

“We’ve never kicked anyone out of the club for dancing,” he said, adding the club does not have a policy barring same-sex couples from dancing together.

However, Dillender said the club does have to “maintain the peace” under its obligation to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the agency that issues liquor licenses. Cactus Canyon is now reviewing how it interprets that policy, he said.

“We apologize for the misunderstanding,” Dillender added.

The issue has already caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas, and the group plans to reach out to the couple to offer assistance.

“We encourage all people to stand up for their individual rights,” said Tom Hargis, an ACLU spokesman.

—  Steve Ramos

BREAKING: Galveston man withdraws lawsuit challenging TX marriage ban


Domenico Nuckols has decided to withdraw his lawsuit challenging Texas’ constitutional marriage amendment after talking with legal experts about his case.

Nuckols, a retired nuclear engineer, filed the case two weeks ago and as of last week was trying to find pro bono legal representation. But he said after talking with the American Civil Liberties Union and receiving a letter on Lambda Legal’s position, he withdrew the suit Monday. The judge signed the order dismissing the case yesterday.

He said the organizations explained they had picked several states like Pennsylvania and Virginia where they thought they could win the fight for same-sex marriage. Nuckols also hasn’t tried to marry in Texas and doesn’t plan to do so, so standing could have been an issue with his case.

“It’s not the time to do it in Texas,” he said. “I don’t care if you have standing or not, it’s going to be very politicized.

“I’m disappointed but when you have so many people telling you you’re beating a dead horse, you should listen,” he added. “There’s a fight out there, but you can’t pick it in Texas.”

—  Dallasvoice

Spring ISD will allow transgender teen to attend prom in women’s clothing


Tony Zamazal

A transgender teen will be able to attend prom at Spring High School dressed as a woman after an assistant principal originally told the teen she must dress as a boy.

Tony Zamazal wanted to wear dress and heels to prom along with makeup and a wig because he feels more comfortable dressing as a woman. He was told in February that he must wear men’s attire because of the prom’s dress code. When he took his complaint to the principal, he was told the school board would have to weigh in.

The school has now reversed its decision in a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, explaining that its position was unconstitutional.

“All I wanted was to get to wear a dress to prom, because I wouldn’t have felt comfortable at all showing up in a tux,” Zamazal said. “I’m so grateful that my school has agreed to let me be myself on such an important night.”

The ACLU sent a letter to the principal on March 18, explaining that both federal law and the Constitution protect Zamazal’s right to wear a dress to prom. The district responded last week that they’d allow him to come to prom dressed as he pleases.

“Tony has the right under both federal statutes and the U.S. Constitution to express her gender identity,” Adriana Pinon, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “Students’ legal rights aren’t something that public schools get to put up to a vote. We’re happy to see the school do the right thing.”

—  Dallasvoice

2 New Mexico couples sue for marriage equality


Plaintiffs Kim Kiel, Rose Griego, Miriam Rand and Ona Lara Porter

After Sante Fe mayor David Coss called on New Mexico’s county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, two lesbian couples filed a lawsuit against the state after their marriage licenses were denied in Bernalillo County.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of New Mexico, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and local attorneys are representing the couples.

New Mexico is the only state whose marriage laws have always been ambiguous. The constitution does not specifically ban same-sex marriage nor does it allow it.

One couple lives in Albuquerque and the other in Sante Fe, but both applied in Albuquerque, which is the county seat of Bernalillo County.

The full text of the ACLU press release is below.

—  David Taffet

Gay man’s EEOC complaint against Granbury bank heads to mediation


Marty Edwards

Although local attorneys declined to take the case of an area bank executive fired for his sexual orientation, the ACLU has stepped in to help after seeing the story in Dallas Voice, and the case is now headed to mediation.

Amanda Goad, an ACLU attorney with the LGBT and AIDS Project based in New York, who covers a number of states including Texas, contacted Marty Edwards after our story ran. She believed Edwards, who was fired last year from First National Bank of Granbury, could file an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint under the category of sexual discrimination.

She cited an EEOC policy relating to discrimination based on marital status, political affiliation, status as a parent, sexual orientation or gender identity status in federal employment.

“The Commission has also found that claims by lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals alleging sex-stereotyping state a sex discrimination claim under Title VII. See Veretto v. U.S. Postal Service,” the EEOC policy states.

She wrote to Edwards in an email that the decision equates sexual orientation discrimination with sexual discrimination based on the perception of the assumptions of the roles of men.

“Favoring a straight man who has a wife and kids, over a gay man who doesn’t, sounds like a strong example of what they’re talking about,” Goad wrote.

Edwards was fired during a meeting with two other bank executives. One told him, “I don’t care if you are seeing Billy Graham as your counselor,” and the other said, “You obviously have some things messed up in your head.”

“They said it was not my work because I did a great job,” Edwards told Dallas Voice. “I was told that one guy who has three kids, a wife and white picket fence home was a better fit for the image we are looking for.”

Following our article that appeared in January, Edwards filed an EEOC claim based on his firing after seeking counseling. After speaking to Goad, Edwards amended the claim to include sexual discrimination.

He couldn’t file a claim simply on sexual orientation discrimination, because it is legal to fire someone based on sexual orientation under both Texas and federal law.

The bank has agreed to mediation on the counseling claim and they will meet on March 27.

—  David Taffet

ACLU fights web filtering at Missouri school

I know many gay school teachers, and in the past, several have told me that Dallas Voice cannot be read on school computers. I don’t mean they can’t download a film or the filter blocks out articles that have “offensive” wording. I mean they can’t even find on their browser.

So it was nothing new to me to hear the ACLU has filed suit against a school district in Missouri which blocks all content of a gay nature … except that which is anti-gay. That means not only are teens blocked from reading Dallas Voice, but also information about AIDS and HIV (if published on a gay-approving website), or trans issues, or coming out, or dealing with bullying … Well, you get the idea.

You can read more about the lawsuit here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones