ACLU slams Trump’s pick to head Civil Rights Division

Eric Dreiband

President Donald Trump announced today (Thursday, June 29) that he is nominating Eric Dreiband to serve as the head of the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice. Civil rights advocates with the ACLU were not amused.

Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office, said: “Dreiband has made a career going against women and LGBT rights. As a lawyer for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President George W. Bush, Dreiband testified before Congress against legislation that would prevent wage discrimination. As a private attorney, Dreiband represented organizations seeking religious exemptions to avoid providing contraceptive coverage for women in the workplace. He also argued on behalf of the University of North Carolina in support of a law that discriminates against trans people.

“With a history of restricting civil rights,” McCurdy continued, “Drieband’s record must be thoroughly examined and weighed for his fitness to serve in the position that is supposed to advocate for the rights of all Americans, regardless of their background. We will watch Dreiband closely, and urge senators to ask the tough questions during his confirmation process.”

 

—  Tammye Nash

Progressive leaders slam Abbott over special session agenda

Lambda Legal senior counsel Jenny Pizer

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced today (Tuesday, June 6) that he will convene a special session of the Texas Legislature on July 18 and that the agenda for the special session includes school vouchers, the anti-transgender “bathroom bill” and multiple restrictions on abortion access.

Progressive leaders were quick to speak out against Abbott’s agenda:

Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas: “Lt. Gov. Patrick held the must-pass sunset bill hostage in order to advance his extremist agenda, and today Gov. Abbott paid the ransom. Taken together, the special session’s agenda items constitute an assault on Texas’s most persecuted communities — on women, on schoolchildren, on transgender kids. But there’s a reason this discriminatory legislation didn’t pass during the regular session: Texans don’t want it. And when legislators return to Austin on July 18, they should expect to meet stiff resistance not only from the ACLU, but from every Texan who believes everyone deserves a fair shot rather than a government running roughshod over our civil liberties.

“There is enough actual business Texas legislators need to take care of without pandering to Lt. Gov. Patrick and his determination to demonize transgender kids. That’s not just wrong and abusive: it’s also begging to be sued,” Burke said.

Jennifer C. Pizer, senior counsel and director of law and policy for Lambda Legal: “It was certainly widely expected that Gov. Abbott would call a special session. There are many items that Texas legislators did not act on, perhaps because they were distracted by the numerous, cruel efforts to enshrine anti-LGBT discrimination into law. There is enough actual business Texas legislators need to take care of without pandering to Lt. Gov. Patrick and his determination to demonize transgender kids. That’s not just wrong and abusive: it’s also begging to be sued.

“Let’s be clear,” Pizer continued, “the Legislature did find the time to pass HB 3859, a discriminatory bill that would allow many child placement agencies in the state foster care system — including agencies receiving state and federal funding — to prioritize their religious beliefs above the needs of children and to operate in a manner explicitly counter to professional standards. That bill is now before Gov. Abbott, and we call on him again to veto it.”

Pizer concluded, “We ask the Texas Legislature not to compound the error with this unwarranted solution in search of a problem driven by Lt. Gov. Patrick’s mistaken, discriminatory belief that transgender schoolchildren pose some kind of danger to others. Dozens of business leaders and sports organizations have called on legislators not to enact anti-LGBT legislation, pointing to the experience of North Carolina as a cautionary tale. And, as we said before, if the legislature does force discrimination targeting transgender schoolchildren into Texas law, you can bet that Lambda Legal will be on the case before the next school bell rings.”

Pizer also noted that Lambda Legal “stands ready to help transgender youth who experience discrimination in school, foster care or anywhere else.” Those students, their parents or guardians should call the Lambda Legal Help Desk at 212-809-8585 or to visit LambdaLegal.org/trans-students.

Sara Kate Ellis, president and CEO of Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), also had choice words regarding Abbott’s special session agenda: “Gov. Greg Abbott is proving everything is bigger in Texas, including prioritizing discrimination. If the governor moves forward with this harmful legislation against trans students, LGBTQ people, businesses, and fair-minded Texans will respond in Texas style — big. Trans Texans have experienced harassment and threats because of this last session and if any anti-trans bills get signed into law, then Gov. Abbott’s legacy will be turning Texas into a state known for harming some its most marginalized people.”

—  Tammye Nash

ACLU seeks to stay court order allowing healthcare providers to discriminate

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion Monday, Jan. 9, in the Northern District Court of Texas, asking the court stay the nationwide court order preventing the federal government from enforcing an Affordable Care Act regulation that protects transgender people and women from discrimination in healthcare.

The ACLU also asked the court to issue a formal ruling on its request to intervene in the lawsuit.

A group of states, led by Texas and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and a group of religiously-affiliated health care organizations who claim that Affordable Care Act regulations banning discrimination against transgender people and women could force healthcare providers to violate their personal religious beliefs. The plaintiffs in the case claim “they should be allowed to deny essential healthcare services and coverage to transgender people and women,” the ACLU says.

The ACLU originally moved to intervene on behalf of the ACLU of Texas and the River City Gender Alliance in September because the lawsuit “seeks to undermine critical anti-discrimination measures and to allow religion to be used to harm others, including by denying medical care,” according to an ACLU press release.

Federal Judge Reed O’Connor — the same judge that enjoined federal guidelines to school districts on interacting with transgender students — issued a preliminary injunction on Dec. 31 that halted enforcement of the ACA regulations just hours before it was to go into effect. The nationwide injunction restrains the government from enforcing the regulation to prevent public and private healthcare providers, including hospitals and healthcare centers, from discriminating against transgender people and women.

Such discrimination may include harassment, refusal to perform essential healthcare services like reproductive or gender-affirming care, and denials of insurance coverage for essential healthcare services, according to the ACLU.

ACLU Deputy Legal Director Louise Melling said, “Religious liberty does not mean the right to discriminate or harm others. No one should live in fear of being turned away at a hospital because of who they are, and we’re ready to fight this decision sanctioning discrimination. We won’t sit idly by while women and transgender people continue to see their rights come under assault.”

Kate Parrish, president of the Omaha, Nebraska-based River City Gender Alliance, said, “The judge’s court order direct attack on the transgender community’s right to function normally and safely in everyday life. Our access to medically necessary health care treatment is being restricted simply because of who we are.”

To see the ACLU’s motion, go here.

—  Tammye Nash

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

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

Lisa Keen | Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

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?

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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

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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

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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

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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