Lambda Legal pledges to fight Texas Supreme Court ruling while Paxton cheers the bigots on

Upton.Ken

Kenneth D. Upton Jr.

Officials with Lambda Legal have pledged that their organization will “work with Houston attorneys to defend marriage” in response to the Texas Supreme Court ruling issued today claiming that legally-married same-sex couples do not have the right to marriage benefits.

In a statement released shortly after the Supreme Court ruling was announced, Lambda Legal accused the Texas Supreme court of defying the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, and pledged to help lead the fight to fully secure endangered marriage equality rights.

The Texas Supreme Court’s ruling came in the case Pidgeon v. Turner, originally filed in late 2013 as Pidgeon v. Parker, challenging then-Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s announcement that the city would begin offering health insurance and other benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees.

Kenneth D. Upton Jr., senior counsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas, declared, “This absurd contortion of the Obergefell ruling defies all logic and reason, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s explicit ruling on Monday (June 26) that marriage is marriage and equal is equal. We will take steps to protect these families. The Court was very clear in the majority opinion about the scope of what marriage entails.”

Eric Lesh, director of Lambda Legal’s Fair Courts Projects, added that the Texas court ruling “is political and is an example of why elected judges are bad for LGBT people and bad for judicial independence.”

Saying that today’s ruling in Pidgeon v. Turner “revives a case that was dead and sends it back to the trial court to give the parties another chance to attack the marriage of same-sex couples,” the Lambda Legal statement points that that the ruling also “flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s summary reversal on Monday of an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling, in Pavan v. Smith, stating explicitly that states may not treat same-sex married couples differently than other married couples.”

The Lambda Legal statement called the Texas Supreme Court’s reading of SCOTUS’ Obergefell and Pavan decisions “clearly erroneous,” pointing that the Obergefell ruling plainly states that while states are free to vary the benefits they confer on all married couples, “There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle. Yet by virtue of their exclusion from that institution, same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the states have linked to marriage.”

And in the Pavan decision issued just this week, SCOTUS reiterated the earlier ruling’s breadth: “As we explained [in Obergefell], a state may not ‘exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.’ Indeed, in listing those terms and conditions — the ‘rights, benefits, and responsibilities’ to which same-sex couples, no less than opposite-sex couples, must have access — we expressly identified ‘birth and death certificates.’ That was no accident…”

Upton added that the Obergefell decision “similarly … listed health insurance.”

Paxton panders

Meanwhile, back at the homophobic ranch, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was busy issuing his own statement heaping praise on the bigots of the Texas Supreme Court.

“I’m extremely pleased that the Texas Supreme Court recognized that Texas law is still important when it comes to marriage,” Paxton said. “While the U.S. Supreme Court declared a right to same-sex marriage, that ruling did not resolve all legal issues related to marriage.”

Paxton’s statement also pointed out that he and Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — both also homophobes on par with Paxton — had filed an amicus brief in the Pidgeon case urging the Texas Supreme Court to allow the lawsuit to continue, and noting that Paxton’s case had defended Texas’ unconstitutional anti-marriage-equality laws before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Paxton’s statement today did not, however, point out that immediately following the Obergefell ruling Paxton encouraged Texas county clerks to defy the federal court and refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

—  Tammye Nash

The good, the bad and the maybe

SCOTUS rules in school funding, Arkansas birth certificate cases, agrees to hear appeal in Colorado wedding cake case

 

Lisa Keen | Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

 

Susan Sommer with Lambda Legal

The U.S. Supreme Court took dramatic action on three LGBT-related cases today (Monday, June 26), with results that could be described as bad, good and to-be-determined.

In a 7-to-2 decision, the court said Missouri could not exclude a nonprofit school from a state program just because the school is run by a church. LGBT activists had argued the school should be denied state funding because the school exercised its religious beliefs against homosexuality and against other religions in determining which children it would exclude.

But the majority of the court, including pro-LGBT moderates Anthony Kennedy and Elena Kagan, said the state’s denying funding to a school that “would have received [a state grant] but for the fact that Trinity Lutheran is a church” violates the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment. The decision came in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer.

Lambda Legal had submitted a brief in the case, noting that the school’s policy allows discriminating against students and parents based on sexual orientation and even based on religion. So requiring the state to provide funds to the Lutheran school would have the effect of the state supporting discrimination based on sexual orientation and religion.

“When government provides aid to religious schools and other entities, it must do so with safeguards ensuring that these institutions neither discriminate based on religion nor use the funds to inculcate religion,” Lambda’s lawyers wrote.

That was the “bad” LGBT result. The “good” came in an unsigned (per curiam or “of a court in unanimous agreement”) decision that included three dissents (Neil Gorsuch, joined by Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito) who appeared to object only to the method of the decision, not the result. The decision reversed an opinion of the Arkansas Supreme Court that had held that a legal spouse’s name could be omitted from her child’s birth certificate if she was not the biological mother or her “husband.”

The court issued the ruling without having heard arguments in the case.

The Pavan v. Smith opinion noted, “As this Court explained in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Constitution entitles same-sex couples to civil marriage ‘on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.’” Obergefell was the 2015 decision that said states could not ban same-sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses the same as opposite-sex couples.

The Arkansas case involved two same-sex couples who used anonymous sperm donors to conceive their children. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court had in June 2015 struck down bans against same-sex couples marrying, the Arkansas health department refused to issue the children’s birth certificates with the names of both their parents. The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld that refusal.

“The Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision, we conclude, denied married same-sex couples access to the ‘constellation of benefits that the Stat[e] ha[s] linked to marriage’,” noted the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision. It noted that benefits such as birth certificates were among those the high court explicitly included in its Obergefell decision.

Susan Sommer, associate legal director for Lambda Legal, called the Pavan decision a win “for same-sex couples and their families across the nation.”

“The Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision flew in the face of Obergefell, undermining the dignity and equality of LGBT families and the government’s obligation to protect children,” said Sommer. “It was also an outlier; every other state that had considered this question got it right and ruled in favor of treating LGBT families equally. The historic ruling in Obergefell explicitly tells us that the spouses of birth parents, regardless if they are of the same sex or different sex, must be listed on the birth certificates of their children. Obergefell is crystal clear: marriage is marriage, and equal is equal. We congratulate our colleagues at National Center for Lesbian Rights on this great victory.”

Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court announced today it will review a lower court ruling in Masterpiece Cake v. Colorado, a case involving a baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, claiming it violated his religious beliefs.

Wedding cake baker Jack Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., agreed to sell various baked goods to a same-sex couple, but not a wedding cake. Phillips claimed his religious beliefs opposed marriage for same-sex couples.

The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which agreed that Phillips had violated the state law barring sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations.

Phillips appealed through the state court system, which ruled against him. The Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal. But the Alliance Defending Freedom took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

The ADF’s petition to the high court argued that Phillips’ Christian belief “compels him to use his artistic talents to promote only messages that align with his religious beliefs.”

By ordering Phillips to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, says ADF, Colorado is violating the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech and “targets Phillips’ religious beliefs about marriage. … ”

James Essex, head of the ACLU’s national LGBT project, said, “The law is squarely on [the same-sex couple’s] side because when businesses are open to the public, they’re supposed to be open to everyone.”

“While the right to one’s religious beliefs is fundamental, a license to discriminate is not,” said Essex.

The case is similar to one out of New Mexico in 2013, Elane Photography v. Wilcox. In that case, the photographer, also represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, said her religious objections to homosexuality should trump the state’s interests in eradicating discrimination against LGBT people. She said the First Amendment guarantee to freedom of speech should protect her ability to express her beliefs.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the photographer’s appeal.

The Masterpiece Cake case will likely be heard in October.

© 2017 by Keen News Service

 

 

—  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

Lesbian couple wins housing discrimination suit in Colorado

Tonya and Rachel Smith and their children (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

Today (Wednesday, April 5), just a day after Lambda Legal lawyers and their client Kimberly Hively won a 7th Circuit Court ruling declaring that federal law — Title VII — protects lesbians and gays from employment discrimination — a district court judge in Colorado has ruled that the federal Fair Housing Act protects LGBT people against discrimination, too.

Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said it is the first time a federal court has ruled that the Fair Housing Act’s sex discrimination prohibitions apply to discrimination based on stereotypes about sexual orientation and gender identity.

U.S District Judge Raymond P. Moore ruled that a Boulder County property owner violated both the federal Fair Housing Act and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act by refusing to rent a housing unit to Rachel and Tonya Smith, a same-sex couple, one of whom is transgender, and their children, because she worried their “uniqueness” would jeopardize her standing in the community.

“This is a tremendous victory for Rachel and Tonya, their children, and LGBT people, couples and families across the country,” Gonzalez-Pagan said. “This is two federal courts two days in a row that have said that laws prohibiting sex discrimination protect LGBT people. It sends a strong message: discrimination against LGBT Americans in housing and employment is illegal and will not be tolerated.”

Gonzalez-Pagan said the facts in the case “are indisputable: Deepika Avanti refused to rent to Tonya and Rachel Smith because they are women in a same-sex relationship raising children together and Rachel is transgender.

“Her concerns about Rachel and Tonya’s ‘uniqueness’ and ‘unique relationship’ were discrimination, pure and simple, and we are grateful that the judge agreed,” he added.

In the court’s opinion Judge Moore wrote:

“In this case, the Smiths contend that discrimination against women (like them) for failure to conform to stereotype norms concerning to or with whom a woman should be attracted, should marry and/or should have children is discrimination on the basis of sex under the FHA. The court agrees. Such stereotypical norms are no different from other stereotypes associated with women, such as the way she should dress or act (e.g., that a woman should not be overly aggressive, or should not act macho), and are products of sex stereotyping.”

Tonya Smith said she and her family are “delighted with this ruling. We were so shocked and upset by Deepika’s emails, that simply because of who we are she wouldn’t rent to us. … No one should ever have to go through what we went through, and hopefully this ruling will protect other couples like us who are trying to provide safe homes for their families.”

Gonzalez-Pagan said that while anti-LGBT discrimination is housing is a pervasive problem “it is very much underreported. In many instances, LGBT people who are either overtly or subtly discriminated against in housing do not report the discrimination because of their immediate need to find housing or due to the costs of pursuing a claim. Property owners who engage in this kind of discrimination must be held accountable.”

In addition to Kimberly Hively’s victory in the 7th Circuit Court on Tuesday, Lambda Legal is currently appealing a suit against an Illinois senior living facility for failing to protect a resident from sex- and sexual orientation-based harassment.

 

—  Tammye Nash

7th Circuit: Title VII prohibits anti-LGBT bias in employment

 

Ruling by full panel overturns 7th Circuit’s previous decisions

Lisa Keen | Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

Kimberly Hively

For the first time ever, a federal appeals court has ruled that a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in employment also prohibits sexual orientation discrimination.

In an 8-to-3 decision handed down Tuesday, April 4, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which covers the states of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, reversed a district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit in which an employee alleged her employer discriminated against her because she is a lesbian.

The appeals court remanded the case back to district court.

“We hold only that a person who alleges that she experienced employment discrimination on the basis of her sexual orientation has put forth a case of sex discrimination for Title VII purposes,” the court concluded.

But that was a big “only.”

Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on sex in employment. Though some district courts have made similar rulings, no other federal appeals court has done so, according to Jon Davidson of Lambda Legal, which represented the employee in this case.

And Davidson has speculated that, if the question goes to the Supreme Court, its ultimate resolution “will control other federal laws barring sex discrimination, including Title IX — which governs discrimination in federally-funded educational programs — along with the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Pay Act, section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act — which bars discrimination in health care and health care insurance — and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.”

Writing for the majority, the 7th Circuit’s Chief Judge Diane Wood, a Clinton appointee, acknowledged that the decision in Hively v. Ivy Tech required taking a “fresh look” at previous rulings by federal appeals courts “in light of developments at the Supreme Court extending over two decades.”

The case was brought by Kimberly Hively, a part-time math teacher for a small community college in Indiana.

Over the course of her 13 years at Ivy Tech Community College, Hively applied for a full-time position six times and was rejected each time. In 2014, the college declined to renew her part-time contract.

Hively said she believed she was being discriminated against because she is a lesbian.

The district court judge, a Reagan appointee, dismissed the lawsuit, saying that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act — which prohibits sex discrimination — does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The lower court judge noted that the 7th Circuit, acting in previous cases, had ruled “Congress intended the term ‘sex’ to mean ‘biological male or biological female,’ and not one’s sexuality or sexual orientation.”

A 7th Circuit panel upheld that decision, saying it was “presumptively bound” by that same precedent.

The majority’s decision acknowledged that the lower courts were bound by precedent and made clear it did not have the authority to add “sexual orientation” to the list of protected categories in Title VII. But the majority opinion said it “must decide what it means to discriminate on the basis of sex … .”

In looking to Supreme Court decisions for guidance, the 7th Circuit relied heavily on Oncale v. Sundowner, a case in which the high court said that Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination (and sexual harassment) includes same-sex sexual harassment.

It also relied heavily on Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, in which the high court ruled that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination because of “sex” included discrimination against an employee based on expectations for an employee’s appearance and behavior based on their biological sex.

“Any discomfort, disapproval or job decision based on the fact that the complainant — woman or man — dresses differently, speaks differently or dates or marries a same-sex partner, is a reaction purely and simply based on sex,” wrote the majority.

The majority said it also considered strongly the Supreme Court’s rulings in several landmark LGBT-related cases: Romer v. Evans, which struck down a state ban on local ordinances prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination; Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state laws banning consensual sexual relations between same-sex adults; U.S. v. Windsor, which struck down the federal law that prohibited any recognition of marriage between same-sex couples for federal purposes; and Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down state laws banning marriage between same-sex partners.

“The logic of the Supreme Court’s decisions, as well as the common-sense reality that it is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex, persuades us,” wrote the majority, “that the time has come to overrule our previous cases that have endeavored to find and observe that line.”

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the decision “opens the door to a new era for LGBTQ plaintiffs under federal sex discrimination law.”

“With this historic decision, the 7th Circuit is the first federal appellate court to acknowledge that discrimination because a person is gay, lesbian or bisexual can only reasonably be understood as discrimination based on sex,” Minter continued. “The court deserves credit for rejecting the tortured rationales of older decisions and undertaking a principled analysis, based on the Supreme Court’s affirmation in Price Waterhouse and other cases, that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must be broadly construed to prohibit the full range of sex-based discrimination.”

Greg Nivens, employment fairness program director for Lambda Legal, noted, “In many cities and states across the country, lesbian and gay workers are being fired because of who they love. But with this decision, federal law is catching up to public opinion — 90 percent of Americans already believe that LGBT employees should be valued for how well they do their jobs, no who they love or who they are. Now through this case and others, that principle is backed up by the courts.

“This decision is a game-changer for lesbian and gay employees facing discrimination in the workplace, and it sends a clear message to employers: It is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation,” Nevins said.

Lambda Legal CEO Rachel Tivens added, “Love won again today. … Our movement is about love and pride — pride in yourself and your work, and the freedom to love and to be treated equally.”

Hively, who now takes her case back to the district court for a trial on the merits, said, “I have been saying all this time that what happened to me wasn’t right and was illegal. Now I will have my day in court … . No one should be fired for being lesbian, gay or transgender, like happened to me, and it’s incredibly powerful to know that the law now protects me and other LGBT workers.”

Selise Berry, founder and Ceo of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, said that the 7th Circuit’s ruling proves that “checks and balances set up in this country are working just as they should,” and she noted that the 7th Circuit is “one of our most conservative courts.”

“The courts ruled in line with what our country’s largest corporations have known for decades — that having a diverse and authentic workforce is not just the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do,” Berry said.

© 2017 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

—  Tammye Nash

Lambda Legal sues nursing facility for elder abuse

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Marsha Wetzel (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

Lambda Legal filed suit today, Wednesday, July 27, against Glen St. Andrew Living Community in Niles, Ill. for failing to protect Marsha Wetzel, a lesbian senior who is a resident of the facility. In her suit, she claims the facility and its administrators failed to protect her from “harassment, discrimination and violence she has endured at the hands of other residents because of her sex and sexual orientation.”

From Karen Loewy, Lambda Legal Senior Attorney and Seniors Program Strategist:

Glen St. Andrew calls itself ‘a community of caring,’ but when the staff ignores the harassment and violence directed at Marsha, they are not caring at all.

There is a clear pattern of discrimination here. The facility and its staff have ignored our client’s pleas for help after being harassed and attacked because she is a lesbian and because she is a woman who loved and created a family with another woman for 30 years.

Marsha deserves the same compassionate care and safety provided for all the other seniors at Glen St. Andrew but instead, the staff have created an environment where it is acceptable to isolate, harass and attack someone because of who they are and who they loved.

Over the weekend, the Coalition for Aging LGBT held a conference at the SMU campus in Plano to discuss issues that included treatment of LGBT elderly in assisted living and nursing facilities.

—  David Taffet

Lambda Legal offers advice for LGBT Mississippians

Governor_Phil_Bryant

Gov. Phil Bryant

The discrimination law Mississippi passed and Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law this week is more draconian than the North Carolina law. There’s also less businesses and people in other states can do.

North Carolina is headquarters for a number of prominent businesses. Bank of America, the country’s largest bank, is based there. Charlotte is American Airline’s largest hub.

But Mississippi? New York’s governor banned official state travel to Mississippi by New York state employees. Nice gesture, but why would anyone from New York be traveling to Tupelo. They’re not. And businesses? Nissan and Ashley Furniture. That’s about it. Nissan manufactures there and Ashley, well, if that’s where you buy your furniture, please return your gay card. A boycott won’t be effective. Number 3: Choctaw Indians. They run casinos across the state. Boycotting Native Americans won’t exactly hurt the bigoted white guys that passed this law.

But for the LGBT community, the new law will cause a number of problems. It allows county clerks to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples without offering alternatives. While no state law protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, this law reinforces companies’ ability to fire at will.

Lambda Legal has come out with some guidance to help the state’s LGBT community navigate the legal waters. They discuss whether you can still get married in the state to what to do if your health-care provider decides to stop providing hormone therapy.

A more helpful approach might have been this:

Step 1: Call U-Haul.

Step 2: Get the hell out of that hell hole.

—  David Taffet

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

McCrory.Deal

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

Lambda Legal wins Texas Social Security case

lambda legalLambda Legal announced today (Tuesday, March 8) that it has won a case against Social Security Administration brought on behalf of a Texas widow.

Kathy Murphy was denied survivors benefits after her wife died in 2012. She and her wife were together 30 years and married in Massachusetts in 2010. Because Texas didn’t recognize the marriage and Social Security is based on place of residence, she was denied benefits.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage allows couples to filed amended tax returns and now to update their retirement benefits.

In it’s announcement of the ruling, Lambda Legal wrote:

“We are also pleased to announce that the SSA has finally updated its instructions to its staff in accordance with the historic Obergefell v. Hodges ruling last June. SSA has also issued other guidance to staff to manage claims from the LGBT community.”

Social Security is now instructing its staff to recognize the date of marriage no matter where the couple married or where the couple now lives.

 

—  David Taffet

Ed-U-Care presents compassion fatigue symposium

Fein.Sharyn

Ed-U-Care CEO Sharyn Fein

Ed-U-Care, an organization that provides programs and volunteer opportunities for groups and families that have traditionally been marginalized or neglected including older LGBT adults, presents “Compassion Fatigue Awareness, Education Cultural Humility Training for Caregivers.”

According to Ed-U-Care CEO Sharyn Fein, the program is designed to educate and teach seal-healing methods for those who provide care. The day is designed for professionals who can receive CEU credits for the day as well as individuals who are caring for an elderly parent or a partner with an ongoing condition.

Burnout can be so severe, Fein said, the caregiver dies before the person being cared for in some cases.

Fein said the sessions will be fun with presenters who including a music therapist, Nia practitioner and trainer, QiGong Master and more.

“Find what makes us happy,” she said. “Live without guilt.”

AIDS Arms and Lambda Legal are among the sponsors. The Dallas area Alzheimer’s Association, Parkinson’s Society and Senior Source are some of the others presenting the symposium.

The event takes place from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on April 1 at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church, 9200 Inwood Road. Early bird registration is $30 until March 1. After that it’s $35. The price includes two catered meals.

Get tickets here.

—  David Taffet