Now Paxton is suing to deny trans people proper health care

Ken-Paxton-mug

Ken Paxton

Less than two days after a federal judge in Fort Worth issued an injunction halting enforcement the Obama administration’s guidelines for school districts on transgender students and issues, in a lawsuit filed by 13 states led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Paxton announced today (Tuesday, Aug. 23), that his has filed yet another lawsuit against the federal government, this time targeting proper health care for transgender people.

In July, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services implemented a new regulation intended to protect transgender people from discrimination in the provision of healthcare, The new regulation notes that the term “sex” in the Affordable Healthcare Act includes gender identity, when it comes to prohibiting discrimination.

According to the HHS website, the new regulations require that women have equal access to the health care they receive and the insurance they obtain, and make clear that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on gender identity. That means individuals cannot be denied health care or health coverage based on their sex, including their gender identity; that individuals must be treated consistent with their gender identity, including in access to facilities; that sex-specific health care cannot be denied or limited just because the person seeking such services identifies as belonging to another gender (For example, a provider may not deny an individual treatment for ovarian cancer, based on the individual’s identification as a transgender man, where the treatment is medically indicated), and that “explicit categorical exclusions in coverage for all health care services related to gender transition are facially discriminatory. Other exclusions for gender transition care will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

Ken Paxton, however, sees things a bit differently. In a press release announcing his newest lawsuit against the Obama administration, he claims to be battling “against yet another Obama Administration regulatory overreach that is invading the coffers of Texas, as well as violating the medical judgment and conscience rights of doctors and health care professionals across the country.”

Paxton claims that when enacting the Affordable Health Care Act, Congress intended the term “sex” to denote a biological category.  And now, “The Obama Administration [is trying] to redefine the law so that the term ‘sex’ means ones’ ‘internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither or a combination of male and female.’ But the President does not have the power to rewrite the law.”

Paxton’s press release says the new rules could have significant impact on Texas and health care workers because it requires taxpayers to fund “all treatments designed to transition to a different sex,” and it “forces health care workers, including physicians, to provide controversial services.”

The press release continues, “Under the new rule, a physician that believes that certain treatments are not in a patient’s best medical interests may be in violation of federal law. And a physician that, for religious or conscientious reasons cannot perform a particular procedure, chooses to instead refer a patient to another health care provider may be determined to be in violation of this new rule.”

Directly quoting Paxton, the press release says, “This is the thirteenth lawsuit I have been forced to bring against the Obama Administration’s continued threats on constitutional rights of Texans. The federal government has no right to force Texans to pay for medical procedures designed to change a person’s sex. I am disappointed in the Obama Administration’s lack of consideration for medical professionals who believe that engaging in such procedures or treatment violates their Hippocratic Oath, their conscience or their personal religious beliefs, which are protected by the Constitution and federal law.”

Paxton made no mention, however, of his and other Republicans’ efforts to interfere with the doctor/patient relationship when it comes to abortion and other medical treatments/issues affecting women. He also made no mention of the fact that while he continues to waste taxpayer money by filing politically-motivated lawsuits against the federal government, specifically targeting LGBT people in many cases, he has been soliciting donations from individuals and corporations to pay his own legal bills associated with the state and federal securities fraud charges against him. That includes, by the way, a $100,000 donation from the CEO of a company that was under investigation by the AG’s Office.

Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas, issued a statement today about Paxton’s latest lawsuit, noting that, “Yesterday Texas’ leaders patted themselves on the back for convincing a federal court that transgender schoolchildren should be excluded from the protections of Title IX. Today, the state filed another suit in the same court, this time challenging federal protections intended to shield transgender people from discrimination in healthcare services. We don’t know what else the state has in store, but the people of Texas will not stand idly by and let the state make transgender Texans into second-class citizens with no legal recourse when they face stigma and bias.

“Texas is better than this. This is not who we are,” Robertson said.

—  Tammye Nash

Paxton, anti-trans forces win 1st round, but fight continues

UPDATE: On Tuesday Ken Paxton announced he has filed yet another lawsuit against the federal government, this time challenging Health and Human Services regulations protecting transgender people from discrimination in their medical care. See our InstanTEA blog post here.

FW judge’s ruling on trans students guidelines could send 4th Circuit case to SCOTUS

 

Lisa Keen | Keen News Service
KeenNewsService@gmail.com

 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Texas AG Ken Paxton

In a move that could increase attention on the U.S. Supreme Court, a federal judge on Sunday, Aug. 21, issued a temporary order blocking the Obama administration from taking any action against states that refuse to comply with its guidelines concerning treatment of transgender students in federally-funded schools.

The order, from Judge Reed O’Connor — a George W. Bush appointee — enables at least 23 states that have expressed opposition to the Obama administration guidelines issued in May to ignore those guidelines until the court can rule on the merits of lawsuits challenging them.

The guidelines, from the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice, state that discrimination against transgender students violates federal law against sex discrimination and that schools failing to comply with the laws could lose their federal funding.

A White House spokesman reiterated Monday, Aug. 22, the administration’s contention that the guidelines were “certainly not a mandate” and characterized the lawsuit as an election year attempt to “play politics” with issues involving transgender students.

“[O]ur goal has been from the beginning to provide for the safety and security and dignity of students all across the country,” said John Earnest, press secretary for President Obama.

Lambda Legal and four other national legal groups working on LGBT issues expressed disappointment in Judge O’Connor’s injunction. They said it is likely to confuse school districts trying to help transgender students and goes against “years of clear legal precedent nationwide establishing that transgender students have the right to go to school without being singled out for discrimination.”

The groups said the injunction would have “no effect on the ability of other courts or lawyers representing transgender people to continue to rely on the federal government’s interpretations of Title IX or on prior decisions that have reached similar conclusions about the scope of federal sex discrimination laws.”

Officials with Resource Center, the LGBT community center in Dallas, on Monday issued a statement saying O’Conner’s ruling “is not the final word on the Obama administration’s efforts to provide civil rights protections for transgender Americans.

The statement continued, “The stay will likely be quickly appealed, first to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s also important to remember this is just a stay, and not the final ruling of a trial. With other cases in the legal pipeline, the rights of transgender Americans may end up being asserted and confirmed in another, higher court.

“The legal guidance the administration provided — rooted in their interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Code, as well as decades of case law, are legally sound” Resource Center’s statement continued. “The judge did not address that in his stay. Rather, he issued his decision based on the arcane process of federal rule-making. The Center believes that justice will prevail and the guidelines will eventually be upheld, but that is cold comfort to transgender students nationwide at the beginning of their school year. Nor does it offer any optimism to transgender people in the workplace, even though the judge did not immediately address the state of Texas and other plaintiff’s efforts to put a halt to the Obama administration’s guidance in that area.”

 

Big enough conflict?

But the injunction could have an effect on whether the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take up the issue sooner rather than later.

Judge O’Connor’s decision in this preliminary matter contradicts a ruling of another federal court. And conflicts among federal courts make issues more likely to attract Supreme Court intervention.

The Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which prohibits discrimination based on sex by federally-funded educational institutions, prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.

Judge O’Connor for the U.S. District Court of Northern Texas said “the plain meaning of the term sex” does not include gender identity. Noting that the Supreme Court had granted a stay against the Fourth Circuit decision, O’Connor said a decision from the Supreme Court “may obviate the issues in this lawsuit.”

Judge O’Connor’s decision makes clear he thinks states opposing the Obama administration guidelines have a strong case. He said, “the plain meaning of the term sex” in Title IX “meant the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.” The guidelines, therefore, are “contrary to law.”

In the preliminary ruling, O’Connor said the guidelines pose a sufficient level of threat to the statutes and constitutions of plaintiff states to demonstrate “a threat of irreparable harm” that warrants a temporary injunction.

Starting in 2010, Obama administration agencies began interpreting federal laws barring discrimination on the basis of “sex” to include “gender identity.” That meant laws prohibiting discrimination based on sex provided some protection for people whose gender identity is different from that stated on their birth certificate. In May, the departments of Education and Justice distributed a letter with “guidelines,” saying discrimination against such transgender students violates federal laws and that schools failing to comply with the laws could lose their federal funding.

The letter, said O’Connor, “provides not only must [states] permit individuals to use the [school restrooms and facilities] consistent with their gender identity,” but stipulates that alternative accommodations are unacceptable.

Thirteen states filed the lawsuit, Texas v. U.S., to argue that Congress intended “sex” to refer “only to one’s biological sex, as male or female.” Those states also include Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Ten other states — Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming — filed a similar lawsuit in a federal court in Nebraska.

In granting the injunction, Judge O’Connor said the Obama administration’s guidelines are “clearly designed to target” plaintiff states with “legal consequences” if the states fail to follow the guidelines.

The Obama administration’s guidelines and actions, said O’Connor, “indicate that [states] jeopardize their federal education funding by choosing not to comply” with the guidelines. Thus, he said, those guidelines are both “legislative and substantive” and that the public should have been given an opportunity to comment on those guidelines.

“The information before the Court,” said O’Connor, “demonstrates [the Obama administration agencies] have ‘drawn a line in the sand’ in that they have concluded [states] must abide by the guidelines, without exception, or they are in breach of their Title IX obligations.”

“Permitting the definition of sex to be defined [as the Obama administration has stated] would allow [the administration] to ‘create de facto new regulation’ by agency action without complying with the proper procedures.”

At issue are two federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on sex: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which covers employment, and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, which covers educational institutions.

A brief filed by five pro-LGBT legal groups argued that federal appeals courts governing many of the states opposing the Obama guidelines have already ruled that sex discrimination includes discrimination against transgender people.

The groups include Lambda Legal, the ACLU, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (formerly known as GLAD), and the Transgender Law Center.

Jon Davidson, national legal director for Lambda Legal, said he does not believe O’Connor’s ruling will increase the probability that the Supreme Court will accept the Fourth Circuit case. He said “a large number of issues” in the Texas v. U.S. case “go beyond what is at issue in the [Fourth Circuit] appeal, such as whether the states, state and local agencies, and state officials that brought the suit were sufficiently harmed” by the guidelines.

“Granting review in [the Fourth Circuit case, Gloucester v. Grimm] wouldn’t resolve all those issues,” said Davidson, “so I don’t think the preliminary injunction in Texas v. U.S. puts pressure on the Supreme Court to hear the Gloucester case.”

Shannon Minter, NCLR’s national legal director, said he thinks O’Connor’s injunction will likely be stayed, noting that, in discussing the “plain meaning” of “sex” in federal law, O’Connor “completely disregards” Price Waterhouse. In that 1989 decision, a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination because of “sex” include discrimination against an employee based on expectations for an employee’s appearance and behavior based on their biological sex. (Notably, Justice Anthony Kennedy dissented.)

“This is a political case brought to make a political point,” said Minter. “The states don’t have any actual injury. They are just expressing their disagreement with the department’s view of the law, but that abstract disagreement is not a valid basis for a federal lawsuit. This is political posturing at the expense of a small group of vulnerable children.”

The Texas Tribune noted that Judge O’Connor issued a temporary injunction in March of last year to block enforcement of an Obama administration interpretation of the Family and Medical Leave Act that required states to provide to same-sex married couples the same benefits it provides to opposite-sex married couples. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton withdrew that lawsuit after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June of last year that state bans on marriage licenses for same-sex couples was unconstitutional.

© 2016 by Keen News Service

 

 

—  Tammye Nash

McCrory sues DoJ to keep N.C.’s bathroom bill

McCrory

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory

As the deadline approaches for North Carolina to disclose its plan for coming into compliance with the Civil Rights Act — in other words, how the state plans to get rid of its odious bathroom bill — North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has doubled down on discrimination by filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice.

McCrory wants the courts to clarify the federal law in regards to the Civil Rights Act, claiming that “The Obama administration is bypassing Congress by attempting to rewrite the law and set restroom policies for public and private employers across the country, not just North Carolina. This is now a national issue that applies to every state and it needs to be resolved at the federal level.”

Continuing to show either his ignorance of transgender issues or his utter disdain and contempt for transgender people, McCrory added, “They are now telling every government agency and every company that employs more than 15 people that men should be allowed to use a women’s locker room, restroom or shower facility.”

The U.S. Justice Department sent McCrory’s office a letter Wednesday, May 4, explaining that the state’s bathroom law — which not prohibits transgender people from using the appropriate public restroom facility but also rescinded a nondiscrimination ordinance passed by the Charlotte city government and prohibits any other local governmental entity from passing such ordinances — violates the Civil rights Act. DoJ also warned that unless the state remedies the problem, North Carolina will lose millions — billions, even — in federal funding for things like education.

In his lawsuit, McCrory pointed out that he directed state agencies to provide single-occupancy restrooms. In announcing the lawsuit, the governor, a Republican, said he filed the action “to ensure that North Carolina continues to receive federal funding until the courts resolve this issue.”

Chris Sgro, a Democrat from Greensboro, told Fox8 news that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals “has already said federally that this case is not going to hold up in court,” which means that McCrory’s lawsuit will accomplish nothing other than “costing us $4½ billion in federal education money.”

“He’s already cost us $500 million in economic loss in the month alone,” Sgro added. “So the only answer here is repeal and that needs to happen sooner rather than later.”

Angela Mazaris, Wake Forest University’s LGBTQ Center director, accused McCrory of “playing political games” that will cost the state’s residents in the private sector and federal funds.

“If Gov. McCrory is concerned with public safety, he ought to educate himself about the needs and experiences of transgender North Carolinians, whose health and safety is threatened” by the state’s discriminatory bathroom law, Mazaris said. “The Department of Justice has clearly stated that transgender people have the right to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, and our governor needs to do his job and protect the rights of our state’s most vulnerable citizens.”

—  Tammye Nash

Will there be a lawsuit after all?

Hood County Clerk Katie Lang

Hood County Clerk Katie Lang

Well, it appeared that Hood County Clerk Katie Lang was going to be able to avoid a lawsuit when, earlier this week, she changed her mind and said that her office would, indeed, be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But looks like now there will be a lawsuit after all.

Even though Lang said Friday, June 26, after the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding marriage equality, that she would not allow those licenses to be issued. Her change of heart came Tuesday evening after news broke that a gay male couple denied a license by her office was going to file suit. Lang relented then and said that even though her religious beliefs prevented her from issuing those licenses herself, someone in her office would do so.

But today, when the men returned to the clerk’s office to apply for their license, they were told Hood County would not be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples for three weeks. And then …. Well, I’ll just let Glen Maxey tell the story:

“Yee haw. We may have ourselves a federal lawsuit against recalcitrant clerks.
“Remember our drama with Clerk Lang in Hood County? Well, after saying she’d find a heathen in her office to issue licenses, when our gay couple arrived today they were told they wouldn’t be issuing gay licenses for three weeks. Needed new forms. And then Jan [Soifer] and Austin [Kaplan], our erstwhile fighters for justice big city lawyers arrived. Right there in Granbury, Hood County Texas. And they presented Clerk Lang with what’s called a ‘demand letter.’ In layman’s terms: Crap or get off the pot or we’ll sue your ass. Clerk Lang said no. Attorneys asked if a heterosexual couple walked in would they be able to get a license. YES. ‘Can we see the forms they would fill out?’ asks Jan. So that form says ‘Mr.’ and ‘M__’ where you, I guess, write an ‘rs’ for Mrs or a ‘s’ for Ms. Jan asks, ‘Why can’t we put an ‘r’ there for ‘Mr.’ Clerk: ‘NO, That would be altering a government document.’ Wait. Putting Mrs or Ms isn’t a problem and putting Mr. is??

“Well, maybe sourpuss Lang can read a demand letter. Because it says issue the good men a license or we’ll file a lawsuit on Monday morning. Hope she has a glorious July 4th weekend having a garage sale raising the money to pay for Jan and Austin’s lawyers fees when the federal judge tells her and every other clerk that AG Ken Paxton’s ‘I’m with Jesus’ defense just doesn’t cut it.”

—  Tammye Nash

Bexar County Commissioners Court extends benefits to same-sex partners

Bexar County commissioners

The Bexar County Commissioners Court

The Bexar County Commissioners Court voted unanimously Tuesday to extend health benefits to county employees’ same-sex spouses.

The “plus-one” plan allows an employee to add an additional adult to their health plans, Equality Texas announced. The plan is similar to ones passed by Austin Independent School District and offered by other municipalities and agencies like Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

Bexar County is the fourth county in Texas to offer the benefits after Travis County, Dallas County and El Paso County.

After Attorney General Greg Abbott’s opinion last year that DP benefits violate the state’s constitutional marriage amendment, municipalities and agencies have refereed to DP benefits as “plus one” plans, even though the opinion isn’t legally binding. And El Paso County changed its benefits plan last year to remove domestic partner language.

But a Houston lawsuit challenging same-sex spousal benefits is contesting offering benefits to same-sex couples with the state’s marriage amendment. The suit was filed after Mayor Annise Parker announced that spousal benefits would be extended to all legally married city employees in same-sex marriages.

To sign Equality Texas’ thank you letter to the Bexar County commissioners, go here.

—  Dallasvoice

Villarreal drops lawsuit against lesbian constable candidate

Susan.Craig

Susan Lopez-Craig

Precinct 5 Constable candidate Susan Lopez-Craig will appear on the Democrat Primary ballot with her last name intact after Constable Beth Villarreal dropped the lawsuit Friday morning.

Villarreal filed the lawsuit Dec. 26, challenging that Lopez-Craig was not her opponent’s legal last night. Lopez is the name on her birth certificate, but her last name was changed to Craig when she was adopted as an adult.

Larry Freidman, the attorney representing Lopez-Craig, said Villarreal dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice Friday, so she can’t bring the case against Lopez-Craig again.

Friedman said after the daylong hearing about a temporary injunction Thursday on whether to prevent the ballots from being printed on Monday, Villarreal was likely unhappy about the information he revealed in court and gave in. He said her legal last name is Esquivel, so going by Beth Villarreal on the ballot was the same as Lopez-Craig using that name.

“She had a bad day in court yesterday and I think she didn’t want to testify again today,” Friedman said.

He said Lopez-Craig is pleased with the decision, adding that Villarreal likely brought the suit because she was unhappy his client drew the first place on the ballot.

“I think this was an attempt to knock Susan off the ballot,” Friedman said. “And it didn’t work.”

—  Dallasvoice

Ex-TMC manager sues Caven

Former TMC: The Mining Company manager Roy Puente has filed a lawsuit against Caven Enterprises Operations Supervisor Donald Solomon, President Gregg Kilhoffer and CFO Ben Polachek. Puente, who is acting as his own attorney, claims the three made false and defamatory statements against him.

In his suit, Puente is claiming libel and slander and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Puente worked for Caven from November 2010 until September 2011.

Caven issued the following statement in response to Puente’s lawsuit:

“Caven Enterprises is aware of the suit that has been filed by Mr. Puente against certain of its managers. The managers and the company dispute the basis for the lawsuit and intend to vigorously defend the case. We look forward to resolving this case through the judicial process.”

The defendants filed exceptions to the suit, and the first hearing will be held on Nov. 16.

The case is set for non-jury trial on Nov. 4, 2013, with mediation ordered before that date.

Read Puente’s suit here and the defendants’ response here.

—  David Taffet

Dallas County jail maintenance worker alleges anti-gay jokes added to hostile environment

David Womble

One of the three plaintiffs suing Dallas County for $60 million for racial discrimination says anti-gay remarks and jokes were also part of the harassment he suffered.

R.L. Lawson, 41, complained that David Womble, a quality assurance supervisor of facilities management of Dallas County, “engaged in negligent homosexual jokes and remarks toward another employee” in a meeting in October 2010.

Lawson alleges that the comments “further caused a hostile work environment,” according to the lawsuit. At a later meeting, Womble “engaged in unwarranted and demeaning homosexual jokes, ridicule and mockery at the expense of a co-worker of Plaintiff Lawson.”

Womble’s behavior also allegedly included wearing fake gold teeth and impersonating a black person with an exaggerated walk while making racial comments, according to the lawsuit. After Lawson complained about the anti-gay remarks, a black soda can was hanging from a noose in the office.

Womble, who is one of four individual defendants in the lawsuit in addition to the county and the Commissioners Court, later received a pay raise after Lawson complained about the racial and anti-gay comments.

Womble has a past of anti-gay comments. He was reprimanded in 2003 for similar comments and again 2009 for making inappropriate comments to two female employees, according to The Dallas Morning News.

County officials have begun investigating the racial discrimination claims.

—  Dallasvoice

‘Perform or provide’

DADT repeal gives progressive chaplains a chance to counter evangelical clergy in the military

IMG_5132

CATCH-ALL CHAPLAIN | Chaplain Chris Antal (Lt.) attended the meeting of the Forum on Military Chaplaincy at Cathedral of Hope in October. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com
When a soldier recently came to Chaplain Chris Antal, a lieutenant in the Army National Guard in New York and a Unitarian Universalist minister, and asked if he’d pray with her even though she was a pagan, he said he replied, “Of course I will, but you’ll have to show me how.”

Several weeks later, when he saw her again, she told him that the day she had come to visit him, she had hit rock bottom. He had, she told him, saved her life that day.

But Antal said he was only doing his job — helping any soldier who comes to him.

“I’ve earned the nickname, the Catch-all Chaplain,” he said, explaining that it means he takes everyone the other chaplains don’t want to deal with.

Carpenter.Dodd

Capt. Tom Carpenter (ret.) and Col. Paul Dodd (ret.)

Being there to help a soldier in need is what it’s all about for a military chaplain, said Col. Paul Dodd, a retired chaplain who now lives in Austin.

“The duty of a military chaplain is to perform or provide,” said Dodd, adding that he once sponsored an Islamic conference.

Dodd said that no chaplain can perform every service needed by every member of the military. But if a chaplain can’t perform the service requested, he or she must provide that soldier with a referral to someone else who can.

Antal said that chaplains who enlisted knew what they were getting into — to some extent. But none of them really expected the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. And for many, that repeal was a game changer.

In October, a group of active and retired chaplains and military personnel and other people of faith, such as the Rev. Steve Sprinkle from Brite Divinity

School in Fort Worth, met at the Interfaith Peace Chapel at Cathedral of Hope to begin looking at ways of addressing the issues that arose for military chaplains around DADT repeal.

Dave Guy Gainer said The Forum on Military Chaplaincy is not exactly new. It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.

Sprinkle said people in the Pentagon, up through Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, knew about their work and considered their statements throughout the DADT repeal process.

And now, with repeal complete, the group met to “come out.” At their meeting in Dallas, forum members considered ways to become an independent organization helping to ensure newly out service members receive the pastoral care they need while serving in the military.

Susan Gore, principle of The Mentor Group and editor of the book Coming Out In Faith, moderated the Dallas conference. She said the group started with several retired military officers “who wanted to push back against the far-right skew.”

Sprinkle has been part of the forum for four years and said he was recruited to participate because of his work on hate crimes.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sprinkle said, more and more members of the Chaplain Corps have come from just one school — Liberty

University, founded by far-right evangelical Jerry Falwell. Today, Sprinkle estimated, one-third of military chaplains come from Liberty University.

“They instituted a program that barely meets minimum requirements,” he said of the evangelical school. “It’s an online course.”

And, Sprinkle said, Liberty University’s goal is to take control of the Chaplain Corps and use the military as a pool for religious recruits.

“This is fertile ground to bring people to Jesus at taxpayer expense,” said Tom Carpenter, a retired Marine captain and one of the forum’s founders.

“I’ve heard stories of them holding the hand of someone who’s dying and trying to bring them to Jesus.”

And although such actions contradict military policy, no one in the corps has been disciplined or dismissed for it.

“They give chaplains a lot of leeway,” Carpenter said.

Gainer said the military is looking for well-rounded ministers who bring experience with them to the military.

According to the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School in Fort Jackson, S.C., candidates must be endorsed by their denomination or faith group and be “sensitive to religious pluralism and able to provide for the free exercise of religion by all military personnel, their family members and civilians who work for the Army.”

But Sprinkle said that Liberty University is transparent about its goals, and those goals do not line up.

“They’re not committed to pluralism or serving all the troops,” he said.

Gainer said that the greatest opposition to repealing DADT came from the Chaplain Corps because military chaplains answer to two groups — the military and their denomination. Those chaplains that didn’t adhere to a strict stance of maintaining the ban on gays and lesbians were threatened with losing their accreditation from their endorsing religious body — and with it their livelihood and their pensions.

But that contradicts the stated goals of the Chaplain Corps.

“Someone has to say, ‘Either you comply and serve all the troops all the time or get out,’” Sprinkle said.

Gore said that one of the goals of the newly public forum is to “rebalance the Chaplain Corps by bringing in more mainstream faiths.” She said that for many who come from more liberal traditions, questions of what’s a just war make it hard to serve in the military. Antal, for example, is one of just four Unitarian Universalists in the Chaplain Corps.

During its push for repeal of DADT, members
said, the forum had several successes working behind the scenes.

Despite the assumption of confidentiality between parishioner and clergy, that wasn’t always the case between gay soldier and chaplain. Dodd said that a number of discharges under DADT occurred after a soldier talked to a chaplain and the chaplain turned them in.

In fact, he wrote a white paper on the practice. After he submitted it, the military tightened up on chaplain confidentiality, Dodd said.

Carpenter, an attorney, wrote an amicus brief for the Log Cabin Republicans’ lawsuit against DADT. The court found in favor of declaring DADT unconstitutional, but Congress repealed the law before the decision could be enforced.

Carpenter said that the repeal allows gays and lesbians to serve with no protection. The legal decision, had it not been vacated upon repeal, would have allowed gays and lesbians to serve equally.

Now that DADT is gone, the forum is examining how to ensure LGB personnel receive the same services as other troops from chaplains.

Dodd said that right-wing chaplains charge that allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military will force them to act in ways that go against their beliefs. Some have said they would be required to perform same-sex weddings.

Dodd called that ridiculous. Chaplains are never asked to perform duties that go against their religious beliefs, he said.

“I turned down weddings,” he said. “An officer came to me who wasn’t divorced.”

He said the officer tried to pull strings and force the issue, but Dodd wasn’t going to discuss marrying someone who was still married to someone else.

“But we’re insisting chaplains have the authority, if it’s in keeping with their faith, to marry same-sex couples,” he said.

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, the repeal provides no family benefits. For some issues, Dodd and Carpenter suggested work-arounds.

Issuing ID cards would be extremely helpful, especially to same-sex couples with children, Carpenter said, noting that “That way either parent could get on base to get a child to the hospital.”

In another example, joint assignments can be offered at the discretion of a commanding officer, and married couples are often assigned together when they both qualify for positions that are available at the same base. Same-sex couples could be given the same priority.

As the forum looks ahead, rebalancing the Chaplain Corps with members from a more diverse background to reflect the membership of the military is a priority.

“And we need to take care of our trans brothers and sisters,” Carpenter said.

The repeal of DADT did not address any transgender issues and does not allow transgender men or women to serve in the military.

Gainer believes representatives of the forum need to sit down with far-right members of the Chaplain Corps and agree to disagree. He said that before the repeal of DADT, they talked to people at Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. While both groups testified against the repeal, they met with some success.

“The president of the VFW in Pflugerville said it was the right thing to do,” Gainer said.

That dialogue, he believed, would help chaplains perform or at least provide a useful referral, rather than doing more damage to a soldier seeking help.

Gore thought that the focus of discussion should be with the majority of chaplains “who want to do a good job and are part of the moveable middle.”

“We have to convince administrators and educators in divinity schools to encourage some of their best and brightest to serve,” Sprinkle said. “So many schools dropped what they were doing during the Vietnam era.”

Antal thinks that gays and lesbians will gain more acceptance as they tell their stories in non-confrontational settings and others see “their identity as professional service members is primary.”

While the work of the forum will concentrate on helping LGB military personnel, creating a more diverse Chaplain Corps may help a majority of service members. Recent polls show that a majority of troops find the chaplaincy irrelevant.

Sprinkle called the work of the forum a gift from the LGBT community to the nation.

“You wouldn’t think we’d be the ones opening the doors so that all troops will be served with dignity, integrity and respect,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Teacher accuses TC College of discrimination

Gill says English Department chair at Northeast Campus told her the state and the school ‘do not like homosexuals’

Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill
Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

HURST — Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill filed suit Wednesday, Sept. 7, against a professor and a dean at Northeast Campus of Tarrant County College in Hurst, claiming that she was denied the opportunity to apply for a permanent, full- time teaching position there because of the English Department chair’s bias against what he perceived her sexual orientation to be.

Tarrant County College adopted a nondiscrimination policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation on March 9 of this year.

Frank Griffis, director of public relations and marketing for Tarrant County College, said it “would not be appropriate” for school officials to comment on pending litigation. He also said school officials had not yet been served with papers and therefore had not read the complaint.

Gill said she had worked as a full-time temporary English professor for about a year at the Northeast Campus. But when the position was to be made permanent, English Department Chair Eric Devlin refused to allow her to apply for the permanent position.

Gill said when she complained about Devlin to Northeast Campus Humanities Division Dean Antonio R. Howell, he initially seemed to side with her, but after speaking to Devlin, Howell refused to communicate further with her. Gill said although she is a lesbian and has never tried to hide that fact, she had never talked about her orientation with Devlin or anyone else at the school.

Both Devlin and Howell are named as co-defendants in the lawsuit.

Gill is represented in the lawsuit by Lambda Legal South Central Region staff attorney Ken Upton, joined by pro bono counsel Benjamin D. Williams from the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.

Gill and Upton held a press conference Wednesday to announce that the lawsuit had been filed earlier that morning in U.S. district court in Fort Worth. The press conference was held at a Hurst hotel located just a few blocks from the Tarrant County College campus where Gill had taught.

According to the complaint filed Wednesday, and statements Gill made during the press conference, Gill was first hired on a full time, temporary basis as an English professor on Aug. 21, 2009. A little more than a month later, at the end of October, a female “dual-enrollment” student — a high school student who was also taking college classes — in Gill’s distance learning class cheated by stealing an exam and skipped some classes.

The student’s high school counselor told Gill that the student has a history of disruptive behavior, and when the student dropped the class, Gill was told the situation was closed.

On Nov. 9, however, Devlin called Gill into his office and told her the student had accused Gill of “flirting” with female students. Gill denied the accusations, noting that there was always another teacher in the class at the same time.

That’s when Devlin responded with “a lengthy diatribe about homosexuals and how the Texas public views them,” according to the complaint. Gill said Devlin went on to say that Texas is a conservative state and TCC is a conservative school, and that “Texas and Tarrant County College do not like homosexuals.”

Gill continued to teach at TCC, receiving high praise and compliments from students and staff alike, including from Devlin. Then in May 2010, she and other full-time temporary professors were told by Howell that all seven temporary full- time positions were being made permanent, and that they were being re-designated as adjunct faculty until the permanent positions were filled.

Gill said Howell also encouraged her and the other temporary professors to apply for the permanent jobs. Gill applied for all seven but was the only one of the seven temporary professors not hired for the permanent positions. Gill said that she was, in fact, not even allowed to interview for any of the positions, even though her experience and credentials were as good as or better than those who were hired.

Gill said she met with Howell and told him about Devlin’s anti-gay comments and refusal to allow her to interview for the permanent positions. She said Howell promised her to discuss the situation with Devlin immediately, but that he never got back in touch with her.

She said she also got no response when she tried to discuss the situation with the vice president and president of Tarrant County College.

Gill continued to teach as an adjunct professor at the campus through December 2010, although, she said, Devlin’s attitude toward her became “even more hostile.”

And she said that although she was originally assigned classes for the 2011 spring term, as she was preparing for those classes she discovered she had been removed as the professor. When she inquired about the status of the class, Gill said, she was told that Devlin had specifically instructed that those classes be taken away from her.

Upton said that Devlin and Howell violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by refusing to allow Gill to apply for the permanent teaching position. He said Gill’s suit is asking that she be allowed to complete the application process and that she be compensated for the time she has been unemployed.

Gill, who is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Arlington, said she would love to get a teaching job with TCC, and while she would prefer to work at another campus, she is willing to go back to the Northeast Campus and work again in Devlin’s department.

“I worked hard. I earned it,” Gill said of the permanent position. “I have nothing to be ashamed of. If it [her working in Devlin’s department again] would be awkward for anyone, I think it would be awkward for him [Devlin] because he is the one who was in the wrong.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens