Al Franken asks public for help passing Student Non-Discrimination Act

Sen. Al Franken

Sen. Al Franken

Sen. Al Franken, D – Minnesota, is asking the public for help passing S. 555, The Student Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination against public school students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Under the provisions of S. 555 students who experienced discrimination because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or because of their association with LGBT people could bring a civil suit against the school officials or districts responsible for the discrimination. The bill currently has 34 co-sponsors (none from Texas) and its House companion (H.R. 998 by Rep. Jared Polis, D – Colorado) has 150 (with 7 Texan co-sponsors including Houston’s own Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green) . Both bills have been referred to committee but neither has received a hearing, a crucial step towards becoming law.

In the video requesting the public call their Senators (after the break) Franken points out that federal law already provides protection for school children harassed because of race, color, sex, religion, disability, and national origin, but that no protection exists for sexual orientation or gender identity.

The inclusion of “association” in S. 555 is particularly well thought out. According to the Williams Institute nearly 1 in 5 same-sex couples in the United States is raising children, in Harris County 18% of same-sex couples are.  As these children enter school it’s important that they be able to receive an education without harassment or bullying due to who their parents are.

Franken is asking people to call the Senate switchboard at 202-224-3121 and encourage their Senator’s to support the bill.

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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

Judge to rule this week in Nikki Araguz case

Nikki Araguz

Transgender widow vows appeal if she loses case

JUAN A. LOZANO  |  Associated Press

WHARTON, Texas — The transgender widow of a Texas firefighter will likely learn next week whether his family’s request to nullify their marriage and strip her of any death benefits will be granted, a judge said Friday.

State District Judge Randy Clapp made the announcement after hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed by the family of firefighter Thomas Araguz III, who was killed while battling a blaze last year. The suit argues that his widow shouldn’t get any benefits because she was born a man and Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

The widow, Nikki Araguz, said she had done everything medically and legally possible to show that she is female and was legally married under Texas law. She believes that she’s entitled to widow’s benefits.

“I believe the judge is going to rule in my favor,” Araguz said after the court hearing.

The lawsuit seeks control over death benefits and assets totaling more than $600,000, which the firefighter’s family wants to go to his two sons from a previous marriage. Voiding the marriage would prevent Nikki Araguz from receiving any insurance or death benefits or property the couple had together.

Thomas Araguz died while fighting a fire at an egg farm near Wharton, about 60 miles southwest of Houston, in July 2010. He was 30.

His mother, Simona Longoria, filed a lawsuit asking that her son’s marriage be voided. She and her family have said he learned of his wife’s gender history just prior to his death, and after he found out, he moved out of their home and planned to end the marriage.

But Nikki Araguz, 35, has insisted that her husband was aware she was born a man and that he fully supported her through the surgical process to become a woman. She underwent surgery two months after they were married in 2008.

Longoria’s attorney, Chad Ellis, argued that Texas law — specifically a 1999 appeals court ruling that stated chromosomes, not genitals, determine gender — supports his client’s efforts to void the marriage.

The ruling upheld a lower court’s decision that threw out a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a San Antonio woman, Christie Lee Cavazos Littleton, after her husband’s death. The court said that although Littleton had undergone a sex-change operation, she was actually a man, based on her original birth certificate, and therefore her marriage and wrongful death claim were invalid.

Ellis presented medical and school records that he said showed Nikki Araguz was born without female reproductive organs and that she presented herself as a male while growing up and going to school. He also said her birth certificate at the time of her marriage indicated she was a man.

“By law, two males cannot be married in this state,” Ellis told the judge.

Nikki Araguz, who was born in California, did not change her birth certificate to reflect she had become a female until after her husband’s death, said Edward Burwell, one of the attorneys for Thomas Araguz’s ex-wife, Heather Delgado, the mother of his two children.

But one of Nikki Araguz’s attorneys, Darrell Steidley, said that when his client got her marriage license, she presented the necessary legal documents to show she was a female. He also noted changes made in 2009 to the Texas Family Code that allowed people to present numerous alternatives to a birth certificate as the proof of identity needed to get a marriage license. That was an example, he argued, of the state trying to move away from the 1999 appeals court ruling.

The changes in 2009 allowed transgendered people to use proof of their sex change to get a marriage license. The Texas Legislature is currently considering a bill that would prohibit county and district clerks from using a court order recognizing a sex change as documentation to get married.

After the hearing, the firefighter’s family and attorneys for his ex-wife criticized plans by Nikki Araguz to star in a reality television dating show and implied she was only interested in money and fame that the case would bring her.

“That is absurd,” Nikki Araguz said in response. “I’m after my civil equality and the rights that I deserve as the wife of a fallen firefighter.”

If the judge rules against the firefighter’s family in their motion for a summary judgment, the case would then proceed to trial. Araguz said if the judge rules against her, she would appeal, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

—  John Wright

Bullied Student Files Suit

Last week, Russell Dickerson, a 19-year-old former student of the Aberdeen School District in Washington state, filed suit against his former school district claiming that the school district should be liable for the hostile educational environment created by bullies who taunted him over his race, sex, and perceived sexual orientation. He asserts that his academic progress was hindered by the bullying. In addition, he claims that his experience in the school district led him to suffer from extreme emotional distress and psychological damage, which resulted in a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dickerson asserts that from 2003 until 2009, he was called names, such as “stupid nigger,” “nappy ho,” and “faggot.” Notes were posted on his back calling him a “stupid nigger” and “dog.” Aside from verbal harassment, he was subject to physical harassment in the halls and in the cafeteria, such as pinching, fondling, and spitting. In one incident, three students pushed him to the floor and smashed a raw egg on his head. In addition, Dickerson was subject to other forms of harassment – including the threat of being lynched – after students in the district set up a fake MySpace page that taunted Dickerson because of his race and perceived sexual orientation.

The suit claims that school district officials were aware that Dickerson was being bullied but failed to take actions to address it. One assistant principal recommended that Dickerson change his style of clothing if he wanted to avoid harassment. Another assistant principal suggested that Dickerson refrain from reporting bullying. Nevertheless, Dickerson and his parents repeatedly reported incidents of bullying to district administrators, both verbally and in writing.

The ACLU of Washington is representing the student in the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. The suit says that the deliberate indifference to ongoing harassment by Aberdeen School District violated federal law – Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects students from discrimination based on race, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which protects students from discrimination based on sex. The suit also says that the district violated state anti-discrimination law.

Currently, no federal statute explicitly protects students from being discriminated against by schools because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. HRC is working to address this omission in our nation’s laws by lobbying Congress to pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act, a bill introduced this year by Senator Franken and Congressman Polis that prohibits schools from discriminating against public school students on the basis of the student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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SLDN Files DADT Suit

As further pressure on the members of the lame duck Senate, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network today filed a federal lawsuit demanding the reinstatement of three veterans discharged under DADT.

The lawsuit filed in federal district court in San Francisco also seeks to have the ban on openly gay troops declared unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable for any service members. “I don’t feel like I’m going up against the military, I really don’t. I just feel like this is a necessary step for doing away with this policy,” said former Air Force Staff Sergeant Anthony Loverde. “I believe the military, the majority of troops I’ve served with and those who have been studied to death are with us.”

SLDN’s Aubrey Sarvis: “This filing is a notice to the Senate and to the U.S. government that if the Senate fails to act in the lame duck session, we are prepared to litigate this aggressively.”

Joe. My. God.

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More Discharged Service Member File Suit in Ninth Circuit

More Discharged Service Member File Suit in Ninth Circuit

Today, three highly decorated service members discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) filed suit in federal district court seeking re-instatement and challenging the constitutionality of DADT.  In their complaint, which was filed before a Ninth Circuit district court in California, the three plaintiffs assert that the military bears the burden of proving that the sexual orientation of each discharged service member had a negative impact on the military.  The complaint states that if the military cannot fulfill this burden, the three plaintiffs should be re-instated in their respective branches and provided credit toward retirement for the period they were unconstitutionally discharged.

A similar argument was asserted before a different Ninth Circuit district court earlier this year in Witt v. Air Force.  The district court in Witt determine that the military failed to prove that Major Margaret Witt’s sexual orientation had a negative impact on the military, and provided for her re-instatement in the Air Force.  Also, occurring only months ago, a different Ninth Circuit district court declared DADT unconstitutional in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States.  The litigation in each of these decisions is ongoing, but illustrates the rise of litigation regarding DADT – particularly in the Ninth Circuit.

Earlier this year, the President expressed his support for repealing DADT and the House passed repeal legislation.  However, only last week, the Senate failed to take action on the Defense Authorization bill, which contained language that would lead to a repeal DADT.  Until Congress moves forward to legislatively repeal DADT, discharged service members are likely to continue to bring suits challenging the constitutionality of DADT and DADT discharges.

HRC applauds plaintiffs Mike Almy, Anthony Loverde, and Jason Knight  for their courage in challenging the DADT law, as well as Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Morrison & Foerster LLP for filing this suit on behalf of the plaintiffs.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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More Discharged Service Member File Suit in Ninth Circuit

More Discharged Service Member File Suit in Ninth Circuit

Today, three highly decorated service members discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) filed suit in federal district court seeking re-instatement and challenging the constitutionality of DADT.  In their complaint, which was filed before a Ninth Circuit district court in California, the three plaintiffs assert that the military bears the burden of proving that the sexual orientation of each discharged service member had a negative impact on the military.  The complaint states that if the military cannot fulfill this burden, the three plaintiffs should be re-instated in their respective branches and provided credit toward retirement for the period they were unconstitutionally discharged.

A similar argument was asserted before a different Ninth Circuit district court earlier this year in Witt v. Air Force.  The district court in Witt determine that the military failed to prove that Major Margaret Witt’s sexual orientation had a negative impact on the military, and provided for her re-instatement in the Air Force.  Also, occurring only months ago, a different Ninth Circuit district court declared DADT unconstitutional in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States.  The litigation in each of these decisions is ongoing, but illustrates the rise of litigation regarding DADT – particularly in the Ninth Circuit.

Earlier this year, the President expressed his support for repealing DADT and the House passed repeal legislation.  However, only last week, the Senate failed to take action on the Defense Authorization bill, which contained language that would lead to a repeal DADT.  Until Congress moves forward to legislatively repeal DADT, discharged service members are likely to continue to bring suits challenging the constitutionality of DADT and DADT discharges.

HRC applauds plaintiffs Mike Almy, Anthony Loverde, and Jason Knight  for their courage in challenging the DADT law, as well as Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Morrison & Foerster LLP for filing this suit on behalf of the plaintiffs.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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Lesbian Engineer Wins $480K for Grope Suit

LONG ISLAND RAIL ROAD LIRR X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COMA Long Island Rail Road locomotive engineer was awarded 0,000 Friday
after a federal jury decided she was wrongfully accused and arrested for
fondling a co-worker’s breast, the Daily News reports.
Advocate.com: Daily News

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GLAD Files Second Suit Against Federal DOMA for Married Couples in Three More States

And the word is now official. Via Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD):

Today Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) filed its second major, multi-plaintiff lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the government’s denial of protections and responsibilities to married gay and lesbian couples. Today’s action specifically addresses married couples in Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire, and comes on the heels of GLAD’s Massachusetts Federal District Court ruling this summer finding DOMA Section 3 unconstitutional.

“DOMA must fall. In 1996, when Congress passed DOMA, the stated goal was to harm gay people and same-sex families with this law, and sadly, it has succeeded. Married gay and lesbian couples fall through the federal safety nets that exist for other married people,” said Mary L. Bonauto, Civil Rights Project Director for GLAD. “We have to keep the pressure on and get DOMA off the books before it does even more harm.”

In Pedersen et al. v. Office of Personnel Management, GLAD represents five married same-sex couples and a widower who have all been denied federal rights and protections simply because they are married to a person of the same sex.

“Getting married was extremely meaningful to Ann and me,” said Joanne Pedersen, who, with her spouse Ann Meitzen, is a plaintiff. “We were shocked to discover that the federal government essentially looks on ours as a second-class marriage.”

Filed today in Federal District Court in Connecticut, this suit addresses DOMA’s denial of marriages in connection with federal employees and retirees benefits programs, Social Security benefits, survivor benefits under federal pension laws, work leave to care for a spouse under the Family Medical Leave Act, and state retiree health insurance benefits that are controlled by federal tax law. Several plaintiffs who have paid additional federal income taxes because they cannot file a joint federal tax return as a married couple will join the suit once they are officially turned down for refunds from the IRS.

More below the fold.

Also today, the American Civil Liberties Union, the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison, and the New York Civil Liberties Union, filed a different lawsuit challenging DOMA, Windsor v. USA.

“Every day that DOMA stands, it arbitrarily divides married couples into two categories,” said Gary D. Buseck, GLAD’s Legal Director. “And the extra burdens that DOMA has imposed on Massachusetts families since 2004 are now being endured by families in Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire.”

Passed in 1996, DOMA Section 3, now codified at 1 U.S.C. section 7, limits the marriages the federal government will respect to those between a man and a woman. Section 2 of DOMA — not at issue in GLAD’s lawsuit — allows states to establish public policies about what marriages they will and will not respect.

In both Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management, GLAD’s earlier DOMA case, and now in Pedersen, GLAD argues that DOMA Section 3 violates the federal constitutional guarantee of equal protection. GLAD also contends that DOMA Section 3 is an unprecedented intrusion by the federal government into the law of marriage, always considered the province of the states.

While Pedersen v. OPM focuses on certain federal programs, DOMA Section 3 cuts across virtually every area of federal law. Married same-sex couples cannot, for example, rely on the protections accorded to military families to provide for their spouses, or sponsor a foreign spouse to reside in this country.

Each of the plaintiffs in Pedersen was qualified for and applied for a spousal benefit or protection like other spouses. However, because the relevant agencies had no choice but to apply DOMA, and DOMA prohibits any federal recognition of the lawful marriages of gay and lesbian couples, all the protections were denied.

The current plaintiffs in Pedersen v. OPM are the following:

Joanne Pedersen (57) and Ann Meitzen (60) of Connecticut have been together for 12 years, and were married in 2008. Joanne, a retiree from the Department of Naval Intelligence, is unable to put Ann, who has serious and chronic lung conditions, on her health insurance plan.

Jerry Passaro (45) of Connecticut was married in 2008 to Tom Buckholz, his partner of 13 years. Tom died two months later of lymphoma. While still grieving, Jerry discovered that because of DOMA, Tom’s employer could not provide him survivor benefits on Tom’s pension. He has also been denied Social Security death benefits.

Raquel Ardin (56) and Lynda DeForge (54) of Vermont have been together for over 30 years, and were married in 2009 by Raquel’s 89-year-old father, who lives with them. Lynda, a postal employee, was denied family medical leave to care for Raquel, who needs regular and painful injections into her neck because of a military service-connected injury. Lynda could not use FMLA to care for Raquel after knee surgery this year.

Janet Geller (64) and Jo Marquis (70) of New Hampshire have been together for 31 years and were married in May 2010. Both are retired schoolteachers. Jan is unable to receive a health benefit from Jo’s retiree plan because of DOMA, which places additional financial burdens on them during their retirement.

Two other couples will soon be added to the case.

Suzanne (39) and Geraldine (40) Artis of Connecticut have been together for 17 years and married in 2009. They have three school-aged sons. Suzanne is a school librarian. Geraldine, a teacher by profession, has recently undergone three back surgeries and is unable to work. They pay at least 00 more in income taxes each year because of DOMA.

Bradley Kleinerman (47) and James “Flint” Gehre (44) of Connecticut have been together for 19 years and married in 2009. They have three sons that they adopted after serving as foster parents. Flint, a former police officer and teacher, is now a stay-at-home dad, while Brad works in human resources. Because of DOMA, they pay at least 00 more in income taxes each year.

GLAD’s legal team in Pedersen is led by Mary L. Bonauto and GLAD Legal Director Gary D. Buseck, with Staff Attorneys Janson Wu and legal fellows Liz Monnin-Browder and Ashley Dunn. Co-operating counsel on the case include Sullivan & Worcester LLP (Boston), Jenner & Block LLP (Washington, DC), and Horton, Shields & Knox (Hartford).

More information about the case, including the complaint and biographical information about the plaintiffs can be found at www.glad.org/doma.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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GLAD To Launch Second DOMA Suit

Tomorrow the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) will launch a DOMA lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of a Connecticut lesbian couple. Earlier this year, GLAD won a similar suit in Massachusetts in a ruling that the Obama administration is appealing. The New York Times reports:

Joanne Pedersen tried to add her spouse to her federal health insurance on Monday. She was rejected. Again. The problem is that while Ms. Pedersen is legally married to Ann Meitzen under Connecticut law, federal law does not recognize same-sex unions. So a health insurance matter that is all but automatic for most married people is not allowed for them under federal law. Ms. Pedersen and Ms. Meitzen plan to file a lawsuit Tuesday against the government in an effort to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing marriages of same-sex couples.

GLAD will be issuing a press release on the new lawsuit tomorrow.

Joe. My. God.

—  admin