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‘Year of Trump’ is Blade’s pick for top national story of 2017

Trump has delivered a complicated array of setbacks to the LGBT and civil rights community

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top national story, Gays for Trump, March4Trump, gay news, Washington Blade

The ‘Year of Trump’ is the Blade’s top national story. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Although President Trump campaigned in 2016 on being a friend to LGBT people, his first year in office was marked by an erosion of LGBT rights after significant gains in recent years.

The infuriation within the LGBT community over Trump’s hostility to LGBT rights spanned the entirety of 2017 and stood in stark contrast to progress during the Obama years. The attacks helped fuel the “resist” movement against him, making the “Year of Trump” the Washington Blade’s No. 1 story for 2017.

A ban on transgender people in the military, withdrawal of Title IX guidance assuring transgender students access to the bathroom consistent with their gender identity, arguments in litigation LGBT people aren’t protected under existing civil rights law and intervention on behalf of an anti-gay baker before the U.S. Supreme Court are a few high-profile ways the administration undermined LGBT rights in Trump’s first year at the White House.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force said the first year of the Trump administration has been “horrendous, horrific and hellish when it comes to this administration’s actions toward LGBTQ people and our families.”

“He has turned back the clock on decades of progress, or is attempting to turn back the clock on decades of progress that we have made not only in our community, but also for people in this country who are women, who are black, who are immigrants, who are Muslim, who are poor — and he has been a disaster for democracy,” Carey said.

The first major rollback from the Trump administration on LGBT rights was the revocation in February of Obama-era guidance that assured transgender kids have access to school restrooms consistent with their gender identity. Bucking the views of numerous courts, the Trump administration asserted the prohibition of sex discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 doesn’t apply to transgender discrimination.

As a result of the decision, the U.S. Supreme Court nixed consideration of transgender student Gavin Grimm’s lawsuit against his Virginia high school, which barred him from the boys’ room. Grimm graduated without relief, although his lawsuit remains pending in lower federal courts.

The Education Department issued a new memo asserting discrimination and harassment against transgender students in school may amount to sex discrimination under federal law, but the issue of bathrooms isn’t necessarily covered Title IX.

A few months later in July, Trump announced via Twitter transgender people won’t be able to serve in the U.S. military “in any capacity.” That tweet and subsequent guidance to the U.S. military reversed the Obama-era change scrapping medical regulations against their service and enabling them to serve in the armed forces.

As a result of four separate lawsuits and court orders against the ban, the Pentagon was barred from enforcing Trump’s policy, which meant the administration was blocked from kicking out troops for being transgender or denying payment for gender reassignment surgery. The U.S. armed forces were also required to admit qualified transgender enlistees starting Jan. 1 consistent with a target date set by Defense Secretary James Mattis in a June 30 letter prior to Trump’s tweet.

The Trump administration went after the other components of the LGBT community after the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars sex discrimination in the workplace, also prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

When the issue came before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the Justice Department voluntarily filed a friend-of-the-court brief and sent a high-ranking attorney to argue existing civil rights law doesn’t protect gay people from discrimination. That move put the Justice Department at odds with another U.S. agency, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has determined Title VII protects gay people.

Transgender people came next. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in October issued a memo declaring anti-trans discrimination also doesn’t amount to sex discrimination under existing law, reversing a memo from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asserting transgender people are covered.

That wasn’t the only the time Sessions issued a memo endangering LGBT rights. In the aftermath of Trump’s “religious freedom” executive order, Sessions issued a memo asserting broad protections from individuals and businesses under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Without limiting principle in the document against discrimination, a Social Security worker could refuse to process applications for same-sex spousal benefits, or an employer could refuse to grant family and medical leave to LGBT families.

The Justice Department also took the side of “religious freedom” over LGBT rights at the U.S. Supreme Court when justices considered the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. A Colorado baker seeking a First Amendment right to refuse to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples brought the case.

The Trump administration sent to argue on behalf of the baker U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who indicated during oral augments a shopkeeper should be able to put up a sign saying no wedding cakes for same-sex couples — a belief the White House said Trump shares.

The Supreme Court would likely not have even taken up the Masterpiece Cakeshop case if U.S. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch wasn’t confirmed to the bench. Appointed by Trump in January, Gorsuch was opposed by major LGBT rights groups. Since his confirmation, the Supreme Court took up the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and he has issued dissents arguing the fight for marriage equality isn’t over after the 2015 Obergefell decision.

Trump also ignored the LGBT community in more symbolic ways, such as neglecting to issue a proclamation recognizing June as Pride month. The Trump administration has been found to have eliminated questions in federal surveys allowing respondents to identify as LGBT and reportedly barred the Centers for Disease Control from the using the word “transgender” among other science-related words from budget documents.

Additionally, the administration’s budget request would have restricted funding for civil rights enforcement and cuts HIV/AIDS programs and research by billions of dollars.

Carey said these items — especially the “religious freedom” guidance, which she said is “extraordinarily damaging, and will have long-term impacts for the country” — are among the big-ticket items, but “there are dozens and dozens of things that have happened that aren’t in the news.”

“I’ve been working in Washington, D.C., since 1989, and I have worked with Democratic and Republican administrations, I worked through Bush 1 and Bush 2,” Carey said. “And this is nothing like those administrations. We always have policy differences, but I think the kind of haphazard and harmful nature of so-called governing by this administration is certainly something that our community hasn’t seen.”

The actions against LGBT people, Carey said, are consistent with the Trump administration’s efforts targeting other communities, such as the travel ban on Muslim countries, the elimination of deferred deportation for DREAMers and the elimination of the contraception requirement in health care.

Defenders of Trump on LGBT issues will point to a statement issued earlier in the year in which the White House said Trump is “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights” and would keep in place a 2014 executive order signed by President Obama barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.

Trump also made at least openly four LGBT appointments, although they’re few and far between compared to the hundreds former President Obama appointed to the administration at all levels of government and the judiciary.

The highest-profile openly gay Trump appointee is Richard Grenell, a Fox News commentator and foreign policy expert who was nominated as U.S. ambassador to Germany. Democrats are blocking his confirmation over comments he made about the appearance of women on Twitter.

Other openly gay appointments are James Abbott, who was confirmed to the Federal Labor Relations Authority; David Glawe, under secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security; and Claudia Slacik, who was nominated, but not yet confirmed, to the board of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Trump also re-nominated lesbian Democrat Chai Feldblum to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which by law requires appointments of both parties.

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, noted his organization withheld its endorsement from Trump as a candidate in 2016, but also pledged to call “a ball a ball, and a strike a strike” if he became president.

“This administration has done things that are worthy of praise like maintaining the LGBT non-discrimination executive order, like acknowledging the human rights abuses of gay men in particular in the refugee executive order that was put out earlier this year and the appointment of openly gay individuals, several of whom are members of Log Cabin, to prominent posts in his administration,” Angelo said.

But Angelo said his organization opposed the Trump administration’s elimination of transgender student guidance and the transgender military ban.

Treatment of LGBT issues is arguably different in certain U.S. agencies, most notably the State Department. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson retained the position of U.S. special envoy for international LGBT rights, and although Randy Berry left the role, the State Department is expected to fill it. Tillerson also has issued statements recognizing June as Pride month and the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Although President Trump and the White House have said nothing about reports of anti-gay persecution and concentration camps in the Russian republic of Chechnya, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said she was “disturbed” by the reports and Tillerson privately raised the issue in a letter to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations also joined with France and Brazil to block efforts from Egypt and Russia to remove from an Olympics resolution a reference to Principle 6 of the Olympics Charter, which bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action, cited these examples as indications LGBT rights “are increasingly integrated into U.S. foreign policy in spite of the president.”

“We have succeeded by working with allies within this government, allies from other governments, using long-standing policies, and motivating unlikely suspects to recognize that LGBTI people globally deserve our respect,” Stern said. “All of this happens because our movement is strong, loud and insistent.”

However, Stern said the Trump administration’s approach to foreign policy as a whole has by far not been without failures or inconsistent with his domestic LGBT policy.

“Trump’s foreign policy has been about isolationism, militarism, Muslim-bashing, border construction, the control of women’s bodies, and an overall rejection of human rights,” Stern said. “In that sense, his foreign and domestic policies have been remarkably aligned.”

What’s next? The administration will likely continue to fight transgender military service in the courts even if accession begins on Jan. 1 as well as LGBT protections under existing civil rights law. Depending on the outcome of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case at the Supreme Court, the administration will likely embrace a decision in favor of the anti-gay baker, or reject a ruling in favor of the same-sex couple who unsuccessfully sought a wedding cake from him.

Carey said she expects the Trump administration to “still take actions that will be harmful to our community” — such as U.S. agencies implementing the religious freedom guidance against LGBT people — but any such actions against LGBT people will “absolutely” be met with opposition from the community.

“I think it will only increase,” Carey said. “As I talk with leaders in other movements and other communities, there is a hunger to continue to stand together to engage the many people who perhaps before this year have not been as politically active and are ready to stand together whether it’s in the streets, or in the halls of Congress or in their school boards in their towns to stand together to make sure that the most vulnerable people in this country are not going to be attacked again and again and again.”

The White House didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether the Trump administration believes it has upheld a commitment to be “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights” in its first year.

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National

Video: Washington Post grills transphobic Libs of TikTok creator

Libs of TikTok creator Chaya Raichik said she doesn’t believe in gender-affirming care & espouses other anti-LGBTQ+ viewpoints

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Chaya Raichik, founder of Libs of TikTok is interviewed by Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz.in California. (Screenshot/YouTube The Washington Post)

LOS ANGELES – Grilled on a range of topics during an interview with Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz, Chaya Raichik, spoke about the great replacement theory, the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary in high school student in Oklahoma, why she won’t delete her false accusations about the Uvalde shooter and other mass-shooters, her views on gender, feminism and more.

Watch:

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U.S. Federal Courts

Guilty verdict in first federal trial of murder based on gender identity

After a four-day trial a jury found a South Carolina man, Daqua Lameek Ritter, guilty of all charges in the indictment

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Dime Doe (Family photo)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A federal jury handed down a guilty verdict of a man accused of murdering a Black transgender female in what is classified as the first in the nation federal trial over a hate crime based on gender identity.

After a four-day trial in a federal hate crime case, a jury found a South Carolina man, Daqua Lameek Ritter, guilty of all charges in the indictment, which included one hate crime count, one federal firearms count, and one obstruction count, all arising out of the murder of Dime Doe, a transgender woman.

“Acts of violence against LGBTQI+ people, including transgender women of color like Dime Doe, are on the rise and have no place in our society,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer. “The Justice Department takes seriously all bias-motivated acts of violence and will not hesitate to hold accountable those who commit them. No one should have to live in fear of deadly violence because of who they are.”

According to court documents and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, evidence presented at trial showed that Ritter was upset that rumors about his sexual relationship with Dime Doe were out in the community. On Aug. 4, 2019, the defendant lured Doe to a remote area in Allendale, South Carolina, and shot her three times in the head. At trial, the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Ritter murdered Doe because of her gender identity. Ritter then burned the clothes he was wearing during the crime, disposed of the murder weapon, and repeatedly lied to law enforcement. 

This was the first trial under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for violence against a transgender person. The Shepard-Byrd Act is a landmark federal statute passed in 2009 which allows federal criminal prosecution of hate crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

“A unanimous jury has found the defendant guilty for the heinous and tragic murder of Dime Doe, a Black transgender woman,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The jury’s verdict sends a clear message: Black trans lives matter, bias-motivated violence will not be tolerated, and perpetrators of hate crimes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This case is historic; this defendant is the first to be found guilty by trial verdict for a hate crime motivated by gender identify under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. We want the Black trans community to know that you are seen and heard, that we stand with the LGBTQI+ community, and that we will use every tool available to seek justice for victims and their families.”

Ritter faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later date. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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Oklahoma

Oklahoma state senator says LGBTQ+ people are “filth”

The Tahlequah Daily Press newspaper reported several audience members clapped, while others appeared shocked

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Oklahoma Republican state Sen. Tom Woods (Screenshot/YouTube)

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Republican state Sen. Tom Woods took part in a public legislative panel forum Friday Feb 23rd during which the panel was asked by a constituent about the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old non-binary Owasso High School student, who had been attacked and beaten in a school bathroom.

The Oklahoma Voice reported that Cathy Cott, a 64-year-old semi-retired resident, asked the lawmakers why the Legislature had such an obsession with the LGBTQ+ citizens of the state, what people do in their personal lives and how they raise their children, according to the Tahlequah Daily Press, which first reported the remarks.

When she got no answer, she asked about the bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

“Why does the Legislature have such an obsession with the LGBTQ citizens of Oklahoma and what people do in their personal lives and how they raise their children?” Cott asked.

Woods replied, “We are a Republican state – supermajority – in the House and Senate. I represent a constituency that doesn’t want that filth in Oklahoma. You know we are a religious state. We are going to fight and keep that filth out of the state of Oklahoma because we’re a Christian state”

The Tahlequah Daily Press also reported several audience members clapped, while others appeared shocked.

Cott said in an interview with Oklahoma Voice that she was not surprised by Woods’ answer.

Cott said she has many family and friends who are LGBTQ+.

“I have dealt with other state representatives and senators and been to lobby day and tried to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community when I can so I am used to it,” she said. “They haven’t said anything like this to me before where they describe citizens of the state as filth, but they let me know they just don’t care.”

She said Woods’ remarks absolutely contribute to the hostile climate in the state for the LGBTQ+ community.

Prior to his election to his seat to represent Oklahoma’s 4th Senate district in 2022, Woods was a farmer and business owner. He ran a dairy farm, feed store, and trucking company. His district runs along the eastern border of Oklahoma from West Fort Smith, Okla. to Grove, and runs into Tahlequah.

Another Republican, state Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, a former teacher, told the audience he’s always seen educators’ jobs as “to educate students, not indoctrinate students.”

In a statement to the Blade, Brandon Wolf, the National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign said:

The only “filth” here is this vile statement from a sitting state senator. This is the kind of hate speech that incites deadly violence against our communities. This is what we mean when we say that the flames of dehumanization and hate have been fanned in Oklahoma. Enough is enough. There needs to be accountability for this climate of hate — and the damage being done.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, the CEO and president of GLAAD told the Blade:

“Enough is enough. Oklahoma’s Republican leaders are continuing to nurture a climate of anti-LGBTQ animus, modeling disgusting anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, questioning our very humanity, attacking marginalized youth and educators who support them, and improperly handling bullying and assaults at school. Leaders with a bully pulpit have the power to inspire empathy and understanding, but they also have the power to inspire hate, bullying, and physical attacks. These so-called leaders fomenting hate, Sen. Tom Woods, Superintendent Ryan Walters, Governor Kevin Stitt are failing Oklahoma’s youth in dangerous and myriad ways.”

There has been national outage in reaction to the death of Benedict. Vice President Kamala Harris, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) are among those in leadership decrying the death and the political climate that LGBTQ+ advocacy groups say have been contributing factors.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson has called for federal investigations by the U.S. Justice and Education Departments.

In her social media post, the Vice-President said: “My heart goes out to Nex Benedict’s family, friends, and their entire community. To the LGBTQI+ youth who are hurting and are afraid right now: President Joe Biden and I see you, we stand with you, and you are not alone.”

Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt who in 2022 signed an anti-trans bill prohibiting students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates, wrote in his statement that “our hearts go out to Nex’s family, classmates, and the Owasso community. The death of any child in an Oklahoma school is a tragedy — and bullies must be held accountable.”

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Oklahoma

Owasso, Okla. police release body cam footage of non-binary teen

In the video, 16-year-old Nex Benedict describes how they were bullied by three girls for “the way that we dress”

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Screenshot/YouTube Owasso Police Department body cam footage.

OWASSO, Okla. – The Owasso Police Department released Body Cam footage from the interview conducted by the Owasso High School resource officer taken at the emergency room, investigating the attack on a non-binary high school student who died a day after the attack.

In the video, 16-year-old Nex Benedict describes how they were bullied by three girls for “the way that we dress.” After Nex dumped some water on them, the girls pinned them to the floor of the restroom and beat Nex until Nex blacked out.

Nex’s mother stresses that Nex did not throw any punches or get physically combative during the attack. Facts that Nex then verified in their account to the investigating officer.

Police have confirmed to multiple media outlets that the school failed to follow procedure and notify law enforcement about the beating.

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

U.S. Army anesthesiologist charged in sexual assault of 42 males

The sheer number of alleged victims could make this one of the U.S. Army’s largest sexual assault prosecutions

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Troops pass in review at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Prosecutors with the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps formally charged Maj. Michael Stockin, a pain management anesthesiologist at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on this sprawling base located between Olympia and Tacoma in eastern Washington State with sexually assaulting 42 male service members.

The Army’s Office of Special Trial Counsel spokeswoman Michelle McCaskill told Army Times in a statement Friday that in January prosecutors referred 53 charges and specifications against Stockin to a general court-martial. Those charges included “multiple instances of abusive sexual contact and indecent viewing.”

Stockin’s trial is currently scheduled for Oct. 7.

McCaskill’s statement added that the investigation into Stockin remains open and will remain open through the trial. “Army (Criminal Investigation Division) has interviewed patients from Maj. Stockin’s duty stations and will further investigate should additional victims come forward.”

In addition to the charges Stockin is facing stemming from incidents at the Madigan Army Medical Center Lewis-McChord, Army investigators are now widening their inquiry to bases in Hawaii, Maryland and Iraq. The sheer number of alleged victims could make this one of the Army’s largest sexual assault prosecutions.

CBS News reported Friday that the chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), has sent a letter asking the Pentagon’s inspector general to investigate whether the military “failed” to support the alleged victims of Maj. Stockin.

CBS also noted that Ryan Guilds, an attorney who is representing seven of the 42 alleged victims, says that from the outset of the Army’s CID investigation, his clients have been kept in the dark and have not been properly supported or provided with victims’ resources, including access to legal services.

“These services have failed because leadership has failed,” Guilds wrote in a letter to the House and Senate Armed Services subcommittees on personnel.

Robert F. Capovilla, Stockin’s attorney, told Army Times in a statement that his client will plead not guilty to all charges and specifications in today’s hearing.

“At this point, the defense can say with supreme confidence that we intend to fight against every single allegation until the jury renders their verdict,” Capovilla wrote. “Until then, we sincerely hope that the United States Army is fully prepared to respect Major Stockin’s Constitutional rights at every phase of this process, both inside and outside of the courtroom.”

Capovilla added that “in today’s political culture” the media will condemn Stockin and render judgement before the judge or jury hear evidence.

“We urge everyone to keep an open mind, to remember [Maj.] Stockin is presumed innocent and understand that this fight is just getting started,” Capovilla wrote.

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The White House

White House addresses ‘gut-wrenching’ death of Nex Benedict

Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre expressed she was “absolutely heartbroken” to learn about the death of nonbinary Okla. teen Nex Benedict

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre delivers a briefing on Feb. 23 2024 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

WASHINGTON – White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began Friday’s press briefing by expressing how “absolutely heartbroken” she was to learn about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported in school,” she said. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, friends, entire school community in the wake of this horrific and gut wrenching tragedy.”

Jean-Pierre added, “I know that for many LGBTQ+ students across the country this may feel personal and deeply, deeply painful. There’s always someone you can talk to if you’re going through a hard time and need support.”

“The president and his administration launched the 988 line to help, and we have a line dedicated to serving LGBTQ+ young people that can be reached by dialing 933 and pressing 3,” she said. “Through devastating tragedies like these we must support each other and lift one another up.”

Authorities are still investigating the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death on Feb. 8, which allegedly came the day after they were attacked in a restroom at Owasso High School, which followed months of bullying from peers.

This week, political leaders including Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Jean-Pierre issued statements on X, formerly Twitter.

In recent years the state of Oklahoma has become a hotbed of anti-LGBTQ legislation, including an anti-trans bathroom bill signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2022.

Many LGBTQ advocates responded to news of Benedict’s death by calling out the escalation of hostile policies and rhetoric targeting transgender and gender-diverse communities, which advocates have warned can carry deadly consequences.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson has urged federal investigators at the Justice and Education Department to get involved in the case.

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Montana

Montana returns to near ban on trans birth certificate changes

The agency’s announcement reignites a civil rights feud with transgender residents that was the subject of a prior lawsuit

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Montana Department of Public Health and Human-Services. (Photo by Eliza Wiley/MTFP)

By Mara Silvers | HELENA, Mont. The Montana state health department has announced its return to a near prohibition on individuals updating the sex on their birth certificates to match their gender identity, reigniting a civil rights feud with transgender residents that was the subject of a prior lawsuit.

In a Tuesday press release, the Gov. Greg Gianforte administration’s Department of Public Health and Human Services said the latest rule applies to any not-yet-adjudicated request to update the “male” or “female” category on a birth certificate submitted or pending with the department on or after Oct. 1, 2023. 

The rule now in effect was originally created by the department in 2022 as a way to restrict changes to birth certificates for transgender Montanans while the agency was involved in a court battle over a related Republican law from the prior legislative session. 

The rule was ultimately blocked from taking effect because of the pending litigation in the Yellowstone County case brought by the ACLU of Montana. At that point in the litigation, the judge overseeing the case slammed the department for attempting to write new rules about birth certificates before the related lawsuit had been resolved, later holding the agency in contempt of court

However, when the law at issue, Senate Bill 280, was permanently enjoined in June of last year, the state health department was no longer barred from creating administrative rules about how to handle changes to sex on birth certificates.

In the announcement Tuesday, the department outlined the narrow circumstances that would allow an individual to change the sex listed on their birth certificate under the current rule. 

“The 2022 final rule states the sex of a registrant on a birth certificate may only be corrected if the sex of an individual was listed incorrectly on the original certificate as a result of a scrivener’s error or a data entry error, or if the sex of the individual was misidentified on the original certificate,” the state health department said. “In both cases, the department must receive a correction affidavit and supporting documents consistent with the law.”

The state health department said the rule, though years old, also complies with a law from the 2023 Legislature that seeks to create a strict definition of “sex” across state government. That law, Senate Bill 458, is sponsored by the same Republican lawmaker who brought the original bill to restrict birth certificates in 2021, Sen. Carl Glimm, R-Kila

“DPHHS must follow the law, and our agency will consequently process requests to amend sex markers on birth certificates under our 2022 final rule,” said department director Charlie Brereton in a written statement. “This notification serves to keep the public apprised of the law and what to expect from DPHHS going forward.”

While there have been legal challenges filed against SB 458 in recent months in state and federal court, the law has not been enjoined and is currently in effect.

Alex Rate, legal director of the ACLU of Montana, said the health department’s latest action is grounds for a new lawsuit against the 2022 rule and the agency’s interpretation of SB 458. 

“We’ll be back in court, no doubt,” Rate told Montana Free Press Tuesday. “The new rule runs afoul of the same constitutional provisions, from dignity to privacy to equal protection.”

In explaining the grounds for a lawsuit, Rate said the rule implementation and SB 458’s effects more broadly signal the state’s prohibitive stance towards trans people. 

“Once again, this latest action by the [health department] betrays the state’s deep and abiding animus towards trans people in Montana,” Rate said. “Trans people belong here. They are trying to live out their ordinary lives.”

Rate said the organization aims to file its latest lawsuit in the coming weeks but did not provide a more precise timeline. 

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Mara Silvers headshot white background

Mara writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016. 

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The preceding piece was previously published by Montana Free Press and is republished with permission.

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Oklahoma

LGBTQ+ leaders call for DOJ to investigate Nex’s death

Police backtracked after claiming trauma “did not cause” death of Nex, a trans teen beaten in an Oklahoma bathroom, and now suspect foul play

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16-year-old Nex Benedict (Family Photo)

By Erin Reed | OWASSO, Okla. – On Thursday afternoon, investigators from the Owasso Police Department filed a search warrant for cellphones and lockers of students involved in the beating of Nex Benedict, a transgender teenager in Oklahoma who lost their life following the incident.

The announcement came after a previous claim by police that initial paraphrased autopsy results showed Nex “did not die as a result of trauma,” a finding that came under scrutiny by LGBTQ+ activists and Nex’s family.

Now, LGBTQ+ rights leaders are calling for a DOJ investigation into their death, casting doubt on the initial statements of local police officers and school officials.

Here is what we know: According to early reports, after a year of being bullied over their transgender identity, Nex Benedict was involved in a fight in a bathroom in which three girls allegedly beat them. Some reports state that Nex’s head was “banged into the floor.” Nex’s mother substantiated the reports in an interview with The Independent. The school reportedly did not call an ambulance for Nex, and instead, Nex was brought to the hospital by their mother and was discharged from the hospital later that evening. The following day, Nex collapsed and was pronounced dead. In later released text messages, Nex revealed that those involved in their beating had a history of bullying them.

Following news of Nex’s death, many pointed to the influence of major anti-LGBTQ+ figures in Oklahoma and nationally. Libs of TikTok, for instance, targeted a previous teacher and mentor of Nex two years prior. Chaya Raichik, who runs the anti-LGBTQ+ hate account, was appointed to an advisory role in the state Department of Education in Oklahoma as part of a plan to “make schools safer,” according to State Schools Superintendent Ryan Walters. Walters himself has led extreme anti-trans initiatives in the state, such as directing the Department of Education to release a video calling trans people in bathrooms “an assault on truth.”

On Wednesday, though, police officers in Oklahoma released a statement questioned by many, stating that Nex’s death was not due to trauma, even though they were taken to the hospital over their head injury and experienced difficulty walking. You can see that police statement here:

While the investigation continues into the altercation. Preliminary information from the medical examiner’s office is that a complete autopsy was performed and indicated that the decedent did not die as a result of trauma. At this time, any further comments on the cause of death are currently pending until toxicology results and other ancillary testing results are received. The official autopsy report will be available at a later date” – Owasso Police

The statement immediately aroused suspicion. Independent journalist Judd Legum wrote about the event, noting that the statement released by the police closely mirrored that issued by the school. “If the police will not release the autopsy report, why are they releasing partial, paraphrased information?” asked Legum. These sentiments were echoed by many following the case.

The statement also prompted a response by attorneys for Nex’s family calling into question the police statement:

While various investigations are still pending, the facts currently known by the family, some of which have been released to the public, are troubling at best. We urge those tasked with investigating and prosecuting all potentially liable parties to do so fully, fairly and expediently. Notwithstanding, the family is independently interviewing witnesses and collecting all available evidence.”

Meanwhile, a local transgender student who went to the same high school released their own video, claimed that they were “called slurs almost daily” and “called slurs by a teacher in the school.” They also allege that they were sexually assaulted in the school and told by the administration to keep quiet so as not to ruin their attacker’s life. “The administration has never cared about its LGBTQ+ students, the murder of Nex is a direct product of their design,” they say, adding later, “Now they are playing the cover-up game, one that they know all to well, because they have been using it the last ten years.”

The same day, many LGBTQ+ leaders began calling for a civil rights investigation by the Department of Justice, casting doubt on the credibility of local police officers and investigators’ ability to impartially carry out justice. Brandon Wolf, a Pulse survivor and national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, stated, “The Department of Justice needs to tap in. Nex’s family deserves a full, thorough investigation into what happened.” Similar calls for DOJ involvement came from Kelly Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign. Other major LGBTQ+ figures, such as Senator Sarah McBride, the first transgender candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, similarly called for a “full investigation.”

Now, one day after releasing their statement that trauma was not involved in Nex’s death, the Owasso Police Department appears to be backtracking. A search warrant from the police department was filed looking targeting the cell phones and lockers of those suspected of involvement in Nex’s death. The search warrant states that “Owasso police officers suspect foul play involved and need to initiate an in-depth investigation into the death.”

The search warrants of cellphones may be important in establishing if any premeditation occurred around the incident and can establish a track record around targeted hate and a history of animosity towards Nex over their transgender status.

Many prominent Democrats have issued calls for justice for Nex and an end to anti-LGBTQ+ hate, including Representative Nancy PelosiSenator Elizabeth Warren, and Representative Mark Takano.

The Biden administration and the Department of Justice, however, have yet to comment on the incident. Meanwhile, questions about the competency and motives of the Owasso Police Department remain prominent. Unless the Department of Justice gets involved, there may always be lingering questions and doubts about the ability to serve justice in Nex’s death.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

The preceding post was previously published at Erin in the Morning and is republished with permission.

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Mississippi

HIV criminal laws lopsided impact on Black men in Mississippi

Mississippi’s 2021 Ending the HIV Epidemic Plan called for reform of the state’s HIV criminal laws to align with modern HIV medicine

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LOS ANGELES – A new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds that at least 43 people in Mississippi were arrested for HIV-related crimes between 2004 and 2021. Half of all arrests in the state happened between 2017 and 2021.
 
The HIV epidemic and Mississippi’s HIV-related criminal laws disproportionately impact men, and Black men in particular. Men make up 49% of Mississippi’s population, 71% of people living with HIV (PLWH), and 72% of HIV-related arrests. Black men comprise 18% of the state’s population and 50% of PLWH. However, they make up 47% of HIV-related arrests.
 
Researchers analyzed data obtained from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. Findings show that the enforcement of HIV criminal laws is concentrated around the state’s capital and most populous city, Jackson, and near the Gulf Coast. Almost 20% of arrests occurred in three counties: Harrison (15%), Hinds (13%), and Lamar (11%).
 
HIV criminalization is a term used to describe laws that either criminalize otherwise legal conduct or increase the penalties for illegal conduct based on a person’s HIV-positive status. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. states and territories currently have laws that criminalize people living with HIV.
 
Mississippi has two HIV criminal laws. The knowing exposure law makes it a felony to knowingly expose another person to HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. Mississippi’s endangerment by bodily substance law makes it a misdemeanor to attempt to expose or expose anyone at a correctional facility to bodily fluids. However, if someone knows their HIV or hepatitis status, the crime is upgraded to a felony punishable by 3 to 10 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
 
“Mississippi’s criminal laws do not require the actual transmission of HIV, the intent to transmit, or even conduct that can lead to the transmission of HIV,” said lead study author Nathan Cisneros, HIV Criminalization Project Director at the Williams Institute. “We now have medical treatments that wholly eliminate the risk of transmitting HIV through sex, yet these advances are not reflected in Mississippi’s laws.”
 
Mississippi’s 2021 Ending the HIV Epidemic Plan called for reform of the state’s HIV criminal laws to align with modern HIV medicine.
 
“HIV criminal laws perpetuate stigma and can discourage testing and treatment,” said co-author Brad Sears, Founding Executive Director at the Williams Institute. “That’s why many national and state organizations, including the American Medical Association, have called for a repeal of these laws.”
 
This report is part of a series of reports examining the ongoing impact of state HIV criminalization laws on people living with HIV.
 
Read the report

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Virginia

Virginia lawmakers give final approval to marriage equality bills

Voters in 2006 approved an amendment to Virginia’s constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman

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Virginia House of Delegates in session. (Photo Credit: Commonwealth of Virginia government)

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia lawmakers this week approved two bills that would affirm marriage equality in the state.

The Virginia House of Delegates approved state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)’s Senate Bill 101 by a 58-42 vote margin. The Virginia Senate passed state Del. Rozia Henson (D-Prince William County)’s House Bill 174 by a 22-17 vote margin.

Both bills now go to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. 

“Virginians across the political spectrum have taken heart to see these bills receive bipartisan support in the General Assembly,” said Ebbin, a gay Democrat, in a press release. “I hope Gov. Youngkin will sign this critical legislation to create state-level protections for all Virginians regardless of who they love.” 

Voters in 2006 approved an amendment to Virginia’s constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in the state since 2015.

The General Assembly in 2021 approved a resolution that seeks to repeal the marriage amendment. It must pass in two successive legislatures before it can go to the ballot.

“Senator Ebbin and I introduced this legislation to codify marriage equality in Virginia’s Code so that all marriages are protected under Virginia law beginning July 1, 2024,” said Henson, who is also gay. “Codifying marriage equality will assuage concerns from the LGBTQ+ community in Virginia following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022) reversal on abortion rights by the Supreme Court and Justice Thomas’ comments in his concurrence.”

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