Connect with us

News

Federal judge in Seattle extends injunction on trans military ban

Will the trial include deposing VP Mike Pence?

Published

on

A U.S. Army sergeant flies the American flag from the back of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter over southern Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The pilots and crew chiefs fly American flags to present with certificates to service members as part of aviation tradition. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Lewis)

The timing of US District Court Judge Marsha J. Pechman’s ruling on the ban against open transgender military service could not have been more poignant.

As the order circulated late Friday, April 13 among lawyers and plaintiffs in the OutServe-SLDN and Lambda Legal lawsuit against the Trump Administration, President Trump announced that he had ordered “precision strikes” in response to the chemical attack in a suburb of Damascus last weekend that killed at least 40 people.

It was the second military attack ordered without the consent of Congress and was contrary to Trump’s previous announcement of his intention to withdraw troops from Syria. Some pundits wondered if the strikes were a predictable, distracting response to the anger the president has expressed over the FBI’s ongoing investigation into his personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

Against this backdrop of war, an unpredictable commander-in-chief and a Defense Secretary who seems to be trying to appease him, the patriotic call of duty expressed by trans servicemembers in their lawsuits asking for the right to fight and die for their country seems even more courageous.

Pechman, ruling from her federal court in Seattle, Washington, seems to get that, delivering some precision strikes of her own. She ordered that her earlier preliminary injunction against the ban remain in effect. In that Dec. 11, 2017 ruling, she wrote “The Court finds that the policy prohibiting openly transgender individuals from serving in the military is likely unconstitutional,” adding that ban irreparably harms the state of Washington’s interest in “maintaining and enforcing its anti-discrimination laws, protecting its residents from discrimination, and ensuring that employment and advancement opportunities are not unlawfully restricted based on transgender status.”

In her April 13, 2018 decision, Pechman rejected the Justice Department’s argument that the “new” trans ban implementation policy derived from Sec. of Defense Mattis’ recommendations in late March was not a new policy at all since it violated the same constitutional protections. She said the OutServe-SLDN and Lambda Legal case could proceed to trial with Trump still a defendant. And, stunningly, Pechman wrote:

“The Court also rules that, because transgender people have long been subjected to systemic oppression and forced to live in silence, they are a protected class. Therefore, any attempt to exclude them from military service will be looked at with the highest level of care, and will be subject to the Court’s “strict scrutiny.” This means that before Defendants can implement the Ban, they must show that it was sincerely motivated by compelling interests, rather than by prejudice or stereotype, and that it is narrowly tailored to achieve those interests.”

“The entire decision, which is 31 pages, is choke full of great discussions that really indicate that this judge just gets it,” Peter E. Perkowski, Legal director for OutServe-SLDN, tells the Los Angeles Blade. “She understands the issues. She’s not falling for the government’s kind of shell game, if you will, of moving a whack-a-mole—keep changing the policy to try to get out of court. But she’s not falling for that. She’s definitely interested in reaching the merits of this case.”

The judge did not grant the all the LGBT legal groups’ requests. She denied permanent injunction and the request for a ruling on the merits without a trial.

“She said she’s not willing to do that now because she wants to hear specifically how the 2018 recommendations from Sec. Mattis and the panel of experts, as it’s been called—how much deference she needs to give to those results of that proceeding,” Perkowski says, “And whether she gives any deference at all or some or a lot – whether the ban, as it exists now, still has to meet constitutional revue, as she set forth in her decision.”

Going to trial means the legal groups would have a discovery process, which could finally reveal how, exactly the ban on transgender service members wound up as a Trump Tweet last year. Using very reliable sources, the LA Blade reported on Aug. 9, 2017 that the origin story lead from the Air Force Academy to religious Republican conservatives in the House — led by Rep. Duncan Hunter of California and Rep. Vicki Hartzler from Missouri — to evangelical lobbyist Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, along with his colleagues Ken Blackwell and Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (ret), to Vice President Mike Pence, who agreed to help. Since then, others have reported similar accounts, including Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern and Think Progress’ Zack Ford. Meanwhile, Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade, reported on Thursday, April 12, that Army Secretary Mark Esper has had no problems with unit cohesion, which goes against a trans ban talking point.

Would OutServe-SLDN and Lambda Legal use the trial discovery process to get to the truth of how, who and why the ban was created?

Peter Perkowski is Legal Director for OutServe-SLDN, which assists the LGBT military community—including active-duty servicemembers, veterans, and Department of Defense civilians—and those living with HIV primarily with legal needs pertaining to equal access, equal treatment, and equal service.

Perkowski said he would not disclose trial strategy but added: “Yes, we are looking into all avenues to prove that this policy is not motivated by legitimate government objective but rather is motivated by bias— and that would include developing evidence that people like people in the [anti-LGBT] religious community had input into how this policy was made and how it was announced. That would be very critical evidence or at least powerful evidence about what deference the court would owe to the ban, for example and whether it survives constitutional review.”

Perkowski says he’s heard the same stories and rumors about what happened behind the scene but he can’t comment because he doesn’t know. “To the extent that we can develop that evidence as part of this trial, that would be very powerful evidence indicating that the government simply cannot meet its burden in justifying this policy under the constitutional standards. I think it would be useful to try to develop that evidence, as well. It would be great to find out who had their hands in the cookie jar, so to speak.”

Perkowski says there are different teams working on different aspects of the case. But, he says, “I’m sure everything is on table.”

When asked if that included deposing Pence, he says: “I’m not going to confirm any discovery effort we’re going to make.” But, he adds, it’s fair to suggest that Pence’s connection to the trans ban is something the teams will look at in the discovery process.

HERE”S THE RULING:

[pdf-embedder url=”http://www.losangelesblade.com/content/files/2018/04/04_13_LAB_Wash_court.pdf”]

California

Newsom signs bill making Vote-by-Mail permanent for registered voters

“The bill will permanently expand access & increase participation in our elections by making voting more convenient”

Published

on

Governor Gavin Newsom (Blade file photo)

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom signed a package of legislation on Monday to increase voter access and strengthen integrity in elections, including a bill to send all registered voters a vote-by-mail ballot. 

In a move to increase access to democracy and enfranchise more voters, the Governor signed AB 37 authored by Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), permanently requiring a vote-by-mail ballot be mailed to every active registered voter in the state.

The practice of sending vote-by-mail ballots to every registered voter first began in California in 2020, and was extended through 2021, as a safety measure to counteract pandemic-related disruptions and resulted in record voter participation.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” said Newsom. “Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election. I extend my thanks to Assembly Elections Committee Chair Assemblymember Marc Berman for his leadership on this issue.”

“The bill will permanently expand access and increase participation in our elections by making voting more convenient and meeting people where they are,” said California’s Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber. “Vote-by-mail has significantly increased participation of eligible voters. Voters like having options for returning their ballot whether by mail, at a secure drop box, a voting center or at a traditional polling station. And the more people who participate in elections, the stronger our democracy and the more we have assurance that elections reflect the will of the people of California.”

“When voters get a ballot in the mail, they vote,” said Assemblymember Berman. “We saw this in the 2020 General Election when, in the middle of a global health pandemic, we had the highest voter turnout in California since Harry Truman was president. I want to thank Governor Newsom for signing AB 37, ensuring that every active registered voter in California will receive a ballot in the mail before every future election. As other states actively look for ways to make it harder for people to vote, California is expanding access to an already safe and secure ballot.”

Newsom also signed SB 35 authored by Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) making changes to the distance within which electioneering and specified political activities near a voting site are prohibited; AB 1367 by Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) increasing penalties for the egregious personal use of campaign funds to up to two times the amount of the unlawful expenditure; and SB 686 by Senator Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa) requiring a limited liability company (LLC) that is engaged in campaign activity to provide additional information regarding the members and capital contributors to the LLC.

Continue Reading

Southern-Central Asia

Columbia University researcher helps evacuate LGBTQ people from Afghanistan

Taylor Hirschberg working with Belgian lawmaker

Published

on

Taylor Hirschberg (Photo courtesy of Taylor Hirschberg)

NEW YORK — Some of the 50 human rights activists that a Columbia University researcher has helped evacuate from Afghanistan since the Taliban regained control of the country are LGBTQ.

A press release the Los Angeles Blade received notes Taylor Hirschberg — a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar — has worked with Belgian Sen. Orry Vandewauwer to help 50 Afghan “activists leave the country.”

“The refugees included those who identify as LGBTQI+ or gender non-conforming and their families,” notes the press release.

The Blade has seen the list of names of the more than 100 people that Hirschberg and Vandewauwer are trying to evacuate from Afghanistan. These include the country’s first female police officer, the independent U.N. expert on Afghanistan and a number of LGBTQ activists.

“There are many more human rights advocates we are still trying to get out of the country,” said Hirschberg.

Hirschberg has previously worked in Afghanistan.

He and Vandewauwer were also once affiliated with Skateistan, an NGO that works with children in the Middle East and Africa. The documentary “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone” features it.

Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital on Aug. 15 and toppled then-President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

A Taliban judge over the summer said the group would once again execute gay men if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

The U.S. evacuated more than 100,000 people from the country before American troops completed their withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30. It remains unclear whether the U.S. was able to successfully evacuate LGBTQ Afghans from Kabul International Airport, but Immigration Equality earlier this month said it spoke “directly” with 50 LGBTQ Afghans before the U.S. withdrawal ended.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sept. 13 during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing expressed concern over the fate of LGBTQ Afghans who remain in the country.

The Human Rights Campaign; Immigration Equality; the Council for Global Equality; Rainbow Railroad; the International Refugee Assistance Project and the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration have called upon the Biden administration to develop a 10-point plan to protect LGBTQ Afghans that includes prioritizing “the evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugee populations, including LGBTQI people.” Canada is thus far the only country that has specifically said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans.

Hirschberg on Monday told the Blade that he and Vandewauwer have charted an airplane to evacuate Afghans, but they have not secured a “third country” to which they can bring them.

“Currently, we are working towards a multi-country collaboration for resettlement,” he said. “Our work has now expanded to include election officials and women activists, including those from the LGBTQI+ community.”

Hirschberg also urged the U.S. and humanitarian organizations to do more to help evacuate LGBTQ people, human rights activists and others from Afghanistan 

“I understand that this is complicated and that I do not have all the working pieces but why does the United States ignore those who helped in building their agenda in Afghanistan. The same goes for multilateral organizations,” he told the Blade. “Why are neither funding charters and creating agreement with partnering states? If they are why have the not contacted the countries that we are creating collaborations with?” 

Editor’s note: Hirschberg is a Blade contributor.

Continue Reading

California Politics

It’s official- Rep. Karen Bass enters race to become the next mayor of LA

If elected she would be the first Black woman & second Black mayor after legendary Tom Bradley who served as 38th Mayor from 1973 to 1993

Published

on

Rep. Karen Bass (D-37CA) (Photo Credit: Bass campaign provided0

LOS ANGELES – Congresswoman Karen Bass officially announced her entrance Monday as a candidate to replace her fellow Democrat outgoing Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“Our city is facing a public health, safety and economic crisis in homelessness that has evolved into a humanitarian emergency,” she said in a statement announcing her candidacy. “Los Angeles is my home. With my whole heart, I’m ready. Let’s do this — together.”

If Bass were to win election she would be the first Black woman mayor and the second Black mayor after Thomas Bradley, the legendary politician and former police officer who served as the 38th Mayor of Los Angeles from 1973 to 1993.

KABC 7 noted that she would be the first sitting House member to be elected mayor of Los Angeles since 1953, when Rep. Norris Poulson was elected. Then-Reps. James Roosevelt, Alphonzo Bell and Xavier Becerra lost campaigns for mayor in 1965, 1969 and 2001.

The 67-year-old member of Congress currently represents the 37th Congressional District, which encompasses Los Angeles neighborhoods west and southwest of downtown including Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills, Miracle Mile, Pico-Robertson, Century City, Cheviot Hills, West Los Angeles, Mar Vista and parts of Westwood, as well as Culver City and Inglewood. Bass was a member of the California Assembly from 2004-10, serving as that body’s speaker from 2008 to 2010.

Bass is entering an already crowded field of candidates including Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and two members of the City Council – Kevin de León and Joe Buscaino – who have already announced their campaigns for mayor.

When speculation as to her running surfaced last week, Bass spokesman Zach Seidl told the Los Angeles Times that her running was due to the fact that “Los Angeles is facing a humanitarian crisis in homelessness and a public health crisis in the disproportionate impact this pandemic has had on Angelenos,” Seidl said in a statement. “She does not want to see these two issues tear the city apart. Los Angeles has to come together. That’s why the Congresswoman is considering a run for mayor,” he added.

That seems to be the focal point and whoever is elected will face the city’s massive homelessness crisis.

Bass acknowledged this in her candidacy announcement statement this morning, writing “I’ve spent my entire life bringing groups of people together in coalitions to solve complex problems and produce concrete change — especially in times of crisis.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular