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Federal judge in Seattle extends injunction on trans military ban

Will the trial include deposing VP Mike Pence?

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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”]

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Maryland

Beloved gay neighbor remembered by a Maryland neighborhood

The sign was vandalized numerous times last fall, resulting in neighborhood residents taking turns repairing it

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Tony Brown's neighbors help repaint the Pride sign his late partner created in their Silver Spring neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Molly Chehak)

By Sean Koperek | SILVER SPRING, Md. – Residents of Silver Spring Maryland’s Rosemary Hills neighborhood, in suburban Washington D.C., have come together to rebuild a Pride sign. 

The sign was constructed in June 2020, and was meant to stay in place throughout Pride Month. Neighborhood residents, however, requested it stay up past its intended month-long display, and has remained in place for more than four years. 

The sign spelling LOVE is at the neighborhood’s entrance between Sundale and Richmond Streets. It was made from plywood and the O was painted in the colors of the Pride flag.

“We wanted to take it down, but we just felt it was not ours anymore and belonged to the neighborhood.” Tony Brown told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “It was a positive thing for the neighborhood and began to take on a life of its own.” 

Brown and his partner, Mike Heffner, designed the sign and said the Black Lives Matter movement inspired them to create it as a strong symbol of an accepting community.

The sign was vandalized numerous times last fall, resulting in neighborhood residents taking turns repairing it. Brown and his partner could not do the repairs themselves because Heffner was fighting Stage 4 lung cancer.

Heffner passed away on Oct. 6, 2023.

A GoFundMe page was set up to help raise funds for the replacement Pride sign, and it has raised more than $4,000. The replacement sign is more permanent and made of metal.

“I can’t speak for the neighborhood overall, but people who knew Mike I think are happy that we were able to honor his memory with this sign because this sign is so him,” Molly Chehak, a friend who lives next door to Brown, told the Blade. “He (Heffner) was an outgoing super social (person) who just made you feel good the way this sign does. It’s a perfect tribute to him.” 

Chehak and other neighbors created the GoFundMe account.

Heffner’s family and his neighbors are still working to rebuild the Pride sign. It has become a memorial to Heffner.

“We wanted to do one that was clearly a Pride reference,” said Brown, noting the L is a fully painted Pride flag that spirals across the entire letter. 

“For the O we wanted to do something reminiscent of times in the past, a throwback to the 60’s and 70’s so it’s a hippie montage of flowers and butterflies,” he said. 

Brown described the V as being colorful, nonbinary people hugging each other with the idea that love is more than what one may see. 

“During COVID, he had started painting rocks and putting kind and fun messages on them leaving them around places as sort of a pay it forward Karma and so the E is basically that stylized writing and to embrace a bunch of ways we embrace love,” he said. 

The final letter had the phrase “love is love” written repeatedly in various handwritings to pay homage to Heffner and what he did for his neighborhood during the pandemic. Brown’s four daughters — one of whom is a professional artist — and their friends designed it.

The landscape around the sign has also been transformed with rocks that honors Heffner’s love for Rosemary Hills and his passion for rocks.

Chehak also said Heffner always wanted a bench, and neighbors are looking to install one soon next to the Pride sign.

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Sean Koperek is a senior at Westfield State University in Massachusetts and is majoring in communications. He is interning with the Washington Blade as part of a continued partnership with the Washington Center.

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Vermont

Pride flag goes missing at a Vermont union middle/high school

The school is securing a replacement flag and will once again raise it through the month of June as approved by the HUUSD school board

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The Pride flag flies on the flagpole at Harwood Union Middle/High School on Saturday, June 8. (Photo by Lisa Scagliotti/Waterbury Roundabout)

By Lisa Scagliotti | DUXBURY, Vt. – The Pride flag flying for the past three weeks on the flagpole in front of Harwood Union Middle/High School was stolen over the weekend, Harwood administrators announced on Tuesday.

In a letter to school students, staff and families, Superintendent Mike Leichliter along with Co-Principals Megan McDonough and Laurie Greenberg shared the news of the theft and promised to replace the flag which was to fly through the end of June in observance of Pride Month.

Based on reviewing security camera footage, school officials said they determined that “at 11:57 p.m. on Saturday, June 8, 2024, two unidentified individuals lowered the United States flag and Pride flag from the flagpole at Harwood Union High School. The individuals then immediately raised the U.S. flag again and stole the Pride flag,” school officials said in their communication.

Leichliter said the people involved were wearing clothing with hoods and they could not be identified from the footage. School leaders ask that anyone with information about the incident contact the school administration. The incident also has been reported to Vermont State Police, Leichliter said. The Vermont State Police also has an anonymous tipline where the public may submit information to assist with an investigation.

This is the third year that a Pride flag has flown at Harwood during June in observance of National Pride Month.

The Pride flag flies below the U.S. flag as graduates, family, friends and school staff gather in front of Harwood following Saturday’s commencement.
(Photo by Gordon Miller/Waterbury Roundabout)

“June is Pride Month and dedicated to the celebration and commemoration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) pride. Since 2022 Harwood students have shown overwhelming support in asking the HUUSD School Board to raise the Pride flag at Harwood to support our LGBTQ+ students as well as in commemoration of the larger LGBTQ+ community,” the letter from the administrators explains.

“The school is securing a replacement flag and will once again raise it through the month of June as approved by the HUUSD school board,” school leaders said.

The Harwood Unified Union School Board last month approved a request from the Harwood High School Gender and Sexuality Alliance club to fly the LGBTQIA+ community pride flag starting May 17 through the end of June.

This year’s request asked that the flag be raised in May to coincide with an event the school club was hosting on May 18, the Outright Vermont Queer & Allied Youth Summit. In reviewing the flag request, the school board also looked over data from a student survey. The district flag policy asks that requests to fly a flag other than the U.S. or Vermont state flag be accompanied by a survey to gauge support in the school community.

This year, the Pride flag request had a survey with 250 responses — 62% in favor and 38% opposed to flying the pride flag. In 2023, a similar survey received 297 responses but found 78% favored the request. School board member Life LeGeros of Duxbury, who chairs the board’s Equity Committee, at the time called the drop in support for the flag display “a very troubling trend.”

On Tuesday, the school co-principals and superintendent expressed disappointment in the hostile act. “It is disappointing to know that individuals in our community would display an openly hostile attitude and disrespect the voice of our student body. These actions are unacceptable and do not represent the values and character of our schools,” they wrote.

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Lisa Scagliotti is an experienced Vermont journalist and editor. She has worked at daily newspapers in Vermont, Alaska, New York and Pennsylvania, including the Burlington Free Press and the Anchorage Daily News. She has reported on local and state government, politics, business and aviation. She worked as managing editor at The Shelburne News and The Citizen weekly newspapers in Chittenden County prior to helping launch the University of Vermont’s Community News Service journalism internship program where Waterbury Roundabout was created in spring 2020.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Waterbury Roundabout and is republished with permission

Waterbury Roundabout is an online news site launched in May 2020. Our mission is to provide readers with news about local government, schools, businesses, community organizations, events and the people who live, work and play in and around the Waterbury region.

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Pennsylvania

Shooter in murder of gay journalist Josh Kruger gets 15-30 in prison

Robert Davis, 20, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and related offenses in a plea bargain with Philadelphia prosecutors

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Josh Kruger/Facebook

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. – The man responsible for murder of openly gay journalist Josh Kruger, 39, in October of last year was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison on Monday.

Robert Davis, 20, who lived the city’s Point Breeze neighborhood, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and related offenses in a plea bargain worked out with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office prosecutors.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Davis’ guilty plea before Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Barbara A. McDermott also included counts of aggravated assault and illegal gun possession for firing a gun at someone on a SEPTA platform in late September.

Davis’ lawyer Andrea Konow could not be reached for comment.

A spokesperson for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner acknowledged Davis’ sentencing, but declined further comment.

Lt. Hamilton Marshmond of the Philadelphia police Homicide Unit at the time of the shooting told reporters that the 39-year-old Josh Kruger, was found lying in the street outside his Point Breeze home suffering from seven gunshot wounds. Responding officers rushed Kruger to a nearby hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Davis’ older brother Jaylin Reason, told the Inquirer his brother appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was acting erratically. While trying to calm Davis down, Reason said, they got into a fight. He realized, he said, that the best assistance he could offer his brother was helping him surrender to police.

“I didn’t want him to keep living outside and going around and doing something to put himself in a deeper hole,” he added. Reason told the paper that he calmed Davis down, and then asked his other brother to call the police. Together, they went outside, sat on the steps, and waited for 17th District officers to arrive. Davis surrendered and was taken into custody.

In a series of interviews in early October with the Inquirer, Davis’ family told the paper that a years-long sexual relationship involving drugs factored into the murder. Davis’ mother and older brother are alleging Kruger commenced a sexual and drug relationship with the teenager four years ago when Davis was 15.

Robert Davis, 20, booking photo. (Photo Credit: Philadelphia Police Department)

Kruger wrote for publications like The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, and the Philly Voice about LGBT rights, addiction, AIDS, and homelessness. He worked for the city of Philadelphia including the Office of Homeless Services, for five years.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge blocks expanding Title IX rules for LGBTQ+ students

Federal Judge Reed O’Connor said Biden admin didn’t have the authority to make changes, which would expand anti-discrimination protections

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A protester waves a transgender pride flag during a protest at the University of North Texas in Denton on March 23, 2022. (Photo Credit: Emil Lippe/The Texas Tribune)

By Juan Salinas II | DALLAS, Texas – A Texas federal judge blocked the Biden administration’s efforts to extend federal anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ+ students.

In his ruling Tuesday, Judge Reed O’Connor said the Biden administration lacked the authority to make the changes and accused it of pushing “an agenda wholly divorced from the text, structure, and contemporary context of Title IX.” Title IX is the 1972 law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational settings.

“To allow [the Biden administration’s] unlawful action to stand would be to functionally rewrite Title IX in a way that shockingly transforms American education and usurps a major question from Congress,” wrote O’Connor, a President George W. Bush appointee. “That is not how our democratic system functions.”

The Biden administration’s new guidelines, issued in April, expanded Title IX to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The changes would make schools and universities responsible for investigating a wider range of discrimination complaints. The rule changes came as several states, including Texas, have approved laws in recent years barring transgender student-athletes from participating in sports teams that correspond to their gender identity. The Biden administration hasn’t clarified whether the new guidance would apply in those cases.

Texas and several other states have sued the Biden administration over the new rule. Carroll ISD also filed a separate suit over the change. A month after the guidelines were released, Gov. Greg Abbott called on school districts and universities to ignore them.

“Threatening to withhold education funding by forcing states to accept ‘transgender’ policies that put women in danger was plainly illegal,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement applauding Tuesday’s ruling. “Texas has prevailed on behalf of the entire Nation.”

An U.S. Education Department said in a statement it stands by its revised guidelines.

“Every student deserves the right to feel safe in school,” the statement reads.

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Juan Salinas II’s staff photo

Juan Salinas II is a reporting fellow based in Arlington. He is a senior at the University of Texas at Arlington majoring in journalism and a transfer student from Tarrant County College, where he worked at the student newspaper, The Collegian. As an intern at public radio station KERA, he covered state politics and local governments, and he was a year-long reporting fellow at the Fort Worth Report. Juan was born and raised in the North Side neighborhood of Fort Worth.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished with permission.

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Los Angeles County

Culver City Pride Ride & Rally

You’re invited to Culver City’s 4th annual Pride celebration. The party will place on Saturday, June 29th, 2024

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Photo Credit: Culver City Government

CULVER CITY, Calif. – The Culver City PRIDE RIDE will start at 4PM on Saturday, June 29th, 2024, from Syd Kronenthal Park and make its way over six miles through the neighborhood streets of Culver City. RSVPs are required for attendees of the PRIDE RIDE. Metro Bikes will be available for those who want to ride and do not have a bicycle.

The Culver City PRIDE RALLY, which is an evening street block party with Drag Performers, local speakers, Live DJs, dancing, a Family Art Experience, and so much more! Located on Main Street in Downtown Culver City from 6PM to 9PM.

In a press release a spokesperson noted: “You’re invited to Culver City’s 4th annual Pride celebration. The party will place on Saturday, June 29th, 2024. This event is known throughout for bringing our community together to celebrate what makes us unique and the values that unite us.”

Consider taking the bus or using other mobility options to attend the event including the City’s Circulator that connects Downtown to the Culver City ELine (Expo) Station! Plan your trip by calling 310-253-6500, visiting the Culver CityBus website, or using the Next CCBus app that provides real time bus locations, trip planning and bus occupancy levels. Learn more about the parking in downtown Culver City and please avoid parking in residential neighborhoods. To take the circulator, look out for “Board Here” signs!

For exact times, use the NextCCBus app or visit CulverCityBus.com.

For more information about the events and to RSVP for the PRIDE RIDE, please visit the Culver City Pride website.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Court hears arguments on injunction blocking Iowa school book law

The law was blocked before enforcement began, but, a significant number of books were removed from Iowa K-12 public schools due to the law

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Gender Queer, a graphic memoir by Maia Kobabe, was the most challenged book in America in 2022, according to the American Library Association. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)


By Robin Opsahl | ST. PAUL, Minn. – Attorneys for the state of Iowa and civil liberties groups clashed in court Tuesday over an injunction blocking enforcement of a law that restricts school libraries from carrying books with material related to sex acts, sexuality and gender.

The injunction was imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher in December 2023, days before enforcement of the law was expected to begin. It was issued after Penguin Random House Books and the Iowa State Education Association sought an injunction in one of the two lawsuits now challenging the measure, with the other lawsuit filed by American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Lambda Legal.

The lawsuit filed by Penguin Random House in conjunction with the ISEA, educators and authors argues that Iowa students’ constitutional rights of free speech and equal protection are restricted by the law, as the measure unreasonably limits their ability to freely access and share ideas.

Books removed from schools due to the law include classics like “Brave New World” and “Ulysses,” but also include several books focused on LGBTQ+ and race issues, including “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and “Gender Queer.”

Books related to sexual assault and rape have also been removed from several Iowa school library shelves. Laurie Halse Anderson, author of “Speak” and “Shout” and one of the plaintiffs in the case, told reporters in November that restrictions on books like hers on sexual assault and violence could isolate and harm students looking for support in the aftermath of traumatic incidents.

During Tuesday’s hearing before a three-judge panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Eric Wessan of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office told the judges the law is not violating constitutional free speech protections, as these books can still be found and obtained at a bookstore. The law’s restriction of materials in public-school libraries is a regulation of government speech, not private speech, he argued.

“The government’s interest in ensuring an education suitable to students’ age and in preventing minor students’ exposure to inappropriate material is a legitimate, compelling, even substantial one,” Wessan wrote in his brief on the case. “And removing from school library shelves books that describe or depict ‘sex acts’ is reasonably related to that legitimate interest.”

Christy Hickman, ISEA chief legal counsel, said in a news conference that U.S. Supreme Court precedent has not favored arguments that books can still be found by students outside of school libraries as a reason for allowing the removal of books from the schools’ shelves.

“Public school libraries are intended to provide access to books to all children, regardless of whether or not they can buy it at the bookstore,” Hickman said. “So such an argument, while it might make sense in other contexts, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the context of our K-12 public schools, because some of our kids can’t afford to go across the street … to the bookstore and buy it. That’s the purpose of our public school libraries.”

The ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit, filed on behalf of Iowa Safe Schools and seven students and families in the state, similarly argues that the Iowa law violates the U.S. Constitution. Wessan argued that the student plaintiffs did not have standing in the lawsuit, because the law is enforced against school districts and school employees, not students.

While the law was blocked before enforcement began, there have been a significant number of books removed from Iowa K-12 public schools due to the law and potential violations. The Des Moines Register found school districts across the state have removed nearly 3,400 books from their libraries. While the state has repeatedly argued that not all of the books were removed correctly or would count as violations of the law, education advocates have said that ambiguity about the law’s scope have caused school districts and teachers to err on the side of caution.

In August 2023, the Iowa Department of Education chose not to release any guidance on schools should proceed in light of the law, despite requests from educators for more information to ensure compliance.

Bird calls book ban a ‘common sense’ law

During Tuesday’s court arguments, a judge said that school districts could be sued on an individual basis for removing books that do not fall under the law’s restrictions as a means to address inappropriate removals. But Hickman, the ISEA attorney, said the lawsuit against the state is the appropriate action, as individual school districts are trying their best with current resources to follow the law as intended.

“If we had to start all over and start suing individual school districts — think about the court and school and public resources that go in into that,” Hickman said. “I hope that that is not where we end up. What the education community needs, what our members need, is some guidance in how to implement this law.”

Another judge expressed concerns about questioning the law’s constitutionality before it has been implemented, an argument presented by Wessan. The law was created to help address the way Iowa students learn, he said, and the injunction against portions of the law has “stymied that” objective.

“The state believes that if this injunction is vacated, the school districts, the schools and the students will understand what the law means,” he said. “And as time moves forward, this will become an integral part of Iowa’s educational landscape.”

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird said in a statement that her office is defending a “common sense” law that she said “protects kids, families, and parental rights.”

“Inappropriate books do not belong in the hands of school children,” Bird said. “As a mom, I know how important it is for parents to have a say in what books and materials their kids have access to.”

Attorney Thomas Story with the ACLU said that the law has already had a negative impact on Iowa schools and students.

“It restricts expression in terms that are so vague and overbroad that no two schools seem to agree on what they mean,” Story said in a news conference. “But the fact is that over 3,000 books were removed, student (gay-straight alliances) were closed, and LGBTQ+ students across the state were forced into silence. That is unconstitutional and we will continue to defend the rights of Iowa students as this case moves forward.”

The Eighth Circuit appeals panel did not provide a timeline as to when it might issue a ruling.

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Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Iowa Capital Dispatch and is republished with permission.

Iowans value integrity in their government. Free and independent journalism is what keeps our public servants accountable and responsive to the people. That’s why Iowa Capital Dispatch, a nonprofit, independent source for quality journalism, is working every day to keep you informed about what government officials are doing with your money, your freedom and your safety.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal Court: Mass. school can enforce ban on anti-trans T-shirt

Denying the existence of the gender identities of trans & gender non-conforming students would have a serious negative impact

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Liam Morrison courtesy of the Alliance Defending Freedom

BOSTON, Mass. – A three-judge panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled earlier this week that Middleborough, Massachusetts, middle school is able to enforce its ban on clothing apparel that could potentially demean LGBTQ+ students.

The panel in its ruling noted that school administrators did not act “unreasonably” when they concluded Nichols Middle School 12-year-old seventh-grader Liam Morrison’s shirt may be understood “to demean the identity of transgender and gender-nonconforming” students.

According to local media reports, Morrison was wearing a T-shirt that read “There are only two genders,” which school administrators ask him take off. He later wore a T-shirt saying “There are only censored genders,” which officials also made him remove.

Liam Morrison wearing one of the two banned shirts in May of 2023. The shirt reads: “There are CENSORED genders” (Screenshot/WCVB.)

The Morrison family filed a federal lawsuit in 2023 represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom and Massachusetts Family Institute, which argued officials violated his First Amendment rights when they said his shirt was prohibited by the school’s dress code.

In the suit, ADF attorneys said:

Morrison attends Nichols Middle School in Middleborough. In March, he wore the shirt to school to peacefully share his belief, informed by his scientific understanding of biology, that there are only two sexes, male and female, and that a person’s gender—their status as a boy or girl, woman or man—is inextricably tied to sex. The principal of the school, along with a school counselor, pulled Morrison out of class and ordered him to remove his shirt. After Morrison politely declined, school officials said that he must remove the shirt or he could not return to class. As a result, Morrison left school and missed the rest of his classes that day.

“This isn’t about a T-shirt; this is about a public school telling a seventh grader that he isn’t allowed to hold a view that differs from the school’s preferred orthodoxy,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Public school officials can’t censor Liam’s speech by forcing him to remove a shirt that states a scientific fact. Doing so is a gross violation of the First Amendment.”

Chief U.S. First Circuit Court Judge David Barron in the 70 page opinion wrote:

“We think it was reasonable for Middleborough to forecast that a message displayed throughout the school day denying the existence of the gender identities of transgender and gender non-conforming students would have a serious negative impact on those students’ ability to concentrate on their classroom work.”

Judges O. Rogeriee Thompson and Lara Montecalvo joined in the 3-0 decision writing:

The school’s dress code bans clothing with messages that “state, imply, or depict hate speech or imagery that target[s] groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other classification.”

“[W]e see no reason to substitute our judgment for Middleborough’s with respect to its application of its Dress Code here,” the opinion continues. “We conclude the record supports as reasonable an assessment that the message in this school context would so negatively affect the psychology of young students with the demeaned gender identities that it would ‘poison the educational atmosphere’ and so result in declines in those students’ academic performance and increases in their absences from school.”

In a press statement released after the ruling, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman said there likely will be an appeal the noting students “don’t lose their free speech rights the moment they walk into a school building.”

“This case isn’t about T-shirts; it’s about a public school telling a middle-schooler that he isn’t allowed to express a view that differs from their own,” Cortman said. “The school actively promotes its view about gender through posters and ‘Pride’ events, and it encourages students to wear clothing with messages on the same topic—so long as that clothing expresses the school’s preferred views on the subject.”

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Africa

What’s next for LGBTQ+ rights in South Africa after the country’s elections?

African National Congress lost parliamentary majority on May 29

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Pretoria and Cape Town are the first cities in Africa to install Pride crosswalks. Activists are wondering what the outcome of South Africa's May 29 elections will mean for LGBTQ+ rights. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Walker/Pretoria Pride)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — More than 50 independent candidates and political parties participated in South Africa’s national and provincial elections that took place on May 29. The Electoral Commission of South Africa declared the results on June 2.

No independent candidate or political party managed to secure the outright parliamentary majority of more than 50 percent of the votes, which prompts the creation of a coalition government. None of the 18 political parties that managed to win at least one seat in the National Assembly wholly represented the LGBTQ+ community.

Although South Africa is the only African country that constitutionally recognizes the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, some of the political parties that managed to secure seats in the National Assembly had signaled they would reserve these gains.

Former President Jacob Zuma, who leads the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, during a January debate said the thought of dating within the same gender was unpalatable and un-African. The MK is now the country’s third largest political party after it won 14.58 percent of the vote, making it a pivotal player in the formation of a coalition government.

Dawie Nel, the executive director of OUT LGBT Well-being, said undermining the constitution is “a dangerous, misguided, and populist strategy to avoid acknowledging the failures of governance and the lack of implementation of constitutional values that are meant to improve the lives of South Africans.”

“South Africa’s constitution is celebrated as one of the most significant achievements of our transition to democracy, ensuring that all citizens are treated with dignity and respect, and that their rights are protected in all aspects of life,” said Nell. 

There now seems to be an impasse on who becomes the government’s next leader because of some of the demands that political parties made before they entered into any negotiations.

Bruce Walker of Pretoria Pride said the best possible outcome for the preservation of LGBTQ+ rights in South Africa would be if the former governing political party, the African National Congress (ANC), which garnered the most support with 40.18 percent of the vote, partners with the Democratic Alliance (DA), which finished second with 21.81 percent of the votes, to form a coalition government.

“I think it will be a good outcome for the community if the DA has some power in a coalition government,” said Walker.

Rise Mzansi, which managed to secure 0.42 percent of the votes with two seats in the National Assembly, said it will continue protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Rise Mzansi reaffirms its commitment in protecting LGBTQ+ rights in South Africa, as outlined in Section 9 of our constitution,” said the party.

Zubenathi Daca, program coordinator for student employability and entrepreneurship development in Nelson Mandela University’s Department of Student Governance and Development said the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in South Africa will continue.

“The battle has not yet been won,” said Daca. “Queer people are still being killed and homophobic remarks are still being made towards us daily, and we need people who have found the confidence to voice out their dissatisfactions against how they are treated and also speak out for the voiceless.” 

“This society is ours just as it is everyone else’s,” added Daca. “We are in corporate spaces, leadership positions, and political spaces to show that we belong here, and that we are here to stay.” 

The constitution says National Assembly members should be sworn in within two weeks of the elections. They will then meet for the first time and elect a new speaker, deputy speaker and president.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo who will preside over the entire process, on Monday said the National Assembly will meet for the first time since the elections on Friday.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge blocks Florida trans health care ban & restrictions

Florida plans to appeal the ruling, said Jeremy Redfern, spokesperson for DeSantis. An appeal would go to U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Two Florida medical oversight boards held a meeting about proposed rules for treating gender dysphoria for minors in the state on Feb. 10, 2023. (Photo by Issac Morgan/Florida Phoenix)

By Jackie Llanos | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s ban on puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy for transgender minors and restrictions for adults are both unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, who presided over the case in Tallahassee, sided with the plaintiffs in the class action — parents of transgender minors and transgender adults — who argued the measure violated the U.S. Constitution because it solely targeted transgender people.

“The federal courts have a role to play in upholding the Constitution and laws. The State of Florida can regulate as needed but cannot flatly deny transgender individuals safe and effective medical treatment — treatment with medications routinely provided to others with the state’s full approval so long as the purpose is not to support the patient’s transgender identity,” Hinkle wrote.

 FL Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Those restrictions came into place following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ approval of SB 254 in May 2023 and promulgation of rules from the Florida Board of Medicine and Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine enacting that law. Those boards and Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo were named as defendants.

The measures banned minors’ use of puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy, common treatments for gender dysphoria. Additionally, the law said only physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists could treat adults seeking gender-affirming care, with the added requirements of frequent in-person visits, tests, and authorization through a consent form that contained false information about the harms of hormone replacement therapy.

However, the law didn’t impose the same restrictions on cisgender women needing to take testosterone or cisgender men needing to take estrogen.

Appeal incoming

The state plans to appeal the ruling, said Jeremy Redfern, press secretary to DeSantis. An appeal would go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

“Through their elected representatives, the people of Florida acted to protect children in this state, and the court was wrong to override their wishes,” Redfern wrote in a statement to Florida Phoenix.

“We disagree with the court’s erroneous rulings on the law, on the facts, and on the science. As we’ve seen here in Florida, the United Kingdom, and across Europe, there is no quality evidence to support the chemical and physical mutilation of children. These procedures do permanent, life-altering damage to children, and history will look back on this fad in horror.”

Redfern wrote that the state would continue to “fight to ensure children are not chemically or physically mutilated in the name of radical, new age ‘gender ideology.’”

In his 105-page ruling, Hinkle noted that “there were no complaints from patients, no adverse results in Florida, just a political issue.”

However, the ruling does not lift the state ban on gender-affirming surgery for minors and restrictions on surgery for adults. That’s because the plaintiffs didn’t challenge the statutes relating to surgery for minors, and the adult plaintiff had not sought surgery and so lacked standing to challenge those restrictions.

Relief for plaintiffs

Plaintiff Gloria Goe (they used pseudonyms to protect the privacy of their children) is the mother of an eight-year-old (at the opening of the case) transgender boy. During the opening day of the trial on Dec. 13, she testified that she feared her son would be swallowed by depression if forced to go through puberty without medical treatment.

“This ruling lifts a huge weight and worry from me and my family, knowing I can keep getting Gavin the care he needs, and he can keep being the big-hearted, smiling kid he is now. I’m so grateful the court saw how this law prevented parents like me from taking care of our children,” Goe wrote in a press release.

Attorneys with GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Human Rights Campaign Foundation, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Southern Legal Counsel, and the Lowenstein Sandler law firm represented the plaintiffs.

Hinkle compared the discrimination transgender people face nowadays to racism and misogyny.

“Some transgender opponents invoke religion to support their position, just as some once invoked religion to support their racism or misogyny,” Hinkle wrote. “Transgender opponents are of course free to hold their beliefs. But they are not free to discriminate against transgender individuals just for being transgender. In time, discrimination against transgender individuals will diminish, just as racism and misogyny have diminished.”

Los Angeles Blade Editor’s Note:

In a statement made to the Los Angeles Blade after Tuesday’s rule, Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights said:

“This decision is important because is the first federal court to rule on a law restricting healthcare for transgender adults and because it finds that Florida’s laws are plainly based on anti-transgender bias, not science. This victory shows that we can and must keep fighting these dangerous laws, notwithstanding the deeply flawed rulings of some conservative appellate courts.

Judge Hinkle ruled in favor of the transgender plaintiffs in this case even after the negative Eleventh Circuit ruling that reversed our initially successful challenge to a similar ban in Alabama. He was able to do so because the evidence showing that these laws have no medical justification and are rooted in false stereotypes and bias was so strong. This is a huge victory, and one that shows that we can win these battles even in red states.”   

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Jackie Llanos is a recent graduate of the University of Richmond. She has interned at Nashville Public Radio, Virginia Public Media and Virginia Mercury.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Florida Phoenix and is republished with permission.

The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Politics

Biden-Harris campaign debuts ads targeting LGBTQ voters

The Biden-Harris 2024 campaign will debut new ads on Tuesday targeting LGBTQ voters in battleground states for Pride Month

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Image courtesy of Biden-Harris 2024 campaign


WILMINGTON, Del. — The Biden-Harris 2024 campaign will debut new ads on Tuesday targeting LGBTQ voters in battleground states for Pride Month ahead of November’s election.

“These ads will be featured across national and battleground LGBTQ+ media outlets, and will run throughout the month,” the campaign explained in a press release.

The aim is to “uplift” Biden’s record as “the most pro-LGBTQ+ president in history” while also highlighting “Donald Trump’s history of attacking their rights and his plans to go further.”

One ad that was previewed exclusively by the Washington Blade reads, “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are fighting for the LGBTQ community!” with a photo of the president and vice president.

Another, formatted for social media, features a photo of Pride flags atop a quote from the “PBS NewsHour”: “On the campaign trail, Donald Trump has been outlining what he plans to do if elected in November. That includes rolling back the rights of millions of LGBTQ+ people. It’s part of a wider playbook to undo many civil rights advances for minority groups.”

“This Pride is an important time to remember the progress we’ve made for our community under President Biden, and the stakes of this election for LGBTQ+ Americans as Trump proudly runs to strip us of our rights,” said Biden-Harris 2024 Spokesperson Kevin Munoz, who is gay.

“From threatening IVF treatments to threatening LGBTQ+ marriages, Trump’s Project 2025 agenda would rip away our rights, and sow needless hate and division for Trump’s political gain,” he said. “LGBTQ+ Americans deserve to hear from us about these stakes, and this buy shows we will continue to show up and make our case to them in this election.”

The ad blitz on Tuesday comes after the campaign’s announcement of a paid media and organizing push for Pride month, which includes sizable investments in courting LGBTQ voters in battleground states.

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