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Synagogue massacre sparks outpouring of grief in Pittsburgh

Members of Steel City LGBT community helped organize vigils

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The massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh has sparked an outpouring of grief in the city. Members of Pittsburgh’s LGBT community on Oct. 27, 2018, helped organize vigils to honor the victims. (Photo by Dan Chmill; courtesy Flickr)

The massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday has sparked an outpouring of grief from the city’s LGBT community.

Sue Kerr, a local activist who edits Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, an LGBT blog, told the Washington Blade on Sunday the “intersections of Pittsburgh’s Jewish and LGBTQ communities are many.”

Kerr said LGBT youth were among those who led vigils that took place across Pittsburgh on Saturday. Kerr also told the Blade many local performers devoted “their weekend benefits to the fund for the survivors, and many of our LGBTQ neighbors affiliated with the congregations.”

“The wounds of this weekend tore through all of us, reminding us of our shared vulnerabilities and resiliency as we waited to learn the names of those lost to the gun violence and the rhetoric of hatred,” said Kerr.

A gunman killed at least 11 people and wounded six others, including four police officers, when he opened fire inside the synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. The massacre is one of the deadliest attacks on the Jewish community in U.S. history.

Federal authorities have charged the gunman with hate crimes, weapons and other charges.

Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, on Saturday posted onto his Facebook page a picture of him with his parents at his bar mitzvah that took place at the synagogue.

“Horrified to see what’s unfolding at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh where I was bar mitzvah’ed,” wrote Wolfson. “We will learn more, but how many more must die (!) before we get our country back on track? We need fewer guns in America, and must vote in elected officials who will turn our country around.”

D.C. LGBT synagogue mourns massacre victims

Vigils and other tributes to the victims of the massacre have taken place in D.C. and around the world.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Sunday afternoon attended a service at Ohev Sholom Synagogue in Northwest Washington. Hundreds of people attended a vigil in Dupont Circle a few hours later.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz has ordered flags in the Puerto Rican capital to remain at half staff for 11 days in honor of the massacre’s victims.

The lights of Paris’ Eiffel Tower were turned off on Sunday night to honor the victims. The American and Israeli flags were projected onto the side of Tel Aviv City Hall after the massacre.

“Our community is shocked and heartbroken after the brutal attack in the Pittsburgh synagogue,” said Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, an LGBTI advocacy group in Jerusalem, in a statement it posted to its Facebook page. “As a diverse community of different beliefs, religions and identities — we are well aware of the danger that lurks in all forms of hatred and violence. This anti-Semitic shooting is deeply alarming and it must remind us how intolerance and hate can take their toll on the lives of innocent human beings. Murdering people in their house of worship is a despicable and immoral hate crime.”

“We maintain strong bonds and relationships with the Jewish communities in the US, which have supported the LGBTQ community in Israel throughout the years and strongly promote our struggle for equality,” added the organization. “Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the victims, the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and all of our friends overseas.”

Congregation Bet Mishpachah, an LGBT synagogue in Northwest D.C., echoed Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance.

“With all people of good conscience, we condemn this hate-filled act of violence and murder,” said Congregation Bet Mishpachah in a statement. “We also condemn the angry, demonizing and divisive rhetoric that directly encourages hate and hate crimes like this. We call on secular and religious leaders to do everything possible to mend and unify our broken society. May they change their sword-like words into egalitarian tools that affirm the sanctity of all life and the inherent dignity and rights of all human beings, created in the Divine image.”

Pittsburgh activist: Massacre reminder of Pulse nightclub shooting

Saturday’s massacre is the latest in a series of mass shootings that have taken place in the U.S. in recent years.

A gunman killed 49 people inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on June 12, 2016.

A gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018. The Pulse nightclub massacre had been the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history until a gunman on Oct. 1, 2017, killed 58 people and injured more than 500 others when he opened fire during a country music festival in Las Vegas.

These massacres and other mass shootings have prompted the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Florida and other LGBT advocacy groups to renew their calls for gun control in the U.S.

“The devastation of this violence certainly brings to mind the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 as well as other ongoing fatal violence relentlessly targeting our community such as the murders of our transgender siblings,” Kerr told the Blade. “What I hear is that LGBTQ folks are grieving and offering support, but especially being careful to take our cues from the Jewish community about acts of resistance.”

“We are taking care to connect with and offer support to our queer Jewish community,” added Kerr.

A vigil to honor the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh took place in Dupont Circle on Oct. 28, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Andrés Doernberg)

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Texas

Texas AG Ken Paxton sues to stop new gender identity guidelines

Texas Attorney General aims 75th lawsuit at Biden Administration this one to halt compliance of gender identity mandates in the workplace

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Collin County Labor day picnic in Plano on Sept. 2, 2023. (Photo Credit: Azul Sordo for the Texas Tribune)

By Nina Banks | AMARILLO, Texas – Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and members of the Biden Administration to contest LGBTQ+ workforce protections.

The guidance, released last month, states that denying an employee accommodations for their gender identity, such as prohibiting an employee to use the bathroom of their gender identity, is unlawful workplace harassment. The guidance isn’t legally enforced and instead it serves to distinguish what constitutes harassment under the EEOC.

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday argues that the EEOC specifically targeted Texas with its new guidance, as some Texas employers do not have to comply with federal policies meant to prohibit discrimination. Paxton claims the guidance would force Texas to reevaluate its agencies, causing “irreparable harm” to state finances and sovereignty, and redefine “sex” under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Yet again the Biden Administration is trying to circumvent the democratic process by issuing sweeping mandates from the desks of bureaucrats that would fundamentally reshape American law,” Paxton said in a statement. “Texas will not stand by while Biden ignores court orders forbidding such actions and we will hold the federal government accountable at every turn.”

This is Paxton’s 75th lawsuit against the federal government since Biden was inaugurated in January 2020. Paxton has long portrayed himself as the bulwark against Biden’s agenda and has positioned Texas at the forefront of the largest conservative legal battles of the day.

This lawsuit parallels a motion from October 2022 where Paxton sued the Biden administration over a 2021 EEOC guidance that explained the parameters then for gauging harassment and the Supreme Court’s stance on Bostock v. Clayton County, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

A longtime adversary to gender-affirming policy, Paxton claimed the 2021 guidance forced the Biden Administration’s “political agenda” onto Texas. In that case, the U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled in favor of Paxton, concluding that the Biden Administration’s protections for LGBTQ+ employees were too extensive.

Paxton filed this lawsuit, like many of his legal challenges, in Amarillo, where one judge hears nearly all cases—Kacsmaryk.

Kacsmaryk was appointed to the bench by President Donald Trump as the first judge appointed directly from a religious liberty law firm. Kacsmaryk previously worked at First Liberty, a Plano-based conservative Christian law firm, where he frequently litigated cases involving abortion, contraception and gender identity.

Reporter Eleanor Klibanoff contributed to this story.

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Nina Banks’s staff photo

Nina Banks is the Tribune’s Dallas Press Club Foundation reporting fellow based in Arlington where she is studying communications at Tarrant County College. She is managing editor of the student-run newspaper, The Collegian, and hosts the staff’s podcast, The First Draft. When Nina isn’t hunched over her laptop, you can find her sipping on boba tea.

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

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The White House

Senate confirms Biden’s 200th judicial nominee

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama

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President Joe Biden speaks at the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — With the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of his 200th judicial nominee on Wednesday, President Joe Biden surpassed the number who were appointed to the federal bench by his last two predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama over the course of his two terms in office.

In a statement celebrating the milestone, Biden highlighted the diverse identities, backgrounds, and professional experiences of the men and women he has appointed over the past four years.

They “come from every walk of life, and collectively, they form the most diverse group of judicial appointees ever put forward by a president,” he said, noting that “64 percent are women and 62 percent are people of color.”

“Before their appointment to the bench, they worked in every field of law,” Biden said, “from labor lawyers fighting for working people to civil rights lawyers fighting to protect the right to vote.”

The president added, “Judges matter. These men and women have the power to uphold basic rights or to roll them back. They hear cases that decide whether women have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions; whether Americans have the freedom to cast their ballots; whether workers have the freedom to unionize and make a living wage for their families; and whether children have the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water.”

The LGBTQ judges who were confirmed under Biden include Beth Robinson, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal court of appeals, Nicole Berner, the 4th Circuit’s first LGBTQ judge, Charlotte Sweeney, the first LGBTQ judge to serve on a federal district court west of the Mississippi River, and Melissa DuBose, the first Black and the first LGBTQ judge to serve on a federal court in Rhode Island.

Echoing the president’s comments during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted Biden’s appointment of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Black woman, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“We’ve confirmed more Hispanic judges circuit courts than any previous administration,” she said. “We’ve confirmed more Black women to circuit courts than all previous presidents combined.”

Jean-Pierre added that while these milestones are “great news,” there is still “much more work to be done.”

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Federal Government

LGBTQ+ Rangers dismayed- Park Service: No uniforms at Pride

National Park Service issued a memo barring employees from attending Pride parades in uniform. Official participation appears uncertain

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Stonewall National Monument NPS park rangers marching in 2021 NYC Pride parade. (Photo Credit: NPS/Facebook)

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – On May 17, the National Park Service officially determined that park rangers and other employees cannot attend Pride festivities and parades in uniform. This decision reverses a long history of allowing such participation and even having official delegation in Pride parades across the United States.

Anonymous LGBTQ+ employees report feeling betrayed and note that official Pride participation in major cities is uncertain as multiple parades finalize and applications to participate in parades remain unprocessed.

The move comes amid increasing crackdowns on Pride flags and LGBTQ+ people nationwide. In most cases, Republican legislators and appointees have been behind such bans, but this time, it appears the National Park Service, led by a Biden-approved director, is restricting park participation in LGBTQ+ celebrations.

The decision was first disclosed in a memo to NPS employees that did not directly address Pride but stated that “requests from employees asking to participate in uniform in a variety of events and activities, including events not organized by the NPS” conflict with National Park policy.

The specific provision cited states that NPS employees cannot wear the uniform to events that would construe support for “a particular issue, position, or political party.” Applying this provision to bar Pride participation drew ire from LGBTQ+ employees who assert that LGBTQ+ Pride is not about an “issue, position, or political party,” but about identity and diversity. Employees also pointed out that the internal ERG guide allowed for participation in Pride events and that park employees had participated in Pride events with approval for years under the current set of rules.

In a follow-up, the National Park Service stated that the ERG resource known as the “OUTsiders Guide to Pride” conflicts with its policy and that it is in discussion with ERG leaders to review it and similar documents.

Meanwhile, it stated that NPS participation in Pride “could imply agency support… on a particular issue of public concern,” essentially stating that celebrations of LGBTQ+ employees would be considered an “issue of public concern” rather than a non-political celebration of diversity. As such, they determined that NPS official participation in parades “should be extremely limited.”

Concern immediately spread among National Park Service employees and LGBTQ+ members of the general public. They noted that the National Park Service has participated in Pride parades across the United States for years under the same set of rules, including during the Trump administration, which notably cracked down on LGBTQ+ Pride in government agencies, such as at embassies abroad.

They also noted that Stonewall National Monument is run by the National Park Service. Importantly, Stonewall National Monument’s founding documents state, “The purpose of Stonewall National Monument is to preserve and protect Christopher Park and the historic resources associated with it and to interpret the Stonewall National Historic Landmark’s resources and values related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights movement.”

One Park Service employee, speaking under the condition of anonymity, stated that multiple Pride parade requests are currently sitting on desks “collecting dust” for participation and representation in major city Pride festivities. When asked about the determination that Pride festivals are an “issue of public concern,” they said, “Pride is not political, it’s not a cause, you just are LGBTQ+. It’s a celebration of who we are.” They added, “Morale is just so low right now. There’s not a lot of fight left in us.”

I reached out to an NPS spokesperson to ask about Pride parades in major cities and whether the NPS would continue participating this year as they have in previous years. The spokesperson stated that the policy “had not changed” and that “Previous interpretations of the uniform policy were inconsistent and, as you can imagine, approving participation in some events and not others could be seen as discrimination based on viewpoint.” They added that in-park Pride events have not been canceled and that community events outside of the parks that “directly relate to a park’s mission” could be approved. However, they did not indicate whether these events would include continued contingents in major U.S. city Pride parades and celebrations and could not be reached for a follow-up on this question.

The determination that participation in Pride events could be too political is questionable. The founding documents for Stonewall National Monument relate directly to the “resources and values” of the LGBTQ+ community. Furthermore, National Park Service Resources currently live on the site call for people to “Celebrate Pride,” citing Stonewall National Monument to state that “The LGBTQ experience is a vital facet of America’s rich and diverse past.” This resource emphasizes the importance of not rendering LGBTQ people invisible, stating, “By recovering the voices that have been erased and marginalized, the NPS embarks on an important project to capture and celebrate our multi-vocal past.” By barring employees from wearing pins showing their identities and by pulling out of Pride festivals, the NPS ironically may appear to be erasing and marginalizing its LGBTQ+ employees.

National Park Service employees have marched in uniform for years. According to the Bay Area Reporter, in 2014, Christine Lenhertz of the National Park Service requested that a group of LGBTQ+ park service employees be allowed to wear their uniforms in the Pride parade. They were initially banned from doing so, prompting the group to file a complaint. She then sought a ruling from the Office of the Solicitor for the Department of the Interior, who ruled that there was no reason to ban her and other LGBTQ+ people from participating in uniform. Since then, many National Park Service contingents have participated in Pride events.

The future of Pride parade participation with in-uniform NPS employees is uncertain. While it appears that there will be some Pride events in certain National Parks, such as Stonewall, external participation in major city Pride events seems to be on hold in at least some major American cities. The prospect of individual or small LGBTQ+-affiliated Park Ranger celebrations in city Pride events appears even dimmer, with little hope of being allowed to participate.

You can see the full response to the request for comment from an NPS spokesperson here:

The NPS uniform policy has not changed. There are no restrictions on wearing of uniforms in NPS-organized in-park events. There has been no directive to cancel NPS-organized in-park events. Superintendents have discretion to approve park-organized events, which support park purpose and mission, and departmental mission, initiatives, and priorities (e.g., diversity, inclusion, climate change, and Tribal engagement). This would include many of the events planned to celebrate Pride month. 

Official NPS participation in community events that directly relate to a park’s mission can be approved by the park superintendent, provided it is consistent with applicable laws, rules, regulations, and NPS policies.

Last week, the Service sent out a reminder about the uniform policy – specifically because there has been an in-flux of requests from folks asking to wear their uniforms for non-Park Service events. These requests run the gamut of topics, but could include weekend, off duty events that folks are of course able to do in their personal capacity, but not while wearing a uniform representing the federal government. Previous interpretations of the uniform policy were inconsistent and as you can imagine, approving participation in some events and not others could be seen as discrimination based on viewpoint. 

NPS employees represent a diversity of identities, cultures, and experiences, and we are committed to supporting all of our workforce. Like any large organization, we have a diverse workforce supporting myriad causes, and we welcome employees to express their personal support for various issues, positions, and political parties, provided they do not imply their presence or endorsement constitutes official NPS support for the same.  And, also like other large organizations, there are limits to what employees can do while on-duty and in uniform and seen as communicating on behalf of the NPS.

 

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) 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.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Colorado

Colorado GOP tells parents the Democrats “turn more kids trans”

In a party-wide mass mailing the Colorado Republican Party is urging that all of the state’s parents pull their children from public schools

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Colorado State Capitol in Denver. (Screenshot/YouTube 9News Denver)

DENVER, Colo. – In a party-wide mass mailing Tuesday, the Colorado Republican Party is urging that all of the state’s parents pull their children from public schools because, according to the GOP leadership, “Democrats are using schools to “turn more kids trans.” 

In the email blast, Republicans allege: “Our next policy aims to save Colorado children from progressive Democrats who want to turn more kids trans by requiring teachers to use “pronouns” that do not make any sense and cause gender confusion.”

The email continues with an attack recent legislation signed into law by the state’s openly gay Governor Jared Polis:

“Sadly, with Democrats in the super majority in Denver, Non-Legal Name Changes- House Bill 24-1039, passed and was signed into law by Governor Polis. The bill, sponsored by four far-left progressives, two of whom do not know their own genders and do not have children, requires teachers in public schools to use “pronouns” for kids with gender confusion that do not align with their actual scientific gender, without parental consent.

If your child decides he identifies as a girl because he is angry with you, or all of his friends are doing it, the Colorado government will actively encourage his new fetish by allowing him to identify as “she,” “they,” or whatever nonsensical terms your son’s teachers and peers may dream up…all without notifying you of your child’s disturbing behavior, which should be treated rather then encouraged. 

The goal here is clear; the Colorado legislature seeks to break down the family unit while convincing kids that government knows best.”

Colorado has long been prominent in the culture wars over LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive rights, and being ground zero for the Evangelical Christian movement attacks on LGBTQ+ Americans.

Focus on the Family, founded in 1977 in Southern California by James Dobson, and based in Colorado Springs, has been one of the leading major conservative self labeled “family values” groups that has actively battled over same-sex marriage, equality rights, and trans rights.

NBC News affiliate 9News Denver reported:

Colorado Republicans’ 2022 nominee for Governor, Heidi Ganahl, issued a similar call for families to abandon the public education system last year. 

Speaking to the Truth and Liberty Conference in Woodland Park, which mixed anti-LGBTQ rhetoric with calls for Christian dominance of government, Ganahl said children should be removed from public schools and placed in church-run schools.

Ganahl said Colorado’s public schools teach “that parents are not to be trusted, that government is God, that sexual deviance is King.” 

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Louisiana

La. library board members launch federal suit over removal

The library board repeatedly refused to limit access to 150 books deemed sexually explicit by critics. Most of the titles have LGBTQ+ themes

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Opponents and a supporter of restrictions on library content talk before a St. Tammany Parish Council meeting Aug. 30, 2023. (Piper Hutchinson/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Piper Hutchinson | COVINGTON, La. – Three St. Tammany library board members removed after a years-long fight over book content are suing the parish council and one of its district representatives in an attempt to block their removal. 

Their federal lawsuit comes after the parish council voted earlier this month to replace five of the six members of the St. Tammany Library Board of Control, a volunteer body that oversees the parish library system. Their removal culminated months of contentious fights. 

Conservative activists in the parish, led by the far-right St. Tammany Library Accountability Project, attempted to ban more than 150 books it deemed sexually explicit. Most of the titles challenged have LGBTQ+ themes. The library board repeatedly refused to limit access to the books, rejecting arguments that the books were sexually explicit. Their refusal put them crosswise with the new, more conservative parish council that took office earlier this year. 

The three board members — Bill McHugh, Anthony Parr and Rebecca Taylor — are suing the St. Tammany Parish Council and Councilman David Cougle, a founder and attorney for the Accountability Project who led the charge to remove the members. The plaintiffs have asked the court for a temporary restraining order on their removal, which would allow them to stay in their positions while the lawsuit plays out. 

In a statement, the plaintiffs emphasized the lawsuit was undertaken by them as individuals, not as an official action by the library board. They also noted Kelly LaRocca, the parish’s library director, is not involved in the suit. 

Cougle has not yet responded to a request for comment for this report. 

On May 4, the parish council voted to replace five board members, ostensibly because the council had discovered the board was not serving in staggered terms, as required by state law. But rather than staggering the current board members, the council used the opportunity to remove board members that resisted book restrictions. 

That violated the First Amendment rights of the ousted board members, the plaintiffs charge. 

“Plaintiffs were engaged in constitutionally protected activity when they spoke and acted at Library Bord [sic] meetings, as well as when they spoke out on matters of public concern such as the controversy over books with LGBTQ themes and characters, the presence or absence of sexually explicit material in libraries, whether or not certain materials available in libraries is ‘pornography’ or constitutes ‘obscenity,’ and whether and how minors have access to such materials,” the lawsuit reads. 

The lawsuit alleges the concern over staggered terms was an “obvious ploy” used to retaliate against their protected speech and their refusal to restrict access to books.

“Supreme Court precedent has focused “not only on the role of the First Amendment in fostering individual self-expression but also on its role in affording the public access to discussion, debate, and the dissemination of information and ideas,” the lawsuit says. “And it has recognized that ‘the State may not, consistently with the spirit of the First Amendment, contract the spectrum of available knowledge.’”

The suit has been filed in federal court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. If the court opts to grant a temporary restraining order, the existing library board would be allowed to continue serving pending the outcome of the lawsuit, which seeks to permanently block the council’s resolution to remove members. 

“Preventing the Parish Council from engaging in unlawful patronage dismissal will preserve the integrity and independence of the Library Board, rather than leaving it subject to the political whims of the Parish Council,” the lawsuit says. 

The lawsuit also says allowing the members to continue serving would continue to protect the public’s constitutional rights to receive information by maintaining their access to library books. 

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Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.

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The preceding piece was previously published by the Louisiana Illuminator and is republished by permission.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence.

Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court declines Maryland anti-LGBTQ+ guidelines suit

Three parents of students in the school district outside of D.C., — none of whom have trans children — filed the lawsuit

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U.S. Supreme Court (Photo: Washington Blade/Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a lawsuit against Montgomery County Public Schools guidelines that allow schools to create plans in support of transgender or gender non-confirming students without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

Three parents of students in the school district in suburban Maryland outside of D.C., — none of whom have trans or gender non-confirming children — filed the lawsuit. 

A judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last August dismissed the case. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

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Montana

ACLU asks court: Stop Montana state agencies harming trans folks

ACLU argues the rule violates the right to privacy, which the Montana Constitution says is “essential to the well-being of a free society”

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Lewis and Clark County District Courthouse 228 E Broadway Street, Helena, Mont. (Photo Credit: Lewis and Clark County/Montana BW)

By Keila Szpaller | HELENA, Mont. – People who are transgender need to be able to amend their birth certificates and driver’s licenses without interference from the state of Montana, plaintiffs in a lawsuit argued this week in a request for a preliminary injunction.

So the Lewis and Clark County District Court should block the Department of Public Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice from unconstitutionally preventing them, the plaintiffs said.

The status quo not only violates the constitutional rights of transgender Montanans, it causes harm, said the motion filed Thursday.

“Uncorrected identity documents serve as constant reminders that one’s identity is perceived by society and the government as ‘illegitimate,’” said the ACLU Montana in the filing.

The result can exacerbate gender dysphoria — a serious medical condition associated with incongruity between assigned sex and gender identity — and cause psychiatric disorders and even the risk of suicide, the plaintiffs said.

On the other hand, The World Professional Association for Transgender Health states that “changing the sex designation on identity documents greatly helps alleviate gender dysphoria,” the filing said.

Last month, the ACLU Montana filed a lawsuit on behalf of Jessica Kalarchik, Jane Doe, and “all others similarly situated” alleging Gov. Greg Gianforte, the Department of Public Health and Human Services, and the Department of Justice are violating the constitutional rights of transgender people.

The plaintiffs argue people who are transgender used to be able to amend their birth certificates without issue and without negative consequences to the state.

However, a 2022 rule through the health department, a new Motor Vehicle Department practice through the DOJ, and Senate Bill 458 treat them differently than cisgender people — whose gender identity corresponds to their assigned sex — and infringes on their rights.

“The 2022 Rule, the new MVD policy and practice, and SB 458 are solutions in search of a problem,” the plaintiffs said.

A spokesperson for Gianforte earlier said the governor stands by the bill he signed in 2023 “that brings the long-recognized, commonsense, immutable biologically-based definition of sex — male and female — into our state laws.”

The state health department earlier said it does not typically comment on pending litigation. The Department of Justice earlier denied the MVD had changed its policy on updating a sex designation on a driver’s license.

This week, the plaintiffs asked the court for a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the rule, practice and law, citing infringement of their constitutionally protected rights.

They also asked the court to certify the lawsuit as a class action on behalf of all Montanans who are transgender and need to change their birth certificates and driver’s licenses.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of New York and Nixon Peabody of Chicago also are representing plaintiffs, pending approval from the court.

DPHHS Director Charlie Brereton and Attorney General Austin Knudsen also are sued as heads of state agencies.

Different law, same fight

Starting in 2017, people who were transgender could change their sex designations by submitting an affidavit to the health department.

In 2021, the Montana Legislature adopted Senate Bill 280, which restricted the ability of people who are transgender to change their birth certificates. But in a separate lawsuit, the court temporarily halted the law and ordered the health department to use the 2017 process instead.

“DPHHS pointed to no adverse consequence of having had to revert to the 2017 procedure,” said the filing this week.

The district court permanently enjoined SB 280 in 2023 and also found DPHHS to be in contempt for “openly and repeatedly defying” its order.

In February 2024, however, the state health department said it wouldn’t amend birth certificates based on gender identity, but only to correct errors, citing an administrative rule from 2022 and its alignment with Senate Bill 458.

Signed by Gianforte in 2023, SB 458 states that “there are exactly two sexes, male and female … (and) the sexes are determined … without regard to an individual’s psychological, behavioral, social, chosen or subjective experience of gender.”

The DOJ took action this year as well, ending the prior practice at the MVD of allowing changes to sex based on a letter from a doctor stating the person was changing or had changed their gender, according to the court filing.

“Instead, without following any notice-and-comment procedure, the DOJ and Attorney General Austin Knudsen adopted a new policy and practice that the MVD would only issue an amended driver’s license with a sex designation consistent with a person’s gender identity, rather than their assigned sex at birth, if the person provided an amended birth certificate — which the 2022 Rule prohibits transgender people from obtaining,” said the filing.

Constitutional rights violated, plaintiffs allege

The plaintiffs argue the changes violate multiple constitutional rights.

They violate their right to equal protection because the health department and MVD “single out transgender people for different and less favorable treatment vis-a-vis cisgender people,” the filing said.

The rule and practice also don’t serve a compelling state interest, the plaintiffs said.

In fact, 45 other states allow transgender people to amend their sex markers on their birth certificates, and 38 allow them to change the same on their driver’s licenses without an amended birth certificate, the filing said.

“Many of these states have allowed these changes to birth certificates and driver’s licenses for years without any widespread problems with the ability of those states to maintain ‘accurate vital statistics,’” the filing said.

They noted Montana was in the same boat earlier, making changes at the health department “without incident” from 2017 until the 2021 law was adopted.

The plaintiffs also argue that the rule, MVD practice and law violate the right to privacy, which the Montana Constitution says is “essential to the well-being of a free society.”

The state says that right shall not be infringed without a compelling state interest,” and the plaintiffs note the state affords even broader privacy protections than the federal constitution.

And they said health information is personal, sensitive and private.

“The mental and emotional toll of being forced, against one’s will, to publicly share personal information related to one’s transgender status is both humiliating and degrading,” the plaintiffs said.

If transgender people can’t change their birth certificates, they’re forced to reveal their transgender status every time they’re required to show those documents, the plaintiffs said.

“This forced ‘outing’ has serious adverse psychological effects and health consequences and often results in outright hostility toward transgender people,” said the court filing.

“Conversely, transgender people whose identity documents are consistent with the way they present themselves to the public experience better mental health and less mistreatment.”

The plaintiffs cited a study that said transgender people who changed their sex designation on documents were 35% less likely to have experienced related mistreatment than those who hadn’t made the changes.

“Other studies have shown that accurate identity documents promote economic benefits, including higher rates of employment and increased income,” the plaintiffs said.

They noted nearly one-third of transender people fall below the poverty line and the same number have experienced homelessness.

The state also is forcing people who are transgender to “express or embrace a viewpoint to which they disagree,” in violation of the right to be free from compelled speech, the plaintiffs allege.

Rather, transgender people are forced to carry and present identity documents with a sex designation that conflicts with what they know their sex to be and one that forces them to “disseminate the state’s view of their sex,” the plaintiffs argue.

The rule, policy and law are also “scientifically incorrect,” said the court filing.

“They ignore the existence of multiple genes involved in sex differentiation; the breadth of the endocrine system, which has multiple organs with multiple functions; and growing research documenting that gender identity is biologically based,” the plaintiffs said.

Class certification request

The plaintiffs also propose a class that includes all transgender people in Montana who want to change sex designations on their birth certificates or driver’s licenses.

Citing a study, the filing estimates roughly 0.41% of Montanans over 18 identify as transgender, or more than 3,400, and an estimated 49% don’t have documents that reflect the sex to which they identify, or some 1,700.

It said a class action case would account for the high number of potential plaintiffs, their geographic dispersion in a state such as Montana, the resources of the court, the resources of individual class members, and their vulnerability to threats of violence.

“Proceeding as a class diminishes the salience of such threats to any individual class member, as there is both safety in numbers and relative anonymity for class members,” said the request for class certification.

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Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Daily Montanan and is republished with permission.

The Daily Montanan is a nonprofit, nonpartisan source for trusted news, commentary and insight into statewide policy and politics beneath the Big Sky.

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

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Alabama

New policies tie Alabama library funding to LGBTQ book restrictions

A former employee of the Autauga-Prattville Public Library said the guidelines allow the APLS to “basically act like Big Brother”

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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 Ralph Chapoco | MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Libraries that do not restrict access to materials deemed sexually inappropriate by the Alabama Public Library Service Board could lose state funding under rules adopted by the APLS Board on Thursday.

The changes, recommended by Gov. Kay Ivey but pushed considerably further by a board member who also chairs the Alabama Republican Party, come amid divisive battles over content and leadership in libraries around the state, often over books with LGBTQ+ themes or characters.

“I think the important thing here, and one of my priorities from the beginning, is that we protect children in the state of Alabama,” said John Wahl, the chair of the Alabama Republican Party and a member of the board who led the push for the changes. “No one should want a child to stumble across sexually explicit material in the children’s section of the libraries.”

Opponents say the new rules amount to censorship and that the language is too vague to determine what materials fall under the ban.

“The policies approved today by the state Public Library Service are a sequel that no one asked for,” said Read Freely Alabama, a group originally organized to oppose restrictive circulation policies in Prattville. “They are virtually identical to the harmful censorship policies that Prattville’s extremist-stacked library board imposed earlier this year on families who rely on the community’s public libraries.”

Under the new rules, libraries must develop a materials selection policy, addressing how minors “are safeguarded from sexually explicit material deemed inappropriate for children or youth.” They must have a policy outlining where books will be located or relocated if they are “sexually explicit or other material deemed inappropriate for children or youth.”

Libraries must also develop policies for obtaining advance approval for placing such materials in displays targeted to children. The rules leave it unclear who would approve the display materials. They must also have stated guidelines that ensure sections for children do not have materials that are obscene, sexually explicit or believed to be inappropriate.

Local policies must also bar the purchase of such materials for the collection and state that minors younger than 18 years old must have parental approval before borrowing materials designated for the adult section.

APLS is responsible for distributing funding allocated to libraries by the state. Ivey sent a letter to APLS Director Nancy Pack last fall  requesting that the organization condition library funding on them adopting “sensible” policies to allow parents to better supervise their children while visiting a library.

She also wanted libraries to affirm that they will respond to parents’ concerns regarding materials they believe are sexually explicit or inappropriate on library shelves. Ivey also wanted money allocated to the American Library Association to be subject to approval by a “relevant governing authority.”

The changes adopted Thursday by the APLS Board went even further and included several proposals that Wahl believed were necessary to mitigate confusion by the public, including the selection criteria for minors that should exclude sexually explicit materials.

Right-wing groups have been targeting content in libraries, particularly books reflecting the experiences of LGBTQ+ people. The battle over content at the Autauga-Prattville Library began last year when a parent complained that a book contained inclusive pronouns.

Critics say the restrictions reflect an attitude that the existence of LGBTQ+ people is in itself obscene. Lacie Sutherland, a former employee of the Autauga-Prattville Public Library who attended Thursday’s meeting,  said the guidelines allow the APLS to “basically act like Big Brother.”

“Just because you think talking about LGBTQ+ plus books is inappropriate doesn’t mean they are,” she said in an interview following the meeting. “You just have a very disgusting viewpoint about the existence of human beings.”

Ivey’s recommended changes to the administrative code sparked a public input process. APLS solicited feedback from the public for several months since that October letter from Ivey was received.

Outside groups suggested their own changes. The Alabama Library Association proposed a code that would direct libraries to adopt policies to deal with patrons and children who were unsupervised by adults, the location of materials as well as establish a display policy. The Eagle Forum, a right-wing organization, wanted further restrictions beyond what Ivey had suggested.

APLS hosted a public hearing April 30 where more than 100 people spoke, most in opposition to the rules. Another 6,000 letters were submitted. APLS said about 1,600 of them favored the changes recommended by the Alabama Library Association while another 2,179 aligned with the changes submitted by Eagle Forum. The rest were a smattering of recommendations.

“Everyone is clearly very sincere in their views,” said Ronald Snider, the chair of the APLS Board. “We don’t question the sincerity of what their positions are. I have said this before, all this dissension has hurt the libraries of this state generally, as evidenced by the cut in our funding.”

The APLS has a total budget of about $15 million in the Education Trust Fund budget, which passed the Legislature earlier this month. Most of that funding goes to outside programs. About $4.12 million goes to its operations. For this year, that figure is roughly $3.77 million, almost 9% less.

The Alabama Legislature cut $351,000 (9%) from the APLS’  2025 operating budget, bringing it to roughly $3.77 million. The House of Representatives originally cut the agency’s budget by $701,000, but the Senate reduced the reduction by half.

House Ways and Means Education Committee Chair Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, who oversaw the budget, said in April the cuts were not punitive and that the money would be allocated to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and Better Basics, a Birmingham-based nonprofit that assists children with reading and math skills.

The allocation for the Imagination Library, under the Department of Early Childhood Education, increased by $250,000 in the final version of the ETF. Better Basics received $500,000.

The day began with a subcommittee meeting led by Wahl who introduced the proposed changes.

“It is time that we make sure Alabama libraries are safe for children in their children’s sections,” Wahl said. “I think we accomplished that today.”

Snider, who voted against the proposed amendments, abstained on a motion to change the administrative code. He noted that the Autauga-Prattville Library faced a lawsuit over restrictive policies it adopted earlier this year.

“We all are aware that the Prattville Library is now in litigation in federal court over the proposals they adopted that are substantially similar to what you have suggested,” Snider said to another board member, Amy Minton. “I would hate for the agency itself to be involved in litigation with respect to that.”

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Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Alabama Reflector and is republished with permission.

The Alabama Reflector is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to covering state government and politics in the state of Alabama. Through daily coverage and investigative journalism, The Reflector covers decision makers in Montgomery; the issues affecting Alabamians, and potential ways to move our state forward.

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

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National

Over half of states sue to block rule protecting LGBTQ+ students

Twenty-six GOP-led states are suing the Biden administration over changes to Title IX which are due to take effect August 1, 2024

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Typical classroom in a New Jersey school via the office of the New Jersey governor. (Los Angeles Blade file photo)

By Shauneen Miranda | WASHINGTON — Twenty-six GOP-led states are suing the Biden administration over changes to Title IX aiming to protect LGBTQ+ students from discrimination in schools.

Less than a month after the U.S. Department of Education released its final rule seeking to protect against discrimination “based on sex stereotypes, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics,” a wave of Republican attorneys general scrambled to challenge the measure.

The revised rule, which will go into effect on Aug. 1, requires schools “to take prompt and effective action when notified of conduct that reasonably may constitute sex discrimination in their education programs or activities.”

The lawsuits hail from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

All of the attorneys general in the 26 states suing over the final rule are part of the Republicans Attorneys General Association.

Various advocacy groups and school boards have also tacked onto the states’ legal actions. The lawsuits carry similar language and arguments in vehemently opposing the final rule. They say the new regulations raise First Amendment concerns and accuse the rule of violating the Administrative Procedure Act.

LGBTQ+ advocates say the revised rule offers students a needed protection and complies with existing law.

“Our kids’ experience in schools should be about learning, about making friends and growing as a young person. LGBTQ+ students deserve those same opportunities,” Sarah Warbelow, vice president of legal at the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said in an emailed statement. “In bringing these lawsuits, these state attorneys general are attempting to rob LGBTQ+ students of their rights, illustrating a complete disregard for the humanity of LGBTQ+ students.”

GOP states band together against new regulations

In the most recent effort, Alaska, Kansas, Utah, and Wyoming sued the Biden administration on Tuesday, accusing the Department of Education of seeking to “politicize our country’s educational system to conform to the radical ideological views of the Biden administration and its allies.”

The lawsuit claims that under the updated regulations, teachers, coaches and administrators would have to “acknowledge, affirm, and validate students’ ‘gender identities’ regardless of the speakers’ own religious beliefs on the matter in violation of the First Amendment.”

In another lawsuit, a group of Southern states —  Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina — sued the administration in federal court in Alabama over the new regulations.

Republican Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said President Joe Biden “has brazenly attempted to use federal funding to force radical gender ideology onto states that reject it at the ballot box” since he took office.

“Now our schoolchildren are the target. The threat is that if Alabama’s public schools and universities do not conform, then the federal government will take away our funding,” Marshall said in a press release.

The lawsuit also drew praise from Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said “Biden is abusing his constitutional authority to push an ideological agenda that harms women and girls and conflicts with the truth.” He added that the Sunshine State will “not comply” and instead “fight back against Biden’s harmful agenda.”

Individual states sue the administration 

Meanwhile, some states have opted to file individual lawsuits against the administration.

In Texas, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration late last month in federal court in Amarillo. Paxton filed an amended complaint earlier this week, with two new plaintiffs added.

In an April 29 press release, Paxton said the Lone Star State “will not allow Joe Biden to rewrite Title IX at whim, destroying legal protections for women in furtherance of his radical obsession with gender ideology.”

Oklahoma’s Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration earlier this month in federal court in Oklahoma. The state’s education department also filed a separate suit against the Biden administration.

A hodgepodge of states

 

In late April, Republican attorneys general in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration in federal court in Kentucky.

The states argued that the U.S. Education Department “has used rulemaking power to convert a law designed to equalize opportunities for both sexes into a far broader regime of its own making.”

Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana also sued the Biden administration in late April, echoing the language seen in the other related lawsuits. Seventeen local school boards in Louisiana also joined the states.

Earlier this month, Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota also brought a collective legal challenge to the final rule.

A spokesperson for the Education Department said the department does not comment on pending litigation but noted that “as a condition of receiving federal funds, all federally-funded schools are obligated to comply with these final regulations.” They added that the department looks forward “to working with school communities all across the country to ensure the Title IX guarantee of nondiscrimination in school is every student’s experience.”

The department has yet to finalize a separate rule that establishes new criteria for transgender athletes. So far, 24 states have passed laws that ban transgender students from partaking in sports that align with their gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project.

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Shauneen Miranda

Shauneen Miranda is a reporter for States Newsroom’s Washington bureau. An alumna of the University of Maryland, she previously covered breaking news for Axios.

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The preceding article was previously published by the States Newsroom and is republished with permission.

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State government greatly affects our daily lives, but many people don’t know if it’s working for them. States Newsroom exists to ensure that people from Oregon to Florida and Arizona to Maine have free access to a constant stream of high quality reporting about their state governments, policies and politics.

National audiences need this too. News From the States brings together daily reporting and commentary from States Newsroom’s affiliates, legacy partners and independent nonprofit content partners. Constantly updated, with curated featured stories and highlighted trends, it illuminates state government across the U.S. like never before.

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Louisiana

Trans bathroom restrictions heads to Louisiana governor’s desk 

The bill would also require a trans man, even one who has transitioned via hormones & gender affirming surgery, to use women. facilities

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Rep. Roger Wilder walks back to his desk on the House floor. (Louisiana Illuminator/Allison Allsop)

By Piper Hutchinson | BATON ROUGUE, La. – The Louisiana Senate easily passed a controversial bill restricting what bathrooms, changing rooms and sleeping quarters transgender people use in public facilities, sending it to the governor’s desk for action. 

House Bill 608 by Rep. Roger Wilder, R-Denham Springs, passed the Senate on a 29-10 vote after less than 15 minutes of discussion. Senate President Pro Tempore Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, voted with Republicans on the bill. Sen. Katrina Jackson-Andrews, D-Monroe, voted against the bill but later added her name as a co-author. 

Wilder’s bill, which he’s dubbed the “Women’s Safety and Protection Act,” would segregate all bathrooms, changing and locker rooms as well as sleeping quarters by sex in public schools, domestic violence shelters and correctional facilities, prohibiting transgender people from using facilities that align with their gender identity. 

When he presented his bill to the House last month, Wilder was unable to point to a specific incident in Louisiana in which a woman or girl was harmed by a transgender woman at a public restroom or changing facility. 

Kate Kelly, a spokesperson for Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, was not immediately able to confirm Landry’s plans for the bill. The arch-conservative governor has openly supported other anti-LGBTQ+ measures, including two that restrict the discussion of gender and sexuality in K-12 schools

The bill also defines the terms “man,” “woman,” “girl,” “boy,” “male” and “female.” These definitions specifically exclude gender identity, which the bill does not define. 

Wilder’s proposal was carried on the Senate floor by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, who authored a law that prevents transgender people from competing in women’s sports

The bill was opposed by several LGBTQ+ rights advocates who argued the bill needlessly harms transgender people. The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates there are approximately 20,000 transgender people living in Louisiana

“This bill represents a deeply troubling attempt to deny the humanity and dignity of an already vulnerable population by seeking to eliminate legal recognition of gender identities beyond the binary,” SarahJane Guidry, executive director of Forum for Equality, an LGBTQ+ rights organization, said at a committee hearing on the bill last week

Transgender people tend to experience higher rates of domestic violence and have higher suicide rates than people who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. While many domestic violence shelters already turn away transgender people, Wilder’s bill would require they do so unless they have the space to offer separate sleeping quarters and bathrooms for transgender people. 

While Wilder pitched his bill as a way to keep women and girls from feeling uncomfortable or unsafe when men enter private areas, the legislation would require a transgender man, even one who has transitioned via hormones and gender affirming surgery, to use facilities designated for women. 

A transgender man is a man who was assigned female at birth. Transitioning refers to actions taken by a transgender person to align their bodies with their identified gender. 

The bill would allow anybody who experiences, or is expected to experience, direct or indirect harm as a violation of the bill to sue, including someone who is retaliated against for pointing out a violation. 

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Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.

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The preceding piece was previously published by the Louisiana Illuminator and is republished by permission.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence.

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