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Opponents of FOSTA law win Appeals Court victory

Ruling sends case back to District Court for decision on merits

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FOSTA, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. (Photo public domain)

In a little-noticed action, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Jan. 24 overturned a lower court ruling dismissing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a controversial federal law that holds websites criminally liable if found to “promote” or “facilitate” prostitution between consenting adults.

The lawsuit charges that the law passed by Congress called the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 known as FOSTA violates the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution by criminalizing protected speech and expression and holding someone liable for an action committed before the FOSTA law made it illegal.

LGBTQ rights organizations have joined civil liberties and sex worker rights groups in asserting that FOSTA has failed to bring about its intended purpose of curtailing human sex trafficking of adults and minors. Instead, critics say it has resulted, among other things, in internet sites refusing to accept ads from sex workers seeking consenting adults as customers, forcing sex workers to return to the streets where they are subjected to danger.

The lawsuit was filed in 2018 by the D.C.-based Woodhull Freedom Foundation, which advocates for decriminalization of sex work; the New York-based Human Rights Watch; and a massage therapist named Eric Koszyk, who says his massage business was wiped out when the FOSTA law prompted Craigslist to bar him from advertising on the site.

Others that joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs are the San Francisco-based Internet Archives, which serves as a digital “library” of websites that could be charged under FOSTA with promoting prostitution; and a sex worker advocate identified as Jesse Maley.

At the request of the U.S. Justice Department, which defended FOSTA against the lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon dismissed the lawsuit on grounds that none of the plaintiffs had legal standing to file the suit. Leon upheld the Justice Department’s argument that the organizations and individuals filing the lawsuit were not in actual jeopardy of being prosecuted under FOSTA.

In his ruling dismissing the case, Leon did not make a determination of whether or not FOSTA is unconstitutional, only that the plaintiffs didn’t have legal standing to bring the issue before the court.

In its Jan. 24 decision to overturn Leon’s ruling, a three-judge panel of the D.C.-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that at least two of the plaintiffs did have standing to challenge FOSTA. The judges said the two plaintiffs showed that they could possibly be subjected to criminal prosecution or harmful civil litigation made possible by FOSTA because of their efforts advocating for sex workers.

The decision by Appeals Court Judges Judith W. Rogers, Thomas B. Griffith, and Gregory G. Katsas sends the case back to the District Court, where Judge Leon will be required to decide the case on the merits.

Robert Corn-Revere, the lead attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case, told the Blade that under this type of case, Judge Leon will issue a decision himself without a trial by a jury because the case is based on the interpretation of the FOSTA law’s constitutionality.

“It’s not like a case where you’re trying to decide who caused an accident, when the jury has to listen to testimony of the facts on both sides and decide factually what happened,” Corn-Revere said. “Where you have a case like this where the dispute is over what the law means, the judge should be able to issue a ruling based on whether or not the law is consistent with the Constitution.”

In a statement released at the time the lawsuit was filed in July 2018, Ricci Levy, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation’s president and CEO, said her organization strongly supports “appropriately targeted and effective measures to end sex trafficking.”

Added Levy, “FOSTA, however, erroneously conflates consensual sex work with trafficking, and will interfere with more productive attempts to protect vulnerable people from harm. FOSTA also chills online expression about sexual topics and encourages massive self-censorship by internet platforms.”

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The White House

Biden calls wife of Out WNBA star Brittney Griner who’s jailed in Russia

“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees,” Griner said in her letter Monday

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President Biden speaking on the phone in the Oval Office. (Official White House file photo by Adam Schultz)

WASHINGTON – In a call Wednesday, U. S. President Joe Biden along with Vice-President Kamala Harris spoke to Cherelle Griner, the wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner who is imprisoned by Russian authorities and is currently on trial for alleged drug charges.

The White House indicated in a read-out statement of the president’s call that Biden had assured Cherelle Griner that he and senior administration officials were working towards gaining Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia.

Brittney Griner had sent a letter to Biden which was delivered on Monday. During the regular press briefing Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the President had read the letter adding “We are going to use every tool that we possibly can” to bring Griner home.”

In her letter of which excerpts were made public, the rest of the communique kept private by the communications firm representing the Griner family, the 31-year-old Griner who plays in Russia during the league’s off-season wrote:

“(As) I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever…”

“On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year,” Griner wrote to the president.

“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”

During Wednesday’s call the president read his response to Brittney’s letter to Cherelle Griner. The President offered his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and he committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home.

Today’s call follows recent calls that National Security Advisor Sullivan and Secretary of State Blinken have had with Cherelle in recent weeks and this past weekend. The President directed his national security team to remain in regular contact with Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and with other families of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, to keep them updated on efforts to secure the release of their loved ones as quickly as possible.

On Tuesday National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement:

“The President’s team is in regular contact with Brittney’s family and we will continue to work to support her family,” Watson said, adding that national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken “have spoken several times with Brittney’s wife in recent weeks and the White House is closely coordinating with the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, who has met with Brittney’s family, her teammates, and her support network.”

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner, — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood and other American diplomats attended the first day of Brittney Griner’s trial that began on July 1 in Moscow. Brittney Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if she is convicted. 

Additional reporting by Michael K. Lavers

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Missouri

Out Missouri candidate for local office campaign banner defaced with slur

If elected, Justice would become the first openly Out Jackson County Legislator, as well as the first Black representative of the district

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Photo Credit: Justice Horn/Twitter

KANSAS CITY – Over the July 4 holiday weekend an oversized campaign banner for community activist Justice Horn, who is running for the Jackson County Legislature, District 1, was vandalised with the homophobic slur ‘FAG.’

Horn, who announced his candidacy for Jackson County’s first district in May last year, tweeted Saturday about the vandalism:

Horn did not file a police report. In an interview with the Kansas City Star on Monday he said:

“I don’t know how much more blatantly that this was a hate crime. It was specifically targeted at me because of my sexual orientation.

“What bothers me the most is that it happened in broad daylight. They were so emboldened to do this. It was specifically a defacing to attack me not based on my policy or my candidacy but on me personally. It was the same as calling me the N-word.”

Horn was set to hold a press conference on Tuesday morning but prior to its scheduled time the banner was ripped down and stolen. Horn then tweeted:

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, a Washington D.C.-based group that supports LGBTQ+ candidates reacted in a statement sent out from its president & CEO Mayor Annise Parker:

“Recent anti-LGBTQ attacks from officials serving at the highest levels of government empower bigots across the country to espouse hate openly. The reality is that out LGBTQ candidates of color bear the brunt of much of this animus. We stand firmly with Justice and unequivocally condemn this homophobic attack. Hateful acts like this make it abundantly clear that progress is not linear and should never be taken for granted. This is a reminder for the LGBTQ community and our allies that the fight for equality is far from over and that we must enter this election with urgency and strength. The stakes could not be higher.”

If elected, Justice would become the first openly LGBTQ+ Jackson County Legislator, as well as the first Black representative of the first district. Justice is also of Pacific Islander and Native Blackfoot heritage.

Justice is a former Student Body President of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he recently graduated with his Bachelors of Business Administration. He rose to notoriety after his role in the Black Lives Matter movement in Kansas City as a lead organizer, which concluded with a list of demands recommitting the City to the safety of the public through police reform, signed by Mayor Quinton Lucas. This resulted in body cams for police officers, which has recently been put into practice, as well as elevating the issue of local control to a top state legislative priority.

Throughout the past year, Justice has been the author behind multiple pieces of legislation to pass out of city council, including the creation of the first LGBTQ+ Commission in the state. Subsequently, he authored the Trans Inclusive Healthcare resolution, which directs the City Manager to ensure health insurance contracts initiated by the City are inclusive of all gender identities to prevent discrimination.

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The White House

White House, Don’t Say Gay law: “This is discrimination, plain and simple”

“State officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves”

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (The White House)

WASHINGTON – The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement Friday as Florida’s notorious ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law took effect, saying “[…] state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.”

President Biden also tweeted about the law prior to leaving for Camp David to spend the July 4th holiday weekend, calling the law “the latest attempt by Republicans in state houses to target LGBTQI+ students, teachers, and families.”

In her statement, Jean-Pierre said:

“Today, some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families are more fearful and less free. As the state’s shameful “Don’t Say Gay” law takes effect, state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.

“Already, there have been reports that “Safe Space” stickers are being taken down from classrooms. Teachers are being instructed not to wear rainbow clothing. LGBTQI+ teachers are being told to take down family photos of their husbands and wives—cherished family photos like the ones on my own desk.

“This is not an issue of “parents’ rights.” This is discrimination, plain and simple. It’s part of a disturbing and dangerous nationwide trend of right-wing politicians cynically targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals to score political points.

“It encourages bullying and threatens students’ mental health, physical safety, and well-being. It censors dedicated teachers and educators who want to do the right thing and support their students. And it must stop.

“President Biden has been very clear that every student deserves to feel safe and welcome in the classroom.

“The Department of Education will be monitoring this law, and any student or parent who believes they are experiencing discrimination is encouraged to file a complaint with the Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

“Our Administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family—in Florida and around the country.”

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