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Supreme Court sets Nov. 4 to hear if Catholic agency can reject LGBTQ parents

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The Supreme Court has set Nov. 4 to hear whether a foster care agency can reject parents for being LGBTQ. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court has set Nov. 4 as the date when it will hear oral arguments on whether a taxpayer-funded, religious-affiliated foster care agency can lawfully reject same-sex couples — a case that could have significant impact on policies and laws prohibiting discrimination across the board.

The court on Wednesday designated the Nov. 4 date for the hearing on the docket for the litigation, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which was filed by Becket Law on behalf of Catholic Social Services. Justices had agreed to take up the case in February.

The case came about after the City of Philadelphia learned in March 2018 that Catholic Social Services, which the city had hired to provide foster care services to children in child welfare, were refusing to license same-sex couples despite signing a contract prohibiting agencies from engaging in anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

When the city said it would terminate the contract, Catholic Social Services sued on the basis it can maintain the contract and refuse placement into LGBTQ homes for religious reasons under the guarantee of free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.

Because the case is based on First Amendment claims, a decision in favor of Catholic Social Services, if granted on those grounds, may have implications on non-discrimination polices and laws across the board — whether at the local, state or federal level — based not just on sexual orientation and transgender status, but also race, religion, national origin, sex and any other protected characteristic.

That means religiously affilated agencies could legally refuse placing children into Black families or families of a minority religion. It’s not just foster care; civil rights laws for employment, housing and health care would also be compromised. Although the Supreme Court ruled in favor of LGBTQ rights in Bostock v. Clayton County, a decision in favor of Catholic Social Services would undermine that in the name of religious freedom.

The case history hasn’t been favorable to Catholic Social Services. A federal judge in Pennsylvania and the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied a preliminary injunction in favor of Catholic Social Services. The Third Circuit, which declined to revisit the case “en banc” before the full court, based its decision in part on the 1990 ruling in Employment Division v. Smith.

But in the aftermath of President Trump restructuring the Supreme Court with the appointments of U.S. Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, there’s no telling how the court might rule.

Although the Supreme Court had rejected injunctive relief to the foster care agency in response to an emergency request, Gorsuch as well as U.S. Associate Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas signaled they would have ruled for Catholic Social Services — before any briefing had even taken place in case.

The Trump administration, in the form of a legal brief in June from former U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, argued before the Supreme Court the City of Philadelphia “impermissibly discriminated against religious exercise” by requiring Catholic Social Services to abide by its contract.

However, the Justice Department brief heavily relies on the Supreme Court decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which was a narrow ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple, in an apparent attempt to link the issues to Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia and avoid a wide-ranging ruling applicable to other scenarios that may compromise the U.S. government’s authority in making contracts.

Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall has made a formal appeal before the Supreme Court for time for the U.S. government to participate in oral arguments. Although justices haven’t yet responded to the request, they’re likely to allow the acting solicitor general to participate given the federal implications of the case.

Philadelphia City Solicitor Marcel Pratt, in a brief before the Supreme Court signed by her and other attorneys, argues the city “acted within broad scope of its managerial authority” by requiring Catholic Social Services to abide by its non-discrimination rules.

“[Catholic Social Services] may resume certifying foster parents for the City at any time,” the brief says. “The City “strong[ly] desire[s]” that it will do so. But the Constitution does not entitle CSS to perform those services on the City’s behalf, with City funds, pursuant to a City contract, in a manner that the City has determined would be harmful to its residents and the thousands of children it has a duty to protect.”

Becket Law, in its brief filed in May before the Supreme Court, maintained the City of Philadelphia targeted the foster care agency in violation of the First Amendment “under any standard,” but takes pains to make the case the city didn’t take the right administrative procedure before cutting off Catholic Social Services.

“In its rush to penalize this religious exercise, the City failed to figure out whether CSS actually violated any law, much less a neutral, generally applicable one,” the brief says. “Instead of a law, Philadelphia had a preferred outcome: the Archdiocese of Philadelphia should get with the times, accept that it is ‘not 100 years ago,’ and start endorsing same-sex relationships for foster care.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has intervened in the case, argues in a brief filed last week the City of Philadelphia’s contract applies to “all contractors, both religious or secular,” therefore should survive judicial review even under a higher level of scrutiny.

“The requirement imposes no substantial burden on CSS,” the brief says. “It does not require CSS to endorse any same-sex marriages, but merely to certify that families meet Pennsylvania’s statutory criteria.”

The Supreme Court announced the date for oral arguments on the same day the House Ways & Means Committee issued a report on the waiver the Trump administration gave to South Carolina from non-discrimination rules on federal funding. The request was based on Miracle Hill Ministries seeking to place children consistent with its religious beliefs.

The committee report, titled “Children at Risk: The Trump Administration’s Waiver of Foster Care Non-Discrimination Requirements,” found the Department of Health & Human Services permitted discrimination within the child welfare system based on religion and sexual orientation and failed to recognize its negative impact on LGBTQ families. Further, the report found the Trump administration didn’t consult policy experts on the decision and instead relied on political appointees.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article characterized Catholic Social Services as an adoption agency. The Blade regrets the error.

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Tennessee

Tennessee 7th grader kills himself after anti-LGBTQ+ bullying

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Eli Fritchley via 'Justice for Eli We Must Stop the Bullying' GoFundme page

SHELBYVILLE, Tn. –  A 12-year-old boy took his own life after enduring apparent months of what his family and others labeled ugly vitriolic anti-LGBTQ bullying and abuse.

Eli Fritchley, a seventh-grader at Cascades Middle school located in Wartrace in Bedford County, was found on Sunday night, November 28th, 2021, by his mother who walked into her son’s bedroom and discovered his lifeless body.

In an emotional interview with Nashville ABC news affiliate WKRN 2‘s reporter Stephanie Langston, Fritchley’s parents described him “as a peaceful soul who wasn’t afraid to be himself.”

“He didn’t care, or at least we thought he didn’t care, and that’s what’s really difficult for us because we thought he didn’t care,” his parents said as they teared up.

Eli painted his nails, loved the color pink and wore the same SpongeBob sweatshirt nearly every day.

“I think probably because he was in the same clothes every single day that they used that as a weapon,” his mom Debbey explained, saying he loved doing the laundry and cleaning his clothes every day.

His parents told Langston that their son was not accepted by his peer group at the school.

“He was told because he didn’t necessarily have a religion and that he said he was gay that he was going to go to Hell. They told him that quite often,” said Debbey.

His parents heard his cries but didn’t realize the extent of the pain that the youth was experiencing adding that their son never blamed anyone.

“It was really abusive. I don’t think it was ever physical. I think it was just words, but words hurt. They really hurt,” said his father Steve.

“This has just blindsided us. This is something we would have never, ever expected,” his mother added. “That’s been really hard. That image was terrible until we got to hold him yesterday. Now that image is gone, because the only thing we could think of yesterday when we were kissing and loving on him was how angelic he looked. He absolutely looked angelic. He’s just an angel,” she cried adding, “We all failed him. We all failed him. It’s as simple as that.”

The parents told Langston that they are determined to stop bullying adding that they hope raising awareness will ensure that other kids or their parents goes through the heartache they are experiencing.

“I honestly think education, education, education for everyone where bullying is concerned because it is a problem, not just in Bedford County. It’s a problem everywhere,” they said.

According to WKRN 2, “the Fritchleys were regulars at Penalties Sports Bar & Grill in Shelbyville. The owners of the restaurant, Rob and Shondelle Lewis, say they are like family and they are heartbroken over the loss of Eli. In an effort to help, they created a Gofundme as the Fritchleys are looking to start a foundation to bring awareness and help educate people about bullying and suicide awareness.”

I hope and pray, this unfortunate event we are going to make something of it. We’ve got to. We are going to come up with some sort of antibullying program through this Gofundme page where I pray to God this will not happen again,” said Rob.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health examined depression and suicide risk among LGBTQ youth from rural areas and small towns compared to urban and suburban areas.

The Key Finding was that nearly half of LGBTQ youth in rural areas and small towns reported that their community was somewhat or very unaccepting of LGBTQ people compared to just over a quarter of those in urban and suburban areas. The data also shows that LGBTQ youth living in rural areas and small towns had slightly greater odds of depression and attempting suicide.

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Bedford County parents grieve son bullied before suicide

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New York

New York man arrested for threatening mass shootings of LGBTQ+ people

Defendant allegedly threatened bombings and mass shooting that would make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub Attack “Look Like a Cakewalk”

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World Pride, New York City June 29, 2019 (Photo by Andrew Nasonov)

CENTRAL ISLIP, Ny. – Agents from the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested and charged on Monday a Long Island man on a warrant issued by United States Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke for mailing letters threatening to assault, shoot, and bomb LGBTQ+ affiliated individuals, organizations, and businesses. 

According to Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, of the FBI New York Field Office, who announced the arrest, Robert Fehring, 74, a resident of Bayport, New York on Long Island, since at least 2013, had been sending individuals associated with the LGBTQ+ community letters in which he threatened violence, including threatening the use of firearms and explosives. 

In the criminal complaint and affidavit for arrest, federal prosecutors allege that one letter threatened that there would “be radio-cont[r]olled devices placed at numerous strategic places” at the 2021 New York City Pride March with “firepower” that would “make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting look like a cakewalk,” referencing the 2016 attack in which 49 persons were killed and dozens wounded at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

“As alleged, the defendant’s hate-filled invective and threats of violence directed at members of the LGBTQ+ community have no place in our society and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” stated Peace.  “This Office is firmly committed to protecting the civil rights of all members of every community in this district, including the LGBTQ+ community and other minority communities.”

Fehring is also alleged to have a sent a letter threatening the organizer of a June 2021 Pride event in East Meadow, New York, which stated:

“[W]e were right there you…FREAK!!!  They couldn’t get a shot off at you, slithering around the back stage area like a snake.  Too many cops.  Very disappointed.  But your time has come. . .. They are out to KILL you….and your boyfriend.  You are being watched.  No matter how long it takes, you will be taken out…. high-powered bullet…. bomb….knife…. whatever it takes.”

On November 18, 2021, members of the FBI’s Civil Rights Squad and the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force executed a search warrant at Fehring’s home in Bayport, New York, and recovered photographs from a June 2021 Pride event in East Meadow, New York, two loaded shotguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, two stun guns, and a stamped envelope addressed to an LGBTQ+ affiliated attorney containing the remains of a dead bird. 

“Fehring’s alleged threats to members of the LGBTQ+ community were not only appalling, but dangerous, despite the fact he hadn’t yet acted on his purported intentions,” stated Driscoll.  “As the primary federal agency responsible for investigating civil rights violations, the FBI takes all threats of this nature seriously.” 

The New York Executive Director of NYC PRIDE Sandra Pérez told the Blade in an emailed statement; “We take any and all violent threats seriously and report them to the appropriate authorities. We received threatening letters earlier this year and reported them. We appreciate the work of the Justice Department in investigating this situation. We are cooperating in any way we can, and we remain committed to the safety and well-being of the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Gay City News editor  Matt Tracy reported that Fehring appeared in court on December 6 before Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke and was released on $100,000 bond. He is restricted to home detention with location monitoring, according to prosecutors. He is not allowed to have any firearms or “destructive devices,” is barred from contacting any of his alleged victims, and cannot go to the places he is said to have targeted.

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Kentucky

Another Trans person confirmed murdered this year- USAF vet & Mother

Her friends will always remember her infectious personality & her unmistakable laugh. She loved others passionately and fiercely

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Cris Blehar, (Family Photo)

MEADE COUNTY, Ky. – Another Trans person has been confirmed murdered this year bringing the deadly total to 49 deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2021 according to a tally kept by the Human Rights Campaign.

Cris Blehar, a 65-year-old white transgender woman, mother, and U.S. Air Force veteran, was discovered stabbed and shot to death by Meade County sheriff’s deputies who had responded to her rural home on Woodland Road in the Flaherty area. Deputies had been dispatched to perform a welfare check from an unidentified person concerned about Blehar.

The Elizabethtown, Kentucky, News-Enterprise newspaper reported that the Kentucky State Police had made an arrest in the case only a few hours after Blehar’s body was found of Vine Grove resident Tyler J. Petty, 18.

Tyler J. Petty, 18
(Mugshot: Meade County Sheriff’s Department)

“There was no relationship between the victim and the suspect. We believe he worked for her,” said Kentucky State Police Trooper Nicholas Hale in an email to the News-Enterprise. Petty was arrested and brought to KSP Post 4 and was interviewed about the case. Police say he admitted to killing Blehar. A trial date has been set for June 2022.

The murder in this rural area about an hour Southwest of Louisville on May 19, 2021, was brought to the attention of the Human Rights Campaign this week when Blehar’s cousin Mark Stephens contacted HRC to ensure that she was “remembered, honored, and counted” as a member of the transgender community. 

In a statement to HRC, Mark Stephens said;

“If there is one thing to know about Cris, it was that she fought fiercely to define her life as SHE wanted. Whether it was her military service, her 20+ year career in the airline industry, or her post retirement decision to buy a farm & start a family of her own. She lived life to the fullest and wanted everyone around her to live their best life as well. Growing up ‘different’ in Kentucky is certainly no easy task, something we shared in addition to being cousins, and she tackled it with the passion and zeal that only she could have. Her friends will always remember her infectious personality & her unmistakable laugh. She loved others passionately and fiercely, none more than her own son, Maverick.”

Blehar’s son Maverick Thompson paid tribute to her, writing:

“Cris was an amazing mother and a wonderful person. She had so much love and brought a smile to many. She had a hilarious sense of humor that will live on through those that knew her. She will be sorely missed!”

According to her obituary, Blehar was a former law enforcement officer in the U.S. Air Force and retired from United/Continental Airlines. She also worked as an Uber driver and loved animals and bowling.

HRC has officially recorded 49 deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2021, more than in any year since we began tracking this violence in 2013.

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