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Federal Appeals Court voids ban on Conversion Therapy

Plaintiffs were represented by vehemently anti-LGBTQ Mat Staver

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Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Court of Appeals Building, Atlanta, Georgia (Photo: U.S. Government)

ATLANTA – The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision Friday, voided a pair of local ordinances that were passed by the city of Boca Raton, Florida and surrounding Palm Beach County that prohibited therapists from offering so-called conversion therapy to minors struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In its ruling the court held that the bans were unconstitutional violating First Amendment rights on content-cased speech and religious freedoms.

The suit had been brought by two therapists that the ordinances targeted prohibiting them as well as other licensed counselors from performing gay conversion therapy on minors. They were represented by vehemently anti-LGBTQ Mat Staver, founder of Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, a law firm that seeks out legislation or regulatory mandates which uphold LGBTQ rights and challenges them in courts across the United States to overturn them.

Robert Otto and Julie Hamilton, who have engaged in conversion therapy with minors in Florida despite warnings against the practice, had challenged the municipal ordinances in the litigation.

Reporting on the lawsuit, Courthouse News this past February noted that the Palm Beach county regulation provides for a fine of $250 for performing conversion therapy on a minor, with a $500 fine for each additional violation. The laws define conversion therapy as the practice of attempting to change a patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

In court filings Staver argued that the clients of the two therapists claimed that those persons they counseled had expressed “sincerely held religious beliefs conflicting with homosexuality,” and sought counseling to conform their identities and behaviors with those beliefs.

A federal judge in Miami had ruled that the “plaintiffs have not met their burden of showing that the ordinances violate the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

In the special hearing before the three judge panel of the 11th Circuit last February, the therapists fought to dispel the notion that they were engaged in aggressive attempts to change patients’ sexual identity. Staver argued that the counselors used neither shaming nor punishment, instead relying solely on conversation as therapy.

Leading mental health professional organizations, the American Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Associations are opposed to what both have termed “the damaging effects of conversion therapy.” 

“There is no evidence that it is helpful and plenty of evidence that it is psychologically harmful to participants.  The practice must be banned in order to protect the mental and emotional well being of both children and adults,” a spokesperson for the American Pediatrics Association told the Blade. “It can be reasonably argued that members of the LGBTQ community experience suicide and assault at greater rates than the general population, in part, due to the continued authorization of conversion therapy.”

“The archaic idea that mental health providers can or should change someone’s gender expression or gender identity or their sexual orientation is based on a history of stigmatization and subjective, restrictive sexual identities. It increases the risk of suicide of our LGBTQ children from trauma via conversion therapy,” Dr. Katya Dobrynin told the Blade.

Staver hailed the decision against bans on conversion therapy in a statement as a win for free speech and predicting similar rulings would follow the Blade’s Chris Johnson reported.

“This is a huge victory for counselors and their clients to choose the counsel of their choice free of political censorship from government ideologues,” Staver said. “This case is the beginning of the end of similar unconstitutional counseling bans around the country.”

Representative Ted W. Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) who authored the first ban on youth conversion therapy in the nation as a California State Senator and who introduced proposed legislation for federal bans in Congress told the Blade in an emailed statement;

“I am disappointed and dismayed at this court decision. It’s wrong on the facts. Banning conversion therapy doesn’t concern free speech – it’s about fraud. Conversion therapy peddles treatments for an ailment that doesn’t exist. There is nothing wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or queer. Suggesting someone can sell a “cure” to being LGBTQ+ is harmful and dishonest.”

In an email Friday, Palm Beach County Attorney Helene Hvizd told the Blade; “Palm Beach County continues to review the majority and dissenting opinions as we weigh our options.”   

Jamie Cole, a partner with Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman P.L. and co-counsel for the City of Boca Raton, said via email to the Blade the legal team is weighing its next steps.

“This is a difficult legal issue, as evidenced by the split decision,” Cole said. “The city is disappointed with the majority decision, but agrees with the well-written  and well-reasoned dissent. The city is analyzing the decision to determine how to proceed.”

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, discouraged via email to the Blade any attempt to call for resolution of the issue before Supreme Court, which now has a 6-3 conservative majority as a result of Trump-appointed picks.

“I do not think this issue is ripe for Supreme Court review,” Minter said. “Today’s ruling is an outlier by two Trump-appointed judges. As the dissent points out, the decision is not well grounded in precedent and ignores what the dissent rightly describes as a “mountain of rigorous evidence” that conversion therapy puts minors at risk of serious harms.”

Minter urged the municipalities to take another course of action, saying “because the majority opinion here is so off track, seeking en banc review would be more appropriate than seeking Supreme Court review.”

The Eleventh Circuit decision creates a split among circuit courts on the constitutionality of bans on conversion therapy. The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have previously upheld these bans as constitutional.

The spilt among the circuit courts on the issue may prompt the Supreme Court to take it up to resolve the constitutional issue on a nationwide basis — provided the municipalities submit a petition for review.

Both appellate judges in the majority of Friday’s ruling were appointed to the bench by President Trump, while the dissenting judge was appointed by President Obama.

Link to the ruling is here.

Additional reporting by Chris Johnson

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U.S. Federal Courts

Senator Wiener’s Net Neutrality law is upheld by Federal appeals court

Supporters of the California law were enthusiastic over the 9th Circuit’s decision including the current Chair of the FCC

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

SAN FRANCISCO – In a unanimous decision Friday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit published a ruling upholding SB 822, California’s Net Neutrality law. Out State Senator Scott Wiener, (D-SF) authored SB 822 in 2018, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law. It has undergone multiple legal attacks from the telecom and cable industries and from the Trump Administration. 

“Today marks a huge win for a free and open internet. California’s Net Neutrality law was enacted in 2018, and remains the strongest in the nation. This is a victory for everyone who uses the internet – who needs it for work, school, or simply connecting with family and friends. Given the importance of the internet in our society – now more than ever – this is a landmark day for our state,” Wiener said in a statement released by his office.

During oral arguments from the telecom and cable industries before a panel of the 9th Circuit, their lawyers appealed a decision from February of 2021 where a U.S. District Court judge denied their request to issue a preliminary injunction against the law.

Tech reporter Andrew Wyrich writing for The Daily Dot noted at the time:

A federal judge denied a request by groups representing internet service providers (ISPs) on Tuesday to issue a preliminary injunction against California’s net neutrality law.

Lawyers for both California and the trade groups went back-and-forth before Judge John A. Mendez on Tuesday, arguing both for and against the state’s law, which has been hailed as the “gold standard” for states to follow because it goes further than the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 Open Internet Order, which established net neutrality rules.

While the Department of Justice (DOJ) withdrew from its lawsuit challenging California’s law earlier in February, the trade groups continued its lawsuit. The DOJ filed a lawsuit against California over the law in 2018 during the Trump administration.

Supporters of the California law were enthusiastic over the 9th Circuit’s decision including the current Chair of the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, who tweeted; “When the last Administration rolled back #NetNeutrality rules, states stepped into the void and put in place their own policies. Today the 9th Circuit upholds California’s effort. It’s good news. I support Net Neutrality and we need once again to make it the law of the land.”

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Florida

Florida school district removes 16 books after complaints

The decision came after the County Citizens Defending Freedom, an ultra-conservative, Christian group, complained about the book

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Screenshot via WFLA NBC 8 Tampa

BARTOW, Fl. – Polk County Public Schools (PCPS) Superintendent Frederick Heid asked middle and high schools in the Florida county to remove 16 books, many of which deal with LGBTQ themes or racism, from libraries after a conservative political group complained that they contained pornographic materials. 

The Lakeland Ledger reported that Heid sent an email Monday to middle and high school principals and librarians that said a “stakeholder group” alleged that the books violate a Florida law banning the distribution of obscene or harmful materials to children. 

“While it is not the role of my office to approve/evaluate instructional or resource materials at that level, I do have an obligation to review any allegation that a crime is being or has been committed,” Heid wrote. “It is also my obligation to provide safeguards to protect our employees. The district will be taking the following steps to ensure that we address this issue honestly, fairly, and transparently.” 

In an email, PCPS spokesperson Jason Geary said the books had been placed “in quarantine,” according to the newspaper. 

“It is important to note that these 16 books have NOT been censored or banned at this time,” he said. “They have been removed so a thorough, thoughtful review of their content can take place.” 

Geary added that the “process is traditionally done at the individual school level. However, copies of some of the named titles are currently housed in multiple secondary school media centers, so this review will be conducted at the district level. It is important to note that these books will not be available during this period of review.”

The decision comes after the County Citizens Defending Freedom (CCDF-USA), an ultra-conservative, Christain group, complained to Heid about the books. 

“CCDF-USA believes the content within the pages of these books is not appropriate for distribution to minors, especially in a public-school library,” read a statement from the group responding to articles by the Ledger and LkldNow

As listed by the Ledger, the books are: 

“Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan

“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini 

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer 

 “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher 

“The Vincent Boys” by Abbi Glines 

“It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley

“Real Live Boyfriends” by E. Lockhart 

 “George” by Alex Gino 

“I am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

“Drama” by Raina Telgemeier

“Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult

“More Happy Than Not” by Adam Silvera

“Beloved” by Toni Morrison 

“The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison 

“Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins

“Almost Perfect” by Brian Katcher

Many of the above books – including “I am Jazz,” “Two Boys Kissing” and “It’s Perfectly Normal” – deal with LGBTQ themes and characters. In addition, Toni Morrison, included twice on the list, is a world-renowned author whose award-winning books deal with racism. 

In its statement, the CCDF-USA acknowledged that the books “have been written by award-winning authors and produced by renowned publishers.” However, “the issue at hand is the content of the books in question describing in graphic detail several sensitive topics including sexual assault, rape, failure to address mental illness as a cause of suicide, racism, incest, child molestation, offensive language, sexually explicit material, bestiality, necrophilia, infanticide, and violence,” the group wrote. 

The news comes as Florida’s state legislature is pushing through a bill that critics say would simply empower homophobic parents to challenge reading materials that contain affirming LGBTQ+ characters or content.

“The authoritarian march toward DeSantis’ Surveillance State of Florida continues as GOP leaders hijack an unrelated bill to try and force costly book banning onto Floridians,” Equality Florida Press Secretary Brandon J. Wolf told the Blade in an email. “We should be using state funding to fill our public schools’ bookshelves with resources to expand the knowledge and wonder of our youth, not emptying them out through government censorship.”

Conservatives across the country are attempting to ban books in schools that deal with LGBTQ issues and racism. 

Last December, the American Library Association (ALA) announced that it had documented 155 separate incidents of efforts to remove or ban books by or about LGBTQ+ and Black people since June 2021.

The ALA noted that the groups and people trying to ban such books “falsely [claim] that these works are subversive, immoral, or worse, these groups induce elected and non-elected officials to abandon constitutional principles, ignore the rule of law, and disregard individual rights to promote government censorship of library collections.”

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Indiana

Indiana anti-Trans sports bill passes House

If passed Indiana would become the 11th state to ban Trans students from playing sports in accordance with their gender identity

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Indiana State Capitol building (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers in Indiana’s House voted Thursday to advance a bill that would ban Trans women and girls from participating in K-12 school sports that align with their gender identity. 

House Bill 1041, which passed the Republican-dominated House by a 66-30 vote, takes aim at Trans women and girls but does not prevent trans men from playing on men’s sports teams. 

Initially, the bill would have also banned trans women from playing sports at a collegiate level, but a Monday amendment took out language regarding post-secondary institutions. 

The legislation now heads to the state Senate, which is also controlled by conservatives. 

The bill cleared the House Thursday, even as Democratic lawmakers and LGBTQ+ advocates in the state denounced the measure as unconstitutional and transphobic. 

“This bill is not only unconstitutional, it sends a cruel message to vulnerable trans kids that they are not welcome or accepted in their communities,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana, adding that it “will continue to fight every day to ensure this discriminatory ban never sees the light of day.”

Indiana Democrats made similar arguments during Thursday’s brief debate on the bill, adding that the Indiana High School Athletic Association already has a policy in place surrounding trans participation in sports. The rules require that Trans girls complete “a minimum of one year of hormone treatment related to gender transition” or undergo “a medically confirmed gender reassignment procedure.”

“When we pass laws on issues like this, we are usually trying to put an end to discrimination,” said state Rep. Tonya Pfaff (D-43). “This law puts discrimination into Indiana law.”

State Rep. Matt Pierce (D-61) contended that the proposal was a waste of time and that Republicans were hypocritical for believing in small government and introducing this legislation. “Well, what are you doing with this bill?” he asked his colleagues. 

Proponents of the bill argue it is about “protecting” the integrity in women’s sports, seeing Trans people as having an “unfair” advantage over cisgender peers. 

“I know from experience that female athletes deserve fair competition and an even playing field, and this bill ensures just that — a fair opportunity,” said state Rep. Michelle Davis (R-58), who authored the legislation. 

The Associated Press reported that Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-37) said Republican senators hadn’t yet discussed whether they would take up the House proposal. 

“It’s a fairness for young ladies who are trying to compete and, at least to some folks, it doesn’t feel fair if you allow somebody who at least started out as a male to go in and compete with them in the same sport, so that’s an issue that has some folks’ interest over here,” he said.

If passed, Indiana would become the 11th state in the country to ban Trans students from playing sports in accordance with their gender identity. However, the Movement Advancement project notes that temporary injunctions block enforcement of such bans in two states: Idaho and West Virginia. 

The ACLU of Indiana has maintained that it will file a lawsuit if the bill is signed into law.

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