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Lambda Legal, ACLU, and ACLU of Alabama to Challenge State Ban on Gender-Affirming Care for Trans Youth

The bills are an effort to block potentially lifesaving health care for transgender young people

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Alabama State Capitol Building (Photo Credit: State of Alabama)

MONTGOMERY, AL. – In a joint statement released Wednesday afternoon, Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Alabama, and Cooley LLP announced their plans to file a legal challenge to proposed legislation in Alabama that, as currently written, would criminalize medical professionals who provide gender-affirming care to transgender youth with up to 10 years in prison.

The bills are an effort to block potentially lifesaving health care for transgender young people. With the legislative session soon coming to a close, SB10 is one of several bills the House is still considering, and if passed would come on the heels of another anti-trans bill, HB391, which Governor Kay Ivey signed into law.

“The proposed legislation is unconstitutional in multiple respects, as we will forcefully argue in court,” said Kathleen Hartnett of Cooley LLP. 

Two companion bills, House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 10, are pending in the Alabama Legislature. Both bills would criminalize doctors or medical professionals who provide gender-affirming care to transgender youth under 19 years, carrying severe criminal penalties that could result in fines and even require jail time.

“If Alabama lawmakers insist on passing this cruel, dangerous, and unconstitutional legislation into law, the state will immediately have a lawsuit to deal with,” said Carl Charles, staff attorney for Lambda Legal. “The Alabama Legislature and Governor Kay Ivey need to consider the time and resources they will invest, not to mention the stain of discrimination that often means lost opportunity and investment and ask themselves if targeting the health care of children is truly worth it because we are prepared to make that investment in order to protect transgender youth, their families, and their doctors, in Alabama.”

The bills as drafted are also so broad that they can be read to include criminal penalties for parents and guardians who support transgender young people. SB10 is on the House calendar for this Thursday, and if passed, would come less than a week after Governor Kay Ivey signed another anti-trans bill HB391 into law.

“If passed and signed into law, Alabama will have the most deadly, sweeping and hostile law targeting transgender people in the country,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice with the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “Science and medicine are clear: That the way to reduce harm to trans youth is to provide them with gender-affirming health care where it is medically indicated. This bill takes that life-saving treatment option off the table and makes it a felony. Moving forward with this bill will be deadly for trans youth, push doctors out of a state that has a shortage of medical providers, hurt Alabama’s economy, and subject the state to costly litigation.”

Medical organizations and doctors have consistently opposed these bills. Studies consistently show that transgender children who receive gender-affirming care such as puberty-delaying medication, hormones, or both when they are young have better mental health outcomes and report fewer cases of depression, self-harm, and suicide or attempted suicide.

“The Alabama Legislature has been down this road before, wasting taxpayer time and money to pass unconstitutional bills that they know will get taken to court. This year seems to be no different,” said Kaitlin Welborn, staff attorney for ACLU of Alabama. “Transgender youth have the constitutional right to access necessary healthcare, just like everyone else. If the state tries to take that healthcare away, we’ll see them in court.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

U.S. Federal Judge tosses Florida “Don’t Say Gay” lawsuit

The judge also ruled the law should not be used to treat LGBTQ students differently or to fail to step in when they face bullying

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Zander Moricz (R) a plaintiff in the lawsuit over 'Don't Say Gay' law, at Sarasota Pride 2022 (Photo Credit: Zander Moricz)

GAINESVILLE, Fl. – U.S. District Court Judge Allen Cothrel Winsor dismissed a lawsuit Monday against Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay law,” on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to challenge the law. 

Winsor, a judge on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida nominated by former President Donald Trump,  issued a 25-page order dismissing the case brought by students, families, educators, Family Equality, and Equality Florida, against the “Parental Rights in Education” bill passed in March of this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The lawsuit alleged, in part, that the law violated First Amendment and due-process rights. It reads, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

In his ruling, Winsor left open the question on the constitutionality instead focusing on whether the plaintiffs showed they had standing to pursue the case — and concluded that they had not met that requirement.

“The principal problem is that most of plaintiffs’ alleged harm is not plausibly tied to the law’s enforcement so much as the law’s very existence,” Winsor wrote. “Plaintiffs contend the law’s passage, the sentiment behind it, the legislators’ motivation, and the message the law conveys all cause them harm. But no injunction can unwind any of that.”

The judge also pointed out that violations of the law would be enforced against school districts, not individual teachers.

“With or without the law, school districts direct teachers as to what they may and may not teach,” he noted. “Plaintiffs do not allege otherwise; they do not assert, for example, that Florida’s public-school teachers may teach whatever lessons they wish. So to the extent plaintiffs allege that some teachers or others wish to provide ‘classroom instruction . . . on sexual orientation or gender identity’ to students ‘in kindergarten through grade 3,’ they would have to show (at a minimum) that without the law their individual school district would allow it. Yet plaintiffs offer no specific allegation that any teacher would be providing such classroom instruction absent HB 1577.”

Winsor gave the plaintiffs 14 days to file a revised lawsuit but also took the state to task. He stated that “nothing in the law—much less in its conceivable enforcement—could ’empower’ other students to do anything they could not otherwise do with respect to treating LGBTQ students differently.”

The judge also spelled out that the law should not be used to silence students from talking about their LGBTQ parents, to silence LGBTQ teachers from acknowledging their partners, or to exclude LGBTQ parents from school events.  And that it should not be used to treat LGBTQ students differently, to fail to step in when they face bullying, or to remove signs of support like rainbow flags from classrooms. 

In a June motion to dismiss the case, the state’s lawyers argued that the plaintiffs did not have standing. But they also wrote that the plaintiffs “have not come close to showing that the Legislature acted out of animus against LGBTQ individuals.”

“The bill reflects no governmental preference about what students should learn about sexual orientation and gender identity,” the state’s lawyers wrote. “Those subjects must be taught appropriately and, for the youngest children, they may be taught by parents, not in public-school classroom settings. That is a legitimate (state) interest.”

In a statement released after the ruling from Winsor, Equality Florida wrote:

“Judge Winsor acknowledges what has been clear from the beginning: that in DeSantis’s Florida, the political climate is so toxic for LGBTQ people that school districts are actively abdicating their responsibilities, choosing instead to capitulate to extremists and the toxic anti-LGBTQ brew they have created rather than adhere to the letter of the law.

This fight is not done. We will continue to expose the harm that Florida’s Don’t Say LGBTQ law is inflicting on children and families.  A court decision doesn’t negate that harm. This ruling focuses on whether the parents, students or organization were the right plaintiffs to bring it forward. Equality Florida made a commitment to fight to ensure every student is protected and every family is respected, and that’s exactly what we intend to do through any means necessary.”

The lead attorney for the plaintiffs who are represented by Kaplan Hecker & Fink, LLP; the National Center for Lesbian Rights; and Elizabeth F. Schwartz said in an emailed statement:

“While we are currently assessing our options, one thing we can promise for sure is that we will not give up this fight on behalf of all the Florida LGBTQ+ kids, parents, and teachers who this law literally seeks to erase from their schools and communities,” said Roberta “Robbie” Kaplan.

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Illinois

ACLU sent letters rejecting lawsuit threats by anti-LGBTQ group

Awake Illinois has repeatedly used hostile epithets against those they disagree with, labeling them “groomers,” “hateful,” and “perverts”

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Awake Illinois advert soliciting for new members (Screenshot/YouTube)

CHICAGO – The ACLU of Illinois has authored letters to a homophobic and transphobic group that threatened two residents, who have posted online their opposition to the organization and its anti-LGBTQ+ agenda, with defamation lawsuits.

Maggie Romanovich of Wheaton and Kylie Spahn of Downers Grove received letters from leaders of Awake Illinois in early September suggesting that Awake would file a defamation lawsuit against them if they did not “cease and desist” from such criticism and remove existing online posts. 

The anti-LGBTQ+ far-right extremist group has urged removal of LGBTQ inclusive books and cancellation of drag events in the suburbs. The group and it’s members consistently use harsh and offensive language against others to advance their interests, and now are trying to suppress their critics.

Awake Illinois officials have repeatedly used hostile epithets against those they disagree with, labeling them “groomers,” “hateful,” and “perverts.” Yet in the instance of the letters to Romanovich and Spahn, the ACLU of Illinois says Awake seeks to curb the speech of others. 

The ACLU of Illinois letters to Awake Illinois on behalf of Romanovich and Spahn reject the threatened lawsuits as groundless, noting that all of the material cited by Awake Illinois is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

“These letters from Awake Illinois are empty threats with zero legal basis,” said Rebecca Glenberg, senior supervising attorney at the ACLU of Illinois who signed the letters. “Awake Illinois and its members consistently use harsh and often offensive language directed against others to advance their interests, but now feign injury when our clients express strong feelings against them.”

“If they think these letters will stop our clients or others from speaking out against what they see as a dangerous agenda, they are wrong.” 

Awake Illinois’ letter to Romanovich referred to her letter to the editor printed in the Daily Herald, which criticized a congressional candidate for his connection to Awake Illinois, opining that the group is appalling, extremist, homophobic, racially insensitive and otherwise objectionable.  Such opinions are constitutionally protected and cannot be the basis of a defamation lawsuit, the ACLU of Illinois wrote. 

The action comes shortly after a Member of Congress revealed that he had received a similar “cease and desist” letter from Awake Illinois. In mid-September, the Chicago Tribune reported that Awake Illinois sent the letter to Representative Sean Casten, a vocal critic of the group.  Like Romanovich and Spahn, Casten rejected the group’s threats of a lawsuit. 

“Our Constitution allows groups like Awake Illinois to express their views in the public square like anyone else. But they may not use the courts to suppress the views of others,” Glenberg noted. 

You can read the letters to Awake Illinois on behalf of Romanovich and Spahn here and here.

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Federal Government

Health care orgs ask Feds investigate trans healthcare threats

The groups also call on Twitter, TikTok and Meta-Facebook and Instagram, to do more to prevent coordinated campaigns of disinformation

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Robert F. Kennedy U.S. Dept. of Justice Building, Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: GSA/DoJ)

CHICAGO – In a letter sent Monday to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, the American Medical Association joined with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and Children’s Hospital Association asking the Department of Justice investigate [the] increasing “threats of violence against physicians, hospitals and families of children for providing and seeking evidence-based gender-affirming care.”

The AAP and AMA collectively represent more than 270,000 physicians and medical students and CHA represents more than 220 children’s hospitals across the country. The groups wrote to Garland urging “swift action to investigate and prosecute all organizations, individuals, and entities responsible.”

The AMA letter highlighted one instance where a mother was prevented from seeing her newborn premature infant because the NICU was locked down due to a bomb threat. These attacks on children’s hospitals have effects on so many people who aren’t even involved in gender affirming care.

Attacks on American hospitals providing trans healthcare, especially those with clinics treating trans youth have been targeted by anti-Trans extremists led by the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh and Brooklyn, New York-based Chaya Raichik, a former real estate agent whose ‘Libs of Tik-Tok’ have spread misinformation and lies about gender-affirming surgery which has fostered attacks on those healthcare facilities by far-right extremist elements.

“Whether it’s newborns receiving intensive care, children getting cancer treatments or families accessing compassionate care for their transgender adolescents, all patients seeking treatment deserve to get the care they need without fear for their personal safety,” wrote AAP President Moira Szilagyi, MD, PhD, FAAP. “We cannot stand by as threats of violence against our members and their patients proliferate with little consequence. We call on the Department of Justice to investigate these attacks and social media platforms to reduce the spread of the misinformation enabling them.”

In addition to the letter to the Department of Justice, the groups call on Twitter, TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, to do more to prevent coordinated campaigns of disinformation. The organizations ask the platforms to take bolder action when false information is shared about specific institutions and physicians. They also urge social media companies to enforce safety and hateful conduct policies to stop the endangerment of patients, families, physicians and health care staff.

Raichik who has been suspended from Facebook and also Twitter for inflammatory lies and propaganda about Trans youth healthcare, pledged to redouble her attacks on hospitals providing trans people with health care, she wrote in a rant on her Substack in which she called gender-affirming care “mutilating the body.” 

Libs of TikTok has reportedly been suspended multiple times on multiple platforms, including InstagramFacebook, and Twitter. Raichik’s last Twitter suspension came for accusing LGBTQ people of “grooming” children, which Twitter confirmed violates its policies against hateful conduct.

Today as her latest suspension was lifted by Twitter, Raichik attacked the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Maine as documented on Twitter by Alejandra Caraballo, Clinical Instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic.

Just this past week, inspired by the Daily Wire’s Walsh, Tennessee lawmakers and Governor Bill Lee who provided Walsh with a statement, sent a letter Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Pediatric Transgender Clinic demanding gender-affirming surgeries cease.

“We are committed to providing safe, supportive and inclusive health care environments for each and every child and family, and the clinicians and staff who are dedicated to caring for children,” said CHA President Amy Wimpey Knight. “Threats and acts of violence are not a solution, nor a substitute, for civil dialogue about issues of a child or teen’s health and wellbeing. At CHA, we are committed to working across sectors to prevent misleading and inflammatory comments that result in threats to those caring for patients.”

The groups wrote in their letter to Attorney General Garland, “Our organizations are dedicated to the health and well-being of all children and adolescents. We are committed to the full spectrum of patient care—from prevention to critical care. We stand with the physicians, nurses, mental health specialists, and other health care professionals who provide evidence-based health care, including gender-affirming care, to children and adolescents.”

Two months ago anti-LGBTQ+ far right extremists targeted Boston Children’s Hospital, threatening its employees and medical staff after falsehoods and disinformation was spread online about the healthcare facility’s treatment of transgender youth by Libs of Tik-Tok, Walsh, and conservative journalist and anti-LGBTQ+ activist Christopher Rufo.

The United States Department of Justice launched an investigation into the Boston Children’s threats according to an announcement by the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Rachael Rollins.

Last month D.C.’s Children’s National Hospital became the target of threatening phone calls, email messages and social media postings after Libs of Tiktok posted an incorrect report claiming the hospital routinely performs hysterectomies on transgender patients under the age of 18.

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