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U.S. Federal Courts

Anti-LGBTQ legal group loses bid to overturn conversion therapy ban

The court ruled the state has a compelling interest “in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including LGBTQ youth.

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U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington at Tacoma (Photo Credit: GSA U.S. Government)

TACOMA, Wa. – The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington this week dismissed a legal challenge seeking to invalidate the State of Washington’s 2018 law protecting minors from conversion therapy by state-licensed therapists.

Brian Tingley, is represented in the suit by the Scottsdale, Arizona-based anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom, (ADF), and identifies himself as a “Christian licensed marriage and family therapist.”  Tingley alleged in the court filings that the provided definition of “conversion therapy” is “vague, content-biased, and biased against one perspective or point of view.”

The law defines the practice as; “Conversion therapy” means a regime that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The term includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex. The term includes, but is not limited to, practices commonly referred to as “reparative therapy.”

The law however did provide that; “Conversion therapy” does not include counseling or psychotherapies that provide acceptance, support, and understanding of clients or the facilitation of clients’ coping, social support, and identity exploration and development that do not seek to change sexual orientation or gender identity.”

It also stipulates that “conversion therapy” does not apply to “religious practices or counseling under the auspices of a religious denomination, church, or organization that do not constitute the performance of conversion therapy by licensed health care providers on clients under age eighteen.”

That proviso according to ADF attorneys representing Tingley is a “sham exemption” because the exemption does not apply to practicing Christian counselors like the plaintiff who wish to “help fellow Christians who seek his assistance to live consistently with the teachings of their shared faith.”

“Over the years, Plaintiff Tingley has had multiple clients, including minor clients, who experienced unwanted same-sex attraction and desired Mr. Tingley’s help in reducing those attractions so they could enter into heterosexual romantic relationships and the family lives which they longed for, and also so they could live in a manner consistent with the moral teachings of their Christian faith,” the lawsuit read

“For a minor client of faith who seeks the assistance of a counselor who shares his faith, to help him align his thoughts and his conduct with the teachings of his faith, the Law again says “No,” denying that young person professional help towards his goal, ” the suit maintained.

ADF alleged that the law deprives their client of his “right to practice his religious beliefs by speaking to clients on topics of gender identity and sexual attractions and change in a manner consistent with the teachings of his faith and that of his clients.” 

Referring to the law as the “Counseling Censorship Law,” ADF attorneys in the suit say that their client “is not able to freely and without fear speak what he believes to be true, and his client is therefore denied the right to receive open and uninhibited thoughts from his or her chosen counselor.”

ADF also contended that“ […] arguments based on the immutability of sexual orientation are unscientific, given that scientific research does not indicate that sexual orientation is uniformly biologically determined at birth or that patterns of same-sex and other-sex attractions remain fixed over the life course.” 

The court ruled that Washington has a compelling interest “in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, and in protecting its minors against exposure to serious harm caused by conversion therapy.”

The court held that the law regulates a dangerous treatment, not speech, and therefore does not violate the First Amendment right to free speech. The court also rejected the religious liberty claim, ruling that state governments may require licensed health care providers to follow professional standards and that the law applies equally to all providers, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Conversion therapy is a dangerous and unethical practice that claims to change sexual orientation or gender identity and has been shown to make LGBTQ children who undergo it nearly three times more likely to attempt suicide. In one recent study, more than 60% of children subjected to conversion therapy attempted suicide.

In November of 2020, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision 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.

That 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.

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.

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 Williams Institute estimates that 698,000 LGBT adults in the U.S. have received “conversion therapy,” 350,000 of whom suffered the experience as adolescents. Most medical and psychological professional associations strongly oppose “conversion therapy” as illegitimate. 

The American Psychological Association has opposed the practice since 1998, arguing that there is “no credible evidence” such procedures proffered by adherents of the so-called therapy could change sexual orientation.

Conversion therapy has been banned in 20 states and more than 70 municipalities across the United States. California was first to do so in 2012.

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U.S. Federal Courts

U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

Justice Thomas said the Court should also reconsider the decisions that extended marriage equality & the right to private, consensual sex

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Crowds gather outside SCOTUS after Roe v Wade was overturned June 24, 2022 (Blade Photo by Josh Alburtus)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday in a 6-3 ruling overturned Roe v. Wade. Justice Clarence Thomas in the decision said the Supreme Court should also reconsider the decisions in the Obergefell and Lawrence cases that extended marriage equality to same-sex couples and the right to private, consensual sex.

LGBTQ rights groups were quick to condemn the ruling.

“Today the Supreme Court issued a devastating ruling in Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Dobbs — a huge setback to our long-standing fundamental right to bodily autonomy,” said National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson. “This decision by the conservative majority on the bench also marks the beginning of the vital work to re-establish our constitutional foundation for reproductive justice and freedom. We must redouble our work to protect access to abortion and reproductive justice at the state and national levels. We will never give up.”

“When the Supreme Court is willing to throw 50 years of precedent out the window, it proves that we are at an exceedingly dangerous, unprecedented moment. The Court’s majority opinion does not reflect the will of our nation — two thirds of whom support Roe v. Wade but instead fulfills an extreme, out of step, ideological agenda. And it shows that all of our rights are on the line right now, as state lawmakers will be further emboldened to test the limits of our hard-won civil rights,” added interim Human Rights Campaign President Joni Madison. “Women are under attack, LGBTQ+ people are under attack, BIPOC people are under attack, and we are justifiably outraged. We cannot relent — we must fight back.”

Jim Obergefell, a candidate for the Ohio House and the lead plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme case that affirmed marriage equality as the law of the land, issued the following statement today following news that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“It’s a sad day for womens’ rights. This U.S. Supreme Court continues to erode the rights of citizens at an alarming rate. We are facing a health and human rights crisis in this country and as a result countless lives will be at risk. Women deserve responsive leaders who support reproductive justice. Leaders who respect their basic right to have control over their own body. The reality is that women today will have less rights than their own mothers. We are going backwards and it’s both enraging and terrifying to see the excessive government overreach that this court is imposing on our country.”

In his remarks on the Supreme Court ruling, President Joe Biden speaking live from the Great Cross Hall in the White House said at one point, “It just stuns me,” adding that poor women would be hit the hardest by the decision. “This is a sad day for the country in my view but it does not mean the fight is over.”

He called on Congress to restore abortion protections into law and pointed to the November midterm elections, saying, “this fall, Roe is on the ballot.”

He urged protests to be conducted peacefully and said violence is never acceptable.

“This decision must not be the final word,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden’s remarks ended at 12:49 p.m. EST after speaking for nearly 12 minutes. He did not respond to shouted questions from reporters about the ruling and the future of the Supreme Court. 

Screenshot/YouTube NBC News

U. S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland released a statement condemning the high court’s ruling.

“The Supreme Court has eliminated an established right that has been an essential component of women’s liberty for half a century – a right that has safeguarded women’s ability to participate fully and equally in society. And in renouncing this fundamental right, which it had repeatedly recognized and reaffirmed, the Court has upended the doctrine of stare decisis, a key pillar of the rule of law.

“The Justice Department strongly disagrees with the Court’s decision. This decision deals a devastating blow to reproductive freedom in the United States. It will have an immediate and irreversible impact on the lives of people across the country. And it will be greatly disproportionate in its effect – with the greatest burdens felt by people of color and those of limited financial means. “

The Attorney General went on to warn that acts of violence in the wake of today’s ruling will not be tolerated.

“Advocates with different views on this issue have the right to, and will, voice their opinions. Peacefully expressing a view is protected by the First Amendment. But we must be clear that violence and threats of violence are not. The Justice Department will not tolerate such acts.”

Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade in an email; Justice Thomas’s concurrence is an open assault on the landmark precedents that have transformed the place of LGBTQ people in our society. Historically, the Supreme Court has relied on substantive due process to protect essential liberties such as the freedom to decide whether to conceive a child, to marry or be in an intimate relationship with the person of one’s choice, to raise children as one sees fit, and to travel or move anywhere in the country.

“These are among our most basic and cherished freedoms, and Justice Thomas is urging the court to scrap them all. While the majority opinion does not go that far, it is full of landmines that appear to lay a foundation for future decisions that may cast these fundamental rights into question or eliminate them altogether. Today’s decision is even more alarming than the leaked opinion and strongly suggests that this is only the beginning of a radical campaign to undo decades of precedent.  The question is no longer if this Court is willing to jettison other fundamental freedoms, but how quickly they are likely to do so, and which ones are likely to be on the chopping block first,”  Minter added.

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Read the Supreme Court’s opinion:

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U.S. Federal Courts

National Black Justice Coalition CEO indicted on conspiracy, fraud charges

The indictment was handed down on June 7 by a federal grand jury with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida

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Sharon Lettman-Hicks (Photo courtesy National Black Justice Coalition)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Federal prosecutors in Tallahassee, Fla., on Wednesday unsealed a grand jury indictment charging Sharon Lettman-Hicks, the CEO of the D.C.-based LGBTQ+ group National Black Justice Coalition, and former Tallahassee mayor and unsuccessful Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, with conspiracy and multiple counts of fraud.

The indictment was handed down under seal on June 7 by a federal grand jury associated with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee before being publicly released in court on Wednesday.  

It states, among other things, that “Andrew Demetric Gillum and Sharon Janet Lettman-Hicks did knowingly and willfully combine, conspire, confederate, and agree together and with other persons to devise a scheme to defraud and to obtain money and property by means of material false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promise, and to cause wire communications to be transmitted in interstate and foreign commerce for the purpose of executing such scheme, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343.”

The indictment says the alleged illegal actions by Gillum, who identifies as bisexual, and Lettman-Hicks took place between 2016 and 2019, including while Gillum served as mayor of Tallahassee through 2018 and when he became the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida in 2018.

Gillum, a Democrat, lost to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in the 2018 race by about 32,000 votes, garnering more support than many political observers had expected.

According to the 26-page indictment, Gillum and Lettman-Hicks became targets of an FBI public corruption investigation in Tallahassee that began in 2015. It says Lettman-Hicks allegedly helped Gillum improperly funnel money solicited from FBI agents posing as real estate developers with the promise of providing something “very significant in return” in Gillum’s role as mayor in exchange for financial support for Gillum’s campaign for governor.

The indictment says much of the money went to Gillum for his personal use through a company Lettman-Hicks operated called P&P Communications. It charges both Gillum and Lettman-Hicks with 19 counts of wire fraud and one count of attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper reports that both Gillum and Lettman-Hicks pleaded not guilty to the grand jury charges against them at a June 22 court hearing. The newspaper reports that both declined to comment when approached by reporters outside the courtroom. But Gillum and his attorneys a short time later released separate statements saying the allegations against Gillum were political and would be refuted in court.

“Throughout my career I have always stood up for the people of Florida and have spoken truth to power,” Gillum said in his statement. “There’s been a target on my back ever since I was the mayor of Tallahassee,” the statement continues. ‘They found nothing then, and I have full confidence that my legal team will prove my innocence now.”

Florida attorneys Marc Elias and David Oscar Markus, who are representing Gillum, said in a separate statement that prosecutors got the facts wrong. “The evidence in this case is clear and will show that Mr. Gillum is innocent of all charges,” the lawyers said in the statement.

The Tallahassee Democrat has also reported that Lettman-Hicks was qualified last week to run as a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives in District 8, which includes Tallahassee.

Lettman-Hicks, 53, is listed on the National Black Justice Coalition website as the group’s CEO and board chair. Its website says she served as the group’s CEO and executive director from 2009 to 2017, when she stepped down as executive director. It says she is based in Tallahassee. David Johns, the current NBJC executive director, is based in the organization’s headquarters in D.C.

A spokesperson for the group couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.  

On its website, NBJC says it has served since its founding in 2003 as “America’s leading national civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+, and same gender loving (LGBTQ+/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS through coalition building, federal policy change, research, and education.”

Gillum, 42, became the subject of media reports in March of 2020 when police found him in a Miami Beach hotel room too inebriated to talk and with an unconscious male in the room with him who police said had suffered from a drug overdose and who was later identified as a male sex worker.

Police said they found three plastic bags with suspected crystal meth in the room where Gillum and the other man had been staying. Gillum, who was not charged, denied using any drugs and said he had “too much to drink.” A short time later he announced he had entered a rehab program, citing struggles after losing his race for governor. Six months later, in a television interview with his wife beside him, Gillum disclosed he was bisexual.

The indictment against Gillum and Lettman-Hicks can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Civil rights groups react to SCOTUS decision weakening Miranda warning

The legal issue central to the Tekoh case, whether the US civil code provides for the right to sue law enforcement for Miranda violations

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, leading the court’s conservative majority, issued a 6-3 opinion Thursday morning in the case of Vega v. Tekoh that will shield members of law enforcement from lawsuits over their failure to provide Miranda warnings to suspects in their custody. 

In the hours since, civil rights groups shared statements objecting to the ruling’s weakening of the Miranda rights by its removal of an important means through which citizens can seek recourse when their rights are violated by police and government officials. 

The court’s three Democrats dissented, with Justice Elena Kagan writing “The majority here, as elsewhere, injures the right by denying the remedy.” 

The exact language varies by jurisdiction, but Miranda warnings — named for the 1966 Supreme Court ruling in Miranda v. Arizona — give criminal suspects in police custody notice of the rights to which they are entitled, which include the freedoms to remain silent and to have an attorney present when consenting to questioning by law enforcement. 

In an email to The Los Angeles Blade, attorney and National LGBTQ Task Force Policy Director Liz Seaton wrote, “As police continue to target Black and Brown folx in our racist law enforcement and criminal justice systems, and for anyone who becomes the target of a police investigation, this [ruling] is just terrible news.” 

The legal issue central to the Tekoh case, whether Section 1983 of the US civil code provides for the right to sue law enforcement for Miranda violations, is far from a mundanity. And the court’s finding today that it does not, Seaton said, is “ridiculous.”

She noted Section 1983, as part of the Klu Klux Klan Act of 1871, was specifically enacted “to enable people to seek remedies for oppressive acts by government officials, among others.” 

In a statement on Thursday’s ruling, ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Brett Max Kaufman also highlighted the conservatives’ departure from long established law and practice. Citizens’ right under Section 1983 to seek redress when government officials violate their rights was enshrined in “the country’s most important civil rights statute,” he wrote, while “The warnings mandated by the Supreme Court in Miranda have been part of the fabric of law enforcement interactions with the public for more than 60 years.”

Likewise, in the 2000 case of Dickerson v. United States, the Supreme Court’s then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion which held that Congress may not overturn the Miranda rule, in part because it had “become embedded in routine police practice” and “part of the national culture.”

(A sign of the extent to which these arguments ring true: Miranda rights have been recited in fictional police interrogations on TV shows and in films for decades.)

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