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U.S. Federal Courts

Feds must evaluate Trans prisoner for gender-affirming care, judge rules

“Denied basic medical care to treat her gender dysphoria & housed in men’s prisons where she experienced severe physical and sexual violence” 

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Photo credit: U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons

CHICAGO – A federal judge in Illinois ruled that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) must evaluate a trans woman incarcerated in Texas for gender-affirming surgery – a first of its kind ruling that could improve the treatment of trans prisoners across the country. 

In the ruling issued on Dec. 27 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Chief Judge Nancy Rosenstengel ruled that the Transgender Executive Council (TEC) within the BOP must evaluate a request from Cristina Nichole Iglesias – a 47-year-old trans woman who has been in custody for more than 27 years – for gender-affirming care by Jan. 24. 

If the TEC recommends Iglesias for gender-affirming care, the BOP’s medical director must assess Iglesias within 30 days and report to the court about progress on locating a surgeon. 

If the TEC decides not to recommend Iglesias for surgery, they must provide a detailed explanation to the court. 

“For years, Cristina has suffered greatly from the denial of appropriate healthcare and the constant threats to her life while in BOP detention,” said John Knight, LGBTQ Project director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois. “Cristina has fought for years to get the treatment the Constitution requires. The court’s order removes the unnecessary hurdles and delays BOP has repeatedly constructed to prevent her from getting the care that she urgently needs.”

Iglesias has been seeking gender-affirming care since at least January 2016.

According to the ACLU of Illinois, the BOP has known Iglesias is a trans woman since she first arrived in prison in 1994. Yet, she was “denied basic medical care to treat her gender dysphoria and was housed in men’s prisons for more than two decades, where she experienced severe physical and sexual violence.” 

The ruling adds that BOP staff has “failed to protect her.”

In her ruling, Rosenstengel writes: “Iglesias has been on suicide watch multiple times while in BOP custody and has attempted self-harm. Iglesias has and will continue to endure mental and physical harms because of the BOP’s mistreatment of her gender dysphoria.”

Previously, the lawsuit resulted in Iglesias being transferred to a federal prison that aligns with her gender. According to the ACLU of Illinois, she is one of the few transgender prisoners ever moved to the correct prison. 

The court also found that the BOP’s unwritten criteria for delaying Iglesias’ transfer to a female facility and its denial of gender-affirming care were “forbidden post hoc justification[s] created in response to litigation.”

In an email to the Los Angeles Blade, the BOP declined to comment on the specifics of the ruling. However, a spokesperson did say, “The BOP’s team of subject-matter-experts provide a wide range of gender-affirming accommodations based on comprehensive and individualized assessments. These accommodations can include gender affirming surgical referral when deemed appropriate.”

“We hope that the order directing BOP to move forward will result in medically necessary and long overdue healthcare for Cristina—and, in time, for the many other transgender people in BOP’s custody who have also been denied surgery and other much-needed gender-affirming care,” Knight said. 

According to the ACLU of Illinois, there are currently 1,200 transgender prisoners in federal custody. To date, no prisoner has ever received gender-affirming surgery from the BOP.

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U.S. Federal Courts

High Court to hear case of school prayer but not anti-LGBTQ web designer

The Justices added five new cases including the case of a fired former Bremerton, Washington assistant high school football coach

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The Justices of the United States Supreme Court (Photo Credit: U.S. Supreme Court)

WASHINGTON – After their private conference on Friday, the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court added five new cases to this term including the case of a former Bremerton, Washington assistant high school football coach removed for refusing to halt his practice of praying at mid-field after games.

The court however declined to hear the case of a website designer who refused to create custom sites for same-sex weddings.

SCOTUSblog senior reporter Amy Howe reportedthe case of the football coach involves Joseph Kennedy, a practicing Christian whose religious beliefs require him to “give thanks through prayer, at the end of each game.” When he began his job as an assistant coach at Bremerton High School, a public school in Washington state, he initially prayed alone after games, but over time some of his players – and eventually a majority of the team – joined him. One parent complained that his son, a player on the team, felt like he had to join in the prayer, even though he was an atheist, or face a loss of playing time.”

Bremerton School District officials had attempted to accommodate Kennedy after warning him to stop the prayers as District officials clarified that they did not want to violate the Constitution’s establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another.

The district offered Kennedy the ability to pray after the crowd had left the stadium or in a private space both options that he refused. Kennedy had retained counsel and the legal team indicated that they would pursue father legal action.

According to media accounts he then prayed publicly with his players at two more games after which he was placed on administrative leave. After a review which included a recommendation by the head football coach that he be terminated, Kennedy was let go and then filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Bremerton School District had violated his First Amendment rights and federal civil rights laws.

Joseph Kennedy being interviewed by NBC News affiliate KING-TV 5, Seattle, Washington

Kennedy came to the Supreme Court in 2018 seeking to get his job back while litigation continued. The court turned him down, but Justice Samuel Alito penned a statement regarding that denial that was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh. Alito wrote that Kennedy’s free-speech claim raised important issues, and he suggested the case may warrant review in the future,” SCOTUSblog reported.

Ultimately, the U.S. District Court rejected Kennedy’s argument ruling against him and the case was then heard by a 3 judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which upheld that decision. The 9th Circuit turned down a petition for an En banc (full) review by the entire 9th Circuit.

Kennedy returned to the Supreme Court in September 2021, telling the justices that the 9th Circuit’s ruling used “imagined Establishment Clause concerns to inflict real Free Exercise Clause damage,” he argued adding; “The religious expression of hundreds of thousands of teachers in the Ninth Circuit is now on the verge of extinction,” he contended. Moreover, Kennedy added, the ruling’s “chilling effects elsewhere around the country are palpable, as the Ninth Circuit essentially held” Kennedy’s “efforts to publicize the denial of his constitutional rights against him.”

The school district countered that whether Kennedy has the right to a “brief, quiet prayer by himself while at school” “is entirely beside the point” – particularly when, the district insisted, “every word of that description is wrong.” The dispute before the court, it stressed, is “about a school district’s authority to protect students when its employee does not work with it to find a reasonable accommodation.” A ruling for Kennedy, the school district warned, would require the Supreme Court “to overturn decades of settled law under both the Free Speech and Establishment Clauses,” SCOTUSblog reported.

The Justices declined to take up a case on appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, brought by The Alliance Defending Freedom, (ADF)- listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ extremist hate group.

The case stemmed from a Lakewood, Colorado based web designer, who sued to challenge Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. ADF filed its appeal last Fall asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review that ruling.

Lorie Smith, claimed in court filings that the Colorado law violated Smith’s freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression, citing that it would force her to design wedding websites for same-sex couples which violated her ‘Christian’ beliefs.

In its 2-1 ruling, the 10th Circuit panel said Colorado had a compelling interest in protecting the “dignity interests” of members of marginalized groups through its law.

In a statement issued by ADF, the Arizona based firm claimed; “The 10th Circuit issued an unprecedented decision in the case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, holding that Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act both forced Lorie “to create websites—and thus, speech—that [she] would otherwise refuse,” and also created a “substantial risk” of removing “certain ideas or viewpoints from the public dialogue,” including Lorie’s beliefs about marriage.”

ADF added; “The lawsuit contends that Colorado Revised Statute § 24-34-601(2)(a) violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses. The state law is the same one the commission twice used against Masterpiece Cakeshop cake artist Jack Phillips, who is currently being harassed by an activist attorney in a third lawsuit that also attempts to use Colorado’s law against him. After a trial resulted in a decision against Phillips, ADF attorneys representing him and his shop have appealed that case to the Colorado Court of Appeals.”

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson questioned whether Smith should even be allowed to challenge the law since she had not started offering wedding websites yet, the Associated Press reported.

But if she did, Olson said, her argument would mean she would refuse to create a website for a hypothetical same-sex couple named Alex and Taylor but agree to make the same one for an opposite-sex couple with the same names. He said that would be discrimination under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Judge Mark Beck Briscoe wrote in the majority opinion (303 Creative, et al. v. Elenis, et al.) that “we must also consider the grave harms caused when public accommodations discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. Combatting such discrimination is, like individual autonomy, `essential’ to our democratic ideals.”

In his dissent, Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich wrote that “this case illustrates exactly why we have a First Amendment. Properly applied, the Constitution protects Ms. Smith from the government telling her what to say or do.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Anti-LGBTQ legal group appeals ruling against anti-LGBTQ photographer

ADF’s attorneys in their appeal argued the New York state laws go against the First and Fourteenth Amendments

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Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse, New York City (Photo Credit: U.S. Courts/GSA)

NEW YORK – The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), filed an appeal Wednesday with the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit asking the court to overturn a lower Federal court ruling that dismissed a suit brought by a New York photographer asking to gain an exemption from state law regarding same-sex marriages.

Emilee Carpenter, an Elmira-based wedding photographer had filed a lawsuit Federal lawsuit claiming that New York’s anti-discrimination laws violated her right to refuse photographing same-sex marriages.

She was represented by ADF which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group because it has supported the idea that being LGBTQ+ should be a crime in the U.S. and abroad and believes that is OK to put LGBTQ+ people in prison for engaging in consensual sex. It has also supported laws that required the forced sterilization of transgender Europeans.

ADF has spread lies about the LGBTQ+ community. It has, for example, linked being LGBTQ+ to pedophilia and claimed that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy society.

U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr. ruled that Emilee Carpenter’s suit “would relegate [same-sex couples] to an inferior market than that enjoyed by the public at large,” under New York State statutes. He then dismissed the case.

ADF’s attorneys in their appeal with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, argued the New York state laws go against the First and Fourteenth Amendments, restricting their client’s rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion. 

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge rules Indiana high school must allow GSA to fully function

“The student led Gay Straight Alliance group must be treated in the same manner that all other student groups are treated”

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Pendleton Heights High School in Pendleton, Indiana (Screenshot via WTHR NBC 13 News)

INDIANAPOLIS – A student led Gay-Straight Alliance, (GSA) at Pendleton Heights High School in Pendleton, Indiana filed suit against their school and the South Madison Community Schools District last Fall for banning public announcements and adverts in-school for their club. On Wednesday a preliminary injunction was granted that requires PHHS to provide the GSA with the same rights provided to other student groups at the school.

The order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Sweeney spells out that the PHHS/GSA must have the opportunity to advertise, fund raise, and be listed in the Handbook, as litigation continues. 

In the suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf of the Pendleton Heights High GSA, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, the ACLU noted that the principal at Pendleton Heights stated that the PHHS/GSA cannot publicize its existence on school bulletin boards or on the school’s radio station, while other curricular and non-curricular clubs at the school are able to do so. 

“The student led Gay Straight Alliance group at Pendleton Heights High School must be treated in the same manner that all other student groups are treated,” the ACLU of Indiana said in an emailed statement.

“While this isn’t the first time the ACLU of Indiana has had to take on a public school for treating a GSA group differently than other student led organizations, we hope that public schools throughout the state will take notice and forgo future challenges by providing equal treatment to all student groups. 

“The ACLU of Indiana will continue to work to ensure that all schools in our state provide GSA groups and other student led groups with the equal rights granted to them by the U.S. Constitution.” 

Last Spring officials in the Schools District, in this suburban community 30 miles northeast of Indianapolis, ordered faculty members at Pendleton Heights High School to remove Rainbow Pride flags from classrooms. The Schools District labeled the flags “political paraphernalia”  and instructed the Spanish, French and art teachers to get the flags out of their classrooms saying the flags violate their school district’s “political paraphernalia” policy.

Pendleton Heights Principal Connie Rickert has the authority to decide what student groups are allowed to meet at the school and which ones are deemed to be “official.” Last Spring she deflected on the apparent anti-LGBTQ+ messaging the order to remove the flags telling one media outlet; ““Teachers are legally obligated to maintain viewpoint neutrality during their official duties to ensure all students can focus on learning and we can maintain educational activities and school operations,” she said. “Our counselors are trained to respond to any student who desires support.”

While she has allowed the GSA club to meet, her banning announcements and notifications for the GSA runs contrary to her statements last Spring that that her school prides itself on creating a welcoming environment for all. 

“Students at Pendleton Heights High School may participate in non-curricular clubs recognized by the school,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “By creating additional hurdles for Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance such as censoring the group’s promotions and prohibiting fundraising, the school is infringing on these students’ rights.” 

The South Madison Community Schools District has declined comment.

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