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U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian National Guard member discriminated against, says lawsuit

“I truly, truly hope that positive changes come from what has happened to me to where no other individual has to walk this path”

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Courtesy of Kristin Kingrey

CHARLESTON, Wv. – For 14 years, Kristin Kingrey, a lesbian member of the West Virginia Air National Guard, has served her country and steadily moved through the ranks. But a lawsuit alleges that “despite her dedication,” the National Guard discriminated against her sexual orientation and gender expression. 

In the lawsuit, filed in a federal court in West Virginia, Kingrey claims she was informed that her superiors would not allow her career to advance unless she appeared more “feminine” by growing her hair out and wearing make-up. She alleges “intentional and unlawful” discrimination by the National Guard, culminating in two adverse employment actions. 

“This has been a very long and dark road,” Kingrey told the Blade. 

According to court documents, Kingrey, who began employment as a federal civilian employee for the National Guard in 2016, was deployed to Qatar from August 2018 to March 2019. While in the country, she applied for the position of Human Resource Specialist (HRDS). 

Kingrey, who was working as an HRO Benefits Specialist at the time, remotely interviewed for the position and was informed the same day that she was selected, the complaint said. She accepted that day. 

Upon returning to Charleston, West Virginia, Kingrey began training for the HRDS position, but she could not assume the position due to “ongoing medical restrictions.” However, she was to start serving in the position when cleared, documents state. 

The HRDS position was then rescinded due to “budgetary” claims, so she was pulled from the position, despite accepting it. Months later, according to the lawsuit, the job was reposted, but Kingrey was never notified. The job ended up going to someone outside the protected class for the employee benefits position. 

Behind the scenes, Kingrey’s superiors were having “inappropriate, disparaging, and intentionally discriminatory” conversations about her outward appearance. According to the complaint, Colonel Michael Cadle was the one who made the comments. 

The lawsuit states that during the meeting that took place when she was still in Qatar, Cadle requested that a lieutenant instruct Kingrey on how to appear more “feminine.” In addition, he threatened Kingrey’s career advancement with the National Guard. 

According to the suit, Kingrey is tall and broad in stature, keeps her hair short in length and does not wear make-up or jewelry.

In her 14 years in the National Guard, Kingrey said that this was the first time she has dealt with discrimination and harassment to that magnitude, although she has heard “comments throughout” her time. 

Court documents said that Kingrey was “frequently harassed” for the length of her hair. Due to the “volume of complaints,” she started to, and still, carries the appropriate Air Force Instruction demonstrating that her hair is and was of an appropriate length. 

In other instances, according to the lawsuit, Kingrey’s superiors perpetuated the rumor that she was “transitioning” from female to male.

“I do not fit the mold that they feel that I should being a female,” she said. 

Though Kingrey doesn’t want to speak for the whole LGBTQ community, she feels that “if I had long hair and wore make-up and still identified as being of the LGBTQ community, that’s a different case.”

The West Virginia National Guard did not immediately return a request for comment. 

Kingrey called the whole situation “disheartening,” adding that “it’s been a very long and dark road.”

She said that she works with “some of the greatest individuals that you will ever encounter at all,” but the “problem lies with the individuals that are in key leadership roles.”

At one point, Kingrey said that one of her superiors called her in to check on her, given her recent hardships and high suicide rate amongst LGBTQ service members. According to a JAMA Network Open report from last year, LGB veterans are at greater risk of suicide than the general population.

“There’s so much pushed out via the Air Force and down through the Guard about diversity and inclusion, which is great,” said Kingrey. “It looks good. It sounds good. But when you have individuals in key leadership positions that allow their personal beliefs to override the guidance that is being put out – it’s just disheartening.” 

“No one should have to go through the kind of harassment and discrimination Technical Sergeant Kingrey faced over the years,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia. “This is someone who has devoted her life to serving her country and her state, and this is how she’s treated? We’re better than this. For all of the lawmakers who say discrimination isn’t a problem any more — here’s proof it is.”

In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that existing federal law prohibiting discrimination in employment based on an employee’s sex also protects LGBTQ employees.

Still, according to Fairness West Virginia, LGBTQ people face a “patchwork of protections” against discrimination. West Virginia is one of 29 states with no state law to ban discrimination in employment. According to a Norman Analytics and Research poll, 81% of West Virginians believe non-discrimination laws in the state should be strengthened. 

Currently, a bipartisan proposal, called the Fairness Act, would update human rights law to include explicit protections for LGBTQ people in the state. The legislation has been endorsed across the state, including by more than 100 diverse faith leaders.

“Each person is created by God, for the Kingdom of God, and nothing we can say or do will remove us from the Love of God,” said Rt. Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia. “This is why the Fairness Act is needed. While the discussion of human sexuality continues to consume many people’s conversations, nowhere in the Gospel of Jesus Christ are we allowed to remove the ‘God-givenness of any individual or group of people.”  

However, the bill has not made it out of the state legislature. 

“Kristin Kingrey’s story goes to show that discrimination is still a major problem in West Virginia,” Schneider said. “If respected members of the National Guard can face this kind of harassment, what happens to other LGBTQ people across our state? It’s time for our leaders to stop sitting on their hands and to act. It’s time for West Virginia to pass the Fairness Act and for Congress to pass the Equality Act.”

Overall, Kingrey hopes some good will come out of what happened to her. “I truly, truly hope that positive changes come from what has happened to me to where no other individual has to walk this path,” she said.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal Court rules against Tennessee’s anti-Trans restroom sign law

“Today’s decision ensures that the businesses who welcome them are not forced to become instruments for politicians’ discrimination”

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Estes Kefauver Federal Building and Courthouse Annex Nashville, TN (Photo Credit: GSA/U.S. Courts)

NASHVILLE – A U.S. District Court on Tuesday struck down the Tennessee law that required businesses and other entities that allow transgender people to use the public restroom that matches their gender to post a government-prescribed warning sign.

The measure known as House Bill 1182 (SB 1224), requires businesses or government facilities open to the public to post a sign if they let transgender people use multi-person bathrooms.

On July 9, 2021, the court granted a preliminary injunction blocking the law from going into effect, and today’s ruling strikes down the law permanently.

According to the text of the law, language would be required to be included on the signs reading: “This facility maintains a policy of allowing the use of restrooms [or another type of accommodation] by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom.”

“We applaud the court for recognizing that this law violates the First Amendment and harms transgender people,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director. “Transgender individuals should be able to live their lives free of harassment and discrimination. Today’s decision ensures that the businesses who welcome them are not forced to become instruments for politicians’ discrimination.”

Screenshot via WVLT CBS 8 Knoxville

In the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Aleta A. Trauger noted; “It would do a disservice to the First Amendment to judge the Act for anything other than what it is: a brazen attempt to single out trans-inclusive establishments and force them to parrot a message that they reasonably believe would sow fear and misunderstanding about the very transgender Tennesseans whom those establishments are trying to provide with some semblance of a safe and welcoming environment.”

“Transgender Tennesseans are real. The businesses and establishments that wish to welcome them are real. And the viewpoints that those individuals and businesses hold are real, even if they differ from the views of some legislators or government officials,” Judge Trauger added.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Bob Bernstein and his restaurant Fido, who objected to the stigmatizing message that would have been required by this law. Fido has informal policies that allow customers to determine which restroom is appropriate for them and has not had any complaints or concerns about their restroom policies.

“As a former journalist, I believe strongly in free speech,” said Bob Bernstein, owner of Fido, a restaurant in Nashville. “The government can’t just force people to post discriminatory, inaccurate, and divisive signs in their places of business. I am glad that the court recognized that this law violates the First Amendment.”

“We’re thrilled to see the court rule in support of transgender and non-binary lives today. This signage law was simple cruelty – and cruelty is unjust,” said Henry Seaton, ACLU of Tennessee transgender justice advocate. “We’ll continue our pursuit of trans justice to its fullest extent, and hope that the trans and non-binary community feels relief and hope from this ruling.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal court blocks part of Alabama trans medical treatment law

“Kids in Alabama can now continue to receive this lifesaving care, & doctors cannot be prosecuted simply for doing their jobs”

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Hugo L. Black United States Courthouse, Birmingham, Alabama (Photo Credit: US Courts/DXR)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In a 32 page ruling released Friday evening, U.S. District Judge Liles Burke preliminarily enjoined the state from enforcing the law criminalizing medical care for transgender minors in Alabama.

The law made it a felony for Doctors and licensed healthcare providers to give gender-affirming puberty blockers and hormones to transgender minors.

Burke, who was nominated to the bench by former President Donald Trump to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, wrote that the section of the Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act that makes treatment of trans minor children a felony; “the Court finds that there is a substantial likelihood that Section 4(a)(1)–(3) of the Act is unconstitutional and, thus, enjoins Defendants from enforcing that portion of the Act pending trial.”

Judge Burke however ruled that all other provisions of the Act remain in effect, specifically: (1) the provision that bans sex-altering surgeries on minors; (2) the provision prohibiting school officials from keeping certain gender-identity information of children secret from their parents; and (3) the provision that prohibits school officials from encouraging or compelling children to keep certain gender-identity information secret from their parents.

The U.S. Department of Justice had challenged the state’s  SB 184 – a bill that would criminalize doctors for providing best-practice, gender-affirming care to transgender and nonbinary youth.

In the filing by the Justice Department, the complaint alleges that the new law’s felony ban on providing certain medically necessary care to transgender minors violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The department is also asking the court to issue an immediate order to prevent the law from going into effect.

S.B. 184 makes it a felony for any person to “engage in or cause” specified types of medical care for transgender minors. S.B. 184 thus discriminates against transgender youth by denying them access to certain forms of medically necessary care.

It further discriminates against transgender youth by barring them from accessing particular procedures while allowing non-transgender minors to access the same or similar procedures. The penalties for violating the law include up to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000. S.B. 184 would force parents of transgender minors, medical professionals, and others to choose between forgoing medically necessary procedures and treatments, or facing criminal prosecution.

The United States’ complaint alleges that S.B. 184 violates the Equal Protection Clause by discriminating on the basis of sex and transgender status.

LGBTQ legal rights advocates SPLC, GLAD, NCLR, and HRC, joined by co-counsel King & Spalding LLP and Lightfoot, Franklin & White LLC, had previously filed a legal challenge in federal district court against Alabama SB 184.

Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the legal rights advocacy groups who had sued Alabama told the Blade late Friday night:

“We are thrilled by this outcome, which will provide enormous relief to transgender children and their families. As the court recognizes, this is well established medical care that has been endorsed by 22 major medical associations. Thanks to this decision, kids in Alabama can now continue to receive this lifesaving care, and their doctors cannot be prosecuted simply for doing their jobs. This is a huge victory for compassion and common sense and a much needed antidote to the tidal wave of hostile legislation targeting these youth.”

In addition to the U.S. Justice Department,  the doctors challenging SB 184 in Ladinsky v. Ivey are Dr. Morissa J. Ladinsky and Dr. Hussein D. Abdul-Latif, both providers at the Children’s Hospital of Alabama and members of the medical staff at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital and the teaching staff at UAB School of Medicine. Dr. Ladinsky and Dr. Abdul-Latif have long-term expertise in caring for transgender children of Alabama families. Under SB 184, they both face criminal penalties including up to 10 years in prison if they continue to provide that support to their patients.

The Alabama family plaintiffs are proceeding anonymously to protect their children. They include Robert Roe, and his 13-year-old transgender daughter Mary, of Jefferson County; and Jane Doe and her 17-year-old-transgender son John, of Shelby County. These families have deep ties to Alabama. If SB 184 is allowed to go into effect both families will be forced to choose between leaving the state, breaking the law, or facing devastating consequences to their children’s health.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal court overturns asylum ruling demanding man prove he’s gay

The initial ruling was the asylum bid was frivolous because he fabricated a key element of his application & failed to establish he’s gay

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Courtroom, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Photo Credit: Library of Congress/GSA)

SAN FRANCISCO – A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled against a U.S. Immigration judge’s finding that denied an asylum bid by a Nigerian man who says he is gay.

The court documents filed by Peter Udo asserted a fear of persecution or torture in Nigeria based on his status as a gay man and the harm he suffered after being discovered having sex with his boyfriend in a hotel.

According to Reuters, the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals had affirmed an immigration judge’s ruling that Udo’s asylum bid was frivolous because he deliberately fabricated a key element of his application and failed to establish that he is gay.

Udo initially gave an asylum officer the name of a hotel that did not exist, later saying that he was afraid to identify the actual hotel, according to court filings.

But the location of the hotel is at best ancillary to Udo’s claims, the 9th Circuit said, “and is certainly not a material element.”

Udo fled Nigeria after being beaten and detained by Nigerian authorities filing a claim for political asylum in part based on the 2014 Nigerian law that criminalizes homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and same-sex relationships.

The 9th Circuit returned the case Wednesday to the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals to reconsider Udo’s case.

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