BREWER, Me. – A high school teacher in Maine is alleging in a lawsuit that her school district created a hostile work environment and retaliated against her because she advocated for LGBTQ+ students.
The complaint, filed Monday in a federal court in Maine, said Michelle MacDonald, an English teacher at Brewer High School in Maine, suffered a “campaign of harassment” and was “stripped” of a leadership role in her department because of her work advocating for the rights LGBTQ+ students.
The filing follows a nearly two-year investigation from the Maine Human Rights Commission that found “reasonable grounds to believe that unlawful discrimination and retaliation occurred,” according to the lawsuit.
MacDonald, a co-adviser of the high school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), claims that school administrators acted inappropriately after she complained of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination by minimizing her claims and blaming her. What followed, according to MacDonald, was hostility from colleagues, resulting in her losing her role as English department curriculum leader.
“It’s an important case for protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ students,” John Gause, MacDonald’s attorney, told the Blade in an email. “Michelle hopes to prevent what happened to her from happening to someone else who stands up for their rights.”
The lawsuit names the Brewer School Department, Superintendent Greg Palmer, former Superintendent Cheri Towle, Brewer High School Principal Brent Slowikowski, Director of Instruction Renita Ward-Downer, and English teachers Paul Wellman and Breanne Pelletier as defendants.
MacDonald’s claims date back to 2017 when she was approached by students concerned that the GSA would be left out of the school yearbook. She contacted Pelletier, who was the yearbook advisor, but she told her the GSA would not be in the yearbook because it was a “support group” and did not do “anything worth taking pictures of.”
After reporting the issue to the Brewer School Department, Pelletier was forced to include the GSA in the yearbook. But Pelletier proceeded to treat MacDonald in a “hostile manner,” calling her a “drama queen,” giving her “dirty looks” and speaking negatively about her to students, the complaint alleges.
The hostility would continue to grow, according to documents, as during the 2018-19 school year, Pelletier and Wellman started to approach other teachers with a petition as part of a “concerted effort to file a formal internal complaint against MacDonald, motivated in part by her advocacy for LGBTQ rights.”
Simultaneously, Slowikowski, Towle and Ward-Downer gave MacDonald’s position as the English department curriculum leader to Pelletier “because of MacDonald’s LGBTQ advocacy, protected oppositional conduct and reporting, WPA-protected activity, and her association with LGBTQ individuals,” the complaint said.
According to MacDonald, she held the position for seven years without problem before giving it to Pelletier.
Melissa Hewey, who is representing the defendants, denied the allegations in the lawsuit.
“Our school department is very much committed to education around gender expansiveness, so the suggestion that they would retaliate against this person for advocacy is just contrary to everything that they do,” Hewey told the Blade, adding that the case is an “example of colleagues who had some interpersonal disagreements,” and “that’s not a matter of discrimination.”
The lawsuit notes that before the initial incident in 2017, MacDonald “got along well” with both Wellman and Pelletier.
MacDonald successfully filed a union grievance that gave her a co-curriculum leadership role alongside Pelletier, according to the complaint. However, the hostile treatment continued.
Though the Maine Human Rights Commission sided with her unlawful discrimination and retaliation claims, it was only partially. The panel cleared Wellman and Pelletier of MacDonald’s discrimination allegation.
MacDonald – claiming her rights were violated under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Maine Human Rights Act and the Maine Whistleblowers’ Protection Act – is seeking lost wages and benefits, as well as relief for emotional distress and reinstatement to her former position as the English department curriculum leader.
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Federal judge overturns Calif. high capacity magazines ban again
There are over 110 gun deaths daily & nearly 41,000 per year in the U.S. Guns are the leading cause of death of children & adolescents
SAN DIEGO, Calif. – California Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta reacted sharply to a ruling Friday by a federal judge blocking California’s ban on gun ammunition magazines with capacity of holding more than 10 rounds.
U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez, a President George W. Bush appointee on the bench of the Southern District of California wrote: “This case is about a California state law that makes it a crime to keep and bear common firearm magazines typically possessed for lawful purposes. Based on the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment, this law is clearly unconstitutional.”
This is not the only time Benitez has ruled against the ban by the state on high capacity magazines. The Sacramento Bee noted that Benitez struck down California’s large-capacity ammunition ban originally in 2019 — when the case was still called Duncan v. Becerra, for then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra — only for the case to make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which kicked it back down for further proceedings.
In his opinion today Benitez wrote, “The fact that there are so many different numerical limits demonstrates the arbitrary nature of magazine capacity limits,” referring to similar bans in other states but with differing numbers of rounds limited.
He also noted several cases where he said ammunition capacity “was a matter of life and death for lawful gun owners.”
“There have been, and there will be, times where many more than 10 rounds are needed to stop attackers. […] Woe to the victim who runs out of ammunition before armed attackers do. The police will mark the ground with chalk, count the number of shell casings, and file the report.”
In a statement released by his office, Newsom took aim at the ruling:
“Unsurprisingly, Judge Benitez chose to issue this radical decision on the same day President Biden announced his new Office of Gun Violence Prevention. As a reminder, this is the same judge who used Gun Violence Awareness Day to strike down California’s assault weapons ban — comparing the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife.
“Judge Benitez is not even pretending anymore. This is politics, pure and simple.
“It’s time to wake up. Unless we enshrine a Right to Safety in the Constitution, we are at the mercy of ideologues like Judge Benitez. All of our gun safety laws that are proven to save lives are at risk. It doesn’t matter what laws we pass. It doesn’t matter what the voters decide. Concealed carry. Banning weapons of war. Reasonable waiting periods. Background checks. The idealogues are coming for all of them.
“This is exactly why I’ve called for a Constitutional amendment, and this is why I’ll keep fighting to defend our right to protect ourselves from gun violence.”
Today, a district court struck down CA’s large-capacity magazine ban.— Rob Bonta (@AGRobBonta) September 22, 2023
I am going to immediately appeal to correct this dangerous decision.
We vow to fight to keep Californians safe from weapon enhancements that cause mass casualties. https://t.co/2chQiVqb75
California Attorney General Rob Bonta immediately filed a notice of appeal to overturn the decision. The notice of appeal, filed just hours after Benitez issued his decision and temporary stay, is the first step toward seeking a further stay of the decision by the Ninth Circuit pending appeal.
“In the past half-century, large-capacity magazines have been used in about three-quarters of gun massacres with 10 or more deaths and in 100 percent of gun massacres with 20 or more deaths,” said Attorney General Bonta. “We will continue to fight for our authority to keep Californians safe from weapon enhancements designed to cause mass casualties. The Supreme Court was clear that Bruen did not create a regulatory straitjacket for states — and we believe that the district court got this wrong. We will move quickly to correct this incredibly dangerous mistake. We will not stop in our efforts to protect the safety of communities and Californians’ rights to go about their business without fear of becoming victims of gun violence, while at the same time respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.”
Gun violence remains a growing threat to public safety throughout the nation. Mass shootings are on the rise throughout the country and frequently feature large-capacity magazines, causing more deaths and injuries.
On average, there are over 110 gun deaths each day and nearly 41,000 each year in the U.S. Guns are the leading cause of death among children and adolescents, with U.S. children being more likely to die from gun violence than in any other comparable country.
In 2021, California was ranked as the #1 state for gun safety by Giffords Law Center, and the state saw a 37% lower gun death rate than the national average. According to the CDC, California’s gun death rate was the 44th lowest in the nation and the gun death rate for children is 58% lower than the national average.
Federal Judge says drag is ‘vulgar & lewd’ ‘sexualized conduct’
Anti-LGBTQ activists perpetuate lies that LGBTQ community targets children for sexual abuse by bringing them to drag performances
AMARILLO, Texas — Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.
A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.
As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”
“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.
Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.
Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk refuses to grant relief to Texas college students who may be punished for hosting a drag show.— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) September 22, 2023
His condemns drag as “vulgar and lewd” “sexualized conduct” that harms children and is likely unprotected by the First Amendment. https://t.co/UPeolMfGON
As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”
The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”
Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.
Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.
Federal judge blocks policy stopping outing of queer kids to parents
“Disclosing that a student is transgender without the student’s permission may violate California’s anti-discrimination law”
SAN DIEGO, Calif. – A federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California issued a ruling a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of a Escondido Union School District policy that bars teachers from discussing students’ gender identities with their parents.
The suit was brought by Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West, two teachers at Escondido’s Rincon Middle School and both self-labeled Christians who alleged that the policy violates their religious beliefs.
The lawsuit, filed by the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, which is representing the two women, also names the California State Board of Education as a defendant.
The Thomas More Society is a conservative Roman Catholic public-interest law firm based in Chicago. The group has been engaged in many “culture war” issues, promoting its anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage beliefs through litigation.
U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, wrote in his ruling Thursday that a parent’s right to make decisions concerning the care, custody control, and medical care of their children “one of the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests that Americans enjoy.”
He noted: “If a school student expresses words or actions during class that may be the first visible sign that the child is dealing with gender incongruity or possibly gender dysphoria, conditions that may (or may not) progress into significant, adverse, life-long social-emotional health consequences, would it be lawful for the school to require teachers to hide the event from the parents?”
“The school’s policy is a trifecta of harm: it harms the child who needs parental guidance and possibly mental health intervention to determine if the incongruence is organic or whether it is the result of bullying, peer pressure, or a fleeting impulse,” he added.
The California Department of Education’s policies state:
“Revealing a student’s gender identity or expression to others may compromise the student’s safety. Thus, preserving a student’s privacy is of the utmost importance. The right of transgender students to keep their transgender status private is grounded in California’s anti-discrimination laws as well as federal and state laws.”
[…] “Disclosing that a student is transgender without the student’s permission may violate California’s anti-discrimination law by increasing the student’s vulnerability to harassment and may violate the student’s right to privacy.”
In a statement released Thursday evening, the Thomas More Society said:
“A federal judge has blocked California’s Escondido Union School District from forcing teachers Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West to comply with a dangerous district policy that requires teachers to lie to parents about their own children’s gender identity. Thomas More Society attorneys today successfully won a preliminary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of EUSD’s offensive policy while the case is under court consideration.
“This is an untenable situation to put teachers in,” explained Paul Jonna, Thomas More Society Special Counsel and Partner.
A spokesperson for the Escondido Union School District, Michelle Breier, said, “Our leadership team is currently reviewing the decision.” A lawyer for the EUSD, which has around 16,000 students, did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta has been pursuing legal and other means across the state to protect LGBTQ+ students as some school boards have sought to enact policies that would involuntarily out trans and queer students to their parents.
- Last week, Attorney General Bonta issued a statement condemning the Rocklin Unified School District Board’s decision to implement a mandatory gender identity disclosure policy targeting transgender and gender-nonconforming students.
- Earlier this month, he issued a statement commending the San Bernardino Superior Court’s ruling to issue a temporary restraining order against Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education’s (CVUSD) mandatory gender identity disclosure policy, immediately halting its enforcement.
- Last month, the Attorney General announced a lawsuit challenging the enforcement of CVUSD’s forced outing policy. Prior to filing a lawsuit, Bonta announced opening a civil rights investigation into the legality of CVUSD’s adoption of its mandatory gender identity disclosure policy. Prior to opening the investigation, the Attorney General in July sent a letter to Superintendent Norman Enfield and the Board of Education cautioning them of the dangers of adopting its forced outing policy, emphasizing the potential infringements on students’ privacy rights and educational opportunities.
- Recently, he issued a statement following Anderson Union High School District, and Temecula Valley and Murrieta Valley Unified School District Boards’ decisions to implement copy-cat mandatory gender identity disclosure policy targeting transgender and gender-nonconforming students.
Federal Judge denies motion to block adult trans healthcare
Judge Robert Hinkle issued a prior ruling on June 6 halting enforcement of the ban on healthcare for transgender minors
TALLAHASSEE – A U.S. District Court Judge on Tuesday denied a motion to temporarily block state restrictions on access to healthcare for transgender adults as the legal challenge continues.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle issued the order denying a motion to stop enforcement of the law as the full trial addressing both the restrictions on adult care and the state’s bans on care for transgender adolescents is scheduled for November.
Judge Hinkle issued a prior ruling on June 6 halting enforcement of the ban on healthcare for transgender minors and saying the ban is likely unconstitutional. That order remains in effect.
Hinkle’s ruling allows Florida parents challenging the ban to access necessary medical care for their transgender children while the legal challenge to the bans continues. The ruling blocks enforcement of Florida state Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine rules banning established medical care for transgender adolescents as well as provisions in SB 254 that codify those rules into state law with added criminal and civil penalties.
The plaintiffs are represented by GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Southern Legal Counsel, and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
In a statement to the Blade Tuesday, Shannon Minter the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights said:
“We know the denial of preliminary relief is devastating for many transgender people in Florida and will prevent many from being able to obtain hormone therapy or surgical care. We strongly urge anyone who is experiencing this to reach out to us so that we can track the impact of this harmful law in as much detail as possible. We are going all-out to win at trial, and to do that, we will need as much information from the community as we can obtain. We also strongly urge allies to reach out to transgender family members and friends and assist them in making arrangements to obtain their health care out of state, if necessary. Being denied medically needed care is one of the most stressful experiences a person can undergo and can result in severe, irreparable harm. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for the LGBTQ community in Florida.”
The group of attorneys for the plaintiffs issued the following statement:
“The state’s restrictions on well-established health care in SB 254 serve no purpose other than to intentionally prevent transgender people from receiving the care they need. This case is far from over and we will continue to take every legal step to challenge this law that takes away Floridian’s ability to make important decisions about their own lives and hands it over to the government instead.
We are preparing now for the trial in November at which we intend to lay out the full evidence of the state’s deliberate targeting of transgender Floridians through the harmful, arbitrary, and medically unjustified rules enacted in SB 254. We also encourage transgender Floridians and their families to seek out resources and take all the steps they can to get the essential medical care they need to live healthy and happy lives.
Florida’s SB 254 is part of a broader landscape of laws that are hurting transgender people in Florida and across the country. We will continue to challenge these dangerous bans that deliberately single out transgender people for discriminatory treatment and ignore well-established medical research until they are permanently overturned.
All of us who believe in fairness, science, and freedom must also keep fighting on every level to ensure people in Florida and across the country can live their lives free from draconian and unlawful attacks on their health and wellbeing.”
ICE has detained lesbian mother from El Salvador since 2017
Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez has won asylum twice
LAFAYETTE, La. — The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana on Wednesday asked a federal court to order the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who has been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017
The writ for habeas corpus petition the ACLU filed in U.S. District for the Western District of Louisiana in Lafayette, La., on Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez’s behalf notes she and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016, “fleeing persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”
ICE released her “under conditions of supervision” and she “complied with these conditions for more than a year.”
ACLU Staff Attorney My Khanh Ngo on Thursday told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview that Barahona-Martinez, 40, was living with her sister and other family members in Woodbridge, Va., when ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017.
“The sole reason for her arrest and detention was an Interpol Red Notice that was based on a Salvadoran warrant related to a charge of aggravated extortion for up to $30 — a charge for which she had initially been acquitted,” reads her petition.
She was at the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail in Williamsburg, Va., before ICE transferred her to the Caroline Detention Facility in Bowling Green, Va., in October 2018. Barahona-Martinez arrived at the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run detention center the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020.
Barahona-Martinez’s petition notes an immigration judge has granted her asylum twice, most recently in November 2019, “on the grounds that she faces persecution on account of her sexual orientation.” The government appealed and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.
“In sustaining the government’s appeal of that grant, the Board of Immigration Appeals (‘BIA’ or ‘board’) did not address the merits of her asylum claim,” reads Barahona-Martinez’s petition. “Instead, in a two-to-one decision, over a strong dissent, it held that petitioner was ineligible for asylum under the ‘serious nonpolitical crime’ bar. The majority relied on the then-pending Interpol Red Notice and the Salvadoran warrant to find there were ‘serious reasons’ for believing she had committed such a crime. The dissenting Board member pointed out that petitioner had not only been acquitted of the alleged offense once, but had also submitted credible evidence to back up her claim of innocence.”
Her petition notes she appealed the Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., “which granted her a stay of removal pending appeal, reflecting it assessment of the likelihood of her success on the merits of her appeal.” Her petition further indicates the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files, an independent body that oversees whether Interpol properly processes personal data, in April “permanently deleted the Interpol Red Notice that had been lodged against Ms. Barahona-Martinez” after her new lawyer made the request.
“Her pro bono counsel has since filed a motion to reopen proceedings before the BIA on this ground, as it is relevant to the board’s analysis of whether the serious nonpolitical crime bar applies to petitioner’s case and renders her ineligible for asylum,” reads the petition. “The government has agreed to hold her appeal in abeyance in light of the pending motion to reopen, yet ICE continues to detain Ms. Barahona-Martinez as her removal proceedings continue.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) in June 2020 told the Blade that detainees at the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center did not have access to toilet paper or soap for nine days. The Illinois Democrat also said staff were not required to wear masks and they did not implement social distancing policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Ngo said Barahona-Martinez is at increased risk for COVID-19 because she has asthma.
Ngo said a doctor gave Barahona-Martinez Tylenol when she showed COVID-19 symptoms, “and unsurprisingly she got extremely sick.” Ngo told the Blade that Barahona-Martinez a few weeks ago went to the emergency room because of “excruciating stomach pain.”
“It’s clear that she’s been deteriorating in detention, both physically and mentally,” said Ngo.
Ngo told the Blade that Barahona-Martinez’s asthma has become worse since arrived in Louisiana, and suffers panic attacks nearly every day. Ngo said the only way that Barahona-Martinez can “get back into a mental state that will keep her going” is by talking with her family.
“The food is rotten. She is afraid because she is gay in attention. She’s been harassed and threatened by both officers and other detainees because of her sexual orientation,” said Ngo. “She doesn’t feel safe there at all. She tries to keep to herself.”
Ngo said Barahona-Martinez works up to five hours a day in the facility’s kitchen. She earns around $3 a day.
Transgender woman murdered after US deported her to El Salvador
Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains commonplace in El Salvador.
A court in San Salvador, the country’s capital, in 2020 sentenced three police officers to 20 years in prison for the murder of Camila Díaz Córdova, a Transgender woman.
Díaz asked for asylum in the U.S. because of violence against LGBTQ+ and intersex Salvadorans. The U.S. deported her in 2017, and her friend reported her missing at the end of January 2019. Díaz died at a San Salvador hospital on Feb. 3, 2019.
Barahona-Martinez is from San Salvador.
President Nayib Bukele in March 2022 declared a state of emergency that allowed his government to crackdown on rampant gang violence.
The Associated Press in July reported Salvadoran authorities have detained upwards of 70,000 people. Human Rights Watch and other groups say arbitrary arrests, torture of detainees and other human rights abuses have taken place since the crackdown began.
“The situation in El Salvador is much worse,” Ngo told the Blade. “It was bad in 2016 when she [Barahona-Martinez] fled, but with the state of emergency that’s in place right now, there’s been a lot of reporting about how much worse conditions are in the prisons against people who are accused of being with the gangs. There’s a lot of arbitrary detentions and killings and abuses.”
Ngo said Salvadoran authorities tortured Barahona-Martinez after they arrested her. Ngo said her former criminal defense attorney told her that Barahona-Martinez would be “in danger if she were returned” to El Salvador.
“She said, as much as possible, please keep her in the United States,” said Ngo. “She was known as a lesbian back then. It’s clear coming back they would know that she had applied for asylum in the United States and there’s the potential retaliation for that. She’s really risking her life if she’s sent back there.”
Barahona-Martinez’s petition names Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and South Louisiana ICE Processing Center Warden Eleazar Garcia are among those named as defendants.
ICE and the Department of Homeland Security have not responded to the Blade’s request for comment.
Barahona-Martinez, for her part, says she simply wants to be reunited with her children.
“I always think back on that day in 2017 when I was arrested by ICE and taken away from my children. They were so young at that time. I never thought that I would still be in detention six years later. I have missed so many of their birthdays, graduations, and other big life events,” she said in a statement to the ACLU. “Being separated from my children for this long has been so difficult, but I am fighting for a future here with them. All I want is the chance to show a judge why we should be reunited.”
Federal judge reverses, Georgia trans healthcare ban can resume
The judge rejected Georgia’s request the preliminary injunction be quashed permanently she stayed it pending the final outcome in Alabama case
ATLANTA – Two weeks after issuing a ruling that blocked a gender-affirming care ban for transgender minors in Georgia from taking effect, United States District Court Judge Sarah E. Geraghty lifted her preliminary injunction and will allow the ban to resume.
The Columbus, Georgia-based newspaper, the Ledger-Enquirer reported Wednesday Geraghty changed course on Tuesday, citing a decision by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals the day after her earlier ruling. The appellate court reversed an injunction that had been imposed in the Alabama case.
U.S. District Judge Liles Burke of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama preliminarily enjoined the state from enforcing the law criminalizing medical care for transgender minors in Alabama in the Spring of 2022.
Judge Liles Burke’s opinion held that Alabama’s law likely violated the federal Equal Protection Clause and parents’ fundamental right to make medical decisions for their children. Thus far, every single federal district court to hear a similar challenge has ruled similarly, holding that these state bans discriminate against transgender minors and burden their parents’ constitutionally protected rights.
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 11th Circuit panel disagreed, holding that Alabama’s law does not discriminate based on sex or transgender status and is therefore subject only to the lowest level of constitutional review.
According to the Ledger-Enquirer, Judge Geraghty wrote in Tuesday’s decision:
“It is undisputed that this court’s preliminary injunction order rests on legal grounds that have been squarely rejected by the panel in [Alabama]. This court’s injunction cannot stand on the bases articulated in the order.”
However, the judge rejected Georgia’s request that the preliminary injunction be quashed permanently. Instead, she stayed the injunction pending the final outcome of the Alabama case.
Federal judge blocks Texas porn law, says violates 1st Amendment
If website operators fail to adhere to the requirements- Texas AG would be able to sue non-complaint adult websites for $3 million per year
AUSTIN, Texas – U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction Thursday that blocked a Texas law from taking effect Friday that would have required adult websites to use “reasonable age verification methods”, such as government ID, to ensure users who are accessing explicit content are aged 18 or older.
The law, Texas House Bill 1181, which Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed on June 12, 2023, also required that websites display in 14-point font or larger the following warning: “Pornography is potentially biologically addictive, is proven to harm human brain development, desensitizes brain reward circuits, increases conditioned responses, and weakens brain function.” There were provisions in the law that should the website operators fail to adhere to the requirements, Texas attorney general would be able to sue non-complaint adult websites for $3 million per year.
In his ruling, Judge Ezra noted that:
- The law violates First Amendment rights of creators and consumers
- The law has a chilling effect on legally-protected speech
- Parental filters are a less restrictive and more effective method of protecting minors
- The state does not have the right to compel speech in the form of health warnings
“The state has a legitimate goal in protecting children from sexually explicit material online,” Ezra wrote and added: “But that goal, however crucial, does not negate this Court’s burden to ensure that the laws passed in its pursuit comport with established First Amendment doctrine.”
“This is a huge and important victory against the rising tide of censorship online,” says Alison Boden, Executive Director of Free Speech Coalition. “From the beginning, we have argued that the Texas law, and those like it, are both dangerous and unconstitutional. We’re pleased that the Court agreed with our view that HB1181’s true purpose is not to protect young people, but to prevent Texans from enjoying First Amendment protected expression. The state’s defense of the law was not based in science or technology, but ideology and politics.”
The Free Speech Coalition has argued that these new and expensive verification technologies present an unreasonable burden for both sites and users, stressing that members of the adult industry already register with parental filters and other software to help parents easily block adult content.
“The ruling rebuffs nearly every argument made by state legislatures, and not only in Texas,” says Boden. “While Texas presented the most straightforward path to securing a ruling like this, the issues are the same whether in Utah, Louisiana or Virginia. Anyone who attempts to bring a case in those jurisdictions faces little hope of success. We are thrilled with the decision and thank our co-plaintiffs for joining this battle and defending the industry. We are confident that the law will ultimately be struck down permanently.”
Arkansas law requiring parental OK for minors social media blocked
The Governor reacted in a statement released by her spokeswoman. Sanders wrote, “Big Tech companies put our kids’ lives at risk”
FORT SMITH, Ark. – A U.S. District Judge Thursday issued a preliminary injunction temporarily blocking implementation of a controversial Arkansas law that would have required parental consent for minors to create new social media accounts.
U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks granted a preliminary injunction that NetChoice — a tech industry trade group representing members including TikTok, Facebook parent Meta, and X, formerly known as Twitter had requested in their suit NetChoice v. Griffin.
The bill was signed into law by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders this past April and was due to go into effect September 1.
In his 50-page ruling, Brooks noted that NetChoice was likely to succeed in its challenge to the Arkansas law’s constitutionality and questioned the effectiveness of the restrictions.
“Age-gating social media platforms for adults and minors does not appear to be an effective approach when, in reality, it is the content on particular platforms that is driving the state’s true concerns,” the judge wrote.
“We’re pleased the court sided with the First Amendment and stopped Arkansas’ unconstitutional law from censoring free speech online and undermining the privacy of Arkansans, their families and their businesses as our case proceeds,” said Chris Marchese, Director of the NetChoice Litigation Center. “We look forward to seeing the law struck down permanently.”
Marchese continued: “If the law ultimately takes effect, Arkansans would only have access to a state-approved internet experience, and only after they hand over their private information. That is an unlawful power grab, and that’s why NetChoice is trying to stop it.”
The Associated Press reported that Arkansas’ law is similar to a first-in-the-nation restriction signed into law earlier this year in Utah. That law is not set to take effect until March 2024.
Arkansas Republican Attorney General Tim Griffin said in a statement he was disappointed with Brooks’ decision.
“But I will continue to vigorously defend the law and protect our children, an important interest recognized in the federal judge’s order today,” the Attorney General said.
In his ruling Judge Brooks noted that “not every online company or platform will be subject to the State’s new age verification requirements.” The Judge pointed out that the law, [Act 689] specifically exempts any company that “[derives less than twenty-five percent (25%) of [its] revenue from operating a social media platform”
Brooks went on to noted that “This exemption shields Google (a subsidiary of Alphabet, Inc.) from compliance. Neither Google Hangouts nor Google’s video-sharing platform, YouTube, will be required to verify the ages of their account holders.”
Brooks’ ruling said the the exemptions nullified the state’s intent for imposing the restrictions, and said the law also didn’t adequately define which platforms they would apply to. As an example, he cited confusion over whether the social media platform Snapchat would be subject to the age-verification requirement.
Social media companies have faced increasing scrutiny over their platforms’ effect on teen mental health, one of the concerns that Governor Huckabee-Sanders cited as she pushed for the legislation last Spring.
The Governor reacted in a statement released by her spokeswoman. Sanders wrote, “Big Tech companies put our kids’ lives at risk.”
Shannon Minter, Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade:
“As this decision recognized, laws that require internet companies to verify the identity of users pose severe risks to privacy and free speech. Those risks are especially dangerous for LGBTQ individuals, who have compelling reasons to fear that such information may be improperly disclosed or used to facilitate government persecution or private harassment. And they may deter LGBTQ youth in particular from accessing lifesaving support.”
Federal judge limits trans Kansans ability to alter gender markers
Kobach sought the U.S. District Court’s intervention after the Kansas Legislature approved a law defining women and men by biological sex
By Tim Carpenter | TOPEKA — A federal judge granted Attorney General Kris Kobach’s request Thursday to significantly undermine provisions of a 2019 consent judgment granting transgender individuals born in Kansas the right to amend birth certificates to match their gender identities.
Kobach sought the U.S. District Court’s intervention after the Kansas Legislature approved a law defining women and men by biological sex and requiring state agencies to collect health data identifying people as either male or female consistent with that determination at birth. Impetus for the statute was a movement to prevent transgender people from using restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities based on an identity in conflict with their biological sex at birth.
While transgender Kansans considered the statute imposed in July to be harassment, the attorney general argued Senate Bill 180 enabled the court to end the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s practice of correcting gender markers on birth certificates. Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, opposed the law and objected to Kobach’s legal analysis.
“As long as I am attorney general, the laws of Kansas will be enforced as written,” Kobach said. “The Legislature decided that birth certificates must reflect biological reality, and they were quite clear in how they wrote the law. Today’s decision is a rejection of the activists’ and Governor Kelly’s attempt to twist the English language beyond recognition. The court has told the governor what the law clearly means. We now expect the governor to follow the law and cease changing birth certificates to something other than biological sex at birth.”
Four years ago, Lambda Legal, along with the Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner law firm, represented four transgender people who were unable to obtain birth certificates consistent with their gender identity. That negotiated agreement of that lawsuit set aside Kansas’ discriminatory birth certificate policy and allowed hundreds of people to modify the key identification document.
Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, counsel and health care strategist at Lambda Legal, said Kobach’s interpretation of Senate Bill 180 was as unlawful as the Kansas administrative policy on birth certificates that was challenged by the 2018 lawsuit.
“We are disappointed that the court has saw fit to reopen the consent judgment, which has been in place for four years and operated without incident,” he said. “Let us be clear, however, today’s decision does not approve of SB180, as interpreted by the Kansas attorney general, but simply holds that the circumstances have changed. Indeed, the court went to great lengths to specify that it was not opining on SB 180’s constitutionality.”
Gonzalez-Pagan said an individual’s access to accurate personal documents was vital because lack of accurate identification placed transgender people at peril of discrimination, harassment and violence. A lawsuit challenging the state law could emerge from this court battle.
“We will evaluate next steps to determine how best to continue to secure the right of transgender Kansans to have identity documents consistent with who they are,” Gonzalez-Pagan said.
Under the original consent judgment, the federal court ordered the state Department of Health and Environment and other Kansas government officials to provide birth certificates that reflected sex consistent with gender identity. The order noted the state’s previous policy prohibiting gender marker corrections to birth certificates violated the equal protection clause and the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.
The Republican-led Legislature responded earlier this year with Senate Bill 180. Kelly vetoed the bill, but the Legislature overrode the governor.
In June, Kobach filed a motion in federal court to nullify the 2019 consent judgement. He said the original order conflicted with the new state law requiring state agencies to collect statistics based on a person’s sex assigned at birth.
The governor and attorneys for the original plaintiffs argued the 2023 law didn’t conflict with the consent judgment because state agencies could gather vital statistics in accordance with the statute and continue to issue modified birth certificates.
In wake of the attorney general’s effort to undo the consent order, Kansas ACLU executive director Micah Kubic said Kobach ought to rethink the “sheer indecency of this attempt to weaponize his office’s authority to attack transgender Kansans just trying to live their lives.”
The preceding article was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished with permission.
Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.
Federal judge tells Tenn. DA leave Blount Pride alone
Blount Pride will take place on Saturday, September 2 from 1 – 8 p.m. ET at the Clayton Center for the Arts, Maryville College
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – U.S. District Court Judge J. Ronnie Greer issued a ruling Friday that issued a ruling blocking Blount County District Attorney General Ryan K. Desmond from enforcing Tennessee’s “Adult Entertainment Act,” at the Blount County LGBTQ+ Pride scheduled for this Saturday.
Greer’s order said Desmond cannot enforce, detain, arrest or seek warrants to enforce the act and cannot interfere with Blount Pride’s festival.
The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and attorneys Brice Timmons, Melissa Stewart, Daniel Horwitz, Melissa Dix, and Justin Gilbert on behalf of Blount Pride and Christian artist and drag performer Flamy Grant.
On April 1, 2023, Tennessee’s anti-drag law took effect, banning “male or female impersonators” from performing in public spaces. A U.S. District Court judge promptly blocked the law, stating it was specifically designed to stifle constitutionally protected speech and ultimately ruling it unconstitutional.
Blount County, a county located just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, has held an annual pride event for the last three years at Maryville College. The event is open to all without age restrictions, as most Pride festivals in the United States are. Upon learning that there would be drag artists at the Pride festivities, District Attorney Desmond sent out a letter stating that holding the festival could result in criminal prosecutions.
The temporary restraining order blocks enforcement of the anti-drag law against Blount Pride.
“We are relieved that the court has taken action to ensure that law enforcement will not wrongly apply this unconstitutional law. This ruling allows us to fully realize Blount Pride’s goal of creating a safe place for LGBTQ people to connect, celebrate, and share resources. We appreciate the community support and look forward to celebrating with you all on Saturday,” Blount Pride board president Ari Baker said in a statement.
“This ruling confirms that despite continued attempts to remove LGBTQ people from public life, our First Amendment rights matter just as much as anyone else’s. Our fundamental right to exist as we are and to gather in celebration with our community is protected by the First Amendment on and off the stage,” plaintiff Flamy Grant said.
The ACLU-TN Legal Director Stella Yarbrough said: “This ruling reinforces that drag performance is constitutionally-protected expression under the First Amendment, regardless of where in the state it is performed. To anyone else seeking to restrict the constitutional right of drag performance – you’ll see us in court.”
Blount Pride will take place on Saturday, September 2 from 1 – 8 p.m. ET at the Clayton Center for the Arts, Maryville College, 502 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville.
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