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Fired Human Rights Campaign president sues, alleges racial discrimination

“Black and Brown people are treated differently and have been for years in this organization”

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Alphonso David (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Alphonso David, the former president of the Human Rights Campaign terminated by the board after he was ensnared in the Gov. Andrew Cuomo scandal, sued the nation’s leading LGBTQ group on Thursday, arguing he was fired as a result of racial discrimination “amid a deserved reputation for unequal treatment of its non-white employees” and was explicitly told he was paid less because he’s Black.

David, speaking with the Washington Blade on Thursday during a phone interview, said he came to the decision to file the lawsuit after practicing civil rights law for 20 years and “never thought that I would be a plaintiff.”

“But I’m in this chair, I was put in this position,” David said. “And as a civil rights lawyer, I couldn’t look the other way. It would be anathema to who I am and it would undermine my integrity and purpose for the work that I do. And so I have to go through and make a very, very difficult personal decision to file this lawsuit.”

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, accuses the Human Rights Campaign of violating new state and federal laws for terminating David, who was the organization’s first person of color and Black person to helm the LGBTQ group in its 40-year history. The lawsuit also contends the Human Rights Campaign contravened equal pay law in New York by paying David less than his predecessor, Chad Griffin.

After a public dispute with the board in September amid an independent investigation of his role in the Cuomo affair, the Human Rights Campaign boards unceremoniously fired David and shortly afterward announced a still ongoing search for a new president. David was named nearly a dozen times in the damning report by New York Attorney General Letitia James, suggesting David assisted in efforts by Cuomo’s staff to discredit a woman alleging sexual misconduct in Cuomo’s office. David has consistently denied wrongdoing.

But the lawsuit is broader than the termination and describes an environment at the Human Rights Campaign, which has faced criticism over the years for being geared toward white gay men, as a workplace where “non-white staffers were marginalized, tokenized, and denied advancement to high-level positions.” After a speech David gave on issues of race and indifference in the context of HRC’s mission, the lawsuit claims a board member complained about him referring too much to being Black, but faced no penalty from the organization.

Specifically named in the report is Chris Speron, Senior Vice President of Development, who expressed concern about “alienating” white donors and specifically “white gay men” after David issued a statement on the importance of Black Lives Matter after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. The lawsuit claims Speron pushed David to “stop mentioning in his public statements and remove from his bio the fact that he was HRC’s first Black President in its history.” Speron also was critical of hiring a Black-owned consulting firm and “criticized a Black staff member for attending a meeting with the consulting firm without a white person present,” the lawsuit claims. Speron couldn’t immediately be reached for comment to respond to the allegations.

In terms of equal pay, the lawsuit says HRC’s co-chairs informed David he was underpaid compared to his predecessor because he’s Black. But the lawsuit also acknowledges in 2021, just before news broke about the Cuomo report, the Human Rights Campaign in recognition of David’s work renewed his contract for five additional years and gave him a 30 percent raise.

David, speaking with the Blade, said he was in “shock” upon experiencing these alleged incidents of racism, maintaining he had kept quiet at the time out of concern for the greater good of the aims of the Human Rights Campaign.

Asked whether as president he considered implementing racial sensitivity trainings for his subordinates, David said “yes,” but added many trainings aren’t effective and said the power in organizations like the Human Rights Campaign is often spread out.

“There are people within the organization that have a fair amount of board support because they bring in the money because they are responsible for overseeing the money,” David added.

Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed the organization is “disappointed that Alphonso David has chosen to take retaliatory action against the Human Rights Campaign for his termination which resulted from his own actions.”

“Mr. David’s complaint is riddled with untruths,” Madison said. “We are confident through the legal process that it will be apparent that Mr. David’s termination was based on clear violations of his contract and HRC’s mission, and as president of HRC, he was treated fairly and equally.”

Madison adds the individuals accused of racism in the lawsuit “are people of color and champions of racial equity and inclusion who provided support and guidance as Mr. David led the organization,” without naming any specific individual. The boards for the Human Rights Campaign and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation who made the decision to terminate David, were comprised of seven independent directors, five of whom were Black.

The racist environment, the lawsuit says, culminated for David in September 2021 amid an independent investigation of his role in the Cuomo affair conducted by the law firm Sidley Austin LLP at the behest of the organization. According to the lawsuit, the board co-chairs contacted David late at night before Labor Day weekend to tell him to resign by 8 a.m. the next morning or be terminated for cause. When David asked whether the Sidley Austin investigation had made any findings against him, or if a report would be issued explaining what he was accused of doing wrong, the board co-chairs refused to say, the lawsuit says.

As is publicly known, David declined to resign and took to Twitter to complain about the board, which subsequently issued a statement disputing his claims. He was then fired “for cause” under his contract.

The termination, the lawsuit says, signified differential treatment of David because he is Black, taking note the Human Rights Campaign under his predecessor had “endured repeated, serious, scandals — many of which involved HRC’s mistreatment of Black and other marginalized individuals,” but Chad Griffin was never terminated “for cause.”

Both the Human Rights Campaign Foundation board and the Human Rights Campaign board voted to terminate David. A source familiar with the vote said no one voted “no” in either case. The campaign board vote was unanimous and there were two abstentions in the foundation board vote, the source said.

The source familiar with the vote said David never told the Human Rights Campaign he was helping Cuomo during his time as HRC president nor did he disclose he was talking to the New York attorney general. The first board members heard about it was when it hit the press, the source said.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit says David “performed extremely well as HRC president, by any measure,” navigating the organization through the coronavirus epidemic and boosting fundraising by 60 percent. (The Blade has not yet verified this claim.) It should be noted the Human Rights Campaign cited coronavirus as the reason it laid off 22 employees, as reported at the time by the Blade.

David, asked by the Blade how he sees the alleged racist culture at Human Rights Campaign infused in his termination, said “Black and Brown people are treated differently and have been for years in this organization,” citing a “Pipeline Report” leaked to the press in 2015 documenting an environment in which employees of color were unable to thrive.

“And so, the fact that I’m being treated differently now, in the fact that a different standard is being applied to me is just simply consistent with what they’ve always done,” David said. “You know, we go back to the Pipeline Report: Imagine if I was leading the organization at the time, and there was a report that was issued, that said that anti-Semitic remarks were being made within the organization, and that women were being discriminated against within the organization or some other marginalized group and that one of the senior vice presidents used a derogatory remark. Do you think I would still be at the organization or would they have fired me?”

David concluded: “There’s a different standard and a double standard that they’ve applied for decades, and I’ve just now been one casualty — another in a long series of casualties based on their systemic bias and discrimination.”

Among the requests in the prayer for relief in the complaint is a declaration the Human Rights Campaign’s actions violated the law; restoration of David to his position as president; an award of the compensation he would have received were he still on the job as well as punitive damages. Asked by the Blade whether any settlement talks have taken place, David said that wasn’t the case and pointed out the lawsuit was recently filed.

Legal experts who spoke to the Blade have doubted the validity of a review by Sidley Austin on the basis it was among the legal firms agreeing in 2019 to help with the Human Rights Campaign entering into litigation to advance LGBTQ rights, an agreement David spearheaded upon taking the helm of the organization.

David, in response to a question from the Blade, said the independent investigation into his role in the Cuomo affair “is a sham and I believe it was a sham,” citing the lack of transparency of findings.

“One of the first instances that caused me concern,” David said, “is I suggested to the organization that we conduct an independent review, and they came back to me and said, ‘Here’s our press release history,’ and the press release never mentioned that I actually suggested that they do this review. And when I challenged them on that, they told me that they thought it would be better for the press to review a complaint or receive a statement that showed that they were bringing this investigation as opposed to I’m recommending and push back even more. And then they said ‘Well, we will put in the statement that you are cooperating.’ So from the very beginning, they were not honest about what they were actually doing.”

Representing David in the lawsuit is the Chicago-based employment law firm Stowell & Friedman, Ltd. and and Chicago-based attorney Matt Singer. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Eric Vitaliano, a George W. Bush appointee, an informed source familiar with the case said.

The lawsuit was filed in New York as opposed to D.C. because David is a New York resident and much of the discriminatory behavior took place in New York, the source said. The pay disparity alleged in the lawsuit is expressed in percentages as oppose to hard numbers pursuant to rules for the judiciary in New York, the source added.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge tosses suit against Calif. trans sanctuary state law

The law provides legal protections for families who come to Calif. to obtain gender-affirming care that is inaccessible where they live

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Robert T. Matsui U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building, Sacramento, Calif. (Photo Credit: U.S. Courts/GSA)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed a second amended complaint challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 107 (SB 107), also referred to as California’s Transgender Sanctuary State Law.

In the dismissal without leave to amend, the court dismissed the lawsuit on Article III standing grounds, finding that the plaintiff failed to allege that SB 107 injured them in any way, and failed to allege any facts showing that SB 107 forced the plaintiff to divert staff time and resources.

SB 107 protects children and families seeking gender affirming care, as well as their health care providers, from bigoted anti-trans laws in other states that criminalize medically necessary health care that is legal in California. 

The Transgender Sanctuary State Law provides legal protections for families who come to California to obtain gender-affirming care that is inaccessible where they live, as well as doctors and staff providing such care in California. It implements various safeguards against the enforcement of other states’ laws that would penalize people for obtaining medically necessary care that is legal in California.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a statement following the U.S. District Court’s order granting the California Department of Justice’s motion to dismiss the second amended complaint challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 107 (SB 107).

“No one should ever be marginalized for seeking the care they need,” said Bonta. “The court’s decision is a major win for transgender children and their families in California and across the U.S. amidst a growing assault on LGBTQ+ rights nationwide. My office stands ready to defend SB 107 to ensure transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals obtain the care that empowers them to lead healthier, happier lives.”

“Transgender people just want to live their lives authentically and in peace, and California is defending their right to do so,” said the law’s author, state Senator Scott Wiener. “This ruling shows once again that trans people are living authentically in California without any of the negative impacts on those around them of which right-wing zealots accuse them. California’s leadership is united in defending transgender people, and LGBTQ people generally, from the vicious attacks they face in other states. I thank Attorney General Bonta and his team for their incredible work securing this major civil rights victory.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge rules Florida trans teacher can use ‘Ms.’ in classroom

“Once again, the State of Florida has a First Amendment problem. It has occurred so frequently of late, you can set your clock by it”

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U.S. District Court building In Tallahassee, Florida. (Screenshot/YouTube)

By Erin Reed | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In Florida, a federal judge ruled that a transgender woman teacher no longer has to be referred to as “Mr.” or “teacher” in the classroom, citing first amendment protections.

Instead, she can use “Ms.” and female pronouns. This decision follows the passage of HB1069 in Florida, which mandated that teachers could not use pronouns that “do not correspond to his or her sex.”

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker enjoined the state from enforcing the law against her, stating, “The State of Florida has not justified this grave restraint, and so the United States Constitution does not tolerate it. Ours is a Union of individuals, celebrating ourselves and singing ourselves and being ourselves without apology.”

The plaintiff, Ms. Wood, a teacher at a Florida high school, has been known as “Ms. Wood” for four years. She regularly would write her name, title, and pronouns on the whiteboard and used these pronouns with students, faculty, and staff, as well as in her personal life. In evaluating Ms. Wood’s usage of her name, title, and pronouns, the judge determined that “The freedom to use the title ‘Ms.’ and to share her preferred pronouns at school is essential to her basic humanity.”

Ms. Wood’s ability to use her preferred title and pronouns was threatened following the passage of House Bill 1069. Enacted into law in 2023, House Bill 1069 prohibits all employees and contractors of public K-12 educational institutions from using their preferred personal titles or pronouns if those “do not correspond to their sex.”

After the law’s enactment, administrators informed Ms. Wood that she had to remove her pronouns and title from display and could not correct students who referred to her as “Mr.” or “him.”

The judge commenced his ruling with a scathing critique of the state, writing, “Once again, the State of Florida has a First Amendment problem. It has occurred so frequently of late, some might say you can set your clock by it… The question before this Court is whether the First Amendment allows the State to dictate, without limitation, how public-school teachers refer to themselves when communicating with students. The answer is a thunderous ‘no.’”

The judge ultimately determined that prohibiting Ms. Wood from using her pronouns or title constituted an unconstitutional violation of her freedom of speech, deeming it a form of viewpoint discrimination.

In his decision, he refuted several arguments presented by the state, including the claim that Ms. Wood using “Ms.” could “impede her job duties.” He found this assertion to be unfounded, noting instead that as a teacher, Ms. Wood’s students achieved test scores higher than the district average.

Additionally, the state argued that Ms. Wood’s identity itself was at odds with the state’s teachings on gender and sexuality, and thus she could be barred. This argument, based on a novel legal theory, was found by the judge to be entirely unsupported by court precedent.

This case is not the only recent legal action addressing this topic. Two weeks prior, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that repeated and intentional misgendering could constitute a hostile work environment. Similarly, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that teachers do not have the religious right to misgender transgender students. While the Florida case did not grant Ms. Wood an injunction on the basis of a hostile work environment, it does not preclude the possibility that it might recognize she experienced such an environment in addition to the First Amendment violation identified by the judge when the case is fully heard.

It is important to note that although defendants are barred from enforcing the law against Ms. Wood, the injunction is currently limited only to the teacher. However, should other teachers be threatened with retaliation under similar circumstances, it is likely they would also prevail. Similarly, this case will likely be cited in other attempts to bar transgender students and teachers from using their pronouns in school settings nationwide.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: NY AG can continue legal action on anti-trans order

U.S. District Court Judge Choudhury denied Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman’s request for a temporary restraining order

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New York Attorney General Letitia James at a press conference in Queens April 3. (Photo Credit: Office of New York Attorney General)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – A U.S. District Court judge ruled Thursday that New York Attorney General Letitia James can continue to take legal action against Nassau County over a transphobic executive order barring the Nassau County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Museums from issuing permits to any women’s or girls’ sports team with transgender players.

U.S. District Court Judge Nusrat Choudhury, who is on the bench of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, denied Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman’s request for a temporary restraining order against the Attorney General.

In his ruling Judge Choudhury wrote that the Long Island county “falls far short of meeting the high bar for securing the extraordinary relief,” the Associated Press reported.

Among other things, Choudhury said the county failed to “demonstrate irreparable harm,” which she said was a “critical prerequisite” for such an order.

The ruling, however, doesn’t address the legality of the county’s ban or James’ request that the lawsuit be dismissed. Those issues will be decided at a later date, the Associated Press noted.

On March 1st, Attorney General James sent a order of cease and desist to Blakeman demanding that the Republican Nassau County Executive rescind his February 22 directive within five days or else face additional legal actions. 

“The law is perfectly clear: you cannot discriminate against a person because of their gender identity or expression. We have no room for hate or bigotry in New York,” the Attorney General wrote. “This executive order is transphobic and blatantly illegal. Nassau County must immediately rescind the order, or we will not hesitate to take decisive legal action.” 

Last month the Nassau County Executive announced he was filing a lawsuit over the Attorney General’s actions.

In his filing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the Nassau County Executive argues that New York State Human Rights Law does not extend to transgender people. The suit also cites the 14th Amendment claiming the “cease and desist” letter issued by the Attorney General violates the U.S. Constitution’s “equal protection” clause, which is enshrined in the 14th Amendment.

According to the Office of the Attorney General: “Under New York law, it is illegal to discriminate against an individual based on their sex or gender identity or expression. In addition to violating basic civil and human rights, the executive order will impose undue increased scrutiny on women’s and girls’ teams and leagues and will also subject all athletes on women’s and girls’ sports teams to intrusive and invasive questioning and other verification requirements.”

Blakeman told reporters: “We don’t want 6-foot, 210-pound males competing against women and girls who are not that big, they’re not that strong. That’s an unfair competition. It’s dangerous. And we also don’t want biological males in the same locker rooms as biological females.”

When pressed by journalists Blakeman could not cite an instance of a transgender athlete trying to play on a female team in the Long Island county, instead referencing controversy other transgender athletes in other states and “interest” from constituents. He has insisted he is being proactive to prevent it from happening, WNBC 4 News reported.

“We’re taking action now because it’s happening around the country and we don’t want it to happen here,” he said. He argued the Attorney General’s actions to force him to rescind his order denies “biological females’ right to equal opportunities in athletics” as well as their “right to a safe playing field” by exposing them to increased risk of injury if they’re forced to compete against transgender women.

In a press release the James’ office noted: The executive order forces sports teams and leagues to make an unfair and unnecessary choice: openly discriminate against transgender women and girls in violation of state law, or find somewhere else to play. The executive order applies to more than 100 venues, including general playing fields in parks, baseball, football, and soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and ice rinks. This discriminatory order will not only impact Nassau County-based teams and leagues but will also undoubtedly deter teams from other counties from participating in Nassau County games and sporting events. 

Republican Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman & Caitlyn Jenner on March 18 2024.
(Photo Credit: Blakeman Official Nassau County/Facebook)

David Kilmnick, PhD, a leading advocate within New York’s LGBTQ+ communities and the founder and President/CEO of the New York LGBT Network referred to Blakeman’s executive order as “just a complete waste of time and a political stunt.” In an interview with WNBC 4 Kilmnick called Blakeman’s actions illegal and dangerous. “We need to get real here: The bullying that is taking place is on trans youth.”

At a news conference carried live by Fox News Channel on March 18, Caitlyn Jenner at Blakeman’s request flew from her home in Malibu, Calif. to join with him and other elected Republican leaders to speak in support of his February executive order banning trans athletes at more than 100 county-owned facilities.  “Trans women are competing against women, taking valuable opportunities for the long-protected class under Title IX and causing physical harm,” said Jenner without providing supportive evidence of her claim. Jenner said the ban would defeat “the woke agenda.” 

Her comments drew praise from former NCAA swimmer and paid shill Riley Gaines, who represents the Independent Women’s Forum and has also worked with the failed presidential campaign of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida on his anti-trans athlete platform.

“If the left wants to fight this battle on this hill, it’s a losing battle,” said Jenner. “We will win the battle.” She claimed she spoke on behalf of women and girls, contradicting her past statements in support of trans girls competing according to their gender identity and despite the fact she herself still competes in women’s sports.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Far-right Gays Against Groomers, others sue Colorado lawmakers

Gays Against Groomers has established itself as one of the most notable propagators of anti-trans rhetoric across the nation

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Anti-Trans far-right activists Riley Gaines & Rich Guggenheim at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado for an event on April 3, 2024. (Photo Credit: Rich Guggenheim/Facebook)

DENVER, Colo. – A lawsuit against five Colorado state lawmakers for alleging they unlawfully restricted or chilled speech in legislative hearings was filed in the U. S. District Court for the District of Colorado on Thursday, April 4. The suit was brought by the Institute for Free Speech on behalf of Gays Against Groomers and Rocky Mountain Women’s Network.

The lawsuit alleges that State Representatives Lorena Garcia, Mike Weissman, Leslie Herod, and State Senators Julie Gonzales and Dafna Michaelson Jenet as having unlawfully restricted or chilled speech related to trans issues, particularly as it pertains to debate over what its sponsors called “Tiara’s Law.” 

The bill, HB24-1071 is informally referred to as Tiara’s Law, named for Tiara Latrice Kelley, a trans woman convicted of felonies related to being a sex worker. Tiara’s Law would ease the path to name changes on official documents for convicted felons.

Opponents charge that name changes can make it “far easier for felons to hide their criminal past and might make it easier for them to victimize children or other vulnerable populations.”

During recent hearings on the proposed law, Senator Gonzales who introduced HB23-1071 before the Colorado House Judiciary Committee warned other members and witnesses to refrain from using derogatory language or misgendering witnesses or using a trans witness’ deadname. Rep. Garcia urged speakers to engage in “respectful discourse.” 

The Judiciary Committee Chair, Rep. Weissman then ruled that these specifications would be incorporated into the conduct of the hearing.

According to the court filing by  Institute for Free Speech attorneys, Dr. Rich Guggenheim of the organization Gays Against Groomers abandoned his place in line at the hearing, “fearing his speech would be deemed non-conforming and censored.” The court documents also note that when Christina Goeke of the Rocky Mountain Women’s Network testified, when Goeke attempted to discuss Kelley’s criminal history and used Kelley’s legal name and male pronouns, she was repeatedly interrupted and ultimately had her testimony terminated by Chair Weissman.

The suit also alleges in a Senate Judiciary Committee, portions of Goeke’s testimony from the official audio record of its hearing on HB24-1071 was erased.

 “Americans are having a debate about sex, gender, and pronouns. The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to express their views on those matters, even if those views might be offensive to some,” said Del Kolde, Senior Attorney at the Institute for Free Speech. “By forcing speakers to adopt a contested ideology, Colorado lawmakers unlawfully privileged one viewpoint over another and silenced dissent, going so far as to erase it from the public record.” 

Related

In January, the Anti-Defamation League released a report naming Gays Against Groomers, a group that “peddles dangerous and misleading narratives about the LGBTQ+ community,” among notable amplifiers of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric online.

The Southern Poverty Law Center in October published a report that stated:

In the year [2022] since its founding, Gays Against Groomers has established itself as one of the most notable propagators of anti-trans rhetoric, deploying QAnon conspiracy propaganda in its crusade to save children from transgender individuals who they claim are attempting to sexually groom children. The group also attacks those supporting gender-affirming care and the transgender community, labeling them pedophiles.

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U.S. Federal Courts

D.C. gay gym owner pleads not guilty to distributing child porn

Everts has been held without bond since the time of his Nov. 29 arrest on a single charge of distribution of child pornography

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Michael Everts (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Gay D.C. gym owner Michael Everts, who was arrested Nov. 29, 2023, on a charge of distributing child pornography, pleaded not guilty on Thursday, April 4, at his arraignment hearing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

At the request of Everts’s defense attorney and the lead prosecutor with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C., U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan agreed to give Everts more time to consider whether to accept an offer by prosecutors to plead guilty to a lower charge that would avoid bringing the case to trial.

Chutkan scheduled a status hearing for 9 a.m. on June 10 at which time the two parties were expected to disclose whether a plea agreement was reached or whether the case would go forward for a trial.

News that a plea bargain offer was in the works surfaced in January when the U.S. Attorney’s office and Everts’s defense attorney filed a joint motion asking another judge presiding over the case at that time to postpone a preliminary hearing and arraignment for Everts on grounds that prosecutors were about to issue a plea offer and the two sides needed more time to discuss the offer.

Everts has been held without bond since the time of his Nov. 29 arrest on a single charge of distribution of child pornography following a joint D.C. police-FBI investigation that led to his arrest. Chutkan ordered that Everts remain in custody until at least the time of the June status hearing.

He was escorted into the courtroom at Thursday’s arraignment wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. In response to questions by the judge, he said he understood he is being charged with a single count of distribution of child pornography and is entitled to a full trial by jury if he chooses a trial rather than accept a plea offer by prosecutors.

Everts has owned and operated the FIT Personal Training gym located at 1633 Q St., N.W., near Dupont Circle since its opening in 2002.

The lead prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jocelyn Bond, on Dec. 1 filed a 20-page Memorandum in Support of Pretrial Detention for Everts, which the judge approved. The memorandum provides details of the investigation and its findings that prosecutors say showed that Everts distributed images of underage boys engaging in sexual acts to an undercover D.C. police detective posing in an online gay hookup site as someone interested in underage boys for sex.

According to the prosecutors’ memo, Everts allegedly sent the undercover officer video and photo images of child pornography. The memo and a separate police-FBI affidavit in support of Everts’s arrest state that the investigation found, through information from a tipster, that Everts was exchanging messages on a gay sex hookup site expressing interest in exchanging images of underage boys for sexual gratification. That information prompted the joint D.C. police-FBI sting operation that led to Everts’s arrest.

Under the criminal statute Everts is charged with – distribution of child pornography – those convicted of that charge face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Aside from a prison sentence an individual convicted of this charge must register as a sex offender for life.

David Benowitz, Everts’s defense attorney, when approached by the Washington Blade following Thursday’s arraignment, said he would consider a request by the Blade for comment on the case and whether he or Everts dispute any of the allegations against Everts brought by prosecutors.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Trailblazing out wrestler sentenced to 7+ years prison for child porn

Donovan was found to have exchanged “multiple images & videos of child sexual abuse, including depictions involving pre-pubescent children”

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Alec Donovan (Centenary University/Facebook)

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney announced the sentencing of wrestling coach Alec Donovan, 26, following his guilty plea to distributing child pornography, including the sharing of nude selfies with minors.  

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Zahid N. Quraishi sentenced Donovan to 87 months — more than seven years — and added 30 years of supervised release. 

Donovan’s imprisonment is not the first time he’s made headlines. In 2015, the Brick Township man was a high school senior who was crowned state wrestling champion, with a 39-1 record, ranked among the top 25 wrestlers in the nation for his weight class. 

That same year, Donovan came out publicly as gay in an interview with an LGBTQ sports website, detailing how he came out to a female friend in freshman year at Brick Memorial High School and to fellow wrestlers in his junior year. He had considered suicide, and found acceptance. 

Donovan went on to even greater fame as the first known out gay wrestler in NCAA history. 

But in college, after experiencing homophobia and losing his scholarship following a concussion, he transferred to Centenary University in Hackettstown and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history. 

According to Donovan’s LinkedIn page, he worked as a coach at the Shore Thing Wrestling Club in Lakewood, N.J. as well as a supervisor for TDI, Inc. and as a wedding photographer.

The news release issued on March 29 by U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger states that “Donovan used an internet-based application to exchange multiple images and videos of child sexual abuse, including depictions involving pre-pubescent children,” from January 2021 through March 2021. The prosecutor said Donovan also “used the web-based messaging application to solicit and engage in conversations with minors, including requesting nude photographs from the minors and sending nude photographs to them.”

Donovan’s arrest was the result of work by the Newark Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task force, under the direction of FBI Special Agent in Charge James E. Dennehy in Newark, N.J.

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Two indicted for supplying fentanyl causing death of Cecilia Gentili

New York City residents Michael Kuilan & Antonio Vent were named in court documents which laid out the events leading to the death of Gentili

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Cecilia Gentili. (Photo Credit: Facebook/Cecilia Gentili)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – On Monday, Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York announced that two men had been charged with distributing the heroin and fentanyl that caused the death of 52-year-old Argentina-born Cecilia Gentili, a beloved prominent New York trans activist.

New York City residents Michael Kuilan and Antonio Vent were named in the court documents which laid out the events leading to the death of Gentili.

According to the indictment and court documents, on February 6, 2024, following a 911 call by Gentili’s partner, NYPD officers reported to Gentili’s home in Brooklyn, New York and found Gentili dead in her bedroom. Gentili died due to the combined effect of fentanyl, heroin, xylazine, and cocaine. Text messages, cell site data, and other evidence revealed that Venti sold the fentanyl and heroin mixture to Gentili on February 5, 2024, and Kuilan supplied Venti with those lethal narcotics.

In addition, law enforcement searched an apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn belonging to Kuilan and found hundreds of baggies of fentanyl, a handgun, and ammunition.

“Cecilia Gentili, a prominent activist and leader of the New York transgender community was tragically poisoned in her Brooklyn home from fentanyl-laced heroin. Today, the alleged perpetrators who sold the deadly dose of drugs to Gentili have been arrested,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “Fentanyl is a public health crisis. Our Office will spare no effort in the pursuit of justice for the many New Yorkers who have lost loved ones due to this lethal drug.”

“Today’s indictment delivers a strong message to anyone who profits from poisoning our communities with illicit drugs: There are dedicated investigators, across multiple agencies, working tirelessly to disrupt your shameful industry by pinpointing the source of these unlawful substances,” stated NYPD Commissioner Caban. “It is imperative that we continue to hold distributors accountable for their callous actions. I commend the NYPD’s partners at the DEA and the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York for their ongoing commitment to this critical mission.”

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An undocumented immigrant and then asylum seeker from Argentina, Gentili came to the United States pursuing a safer life to live authentically as a transgender woman. She lived undocumented for 10 years, hustling doing sex work which came with drug use. After surviving arrests and an immigration detention, she accessed recovery services and won asylum.

Among Gentili’s accomplishments was her work as a co-founder of her namesake COIN Clinic (Cecilia’s Occupational Inclusion Network ) at Callen-Lorde, a New York City-based leader in LGBTQ+ healthcare. She later was the managing director of policy for the world-renowned GMHC (originally the Gay Men’s Health Crisis). 

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U.S. Federal Courts

U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear anti-trans parent’s appeal

The parents claimed their status as “christians,” free speech and religious rights, were infringed upon when the lower court intervened

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U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo Credit: Architect of the U.S. Capitol)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the appeal of a lower court’s decision to remove a transgender child from the parents’ custody due to allegations of abuse and their refusal to support the teen’s gender identity.

In October of 2022, the Indiana State Court of Appeals had published a 28-page ruling in the case of: In the Matter of A.C. (Minor Child), Child in Need of Services, and M.C. (Mother) and J.C. (Father) v. Indiana Department of Child Services,  which clarified that the parents’ freedom of speech/religious beliefs do not trump the child’s medical and/or psychological needs.

The mother and father claimed their status as “christians,” free speech and religious rights, were infringed upon when the lower court intervened.

“The parents have the right to exercise their religious beliefs, but they do not have the right to exercise them in a manner that causes physical or emotional harm to [their] child,” the appellate court said in its opinion.

The Indiana Lawyer reported the case started in May 2021, when the Department of Child Services received a report alleging that mother M.C. was verbally and emotionally abusing her 16-year-old child, A.C., by using rude and demeaning language regarding the teen’s transgender identity. As a result, A.C. had thoughts of self-harm.

A second report was filed and a week after the second report, DCS filed a proposed child in need of services petition in the Madison Circuit Court, alleging A.C. was a CHINS on two bases: A.C.’s physical or mental condition was seriously impaired or seriously endangered due to the parents’ neglect and/or A.C.’s physical or mental health was seriously endangered due to injury by the parents’ acts or omissions.

Following a hearing, the court issued an initial/detention order finding that it was in A.C.’s best interest to be removed from the home due to the parents’ “inability, refusal or neglect to provide shelter, care, and/or supervision at the present time.”

Later during the court process, The Indiana Lawyer reported:

At the close of a subsequent dispositional hearing, the court informed the parties that it would leave in place its earlier order prohibiting the parents from discussing the child’s transgender identity during visitation, but confirmed that it could be discussed at family therapy and that the court would reconsider the order when it could be safely discussed outside of therapy.

The trial court entered its dispositional order in which it found A.C. needed services and therapy, in which the parents were ordered to participate. The court also ordered that A.C. would remain in the current home or placement with DCS supervision.

On appeal, the parents argued the dispositional order and the trial court’s prior order on the combined initial and detention hearing were clearly erroneous. They also argued both orders violated their constitutional rights to the care, custody and control of A.C., the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court denies to lift West Texas A&M University drag ban

A U. S. District Court judge & a three judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled against the student group

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The U.S. Supreme Court (Photo by Michael Key, the Washington Blade)

WASHINGTON – In a simple one sentence order issued Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the request by West Texas A&M University’s Spectrum LGBTQ+ student organization to block a ban of an annual charity drag show implemented by West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler in March of 2023.

“The application for writ of injunction pending appeal presented to Justice Alito and by him referred to the Court is denied.,” the order reads.

A Texas U. S. District Court judge and a three judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled against the student group’s request to block the university’s ban on the performance.

Arguing that the actions taken by West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler infringes on Spectrum LGBTQ+ group’s free speech, JT Morris, an attorney with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, wrote in the emergency application to the high court earlier this month:

“If courts abdicate their responsibility to provide oversight when university officials overstep constitutional bounds, it will hollow out this court’s well-settled rule that university presidents cannot arbitrarily parcel out First Amendment rights only to those groups of which they approve.”

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Last year, several West Texas A&M student groups were organizing the drag show, called “A Fool’s Drag Race,” for months. Spectrum advertised the show on its Instagram page, encouraging people to sign up to perform. wanted to host a drag show to raise money for the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that provides suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth. 

The show was planned with the help of university staff and intended for audiences over 13 years old. Spectrum WT said the show would be anything but risqué, avoiding profane music and other “lewd” conduct. Minors were allowed to attend only if accompanied by a parent. 

Wendler drew considerable ire for canceling the student drag show, arguing that such performances degrade women and are “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny.”

The students accused Wendler of violating university policy, which states the school can’t deny student groups any benefits “on the basis of a political, religious, philosophical, ideological, or academic viewpoint expressed by the organization or any expressive activities of the organization.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

First Black and first LGBTQ judge to serve on R.I. federal court

DuBose’s nomination was enthusiastically supported by her state’s two Democratic U.S. senators., Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse

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Judge Melissa R. DuBose (Screen capture: Roger Williams University School of Law/YouTube)

WASHINGTON — Judge Melissa DuBose was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday for her appointment by President Joe Biden to the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, where she will be the first Black and the first LGBTQ judge to serve on the bench.

DuBose thanked her partner Amy “for blessing me with over two decades of unwavering love, support, laughter and patience,” and their “two remarkable sons … for gracing me with that special love that is reserved for mothers and sons.” 

The vote was 51-47, with only two Republicans supporting her nomination, Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

During a confirmation hearing in February, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) grilled DuBose about an article 24 years ago in which she was quoted as saying she had gone through “a Marxist phase.”

Currently serving as associate judge on the Rhode Island District Court in Providence, DuBose’s nomination was enthusiastically supported by her state’s two Democratic U.S. senators., Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse.

“She’s proven to be an exceptional jurist with a stellar record,” said the former on the Senate floor, adding, “She has dedicated her life to public service, and Rhode Island is fortunate that she has once again answered the call.”

Whitehouse said, “This is a person, a lifelong Rhode Islander, who is exceedingly well regarded in our community.”

Nicole Berner’s nomination advances


Another lesbian judge nominated by Biden to serve a lifetime tenure on the federal bench is Nicole Berner, who has long served as general counsel of the Service Employees International Union and was tapped to join the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Senate moved for a cloture vote on her nomination Thursday, meaning a final vote is expected as early as next week. She would be the first LGBTQ judge on the circuit court and the 11th confirmed LGBTQ judge nominated by Biden — tying with the record number who were appointed by former President Barack Obama over two terms in office.

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