Connect with us

U.S. Federal Courts

Florida sued by LGBTQ legal & advocacy groups over “Don’t Say Gay” law

“Children should not be the political fodder used to inflame hatred and bigotry for the sake of winning and holding onto power”

Published

on

Courtesy of Will Larkins

ORLANDO – On Tuesday Lambda Legal, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Southern Legal Counsel (SLC), and private counsel Baker McKenzie filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The suit, Cousins et al. v. The School Board of Orange County et al, filed in United Stated District Court for the Middle District of Florida Orlando Division, was filed on behalf of Jennifer and Matt Cousins and their children, 14-year-old N.C. in ninth grade, 12-year-old S.C. in seventh grade, 8-year-old M.C. in third grade, and 6-year-old P.C. in first grade, David Dinan and Vikranth Reddy Gongidi and their children, 9-year-old K.R.D. in fourth grade and 8-year-old R.R.D. in third grade,  Will Larkins, rising senior at Winter Park High School in Orange County, Florida and Centerlink, Inc. LGBTQ+ centers. 

The lawsuit argues that the law, which bans discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and restricts such discussions for students through grade 12 based on undefined standards of appropriateness, effectively silences and erases LGBTQ+ students and families. The law demands that school districts implement its terms, and it empowers any parent to directly sue the school district if they are dissatisfied with its implementation of the law.

“The purpose and effect of this breathtakingly broad law is to silence LGBTQ+ students and families, and the law’s imprecision intensifies its chilling effect. Because the law invites any parent dissatisfied with a school’s censorship of LGBTQ-related speech to sue the school district and collect attorney fees, it causes schools to aggressively control discussions that might trigger the type of moral objection that gave rise to this law,” said Kell Olson, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney. “Already, schools have cut anti-bullying guidance for K-12 teachers and pulled books from shelves. LBGTQ+ parents are struggling to find gentle ways to explain to their children why they won’t be able to talk openly about their families when they go back to the classroom in a few weeks. This discriminatory law puts students at risk and sends a message of shame and stigma that has no place in schools.”

“We are deeply concerned about the negative effect that HB 1557 has upon our family. The law limits our speech and our expression. The law forces us to self-censor for fear of prompting responses from our children’s teachers and classmates that would isolate our children and make them feel ashamed of their own family. It also causes irreparable harm to our children and to their development,” said plaintiffs David Dinan and Vikranth Gongidi.

Courtesy of Will Larkins

“I am concerned that this law will eviscerate any hope of healthy and important discussions about LGBTQ+ issues or historical events, which are already lacking in our schools. Because of the vague language of the law, closed-minded parents are emboldened to become vigilantes to force their beliefs upon other people’s children by suing the school district over anything they disagree with,” said plaintiff Will Larkins.

“This law will prevent our two youngest children, rising first and third graders, from discussing their older non-binary sibling in the classroom for fear of their teacher or their school getting in trouble. The law also robs them of the opportunity of discussing their family like other non-LGBTQ+ children. It’s heartbreaking to know that my children may be bullied because this law paints our family as shameful. Every child deserves the right to celebrate their family in the form that it exists,” said plaintiffs Jennifer and Matthew Cousins.

Courtesy of Lambda Legal

“Children should not be the political fodder used to inflame hatred and bigotry for the sake of winning and holding onto power,” said Bacardi Jackson, interim deputy legal director for SPLC’s Children’s Rights Practice Group. “But that’s exactly what this unconstitutional law seeks to do. The real lives and identities of all of our children and their families are not words on a page that can just be edited out, nor should they be. All of us, and our democracy, are irreparably harmed when people, and especially children, are relegated, made invisible and targeted for who they are or who they love. This law cannot stand.”

“Through our work with LGBTQ+ students across the state of Florida, we are profoundly aware of the ways in which many school districts were already failing to provide a safe and affirming learning environment for LGBTQ+ students even before this new assault on their rights,” said Simone Chriss, Director of the Transgender Rights Initiative at Southern Legal Counsel. “As a result of HB 1557, the hard-won protections we’ve fought to put in place in Florida school districts to keep LGBTQ+ students safe, such as LGBTQ+ Critical Support Guides, anti-bullying policies, and inclusive materials, are being stripped away as schools move toward censorship to avoid expensive legal challenges by anti-LGBTQ+ parents. We will fight to right this wrong, to correct this injustice, and to ensure all students have access to a safe and affirming school environment.”

“The Baker McKenzie pro bono team recognizes the severe harm that HB 1557 poses to youth and families in Florida,” commented Angela Vigil, Partner and Executive Director of Pro Bono at the Firm. “We are proud to be part of the legal team challenging this discriminatory law, giving these brave plaintiffs the opportunity to express the pain and fear it is causing them — and so many families throughout the state — in federal court.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement

U.S. Federal Courts

Conservative group sues Iowa school district over trans-inclusive policy

The policy covers years 7-12, allowing students to freely communicate with faculty members and school staff about their gender identity

Published

on

Linn-Mar High School students attend assembly Spring of 2022 (Photo Credit: Linn-Mar Community School District/Facebook)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Ia. – The Parents Defending Education (PDE), a conservative right-wing nationwide nonprofit membership association, sued an Iowa school district in federal court last week over the district’s gender support plan approved last Spring by the school board.

The Linn-Mar Community School District (LMCSD) policy (504.13-R) covers year 7 through year 12, allowing students to freely communicate with faculty members and school staff about their gender identity. The policy protects those conversations from their parents if they wish.

The policy also states students and staff should identify a student by their chosen name and pronouns, and allow students to participate in activities as their assigned gender.

PDE’s suit alleges  LMCSD’s “parental exclusion policy”  violates violates parent’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. “Nearly a century of Supreme Court precedent makes two things clear: parents have a constitutional liberty interest in the care, custody, and control of their children, and students do not abandon their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate. The Linn-Mar Community School District is flouting both of these constitutional guarantees through its recent adoption of Policy 504.13-R”

The suit also claims, “The Policy authorizes children to make fundamentally important decisions concerning their gender identity without any parental involvement and to then hide these decisions from their parents. […] These actions can happen without any knowledge or input from the child’s parents. Instead, these decisions will be made solely by the child and “school administrators and/or school counselors.” And it is not just secrecy through silence. The District will withhold this information even if it is specifically requested by parents.”

“Linn-Mar’s gender policy demonstrates a deep contempt for the constitutional rights of its students and families,” said Parents Defending Education President Nicole Neily in a statement. “It has been clearly established by the federal court system over the past 100 years that parents have a right to direct the upbringing of their children, and we are proud to fight on behalf of our members to put a stop to these unconstitutional policies.”

LGBTQ + advocates maintain the LMCSD policy is necessary means ensuring that LGBTQ students can seek help about questions they might have, and also protect them from bullying and harassment.

The lawsuit alleges though that the policy is too broad when it comes to bullying and harassment, and that it violates 1st Amendment protections for those persons who choose to not identify a student by their chosen gender or name.

Since the LMCSD Board passed the policy the community of around 6,000 people has been divided. One parent writing in a Facebook post on the LMCSD page: [Tina Gaby]

“I think every parent at Linn Mar that is uncomfortable with this decision can start with Asking for a separate partition for their child to be able to change in the locker room. Biological males and females have just as much right as transgender kids to feel comfortable”

Another parent, Joseph Stutler, answered: “Tina Gaby Or they could just learn to be decent humans and mind their own business in the facilities.”

The Linn-Mar Community School District did not respond to media requests for comment.

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Long Island man sentenced for sending death threats to LGBTQ+ groups

U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert sentenced him after six victims addressed the Court & described the fear his threats instilled in them 

Published

on

U.S. Justice Department seal on podium (Photo Credit: U.S. Justice Department)

LONG ISLAND, Ny. – In federal court in Central Islip, New York, on Wednesday Robert Fehring, 74, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for mailing more than 60 letters to LGBTQ+ affiliated individuals, organizations and businesses, many of which contained threats to kill, shoot, and bomb the recipients.

United States District Judge Joanna Seybert sentenced Fehring after six victims addressed the Court and described the fear that Fehring’s threats instilled in them. 

From at least 2013 to 2021, Fehring sent letters threatening violence to individuals associated with the LGBTQ+ community.  In those letters, Fehring threatened to use firearms and explosives against the recipients.

One such letter threatened that there would “be radio-cont[r]olled devices placed at numerous strategic places” at the 2021 New York City Pride March with “firepower” that would “make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting look like a cakewalk,” referencing the 2016 attack in which 49 persons were killed and dozens wounded at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Fehring also sent a threatening letter to the owners of the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan and an African American-owned barbershop affiliated with the LGTBQ+ community in Brooklyn.  The letter to the Stonewall Inn stated, “we will blow up/burn your establishments down.  We will shoot those who frequent your dens of [expletives].”  The letter to the barbershop purported to be from “People Who Hate Gays … and In Particular [n-word] Gays and stated, “your shop is the perfect place for a bombing … or beating the scum that frequents your den of [expletive] into a bloody pool of steaming flesh.” 

Fehring mailed dozens of additional threatening letters to individuals, businesses, and elected officials associated with the LGBTQ+ community.

On November 18, 2021, the FBI’s Civil Rights Squad and the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force executed a search warrant at Fehring’s home in Bayport and recovered copies of letters containing threats, supplies used to mail threatening letters, 20 LGBTQ+ related Pride flags that appeared identical to flags stolen from flagpoles in Sayville in July 2021, and reconnaissance-style photographs from a June 2021 Pride event in East Meadow. 

Law enforcement officers also recovered electronic devices owned by Fehring that contained internet searches for Fehring’s victims and related LGBTQ+ affiliated individual, events, and businesses. 

Law enforcement officers also recovered from Fehring’s residence two loaded shotguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, two stun guns, and a stamped envelope addressed to an LGBTQ+ affiliated attorney containing the remains of a dead bird.

During a press conference, Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI),and Rodney K. Harrison, Commissioner, Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) announced the sentence.

“There is no room for hate in the Eastern District of New York. Today’s sentence makes clear that threats to kill and commit acts of violence against the LGBTQ+ community will be met with significant punishment,” stated United States Attorney Peace.  “We will use the full power of our office to bring to justice those who threaten to kill or hurt people because of who they are, and to ensure everyone in our district is able to live authentically, safely and in peace.”

“Robert Fehring made heinous threats against members of the LGBTQ+ community in locations throughout New York, including Suffolk County, for nearly eight years,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Harrison said. “Thanks to the tireless efforts of our department’s Hate Crimes Unit detectives and the diligent work of our law enforcement partners, Fehring is being held accountable for his crimes. This sentence reiterates that hate and intolerance have no place in Suffolk County.” 

 

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Human Rights Campaign: Lawsuit filed against Tennessee ‘bathroom bill’

“It is unfortunate that Tennessee lawmakers are using their authority to attack some of our nation’s most vulnerable—our children”

Published

on

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

NASHVILLE – A lawsuit filed Thursday by the Human Rights Campaign asserts that a Tennessee law preventing transgender students from accessing school facilities consistent with their gender identity violates their constitutional rights.

The Human Rights Campaign was joined by the law firm of Linklaters, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Williamson County Board of Education and the Tennessee Department of Education in the District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on behalf of a transgender girl, age 8, as school starts this week.

The lawsuit states that the law, signed by Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee (R) in May 2021, singles out transgender students for “disfavored treatment” and violates rights guaranteed to them under the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs.

The U.S. Department of Education said in guidance issued last year that the policy protects students from discrimination based on their gender identity.

“It is unfortunate that Tennessee lawmakers are using their authority to attack some of our nation’s most vulnerable—our children. These power-seeking politicians will not stop pandering to their base, even if it means controlling which restrooms an eight year old uses at school,” said Cynthia Cheng-Wun Weaver, Human Rights Campaign Litigation Director. “We should all be inspired by D.H.’s strength and determination to fight for the right to be who she is. She, and all transgender and nonbinary children in Tennessee, deserve to be affirmed and encouraged to be who they are, in all aspects of their lives.”

According to a release from HRC:

The case is brought on behalf of D.H., an 8-year-old transgender girl entering the third grade, and her mother, A.H., and father, E.H. With the support of her family, D.H. began her social transition at age 6, meaning that D.H. began living in accordance with her gender identity as a girl in all aspects of her life.

During that time, D.H. was often misgendered by teachers and bullied and harassed by students when she attempted to share her gender identity with them. A.H. and E.H. approached the elementary school administration, expressing the desire for D.H. to be treated by her peers and teachers as a girl.

The school initially agreed to use she/her pronouns to address D.H and instructed her to tell each of her 19 classmates individually of her transgender identity. After two failed attempts at this approach, including classmates becoming argumentative and hostile, D.H. stopped trying and began hiding her face.

“Years ago, I chose to move to Tennessee because it was known as ‘the volunteer state,’ whose citizens cared for their neighbors without hesitation—not a state that legalizes discrimination against helpless children,” said A.H., Mother of D.H. and Plaintiff. “Now, I am embarrassed to say that I live in a state that refuses to see anything beyond my child’s gender. She is a bright, friendly, funny, creative, enthusiastic, little girl and is always the first kid to cheer you on if you are struggling. By filing this lawsuit, I am showing my volunteer spirit—because I’m fighting to not only affirm my child’s existence, but also the thousands of transgender and nonbinary children who live in Tennessee.”

While D.H. was experiencing that trauma at school, her parents made multiple attempts to speak with school administrators about her transition and how the school could support D.H. By that time, however, the administration could not provide D.H. with the support she needed to complete her social transition as the School Facilities Law had come into full effect, preventing D.H. from using the restrooms corresponding with her gender identity.

Instead, D.H. was forced to use one of four single-occupancy restroom facilities at the school—each of which presented its own issues. These issues included D.H. having to clean restrooms covered in human waste before using them and outing herself as transgender to other students or janitorial staff. Limiting D.H. to the use of these “alternative” restrooms reinforces the differential treatment and trauma associated with living under the School Facilities Law.

The plaintiffs allege that the Tennessee law violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; Title IX expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs.

The Department of Justice also issued a memorandum last year affirming that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in federally-funded education institutions, including public schools.

The lawsuit also alleges that the law violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to deny certiorari in Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board left in place a federal circuit court decision recognizing the rights of transgender students under the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular