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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

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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.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court rules for LGBTQ students against Yeshiva Uni

The court’s order is a rare loss, for now, for conservative groups pushing so-called religious liberty arguments over LGBTQ rights

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

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote declined a request from New York City-based Yeshiva University to block a a New York County Supreme Court order that requires the university to recognize the “Pride Alliance” LGBTQ student club.

Last week Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a brief order, granted an emergency request made by Yeshiva University to temporarily block the order by New York County Supreme Court Judge who had ruled this past June that Yeshiva was bound by the New York City Human Rights Law, which bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In its order, the high court noted that the New York state courts had yet to issue a final order in the case, and that Yeshiva could return to the U.S. Supreme Court after the New York courts had acted.

Yeshiva University buildings and facilities on Wilf Campus, New York City (Photo Credit: Yeshiva University)

The university argued that it is a religious institution and therefore should be exempted from the law. Requiring it to endorse the group would be a “clear violation” of its rights under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects the free exercise of religion lawyers for the school said in court documents.

The court’s order is a rare loss, for now, for conservative groups pushing so-called religious liberty arguments over LGBTQ rights at the Supreme Court.

This is yet another in a series of cases the present court has heard and with its 6-3 conservative majority, has strongly backed religious rights in those cases.

Among its most recent rulings the high court has decided in favor of including a 6-3 ruling that sided with a former Bremerton, Washington assistant high school football coach fired for refusing to halt his practice of praying at mid-field after games on school property.

The court in 2021 ruled in favor of a Catholic Church-affiliated agency that Philadelphia had barred from participating in its foster care services because the group refused to place children with same-sex couples. Two years previously in 2018, the court ruled in favor of a conservative Christian baker in Colorado who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

This Fall term justices are set to hear arguments in cases from a web designer, also from Colorado, who wants the court to rule that, based on her evangelical Christian beliefs, she does not have to design wedding websites for same-sex couples. 

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U.S. Federal Courts

DOJ sues on behalf of gay tenant harassed by property manager

“We stand ready to use civil rights laws to combat sexual harassment in housing, including based on sexual orientation/gender identity”

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Milwaukee Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse (Photo Credit: U.S. Courts/GSA)

MILWAUKEE, Wi – The owner and managers of a rental property in Milwaukee, Wisconsin were sued by the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday over their harassment of a gay and disabled tenant in violation of the Fair Housing Act. 

According to the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the defendants subjected the complainant-tenant to “discrimination on the basis of sex and disability, including severe, pervasive and unwelcome harassment on multiple occasions” and  “unwelcome and unwanted sexual comments that were egregious, offensive, and violent.” 

“At times relevant to this complaint,” the complainant-tenant, who is gay, received social security disability benefits (“SSDI”) for mental health conditions that left him unable to do basic work-related activities. These included bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), the latter stemming in part from a sexual assault and rape. 

The complainant-tenant made the onsite property manager aware of his sexual orientation and disabilities, including the PTSD, partly because they had become friendly and partly to ensure they were comfortable with his renting a unit on the property. 

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not explicitly covered in the Fair Housing Act but the federal government considers discrimination on these bases tantamount to sex or gender based discrimination. 

Beginning in December 2019 and continuing “throughout most of Complainant’s Tenancy,” to July 2020, the onsite property manager repeatedly texted the complainant-tenant messages such as, “Your a fag a abomination against Jesus fuck you,” and would often yell epithets like, “God hates faggots” from his residence across the street. 

These messages included unwelcome and sexually violent texts like, ““Grab your ankles daddy is coming to get some,” “What do you think about anal fisting,” and “I have a bowling [p]in with your name on it,” according to the complaint. 

The complainant-tenant was also targeted over his disability with messages like, “Get off your lazy ass and work quit scamming off the government” and “Little fag parade scam off the government you can work you‘re no better than a … fucking lazy POS and judge others.”

This escalated into violent confrontations in which the defendant allegedly struck the complainant-tenant in the groin, saying “hope you enjoyed the sexual assault.” 

For these and other violations of the Fair Housing Act, the Justice Department is asking the court to, among other actions, enjoin the defendants from future discrimination, award monetary damages, and other relief. 

“We stand ready to use our civil rights laws to combat all forms of sexual harassment in housing, including harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a press release issued by the agency. 

“The Justice Department will hold accountable landlords and housing providers who engage in unlawful discrimination and harassment of vulnerable tenants.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court: Yeshiva University can block LGBTQ student club

“Requiring it to endorse the group would be a “clear violation” of its rights under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment”

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Yeshiva University buildings and facilities on Wilf Campus, New York City (Photo Credit: Yeshiva University)

WASHINGTON – Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a brief order granted an emergency request made by Yeshiva University, a private modern Orthodox Jewish research university in New York City, to deny official recognition to an LGBTQ student group.

Today’s ruling by Justice Sotomayor puts on hold a decision by a New York County Supreme Court Judge this past June who ruled that Yeshiva was bound by the New York City Human Rights Law, which bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Last year in May, The Washington Post reported that the suit was filed April 26 in the New York County Supreme Court on behalf of a group of students collectively as ‘YU Pride Alliance, along with recent graduates including openly bisexual Molly Meisels, who told the Post she had come out at a rally on campus in September 2019. She added that she started a feminist club during her second semester on campus, and while it was initially ridiculed, she said, now it is simply accepted as a club.

She emphasized that having an officially recognized LGBTQ club at Yeshiva University is important in a tightknit, small campus, especially where the Jewish community emphasizes connection.

“What a queer club provides is community, especially where community is so vital,” Meisels said.

What sets the 3,000 students university apart is that it has registered as a nonsectarian corporation versus the more typical religious affiliated institution of higher education.

That status according to attorney Katie Rosenfeld, who is representing some of the students in the suit sets YU apart, especially she argues that because the school receives government and state funding, it shouldn’t qualify for religious exemptions. she works at a law firm that specializes in cases on civil rights.

The university argued that it is a religious institution and therefore should be exempted from the law. Requiring it to endorse the group would be a “clear violation” of its rights under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects the free exercise of religion, the university said in its response.

“Yeshiva shouldn’t have been forced to go all the way to the Supreme Court to receive such a commonsense ruling in favor of its First Amendment rights. We are grateful that Justice Sotomayor stepped in to protect Yeshiva’s religious liberty in this case,” Eric Baxter, a lawyer at the religious liberty legal advocacy group Becket, which is representing Yeshiva told NBC News.

Katherine Rosenfeld, a lawyer for Pride Alliance, said Friday in a statement that the group “remains committed to creating a space space for LGBTQ students” on campus and would await final action from the Supreme Court.

This is yet another in a series of cases the present court has heard and with its 6-3 conservative majority, has strongly backed religious rights in those cases.

Among its most recent rulings the high court has decided in favor of including a 6-3 ruling that sided with a former Bremerton, Washington assistant high school football coach fired for refusing to halt his practice of praying at mid-field after games on school property.

The court in 2021 ruled in favor of a Catholic Church-affiliated agency that Philadelphia had barred from participating in its foster care services because the group refused to place children with same-sex couples. Two years previously in 2018, the court ruled in favor of a conservative Christian baker in Colorado who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

This Fall term justices are set to hear arguments in cases from a web designer, also from Colorado, who wants the court to rule that, based on her evangelical Christian beliefs, she does not have to design wedding websites for same-sex couples. 

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