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U.S. Federal Courts

SCOTUS to hear case of anti-LGBTQ web designer in December

The court returns to the issue of whether providers of custom-made goods can refuse service to LGBTQ customers on First Amendment grounds

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The Supreme Court as composed June 30, 2022 to present. Front row, left to right: Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Back row, left to right: Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. (Photo Credit: Fred Schilling, The Supreme Court of the U.S.)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday announced that it has set December 5, 2022 to hear oral arguments in the case of a Lakewood, Colorado based web designer, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, who sued to challenge Colorado’s anti-discrimination law as she was refusing to work on websites for same-sex couples’.

Last Fall, the Southern Poverty Law Center-listed hate legal group representing Lorie Smith, the Alliance Defending Freedom, had asked the high court on an appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit to review the case.

Smith, claimed in court filings that the Colorado law violated Smith’s freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression, citing that it would force her to design wedding websites for same-sex couples which violated her ‘Christian’ beliefs.

In its 2-1 ruling, the 10th Circuit panel said Colorado had a compelling interest in protecting the “dignity interests” of members of marginalized groups through its law.

Earlier this year in January the Justices had declined to take up the case, but for the Fall term decided to revisit the earlier decision and agreed to take the case up.

In 303 Creative v. Elenis, the court will return to the issue of whether or not providers of custom-made goods can refuse service to LGBTQ customers on First Amendment grounds.

Jennifer Pizer, acting chief legal officer of Lambda Legal, said in an interview with the Blade, “it’s not too much to say an immeasurably huge amount is at stake” for LGBTQ people depending on the outcome of the case.

“This contrived idea that making custom goods, or offering a custom service, somehow tacitly conveys an endorsement of the person — if that were to be accepted, that would be a profound change in the law,” Pizer said. “And the stakes are very high because there are no practical, obvious, principled ways to limit that kind of an exception, and if the law isn’t clear in this regard, then the people who are at risk of experiencing discrimination have no security, no effective protection by having a non-discrimination laws, because at any moment, as one makes their way through the commercial marketplace, you don’t know whether a particular business person is going to refuse to serve you.”

With a 6-3 conservative majority on the court that has recently scrapped the super-precedent guaranteeing the right to abortion, supporters of LGBTQ rights may think the outcome of the case is all but lost, especially amid widespread fears same-sex marriage would be next on the chopping block.

Pizer, acknowledging the call to action issued by LGBTQ groups in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, conceded the current Supreme Court issuing the ruling in this case is “a terrifying prospect,” but cautioned the issue isn’t so much the makeup of the court but whether or not justices will continue down the path of abolishing case law.

“I think the question that we’re facing with respect to all of the cases or at least many of the cases that are in front of the court right now, is whether this court is going to continue on this radical sort of wrecking ball to the edifice of settled law and seemingly a goal of setting up whole new structures of what our basic legal principles are going to be. Are we going to have another term of that?” Pizer said. “And if so, that’s terrifying.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Pair of lawsuits filed against Virginia guidelines for trans students

Equality Virginia and other advocacy groups claim the guidelines, among other things, would forcibly out trans and nonbinary students

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

RICHMOND, Va. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and a private law firm on Thursday filed two lawsuits against the state’s guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

One of the plaintiffs, a high school student in York County to whom the press release refers as “Jane Doe,” claims “at least one teacher refused to address by her correct first name.” The second plaintiff, “Lily Loe,” a middle school student in Hanover County, “is not allowed to participate in a girls’ sports team.”

“When you look at the ways that VDOE’s (Virginia Department of Education) model policies are hurting transgender and nonbinary students like our clients, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that their authors were purposefully trying to erase gender non-conforming students from the classroom,” said Andrew Ewalt, co-counsel and partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, which has an office in D.C. “That flouts both existing nondiscrimination law and the Virginia law that directed VDOE to develop model policies in the first place.”

The Virginia Department of Education last July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. 

Equality Virginia and other advocacy groups claim the guidelines, among other things, would forcibly out trans and nonbinary students. Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement them. 

“It was clear since the day that he took office that Gov. Youngkin and his Department of Education would target LGBTQ+ Virginians and single out transgender and nonbinary students for discrimination, and now that some school boards are implementing and enforcing their model policies for public schools, it’s even more clear that the harm is real,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director Narissa Rahaman on Thursday in a statement. 

“We applaud the ACLU of Virginia for taking on these harmful policies and for fighting for the health and well-being of students,” added Rahaman. “We’re proud to work toward those goals, together.” 

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal appeals court upholds block on Idaho trans care ban

The law bans puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and certain surgeries if they are used to affirm the gender of trans people under 18

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James R. Browning U.S. Court of Appeals, Federal Courthouse San Francisco (Photo Credit: US Courts/GSA)

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – The Ninth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a lower court’s ruling blocking enforcement of an Idaho law banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender people under 18.

HB 71 bans puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and certain surgeries if they are used to affirm the gender of transgender people under 18, and threatens medical providers who provide this widely accepted care with a felony conviction and up to 10 years in prison.

Chief United States District Judge for the District of Idaho, B. Lynn Winmill, in December ruled that HB 71, a ban on gender-affirming care in the state violates the equal protection and due process rights of parents and their transgender children.

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The state of Idaho asked the Ninth Circuit to stay that injunction pending the appeal and allow the law to go into effect immediately, and today’s order refuses to do so.

“This ruling should be celebrated by everyone who decries discrimination,” said Paul Carlos Southwick, ACLU of Idaho Legal Director. “We celebrate alongside transgender youth and their families throughout Idaho who will continue to have access to the health care they need and deserve.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

18 Years in Federal prison for firebombing LGBTQ friendly church

“Penny is being held accountable for trying to burn down a house of worship because he disagreed with the church hosting certain events”

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Aimenn D. Penny (center) of Alliance, Ohio is shown here with fellow extremists and neo-Nazis at anti-drag protest rally. (Photo Credit: FBI)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The neo-Nazi who attempted to burn a church to the ground after learning the church was holding multiple drag show events was sentenced yesterday to 18 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release for attempting to burn down a church because of its support for the LGBTQ+ community.

Aimenn D. Penny, 20, of Alliance, Ohio, was arrested and charged last year with one count of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, one count of using fire to commit a federal felony, one count of malicious use of explosive materials, and one count of possessing a destructive device.  On Oct. 23, 2023, Penny pleaded guilty to the church arson hate crime and using fire and explosives to commit a felony. 

“Aimenn Penny will spend the next 18 years in prison because he committed crimes fueled by hate, attempting to burn down a church because its members supported the LGBTQI+ community,” said U.S. Attorney Rebecca C. Lutzko for the Northern District of Ohio. “Hate crimes like Penny’s hurt not only the individual target, but the entire community, causing people to fear attack based on who they love and undermining the sense of safety within places of worship. Violent, bias-motivated extremism has no place in our country, and our office will aggressively prosecute those who commit such crimes.” 

According to court documents, Penny attempted to burn the church to the ground after learning the Community Church of Chesterland, in Chesterland, Ohio, was holding multiple drag show events the following weekend. He was initially arrested and charged with federal offenses on March 31, 2023.

The FBI Cleveland Field Office, which is investigating the case, finding a Nazi flag, a White Lives Matter of Ohio T-shirt, and other hateful memorabilia in Penny’s home. During the interviews with the FBI, he told FBI agents his only regret was that the church didn’t burn to the ground.

“We hope this significant sentence sends a clear and resounding message that this type of hate-fueled attack against a church will not be tolerated in our country,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This defendant tried to burn down a church simply because its members created space for and provided support to the LGBTQ+ community. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute such senseless, bias-motivated violence against people exercising their constitutionally protected right to practice their religion and express their beliefs.”

The FBI Cleveland Field Office investigated the case.

“Aimenn Penny is being held accountable for trying to burn down a house of worship because he disagreed with the church hosting certain events,” said Executive Assistant Director Larissa L. Knapp of the FBI’s National Security Branch. “Individuals who commit acts of violence, destroy property, and interfere with the free exercise of religion will face justice for those crimes. As in this case, the FBI, together with our law enforcement partners, will use our lawful authorities to protect our communities from such violence, and ensure those responsible pay the price.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

BBC: Ex-A&F CEO denies trafficking allegations- FBI investigates

The BBC reported the FBI has begun an investigation and that agents have been interviewing & issuing subpoenas to potential witnesses

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Former head of Abercrombie & Fitch facing sexual abuse allegations by former male models. (Screenshot/YouTube NBC News)

NEW YORK – Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F), the American lifestyle retailer based in New Albany, Ohio, along with its former CEO Mike Jeffries, and his partner Matthew Smith, have petitioned a federal court in New York to dismiss a class action lawsuit alleging the fashion brand company, Jeffries and Smith were complicit in a multi-decade-long sex trafficking scheme.

The class action suit was brought by a former model for Abercrombie & Fitch, actor David Bradberry, whose account of the abuse was documented by BBC journalist Rianna Croxford, in the BBC Select film documentary:  The Abercrombie Guys: The Dark Side of Cool

According to a BBC follow-up report this past week, Jeffries alleges the claims of the suit fall outside the statute of limitations, and are “meritless.” The company says the lawsuit failed to show it knew about the alleged exploitation, and cannot be held liable.

Jeffries transformed Abercrombie and Fitch from a failing retail chain to a multibillion-dollar empire and the epitome of cool. He built Abercrombie into a global brand during his tenure as CEO from 1992 until 2014 when he departed.

In the lawsuit’s court documents, it states that Jeffries allegedly had modeling scouts scouring the internet and elsewhere to identify attractive young men seeking to be the next face of Abercrombie and Fitch. Often these prospective models became sex-trafficking victims, sent to New York and abroad and abused by Jeffries and other men, all under the guise that they were being recruited to become the next Abercrombie model, the lawsuit contends.

“Jeffries was so important to the profitability of the brand that he was given complete autonomy to perform his role as CEO however he saw fit, including through the use of blatant international sex-trafficking and abuse of prospective Abercrombie models,” the suit contends.

Former model for Abercrombie & Fitch and actor, David Bradberry.
(Screenshot/YouTube BBC Select)

In the recent court filings the BBC reported that Jeffries’ lawyers state that he “vehemently denies every allegation made against him” in the civil lawsuit, and “asks the court to look beyond the sensationalized narrative presented by the plaintiff, and to address the glaring legal deficiencies in the complaint, which necessitate the dismissal of this action”.

A separate legal document filed on behalf of Smith also asks for the lawsuit to be dismissed because the allegations “concern events that allegedly occurred in 2010,” and claim they have been “time-barred since 2011.” That court document also states that the claim “does not detail any specific, factual occurrences” of an alleged sexual offence by Smith.

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The BBC noted that A&F filed a separate response, arguing that the retailer had no knowledge of the “supposed trafficking venture” or alleged sexual misconduct, and “up until the moment that the BBC’s reporting was released in October 2023, there was nothing public about the allegations against Jeffries.”

The BBC is also reporting that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun an investigation, and that FBI agents have been interviewing and issuing subpoenas to potential witnesses.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Trans veterans sue the VA for coverage of surgeries

The lawsuit, filed by the Transgender American Veterans Association, aims to reduce the risk of adverse health outcomes

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U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough (Screen capture/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – A group of transgender veterans on Thursday sued the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to compel the agency to cover gender affirming surgeries, following verbal assurances that it would begin providing these services.

The lawsuit, filed by the Transgender American Veterans Association, aims to reduce the risk of adverse health outcomes that can result from lack of access to medically necessary healthcare interventions for people with gender dysphoria.

This includes suicides, depression and psychological distress.

In its complaint before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, the group argued gender affirming surgeries are often prohibitively expensive when administered by private doctors.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough in 2021 said the agency was engaged in a rule making process to provide these services to trans veterans such that they can “go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side.”

The process, he said, would take a few years to “develop capacity to meet the surgical needs.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

5th circuit court blocks Texas from enforcing book rating law

Plaintiffs: Law required book vendors to rate the explicitness of sexual references in books sold to schools- was unconstitutionally broad

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Vandegrift High School Austin, Texas library on March 2, 2022. (Photo Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune)

By William Melhado | NEW ORLEANS. La. – The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the Texas Education Agency on Wednesday from enforcing a state law requiring booksellers to rate the explicitness and relevance of sexual references in materials they sell to schools.

The appellate court, one of the most conservative in the nation, sided with booksellers who sued the state after claiming House Bill 900 violated their First Amendment rights. The court affirmed a lower court’s decision to prevent TEA Commissioner Mike Morath from enforcing the 2023 law.

Wednesday’s decision was somewhat surprising since the appellate court blocked the lower court’s ruling in November. Addressing the reversal, Judge Don Willett with the 5th Circuit wrote that a “different panel of this court” had granted the state’s appeal to block that ruling.

The plaintiffs — which include bookshops in Houston and Austin, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild — argue that it is logistically impossible and cost-prohibitive to comply with the law.

The law requires vendors to rate all their books and materials for appropriateness, based on the presence of sex depictions or references, before selling them to school libraries. The law’s definitions of sexual conduct lean on state criminal statutes that are somewhat vague and open to interpretation to outline what might be considered “sexually explicit” or “sexually relevant” content.

“The ratings [HB 900] requires are neither factual nor uncontroversial,” the court’s ruling read.

The law requires booksellers to submit ratings of materials to the TEA for review, which the state can correct and then publicly post online. The appellate court agreed with the vendors’ argument that the rating system violates their free speech protections and amounted to compelled speech that forced vendors to support a certain point of view.

The court also agreed that complying with the law would be an undue economic burden on the vendors.

Wednesday’s decision did not completely block the law. Still in effect is a component of HB 900 that requires the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to create new library collection standards. The new rules must prohibit school libraries from acquiring or keeping sexually explicit materials.

Plaintiffs originally sued Keven Ellis, chair of the Texas Board of Education, and Martha Wong, chair of the Texas State Library, alongside Morath. The 5th Circuit on Wednesday dismissed claims against Ellis and Wong because those officials don’t have purview over the book ratings that the court found to be unconstitutional.

Supporters of HB 900 have argued the law restores parents’ rights to protect their children from certain themes, rather than exposing them to potentially inappropriate material in publicly funded books. Book bans have gained steam across the state since the Texas law was passed, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica found.

Opponents, which include librarians, literacy advocates and other parents, say laws like HB 900 often target books and materials that explore sexuality and race — topics that, while uncomfortable to some, they say are important for youth who may not typically see their lived experiences reflected in literature.

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William Melhado is an Austin-based general assignment reporter. He originally joined the Tribune in 2022 as a Poynter-Koch fellow. He previously worked as a staff writer at the Santa Fe Reporter, an alt-weekly newspaper in New Mexico. A native of Boulder, Colorado, William graduated from Middlebury College with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and earned a master’s in secondary science education at CUNY Lehman College.

The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal hate crime charges against Club Q mass-shooting killer

“The attack on Club Q was a horrific act of hate — the kind of anti-LGBTQ+ hate we must work to combat across the country”

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Screenshot/YouTube U.S. Justice Dept)

DENVER, Colo. – Assistant United States Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced Tuesday federal hate crimes and firearms charges were made against the shooter related to the mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Nov. 19, 2022.

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 23, is currently housed in a Wyoming State Correctional facility after pleading guilty to Colorado’s state-level charges in the Club Q shooting which garnered him a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Aldrich was moved to the Wyoming Correctional facility last year according to the Colorado Department of Corrections due to concerns about threats to Aldrich’s safety in Colorado’s prison facilities.

In this latest legal development, the Justice Department entered 50 hate-crimes charges and 24 weapons charges — Aldrich used a semiautomatic rifle in the attack. According to the announcement by Assistant U. S. Attorney General Clarke, Aldrich filed a notice of disposition and requested that the court schedule a change of plea hearing.

In consultation with the victims of this incident, the parties jointly filed a motion requesting that the U.S. District Court schedule the change of plea and sentencing hearings on the same date, which the court granted.

The parties further informed the court that there is a plea agreement in this matter, and it is anticipated that the defendant has agreed to plead guilty to all charges in the information. The time for the entry of the guilty plea has not yet been set.

Brandon Wolf, the National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign in an emailed statement to the Blade reacted to the news saying:

“The attack on Club Q was a horrific act of hate — the kind of anti-LGBTQ+ hate we must work to combat across the country. It matters to have a Justice Department pushing back against hate instead of fomenting it. It matters to have policies like the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act that protect communities and hold perpetrators accountable. These charges won’t bring back those stolen from their loved ones, but they mark a step toward justice. Our fight to honor the victims and survivors with action continues.”

The court filing charges that Aldrich murdered five people, injured 19 and attempted to murder 28 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious and premediated attack at Club Q. According to the filing, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded assault weapon and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until Aldrich was subdued by patrons of the Club. The information also alleges that Aldrich committed this attack because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

During the state court trial in El Paso County Superior Court in Colorado Springs last year, Aldrich identified as nonbinary. El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen told reporters that he believed Aldrich claimed to be nonbinary to avoid being charged with hate crimes under the state’s laws. There was no indication Aldrich identified as nonbinary before the shooting, the District Attorney added.

The FBI Denver Field Office and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigated the case.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court declines Indiana trans youth bathroom ban case

The order protects trans students within the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit — which includes Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin

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U.S. Supreme Court (LA Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court denied a Writ of Certiorari in an Indiana case on whether schools can bar transgender students from using a bathroom that reflects their gender identity.

The justices in a brief order denied a request from a central Indiana school district to hear the case, which centers around a now-teenage transgender boy, identified in court documents as A.C., who was barred from using the boys restrooms at his former middle school, The Hill reported.

Represented by the ACLU of Indiana, an adolescent transgender boy and his parents filed a lawsuit against the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville in December 2021 for failing to provide him with access to bathrooms consistent with his gender in violation of his rights under Title IX, the law prohibiting sex discrimination in educational programs, as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In an August 2023 opinion, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found the school district policy did likely violate the student’s rights under Title IX and equal protection.

“We’re thankful the Court allowed this momentous victory for the transgender youth of Indiana to stand,” said Kenneth Falk, Legal Director of the ACLU of Indiana. “This case is about the fundamental right of every student to a safe and inclusive learning environment, and the policy at its core is an affront to the freedom of transgender youth to be themselves. We look forward to continuing to advocate for transgender Hoosiers and their families wherever their equality before the law is challenged.”

Chris Geidner, Editor at Law Dork reported: the order protects transgender students within the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit — which includes Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin — and puts off any Supreme Court review of bathroom bans for some time, likely into 2025 or beyond.

Journalist Erin Reed noted:

“That means that many trans youth in Indiana and in several other states will be allowed to continue using the bathroom of their gender identity, as multiple circuit courts have found in favor of transgender plaintiffs. This does mean that those in the 11th Circuit states, so Florida, Alabama, and Georgia, will have to wait longer for protections. But it says that the Supreme Court will not likely not take up bathrooms in coming months.”

The High Court has a track record of declining cases involving transgender protections. In 2021, the justices declined to review a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit involving Gavin Grimm, a Virginia trans boy.

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U.S. Federal Courts

U.S. Justice Department supports trans inmate in Georgia lawsuit

Left untreated, individuals with gender dysphoria can experience significant adverse mental health outcomes

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Photo courtesy of Georgia Department of Corrections, State of Georgia.

ATLANTA – The U.S. Justice Department filed a statement of interest in a lawsuit brought in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia challenging the denial of treatment sought for gender dysphoria in a correctional setting.

The statement filed Monday, January 8, 2024, explains that gender dysphoria falls within the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)’s definition of “disability” and affirms that correctional institutions cannot deny medically appropriate care for people with gender dysphoria, no matter their particular circumstances, consistent with the Eighth Amendment.

“People with gender dysphoria should be able to seek the full protections of the American with Disabilities Act, just like other people with disabilities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We are committed to ensuring constitutional conditions inside our jails and prisons so that those detained inside these facilities, including people with gender dysphoria can live safely and receive needed medical care. The U.S. Constitution requires that people incarcerated in jails and prisons receive necessary medical care, treatment and services to address serious medical conditions.”

Doe, an incarcerated transgender woman, alleges that the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) has violated her rights under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act and the U.S. Constitution by denying necessary medical care to treat her gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a serious medical condition that arises when a person experiences significant distress or impairment because of an incongruence between their gender identity and assigned sex. Left untreated, individuals with gender dysphoria can experience significant adverse mental health outcomes.

Doe alleges that the GDC has denied her adequate medical treatment for her gender dysphoria, including gender-affirming surgery that has been recommended by four clinicians and consistent hormone therapy. Because of the inadequate care and exacerbation of her gender dysphoria, Doe has engaged in repeated self-harm, including attempts at suicide and self-castration. Doe seeks a preliminary injunction that would grant her access to medically necessary treatment for her gender dysphoria. 

“The protections of the U.S. Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act do not stop at the doorsteps of our jails and prisons,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan for the Northern District of Georgia. “Our office remains committed to ensuring that all people with disabilities, including those with gender dysphoria, continue to receive access to such medically necessary treatments, even while they are in custody.”

The department’s statement of interest clarifies that gender dysphoria can be a covered disability under the ADA and does not fall within the ADA’s exclusion of gender identity disorders. The department’s statement also explains that prison officials violate the Eighth Amendment when they categorically refuse to provide medically necessary gender-affirming surgery to incarcerated individuals with gender dysphoria, no matter a person’s particular circumstances.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Man sentenced for death threats against Human Rights Campaign

Defendant also sent threatening messages to Maryland and Virginia State Delegates due to their support of transgender people

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Adam Michael Nettina (Booking Photo: U.S. Department of Justice/FBI )

BALTIMORE – A Maryland man was sentenced today to two years in prison, along with three years of supervised release, for making death threats and other calls for violence against a the Washington D.C. based Human Rights Campaign, group that advocates for LGBTQI+ people.

According to the evidence presented by the government at today’s sentencing hearing, Adam Michael Nettina, 34, of West Friendship, also sent threatening messages to Maryland and Virginia state delegates due to their support of transgender people.

“This defendant targeted and threatened members of the LGBTQI+ community and their allies, instilling fear and promoting violence toward a heavily targeted community,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This sentence underscores the Justice Department’s commitment to combating threats against public officials and protected communities. We will work tirelessly to expunge the growing threat posed by bias-motivated acts of violence directed at the LGBTQ+ community and their allies.”

“You have the right to your own opinions, but you don’t have the right to threaten the lives of those who disagree with you. As this case demonstrates, free speech does not include violent threats against others,” said U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron for the District of Maryland. “We’ll continue prosecuting these threats to the fullest extent of the law.”

“Threats of violence made against people and organizations to instill fear will not be tolerated,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge R. Joseph Rothrock of the FBI Baltimore Field Office. “The FBI will continue to work diligently to ensure the civil rights of all Americans are protected.”

According to court documents, on the evening of March 28, 2023, the victim organization received a threatening voicemail from a phone number, which investigators identified as belonging to Nettina. 

The message referenced the March 27, 2023, mass shooting at a school in Nashville, Tennessee, involving multiple shooting fatalities, where police identified the perpetrator as a transgender woman. During the call, numerous threats were made including, “…we’ll cut your throats. We’ll put a bullet in your head…You’re going to kill us? We’re going to kill you 10 times more in full.”

Nettina admitted that he left this voicemail for the purpose of issuing a threat and with the knowledge that the voicemail would be viewed as a threat. Further, Nettina intentionally selected the advocacy organization as a target of his message because of the actual and perceived gender, gender identity and sexual orientation of the people who work at and are assisted by the organization.

As detailed in his plea agreement, on March 31, 2022, a Maryland State Delegate posted a message of support on social media in honor of Trans Day of Visibility. Nettina responded on social media later that same day, which stated, among other things, that he had “begun the formal process of getting you excommunicated…” from the Catholic Church. On Nov. 8, 2022, the delegate was reelected. Nettina sent the delegate another message on social media, stating: “…Baby killing terrorist. Enjoy hell…You’re going sooner than you think.”

Finally, as outlined in the court documents, on Oct. 13, 2022, an online news story was published about an interview a Virginia State Delegate gave in which she advocated for the prevention of abuse towards transgender children. 

Two days later, on Oct. 15, 2022, Nettina sent an email to the delegate’s press email account, stating: “The delegate is a terrorist. You are a terrorist. You deserve to be shot and hung in the streets. You want to come after people? Let’s go bitch.” Nettina also sent a similar message to another email address of the delegate two minutes later. 

Nettina intentionally selected the delegate and her campaign staff as the recipient of his email because of the actual and perceived gender, gender identity and sexual orientation of the people and constituents for whom the delegate had expressed support.

The FBI Baltimore Field Office investigated the case.

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