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U.S. Federal Courts

Man sent to prison for threats against California Rep. Eric Swalwell

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Fred Guttenberg & Jennifer Guttenberg who lost their daughter Jaime in the mass-shooting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida at the White House with Congressman Eric Swalwell (Photo credit: Swalwell/Twitter)

NEW YORK – A Pennsylvania man who had pled guilty to one count of making interstate communications with a threat to injure against U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) last October was sentenced to 20 months in a federal prison on Monday.

Joshua Hall, 22, of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, according to Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, did on or about August 29, 2022, placed a series of telephone calls from in or around Yonkers, New York, to the Castro Valley, California office of U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell.

During those telephone calls, Hall conveyed threats to kill the Congressman to at least three different members of the Congressman’s staff (“Staff Member-1,” “Staff Member-2,” and “Staff Member-3”). 

In a tweet released by the Congressman on Tuesday, August 30, Swalwell describes the threat that was forwarded to him by his district office. In the accompanying tweeted photo of the incident report, the caller declares that he is a “gay” man who “doesn’t take it up the ass but gives it” and dropped the homophobic epithet ‘fags’ along with peppering the call with F-bombs.

The caller also issued death threats claiming to be in possession of an AR-15 assault rifle and claiming he would travel to the district office to make good on his threats to kill the Congressman.

Hall had pled guilty before United States District Judge Gregory H. Woods on Friday, October 28, 2022. At the time the U.S. Attorney said: ” “Joshua Hall made terrifying threats to the staff of a United States Congressman whom he disliked rather than attempting to effect change through any of the freedoms of expression that all Americans enjoy.  These threats of violence endanger our public officials and thwart common decency, which is why this Office will continue to prosecute crimes like those committed by Joshua Hall.”

Law and Crime reported that Hall faced a statutory maximum of five years on the threat charge and up to 20 years on the wire fraud charge. The sentence from U.S. District Judge Gregory H. Woods, an Obama appointee, was less than the 27 months prosecutors had requested, based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Range of 27 to 33 months.

Hall’s lawyers had requested a sentence of six months followed by supervised release that included at least six months of inpatient treatment, despite having received such treatment in the past and fleeing from at least one such program, according to the government’s sentencing memo.

Rep. Swalwell has been a leading voice for progressive causes in the House, taking stands on gun control, LGBTQ+ rights & equality and most recently on women’s reproductive rights and access to abortion, all deeply offensive to many in far right circles, particularly those labeled ‘MAGA Republicans’ by President Joe Biden.

Swalwell is an influential Democratic member of three powerful congressional committees; House Committee on the JudiciaryHouse Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and House Committee on Homeland Security.

In his victim impact statement, the Congressman said:

“Everyone in the chain of this threat was terrified. And everyone affected deserves the justice of the caller, HALL, receiving a sentence no less than the maximum,” he then noted that Hall’s threats came at a particularly politically volatile time:

“Hall threatened the life of an elected federal representative during an era that his fragile country was experiencing acts of political violence,” the statement said. “Mr. Hall sought to use a terrorizing threat to intimidate an elected leader he disagreed with. Hall’s threats to me and my colleagues were fuel thrown on an already raging fire in America and should be viewed in that context as the Court decides the appropriate sentence.”

Swalwell said that Hall’s threats forced his wife, their three young children and himself to change the way they live, and were felt deeply among his staffers.

“[W]hile I have the luxury of working in a somewhat secure building, my family and I do not live in a secure home,” the statement said. “This threat changed the habits of my family. We are more careful about having our kids in our front yard. I have to use hard-earned campaign funds to pay for a security detail when I travel out of state. These threats change daily habits and make life less comfortable and more worrisome.”

“But even worse, I was not the first person to receive Hall’s threat,” the statement continued. “An intern heard it first. And it doesn’t take many hops in logic for the intern to conclude that she and her colleagues are also in danger. We work in a public building. The interns sit at the desk closest to the front door of our office. If an armed intruder brought harm to our office, it’s likely the intern would suffer death first.”

“Mr. Hall is not worthy of mercy for the terror he brought to me, my family, and my staff,” the final sentence of the statement read. “Mr. Hall should receive the maximum sentence.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge blocks expanding Title IX rules for LGBTQ+ students

Federal Judge Reed O’Connor said Biden admin didn’t have the authority to make changes, which would expand anti-discrimination protections

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A protester waves a transgender pride flag during a protest at the University of North Texas in Denton on March 23, 2022. (Photo Credit: Emil Lippe/The Texas Tribune)

By Juan Salinas II | DALLAS, Texas – A Texas federal judge blocked the Biden administration’s efforts to extend federal anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ+ students.

In his ruling Tuesday, Judge Reed O’Connor said the Biden administration lacked the authority to make the changes and accused it of pushing “an agenda wholly divorced from the text, structure, and contemporary context of Title IX.” Title IX is the 1972 law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational settings.

“To allow [the Biden administration’s] unlawful action to stand would be to functionally rewrite Title IX in a way that shockingly transforms American education and usurps a major question from Congress,” wrote O’Connor, a President George W. Bush appointee. “That is not how our democratic system functions.”

The Biden administration’s new guidelines, issued in April, expanded Title IX to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The changes would make schools and universities responsible for investigating a wider range of discrimination complaints. The rule changes came as several states, including Texas, have approved laws in recent years barring transgender student-athletes from participating in sports teams that correspond to their gender identity. The Biden administration hasn’t clarified whether the new guidance would apply in those cases.

Texas and several other states have sued the Biden administration over the new rule. Carroll ISD also filed a separate suit over the change. A month after the guidelines were released, Gov. Greg Abbott called on school districts and universities to ignore them.

“Threatening to withhold education funding by forcing states to accept ‘transgender’ policies that put women in danger was plainly illegal,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement applauding Tuesday’s ruling. “Texas has prevailed on behalf of the entire Nation.”

An U.S. Education Department said in a statement it stands by its revised guidelines.

“Every student deserves the right to feel safe in school,” the statement reads.

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Juan Salinas II’s staff photo

Juan Salinas II is a reporting fellow based in Arlington. He is a senior at the University of Texas at Arlington majoring in journalism and a transfer student from Tarrant County College, where he worked at the student newspaper, The Collegian. As an intern at public radio station KERA, he covered state politics and local governments, and he was a year-long reporting fellow at the Fort Worth Report. Juan was born and raised in the North Side neighborhood of Fort Worth.

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

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U.S. Federal Courts

Court hears arguments on injunction blocking Iowa school book law

The law was blocked before enforcement began, but, a significant number of books were removed from Iowa K-12 public schools due to the law

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Gender Queer, a graphic memoir by Maia Kobabe, was the most challenged book in America in 2022, according to the American Library Association. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)


By Robin Opsahl | ST. PAUL, Minn. – Attorneys for the state of Iowa and civil liberties groups clashed in court Tuesday over an injunction blocking enforcement of a law that restricts school libraries from carrying books with material related to sex acts, sexuality and gender.

The injunction was imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher in December 2023, days before enforcement of the law was expected to begin. It was issued after Penguin Random House Books and the Iowa State Education Association sought an injunction in one of the two lawsuits now challenging the measure, with the other lawsuit filed by American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Lambda Legal.

The lawsuit filed by Penguin Random House in conjunction with the ISEA, educators and authors argues that Iowa students’ constitutional rights of free speech and equal protection are restricted by the law, as the measure unreasonably limits their ability to freely access and share ideas.

Books removed from schools due to the law include classics like “Brave New World” and “Ulysses,” but also include several books focused on LGBTQ+ and race issues, including “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and “Gender Queer.”

Books related to sexual assault and rape have also been removed from several Iowa school library shelves. Laurie Halse Anderson, author of “Speak” and “Shout” and one of the plaintiffs in the case, told reporters in November that restrictions on books like hers on sexual assault and violence could isolate and harm students looking for support in the aftermath of traumatic incidents.

During Tuesday’s hearing before a three-judge panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Eric Wessan of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office told the judges the law is not violating constitutional free speech protections, as these books can still be found and obtained at a bookstore. The law’s restriction of materials in public-school libraries is a regulation of government speech, not private speech, he argued.

“The government’s interest in ensuring an education suitable to students’ age and in preventing minor students’ exposure to inappropriate material is a legitimate, compelling, even substantial one,” Wessan wrote in his brief on the case. “And removing from school library shelves books that describe or depict ‘sex acts’ is reasonably related to that legitimate interest.”

Christy Hickman, ISEA chief legal counsel, said in a news conference that U.S. Supreme Court precedent has not favored arguments that books can still be found by students outside of school libraries as a reason for allowing the removal of books from the schools’ shelves.

“Public school libraries are intended to provide access to books to all children, regardless of whether or not they can buy it at the bookstore,” Hickman said. “So such an argument, while it might make sense in other contexts, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the context of our K-12 public schools, because some of our kids can’t afford to go across the street … to the bookstore and buy it. That’s the purpose of our public school libraries.”

The ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit, filed on behalf of Iowa Safe Schools and seven students and families in the state, similarly argues that the Iowa law violates the U.S. Constitution. Wessan argued that the student plaintiffs did not have standing in the lawsuit, because the law is enforced against school districts and school employees, not students.

While the law was blocked before enforcement began, there have been a significant number of books removed from Iowa K-12 public schools due to the law and potential violations. The Des Moines Register found school districts across the state have removed nearly 3,400 books from their libraries. While the state has repeatedly argued that not all of the books were removed correctly or would count as violations of the law, education advocates have said that ambiguity about the law’s scope have caused school districts and teachers to err on the side of caution.

In August 2023, the Iowa Department of Education chose not to release any guidance on schools should proceed in light of the law, despite requests from educators for more information to ensure compliance.

Bird calls book ban a ‘common sense’ law

During Tuesday’s court arguments, a judge said that school districts could be sued on an individual basis for removing books that do not fall under the law’s restrictions as a means to address inappropriate removals. But Hickman, the ISEA attorney, said the lawsuit against the state is the appropriate action, as individual school districts are trying their best with current resources to follow the law as intended.

“If we had to start all over and start suing individual school districts — think about the court and school and public resources that go in into that,” Hickman said. “I hope that that is not where we end up. What the education community needs, what our members need, is some guidance in how to implement this law.”

Another judge expressed concerns about questioning the law’s constitutionality before it has been implemented, an argument presented by Wessan. The law was created to help address the way Iowa students learn, he said, and the injunction against portions of the law has “stymied that” objective.

“The state believes that if this injunction is vacated, the school districts, the schools and the students will understand what the law means,” he said. “And as time moves forward, this will become an integral part of Iowa’s educational landscape.”

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird said in a statement that her office is defending a “common sense” law that she said “protects kids, families, and parental rights.”

“Inappropriate books do not belong in the hands of school children,” Bird said. “As a mom, I know how important it is for parents to have a say in what books and materials their kids have access to.”

Attorney Thomas Story with the ACLU said that the law has already had a negative impact on Iowa schools and students.

“It restricts expression in terms that are so vague and overbroad that no two schools seem to agree on what they mean,” Story said in a news conference. “But the fact is that over 3,000 books were removed, student (gay-straight alliances) were closed, and LGBTQ+ students across the state were forced into silence. That is unconstitutional and we will continue to defend the rights of Iowa students as this case moves forward.”

The Eighth Circuit appeals panel did not provide a timeline as to when it might issue a ruling.

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Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Iowa Capital Dispatch and is republished with permission.

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We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal Court: Mass. school can enforce ban on anti-trans T-shirt

Denying the existence of the gender identities of trans & gender non-conforming students would have a serious negative impact

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Liam Morrison courtesy of the Alliance Defending Freedom

BOSTON, Mass. – A three-judge panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled earlier this week that Middleborough, Massachusetts, middle school is able to enforce its ban on clothing apparel that could potentially demean LGBTQ+ students.

The panel in its ruling noted that school administrators did not act “unreasonably” when they concluded Nichols Middle School 12-year-old seventh-grader Liam Morrison’s shirt may be understood “to demean the identity of transgender and gender-nonconforming” students.

According to local media reports, Morrison was wearing a T-shirt that read “There are only two genders,” which school administrators ask him take off. He later wore a T-shirt saying “There are only censored genders,” which officials also made him remove.

Liam Morrison wearing one of the two banned shirts in May of 2023. The shirt reads: “There are CENSORED genders” (Screenshot/WCVB.)

The Morrison family filed a federal lawsuit in 2023 represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom and Massachusetts Family Institute, which argued officials violated his First Amendment rights when they said his shirt was prohibited by the school’s dress code.

In the suit, ADF attorneys said:

Morrison attends Nichols Middle School in Middleborough. In March, he wore the shirt to school to peacefully share his belief, informed by his scientific understanding of biology, that there are only two sexes, male and female, and that a person’s gender—their status as a boy or girl, woman or man—is inextricably tied to sex. The principal of the school, along with a school counselor, pulled Morrison out of class and ordered him to remove his shirt. After Morrison politely declined, school officials said that he must remove the shirt or he could not return to class. As a result, Morrison left school and missed the rest of his classes that day.

“This isn’t about a T-shirt; this is about a public school telling a seventh grader that he isn’t allowed to hold a view that differs from the school’s preferred orthodoxy,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Public school officials can’t censor Liam’s speech by forcing him to remove a shirt that states a scientific fact. Doing so is a gross violation of the First Amendment.”

Chief U.S. First Circuit Court Judge David Barron in the 70 page opinion wrote:

“We think it was reasonable for Middleborough to forecast that a message displayed throughout the school day denying the existence of the gender identities of transgender and gender non-conforming students would have a serious negative impact on those students’ ability to concentrate on their classroom work.”

Judges O. Rogeriee Thompson and Lara Montecalvo joined in the 3-0 decision writing:

The school’s dress code bans clothing with messages that “state, imply, or depict hate speech or imagery that target[s] groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other classification.”

“[W]e see no reason to substitute our judgment for Middleborough’s with respect to its application of its Dress Code here,” the opinion continues. “We conclude the record supports as reasonable an assessment that the message in this school context would so negatively affect the psychology of young students with the demeaned gender identities that it would ‘poison the educational atmosphere’ and so result in declines in those students’ academic performance and increases in their absences from school.”

In a press statement released after the ruling, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman said there likely will be an appeal the noting students “don’t lose their free speech rights the moment they walk into a school building.”

“This case isn’t about T-shirts; it’s about a public school telling a middle-schooler that he isn’t allowed to express a view that differs from their own,” Cortman said. “The school actively promotes its view about gender through posters and ‘Pride’ events, and it encourages students to wear clothing with messages on the same topic—so long as that clothing expresses the school’s preferred views on the subject.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge blocks Florida trans health care ban & restrictions

Florida plans to appeal the ruling, said Jeremy Redfern, spokesperson for DeSantis. An appeal would go to U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Two Florida medical oversight boards held a meeting about proposed rules for treating gender dysphoria for minors in the state on Feb. 10, 2023. (Photo by Issac Morgan/Florida Phoenix)

By Jackie Llanos | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s ban on puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy for transgender minors and restrictions for adults are both unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, who presided over the case in Tallahassee, sided with the plaintiffs in the class action — parents of transgender minors and transgender adults — who argued the measure violated the U.S. Constitution because it solely targeted transgender people.

“The federal courts have a role to play in upholding the Constitution and laws. The State of Florida can regulate as needed but cannot flatly deny transgender individuals safe and effective medical treatment — treatment with medications routinely provided to others with the state’s full approval so long as the purpose is not to support the patient’s transgender identity,” Hinkle wrote.

 FL Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Those restrictions came into place following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ approval of SB 254 in May 2023 and promulgation of rules from the Florida Board of Medicine and Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine enacting that law. Those boards and Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo were named as defendants.

The measures banned minors’ use of puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy, common treatments for gender dysphoria. Additionally, the law said only physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists could treat adults seeking gender-affirming care, with the added requirements of frequent in-person visits, tests, and authorization through a consent form that contained false information about the harms of hormone replacement therapy.

However, the law didn’t impose the same restrictions on cisgender women needing to take testosterone or cisgender men needing to take estrogen.

Appeal incoming

The state plans to appeal the ruling, said Jeremy Redfern, press secretary to DeSantis. An appeal would go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

“Through their elected representatives, the people of Florida acted to protect children in this state, and the court was wrong to override their wishes,” Redfern wrote in a statement to Florida Phoenix.

“We disagree with the court’s erroneous rulings on the law, on the facts, and on the science. As we’ve seen here in Florida, the United Kingdom, and across Europe, there is no quality evidence to support the chemical and physical mutilation of children. These procedures do permanent, life-altering damage to children, and history will look back on this fad in horror.”

Redfern wrote that the state would continue to “fight to ensure children are not chemically or physically mutilated in the name of radical, new age ‘gender ideology.’”

In his 105-page ruling, Hinkle noted that “there were no complaints from patients, no adverse results in Florida, just a political issue.”

However, the ruling does not lift the state ban on gender-affirming surgery for minors and restrictions on surgery for adults. That’s because the plaintiffs didn’t challenge the statutes relating to surgery for minors, and the adult plaintiff had not sought surgery and so lacked standing to challenge those restrictions.

Relief for plaintiffs

Plaintiff Gloria Goe (they used pseudonyms to protect the privacy of their children) is the mother of an eight-year-old (at the opening of the case) transgender boy. During the opening day of the trial on Dec. 13, she testified that she feared her son would be swallowed by depression if forced to go through puberty without medical treatment.

“This ruling lifts a huge weight and worry from me and my family, knowing I can keep getting Gavin the care he needs, and he can keep being the big-hearted, smiling kid he is now. I’m so grateful the court saw how this law prevented parents like me from taking care of our children,” Goe wrote in a press release.

Attorneys with GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Human Rights Campaign Foundation, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Southern Legal Counsel, and the Lowenstein Sandler law firm represented the plaintiffs.

Hinkle compared the discrimination transgender people face nowadays to racism and misogyny.

“Some transgender opponents invoke religion to support their position, just as some once invoked religion to support their racism or misogyny,” Hinkle wrote. “Transgender opponents are of course free to hold their beliefs. But they are not free to discriminate against transgender individuals just for being transgender. In time, discrimination against transgender individuals will diminish, just as racism and misogyny have diminished.”

Los Angeles Blade Editor’s Note:

In a statement made to the Los Angeles Blade after Tuesday’s rule, Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights said:

“This decision is important because is the first federal court to rule on a law restricting healthcare for transgender adults and because it finds that Florida’s laws are plainly based on anti-transgender bias, not science. This victory shows that we can and must keep fighting these dangerous laws, notwithstanding the deeply flawed rulings of some conservative appellate courts.

Judge Hinkle ruled in favor of the transgender plaintiffs in this case even after the negative Eleventh Circuit ruling that reversed our initially successful challenge to a similar ban in Alabama. He was able to do so because the evidence showing that these laws have no medical justification and are rooted in false stereotypes and bias was so strong. This is a huge victory, and one that shows that we can win these battles even in red states.”   

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Jackie Llanos is a recent graduate of the University of Richmond. She has interned at Nashville Public Radio, Virginia Public Media and Virginia Mercury.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Florida Phoenix and is republished with permission.

The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Vermont families sue DCF over LGBTQ+ foster care requirements

The case is the latest legal challenge to Vermont regulations from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative anti-LGBTQ +legal group

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Chris Winters chats before the Vermont Democratic Party’s unity press conference in Montpelier on Aug. 30, 2022. File Photo by Natalie Williams/VTDigger

By Peter D’Auria | MONTPELIER, Vt. – Two Vermont couples are suing the state’s Department for Children and Families, alleging that foster parent requirements intended to protect LGBTQ+ youth are unconstitutional and discriminate against Christians.

The federal lawsuit, filed Tuesday by the prominent conservative legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom, aims to strike down state regulations prohibiting anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination among Vermont foster parents. 

“Vermont’s foster-care system is in crisis: There aren’t enough families to care for vulnerable kids and children born with drug dependencies have nowhere to call home,” Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom representing the couples, said in a press release about the lawsuit. “Yet Vermont is putting its ideological agenda ahead of the needs of these suffering kids.”

The suit names three top officials as defendants: Chris Winters, the commissioner of the Department for Children and Families; Aryka Radke, deputy commissioner of the department’s Family Services Division; and Stacey Edmunds, the director of the department’s Residential Licensing & Special Investigations.

It’s the latest Vermont case filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a national conservative legal group. The organization has filed multiple suits in Vermont, targeting limits on public money in private schools, protecting employees accused of transphobia and seeking to strike down state restrictions on anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers. 

In an emailed statement, Radke said the department does not comment on pending lawsuits. 

“That said, generally speaking, DCF takes the care and support of youth in our custody seriously, and we work to ensure that youth in foster care are placed in homes that support all aspects of what makes them who they are,” Radke wrote. “This includes their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

It is the department’s responsibility “to ensure all children and youth will reside in a home with caregivers who are committed to fully embracing and holistically affirming and supporting them,” Radke continued, noting that the suit had been filed at the beginning of Pride month. “We need assurance that the foster and kin care homes selected for our children and youth can honor these personal facets of their being when they choose to share them with us.”

Tuesday’s case stems from the experience of two Windham County couples, Brian and Katy Wuoti and Bryan and Rebecca Gantt. Both couples had foster care licenses for years, having fostered and later adopted multiple children in the state. 

But in the past two years, both couples had their foster care licenses revoked because of their beliefs on LGBTQ+ issues, according to the lawsuit. The Wuotis and the Gantts are Christian, and Brian Wuoti and Bryan Gantt are both pastors, according to the complaint.

Both couples “believe that God created humans as male and female and that a person’s sex is binary and fixed by God at conception,” the suit reads. And both couples “cannot attend, associate with, or participate in events like pride parades because they convey a message about human sexuality that goes against their faith.”

According to the lawsuit, after discussing those beliefs with the Wuotis and the Gantts, state officials became concerned that the couples would be unable to properly care for and support LGBTQ+ children. 

“I have no doubt that you would be welcoming to a child in your home; but if you are unable to encourage and support children in their sexual and gender identity, that essentially makes you ineligible for renewal of your foster parent license,” one DCF staffer wrote to the Wuotis in 2022, according to the suit. 

Per Department for Children and Families policy, “discrimination and bias based on a child or youth’s real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression” is prohibited.

New rules implemented in 2023 made that policy more explicit. The rules “prohibit licensed foster parents from discriminating against foster children based on sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as other personal characteristics,” the department told foster parents in a 2023 email included as an exhibit in the suit. 

The lawsuit, filed in Vermont district court, asks a judge to strike down those DCF policies on LGBTQ+ discrimination. The revocation of the couples’ foster care licenses, according to the complaint, violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and amounts to discrimination against those with Christian beliefs. 

“By categorically excluding the Wuotis and the Gantts from child welfare services because of their religious beliefs, the Mandate invidiously discriminates based on religion and treats the Wuotis and the Gantts worse than similarly situated persons who do not share their religious beliefs,” the complaint reads.

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Peter D’Auria is VTDigger’s human services and health care reporter.

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The preceding article was previously published by the VTDigger and is republished with permission.

VTDigger is a news organization reporting daily on Vermont and Vermonters. Headquartered in Montpelier, we are dedicated to public service and investigative journalism. We primarily publish our news stories on our website, in our newsletters and through republishing agreements with other news organizations.

In 2011, VTDigger became a project of the nonprofit Vermont Journalism Trust, which has become a pioneer in finding new ways to support and sustain local newsgathering at the local and state level.

VTDigger is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Two UT Austin professors join Texas AG’s anti-trans Title IX suit

Daniel Bonevac, a philosophy professor and John Hatfield, a finance professor are alleging that the Federal government oversteps its authority

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Official biographies headshots of Professors Daniel Bonevac & John Hatfield. (Photo Credit: University of Texas, Austin)

AMARILLO, Texas – A pair of University of Texas at Austin professors have joined with Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton in his state federal lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Education over its “Final Rule” regarding interpretation of Title IX, which is slated to take effect later this summer on August 1.

Daniel Bonevac, a philosophy professor and John Hatfield, a finance professor are alleging in the revised lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, that the Federal government oversteps its authority by requiring “students and teachers to, for example, use someone’s ‘preferred pronouns’” and by “reinterpreting the word ‘sex’ to include ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity.’” I

The suit also is asking the court to protect the plaintiffs’ rights to treat student absences from class for the purposes of getting an abortion as unexcused, to regulate the clothing their teaching assistants wear, and to decline to hire as teaching assistants students who have received abortion pharmaceuticals in the mail.

In the 81 page filing, Bonevac and Hatfield describe ways they plan to behave that they believe are rendered illegal by the Final Rule interpretation of Title IX—hence the lawsuit. These include:

  • Not honoring any student’s demands to be addressed by the singular pronoun “they”. (“I will not violate the rules of grammar or make a fool of myself to accommodate a student’s delusional beliefs.”)
  • Not allowing his teaching assistants to teach or otherwise interact with students while wearing clothing traditionally not associated with their genders.
  • Not treating absences to obtain an “illegal abortion” or “purely elective abortion” as an excused absence. (Note that in Texas, abortions are generally illegal with few exceptions.)
  • Not knowingly hiring teaching assistants who have received shipments of “abortion pills and abortion-related paraphernalia”.

The case is being heard by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump-appointee who is the only sitting judge in the Amarillo courthouse. Kacsmaryk has with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, ruling often in their favor on issues ranging from abortion medication and immigration to LGBTQ worker protections.

In a recent case, Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

At least 22 Republican-led states are suing the Biden administration over its new rules to protect LGBTQ students from discrimination in federally funded schools. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education said in an email to the Blade that the department does not comment on ongoing litigation and that all federally funded schools are obligated to comply with the new rules.

Read the complaint:

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U.S. Federal Courts

L.A. County Fire Dept. Lifeguard Capt. sues over Pride flags

Little’s refusal to raise the ‘Progress Pride Flag’ the suit claims led to threats of his dismissal & is a form of religious discrimination

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Towers 17 & 18 in Will Rogers Beach, more affectionately known as "Ginger Rogers" Beach, were unveiled last June to help celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and Pride Month. The towers have been painted with the colors of the Progress Pride Flag. (Photo Credit: Los Angeles County Fire Department, Lifeguard Division)

LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles County Fire Department-Lifeguard Division Captain has sued the LACFD-LGD and LA county over the county’s policy regarding display of the LGBTQ+ ‘Progress Pride Flag’ at his workplace. In the suit claiming that requiring him to raise the Pride Flag constitutes religious discrimination as he describes himself as a devout evangelical Christian.

The lawsuit, filed on May 24, 2024, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, LACFD-LGD Captain Jeffrey Little, a 22 year veteran, who is represented by the anti-LGBTQ+ law firm, Thomas More Society, is alleging that Little’s refusal to raise the ‘Progress Pride Flag’ which he claims has led to threats of his dismissal, is a form of religious discrimination.

According to the suit, the Fire Department is violating Little’s rights under the First Amendment, federal, and state law. “Little’s sincere and deeply held religious beliefs prohibit his participation in raising the Progress Pride Flag. For that, he has suffered religious discrimination, harassment, and retaliation at the hands of the Los Angeles County Fire Department,” his attorney’s claim.

In March 2023, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution requiring that all county-operated facilities fly the Progress Pride Flag during the month of June. According to Little’s attorneys, in June 2023, Little requested a religious accommodation that would exempt him from personally participating in the required raising of the Progress Pride Flag in accordance with the county board’s resolution. On June 19, 2023, the Los Angeles County Fire Department initially granted Little’s request and promised him that he would neither have to raise the Progress Pride Flag himself, nor personally ensure that the flag is raised at his station. Little’s religious accommodation was rescinded two days later on June 21, 2023.

According to Little’s attorneys, almost immediately after the accommodation was revoked, Los Angeles County Fire Department personnel engaged in illegal retaliation and harassment against Little. His supervising officers—particularly Little’s division and section chiefs—ordered him to raise the Progress Pride Flag. In issuing a direct order to Little on June 22, 2023, Division Chief Fernando Boiteux told him, “You are an LA County employee, that’s the only thing that matters,” and, “Your religious beliefs do not matter.”

In the suit it states that Little was subsequently removed from his Fire Department role on the background investigation unit.

The suit also alleges the LACFD-LGD then revealed to unauthorized persons that Little had requested a religious accommodation. Following that disclosure, Little received a death threat that also targeted his daughters.

In a statement, Paul Jonna, Thomas More Society Special Counsel and Partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP, said:

Captain Jeffrey Little is an upstanding American, a devout Christian father, and a public servant who has honorably served the Los Angeles County Fire Department for over 22 years. He courageously stood on principle and asked for a simple religious accommodation—which he is rightfully and legally due—only to be first denied, then threatened, harassed, discriminated and retaliated against for his widely shared Christian religious beliefs. In our great country, Americans can’t even be forced to salute the American flag as a condition of government employment. Yet, in this case, the L.A. County Fire Department seeks to force Captain Little to personally raise the Progress Pride Flag in violation of his sincere and deeply held religious beliefs—or face termination. The L.A. County Fire Department’s actions are not only deeply un-American, but also flagrantly illegal. We’ve filed this federal lawsuit to vindicate Captain Little’s religious liberty rights and to firmly establish that this sort of blatant religious discrimination has no place in our public life.”

A spokesperson for the L.A. County Fire Department, which oversees lifeguards, said the department cannot comment on personnel issues or any ongoing litigation.

“Flying the Progress Pride flag is an important act of inclusion and belonging. It affirms that in Los Angeles County, our LGBTQ+ community is welcomed and supported,” Supervisor and Chair of the County Board of Supervisors Lindsey P. Horvath said in an emailed statement to the Blade.

“To our LGBTQ+ community, including those who are part of our Fire Department, you are never alone. We will fly the Progress Pride flag proudly all June,” Horvath added.

Read the lawsuit filing here: (Link)

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U.S. Federal Courts

NH federal court strikes down ‘banned concepts’ curriculum law

The “banned concepts” law, violated teachers’ 14th Amendment rights because it’s too vague for them to follow the judge ruled

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The Warren B. Rudman U.S. Courthouse in Concord, New Hampshire. (Photo by Ken Gallager)

By Ethan DeWitt | CONCORD, N.H. – Patrick Keefe says he just wanted to teach Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”

The high school English teacher has long included the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about slavery in his curriculum at Litchfield’s Campbell High School. And in the past, he had questioned students about whether Morrison’s themes about the legacy of slavery applied to the present.

But after a state law passed in 2021 that regulated how teachers may talk about race and other concepts to students, Keefe became more cautious, he testified in a deposition last year. Any student-led discussion about structural racism might lead to a complaint under the new law, and might cause Keefe to lose his teaching license, he feared.

On Tuesday, a federal judge cited Keefe and other teachers’ examples in an order striking down the law, siding with teachers unions and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and ruling that the law is unconstitutionally vague. 

In his decision, Judge Paul Barbadoro held that the law, known by opponents as the “divisive concepts” or “banned concepts” law, violated teachers’ 14th Amendment rights because it is too vague for them to follow. 

“The Amendments are viewpoint-based restrictions on speech that do not provide either fair warning to educators of what they prohibit or sufficient standards for law enforcement to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement,” Barbadoro wrote, referring to the statutory changes passed by the law. 

The law prohibits K-12 public school staff from any instruction that advocates for four concepts: that a person of any race, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristic is inherently “superior” to another; that any individual is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive against another for any characteristic; that an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment for any characteristic; and that people of one characteristic “cannot and should not attempt to treat others without regard to” one of their characteristics.

The characteristics covered by the law are a person’s “age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, mental or physical disability, religion, or national origin.” 

The law, which was in part modeled after an executive order by President Donald Trump that applied to federal employees and was repealed by President Joe Biden, was presented by Republican lawmakers as an anti-discrimination statute meant to ensure that all students were treated equally. It came as Republican lawmakers raised concerns about diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts implemented in public schools, and argued that teachers were espousing “critical race theory” in classrooms.

The law allowed parents to bring complaints to the state’s Commission for Human Rights against teachers and school staff who they believed violated the new anti-discrimination statute. And it gave the State Board of Education the power to revoke educators’ teaching licenses if they were found by the commission to be in violation. 

But teachers unions and others raised concerns that the prohibited concepts were too unclear to follow and would result in educators self-censoring instruction around certain topics such as race or gender for fear of losing their teaching credentials.

In his order Tuesday, Barbadoro sided with the state’s two teachers unions – the National Education Association of New Hampshire (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers of New Hampshire (AFT) – who had argued that the law violated their 14th Amendment rights because it did not provide clear guidance of what teachers should or shouldn’t teach. 

Barbadoro’s ruling grants “declaratory relief” to plaintiffs, meaning he is ruling that the law is unconstitutional, but it does not grant “injunctive relief” – a stricter ruling that would have stopped the state from carrying out the law. In his order, Barbadoro wrote that he didn’t believe he needed the latter relief because he believed the state would respect the ruling and stop enforcing the law.

The ruling was a setback for the state, which had argued that the Attorney General’s Office had given teachers sufficient guidance in a “Frequently Asked Questions” document released in 2021 that outlined scenarios in which teachers would violate or not violate the law.

There are no known cases of New Hampshire teachers who have been found by the Commission for Human Rights to have violated the law. 

But Barbadoro said there were a number of scenarios that the FAQs did not address. One such unanswered question centered on Keefe’s attempts to teach “Beloved.” 

According to his deposition, Keefe had asked for clarity from his school’s administration but “was told there was none available other than the Attorney General’s Frequently Asked Questions,” Barbadoro noted. 

Barbadoro also noted the example of Jennifer Given, a former high school social studies teacher at the Hollis Brookline High School who “felt the need to significantly modify her teaching methods ‘out of fear that [she] would be accused of’ violating the Amendments, regardless of whether she was actually doing so.”

And he argued that the uncertainty applied to extracurricular activities as well, citing the testimony of Ryan Richman, a high school history teacher at Timberlane Regional High School. Richman said as a faculty adviser for the school’s Model United Nations team, he felt the law hampered his ability to help students for their competition in fear of saying something that might be seen as a violation. 

Barbadoro used the examples to bolster his larger conclusion. 

“The Amendments are vague not because they subject teachers to severe professional sanctions, but because they fail to provide teachers with sufficient notice of what is prohibited and raise the specter of arbitrary and discretionary enforcement,” he ruled.

He also said that the vagueness would allow state officials to apply their own arbitrary interpretations to enforcement. 

“… Because the Amendments fail to establish ‘minimal guidelines to govern [their] enforcement,’ officials are free to ‘pursue their personal predilections’ when applying the law,” Barbadoro wrote.

The decision was hailed by the plaintiffs; Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, called it “a victory for academic freedom and an inclusive education for all New Hampshire students.” 

“New Hampshire’s ‘banned concepts’ law stifled New Hampshire teachers’ efforts to provide a true and honest education,” agreed NEA-NH President Megan Tuttle in a statement. “Students, families, and educators should rejoice over this court ruling which restores the teaching of truth and the right to learn for all Granite State students.”

And it was cheered on by Democrats, including the two lead Democratic candidates for governor. Former Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig praised the plaintiffs who “fought this unconstitutional law.” In her own statement, Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington said, “Teachers should be free to teach – the truth – and students should be free to learn.” 

Republicans said they would redouble efforts to pass the bill. In a statement, former state Senate President Chuck Morse, a Republican candidate for governor who had helped push for the law in the Senate, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the decision but vowed to press on.

“As Governor, I will work tirelessly with lawmakers, educators, and community leaders to draft and pass a stronger bill that addresses the court’s concerns while keeping our fundamental goal intact: to prevent the dissemination of any materials that promote racial superiority or inferiority,” Morse said.

In a post on X, State Rep. Keith Ammon, a New Boston Republican, wrote: “Judge Barbadoro just put stopping Critical Race Theory back on the ballot in November.”

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Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by The New Hampshire Bulletin and is republished with permission.

The independent, nonprofit New Hampshire Bulletin is guided by these words from our state constitution: “Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive.” We will work tirelessly every day to make sure elected officials and state agencies are held to that standard.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge may delay Alabama’s trans medical care ban trial

The law makes it a felony, punishable by 10 years in prison, for physicians to prescribe puberty blockers or HRT to trans youth under age 19

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The Frank M. Johnson Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama, seen on January 24, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

By Jemma Stephenson | HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A federal judge this past Thursday weighed arguments on whether to move to a trial over Alabama’s ban on gender-affirming medical care for individuals under the age of 19. 

During a roughly three-and-half-hour hearing Thursday, attorneys for the state and for transgender children and their families suing over the law considered the merits of moving forward while circuit courts around the country consider similar laws with different conclusions, and whether a trial over Alabama’s law could move forward as planned or be delayed.

Alabama’s 2022 law makes it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for physicians to prescribe puberty blockers or hormones to transgender youth under the age of 19. SB 184, sponsored by Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, also banned reconstructive surgery and genital surgeries on minors, which providers have stressed do not happen in Alabama.

The families that filed suit said the ban would jeopardize the physical and psychological health of their children. The state repeatedly questioned the effectiveness of the treatments. 

Following a two-day hearing in 2022, U.S. District Judge Liles C. Burke issued a preliminary injunction against the law, ruling that it interfered with parental rights.

The state appealed to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, where a federal panel reversed the injunction. U.S. Circuit Judge Barbara Lagoa, whose ruling cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision overturning federal abortion rights, wrote that earlier rulings did “not establish that parents have a derivative fundamental right to obtain a particular medical treatment for their children as long as a critical mass of medical professionals approve.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case moved for an en banc hearing where the entire 11th Circuit would hear the case. The full circuit had not ruled on the motion as of Thursday afternoon.

In Burke’s court on Thursday, Jeff Doss, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the decision to go to trial was a “purely discretionary” one for the court. The attorney said the full 11th Circuit — covering Alabama, Georgia and Florida — may not have the votes for the en banc hearing but said the court might not want “active machinery” until “we see there are further developments.”

The motion for the stay filed by the plaintiffs on May 3 also referenced waiting to see if pending cases in Tennessee and Kentucky were taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Burke told Doss to be trial ready for a regular track, but told Alabama Solicitor General Edmund LaCour, arguing for the state, that Doss’s statements were persuasive.

LaCour said they had “done a lot of work over the past two years.”

“We need a decision right away,” he said.

LaCour told Burke that it has become a “playbook” for the United States to enter the cases and ask for trust from doctors rather than lawmakers.

LaCour also referenced sealed evidence that the state had and said they had created a “very robust record.”

Burke said that they were “reading tea leaves,” and they did not know what would happen. He said he did not see the harm in waiting three months and that it is “certainly possible I could be reversed twice.”

LaCour told Burke that he could rule on a summary judgment, or a judgment entered without a full trial. 

Burke told LaCour that the state could enforce the law now, but LaCour replied that they had spent a lot of time on the case. 

“At some point, when is it our turn to finally get justice?” he said.

Burke said he was sympathetic to LaCour’s statements that one plaintiff has already aged out, and they might need new experts.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall was in attendance Thursday but did not present any of the state’s arguments.

Burke told the court that he was going to think more, but he checked around the room for major conflicts for Oct. 27, which no one objected to.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs have faced accusations of judge-shopping after they dismissed and refiled the case in 2022, prior to the two-day hearing. Burke clarified with one attorney Thursday that judge shopping is prohibited under the 11th Circuit.

Burke spent over an hour meeting with the attorneys – and their attorneys – in separate meetings Thursday on the format for hearings in the matter. While they met, the attorneys went around speaking in small groups amongst themselves. 

“Think we’ve got a plan,” Burke said at the end, saying that he would be open to attorneys taking the lead on discussion, or doing that himself. 

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Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Alabama Reflector and is republished with permission.

The Alabama Reflector is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to covering state government and politics in the state of Alabama. Through daily coverage and investigative journalism, The Reflector covers decision makers in Montgomery; the issues affecting Alabamians, and potential ways to move our state forward.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Guilty plea in Grindr cyberstalking, sextortion & id theft of gay men

He targeted young gay men on Grindr to obtain their sexually explicit photographs & videos consensually & used them to extort money or sex

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Joseph P. Kinneary United States Courthouse in Columbus, Ohio is home to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. (Photo Credit: The Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Omoruyi O. Uwadiae, 28, of Chicago, offered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, May 22 to cyberstalking, sextortion and identity theft crimes. His scheme involved dozens of victims in multiple states, including Ohio, Colorado and Washington.

According to his plea documents, Uwadiae admitted to obtaining sexually explicit photographs and videos from potential victims and then using the content to threaten them. Uwadiae threatened to distribute the explicit material widely on the internet and specifically to victims’ friends, family members, employers and others.

The defendant demanded money from some victims. From others, he demanded they meet him, have sex with him, or make damaging admissions such as admissions that they were racist. On multiple occasions, Uwadiae carried through with his threats. He sent sexually explicit photographs and videos to the victims’ friends, family members (including at least one victim’s mother, at least one victim’s brother, and at least one victim’s sister), employers and acquaintances, and also posted sexually explicit photographs and videos widely on the internet.

Multiple victims had not publicly disclosed their sexual orientation, which Uwadiae’s actions disclosed, contrary to their wishes. The defendant also used victims’ identifications to create false accounts on social media and post personal information about the victims online.

Uwadiae targeted young gay men on Grindr and other online sites. He would obtain their sexually explicit photographs and videos consensually and then use them to extort. In some cases, he posted their nude images on Male General without their consent and then demanded money or other things of value to take down the images. Male General is a blog marketed to gay men containing, among other things, boards where users can post images and text.

For example, one victim was a student at The Ohio State University who communicated with Uwadiae on Grindr. Uwadiae ultimately demanded that the victim either pay him $200 or have sex with him. When the victim did not comply, Uwadiae created false social media accounts using true photos of the victim, stating, “this guy is gay, see pics for evidence.” The victim had not disclosed his sexual orientation to his family and had told Uwadiae he was concerned that his family would react negatively if they learned he was bisexual.

Uwadiae was charged in the Southern District of Ohio in April.

As part of his plea, Uwadiae pleaded guilty to 22 total counts. He pleaded guilty to eight counts of cyberstalking (punishable by up to five years in prison), seven counts of making interstate communications with the intent to extort (up to two years in prison) and seven counts of unlawfully using a means of identification (up to five years in prison).

Kenneth L. Parker, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, announced the guilty plea offered today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Norah McCann King. The case was investigated by the FBI and the Columbus, Ohio Police Department.

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