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Supreme Court marks ‘gays & lesbians for second class status’

SCOTUS grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class

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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’s conservative supermajority on Friday ruled in favor of Lori Smith, the graphic artist who did not want to make wedding websites for same-sex couples despite Colorado’s nondiscrimination law barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

“The First Amendment envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority 6-3 decision along ideological lines in 303 Creative v. Elenis.

The liberal justices, however, called the majority’s finding of a free speech exemption to nondiscrimination rules “unprecedented,” warning it would blow a hole through these laws and pave the way for anti-LGBTQ discrimination by businesses.

“Today the Court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The liberal justices argued the Colorado law targets conduct, not speech.

“Today is a sad day in American constitutional law and in the lives of LGBT people,” Sotomayor wrote. “The immediate, symbolic effect of the decision is to mark gays and lesbians for second-class status.”

Biden, U.S. lawmakers, LGBTQ groups weigh in

President Biden reacted saying in a statement released by the White House:

“In America, no person should face discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love. The Supreme Court’s disappointing decision in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis undermines that basic truth, and painfully it comes during Pride month when millions of Americans across the country join together to celebrate the contributions, resilience, and strength of the LGBTQI+ community. While the Court’s decision only addresses expressive original designs, I’m deeply concerned that the decision could invite more discrimination against LGBTQI+ Americans. More broadly, today’s decision weakens long-standing laws that protect all Americans against discrimination in public accommodations – including people of color, people with disabilities, people of faith, and women.
 
My administration remains committed to working with our federal enforcement agencies to rigorously enforce federal laws that protect Americans from discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. We will also work with states across the country to fight back against attempts to roll back civil rights protections that could follow this ruling. And we will accelerate our march towards full equality for every American.
 
When one group’s dignity and equality are threatened, the promise of our democracy is threatened and we all suffer. Our work to advance equal rights for everyone will continue. That is why we must pass the Equality Act, which will enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law and strengthen public accommodations protections for all Americans. I urge Congress to swiftly send this legislation to my desk.”

Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, shared an emailed statement with the Blade:

“As the dissenting justices rightly stress, this is a deeply disappointing decision that, for the first time in our nation’s history, holds that the Constitution permits discrimination in the commercial sphere,” adding, “There is no principled basis for this egregious departure from more than a hundred years of precedent.”

On the other hand, Minter said, “the scope of the ruling is incredibly narrow and will not apply to the overwhelming majority of businesses,” but “Unfortunately, the State of Colorado stipulated to a number of ‘facts’ about the designer’s hypothetical service of designing websites for weddings,” which “provided a basis, however flimsy, for the majority to rule as it did, including Colorado’s stipulation that the designer picks and chooses which clients she will serve based on whether she agrees with their viewpoints, that each site she designs is customized and original, and that the sites are ‘art’ and express her own personal views, not those of the clients.” 

Minter said “Very few other businesses meet these criteria, so this ruling will have little if any application to ordinary businesses, including those that involve some element of creativity or expression. Under the majority ruling, it is not enough that a service is creative or expressive, the business must selectively choose clients, not open its doors to all, must create a highly customized product, and it must be clear that the product is expressing the views of the business owner, not the customer.  There are very few such businesses.” 

“Nonetheless, this is a sad day for our country and our Constitution. The majority has gone out of its way to gerrymander an exception to nondiscrimination laws that sends a terrible message—especially to LGBTQ people—at a terrible time, when there is a resurgence of anti-LGBTQ bias and a backlash against equality for women, people of color, and LGBTQ people. I am confident our county will rise above this moment, as we have done in the past, but this is a painful day,” Minter said.

Among the first advocacy groups to condemn the decision was the National Black Justice Coalition, a leading Black LGBTQ+ civil rights organization.

“The anti-democratic, segregationist, white nationalistic Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is party to this case, has a well-documented history of using legal strategies to erode LGBTQ+ rights, perpetuating discrimination and stigmatization,” said the Coalition’s Executive Director David Johns.

“A perilous precedent is set when the ADF is allowed to manufacture a case in search of a solution to a problem that doesn’t even exist for the plaintiff, undermining the principles of justice, equality, and nondiscrimination that are the bedrock of our nation,” he said.

ADF, which represented the plaintiff Lori Smith, is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

Minutes later, America’s largest LGBTQ organization, the Human Rights Campaign, issued a press release: “Make no mistake, this case was manufactured by the Alliance for Defending Freedom to create a new license to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people,” said HRC President Kelley Robinson.

“Despite our opponents claiming this is a major victory, this ruling does not give unfettered power to discriminate,” Robinson wrote. “This decision does not mean that any LGBTQ+ person can be discriminated against in housing, employment or banking—those protections remain enshrined with federal law.” 

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), America’s first openly gay senator, was among the first members of Congress to address the ruling, writing in a statement:

“This is about fairness and freedom – about whether LGBTQ+ Americans deserve fairness and freedom to be treated just like everyone else. It is simply wrong to discriminate against any American based on who they are or who they love, and Americans agree. This decision is a step backward in our fight to live up to our nation’s ideal of equality, but we cannot let this activist Supreme Court have the last word. I am more committed than ever to fighting to ensure every American can live freely and without discrimination.” 

The U.S. Congressional Equality Caucus, through its Chair, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), issued a statement arguing that Friday’s “abhorrent” decision “provides a constitutional basis for businesses that provide customized expressive services to discriminate against all marginalized people currently protected by public accommodations nondiscrimination laws.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), a co-chair of the Equality Caucus, called Friday’s ruling “horrifying and stunning” in a statement, writing “Today’s harmful decision opens the door for unimaginable legal discrimination against marginalized people.”

Takano added, “We must expand the Supreme Court immediately.”

“Millions of Americans,” wrote the Democratic Attorneys General Association, “have been rightly concerned that the floodgates would open to a raft of legal challenges to vital LGBTQ+ protections.”

The group added, “Between rulings like this, waves of extreme and hateful legislation, and an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ threats and violence, the fact is that this is indeed a frightening time for the LGBTQ+ community.”

GLAAD’s statement noted that “Not one LGBTQ couple sought the business’ services so this case is a massive abuse of the judicial system and part of a coordinated effort from groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom to leverage corrupt extremist justices to roll back rights of marginalized Americans.”

Departing from the LGBTQ and civil rights advocacy groups that universally objected to Friday’s ruling was the conservative LGBT organization, Log Cabin Republicans.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision is a win for anyone who believes, as LGBT conservatives do, in freedom of speech and religious expression, even when we may not agree with it,” said LCR President Charles Moran.

“LGBT conservatives,” he said, “have long believed, as Justice Gorsuch wrote in his opinion, that ‘tolerance, not coercion, is our nation’s answer, and forcing anyone to create expressive speech with which they disagree is a massive step backwards.””

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U.S. Federal Courts

U.S. Supreme Court allows Idaho to enforce gender care ban

SCOTUS sides with state to allow enforcement of gender-affirming care ban for youth. Poe v. Labrador lawsuit remains ongoing.

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File photo, U.S. Supreme Court (Michael Key/Washington Blade)

By Mia Maldonado | WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed Idaho to enforce House Bill 71, a law banning Idaho youth from receiving gender-affirming care medications and surgeries.

In an opinion issued Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state of Idaho’s request to stay the preliminary injunction, which blocked the law from taking effect. This means the preliminary injunction now only applies to the plaintiffs involved in Poe v. Labrador — a lawsuit brought on by the families of two transgender teens in Idaho who seek gender-affirming care. 

Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision enforces the gender-affirming care ban for all other transgender youth in Idaho as the lawsuit remains ongoing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador
 In this file photo, Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador gives a speech at the Idaho GOP election night watch party at the Grove Hotel in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Idaho, both of whom represent the plaintiffs, said in a press release Monday that the ruling “does not touch upon the constitutionality” of House Bill 71. The groups called Monday’s ruling an “awful result” for transgender Idaho youth and their families.

“Today’s ruling allows the state to shut down the care that thousands of families rely on while sowing further confusion and disruption,” the organizations said in the press release. “Nonetheless, today’s result only leaves us all the more determined to defeat this law in the courts entirely, making Idaho a safer state to raise every family.”

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador in a press release said the state has a duty to protect and support all children, and that he is proud of the state’s legal stance. 

“Those suffering from gender dysphoria deserve love, support and medical care rooted in biological reality,” Labrador said. “Denying the basic truth that boys and girls are biologically different hurts our kids. No one has the right to harm children, and I’m grateful that we, as the state, have the power — and duty — to protect them.”

Recap of Idaho’s House Bill 71, and what led to SCOTUS opinion

Monday’s Supreme Court decision traces back to when House Bill 71 was signed into law in April 2023.

The law makes it a felony punishable for up to 10 years for doctors to provide surgeries, puberty-blockers and hormones to transgender people under the age of 18. However, gender-affirming surgeries are not and were not performed among Idaho adults or youth before the bill was signed into law, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported

One month after it was signed into law, the families of two transgender teens sued the state in a lawsuit alleging the bill violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

In late December, just days before the law was set to take effect in the New Year, District of Idaho Judge B. Lynn Winmill blocked the law from taking effect under a preliminary injunction. In his decision, he said he found the families likely to succeed in their challenge.

The state of Idaho responded by appealing the district court’s preliminary injunction decision to the Ninth Circuit, to which the Ninth Circuit denied. The state of Idaho argued the court should at least enforce the ban for everyone except for the plaintiffs. 

After the Ninth Circuit’s denial, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office in February sent an emergency motion to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Idaho Press reported. Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision agrees with the state’s request to enforce its ban on transgender health care for minors, except for the two plaintiffs.

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Mia Maldonado

Mia Maldonado joined the Idaho Capital Sun after working as a breaking news reporter at the Idaho Statesman covering stories related to crime, education, growth and politics. She previously interned at the Idaho Capital Sun through the Voces Internship of Idaho, an equity-driven program for young Latinos to work in Idaho news. Born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, Mia moved to the Treasure Valley for college where she graduated from the College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and international political economy.

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The preceding piece was previously published by the Idaho Capital Sun and is republished with permission.

The Idaho Capital Sun is the Gem State’s newest nonprofit news organization delivering accountability journalism on state politics, health care, tax policy, the environment and more.

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

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal appeals court hears oral arguments in SAFE Act appeal

As of last November, similar laws had been enacted in 22 states, and legal challenges have been mounted in several of them

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The Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in St. Louis. (Rebecca Rivas/Missouri Independent).

By Debra Chandler Landis | SAINT LOUIS, Mo. – Federal appeals court judges here on Thursday heard legal counsel for the national ACLU and the U.S. Department of Justice argue that transgender minors have a constitutional right to gender-affirming care, while Arkansas’ deputy solicitor general said a state law prohibiting such care was in the best interest of youth and not discriminatory.

At issue is the 2021 Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, which bans physicians from providing gender transition treatments like hormones, puberty blockers and sex reassignment surgeries to individuals under age 18.

Four Arkansas families and two physicians, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, challenged the SAFE Act in federal court, where U.S. District Judge James Moody struck down the law in June 2023, saying, among other things, that the SAFE Act discriminated against transgender people and violated the U.S. Constitution’s First and Fourteenth Amendments. 

Arkansas Deputy Solicitor General Dylan Jacobs
 Arkansas Deputy Solicitor General Dylan Jacobs (second from left) and Senior Assistant Attorney General Amanda Land (third from left) leave the federal courthouse in Little Rock after the conclusion of the trial over Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming care for minors in December. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin appealed that decision in July 2023 to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The state has argued there is no scientific evidence that children benefit from gender-affirming care and that the consequences can be harmful and often permanent for them.

Asked by the appeals judges whether the state law would ban health care providers from prescribing testosterone for conditions other than gender-affirming care treatment, Dylan Jacobs, Arkansas deputy solicitor general, said, “The statute does not prohibit that. The legislature wasn’t saying it has problems with testosterone.”

Regarding the district court’s ruling to strike down the ban on transgender care in Arkansas, Jacobs said “there are certainly risks, including sterilization” in the treatment, and noted it was not up to the district court to impose its own policy judgments.

ACLU attorney Chase Strangio, deputy director for the organization’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, told the appeals court Thursday they should uphold Moody’s ruling, noting, in part, that the state law undermines constitutional guarantees of equal protection and “supplants the judgment of parents and their abilities to determine medical care.”

Griffin has said his office “is fighting to protect our state’s children from dangerous medical experimentation. Moody, in his 80-page ruling striking the Arkansas law, affirmed the testimony of medical experts who said in their testimony for the plaintiffs that gender-affirming care is safe for minors. 

The State of Arkansas, Moody wrote, “failed to prove that its interests in the safety of Arkansas adolescents from gender transitioning procedures or the medical community’s ethical decline are compelling, genuine, or even rational.”

In 2021, a letter from the American Medical Association to the National Governors Association referenced the Arkansas SAFE Act and said, in part: “Arkansas recently enacted SAFE Act and similar bills pending in several other states would insert the government into clinical decision-making and force physicians to disregard clinical guidelines.” 

Gender-affirming care for minors, the AMA said, “must be sensitive to the child’s clinical situation, nurture the child’s short and long-term development, and balance the need to preserve the child’s opportunity to make important life choices autonomously in the future.”

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals did not indicate when it might rule on the Arkansas law.

As of last November, similar laws had been enacted in 22 states, and legal challenges have been mounted in several of them. The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet taken up any of those cases.

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Debra Chandler Landis is a freelance journalist and retired University of Illinois Springfield college media adviser. She currently lives in St. Louis.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Arkansas Advocate and is republished with permission.

The Arkansas Advocate is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to tough, fair daily reporting and investigative journalism that holds public officials accountable and focuses on the relationship between the lives of Arkansans and public policy. This service is free to readers and other news outlets.

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 tosses a NY county’s suit defending trans sports ban

Bills banning trans youth from participating in sports already have passed in 24 states, although some have been blocked by active lawsuits

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Theodore Roosevelt Federal Courthouse at 225 Cadman Plaza East in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo Credit: U.S. Courts/GSA)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – A U.S. District Court judge ruled Friday against a pre-emptive lawsuit from Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman fighting off an attempt by New York Attorney General Letitia James to litigate his transphobic executive order barring the county’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Museums from issuing permits to any women’s or girls’ sports team with transgender players.

“This decision is a tremendous victory for justice and the rule of law, but our work here is not done,” said Alexis Richards, a spokesperson for the Attorney General. “It’s past time for Nassau County to rescind this [executive] order and treat all our communities with the basic respect and dignity they deserve.”

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

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

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

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

Reacting to today’s ruling in a statement released to the media Blakeman said: “We vehemently disagree with the decision and will appeal.”

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

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

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

Last month on March 11, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) filed a separate lawsuit against the Nassau County Executive. The lawsuit argues that the policy violates New York’s Human Rights Law and Civil Rights Law, which explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity following passage of New York’s Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA).  

“Trans people who play sports need support and affirmation, not to be a political target. Nassau County’s cynical attempt to shut them out of public spaces is a blatant violation of our state’s civil and human rights laws. It also speaks to growing, nationwide attacks against LGBTQ+ rights, and we won’t stand for this hatred here in New York,” said Gabriella Larios, staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “As promised the day this executive order was issued, we’re taking action so that the courts relegate this harmful, transphobic policy to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.” 

The ban will remain in effect as the litigation proceeds or it is enjoined by a judge.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge tosses suit against Calif. trans sanctuary state law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.S. Federal Courts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.S. Federal Courts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.S. Federal Courts

Far-right Gays Against Groomers, others sue Colorado lawmakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.S. Federal Courts

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

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

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Michael Everts (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.S. Federal Courts

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

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

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Alec Donovan (Centenary University/Facebook)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.S. Federal Courts

Two indicted for supplying fentanyl causing death of Cecilia Gentili

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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