ORLANDO, Fla. – Last week on Sept. 29 a group of trans and non-binary people asked a federal court to declare Florida’s bathroom ban unconstitutional and to issue an order temporarily prohibiting authorities from enforcing it against them while they are in Florida in the coming weeks.
The temporary restraining order (TRO) would allow the plaintiffs to use public bathrooms that align with their gender as they travel to, participate in, and return from the National March to Protect Trans Youth in Orlando on October 7.
An anticipated 1,000 people are marching in Orlando, Florida, in support of transgender youth and other marginalized communities on October 7, organizers stated.
Under Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida has been at the forefront of a national movement to legislate against trans rights. In May, DeSantis signed four anti-trans and anti-queer legislation passed by the Florida Legislature including Florida Statute § 553.865.
This law, also known as the Bathroom Ban, prevents transgender, gender nonconforming, and certain kinds of intersex people from accessing a restroom in line with their gender because it defines sex as one’s anatomy and naturally occurring hormones at birth.
The lead defendant named in the lawsuit is Andrew Bain, the State Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit in Florida. DeSantis appointed Bain last month to replace Monique Worrell, whom he removed, in part, because she signed a statement pledging not to prosecute people accused of transgender-related “crimes.”
A complaint, along with a motion for the TRO, filed on the plaintiffs’ behalf by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Southern Legal Counsel says the ban forces trans, gender-nonconforming, and certain intersex people (TGNCI people) to use a bathroom inconsistent with their identities, risk arrest by using a bathroom consistent with their identities, or forego multi-stall restrooms in public facilities altogether.
All of these options are legally impermissible because they deny TGNCI people basic freedoms afforded others, according to the complaint.
“The State of Florida believes it can eradicate the lives and identities of trans, gender nonconforming, intersex, and queer people through numerous pieces of legislation, including Fla. Stat. § 553.865, otherwise known as the bathroom ban, ” said Zee Scout, a Bertha Justice Fellow and attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “But this law is an unconstitutional reaction to the growing acceptance of these communities. The state cannot erase viewpoints that it dislikes. It cannot force people to accept its idea of sex and gender. And it cannot demonize these communities by referring to them as ‘demons,’ ‘mutants,’ and ‘imps.’ This lawsuit is a message that trans, intersex, and queer people nationwide will not tolerate this discriminatory behavior against their siblings in Florida or anywhere.”
“The bathroom ban is yet another unconstitutional and politically-motivated maneuver in the state of Florida’s relentless, multi-faceted attack on the rights, lives, and dignity of transgender Floridians,” said Simone Chriss, Director of the Transgender Rights Initiative at Southern Legal Counsel. “SLC denounces the state’s weaponization of fear and misinformation to strip away the rights of TGNCI Floridians under the guise of protecting others, and we are honored to stand beside the brave plaintiffs and all others who plan to travel to Florida to speak out and stand up for trans rights on October 7th!”
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Amicus brief: No negative incidents from Trans people in bathrooms
The brief details the constitutionality of bathroom bans. Courts across the U.S. have determined trans people have right to access bathrooms
By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – On Thursday, 21 state attorneys general filed an amicus brief with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, stating that transgender people must be allowed to use restrooms matching their gender identity.
The letter represents the latest development in a fight that has worked its way across the country, focusing on equal rights in bathroom accommodations for transgender people and barreling towards the Supreme Court.
The amicus brief is substantial. It represents the work of attorneys general in 21 states, and contains legal precedents, nondiscrimination laws, and the experiences of those states around allowing equal accommodations for transgender people. It cites 13 pages worth of laws, court decisions, and studies to support the rights of transgender people in bathrooms. It draws a final conclusion stating that disallowing trans bathroom access causes “emotional, psychological, educational, and constitutional harm,” and requests that the court uphold these rights for transgender students.
The brief is unique in that it outlines the findings of negative events that stem from allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their gender identity. The brief finds that “nondiscriminatory restroom policies produce important benefits and pose no safety concerns.” Importantly, it shows that in states that allow trans students to use bathrooms according to their gender identity, there were “no reported instances of transgender students harassing others in restrooms or locker rooms.”
See the briefing on this topic:
Meanwhile, the brief highlights the many negative effects of disallowing transgender people from using locker rooms and bathrooms. The report states that discriminatory policies for transgender people promote absenteeism, leading to trans youth missing valuable school time. These policies also harm the physical and mental health of transgender students.
The brief reports that 73% of trans students avoid restrooms in school because they feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Additionally, over half report negative health effects from doing so, such as kidney infections and other kidney-related problems. Rebecca, one of the plaintiffs in the case, reported limiting fluid intake at school and suppressing bathroom urges, both of which are unsafe for children.
The brief also details expansive case law surrounding the constitutionality of bathroom access. Courts across the United States have determined that transgender people have the right to access bathrooms that match their gender identities. Among the most significant cases is Grimm v. Gloucester County, where the 4th Circuit Court ruled that a transgender boy has the right to use the bathroom of his gender identity.
Similarly, in the 7th Circuit Court, A.C. v. Metropolitan School District of Martinsville was ruled in favor of a transgender plaintiff. Even the 9th Circuit Court, which is hearing this case, has favorable precedent. In Parents for Privacy v. Barr, it was ruled that transgender bathroom access does not violate other students’ privacy.
Ultimately, the strength of these cases was bolstered by the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which the report also heavily references. In that decision, which was ruled 6-3 with conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch authoring the opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that “it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
Although the decision covered employment law and not bathroom access, many courts have interpreted it as applicable to bathroom access and other areas protected by Title IX.
The brief also directly addresses the idea that Title IX only protects “biological sex.” It points out that Title IX regulations do not state that it only applies to “biological” sex “as determined by chromosomes and internal and external reproductive anatomy.” Instead, the brief argues that discrimination based on assigned sex at birth treats, for instance, a transgender girl different from a cisgender girl when allowing restroom access. The overreliance on a very specific facet of biological sex likely renders the bill unconstitutional, the brief states.
For now, the bill is blocked in court, allowing Idaho transgender students to use the restroom that matches their gender identity if their school permits it. Meanwhile, cases concerning bathroom access are swiftly moving towards the Supreme Court, with a recent decision from the 7th US Circuit Court currently being appealed to the Supreme Court.
It appears likely that the Supreme Court will soon revisit transgender rights. In this interim, this coalition of 21 states has emerged, vocally advocating for the rights of transgender students and leveraging their collective authority to do so.
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.
Follow her on Twitter (Link)
Website here: https://www.erininthemorning.com/
ACLU & Lambda Legal sue Iowa over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law
DES MOINES, Iowa – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa and Lambda Legal on Tuesday sued to block a sweeping Iowa education law that seeks to silence LGBTQ+ students, erase any recognition of LGBTQ+ people from public schools, and bans books with sexual or LGBTQ+ content, arguing in a federal lawsuit that the measure violates the constitutional rights of LGBTQ students.
The law also requires teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and other staff to report students to their parents or guardians if a student asks to be referred to by names or pronouns that align with their gender identity. This reporting is required regardless of whether it violates a student’s expectation of confidentiality, professional ethical obligations, or whether the school official knows that the student would be rendered unsafe, kicked out of their home, or subject to abuse as a result, the suit alleges.
The lawsuit is being brought on behalf of Iowa Safe Schools, a non-profit organization supporting LGBTQ and allied youth, and seven Iowa students and their families affected by the law. The students range from 4th to 12th graders and span the state.
One of the clients in the case, Puck Carlson (they/them), a high school senior in Iowa City, said the law is having a devastating impact on LGBTQ+ students like them. “Reading has always been a fundamental part of how I learned to understand the world around me. Every student should have the right to do the same: to be able to learn about people, cultures, and perspectives and to be able to learn about all of the world around them—not just parts of it. Furthermore, every student should be able to see themselves in their libraries—so that they not only understand the world around them but that they also belong in it.”
Another plaintiff is Percy Batista-Pedro, high school junior, Waterloo, Iowa who said:
“I am a junior and I also attend orchestra, participate in theater, and lead my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. I have experienced harassment in school because of my transgender identity, but SF496 and its provisions to shut down open, healthy discussion of LGBTQ issues, and its silencing of students like me make me fear for my happiness and safety more than ever.
“I am scared of being harassed if I wear Pride apparel, or if I talk about my identity in class. This fear, which is shared by my transgender friends, is why I have chosen to be a plaintiff in this case. During my freshman year while I was performing in a play, a student in the crowd threatened to kill me. I believe the student knew me because of a protest I had staged earlier that year at my high school. Now, after SF 496 and the climate it has created to shame and invite violence against transgender people, I would be terrified of organizing another protest.
“Transgender youth should not have to live in fear at their schools. We should not have to take unnecessary steps to gain the respect of being called by the correct name and pronouns that no cisgender kid ever has to ask for. It is blatant discrimination and should not be permitted to continue.”
Belinda Scarrott, Percy’s mom noted:
“I have joined with other parents in the State of Iowa to act against this unnecessarily cruel law. My 16-year-old child is transgender and queer. Prior to the passage of SF 496, school already presented difficulties for him that are not faced by cisgender, straight children. We struggled for years, and continue to struggle, with him being misgendered, bullied, and called the wrong name. We even received death threats posted to social media and shouted at school functions, with no action taken by the school.
“I send my child to school, work, and play every day knowing there are many individuals who, given the opportunity, would harm my child simply because he exists as his authentic self. This law only serves to make life more perilous for him and more terrifying for me. This law claims to protect parental rights, but it does the opposite. Instead of sending my child to school and assuming he will be safe, as every parent of a cis-gendered, straight child does, I spend my days worrying about what potential damage this school day might do to my child’s physical or mental well-being.”
The law went into effect this fall. Penalties for violating portions of the law start January 1, 2024, and administrators, teachers, librarians, and other school staff will be subject to disciplinary action, which could include being fired or losing a license.
SPECIFICS OF THE LAWSUIT
SF 496 is a law with wide-ranging implications for students’ academic experience, safe school climate, and mental health. The lawsuit challenges multiple portions of the law that target LGBTQ+ youth and require school districts to ban books, including the following provisions:
- The law forbids “any program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion, or instruction relating to gender identity or sexual orientation” in grades K-6. This prohibition has frightened LGBTQ+ young people into concealing who they are for fear of violating the law or getting a teacher in trouble. This provision has caused school districts to take down safe space stickers, remove references to LGBTQ historical figures from library displays, and ban books with LGBTQ themes or characters from libraries and classrooms. This provision also has forced student groups for LGBTQ+ students and their allies to stop meeting entirely.
- The law requires public schools K-12 to remove all books containing “descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act” with the explicit exception of the Bible. This portion of the law has caused school districts to remove hundreds of titles from school libraries. School districts have interpreted this provision as requiring the removal of classics from authors such as James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Alice Walker, and many others.
- The law requires school counselors and other school employees to report to parents or guardians any student’s request for a gender-affirming accommodation, including any request to be addressed by particular pronouns. This forced outing provision requires disclosure of a student’s gender identity to the student’s parents or guardians regardless of whether a school official knows that the report will expose the student to potential family rejection, being kicked out, or physical abuse.
On Nov. 15, the Iowa Board of Education issued proposed rules implementing the law, but those rules do not clarify the law and do not address its unconstitutionality.
The plaintiffs ask the court to 1) temporarily block the law’s implementation while the litigation proceeds because of ongoing irreparable harm to LGBTQ+ students. The lawsuit also asks 2) that SF 496 then be declared unconstitutional and permanently blocked.
California AG: Unredacted Federal lawsuit against Meta “damning”
“Meta knows that what it is doing is bad for kids — period. It is now there in black and white, and it is damning”
OAKLAND, Calif. — California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Monday announced the public release of a largely unredacted copy of the federal complaint filed by a bipartisan coalition of 33 attorneys general against Meta Platforms, Inc. and affiliates (Meta) on October 24, 2023.
Co-led by Attorney General Bonta, the coalition is alleging that Meta designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram and Facebook that addict children and teens to their mental and physical detriment.
As originally filed, however, much of the federal complaint included information conditionally under seal. Based on the company’s own documents, the removal of the redactions provides additional context for the misconduct that the attorneys general allege against Meta.
“Meta knows that what it is doing is bad for kids — period. Thanks to our unredacted federal complaint, it is now there in black and white, and it is damning,” said Bonta. “We will continue to vigorously prosecute this matter.”
CBS News reported that the state’s prosecutors built their case, in part, using snippets of emails, earnings call transcripts and other internal communications — all of which suggest the extreme value of young users’ personal information and time to company profits.
In an emailed statement from October when the joint suit was filed, Meta said it was disappointed by the route taken by the attorneys general.
Meta is determined to provide teens with “safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families,” the company said at the time.
In a Monday statement, a Meta spokesperson said, “The complaint mischaracterizes our work using selective quotes and cherry-picked documents.”
Highlights from the newly revealed portions of the complaint include the following:
- Mark Zuckerberg personally vetoed Meta’s proposed policy to ban image filters that simulated the effects of plastic surgery, despite internal pushback and an expert consensus that such filters harm users’ mental health, especially for women and girls. Complaint ¶¶ 333-68.
- Despite public statements that Meta does not prioritize the amount of time users spend on its social media platforms, internal documents show that Meta set explicit goals of increasing “time spent” and meticulously tracked engagement metrics, including among teen users. Complaint ¶¶ 134-150.
- Meta continuously misrepresented that its social media platforms were safe, while internal data revealed that users experienced harms on its platforms at far higher rates. Complaint ¶¶ 458-507.
- Meta knows that its social media platforms are used by millions of children under 13, including, at one point, around 30% of all 10–12-year-olds, and unlawfully collects their personal information. Meta does this despite Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress in 2021 that Meta “kicks off” children under 13. Complaint ¶¶ 642-811.
Two men charged with attacking Trans Puerto Rican woman sentenced to 33 months in prison
Alexa Negrón Luciano attacked with paintball gun before 2020 murder
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Two men who pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes charges in connection with attacking a Transgender woman in Puerto Rico in 2020 have been sentenced to 33 months in prison.
The Justice Department in a Nov. 15 press release notes Jordany Laboy Garcia and Christian Rivera Otero will also have three years of supervised release upon their release from prison. The two men in September pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit a hate crime and obstruction of justice “out of an assault with a dangerous weapon against a Transgender woman because of her gender identity.”
The Justice Department in a press release that announced the men’s guilty plea notes they, along with Anthony Lobos Ruiz “were out driving together” in Toa Baja, a municipality that is about 15 miles west of San Juan, early on Feb. 24, 2020, “when they saw” Alexa Negrón Luciano “standing under a tent near the side of the road.”
“The defendants recognized A.N.L. from social media posts concerning an incident that had occurred the day prior at a McDonald’s in Toa Baja,” reads the press release. “During that incident, A.N.L. had used a stall in the McDonald’s women’s restroom.”
Lobos, according to the Justice Department, and others used his iPhone to record themselves yelling at Negrón from inside a car. Lobos, Rivera and Laboy then recorded themselves shooting Negrón with a paintball gun and shared the video with other people.
Negrón was later killed in Toa Baja.
A federal judge last November sentenced Lobos to two years and nine months in prison after he pleaded guilty to hate crimes charges. Lobos, Rivera and Laboy have not been charged with Negrón’s murder.
“The defendants have been held accountable for assaulting a Latina Transgender woman because of her gender identity and then trying to obstruct an investigation into that assault,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in the press release.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico Stephen Muldrow said the “defendants’ attack endangered and terrified their victim, and such actions have no place in our community.”
“Bias-motivated violence not only runs contrary to our values but violates federal civil rights laws,” he said. “We recognize the very real threats and acts of violence faced by the LGBTQI+ community and are determined to use every tool available to preserve the life, safety and dignity of this community.”
University of Missouri sued for refusing gender-affirming care
The lawsuit alleges cisgender MU Health patients with other diagnoses can receive the same treatments the plaintiffs are currently denied
By Annelise Hanshaw | KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Two transgender boys filed a federal lawsuit Thursday seeking to reverse the University of Missouri’s decision to stop providing gender-affirming care to minors.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, alleges halting transgender minors’ prescriptions unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of sex and disability status.
University of Missouri Health announced Aug. 28 that it would no longer provide puberty blockers and hormones to minors for the purpose of gender transition.
The decision was based on a new law banning transgender minors from beginning gender-affirming care. It included a provision to allow people those already receiving treatment to continue, but some providers stopped completely because of a clause included in the new law that they feared opened them to legal liability.
Washington University joined MU Health in dropping its gender-affirming care for minors.
“Untreated gender dysphoria often intensifies with time,” J. Andrew Hirth, an attorney for the plaintiffs, wrote in the lawsuit. “The longer an individual goes without adequate treatment, the greater the risk of debilitating anxiety, severe depression, self-harm and suicide.”
Hirth argues gender dysphoria, the condition that describes the emotional distress caused by incongruence with one’s sex as assigned at birth, is a disability because it “is a physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including the operation of the endocrine system.”
A lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Missouri’s against Platte County School District earlier this year also labels gender dysphoria as a disability and part of the grounds for that litigation.
The plaintiffs’ gender dysphoria will be impacted if the court doesn’t find a remedy, Hirth argues.
Using initials to protect the identities of the minor plaintiffs, Hirth describes the transgender boys’ medical transitions.
J.C. is a Boone County teen who has been receiving testosterone treatments at the advice of an MU Health physician, “Dr. M.” He has grown facial hair over his 18 months on testosterone and other male sex characteristics.
His supply of testosterone is going to be depleted in February, and he has not been able to find a Missouri doctor to treat him.
“After a year of watching his body start to reflect his male gender identity, the sudden reversion to feminine characteristics will be deeply traumatic to J.C,” the lawsuit says.
K.J. is younger than J.C. and identified as transgender prior to puberty. So, when he began puberty early at the age of nine, a MU Health doctor decided that delaying puberty would be healthiest and diagnosed him with gender dysphoria and precocious puberty.
He also can’t find treatment options and anticipates running out of his puberty-blocking medication in February.
“After the promise of going through puberty as a boy, his sudden development of female characteristics will cause K.J. severe emotional and physical distress,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit asks for the court to prohibit the university from denying medical treatment and “such other relief as the court deems just and proper.”
Hirth says he filed the case in federal court because the University of Missouri “receives millions of dollars in federal financial assistance every year” and is subject to the Affordable Care Act.
The Affordable Care Act “prohibits discrimination in any health program or activity on the grounds of sex or disability.”
Similarly, Hirth references the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits programs receiving federal assistance from excluding people on the basis of their disability.
The lawsuit alleges that cisgender MU Health patients with other diagnoses can receive the same treatments the two plaintiffs are currently denied.
“Whether the University permits its doctors to prescribe puberty-delaying medication or HRT to minor patients depends not on whether the minor was already receiving treatment — as (the law)’s grandfather clause was intended to permit—but rather on the medical condition being treated and whether the medication’s intended effect is congruent with the patient’s sex assigned at birth and gender identity,” Hirth wrote.
He also cited Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs that receive federal funding. In the past three years, federal courts have been interpreting Title IX to include protection from discrimination based on gender identity following the Supreme Court’s June 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County decision, though the change is not universal.
The university’s attorneys told The Independent they received and are reviewing the lawsuit and did not have a comment.
ANNELISE HANSHAW writes about education — a beat she has covered on both the West and East Coast while working for daily newspapers in Santa Barbara, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.
The preceding article was previously published by The Missouri Independent and is republished with permission.
The Missouri Independent is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to relentless investigative journalism and daily reporting that sheds light on state government and its impact on the lives of Missourians. This service is free to readers and other news outlets.
Out Minnesota Rep. Angie Craig attacker given 2 years in prison
The assault on Craig was a one of a series of violent attacks against lawmakers, congressional aides, or family members in the past year
WASHINGTON – U.S. District Court Chief Judge James Boasberg on Thursday sentenced the man convicted of assaulting out Rep. Angie Craig in an elevator at her D.C. apartment complex last February, to 27 months in a federal prison, 12 years less than asked for by Justice Department prosecutor Alexander Schneider.
In court documents, prosecutors stated that Kendrid Hamlin, a 27-year-old homeless man who suffers from schizophrenia, entered the building’s vestibule in the 300 Block of H Street Northeast, at around 4:30 a.m. on February 9, 2023.
Craig, a Member of Congress who represents Minnesota, entered the lobby of the apartment complex, having just taken the elevator down from her apartment level. After getting coffee in the lobby of the apartment building, she noticed an unknown individual pacing in the lobby. She did not recognize the defendant but stated “good morning” to him. She noted he
was acting erratically.
As she got back into the elevator at around 7:10 a.m., Hamlin, who has a lengthy criminal record, forced his way in. In the court filing investigators stated:
Craig then pushed a button to stop the elevator from going up and told him words to the effect of “I’m sorry…you have to have an access card to come up past the lobby.” When she told him this, Hamlin dropped down on the elevator floor to do pushups. After doing approximately three or four pushups, Hamlin told Craig words to the effect of “I need to go to your apartment, take me to your apartment.”
In response, Craig told him, in a sterner voice, that he had to get off the elevator. At this, Hamlin became very agitated and came chest-to-chest with Representative Craig. Then, he turned to jump in front of the elevator doors and the elevator buttons, blocking them. Hamlin then pushed Craig, and then immediately he took a closed fist and punched her in the jaw.
This punch caused Craig to fall back, being thrown off balance by the strike. At this point, Craig realized she needed to get out of the elevator to escape this violent situation. As she turned to try to access the buttons to open the elevator doors to escape, Hamlin took a position behind her and pulled her back from the elevator buttons.
While physically preventing Craig from opening the elevator doors, Hamlin placed his hands on her collarbone, on her neck area. As this assault was occurring, Craig threw her hot coffee over her shoulder, causing Hamlin to let go of her.
The doors at this point opened and as Craig broke free and started screaming for help Hamlin fled.
In a victim-impact statement submitted ahead of the hearing, Craig noted that the incident had left her with lasting damage to her mental and emotional health.
“My sense of safety and security has been significantly impacted. Following the attack, I have developed strategies with professional help to combat and address periodic anxiety. I have sought personal self-defense training,” Craig wrote.
She added she had to move from her Washington apartment following media coverage of the case that disclosed the building’s address and led to a “flurry” of death threats against her and her staff.
During the sentencing hearing, federal prosecutors argued, “In addition to his convictions for violent conduct, he has at least nine prior additional arrests for violent or threatening conduct … the defendant’s actions have also shown that he is unwilling to abide by conditions of release, justifying the need for a significant sentence to incarceration.”
The assault on Craig was a one of a series of violent attacks against lawmakers, congressional aides, or family members in the past year. An assailant armed with a metal baseball-style bat charged into the office of Virginia 11th District U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly, (D) this past May.
CNN reported that a jury on Thursday has found David DePape guilty on two counts in the violent attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, last year in the couple’s San Francisco home.
DePape was convicted in federal court of one count of assault on the immediate family member of a federal official, with the jury determining that he used a dangerous weapon, and a second count of attempted kidnapping of a federal official. He could face a maximum sentence of 30 years and 20 years on the charges, respectively.
Supreme Court refuses to hear Florida appeal of its anti-drag law
The justices cautioned Florida’s emergency request dealt with the lower court’s injunction, not whether the law itself is constitutional
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected Florida’s emergency request to overturn two lower federal court rulings that blocked its law that targeted drag shows.
In a ruling by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta last month, the court upheld an injunction issued by a U.S. District Court judge in Tallahassee last June that the Florida drag ban law was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad and that will not be allowed to take effect.
Florida’s law, dubbed the Protection of Children Act, makes it a crime to admit a child to an “adult live performance” that the state deems sexually explicit. Signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in May, the legislation makes it a misdemeanor offense. Florida had been the site of several enforcement threats against drag events, prompting some Pride celebrations to cancel their parades out of concern over the drag laws being weaponized against them.
The Hill reported three of the high court’s conservatives — Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch — publicly dissented and voted to revive the law.
Two other conservatives — Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — voted with the majority to rule against Florida, but the duo indicated their votes don’t signify whether they believe the law is constitutional.
In the ruling from the 11th Circuit, the appellate justices cited major precedent over blocking overly-broad laws targeting freedom of speech, such as this section of Ashcroft v. ACLU, a first amendment lawsuit challenging portions of the Child Online Protection Act:
“There are also important practical reasons to let the injunction stand pending a full trial on the merits. First, the potential harms from reversing the injunction outweigh those of leaving it in place by mistake. Where a prosecution is a likely possibility, yet only an affirmative defense is available, speakers may self-censor rather than risk the perils of trial. There is a potential for extraordinary harm and a serious chill upon protected speech. The harm done from letting the injunction stand pending a trial on the merits, in contrast, will not be extensive. No prosecutions have yet been undertaken under the law, so none will be disrupted if the injunction stands. Further, if the injunction is upheld, the Government in the interim can enforce obscenity laws already on the books.”
Prior to the 11th Circuit ruling, the Florida drag ban had done significant harm in the state. Treasure Coast Pride Fest cancelled their pride parade, citing the new law, and also made it so that in person pride events would be 21-and-up. Tampa Pride likewise cancelled a large celebration. Several drag organizers expressed concern over how the law could be weaponized against them. Now, some of those questions are resolved, at least for the time being.
Florida isn’t alone in having its drag law halted from being enforced. This year, courts have put a stop to comparable laws in several other states. Days before Helena was set to host a Pride event, Montana’s anti-drag law was blocked. Tennessee’s drag law was similarly deemed unconstitutional and faced another block when a district attorney attempted to enforce it anyway in Blount County. Texas’ prohibition on drag was also blocked as likely unconstitutional. However, in North Texas, Judge Kacsmaryk permitted a local college to implement a drag ban within his jurisdiction.
The Hill also reported the case now returns to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the full appeal. After a final ruling, the case could ultimately return to the justices.
Kavanaugh, in a statement joined by Barrett, said Florida’s request didn’t meet one of the criteria the justices look for in an emergency application: whether the Supreme Court has a “reasonable probability” of eventually agreeing to hear the issue on the merits.
“The State has not made that showing here,” Kavanaugh wrote.
But Kavanaugh cautioned that Florida’s emergency request dealt with the scope of the lower court’s injunction, not whether the law itself is constitutional.
“Florida’s stay application to this Court does not raise that First Amendment issue. Therefore, the Court’s denial of the stay indicates nothing about our view on whether Florida’s new law violates the First Amendment,” he wrote.
Additional reporting by Erin Reed and The Hill.
3 years federal prison time for Idaho anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime spree
“The defendant’s crime spree not only endangered and terrified his victims but damaged an entire community’s sense of safety in their city”
BOISE, Id. – A federal judge on Friday sentenced a 31-year-old man to 37 months in prison and three years of supervised release for attempting to run over three people with a car as part of a week-long crime spree targeting the LGBTQI+ community around Boise, Idaho, in October 2022.
“The defendant’s attacks on LGBTQI+ individuals were terrifying not only for the individual victims, but for our entire community, and that is why hate crimes enforcement is so important,” said U.S. Attorney Josh Hurwit for the District of Idaho. “I am grateful to the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the Boise Police Department and the FBI for their work in helping us to hold this defendant accountable for his hateful and violent acts.”
According to court records, on Oct. 8, 2022, while at the Boise Public Library Main Branch in downtown Boise, Matthew Alan Lehigh, 31, approached a transgender library employee, called her a slur, punched her and threatened to stab her. A member of the library’s security staff intervened, and Lehigh fled into the parking lot. When the security guard attempted to speak to Lehigh in the parking lot, Lehigh got into a car and suddenly accelerated it toward the guard, intending to collide with him. The guard narrowly escaped being struck by jumping behind a concrete barricade at the last moment, and Lehigh fled the scene.
Four days later, while sitting in his car in a public parking lot elsewhere in Boise, Lehigh saw two women walking together towards another vehicle. Assuming that the women were lesbians, Lehigh began shouting threats and slurs at them, then suddenly accelerated his car toward the women, intending to collide with them. The women jumped out of the path of Lehigh’s oncoming car, which struck the other vehicle at significant speed.
On June 15, 2022, Lehigh pleaded guilty to one felony count of violating the Hate Crimes Prevention Act for the vehicular assault on the library security guard, and a second felony violation for the vehicular assault on the two women.
As part of his plea agreement, Lehigh also admitted that he was responsible for three other instances of anti-LGBTQI+ vandalism and violence that occurred in Boise during early October 2022. Specifically, he admitted to setting fire to a rainbow-striped “pride” flag attached to a residential property in North Boise, breaking several windows at a commercial building jointly occupied by an LGBTQI+ community organization and an LGBTQI+-affirming religious congregation and punching a grocery store customer after calling him an anti-LGBTQI+ slur.
“The defendant’s crime spree not only endangered and terrified his victims but damaged an entire community’s sense of safety in their city,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We recognize the very real threats and acts of violence faced by the LGBTQI+ community and are determined to use every tool available to preserve the life, safety and dignity of this community. Nobody should live in fear that their identity will make them a target of random, senseless violence while going about their daily lives. The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute those who commit unlawful acts of hate-fueled anti-LGBTQI+ violence while seeking justice for the victims.”
The Boise Resident Agency of the FBI Salt Lake City Field Office and the Boise Police Department investigated this case.
“The defendant went on a week-long crime spree to intimidate and harm members of the LGBTQ+ community in Boise,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “Today’s sentence shows that the FBI and our law enforcement partners stand together against hate and will work to protect communities everywhere from bias-motivated attacks.”
Federal appeals court hears case of 13-year-old trans athlete
“I want to thank all counsel for their arguments today, realizing we’re probably only a waystation on the way to the Supreme Court”
RICHMOND, Va. – On Friday, Oct. 27, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on behalf of Becky Pepper-Jackson, the 13-year-old transgender girl from West Virginia who is challenging the state law banning trans girls from playing on girls’ student athletics teams.
As the attorneys presented their arguments to the Fourth Circuit’s three judge panel, the 13-year-old sat quietly in the courtroom listening. Pepper-Jackson is a middle school student in West Virginia. She has been a cheerleader and wants the opportunity to try out for the cross-country team.
In court documents and in media interviews, Pepper-Jackson said she has known she was a girl for as long as she can remember. She had her name and sex legally changed, and her elementary and middle school created gender support plans to ensure she was fully recognized and supported as a girl.
This past January, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Goodwin for the Southern District of West Virginia ruled that the ban on transgender athletes competing in female school sports that the state’s Republican Gov. Jim Justice signed into law in 2021 is constitutional.
“I recognize that being transgender is natural and is not a choice,” Goodwin wrote in his decision. “But one’s sex is also natural, and it dictates physical characteristics that are relevant to athletics.”
On February 22, 2023, the Fourth Circuit granted Pepper-Jackson’s motion for an injunction pending appeal, allowing her to continue playing on her cross-country and track-and-field teams until it rules on her appeal. The state of West Virginia then appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in April rejected reinstating the ban during the legal process as the lawsuit was being heard.
In April 2021, Gov. Justice signed HB 3293 into law, barring transgender girls from participating on all girls’ school athletic teams, from middle school through college. In May 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of West Virginia, Lambda Legal, and Cooley LLP challenged the law on behalf of Pepper-Jackson.
NBC News reported that during Friday’s hearing in front of the Fourth Circuit, Pepper-Jackson’s lawyer, Joshua Block of the ACLU, said she has received puberty-blocking medication, which has prevented her from going through testosterone-driven puberty and receiving any potential physical advantage. West Virginia’s law, he argued, “goes out of its way to select criteria that do not create athletic advantage but do a perfect job of accomplishing the function of excluding transgender students based on their transgender status.”
The law “could have been drafted to actually adopt criteria that are relevant to athletic performance, but it doesn’t,” Block argued. “It picks criteria that define being transgender.”
Lindsay See, the solicitor general for West Virginia, argued that the district court, in ruling in favor of the law, “got it right that sports is a uniquely strong case for differences rooted in biology and call for sex-based distinctions to help ensure an equal and fair playing field.”
Pepper-Jackson’s mother, Heather, laments the need to fight in court for her daughter to compete in sports as a trans girl.
“Politicians are out there fighting for votes, and they just jump on a bandwagon without ever researching it for themselves, when if people would just do their own research, the biology, and the science is out there to prove what we’re looking for,” Heather told NBC. “We just want to be accepted, and she just wants to be a kid. It shouldn’t be that hard to be a kid.”
“Becky is a middle school student fighting for the right to play with her friends and be treated no differently than any other girl on the field,” said Joshua Block, senior staff attorney at ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “She has no athletic advantages but is still excluded by West Virginia simply for being transgender. As multiple other courts have recognized, laws categorically banning girls and women who are transgender from school sports unlawfully excludes them from a fundamental part of the educational process while doing nothing to actually promote equal athletic opportunities for other girls and women.”
NBC News also noted that one of the Fourth Circuit judges acknowledged the stakes of the outcome at the end of Friday’s hearing.
“I want to thank all counsel for their arguments today, realizing we’re probably only a waystation on the way to the Supreme Court,” U.S. Circuit Judge Steven Agee, a George W. Bush appointee said.
Lawsuit: Abercrombie & Fitch complicit in sex trafficking scheme
Dozens of men have filed a class action lawsuit alleging Abercrombie & Fitch was also complicit in a multi-decade-long sex trafficking scheme
NEW YORK – On the heels of a BBC in-depth investigative report released earlier this month, alleging that the former CEO of the fashion brand Abercrombie and Fitch Mike Jeffries, as well as his British partner Matthew Smith, had recruited dozens of young males as ‘models’ to satisfy the pair’s sexual fantasies, dozens of men have filed a class action lawsuit alleging the fashion brand company Abercrombie & Fitch was also complicit in a multi-decade-long sex trafficking scheme.
The class action suit was brought by a former model for Abercrombie & Fitch, actor David Bradberry, whose account of the abuse was documented by BBC journalist Rianna Croxford, in the BBC Select film documentary: The Abercrombie Guys: The Dark Side of Cool.
Bradberry says that he and the other men were silenced for years by the fear of breaking non-disclosure agreements, describing their feeling of being exploited and traumatized by their experiences.
Jeffries transformed Abercrombie and Fitch from a failing retail chain to a multibillion-dollar empire and the epitome of cool. He built Abercrombie into a global brand during his tenure as CEO from 1992 until 2014 when he departed.
Bradberry filed suit in Manhattan in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Friday against Abercrombie, accusing the company of enabling the former CEO to run a sex trafficking operation that the suit alleges had exploited and abused dozens of young men.
News of the lawsuit, which is seeking unspecified damages, was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
In the lawsuit documents filed, it states that Jeffries allegedly had modeling scouts scouring the internet and elsewhere to identify attractive young men seeking to be the next face of Abercrombie and Fitch. Often these prospective models became sex-trafficking victims, sent to New York and abroad and abused by Jeffries and other men, all under the guise that they were being recruited to become the next Abercrombie model, the lawsuit contends.
“Jeffries was so important to the profitability of the brand that he was given complete autonomy to perform his role as CEO however he saw fit, including through the use of blatant international sex-trafficking and abuse of prospective Abercrombie models,” the suit contends.
The Associated Press reported that New Albany, Ohio-based Abercrombie & Fitch declined to comment Friday. Earlier this month, the retailer said that it had hired an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation into the issues raised by the BBC. It said the company’s current leaders and board of directors were not aware of the allegations of Jeffries’ sexual misconduct.
“For close to a decade, a new executive leadership team and refreshed board of directors have successfully transformed our brands and culture into the values-driven organization we are today,” the company told the AP. “We have zero tolerance for abuse, harassment or discrimination of any kind.”
Jeffries’ attorney, Brian Bieber, said in a statement that Jeffries “will not comment in the press on this new lawsuit, as he has likewise chosen not to regarding litigation in the past. ”
“The courtroom is where we will deal with this matter,” Bieber added.
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