Tue, 31 Jan 2017 17:00 -0500President Trump’s anti-LGBT agenda is still taking shape, and we’re staying vigilant.
Following press reports that the White House was considering issuing an executive order that would roll back and undermine nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, the administration made clear that President Trump would not repeal a landmark executive order signed by President Obama in 2014 that prohibits businesses that contract with the federal government from discriminating against LGBT people.
But this is only part of the story.
President Trump has surrounded himself with a vice president and cabinet members who have repeatedly sought to sanction discrimination against LGBT people and women in the name of religion, and nothing in the White House’s statement makes clear that these efforts are now behind us. During the campaign, Trump pledged to sign into law the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act,” the most sweeping, anti-LGBT bill in Congress. In addition, Trump transition officials reportedly gave private “assurances” to a member of Congress who was trying to attach an anti-LGBT religious exemption to the defense bill that the new administration would address the issue early in 2017. Needless to say, there remain significant concerns about what the Trump administration may be planning.
Religious freedom is a core American value that we cherish and defend, one that is protected in the Constitution. We all have the freedom of belief regarding God and religion, including the freedom to act on those beliefs. But freedom of religion doesn’t give any of us the right to discriminate against other people.
Any executive order that would sanction discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom” would be seen for exactly what it is: a direct assault on the rights and dignity of LGBT people and women. The ACLU has a message for President Trump: You cannot authorize discrimination by executive fiat. We won’t stand for it. Not now. Not ever.
If the administration continues to pursue policies that are unlawful and unconstitutional, the ACLU is prepared to continue to take them to court to protect the civil rights and civil liberties of everyone in this country.
Tue, 24 Jan 2017 10:30 -0500Sen. Sessions can try to mask the true intent of the First Amendment Defense Act, but it's tax payer-funded discrimination.
As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be attorney general of the United States, it is telling that Sen. Sessions continues to stand by his support for the most sweeping anti-LGBT bill in Congress.
In response to a written question from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) regarding his support for the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act,” or FADA, Sen. Sessions flatly states that he rejects characterizations of the bill — including by the ACLU — as being “deceptively named.” Since same-sex couples won the freedom to marry nationwide in 2015, opponents — including those pushing FADA — have argued that the legislation is necessary to protect clergy or houses of worship from being forced to marry gay and lesbian couples. The First Amendment already, quite clearly, protects the rights of clergy and churches to decide which unions to solemnize within their faith traditions. In fact, since the founding of our country, no church has been forced to marry any couple in violation of its religious doctrine, something that has not changed since the arrival of marriage equality.
Sen. Sessions specifically cites concerns about a private university or college potentially losing tax-exempt status if it is opposed to marriage equality. However, he is unable to point to a single example of a school being threatened with such an action, let alone a case where a tax-exempt status was revoked.
Perhaps the most galling aspect of Sen. Sessions’ response was how he turns the definition of discrimination on its head. He argues that FADA is necessary to “prohibit the federal government from taking discriminatory actions.” What Sen. Sessions calls “discriminatory actions” are in fact longstanding federal civil rights protections. FADA, for example, would significantly undermine the ability of federal agencies tasked with enforcing our nation’s civil rights laws, such as the EEOC, to protect LGBT people and women from discrimination in education, employment, or housing.
The kind of sweeping, taxpayer-funded discrimination that FADA would sanction flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage-equality ruling. Sen. Sessions can try all he wants to mask what the true intent of FADA is, but the ACLU will continue to speak out in strong opposition to this legislative attack on the LGBT community.
Wed, 11 Jan 2017 15:15 -0500Chelsea Manning has suffered long enough. It’s time for President Obama to do the right thing and send her home. Update (1/17/17): The Obama administration announced the commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence for disclosing classified information that raised public awareness regarding the impact of war on innocent civilians. Manning will reportedly be freed in May 2017. This morning, NBC News reported that Chelsea Manning is on President Obama’s “short list” to receive a commutation of her sentence. Chelsea applied for clemency in November, urging the president to commute her sentence to time served and give her a chance “to live [her] life outside the USDB as the person [she] was born to be.”With nine days left in office, action by Obama may be Chelsea’s last chance for survival. Seven years into her 35-year sentence, Chelsea has already served longer than any person in United States history for disclosing information to the news media. The information she disclosed served a clear public interest, helping raise awareness regarding the impact of war on innocent civilians. Nonetheless, she pled guilty to many of the charges brought against her hoping for leniency in her sentencing — leniency that she never received. Instead, she endured torturous conditions of solitary confinement for 11 months during her pretrial confinement at Quantico, received an egregiously long sentence, and then was sent to an all-male facility. To add insult to injury, the prison denied Chelsea treatment for her gender dysphoria, even though the military’s own doctors diagnosed her as such as far back as 2010. In the past six months, after years of fighting just to be treated as a human being, after being humiliated in the military under policies like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the ban on open transgender service, after surviving homelessness and discrimination in her youth, Chelsea has attempted to end her life twice. Her well-being was further compromised when she faced punishment for her desperation and was sent to solitary confinement for attempting suicide in July. Her trauma is escalating; her life is in danger. President Obama is likely the only person who can save her. Though her appeals are ongoing, the process is slow. Though she has received some medical treatment, much critical care remains withheld. The future is uncertain, and our chance to save Chelsea’s life is now. Chelsea is not asking for a pardon. She takes and always has taken full responsibility for her actions. As she explains her in clemency application: “I take full and complete responsibility for my decision to disclose those materials to the public. I have never made any excuses for what I did. I pleaded guilty without the protection of a plea agreement because I believed the military justice system would understand my motivation for the disclosure and sentence me fairly. I was wrong.” More than most people, Chelsea believes in our country, in our systems of justice, and in our ability to correct course when we act against our ideals. At 22 years old, she acted in what she believed to be the public’s great interest. She acted so that we might have a greater understanding of our government’s actions in our name far away from home. She acted in accordance with her conscience. And for that, she has paid a horrible price. Chelsea has faced solitary confinement. She has been denied health care. She has had medically necessary treatment withheld. She has faced the perpetual indignity of being subjected to male grooming and hair standards and held in an all-male facility as a woman. Chelsea is not yet 30 years old and her prospects for surviving another year are grim. She needs a commutation of her sentence by President Obama. Her life depends on it. We are watching and hoping and fighting for her. #FreeChelseaNOW[...]
Wed, 04 Jan 2017 16:45 -0500The humanity of trans people will once again be under attack in state legislatures across America. Across the country, before state legislative sessions have even convened, lawmakers are making clear that transgender people will again be the relentless targets of discriminatory legislation. Last year, lawmakers introduced more than 200 anti-LGBT bills in 34 states. At least 50 of those bills targeted transgender people specifically. We were able to defeat the overwhelming majority of these proposed laws. The two most sweeping anti-LGBT bills to become law, HB 1523 in Mississippi and HB 2 in North Carolina, we promptly challenged in court. In North Carolina, the passage of HB 2 has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue to the state, costly litigation, and former Gov. Pat McCrory’s defeat at the ballot in November. But it seems lawmakers are not heeding the lessons of North Carolina. In Alabama, Texas, South Carolina, South Dakota, Washington, and more, bills have been pre-filed or lawmakers have announced their plans to file bills that target transgender individuals for discrimination. Unconstitutional, unenforceable, and harmful, these bills send the message to trans people that our very existence is a problem for the lawmakers charged with protecting us. Leading the charge of anti-trans rhetoric is Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has included anti-trans legislation among his 2017 legislative priorities. While the Texas Association of Business has warned that Patrick’s proposed bill, SB 6, could cost the state $ 8.5 billion, Patrick has dismissed those concerns and doubled down on his discriminatory proposal. His law, as he explained in an interview with the Houston Chronicle, will only expel women who are trans from women’s restrooms and not trans men from men’s restrooms because “men can defend themselves.”Riddled with constitutional violations, the proposed bill is nonetheless another terrifying attack on an already vulnerable group of people. Patrick and others are playing on fears of trans people — the type of fears that contribute to the epidemic of violence against and suicide within the trans community — to push legislation that will result in expelling trans people from public life. Women and girls who are trans are frequent targets of harassment in schools, violence on the street, and widespread discrimination in all facets of life. By claiming that discrimination against transgender women is necessary to protect the safety and privacy of “women and girls,” Patrick is reinforcing the idea that women and girls who are trans are not “real” women and girls. These proposals suggest that the very existence of a trans person undermines the privacy of others. This is not true. The work of combatting these bills and the misinformation that animates them must center the voices and lived experiences of trans people. And what we know from experience is that: The existence of trans people does not threaten the privacy of anyone else. We exist. Some people may be uncomfortable with us, but discomfort with difference is not the same as infringement of privacy. Trans women and girls are women and girls. Full stop. They are not “biological males” or “men pretending to be women” — no qualifications needed. The same is true for trans men and boys, who are men and boys. Extending legal protections to transgender people, including when it comes to using restrooms and locker rooms, does not threaten the safety of anyone else. This has been proven time and time again despite the ongoing rhetoric to the contrary. Policing of gender or genitals in restrooms is bad for everyone. There is no way to actually enforce these anti-trans bathroom laws except by exposing us all to intrusive questioning about our bodies, our gender, and our government documents. Anti-trans laws are not really about restrooms, locker rooms, safety, or privacy but about expelling trans people from public life. Those[...]
Thu, 22 Dec 2016 10:45 -0500Other states should heed the lessons of North Carolina's self-destructive experiment with state-sanctioned discrimination. At 10:20 a.m. yesterday morning, the North Carolina Legislature convened a special session designed to repeal the state’s hateful anti-LGBT law it passed in a hurry last March. But by day’s end, the dysfunctional body couldn’t agree on the repeal and closed the session. The discriminatory law is still on the books and still causing harm to North Carolinians every single day. Despite the paralysis in Raleigh, there is a clear political lesson here for the rest of the country: The public doesn’t like anti-LGBT laws. Yet other state legislatures are likely to consider bills similar to North Carolina’s HB2. So as state legislatures gather to start their sessions in early 2017, they should take note: Hate doesn’t sell. There is no way to describe HB2 as anything but a sweeping attack on the LGBT community. The law stripped away existing LGBT nondiscrimination protections in North Carolina cities and counties that had them, and it prevented any additional jurisdictions from enacting them. In other words, the North Carolina Legislature went out of its way to authorize discrimination in employment, housing, and by businesses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But the law goes further than simply preventing cities and counties from protecting LGBT people. It also mandates discrimination against transgender people. The law requires transgender people to use restrooms and other single-sex spaces that matched the gender listed on their birth certificate rather than their actual gender that they live every day. This forces transgender men into women's restrooms and transgender women into men's rooms in all state buildings, from schools to government office buildings to highway rest stops. This rule is about more than restrooms, though, as it effectively excludes many trans people from full participation in public life. If you work for the state government, how do you go to work with no access to a restroom? If you’re a student at a public school, how do you go to class? If you’re just a regular citizen, what do you do when you’re at the DMV, or in court, or filing a complaint with the police? Joaquín Carcaño, lead plaintiff in the ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit over HB2, is one of those government workers directly affected by the law. Joaquín works for a health care institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He’s a man, but because Joaquín is also transgender, HB2 requires him to stay out of the men’s room. In a daily reminder of how threatening the state found his very existence, Joaquín had to go down several floors to the basement to use the one single-user restroom in his office building. And for many other students and workers across the state with no single-user restrooms available, the law means avoiding restroom use for entire days. The public reaction to the law was swift and relentless. PayPal canceled an expansion that would have brought 400 jobs to the state. Deutsche Bank froze plans for 250 new jobs as well. Conventions canceled left and right. Performers from Bruce Springsteen to Pearl Jam to Cirque du Soleil to Maroon 5 to Itzhak Perlman canceled shows. And then the sports leagues weighed in: The NBA pulled the 2016-17 All-Star Game from Charlotte. The NCAA moved all seven of its 2016-17 championships out of North Carolina. And the Atlantic Coast Conference moved all of its 2016-17 championships out of the state as well. That’s backlash at a cultural level. The economic cost of all of that is hard to quantify, but estimates reach many hundreds of millions of dollars. And beyond the financial harm, the state’s very brand and identity were seriously tarnished. It developed a reputation as a place more focused on excluding people than on creating a positive business climate or humane condit[...]
Fri, 28 Oct 2016 17:15 -0400Gavin’s case, and the so-called restroom debates more broadly, are about much more than just restrooms.
Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old boy in rural Virginia, just needs to pee. That wouldn’t be the focus of much attention, except that Gavin is transgender. With the permission of the school principal, he used the boys’ restroom for nearly two months without any problems. But after some parents complained, the school board passed a new policy prohibiting him from using the boys’ restroom and forcing him to use the girls’ room or a single-user restroom constructed especially for him.
Gavin didn’t think it was right for him to be treated differently than all the other boys at his school — singled out as unfit to share common spaces with his peers. Gavin sat through two long school board meetings where parents and community members called him a safety risk, a “young lady,” and a “freak.” Then, Gavin had the strength to stand up in front of the crowd and explain, “All I want to do is be a normal child and use the restroom in peace,” emphasizing that, “I am just a boy.”
With the ACLU’s help, he challenged the school district’s restriction as discriminatory. Back in April, a federal appeals court ruled for Gavin, holding that schools that bar students from using restrooms that match their gender discriminate based on sex in violation of Title IX, a federal law against sex discrimination in education.
The school board asked the Supreme Court to review Gavin’s win, and today the court said it would take up the case. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will agree that excluding transgender students from using the common restrooms used by everyone else is sex discrimination and that it’s wrong.
Gavin’s case, and the so-called restroom debates more broadly, are about much more than just restrooms. This is a chance for the country to get to know our transgender family, friends, colleagues, and community members. This case will put Gavin’s story before the public and the justices who will be deciding what equality for transgender people means.
What should become clear is that restroom restrictions bar transgender people from full participation in public life by making it challenging or even impossible to go to work, to school, to the movies, or a restaurant. And that letting transgender people use the restroom doesn’t intrude on anyone else’s privacy or safety. Gavin — and so many other transgender people all across the country — are living proof of that reality.
Now that the court has accepted this case, the restroom issue, which has been percolating in national discussions for years, has a face: Gavin Grimm. We are so grateful to Gavin for the strength he has shown in standing up for himself and others as well as for the bravery of transgender people all across the country who are fighting to ensure that the type of dehumanizing treatment that Gavin endured doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Together, we can achieve equality.
Tue, 18 Oct 2016 11:30 -0400One of the most significant threats to the LGBT community, women, and religious liberty, we have seen in Congress in years.
This piece originally ran in The Hill.
One of the biggest and most consequential bills on the congressional agenda for the lame duck will be final consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defense spending bill. An anti-LGBT provision, which in reality is a poison pill, included in the House version of the defense bill is creating complications in reaching final agreement on the legislation. If it is not removed from the final version of the bill, members should oppose the legislation and take a stand for LGBT rights and equality.
Fri, 02 Sep 2016 11:15 -0400The last few weeks have once again demonstrated the need for Congress to pass the Do No Harm Act. Next week, Congress will be back in session in our nation’s capital. With the election right around the corner, we can expect to see a frenzy of legislative activity. The past several weeks have served as a reminder for why reforming the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) should be on the agenda of every Member of Congress who supports LGBT equality. In 2013, Amiee Stephens gave her employer — R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Detroit — a letter explaining that she is a woman and would transition to presenting full-time as a woman. The letter explained that Amiee would soon start to dress in appropriate business attire at work, consistent with her female gender identity. Two weeks later, the funeral home — which had employed Amiee since 2007 — fired her, saying that her gender transition was “unacceptable.” In 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit on Amiee’s behalf, alleging that her former employer’s actions resulted in sex discrimination in violation of federal law. The ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the EEOC’s lawsuit. Unfortunately, on August 18 of this year, a federal judge held that the RFRA entitled the funeral home to fire Amiee. Invoking the Supreme Court’s deeply troubling decision in Hobby Lobby, the court reasoned that RFRA required the EEOC to accommodate the funeral home owner’s discriminatory religious beliefs by requesting that the owner adopt a gender-neutral dress code instead of holding the funeral home accountable for its unlawful discrimination. By allowing the funeral home to completely escape liability for its actions, the court’s decision gives employers a dangerous new religious exercise argument to justify discrimination against transgender people. Last week, emboldened anti-trans forces once again invoked RFRA, this time in a lawsuit seeking to discriminate against trans people by denying them health care. On August 23, Texas and four other states — along with the Franciscan Alliance, a Catholic hospital system — filed a lawsuit challenging regulations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that, in part, prohibit discrimination against transgender people in health care. The rule ensures that trans people can access medically necessary treatment and procedures, have those procedures covered by insurance, and be respected for who they are in medical facilities. Arguing that these protections violate RFRA, the states and organizations who filed the lawsuit object to providing services (or even referrals) for transition-related care or providing insurance that covers such care. Those opposed to trans rights specifically — and LGBT equality more broadly (not to mention reproductive freedom) — now see in RFRA a way to undermine and attack laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination. While this was not the intention of those who supported RFRA’s passage in 1993, it is what the law is too often used for today, thanks in large part to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling. Representatives Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) have introduced legislation in Congress — the Do No Harm Act — that would place a much needed limitation on RFRA to ensure that it can only be used as a shield to protect religious exercise (something the ACLU strongly supports) and not as a sword to harm others. The Do No Harm Act would prevent RFRA from being invoked to justify discrimination, denial of health care, or other harms. We need to continue to build support for this legislation. As the struggle to win full equality for LGBT people under the law continues, we cannot allow RFRA to continue to be used as sword for discrimination. [...]
Mon, 01 Aug 2016 10:15 -0400Today marks a pivotal fight in the restroom wars. Today marks a pivotal fight in the restroom wars. This morning, we will ask a federal judge to suspend North Carolina’s hateful anti-transgender law, known as HB2, which requires transgender people in all public buildings to use restrooms that accord with the gender on their birth certificate, regardless of their gender identity. Simply put, the law bars transgender people from participation in public life. For our client, Joaquín Carcaño, a project coordinator at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, HB2 means he can’t use the men’s room at work. As a man, Joaquin can’t use the women’s room without causing confusion and consternation among the women there, as well as undermining his very identity. But because he is transgender and lives in North Carolina, HB2 requires that he use a restroom that matches his birth certificate – the female restroom. So, like many other transgender people, Joaquin avoids drinking liquids during the day so he doesn’t have to pee at work. Imagine trying to do that. Joaquín is one of several plaintiffs in Carcaño v. McCrory, the legal challenge to HB2 brought by the ACLU, the ACLU of North Carolina, and Lambda Legal. Today the judge hears argument on our motion for a preliminary injunction, and trial is set for November. The restroom debates are not just a battleground for the LGBT movement, they are an opportunity. For a long time, LGBT advocates avoided conversations about single-sex spaces. But we must engage America about restrooms if we’re going to make progress on protecting transgender people from discrimination. This is our chance to explain to the country who transgender people are, why restroom restrictions bar them from full participation in public life, and how no privacy or safety interests are violated in the process. That’s where Joaquín and his fellow plaintiffs come in – they can humanize this issue and help people get the problem. The ACLU is fighting the restroom wars on several fronts. Earlier this year, we helped defeat over 40 anti-trans restroom bills in state legislatures. We are working to educate the country about the issue. And we are suing, not just in Carcaño, but in these other cases as well: GG v. Gloucester County School Board – The ACLU represents Gavin Grimm, who is about to start his senior year in high school in Gloucester, Virginia. The school board barred him from using the men’s room, but a federal appeals court ruled in April that the exclusion violates federal sex discrimination law. The school board is asking the Supreme Court to review the case, and we’ll find out this fall whether it does. Students and Parents for Privacy v. U.S. Dep’t of Education – The ACLU represents Student A, a girl attending high school in suburban Chicago. Because she is transgender, the school refused to let her use the girls’ locker room with the rest of her sports team. In response to our complaint, the U.S. Department of Education ordered that Student A have access to the locker room, but then a group of students and parents have sued the district, arguing that their privacy rights have been violated. Jesse Vroegh v. State of Iowa – Jesse Vroegh has worked as a nurse at an Iowa prison for seven years. The prison has refused to let him use the men’s restroom or to cover his medically necessary transition-related health care, so Jesse, with help from the ACLU, has filed a complaint of gender identity discrimination before the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Texas v. United States – Officials in 11 states, led by Texas, have sued the U.S. Department of Education over its guidance that school districts should allow transgender students to use single-sex facilities consistent with their gender identity. Th[...]
Fri, 15 Jul 2016 14:30 -0400Congress should abandon its discrimination agenda. Congress leaves town for a seven-week recess today. They leave behind plenty of unfinished business, like legislation to address the looming threat of the Zika virus in the U.S. and around the globe. But with so many pressing issues left unresolved, Congress chose to spend its last few days in Washington doubling down on proposals that discriminate against women and LGBT people under the guise of religious liberty. On Tuesday, one month to the day after 49 people were murdered at a gay nightclub in Orlando — in the worst attack on the LGBT community in our nation’s history — the House chose to mark this tragic anniversary in the worst way possible. They did so not by remembering the victims or introducing legislation to protect LGBT people from violence and discrimination, but by holding a hearing on a bill that would permit unprecedented taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBT people, single mothers and unmarried couples. The so-called “First Amendment Defense Act” is designed to allow anyone — including for-profit businesses – to discriminate based on a religious belief or “moral conviction” against same-sex marriage, or to sexual relationships outside of a heterosexual marriage. This means that the legislation could allow certain social service programs that receive federal funding, including homeless shelters, to turn away anyone who has a sexual relationship outside of a marriage, including single mothers and unmarried couples. It could also allow privately owned businesses to discriminate by refusing to let a gay or lesbian employee care for their sick spouse, in violation of federal family and medical leave laws. Jim Obergefell, a former ACLU client and the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court’s historic marriage equality ruling, testified against the discriminatory proposal at the hearing. You can read Obergefell’s powerful testimony taking a stand against FADA here. The very next day, the House passed — without so much as a committee hearing to consider it — the Conscience Protection Act. Like FADA, the bill purports to protect religious liberty but in fact empowers discrimination — in this case against women seeking reproductive health care. The bill would dangerously expand the Weldon Amendment, a provision attached to spending bills over the last decade which bars critical federal health and education dollars from any state, local, or federal government body that doesn't allow a health care entity to refuse to provide, pay for, cover, or refer for an abortion. The Weldon Amendment is a barrier to women’s reproductive health that needs to be eliminated — but instead, the House just voted to expand and make it permanent. The result? The Conscience Protection Act would give employers, health insurance companies, and others even more ways to stand between a woman and the health care she needs. A woman’s boss could deny her comprehensive health insurance that covers abortion services and allows her to make her own personal medical decisions without interference. A Catholic hospital governed by religious directives could refuse to “facilitate” or “make arrangements for” an abortion needed to preserve a woman’s health — something that unfortunately already happens all too often. The problem would only become worse if this bill were to become law. In short, the bill would further undermine women’s access to constitutionally-protected health care. Religious liberty is a core American value. It guarantees everyone the freedom to believe what they choose and to act on those beliefs, but it does not allow anyone to discriminate against or harm others in the name of religion. Unfortunately, as the House’s actions this week make clear, not everyone in Congress has gotten the mes[...]