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American Civil Liberties Union


Anti-LGBT Forces in Congress Are Giving Trump Very Bad Advice

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 17:15 -0400

And if he takes their advice, we’ll see him in court.

Several dozen Republican members of the House of Representatives are urging President Trump to issue an unconstitutional executive order that would authorize wide-ranging, taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBT people, women, and religious minorities.

A draft of the EO that leaked earlier this year would allow federal employees, contractors, and grantees a “reasonable accommodation” to act pursuant to their beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman; that gender identity is fixed at or before birth; and that human life begins at conception while on the job and interacting with the public or providing taxpayer-funded services. This means, for example, a doctor working for the Department of Veterans Affairs could refuse to prescribe hormones to a transitioning transgender veteran based on the doctor’s belief that a person’s gender identity cannot differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.

It’s telling that out of nearly 240 Republicans in the House, a mere 51 signed this letter. (Eighteen Republicans out of 52 joined a similar letter in the Senate). As we have repeatedly made clear, the ACLU will not hesitate to challenge this discriminatory EO should it be signed.

For President Trump to stand any chance at following through on his campaign promise to be a “real friend” to the LGBT community, he cannot follow fringe, anti-LGBT extremists down this ill-advised path of licensing discrimination under the guise of religious liberty. Those representatives advocating for this EO in Congress are urging a return to a discriminatory past, and they are a minority even among very conservative House Republicans.

Just last year, 43 House Republicans voted in favor of an amendment that reaffirmed a 2014 executive order from President Obama that prohibited businesses that contract with the federal government from discriminating against LGBT people. Upon taking office, the Trump administration made clear that it would keep these nondiscrimination requirements on federal contractors in place. And yet these protections could be completely undermined through this proposed EO.

Among the many prominent voices who have urged President Trump to reject this discriminatory EO is former Republican U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming.

Freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental national values — and something the ACLU fights for every day. But it does not give anyone the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm others, or to discriminate. President Trump would be well served by listening to the advice of Sen. Simpson and other conservatives who recognize that discrimination against people based on who they are or whom they love must be rejected.

With North Carolina, the NBA, and the NCAA Caving on Trans Rights, Texas Finds New Momentum for Discrimination

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 13:30 -0400

Texas legislators are seizing on the NCAA and NBA’s openness to doing business again in North Carolina to discriminate. Last month, North Carolina lawmakers passed what they called a “compromise repeal” of the state’s notoriously costly and discriminatory anti-LGBT law, House Bill 2. HB2 mandated statewide discrimination against trans people in schools and other government buildings and restricted the ability of localities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances protecting against sexual orientation and gender-identity-based discrimination. But the HB2 replacement, House Bill 142, is no repeal — it is just a slightly restructured version of the same discriminatory mandates of its predecessor and once again singles out trans people for discrimination in both rhetoric and law. Shortly after the passage of this fake repeal of HB2, both the NCAA and the NBA announced that they would again consider North Carolina to host events after they had pulled events from the state in 2016 — costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue — following the passage of HB2. Showing just how quickly the defense of civil rights collapsed in the name of profit, the NBA and the NCAA have now further opened the door to new waves of discrimination in North Carolina and across the country. Wasting no time, leading anti-trans lawmakers in Texas are now rushing to pass a clone of North Carolina’s HB142 — seizing on the tacit, if not explicit endorsement, of discrimination by the NCAA and NBA. The Texas bill, House Bill 2899, is expected to be heard on Wednesday, April 19. And like its clone in North Carolina, and the bill once again animated by the dangerous lie that it “provides clear direction to public schools and government institutions on how to protect privacy and safety by ensuring that men do not enter women's showers, locker rooms and restrooms.”  But make no mistake — this bill protects no one. Texas’s HB2899 and SB6 — the HB2-like ban on trans people using restrooms that accord with their gender — and North Carolina’s HB142 are not about privacy or safety. These measures are about cultivating fear of trans people in public space, and they ultimately seek to expel us from participation in public life. The proposed laws and the support for them rely on and reinforce the idea that women who are trans are “really” men and that trans people, by living as our authentic selves, are deceiving others.  And the subtext is always that our mere presence in single-sex spaces compromises the safety and privacy of others.But this is simply not true. Most of these lawmakers have already shared restrooms with trans people, and it went unnoticed because like all people, we (trans) people go to the restroom to do our business and get out. The only people who seem fixated on our presence there are the lawmakers seeking to bar us from the spaces we have been using for as long as we have existed. And whether North Carolina, Texas, or any other state uses overt or covert tactics to restrict us from using the restroom that accords with who we are, the effect is the same and the message is clear: “You are not welcome here.” In December of 2016, Roy Cooper, then governor-elect of North Carolina, rejected a proposed repeal of HB2 that was far less discriminatory than the fake repeal he signed last month. Nothing changed in the meaning of the law or the dignity of trans people. All that changed was that Cooper, the NCAA, the NBA grew tired of defending civil rights while profits waned. Well, you know what is far more exhausting than holding a principled line against discrimination? Living under relentless discrimination and the demonization of your existence. That is happening to trans people in North Carolina, in Texas, and across the country. And the costs are dire as trans women of color are being murdered in record numbers, trans students are wondering whether they will face state-sponsored bullying and harassment in school, and entire generations of trans people are heari[...]

My Son’s School Supported His Transition, and It Has Made All the Difference in the World. Now It’s Being Sued.

Mon, 03 Apr 2017 11:45 -0400

A mom of a transgender student thanks her son’s high school for treating him with the respect and dignity he deserves.

The day I read that my children’s school district was getting sued over the fact that they allow transgender boys to use the restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity rocked my world.

I would like every person reading this blog to think about the moment they gave birth to or adopted a child. If you are a committed parent like me, you immediately had immense love and vivid dreams for that child. Hopefully you had a conversation with yourself that you would love that person unconditionally and without hesitation. When that magical moment happened in your life, when that person was placed in your arms, someone informed you that person was either female or male. 

You believed them, didn’t you? Of course you did. We all do.

Now imagine that as that child grows up, you realize things aren’t the way you projected them to be.

I have a transgender son. When he informed me of this, I knew I had some work to do. I had to educate myself. I didn’t know anyone who was transgender. Sure, I heard of it before, but I didn’t have a personal contact. So off to the Internet I went to read up on what I had to do to help my son. 

There I learned about the high suicide rate and the discrimination he may face. I was scared. I did not want to lose my child. So I made the decision to support and love him no matter what.

The thought of school frightened me. I was afraid of what he would face in school.  What would teachers say? What would his friends say? What supports would be in place to ensure his safety? 

He asked me to homeschool him, but instead I suggested we meet with the school. Thankfully, Boyertown counselors and administration met with us and told us that they would work with us every step of the way. I was relieved to know that my son attended an affirming public high school. They have worked very closely with my son and I throughout his high school career, affirming and supporting him every step of the way. 

My son’s transition has not been automatic and quick. This has been a five-year process since his announcement to me — but an entire lifetime for him. Attending a public high school like Boyertown has been the highlight of the last three years. Knowing that he can use the men’s restroom and locker room and  that his teachers will use the correct name and pronouns made all the difference in the world. My son walks the halls of Boyertown High School proudly being his genuine self. He was on the Homecoming Court, and he finally got to run in a boy’s cross country meet.

When you click on the Boyertown website, you see the words, “To enable all students to succeed in a changing world.” Boyertown lives by this statement. Our world is changing and people are becoming more comfortable with who they are, regardless of what others think.

This is as it should be. 

One of Boyertown High school’s jobs is to help prepare our children to be respectful, responsible, productive citizens. This is exactly what they are doing when they affirm all types of students. With the ACLU’s help, we’re seeking intervention in the lawsuit against our school district because my son deserves a chance to defend himself, and because his school should not be punished for doing the right thing. The school deserves a medal, not a lawsuit.

Discrimination Under the Guise of ‘Religious Freedom’ Is Still Discrimination, President Trump

Tue, 31 Jan 2017 17:00 -0500

President 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.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Nominee for Attorney General, Stands by His Support for Sweeping Anti-LGBT Bill

Tue, 24 Jan 2017 10:30 -0500

Sen. 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.

Why President Obama Should Commute Chelsea Manning’s Sentence

Wed, 11 Jan 2017 15:15 -0500

Chelsea 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[...]

Legislatures Gear Up to Target Transgender People. We Gear Up to Fight Back.

Wed, 04 Jan 2017 16:45 -0500

The 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 [...]

North Carolina May Have Stuck With Discrimination, But Make No Mistake: Hate Doesn’t Sell.

Thu, 22 Dec 2016 10:45 -0500

Other 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[...]

Gavin Grimm Is Heading to the Supreme Court

Fri, 28 Oct 2016 17:15 -0400

Gavin’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.  

The Defense Bill’s Anti-LGBT Poison Pill

Tue, 18 Oct 2016 11:30 -0400

One 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.

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