Filed under: Bullying
Appeals court in Tennessee hears arguments in case challenging state’s removal of LGBT and other non-discrimination protections
In Tennessee yesterday, a state court of appeals heard arguments in the challenge to HB600, nicknamed the Special Access to Discriminate (“SAD Act”) by equality organizations. The law stripped local governments in the state of their non-discrimination protections for LGBT Tennesseans. The challenge, argued by Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and joined by equality organizations including the Tennessee Equality Project and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, says the law violates the equal protection of the laws; it relies on both the state and United States constitutions.
In part the complaint is based on Romer v. Evans, the 1996 Supreme Court case, which held that Colorado couldn’t exclude gays and lesbians from all political protections. The state had passed a ballot initiative removing these protections from gays and lesbians alone. The amendment nullified existing non-discrimination provisions in two cities. The Court said this violated equal protection principles. As the complaint discussed, this amendment is broader than Colorado’s: it removes all protections for any groups not already covered under state law, which means it eliminates protections for people with disabilities as well. It also impairs anti-bullying measures, whether against LGBT people or those with disabilities.
The case is on appeal after it was dismissed by the trial court. The parties are arguing whether it should be reinstated. The Tennessean reported:
[...]Monday, attorney Shannon Minter with the San Francisco-based Center for Lesbian Rights told the three-judge appeals panel that there is “nothing like this in the country that specifically excludes one group of people.” She called the state law “a dangerous statute that warrants some judicious scrutiny.”
But Assistant Attorney General Adam Futrell said the state law, known as H.B. 600, merely clarified who could seek legal relief in workplace-related discrimination claims.
“The core issue,” Futrell said, “is none of the plaintiffs were hurt.” He called that point an “inescapable fact.”
Judge Holly Kirby questioned that line of reasoning.
“Let’s assume that the legislature defines ‘sex’ to only include the female gender,” Kirby asked. “Are you saying that male plaintiffs would not have standing to question the constitutionality of the law?”
Futrell responded that in such a case, plaintiffs would be legally protected, and that the law does not mean that gays and lesbians cannot seek legal relief in the event of discrimination. Instead, he said, the law standardizes workplace protections, preventing Tennessee from having an inconsistent patchwork of laws about workplace discrimination.
The appeals court will render a decision on whether the case will be retried in court on the merits. This case has the potential to be wide ranging eventually, the Tennessee law is so broad, wiping away all protections, that large numbers of minority groups are affected across the board. There’s a provision of the law that forbids Tennesseans from changing their sex on their birth certificate, meaning that whatever their doctor decides their sex is at birth is how they are forever identified for legal purposes, unless they move away to a state that allows the change.
TTPC, the transgender rights group involved in the case, issued a statement via Facebook:
Earlier today, attorney Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights presented the case for the plaintiffs in Howe v. Haslam. Most of the questions from the judges revolved around Section 2 of HB600 which, for the first time in the history of any state, defines “sex” based on a person’s original birth certificate. Minter argued that this clearly targets Tennessee’s transgender population for discrimination in the workplace since those born in Tennessee cannot change the gender on birth certificates. The three judge panel from the West Tennessee section appeared to be bothered by the targeting of a group by the state. We do not know when they will issue their ruling, but we were honored to be represented by such a talented team of attorneys today!
The decision could come at any time; there is no timeline. The case is called Howe v. Haslam.
By Scottie Thomaston
The Illinois Family Institute, a hate group based in Illinois, has been pushing ‘concerns’ about the proposed anti-bullying bill in the state. The bill is not a “LGBT bill” – it doesn’t have any pro-LGBT provisions, and there are already LGBT protections within other laws in the state. It is a standard bill focused on anti-bullying efforts:
[The bill] Provides that, on or before January 1, 2013, the State Board of Education shall develop a template for a model bullying prevention policy and sets forth requirements concerning the template.
Although it’s an uncontroversial anti-bullying bill, the concerns raised by the Institute are almost solely based on fears of gay people:
Sen. Kyle McCarter (R) appears to be the leading opponent of the bill, but his talking points parrot the Illinois Family Institute, a fringe spin-off of the American Family Association that has been declared an anti-gay hate group in its own right. McCarter and the IFI insist that the bill should include an “opt-out” provision for any students who don’t want their anti-gay religious beliefs challenged with basic knowledge about the nature of sexual orientation:
MCCARTER: There are anti-bullying programs that have an agenda, to only protect one class of individuals. Some of these programs are very good. They indeed encourage kids not to bully. But there are programs throughout the United States, used in some high schools and universities, that really have just a pro-homosexual agenda, and nothing but that.
McCarter seems to believe that this policy would be a step toward mandating programs about homosexuality, though nothing in its text lends itself to this claim.
The legislation fell one vote short of passage amid concerns raised by anti-gay lobbyists that it could be used to promote acceptance of homosexuality.
An equality group in the state had a rather pointed statement about the bill’s second death:
“The Senate vote was a win for bullying, both in the classroom and in the capitol building,” said Shannon Sullivan, Executive Director of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance. “Senators were blindsided by issues that weren’t even on the table, pressured by radical lobbyists that have no problem threatening the wellbeing of Illinois youth for their own personal gain and out-of-touch agenda.”
Legislators in the state are saying the bill isn’t dead yet, however:
State Sen. Heather Steans postponed a vote, saving the legislation from defeat. The bill is headed back to the General Assembly before it returns to the Senate.
Cassidy believes the bill is still likely to pass by the end of the week. It was rejected by just one vote, and two supportive senators were not present for the vote, said Cassidy.
“But it’s a weird time of year,” she said. “Anything can happen.”
We’ll see if the bill can get the required votes for passage before the end of the session.
By Scottie Thomaston
- A new NBC/WSJ poll suggests that President Obama’s announcement that he supports marriage equality will likely have no effect on his re-election prospects. 62% of adults say his support of marriage equality doesn’t matter to them. 54% would ‘support’ a law making marriage equality legal in their state, but only 24% would ‘actively support’ it.
- Yesterday Dharun Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in jail after being convicted of bias intimidation and invasion of privacy in the death of Tyler Clementi, and the sentence got mixed reactions from gay advocates and legal observers.
- A student in Ohio may wear his “Jesus is not a homophobe” t-shirt, a court has ruled.
- The DOJ has finalized its rule to prevent sexual abuse in federal prisons. The rule addresses LGBT prisoners as well.
“Gay brothers and sisters, what are you going to do about it? You must come out. Come out… to your parents… I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out… to your relatives. I know that is hard and will upset them but think of how they will upset you in the voting booth. Come out to your friends… if they indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors… to your fellow workers… to the people who work where you eat and shop… Come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade, [Florida] to Eugene, [Oregon]. If Briggs wins he will not stop. They never do. Like all mad people, they are forced to go on, to prove they were right! There will be no safe ‘closet’ for any gay person. So break out of yours today — tear the damn thing down once and for all!”
The Washington Post has more as well.
- The North Carolina pastor who said he wants gay men and lesbians put behind an electrified fence and leave them to die out is facing nationwide backlash as well as local protests.
- Brian Brown of NOM wants to debate Dan Savage, so Savage said the debate will have to be at his dinner table:
Where? My dining room table. Place? Seattle, Washington. Here’s the deal. We can fill a room with my screaming partisans and your screaming partisans and we’ll both play to our respective peanut galleries and I think both of us have a little bit of grandstander in souls and we will work that and I think that will create more heat than light. And so what I’d like to do is challenge you to come to my house for dinner. Bring the wife. My husband will be there. and I will hire a video crew and we will videotape sort of an after dinner debate.
The trick here is you have to knowledge my humanity by accepting my hospitality and I have to acknowledge yours by extending my hospitality to you. And I’m willing to do that.
- Nebraska’s governor wants to put antidiscrimination ordinances to a public vote.
Breaking: Dharun Ravi sentenced to 30 days jail time in Tyler Clementi’s death for bias crime, other charges
By Scottie Thomaston
Dharun Ravi was convicted of bias intimidation and invasion of privacy and his sentencing was held today. The judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail:
Judge Berman was not moved. He says that he’s never heard Ravi say that he was sorry. He said that while Ravi might expunge the record from the trial, “you cannot expunge the conduct and the pain you caused.”
Berman says that he will recommend that Ravi is not deported. He said that was because of M.B.’s request in his letter to the judge.
When weighing up aggravating factors, “This individual was not convicted of a hate crime, he was convicted of a bias crime, and there’s a difference.”
And then he gave his sentence: a 30 day jail term. Ravi’s been sentenced to 30 days in jail. “Allowing you to simply return home with no custodial sentence… would deprecate the integrity of the verdict.”
He had been at risk of deportation:
A sentence of more than a year would also increase the likelihood that federal immigration authorities will try to deport Ravi to India, where he was born and remains a citizen, though he has lived most of his life in New Jersey.
Some gay advocates had asked for a more lenient sentence:
As a result, some gay advocates are calling on the court to give Ravi probation instead of prison time.
Ravi could have faced up to ten years in prison.
Among them is Aaron Hicklin, editor of Out magazine, who said in an article that Ravi was being made a scapegoat for Clementi’s suicide.
Another, E.J. Graff, who writes about gay and lesbian issues, said in her column in The American Prospect, “I fear that Ravi is an easy scapegoat for a complicated problem.”
There will be an appeal.
UPDATE 1: Garden State Equality weighs in:
Those who have oppose giving Dharun Ravi jail time have asked, hasn’t he suffered enough? But we believe there’s another question: Has Dharun Ravi done enough? Has he done enough to use his place in history to speak out against student bullying and to make a positive impact on millions of lives across our state and nation?
Thus far, no.
Full statement here.
UPDATE 2: Here is a full list of the charges Ravi was convicted of.
UPDATE 3: Joe My God has more:
The probation period is three years and includes 300 hours of community service. Ravi has also been fined $11,950 which is to be paid in monthly installments. Ravi will not be deported.
By Jacob Combs
Last friday, following a screening of Lee Hirsch’s documentary Bully at the White House on GLSEN’s annual Day of Silence, President Obama announced his official endorsement for two bills, the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which have been proposed in Congress to battle bullying and discrimination in American schools. The White House had previously gone at the record to say that it “supported the goals” of SNDA, but fell short of full endorsement, as the ACLU’s Ian Thompson pointed out in an late March op-ed piece in The Advocate.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act, which is set up similarly to Title IX, the landmark law prohibiting sex discrimination in education, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes protected under federal education nondiscrimination law. The Safe Schools Improvement Act would add bullying and harrassment-awareness programs, including ones specifically focused on orientation and gender identity, to the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act.
The Obama administration’s support of SNDA and SSIA have been some time in coming: the two bills were introduced in March 2011 during the White House conference on bullying, but were looked over by a Senate committee when the time came to pass the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act of 2011 in October. Having the White House behind the bills will no doubt give them more momentum in the legislature, and will hopefully create an environment in which they might actually pass.
When the Obama administration punted earlier this month on an executive order barring federal contractors from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the LGBT community was rightfully upset. That was the wrong choice, and it is right of our community to continue pushing the administration on that issue, and the many other issues that are important to us. Still, Obama’s endorsement of the SSIA and SNDA underscores how important it is to recognize that while President Obama may not be the ally that we want him to be, he is nonetheless a powerful ally.
In a moving and unusual expression of support, the Sioux City Journal of Sioux City, Iowa yesterday devoted its entire front page to an anti-bullying editorial after Kenneth Weishuhn, a gay Iowa high schooler who came out to his peers at school and was rejected by them, took his own life. ”In Kenneth’s case, the warnings were everywhere,” the paper wrote in its editorial. “We saw it happen in other communities, now it has hit home. Undoubtedly, it wasn’t the first life lost to bullying here, but we can strive to make it the last.”
It’s time for Congress to take action on this issue, to fight back against what is increasingly beginning to look like an epidemic. With any luck, President Obama’s endorsement will provide the SSIA and the SNDA will more visibility on the national stage. We aren’t powerless against harassment and bullying in our schools. But it will take more advocacy to push past the intransigence of lawmakers who simply do not want to admit there is a problem.
By Jacob Combs
Today is GLSEN’s annual Day of Silence, when students across the country take a vow of silence to stand against the invisibility that young gays and lesbians can feel at school. GLSEN’s blog will have stories from supporters throughout the day. If you’ve ever been a part of a Day of Silence activism, you know how powerful the statement can be, and the insightful reflection it can engender in those around you.
On this important day, I wanted to share an incredible video from the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance. Working through public education, youth organizing and policy advocacy, the Alliance advocates for a safe and healthy school environment for Illinois students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The fact that these students are committing themselves to helping their peers is truly inspiring–if only we could all have been this wise in high school.