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Supreme Court makes two pro-LGBT rulings

Non-discrimination, disclosure issues decided

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The U.S. Supreme Court made pro-LGBT rulings in two cases during the final week of its term, which ended Monday.

Justices ruled in favor of the constitutionality of a California law school’s non-discrimination policy as well as state disclosure laws that would make public the names of those who signed a petition to put an anti-gay referendum on the Washington State ballot.

In the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the court upheld Monday in a 5-4 decision the University of California, Hastings College of Law’s non-discrimination policy against a legal challenge from a Christian group that aimed to discriminate against LGBT people.

The school’s Hastings Christian Fellowship sought to overturn a non-discrimination policy to maintain its status as an official school group while prohibiting LGBT people from holding positions as officers. The group contended the school’s policy violated the chapter’s freedom of association and speech under the First Amendment.

But U.S. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — who wrote the majority opinion in the ruling — said the school’s policy is constitutional because it’s “a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access to the student-organization forum.”

“In requiring [Christian Legal Society] — in common with all other student organizations — to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition, we hold, Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations,” she writes.

Joining Ginsburg in the majority opinion were Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Associate Justice John Paul Stevens marked his final day on the bench by filing a concurring opinion.

While upholding Hastings’ policy, the court also remanded to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals an assertion by the Christian Legal Society that Hastings has been selectively applying its non-discrimination policy.

Associate Justice Samuel Alito filed the dissent. In his opinion, Alito writes that the Supreme Court didn’t properly address the constitutionality of Hastings’ policy and is setting precedent that could stifle free speech.

“Brushing aside inconvenient precedent, the Court arms public educational institutions with a handy weapon for suppressing the speech of unpopular groups,” Alito writes.

Joining Alito in the dissenting opinion were Chief Justice John Roberts as well as Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

In the majority opinion, Ginsburg notes as an official group, the Christian Legal Society chapter would be entitled to financial assistance from the school derived from mandatory student fees. She says current policy “ensures that no Hastings student is forced to fund a group that would reject her as a member.”

Additionally, Ginsburg emphasizes that although Hastings may exclude the Christian Legal Society chapter as an official group — or as a registered student organization — the organization still has some capacity to meet and communicate on campus.

“In this case, Hastings offered [Christian Legal Society] access to school facilities to conduct meetings and the use of chalkboards and generally available bulletin boards to advertise events,” Ginsburg writes. “Although [Christian Legal Society] could not take advantage of [certain] methods of communication … the advent of electronic media and social-networking sites reduces the importance of those channels.”

In a statement, Christopher Stoll, senior attorney for the National Center of Lesbian Rights, said the decision “affirmed the longstanding doctrine” that non-discrimination policies don’t “violate free speech when applied in a consistent and even-handed way.”

“The court rejected the dangerous argument that anti-gay groups must be given a special exemption from non-discrimination policies,” Stoll said.

NCLR was among the groups representing Outlaw, Hastings’ LGBT student group, which intervened to defend Hastings’ non-discrimination policy.

Paul Smith, who represented Outlaw, said all the respondents are “gratified” by the court’s decision said it reflects the views articulated in briefs to the court.

“The Hastings policy that all recognized and subsidized student groups have to be open to all comers is designed to … assure that educational opportunities are equally open to all, and … promote the open interchange of ideas among students,” he said.

The Hastings College of Law and the Christian Legal Society didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

In a separate decision June 24, the court ruled against people seeking to keep secret the names of people who last year signed a petition to put an anti-gay referendum on the Washington State ballot.

The court determined 8-1 in Doe v. Reed that public disclosure of referendum petitions doesn’t — as a general rule — violate the First Amendment rights of signers.

But the decision left room for anti-gay activists to succeed at a lower court on the more focused question of whether making public the signatures for Referendum 71 specifically runs contrary to the U.S. Constitution. Roberts wrote the majority opinion in the decision. The sole dissenting voice in ruling came from Thomas.

The initiative in question, Referendum 71, came before Washington State residents in 2009 and threatened to abrogate the expansion of the state’s domestic partner registry. But 53 percent of the electorate voted in favor of upholding the law, keeping the registry in place.

Concurrent with the campaign against the law, people who put the anti-gay initiative on the ballot — led by Protect Marriage Washington — challenged Washington State’s Public Records Act, which requires public disclosure of the names of petition signers who put referenda on the ballot.

The U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington issued a preliminary injunction blocking the publication of signatures, and the issue made its way to the Supreme Court.

Plaintiffs argued the law could put people who signed the petition in danger after their names became public. In defense of the statute, Washington State argued disclosure contributes to electoral integrity of the ballot process and allows the public to double-check in case a mistake is made.

Roberts affirms in the majority opinion the arguments that public disclosure promotes electoral integrity and concludes the disclosure law enables the public to find potential mistakes or instances of forgery.

“Public disclosure thus helps ensure that the only signatures counted are those that should be, and that the only referenda placed on the ballot are those that garner enough valid signatures,” he writes. “Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot.”

Roberts also rejects the assertion from plaintiffs that the court should overturn the disclosure law on the basis that disclosure of the names of people who signed the Referendum 71 petition would place these signers in danger.

The chief justice says the question before the court isn’t whether “disclosure violates the First Amendment with respect to those who signed the R-71 petition,” but whether this disclosure “in general violates the First Amendment rights of those who sign referendum petitions.”

“The problem for plaintiffs is that their argument rests almost entirely on the specific harm they say would attend disclosure of the information on the R-71 petition, or on similarly controversial ones,” Roberts writes.

Roberts says the court must reject this broad challenge to all disclosure laws, but says this ruling doesn’t necessarily “foreclose a litigant’s success” in a narrower challenge before the district court. The chief justice recalls how the court previously determined withholding names may be appropriate in some instances with “reasonable probability” that individuals would be harassed.

In a statement, Anne Levinson, chair of Washington Families Standing Together, which fought to maintain the state’s domestic partnership law, praised the high court’s decision.

She said the Supreme Court made clear that public disclosure laws ensure “measures are not put on the ballot by fraudulent means or mistake.”

“Nowhere is the integrity and transparency of elections more important than where the ballot box is being used in an attempt to take away fundamental rights,” she said. “Nowhere is it more important for the public to know that attempts to affect the lives of their fellow citizens by promoting ballot measures are free from fraud and error.”

But Larry Stickney, president of the Washington Values Alliance, said he’s “optimistic” anti-gay activists will be able to keep the petition names secret following action from the district court.

“Likely we’re going to be back in district court and we’ll be able to bring out some of the harassment and intimidation efforts that were made against Protect Marriage Washington,” he said. “We’re happy that that effort will carry on.”

Levinson dismissed the idea that people working on the campaign to overturn the domestic partner registry faced harassment and said there’s “absolutely no evidence of harassment” of signers.

“What the petitioners cite to by way of threats or other harassment, they talk about their campaign manager or other leadership in their campaign,” she said. “Those are the folks like me who were debating on TV or radio or leading a campaign effort, so that’s irrelevant to making any case about petition signers.”

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said he didn’t think plaintiffs had a shot keeping the names of petitions signers under wraps in light of the “reasonable probability” standard the Supreme Court established.

“I think they are very unlikely to have any success because the standard that the Supreme Court imposed here is — in a particular case — you can only prevent disclosure if you can show a reasonable probability that disclosure will subject to threats, harassment or reprisal,” he said. “So not the possibility — not that it could happen — but a reasonable probability that it will happen.”

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Rick Sincere

    June 28, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Ironically, the Supreme Court’s ruling in CLS v. Martinez means that gay groups will have to accept as members people who hold an anti-gay point of view.

    In fact, Outlaw, the gay organization at the Hastings School of Law, has a rule that restricts membership to students who affirm its pro-gay rights point of view. (This rule is in violation of Hastings’ “take all comers” policy.) What will Outlaw do when it faces an influx of potential members who disagree with its mission and message?

    The 1991 Supreme Court ruling in the Hurley case, which permitted an Irish group to ban gay marchers from its St. Patrick’s Day parade, has since been used as protection by gay groups whose events were threatened with infiltration by anti-gay preachers and ex-gay proselytizers.

    The opposite will be the case with today’s ruling.

    CLS v. Martinez will, I’m afraid, be used to undermine the integrity of gay and lesbian organizations by the forces of viewpoint homogenization. CLS v. Martinez is not a “pro-gay” ruling at all, unless you think that gay people should not be able to have freedom of expressive association.

  2. Leigh Anne

    June 29, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    In Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. There are two issues: recognition and funding. Dollars and cents.

    SCOTUS missed the boat! They could have simply separated funding from official recognition, and required official recognition of organizations coming from all viewpoints, preserving their distinctiveness.

    When Ginsburg wrote that current policy “ensures that no Hastings student is forced to fund a group that would reject her as a member,” she made mud out of ALL current policies surrounding Student Activity Fees nationwide, and it will take many years to clear this up, in the courts.

    If I were on a college Board of Trustees, I’d vote to drop activities fees entirely, rather than try to punch my way out of this bag — in lawsuit after lawsuit.

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National

Jim Obergefell announces bid for seat in Ohio state legislature

Marriage plaintiff moves on to new endeavor

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First Amendment Defense Act, gay news, Washington Blade
Jim Obergefell has announced he'd seek a seat in the Ohio state legislature.

Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the litigation that ensured same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide, announced on Tuesday he’d pursue a new endeavor and run for a seat in the state legislature in his home state of Ohio.

“You deserve a representative who does the right thing, no matter what. You deserve a representative who fights to make things better for everyone,” Obergefell said. “I’ve been part of a national civil rights case that made life better for millions of Americans. Simply put, I fight for what’s right and just.”

Obergefell, who claims residency in Sandusky, Ohio, is seeking a seat to represent 89th Ohio District, which comprises Erie and Ottawa Counties. A key portion of his announcement was devoted to vowing to protect the Great Lakes adjacent to Ohio.

“We need to invest in our Great Lake, protect our Great Lake, and make the nation envious that Ohio has smartly invested in one of the greatest freshwater assets in the world,” Obergefell said.

Obergefell was the named plaintiff in the consolidated litigation of plaintiffs seeking marriage rights that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in 2015 for same-sex marriage nationwide. Obergefell was widower to John Arthur, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and was seeking the right to be recognized as his spouse on his death certificate. The ruling in the consolidated cases ensured same-sex couples would enjoy the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage.

“We should all be able to participate fully in society and the economy, living in strong communities with great public schools, access to quality healthcare, and with well-paying jobs that allow us to stay in the community we love, with the family we care about,” Obergefell said in a statement on his candidacy.

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FDA-funded blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker, L.A. LGBT Center working on study to ease restrictions

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gay blood ban, gay news, Washington Blade
A new study could make it easier for gay and bi men to donate blood.

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Institute and the Los Angeles LGBT Center are among LGBTQ supportive organizations in eight U.S. cities working with the nation’s three largest blood donation centers on a study to find a way to significantly ease blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men or MSM.

The study, which is funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calls for recruiting a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men in eight U.S. cities selected for the study to test the reliability of a detailed donor history questionnaire aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if they donate blood.

A statement released by the study organizers says the questionnaire, which could be given to a gay or bisexual person showing up at a blood donation site, could be a replacement for the FDA’s current policy of banning men who have had sex with another man within the previous three months from donating blood.

In the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the FDA put in place a permanent ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. In 2015, with advanced HIV testing and screening techniques readily available, the FDA lifted its permanent ban on MSM blood donations and replaced it with a 12-month restriction for sexual activity between MSM.

The FDA further reduced the time of sexual abstinence for MSM to three months in 2020.

LGBTQ rights organizations and others advocating for a change in the current FDA restriction point out that at a time when the nation is facing a severe shortage of blood donations due to the COVID pandemic, the three-month donation deferral requirement for MSM is preventing a large number of blood donations from men whose risk of HIV infection is low to nonexistent.

Under the FDA-funded and initiated study, the American Red Cross, Vitalant, and OneBlood — the nation’s three largest blood donation centers — have been conducting the questionnaire testing since the study was launched in March 2021.

“To gather the necessary data, the blood centers will partner with LGBTQ+ Centers in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta,” the study organizers say in a statement on a website launched to help recruit volunteers for the study.

“The study will enroll a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men (250 – 300 from each area) who meet the study eligibility criteria,” the statement says.

Among the criteria for being eligible, the statement says, is the person must be between 18 and 39 years old, have expressed an interest in donating blood, must have had sex with at least one other man in the three months before joining the study, and must agree to an HIV test. A negative test result is also required for acceptance into the study.

The study is officially named ADVANCE, which stands for Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility.

“The ADVANCE study is a first step in providing data that will help the FDA determine if a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as effective as time-based deferral, in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” the study organizers statement says.

“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions, it could mean men who have sex with men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” the statement continues. “The ADVANCE study is groundbreaking because it’s the first time a study is being conducted that could result in individual risk assessment for men who have sex with men to donate blood,” the statement says.

The Whitman-Walker Institute, which is among the community-based organizations involved in helping organize and conduct the study, is an arm of Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive D.C. health center.

Christopher Cannon, director of Research Operations for Whitman-Walker Institute, said that since the D.C.-based part of the study was launched early last year prior to the official announcement of the study on March 20, D.C. has surpassed the original city goal of recruiting 250 participants for the study.

“We are currently at 276 as of last Friday’s report,” Cannon told the Blade in a Jan. 13 interview. “And the current goal is now 300,” he said. “So, we’re hoping to push this over that goal line in the coming days and weeks.

Cannon said that like the community organizations involved in the study in other cities, Whitman-Walker Institute’s role has been focused on recruiting gay and bisexual men to participate in the study and to send them to the American Red Cross headquarters building at 430 17th St., N.W. near the White House. That site, which serves as a blood donation center, is also serving as the site where study participants are screened, interviewed, and presented with a detailed questionnaire.

“We promote the study within Whitman-Walker,” Cannon said. “We promote it to our networks. We did social media promotions across the city.’

Although Whitman-Walker doesn’t have the final draft of the questionnaire being presented to study participants, Cannon said he has seen “bits and pieces” of it.  

“They ask very direct questions about the person’s sex life, sexual partners, sex acts, numbers of partners,” Cannon said. “There are questions about condom use, PrEP use, drug use. How recently have you had sex? Lots of related questions,” he said.

“It’s really about trying to figure out effectively which are the best questions,” according to Cannon. “The hope is by analyzing the questions and identifying maybe the best 10 to 12 questions that can be universally used…to get the best answers that identify the individuals that may have the highest risk,” he said. Doing that, he points, out can help determine which men who have sex with men should be eligible to safely donate blood.

A statement released by Whitman-Walker last March calls the study a “monumental research effort” that has the potential to lift the stigma imposed on gay and bisexual men whose ability to donate blood is currently based on their sexual orientation.

“The ADVANCE study is designed to understand if, by asking carefully crafted and research-informed research questions, blood collectors can screen potential blood donors for their individual HIV risk factors rather than applying a ban against sexually active gay and bisexual men,” the statement says.

“The goal is to move away from overly broad questions that exclude potential donors and spread stigmatizing messages about MSM and their HIV risks,” it says.

Cannon said that as of last week, study organizers had recruited a total of 879 study participants nationwide out of the goal of 2,000 participants needed to complete the study. He said issues related to the COVID pandemic created delays in the recruitment efforts, but study organizers were hopeful the study could be completed by this summer.

Information about participating in the study or learning more about it can be obtained at advancestudy.org.

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Federal Government

Veterans can now identify as transgender, nonbinary on their VA medical records

About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity

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Graphic via U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Wednesday that his department added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select their gender, in medical records and healthcare documentation.

“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”

The statement also noted that the change allows health-care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.

McDonough speaking at a Pride Month event last June at the Orlando VA Healthcare System, emphasized his support for Trans and LGBQ+ vets.

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

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