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Court ruling in trans case hailed as ‘hugely important’

Ga. official sued after being fired for undergoing transition

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Vandy Beth Glenn (Photo courtesy Human Rights Campaign)

LGBT advocates are hailing a federal appellate court ruling as a significant win for transgender rights and a means to provide recourse to others who face discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision that the Georgia Legislature had unlawfully discriminated against Vandy Beth Glenn for firing her as bill proofreader in 2007 after she informed supervisors she intended to transition from male to female.

“An individual cannot be punished because of his or her perceived gender-nonconformity,” the court decision states. “Because these protections are afforded to everyone, they cannot be denied to a transgender individual.”

Judge Rosemary Barkett, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, which included Judge William Pryor and Senior Judge Phyllis Kravitch, determined the General Assembly’s Legislative Counsel, Sewell Brumby, violated Glenn’s rights under the Equal Protection Clause.

Lambda Legal had filed the case, known as Glenn v. Brumby, on behalf of Glenn in July 2008. In 2010, a district court had ruled previously in Glenn’s favor.

The court ruled in favor of Glenn even though no federal law is in place that specifically protects transgender people against discrimination in the workplace.

LGBT advocates see the ruling as significant because it could help make the case to bar discrimination against trans people in other situations.

Nan Hunter, a lesbian law professor at Georgetown University, said the decision advances other court rulings that have determined discrimination based on gender non-conformity amounts to sex discrimination by applying the potential protections to more people.

“It makes it extend beyond the more narrow definition of gender identity,” Hunter said. “I think it applies more broadly than to persons who have undergone surgery or hormonal treatment. That’s my sense of how the decision can be used. It is not explicit in the decision but the court used gender non-conformity, and the phrase gender-based behavioral norms, and I think that’s a very important development.”

Hunter said the ruling could also have an impact on gay, lesbian and bisexual people seeking recourse if they’ve experienced discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation — although the decision makes no explicit reference to these individuals.

“There’s no category of persons who can be excluded from protection based on that principle,” Hunter said. “So, if you had a case in which the trigger for discrimination based on gender non-comformity was sexual orientation rather than a transgender status, then, yes, I think this case could be applied, and should be applied.”

The ruling in favor of transgender protections in the workplace is also notable because the Eleventh Circuit is known for its conservative opinions. One of the judges, Pryor, was appointed by President George W. Bush and among the judicial nominees that Senate Democrats attempted to filibuster — and progressive groups railed against — because they said he was unfit to serve on the bench.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, called the decision “hugely important” because of the level of the Eleventh Circuit and the background of the judges who issued the ruling.

“It’s the highest court that’s decided something like this, it’s a conservative circuit and it’s going to be a message to employment attorneys to tell their clients that you can’t discriminate against trans people just because they’re trans people,” Keisling said.

Additionally, Hunter said the ruling could have also political implications that could enable Congress, state and local governments and the White House to move forward with LGBT non-discrimination protections.

Advocates have been pushing passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in Congress, which would prohibit job bias against LGBT people in the public and private workforce. At the same time, President Obama is facing calls to issue an executive order barring federal dollars from going to contractors that don’t have non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers.

“If we want to clarify and elaborate on how gender identity discrimination should be prohibited, we’re not taking any controversial step here,” Hunter said. “We’re just sort of filling in the details. That, I think, will make the achievement of explicit gender identity protection more likely.”

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The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’

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J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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The White House

Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions

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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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