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Court ruling deals blow to North Carolina anti-LGBT law

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Pat McCrory, Republican Party, South Carolina, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Pat McCrory (R-N.C.) has said he would comply with a court ruling in favor of Virginia transgender student. (Photo by Hal Goodtree; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A federal appeals court ruling in favor of a Virginia transgender student seeking to use school restrooms consistent with his gender identity constitutes a blow to North Carolina’s recently enacted anti-LGBT law, legal experts say.

Although the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision pertains to a school district in Virginia, the case has bearing on House Bill 2 because the court also has jurisdiction over North Carolina along with Maryland, South Carolina and West Virginia. Legal experts say the decision has the effect of rendering unenforceable the component of HB 2 that prohibits transgender students from using school restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

Upon news of the decision, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory told reporters he would “make sure these court rulings are abided to,” but would need to consult with lawyers to verify the necessary approach.

“We’ve got to evaluate the impact of this court ruling on existing legislation, on existing policy that we have throughout North Carolina, and I will do just that,” McCrory said.

McCrory added he expects more action in the form of a petition for review to the U.S. Supreme Court, but meanwhile he needs to ascertain whether the ruling requires schools to allow transgender students to use public restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, which would be contrary to House Bill 2.

“This is a major, major change in social norms not only to North Carolina, but also to the 27 other states that don’t allow this at this point in time,” McCrory said.

Signed into law last month by McCrory after an emergency session of the state legislature, HB 2 undoes all pro-LGBT non-discrimination ordinances in North Carolina, including one recently enacted in Charlotte, and prohibits transgender people from using public restrooms in schools and government buildings consistent with their gender identity.

But at the same time this law was passed, Gavin Grimm, a transgender student at Virginia’s Gloucester County High School, was appealing before the Fourth Circuit a lower court decision affirming the right of his school district’s policy barring him from using the boys restroom or locker room.

One friend-of-the-court brief was filed by the U.S. Justice Department, which argued the policy was in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Another was filed by state leaders, including McCrory, and argued the court should rule in favor of the school district. Ultimately, the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of Grimm and remanded the case to the trial court, establishing precedent in favor of transgender students.

Douglas NeJaime, faculty director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, was among those saying the court decision makes unenforceable the component of HB 2 restricting bathroom use for transgender people in schools.

“The part of North Carolina’s bill that is specifically about bathrooms, or public accommodations, to the extent that they would apply to schools, which are subject to Title IX, then I think it’s suggesting in the North Carolina bill are unenforceable,” NeJaime said. “This would obviously apply to North Carolina because its in the Fourth Circuit, and the federal regulations would govern over any contrary state regulations.”

The next step in the process, NeJaime said, is for state attorneys and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who has refused to defend HB 2 in court, to declare that portion of the law unenforceable. If that doesn’t happen, or if Cooper and McCrory’s attorneys disagree, NeJaime said a federal court in North Carolina would make that declaration and clarify the language cannot be enforced.

“I would guess that the ACLU and Lambda attorneys would probably quite quickly file papers and ask for an injunction just on that issue fairly quickly, but then, of course, it would be up to how quickly things can be scheduled,” NeJaime said. “I would imagine that that would move forward on an accelerated schedule.”

Neither McCrory’s office nor Cooper’s responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment late Tuesday on their determination for what the Fourth Circuit ruling means for HB 2.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the Fourth Circuit ruling immediately requires North Carolina to allow transgender students to use public restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

“This ruling not only gives appropriate deference to the Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX as allowing transgender students to use school restrooms consistent with their gender identity, it also is binding on the state of North Carolina,” Warbelow said. “We therefore expect public schools, including those in North Carolina, to immediately comply, ensuring transgender students full protections under the law, which includes full access to the appropriate facilities.”

Legal groups — Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina — filed a lawsuit against HB 2 last month on the basis the law violates the equal protection and due process clauses under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

In a joint statement, the groups said the ruling has major implications on HB 2, but were more focused on the decision serving as an impetus for full repeal of the law.

“Today’s ruling makes plain that North Carolina’s House Bill 2 violates Title IX by discriminating against transgender students and forcing them to use the wrong restroom at school,” the statement says. “This mean-spirited law not only encourages discrimination and endangers transgender students – it puts at risk billions of dollars in federal funds that North Carolina receives for secondary and post-secondary schools. House Bill 2 exposes North Carolinians to discrimination and harm, is wreaking havoc on the state’s economy and reputation, and now more than ever, places the state’s federal education funding in jeopardy. We again call on Gov. McCrory and the General Assembly to repeal House Bill 2 and replace it with full nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.”

Despite the different focuses of the statements, Warbelow told the Washington Blade the Human Rights Campaign and legal groups behind the lawsuit are on the same page.

“There’s no daylight between us,” Warbelow said. “North Carolina schools should follow Title IX immediately as underscored by Fourth Circuit decision. There still needs to be a full repeal of HB 2 to address its broad array of harms.”

But the ruling doesn’t have any impact on the portions of HB 2 prohibiting municipalities from enacting pro-LGBT non-discrimination ordinances, nor does it hold sway over the part that bars transgender people from using public restrooms in government buildings consistent with their gender identity.

NeJaime pointed out the Fourth Circuit ruling is based only on Title IX, which affects only students, and makes no headway into the whether equal protection and due process under the U.S. Constitution comes into play for any issue in HB 2.

“The only issue this ruling is tackling is access that trans people have to restrooms, and so the pre-emption of local non-discrimination ordinances isn’t at all impacted by this,” NeJaime added.

The district court reviewing the litigation challenging HB 2, NeJaime said, could elect to issue a more immediate ruling on use public restrooms for transgender students, but hold off until later to make a decision on other components of the law.

Although McCrory said the Gloucester County High School may seek to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for review, which could impact the result of the ruling on North Carolina, NeJaime said justices are unlikely to take action as a result of only one circuit court decision and no split among the others.

“Certainly, we saw in the marriage cases, there were cert petitions filed after preliminary injunction motions. We also saw that DOMA in litigation,” NeJaime said. “In all those cases, the court waited until there was more resolution.”

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. lnm3921

    April 19, 2016 at 10:16 pm

    Knowing that this litigation was before the 4th circuit court, why couldn’t activist wait until a decision was made instead of pushing for the bathroom legislation in NC and other red states first?

    While this may invalidate the bathroom restrictions, it won’t do anything about the NC legislation that bars ordinances that bar employment, housing and other types of discrimination from being enacted. The boycotts to the state haven’t moved them to act immediately to undo the law let alone push for legislation on a state level that would bar discrimination and negate the need for ordinances.

    This may help with the part of Mississippi law that bars bathrooms use but does nothing about the other parts of the discriminatory law. It seems like a pyrrhic victory.

  2. Foodahz

    April 20, 2016 at 3:16 am

    “But the ruling doesn’t have any impact on the portions of HB 2 prohibiting municipalities from enacting pro-LGBT non-discrimination ordinances, nor does it hold sway over the part that bars transgender people from using public restrooms in government buildings consistent with their gender identity.”

    That’s the most important part and it’s buried near the end of the article. This isn’t over, people.

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Utah

VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights

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(Screen capture via YouTube)

A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says.

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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Venezuelan man with AIDS dies in ICE custody

Pablo Sánchez Gotopo passed away at Miss. hospital on Oct. 1

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Pablo Sanchez Gotopo, who was living with HIV/AIDS, died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Mississippi on Oct. 1, 2021. (Courtesy photo)

A Venezuelan man with AIDS died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on Oct. 1.

An ICE press release notes Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, 40, died at Merit Health River Oaks in Flowood, Miss., which is a suburb of Jackson, the state capital. The press release notes the “preliminary cause of death was from complications with acute respiratory failure, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), pneumonia, acute kidney failure, anemia and COVID-19.”

ICE said U.S. Border Patrol took Sánchez into custody near Del Rio, Texas, on May 17. He arrived at the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss., four days later.

“Upon arrival to an ICE facility, all detainees are medically screened and administered a COVID-19 test by ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) personnel,” said ICE in its press release. “Sánchez’s test results came back negative.”

The press release notes Sánchez on July 28 received another COVID-19 test after he “began showing symptoms of COVID-19.” ICE said he tested negative, but Adams County Detention Center personnel transferred him to a Natchez hospital “for additional advanced medical care.”

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations staff in its New Orleans Field Office, according to the press release, “coordinated with hospital staff to arrange family visitation” after Sánchez’s “health condition deteriorated.” Sánchez was transferred to Merit Health River Oaks on Sept. 25.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases,” says the press release.

Venezuela’s political and economic crises have prompted more than 10,000 people with HIV to leave the country, according to the New York-based Aid for AIDS International.

Activists and health care service providers in Venezuela with whom the Washington Blade has spoken in recent years have said people with HIV/AIDS in the country have died because of a lack of antiretroviral drugs. Andrés Cardona, director of Fundación Ancla, a group in the Colombian city of Medellín that works with migrants and other vulnerable groups, told the Blade last month that many Venezuelans with HIV would have died if they hadn’t come to Colombia.

The Blade has not been able to verify a Venezuelan activist’s claim that Sánchez was gay. It is also not known why Sánchez decided to leave Venezuela and travel to the U.S.

ICE detainee with HIV described Miss. detention center as ‘not safe’

Activists and members of Congress continue to demand ICE release people with HIV/AIDS in their custody amid reports they don’t have adequate access to medications and other necessary medical treatment.

Two trans women with HIV—Victoria Arellano from Mexico and Roxsana Hernández from Honduras—died in ICE custody in 2007 and 2018 respectively. Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans woman with HIV who fled El Salvador, died in 2019, three days after ICE released her from a privately-run detention center.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center. The detainee said there was no social distancing at the privately-run facility and personnel were not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

“It’s not safe,” they told the Blade.

The entrance to the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, a Natchez resident who supports ICE detainees and their families, on Wednesday told the Blade that she was able to visit the Adams County Detention Center and other ICE facilities in the Miss Lou Region of Mississippi and Louisiana from November 2019 until the suspension of in-person visitation in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

“Medical neglect and refusal of medical care has always been an issue in the detention center at Adams County,” said Grant-Gibson. “After the facilities were closed to public visitation, those problems increased.”

Grant-Gibson told the Blade she “worked with a number of families and received phone calls from a number of detainees, and I was told again and again that detainees were being refused the opportunity to visit the infirmary.”

“When they did visit the infirmary, they were given virtually no treatment for the issues they were presenting with,” said Grant-Gibson.

ICE in its press release that announced Sánchez’s death said fatalities among its detainees, “statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.” ICE also noted it spends more than $315 million a year “on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to detainees.”

“ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) ensures the provision of necessary medical care services as required by ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards and based on the medical needs of the detainee,” notes the ICE press release. “Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay. All ICE detainees receive medical, dental, and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care.”

An ICE spokesperson on Wednesday pointed the Blade to its Performance-Based Detention Standards from 2011, which includes policies for the treatment of detainees with HIV/AIDS.

A detainee “may request HIV testing at any time during detention” and ICE detention centers “shall develop a written plan to ensure the highest degree of confidentiality regarding HIV status and medical condition.” The policy also states that “staff training must emphasize the need for confidentiality, and procedures must be in place to limit access to health records to only authorized individuals and only when necessary.”

“The accurate diagnosis and medical management of HIV infection among detainees shall be promoted,” reads the policy. “An HIV diagnosis may be made only by a licensed health care provider, based on a medical history, current clinical evaluation of signs and symptoms and laboratory studies.”

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Rachel Levine on becoming four-star admiral: ‘It comes from my desire to serve’

Trans official sworn-in to U.S. Public Health Service

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For Rachel Levine, the appointment to her new role as a four-star admiral complementing her existing duties as assistant secretary for health is another way for the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed presidential appointee to serve.

“I think that this just really comes from my desire to serve in all capacities,” Levine said in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade. “To serve the first day in my field of academic medicine and pediatrics, but then in Pennsylvania and now in the federal government, and it furthers my ability to do that.”

Levine, 63, also recognized the importance of the appointment as a transgender person within the U.S. Public Health Service, for which she was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday

“I think for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a further sign of progress and our president’s commitment to equity, to inclusion and diversity,” Levine said. “So I think that it is a very important milestone, and I’m pleased to serve.”

As part of her duties, Levine will lead an estimated 6,000 public health service officers serving vulnerable populations, including deployments inside and outside the country for communities beleaguered with the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. The role involves working closely with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, whom Levine called her “friend and colleague.”

The U.S. Public Health Service, Levine said, has deployed “many, many times,” including its greatest number ever of deployments to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places the service has deployed, Levine said, was in her home state of Pennsylvania, where she recently served as secretary of health.

Not only is Levine the first openly transgender person to serve in the uniformed health service as a four-star general, but she’s also the first woman to serve in that capacity.

“We have 6,000 dedicated committed public servants really all focused on our nation’s health, and they serve in details to the CDC and the FDA and the NIH, but also clinically with the Indian Health Service, and the federal prison system,” Levine said. “They’re also detailed and deployed throughout the country, and they deployed like never before for COVID-19 as well as the border, as well as dealing with floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.”

Although the Public Health Service is primarily focused on addressing public health disasters within the United States, Levine said it has a record of deployments overseas, including years ago when it was deployed to Africa under the threat of Ebola.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra had high praise for Levine in a statement upon news of taking on a leadership position in the service.

“This is a proud moment for us at HHS,” Becerra said. “Adm. Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”

Levine, however, was careful to draw a distinction between her appointment within the Public Health Service and being a service member within the U.S. armed forces.

“It is not a military branch, it’s not the armed forces: It’s a uniformed force, so it’s different,” Levine said. “For example, the Army, the Navy, our military, there are two other uniformed branches, and that is ours, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA.”

The new role, Levine said, would complement her duties as assistant secretary for health. Although not only secretaries of health have been commissioned to take the uniform, Levine said she wanted to undertake that as part of her role in the Biden administration.

The two appointments were not simultaneous, Levine said, because of a general process she undertook, which was completed just this week.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Levine. During her Senate confirmation process, when she was hounded by anti-transgender attacks in conservative media and rude, invasive questioning by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on her gender identity.

Levine, however, said she hasn’t encountered any hostility regarding her new role (as of now) and shrugged off any potential attacks in the future and said the move is about her career “to serve and to help people.”

“I’ve continued that for our nation as the assistant secretary for health and this is just a further demonstration of my commitment to service,” Levine said. “I don’t know what others will say, but that’s the genesis of my wanting to serve in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and to place on the uniform.”

Levine’s new appointment comes shortly after a group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent her a letter dated Sept. 30 calling on her and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to issue new guidance for hospital or residential care on mental health needs of transgender people.

Asked about the letter, Levine said mental health issues are under the authority of Delphin-Rittmon and the two “will work together and we will respond.”

Specifically, the senators in the letter call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

Asked what the response will look like, Levine said, “We’re going to work on that.”

“We will be looking at what they’re asking for and the requirements, and we’ll talk with them and the stakeholders and we’ll look to issue appropriate guidance,” Levine said.

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