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Gavin Grimm testifies on civil rights after 100 days of Trump

Panel witness decry review of consent decrees, voter ID laws

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Gavin Grimm, gay news, Washington Blade

Gavin Grimm testifies before Congress on April 6, 2017. (Screen capture courtesy Washington Blade Facebook)

Transgender student Gavin Grimm testified before Congress Thursday on the experience of his Virginia high school denying him access to the bathroom consistent with the gender identity as well as harms the Trump administration’s withdrawal of pro-trans guidance has caused for transgender people.

Gavin made the remarks during a congressional forum hosted by U.S. House Democrats on the state of civil rights after the first 100 days of the Trump administration. Witnesseses sharply criticized the Trump administration — in particular the U.S. Justice Department under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — for failing to live up to equal protection under the law.

Currently suing his school for bathroom access in a lawsuit the U.S. Supreme Court was once poised to consider, but later rejected, Gavin recalled the pain he felt during hearings in which the Gloucester County School Board decided to refuse to treat him consistent with his gender identity.

“World had spread throughout the community, and people turned up in droves,” Gavin said. “After each frenzied remark, clapping and hollering reverberated throughout the room. I sat while people called me a freak. I sat while my community got together to banish a child from public life for the crime of harming no one. I sat while my school board voted to banish me to retrofitted broom closets or the nurse’s room.”

As Gavin narrated his story, the microphone system for the room in the Rayburm House Office Building cut out, prompting one forum participant to quip, “The Democrats do not control this room.” Invited by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who was chairing the forum, to speak closer to the dais from a podium, Gavin continued his story.

Recalling the pledge from the White House that President Trump would be “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights,” Gavin said the administration’s decision to nix Obama-era guidance assuring transgender kids bathroom access in accordance with their gender identity “could not have been more damaging for trans youth.”

“The guidance had a very simple message: Treat trans students with dignity and respect them for who they are,” Gavin said. “Treating trans students with dignity and respect should not be controversial. The decision to withdraw the guidance sent a terrible message to some of the most vulnerable people that President Trump – the leader of our country – and his administration do not care about protecting you from discrimination.”

After Gavin completed his testimony, attendees at the forum clapped for a lengthy amount of time. Conyers commended him, saying he’s a “courageous young man and you deserve our support and applause.”

Catherine Lhamon, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and former assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department under the Obama administration, made the transgender guidance rollback a major point of concern during testimony in which she said civil rights under the Trump administration has been “horrendous.”

“It will not surprise this body that that withdrawal offended me because I signed that guidance when I was assistant secretary of civil rights,” Lhamon said.

Lhamon called Trump administration claims the guidance was withdrawn because of improper procedure and incorrect interpretation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 “categorically untrue,” citing “the many years that all the relevant agencies” spent investigating the facts and speaking the school administrators.

“To think more that whether a federal law that Congress wrote that says explicitly that no person in the United States shall be subject to sex discrimination in school applies to transgender students questions the very humanity of transgender students,” Lhamon said.

Lhamon also took issue with the appointment of Roger Severino, a former researcher for the anti-LGBT Heritage Foundation, to the role of assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Health & Human Services. Once in the position of being critical of the Obama administration’s efforts to ensure transgender people have access to transition-related care, Severino will now be charged with protecting transgender people in health care.

“I will never forget how I heard from former HHS civil rights director about a case in which emergency medical professionals refused to treat a transgender women because she is transgender,” Lhamon said. “She later died, although she had a better than 35 percent of survival had she received appropriate and timely medical care. It should go without saying that the director of HHS civil rights should be committed to ensure the fair medical treatment for all persons, regardless of identity status.”

The issue of transgender rights was but one issue before the forum that sought to address the multitude of challenges the civil rights community after 100 days of the Trump administration.

Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, expressed a dismal view of the current state of civil rights as he chaired the forum, referencing a “documented loss in the overall climate of equality” and rise in hate violence since the 2016 election.

“Minority communities have been justifiably concerned about the continued role of the federal government in protecting civil rights,” Conyers said. “The Trump presidential campaign promised meaningful changes that would benefit minorities in the area of crime, equal justice and economic equality, his political allies and surrogates to the media have sent a different message that served to heighten national divisions and anxiety.”

DOJ criticized for consent decree review

A central issue was the decision this week of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to review the consent decrees the U.S. Justice Department had arranged with police departments after patterns of unconstitutional racial discrimination and excessive force, including the shootings of black men.

Chiraag Bains, senior fellow at Harvard Law School Criminal Justice Policy Program and former senior counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights under President Obama, cited the review as evidence the Justice Department has been “predictably disastrous” on civil rights.

“This administration insists that policing is a purely local matter into which the federal government should not intrude,” Bains said. “But we’re not talking about a federal takeover of these departments. We’re talking about the enforcement and protection of constitutional rights. There is no federalism problem.”

Ron Davis, former director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the Justice Department, invoked the words of 19th Century British statesman Robert Peel to describe the appropriate relationship between the police and communities as defined under the consent decrees.

“People comply with the law not because of they are afraid of the police, they comply with the law because they believes the law is fair, just and will be enforced appropriately and without bias,” David said. “People should be afraid of police. They should not have to run from them because they’re going to be deported or think that every infraction will result in arrest.”

But Sessions’ order to review the consent decrees was but one issue to witnesses pointed as evidence the Trump administration was failing to live up to responsibilities on civil rights.

Joe Rich, co-director of the Fair Housing & Community Development Project, raised as a civil rights issue the rollback of voter access to the polls, including early voting cutbacks and the imposition of state voter ID laws.

Although defenders of those laws say they’re intended to prevent voter fraud, Rich said that’s “very rare,” citing a recent study that found the incident rate of voter fraud ranges between .003 percent and .0025 percent.

“Given this tiny incident rate for voter impersonation, the report concluded that is more likely that an American will be struck by lightning than he will impersonate voter at the poll,” Rich said.

Rich said the Justice Department had “vigorously prosecuted” against the voter ID law in Texas for three years, but the U.S. government has “reversed course” with Sessions at the helm in “an action of great concern for all of us doing voting rights work.”

Roy Austin, former director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, Justice & Opportunity under the Obama administration, took particular issue with the travel ban Trump signed barring immigration into the United States from six Muslim countries, calling it an attempt to “legalize discrimination against an entire faith.”

Although the administration billed the measure as an means to keep potential terrorists from the United States, Auston said “state-endorsed discrimination diminishes public safety.”

“In my humble opinion, this greatest current threat to civil rights in this great nation is this current administration,” Austin said. “In record time, the current administration has already shown not simply a willingness to not defend civil rights, but a shown an intent to violate civil rights, and, at a minimum, with an intent to make it easier for others to violate civil rights.”

Chief Hassan Aden, a member of the steering committee for Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration and former chief of police of the Greenville Police Department, took issue with greater authority of U.S. Customs & Border Protection to detain travelers entering the United States.

“What’s happening now is there’s sort of this second-class of American citizen being built out, and it involves names and religious preferences, and it’s something that we all need to resist and work against,” Aden said.

Aden recalled his own experienced this year being detained by CBP at JFK International Airport upon re-entry into the United States, which attributed to his Muslim-sounding name. Aden said this incident stands out because he travelled internationally in years past, including five times last year, without issue.

“My name being Hassan Aden, I think, set off a flag,” Aden said. “I utilized my platform and my reach to highlight this issue and give it a voice. There are so many people that this happens to. My detention was 90 minutes. There are people whose detention is significantly longer.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) held nothing back in her assessment of Trump on civil rights in the wake of the Justice Department reviewing consent decrees with police departments.

“This may be the Armageddon,” Lee said. “We may be seeing the most dangerous Department of Justice that we have seen in decades. I don’t think it is hyperbole; I don’t think it’s hysteria.”

Referencing the plight Gavin continues to face by being denied bathroom access in his school, Lee assured him, “You are not alone. We know the decision of the Supreme Court, but we’re not finished with bringing you relief.”

Other lawmakers present at the hearing were Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), top Democrat for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce; Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas).

At the end of the hearing, Lee asked Gavin for his thoughts on the impact of the Justice Department taking an ideological position against transgender rights, which Gavin would only be harmful.

“We see a very real and immediate negative impact on those communities,” Gavin said. “The transgender community is uniquely vulnerable already in that we have less legal protection, we have a higher rate of hate crimes, mental illness, homelessness, unemployment, and then to have a complete and total lack of administrative support, and, in fact, a presence of a administrative intimidation or disregard, the effects of such a negative message across the board would be absolutely devastating.”

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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Corte Suprema de Justicia de Honduras impide que personas LGBTQ puedan casarse y tengan derechos civiles 

Organizaciones presentan nuevos recursos de inconstitucionalidad

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Manifestaciones del 20 de enero en la Corte Suprema de Justicia por la decisión de la Corte (Foto cortesía de Reportar sin Miedo)

Reportar sin Miedo es el socio mediático del Washington Blade en Honduras. Esta nota salió en su sitio web el 20 de enero.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Líderes LGBTIQ+ enfrentaron un hecho de discriminación hoy al presentarse en la Corte Suprema de Justicia, donde los guardias de seguridad los reprimieron y cerraron los portones de acceso vehícular y peatonal, impidiéndoles ingresar al edificio para presentar los recursos de inconstitucionalidad sobre el matrimonio igualitario. 

En una marcha pacífica, más de 50 personas de la diversidad sexual organizadas en mesas de acceso a la justicia de Honduras salieron del bulevar las Fuerzas Armadas hacia las instalaciones del Poder Judicial para pedirles a los magistrados de la Sala de lo Constitucional que acepten un nuevo recurso tras el fallo anunciado esta semana y presentado en 2018 por las organizaciones Cattrachas y Somos CDC. 

Durante los 10 minutos en que se interrumpió el acceso al palacio judicial, lxs activistas denunciaron agresiones verbales del personal de seguridad de la Corte. Al final ingresaron por el portón vehícular. Se instalaron en las gradas de la entrada principal e hicieron un plantón pacífico, durante el cual exclamaron: “Sí se pudo”, después de lo cual se permitió que líderes LGBTIQ+ ingresaran a la sala a presentar el nuevo recurso. 

Las mesas de acceso a la justicia para población LGBTIQ+ están integradas por Arcoiris, Somos CDC, Asociación Kukulcán, colectivo feminista Ixchel, Somos Trans, Colectivo Violeta, Muñecas de Arcoiris, Grupo Lésbico y Bisexual LITOS de Honduras entre otras.

La directora de Muñecas de Arcoíris, JLo Córdova, y sus compañeras trans marcharon y exigieron a la corte respeto a los derechos civiles de las personas LGBTIQ+ en Honduras. 

“No esperamos nada de una clase política opresora”, dijo el activista de la Asociación Arcoíris, Donnis Reyes, quien recalcó que el fallo de la CSJ no es nada nuevo, ya que por más de 12 años el Partido Nacional de Honduras ha influenciado las decisiones del Poder Legislativo y Judicial. 

“Estamos pidiendo que se deroguen ciertos artículos anticonstitucionales y no están basados en derechos”, dijo la directora ejecutiva de la organización feminista Ixchel, Lucía Barrientos, quien se refiere a la opinión consultiva sobre identidad de género, igualdad y no discriminación a parejas del mismo sexo presentada por la Corte IDH. 

La Corte IDH ha indicado que existe un vínculo indisoluble entre igualdad y no discriminación y se ha establecido la dificultad de separarlos por cuanto el incumplimiento de uno (igualdad) acarrea necesariamente la verificación de la prohibición del segundo (no discriminación). 

En ese sentido, la Corte IDH ha indicado que, en función del reconocimiento de igualdad ante la ley, se prohíbe todo tratamiento discriminatorio. Este principio rector y derecho fundamental fue acertadamente introducido en nuestra Constitución en su artículo 60.

“La falta de reconocimiento jurídico de la realidad conformada por las parejas homosexuales es un atentado contra la dignidad de sus integrantes porque lesiona su autonomía y capacidad de autodeterminación al impedir que su decisión de conformar un proyecto de vida en común produzca efectos jurídico-patrimoniales, lo cual significa que, dado un régimen imperativo del derecho civil, quedan en una situación de desprotección que no están en capacidad de afrontar”, resolvió la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Honduras.

La CSJ declaró no ha lugar los recursos de Inconstitucionalidad vía acción y por razón de contenido, ambos contra el Decreto No. 176-2024, emitido por el Congreso Nacional de la República, en fecha 28 de octubre del año 2004, mediante el cual reformó el artículo 112 de la Constitución de la República y el artículo 45 del Código de Familia.

El fallo fue notificado en la tercera semana de enero, a pocos días de la culminación del gobierno nacionalista de Juan Hernández, pero la sentencia fue emitida en abril de 2021, dos meses después (28 de junio) de la sentencia histórica del caso “Vicky Hernández y otros versus Honduras” por la Corte IDH, donde condena al Estado de Honduras por el asesinato de la líder trans de San Pedro Sula y ordena una serie de reparaciones que incluye otorgar, a través de la vía administrativa, el cambio de nombre de las personas trans, así como otra serie de derechos. 

Reportar sin Miedo habló con activistas, quienes dijeron: “Hubo un retraso injustificado en la notificación de la sentencia”. 

En América Latina, 10 países reconocen algún tipo de uniones del mismo sexo. El matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo es legal en Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, México, Uruguay y en los territorios dependientes de Guayana Francesa e islas Malvinas. Bajo una perspectiva del derecho comparado, el reconocimiento de las uniones homosexuales se ha dado a través de dos vías: la judicial (a través de sentencias de tribunales judiciales) y la legislativa.

Sin embargo, en Honduras el artículo 112 Constitucional, en su párrafo primero, literalmente dice: “Se reconoce el derecho del hombre y de la mujer, que tengan la calidad de tales naturalmente, a contraer matrimonio entre sí, así como la igualdad jurídica de los cónyuges. Solo es válido el matrimonio civil celebrado ante funcionario”.

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