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Trans woman’s prison lawsuit continues after her death

W.Va. facility accused of allowing ‘sadistic’ abuse, including rape



Paris Leibelson, gay news, Washington Blade

Paris Leibelson died on Jan. 8. (Photo courtesy Fein & DelValle)

The father of a Silver Spring, Md., transgender woman who died on Jan. 8 says he and his wife are hopeful that their daughter’s legacy will live on through two pending lawsuits she filed to challenge what he calls “shocking” abuse and discrimination she encountered in 2014 while an inmate at a federal prison in West Virginia.

Attorneys representing Paris Leibelson, who was 32 when the alleged prison abuse occurred, filed the lawsuits in 2015 and 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

The lawsuits say Paris Leibelson was incarcerated at the prison following a violation of probation stemming from an earlier arrest for purse snatching in D.C. in December 2004, a conviction for the offense in 2005, and subsequent multiple probation violations that landed her back in jail after having been released.

Michael Leibelson, Paris’ father, said her legal problems stemmed mostly from complications associated with heroin addiction with which she struggled since the time she was a teenager.

He said Paris was found dead in the backyard of the family’s Silver Spring house on Jan. 8 behind a cluster of trees and shrubs from an apparent drug overdose. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Maryland listed the cause of death as methadone, heroin, and cocaine “intoxication with benzodiazepine use complicated by hypothermia.”

Michael Leibelson said the death was the sad culmination of Paris’ long struggle against addiction that he believes was exacerbated by the abuse she suffered in prison.

The lawsuits charge that officials at the all-male Federal Correctional Institution at Beckley, West Virginia, where Paris Leibelson was placed, failed to take steps to safeguard her from abusive and discriminatory treatment to which she was subjected as a transgender woman.

Among other allegations, the lawsuits say she was subjected to assault, battery, sexual assault, threats of violence, ongoing harassment, and emotional trauma between November 2013 and March 2014.

“Leibelson is female in physical appearance and feminine as regards all external aspects of her gender behavior and identity,” one of the two lawsuits states. “Leibelson has undergone hormone therapy and other treatments prior to and at all times relevant to the matters at issue herein,” it says.

“Beginning February 2014 and continuing for the pendency of her incarceration at FCI Beckley, Plaintiff Leibelson was chronically starved and deprived of food,” the lawsuits states. It says the denial of food was due to the “unavailability of adequate seating at dining tables that were not controlled by prison gangs who demanded sexual favors in return for ‘permitting’ Plaintiff to take her food in the FCI Beckley mess hall dining area.”

The lawsuit adds, “Plaintiff was required to either smuggle food out of the dining area or depend on others to bring her food, both of which were against FCI Beckley rules. As a result, Plaintiff often went for days without nourishment and her health and emotional, physical and mental well-being suffered from being chronically starved when confronted with the choice between avoiding being used as an object of sexual gratification by fellow inmates or not eating.”

It says that on Feb. 6, 2014 Paris Leibelson was sent to the prison’s Special Housing Unit, which is where prisoners are sent as a form of discipline for violating prison rules. The lawsuit says Leibelson claims she was sent there in yet another effort by prison guards to harass her. Shortly after arriving there on Feb. 6, the lawsuit says a guard identified as Federal Correctional Officer Christopher Cook ordered her to submit to what it says was an illegal strip search.

After ordering her to disrobe Cook told her to “bend over” and Leibelson complied, the lawsuit says. “Cook then commanded Plaintiff to ‘open that hole wide,’ whereupon F.C.O. Cook forcibly and without Leibelson’s consent or foreknowledge, rammed his finger into Plaintiff’s anus thereby sexually assaulting and digitally anally raping Plaintiff,” the lawsuit states.

“Defendant’s intentional or negligent action was to humiliate and degrade Plaintiff and to satisfy F.C.O. Cook’s craven lust for sexual gratification,” according to the lawsuit.

In referring to prison authorities who are named as defendants, the lawsuit states, “The acts, policies, practices and omissions of the Defendant and its employees that injured Plaintiff were knowing, deliberate, intentional, sadistic and motivated in whole or in substantial part because of Plaintiff’s transgender status and gender identification.”

In one of its court filings responding to the lawsuit government lawyers dispute the sexual assault allegation, saying Cook denied it ever happened. In other court filings the government lawyers point out that Leibelson was cited for numerous violations of prison rules during her stay at Beckley, including at least two instances where she deliberately broke a water sprinkler causing flooding in her cell area.

U.S. District Court Judge Irene Berger, who is presiding over the case of the two lawsuits, stated in one of two rulings upholding the lawsuits that Leibelson acknowledged in a deposition that “she was not a model inmate” and “sometimes used insulting or insolent language with staff.”

Nevertheless, Berger states in both rulings that Leibelson’s allegations could be viewed as credible if the cases were to go to trial.

In handing down one of two rulings denying the government’s request for dismissal of the lawsuits on summary judgment, Berger states, “The court finds that the Plaintiff has put forth sufficient evidence of damages and causation to survive summary judgement.”

Berger adds, “Ms. Leibelson’s testimony, as well as her treating psychiatrist’s testimony, would be sufficient to permit a fact-finder to find that abuse at FCI-Beckley caused her emotional damages and/or worsened existing mental health conditions.”

In mentioning Paris Leibelson’s testimony Berger was referring to Leibelson’s lengthy deposition or pre-trial testimony that her lawyers said included grueling questions by the government’s lawyer seeking to question her credibility. The lawyers representing her said she did exceptionally well and that her deposition testimony, which was recorded, would be used to support the lawsuit should the case go to trial.

One of the two lawsuits named as defendants at the time it was filed more than a dozen individual officials and employees at the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Beckley federal prison. In response to motions by government attorneys, Berger has since dismissed the case against all but two of the individual defendants.

Among the two Berger refused to dismiss from the case is Christopher Cook, the guard accused of committing the sexual assault.

In denying the government’s request that she dismiss the case against all of the individual defendants Berger allowed the lawsuit to continue to trial by jury or to a possible settlement.

The second lawsuit names the U.S. government as the defendant, saying high-level federal government officials, including those in charge of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, were responsible for not taking steps to prevent the abusive treatment to which Paris Leibelson was subjected. Under court rules, that case goes before a non-jury trial presided over by Berger if a settlement isn’t reached.

Two D.C.-based lawyers and other attorneys in West Virginia who filed the lawsuit on Paris’s behalf have arranged for Michael Leibelson to replace Paris as the plaintiff so the lawsuits can continue. Court records show that Judge Berger has approved that change.

Michael Leibelson said his and his wife’s aim is to bring about justice for the abuse and suffering they believe Paris experienced in jail and to make at least some effort to challenge what Paris believed to be widespread discrimination and abuse against transgender and gay people in the federal prison system.

He said they also plan to use any monetary return they receive should they win the lawsuit or in a possible settlement to create an endowment for a scholarship in Paris’s name.

Attorneys William Bruce DelValle and Bruce Fein of the D.C. law firm Fein & DelValle, who have represented Paris and are now representing the father, told the Washington Blade that following her denial of two motions by government lawyers on Dec. 27 and Jan. 3 seeking to have the two cases dismissed, Berger set a tentative date for a trial for one of the cases in May. He said she also ordered the parties to enter into mediation and attend a formal settlement conference over which Berger will preside.

DelValle called Berger’s decision to deny dismissal of the cases and to quickly set a potential trial date “a clear signal” that she believes the cases have sufficient merit to go to trial. He said Berger also made it clear that she wants the two sides to try to reach an out of court settlement.

Another development that is highly unusual, according to DelValle, is that lawyers from the main U.S. Department of Justice headquarters in Washington are heading the government’s effort to fight against the lawsuit that named the individual government and prison officials as defendants. In most cases like this, DelValle said, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the location where a lawsuit is filed handles the case and not the DOJ in Washington.

The decision to designate the DOJ to lead the defense against the one lawsuit, which is known as a “Bevins” case, took place under then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch during the last two years of the Obama administration.

Representatives of the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in West Virginia who are working on the case did not respond to a request this week by the Blade for comment.

In their court briefs and motions seeking to have the case dismissed, the government attorneys have argued that Paris Leibelson’s allegations of prison abuse could not be substantiated and that she made contradictory statements about the alleged sexual assault she claims a prison guard committed against her in a statement she made to a psychiatrist who counseled her during her stay at the prison.

Michal Leibelson, a retired government worker, and his wife Elyse, a retired school teacher, treated the person they continued to view as their son whom they continued to call Benjamin with unconditional love throughout Paris’ life, Michael Leibelson told the Blade in an interview earlier this month.

“He was diagnosed when he was a little kid of having Asberger Syndrome, which is on the autistic scale,” Michael Leibelson said. “When he was in preschool he was dressing up in women’s clothes when they were doing dress up,” Leibelson continued. “When he was in junior high school he told us he was gay and we said OK, OK, no biggie.”

Not long after finishing high school Paris came to the realization that she wanted to live her life as a woman, the father said.

“He stated to me and my wife that he was transgender and he was wearing women’s clothes,” Michael Leibelson said. “He was six foot seven and he was as skinny as a rail, a real string bean. And he wore size 13 shoes and he was very proud of himself when he walked around in high heels and women’s clothes, and we didn’t care.”

“We had no problem with it,” Leibelson continued. “But everybody else seemed to have a problem with it. And when he was in Beckley, West Virginia they had a problem with it.”

Leibelson said Paris suffered mental health problems most of her life, including depression. “And he had a drug problem from about the age of 12 or 13. He had been a user. And he was 36 when he died.”

Despite these challenges, Leibelson said Paris had a strong drive to fight for her rights and for her fellow members of the LGBT community, with whom she identified. He said he and his wife want to continue that fight by doing all they can to make sure the lawsuit succeeds “for social justice purposes” because gay and transgender people “in federal prisons all over this country are being abused.”

DelValle, the attorney working in support of the lawsuit, said he got to know Paris through meetings and phone conversations they had in preparation of the lawsuit.

“She was a very strong person and a very bright person,” said DelValle, who added that he believes her time in a federal prison was far too long for an initial offense of purse snatching.

“She was not a menace to society. She was not dangerous,” he said. “She basically came from an upper middle class Jewish community but had this dark street side because of her addiction” and possible rejection by society because of her status as a transgender person, DelValle said.

The National Center for Transgender Equality and Lambda Legal, an LGBT litigation group, did not immediately respond to a request by the Blade for comment on the Paris Leibelson lawsuit and the fact that the abuse she faced in a federal prison took place during the Obama administration, which expressed strong support for LGBT and transgender rights.


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Honoring the legacy of New Orleans’ 1973 UpStairs Lounge fire

Why the arson attack that killed 32 gay men still resonates 50 years later



Fifty years ago this week, 32 gay men were killed in an arson attack on the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans. (Photo by G.E. Arnold/Times-Picayune; reprinted with permission)

On June 23 of last year, I held the microphone as a gay man in the New Orleans City Council Chamber and related a lost piece of queer history to the seven council members. I told this story to disabuse all New Orleanians of the notion that silence and accommodation, in the face of institutional and official failures, are a path to healing.  

The story I related to them began on a typical Sunday night at a second-story bar on the fringe of New Orleans’ French Quarter in 1973, where working-class men would gather around a white baby grand piano and belt out the lyrics to a song that was the anthem of their hidden community, “United We Stand” by the Brotherhood of Man. 

“United we stand,” the men would sing together, “divided we fall” — the words epitomizing the ethos of their beloved UpStairs Lounge bar, an egalitarian free space that served as a forerunner to today’s queer safe havens. 

Around that piano in the 1970s Deep South, gays and lesbians, white and Black queens, Christians and non-Christians, and even early gender minorities could cast aside the racism, sexism, and homophobia of the times to find acceptance and companionship for a moment. 

For regulars, the UpStairs Lounge was a miracle, a small pocket of acceptance in a broader world where their very identities were illegal. 

On the Sunday night of June 24, 1973, their voices were silenced in a murderous act of arson that claimed 32 lives and still stands as the deadliest fire in New Orleans history — and the worst mass killing of gays in 20th century America. 

As 13 fire companies struggled to douse the inferno, police refused to question the chief suspect, even though gay witnesses identified and brought the soot-covered man to officers idly standing by. This suspect, an internally conflicted gay-for-pay sex worker named Rodger Dale Nunez, had been ejected from the UpStairs Lounge screaming the word “burn” minutes before, but New Orleans police rebuffed the testimony of fire survivors on the street and allowed Nunez to disappear.

As the fire raged, police denigrated the deceased to reporters on the street: “Some thieves hung out there, and you know this was a queer bar.” 

For days afterward, the carnage met with official silence. With no local gay political leaders willing to step forward, national Gay Liberation-era figures like Rev. Troy Perry of the Metropolitan Community Church flew in to “help our bereaved brothers and sisters” — and shatter officialdom’s code of silence. 

Perry broke local taboos by holding a press conference as an openly gay man. “It’s high time that you people, in New Orleans, Louisiana, got the message and joined the rest of the Union,” Perry said. 

Two days later, on June 26, 1973, as families hesitated to step forward to identify their kin in the morgue, UpStairs Lounge owner Phil Esteve stood in his badly charred bar, the air still foul with death. He rebuffed attempts by Perry to turn the fire into a call for visibility and progress for homosexuals. 

“This fire had very little to do with the gay movement or with anything gay,” Esteve told a reporter from The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I do not want my bar or this tragedy to be used to further any of their causes.” 

Conspicuously, no photos of Esteve appeared in coverage of the UpStairs Lounge fire or its aftermath — and the bar owner also remained silent as he witnessed police looting the ashes of his business. 

“Phil said the cash register, juke box, cigarette machine and some wallets had money removed,” recounted Esteve’s friend Bob McAnear, a former U.S. Customs officer. “Phil wouldn’t report it because, if he did, police would never allow him to operate a bar in New Orleans again.” 

The next day, gay bar owners, incensed at declining gay bar traffic amid an atmosphere of anxiety, confronted Perry at a clandestine meeting. “How dare you hold your damn news conferences!” one business owner shouted. 

Ignoring calls for gay self-censorship, Perry held a 250-person memorial for the fire victims the following Sunday, July 1, culminating in mourners defiantly marching out the front door of a French Quarter church into waiting news cameras. “Reverend Troy Perry awoke several sleeping giants, me being one of them,” recalled Charlene Schneider, a lesbian activist who walked out of that front door with Perry.

(Photo by G.E. Arnold/Times-Picayune; reprinted with permission)

Esteve doubted the UpStairs Lounge story’s capacity to rouse gay political fervor. As the coroner buried four of his former patrons anonymously on the edge of town, Esteve quietly collected at least $25,000 in fire insurance proceeds. Less than a year later, he used the money to open another gay bar called the Post Office, where patrons of the UpStairs Lounge — some with visible burn scars — gathered but were discouraged from singing “United We Stand.” 

New Orleans cops neglected to question the chief arson suspect and closed the investigation without answers in late August 1973. Gay elites in the city’s power structure began gaslighting the mourners who marched with Perry into the news cameras, casting suspicion on their memories and re-characterizing their moment of liberation as a stunt. 

When a local gay journalist asked in April 1977, “Where are the gay activists in New Orleans?,” Esteve responded that there were none, because none were needed. “We don’t feel we’re discriminated against,” Esteve said. “New Orleans gays are different from gays anywhere else… Perhaps there is some correlation between the amount of gay activism in other cities and the degree of police harassment.” 

(Photo by H.J. Patterson/Times-Picayune; reprinted with permission)

An attitude of nihilism and disavowal descended upon the memory of the UpStairs Lounge victims, goaded by Esteve and fellow gay entrepreneurs who earned their keep via gay patrons drowning their sorrows each night instead of protesting the injustices that kept them drinking. 

Into the 1980s, the story of the UpStairs Lounge all but vanished from conversation — with the exception of a few sanctuaries for gay political debate such as the local lesbian bar Charlene’s, run by the activist Charlene Schneider. 

By 1988, the 15th anniversary of the fire, the UpStairs Lounge narrative comprised little more than a call for better fire codes and indoor sprinklers. UpStairs Lounge survivor Stewart Butler summed it up: “A tragedy that, as far as I know, no good came of.” 

Finally, in 1991, at Stewart Butler and Charlene Schneider’s nudging, the UpStairs Lounge story became aligned with the crusade of liberated gays and lesbians seeking equal rights in Louisiana. The halls of power responded with intermittent progress. The New Orleans City Council, horrified by the story but not yet ready to take its look in the mirror, enacted an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting gays and lesbians in housing, employment, and public accommodations that Dec. 12 — more than 18 years after the fire. 

“I believe the fire was the catalyst for the anger to bring us all to the table,” Schneider told The Times-Picayune, a tacit rebuke to Esteve’s strategy of silent accommodation. Even Esteve seemed to change his stance with time, granting a full interview with the first UpStairs Lounge scholar Johnny Townsend sometime around 1989. 

Most of the figures in this historic tale are now deceased. What’s left is an enduring story that refused to go gently. The story now echoes around the world — a musical about the UpStairs Lounge fire recently played in Tokyo, translating the gay underworld of the 1973 French Quarter for Japanese audiences.

When I finished my presentation to the City Council last June, I looked up to see the seven council members in tears. Unanimously, they approved a resolution acknowledging the historic failures of city leaders in the wake of the UpStairs Lounge fire. 

Council members personally apologized to UpStairs Lounge families and survivors seated in the chamber in a symbolic act that, though it could not bring back those who died, still mattered greatly to those whose pain had been denied, leaving them to grieve alone. At long last, official silence and indifference gave way to heartfelt words of healing. 

The way Americans remember the past is an active, ongoing process. Our collective memory is malleable, but it matters because it speaks volumes about our maturity as a people, how we acknowledge the past’s influence in our lives, and how it shapes the examples we set for our youth. Do we grapple with difficult truths, or do we duck accountability by defaulting to nostalgia and bluster? Or worse, do we simply ignore the past until it fades into a black hole of ignorance and indifference? 

I believe that a factual retelling of the UpStairs Lounge tragedy — and how, 50 years onward, it became known internationally — resonates beyond our current divides. It reminds queer and non-queer Americans that ignoring the past holds back the present, and that silence is no cure for what ails a participatory nation. 

Silence isolates. Silence gaslights and shrouds. It preserves the power structures that scapegoat the disempowered. 

Solidarity, on the other hand, unites. Solidarity illuminates a path forward together. Above all, solidarity transforms the downtrodden into a resounding chorus of citizens — in the spirit of voices who once gathered ‘round a white baby grand piano and sang, joyfully and loudly, “United We Stand.” 

(Photo by Philip Ames/Times-Picayune; reprinted with permission)

Robert W. Fieseler is a New Orleans-based journalist and the author of “Tinderbox: the Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation.”

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New Supreme Court term includes critical LGBTQ case with ‘terrifying’ consequences

Business owner seeks to decline services for same-sex weddings



The U.S. Supreme Court is to set consider the case of 303 Creative, which seeks to refuse design services for same-sex weddings. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court, after a decision overturning Roe v. Wade that still leaves many reeling, is starting a new term with justices slated to revisit the issue of LGBTQ rights.

In 303 Creative v. Elenis, the court will return to the issue of whether or not providers of custom-made goods can refuse service to LGBTQ customers on First Amendment grounds. In this case, the business owner is Lorie Smith, a website designer in Colorado who wants to opt out of providing her graphic design services for same-sex weddings despite the civil rights law in her state.

Jennifer Pizer, acting chief legal officer of Lambda Legal, said in an interview with the Blade, “it’s not too much to say an immeasurably huge amount is at stake” for LGBTQ people depending on the outcome of the case.

“This contrived idea that making custom goods, or offering a custom service, somehow tacitly conveys an endorsement of the person — if that were to be accepted, that would be a profound change in the law,” Pizer said. “And the stakes are very high because there are no practical, obvious, principled ways to limit that kind of an exception, and if the law isn’t clear in this regard, then the people who are at risk of experiencing discrimination have no security, no effective protection by having a non-discrimination laws, because at any moment, as one makes their way through the commercial marketplace, you don’t know whether a particular business person is going to refuse to serve you.”

The upcoming arguments and decision in the 303 Creative case mark a return to LGBTQ rights for the Supreme Court, which had no lawsuit to directly address the issue in its previous term, although many argued the Dobbs decision put LGBTQ rights in peril and threatened access to abortion for LGBTQ people.

And yet, the 303 Creative case is similar to other cases the Supreme Court has previously heard on the providers of services seeking the right to deny services based on First Amendment grounds, such as Masterpiece Cakeshop and Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. In both of those cases, however, the court issued narrow rulings on the facts of litigation, declining to issue sweeping rulings either upholding non-discrimination principles or First Amendment exemptions.

Pizer, who signed one of the friend-of-the-court briefs in opposition to 303 Creative, said the case is “similar in the goals” of the Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation on the basis they both seek exemptions to the same non-discrimination law that governs their business, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, or CADA, and seek “to further the social and political argument that they should be free to refuse same-sex couples or LGBTQ people in particular.”

“So there’s the legal goal, and it connects to the social and political goals and in that sense, it’s the same as Masterpiece,” Pizer said. “And so there are multiple problems with it again, as a legal matter, but also as a social matter, because as with the religion argument, it flows from the idea that having something to do with us is endorsing us.”

One difference: the Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation stemmed from an act of refusal of service after owner, Jack Phillips, declined to make a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex couple for their upcoming wedding. No act of discrimination in the past, however, is present in the 303 Creative case. The owner seeks to put on her website a disclaimer she won’t provide services for same-sex weddings, signaling an intent to discriminate against same-sex couples rather than having done so.

As such, expect issues of standing — whether or not either party is personally aggrieved and able bring to a lawsuit — to be hashed out in arguments as well as whether the litigation is ripe for review as justices consider the case. It’s not hard to see U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who has sought to lead the court to reach less sweeping decisions (sometimes successfully, and sometimes in the Dobbs case not successfully) to push for a decision along these lines.

Another key difference: The 303 Creative case hinges on the argument of freedom of speech as opposed to the two-fold argument of freedom of speech and freedom of religious exercise in the Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation. Although 303 Creative requested in its petition to the Supreme Court review of both issues of speech and religion, justices elected only to take up the issue of free speech in granting a writ of certiorari (or agreement to take up a case). Justices also declined to accept another question in the petition request of review of the 1990 precedent in Smith v. Employment Division, which concluded states can enforce neutral generally applicable laws on citizens with religious objections without violating the First Amendment.

Representing 303 Creative in the lawsuit is Alliance Defending Freedom, a law firm that has sought to undermine civil rights laws for LGBTQ people with litigation seeking exemptions based on the First Amendment, such as the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

Kristen Waggoner, president of Alliance Defending Freedom, wrote in a Sept. 12 legal brief signed by her and other attorneys that a decision in favor of 303 Creative boils down to a clear-cut violation of the First Amendment.

“Colorado and the United States still contend that CADA only regulates sales transactions,” the brief says. “But their cases do not apply because they involve non-expressive activities: selling BBQ, firing employees, restricting school attendance, limiting club memberships, and providing room access. Colorado’s own cases agree that the government may not use public-accommodation laws to affect a commercial actor’s speech.”

Pizer, however, pushed back strongly on the idea a decision in favor of 303 Creative would be as focused as Alliance Defending Freedom purports it would be, arguing it could open the door to widespread discrimination against LGBTQ people.

“One way to put it is art tends to be in the eye of the beholder,” Pizer said. “Is something of a craft, or is it art? I feel like I’m channeling Lily Tomlin. Remember ‘soup and art’? We have had an understanding that whether something is beautiful or not is not the determining factor about whether something is protected as artistic expression. There’s a legal test that recognizes if this is speech, whose speech is it, whose message is it? Would anyone who was hearing the speech or seeing the message understand it to be the message of the customer or of the merchants or craftsmen or business person?”

Despite the implications in the case for LGBTQ rights, 303 Creative may have supporters among LGBTQ people who consider themselves proponents of free speech.

One joint friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court, written by Dale Carpenter, a law professor at Southern Methodist University who’s written in favor of LGBTQ rights, and Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment legal scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, argues the case is an opportunity to affirm the First Amendment applies to goods and services that are uniquely expressive.

“Distinguishing expressive from non-expressive products in some contexts might be hard, but the Tenth Circuit agreed that Smith’s product does not present a hard case,” the brief says. “Yet that court (and Colorado) declined to recognize any exemption for products constituting speech. The Tenth Circuit has effectively recognized a state interest in subjecting the creation of speech itself to antidiscrimination laws.”

Oral arguments in the case aren’t yet set, but may be announced soon. Set to defend the state of Colorado and enforcement of its non-discrimination law in the case is Colorado Solicitor General Eric Reuel Olson. Just this week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would grant the request to the U.S. solicitor general to present arguments before the justices on behalf of the Biden administration.

With a 6-3 conservative majority on the court that has recently scrapped the super-precedent guaranteeing the right to abortion, supporters of LGBTQ rights may think the outcome of the case is all but lost, especially amid widespread fears same-sex marriage would be next on the chopping block. After the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against 303 Creative in the lawsuit, the simple action by the Supreme Court to grant review in the lawsuit suggests they are primed to issue a reversal and rule in favor of the company.

Pizer, acknowledging the call to action issued by LGBTQ groups in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, conceded the current Supreme Court issuing the ruling in this case is “a terrifying prospect,” but cautioned the issue isn’t so much the makeup of the court but whether or not justices will continue down the path of abolishing case law.

“I think the question that we’re facing with respect to all of the cases or at least many of the cases that are in front of the court right now, is whether this court is going to continue on this radical sort of wrecking ball to the edifice of settled law and seemingly a goal of setting up whole new structures of what our basic legal principles are going to be. Are we going to have another term of that?” Pizer said. “And if so, that’s terrifying.”

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Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman, named president of Human Rights Campaign

Progressive activist a veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund



Kelley Robinson (Screen capture via HRC YouTube)

Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman and veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, is to become the next president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBTQ group announced on Tuesday.

Robinson is set to become the ninth president of the Human Rights Campaign after having served as executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and more than 12 years of experience as a leader in the progressive movement. She’ll be the first Black, queer woman to serve in that role.

“I’m honored and ready to lead HRC — and our more than three million member-advocates — as we continue working to achieve equality and liberation for all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people,” Robinson said. “This is a pivotal moment in our movement for equality for LGBTQ+ people. We, particularly our trans and BIPOC communities, are quite literally in the fight for our lives and facing unprecedented threats that seek to destroy us.”

Kelley Robinson IS NAMED as The next human rights Campaign president

The next Human Rights Campaign president is named as Democrats are performing well in polls in the mid-term elections after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving an opening for the LGBTQ group to play a key role amid fears LGBTQ rights are next on the chopping block.

“The overturning of Roe v. Wade reminds us we are just one Supreme Court decision away from losing fundamental freedoms including the freedom to marry, voting rights, and privacy,” Robinson said. “We are facing a generational opportunity to rise to these challenges and create real, sustainable change. I believe that working together this change is possible right now. This next chapter of the Human Rights Campaign is about getting to freedom and liberation without any exceptions — and today I am making a promise and commitment to carry this work forward.”

The Human Rights Campaign announces its next president after a nearly year-long search process after the board of directors terminated its former president Alphonso David when he was ensnared in the sexual misconduct scandal that led former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign. David has denied wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit against the LGBTQ group alleging racial discrimination.

Kelley Robinson, Planned Parenthood, Cathy Chu, SMYAL, Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, Amy Nelson, Whitman-Walker Health, Sheroes of the Movement, Mayor's office of GLBT Affairs, gay news, Washington Blade
Kelley Robinson, seen here with Cathy Chu of SMYAL and Amy Nelson of Whitman-Walker Health, is the next Human Rights Campaign president. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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