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Senate confirms anti-LGBT judicial nominee who stood up for Kim Davis

Trump nominee works ‘religious freedom’ law firm

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The U.S. Senate has confirmed anti-LGBT judicial nominee Matthew Kacsmaryk (First Liberty Institute publicity photo)

Flouting the recognition of June as Pride Month, the U.S. Senate approved on Wednesday a Trump judicial nominee who has a long anti-LGBT record, including defense of Kim Davis for refusing to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The Senate confirmed Matthew Kacsmaryk to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas by a vote of 52-46.

Joining the united Democratic caucus in opposition to Kacsmaryk was Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who cited in a statement his “alarming bias against the rights of LGBTQ Americans and disregard for Supreme Court precedents.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the first out lesbian elected to the Senate, called on her colleagues from the Senate floor to vote against Kacsmaryk based on his anti-LGBT record, displaying on a placard the title of one of his writings: “The Inequality Act: Weaponizing Same-Sex Marriage.”

Baldwin said he heard from dozens of parents of transgender children who have voiced concern about the prospect of Kacsmaryk on the bench.

“I urge my colleagues to send the message to those children, their parents, and the broader LGBTQ community, and the country, that they do count, that they count, that they matter, that we hear their voices, and please, reject this nominee,” Baldwin said.

Also speaking out on the Senate floor against Kacsmaryk was Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who said his history demonstrates he won’t be an impartial judge and his views are “hateful and out the mainstream.” 

“Mr. Kacsmaryk is another example of an extreme choice by President Trump to jam courts with individuals who will put their political views above the law and use their positions of power to chip away at people’s rights,” Murray said.

Before his confirmation, Kacsmaryk served as deputy general counsel of the Texas-based First Liberty Institute, an organization that seeks to advance religious freedom even at the expense of LGBT rights.

First Liberty Institute is responsible for the litigation filed by Aaron and Melissa Klein, the owners of “Sweetcakes by Melissa” in Oregon, who were fined $135,000 under state law for refusing to make a wedding cake to a lesbian couple and are now asserting a First Amendment right to refuse service to LGBT people. 

Just this week, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the fine and ordered the Oregon state courts to revisit the case under new guidance from the 2018 ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

But Kacsmaryk has a long record of anti-LGBT positions and writings, defining the LGBT rights struggle at one time as a “clash of absolutes” between “religious liberty and sexual liberty.”

In response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide, Kacsmaryk said the ruling found an “unwritten” right under the Fourteenth Amendment that was “a secret knowledge so cleverly concealed in the nineteenth century amendment that it took almost 150 years to find.”

When Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Kacsmaryk defended her, comparing her to Quakers who refuse fight in war and Jewish butchers who follow kosher dietary laws.

After the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in 2015 the prohibition on sex discrimination applies to cases of anti-gay discrimination, Kacsmaryk told The World, an outlet that reports on religious freedom, the decision was the latest in efforts to undermine marriage law.

“Traditionally and legally, we define sex according to chromosomes…That’s typically how we define sex,” Kacsmaryk said. “That’s how we ordered our marriage laws and made certain presumptions of paternity in the family code. All of that is cast into disarray if you declare sex irrelevant to marriage.”

When the Obama administration issued a rule interpreting the prohibition of sex discrimination under the Affordable Care Act to apply to transgender people, Kacsmaryk opposed the regulation and called it “radical self-definition and sex-actualization.”

LGBT rights supporters have also criticized Kacsmaryk for signing onto a comment when the rule was proposed saying transgender people suffer from a “psychological condition in need of care” and are “not a category of persons in need of special legal protection.” 

The comment cites the opinion of a psychiatrist who has said having a transgender identity are suffering from a “delusion,” which critics have attributed to Kacsmaryk himself.

The White House didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the LGBT opposition to Kacsmaryk.

Although Collins joined Democrats in voting against Kacsmaryk, the Maine Republican hasn’t applied a consistent standard with respect to judicial nominees based on their LGBT rights records.

For example, Collins last year voted in favor of the confirmation U.S. Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan despite his anti-LGBT record, which includes representing the Virginia school that sought to prevent transgender student Gavin Grimm from using the restroom consistent with his gender identity.

The Blade has placed a request in with Collins’ office on why she’d oppose Kacsmaryk, but not Duncan.

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Kamala Harris addresses LGBTQ community activists at White House roundtable

VP calls herself ‘long-standing ally of the community’

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Vice President Kamala Harris addressed LGBTQ leaders Wednesday at White House roundtable in recognition of Pride Month, declaring “there’s a lot of work to be done” in terms of LGBTQ issues.

“You as community activists, you all have your eyes and ears to the ground,” Harris said in her prepared remarks for the event, which took took place in the Ceremonial Office of the Vice President next to the White House.

Harris, speaking in her prepared remarks that lasted about five minutes, touted the efforts of the Biden administration in advancing LGBTQ rights, including the most recent announcement from the Department of Veterans Affairs it would begin to cover gender reassignment surgery for transgender veterans.

Looking forward, Harris said passage of the Equality Act, legislation that would expand the prohibition of anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal law, was among the work items to be completed.

“We still don’t have full rights when it comes to employment, housing — things of that nature,” Harris said. “So there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Harris, calling herself a “long-standing ally of the community” also identified her past efforts in support of LGBTQ community, going back her time as San Francisco District Attorney when she created for an LGBTQ hate crimes unit, then as California attorney general pushed the state to become the first to outlaw LGBTQ panic defense in court.

“You are the voices of so many who probably will never walk into this room, and probably over the course of time were not thought to be invited into this room,” Harris concluded.

Harris also talked about ongoing violence against the transgender community as well as the wave of new state legislatures against transgender youth, restricting their access to school sports and transition-related care.

The LGTBTQ leaders in attendance at the event were, per the White House:

  • Imani Woody, Founder, Mary’s House
  • Amiri Nash, DC Youth Poet Laureate
  • Marcelle Afram, Chef and Co-Owner, Shababi Palestinian Rotisserie Chicken
  • D Ojeda, Policy Advocate, National Center for Trans Equality
  • Mia Ives-Roblee, Director of Disability Justice Initiative, Center for American Progress 
  • Anthony Musa, Chair, Pride in Federal Service & Sanctions Licensing Officer, U.S. Department of the Treasury
  • Kevin Jordan Contreas, Community Health Supervisor, Whitman-Walker (Frontline Healthcare Worker)

The Washington Blade attempted to shout out a question after Harris’ remarks on efforts to reach out on the Equality Act, but it was drowned out by other reporters’ inquiries as White House staffers escorted the pool out of the Ceremonial Room.

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Chaos erupts at Loudoun County school board meeting over trans students rights proposal

Two people arrested, two others injured

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(Screen capture from Loudoun County Public Schools public domain)

The Loudoun County School Board abruptly ended its meeting Tuesday as chaos erupted after parents who were against the school district’s implementation of Policy 8040 failed to observe rules regarding disruptions and decorum.

Loudoun Now reports Vice Chair Atoosa Reaser made the motion to curtail public comment about an hour after that portion of the meeting began. A brawl then broke out between members of the public, and Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department deputies were called to clear the room. 

Two people were arrested, and two people also suffered minor injuries. The names of those who were taken into custody and injured have not been made public.

The school board resumed its meeting at 6:30 p.m. after it ended the public comment session and deputies cleared the room. The school board entered into closed session to meet with legal counsel and discuss negotiations involving a bid award.

In light of the events that transpired at the school board meeting, a group of LGBTQ groups in neighboring Fairfax County in a statement called upon prominent community members to condemn the anti-transgender hate in Loudoun County.

“A coalition of organizations based in Northern Virginia is calling on local officials … to condemn the rise of anti-LGBTQIA+ hate, in particular animosity towards transgender and gender-expansive students, on display in Loudoun County,” reads the statement 

“In addition, the coalition is asking for the denouncement of support for this hate from other local groups, including the Fairfax County Republican Committee, the Family Foundation of Virginia and the Family Research Council,” it adds. “Finally, the members of these organizations are requesting visible displays of support for LGBTQIA+ students, particularly trans and gender-expansive students, in both words and deeds.”

More than 300 people attended the school board meeting, with many of them opposing Policy 8040 which would allow transgender students to use their preferred name and pronouns regardless of the name and gender in their permanent education record. The proposed policy would also not require them to provide any substantiating evidence.

Parents also expressed their support for Policy 8040 during the public comment session.

They spoke in favor of inclusivity and equality in the Loudoun County School District.

Parents who were against the policy cited the need to respect biology and privacy as their arguments. In addition, some speakers, including former state Sen. Dick Black expressed anger at the previous school year’s events such as the suspension of physical education teacher Tanner Cross after he refused to refer to trans students using their preferred pronouns.  

“The crowd repeatedly cheered public speakers who lashed out at school board members and denounced the plan that would provide bathroom and locker room access based on a student’s gender identity,” WTOP News reports.

Only 51 of the 249 speakers who had signed up for public comment ended up speaking before Reaser’s motion was passed.

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VA to start process of covering gender reassignment surgery for trans veterans

Coverage was rejected even during Obama years

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The Department of Veterans Affairs has become the latest federal government health program to affirm it would begin covering gender reassignment surgery — an option for transgender veterans that was even rejected during the Obama administration.

Randal Noller, a VA spokesperson, said in response to an email inquiry from the Blade the department this summer “will initiate steps to modify rules published in the Code of Federal Regulations (also known as the CFR), to expand VA’s care to transgender Veterans and include gender-affirming surgery.”

“Gender-affirming procedures have been proven effective at mitigating serious health conditions, including suicidality, substance abuse, and dysphoria,” Noller said. “Updating this policy would allow VA to provide transgender and gender diverse Veterans with coordinated, medically necessary, transition-related surgical procedures.”

Noller added the change “would enable a safe, coordinated continuum of care that is Veteran-centric and consistent with VA values of equity and respect for all veterans.” The entire process for implementation, Noller said, can take about two years and includes a period of public comment. 

VA Secretary Denis McDonough first announced the policy change in a speech in Orlando marking the five-year anniversary of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

Once implemented, the VA would join other federal health care systems in offering coverage for gender reassignment surgery, which previously has included Medicare, Medicaid (other some states, like Iowa, are dubiously claiming exemptions), the Federal Employee Health Benefits programs and the U.S. military health care system as a result of the Biden administration reversing the transgender military ban.

The idea of the VA offering coverage for gender reassignment surgery was first raised during the Obama administration. However, in the lame duck session after former President Trump was elected, the then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs scrapped the idea, citing concerns about appropriate funding.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, the estimated number of U.S. veterans who are transgender is more than 134,000, and more than 15,000 transgender people are serving in the military today.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, hailed the change in a statement on Saturday as “another step in the Biden administration’s effort to fight discrimination against transgender people, including our transgender veterans.”

“Every veteran deserves to have access to the health care that they need, and the VA is working to make sure that includes transgender veterans as well,” Keisling said.

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