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Court rules for Fla. student on bathroom access in major win for transgender rights

Dissenting judge refuses to acknowledge Drew Adams as transgender



Drew Adams, a former high school student, won a major victory on bathroom access at the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Photo via Lambda Legal(

A federal appeals court delivered a major victory in transgender rights Friday by ruling a Florida high school violated the law by refusing to allow transgender student Andrew Cody Adams to use the restroom consistent with his gender identity.

In a 2-1 decision written by U.S. Circuit Judge Beverly Martin, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals relies heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment is a form of unlawful sex discrimination.

“Bostock confirmed that workplace discrimination against transgender people is contrary to law,” Martin writes. “Neither should this discrimination be tolerated in schools. The School Board’s bathroom policy, as applied to Mr. Adams, singled him out for different treatment because of his transgender status. It caused him psychological and dignitary harm.”

Joining Martin, an Obama appointee, in the majority opinion was U.S. Circuit Judge Jill Pryor, another Obama appointee. Dissenting in the case was U.S. Circuit Judge William Pryor, a George W. Bush appointee who has been on President Trump’s short-list as a potential appointment to the Supreme Court. 

Adams, now 19 and a former student at Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Fla., said in a statement he’s “very happy to see justice prevail, after spending almost my entire high school career fighting for equal treatment.”

“High school is hard enough without having your school separate you from your peers and mark you as inferior,” Adams said. “I hope this decision helps save other transgender students from having to go through that painful and humiliating experience.”

Examining the St. John’s County School District’s policy with heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption it’s unconstitutional, because it discriminates on the basis of sex, Martin writes the school has “demonstrated no substantial relationship between excluding Mr. Adams from the communal boys’ restrooms and protecting student privacy.” 

“We see three constitutional infirmities with the School District’s bathroom policy. First, the policy is administered arbitrarily,” Martin writes. “The policy relies upon a student’s enrollment documents to determine sex assigned at birth. This  targets some transgender students for bathroom restrictions but not others. Second, the School Board’s privacy concerns about Mr. Adams’s use of the boys’ bathroom are merely ‘hypothesized,’ with no support in the factual record. Third, the School District’s bathroom policy subjects Mr. Adams to unfavorable treatment simply because he defies gender stereotypes as a transgender person.”

Excluding Adams for the restroom of his choice, the panel concludes, violates the both Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex in schools.

The ruling upholds a 2018 decision from U.S. Timothy Corrigan in Florida in favor of the Adams and against the St. John’s County School District.

Tara Borelli, counsel at the LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal, which represents Adams, said in a statement the courtsent a clear message that schools must treat transgender students with the same dignity and respect as any other student.”

“The trial court was correct when it ruled that the law requires that Drew Adams be treated like every other boy and be allowed to use the boys’ restroom,” Borelli said. “We are glad the court saw the school board’s policy as unjust and discriminatory, and affirmed the inherent dignity of transgender students.”

In his dissent, Pryor — who deliberately refuses to acknowledge Adams is transgender by referring to him as “a female who identifies as a male” — writes the appeal “is not complicated.”

Pryor writes the school policy holds up under heightened scrutiny because the Supreme Court “has long required that we defer to the judgment of public-school officials in this context.”

“Although the school policy classifies on the basis of sex, it serves the important objectives of protecting the interests of children in using the bathroom away from the opposite sex and in shielding their bodies from exposure to the opposite sex,” Pryor says.

Pryor draws a distinction between the Bostock decision and the bathroom, pointing out the Supreme Court “declined to consider the permissibility of sex-separated bathrooms.”

“After all, context matters,” Pryor writes. “As the late Justice Thurgood Marshall once put it, “A sign that says ‘men only’ looks very different on a bathroom door than a courthouse door.”

Even though Pryor is a conservative jurist, he did join a 2011 ruling by the 11th Circuit in the case of Glenn v. Brumby, which found anti-transgender discrimination in the workplace was unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights of Act of 1964. 

Although the majority frequently cites the Glenn decision, Pryor barely mentions it and asserts it didn’t change the definition of “sex” under the law. (The majority chides Pryor in a footnote for basically ignoring the ruling he himself joined.)

Now that the 11th Circuit panel has rendered its decision, the school district can seek further review, either in the form of “en banc” reconsideration or a petition for review before the Supreme Court.

St. John’s County Schools couldn’t be reached over the weekend to comment on the next steps. The Tallahasee, Fla.-based law firm Sniffen & Spellman, P.A., which is representing the school district, didn’t immediately respond Saturday to the Blade’s request to comment.

The victory in the 11th Circuit wasn’t only victory on Friday for transgender rights. Another win for transgender people was in Idaho over a new law barring transgender people from changing the gender marker on their birth certificates.

In Idaho, U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale granted an order clarifying the new law, HB 509, violates an earlier 2018 court order requiring the state to make the change.

After Lambda Legal initially sought the clarification, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare made changes to comply with both the law and the court injunction, but Dale concludes those adjustments are insufficient.

“This concession belays IDHW’s very argument that it has acted in compliance with the Injunction when, in fact, it has not,” Dale writes. “The Court will, therefore, grant the motion to clarify.”

Dale, however, says her decision doesn’t address the constitutionality of the Idaho law, which Idaho Gov. Brad Little quietly signed at the height of the coronavirus epidemic.

“The fact that the statute is directly at odds with the clear intent and mandate of the Injunction places IDHW in a difficult predicament over how to comply with both the Injunction and Idaho [law],” Dale writes. “However, neither the constitutionality of the statute or actions of any person or agency other than the IDHW are adjudicated here. The narrow question before the Court that is decided today is whether IDHW’s revised application form and instructions violate the Injunction.”

Nora Huppert, a Renberg Fellow and attorney with Lambda Legal, said in a statement the Idaho law is a “dangerous and archaic ban in direct defiance of multiple court orders that repeatedly ordered the government to stop discriminating against transgender people and placing them in harm’s way.”

“The court could not have been clearer: What was discriminatory in 2018 remains discriminatory today,” Huppert said. “Idaho officials may not block transgender people from obtaining identity documents that reflect who they are. This law seeks to deny the very existence of transgender people by stripping them of their identity.”

Scott Graf, a spokesperson for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, declined to comment on the court decision.

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards



Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade


A Puerto Rico Senate committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy on the island.

Members of the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against Senate Bill 184 by an 8-7 vote margin. Three senators abstained.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, a spokesperson for Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad, a coalition of Puerto Rican human rights groups, in a statement sharply criticized the senators who opposed the measure.

“If they publicly recognize that conversion therapies are abuse, if they even voted for a similar bill in the past, if the hearings clearly established that the bill was well-written and was supported by more than 78 professional and civil entities and that it did not interfere with freedom of religion or with the right of fathers and mothers to raise their children, voting against it is therefore one of two things: You are either a hopeless coward or you have the same homophobic and abusive mentality of the hate groups that oppose the bill,” said Pagán in a statement.

Thursday’s vote comes against the backdrop of continued anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in Puerto Rico.

Six of the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were reported murdered in the U.S. in 2020 were from Puerto Rico.

A state of emergency over gender-based violence that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared earlier this year is LGBTQ-inclusive. Then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 signed an executive order that banned conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico.

“These therapies lack scientific basis,” he said. “They cause pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Rosselló issued the order less than two weeks after members of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party  he chaired at the time, blocked a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in the U.S. commonwealth. Seven out of the 11 New Progressive Party members who are on the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against SB 184.

“It’s appalling. It’s shameful that the senators didn’t have the strength and the courage that our LGBTQ youth have, and it’s to be brave and to defend our dignity and our humanity as people who live on this island,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, in a video. “It’s disgraceful that the senators decided to vote down this measure that would prevent child abuse.”

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Undocumented LGBTQ immigrants turn to Fla. group for support

Survivors Pathway is based in Miami



Survivors Pathway works with undocumented LGBTQ immigrants and other vulnerable groups in South Florida. (Photo courtesy of Francesco Duberli)


MIAMI – The CEO of an organization that provides support to undocumented LGBTQ immigrants says the Biden administration has given many of his clients a renewed sense of hope.

“People definitely feel much more relaxed,” Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli told the Washington Blade on March 5 during an interview at his Miami office. “There’s much hope. You can tell … the conversation’s shifted.”

Duberli — a gay man from Colombia who received asylum in the U.S. because of anti-gay persecution he suffered in his homeland — founded Survivors Pathway in 2011. The Miami-based organization currently has 23 employees.

Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli at his office in Miami on March 5, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Duberli said upwards of 50 percent of Survivors Pathway’s clients are undocumented. Duberli told the Blade that many of them are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking and victims of hate crimes based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Part of the work that we have done for years is for us to become the bridge between the communities and law enforcement or the justice system in the United States,” said Duberli. “We have focused on creating a language that helps us to create this communication between the undocumented immigrant community and law enforcement, the state attorney’s office and the court.”

“The fear is not only about immigration,” he added. “There are many other factors that immigrants bring with them that became barriers in terms of wanting to or trying to access the justice system in the United States.”

Duberli spoke with the Blade roughly a week after the Biden administration began to allow into the U.S. asylum seekers who had been forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under the previous White House’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

The administration this week began to reunite migrant children who the Trump administration separated from their parents. Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place.

Duberli told the Blade that Survivors Pathway advised some of their clients not to apply for asylum or seek visa renewals until after the election. Duberli conceded “the truth of the matter is that the laws haven’t changed that much” since Biden became president.

Survivors Pathway has worked with LGBTQ people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in South Florida. American Civil Liberties Union National Political Director Ronald Newman in an April 28 letter it sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called for the closure of the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami, the Glades County Detention Center near Lake Okeechobee and 37 other ICE detention centers across the country.

The road leading to the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami on June 7, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Survivors Pathway responded to trans woman’s murder in 2020

Survivors Pathway has created a project specifically for trans Latina women who Duberli told the Blade don’t know they can access the judicial system.

Duberli said Survivors Pathway works with local judges and police departments to ensure crime victims don’t feel “discriminated, or outed or mistreated or revictimized” because of their gender identity. Survivors Pathway also works with Marytrini, a drag queen from Cuba who is the artistic producer at Azúcar, a gay nightclub near Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

Marytrini and Duberli are among those who responded to the case of Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera, a trans woman and well-known activist and performer from Cuba who was murdered inside her downtown Miami apartment last November. Carey’s boyfriend, who had previously been charged with domestic violence, has been charged with murder.

“That was an ongoing situation,” noted Duberli. “It’s not the only case. There are lots of cases like that.”

Duberli noted a gay man in Miami Beach was killed by his partner the same week.

“There are lots of crimes that happen to our community that never gets to the news,” he said. “We got those cases here because of what we do.”

Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera was murdered in her downtown Miami apartment in November 2020. (Photo courtesy of social media)

















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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness



Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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