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HRC sues Tennessee over bathroom bill as school year starts

“The state’s political leaders are making Tennessee a dangerous place for our daughter, & other children like her.”

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Estes Kefauver Federal Building & Courthouse, Nashville Tennessee (Photo Credit: U.S. Courts)

NASHVILLE – The Human Rights Campaign, (HRC) has filed suit in the U. S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee challenging the Tennessee law that denies transgender students, faculty, and staff access to the bathroom, locker rooms and other sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity. 

The suit filed Tuesday by the Washington D.C. based LGBTQ advocacy group joined by the law firms of Linklaters and Branstetter, Stranch, & Jennings PLLC,  is on behalf of two Trans students currently enrolled in Tennessee schools and alleges that the law violates Title IX, the 1972 federal law that protects against sex discrimination in education.

HRC in a press release noted that its federal suit was brought on behalf of 14-year-old Alex* and his parents, Amy A. and Jeff S., as well as 6-year-old Ariel* and her parents, Julie and Ross B.

“Alex is excited to start high school this fall where he will be an honor student. His family relocated to Tennessee in 2018 to build their ‘forever home’ in an incredibly supportive and tight-knit neighborhood and Alex takes pride in being involved in his community and has created strong friendships among his peers at school.”

We didn’t know we had a trans child when we relocated to Tennessee—if Alex had come out to us before the move, we wouldn’t have come here. It makes me so angry that our elected officials have chosen to target trans kids. If lawmakers were to take the time to get to know my son, they would see that he is an amazing, smart, caring, creative person who has so much to offer. Alex just wants to be a regular kid. He should be able to look forward to starting high school without the added layer of anxiety about something as basic as using the bathroom

Amy and Jeff

He came out as transgender before the 7th grade, however, in 7th grade he was not allowed to use the boys’ restroom. Instead, Alex was forced to either use the school nurse’s private bathroom or the restroom that corresponded to his gender assigned at birth—not due to statewide legislation, but instead due to the school policy. Both options were alienating and isolating for Alex who instead stopped drinking liquids at school to avoid having to use the facilities.

Due to COVID-19 pandemic-related issues, Alex transferred to a private school for 8th grade that affirmed his gender identity, including permitting access to the boys’ restroom—Alex enjoyed a great year, without incident. He is also looking forward to starting high school at the public school near his home, but due to Tennessee’s anti-Trans bathroom law, He will again be forced into using restrooms that are stigmatizing or forgo using the bathroom altogether.

To protect Alex, Amy and Jeff are considering moving from their beloved community and leaving their ‘forever home’ behind out of fear for Alex’s safety at school and emotional wellbeing, the statement concludes.

In the case of the second plaintiff, HRC noted: Similar to Alex, Ariel’s family built their ‘forever home’ from the ground up in a neighborhood they fell in love with and that fills Julie, Ross, and Ariel with happiness and friendship.

Ariel began expressing her gender identity at 2 years old and when she was nearing 4 years old, Julie read the children’s book “I Am Jazz,” to Ariel that tells the story of a transgender girl. When the main character explains that she “has a boy body with a girl brain.” Ariel immediately lit up with excitement and eagerly told her mother, “that’s me, momma, I have a boy body with a girl brain.”

Since Ariel began her social transition at 4 years old, her classmates, their parents, teachers and school administrators have only known Ariel as her authentic self. When she was enrolled in kindergarten, her school was receptive and understanding of her gender identity and has largely protected Ariel from stigmatizing experiences.

In anticipation of Ariel starting 1st grade at a different school this fall, Julie reached out to the principal to discuss accommodations for her daughter.

Since Tennessee’s bathroom law is enacted, Ariel will have to use the boy’s restroom or the private nurse’s bathroom despite only ever using the girl’s restroom. Due to her young age, Ariel does not understand the law’s ramifications or why she is being told to use the boy’s bathroom.

The state’s political leaders are making Tennessee a dangerous place for our daughter, and other children like her. We are extremely worried about her future here, and the bills that are being passed have put us in panic mode. They are attacking children that cannot defend themselves for what appears to be political gain over a non-existent problem. We wish our leaders would take the time to speak with transgender youth and adults—instead, their fear of the unknown is unnecessarily leading their actions and causing irreparable harm to these children

Julie and Ross

Julie and Ross are also considering moving out of Tennessee due to these anti-transgender laws out of fear for their growing daughter, the statement concluded.

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; Title IX expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs. In June the U.S. Education Department announced it would expand its interpretation of federal sex protections to include transgender and gay students. The new policy directive means that discrimination based on a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity will be treated as a violation of Title IX.

The lawsuit also alleges that the law violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to deny certiorari in Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board left in place a federal circuit court decision recognizing the rights of transgender students under the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX.

In July a federal judge blocked a new law in Tennessee that required businesses and other entities that allow transgender people to use the public restroom that matches their gender to post a government-prescribed warning sign.

“This law is bad for businesses in Tennessee, and most importantly, harmful to transgender people,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director. “We are glad the court saw that this law is likely unconstitutional and hope that the state gives up the wasteful effort to defend discrimination and a violation of the First Amendment.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal court blocks Title IX transgender protections

Ruling applies to Idaho, La., Miss., and Mont.

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(Bigstock photo)

BY GREG LAROSE | A federal judge has temporarily halted enforcement of new rules from the Biden administration that would prevent discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana issued a temporary injunction Thursday that blocks updated Title IX policy from taking effect Aug. 1 in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Montana. 

In April, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would expand Title IX to protect LGBTQ students, and the four aforementioned states challenged the policy in federal court.

Doughty said in his order that Title IX, the 52-year-old civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, only applies to biological women. The judge also called out the Biden administration for overstepping its authority. 

“This case demonstrates the abuse of power by executive federal agencies in the rule-making process,” Doughty wrote. “The separation of powers and system of checks and balances exist in this country for a reason.”

The order from Doughty, a federal court appointee of President Donald Trump, keeps the updated Title IX regulations from taking effect until the court case is resolved or a higher court throws out the order.

Opponents of the Title IX rule changes have said conflating gender identity with sex would undermine protections in federal law and ultimately harm biological women. Gender identity refers to the gender an individual identifies as, which might differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill, who filed the suit in the state’s Western District federal court, had called the new regulations “dangerous and unlawful.” In a statement Thursday evening, she said the rules would have placed an unfair burden on every school, college and university in the country.

“This (is) a victory for women and girls,” Murrill said in the statement. “When Joe Biden forced his illegal and radical gender ideology on America, Louisiana said NO! Along with Idaho, Mississippi, and Montana, states are fighting back in defense of the law, the safety and prosperity of women and girls, and basic American values.”

Title IX is considered a landmark policy that provided for equal access for women in educational settings and has been applied to academic and athletic pursuits. 

Related

Doughty’s order comes a day after a similar development in Texas, where Judge Reed O’Connor, an appointee of President George W. Bush, declared that the Biden administration exceeded its authority, the Texas Tribune reported. 

Texas filed its own lawsuit against the federal government to block enforcement of the new rules, which Gov. Greg Abbott had instructed schools to ignore. Texas is one of several states to approve laws that prohibit transgender student-athletes from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect. 

Earlier Thursday, Republicans in Congress moved ahead with their effort to undo the revised Biden Title IX policy. Nearly 70 GOP lawmakers have signed onto legislation to reverse the education department’s final rule through the Congressional Review Act, which Congress can use to overturn certain federal agency actions.

Biden is expected to veto the legislation if it advances to his desk.

“Title IX has paved the way for our girls to access new opportunities in education, scholarships and athletics. Unfortunately, (President) Joe Biden is destroying all that progress,” U.S. Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.), author of the legislation, said Thursday.

States Newsroom Reporter Shauneen Miranda in D.C. contributed to this report.

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Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg’s other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Louisiana Illuminator and is republished with permission.

The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians. Our in-depth investigations and news stories, news briefs and commentary help residents make sense of how state policies help or hurt them and their neighbors statewide.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Federal Government

Adm. Levine, Admin. Guzman visit LGBTQ-owned dental and medical practices

Officials talked with the Blade about supporting small businesses

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Second from left, Dr. Robert McKernan, co-founder of Big Gay Smiles, U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabel Guzman, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine, Big Gay Smiles Co-Founder Tyler Dougherty, and SBA Washington Metropolitan Area District Director Larry Webb. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

The Washington Blade joined Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Administrator Isabel Guzman of the U.S. Small Business Administration as they toured two LGBTQ-owned small businesses on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. — Big Gay Smiles and Price Medical.

The event provided an “amazing opportunity” to “talk about the different synergies in terms of small businesses and the SBA, and health equity for many communities,” including the LGBTQ community, Levine told the Blade.

Representation matters, she said, adding, “that’s true in dental care and medical care,” where there is a tremendous need to push for improvements in health equity — which represents a major focus for HHS under her and Secretary Xavier Becerra’s leadership, and in the Biden-Harris administration across the board.

“Small businesses identify needs in communities,” Guzman said. With Big Gay Smiles, Dr. Robert McKernan and his husband Tyler Dougherty “have clearly identified a need” for “dentistry that is inclusive and that is respectful of the LGBTQIA community in particular.”

She added, “now that they’re a newly established business, part of the small business boom in the Biden-Harris administration, to see their growth and trajectory, it’s wonderful to know that there are going to be providers out there providing that missing support.”

The practice, founded in 2021, “is so affirming for the LGBTQIA community and we certainly wish them luck with their venture and they seem to have a great start,” Levine said. “They’re really dedicated to ending the HIV epidemic, providing excellent dental care, as well as oral cancer screenings, which are so important, and they’re really providing a real service to the community.”

Big Gay Smiles donates 10 percent of its revenue to national and local HIV/AIDS nonprofits. McKernan and Dougherty stressed that their business is committed to combatting homophobia and anti-LGBTQ attitudes and practices within the dental field more broadly.

“We try to align our practices here within this dental office to align with the strategic initiatives being able to help reduce HIV transmission, reduce stigma, and help to ensure people have the knowledge and [are] empowered to ensure that they’re safe,” Dougherty said.

McKernan added, “With the Academy of General Dentistry, we’ve done a lot of discussions around intersex, around trans affirming care, in order to help educate our fellow dental providers. It’s very important that every dentist here in the [D.C. area] provide trans affirming care and gender affirming care because it’s very important that someone who comes to a medical provider not be deadnamed, not get misnamed, and have an affirming environment.”

Trans and gender expansive communities face barriers to accessing care and are at higher risk for oral cancer, depression, and dental neglect. Levine, who is the country’s highest-ranking transgender government official, shared that she has encountered discrimination in dental offices.

After touring the office, Levine and McKernan discussed the persistence of discrimination against patients living with HIV/AIDS by dental practices, despite the fact that this conduct is illegal.

“I’ve traveled around the country,” the assistant health secretary told the Blade. “We have seen that many FQHCs [federally qualified health centers] or community health centers as well as LGBTQIA community health centers have had dentists, like Whitman-Walker, to provide that care because many people with HIV and in our broader community have faced stigma and have not been able to access very, very important dental care.”

Prior to opening his practice, McKernan practiced dentistry at Whitman-Walker, the D.C. nonprofit community health center that has expertise in treating LGBTQ patients and those living with HIV/AIDS. Big Gay Smiles is a red ribbon sponsor for the organization’s Walk & 5K to End HIV.

After their visit with Big Gay Smiles, Levine and Guzman headed to Price Medical, a practice whose focus areas include internal medicine/primary care, HIV specialty care, immunizations, infectious disease treatment, and aesthetics like Botox.

There, the officials talked with Dr. Timothy Price about his office’s work advancing health equity and serving LGBTQ patients including those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as the ways in which small businesses like his have benefitted from access to electronic health records and telemedicine.

Levine, Dr. Timothy Price of Price Medical, and Guzman 

“People being able to access medical care from the comfort of their home or workplace can be very important,” Price said, with technology providing the means by which they can “ask questions and get an answer and have access to a health care provider.”

Often, LGBTQ patients will have concerns, including sexual health concerns, that need urgent attention, he said. For instance, “we’ve had patients need to access us for post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV,” in some cases when “people are vacationing and they have something that might be related to their health and they can reach us [via telemedicine] so that’s the way it’s really helped us and helped the patients.”

Access to technology for small businesses is an area in which the SBA can play a valuable role, Guzman noted.

“The Biden-Harris administration has focused on a whole-of-government approach to making sure we can support the community, and that includes in entrepreneurship,” she told the Blade.

“There’s a surge in [small] businesses starting and that includes” those founded by members of the LGBTQ community “and so you see that there’s products and services that need to be offered,” and the administration is “committed to making sure that we can fund those great ideas.”

Guzman said she sees opportunities for future collaboration between her agency and HHS to help encourage and facilitate innovation in the healthcare space. “Small businesses are innovators creating the future of health tech,” she said.

Levine agreed, noting “we have been talking about that, about different ways that we can work together, because as we think about the social determinants of health and those other social factors that impact health, well, economic opportunity is absolutely a social determinant of health,” and small businesses are certainly a critical way to broaden economic opportunity.

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National

Mass. startup streamlining name changes for trans, non-binary residents

‘No. 1 legal need that trans folks have is identity documents’

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Kelsey GrunstraTre’Andre Carmel Valentine, MG Xiong, and Luke Lennon.

A guy in America wants to buy a truck. They save money. They have built up good credit. They find a truck in their price range. They go to the dealership to buy it, but when the dealership puts the guy’s name through the system no credit shows up.

The problem? That guy is trans and had recently changed their name. “Due to the name change, I was credit invisible,” Luke Lennon explained. “This can happen often for trans and non-binary folks who change their name.” The kicker? “That piece is not the same for folks that change their name due to marriage.” 

This is structural, not accidental, explains Lennon, who uses he/they/any pronouns. While name changes for marriage are accommodated by financial systems, “if you’re trans, you have to notify each creditor of your name change individually.” It is an equity problem: “For a community that already faces huge barriers to wealth building, this is a major issue.”

Lennon opted out of the truck. Without the financing options made available by good credit, the vehicle was outside of their price range. “I was getting just near predatory rates for loans at that point,” he says.

Truck dreams deferred. But he worried about people whose financial needs couldn’t be deferred, like needing a loan for medical care or housing. “For many, that could be a more high-stakes situation. It could put them in financial peril and result in more serious consequences.” 

Lennon had already thought about leveraging his tech and business background toward helping his community with name changes, but the experience in the car dealership cemented how vital the service was. So, they launched Namesake Collaborative, a program to ease the burden of name changes for the trans community.

Getting his name changed at all was a grueling process in Lennon’s home state of Massachusetts, one of the most trans-friendly states in the country. Paperwork was long, confusing, and expensive — a big difference from the Boston FinTech scene he worked for where digital health startups were automating “complex paper-heavy processes to make them easier for end users.” When he sought out that type of service for name changes, they were only for cis women changing their names because of marriage. 

Lennon’s instinct was in line with what trans advocates identified as one of the biggest needs in the state. MG Xiong, the program director at Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, shared that “the number one legal need that trans folks said that they have is their identity documents.” This comes from MTPC’s 2019 Comprehensive Needs Assessment Survey, but its need is mirrored nationally

“Filling out court forms is incredibly inaccessible to folks who are not looking at these types of forms on a regular basis or who do not have the knowledge of bureaucratic processes of court processes or legal language,” said Xiong. This stress does not include the fees, which can sometimes exceed $400 in Massachusetts. There is a patchwork of differing systems, forms, and expectations across jurisdictions, as Paisley Currah writes in his seminal book on the topic “Sex Is as Sex Does,”“the same individual has Fs on some state-issued documents and Ms on others.” 

All this trouble means that only 11% of trans people in the U.S. have all identity documents that correctly reflect their name and gender, per the National Center for Trans Equality. The discrepancy is not just annoying or disheartening — it can be outright dangerous. 

While MTPC’s small team raised money to aid in filing fees and led workshops to help, there was always more of a need than they could meet. So, when Lennon pitched a process that streamlined inaccessible forms, they jumped at the opportunity to collaborate. “It was a strategic decision for me to not try to take the traditional startup path,” he explained.

And their path was far from traditional. Instead of pitching to Venture Capital, the startup and non-profit duo drove around Massachusetts. Xiong explains that they and Luke went to “different community centers, bringing the services [directly] to the spaces that people are already in.”

Lennon had actually met the MTPC team at one of their workshops and appreciated the community building they fostered. He trusted the organization that had helped him with his name change to make sure the technology he was building would reach the trans community effectively.

After a beta period in 2021, Namesake launched as a website in 2022with input from community assessments. Despite being a tech startup, they kept it lower-tech. “We decided to operate on a no-code platform to be able to build something more quickly,” said Lennon. Since then, more than 500 transgender Massachusetts residents have used the program to complete gender and name changes. 

A huge part of the program was built on lessening the load of process: getting different forms in one location and being able to fill them all out online in one standardized process. But it also met the need in terms of access in other ways. “We are getting gratitude for the simplicity of it.” Xiong said. “That it uses common and accessible language. It defines what certain court language or legal language means.”

Namesake is on the cusp of a new iteration, which will make it more user-friendly through an app version. Lennon has partnered with Computost, a worker-owned software consulting co-op that understood Namesakes’ values.  

While always working to make the product more usable, Lennon is careful about keeping it more trans than tech. Lennon explains that the variability in the community is “often at odds with technology’s reductive approach to an ideal user profile or persona.”

The longer they work with Namesake, the more they are convinced, “I don’t think tech should ever be heralded as THE solution to anything, really.” He explains that their method of development is “using community-sharing knowledge in order to augment that technology.” 

Lennon explains that he is more concerned with making a community than a traditional tech product. “A strong community also requires breaking the binary of ‘giver and receiver,’ which runs counter to much of the startup folklore around serving customers.” However, they “have compassion for any trans or queer person trying to solve a real problem for our communities through tech.”

Looking forward, Lennon explains that Namesake is “focused on creating something more fluid and communal, something that will ideally evolve with the community and help folks feel less alone throughout the process.” 

(This story is part of the Digital Equity Local Voices Fellowship lab through News is Out. The lab initiative is made possible with support from Comcast NBCUniversal.)

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