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Legal advocates turn attention to Supreme Court abortion cases

No major LGBTQ rights cases before court this term

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With the new term for the U.S. Supreme Court underway, justices for the first time in years won’t have to consider a major case specifically impacting LGBTQ rights, which legal advocates say will lead to them to focus their attention on high-profile cases that challenge a woman’s right to access abortion.

At the top of the watch list for court, which now has 6-3 conservative majority as a result of appointments under former President Trump, is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which will determine the constitutionality of the Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks and is widely considered a direct challenge to long-standing precedent established by Roe v. Wade guaranteeing a right to abortion. The Texas law banning any abortion after six weeks, which the Supreme Court allowed to take effect as litigation against it proceeds, is still pending in lower courts, but will likely reach the high court soon.

For many LGBTQ legal advocates, the abortion cases are important because they say the outcome could directly impact legal precedent underpinning major Supreme Court decisions in favor, including the 2003 decision of Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state bans on sodomy, and the 2015 decision of Obergefell v. Hodges in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide.

Camilla Taylor, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, said the outcome abortion cases is crucial not only because LGBTQ people need access to abortion.

“Just as importantly, there are a lot of ways in which the landmark precedents that we obtained that vindicate the rights of LGBT people rely upon a foundation of substantive due process precedent that includes Roe v. Wade, and other cases dealing with reproductive health,” Taylor said. “So, if Roe versus Wade crumbles, then the foundation on which our own cases also crumbles.”

As such, a coalition of LGBTQ legal groups—including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality and Equality California—was among those who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in September arguing the Mississippi law is unconstitutional.

Key among the arguments is the denial of abortion access is a form of sex discrimination, just as the Supreme Court determined last year in Bostock v. Clayton County that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, this illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“By the same logic, laws that restrict abortion also facially discriminate based on sex,” the brief says, “Like being LGBTQ, pregnancy is a sex-based characteristic; it is ‘inextricably bound up with’ an individual’s sex. Accordingly, laws that force a pregnant woman to bear a child necessarily discriminate based on sex, as would a law that barred a reproductive medical procedure available only to men.”

It’s true that both Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court’s decision for LGBTQ were based on principals of due process and equal protection under the 5th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. But not all legal experts agree LGBTQ rights are on the line depending on the outcome of abortion litigation.

Dale Carpenter, a conservative law professor at the SMU (Southern Methodist University) Dedman School of Law who’s written in favor of LGBTQ rights, said the Supreme Court is “probably going to write a narrower opinion, if it even overrules Roe,” but won’t issue a radical decision “that reaches out and destroys all unenumerated rights.”

“Obergefell relies on the fundamental right to marry,” Carpenter said. “There’s no chance the Supreme Court is going to say there is no right to a fundamental right to marry. The doctrine upon which Obergefell rests is on much more solid footing than abortion rights. The basic doctrine underlying Obergefell has never seriously been challenged; abortion rights have been for 50 years.”

Other key differences between the right to abortion and same-sex marriage, Carpenter said, are an arguable state interest in protecting fetal life and reliance interests in the case of marriage rights given thousands of same-sex couples have wed in the wake of the Obergefell decision.

But what about Lawrence v. Texas, which were both that LGBTQ rights decision and Roe v. Wade decided at least in part on finding an unenumerated right to privacy in the constitution? Carpenter said a Supreme Court decision undoing a right to privacy would mean undoing nearly 60-year precedent that began with the 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, which overturned a state ban on contraceptives.

“There’s not even a single brief in the case, that I know of, on the anti-abortion side that’s supporting that,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter concluded with a wry jab: “By the way, the LGBT rights advocates who are now saying that these LGBT rights decisions are in danger will be the same people say after Roe is a overruled that those decisions are not affected.”

Indeed, the Supreme Court under its current 6-3 conservative makeup had an opportunity to take up an Indiana birth certificate case, Box v. Henderson, that was a direct challenge to the Obergefell marriage decision, but declined to take up the case. No state is any where close to recriminalizing sexual relations for same-sex couples, which in 2021 would widely be seen as a human rights violation.

But legal advocates for the LGBTQ community aren’t limiting the relationship between abortion and LGBTQ rights to legal principles. Additionally, the identify solidarity with another minority group under siege, in this case women seeking access to abortion, and need among certain members of the LGBTQ community—lesbian and bisexual women, transgender men and non-binary people—to have the access to abortion.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, echoed the sense LGBTQ legal advocates are focused on abortion cases, but cited “overlap between the reproductive rights, and justice movement and the LGBTQ movements.”

“What we see is the primary impact of this case on our community is a very direct one,” Minter said. “It’s extremely direct. The ability to obtain abortions is of great importance to women in our community, and also to transgender men and non-binary people as well.”

Minter cited data finding upwards of 80 percent of bisexual women will experience pregnancy over their lives and said LGBTQ women “are significantly more likely to have unintended pregnancies as a result of sexual violence, which is very distressing, but that is a reality for our community.”

Lesbian young adults and adolescents are at particular risk for unwanted pregnancy, Minter added, because there’s still “so much stigma and discrimination that they tried to sort of hide their sexual orientation, and prove that they’re straight when they’re not, so they actually have high rates of unprotected sex.”

Religious schools funding, gun control, Obamacare on docket

The abortion cases aren’t the only litigation on the radar for LGBTQ legal advocates. Also on the list are cases that will determine whether Maine religious schools have access to public funds, the legality of New York State gun regulations and disparate impact claims under Obamacare.

Taylor said the case of CVS Pharmacy v. Doe before the Supreme Court, which was brought by people living with HIV/AIDS, will determine whether disparate impact claims are cognizable in the context of disabilities under the Affordable Care Act.

“That’s really important for people living with HIV and other people with disabilities,” Taylor said. “It could do a lot of harm.”

The oral arguments in the Dobbs case are set to take place before the Supreme Court on Dec. 1.

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Pennsylvania

Gay journalist murdered inside Philadelphia home

Josh Kruger’s death has left city ‘shocked and saddened’

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Josh Kruger with his cat Mason (Photo courtesy of Josh Kruger's Facebook page)

An openly gay journalist was shot to death in his Point Breeze neighborhood home in the 2300 block of Watkins Street in South Philadelphia early Monday morning.

According to Officer Shawn Ritchie, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department, 39-year-old Josh Kruger was shot at about 1:30 a.m. and collapsed in the street after seeking help. Kruger was transported to Penn Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:13 a.m.

Police said that Kruger was shot seven times throughout the chest and abdomen and that no weapons were recovered nor have any arrests been made. Homicides investigators noted that there was no sign of forced entry and the motive remains unclear.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement:

“Josh Kruger lifted up the most vulnerable and stigmatized people in our communities — particularly unhoused people living with addiction. As an openly queer writer who wrote about his own journey surviving substance use disorder and homelessness, it was encouraging to see Josh join the Kenney administration as a spokesperson for the Office of Homeless Services.

Josh deserved to write the ending of his personal story. As with all homicides, we will be in close contact with the Philadelphia police as they work to identify the person or persons responsible so that they can be held to account in a court of law. I extend my deepest condolences to Josh’s loved ones and to all those mourning this loss.”

WHYY reported Kruger had written extensively with bylines in multiple publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, WHYY, and Billy Penn.

CBS News reported that Kruger overcame homelessness and addiction to work for five years in city government, handling Mayor Jim Kenney’s social media and serving as the communications director for the city’s Office of Homeless Services.

He left city government in 2021 to return to journalism, according to his website.

“He was more than just a journalist,” Kendall Stephens, who was a friend and neighbor of Kruger’s, told CBS News. “He was more than just a community member. He was somebody that fought that great fight so many of us are not able to fight that fight because we’re too busy sheltered in our own homes wondering if someone is going to knock down our doors and kill us the same way they killed him. The same way they tried to kill me. And we’re tired of it.”   

Kenney said in a statement that he is “shocked and saddened” by Kruger’s death.

“He cared deeply about our city and its residents, which was evident in his public service and writing. Our administration was fortunate to call him a colleague, and our prayers are with everyone who knew him.”

The District Attorney’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee issued the following statement:

“Many of us knew Josh Kruger as a comrade who never stopped advocating for queer Philadelphians living on the margins of society. His struggles mirrored so many of ours — from community rejection, to homelessness, to addiction, to living with HIV, to poverty — and his recovery, survival, and successes showed what’s possible when politicians and elected leaders reject bigotry and work affirmatively to uplift all people. Even while Josh worked for the mayor, he never stopped speaking out against police violence, politicized attacks on trans and queer people, or the societal discarding of homeless and addicted Philadelphians.

We are devastated that Josh’s life was ended so violently. We urge anyone who has information that could lead to an arrest and prosecution for Josh’s murder to contact the Philadelphia Police or the DA’s Office directly. LGBTQ+ Philadelphians experience violence of all kinds every day; few people used their platforms to remind powerful people in government of that reality as effectively as Josh Kruger did. Josh and the communities he advocated for every day of his life deserve nothing less than justice and accountability for this outrageous crime.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody

Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017

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(Bigstock photo)

A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.

Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”

Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020. 

An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.  

“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.

“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.

An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister. 

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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