Federal Government Resolves Complaint Filed by CA Transgender Student

July 24, 2013

(San Francisco, CA, July 24, 2013)—Today, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division announced a resolution to a complaint filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) on behalf of a transgender student in California’s Arcadia Unified School District. The resolution requires the school district to treat the student as male in all respects and keep his transgender status private. Furthermore, the school district agreed to revise its policies to ensure that all students who do not conform to sex stereotypes, including transgender students, have equal access and opportunity to participate in all of the district’s activities and programs. Those policy changes will be complemented by district-wide training for personnel and students. The implementation of this agreement will be overseen by a qualified expert agreed upon by the district and federal government.

The student and his family—who asked that their names not be made public–filed a complaint with OCR and DOJ in October 2011 when the school district required him to sleep in a cabin by himself instead of allowing him to room with his male peers on an overnight field trip. Not wanting to miss out on this important educational opportunity, he attended the field trip, but could not escape the feeling that he was being “quarantined” for no legitimate reason.

In addition to preventing him from fully participating in the overnight field trip, the school district excluded the student from the boys’ restroom and locker room, insisting that he use the nurse’s office. That arrangement resulted in the student being ridiculed by peers and limited his ability to participate in afterschool activities because the nurse’s restroom was locked during those times.

The student and his family are represented by the NCLR.

“I am glad that my school district has agreed to put in place the protections that I, and other transgender students, need to feel safe and welcome in school,” said the student. “Knowing that I have the school district’s suppport, I can focus on learning and being a typical high school student, like my friends.”

Said NCLR Staff Attorney Asaf Orr: “We commend the federal government for taking this necessary step to ensure that schools are safe and supportive environments where all students can thrive, including transgender students. Federal law obligates school districts to affirm and respect a transgender student’s gender identity in all of their programs, activities, and facilities. Treating transgender students based on their assigned sex at birth is psychologically harmful and interferes with their healthy social development. Hopefully, school districts will take this opportunity to proactively address the needs of transgender youth through district-wide policies and training.”

Read the resolution letter.

Read the agreement.

Read the complaint.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office:415.365.1324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org


The Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA): It’s Time to Protect Workers from Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination

July 10, 2013

By Ashland Johnson, Esq.
NCLR Policy Counsel

The envelope came early in the morning, but it wasn’t until late afternoon that I had the energy to open it. I had been in the intensive care unit for three days with a potentially fatal condition. When I saw the envelope from my employers, a university in Georgia, I automatically assumed it was the standard “get well” card. But instead of offering good wishes and prayers, this letter informed me that I was being fired from the job I’d held for over a year.

While I was shocked by the timing, ever since I had refused to sign a letter of “voluntary” resignation after my supervisor found out that I’m a lesbian, I had suspected and feared this would happen. After repeatedly being locked out of my office, left out of department meetings, and ignored by administrative officials, I was fired without any consideration of my value as an employee or my rights as an individual.

For over a month before my termination, I researched my options, tried to file a complaint based on the university’s nondiscrimination policy, and compiled evidence to support my case against my supervisor. I also requested meetings with human resources and wrote countless letters to school officials. Despite my efforts, I was simply redirected and ignored.

Since the university was no help, I decided to research my legal rights. I was surprised to discover that I essentially had no legal protections from this type of discrimination. Georgia had no state law protecting workers against discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Further, because the university had adopted its nondiscrimination policy voluntarily, it was not legally obligated to comply with it. The city I where I worked had a local nondiscrimination law, but the commission tasked with enforcing the local code was underfunded, under-resourced, and had little ability to create and enforce penalties. In short, I was shocked to discover that I had no viable legal options: I had been fired for being a lesbian, and the law provided no real protection whatsoever.

Six years later, nothing has changed. Georgia still has no state law protecting LGBT workers, and, shamefully, specific federal protections against this type of discrimination still do not exist. But today, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP)  approved a bill that could change this, and that is now on its way to the Senate for a vote. The Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) would federally prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. This law is much needed and long overdue. Recent studies show that LGBT workers continue to face high rates of sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. Today, in 29 states LGBT people can be fired because they’re lesbian, gay or bisexual; in 34 states, people can be fired just because they’re transgender. A June 2012 report by the Williams Institute shows that 12 percent of the respondents have lost their job because of their sexual orientation. The incidence of discrimination faced by transgender workers is even higher. In a groundbreaking study released in 2011  by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 90 percent of respondents reported having experienced harassment or mistreatment at work and 47 percent reported having been discriminated against in hiring, promotion, or job retention because of their gender identity.  Discrimination against LGBT workers is irrational, debilitating, and unfair.  It devastates LGBT individuals and their families, jeopardizes our economic security, and undermines LGBT equality.

LGBT people and their families need ENDA now more than ever to ensure that all employees are free from unfair discrimination at work.  Everyone deserves the opportunity to work and thrive in any profession they choose, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The passage of an inclusive ENDA will help make this a reality.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office:415.365.1324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org

 


Agreement Reached in Lawsuit Against Indianapolis Public Schools For Failing to Protect Gay Student

July 10, 2013

 

(Indianapolis, IN, July 10, 2013)—Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and Waples & Hanger announced an agreement resolving a lawsuit against the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) filed by Dynasty Young, a former student who sued the district after officials failed to address relentless harassment he experienced at school because he is gay and does not conform to gender stereotypes.

After moving to Indianapolis and enrolling at Arsenal Tech for the 2011-2012 school year, Dynasty endured eight months of harassment and bullying by students. He and his mother, Chelisa Grimes, repeatedly turned to school officials for help. Instead of taking effective measures to address the bullying and harassment, school officials blamed Dynasty for being “too flamboyant.” Afraid for her son’s safety, Grimes made the difficult decision to give Dynasty a “self-protection flashlight,” a small device that emits light, a loud noise and an electric charge, to carry with him while at school.

On April 16, 2012, six students surrounded Dynasty to attack him. Afraid, Dynasty pulled the device out of his bag, held it in the air, and activated it, causing the aggressors to scatter without assaulting him. A district employee witnessed the incident, but instead of trying to locate the students who threatened to attack Dynasty, school officials suspended and later expelled Dynasty for trying to protect himself. Rather than return to IPS schools, Dynasty enrolled at Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, a charter school, and filed a lawsuit against IPS challenging the expulsion and school administrators’ failure to address the harassment he experienced. Dynasty graduated from Metropolitan on June 28, 2013.

As part of the agreed judgment filed by the parties in the case, IPS will expunge the expulsion from Dynasty’s school records. Dynasty will also receive $65,000 as compensation for his experience at Arsenal Tech, which he intends to use for his education. The agreed judgment must be approved by the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis.

While the lawsuit was pending, the Indiana Legislature enacted new statewide anti-bullying legislation. The law requires schools across the state to create explicit anti-bullying plans, collect accurate data on incidents of bullying, and provide regular training for school personnel and students. With the case behind him, Dynasty intends to shift his energy and focus into assisting school districts throughout the state to effectively comply with and implement this critical, life-saving law.

Said Dynasty: “I am glad that we were able to resolve this case and that IPS was willing to take the steps needed to help me get my life back on track. Things are starting to fall back into place for me. I am really looking forward to working with school districts to meet their obligations under Indiana’s new anti-bullying law and being a resource for students who have experienced bullying.”

Added NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter: “This case highlights how important it is for schools to protect students from harassment and bullying. The severe bullying that Dynasty endured at Arsenal Tech caused both psychological and educational harms that were compounded by the school’s insistence on blaming Dynasty for being ‘too flamboyant.’ Dynasty’s courage in bringing this lawsuit will encourage school districts to take proactive steps to stop bullying and harassment and ensure that all students are safe and have an equal chance to succeed. ”

Brent Ray, lead attorney on the case for Kirkland & Ellis LLP added: “This settlement marks the end of two very difficult years for Dynasty. He has persevered and it is great to see his positive attitude and warm spirit again. We know that Dynasty will continue to raise awareness about the serious problem of bullying in schools and look forward to seeing the great things he accomplishes.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office:415.365.1324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org

 


Same-Sex Couples Ask New Mexico Supreme Court to Protect Their Right to Marry

July 3, 2013

(Albuquerque, NM, July 3, 2013)—Late Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, ACLU national, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Albuquerque law firm Sutin, Thayer & Brown PC, and Albuquerque attorneys Maureen Sanders, Kate Girard, and Lynn Perls filed a writ of mandamus with the New Mexico State Supreme Court seeking a ruling on the issue of whether same-sex couples can marry in the State of New Mexico. The writ also asks the court to clarify that New Mexico respects the marriages of same-sex New Mexico couples who married in another state, which is necessary to ensure that those couples qualify for all of the federal programs that are now available to married same-sex couples as a result of the United States Supreme Court decision last week invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

“The United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn DOMA has increased our sense of urgency to clarify the ability of same-sex couples to marry in New Mexico,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. “With all barriers to federal recognition removed, our State cannot stand by as thousands of same-sex couples, many of whom were married out of state, continue to be denied those protections.”

There are more than 1,100 places in federal laws and programs where being married makes a difference, including eligibility for family medical leave, social security survivor’s benefits, and access to health care for a spouse. With DOMA now overturned, same-sex couples could immediately become eligible for these federal benefits and protections, as well as all of the protections given to spouses under state law, if the New Mexico Supreme Court rules that New Mexico law permits same-sex couples to marry and also requires that the state respect the marriage of same-sex couples who have married out-of-state.

“Every day that goes by, same-sex couples and their families are being harmed by not being able to protect their families through marriage,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “The fall of DOMA has greatly upped the stakes for loving, committed same-sex couples in New Mexico. Now more than ever, we urgently need guidance from the courts on whether these couples can access the protections and societal recognition of marriage.”

A writ of mandamus is a special legal action that permits the New Mexico Supreme Court to resolve an issue without waiting for the lower courts to rule. The New Mexico Supreme Court is not legally required to accept writ petitions, but it may do so when presented with an issue of great public importance.

The ACLU of New Mexico, ACLU national, NCLR, Sutin Law Firm, and Albuquerque attorneys Maureen Sanders, Kate Girard, and Lynn Perls filed an earlier lawsuit seeking the freedom to marry on behalf of same-sex couples in the Second Judicial District Court on March 21, 2013. If the New Mexico Supreme Court declines to hear the writ petitions, that lawsuit, Griego v. Oliver, will proceed and will determine whether same-sex couples have a constitutionally protected right to marry in the state.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office:415.365.1324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org

ACLU-NM Media Contact Daniel Williams | Office: 505.266.5915 x1016 |
DWilliams@ACLU-NM.org


CA Senate Passes Bill Supporting Transgender Student Success

July 3, 2013

(Sacramento, CA, July 3, 2013)— Today, the California State Senate passed the School Success and Opportunity Act (Assembly Bill 1266), sending the bill that ensures transgender students have the opportunity to succeed in school to Governor Jerry Brown for signature. Authored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, the bill passed the Senate with a 21-9 (unofficial). The bill passed the California State Assembly last month with  46-25 vote.

AB 1266 will ensure that California public schools understand their responsibility for the success and well-being of all students, including transgender students, and will allow transgender students to fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities in accordance with their gender identity.

Co-authored by Senators Mark Leno and Ricardo Lara and Assemblymember Toni Atkins, the bill is backed by a coalition of leading organizations, including Transgender Law Center, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Gender Spectrum, Equality California, ACLU of California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, statewide teacher and parent organizations, and dozens of other organizations.

“I’m so happy the state is taking action to make sure I have the same opportunity as everyone else to go to school and graduate,” said Ashton Lee, a 16-year-old transgender boy from Manteca who came to Sacramento with his mother to testify before the Senate Education Committee last week. “I just want to be treated the same as all the other boys, but my school forces me to take P.E. in a class of all girls and live as someone I’m not. I can’t learn and succeed when every day in that class leaves me feeling isolat-ed and alone.”

In 2005, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest school district in the country with more than 670,000 students, successfully implemented a policy nearly identical to AB 1266 to ensure that no student is left out.

“Families matter in LAUSD. We’ve worked closely with students and families to ensure that our policies related to gender identity are successful, welcomed by students, and supported by parents,” said Judy Chiasson, Program Coordinator for Human Relations, Diversity and Equity at the Los Angeles Unified School District. “In addition to longstanding policies banning bullying, harassment, and discrimination, LAUSD has had specific policies banning discrimination based on gender identity for nearly a decade. We have firsthand experience recognizing and valuing the diversity of school communities, which ultimately enhances and enriches the lives of all our students.”

California law already prohibits discrimination in education, but transgender students are often still unfairly excluded from physical education, athletic teams, and other school activities and facilities be-cause of who they are. This exclusion negatively impacts students’ ability to succeed in school and grad-uate with their class. For example, physical education classes help students develop healthy fitness hab-its and teach values like teamwork and fair competition – and P.E. credits are required, so students can-not graduate without them.

Under AB 1266, California’s public schools would be required to respect a transgender student’s identity in all school programs, activities, and facilities. The bill will provide guidance to district and school leaders about how to meet their obligations to protect the safety and well being of all students, including those who are transgender.

“This law is necessary to ensure that California schools do not discriminate against transgender stu-dents,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter. “California is falling be-hind other states on this important issue, and this law is urgently needed to ensure that all California stu-dents have an equal chance to thrive and succeed.”

Media Contacts:

Erik Olvera, National Center for Lesbian Rights, 415.365.1324, EOlvera@NCLRights.org
Jesse Melgar, EQCA, 323.848.9801, Jesse@EQCA.org
Rebecca Farmer, ACLU of California, 415.621.2493, x374, RFarmer@ACLUNC.org
Jill Marcellus, GSA Network, 516.313.9659, Jill@GSANetwork.org
Mark Snyder, Transgender Law Center, 415.865.0176, x310, Mark@TransgenderLawCenter.org


LGBT DREAMers Join President Obama to Celebrate Pride Month

June 13, 2013

(WASHINGTON, D.C., June 13, 2013)—Today, four LGBT DREAMers, who were recently granted work permits under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, traveled from across the country to attend a White House reception in honor of Pride month.

The four DREAMers—Carla Lopez and Luis Liang of San Francisco, Jose Mendoza of Los Angeles, and Alejandra “Ale” Estrada of Las Vegas—met one-on-one with President Obama, sharing their personal immigration stories and thanking him for the DACA program. June 15 marks the one-year anniversary of the DACA program, which gives young undocumented immigrants the opportunity to legally work in the U.S. and no longer live under a threat of deportation.

These four LGBT DREAMers—who received grants through the LGBT DREAMers Fund created by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, and the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund to pay for their DACA fees—are actively engaged in the fight for immigration reform. Their commitment to reform reflects the commitment of the larger LGBT community to pass common-sense, compassionate reform that puts our nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, including 267,000 LGBT immigrants, on a path to citizenship.

“It was just a few months ago that I lived my life by a simple rule—don’t do anything to attract attention and never mention my immigration status,” said Carla, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico with her parents as a toddler to pursue a better life. “I never could have dreamed that in just six months’ time I would be approved for the DACA program, invited to the White House and meeting the President of the United States.”

Ale expressed her appreciation for the President’s support of comprehensive immigration reform during. “I am eternally thankful to President Obama for creating the DACA program, and I stand in support of the next step—compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform that will allow more LGBT immigrants and all immigrants—to live their lives with Pride,” she said.

The delegation that visited the White House includes:

Alejandra “Ale” Estrada (Las Vegas)      
Ale was three months old when her mother brought her and her sister across the U.S.-Mexico border. From the time she was old enough to talk, her father instructed her to tell people that she was from Nevada, not Mexico. Her mom, dad and older sister are also undocumented, and her parents lived in constant fear of her family being torn apart. Ale, who started a housecleaning business, has struggled with both the challenges presented by her undocumented status and the challenges of being LGBT.

Jose Mendoza (Los Angeles)
Jose excelled in high school, but he couldn’t apply to top colleges. They were too expensive, and because of his undocumented status, he couldn’t apply for financial aid. In 2011, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. His dad worked construction in another state to pay the bills, and Jose became his mother’s primary caregiver, as well as the caregiver of his three younger brothers. Jose’s mother is now in remission, and Jose has enrolled in the nursing program at Santa Monica College, and is on the way to fulfilling his dream of becoming a nurse. Jose is excited to be in Washington, D.C. during Pride month where he can celebrate being both a member of the LGBT community and a DACA recipient.

Luis Liang (San Francisco)
After arriving in the U.S. when he was 14 years old, Luis worked hard in high school and was eventually awarded a full scholarship to U.C. Berkeley in 2009. When he arrived on campus, the university informed him that his undocumented status prohibited him from receiving the publicly funded scholarship. Luis returned to Orange County, where he went to community college and worked two jobs to save money. He started a support organization, the Fullerton College DREAM Team, and learned about various private scholarships available to DREAMers. When he re-enrolled in Berkeley, Luis met other double minorities like himself, LGBT students who were also undocumented. He graduated in May 2012 and, last month, he received his DACA application approval and began interviewing for jobs. He wants to start a nonprofit that will help students from immigrant and low-income families gain access to higher education.

Carla Lopez (San Francisco)
Carla, who recently graduated from the University of California, Davis, came to the U.S. as a toddler, and spent years in constant fear that teachers or friends would find out she was undocumented. Her new DACA status lifted this shadow. “I grew up in a world where immigration raids were taking place at work, school, and even in the ‘safety’ of homes. For me, the time period between 5 and 6 a.m.—when immigration raids are usually conducted in homes—would be filled with much panic and anguish, as I lay awake in my bed—afraid that either my parents or I would be next.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office:415.365.1324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org


Thirty-Five LGBT and HIV Advocacy Groups Mark Pride Month with Joint Statement on HIV/AIDS

June 3, 2013

Executive Directors Urge Broader LGBT Movement to Re-engage in Fight to End the Epidemic

(San Francisco, CA, June 3, 2013)—As the nation marks the opening of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, executive directors from 35 LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations from across the United States have released a joint letter  committing themselves and their organizations to re-engaging the broader LGBT community in the fight against HIV. While issues like marriage equality and employment protections for LGBT workers have taken center stage, HIV continues to ravage the LGBT community. Despite making up just two percent of the population, gay and bisexual men accounted for more than 63 percent of new HIV infections in 2010. In fact, gay men are the only group in which HIV infections are increasing.

“We are at an important crossroads in our fight against HIV,” said National Minority AIDS Council Executive Director Paul Kawata. “The evidence behind treatment as prevention, and expansions in health care coverage that will accompany implementation of the Affordable Care Act, have provided a unique opportunity to end this epidemic, which has ravaged our community for more than three decades.  But this will not happen without the full engagement of those most impacted by the disease, and no community has been more heavily affected than the LGBT community.  I am thrilled to be a part of this campaign to re-energize the LGBT response and work together to realize the vision of an AIDS-free generation.”

“As an organization that has been working to combat HIV discrimination since the beginning of the epidemic we are excited to see the LGBT movement re-commit to this work,” said Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director of Lambda Legal. “Because gay and bisexual men and transgender people are disproportionately affected by the epidemic and because we see the effects of discrimination and laws targeting people with HIV for criminalization it is incredibly important for the LGBT community to step up.”

Said National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell: “The LGBT community always has been at the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic. As the community most impacted in the nation, we are the ones who must step-up and recommit to ending future transmissions. To have a new generation of LGBT young people grow up free from HIV and AIDS will be a fitting legacy to those we have lost to this disease.”

Below is an excerpt from today’s joint letter:

“Over the last 30 years, the [LGBT] community has seen great strides in the movement for full equality. Much of this success is the result of a concerted movement, which was galvanized in response to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s… In the decades since our movement has seen incredible victories… Unfortunately, our community hasn’t maintained the same momentum in our fight against HIV… Each day, more than 80 gay and bisexual men become infected with HIV in the United States… Despite these alarming statistics, which have galvanized our community in the past, the HIV epidemic has seemed to fall by the way side. Many in our community have simply stopped talking about the issue. This must change.”

The entire letter and accompanying video can be viewed online here: www.WetheLGBT.org

Media Contacts:
Erik Olvera, National Center for Lesbian Rights, 415.365.1324, EOlvera@NCLRights.org
Lisa Hardaway, Lambda Legal, 212.809.8585 x.266, LHardaway@LambdaLegal.org
Kyle Murphy, National Minority AIDS Council, 202.803.8027, KMurphy@NMAC.org


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