Incarcerated Transgender Woman Can Pursue Case for Appropriate Medical Care

June 8, 2010

A U.S. district court judge in Massachusetts has denied the government’s request to dismiss the case of Vanessa Adams, a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmate with gender identity disorder (GID). For years, the BOP denied Ms. Adams treatment for her serious medical condition. As a result, Ms. Adams attempted suicide multiple times when prison doctors failed to provide any treatment. She eventually removed her own genitals. Ms. Adams now challenges the federal policy that prison doctors and other medical providers used to justify the denial of her treatment.

At issue is BOP’s so-called “freeze frame” policy in which treatment for any prisoner with gender identity disorder is frozen at the level being provided when he or she entered BOP. In other words, because Ms. Adams did not receive treatment for GID before being incarcerated, BOP would not provide it to her after her incarceration.

Vanessa Adams is being represented by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Florida Institutional Legal Services (FILS), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and Bingham McCutchen LLP. The organizations hold the position that people should receive medically-necessary treatment for serious health conditions while in our nation’s prison system, including transgender-related health needs.

“Unfortunately, despite the fact that GID is well-recognized as a serious medical condition, individuals with GID face stigma and bias. In Vanessa’s case, stigma and bias alone have deprived her of the medical attention she needs. By filing this case, she seeks to ensure that transgender inmates with serious medical needs get appropriate care, just as prisoners with heart conditions and diabetes should,” said Jennifer L. Levi, Transgender Rights Project Director for GLAD.

Cassandra Capobianco of Florida Institutional Legal Services added, “It is critical not only for Vanessa’s health and safety but for the good of other prisoners that BOP’s policy be changed.”

“We’re pleased that the judge recognized the inhumanity of the BOP policy, and that Vanessa will have her day in court,” said Shannon Minter, Legal Director of NCLR.

In its June 7 ruling, the Court rejected BOP’s argument that Ms. Adams’ claim should be invalidated because the prison finally started her on hormones. Citing the BOP’s consistently callous conduct toward Ms. Adams, the fact that BOP could stop Ms. Adams’ treatment at any time, and the fact that BOP continues to enforce its freeze-frame policy, the Court ruled that the question of the constitutionality of the policy remains open.

This case will now in all likelihood proceed to trial.

More information about Adams v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, including the complaint and the decision, can be found at www.glad.org and www.nclrights.org.


DOMA Challenge Heads to Court

April 8, 2010

On Thursday, May 6, 2010, the Federal District Court in Boston will hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), in the case of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in March 2009.

The hearing will address the central issue of the case – is DOMA constitutional? –six years after the first same-sex couples in the country started marrying in Massachusetts, the result of GLAD’s groundbreaking marriage case, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.

Arguing before U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro on behalf of seven married same-sex couples and three widowers will be Mary L. Bonauto, GLAD’s Civil Rights Project Director. Bonauto was the lead attorney in Goodridge.

As a result of DOMA, passed by Congress in 1996, plaintiffs in GLAD’s lawsuit have been harmed in various ways, including denial of survivor benefits on a deceased spouse’s pension; denial of health insurance coverage for a spouse on a federal family plan; denial of Social Security death and widower benefits; and the payment of extra federal income taxes due to the inability to file jointly as married.

In opposing the government’s Motion to Dismiss and arguing in favor of the Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, GLAD will assert that DOMA Section 3 violates the federal constitutional guarantee of equal protection as applied to federal income taxation, Social Security benefits, and federal employee and retiree benefits.

Information about the case, the plaintiffs, and the attorneys representing them can be found at www.glad.org/doma.


Legal Groups File Brief Disputing False Claims of Harassment, Defending Open Government Requirements

April 1, 2010

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court today, the nation’s leading LGBT legal organizations, Lambda Legal, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) – together with the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force – joined the State of Washington and others in defending open government laws requiring public disclosure of the names of voters who sign petitions supporting state ballot initiatives. In particular, this brief refutes the false claims presented to the Supreme Court in this and other cases that individuals who support anti-gay initiatives have been subjected to “systematic intimidation” by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

In Doe v. Reed, anti-gay groups are asking the Supreme Court to overturn a decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordering the release of the names of 138,000 people who signed petitions supporting a ballot initiative to repeal basic protections for same-sex couples in Washington State. In November 2009, Washington voters rejected this attempt – Referendum 71 — and preserved the state’s domestic partnership law. Under Washington’s Public Records Act, the signatures on referendum petitions are public in order to prevent fraud and protect the integrity of the lawmaking process. The anti-gay groups are seeking to strike down Washington’s law, claiming that supporters of anti-gay ballot campaigns would be exposed to harassment and intimidation by the LGBT community if their names were made public.

“What is happening here are attackers screaming ‘help! help!’ while they do the pummeling.,” said Jon Davidson, Legal Director at Lambda Legal. “Let’s not forget who is really under assault. In trying to play the victim, anti-gay organizations are relying on exaggeration and outright lies to try to block an important check on anti-minority ballot initiatives. The requirement that petition signatures be available for public inspection prevents fraud and encourages open debate.”

The amicus brief submitted by the LGBT legal groups argues that it is the lesbian and gay community, not its opponents, that continues to suffer serious violence, harassment, and discrimination, along with a 30-year barrage of ballot petitions aimed at stripping LGBT people and other minority groups of basic protections. The brief also attacks the notion of an alleged organized campaign of harassment and intimidation against supporters of ant-gay ballot initiatives, calling into question legal statements and press accounts cited by anti-gay groups (details available at www.glad.org/doe-v-reed).

“We’ve seen this tactic before when a minority group is subject to political attack. It is common to claim that the minority is itself the aggressor from which protection is required,” said Shannon Price Minter, NCLR Legal Director. “The Petitioners are making false claims to undermine laws that protect the integrity and openness of the political process.”

There is no credible evidence that individuals who signed petitions to put Referendum 71 on the ballot were subjected to any harassment,” said Gary Buseck, Legal Director of GLAD. “Petitioners have taken a handful of isolated incidents – serious if true but also endemic to hard-fought political campaigns – and attempted to magnify them into a coordinated campaign that simply does not exist by joining them with any array of trivial grievances and feelings of discomfort when lesbians and gay men responded to the ballot attack with constitutionally protected speech.”

The incidents that the Petitioners have put forward as evidence of an “intimidation campaign” include one complaint by a supporter of California’s Proposition 8of rude comments from fellow country club members after displaying a “Yes on 8” sign. Another complained of taunts by Halloween trick-or-treaters, presumably after seeing a pro-Prop 8 yard sign. In comparison, Los Angeles County alone saw nine anti-LGBT hate crimes related to Prop 8, four of which involved violent crimes.

The Justices will hear the case on April 28 with a ruling expected later this year.

The brief in Doe v. Reed (Case No. 09-559) was prepared by Luke Platzer and William Hohengarten of Jenner & Block, Jon Davidson and Susan Sommer of Lambda Legal, Gary Buseck and Mary Bonauto of GLAD, and Shannon Minter and Christopher Stoll of NCLR.


Obama Picks Openly Gay Lawyer for Ambassadorship

October 8, 2009

by Philip Elliot | Associated Press

President Barack Obama said Wednesday he planned to nominate an openly gay lawyer as the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. If confirmed by the Senate, David Huebner would become the third openly gay ambassador in U.S. history and the first pick by this administration. In a statement released from the White House, Obama said he looked forward to working with Huebner and is confident he will represent the United States well in the Pacific region.

Huebner is based in Shanghai, where he handles international arbitration and mediation cases for a U.S. firm. A graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School, he is also the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s general counsel and previously served on the group’s board.

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Massachusetts Files Suit Challenging Anti-Gay Federal Law Denying Protections to Married Same-sex Couples and Their Children

July 9, 2009

A Statement from NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell
07.09.09—Yesterday, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts filed suit against the federal government challenging the constitutionality of the anti-gay federal so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA). The suit targets DOMA Section 3, the section that denies federal benefits to married same-sex couples, charging that Congress overstepped its authority in enacting the measure. The Commonwealth argues in the case that DOMA undermines states’ efforts to recognize marriages and represents the codification of an impermissible “animus towards gay and lesbian people.”

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GLAD DOMA Plaintiff Can Get Passport in Married Name

June 17, 2009

Great news from GLAD!

Keith Toney, a plaintiff in the lawsuit Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, will be able to get a U.S. passport in his married name. That is the result of a May 27, 2009 change in policy at the State Department regarding the issuance of passports to people who have changed their name after marrying someone of the same sex.

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