NCLR Applauds Court Decision Reinstating Major Margaret Witt to the Air Force

September 24, 2010

Today, a federal district court judge in Tacoma, Washington held that the discharge of Air Force flight nurse Major Margaret Witt under the federal government’s policy barring lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from serving openly in the military violated the United States Constitution. Judge Ronald B. Leighton ruled that the government violated Major Witt’s constitutional rights by discharging her under the policy—popularly known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The court held that the discharge of Major Witt did not advance the Air Force’s interest in military readiness, unit morale, and cohesion. To the contrary, the judge concluded, “it was Major Witt’s suspension and ultimate discharge that caused a loss of morale throughout [her] squadron.”

Judge Leighton ordered that Major Witt should be restored to her position as an Air Force flight nurse as soon as possible.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“Today’s decision is the second within the past month to hold that the discharge of service members under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell serves no legitimate purpose and is blatantly unconstitutional. Major Witt’s victory underscores why Congress and the President must put a stop to this destructive and irrational policy. It is an outrage that the federal government continues to intentionally discriminate against thousands of dedicated service members based solely on anti-gay prejudice. We congratulate and thank Major Witt and her lawyers at the ACLU of Washington for bringing this landmark case.”


Washington Gay Partnership Signature Case Back in Court

August 11, 2010

from the Associated Press

Opponents of the state’s expanded domestic partnerships for gay couples are heading back to federal court, hoping to block the release of signed referendum petitions.

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U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Open Government Laws

June 24, 2010

Court rejects claim by anti-gay groups that disclosure laws violate the First Amendment

Today, in an 8-1 decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the United States Supreme Court decisively rejected a First Amendment challenge to a Washington statute requiring public disclosure of the names of individuals who sign petitions to place referendums or initiatives on state ballots. The case arose when anti-gay groups sued to block disclosure of the names of individuals who signed a petition supporting an ultimately unsuccessful referendum to block Washington’s domestic partnership law. In Doe v. Reed, the Court held:

“Public disclosure thus helps ensure that the only signatures counted are those that should be, and that the only referenda placed on the ballot are those that garner enough valid signatures. Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot. In light of the foregoing, we reject plaintiffs’ argument and conclude that public disclosure of referendum petitions in general is substantially related to the important interest of preserving the integrity of the electoral process.”

On April 1, 2010, three of the nation’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) legal organizations, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and Lambda Legal—together with the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force—joined Washington Families Standing Together and the State of Washington in filing an amicus brief defending open government laws requiring public disclosure of the names of voters who sign petitions supporting state ballot initiatives. The brief refuted 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.

A statement by NCLR Legal Director Shannon Price Minter:

“Today’s decision is a serious defeat for groups who seek to abuse the democratic process to strip rights from vulnerable minorities, and who now wish to do so in secrecy, without even the minimal accountability imposed by laws designed to prevent fraud and abuse. This is one of a series of cases in which anti-gay groups are resisting compliance with open government laws. Thankfully, the Court recognized that the arguments presented by the anti-gay groups in this case had no merit, and that states must be permitted to protect the integrity of the political process.”


Supreme Court Rules Petition Signatures Public; Ref. 71 Names Not Immediately Available

June 24, 2010

by Janet I. Tu | Seattle Times

The names and addresses of those who sign ballot-measure petitions, such as Referendum 71, can be made public, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in a decision that upholds the constitutionality of Washington state’s Public Records Act.

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Court Hears Dispute on Petition Signers’ Names

April 28, 2010

from the Associated Press

Gay rights opponents are asking the Supreme Court to protect the anonymity of the signers of a petition that sought a vote to overturn Washington state’s domestic partnership rights.

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Supreme Court Hears Argument in Case in Which LGBT Legal Groupds Filed Brief Disputing False Claims of Harrassment and Defending Open Government Requirements

April 28, 2010

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Doe v Reed, in which anti-gay groups present the false claim that they have been subjected to “systematic intimidation” by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Anti-gay groups that placed a measure on the ballot to keep Washington State’s comprehensive domestic partnership law from going into effect are seeking to prevent the state of Washington from disclosing the names of voters who sign petitions supporting state ballot initiatives.

Three of 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 have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, vigorously and thoroughly refuting the false claims presented to the Court in this and other cases.

Some of the instances of supposed “intimidation” cited by opponents and noted in the amicus brief include:

  • A country club member in California, a supporter of Proposition 8, noted that “the openly gay members of the country club have changed their attitudes toward me. They used to greet me warmly; now, they give me looks of disdain and do not greet me as I pass.”
  • A person with a yard sign supporting Proposition 8 was disturbed on Halloween that some people “pointed and whispered to one another in disapproval” during trick-or-treating.
  • A woman was upset that her brother, who is gay, would no longer speak to her after she told him she might vote for Proposition 8.

As the amicus brief says, these complaints “are not only trivial, they reflect a fundamental refusal to accept the legitimacy of speech that disagrees with the complainants’ viewpoints, deeming it ‘hateful’ or ‘harassing’ simply because they do not like hearing it.”

“There’s nothing to see here, folks,” said Jon Davidson, Legal Director of Lambda Legal. “There’s no comparison between a few scattered instances of whispers and disapproving glares and the very real discrimination, harassment and even violence LGBT people experience every day all over the country. After all, more hate crimes are reported against gay people than any other group per capita in the United States.”

“The Petitioners are attempting to create a through-the-looking-glass world in which the aggressors are the victims and the victims the aggressors,” said Gary Buseck, Legal Director of GLAD.

“This is an outrageous attempt by anti-gay groups to use false claims of persecution to undermine laws that protect the integrity of the democratic process,” said Shannon Price Minter, NCLR Legal Director.

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. It is available at www.glad.org/doe-v-reed, www.lambdalegal.org/our-work/in-court/briefs/doe-v-reed_us_20100401_amicus-lambda-legal-et-al.html, and www.nclrights.org/Doe_v_Reed_amicus_brief.

A ruling in the case is expected later this year.


Supreme Court Takes up Washington Case Involving Disclosure of Petition Signatures

April 26, 2010

by Janet I. Tu | Seattle Times

The U.S. Supreme Court this week will hear a Washington state case that could decide whether signing a petition for a ballot measure is a private, political act or whether the names of those signers can be made public.

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Washington Income Tax Initiative to Include Gay Couples

April 26, 2010

by Rachel La Corte | Associated Press

Supporters of an initiative campaign to tax the earnings of couples making more than $400,000 annually want to make sure the state’s domestic partners are taxed at the same rate as married couples.

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NCLR Files Suit Challenging Discriminatory Athletic Policy

April 20, 2010

Athletes, Coach humiliated at public interrogation about sexual orientation

Today, National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) clients and the law firm of K&L Gates LLP filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington challenging the discriminatory practices of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association (NAGAAA). The lawsuit alleges that NAGAAA violated Washington’s laws governing discrimination in public accommodations, and state consumer protections by implementing and enforcing a “two heterosexuals per team” cap during the 2008 Gay Softball World Series in Seattle, and also violated the plaintiff softball players’ rights by subjecting them to a series of invasive questions about their sexual orientation and private lives in front of more than 25 people, most of them strangers.

When NCLR clients Steven Apilado, LaRon Charles, and Jon Russ traveled with their softball team to the 2008 Gay Softball World Series in Seattle, they encountered discrimination, hostility, and suspicion. Their team, D2, had been playing together in the San Francisco Gay Softball League for years. In 2008, they had practiced more than ever in the hopes of winning the World Series, and they made it all the way to the championship game.

During the championship, D2 learned that another team challenged their eligibility to play based on a tournament rule that each team could have no more than two straight players. Immediately after the game, five D2 players were summoned to a conference room for a protest hearing, despite NAGAAA’s stated mission of promoting “amateur sports competition, particularly softball, for all persons regardless of age, sexual orientation or preference, with special emphasis on the participation of members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.” Each player was forced to answer intrusive questions about his sexual orientation and his private life in front of a room of over 25 people, most of whom the players did not know. The players were forced to answer whether they were “predominantly attracted to men” or “predominantly attracted to women,” without the option of answering that they were attracted to both. After each player was interrogated, a panel voted on whether he was “gay” or “non-gay.” NAGAAA’s committee refused to entertain the idea that the players could be bisexual. In response to a player’s statement that he was attracted to both men and women, a NAGAAA member responded, “This is the Gay World Series, not the Bisexual World Series.”

Ultimately, the predominantly-white committee voted that Charles, Russ, and Apilado, all men of color, were not gay. The committee voted multiple times on at least one player. The committee also declared that the other two players, both white—one of whom had given precisely the same answers as Russ—were gay. The committee recommended disciplinary measures against Apilado, Charles, and Russ their team, and the San Francisco Gay Softball League, including forcing their team, D2, to retroactively forfeit their second-place World Series win.

“This case shows that bisexual people are an integral part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The San Francisco team was truly diverse and welcomed bisexual, gay, and straight players, and they saw each other as not just teammates, but family,” said NCLR Sports Project Director Helen Carroll. “We all deserve to be treated with respect no matter what part of the ‘LGBT’ we are. It damages our community to conduct witch hunts and to exclude people from playing in a sports league for not being ‘gay enough’. We wouldn’t accept this kind of treatment from a non-LGBT sports organization and we shouldn’t do it to ourselves.”

NAGAAA, which organizes the Gay Softball World Series, has refused to change the discriminatory rule that excludes players based on sexual orientation, to apologize to Apilado, Charles, and Russ for the traumatic and humiliating public interrogation they endured, or to disavow the practice of interrogating players about their sexual orientations in protest hearings.

NCLR Staff Attorney Melanie Rowen said, “Washington law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations. But conducting an inquisition into someone’s sexual orientation to exclude them from playing sports in their community is not just discriminatory—it is outrageous.”

“When you play softball, you never expect for anyone to corner you and ask you personal questions about who you are and what you do,” said Charles. “It was emotional for me as a coach to go in there and not only get grilled, but watch my team be put in this situation. This had me angry, had me in tears, contemplating whether I even want to be part of the league anymore after being in it since 1999. The rationale that straight players should be limited on a team because they are better athletes is wrong, and it’s insulting to the many strong LGBT athletes of today. A player is a player.”

Apilado, Charles, and Russ are represented pro bono by NCLR and Suzanne J. Thomas and Cristin J. Kent of K&L Gates.


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.


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