Lambda Legal News
Victory for the Rights of Non-Biological Parents
In August, Lambda Legal and co-counsel secured a groundbreaking ruling from the New York State Court of Appeals affirming the rights of non-genetic parents. “The state’s highest court is recognizing the diversity of New York families and reversing a bitter precedent that has kept children from their parents,” Lambda Legal’s Susan Sommer told the New York Times. Lambda Legal had argued for upstate New York resident Brooke B., who had a son with Elizabeth C. They had planned to marry, but their relationship ended in 2010 before the state legalized marriage for same-sex couples. Both mothers continued to co-parent their child, picking him up at day care, taking him to doctor’s appointments and celebrating holidays with him. But in 2013, Elizabeth cut Brooke off, arguing in a subsequent court case that without marriage or adoption, Brooke had no parental rights. Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam wrote that “where a partner shows by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive a child and to raise the child together, the non-biological, non-adoptive partner has standing to seek visitation and custody.” The landmark decision finally brings the state “into line with the mainstream,” Sommer said.
Prison Refuses Care to Transgender Woman
Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit in August on behalf of Jessica Hicklin, a transgender woman incarcerated at all-male Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, Missouri. Doctors have prescribed hormone therapy, gender-affirming canteen items and permanent hair removal for Hicklin. But the Missouri Department of Corrections has denied these to her, citing its policy barring access to hormone therapy to anyone not receiving it prior to incarceration. The consequences have been cruel for Hicklin, in prison now for 21 years. “Without care, I feel as though I am re-sentenced each day, further locked in a prison within a prison—my body,” she says. Lambda Legal Staff and Transgender Rights Project Attorney Demoya Gordon says, “Not only does this violate accepted medical standards, it is the definition of cruel and unusual punishment.”
Couple Denied a Wedding Cake Heads Back to Court
Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief in August on behalf of Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer, a lesbian couple subjected to a three-year campaign of public harassment—even death threats—over a wedding cake. The foster parents of two were planning to get married in 2013 when a local bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, refused to make them a cake. The owners of the bakery cited their Christian religion and described the couple’s relationship as an “abomination.” The Bowman- Cryers filed a complaint, and the bakery and its supporters retaliated by attacking them online and in a radio talk show. Lambda Legal’s brief opposes the appeal of a state agency decision to award the couple damages. “Religion should not be used as a sword to deny rights or basic services to same-sex couples,” says Lambda Legal Law and Policy Project Senior Staff Attorney Nancy Marcus.
Lambda Legal Seeks to Block HB2
Lambda Legal announced in August that it is filing an appeal to protect all transgender North Carolinians from the notorious House Bill 2 (HB2) while Lambda Legal’s case against the law proceeds toward trial next year. The appeal challenges a trial court ruling, in a bid to block HB2 more broadly. HB2 eliminates antidiscrimination protections for LGBT people and bars transgender people from using sex-specific facilities that match their gender identity. “We are optimistic that HB2’s days are numbered and are appealing Friday’s ruling in order to bring relief to all those who live in or visit North Carolina,” says Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Tara Borelli. The district court ruling also found that HB2 may violate Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded schools. Lambda Legal, the ACLU, the ACLU of North Carolina and Jenner & Block will also argue that HB2 violates the U.S. Constitution. A separate challenge to HB2 is pending from the U.S. Department of Justice.
13 States Still Defying Trans-Friendly School Guidelines
Lambda Legal and four other civil rights groups filed a friend-of-the-court brief defending guidelines that the Obama Administration issued in May, calling for public schools to respect transgender students by using the right pronouns, combatting bullying and allowing students to use restrooms in line with their gender identity. Texas and 12 other states immediately sued to block the guidelines. In August, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in those states’ favor, although schools still have a legal responsibility to protect transgender students. “The decision is certainly emotional and certainly an attack on transgender students’ dignity,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Paul D. Castillo told the Associated Press.
Setback for Lesbian Teacher in Job Discrimination Case
Lambda Legal has filed for rehearing in the case of Kimberly Hively, who served as a part-time math instructor at Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend, Indiana for 14 years. Hively was repeatedly refused promotions and full-time employment and ultimately fired because she is a lesbian. In July, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit rejected Lambda Legal’s appeal on Hively’s behalf arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws workplace discrimination based on sex, also bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, and that contrary to 7th Circuit precedents should be overruled. “Lesbian, gay and bisexual people are vulnerable and losing their jobs because old case law interpreted Title VII too narrowly,” says Lambda Legal Counsel Greg Nevins. “It is past time to fix that.”
Church Playground Case Goes to the Supreme Court
Lambda Legal has submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in a case that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this fall, involving the Columbia, Missouri-based Trinity Lutheran Church. Trinity had been rejected for state funding to resurface its school playground, as Missouri’s constitution bars churches from receiving government grants. Trinity took its case to court, claiming religious discrimination. Lambda Legal’s brief warns that “there is reason for concern” that this particular church school discriminates against the children of samesex parents. “Government should not fund a church playground that fences out certain children,” says Lambda Legal Counsel Camilla Taylor. Lambda Legal is concerned that the Senate’s failure to seat a ninth justice could have an impact on the outcome of this case.
Advocacy & Policy
Texas’s record of protecting LGBT people in prison from rape or sexual assault is among the worst in the country. Lambda Legal has repeatedly pressed the state to abide by federal law and protect LGBT people in prison. Lambda Legal client Passion Star was placed in safekeeping only after months of litigation. Following Texas’s latest promise to address the problem, Lambda Legal launched its #StopPrisonRapeInTX campaign, urging investigations into a string of specific episodes. “Texas’s newest assurance is not enough,” says Lambda Legal Staff Attorney and Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Program Strategist Richard Saenz. “We need action.” The new campaign includes a petition to the governor at lambdalegal. org/petition/stopprisonrapeintx
Arizona law forbids public school teachers from acknowledging that gay people can have sex without transmitting HIV. It also bans curricula that “portray homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style.” State lawmakers considered a bill earlier this year to correct the curricula and make them more inclusive, but it was defeated. One senator’s explanation was this: “The problem is we have lost sight of that morality taught in the Bible.” Lambda Legal’s #DontEraseUs campaign is aimed at defeating laws like Arizona’s that require teachers to share inaccurate and discriminatory information about LGBT people. Check out the campaign at lambdalegal.org/dont-erase-us