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Transgender minors have a right to gender-affirming care, Justice Dept. warns states

A letter to state attorneys general hints at legal action if restrictions continue to pass.

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The Robert F. Kennedy Building in Washington, D.C., which is home to the headquarters of the United States Department of Justice. (Coolcaesar/Wikimedia Commons) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

This story was originally published by The 19th

The Justice Department said last week that states seeking to block transgender minors from accessing gender-affirming care may be violating federal law — and signaled that it is prepared to pursue legal action or support existing litigation against states seeking such restrictions.

In a letter to all state attorneys general, sent on Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV), the Department of Justice (DOJ) asserted that state laws preventing trans minors from accessing gender-affirming care — by blocking parents or guardians from following a medical professional’s advice, as states like Texas and Arkansas have attempted — may infringe on the 14th Amendment’s equal protection and due process clauses.

“It’s probably the most powerful and progressive step we’ve seen on transgender rights ever from the federal government, at least today,” said Ezra Ishmael Young, who teaches constitutional law at Cornell Law School. “But the attorney general did not sign it.” 

He said that while the letter, signed by Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke — who heads the DOJ’s civil rights division — is powerful, it would send a stronger signal with Attorney General Merrick Garland’s signature. A DOJ spokesperson said over email that agency divisions sending letters at the AAG level is a fairly typical practice.

Experts say that the letter effectively warns states that the federal government is unlikely to stand by as bills that restrict transgender minors’ gender-affirming care are signed into law.

At least 16 states have attempted to pass legislation this year barring gender-affirming care for trans youth, according to the Equality Federation. While these efforts have often failed, Arizona last week became one of only a few states that has actually signed a bill into law to restrict gender-affirming care. Arizona’s bill, which goes into effect next year, only bans surgeries for minors — procedures that are not recommended or typically administered for patients under 18.

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After Texas failed last year to pass legislation that would block gender-affirming care, the state’s executive branch has taken additional efforts to criminalize such treatments. State Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked the Texas Supreme Court to allow investigations into families seeking transition-related care for their children, after the governor instructed the state’s child welfare agency to investigate such cases as child abuse. At least two Texas clinics halted gender-affirming care in response to the state’s call for investigations. 

Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) who has been representing LGBTQ+ rights cases for nearly 30 years, said in an email that the letter, and its underlying message that the DOJ is prepared to take action, “is incredibly encouraging.” 

To Minter, the agency’s message is clear: If states enact laws that deny trans youth medically necessary gender-affirming care, the DOJ is prepared to take action through its own litigation or to support outside litigation. 

“This is extremely important — one of the strongest actions short of litigation itself that DOJ can take,” he said. 

In its letter, the DOJ cites Bostock v. Clayton County, the landmark 2020 Supreme Court case that found LGBTQ+ people are protected against work discrimination by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, to justify its position that banning gender-affirming care opens states to higher legal scrutiny under the 14th Amendment. 

Heron Greenesmith, adjunct law professor at Boston University and senior research analyst at the progressive think tank Political Research Associates, said that while the agency’s letter sends a powerful message that will likely fuel legal cases against anti-trans bills, it does not necessarily mean that the agency plans to mount its own lawsuit. 

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To Greenesmith, the agency has, at minimum, provided fodder for civil rights groups pursuing lawsuits against anti-trans bills.

“Either way, this is great news,” they said. “It provides physical buoying underneath the legal arguments that plaintiffs are right now making that denying this care harms them.” 

The agency’s letter follows a pattern of the DOJ filing statements of interest in lawsuits brought by the ACLU, Lambda Legal and other advocacy groups against states that have passed anti-trans bills. The DOJ, through spokesperson Aryele Bradford, declined to comment on what motivated the agency to release this letter now. 

The letter also coincided with a slate of policy reforms announced by the Biden administration on TDOV that aim to reinforce transgender rights. LGBTQ+ advocacy groups met with congressional leadership, as well as leaders in Biden’s White House, in separate meetings last week to discuss trans rights. 

Passport applications will have “X” gender markers available after April 11, enabling nonbinary and intersex people to have the document accurately reflect their identity. The Transportation Security Administration has pledged to replace its gender-based body scanners, which have led to trans people being subjected to invasive pat-downs and traumatic experiences. 

The Social Security Administration also announced that trans people will not have to provide medical documentation to update their gender in their Social Security record, and the Department of Education plans, in a shift for the agency, to ask students for their gender identity when applying for federal financial aid, the White House said in a press release. 

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Alongside the policy rollout, six transgender and nonbinary youth visited the White House on TDOV to meet with Levine, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and — briefly — with Vice President Kamala Harris. 

Andy Marra, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund — who first reached out to the White House on March 2 to request a meeting of trans youth and families at the White House — told The 19th on TDOV that the organization is also advocating for the administration to remove blanket exclusions for transition-related health care from its federal employee health care benefits program. The organization brought the issue up in a March 29 meeting with members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Marra said. 

Young noted that the DOJ’s letter is also a missed opportunity for the administration to explicitly voice support for trans adults seeking gender-affirming care, not just trans youth, as some health insurance plans still include blanket exclusions against such care.

Marra said she sees bringing trans youth to the White House as a significant moment, especially at a time when TDOV has taken on a greater depth for some trans people as a rising number of anti-trans bills have proliferated through statehouses. 

One trans teenager, Harleigh Walker, 15, who lives in Alabama, told The 19th that visiting the White House with her dad on TDOV — which is also her birthday — was an important moment to bring the administration’s attention to trans people are going through in the country. 

“We are being attacked, and asking for help is really important,” she said. 

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The 19th is an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting at the intersection of gender, politics and policy.

Orion Rummler is a reporter on The 19th's breaking news team. He previously anchored live news coverage at Axios, including the January 6 Capitol attack, the coronavirus and the 2020 election. He also researched “Axios on HBO” stories on former President Donald Trump and expanded the outlet’s LGBTQ+ coverage.

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Kelley Robinson to be first Black, queer woman to lead Human Rights Campaign

Robinson, who comes to the LGBTQ+ civil rights organization from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said her identities shape how she will approach the job.

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This story was originally published by The 19th

Kelley Robinson will be the new president of the Human Rights Campaign and the first Black, queer woman to lead the group, the organization announced Tuesday.

Robinson is a veteran organizer in progressive politics who comes to the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, where she worked for three years as executive director. She takes the helm in the wake of the end of federal protections for abortion access and as states are considering and passing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

In an interview with The 19th ahead of the HRC’s announcement of her role, Robinson said that her many identities — as Black, queer, a woman, a mother and wife — shape how she will approach the job.

“My identities always remind me of that responsibility and help me to open the door for others,” Robinson said. “Just my being here is revolutionary. I also have a lot of privilege. I show up in the world as a cisgender woman. I have to make sure I’m creating space for others whose identity I don’t hold, to make sure they see that this movement for LGBTQ+ people is a space where all of us are seen, where all of us are celebrated, and we’re going to fight like hell to make sure all of us have the freedoms we deserve.”

Robinson is the latest Black woman and queer person tapped to head progressive organizations historically led by White people, including Laphonza Butler at Emily’s List, Alexis McGill Johnson at Planned Parenthood and Fatima Goss Graves at the National Women’s Law Center. 

Robinson’s predecessor, Alphonso David, the organization’s first Black leader in its 40-year history, was one of several advocates who advised former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s team on sexual harassment allegations. The New York attorney general said in a report that David, a longtime aide to Cuomo before joining HRC, was one of several outside advisers who engaged in a “flurry of communication” to protect Cuomo.

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In a span of weeks, the HRC conducted a review of David’s interactions with Cuomo, David and the board disputed the results of that review, and the organization announced its boards had decided to fire David.  

Asked whether she was concerned about these issues being resolved and how much of her new role would require repair and trust-building in the organization, Robinson did not address the issue directly, but said: “The progressive movement is in a space where we are really reckoning with not only ensuring that we are fighting for justice externally but also making sure that within the walls of our organization, staff, volunteers, activists, leaders are also experiencing that same sort of dignity and respect that we’re fighting for externally.”

Robinson said that HRC has done “an incredible job” of nurturing staff and building volunteer leadership to be ready for this moment, adding, “The crisis is so urgent that the only way to look is really forward in terms of what we’ve got to do next.”

A number of states have passed laws restricting the discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in schools, and some have also passed anti-trans bills about participation in athletics. And the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which based a federal right to abortion in a right to privacy guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, has raised some questions about whether a decision for marriage equality, based in that same right, is also vulnerable. The Senate has delayed a vote on a bill that would protect some aspects of marriage equality until after the November midterm elections.

The Human Rights Campaign has a mandate to ensure freedom and liberation for every LGBTQ+ person and to address the intersectional challenges of the moment, Robinson said. That looks like fighting for marriage equality and saving the lives of transgender people who are being murdered, working to ensure access to medical services from abortion to gender-affirming care, and pushing for dignity in workplace regardless of the industry, she said.

“We’ve talked about intersectionality as a theory and now we’re applying it to our movement building work as truly the only way for us to survive,” Robinson said. “Our opposition is intersectional. They will say that they are coming after our ability to marry who we want, and at the same time, coming after our abortion rights, after immigration rights, climate justice and more. So we have got to have a more broad and powerful intersectional response.”

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The 19th is an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting at the intersection of gender, politics and policy.

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200K+ Transgender Citizens Could Face Barriers to Voting

Voter registration requirements and voter ID laws may present a challenge for transgender people who do not have accurate identification.

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Person dropping paper on box. (Element5 Digital/Pexels)

An estimated 878,300 transgender adults will be eligible to vote in the 2022 midterm elections, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. Approximately 203,700 of them could have problems voting at the polls because they do not have an ID that correctly reflects their name and/or gender. Approximately 64,800 of these transgender adults reside in states with the strictest forms of voter ID laws and could potentially be disenfranchised.

In the U.S., 35 states have voter ID laws that require people to provide some form of identification to vote. Eight states with the strictest voter ID laws—Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wisconsin—require people to show a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, U.S. passport, or military ID to vote using a regular ballot.

“The requirements for updating the name and gender on official IDs vary widely across states, and the process can be complex and costly,” said lead author Kathryn O’Neill, Policy Analyst at the Williams Institute. “Transgender voters who live in states that require an ID to vote may face scrutiny or be turned away at the polls.”

Transgender people of color, young adults, students, people with low incomes, those experiencing homelessness, and people with disabilities are more likely to not have accurate IDs for voting.

“Voter ID laws may create barriers to voting for substantial numbers of voting-eligible transgender people, which is particularly notable in elections that are decided by a few votes,” said co-author Jody L. Herman, Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “States should take steps to improve access to voting for transgender people by changing voter ID laws, making the process of obtaining accurate IDs simpler and more affordable, training poll workers, and reducing barriers to voting more broadly.”

Read the report 

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These companies publicly oppose anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Some fund lawmakers who sponsor them.

Lawmakers in 6 states with a high number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills received hundreds of thousands from major companies in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles.

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Ohio Valley Pride Parade. (Rosemary Ketchum/Pexels)

This story was originally published by The 19th

After signing a pledge opposing anti-LGBTQ+ state legislation last spring, companies like AT&T, Amazon, Pfizer, and CVS Health gave thousands of dollars to the campaign efforts of lawmakers who had been backing such bills, according to a recent analysis from Data for Progress, a left-leaning polling firm. 

Lawmakers in six states who wrote, signed or sponsored anti-LGBTQ+ legislation received tens of thousands and, in a few cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars, from major U.S. corporations in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles, Data for Progress found. 

Alabama, Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, Idaho and Texas have been prolific in their efforts to bar trans students from school sports, restrict gender-affirming care for minors and ban LGBTQ+ discussions from classrooms over the past few years. 

At least seven companies tracked by Data for Progress continued campaign donations for the 2022 election cycle to politicians backing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation after signing a pledge against such bills from the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom for All Americans. The pledge says the companies “are deeply concerned” about anti-LGBTQ+ bills and that they call for “public leaders to abandon or oppose” the legislation, but it did not explicitly address campaign donations.

Thirty companies that made campaign contributions were also official Pride sponsors in 2021 or 2022 for various cities across the country. Other companies, including General Motors, signed the pledge after making donations for the 2020 campaign cycle but have not given since then, according to the analysis, which goes through May. 

Companies have long engaged in political spending that contradicts their public values while seeking to back other interests, such as favorable and unrelated legislation.  This discrepancy is can be particularly stark during Pride month. While the donations may not have been made with anti-LGBTQ+ bills in mind, the money carries extra weight in the states that Data for Progress studied, since lawmakers there have actually passed anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans legislation after introducing bills at a rapid pace, local and national LGBTQ+ advocates said. 

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Among the six states studied by Data for Progress, Alabama had the highest number of anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers receiving corporate campaign contributions. The state recently passed a felony ban on puberty-blocking medication or hormone treatment for transgender youth — one of the strictest bills limiting access to medical care. It was blocked last month by a federal judge.

Dillon Nettles, policy and advocacy director for the ACLU of Alabama, said the funding from companies that have publicly espoused support for LGBTQ+ rights is “deeply disappointing” — and shows an inconsistent commitment to supporting the community. 

“It seems really risky for companies at this point in time to be willing to backslide on that commitment knowing that this is a moment where the country is being more activated and galvanized by these attacks on trans rights, and even more broadly, LGBTQ+ rights,” he said.

Data for Progress’ analysis is also just a small snapshot of the larger campaign finance contributions that major companies have made to anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers across the country. The newsletter Popular Information has tracked such spending for several years and has found that 25 companies eager to publicly celebrate Pride have donated $13 million since the start of last year to politicians backing anti-LGBTQ+ bills. 

The 19th reached out to 16 companies for comment regarding their campaign contributions to politicians who had backed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. None responded except AT&T, which made the second-most donations of any company tracked by Data for Progress. (Toyota gave the most.)

When taking public positions on government policies, AT&T focuses on areas such as broadband access and expansion, spokesperson Alex Byers said in an emailed statement. 

“Contributions to a particular lawmaker do not mean we support their views or actions on every issue,” he said. “We are mindful of diverse and complex societal issues that affect us, and we most immediately address these issues through direct social programs, philanthropy, employee benefits, and community involvement.”

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None of the lawmakers named in this story returned requests for comment. 

Victoria Kirby York, deputy executive director of the LGBTQ+ advocacy organization National Black Justice Coalition, said that as anti-trans rhetoric among Republican lawmakers grows and more bills are actually making it into law, corporations that want to support LGBTQ+ people need to reevaluate their relationships with state politicians. 

“There’s definitely a cognitive dissonance in saying you’re about equality and discrimination protections and for racial justice and LGBTQ+ equity and all of the things, and then to give millions upon millions of dollars to people working to undermine and demolish those protections,” they said. 

In Data for Progress’ analysis, contributions to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaigns account for well over half of the total money spent on anti-LGBTQ politicians across these six states. He received just over $2.2 million, primarily from three companies based in Texas: Toyota, AT&T and Enterprise Products Partners, an oil and gas company, per Data for Progress’ count.  

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, the second-highest-funded politician the organization tracked, received $302,000 for her reelection efforts, the bulk of it coming from Southern Co., which oversees Alabama Power. Several of her recent campaign ads have specifically showcased her support for anti-trans bills. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ranked third in campaign contributions at $192,000, with USAA and Farmers Insurance making the biggest donations.

In Texas, the state legislature held back-to-back special legislative sessions in 2021, with the last two specifically called to discuss anti-trans measures, among other bills. This year, Paxton issued an opinion labeling gender-affirming care as child abuse, and under Abbott’s order the state began investigations into families accessing gender-affirming care for their children. (The ACLU and Lambda Legal have filed another lawsuit to block state probes.)

Following months of those legislative sessions, Toyota, a Pride sponsor for Los Angeles this year, contributed $150,000 to Abbott’s reelection efforts in December, Data for Progress found. AT&T, which signed the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom for All Americans pledge against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation last spring,gave $10,000 to Paxton’s campaign in February this year. 

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To Adri Pérez, a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, the campaign funds are a clear signal that many corporations will put their own self-interests ahead of standing with LGBTQ+ people. 

While Pérez said companies need to be held accountable, they aren’t sure this is possible unless everyone makes a conscious choice to put that pressure on — including the LGBTQ+ groups platforming businesses that say they support LGBTQ+ rights. 

“Do they have to be held accountable? Yeah. Are they going to change their minds? I don’t know,” they said. 

Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, said that making a pledge to oppose anti-LGBTQ+ legislation while funding politicians who back these laws is ultimately meaningless. Advocates need meaningful help to get out of a “continued cycle of horrific moments,” he said, and to him that means going beyond publicly denouncing legislation after the fact. 

Companies need to commit to employ more trans people, to provide benefits for queer families, and to not funding elected officials targeting trans youth, he said — while consumers need to reject a lack of integrity from companies who publicly back LGBTQ+ rights. 

“It’s not going to change overnight,” he said. “And at the end of the day, the people have the power to intervene in this.” 

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Rachael Salisbury, vice president at a political research firm for progressive campaigns, who co-authored the Data for Progress analysis as a fellow for the organization, said she hopes that Pride organizations will use the data to screen companies that want to sponsor their events — and that companies will stop such donations. 

When companies sign pledges against anti-LGBTQ+ bills, including the pledge by HRC and Freedom for All Americans, “those are just pretty words at this point,” she said. 

“I want to give those leaders of those companies the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully they’re not being intentionally duplicitous, but even if it is just carelessness, we can’t tolerate that in our allies anymore,” Salisbury said. 

HRC and Freedom for All Americans said in emailed statements that working with companies on issues like political contributions or private lobbying, respectively, are key parts of their advocacy work for LGBTQ+ rights. 

“We encourage companies not to donate to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians, and to reckon with how damaging and harmful those donations are to the community, including their own LGBTQ+ employees,” HRC press secretary Aryn Fields said in a statement. 

“Companies have a singular ability to gain audience with lawmakers across the political spectrum, and can help share both the human and business reasons that this kind of policymaking is at odds with corporate values, public opinion, and long-term competitiveness,” Freedom for All Americans communications VP Angela Dallara said in an emailed statement. 

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On whether LGBTQ+ groups should ask companies for financial commitments when signing pledges against anti-LGBTQ+ bills, or if something should be done differently on such letters, Freedom for All Americans does not have a position, Dallara said. HRC declined to comment on what changes should be made to such pledges.

Disclosure: Pfizer, CVS Health, the Human Rights Campaign, and the chairman of Enterprise Product Partners, Randa Duncan Williams, have been financial supporters of The 19th. 

The 19th is an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting at the intersection of gender, politics and policy.

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