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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.

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. 

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“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. 

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. 

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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Austin Pride Rescheduled

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The Austin Pride Foundation announced that this year’s Austin Pride celebration, originally scheduled for Saturday, August 13, 2022, has been rescheduled for the following weekend. This year’s Austin Pride Festival and Parade will now be held on Saturday, August 20, 2022.

According the a post on Facebook, the change was made at the request of the City of Austin:

We will celebrate Austin Pride No! Matter! What! At the request of the City of Austin, our new date for Austin Pride is Saturday, August 20, 2022. One more week also gives us a chance to go Beyond the Rainbow for the Pride we deserve after two long years. This year the rainbow shines no matter what! See you there.

This will be the first pride celebration in Austin since 2019, after all events in 2020 were canceled as a result of the pandemic and canceled again in 2021 due to a surge of infections caused by the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

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How did trans people become a GOP target? Experts say it’s all about keeping evangelicals voting

The recent blitz of anti-trans bills may not align with what many Republicans believe, but party lawmakers pursue them on behalf of their most important interest group.

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(jaefrench/Pixabay) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

This story was originally published by The 19th

When it came down to it, Rick Colby called on his spirituality in deciding how to support his transgender child, Ashton.

It wasn’t a guarantee. Colby had dedicated his life to Republican politics, starting in 1984 on the field campaign to reelect Ronald Reagan. Reagan and the Republican Party with him and in the decades following would push anti-LGBTQ+ policies. But Colby’s Methodist church by comparison preached inclusivity and empathy, a message that conflicted with what he was hearing from Republicans. 

Colby went with Ashton to his first endocrinologist appointment. He held Ashton’s hand the following year as Ashton awoke from gender-affirming top surgery.

 “You know, as a parent, you want to protect your child from the nastiness of the world,” Colby said. “I was so relieved as a parent that he was being accepted. And it was just wonderful.” 

Survey after survey show that Americans support LGBTQ+ equality, and Republicans are no exception. Still, Republican-dominated states have seen a blitz of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation since 2020, particularly anti-transgender bills. That dissonance — between the reality of the electorate and the priorities of Republican lawmakers — may seem counterintuitive to many. 

Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth professor who was raised evangelical, has spent much of his career researching those kinds of contradictions. His book, Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of Religious Right traces the rise of the evangelical voting bloc from nonexistent in the 1960s to the single most important interest group for any Republican candidate in the 1980s. In a conversation with The 19th, Balmer said that rise was driving Republican support for anti-trans legislation now. 

“They have an interest in keeping the base riled up about one thing or another, and when one issue fades, as with same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, they’ve got to find something else,” Balmer said. “It’s almost frantic.” 

Bob Jones University sign at entrance on Wade Hampton Boulevard, Greenville, South Carolina, United States. (John Foxe/Wikimedia) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

While many people believe that abortion was the issue that first galvanized evangelicals to the polls in the 1980s, Balmer points to a different issue. Paul Weyrich, an evangelical Christian who helped initially organize the “religious right,” had been testing out issues that would drive other evangelicals to the polls in the 1970s, Balmer says. Weyrich found it in Bob Jones University, a religious institution that was facing the loss of its tax-exempt status for refusing to racially integrate. 

Weyrich’s strategy worked. In 1980, evangelicals – a group of denominations separate from mainline churches like Colby’s –  flocked to the polls to back what had been billed as the freedom of a religious school to operate without government interference. Reagan backed Bob Jones University, with two-thirds of the evangelical vote, denied President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat and an evangelical himself, a second term. It cemented White evangelicals as the key ingredient to Republican wins. 

Any Republican who wanted to cross the finish line would have to kneel at the feet of the evangelical base, Balmer says. Decades later, Donald Trump would initially campaign on welcoming LGBTQ+ people into his Republican platform, only to later adopt the ideology of the far-right evangelical base he needed to win. 

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While Trump appeared to start out a social moderate, far-right evangelical policies increasingly dominated his agenda. On the campaign trail, Trump briefly vowed to be an ally to queer Americans. In office, his administration made so many policy moves against LGBTQ+ Americans that advocacy organizations branded his leadership “The Discrimination Administration.” 

The religious right’s fixation on “social issues” — abortion, religious-based education, LGBTQ+ rights — served two purposes. In addition to keeping evangelicals a cohesive voting unit, they also formed an ideological bedrock for the religious right. Before Weyrich died, he argued that conservatives should be fighting to return to family structures of the 1950s, a goal that has been picked up by leaders after him. 

In his book The Next Conservatism, Weyrich wrote that the goal was to weed out “cultural Marxism,” and “restore a non-ideological American republic, which is what we had up until the wretched 1960s,” when women and Black and LGBTQ+ Americans pushed for and won greater rights.

 After Reagan’s 1980 victory, Weyrich would continue to test issue after issue to keep evangelicals voting, including abortion. This idealized rewind to 1950s America would systematically challenge the basic rights gained by Black Americans, LGBTQ+ people and those with disabilities.

“As they were searching for different issues, I think they understood that any issue that had some sort of connection to sexuality or sexual behavior was going to work for them,” Balmer told The 19th. 

The first issue was “sodomy laws,” which aimed to make gay sex illegal. The Supreme Court overruled the last of them in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas. Next came marriage equality, which was granted nationwide by the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling in 2015. Still, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, evangelical Protestants were the only major religious group as of 2020 that opposed same-sex marriage: just 34 percent of those surveyed support marriage equality.

The country, however, moved on.  

“It’s staggering how quickly [marriage] disappeared as an issue,” Balmer said “And so, they almost frantically began looking for something else. And of course, the trans thing was the next thing on the horizon.” 

Today, nearly 8 in 10 Americans back nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people, according to a poll from the nonpartisan ​​Public Religion Research Institute. That includes 65 percent of Republicans. A 2021 poll by PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll found that two-thirds of Americans opposed bills limiting the rights of transgender people. 

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Still, since 2020, 15 states have passed laws barring transgender kids from playing sports in their lived genders. Three have put laws on the books to prevent trans kids from accessing care for gender dysphoria recommended by major medical associations. Two have outlawed mention of LGBTQ+ history or people for young kids in public schools. 

Maps of states that have passed laws that would ban abortion if the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade almost mirror those that have passed anti-trans bans. Eleven of the 15 states with a sports participation ban for trans youth have also moved to curtail abortion rights. 

Zein Murib, assistant political professor at Fordham University, says that overlap is no mistake. 

“They’re saying, ‘Forget about rights. This is about bodies,’” Murib said. “This is about these bodies being in places where they again presumably do not belong. … You see them deploying scare tactics like, ‘men disguised as women in girls’ restrooms’ or ‘boys in girls’ locker rooms.’”

As 19th News found in an investigation in 2021, the vast majority of anti-transgender bills never use the word “transgender” at all. Lawmakers instead pitch the bills as critical to securing rights for women in sports and larger society. Those arguments fail to acknowledge transgender women, and advocates say they are increasingly out of touch with the general electorate. 

Chris Bull is the editorial director of queer media firm Q.Digital and the author of the 2001 book  Perfect Enemies: The Battle Between the Religious Right and the Gay Movement. Bull argues that Republican lawmakers have abandoned 80 percent of their voters to cater to a sliver of their voters. 

“I think that the cliche of American politics is not holding anymore,” he said. “They’re really running base campaigns, that 20 percent of the electorate.” 

Still, political scientists warn that the strategy to attack trans rights could backfire and cost them support among an increasingly diverse electorate. More Americans, like Colby, know transgender people than ever before. More than that, evangelicals are statistically shrinking as a voting block, while the number who support LGBTQ+ people continues to rapidly grow. 

In the 2018 midterms, the Human Rights Campaign, with polling firm Catalyst, found that people they dubbed “equality voters,” those whose support for LGBTQ+ rights strongly influenced their voting choices, made up 29 percent of the electorate. White evangelicals made up 26 percent of the vote.

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

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Dallas Southern Pride Announces the 2022 Juneteenth Unity Weekend

More than 20,000 people expected to attend the star-studded event featuring A-List celebrities including Moneybagg Yo, The City Girls, Saucy Santana, and Dallas’ own, Yella Beezy and Erica Banks

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DALLAS — Dallas Southern Pride will host its Juneteenth Unity Weekend celebration, June 16-19, 2022. This year’s celebration will include a myriad of events, including health and wellness screenings, COVID-19 vaccinations, concerts, their annual Juneteenth Unity Festival and Pool Party, various local club events, parties and The Emancipation Ball. Some of the biggest stars in hip-hop and entertainment are confirmed for this unforgettable four-day weekend of festivities, including the City Girls, Saucy Santana, and Moneybagg Yo, who will perform at the Juneteenth Unity Festival and Pool Party on Saturday, June 18 from 5 PM – 9 PM at Samuell-Grand Aquatic Center, 3201 Samuell Blvd., Dallas, Texas; and Dallas’ own superstars Erica Banks and Yella Beezy, who will perform at the Mega Party that Saturday at 10 PM at Amplified, 10262 Technology Blvd E, Dallas, Texas. The weekend of events will conclude with a signature brunch on Sunday, June 19, hosted by Kirk Myers-Hill, president of Dallas Southern Pride.

More than 20,000 people from across the United States and internationally are slated to attend this year’s Juneteenth Unity Weekend celebration, which was created to celebrate the brilliance and culture of Black people. An idea birthed by community leader, businessperson and activist, Kirk Myers-Hill, the Juneteenth Unity Weekend is the official annual celebration for Black Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, and Queer (LGBTQ+) people to come together and celebrate their contributions to both American and Black culture, liberation and community.

“Juneteenth Unity Weekend is a celebration and representation of the many intersections and beautiful mosaics within the Black community,” said Kirk Myers-Hill, president of Dallas Southern Pride. “The Black community is only as strong as its Black Gay brothers and sisters. Juneteenth is an opportunity to showcase unity and display the belief that we are all stronger together.”

Juneteenth became a federally recognized national holiday in 2021. However, long before the nation started celebrating this holiday, Black people in Texas were celebrating this day, as it originated in Texas. The Emancipation Proclamation, which granted freedom to slaves, was signed 1863. However, it wasn’t until two years later on June 19, 1865, that slaves in Texas first learned of their freedom. Union troops entered Galveston, TX, announcing that all slaves were free. This marked the beginning of Juneteenth as it is known and recognized today. Since 2017, the Governor of Texas has submitted a proclamation recognizing the Juneteenth Unity Weekend. Additionally, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson continues to show her support by issuing welcome letters for the past five years. The Juneteenth Unity Weekend is a family-oriented celebration with events and programming for the entire community and is excited to bring the celebration of Juneteenth back home to Texas. June is also Pride Month and the Juneteenth Unity Weekend has been a staple event in the city of Dallas during Pride month for many years.

“VisitDallas is excited to support the 2022 Juneteenth Unity Weekend hosted by Dallas Southern Pride and Abounding Prosperity, Inc. Events like this continue to make Dallas a better place to live and visit,” said Craig T. Davis, president and CEO of VisitDallas.

Since its inception in 2008, the Juneteenth Unity Weekend continues to make a positive impact in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex by unifying the community, celebrating freedom, providing a safe space for community gathering, and infusing millions of dollars into the local economy. The 2021 Juneteenth Unity Weekend brought thousands of visitors to the Metroplex, and sold-out all its host hotels. The event generated more than $2.2 million dollars for local business hit hard by the global COVID-19 pandemic and created hundreds of jobs for “gig” workers. The event and leadership team also created other historic moments for the city of Dallas. As a result, the HIV positivity rate dropped below 10 percent for the first time in the event’s history among more than 200 attendees tested; the Dallas Police Department held a recruitment drive targeting LGBTQ+ applicants; the Dallas skyline was lighted in the Juneteenth and Black Pride colors for the first time and The Dallas Southern Pride Official Pride flag was debuted and flown for the first time at the Sheraton Market Center.

The Juneteenth Unity Weekend is a collaborative celebration made possible by the support of the many companies and organizations that share the collective vision for this impactful event that advances the entire Black family and social justice movements and celebrates unity and peace. The 2022 presenting sponsors thus far are Gilead Sciences and Abounding Prosperity, Inc., along with Black Entertainment Television (BET) and ViiV Healthcare as diamond sponsors. Other key sponsors include the Dallas Mavericks, Radio One Dallas, Dallas TPID, AHF, Yale School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins University, HVTN, SBPAN, AIDS United, VisitDallas, Hilton, Center for Black Equity, United Black Ellument, Crawford Jewelry, and Don Morphy.

A portion of the proceeds from this year’s Juneteenth Unity Weekend will be used to support the free health, and wellness activities of its partner agencies, which offsets the cost of essential services to Black and Brown communities, with an emphasis on LGBTQ+ communities and their families in the DFW metroplex.

The Juneteenth Unity Weekend is still open for additional sponsors and vendors, particularly those in the arts, entertainment, health and wellness, skincare, clothing, beauty, food and beverage including food trucks, and lifestyle brands.

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For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.dallassouthernpride.com.

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