Tag Archives: gay rights

HRC: Garland is highly qualified candidate

The nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization welcomed the nomination of Merrick Garland, calling him highly qualified for the U.S. Supreme Court.

‘Highly qualified’ candidate

“Americans deserve a full Supreme Court bench and President Obama’s nominee deserves a hearing. There is no doubt that Merrick Garland is a highly qualified candidate and the Senate has a constitutional responsibility to give him swift and fair consideration,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “The Supreme Court has a sacred responsibility to uphold the rights of all citizens, and we must hold accountable any politicians who tamper with our nation’s highest court for their own gain.”

Garland, who has served on the federal bench and in public service for almost 25 years, appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997. He currently serves as the chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  After graduating from Harvard University and Harvard Law School, Garland served as a judicial clerk for Henry Friendly on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan.

HRC said it would continue to examine Garland’s record on issues affecting the LGBT community and looked forward to the Senate’s examination.

garland highly qualified
Merrick Garland. — PHOTO: Courtesy

The organization’s statement said “HRC fully hopes that in Judge Garland, we will find another well-qualified justice who will uphold the Constitution and rule fairly on issues important to the LGBT community.”

Last month HRC joined a coalition of 82 organizations in condemning Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for obstruction of the U.S. Supreme Court nomination process.

On the day of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, Republican leadership announced they would not even holding a hearing for the president’s nominee. Also, the Republican National Committee launched a special task force dedicated to blocking any efforts to fill the vacancy.

Next week, on March 21, HRC will participate in the #DoYourJob National Day of Action along with allied advocacy organizations. The campaign is focused on pushing senators to hold a hearing on the nomination.

Nation’s largest gay rights group endorses Hillary Clinton

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.

HRC’s board of directors unanimously voted to endorse Clinton — an endorsement she will accept on Jan. 24 at an event in Des Moines, Iowa, with HRC leaders and members.

HRC said its endorsement criteria include support for issues of concern to the community, demonstrated leadership on LGBT issues and viability.

As part of that process, all candidates for president were asked to fill out a candidate questionnaire. Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley provided answers, while no Republican candidates for president returned HRC’s questionnaire.

An announcement from HRC said the “endorsement comes at a time when the stakes could not be higher for the LGBT community” and detailed achievements in the last seven years under the Obama administration.

Now, HRC said, despite the fact that a majority of Republican and Independent voters support federal protections for LGBT Americans, the leading Republican candidates for president have threatened to halt progress as well as revoke, repeal and overturn gains made during Barack Obama’s two terms.

“All the progress we have made as a nation on LGBT equality — and all the progress we have yet to make — is at stake in November,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “In most states, LGBT people are still at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services simply because of who they are. Today, 63 percent of LGBT Americans report having experienced such discrimination, and we are seeing other troubling trends, from the onslaught of state and local anti-LGBT measures to the national scourge of anti-transgender violence to backsliding on HIV/AIDS prevention and youth homelessness. Against this backdrop, we’ve heard the leading Republican presidential candidates repeatedly threaten to block our progress, and to revoke, repeal, and overturn the gains we’ve made during President Obama’s two terms.

Griffin continued, “While they fight to take us backwards, Hillary Clinton is fighting to advance LGBT equality across our nation and throughout the world. We are proud to endorse Hillary Clinton for president, and believe that she is the champion we can count on in November — and every day she occupies the Oval Office.”

The Human Rights Campaign has 1.5 million members and supporters nationwide.

Polling has shown that in 2016, LGBT equality could be a pivotal issue for the general electorate. Support for marriage equality hit a record high of 60 percent over the last year and nearly 80 percent of Americans support federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

LGBT equality is also a key decision point for voters: a 55 percent majority of Americans say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate opposed to marriage equality. This progress has been driven in great part by the growing number of Americans — now nine out of ten people — with an LGBT person in their lives.

Clinton, HRC said, has made LGBT equality a pillar of her campaign and recently unveiled the most “robust and ambitious LGBT plan any candidate for president has ever laid out.” She vowed to fight for the federal Equality Act and her detailed LGBT policy platform calls for dropping the ban on open transgender military service, outlawing dangerous “conversion therapy” for minors, ending the epidemic of transgender violence and supporting HIV prevention and affordable treatment, among other proposals.

HRC said Clinton has a long record as a champion for LGBT rights both in the United States and around the globe. As secretary of state, she declared to the United Nations that “gay rights are human rights.” In the Senate, Clinton helped lead on bills to protect LGBT workers from employment discrimination.

Clinton says gay rights will be a pillar of her administration

Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered the strongest speech in support of gay rights in the 2016 presidential race on Oct. 3, promising that ending discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people would be a pillar of her administration.

“I see the injustices and the dangers that you and your families still face,” she told hundreds of gay activists at the annual meeting of the Human Rights Campaign. “I’m running for president to stand up for the fundamental rights of LGBT Americans.”

She added: “That’s a promise from one HRC to another.”

The statement showed how far Clinton has evolved on the subject. She opposed same-sex marriage for more than two decades in public life — as first lady, senator and presidential candidate. As recently as this year, Clinton said that while she personally supported gay marriage, the issue was best left for states to decide, a position that’s held by some candidates in the Republican presidential field.

But now Clinton has placed equal rights at the forefront of her campaign, which demonstrates the growing political and financial strength of the gay community in Democratic politics.

Vice President Joe Biden, who is considering a 2016 run, was to speak at the group’s dinner, while Clinton was booked on “Saturday Night Live.”

In her HRC appearance, Clinton said she has been “fighting alongside you and others for equal rights and I’m just getting warmed up.”

As activists chanted her name, she promised to work to pass legislation that would end discrimination, lower costs for HIV treatment and stop funding child welfare agencies that discriminate against gay parents.

She committed to pushing equal rights in the military, including for transgender people. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said the Pentagon’s current regulations banning transgender individuals from serving in the military are outdated. He has ordered a study aimed at ending one of the last gender- or sexuality-based barriers to military service.

Clinton’s remarks, particularly on the transgender issue, were some of the strongest in the presidential campaign. “We need to say with one voice that transgender people are valued,” she said. “They are loved and they are us.”

This summer, her campaign jumped on the Supreme Court’s watershed same-sex marriage decision, changing Clinton’s red campaign logo to a rainbow colored ‘H,’ releasing a video of gay wedding ceremonies and sending supportive tweets.

Clinton warned that the court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage could be overturned if a Republican wins the White House next year and appoints conservative justices.

The Human Rights Campaign made its first presidential endorsement in 1992, backing Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton cast herself as a champion for their cause. In 2008, the group stayed out of the primary fight, siding with then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama a day before Clinton dropped out of the race.

Clinton credited the organization with influencing her views.

“I’m really here to say thank you for your hard work and your courage and for insisting that right is right,” she said. “You helped change a lot of minds. Including mine.”

Clinton backed her husband’s Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and said in a Senate speech in 2004 that marriage between a man and a woman was a “fundamental bedrock principle.” In 2007, she dodged when asked whether she agreed with a statement from the then-Joint Chief of Staff chairman that homosexuality was immoral.

But like much of the Democratic Party and the country, her position shifted in recent years. As secretary of state, Clinton said at a 2011 conference in Geneva that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

She referenced that statement two years later when she released a video saying she backed gay marriage “personally, and as a matter of policy and law.” In April, her campaign released a statement voicing her support for making gay marriage a constitutional right.

But as recently as a year ago, she was still struggling to explain her switch in position.

“You are trying to say that I used to be opposed and now I am in favor and I did it for political reasons,” she said, in an tense exchange last June with NPR’s Terry Gross. “That’s just flat wrong.”

Her pivot on the issue may give her primary opponents a chance to broadcast their liberal credentials, allowing them to point out that they came to the right side of history years before Clinton.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 2016 rival, voted against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act when he was in the House. His home state was the first to legalize same-sex unions in 2000 and gay marriage through legislative action in 2009 — both efforts Sanders backed. This spring, he told the Washington Blade that he’d make a point to talk about transgender issues during his campaign.

“All I can say is I think I have one of the strongest, if not the strongest record, in the United States Congress on LGBT issues,” Sanders said the May interview. “My record speaks for itself, and I will compare it to any candidate who is out there.”

Biden won praise by endorsing gay marriage ahead of the 2012 election and became the highest elected official to support what was then a highly charged political issue. Obama followed soon after.

Indiana success emboldens gay right advocates

Gay rights advocates are hoping to parlay the momentum from their big legislative victories in Indiana and Arkansas into further expanding legal protections for gays and lesbians in states around the U.S.

Hundreds of people calling for Indiana to add protections for gays and lesbians to state civil rights laws marched through downtown Indianapolis on Saturday, April 4, drawing the attention of fans attending college basketball’s Final Four basketball tournament, a major event in American sports. They chanted “No more Band-Aids masking hate,” before they walked several blocks to Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the NCAA men’s basketball championship semi-final and final games.

Facing widespread pressure, including from big businesses such as Apple and Wal-Mart, Republican lawmakers in Indiana and Arkansas rolled back their states’ new religious objections laws, which critics said could be used to discriminate against gays. Amid the uproar, the Republican governors of Michigan and North Dakota urged their own legislatures to extend anti-discrimination protections to gays.

A wave of religious objections laws have been proposed in states across America as same-sex marriage rapidly advanced, prompting a backlash from evangelical Christian Republicans.

Court rulings and state legislatures have legalized same-sex marriage in 37 states and the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to finally issue a decision on the legality of gay marriage this year.

The gay rights movement is also pressing for protections for gays and lesbians in states’ non-discrimination laws. Twenty-nine states don’t include protections for gays, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. But the Indiana and Arkansas laws are fueling efforts to change that as the 2016 elections approach.

Similar debates are going on elsewhere. In North Dakota the Republican-controlled Legislature voted down a measure that would have prohibited discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation in the areas of housing and employment. Gov. Jack Dalrymple rebuked lawmakers, saying such discrimination wasn’t acceptable.

In Michigan, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder warned legislators that he would veto a religious objections bill unless they also sent him a measure that would extend anti-discrimination protections to gays. He cited the Indiana outcry in making his warning.

Most of the states without sexual orientation protections are solid Republican strongholds in the South or the central Plains. As public opinion has become more supportive of same-sex marriage and other gay rights in recent years, many businesses say such protections factor into their decisions about expansions and help them attract top employees.

Indiana’s Republican-controlled Legislature took a first step by adding language to its new religious objections law stating that service providers can’t use the law as a legal defense for refusing to provide goods, services, facilities or accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity and other factors. It is now the first Indiana state law that explicitly mentions sexual orientation and gender identity.

The governors of New York and Connecticut, who had imposed bans on state officials traveling to Indiana as a symbol of their opposition to the religious objections law, lifted those bans in response to the changes in the law.

Arkansas’ amended law only addresses actions by the government, not by businesses or individuals. The law’s supporters say the changes would prevent businesses from using it to deny services to individuals, even though it doesn’t include specific anti-discrimination language similar to Indiana’s law.

Gay rights proponents want Arkansas to go further, though, and are trying to build support for adding sexual orientation to the protected statuses covered by the state’s civil rights laws. The state’s attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, last week approved the wording of a proposed ballot measure that would add such protections, clearing the way for supporters to begin gathering the signatures needed to get it on the November 2016 ballot.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, meanwhile, has left open the possibility of issuing an executive order that would prohibit workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people at state agencies.

Arkansas state Rep. Warwick Sabin, a Democrat from Little Rock, said the issue isn’t going away.

“Other states are moving ahead of us and Arkansas is being left in the dust,” he said. “We need to make an affirmative statement about our values as a state, and I know that the vast majority of Arkansans believe in fairness and opportunity for all of its citizens.”

Nevada Republicans drop ‘religious freedom’ bills

Nevada Republicans are dropping two proposed bills that would have added religious freedom protections to state law that critics have hounded as legalizing discrimination against LGBT people.

Assemblyman Erv Nelson and Sen. Joe Hardy said they would no longer pursue passage of AB 277 or SB 272. The two lawmakers were sponsoring the bills, which contained similar language enacting a version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act into Nevada state law.

Similar proposals in Indiana and Arkansas drew substantial criticism over the last two weeks due to concerns that the bill would create exemptions for businesses to legally discriminate against gay and lesbian people.

The act was passed by Congress in 1993 and initially applied to state and local governments until it was overturned by the Supreme Court. Around 20 states have passed similar legislation over the last two dozen years.

Nelson said the recent outcry over a similar law in Indiana and existing religious protective provisions in the Nevada constitution helped solidify his decision to not pursue the bill.

“This bill was not meant to do anything about same-sex marriage or sexual preference,” he said.

In a statement, Gov. Brian Sandoval spokeswoman Mari St. Martin said the governor believed Nevada’s current laws protected all individuals in the state.

“The governor believes that this bill is not necessary because the interests of all Nevadans are protected under current law,” she said in a statement.

Although supporters claim the bill echoes the federal law passed in 1993 and similar legislation in nearly two dozen states, the bill contains several key differences, including defining a for-profit business as an individual with religious rights and allowing suits to come forward between private parties.

American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist Vanessa Spinazola said she was concerned that the bills included different language that other states with religious freedom acts. She said the bill would essentially create a wide exemption for businesses to avoid following Nevada’s tough discriminatory protection laws.

“People who are in a protected class will walk into businesses and they will never know if they’re going to get served there or not,” she said. “It basically brings us back to segregated lunch counters in the Civil Rights era.”

Boyd Law School professor Leslie Griffin said the recent fights over the religious laws are based less on protecting minority religions and more about the fight over extending gay and lesbian rights.

“The battle against marriage equality is almost lost, this is the next round,” she said.

Republicans in recent days have hinted that they didn’t want to pass such a law. Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson said the Legislature didn’t want to harm Nevada’s vital tourism industry, and Sen. Greg Brower said at a Thursday hearing on an anti-discrimination bill that Nevada is open to business to everyone.

Hardy said he didn’t intend the bill to legalize discrimination and that furor over the Indiana law meant the state shouldn’t take up the bill this session.

“I don’t want to give a message that we’re trying to discriminate,” Hardy said. “That’s not us, that’s not who we are.”

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Mormon church backs LGBT anti-discrimination bill in Utah

More than 20 years ago, Troy Williams was a young Mormon missionary who didn’t know how he would reconcile his sexual orientation with his faith when he came home to live in conservative Utah.

“I was just scared. As a gay Utahn, I couldn’t imagine for myself a positive future,” said Williams, now 45 and an outspoken advocate for gay rights.

As a young man, Williams said he never would have envisioned a scene like the one that unfolded at Utah’s state Capitol on March 4, where state lawmakers, Mormon church leaders and LGBT advocates joined together to back a landmark proposal that bars discrimination against gay and transgender individuals while protecting the rights of religious groups and individuals.

“This is a historic day,” said Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah. “People from diverse backgrounds have come together to craft what no one thought was possible.”

The measure has a rare stamp of approval from the Mormon church and stands a high chance of passing in Utah, where the church is based and many state lawmakers and the Republican governor are members of the faith. The bill gets its first hearing on March 5.

State Sen. Stuart Adams, a Republican who led negotiations on the proposal, said at the news conference on March 4 that they’ve found a way to respect the rights of some while not infringing on the rights of others.

“If Utah can do this, my opinion, it can be done anywhere else in the nation,” Adams said.

The proposal prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation when it comes to housing or employment. Religious groups and organizations would be exempt from the requirement, as would Boy Scouts of America, which has a ban on gay adult Scout leaders and has close ties to the LDS Church.

The church said it is fully behind the legislation, which follows the principles set out in the faith’s recent nationwide call for laws that balance both religious rights and LGBT protections.

“In this approach, we acknowledged that neither side or no party may get all they want,” D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said. “It is better if both sides get most of what is desired than to have a winner-take-all where one side loses.”

LGBT activists have spent years pushing for a statewide non-discrimination law in Utah, but their efforts were fast-tracked this year after the Mormon church issued its call for this type of legislation.

Sen. Steve Urquhart, a St. George Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said the Boy Scouts were not involved in negotiations on the Utah proposal and did not request the exemption. He said the organization was included because of a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision recognizing the organization’s constitutional right to exclude gay members.

The Boy Scouts now allow openly gay youth.

Boy Scouts of America national spokesman Deron Smith said the organization didn’t have any comment on the legislation. Utah Boy Scouts leaders deferred comment to the national organization.

Scouts for Equality, an organization critical of the Scouts’ ban on gay leaders, criticized the exemption.

“The fundamental principle of non-discrimination means that there aren’t special exemptions,” Scouts for Equality executive director Zach Wahls said in a statement. “Non-discrimination means `non-discrimination,’ not `non-discrimination except for the Boy Scouts.'”

The compromise also attracted criticism from some conservatives.

“It’s heavy on protection for special classes of people that I don’t believe should be a special class, but it’s very light on religious protections,” Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative family-values group Utah Eagle Forum.

Ruzicka said the proposal needed more protections for religious individuals to act in accordance with their beliefs.

Beyond banning discrimination based on identity and sexual orientation, the proposal stipulates that employers can adopt “reasonable dress and grooming standards” and “reasonable rules and polices” for sex-specific restrooms and other facilities, as long as those standards also include accommodations for gender identity.

It protects the right of an individual employee to express their religious or moral beliefs in “a reasonable, non-disruptive or non-harassing way,” as long as it doesn’t interfere with the company’s business. It likewise bars employers from punishing someone who expresses those beliefs, as long as they don’t hurt business.

The Mormon campaign pushing for these types of laws is the latest example of a shift in tone by the LDS Church. While it has moved away from harsh rhetoric and is preaching compassion and acceptance, the church insists it is making no changes in doctrine and still believes that sex is against the law of God unless it’s within a marriage between a man and a woman.

Associated Press writers Brady McCombs and Kelly Catalfamo contributed to this story.

Baker faces complaint for refusing cake with anti-gay message

A dispute over a cake in Colorado raises a new question about gay rights and religious freedom: If bakers can be fined for refusing to serve married gay couples, can they also be punished for declining to make a cake with anti-gay statements?

A baker in suburban Denver who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding is fighting a legal order requiring him to serve gay couples even though he argued that would violate his religious beliefs.

But now a separate case puts a twist in the debate over discrimination in public businesses, and it underscores the tensions that can arise when religious freedom intersects with a growing acceptance of gay couples.

Marjorie Silva, owner of Denver’s Azucar Bakery, is facing a complaint from a customer alleging she discriminated against his religious beliefs.

According to Silva, the man who visited last year wanted a Bible-shaped cake, which she agreed to make. Just as they were getting ready to complete the order, Silva said the man showed her a piece of paper with hateful words about gays that he wanted written on the cake. He also wanted the cake to have two men holding hands and an X on top of them, Silva said.

She said she would make the cake, but declined to write his suggested messages on the cake, telling him she would give him icing and a pastry bag so he could write the words himself. Silva said the customer didn’t want that.

“It’s just horrible. It doesn’t matter if, you know, if you’re Catholic, or Jewish, or Christian, if I’m gay or not gay or whatever,” said Silva, 40, adding that she has made cakes regularly for all religious occasions. “We should all be loving each other. I mean there’s no reason to discriminate.”

Discrimination complaints to Colorado’s Civil Rights Division, which is reviewing the matter, are confidential. Silva said she would honor the division’s policy and would not share the correspondence she has received from state officials on the case. KUSA-TV reported the complainant is Bill Jack of Castle Rock, a bedroom community south of Denver.

In a statement to the television station, Jack said he believes he “was discriminated against by the bakery based on my creed.”

“As a result, I filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. Out of respect for the process, I will wait for the director to release his findings before making further comments.”

Jack did not respond to emails from The Associated Press seeking comment. No one answered the door at the address listed for Jack in Castle Rock.

The case comes as Republicans in Colorado’s Legislature talk about changing the state law requiring that businesses serve gays in the wake of a series of incidents where religious business owners rejected orders to celebrate gay weddings. Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg said the new case shows a “clash of values” and argued Colorado’s public accommodation law is not working.

“The state shouldn’t come in and say to the individual businessman, `You must violate your religious – and I’ll say religious-slash-moral convictions. This baker (Silva), thought that was a violation of their moral convictions. The other baker, which we all know very well because of all the stories, clearly that was a violation of their religious convictions,” Lundberg said.

But gay rights advocates say there is a significant difference in the cases. Silva refused to put specific words on a cake while Jack Phillips, the baker who turned away the gay couple, refused to make any wedding cake for them in principle.

“There’s no law that says that a cake-maker has to write obscenities in the cake just because the customer wants it,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Colorado.

Phillips’ attorneys had argued in court that requiring him to prepare a gay marriage cake would be akin to forcing a black baker to prepare a cake with a white supremacist message. But administrative law judge Robert N. Spencer disagreed, writing that business owners can refuse a specific message, but not service.

“In both cases, it is the explicit, unmistakable, offensive message that the bakers are asked to put on the cake that gives rise to the bakers’ free speech right to refuse,” administrative law judge Robert N. Spencer said.

Phillips’ attorney, Nicolle Martin, said she has sympathy for Silva, arguing she is in the same category as her client. “I absolutely support her right to decline,” Martin said. “I support her right as an American to pick and choose the messages she will express.”

Silva said she remains shaken up by the incident. “I really think I should be the one putting the complaint against him, because he has a very discriminating message,” she said.

Beyond marriage: Challenges facing LGBT civil rights advocates

Even as same-sex marriage edges closer to becoming legal nationwide, LGBT civil rights advocates face other challenges in 2015 that may not bring quick victories.

In Congress, for example, liberal Democrats plan to introduce civil rights bills in the U.S. House and Senate that would outlaw a broad range of discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. However, Republicans will control both chambers in the new Congress, and there is no sign that GOP leaders will help the bills advance.

Absent such a federal law, activists will seek to pass more nondiscrimination laws at the state and local levels, but some efforts are meeting resistance. A conservative-led coalition in Houston is trying to overturn a gay rights ordinance approved by the city council in May, while a similar ordinance passed in August by the city council in Fayetteville, Arkansas, was repealed by voters on Dec. 10.

The Fayetteville vote was close — the repeal side got 52 percent of the votes — and the issue is expected to resurface.

“Both sides have reason to continue on,” said Mayor Lioneld Jordan, who supported the ordinance. “What we have to do is pull everybody together and see what can be worked out.”

Another contentious issue is the ban on transgender people serving in the military. Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has suggested the policy be reviewed but gave no timetable, and advocacy groups are increasingly vocal with their impatience.

“There is no valid reason that our transgender troops should continue to be prohibited from serving openly and honestly,” said Ashley Broadway of the American Military Partner Association, which represents partners, spouses and families of LGBT service members.

Friction over transgender rights also is surfacing in school policies, as evidenced by a controversy in Gloucester, Virginia. Officials at Gloucester’s high school allowed a transgender boy to use the boys’ restroom, sparking complaints that led the county school board to reverse the decision.

The board adopted a policy on Dec. 9 that restricts male and female restrooms to students with “corresponding biological genders” and says transgender students could use an “alternative private facility.”

The American Civil Liberties Union subsequently filed a complaint with the federal departments of Justice and Education alleging that the new policy is discriminatory and violates federal law.

However, Alliance Defending Freedom, a right-wing legal advocacy group, commended the Gloucester school board and circulated a proposed “model policy” for other districts that would restrict transgender students’ use of communal restrooms. The group said it would consider offering free legal defense to districts whose use of the proposed policy was challenged in court.

“No policy should be tailored to a few students at the expense of all the others,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot.

School sports teams also are a source of contention. In Minnesota, Republican Rep. Joyce Peppin suggested closer legislative oversight of the Minnesota State High School League after its approval in early December of a policy letting transgender athletes play on teams that best align with their gender identity. Several other states have adopted similar policies.

Concern over the challenges facing transgender youth has intensified in recent days as authorities in Ohio investigate the apparent suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender girl from Kings Mills. She was struck by a truck while on foot early Sunday.

A post on Tumblr, attributed to Alcorn and mentioning plans for suicide, recounts years of despair, coupled with pessimism about the future.

“The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in,” the post said. “I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. … There’s no way out.”

Accounts of Alcorn’s death prompted appeals from LGBT activists for greater understanding and acceptance of young people who convey that they are transgender. Some studies have shown that the rate of suicide attempts among transgender teens is far higher than for other youths.

All those developments are unfolding amid fast-paced changes related to same-sex marriage, which is now legal in 35 states. Several cases from states that still ban gay marriage have advanced to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could decide during a Jan. 9 conference to hear one or more of them this term.

Given the possibility of a high court ruling in June legalizing gay marriage nationwide, some conservatives are pushing to enact state-level “religious freedom” bills designed to give more legal protections to people who might be accused of discrimination for actions they took in accordance with religious beliefs.

A bill recently introduced in South Carolina says no court employee could be required to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple if that would violate a “sincerely held religious belief.” In Indiana, a broader bill is being drafted that supporters say would protect business people who refuse to serve same-sex couples on the basis of their religious faith.

The ACLU has launched a national campaign to oppose such laws, hoping to replicate the outcome in Arizona last winter when Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill to expand religious exemptions after a national backlash from business leaders, gay rights groups and others.

Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel at the ACLU’s national office, anticipates a wide range of religious exemption laws to be introduced in 2015.

“Because marriage equality is no longer a hazy threat and is becoming a reality, the proponents of these laws are redoubling their efforts,” Rho said. “This is a sophisticated effort to try to undermine full equality for LGBT people through a variety of vehicles.”

While those fights play out in state legislatures, the U.S. Capitol will be the launching point for what’s likely to be a multiyear effort to enact a federal LGBT civil rights bill.

Two Democrats – Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island – plan to introduce such legislation in their chambers, with the backing of an array of gay rights organizations. Most of those groups have disavowed an older, more limited bill that would ban anti-gay workplace discrimination, and instead want a comprehensive measure that would encompass housing, public accommodations and other spheres, as well as employment.

“It will be an uphill battle,” Cicilline said, referring to the challenge of building bipartisan support for the bill.

“This is not something that will happen immediately,” he said. “We need to have a larger conversation that really speaks to the values of our country.”

Former Reagan aide suggests Southern states secede, form Reagan nation

A conservative columnist who worked in Ronald Reagan’s administration is suggesting that states in the South secede from the union and form a new country.

The name of the breakaway nation? Reagan.

Douglas MacKinnon is the author of “The Secessionist States of America: The Blueprint for Creating a Traditional Values Country … Now.”

Right Wing Watch, a project of the progressive People for the American Way, reported that MacKinnon was promoting his book with Janet Mefferd on Oct. 21 and called for South Carolina, Georgia and Florida to establish a new country based on the Christian right’s political agenda.

MacKinnon, according to RWW, said he didn’t include Texas in the new nation because “there have been a number of incursions into Texas and other places from some of the folks in Mexico.”

MacKinnon cited the advancement of civil rights for gay people as a reason for the South to secede.