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What’s Next For Transgender Rights Lawsuits With School Guidance Rescinded

Lawyers fighting over the scope of civil rights law for transgender people are urging the Supreme Court to bring some clarity to the issues. Lawyers for a 17-year-old transgender student and the Gloucester, Va., school board that wants to limit which bathroom he can use don’t agree on much. But both sides have concluded the Trump administration’s decision this week to revoke guidance that protects transgender students’ ability to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity only heightens the need for a hearing before the nation’s highest court.

Rather than making the claims of Virginia student Gavin Grimm moot, his attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union and their courtroom opponents are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to proceed with oral arguments scheduled for March 28.

“If anything, the confusion caused by this recent action by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education only underscores the need for the Supreme Court to bring some clarity here,” Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, told reporters on a conference call on Thursday. As for Gloucester County, the school board said it “looks forward to explaining to the Supreme Court why [the rescinded guidance] underscores that the Board’s common sense restroom and locker room policy is legal under federal law.”

The high court agreed to hear two questions in the Grimm case: one, whether the former Justice and Education Departments’ interpretation of Title IX of a 1972 education law protecting students from discrimination on the basis of their sex deserved deference; and two, whether the prohibition on sex discrimination in schools also applies to gender identity. While the first question likely goes away along with the Obama-era guidance, the second remains, if justices still want to field it.

The U.S. Justice Department, led by new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said the matter is best left to “Congress, state legislatures, and local governments,” shrouding the federal argument in a case for states’ rights. And at the White House on Thursday, press secretary Sean Spicer pointed out that a federal judge in Texas last year enjoined the guidance so it never fully took effect. Spicer also asserted, “There’s nobody who’s possibly suggesting” that the 1972 law contemplated protection of transgender students at the time. That view is shared by a series of mostly conservative groups, which have weighed in with Supreme Court briefs opposing an expansive reading of sex discrimination.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, one such nonprofit, defended the approach by the Gloucester School Board that allowed transgender students to, among other things, use separate, individual facilities to change clothes and shower. The Alliance said school boards enjoy great freedom to develop education policies for their own communities. Civil rights lawyers said that’s just wrong. The federal government, they argue, has long led the way when it comes to integrating schools, easing access to the polls, and other critical civil rights issues.

What’s more, Block at the ACLU said, his client Gavin Grimm has obtained an amended birth certificate stating that he’s male. If Grimm moves to a state like North Carolina, where the law defines sex by what’s on a birth certificate, schools there would allow him to use the boy’s room. But Gloucester County, Va., has adopted a different approach, excluding Grimm from the boy’s room and requiring him to use a single-user restroom.

“The fact is that no child in America should have their rights subject to their ZIP code,” said Eliza Byard of the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network, or GLSEN. Advocates for the LGBT community say that a half-dozen courts across the nation already have adopted their approach finding that longstanding protections against sex discrimination under federal law extend to transgender people. The U.S. Courts of Appeals in the Sixth and Seventh Circuits have sided with transgender students and denied attempts to halt or stay the cases while they move toward appeal, ACLU lawyers said.

“Honestly, I’ll just tell you, nobody wants to be on the business end of a transgender lawsuit these days,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “The courts have been moving in our direction very quickly.”

Nearly two years ago, a divided Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the due process clause and the equal protection clause. President Trump told an interviewer this year that is “settled law.”

But legal arguments about whether protections against sex discrimination in Title IX and other federal laws extend to gender identity, central to the lives of transgender people, are still very much active in the courts. For instance, Lambda Legal, a nonprofit that advocates and litigates for LGBT clients, said court decisions are imminent in two of its cases that “could change the national landscape of employment law for LGBT people.”

“It’s not just about bathrooms, it’s about being a full, participating member of society,” said Demoya Gordon, a Transgender Rights Project attorney at Lambda Legal. In one case, a math teacher, who is a lesbian, separated from her job in South Bend, Ind., because of her sexual orientation. Lambda is arguing that sexual orientation discrimination against its client, Kimberly Hively, “is a form of sex discrimination” barred under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The organization is making the same argument before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. There, a security guard sued her employer for harassment and for allegedly forcing her out of a job at Georgia Regional Hospital because she’s lesbian and “gender-nonconforming.”

Phone scam dialing into area

WAHOO A new phone scam recently crept into the area, only needing the word yes from victims.

If you get a call from a stranger asking, Can you hear me? hang up the phone.

That s what the Better Business Bureau is advising consumers who might become victims of the latest scam it says is circulating the country.

As a general rule, you re going to answer that question. But don t volunteer anything, said Saunders County Sheriff Kevin Stukenholtz. Jim Hegarty, president of the BBB serving Nebraska, South Dakota, the Kansas Plains and southwest Iowa, said the region has already received hundreds of reports about the scam. Stukenholtz said he s received reports of the scam in Saunders County as well.

The con aims to get victims to say the word yes so scammers can record it. The affirmative response is then used to authorize unwanted charges whether it s to a credit card, a cable or phone account or subscriptions. Many times, as with other phone scams, the perpetrators try and get local phone numbers to increase the likelihood of someone answering, Stukenholtz said.

They re coming up with something all the time, he said. Stukenholtz said he would advise people not to answer the phone at all if the number calling is not recognized.

But it s difficult to avoid. Here s how it works: You might receive a call from someone recent reports say the scammers are claiming they re from a home security agency, a cruise line or associated with Social Security. After the introduction, the recording will ask if you can hear the caller clearly. If you answer yes, there s a possibility the scam artist has recorded you and will use the response to sign you up for a product or service and then demand payment. If you refuse to pay, the caller may use your recorded yes to confirm your purchase agreement. In many cases, the scammers already have the person s phone number, which can be used to authorize third-party charges; or they may have a victim s credit card number or cable bill as the result of a data breach. When the victim disputes any charges to an account, the scammer can counter that they have your consent on a recorded line.

Stukenholtz said the scam can be avoided if one s guard is up. He said he recently received a call with a Denver, Co. area code that asked if he was Kevin Stukenholtz. He said he responded with who is this?

The innocuous conversation started off on the wrong foot, but Stukenholtz said a good strategy is to make the people on the other end of the phone commit to something. Other tips:

If you receive a call that sounds similar or asks questions seeking affirmation, avoid responding with yes, sure or OK. If you are asked a similar question on the phone or are asked to press a button to be placed on the Do Not Call registry, just hang up. Saying anything may help the scam artist identify that you have an active phone number. No government agency will ever solicit for the Do Not Call registry.

Write down the phone number of callers with this behavior and file a scam report with the BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker/us[1] or by calling 800-649-6814. Check your credit card, phone and cable statements carefully for any unfamiliar charges. If you suspect you have been victimized, call the billing company and dispute anything you did not authorize. The earlier you identify the unauthorized charges on your account, the easier it will be to recover any lost money. Stukenholtz said the scammers can come across as nice people, but they re not stupid and will work to manipulate the conversation.

Law enforcement efforts can be difficult, but if caught, they turn them into the attorney general s office, Stukenholtz said.

They ve made some arrests, but many times the calls originate from out of the country. It takes quite a bit to make that happen, Stukenholtz said.

(Paige Yowell with the BH News Service contributed to this article.)

References

  1. ^ bbb.org/scamtracker/us (bbb.org)

Illinois routs Northwestern 66-50 to sweep season series

CHAMPAIGN The Illinois[1] student section chanted “Our state, our team” as the Illini built a lead in the first half against Northwestern[2] at State Farm Center. The Orange Krush was shouting the phrase again in the final seconds. In the immediate present Tuesday night, it was true. The Illini completed a season sweep of the Wildcats with a 66-50 victory, giving them their first back-to-back regular-season Big Ten victories since the 2014-15 season.

In the big picture though, which always is focused on the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats are in still in better shape than their in-state rival even if they didn’t do themselves any favors with the selection committee. Their two losses to the Illini are their worst of the season thanks to Illinois’ No. 66 RPI ranking. That puts a dent in the Wildcats resume, and they have to continue to be thankful for their victory at Wisconsin[3] that seems more and more meaningful during this stretch of four losses in six games. The Wildcats can’t afford to let their fatigued second-half meltdown in Champaign lead to a total late-season collapse.

“We have to refocus,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “It’s a long year. There are ups and downs. There are times you go through winning streaks, losing streaks. We had a tough night tonight.”

Northwestern shot only 5 of 27 (18.5 percent) after intermission, going roughly nine minutes without a field goal during a 1 of 12 blind shooting stretch as Illinois built momentum. The Wildcats relied heavily on a clearly gassed Bryant McIntosh, who scored 16 points on 6 of 17 shooting. They still are trying to find their footing since returning Scottie Lindsey for just his second game back from mononucleosis. Lindsey hit just 1 of 11 shots for two points his second straight single-digit scoring game. Vic Law, who picked up early fouls and eventually fouled out, scored only three points and missed all four field goal attempts from the floor. The Wildcats (20-8, 9-6 Big Ten) finished the game shooting just 2 of 18.

The Illini (16-12, 6-9) have won three out four games. After a loss against Penn State on Feb. 11, John Groce bemoaned his team’s lack of energy. The Illini seem to have figured some things out, especially on defense.

“The fight in our guys, they deserve the credit,” said Groce, who was booed during pregame introductions by the Orange Krush. “I think we’ve gotten better. It’s more of a mindset right now. They care more about one another and they’re fighting.”

The Illini, who were led by Malcolm Hill’s game-high 18 points, played the second half without guard Jalen Coleman-Lands who suffered a mild left ankle sprain. He is expected to return for Sunday’s game at Nebraska[4].

But they will take a second victory this season against their in-state rival. Northwestern wants to keep perspective in its final three regular-season games on the road against Indiana and at home versus Michigan[5] and conference-leader Purdue[6].

“At this time of year, this is where you get the most excited,” Collins said. “It’s not a marathon anymore.”

Twitter @sryantribune

References

  1. ^ Illinois Fighting Illini (www.chicagotribune.com)
  2. ^ Northwestern Wildcats (www.chicagotribune.com)
  3. ^ Wisconsin Badgers (www.chicagotribune.com)
  4. ^ Nebraska Cornhuskers (www.chicagotribune.com)
  5. ^ Michigan Wolverines (www.chicagotribune.com)
  6. ^ Purdue Boilermakers (www.chicagotribune.com)
  7. ^

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