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Pro Bono Attorneys Handling Same-Sex Marriage Cases Slam Gay Inc. For Lack Of Financial Support

Nessel

A pro bono attorney who's challenging Michigan's same-sex marriage ban is publicly criticizing national LGBT organizations for failing to adequately support her efforts. 

Dana Nessel, co-counsel for Michigan marriage plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse (all three shown above), told Bloomberg Politics that attorneys from national LGBT organizations initially tried to dissuade her from filing the case because they said it didn't fit into their national strategy. When Nessel and her clients began to have success, she said organizations wanted to take over the case. After she refused, they denied requests for financial assistance, all the while using the case to raise money for themselves. 

From Bloomberg Politics

Nessel1An historic triumph for gay marriage may be within reach this spring on the biggest possible stage, but attorney Dana Nessel’s chief frustration at the moment is actually not anti-gay opponents. Rather, she’s taking aim at an unlikely target: the biggest, richest civil rights and gay rights organizations, all of which have left her team to beg and scrape for the estimated $1 million they need to litigate at the Supreme Court. “Nobody even wanted us to file this case, they all tried to stop us, and even now they’re not helping much,” she says tartly. “The great irony is, we’re the ones going to the Supreme Court.”

Private attorneys handling same-sex marriage cases in other states echoed some of Nessel's complaints, which are certainly nothing new to the movement. If you'll remember, national LGBT orgs didn't initially support the lawsuit challenging California's Prop 8, which was ultimately funded by the American Foundation For Equal Rights. 

However, one of the attorneys serving as Nesser's co-counsel in the Michigan case, Carole Stanyar (right), painted a slightly different picture in a statement to Daily Kos' Kerry Eleveld

Stanyar"While this article is mostly accurate in detailing our experience with the civil rights and gay organizations, it grossly understates the contributions of both GLAD and Lambda Legal. Mary Bonauto (GLAD) helped us the moment we asked her and has never stopped helping us. She is our co-counsel and deserves to be acknowledged. Throughout the case, Lambda has provided a great deal of assistance to us also. They helped us -- any time we asked -- to locate trial witnesses, to garner resources and research from around the country, and to help fund one of our expert witnesses (a $13,000 contribution). I was aware of a 'national strategy' to avoid the states in the Sixth Circuit, however, I don't recall either GLAD or Lambda ever discouraging us from filing or pursuing this lawsuit." 

According to Bloomberg, Lambda Legal was the only organization that responded to requests for comment about Nessel's complaints: 

TaylorLambda’s Marriage Project director Camilla Taylor (right) rejected the criticism, insisting: “We don't ever try to take over someone’s case. To my knowledge [the Michigan attorneys] are thrilled with all of the help we have provided, including financial resources.” She would not specify what those resources were and would not respond to questions about whether the group advised various plaintiffs not to file their suits. Attorney-client privilege extends to potential clients even if they don’t end up retaining the organization, Taylor said.

Certainly there are valid points on both sides of this debate, but as gay PR guru Bob Witeck (right) suggests in the Bloomberg piece, now's not the time for bickering: 

WiteckWhile national groups pressured Nessel to back off her critique for this report, unaffiliated activists say blaming her for speaking out is yet another illustration of the problem. “This is the case of our lifetime,” said Bob Witeck, a public-relations strategist who has worked with Human Rights Campaign and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, and advises American Airlines on their gay marketing outreach. “If others are raising large chunks of money and they’re not feeding and servicing the lawyers and the litigants in these cases, what are we giving it to? There can’t be weak links. We have to have our ‘A’ game going in. There can’t be any part of this defense that isn’t fully prepared.”

On that note, you can contribute to the Michigan marriage effort here

And watch the touching video of Nessel and her clients celebrating a federal judge's decision to strike down the state's marriage ban in 2014, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "Pro Bono Attorneys Handling Same-Sex Marriage Cases Slam Gay Inc. For Lack Of Financial Support" »


Bigoted Mississippi School District Officials Fighting to Stop Formation of Gay-Straight Alliance

A school district in central Mississippi is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to prevent students from creating a gay-straight alliance on campus, The Clarion-Ledger reports:

Weathersby[Rankin County Superintendent Lynn] Weathersby (pictured right) brought up the issue at Wednesday's school board meeting, making clear his intentions to limit such organizations in Rankin County schools.

"I talked to (board attorney) Freddie (Harrell) and several administrators about what we could legally do to limit organizations like that on campus that we don't want to endorse and don't want," Weathersby said.

Although school board members and officials said they were not aware of any attempt to form a club in the district, Brandon High School theatre teacher Janice Weaver said she was approached by a student in December who expressed a desire to create a gay-straight alliance (GSA), or a student-led, student-organized club aimed at combating anti-gay discrimination and bullying in schools. Weaver said the student submitted the proposal for the club to school administrators. 

At the meeting, Weathersby said the best way to stop the "gay club" would be to require parents to sign a consent form allowing their children to participate in the club.

The paper continues:

School board attorney Freddie Harrell echoed Weathersby, saying a gay club might violate educational standards and principles adopted by the school district such as abstinence-only sexual education.

Newly appointed board member Ira Singleton asked Harrell what would happen if parents did consent to their children participating in such a club. Harrell responded that at that time, it would be up to the school's principal to decide whether the club meets school requirements.

In a statement, HRC Mississippi State Director Rob Hill blasted the district's actions, saying:

“The policy sends a harmful message to LGBT students in Rankin County that they are not welcomed within their classrooms, at school functions or on the bus. The board’s actions tell LGBT students that they should be ashamed of who they are and that their lives are valued less than their peers. Keeping our children safe is critical. We demand the Superintendent, and the board, reverse its decision to publicly humiliate, degrade and embarrass young LGBT people."

The ACLU of Mississippi, meanwhile, has already sent a letter to Weathersby letting him know that the district could land in legal hot water if students are blocked from forming GSA clubs. You can read the letter below:


ACLU Files Motion To Bar Transgender Woman And Inmate Fiancé From Lawsuit Challenging Nebraska's Marriage Ban

6a00d8341c730253ef01bb07cdbc47970d-800wiThe ACLU of Nebraska has filed a motion with a judge currently considering a challenge to the state's ban on same-sex marriage, asking the judge to bar a transgender woman and her inmate fiance from joining the lawsuit, stating that, should they joing the suit, they "would delay and complicate the case." The AP reports:

Untitled-1Inmate Harold B. Wilson and Gracy Sedlak [pictured right], formerly John Jirovsky, have not demonstrated or alleged that the seven Nebraska couples already in the suit do not adequately represent the couple's interests, the ACLU said in a motion Monday [...]

The judge has yet to rule.

Wilson and Sedlak earlier this month submitted their motion to intervene in the federal lawsuit, which was filed in November, the Lincoln Journal Star reported. Wilson and Sedlak have said they've twice been denied a marriage license by Lancaster County and have been unsuccessful in their own attempts to challenge the Nebraska law.

Wilson, 59, is serving 56 to 170 years in the Lincoln Correctional Center for attempted murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in Dawson County. Sedlak, 29, was released from prison in 2011 and lives in Lincoln.


15 Years After Landmark Ruling In Favor Of Gay Straight Alliances, School Districts Continue To Deny Them

NPhighschool

Fifteen years after a landmark federal court ruling upholding the right of students to form Gay Straight Alliance clubs at public schools, some districts continue to violate the law by refusing to recognize GSAs.  

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against a school district in Bainbridge, Indiana — 35 miles west of Indianapolis — on behalf of three students and the GSA at North Putnam High School. 

ACLU

The students formed the GSA at North Putnam more than a year ago, but after months of stalling, the school board voted Nov. 20 not to recognize the club. 

The ACLU alleges the district's failure to recognize the GSA violates both the federal Equal Access Act and the students' First Amendment rights: 

LGBT students at the school have frequently been harassed and wanted to form the GSA to provide a place to educate the community and support vulnerable students. The school, which allows other non-school-sponsored clubs and activities to meet, such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Key Club and Best Buddies, has denied recognition of the GSA club for more than a year. The students followed all the school's required procedures outlined in its student handbook to establish the club, including securing a faculty member to supervise the group. ... 

"The law is clear in this matter," said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. "There is no excuse for the school district's intransigence, which is causing real harm to its students."

The ACLU of Indiana was successful in reversing a similar decision by a school in the Town of Munster in July, 2014.

"The actions of the school district in clear violation of federal law leave the most vulnerable students at North Putnam without critically needed support," Chase Strangio, Staff Attorney at the ACLU added.

In November 1999, a federal judge ruled that the Salt Lake City school district's decision to reject a GSA at East High School violated the federal Equal Access Act. The Salt Lake district said it was banning all non-curricular clubs to get around the Equal Access Act, but continued to allow other clubs to meet. 

From Lambda Legal, which served as lead counsel in the Salt Lake City lawsuit: 

This case more than any other put the issue of GSAs on the nation's radar, letting students know they could fight back and letting school districts know they might be in violation of the law.

Apparently, some districts still haven't gotten the message. 

Read the ACLU's lawsuit, and watch U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's video in support of GSAs from 2012, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "15 Years After Landmark Ruling In Favor Of Gay Straight Alliances, School Districts Continue To Deny Them" »


Florida Court Clerks Association Warns Clerks Who Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses May Face Criminal Charges

Florida

Florida’s State Court Clerks Association has begun sending out notices to clerks throughout the state informing them that they may face legal action if they issue marriage licenses to same sex couples this upcoming January.

“Florida’s Court Clerks & Comptrollers’ duty is to act in accordance with Florida law,” warned the association in a statement. “Florida Statutes are unique in regard to prohibiting the issuance of a marriage license to a couple that is not a man and a woman, in that it provides that a Clerk who violates this prohibition is guilty of a criminal act and subject to a fine and/or imprisonment.”

BondiCurrently Florida’s ban on same sex marriage is in a state of legal limbo. Earlier this year U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle found that Florida’s ban was unconstitutional and moved to stay his decision until January 5th of 2015. Pam Bondi, Florida’s Attorney General, unsuccessfully appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to have the stay extended past its current January expiration, and has since requested an extension from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

It’s expected that gay couples throughout Florida will apply for marriage licenses on the 6th of January, but the Court Clerks Association hazards that the details of Hinkle’s repeal of Florida’s ban only applies to a specific clerk explicitly named in the initial lawsuit that led to the ruling.

“When a federal judge declares a law unconstitutional, all public officials should cease enforcing that law. Period,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU in Florida. “Let’s leave the legalistic hypotheticals for the law school classroom and look at the practical reality: Are local officials seriously preparing to arrest and criminally charge Miami-Dade Clerk Harvey Ruvin for enforcing a federal judge’s order? That’s preposterous.”

In related Florida news, the ACLU has filed a response to Bondi's Supreme Court motion, with the ACLU asking the high court to reject Florida's request for further extension of the stay. 

Read the ACLU response below:


FDA Committee Inches Closer Toward Repealing Gay Blood Donor Ban

Picture 7The FDA Committee is meeting today to discuss proposals of removing the ban that prohibits gay men from donating blood reports The New Civil Rights Movement. Talks of repealing the ban appeared last month when The Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood & Tissue Safety & Availability voted to drop the ban for any man who has not had sex with another man in at least a year. A Williams Institute study finds that repealing the ban would save over 1.8 million lives.

However, the one-year abstinence stipulation is still considered discriminatory, and the few gay men that are eligible to donate would yield little increase in the amount of blood donated. Ryan James Yezak, found of the National Gay Blood Drive, finds the new stipulation discriminatory and absurd.

Said Yezak:

"The policies that are in place, the lifetime ban, perpetuates negative stereotypes and stigma. It assumes that all gay and bisexual men are likely to have HIV and therefore must be blanket banned and that's just not necessary in this day and age when they have the testing and other countries have moved to deferral time period."

Although Yezak is disappointed with the methods of the new stipulation, he agrees that it's at least a step in the right direction toward repealing the ban completely. Of course, the anti-gay right wing disagrees. Anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera, the head of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, staunchly affirmed his position on keeping the ban.

Said LaBarbera:

"First of all, HIV rates and sexually transmitted diseases are rising among homosexual-practicing men. So why would we be talking about softening the blood ban at a time when [STDs] are on the rise among men who have sex with men?"

The ACLU disagrees, saying criteria for becoming a blood donor should be based on science, not misinformed assumptions and discriminatory stereotypes. LaBarbera and his fellow constituents choose to ignore the fact that HIV is as much an issue for heterosexual people as it is the LGBT community. Fortunately, President Obama reaffirmed his support of those living with, and affected by, HIV and AIDS in a speech the day before the observance of World AIDS Day this year. 


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