South Dakota Senate Passes “License to Discriminate” Bill For Taxpayer-Funded Adoption Agencies

Today, HRC and the ACLU of South Dakota slammed a vote by the South Dakota Senate passing Senate Bill (SB) 149 — discriminatory legislation targeting LGBTQ people and other minorities. SB 149 would enshrine taxpayer-funded discrimination into state law by allowing state-funded adoption and foster care agencies to reject prospective LGBTQ adoptive or foster parents based on the agency’s purported religious beliefs.

“Let’s be clear. This ‘license to discriminate’ proposal is a direct assault on LGBTQ South Dakotans and their families,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Taxpayer money should never be used by state-funded adoption agencies to discriminate against prospective parents based on factors that have nothing to do with good parenting. This measure could have consequences not just for LGBTQ couples, but for single people, divorced people, or even those of a different faith. The South Dakota House of Representatives must reject this atrocious legislation allowing discrimination contrary to the best interests of children in desperate need of loving, caring homes.”

“This bill works against the needs of vulnerable children in the foster care system in South Dakota by denying them access to good families and important services,” said ACLU of South Dakota Policy Director Elizabeth A. Skarin. “Our legislators must take a stand for all South Dakotans — and especially vulnerable children — and ensure that discrimination doesn’t get in the way of loving families seeking to provide homes for those who don’t have them.”

SB 149 would allow state-licensed and taxpayer-funded child-placement agencies to disregard the best interest of children, and turn away qualified South Dakotans seeking to care for a child in need — including LGBTQ couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a purported religious objection. The measure would even allow agencies to refuse to place foster children with members of their own extended families — a practice often considered to be in the best interest of the child. A qualified, loving LGBTQ grandparent, for example, could be deemed unsuitable under the proposed law.  It would also allow agencies to refuse to provide appropriate medical and mental health care to LGBTQ children if the agency has a purported moral or religious objection to providing those services. Shockingly, under SB 149, an agency couldn’t lose its license or contract as a result of subjecting a child to abusive practices like so-called conversion therapy if it claimed such “therapy” is compelled by religious belief.

Research consistently shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, as many have been rejected by their families of origin because they are LGBTQ. These young people are already especially vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment while in foster care, and SB 149 would only exacerbate the challenges they face.

The attack on fairness and equality in South Dakota is part of an onslaught of bills being pushed in 2017 by anti-equality activists around the country. HRC is currently tracking more than 70 anti-LGBTQ legislative proposals in 24 states. For more information, visit http://hrc.im/2017legislature.

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Children, Families, and Immigration: Using Books to Support and Educate

Post submitted by Kimmie Fink, Welcoming Schools Facilitator

It’s a challenging time for teachers. In the last few weeks, as executive orders to fund a border wall with Mexico and suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program have been handed down, educators are again in the position of not just explaining new rules and policies to students, but supporting those who are understandably worried for themselves and their families. Teachers must be prepared to address bias-based bullying, advocate for refugee and immigrant children and families, and create classroom environments that honor all identities.

That might seem like a daunting prospect, especially for elementary school teachers. High school students may be better able to articulate their thoughts and fears through academic conversation or writing, but elementary students experience the same anxiety without that kind of outlet. Fortunately, elementary educators have a “go-to” strategy for difficult situations: read-alouds. For teachers wanting to address issues concerning immigration as they pertain to children, Welcoming Schools has developed the following list: Books for Students: Children, Families, and Immigrants.

For younger children, consider sharing books about immigration and refugees with message of inclusion. The Color of Home, by Mary Hoffman, tells the story of first grade Somali refugee Hassan. Hassan struggles to adjust to a new language, culture, and home but finds an outlet through painting.

A chapter book, such as Julia Alvarez’s Return to Sender, is an excellent option for intermediate readers. Alvarez’s novel centers around the challenging friendship between the son of a farmer and the daughter of a migrant worker.

Inclusive read-alouds serve a dual purpose. They provide children with both mirrors and windows. Students should see themselves reflected in literature, and they should also have the opportunity to learn about those who are different. Read-alouds like those featured by Welcoming Schools simultaneously validate the experiences and identities of minority groups and provide opportunities for developing empathy and understanding. These days, all our students could use a lot more of that.

HRC’s Welcoming Schools is the nation’s premier program dedicated to creating respectful and supportive elementary schools in embracing family diversity, creating LGBTQ-inclusive schools, preventing bias-based bullying, creating gender-expansive schools, and supporting transgender and non-binary students.

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Two Trans Women, Ciara McElveen and Chyna Doll Dupree, Killed Within a Matter of Days in New Orleans

Yesterday, Ciara McElveen, a transgender woman of color, was stabbed to death in New Orleans. Her tragic death comes after Chyna Doll Dupree, a Black transgender woman, was killed following the sound of gunshots on Saturday night.

According to Mic.com, McElveen did outreach for the homeless community. She was only 26 years old.

Syria Sinclaire, a local transgender advocate and friend of McElveen, said of the tragedy, “[t]rans women don’t want any special privileges. We should have the right to live our lives open and free and not be taunted and traumatized by the general public if they don’t approve.”

While police told The Times-Picayune there was “no reason to believe they were connected,” the murders are part of a tragic epidemic of violence against transgender women of color. Already in 2017, six transgender women of color have been killed.

The details of these cases differ, but it is clear that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia conspire to systemically deprive the transgender women of color of opportunities like employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities. These barriers make transgender women of color especially vulnerable.

Including McElveen’s death, HRC has tracked at least nine murders of transgender people in Louisiana since 2013. Four took place in New Orleans: besides McElveen and Dupree, trans woman Goddess Diamond was murdered in June of 2016, and Penny Proud was shot to death in February of 2015. None of the New Orleans murders have been solved.

In 2016, advocates tracked at least 22 deaths of transgender people in the U.S. due to fatal violence, the most ever recorded. 

HRC extends condolences to McElveen’s family, friends and community.

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Nearly 800 Parents of Trans Children Sign HRC’s Letter Condemning Trump Administration

Today, in response to the U.S. Department of Justice’s announcement that it will no longer challenge a nationwide hold on protections for transgender students, nearly 800 parents of transgender children sent a letter to President Donald Trump condemning the decision and calling on his administration to fully enforce federal civil rights laws. The letter, signed by parents from 45 states plus Washington, D.C., was organized by HRC and its newly formed Parents for Transgender Equality Council, a coalition of the nation’s leading parent-advocates working for equality and fairness for transgender people.

“Just 48 hours after the confirmation of his anti-equality attorney general, Donald Trump’s administration directly attacked LGBTQ equality and took aim at the rights of transgender youth,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “This disgraceful action exposes transgender students to harassment and discrimination and emboldens bullies from classrooms to state legislatures. These 781 courageous parents are asking that the federal government protect their children at school, something that all families deserve. We stand with these parents and urge President Trump and Attorney General Sessions to listen to families across the country demanding basic fairness and respect for every child.”

In his first days as Trump’s Attorney General, Sessions withdrew a request to halt an order against the Obama administration’s protections for transgender students. The 781 parents, representing the thousands of families of transgender children across the country, write, “No young person should wake up in the morning fearful of the school day ahead. When this guidance was issued last year, it provided our families — and other families like our own across the country — with the knowledge and security that our government was determined to protect our children from bullying and discrimination. Please do not take that away from us.”

In 2016, the Obama Administration’s Departments of Justice and Education issued comprehensive guidance to ensure that transgender students were being treated fairly and with dignity in public and federally-funded schools, including having equal access to sex-segregated facilities, such as restrooms and locker rooms, that are consistent with their gender identity.  Thirteen anti-equality state attorneys general, led by the notoriously hateful Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, filed suit challenging the guidance. After a Texas federal judge issued a nationwide hold on enforcement of the guidance, the Obama Administration responded by requesting the court limit the hold to the 13 states filing suit.

On Friday night, just 48 hours after Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General and a day after being sworn in, the Department of Justice rescinded the Obama Administration’s challenge, allowing the nationwide hold to continue. Despite this action, transgender students facing discrimination can still file suit under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Transgender young people face significant discrimination and bullying throughout our nation’s schools. Last year, North Carolina adopted the infamous HB2, legislation that required discrimination against transgender people, including in public schools. Several states, including Texas, are currently considering similar bills. Seventy-five percent of transgender students report feeling unsafe in school, and, tragically, more than 50 percent of transgender youth report attempting suicide at least once in their lifetime.

To read the full letter, visit hrc.im/ParentsUnite.

Want to send your very own message to the Trump Administration? Take action with HRC today!

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