The Masterpiece Cakeshop Plaintiff Is Suing Colorado For Anti-Religious Hostility

Jack Phillips can’t stop, and he won’t stop.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop plaintiff is suing the state of Colorado for “clear and impermissible hostility” toward religion after winning his Supreme Court case last June.

In a narrow 7-2 ruling, the bench claimed the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had not given neutral consideration to his faith in weighing a complaint filed by Charlie Craig and David Mullins.

In 2012, Phillips declined to bake a cake for the couple’s wedding, citing his Christian beliefs. The Commission sided with Craig and Mullins, but SCOTUS effectively overturned that decision.

Now the two parties will face off in court yet again. The same day that SCOTUS said it would hear an appeal in Phillips’ case, a transgender attorney in Denver, Autumn Scardina, requested a cake to celebrate her gender transition. The proposed pastry was blue on the outside and pink on the inside.

Phillips again declined the request. In legal briefs filed by Alliance Defending Freedom, his attorneys claim “the custom cake would have expressed messages about sex and gender identity that conflict with his religious beliefs.”

The right-wing law firm says the Lakewood baker was “surprised” the Commission allowed a complaint against him to proceed after the SCOTUS verdict.

As that case proceeds, Phillips has filed suit against the state.

ADF claims the state is “acting in bad faith and with bias” by “finding probable cause to believe that Colorado law requires him to create the requested gender-transition cake.”

“The same agency that the Supreme Court rebuked as hostile to Jack Phillips has remained committed to treating him unequally and forcing him to express messages that violate his religious beliefs,” ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell alleged in a press release.

Initially, Phillips sought damages from each member of the Commission, as well as Colorado Civil Rights Division Director Aubrey Elenis and former Gov. John Hickenlooper.

But on Tuesday, Judge Wiley Y. Daniel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado dismissed punitive claims against the majority of defendants in the case. Only Cynthia H. Coffman, the state’s attorney general, was deemed a “proper defendant” in the suit.

The district court allowed the suit to proceed, despite Colorado’s motion to dismiss.

Daniel further signaled the court is sympathetic to Phillips’ argument. The senior judge wrote that the Commission had engaged in “disparate treatment” by allowing “other cake artists to decline requests to create custom cakes that express messages they deem objectionable.”

In other cases brought before civil rights commissioners, Colorado allegedly allowed bakers to turn down cake requests which expressed racist or anti-LGBTQ messages.

Phillips says the double standard violates his Constitutional right to religious freedom.

But while the Supreme Court ruled narrowly in his favor last year, the nation’s highest bench declined to weigh in on whether Phillips’ faith beliefs permitted him to decline services to same-sex couples, as so-called “religious liberty” advocates have argued. That issue could be decided by future SCOTUS rulings.

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Facebook Met With Anti-LGBTQ Hate Groups to Discuss Content Moderation Policies

Facebook reportedly met with anti-LGBTQ hate groups to consult on its content moderation policies.

The social media giant “privately sought the advice” of Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, which is generously described by the Wall Street Journal as a “conservative Christian public-policy group.”

The Journal reports the D.C.-based lobby organization is among “hundreds of groups” consulted by Facebook in recent months as it attempts to strike a balance in moderating “offensive” speech on its platform. “A growing number of [those groups] lean to the right,” the newspaper claims.

Family Research Council, though, is interested in more than mere “public policy.” It has spent decades fighting equal treatment for queer and trans people.

Founded in 1981 by James Dobson, Family Research Council fought against the decriminalization of homosexuality. In the landmark 2003 Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, the organization filed an amicus brief arguing that same-sex intercourse is “deviate” and homosexuality is not a “fundamental right.”

Family Research Council lost that case. As of last year, Perkins lamented that the ruling, which struck down anti-sodomy laws in all 50 states, was a “mistake.”

In the more than 15 years since Lawrence v. Texas, Perkins has remained one of the loudest voices on the right opposing equality. He has advocated for conversion therapy, claimed homosexuality is linked to pedophilia, likened LGBTQ rights advocates to terrorists, and called the It Gets Better campaign “disgusting.”

An advisor to President Trump, Perkins is widely believed to have been a driving force behind his policy banning trans troops from serving openly in the military. He has called trans inclusion in the armed forces “social experimentation.”

Perkins, though, took issue with the Journal’s claim that he served as a consultant on Facebook’s hate speech policies. In an interview with the cable news show Fox and Friends, the 55-year-old said he was “surprised” by the report, alleging that he’s only had “one conversation” with the platform.

Nonetheless, Perkins concluded Facebook does “have a problem.” He accused the world’s largest social media company of “censoring conservative speech and the free flow of conservative ideas online.”

“[W]e just saw the recent example of this a couple weeks ago during Christmas where my friend, Franklin Graham, had a two-year-old post removed for a 24-hour period,” he said. “They said it was an accident. And one of the things I communicated was that, you know, these accidents appear more and more frequently.”

As INTO previously reported, Facebook apologized to Graham after temporarily blocking him for a post about North Carolina’s House Bill 2.

In response to Bruce Springsteen canceling a scheduled concert over the since-repealed anti-trans “bathroom bill,” the evangelical preacher and son of Billy Graham referred to the movement for LGBTQ rights as “godless secularism and political correctness.”

“[W]e need to go back!” he said. “Back to God. Back to respecting and honoring His commands. Back to common sense.”

After Graham called the temporary ban a “personal attack” in a Fox News interview, Facebook reinstated the post and claimed it had “made a mistake.” The company wrote: “We want to apologize and let you know that we’ve restored your content and removed any blocks on your account related to this incorrect action.”

While the platform of 2 billion users has been kowtowing to conservative lobbyists, it’s begun cracking down on LGBTQ people. Since October, it has banned users from discussing “sexual preference” or “sexual roles.”

But Facebook isn’t the only tech firm that has been negotiating with right-wing groups, according to the Journal.

“Twitter’s Chief Executive Jack Dorsey recently hosted dinners with conservatives, including Grover Norquist, the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, which advocates for lower taxes,” the outlet reports.

Twitter recently unveiled new hate speech policies banning users from misgendering or deadnaming trans people.

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Florida Is Trying to Appeal A Ruling That It Must Recognize A Trans Inmate As Female

A dozen advocacy organizations are going to bat against Florida for trying to appeal a court order that it must affirm a transgender inmate’s gender.

Alleging that prison staff denied her prescribed hormones for more than two years and refused to allow her to transition socially, Reiyn Keohane filed suit against the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) in 2016 and won in federal court. The case sought to throw out the state’s “freeze-frame” policy, which prevents transgender people from accessing gender-affirming care they were not receiving prior to incarceration.

Advocates say the 2016 ruling by Chief United States District Judge Mark Walker is among the most substantial trans-affirming decisions in a transgender prison discrimination case.

“Ultimately, this case is about whether the law, and this Court by extension, recognizes Ms. Keohane’s humanity as a transgender woman,” Walker wrote in 2016. “The answer is simple. It does, and I do.”

Keohane was issued hormones after her suit, but the DOC is now appealing the ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of appeals.

Keohane claims that DOC refused her medical transition, denied her female undergarments and repeatedly forcibly shaved her head. Her complaint alleges that DOC’s refusal to allow her to transition resulted in suicidality and self-harm.

Daniel Tilley, staff attorney at American Civil Liberties of Florida, is fighting Keohane’s case and said that DOC’s continued refusal to allow her to transition exacerbates her suffering.

“It’s been a really long and brutal journey for her,” Tilley told INTO, noting that Keohane’s request for social transition has dragged on for five years.

In a letter published by the ACLU, Keohane says she has been beaten in custody and was called “a punk, a sissy, and a faggot.”

“I have been denied at every level, told by doctors that I’m not transgender, refused hormone therapy even though I had taken it on the streets, and had to go weeks without being able to shave after being put in confinement for wearing women’s clothing or standing up for my rights,” she wrote.

Tilley questions Florida’s compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which requires correctional facilities to place transgender inmates on a case-by-case basis where they will be safest. According to Tilley, DOC has defaulted to housing transgender women based on genitalia alone. Keohane is housed in a men’s facility but wants to be housed with women, Tilley said.

The Florida Department of Corrections said it was working on a response to INTO‘s media inquiry, which included the number of transgender women inmates housed in women’s facilities and its PREA compliance. 

Eleven advocacy organizations joined the ACLU on Keohane’s behalf Wednesday, filing a friend-of-the-court brief. They include Lambda Legal, Transgender Law Center, Black and Pink, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, among others.

Last year, Missouri’s “freeze-frame” policy was also thrown out in federal court after transgender inmate Jessica Hicklin successfully sued for gender-affirming hair removal and canteen items.

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First Transgender Homicide of 2019 Reported in Alabama

It’s a grim first that has gone unacknowledged by law enforcement and media.

Dana Martin is the first known transgender person of 2019 to be murdered in the U.S. The 31-year-old Hope Hull resident was found shot to death in Montgomery, Alabama Sunday night.

Police identified her as male. Local media consequently followed suit. Monica Roberts of the blog TransGriot first broke word of her death on Twitter.

“It’s clear that she was a woman,” said Daroneshia Duncan-Boyd, founder of Transgender Advocates Knowledgeable Empowering. Duncan-Boyd said she met Martin several times with her friends. “She was a person that was loved by many, and you can see it all over Facebook.”

Most of Martin’s Facebook page is set to private, so messages from friends are not publicly visible. But all of her Facebook photos dating back nine years show her presenting as female.

Shonta Dillard, a longtime friend, also confirmed to INTO that Martin was transgender.

“That’s a sister, even though she’s not here to defend herself,” said Duncan-Boyd. “We still have a community in loss that is willing to defend her…The justice system doesn’t know how to handle situations where trans folks are murdered. They always misgender, and when they misgender, it knocks the data off.”

Last year, ProPublica examined law enforcement response to transgender homicides from 2015 through August 2018 and found that in 74 of 85 cases, agencies misgendered victims in death.

Transgender people have faced an unprecedented wave of violence in the past two years. Last year saw 26 transgender people murdered in the U.S., and 2017 reported the highest number of trans homicides on record with 29. An overwhelming number of the victims are Black transgender women.

According to an MPD statement released to INTO, police and fire medics responded to a call for a vehicle crash at the 3900 block of Brewer Road at 11 pm Sunday.

“At the scene, they located a vehicle in the ditch line,” police said. “In the vehicle, they located Martin, the driver, who had sustained a fatal gunshot wound and was pronounced dead at the scene.”

Asked if MPD was aware the victim identified as transgender, Public Information Officer Regina Duckett said that legal documents identified the victim as male.

“How a homicide victim identifies is a personal matter that becomes relevant to the investigation only if it is determined that it was a reason the victim was killed,” Duckett said in an email. “At this point, the circumstances of this homicide are unknown, and MPD will continue to pursue all leads and avenues for prosecution.”

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North Carolina to Lose Netflix Show As Fallout Over Anti-Trans ‘Bathroom Bill’ Continues

House Bill 2 is set to lose North Carolina even more money, despite the law’s repeal.

Netflix’s coming-of-age drama OBX is reportedly pulling production from the Tar Heel State due to fallout from the anti-trans “bathroom bill.” Forced through during an emergency legislative session in March 2016, HB 2 would have cost the state an estimated $3.76 billion over the next 12 years if it remained intact.

The controversial measure was replaced with a “compromise” bill, HB 142, nearly a year after it was originally made law.

But according to Wilmington’s Star News, the streaming service did not feel the replacement legislation differed enough from its predecessor to justify filming in North Carolina. The “sticking point” was reportedly a clause in HB 142 forbidding local municipalities from passing ordinances “excluding them from the bill’s restrictions.”

That language prevents cities and counties from drafting pro-LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances until Dec. 1, 2020—when the provision is set to expire.

In essence, HB 2 will remain in place for two more years.

Creator Jonas Pate claimed there’s still a chance OBX—which is set in the coastal town of Wilmington—could film in North Carolina. Pate told Star News “any effort to move the sunset date up… could convince Netflix to change course.”

“We have a tiny window where this could be pulled out of the fire,” he claimed.

The clock is quickly winding down, however. Netflix has already begun scouting locations in Charleston, South Carolina, despite its creator’s desire to shoot in the location where the show is set. OBX tells the story of a fateful summer, in which a hurricane cuts off power to Wilmington, through the eyes of four local teenagers.

“This show would be a postcard to North Carolina,” Pate concluded, describing it as akin to Stand By Me set in the Outer Banks.

Should North Carolina lose OBX to its neighbors to the south, it would result in an estimated $60 million in economic losses. Pate claimed it would also cost the already embattled state “70 good, clean, pension-paying jobs.”

Although the project has not been announced by Netflix, OBX allegedly plans to film a 10-episode season.

The news is further indication that HB 2 continues to have financial repercussions for North Carolina. Despite an offer of $2.4 billion in economic incentives from the state, Amazon announced its intent to build headquarters in New York City and Arlington, Va. According to the Associated Press, HB 2 was “still causing heartburn” with Amazon leadership.

Although North Carolina had been shortlisted for a new Apple facility, the company announced in December it would be taking 9,000 jobs to Austin instead.

Apple never stated that HB 2 was the reason it chose to open the $1 billion campus in Texas. But in an interview with Raleigh’s News & Observer, insiders euphemistically noted North Carolina’s “uncertain politics” as dissuading the company from doing business with the state.

Charlotte’s tourism board is reportedly spending $2 million in “Post HB2 Marketing/Sales support” to rehab the state’s image during the ongoing fallout.

Whether lawmakers will address this crisis by further compromising on HB 2 remains to be seen. Although Democrats flipped enough seats to break the Republican supermajorities in the State House and Senate, both chambers of the General Assembly remain under conservative control.

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These New Apps Rate Businesses Based on Size, Gender, Disability, and POC Accessibility

In Portland, Oregon where I live, I often work from a local laundromat and cafe. I love the place, but am always anxious to grab a specific spot at the sole bench against the wall as to avoid the inevitable bruises that come from the only other seating options: chairs that cut into my thighs, leaving indentations for a couple hours. Sitting in those uncomfortable chairs is a reminder of how I’ve failed to conform to the thinness that society requires of me in order to sit comfortably. I avoid them at all costs.

When I saw those very same chairs around my own dining table, brought in by my well-meaning but thin housemate, I didn’t know what to say. It’s hard to know what to say about fatphobia, and it’s terrifying when it sneaks its way into your own home.

As people with bigger bodies navigate a world designed for thin people, apps that aim to tell you which places have actually considered their needs helps mitigate fear and anxiety. Both Ample and AllGo, two Portland-based apps with the purpose of identifying and rating businesses on their inclusivity of marginalized bodies, were founded due to personal anxiety and experiences like my own.

For Ample’s Alissa Sobo, it was being fat-shamed at her doctor’s office in a small California town while she was pregnant. “I had one particularly terrible experience that was traumatic for me. I lived in a small town and didn’t have any way of finding a less fatphobic doctor,” said Sobo, now based in Portland.

Ample founder Alissa Sobo (L) with Ample graphic designer Gus Cannon (R)
Ample founder Alissa Sobo (L) with Ample graphic designer Gus Cannon (R)

AllGo’s Rebecca Alexander, a fat, queer fundraiser, said she was tired of   searching the background of pictures on Yelp to see if the restaurant she was taking a new client to had chairs big enough for her.

“I’ve spent the last 10 years raising money for nonprofits,” Alexander told INTO. “Involved in that job was meeting people I’d never met before who had lots of money [to contribute to my causes]. The anxiety I had on a daily basis meeting these people in new places was traumatic.”

During Alexander’s entire senior year of college, the only chairs available in her own apartment left indentations in her outer thighs for almost six hours every time she sat in them.

“Ninety-five percent of self-identified fat respondents [to AllGo’s initial user surveys] reported anxiety about going places with friends. For people who didn’t identify as fat, they felt excited. It didn’t even register,” Alexander told INTO. “So much of the world is just not designed with human diversity in mind.”

AllGo founder Rebecca Alexander. Image via
AllGo founder Rebecca Alexander. Image via

So when Alexander shared her anxieties and desire for a solution with Michele Amar, a tech and design strategist in the Fall of 2017, the two decided to collaborate on an app (Amar has since stepped away from the project). Businesses that appear in the app are given a green checkmark or a red X for having or not having things such as armless chairs or moveable tables, allowing potential visitors to decide if their whole party will feel comfortable at an establishment prior to going there physically. There is also space for users to submit a more extended review.

AllGo’s initial Kickstarter campaign was supported by some famous names in the fat and body positive communities, such as the queer writer Roxane Gay, who donated five signed copies of her critically acclaimed book on the emotional and psychological struggles around food and body image, Hunger, to their fundraiser (a pledge that sold out the first day). Tess Holliday, a plus-sized model who has graced the cover of Cosmo, posted to Facebook, “This app is going to make it easier for people like my mom to visit new places.” The campaign raised over $55k, allowing Alexander to hire some coders.

I'm so excited that AllGo – An App For People of Size is making the world accessible to fat and plus size people! This…

Posted by Tess Holliday on Saturday, March 24, 2018

Portland is a fertile and ideal testing ground. Despite the aforementioned cafe with the terrible chairs, Portland is the home base of many fat activists and organizations such as queer fat femme blogger Bevin Branlandingham, as well as body-positive hiking groups Fat Girls Hiking and Unlikely Hikers. Portland hosted the Association for Size Diversity and Health conference in August 2018, and hosts an annual plus-sized fashion show called Knockout. The city is also home to indie plus-sized clothing shop Fat Fancy; and Chunky Dunk, an outdoor pool party that celebrates the natural diversity of human bodies, and offers fat-inclusive swimming every summer. (It was the setting for a significant pool party scene in the upcoming TV adaptation of Lindy West’s Shrill, starring SNL’s Aidy Bryant).

“Queer people understand what it means to be excluded from public conversation,” Alexander said. “So many queer women and men have contributed to [fat activism]. There’s a lot of queer people doing the work. They want to see a queer entrepreneur [like myself] succeed.”

The amount of fat acceptance and celebration in Portland is one reason this big bottom has remained planted here. So it’s not surprising that another app dedicated to promoting accessible businesses, Ample, also began its journey in Oregon’s biggest city.

For founder Alissa Sobo, it was discussing her idea for a “fat Yelp” with Virgie Tovar, the creator of Babecamp, a 4-week online course designed to hold your hand through finally breaking up with diet culture, that gave her the final push to start Ample. “[Tovar] loved the idea, and initially she was the impetus for me for taking it from just reviewing doctors and healthcare providers to including restaurants, hair salons — everything we now include,” Sobo told INTO.

Sobo uses Google to gather businesses so almost anything is available to review. If it isn’t already in Ample, users can add any business they like, upload pictures, and continue the review process in addition to choosing a rating of one to four stars on size, disability, trans, and BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) inclusivity (the latter two coming at various points in the initial design process). It became her goal to take conversations that were happening on Facebook, Twitter or other personal groups, and make it accessible and searchable to anyone.

“I think, particularly in fat community, the information gets ‘trapped’ in our small, often geographically specific social media groups,” Sobo said. “And there isn’t one central trove of data that everyone could access for everywhere in the world.”

Image via Ample
Image via Ample

Because Sobo is a coder, she was able to take a more DIY approach and just created an initial prototype herself, but even she couldn’t do it alone. When she moved to Portland, her best friend and graphic artist Gus Cannon joined the team in charge of design. As a trans man, Cannon saw a lot of overlap in the hurdles trans people and fat people face in public spaces, such as gendered restrooms or use of incorrectly gendered language.

“So we expanded the project then,” Sobo explained, “We thought it made sense to allow people to review a place from an intersectional perspective.”

The app added ratings for trans inclusivity alongside the ones they already had for size and disability. Initially, they decided not to include a BIPOC rating on the advice of a POC friend, because none of the contributors were people of color, but after some feedback at launch, ultimately decided it was important to include.

“Shauna McDavis-Conway, the president of [fat activist organization] NOLOSE called us in on the POC perspective being discounted, and as soon as we realized that the community wanted it, and as soon as we realized the error of our ways, educated ourselves a bit more, we worked frantically to include it,” Sobo said. “I worked a solid few days to add it in, practically without stopping, because I wanted to show the community that we cared. We deployed the feature [adding star ratings for this new group] just a few days after it was called to our attention.”

With such a broad target audience, Ample has had to scale back in some other ways. Initially written as an iOS app, Sobo decided to launch Ample as a website first. “Eighty-five percent of all apps are only opened once,” Sobo said. “Our volunteer UX designer, who is a fat babe activist and total badass at her job, also felt that it doesn’t make sense to build a mobile app until you have a reliable and dependable user base. If people opened the app and there wasn’t anything yet in their area, would they ever open it again?”

Sobo hopes to grow the user base organically and has done so in a few different ways. By plotting all the places with reviews on a map, she has a visually engaging way to see what places are rated well in your area. She has also corralled a team of “Amplifiers,” members of the community who have volunteered to identify accessible businesses.

“Businesses are ‘amplified’ when a business or provider are recommended outside of the Ample platform,” Sobo explained.  “This can be from a face-to-face conversation or from a discussion they see on social media. Amplified businesses will show up on the Ample map and in the top search results, alongside businesses that already have reviews. A badge will appear on the pages of Amplified businesses, letting users know that this place or provider is being recommended even if there are not yet firsthand user reviews.”

Businesses can also participate by “claiming” their Ample entry. They only have about 75 claimed listings so far but, “Most of them take our inclusivity pledge,” Sobo said, which consists of a promise to, “treat people of all genders, body sizes, races, and abilities equally.” Business owners pledge to: “keep an open and eager mind towards learning how [they] might improve accessibility on an ongoing basis.”

Sobo emphasized that they’ve had positive feedback from businesses as well as users. “This isn’t a business-bashing tool. We hope its an educational tool and an awareness-raising tool.”

Alexander also hopes businesses will see her project, AllGo, as an opportunity to grow and change, as well as a marketing tool. “One-third of the population is considered overweight or obese,” she said. “If potentially one-third of their customer base can’t fit into the seats at a new restaurant, with an industry with that slim of a profit margin they can’t afford [to alienate them]. We can help them out.”

Both Ample and AllGo continue to grow. Alexander expects betas to launch in up to 10 other cities this year but is looking to angel investors to help make that happen. She also has some other projects directed at plus-sized consumers that should become public in the coming year.

Sobo hopes more programmers and Amplifiers will want to participate. I have personally already used both apps when deciding what coffee shop to work from. It’s good to know that I can quickly glance at either Ample or AllGo to check if I will be comfortable at a meeting spot suggested by a friend.

“[AllGo] would save me and people like me so much anxiety,” tweeted Roxane Gay. It also gives thin people a chance to learn how to be allies. Maybe then our new knowledge will make our options feel ample, and ensure that we can all go to places we feel comfortable and welcome.

Florida Governor Erases LGBTQ People From Nondiscrimination Order on First Day in Office

Florida’s new governor wasted no time in getting on the wrong side of the LGBTQ community.

On his very first day in office, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order affirming his administration would not discriminate on the basis of characteristics like race and sex in hiring. The pledge reaffirmed existing protections under Executive Order 11-04, which was signed by former governor Rick Scott.

The order was titled “Reaffirming Commitment to Diversity in Government,” borrowing the name of Executive Order 11-04.

There was one thing, however, missing from the governor’s so-called diversity pledge: LGBTQ people. The order does not prohibit discriminatory bias on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in either state agencies or government contracting.

Equality Florida took immediate notice of the snub.

In a statement, the state’s largest LGBTQ group said it is “deeply disappointed to see that LGBTQ employees and contractors” were left out of the order.

“It’s hard to believe that Governor DeSantis and his staff are not aware of the LGBTQ communities’ call for these protections following the Pulse tragedy and therefore it is hard to interpret this as anything less than a purposeful omission,” added Joe Saunders, its political director.

The omission is particularly glaring after his predecessor pledged to pass a nondiscrimination order following the death of 49 people at an Orlando gay bar.

Following the June 2016 tragedy, Scott is alleged to have offered his support for inclusive LGBTQ protections in government hiring during closed-door meetings with advocacy groups like Equality Florida. The Republican, who was recently elected to the U.S. Senate, failed to follow through on that promise before leaving office.

INTO reached out to DeSantis to inquire whether the governor would push for LGBTQ protections in the future. His office did not respond before publication time.

If the conservative politician does introduce a pro-LGBTQ order, it would be a surprise to those familiar with his record in U.S. Congress. In 2016, he scored a zero percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Index—its lowest score.

That very same year DeSantis voted against an amendment to a defense spending bill which would have forbid federal contractors who discriminate against LGBTQ people from receiving government funding. The provision was defeated by a one-vote margin as Democrats reportedly shouted: “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

The former Jacksonville representative also vowed to veto bathroom and locker room protections for transgender students if elected governor.

Meanwhile, DeSantis has offered a mixed message on LGBTQ nondiscrimination. In response to a question during the 2018 governor’s race as to whether he would sign an inclusive order on government hiring, he said he doesn’t “want any discrimination in Florida” but also expressed support for so-called “religious liberty.”

“I want people to be able to live their life—whether you are gay but also whether you are religious,” he claimed. “I think you should be able to do that. I don’t want them discriminated against as well.”

“We’ve got a big, diverse state and that is just the way it is,” DeSantis added.

Equality Florida noted that DeSantis’ refusal to fully support pro-LGBTQ protections “draws a stark contrast” with recent actions from other governors. Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and Wisconsin’s Tony Evers both signed nondiscrimination orders following their inauguration; Ohio’s John Kasich did so before leaving office in December.

Meanwhile, Kansas Governor-elect Laura Kelly has vowed to reinstate protections for LGBTQ state employees after she takes office on Monday. Those safeguards were nixed by former governor Sam Brownback in 2015.

LGBTQ advocates called for a meeting with DeSantis to ensure his administration does not repeat the alleged failures of the previous one.

“We look forward to a dialogue with Governor DeSantis about why LGBTQ employees have been omitted from this critical policy and how he plans to make sure that all Floridians, regardless of who they are or who they love, can be protected from discrimination,” Saunders said in the press release.

During his Tuesday swearing-in ceremony, DeSantis did not address LGBTQ rights.

Instead, the Republican stressed the need for limited government and to appoint Florida Supreme Court justices who won’t “legislate from the bench.” He also took aim at sanctuary cities, which he claimed “[incentivize] illegal immigration” and “[promote] lawlessness.”

During the midterm race, DeSantis infamously used the word “monkey” in reference to his black opponent, Democrat Andrew Gillum.

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Asst. Principal Who Demanded Trans Student Use Urinal in Front of Him Reinstated

An assistant principal who challenged a transgender student to use a urinal in front of him to prove he was male will be reinstated next month, a West Virginia Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night.

Assistant Principal Lee Livengood will return to work at Liberty High School on Feb. 1.

Frank Devono Jr., president of the Harrison County Board of Education, told INTO that board’s decision to reinstate Livengood was based on an investigative report from Superintendent Mark Manchin.

“After that report had been filed, and after that report had been completed, [it found] it did not warrant termination, it warranted a suspension and unpaid suspension,” said Devono. “And that he at that point would complete the stipulations that the superintendent and the board came up with, and that he would be able to come back to work.”

The incident in question dates back to Nov. 27 when Livengood allegedly followed transgender sophomore Michael Critchfield into an otherwise empty boys’ bathroom and loudly challenged him to prove he was male, stating “Come out here and use the urinal.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of West Virginia, Livengood also repeatedly misgendered Critchfield and said, “I’m not going to lie: You freak me out.”

Devono said that since the incident, the district has met with the ACLU and experts at West Virginia University. He said that all staff will be trained in transgender sensitivity.

Board members met in closed executive session Tuesday night before voting to reinstate Livengood. The exact terms of his reinstatement have not been disclosed.

Initial reports from the district suggested that Livengood had been suspended with pay following the incident, but Devono said that board members objected to his continuing to be paid and placed him on unpaid leave through February.

Devono said the district held meetings with Critchfield’s parents and the ACLU on appropriate next steps before voting on Tuesday.

“They weren’t looking for termination so much as they were looking to use this as a teaching scenario that could benefit other students that are dealing with the same type of situation,” he said.

The ACLU of West Virginia appeared to support the vote, but declined to immediately offer any details about what transpired between the district, Livengood, Critchfield’s family, and the ACLU. In a statement from Executive Director Joseph Cohen, the organization said it was encouraged by discussions with Superintendent Manchin.

“Michael and his family were heartened with the outcome of the meeting and are now looking forward to working with the school district to make a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ students in Harrison County,” Cohen said. “Because of Michael’s bravery and willingness to come forward, we now have the opportunity to replicate and expand on inclusion practices in other counties across West Virginia to ensure this never happens again to anyone under any circumstance.”

Timothy Ward, a spokesperson for the ACLU of West Virginia said the organization would be releasing more information on what steps the district had taken that led to its positive statement, pending conversations with Critchfield.

This Man Sued Mutual of Omaha for Denying Him Insurance Because He Takes Truvada — and Won

What if your insurance denied you coverage because you responsibly took a drug to prevent you from getting HIV? Unfortunately, this is an all-too common practice, but a legal victory today could make it a thing of the past.

A settlement was reached today in the Massachusetts lawsuit Doe v. Mutual of Omaha which challenged an insurance company’s policy on denying applicants’ various forms of coverage for taking Truvada, a medication taken for HIV prevention.

The lawsuit, which GLAD (GLBTQ Advocates and Defenders) filed against Mutual of Omaha, has resulted in the insurance company revising their underwriting guidelines that previously dictated that applicants who take Truvada, a pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV commonly known as PrEP, were automatically declined for long-term care insurance. Long-term care insurance generally covers things like home care, assisted living, adult daycare, respite care, hospice care, or nursing homes; types of care that aren’t always covered by health insurance or Medicare.

As a result of the outcome of the suit, the plaintiff in the case, known only as John Doe, will receive the long-term care policy he applied for.

“We are pleased that Mutual no longer declines insurance coverage based on the use of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, and we call upon other providers of life, disability, and long-term care insurance to do the same,” said Bennett Klein, AIDS Law Project Director for GLAD, in a press release Tuesday. Klein also represented Doe in the lawsuit.

Mutual of Omaha told INTO on Tuesday that it is revising their underwriting guidelines and that they were no longer “[declining] long-term care insurance applications solely on the basis that an applicant takes Truvada as PrEP for HIV prevention.”

Truvada, which was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012, reduces the risk of users contracting HIV by more than 90 percent, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The health protection agency openly sanctioned the use of PrEP for reducing risk of contracting HIV in 2014.

The CDC also reported that 90,000 PrEP prescriptions were filled in 2018, with a total of 1.1 million Americans at risk for HIV nationwide.

Generally, the Affordable Care Act bars discrimination against applicants on the basis of their sexual orientation for health insurance, but allows states to determine applicant eligibility for other types of insurance, such as life insurance or disability insurance.

Unfortunately, Mutual is hardly the first insurance company to reject applicants for taking PrEP. In February 2018, the New York Times reported on a similar circumstance in which Dr. Philip J. Cheng, an openly gay Massachusetts doctor, was only offered coverage for five years on a disability insurance plan because of his PrEP use.

The article also highlighted how insurance applicants who take PrEP are indirectly penalized for taking a preventative medication by insurance companies, while those who do not are much more likely to receive coverage.

“I was really shocked,” Dr. Cheng told NYT at the time. “PrEP is the responsible thing to do. It’s the closest thing we have to an HIV vaccine.”

Following the NYT report, New York state financial regulators stated publicly that they would investigate reports of gay men who had been denied various forms of insurance, including disability and long-term care, because of taking PrEP.

“Denying insurance to people who take steps to prevent HIV makes no sense, undermines public health, and contributes to HIV stigma,” said Gabriel Arkles, senior staff attorney at the ACLU, in an email to INTO Tuesday. “We are pleased that Mutual of Omaha will no longer discriminate against people who take advantage of this form of preventive medicine.”

Donald Trump, Jr. Shares Meme Mocking Trans People on Instagram

Transphobia is the Trump family business these days, if an Instagram post from Donald Jr. is any indication.

On Sunday, the eldest son of President Donald Trump shared a meme mocking trans and non-binary people. In the photo, an individual walks down the street dressed in futuristic attire: space boots, a fur coat, and blue hair reminiscent of The Fifth Element.

The unidentified person is also holding a Louis Vuitton purse.

Meanwhile, a sign in the background reminds Virginia voters to cast a ballot in the midterm elections on Nov. 6. Reading “Blue Wave 2018,” it calls out candidates Tim Kaine and Don Beyer by name.

Given the juxtaposition of Democratic candidates and the individual’s colorfully avant-garde appearance, the photo apes the popular meme, “This Is the Future Liberals Want,” in which a Muslim woman sits on the New York City subway next to a drag queen.

This time around, the caption takes aim at the #NotMyPresident hashtag: “No, no, don’t tell me. Let me guess… Trump is not your president?”

Trump Jr. piled onto the mockery. “I’ll take that bet all day long,” he wrote.

The feedback on Instagram was largely negative. While a typical post on his account attracts 1,000 or 2,000 comments, there are more than 6,900 responses.

Choice comments include: “Not my president either, and that’s a totally fab ensemble,” “Keep this same energy in prison, kiddo,” and “I hope your children grow up to be gay and trans and a drag queen.”

The First Son, however, lashed out at followers who claimed the post was reflective of animus toward the queer and trans community. Responding to a comment asking if Trump Jr. is “against LGBTQ people,” he claimed, “Not at all, and you can find plenty of evidence against that.”

INTO took Trump Jr. at his word, and the results were a mixed bag—to say the least.

The 41-year-old has come out in favor of same-sex marriage in the past, telling comedy podcast The Six Pack in 2012 that he’s “totally for” allowing all couples to wed. “If I have to suffer through marriage, why shouldn’t they?” he asked.

In the next breath, however, Trump Jr. said he “wished every guy was gay” while growing up “because it just meant more women for [him].”

If that didn’t make one question the sincerity of his pro-LGBTQ stance, Trump Jr. has done little to voice support for the community since his father’s inauguration. Instead, he mocked queer and trans students who protested the opening of a Chick-fil-A at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, calling them “triggered.”

Luckily these students won’t likely have to tackle issues more stressful than a yummy chicken sandwich in their lives,” he tweeted in April 2017.

Trump Jr. also lashed out at Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon on Twitter last year after the openly gay athlete called attention to Vice President Mike Pence’s anti-LGBTQ history. Those bullet points include signing a religious freedom bill and contributing to an HIV/AIDS outbreak as governor of Indiana.

Meanwhile, Trump Jr. has yet to break from his father’s administration on any key LGBTQ issues—whether trans inclusion in the military or discrimination against queer and transgender employees in the workplace.

Fittingly for someone with such a mixed record on equality, Trump Jr. failed to see what was “homophobic about [his social media] post.”

The First Family member counts 1.5 million followers on Instagram.

Header image via Getty