Federal Judge Rules Sexual Orientation Protected Under Title VII

November 7, 2016

A federal judge in Pittsburgh held that an employer's bias based on sexual orientation qualifies as sex discrimination under civil rights law.

The decision Nov. 4 from U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon of the Western District of Pennsylvania comes in the case of a gay telemarketer who claimed he quit his job because of a hostile work environment.

Read the Full Article at The Legal Intelligencer

Marriage Equality And The Enlightenment Dream

Arkansas Democrat Gazette, July 5, 2015

Note:  This is the original article of the author, Joshua M. Silverstein.  The alternative, published version is available online here.

On June 26, the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marry. This landmark decision was a critical legal and moral victory for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and for all others who support welcoming them into the fold of the American community. But the case represents more than the culmination of a long struggle for equality irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity. It was also another dramatic step forward in the centuries-long project to fulfill the Enlightenment Dream.

The scholars and thinkers of the Enlightenment sought to identify principles of natural law that transcend our religious, social, ethnic, and racial differences in a quest to discover a universal moral code grounded in reason and our common humanity. The axiom at the zenith of their theorizing was a conception of political equality under which all persons share the same legal rights without regard to bloodline, property ownership, religion, race, ethnicity, sex, or the like. The philosophers of the Enlightenment thus wished to dismantle the caste systems then in place throughout Europe and the rest of the world and replace them with governing structures that prize liberty, equality of opportunity, and democracy, rather than status.

These values spread out from the learned academies, universities, and urban coffee houses, seeping into the cultural DNA of the 17th and 18th Centuries. As a result, Enlightenment precepts were included in many of the great political charters of the era, including the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. To wit, the former, in striking language crafted by Thomas Jefferson, provides that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . ."

Of course, no society of that era fully lived up to the promise of the Enlightenment vision in words or conduct. The Declaration itself refers to "all men" being created equal, leaving half the population outside the jurisdiction of its canons. And the United States Constitution established slavery as the law of the land, denying countless men and women their rightful place as citizens of the new nation. But what began in the treatises of Locke, Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Condorcet and the founding documents of England, America, and France was an enduring social journey aimed at attaining justice for all.

The path has not been easy. With every two steps forward, we take one step back. America liberated its slaves at the close of the Civil War, only to see African Americans consigned to a new type of second-class status with the failure of Reconstruction. Jews like my ancestors obtained social acceptance throughout Europe, then suffered the horrors of the Holocaust. But the last two centuries were marked by unmistakable progress in the achievement of human rights. As explained by Dr. Martin Luther King, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

The story of blossoming equality in this country contains celebrated chapters on faith, race, and sex: the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, with its clauses establishing freedom of religion; the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the franchise; Brown v. Board of Education and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which together expunged the stain of legal segregation from our republic. To these, we now add an equally momentous chapter on sexual orientation and gender identity: Obergefell v. Hodges. In that case, the Supreme Court correctly found that the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee the right of same-sex couples to full participation in marriage, the institution at the foundation of our society. With this ruling, America has made a giant leap towards realizing our self-professed commitment to the "unalienable rights [of] ... Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."  The judgment in Obergefell, in combination with other Supreme Court opinions, the holdings of lower courts, federal and state legislation enacted throughout the land, and a sweeping political and social movement, has succeeded in removing a badge of inferiority that was no less corrosive than the brandings and yellow stars of old.

It has been suggested by some, including the dissenters on the Supreme Court, that Obergefell amounts to a defeat for religion. This is not so. First, the political theories of the 17th and 18th Centuries were meant to transcend differences in religion, not reject the core tenets of our belief systems. The philosophers of that era owed a considerable debt to the religious scholars preceding them such as Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, who constructed a theory of natural law that influenced Enlightenment thinkers in innumerable ways.  The Declaration of Independence itself reflects the profoundly important place of faith in the march towards justice. It states "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." And religious conceptions of human dignity have been instrumental in social crusades since the birth of America, including abolition and the civil rights movement, as well as the quest for equal treatment under the law for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. In short, the history from the Enlightenment forward is not one of reason replacing faith, but of these two paramount virtues working in harmony to form more perfect unions throughout the world.

Second, whatever the specific doctrines of each religion say about marriage and same-sex relationships, the core principles of those religions are consistent with the Supreme Court decision. In all of the great faiths, the obligations to love your fellow human and abide by the Golden Rule are more important than any others, except perhaps the duty to honor one's deity or deities. Secular moralities are of a piece. Can any heterosexual--Jew or Christian, Muslim or Buddhist, Hindu or atheist--honestly deny that we would demand the right to marry the soul mate of our choosing as a matter of basic fairness in a country where heterosexuals were a minority? If not, then our belief systems entail that we owe no less to our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters.

Four centuries after the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment, the United States of America made crucial headway toward fulfilling the promise of equality set out all those years ago. As such, this was not merely a triumph for those who wish to marry a person of the same sex. It was a victory for all who came before us and for all alive today--everyone who has suffered from wrongdoing and everyone who has fought, and even died, to eradicate injustice. And most imperative of all, we have come tantalizingly closer to achieving the Enlightenment dream for our children and our children's children.

Joshua M. Silverstein is a Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. The opinions in this guest column are his own.

2012 Transgender Law Institute

June 5, 2012

Re: 2012 Transgender Law Institute

The annual Transgender Law Institute at the National LGBT Bar Association will be held this year on Thursday, August 23, 2012, immediately prior to the Association’s annual Lavender Law Conference and Career Fair. The theme of this year’s Institute is TransMarriage, Parenting and Youth.

WHERE

The Transgender Law Institute and the Lavender Law Conference are being held at the Washington Hilton Hotel, 1919 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009.

KEYNOTE

We are pleased to announce that our keynote speaker is Diana K. Flynn, Chief of the Appellate Section of the United States Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division since October 1986. In this capacity, she is responsible for the direction and management of the Division's litigation program in the United States Courts of Appeals and, under supervision of the Solicitor General, in the Supreme Court. Prior to her appointment as Appellate Chief, Ms. Flynn served in the Division as counsel to the Assistant Attorney General and as an appellate attorney. Before that, she spent several years engaged in the private practice of law. She is a 1979 graduate of Yale Law School and a 1976 summa cum laude graduate of the University of Rochester.

SCHEDULE

Our planned schedule for the day is as follows:

9:00 am-10:00 am Morning Plenary

10:00 am-11:00 am Keynote – Diana K. Flynn, Chief, Appellate Section, Civil Rights Division, United States Department of Justice.

11:00 am-12:30 pm Morning panel – Beyond Bullying: Trans Youth and Education
Panelists: Joseph Wardenski (U.S. DOJ, Civil Rights Division) Sharon McGowan (U.S. DOJ, Civil Rights Division, Appellate Section), and additional experts.

12:30 pm-1:45 pm Lunch (provided by LGBT Bar Association – no formal presentation)

2:00 pm-3:15 pm Afternoon panel – Trans Marriage and Parenting (joint session with Family Law Institute)
Panelists: Jennifer Levi (GLAD), Shannon Minter (NCLR), Spencer Bergstedt (Attorney), and additional experts

3:30 pm-4:30 pm Discussion with local activists Ruby Corado and Jason Terry, D.C. Trans Coalition

4:30-5:00 Closing Session

5:00-6:00 pm Mixer, sponsored by GLAD


APPLY FOR THE INSTITUTE

Attendees may apply for admission to the Institute at http://www.lgbtbar.org/annual/program/transgender-law-institute/.  All applicants must be registered for the Lavender Law Conference. More information may be obtained from Jillian T. Weiss, Chair of the TLI 2012 Planning Committee at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

ABOUT THE NATIONAL LGBT BAR ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE

The Lavender Law Conference, which first met in 1988, draws over 1,500 attendees and features over 35 workshops and panel discussions.

Marriage Equality Panel Discussion, April 10, 2013 at Bowen Law School

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

LGTB law student group Bowen Lambda co-hosts Marriage Equality Panel Discussion at UALR Bowen School of Law

April 2, 2013

Bowen Lambda, the LGBT law student group at the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law, is co-hosting a panel discussion on Marriage Equality.   The panel will focus on two cases pending before the United States Supreme Court.  Hollingsworth v. Perry concerns Proposition 8 in California which prohibits marriage between individuals of the same sex.  United States v. Windsor is about the Defense of Marriage Act.  The Court heard oral arguments in Hollingsworth on Tuesday, March 27 and in Windsor on Wednesday, March 28.

Bowen Lambda co-founder, Michael V. Lauro, Jr., will be joining panelists Holly Dickson, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arkansas and Professor Terri Beiner, the Nadine Baum Distinguished Professor of Law at the Bowen School of Law.  Prof. Beiner is also the faculty advisor to Bowen Lambda.

The panel discussion takes place on Wednesday, April 10, 2013 from 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. in the Friday Courtroom at the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law.  Light hors d'oeuvres will be served.  The law school is located at 1201 McMath Avenue, in Little Rock, Arkansas.

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