Creating Affirming School Environments
SLC strives to ensure all LGBTQ+ students have access to safe and affirming learning environments where they can thrive and succeed. Unfortunately, the majority of transgender or gender non-conforming students (77%) and gay, lesbian, and bisexual students (64%) experience mistreatment at school, 75% of trans youth report feeling unsafe or uncomfortable at school, and 17% of trans youth experience such severe mistreatment that they leave school as a result. SLC’s LGBTQ+ school advocacy project focuses on ensuring schools are protecting and affirming LGBTQ+ youth and upholding their constitutional and statutory rights. This includes advocating for the school to use the students’ affirmed names and pronouns, ensuring the student has access to bathrooms, facilities, and gender-specific activities in accordance with their gender identity, assisting students in need of supports and accommodations through the special education process, and providing training and resources to school and district staff and administration statewide.
In partnership with Equality Florida, the state’s largest statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, Southern Legal Counsel has engaged with all 67 Florida school districts to educate their leadership, personnel, students and parents on how to affirm, support, and protect LGBTQ students and their rights. Highlights from this project include:
- Publishing a series of LGBTQ+ Legal Notes, each of which contain a topic-specific legal analysis, an overview of the districts’ legal duties, and self-empowering “Know Your Rights” tips for students and parents. These two-page explainers (links to each below) are distributed monthly to school district attorneys, social workers, staff, leadership, and LGBTQ+ liaisons within every school district in Florida.
- Training more than 600 school district staff, principals, social workers, teachers, and others involved in Florida’s public school system through a comprehensive program on how to create an affirming, inclusive learning environment for transgender students. As a result of the training, school districts are making changes to their registration forms and student information systems and are moving towards more inclusive policies and practices that promote the academic success and overall well being of LGBTQ+ youth.
- Legal Notes Series:
- Additional LGBTQ school advocacy resources:
● Collaborative project informs Florida school districts about LGBTQ rights, Southern Legal Counsel
● Student Athlete Bills Are Latest In Anti-Trans Attacks, Critics Say, WUSF-FM (NPR member station)
Florida Name Change
Southern Legal Counsel’s Transgender Rights Initiative was initialy developed to fill a gap in access to justice by systemically providing assistance to transgender individuals statewide in obtaining legal name and gender-marker changes. SLC seeks to prevent discrimination against the transgender community as a result of having legal identification documents that do not reflect individuals’ gender identity. There is a direct correlation between possessing inaccurate identification documents and being denied employment, housing, and other life necessities, which contribute to high rates of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness within the transgender community.
We have offered legal name and gender-marker change assistance by conducting in-person clinics and workshops across Florida, providing training to legal aid organizations and pro bono attorneys throughout the state to build their capacity to do this work, and collaborating with trans advocacy organizations and support groups statewide.
Most notably, we developed Florida Name Change, a first-of-its-kind free online tool to assist transgender individuals statewide in changing their names and updating their identification documents. Nothing else like FloridaNameChange.org exists in the country. The website includes the forms and processes for obtaining a legal name change in all 67 counties in Florida and utilizes a question-and-answer format to easily complete the complex paperwork. The online tool also assists users in amending the name and gender marker on their Social Security record, Florida driver’s license or ID card, U.S. Passport, and Florida Birth Certificate.
- Website leads transgender Floridians through process of changing names and gender markers, American Bar Association Journal
- New Website Offers Name Change Assistance to Transgender Community, Southern Legal Counsel
- Website Designed To Help Transgender People In Florida Change Name And Gender Marker, WUFT-FM (NPR Member Station)
- Florida Department of Health amends policy for sex designation on a Florida birth certificate, Equality Florida
- Movement Advancement Project (MAP) releases new data showing success in Florida with changing birth certificate gender requirements, Equality Florida
- SLC’s Simone Chriss presents at world’s largest transgender conference, Southern Legal Counsel
Claire v. Fla. Dep't of Mgmt. Servs., No. 4:20CV20-MW/MAF,
2020 WL 7086140 (N.D. Fla. Dec. 3, 2020)
Southern Legal Counsel, the ACLU of Florida, Legal Services of Greater Miami, and pro bono attorney Eric Lindstrom filed a federal lawsuit against the Florida Department of Management Services, the University of Florida, the Public Defender of the Second Judicial Circuit of Florida, and the Florida Department of Corrections on behalf of named plaintiffs Jami Claire, Kathryn Lane, and Ahmir Murphy, who as state employees were denied medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria because of the state’s categorical exclusion of coverage for medically necessary gender-affirming care.
Some transgender people experience gender dysphoria, the medical diagnosis for the clinically significant distress sometimes resulting from the incongruence between a person’s gender identity and their sex assigned at birth. Left untreated, this serious medical condition often leads to debilitating distress, depression, anxiety, impairment of function, and self-harm, including suicide.
The lawsuit alleges the State’s exclusion of medically necessary gender-affirming care in all its employee health plans constitutes unlawful sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Florida Department of Management Services is the state agency responsible by law for establishing the terms, conditions, and criteria in the plans offered to state employees and intentionally procured health insurance plans with categorical exclusions for medically necessary gender-affirming care.
Medical experts overwhelmingly agree treatments for gender dysphoria, including surgical procedures, are effective, safe, and medically necessary for many transgender patients to alleviate their gender dysphoria. Indeed, every major leading medical organization, including the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association, recognize gender-affirming care is medically necessary, and it is routinely covered by private insurance programs and the majority of Fortune 500 companies, as well as the Medicaid plans of more than 20 states.
- Complaint (ECF 01)
- Answer to Complaint by Defendant DMS (ECF 18)
- Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint by Defendant Andy Thomas (ECF 19)
- Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint by Defendant University of Florida (ECF 20)
- Response in Opposition to Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint (ECF 28)
- First Amended Complaint (ECF 34)
- Answer to First Amended Complaint by Defendant DMS (ECF 57)
- Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint by Defendant University of Florida (ECF 58)
- Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint by Defendants Florida Department of Corrections and Andy Thomas (ECF 59)
- Amended Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint by Defendants Florida Department of Corrections and Andy Thomas (ECF 66)
- Response in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint (ECF 68)
- Order Granting Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss (ECF 95)
- Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF 123)
- Defendant Satter’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 125)
- Defendant Department of Management Services’ Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 126)
- Defendants’ Response in Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF 135)
- Plaintiffs’ Response in Opposition to Defendant Department of Management Services’ Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 136)
- Plaintiffs’ Response in Opposition to Defendant Satter’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 137)
- Plaintiffs’ Reply to Defendants’ Response in Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF 139)
- Defendant DMS’ Reply to Plaintiffs’ Response in Opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 140)
- Defendant Satter’s Reply to Plaintiffs’ Response in Opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 141)
- Advocacy groups sue Florida government agencies, University of Florida over discriminatory transgender health-care, Southern Legal Counsel
- Denying gender-affirming care to transgender people is simply unconstitutional, ACLU of Florida and Southern Legal Counsel
- Transgender employees sue Florida over state's trans health care ban, NBC News
- Trans Women Sue Florida After Being Denied Insurance for Gender-Affirming Care, Them.
- Trans State Employees Sue Florida for Denying Them Transition-Related Health Care, NewNowNext
- Lawsuit: Florida health care discriminates against transgender state employees, Tampa Bay Times
- Two transgender women sue Florida for denying them health care, The Hill
- Florida Transgender Employees Sue Over Insurance Exclusion, Bloomberg
- Florida Won’t Cover Transgender Health Care. Two Trans Women Are Suing, TruthOut
Inclusive Housing and Homelessness Services for LGBTQ+ Individuals
Training Providers and Continuums of Care
The transgender community experiences a poverty rate of 29% (2x rate of general population), an unemployment rate of 15% (3x rate of general population), 30% have experienced homelessness, and LGBTQ+ youth make up 40% of all homeless youth in the U.S. These statistics worsen when race and disability are taken into account.
Southern Legal Counsel has led the charge in Florida to create more affirming and inclusive housing and homelessness services for the transgender community. We have trained multiple Continuums of Care, consisting of dozens of housing and homeless services providers, on how to provide inclusive and affirming services to transgender individuals. Two of these were full-day trainings for two community Continuums of Care (Orlando and Alachua) representing 140 housing and homeless service providers to improve housing stability for transgender individuals. These resulted in concrete changes to policies to accommodate transgender individuals. Additionally, we have provided dozens of LGBTQ+ and transgender-specific cultural competency trainings (including 8 trainings to over 400 individuals in 2018-19) which resulted in operational changes by legal services, housing and homeless service providers to adopt more inclusive and affirming practices. As transgender people are traditionally underserved, this focus on training has increased access to services that are necessary to achieve economic and housing stability.
We trained the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida and the North Central Florida Alliance for the Homeless and Hungry in achieving their goals for improving equal access to homeless and housing services for transgender individuals by providing training and support to incorporate best practices into service delivery. The phased training program armed participants with tools to create welcoming and inclusive housing and homeless services for LGBT clients with a special focus on transgender and gender non-conforming clients. We also provided consultation and support as the Continuums of Care worked toward becoming communities of inclusion and incorporating best practices into their service delivery systems.
We have provided similar trainings to legal services and homeless and housing providers across the state and nationally. A select few examples include:
- “Moving Towards Inclusive Housing & Homeless Services” (full-day) & “Trans 101: What Housing and Homeless Service Providers Need to Know” (1 hour), Training for the Housing Services Network of Central Florida in Orlando
- “Inclusive Housing and Homeless Services for Transgender Clients.” Breakout session, Florida Supportive Housing Coalition, Supportive Housing Summit: Housing + Services, The Keys to Success, Orlando, FL
- “Housing and Homeless Rights: Legal Obligations of Service Providers and Local Communities” Pre conference one-day session (included section on LGBT cultural sensitivity and legal obligations for housing/homeless providers), Florida Institute on Homelessness & Supportive Housing, Orlando, FL
- “Inclusive and Innovative Legal Services for Transgender Clients.” Breakout session, National Legal Aid & Defender Association Annual Conference, Safeguarding Justice for All, Washington, D.C. & at the Equal Justice Conference, American Bar Association, San Diego, CA
- “Inclusive Legal Services for Transgender Clients.” One-day interactive training for legal helpline attorneys at Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, Sanford, FL (November 2017)
- “Inclusive Legal Services for Transgender Clients.” Webinar for Florida civil legal aid lawyers in Florida
Opposing Discriminatory Policies and Rules
Southern Legal Counsel (SLC) led a coalition of Florida-based organizations submitting a formal comment to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development today on a proposed Equal Access rule change that seeks to rollback protections requiring that LGBTQ individuals have equal access to housing and homeless services.
The rule change would allow sex discrimination against transgender and other individuals seeking shelter in single-sex facilities and allow those managing the facilities to make biological sex determinations by assessing “factors such as height, the presence (but not the absence) of facial hair, the presence of an Adam’s apple, and other physical characteristics” of the shelter seeker.” The facility also would be able to request a birth certificate, other identification, or medical records.
SLC, One Orlando Alliance, Homeless Services Network of Central Florida, Equality Florida and Zebra Coalition collaborated on this in opposition to the proposed rule change, which was unnecessary and unlawful, violated the sex-discrimination principles set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Bostock, was wholly unsupported by data, and did not align with HUD’s central mission of ensuring discrimination-free housing for all persons, including LGBTQ individuals.
A 2016 HUD Rule requires single-sex facilities to place individuals in accordance with their self-identified gender identity and bars inquiries into a person’s sex with respect to temporary or emergency shelters, adding those additional protections to a 2012 rule requiring that housing be made available regardless of gender identity and barring inquiries into gender identity and sexual orientation in various circumstances. The proposed HUD rule would remove the protections in place for transgender individuals and allow for discrimination on the basis of gender identity, resulting in transgender individuals being even less likely to find shelter, housing, and affirming services.
SLC worked with pro bono attorneys, statewide LGBTQ advocacy groups and housing services providers to submit a comment in opposition to this discriminatory rule on September 21, 2020. The comments submitted by SLC and myriad other organizations nationwide resulted in success, as HUD withdrew the proposed rule, leaving in place the 2012 and 2016 HUD Rule protections for transgender individuals.
The HUD Comment by Southern Legal Counsel can be found here.
SLC also joined Equality Florida and 23 other LGBTQ advocacy groups in drafting and submitting a Letter of Support for the Equal Access Rule.