Utah Judge Takes Foster Child Away From Lesbian Parents Because Lesbian Parents

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Think of the Children

In Utah, a juvenile court judge, Scott Johansen, has ordered that a baby girl being foster parented by a lesbian couple be taken away from them within the week for no other reason than their sexual orientation. Johansen has claimed that his decision was based on research that claims different-sex parents have kids with better outcomes than same-sex ones, but the couple — April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce — say that his decision had a religious motive. Johansen reportedly refused to produce any of the research that he claims to be citing.

April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce

April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce

HRC has called the situation “shocking, outrageous and unjust,” and Utah child welfare officials are reportedly trying to figure out what legal approach they can take to challenge the order. They’re in a tricky spot logistically, in that their jobs require them to follow the judge’s order but they’re also aware that the judge’s order may be unlawful discrimination.

Although they had yet to see Johansen’s order as the couple talked to the media, Utah child services officials were in a bit of a pickle. They won’t be able to ignore the order, but it may not be a legal one. “On the one hand, I’m not going to expect my caseworkers to violate a court order,” said Brent Platt, director of the Utah’s Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS), “but on the other hand, I’m not going to expect my caseworkers to violate the law.”

This news from the heavily Mormon state comes around the same time that the Mormon church announced children of same-sex parents would be forbidden baptism, and that if they want full access to Mormon spiritual life (and, according to Mormon theology, a relationship with God and salvation), they have to disavow their parents when they reach 18. Thousands of practicing Mormons are reportedly ready to leave the church over the decree, although as J. Bryan Lowder at Slate notes, “religious groups are, of course, well within their rights to make harsh exclusionary statements of this sort.”

We look at these events alongside the news of two daycare workers in Houston who were fired after they refused to treat a young trans child in their care with respect to their gender identity are filing a federal complaint against their former employer. They have filed an EEOC complaint on the basis of “race, gender, age, and religious belief discrimination.” America is still reeling from witnessing how successful Kim Davis was, at least culturally, at privileging her own religious ideals over her role as a person in a community and a nation that includes LGBT people. The cry to “think of the children” certainly isn’t new, but it does seem to be intersecting with the current emphasis on “religious freedom” to be anti-gay in a very particular way; rather than using children as a concept to make the point, the trend seems to be using individual literal children as a pawn against both their parents and a culture that thinks same-sex families and/or parents that support their children’s identities are okay.

Threats in Missouri

+ This week, Black activists of many stripes on the Mizzou campus won a victory that everyone’s talking about: they forced a university president who wasn’t meeting their needs out of office and have secured the resignation of the chancellor at the end of the year. It’s absolutely a triumph of organizing, one that should be celebrated and considered an example of the power and efficacy of millennial activism. The days since, however, saw a range of different kinds of backlash, and that needs to be considered as well.

Starting two days ago, almost immediately after Tim Wolfe’s resignation was finalized, there were reports of threats — at least one anonymous pledge on social network Yik Yak to “shoot every black person I see [on campus]”, claims of sightings of “racist cult” meetings on campus, and reports of gunfire. It was hard to know, as these reports were coming in, whether they were “real threats” or not — as is always the case when something is at the “threat” stage! (Anything that doesn’t come to pass seems obviously fake and overblown; anything that does seems obvious and criminal to ignore.) What was obviously for real was that many Black Mizzou students were scared; some felt that they needed to find a place to stay off campus because they didn’t feel safe in on-campus student housing.

As of today, two people have been arrested for making violent threats — Hunter Park of Rolla, MO has been charged with making a terrorist threat and is now jailed in Columbia MO; Connor B. Stottlemyre was arrested also for making a Yik Yak threat. Both are white and 19 years old. This comes the same week that two other men were arrested after they bought weapons to stockpile for an eventual attack on Black churches and Jewish synagogues as part of a white power movement — and all this only weeks after the Charleston shooting in a Black space that left nine dead. Although rumors that the KKK was visibly present on campus appear to be unfounded, it’s not hard to imagine why Black Mizzou students would judge that their lives might be in danger.

Hunter Park

Hunter Park

Unfortunately, the Mizzou administration and faculty at large doesn’t seem to have stepped up to reassure students of their safety on campus; classes weren’t canceled at the administrative level (although they did tweet that they had increased security, and at least one instructor, Dale Brigham, told his students that if they felt unsafe they could miss class — and also miss an exam. (He has since submitted his resignation.) Other professors chose to cancel class. As someone outside the Mizzou situation but also as a former university instructor, it’s baffling that anyone could demonstrate apathy towards these threats. My cohort and I were trained in what to do in the event of a mass shooting as part of our staff orientation — and our orientation was not comprehensive, implying that universities now consider mass shootings a totally possible scenario even on an average day, let alone when the university is the focal point of national racial tension.

Other universities are already sitting up and taking notice of the events at Mizzou, with Keisha Bentley-Edwards of the University of Texas-Austin saying “The University of Missouri is a signal for other universities to take notice that it’s no longer business as usual as far as the handling diversity.” It remains to be seen whether other educational institutions are also looking at Mizzou as an example of how to prioritize student safety (or not).

Veteran’s Day and Related Topics

+ An exploration of whether (military-based) PTSD in veterans should be factored in for death row inmates.

+ Obama’s remarks on Veteran’s Day focused on supporting American veterans after their return home.

+ Hillary Clinton released policy proposals aimed at veteran’s health and welfare, especially for “women and transgender veterans.” She would increase the number of ob-gyns employed by the Veteran’s Health Administration, mandate that the VHA provide birth control, and require childcare at VA medical facilities.

Police/Violence/Prison

+ MSNBC has an investigation on Linwood Lambert being taken into police custody in Virginia in 2013, which ended with his death in police custody.

When three Virginia police officers put Linwood Lambert in a squad car around 5 a.m. on May 4, 2013, they said they were taking him to the ER for medical attention because he was speaking delusionally. Just over an hour later, Lambert died in police custody.

+ The family of Anthony Hill, a mentally ill Air Force veteran who was behaving erratically outside his apartment building and was shot and killed by the police, is filing a federal wrongful death lawsuit.

Anthony Hill

Anthony Hill

+ The Department of Justice has announced it will file no charges against Christopher Manney, the police office who shot and killed Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee. Hamilton, who had a history of mental illness, was trying to sleep on a park bench when Manney shot him 14 times. Dontre’s mother, Marie Hamilton, and his brother, Nate Hamilton, have since become powerful activists and outspoken voices against police violence.

+ There’s been a major leak at Securus Technologies, a ” leading provider of phone services inside the nation’s prisons and jails,” by an anonymous source who thinks that Securus is violating incarcerated people’s constitutional rights. The leak contains over 70 million call records from at least 377 states. At least some of the calls appear to be calls between inmates and their attorneys — calls which are privileged to privacy and should never have been recorded in the first place.

“This may be the most massive breach of the attorney-client privilege in modern U.S. history, and that’s certainly something to be concerned about,” said David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “A lot of prisoner rights are limited because of their conviction and incarceration, but their protection by the attorney-client privilege is not.”

+ Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, information is being revealed about the 1992 murder of gay Navy sailor.

Naval investigators disclosed back then that two of Schindler’s shipmates were charged with beating him to death on Oct. 27, 1992 in a men’s bathroom at a public park in Sasebo not far from where their ship was docked. One of the two attackers, Airman Apprentice Terry M. Helvey, 21, was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to the slaying.

+ A hunger strike among the detained women of the T. Don Hutto Residential Center with the goal of immediate release is growing. Colorlines has an interview with Christina Parker, the Grassroots Leadership’s immigration program director.

How many have been moved into solitary confinement?
Two women have faced solitary confinement that we know of. Insis [Maribel Zelaya Bernardez] was placed in solitary at Hutto the first weekend of the hunger strike. This was confirmed by her attorney and friend who went and demanded to see her and a letter she wrote about the experience. Francisca, who was moved to Pearsall, has been in solitary since she arrived. We and her family are extremely concerned about her well-being and want her released to pursue to case outside of detention as soon as possible. It is worth explaining here that ICE will say they do not have any solitary confinement cells in immigrant detention. But what they leave out is that they do have single cells in the medical units and this is where they will lock women up, under the pretext of medical care. But it is obvious to the women that it is a punishment, especially since they have reported that don’t see anyone while they’re in there, including any doctors or nurses. This was what we saw in the reports of solitary used against mothers and children during the Karnes hunger strikes.

Law & Order

+ President Obama has endorsed Senator Cory Booker’s efforts to expand the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

+ Meagan Taylor, a black trans woman who was wrongfully arrested in July 2014 because hotel employees suspected that she was a sex worker, is suing the Drury Inn with the help of the ACLU.

+ Jezebel has a long piece worth reading on the battle in the Supreme Court over admitting privileges laws, which are among the state laws often passed as a workaround for outlawing abortion without technically outlawing it. By requiring that abortion practitioners have “admitting privileges,” a status that’s both unnecessary for their work and very difficult for them to obtain, they can effectively shut down a clinic. If the Supreme Court takes the case, it could make a huge difference in the ongoing fight for reproductive rights.

Grab Bag

+ The Department of Homeland Security chief is talking about the effort to transfer immigration applications online, a project “years past due and billions of dollars over budget.” Right now, only the application to renew or replace a green card can be processed online, a form which accounts for only 16% of procession actions. The department claims that by the end of 2016, 41% of all processing will be able to be completed online.

+ In a meeting of the New Zealand parliament to determine what to do with low-level offenders being detained on Christmas Island, prime minister John Key accused members of parliament who disagreed with him of “backing the rapists;” when several female members of parliament called for Key to apologize, insulted that they, as survivors of sexual assault, were being called rape apologists, they were ordered to stop speaking and walked out of the session.

“He jokes about sexual violence, he will use sexual violence as a political tool to distract from his own failings, he shows no leadership on the serious issue in New Zealand of sexual violence, and the Speaker will support him in that failure,” said Turei in an interview with Radio New Zealand. “We don’t need a Prime Minister using rape as a political tool to distract from serious issues.”

+ The author of A Fine Dessert, a children’s book which in part depicts an enslaved mother and daughter smiling as they prepare a dessert for their owners, has apologized and said that “I have come to understand that my book, while intended to be inclusive and truthful and hopeful, is racially insensitive. I own that and am very sorry. For lack of a better way to make reparations, I donated the fee I earned for writing the book to We Need Diverse Books.”

+ Afro-Mexican activists are fighting to be recognized in Mexico’s constitution — Mexico is one of only two Latin American nations that doesn’t already legally recognize its black population.

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1043 articles for us.

26 Comments

  1. Based on the article you linked to, “Dale Brigham, told his students that if they felt unsafe they could miss class” is incorrect. The article says he “brushed off” students fears and told them that he would be in class and the exam would be given.

      • I didn’t mean to imply that it wasn’t brushing off, I only put quotes around “brushing off” to show that I had lifted the term directly from the article.

        What I was trying to point out is that Rachel seems to incorrectly summarize the article she links to by saying that he told students they could miss class. The article shows he did the opposite.

    • hey! have you been able to read the text of the email for yourself? his words were “If you don’t feel safe coming to class, then don’t come to class… I will be there, and there will be an exam administered in our class.”

      • Ah, I see, Rachel, thanks for the info! I didn’t realize that if you didn’t click on the photo it only showed the bottom half of his email.

        Thanks for clarifying! Though it certainly is insensitive of him to not at least clearly state that the exam can be made up for students who do not feel safe coming.

        • Having read the student’s email, the student specifically asks when she can make up the exam. While he does start by saying to stay home if you don’t feel safe, he goes on to say the exam will be given in class. So basically he says, stay home if you feel unsafe but you’ll be punished for it?

          That is a monumental lack of empathy.

  2. I really appreciate the coverage on Mizzou, but this seems unnecessary and almost-sort-of dismissive of the situation:

    “It was hard to know, as these reports were coming in, whether they were “real threats” or not — as is always the case when something is at the “threat” stage! (Anything that doesn’t come to pass seems obviously fake and overblown; anything that does seems obvious and criminal to ignore.)”

    Like, I’m not sure what trying to hash out real v not real threats does except to briefly derail from the issue at hand and let other people get a foothold for telling Black students they were overreacting. It’s strange to see this treated as “potentially not a real threat” and possibly overblown when reports of gunmen and potential violence that are not specifically targeted at Black students are not questioned.

    • Hello! I 100% know what you mean, and I would hope it’s clear from all of the rest of that piece of writing — like when I said “it’s baffling that anyone could demonstrate apathy towards these threats” — that I certainly don’t think the experiences of the Mizzou students should be dimissed! The reports of people on campus are that some perceived/rumored threats objectively were not real, like the photo circulating of KKK members standing on a set of steps that was 100% not from Mizzou’s campus. Several students active in social media updating of the Mizzou situation made updates to the effect of “Please don’t circulate [such-and-such threat] because it is not a viable one.” This doesn’t at all mean that social media updates from Mizzou students weren’t or aren’t trustworthy, or that they weren’t and aren’t very real threats to them! It just means that social media isn’t a perfect medium, even though I do think it’s the best and a very important medium for sharing information about experiences that mainstream media has proven itself unable to cover with accuracy and fairness.

      When writing about stuff like this, it’s dangerous not to acknowledge when some reported/hearsay information turns out not to be true (which again, doesn’t reflect negatively at all on people on the ground) because if you don’t acknowledge that explicitly and take control of that part of the narrative, it makes it easier for people with ill intent who want to dismiss all of what’s happening at Mizzou outright to point at it and say “see, this turned out not to be true, so nothing is.”

      As the text up there indicates, there absolutely have proven to be at LEAST two people who were making threats, and that they are far from being outliers or anomalous. Being realistic about the fact that there isn’t always perfect execution of communication and reportage on potential threats doesn’t at all make that untrue!

  3. The threats from Stottlemyre were actually at a different university, Northwest Missouri State, where I’m attending actually. I will never be able to understand this kind of ignorant hatred.

    • How hard is it to understand? This was a slave state. A good many of the small towns in Missouri were “sundown towns” (as in, black people better be out by sundown)*. A lot of less-educated rural white people are hurting economically, and who better to scapegoat than the traditional target, black people? Doing so won’t bring the manufacturing jobs back, but the haters out there aren’t logical. The state wavers between “2 steps forward, 1 step back”, and stasis. There are people of good will in rural MO, but there are the haters too.

      * I recommend the book by James Loewen, “Sundown Towns”, for a look at Midwest history of racism (mostly southern IL and IN). He also has a website.

  4. It is absolutely baffling to me that this is the world we’re living in, in 2015. Watching this complete regression to such a hateful mentality is alarming. It’s like, as we progress with victories like gay marriage and the resignation of Wolfe, we’re pulling back these layers of filth to find an even grimier decay underneath it.

    • I specifically mean the picture of Hunter Park. There are much more important images from the protests and aftermath at the university of Missouri than the face of a racist idiot. I realized my comment could be interpreted as meaning any of the people victimized by police or in hate crimes mentioned in the article.

  5. Oh hey, I’ve been chatting to the White House Digital Services people for some time to hash out ideas about how to fix the online end of immigration applications (though they don’t get credited in the article, which is weird). They’re really receptive to feedback, which was new for me!

  6. If I were a black student at Mizzou, I would just boycott the next semester. F***ing with people’s money always gets the desired result.

    Unfortunately, higher education has become a corporation, and like all corporations the people at the top have most of the money. With said money comes a complex of self perceived invincibility and the illusion of power. They believe they are untouchable. But it ain’t so.

    The black Mizzou students should get together, if they already haven’t, come up with very specific demands regarding what they would like see happen, and present it to the board or whoever’s in charge.

    If the demands are not met and no change is seen then the students should boycott the next semester. The school would lose a shit ton of money.

    Yes, students would lose out on a semester, teachers will lose their jobs, but a cause is a cause. If one wants to achieve something in an non-violent manner they will have to give up something and stand firm. Besides there are always other schools and other ways of obtaining one’s dream.

    Honestly, there is no perfect answer to this awful situation. Only choice.

  7. I feel so bad for April and Beckie here I am so angry over the LDS new policy that directly affects my daughter who has to go to an LDS church every other Sunday with her dad, and they are having their foster daughter taken away. My mom has been searching so hard for a way to reconcile the fact that she is a church member and that I am gay and she still loves me. I believe she finally found it when one of the leaders of the LDS church spoke about compassion and love and not judging others outside the faith in October, only to find out about the 2 new policy’s that was supposed to only be known by leaders of the church and carried out behind closed doors but was leaked to the press, and now I see the conflict back within her. My sister and I are so angry that we are starting the process of officially leaving the LDS Church over this. We haven’t been to church in years but the LDS Church keeps people on their records as official members for life once you are baptized unless they excommunicate you as punishment or you go through a very lengthy pain in the butt process (which only exist because of a court order the resulted from a lawsuit) to get your membership revoked witch usually involves them trying to get you to repent and come back to church or trying to find a way to excommunicate you before they let you leave. So a lot of people just stop going and don’t officially leave unless they are really angry with the LDS Church, and there are a lot of angry people in Utah right now. They are starting to call it the Mass Exodus. Along with the disgusting discrimination of children they also created a new policy against any of their official members who are in a same sex relationship or marriage. Which involves holding a discipline hearing and to be excommunicated and label an apostate if you don’t leave those relationships and promise celibacy and not to engaged in any kind of romantic behavior with a person of the same sex again. (Its looks like it’s officially open witch hunting season) Apparently homosexuality dose destroy families, because if you are LBGT the LDS church will do what is in its power to destroy yours while making you children feel rejected and a second class citizen.

  8. And how many children of LGBT couples would actually want to be baptised into that made-up lame excuse for a religion? It astouds me the extent to which it has infiltrated the justice system, and indeed the way of life, of a democratic country.

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