#ChangeLawyer Meet the lawyer who defends LGBTQ people from police in India
The Supreme Court of India is about to decide whether or not to overturn law 377, which criminalizes queer sex. The following interview is with Suraj Sanap, an Indian lawyer who defends gay, bisexual, and transgender men.
VICE: You mentioned blackmail and extortion were a problem for queer people?
Sanap: In March and April of 2014, we received two complaints of blackmailing and extortion; one was a bisexual male and the other was a gay man. They were both harassed and extorted by the same group of two to three men, who posed as gay men and met them at their home or hotel room.
They never had sex, but threatened the men that they would tell their parents if they did not hand over their money, laptop, and watch. This is textbook extortion.
Why not go to the police?
We went to police; the funny thing is that the police don’t understand these cases and laws. They noted it down as simply robbery.
What has been one of the worst moments in your career?
One of the lowest points was when a 22-23-year-old man came to us in Bombay. He met an older guy online who was in his mid 30’s. They’d had consensual sex before but one day our client went to the house of the older man and was sexually assaulted.
It was rape. Forced sex is rape, but in India, rape can only happen to women.
If it came out that yes he had been raped, but he had also at one point had consensual sex, he would have been jailed under 377.
He was only 22 at that time and was still in college.
We had to explain to him that the best thing to do was to do nothing. Don’t go to the police, they will attack you. It was hard to explain that this was how it was, and there was nothing to do but sit with it for life.
How helpful are the police towards queer people?
There have been cases in Rajasthan where policemen would pose as gay men to arrest unsuspecting men. In Mumbai, the police would intentionally go to catch them in public parks, public toilets or cruising points to entrap them. Not to prosecute them but to extort money out of it.
We never let our clients go to police station alone, because they are not helpful and quite conservative. There is no way to communicate how homophobic they are.
How supportive are the parents in such cases?
Almost never. Most of the victims are not out to their parents and that is one of the biggest reasons why the victims does not file criminal charges against the accused.
Story by Vice >
Speaking of… It’s getting legally harder for LGBTQ+ couples to adopt children
This May, the city of Philadelphia ceased placing foster children with two social services agencies, Catholic Social Services (CSS) and Bethany Christian Services, after a March Philadelphia Inquirer report revealed that the organizations had been refusing to place children with LGBTQ+ clients. As their actions were in violation of the cities’ Fair Practices Ordinance, Bethany agreed to comply, while CSS sued the city. According to CSS, it was their right to discriminate against same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs, and they sued the city for violating their right to free speech and religious practice.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker ruled against Catholic Social Services (CSS) in a suit levied by the agency against the city of Philadelphia.
Leslie Cooper, Deputy Director of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, explained that this represents a new form of discrimination against prospective queer adoptive parents. “The new obstacle we’re seeing now is in the form of governments permitting, through statutes or otherwise, their state-contracted child-placement agencies to reject same-sex couples seeking to foster or adopt children in the child welfare system based on religious objections. States are contracting with faith-based child placement agencies, which is perfectly fine, but then authorizing those contracted agencies — that are paid in taxpayer dollars and performing a government function — to use religious criteria to turn away same-sex couples seeking to care for a child.”
While this battle was won, the larger war on queer adoption is still very much being waged across the country on a federal level. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee voted in favor of the Aderholt amendment, allowing agencies like CSS to discriminate against LGBTQ+ couples. The 29-23 vote protects agencies with “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” from governmental action. The amendment also allows the federal government to withhold 15 percent of federal funds from states who “discriminate” against these faith-based policies, which are themselves discriminatory.
Below the federal level, ten states have regressive practices in place when it comes to LGBTQ+ adoption. This year, South Carolina began allowing adoption agencies to discriminate against queer couples, thanks to a provision buried in their 2018-2019 budget bill and supported by the GOP. In May, Gov. Jeff Coyler signed Kansas’ “Adoption Protection Act,” which allows agencies to refuse placement based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” According to the Family Equality Council, there are only five states that have specific law or policies in place that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation only when it comes to foster care. 42 states are completely silent on the issue of children being fostered by same-sex parents.
“The fact that the issue is now being discussed at the federal executive level, that could not have happened without this regime,” explained Cooper. “That couldn’t have happened a couple years ago, where the administration was supportive of LGBTQ equality, or at least didn’t support allowing religious eligibility criteria in government programs.”
Story by Them >
More of This Can’t afford a lawyer? Washington state has a solution.
In 2017, 70 percent of low-income households in America had some kind of civil legal problem, ranging from divorce to a housing dispute, according to the nonprofit Legal Services Corporation. But in the civil system, there is no guaranteed right to representation. That means families living near the poverty line handle the vast majority of those cases — 86 percent — with little or no professional legal help to guide them.
Washington has taken the unusual approach of creating an entirely new legal position, one that can help clients with straightforward legal problems for a fraction of the cost. The new “legal technicians”, the first of whom were licensed in 2015, go beyond a paralegal and don’t need a lawyer’s oversight to offer legal advice. They are to the legal field what a nurse practitioner is to medicine, a triage model that may soon expand to several other states.
Attorney Steve Crossland, former president of the Washington State Bar Association, hoped creating something like a legal technician would cut down on the fake lawyers and “notarios” who were selling cheap divorces, wills and other legal contracts with no expertise.
“In the best of all possible worlds, it would be great if everybody had access to a full attorney. But it isn’t going to happen. We’re hoping the [technicians] will be able to provide the services at a price that consumers can afford.”
Such professionals still have significant restrictions. They can’t appear in court or communicate with opposing counsel, rules that licensed technicians are trying to loosen. They can only address family law matters, such as child support, divorce, or protection orders in domestic violence cases.
The line between the civil and criminal justice system is blurry: Unpaid fines, fees and child support can land someone in jail. It may take a civil lawsuit to fight the fallout of a criminal conviction or clear a record. And a criminal arrest can lead to an eviction hearing and homelessness. That overlap makes it even more important for someone to have legal help in civil matters, advocates say.
Story by the Marshal Project >
Less of This What it’s like to represent a six-year-old in immigration court
It was about 9:30 on Thursday morning when Immigration Judge Randa Zagzoug called Leo de León's name. The six-year-old child got up from his seat and walked over to a table facing the judge, where he took a seat alongside his lawyer and a Spanish language translator. His legs were too short for his feet to touch the floor but he smiled at the two women, revealing big dimples.
Leo had come to court to seek a voluntary departure. This would let him join his mother back home in Guatemala. In an interview with Voice of America, his mother, Lourdes de León, described how she didn't even have time to give him one last hug.
"He said 'Mama, they tell me I have to go with a judge but I don't understand, what's a judge?'" de León told WNYC.
Leo was among about 25 unaccompanied minors in Judge Zagzoug's courtroom Thursday morning, on the 14th floor of the Federal Building in Lower Manhattan.
A little boy named Solomon in a red and white striped T-shirt seemed reluctant to enter the courtroom with everyone else.
When the boy's name was called he sat quietly and appeared timid. "How old are you," the judge asked through a translator. Solomon said he was seven. His lawyer from Kids in Need of Defense was meeting him for the first time and requested more time to review his case.
Leo had already met once with his attorney, Jessica Lynch of Catholic Charities, before his court appearance on Thursday. She said she uses child-friendly language when talking with minors about court and also uses a chart. Some don't know what a lawyer is, and others are too young to even speak.
With Leo, she said, she explained that a lawyer is someone who "helps children." And she said, "I'll explain to the judge that you want to go back home and be with your mother."
On Thursday morning, the judge gave the government the standard 120 days to return Leo to his mother in Guatemala. A lawyer from the Department of Homeland Security made no objection. As the judge filled out documents, Leo kicked his feet in silence.
"Good luck to you, Leo," Judge Zagzoug said, as the hearing concluded and the next child's case was called. Leo grasped his lawyer's hand and rushed out of the room smiling.
Later, he called his mother to tell her the good news. Lourdes de León said her son was excited about going back home. She's waiting for the exact date — because he needs to obtain travel documents — but she hopes he'll come home well before the four-month deadline.
Story by WNYC >
Podcast of the Week How Silicon Valley software supports LAPD’s surveillance
Tech companies like Palantir are teaming up with police departments to create real time “probable offender” lists of thousands of mostly African American and Latino people. These lists, and other “predictive policing” tools, create a feedback loop, trapping people of color and the poor in a cycle of monitoring, arrests, and further monitoring.
Listen to Episode 5 of The Appeal Podcast >
SCOTUS Watch Here’s what Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court would mean for criminal justice reform
The following editorial was written by Kyle C. Barry, senior legal counsel for the Fair Punishment Project.
In 2015, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a concurrence in a death penalty case to sound the alarm on solitary confinement. The prisoner in that case, Davis v. Ayala, had probably “spent 20 years or more in a windowless cell no larger than a typical parking spot.” Kennedy argued that prison conditions are too often ignored: “prisoners are shut away—out of sight, out of mind,” and the “judiciary may be required” to intervene.
But then Justice Kennedy announced his retirement, President Trump nominated D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace him, and the window to challenge solitary confinement in the Supreme Court will almost certainly slam shut if he is confirmed.
Kavanaugh was chosen precisely for his party loyalty, conservative ideology, and “central casting” background as a white male swaddled in the prestige of elite private schools and powerful government institutions. Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana had said that if Justice Neil Gorsuch has “got a twin, let’s nominate him,” and that is effectively what happened.
Overall, replacing Kennedy with Kavanaugh will only mean fewer legal protections for people ensnared in the criminal justice system. It’s unlikely that Kavanaugh would ever provide the decisive fifth vote for a criminal defendant or victim of police brutality.
With Kennedy as the fifth Republican appointee, it was plausible that the Court would not only address long-term solitary confinement on death row but eliminate death row altogether. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would abruptly stall further progress in these areas.
Kavanaugh’s views on criminal justice are defined by a deference to law enforcement and a broad view of executive power that will enable more stops and searches, more arrests, more prosecutions, and an overly punitive justice system.
Adding Kavanaugh to the already conservative Roberts Court will only make it more so. Once promising efforts to improve conditions for prisoners and to further reduce if not eliminate executions would turn doubtful. But that is just the near term. Kavanaugh is only 53; Justice Gorsuch is 50. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, the once high-school classmates will serve on the high court together for decades.
Story by The Appeal >
Perspective Say no to citizenship questions on the 2020 census
The following editorial was written by Vanita Gupta, Assistant Attorney General and head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division under President Obama. She’s currently President of the Leadership Conference Education Fund.
It’s no secret that our democracy is under relentless attack. But perhaps less known is the power every person has over one of the most urgent civil-rights issues facing the country today: the 2020 census.
Between now and August 7, there’s a simple way to make your voice count—and make sure your voice gets counted.
The Commerce Department is soliciting public comments on the 2020 Census to help evaluate the quality of information the questionnaire will collect. That means all of us can speak directly to the Trump administration about the critical need for a fair and accurate census. Here’s why that is so important.
There’s only one chance in a decade to get the Census right. And because so much rides on an accurate count, protecting the integrity of the Census has traditionally been a nonpartisan commitment. Not anymore. The Census has become the latest front in the Trump administration’s ongoing war on justice, fairness, and the rule of law in America.
This spring, after the Census Bureau spent nearly a decade carefully preparing and testing questions to be included on the 2020 questionnaire, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross caved to political pressure from Jeff Sessions’s Department of Justice. Overriding the Census Bureau’s nonpartisan experts, Ross directed the bureau to include a question on citizenship status in the Census form, without any time to test its wording or potential impact on people’s willingness to complete the questionnaire.
Now the real reason has come to light, thanks to documents released by the Justice Department as part of a lawsuit by New York and 16 other states. It turns out that anti-immigration hard-liners like then–White House aide Steve Bannon and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach urged the administration to force a citizenship question onto the 2020 questionnaire to further their political agenda. This misguided decision will affect everyone, with communities that are already at risk of being undercounted—including people of color, young children, and low-income rural and urban residents—suffering the most.
Here’s where we, the people, come in: by flooding the Commerce Department with our comments. Do you want to preserve the integrity of the count? Make your voice heard. Do you want to ensure your neighborhood schools, hospitals, and parks are fully funded? Make your voice heard. Are you tired of the administration scapegoating immigrants and refugees? Make your voice heard. The Commerce Department’s comment period runs until August 7, and you can act now by going here.
Story by The Nation >
Fellowship Opportunity California ChangeLawyers offering year-long and summer fellowships
Legal Fellowship grants are awarded to legal aid organizations to cover the cost of hiring law students or recent graduates from diverse backgrounds. This is a double impact investment. We support organizations on the front lines of social justice while at the same time creating jobs for diverse lawyers.
Application closes on August 21. Apply >
Event Scholarships for Justice presented by California ChangeLawyers
Featuring former Attorney General Eric Holder and Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund founding member Nina Shaw.
October 4 at 5:00 PM. RSVP here >
Free Clinic FEMA Clinic hosted by Legal Aid of Sonoma County
The FEMA process is incredibly important and many survivors rely on FEMA assistance for recovery. Please help us help the community by sharing, posting, tweeting, or whatever else you can think of to spread the word.
144 South E Street in Santa Rosa
July 28, 2018.
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