Six civil rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, Lambda Legal, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and National LGBT Bar Association, filed an amici brief Thursday urging the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the appeal of Charles Rhines, a gay man on death row in South Dakota.
According to the filing, new evidence “suggests that at least some members of the jury accepted the notion that life in prison without parole would be fun for a gay person – so much so that they felt it was necessary to impose the death penalty instead. In other words, significant evidence suggests that the jury may have sentenced Mr. Rhines to death based not on the facts of his case, but because he is gay.”
“Mr. Rhines’s case represents one of the most extreme forms anti-LGBT bias can take. Evidence suggests that he has been on death row for the past 25 years because he is a gay man. The constitutional right to a fair trial must include the right to establish whether a verdict or sentence was imposed due to jury bias,” said Lambda Legal Fair Courts Project Attorney Ethan Rice. “Lambda Legal is proud to work with the ACLU, the ACLU of South Dakota, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National LGBT Bar Association to provide important information to the Eighth Circuit on the history of bias against LGBT people and how that bias impacts LGBT rights in the criminal legal system.”
The amicus brief can be viewed here: https://tinyurl.com/y8eslggc.
During jury deliberations, the jury sent a note to the judge that indicated that Mr. Rhines’s status as a gay man had become a focal point for deliberations. The note asked whether, if sentenced to life without parole, Mr. Rhines would “be allowed to mix with the general inmate population,” be able to “brag about his crime to other inmates, especially new and/or young men,” enjoy “conjugal visits” and asked other questions about Mr. Rhines’s access to other men while in prison. (Application at p. 6.)
The new evidence comes in the form of three statements from jurors who served at Mr. Rhines’s capital trial and sentencing. One juror stated that the jury “knew that [Mr. Rhines] was a homosexual and thought that he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.” Another juror recalled a juror commenting that “if he’s gay we’d be sending him where he wants to go if we voted for [life without parole].” A third juror confirmed that “[t]here was lots of discussion of homosexuality. There was a lot of disgust.” (Application at p. 8.) (See also Amici brief at p. 1). The new evidence confirms what the jury’s note strongly indicated at the time of Mr. Rhines’s sentencing: anti-gay bias played a role in some jurors’ decisions to impose the death penalty on Mr. Rhines.
The brief of the amici documents America’s long and painful history of discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, which persisted at the time of trial and continues in the present day. The amici wrote to the court: “Well into the twentieth century, gay people were ‘prohibited from most government employment, barred from military service, excluded under immigration laws, targeted by police, and burdened in their rights to associate.’” (Amici Brief at p. 5 quoting Obergefell v. Hodges)
In 2017, in Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado, the U.S. Supreme Court held that states must consider evidence that jurors relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a defendant in a non-capital case. As Ria Tabacco Mar has previously discussed, “juror deliberations are considered sacrosanct, but last year the Supreme Court carved out an important exception for cases of racial bias in the jury room.”
Attorneys for Mr. Rhines argue that since the principles underlying Peña-Rodriguez apply to anti-gay prejudice, the Eighth Circuit should allow Mr. Rhines the opportunity to present evidence that anti-gay bias was a factor in some jurors’ decisions to sentence him to death. The need for review is especially compelling because the anti-gay bias in Mr. Rhines’s case may have made the difference between life and death.
Charles Rhines Case Overview
Charles Rhines is a gay man on death row in South Dakota. New evidence shows that some of the jurors who sentenced him to death “knew that he was a homosexual and thought he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison” and thought that “if he’s gay we’d be sending him where he wants to go if we voted for [life in prison].” The jury’s anti-gay bias deprived him of his rights to a fair trial and due process under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Before trial, Mr. Rhines’s attorneys asked prospective jurors if they had any anti-gay bias that would prevent them from giving Mr. Rhines a fair trial. The jurors selected to hear his case said they could be fair and free of prejudice. This turned out not to be true.
At trial, the jury heard through witnesses presented by the state that Mr. Rhines was gay and had relationships with other men. They were asked to choose between life in prison without parole and the death penalty for a murder committed when an employee surprised Mr. Rhines in the course of a commercial burglary. During their deliberations, the jury sent a note to the judge indicating that deliberations had become infected with anti-gay stereotypes and prejudices. (Application at p. 6.)
The judge did not address these questions and failed to head off the anti-gay bias that the questions revealed. The same day, about eight hours later, the jury voted to sentence Mr. Rhines to death. (Application at pp. 5-6.)
New evidence confirms that some of the jurors who voted to impose the death penalty on Mr. Rhines did so because they thought the alternative – a life sentence in a men’s prison – was something he would enjoy as a gay man. Three jurors have made statements indicating that anti-gay prejudices played a significant role in the jury’s decision-making.(Amici brief at p. 1.)
As Chief Justice Roberts has explained, the core premise of our criminal justice system is that “[o]ur law punishes people for what they do, not who they are.” (Buck v. Davis) Bias based on a characteristic that cannot be changed, such as race or sexual orientation, goes against this foundational principle. Allowing bias to play any role in sentencing is especially alarming when the bias may have made the difference between life and death.
After a verdict and sentencing, the courts do not usually inquire into jury deliberations. However, in 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized an exception to this rule and directed states to consider evidence that jurors relied on racial stereotypes or prejudice in convicting a defendant. (Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado)
In Peña-Rodriguez, after the jury voted to convict a person in a non-death penalty case, two jurors said that another juror believed that the defendant was guilty of unlawful sexual contact and harassment “because he’s Mexican and Mexican men take whatever they want.” (Amici brief at pp. 2-3.) The Court found that evidence of anti-Mexican bias “cast serious doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the jury’s deliberations and resulting verdict” and set the verdict aside. (Amici brief at p. 3, quoting Peña-Rodriguez.)
On July 26, 2018, Mr. Rhines filed an Application for Certificate of Appealability with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit asserting that Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado applies to his evidence that at least one juror relied on anti-gay stereotypes and animus to sentence him to death. On August 2, 2018, six civil rights groups with a vital interest in eradicating anti-gay bias from America’s legal system filed an amici brief with the Eighth Circuit urging the court to afford Mr. Rhines the opportunity to establish whether bias based on his sexual orientation was a motivation for some jurors in sentencing him to death.
As the amici document explains, the jury’s decision to allow Mr. Rhines to live or die occurred in the context of the history of discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in the United States.(Amici brief at pp. 7- 9.) While many of the laws that allowed or required discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people were repealed or found unconstitutional after Mr. Rhines’s trial, recent years have seen renewed efforts to ban same-sex couples from adopting children, allow discrimination against them by public and private actors, and otherwise maintain their inferior status under the law. (Amici brief at p. 5.)
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people continue to experience negative consequences because of their sexual orientation. Despite significant progress, eliminating bias based on sexual orientation on the part of the government and private individuals continues to be difficult. For example, the current Attorney General of the United States has argued that employers should be able to fire lesbian, gay, and bisexual people because of their sexuality under federal law and that businesses open to the public should be able to discriminate against same-sex couples. (Amici brief at pp. 11-12.)
Today, the federal government and 28 states have no laws that expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, leaving lesbian, gay, and bisexual people at risk for discrimination in jobs, housing, education, credit, healthcare, jury service, retail stores, and other aspects of public life. (Amici brief at p. 12.) In 2017, 46 percent of LGBTQ employees reported remaining closeted at work. (Amici brief at p. 13.) 2016 was the deadliest year on record for hate crimes against this community with more than 1,000 incidents of hate violence reported. (Amici brief at p. 15.)
Historic and present-day anti-gay bias infects the justice system, just as it does other aspects of life. In a 2008 study, a majority of police chiefs said they believed that being gay constitutes “moral turpitude” and a “perversion.” This continuing bias helps explain why gay men are still targeted for lewdness offenses and why young lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are more likely to get stopped by police or arrested than their heterosexual peers. (Amici brief at pp. 14-15.)
Research shows that discriminatory attitudes against lesbians, gays, and bisexual people negatively affect their experiences in the civil and criminal courts as jurors, litigants, court employees, and other participants. For example, in a 2001 study of the California court system, more than a third of lesbian, gay, and bisexual court users “felt threatened in the court setting because of their sexual orientation.” (Amici brief at p. 17.) (See also Application at p. 12.)
Of jurors who participated in mock trials between 2002 and 2008, a jury research firm found that 45 percent believed that being gay “is not an acceptable lifestyle.” (Amici brief at p. 19.) These persistent attitudes open the door to a gay defendant who is convicted of murder to receive the death penalty, instead of a sentence of life without parole, because of his sexual orientation, rather than the nature of the crime.
Punishing people based on who they are is fundamentally “inconsistent with our commitment to the equal dignity of all persons.” (Amici brief at p. 4, quoting Peña-Rodriguez.) The court should accept Mr. Rhines’s case to allow him to show whether anti-gay prejudice factored into the jury’s decision to sentence him to death.
Enjoy this piece?
… then let us make a small request. The New Civil Rights Movement depends on readers like you to meet our ongoing expenses and continue producing quality progressive journalism. Three Silicon Valley giants consume 70 percent of all online advertising dollars, so we need your help to continue doing what we do.
NCRM is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. From unflinching coverage of religious extremism, to spotlighting efforts to roll back our rights, NCRM continues to speak truth to power. America needs independent voices like NCRM to be sure no one is forgotten.
Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure NCRM remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to NCRM, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.
Starbucks Union Announces Strike Over Alleged Pride Decoration Ban
The Starbucks union announced on early Friday morning that stores across the United States would strike over an alleged ban on Pride decorations in stores.
“STRIKE WITH PRIDE! Seattle Roastery leads nationwide Starbucks strike over Starbucks’ hypocritical treatment of LGBTQIA+ workers. Over 150+ stores and 3,500 workers will be on strike over the course of the next week,” the Starbucks Workers United union tweeted.
The Seattle Roastery is one of the company’s flagship stores in its hometown. In a strike letter also posted Friday, the Starbucks union says that the corporation doesn’t recognize the union and has refused to bargain with it. The letter also is more specific about its demands.
“We are taking collective action in response to the company’s unlawful decision to unilaterally alter or terminate store Pride decoration policies without negotiating with our union. We are also striking over numerous unfair labor practices, including but not limited to the company’s refusal to negotiate over a first labor contract,” the letter read.
Starbucks denies that its policies on Pride decorations has changed, according to NBC News. Though the Starbucks union says workers at some stores were told that there weren’t “labor hours” available to spend decorating, or that blocking windows with flags was a safety concern, Starbucks refutes these allegations.
“We unwaveringly support the LGBTQIA2+ community. There has been no change to any policy on this matter and we continue to encourage our store leaders to celebrate with their communities including for U.S. Pride month in June,” Andrew Trull, a spokesperson for the company, told NBC News.
“We’re deeply concerned by false information that is being spread especially as it relates to our inclusive store environments, our company culture, and the benefits we offer our partners,” Trull continued. “There has been no change to any policy on this matter and we continue to encourage our store leaders to celebrate with their communities including for U.S. Pride month in June.”
The Starbucks union cited posts on social media from Starbucks workers sharing that they were told to take down Pride decorations or that they weren’t allowed to put them up in the first place.
Starbucks Corporate is denying any change to their policies on Pride this year – but if that were true, why are there countless stories where workers are claiming the opposite?
Here's just some of what's been sent to us on social media: pic.twitter.com/anAqX6RTw7
— Starbucks Workers United (@SBWorkersUnited) June 13, 2023
The union also posted a video showing workers taking down the decorations, and another with Pride flags stored in a bucket during Pride Month.
At this store in Wisconsin, Starbucks partners were told Pride decorations were okay – only to later have their District Manager demand they be taken down for "not being welcoming to everyone." pic.twitter.com/sol4oRmlQG
— Starbucks Workers United (@SBWorkersUnited) June 13, 2023
Starbucks does sell Pride merchandise, including a new line of tumblers designed by a LGBTQ artist. However, it’s unclear from the company’s website if any proceeds go to any LGBTQ charities or causes. The company also touts its support of LGBTQ causes with an official “History of LGBTQIA2+ Inclusion” timeline on its site.
Though Starbucks may back Pride celebrations at a corporate level, the pro-labor organization More Perfect Union says it obtained emails showing that executives moved to cancel Pride celebrations at stores across three states.
“I know there has been some concerns around not decorating for Pride this year,” a store manager in Oklahoma City wrote to workers early June, according to More Perfect Union. “The decision was made last year on a regional level to create consistency from store to store.”
The strike is set to last until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, when the Starbucks union promises to “unconditionally return to work at that time.”
Featured image by GoToVan via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licence.
Hockey Commissioner Bans All Special Jerseys After Rainbow Uniform Row
The National Hockey League issued a ban this week on specialty jerseys—including special rainbow ones for LGBTQ Pride Nights–after some players objected to wearing them.
Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner, said that the jerseys had “become a distraction,” according to LGBTQ Nation.
“All of our clubs host nights in honor of various groups or causes, and we’d rather they continue to get the appropriate attention they deserve and not be a distraction,” Bettman said.
He confirmed that Pride nights, as well as other theme nights, would still happen. The difference is that players will wear their standard jerseys during the games. Similarly, teams can make themed jerseys to sell, but players can’t wear them on the ice.
Before the new rule, theme nights—including nights for military appreciation as well as special anti-cancer events—often had players wearing special jerseys. Similar to how Pride jerseys are festooned with rainbows, military appreciation jerseys are usually in military drab with camouflage print. Lavender jerseys were worn for the Hockey Fights Cancer nights.
The news about the hockey jerseys comes a week after Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred advised teams to not wear Pride-themed uniforms because it made some players “uncomfortable.”
“We have told teams, in terms of actual uniforms, hats, bases that we don’t think putting logos on them is a good idea just because of the desire to protect players: not putting them in a position of doing something that may make them uncomfortable because of their personal views,” Manfred said.
This year, a few NHL players have refused to wear the Pride jerseys. This January, Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers said wearing one would be against his religious beliefs. Two months later, San Jose Shark James Reimer said the same thing.
In March, the Chicago Blackhawks said they wouldn’t wear Pride jerseys at all, blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ban on LGBTQ “propaganda.” The Blackhawks said they wanted to protect their Russian players.
Though all specialty jerseys are banned, it does not appear that any players objected to any of the other promotions.
The decision has been panned by many. You Can Play, a group promoting inclusivity in professional sports, said that prior to this decision the NHL was “a leader among major sporting organizations” in terms of “advancing visibility and acceptance” of the queer community.
“Today’s decision means that the over 95 percent of players who chose to wear a Pride jersey to support the community will now not get an opportunity to do so,” the organization said in a statement.
Canadian LGBTQ activist Fae Johnstone shared her disappointment on Twitter.
“When I was growing up as a closeted queer kid who loved hockey, it would’ve made my day to see teams wearing Pride jerseys. Would’ve sent a powerful message to my teammates too. Shame on the NHL Board of Governors for caving to bigotry,” she wrote.
Sports agent Allan Walsh also had harsh words for the NHL.
“The NHL’s decision to ban players from wearing specialty jerseys in pre-game warms up is gutless. Pride Night, Military Appreciation, Hockey Fights Cancer, Black History. 99% of players had no issues wearing a specialty jersey. Typical NHL, going 60 Miles per hour in reverse,” he said.
Stock photo from Pexels used under Creative Commons License.
Trans Man Says Walgreens Pharmacist Refuses to Give Him His Hormone Prescription
An Oakland, California transgender man says one of the pharmacists at a Walgreens refused to hand over his hormone replacement medicine, even though the prescription was ready for pickup.
Roscoe Rike posted his story and a video to Reddit’s r/Oakland forum on Tuesday. Though the text of the post has since been deleted, according to KRON, Rike said he had the specific prescription filled for three years at the Telegraph Avenue location. He also said he’d been going there for other medications for the past decade, and never had a problem before.
This time, though, an unfamiliar pharmacist was behind the counter. When Rike asked to pick up his prescription, the pharmacist, he says, asked what it was for.
“I told him I was pretty sure that it wasn’t any of his business,” Rike said, according to KRON.
READ MORE: No, Elon Musk, ‘Cis’ Is Not a Slur
In a followup comment on the Reddit post, he added that since Rike wouldn’t tell him, the pharmacist tried calling Rike’s doctor—though Rike doesn’t know if he was able to find anything out.
The pharmacist then told Rike that he couldn’t fill the prescription “due to his religious beliefs.” This is when Rike took out his phone and recorded the video that can be seen in the Reddit post above. In the clip, Rike asks “So right now you’re telling me that you’re going to deny me my medication because of your personal religion, you’re not my f***ing doctor? So you think you know better than my doctor, that’s what’s going on?”
“I just need to know the diagnosis,” the pharmacist replies.
“Why? That’s none of your f***ing business,” Rike counters. “I’m going to let you know right now that I’m going to be reporting this, by the way, what’s your name?”
The pharmacist replies “Malik Tahir,” and Rike says that he’s going to report him for discrimination. Tahir says Rike can come in at noon, but Rike says he wants it now.
“Always the religious people who have the most f***ing hate in their hearts. You’re disgusting,” Rike says, and Tahir repeats that Rike can come in at noon. Rike reiterates that he wants his medication now, and the video cuts off.
In comments, he said that he’d “never yelled at a stranger before that day.” He then asked to see the manager, KRON reports, who “apologized profusely,” Rike said, and gave him his prescription.
Walgreens told KRON it would “review the matter.”
“Our policies are designed to ensure we meet the needs of our patients and customers, while respecting the religious and moral beliefs of our team members. In an instance where a team member has a religious or moral conviction that prevents them from meeting a customer’s need, we require the team member to refer the customer to another employee or manager on duty who can complete the transaction. These instances, however, are very rare,” a Walgreens spokesperson told the station.
Rike says he’s reached out to the Transgender Law Center and hopes to hear back in the next two weeks.
“My main concern is making sure I do everything I can to keep this guy from doing what he did to me, to anyone else. That comes first. If I can get a settlement out of it, great! But it’s not my priority. I just want peace for myself and other trans people trying to live their lives,” he wrote on Reddit.
- News3 days ago
‘Jaw Dropping’: Democratic Senator Slams Tuberville’s ‘Open’ Talk About ‘White Supremacy’
- News3 days ago
McCarthy Blocks Bipartisan Bill Approved by 77 Senators to Avoid Shutdown as He Moves to Pin the Blame on Democrats
- News3 days ago
‘Apparently You’ll Never Believe Us’: House Republican Melts Down After Reporter Questions His ‘Evidence’ Against Biden
- News2 days ago
‘Flying Monkeys on a Mission for the Wicked Witch’: Raskin Rips Republicans Over Impeachment ‘Inquiry’
- News2 days ago
‘All Those Biden Towers’ Where ‘Influence Was Used’: Democrat Turns Tables and Mocks Republicans in Sarcastic Q&A
- News3 days ago
‘I Feel a Little Bit Dumber for What You Say’: The Nine Worst Moments of the GOP Presidential Debate
- ANALYSIS24 hours ago
Will McConnell and Senate Republicans Use Feinstein’s Passing to Grind Biden’s Judicial Confirmations to a Halt?
- News2 days ago
‘These Are Our National Secrets’: Democrat Slams GOP for Ignoring Trump Classified Documents Found ‘In the S——’