This Spring, the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law is pleased to welcome an exciting cohort of Visiting Faculty, who will be working in residence with our team at Columbia Law School this semester.  Our visitors, Professors Sahar Aziz, Suzanne Kim, and Melissa Murray, will be engaged in programming with students and faculty at Columbia Law School, while also working on individual research projects, detailed below.

Please join us in offering a warm welcome to our visitors, and read more about their exciting work below!

Sahar Aziz
Professor of Law and Chancellor’s Social Justice Scholar, and Middle East and Legal Studies Scholar at Rutgers University Law School.

Professor Aziz served as a Senior Policy Advisor for the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security where she worked on law and policy at the intersection of national security and civil liberties.  Professor Aziz began her legal career as a litigation associate for WilmerHale after which she was an associate at Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll PLLP in Washington, D.C. where she litigated Title VII class actions on behalf of plaintiffs.

Professor Aziz earned a J.D. and M.A. in Middle East Studies from the University of Texas where she was as an associate editor of the Texas Law Review.  Professor Aziz clerked for the Honorable Andre M. Davis on the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

While at Columbia, Professor Aziz will be working on her book, The Muslim Menace: The Racialization of Religion in the Post-9/11 Era, which examines the myriad ways Islam is racialized in law and society to exempt Muslims from religious freedom protections.  In doing so, the book brings to the forefront the paradox of explicit bias and discrimination against an ostensible religious minority notwithstanding the privileging of religion in American anti-discrimination norms and law.  The book historicizes its analysis of the contemporary era to argue that religious freedom has always been conditioned on a group’s relationship to the social construction of whiteness and American Christendom.  Professor Aziz’s book is forthcoming with Harvard University Press.

Suzanne A. Kim
Professor of Law and Judge Denny Chin Scholar at Rutgers University Law School in Newark.

Professor Kim’s research and teaching interests include family, procedure, constitutional law, antidiscrimination, critical theory, and socio-legal studies. Her scholarship, interdisciplinary in approach, bridges law, critical theory, and social sciences in examining socio-legal regulation of intimacies and gender, antidiscrimination, and resilience.

Professor Kim earned a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center. She has served as an appointed member of the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Minority Concerns and has practiced law as a litigation associate with Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York and received the firm’s Pro Bono Service Award. She served as a law clerk to the Honorable Denny Chin, then of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and now of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Prior to joining the Rutgers faculty, Professor Kim was a lecturer-in-law at Stanford Law School in what is now the Thomas C. Grey Fellowship program.

While at Columbia Professor Kim will be focusing on processes of legal status migrations, including in the intimate context. This work connects theories of procedural justice and vulnerability with insights from social sciences to explore how gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, and other socioeconomic status factors inform passages across intimate status borders like that surrounding marriage. She is also writing about intimate and bodily rights as they relate to socio-legal movements in the regulation of family, race, and reproductive rights.

Melissa Murray
Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of Law at Berkeley Law School.

Professor Murray joined the Berkeley Law faculty in 2006.  She teaches Family Law, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, and Reproductive Rights and Justice. She served as interim dean from March 2016 to June 2017.

Murray is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was a Jefferson Scholar and an Echols Scholar, and Yale Law School, where she was notes development editor of the Yale Law Journal. Following law school, Murray clerked for Sonia Sotomayor, then of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, and Stefan Underhill of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. Murray is a member of the New York bar.

While at Columbia, Professor Murray will be completing two essays–one on Griswold v. Connecticut‘s origins in the criminal law reform movement, and another on interracial child custody decisions made in the aftermath of Loving v. Virginia.  But hopefully, most of my time and attention will be devoted to launching a new project that focuses on the regulation of sex and sexuality in the aftermath of decriminalization and legalization.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Friday, January 19th, 8:00 am

SUBJECT: New Report Reveals Pregnant Women of Color More Likely to Receive Religiously Restricted Reproductive Health Care in Many US States

Women of color are more likely to access Catholic hospitals, which prohibit doctors from providing contraceptives, sterilization, some treatments for ectopic pregnancy, abortion, and fertility services regardless of their patients’ wishes


Kira Shepherd, 215-908-4825,
Elizabeth Reiner Platt, 212-854-8079,
Kai Goldynia, 212-784-5728,


New York, Jan. 19, 2018–Pregnant women of color are at greater risk of being deprived of a range of reproductive health services in many US states as a result of their disproportionate use of Catholic hospitals, according to a new report released today by the Columbia Law School Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP) in partnership with Public Health Solutions. Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color compares racial disparities in birth rates at hospitals that place religious restrictions on health care.

Catholic-affiliated hospitals are governed by the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” a set of strict guidelines that prohibit doctors from providing contraceptives, sterilization, some treatments for ectopic pregnancy, abortion, and fertility services regardless of their patients’ wishes, the urgency of a patient’s medical condition, the doctor’s own medical judgment, or the standard of care in the medical profession. The report finds that in many states, women of color are far more likely than white women to give birth at Catholic hospitals, putting them at greater risk of having their health needs determined by the religious beliefs of bishops rather than the medical judgment of doctors.

This finding is especially troubling given that women of color already face a range of health disparities—including lower rates of insurance coverage and higher rates of pregnancy complications—which increases their need for comprehensive reproductive health care.

Among the findings in the report:

* In 19 of the 33 U.S. states and one territory studied, women of color are more likely than white women to give birth in a Catholic hospital.

* The racial disparity in Catholic hospital birth rates is especially striking in several states. For example:

** In New Jersey, women of color make up half of all women of reproductive age, but an overwhelming 80% of births at Catholic hospitals.

** Three-quarters of births at Catholic hospitals in Maryland are to women of color. Black women in Maryland had almost 3,000 more births at Catholic hospitals than white women, despite the fact that they had over 10,000 fewer births overall.

** Hispanic women represent about half of births at non-Catholic hospitals in New Mexico, but three-quarters of births at Christus St. Vincent—the state’s only Catholic birth hospital and a sole community provider.

** In Massachusetts, while about one in twenty births to white women occur at Catholic hospitals, one in ten births to black and Hispanic women take place at Catholic hospitals.

** One quarter of births to black women occur in a Catholic facility in Connecticut, while just over one tenth of births to white women occur in a Catholic hospital.

** One in three births to white women in Wisconsin are at Catholic hospitals while just over one in two births to black women are in a Catholic hospital. Wisconsin was the only state studied where more black women give birth at a Catholic than a non-Catholic facility.

43 states and the federal government have enacted laws protecting institutions, including Catholic hospitals, which refuse to provide comprehensive reproductive health care to patients. Despite these protections, courts have not clearly determined when and whether health care providers can withhold treatment due to their religious beliefs, or who should prevail when a hospital’s legal duty to care for a patient conflicts with a faith-based refusal law.

“The pervasive health disparities that exist between white women and women of color can be attributed to bias and racism, which both impact access to care as well as treatment within the health care system,” said Kira Shepherd, Director of the Racial Justice Project at Columbia Law School’s PRPCP. “These disparities are compounded by the spread of Catholic health care, which by putting religious doctrine over best medical practice exposes women of color to some of the same oppressive treatment that many have fought against for decades— treatment that devalues their lives and ignores their bodily autonomy.”

“Our report reveals that pregnant women of color in many states throughout the country are more likely to give birth at Catholic hospitals, where the full range of reproductive healthcare services are not available” said Lisa David, President and CEO of Public Health Solutions. “This puts their lives and families’ lives at greater risk. Public Health Solutions is committed to working to correct these restrictive religious overreaches disproportionately affecting women of color, and is proud to partner with the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School to produce this seminal report.”

A panel discussion on the release of the report will be held this evening at 6:30 PM at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. The panel will be moderated by Kira Shepherd, and will feature OB/GYN and abortion provider Dr. Willie J. Parker, attorney Candace Gibson, reproductive justice advocate Cherisse Scott, public health educator Faith Groesbeck, and Laurie Bertram Roberts, a doula and activist who was denied emergency reproductive health care at a Catholic hospital.

Read the report:

RSVP for the panel discussion: at


Media Advisory: 

New Research and Report Launch – Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color

Press Contact: 
Liz Boylan
Associate Director, Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, Columbia Law School
212.854.0167 |


Columbia Law School’s Public Rights/Private Conscience Project and Public Health Solutions announce the release of a groundbreaking report on how the rules governing care at Catholic-affiliated hospitals in the U.S. impact women of color’s access to reproductive health care. In Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color, the authors present data showing that in many states, women of color disproportionately give birth in Catholic hospitals that place religious restrictions on care—even during medical emergencies. Such restrictions stand to exacerbate the existing disparities women of color already face in accessing quality reproductive health care.

The report will be discussed at an event at New York City’s Judson Memorial Church on Friday, January 19—just days before the 45th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Decision in Roe v. Wade—by a diverse panel of reproductive justice activists, including OB/GYN and abortion provider Dr. Willie Parker as well as Laurie Bertram Roberts, a reproductive health activist who was refused care at a Catholic hospital while experiencing a miscarriage. 

Friday, January 19, 2018
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Judson Memorial Church – Sanctuary Space
55 Washington Square South, New York, NY
Event URL:


Program speakers include:

Willie Parker
OB/GYN and abortion provider
Author, Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice
Board Chair, Physicians for Reproductive Health

Candace Gibson
Staff Attorney, National Health Law Program

Cherisse Scott
Founder & Chief Executive Officer, SisterReach

Laurie Bertram Roberts
Founder and Executive Director, Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund

Faith Groesbeck
Director and Doula, Birth Quest Services LLC


[NEW YORK] The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP) at Columbia Law School is thrilled to announce the release of a groundbreaking report on how the rules governing care at Catholic-affiliated hospitals impact women of color’s access to reproductive health care. The report, written in partnership with Public Health Solutions, presents new research that women of color in many states disproportionately give birth at hospitals that place religious ideology above best medical practice.

The report will be launched with a panel discussion on Friday, January 19th at 6:30 pm at the Judson Memorial Church in downtown Manhattan. The panel, moderated by Kira Shepherd, director of the PRPCP Racial Justice Project, will explore the real-world impacts for women of color of laws and policies that subordinate the health and safety of patients to the religious beliefs of health care providers.

This program is free and open to the public. 2 New York State Continuing Legal Education Credits are available to all eligible participants. 

Please RSVP via Eventbrite:

“The findings outlined in this report indicate that women of color are at greater risk of being denied care due to religious restrictions when they need it most– during childbirth” said Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Director of PRPCP. “This event brings together health care providers, lawyers, activists, and educators to explore the impact that religious health care restrictions have on women of color, and to discuss policies for ensuring that no patient has their health and safety subordinated to religious tenets.”

Friday, January 19th, 2018
Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color
Judson Memorial Church, Sanctuary Space
55 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

2 CLE (Continuing Legal Education) Credits are available for eligible persons who attend the program.
RSVP is Required via Eventbrite:

Event Description:

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project is pleased to present a panel discussion upon the release of its report: “Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color.” The report presents new research finding that women of color in many states disproportionately give birth at hospitals that place religious ideology above best medical practice. Across the country, Catholic hospitals are governed by strict guidelines that prohibit doctors from providing contraceptives, sterilization, some treatments for ectopic pregnancy, abortion, and fertility services regardless of their patients’ wishes, the urgency of a patient’s medical condition, the doctor’s own medical judgment, or the standard of care in the medical profession. In many states, women of color are far more likely than white women to give birth at Catholic hospitals, putting them at greater risk of having their health needs subordinated to religious tenets. This finding is especially troubling given that women of color already face a range of health disparities, which increase their need for comprehensive reproductive health care.

Our Panelists Include:

Kira Shepherd
Director, Racial Justice Project, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project

Willie J. Parker, MD, MPH, MSc
Author, Life’s Work, A Moral Argument for Choice
Southern Abortion Provider
Board Chair, Physicians for Reproductive Health

Candace Gibson
Staff Attorney, National Health Law Program

Cherisse Scott
Founder & CEO, SisterReach

Laurie Bertram Roberts
Executive Director, Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund

Faith Groesbeck
Doula, and Director, Birth Quest Home

Information Regarding New York CLE Credits:

Columbia Law School has been certified by the New York State Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Board as an Accredited Provider of CLE programs. Under New York State CLE regulations, this live non-transitional CLE Program will provide 2 credit hours that can be applied toward the Areas of Professional Practice requirement. CLE credit is awarded only to New York attorneys for full attendance of the Program in its entirety. Attorneys attending only part of a Program are not eligible for partial credit for it, although they are most welcome to attend it. Attendance is determined by an attorney’s sign-in and sign-out, as shown in the Conference registers. On sign-out, attorneys should also submit their completed Evaluation Form, provided at the Conference. Please note the NYS Certificates of Attendance will be sent to the email address as it appears in the register unless otherwise noted there.”
CLE Program reading materials:

Tamesha Means v. United States Conferences of Catholic Bishops – Complaint

Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color
(Report to be released on Friday, January 19th, 2018)

For questions or for further information about this program, please contact Liz Boylan, Associate Director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at 212.854.0167or

New Report Highlights Dangers of Religious Exemption Laws for LGBT Elders

Posted on December 15th, 2017 by Elizabeth Boylan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Friday, December 15, 2017

Subject:  New Report Highlights Dangers of Religious Exemption Laws for LGBT Elders

From: The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP), Columbia Law School

Contact: Liz Boylan | | 212.854.0167

* * * * *

[New York] The Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP) at Columbia Law School, and SAGE, the nation’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT elders, released a new report, Dignity Denied: Religious Exemptions and LGBT Elder Services. To download the report, visit

The report highlights the unique ways in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) elders are harmed by a growing number of laws and policies aimed at exempting religious organizations and individuals from following nondiscrimination and civil rights laws and policies.

By 2050, the number of people older than 65 will double to 83.7 million, and there are currently more than 2.7 million LGBT adults who are 50 years or older living across the country. LGBT elders face unique challenges to successful aging stemming from current and past structural and legal discrimination because of their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their age, and other factors like race. These risk factors are exacerbated by recent efforts at the local, state, and federal levels to allow those with religious or moral objections to be exempt from non-discrimination laws, leaving LGBT older adults vulnerable to increased risk for discrimination and mistreatment.

According to the report released by MAP, PRPCP at Columbia Law School, and SAGE, religiously affiliated organizations provide a majority of the services LGBT elders rely on for their most basic needs. LGBT older adults, like many older Americans in the United States, access a network of service providers for health care, community programming and congregate meals, food and income assistance, and housing, ranging from independent living to skilled in-home nursing. Approximately 85% of nonprofit continuing-care retirement communities are affiliated with a religion. Religiously affiliated facilities also provide the greatest number of affordable housing units that serve low-income seniors. Finally, 14% of hospitals in the United States are religiously affiliated, accounting for 17% of all the country’s hospital beds.

While many of these facilities provide quality care for millions of older adults, there exists a coordinated nationwide effort to pass religious exemption laws and policies, and file lawsuits that would allow individuals, businesses, and even government contractors and grantees to use religion as a basis for discriminating against a range of communities, including LGBT elders.

Dignity Denied: Religious Exemptions and LGBT Elder Services outlines myriad federal and state efforts to allow individuals, businesses, and organizations to opt out of following nondiscrimination laws as long as they cite a religious objection. While most providers will do the right thing when it comes to serving their clients, some will only do so when required by law. The report concludes that because so many service providers are religiously affiliated, these laws pose a considerable threat to the health and well-being of LGBT older adults.

In conjunction with the release of the report, a panel discussion is being held on Friday, December 15, at Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University featuring speakers from Center for Faith and Community Partnerships, The LGBT & HIV Project, American Civil Liberties Union, The Movement Advancement Project, The New Jewish Home, New York City Commission on Human Rights, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, Columbia Law School, the Union Theological Seminary, and SAGE.

Watch the discussion live on SAGE’s Facebook page at SAGEUSA Facebook, starting at 12 noon on December 15. For more information about the event, visit

“This report and the amicus brief SAGE filed in the Masterpiece Cake case clearly demonstrate that personal religious beliefs should never be a license to discriminate against LGBT people or anybody else,” said Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE. “That’s why we are bringing together aging experts, religious leaders, and our elders, to expose the dangers that so-called ‘religious exemptions’ pose for LGBT elders who need care and services. We must not allow the door of a nursing home or other critical care provider to slam in LGBT elders’ faces just because of who they are and whom they love.”

“This important report reveals the many ways in which the privatization of elder services, largely to conservative religiously affiliated providers, leaves LGBT older adults no choice but to obtain care in facilities that do not welcome them,” observed Katherine Franke, Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Faculty Director of PRPCP at Columbia University. “The many LGBT elders who are adherents of faith-based traditions themselves suffer a special indignity when they are forced to seek care in settings that deny the dignity of both their LGBT identity and their faith-based beliefs.”

“LGBT older adults already are more likely to be isolated and vulnerable. It is unconscionable that state and federal governments are working to allow providers to deny critical health care services and vital social supports to LGBT older adults simply because of who they are,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project. “Imagine how much harder it would be to reach out for help if you knew the organizations that were supposed to help you could legally reject you, and the government would back them up.”

* * * * *

The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) is an independent think tank that provides rigorous research, insight, and analysis that help speed equality for LGBT people. MAP works collaboratively with LGBT organizations, advocates and funders, providing information, analysis and resources that help coordinate and strengthen efforts for maximum impact. MAP’s policy research informs the public and policymakers about the legal and policy needs of LGBT people and their families.  Learn more at

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School’s (PRPCP) mission is to bring legal academic expertise to bear on the multiple contexts in which religious liberty rights conflict with or undermine other fundamental rights to equality and liberty. We undertake approaches to the developing law of religion that both respects the importance of religious liberty and recognizes the ways in which too broad an accommodation of these rights threatens Establishment Clause violations and can unsettle a proper balance with other competing fundamental rights. Our work takes the form of legal research and scholarship, public policy interventions, advocacy support, and academic and media publications.

SAGE is the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults. Founded in 1978 and headquartered in New York City, SAGE is a national organization that offers supportive services and consumer resources to LGBT older adults and their caregivers, advocates for public policy changes that address the needs of LGBT older people, provides education and technical assistance for aging providers and LGBT organizations through its National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, and cultural competency training through SAGECare. Headquartered in New York City, with staff across the country, SAGE also coordinates a growing network of affiliates in the United States. Learn more at


Cross-posted to Medium

The Center for Gender & Sexuality Law and the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School are pleased to be co-supporters of the Open to All campaign.  Launched by the Movement Advancement Project in November, the Open to All campaign addresses how the engagement of #ReligiousExemptions by service providers to refuse service to persons on the basis of their religious beliefs undermines anti-discrimination laws in the United States.

The Open to All Campaign comes as the Supreme Court of the United States is hearing arguments in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop claims that he has a right to refuse service to persons on the basis of his religious beliefs, and that if he were required to bake and decorate a cake for a same-sex marriage, this would represent a substantial burden of his religious liberty rights.

Masterpiece Cakeshop, however, is about anything but cake: it is about an individual’s desire to be exempted from anti-discrimination laws in the United States, thereby upholding White Christian Supremacy in the United States over minority populations.  On its face, a decision in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop would be a boon for “religious liberties” in the United States, however, the precedent it would set is the privileging of a white Christian majority’s caprices over the rights of marginalized persons.

Professor Katherine Franke, Director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, and Faculty Director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project wrote on this issue with Johnathan Smith of Muslim Advocates in Slate on December 4th, noting, “A victory for Phillips would not only harm people of faith, but also those who value our nation’s commitment to religious pluralism and civic equality.”

The Op-Ed by Franke and Smith follows on the submission of an amicus brief in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in October of this year by the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project and Muslim Advocates on behalf of 15 community-based organizations.  The amicus argues that:

…non-discrimination laws, such as the Colorado law at issue in this case, often play an indispensable role in protecting the rights of religious communities. These laws serve as a critically important check against discrimination by businesses, employers, landlords, others; without such protections, individuals or groups—especially those outside the mainstream—would not be able to fully participate in civil society, and would be vulnerable to unjust persecution and harassment at every turn.

In following on the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project’s work in this arena, PRPCP and the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law are pleased to be parties to the “Open to All” campaign.  The campaign mission statement notes that:

Open to All is a nationwide campaign to help protect our nation’s nondiscrimination laws. These laws ensure that when businesses open their doors to the public, they serve everyone on the same terms. But these laws are under attack. Those who don’t want to follow nondiscrimination laws are trying to claim that their religious beliefs mean federal and state nondiscrimination laws should not apply to them—and they are also asking the Supreme Court to create a right to discriminate in our nation’s Constitution.

Learn more about the Open to All campaign at

Read Professor Franke and Johnathan Smith’s Op-ed at Slate, here.

Read the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project’s amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission here.

Media Advisory: 
Columbia Law School Scholars Professor Katherine Franke and Elizabeth Reiner Platt are available for expert commentary on Supreme Court of the United States Hearing of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission; arguments to be heard on Tuesday, December 5th, 2017.

Press Contacts:

Liz Boylan
Associate Director, Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, Columbia Law School
212.854.0167 |

Professor Katherine Franke
Director, Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, Columbia Law School
Faculty Director, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, Columbia Law School
212.854.0061 |

Elizabeth Reiner Platt
Director, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, Columbia Law School
212.854.8079 |

* * * * *

New York, December 1, 2017: Professor Katherine Franke of Columbia Law Schooland Elizabeth Reiner Platt led scholars in the submission of an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  Arguments are scheduled to be heard in the case on Tuesday, December 5th.

“The Supreme Court’s most significant religious liberty cases have drawn a connection between the protection of religious liberty and principles of non-discrimination,” said Katherine Franke, Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School. “Masterpiece Cakeshop’s argument throws a wedge between these two fundamental American values, a position that poses a particularly dangerous threat to the rights of people of minority faith traditions.”

“Religious liberty and equality in the public sphere are both fundamental American values. In the vast majority of cases, anti-discrimination law protects both religious freedom and equality by ensuring that those of all faiths, including unpopular faiths, are able to work and participate in the public marketplace without facing discrimination from either the government or other citizens,” said Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School. “The risks to religious freedom of allowing exemptions from anti-discrimination law would far outweigh any benefit to those with a religious opposition to marriage equality. Such exemptions threaten to decimate the protections for religious minorities that have long offered them some measure of defense from discrimination in their daily lives.”

The amicus brief submitted by Professor Franke and Elizabeth Reiner Platt engaged 15 co-signatories from community-based and faith organizations, and argues that overly-broad accommodations of religious liberty, such as that requested by Masterpiece Cakeshop, undermine not just LGBT rights but religious liberty itself. As the brief explains: “There can be no dispute that anti-discrimination laws have long played a crucial role in protecting the rights of religious minorities. Petitioners’ requested exemption will dramatically limit — if not completely eliminate — that protection.” The brief further elucidates that the United States’ “constitutional commitment to religious liberty has always entailed a corollary commitment to non-discrimination. Indeed, the integrity of the former has always relied upon the enforcement of the latter.”

 * * * * * 

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project is a think tank housed within the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School. The Project’s mission is to bring legal, policy, advocacy, and academic expertise to bear on the multiple contexts in which religious liberty rights conflict with or undermine other fundamental rights to equality and liberty.

Call for Papers: Journal of Gender and Law

Posted on October 27th, 2017 by Elizabeth Boylan

Call For Papers
Due Date: November 5, 2017

Please see the call for papers below for a symposium, “Climate Change and Gender Justice,” at Columbia Law School.

This call for papers was drafted by Laura Baron, the Symposium Editor for the Columbia Law School Journal of Gender and Law.  Laura’s contact details are as follows:

Laura Baron
Symposium Editor, Columbia Journal of Gender and Law
(206) 427-9061

The Journal of Gender and Law symposium presents an opportunity to reach a large audience of academics, advocates, and policy-makers with the intention of fostering a proactive dialogue around the intersection of gender and environmental justice. We welcome proposals on an array of related, interdisciplinary issues.

Please circulate this call for papers to any colleagues or communities who may be interested in this exciting opportunity.


Call for Papers

Columbia Law School

Climate Change and Gender Justice

The Columbia Law School Journal of Gender and Law welcomes submissions for its 2018 Symposium, “Climate Change and Gender Justice,” to be held on Friday, March 2, 2018 at Columbia Law School.

Climate change complicates and exacerbates the gender-based inequities that marginalized communities regularly face. Climate change and gender justice intersect on a wide array of subjects, such as migration, sex trafficking and sexual violence, housing policy, education access, and healthcare, among many others. Without thorough attention to its impacts on these communities, both the immediate effects of climate disaster and the long-term implications of climate change will deepen and calcify preexisting patterns of inequity.

This symposium calls for academics, practitioners, and policy-makers to convene around a proactive dialogue to help chart the path toward a more equitable future in the context of gender justice and climate change. Submissions should consider legal frameworks, advocacy strategies, and/or policy for responding proactively to the gendered implications of climate change.

We encourage all interested authors to respond. Contributions should address legal, regulatory, activist, and/or policy approaches to climate change and gender justice. These topics may address, but are not limited to:



Short-term and long-term housing policy

Intimate partner abuse


National security

Refugee policy

Urban planning

Sex trafficking

The Columbia Law School Journal of Gender and Law will invite selected authors to discuss their work at the Spring 2018 symposium and will publish their articles in the 2018 Symposium Issue, slated for release in fall of 2018.

Authors should submit a cover letter and 1-2 page summary of their proposed paper to Laura Baron, Symposium Editor, at

The deadline for submissions of article proposals is Sunday, November 5, 2017. The symposium will take place on Friday, March 2, 2018, at Columbia Law School. Completed articles will be due by Tuesday, May 1, 2018.

Contact Point Person:

Laura Baron
Symposium Editor, Columbia Journal of Gender and Law
(206) 427-9061



The Columbia Law School Association and the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law invite you to attend and participate in  CLE program, Supreme Court Roundup: LGBTQ Rights and Religious Liberty in the 2017 Term, to be held at Sony Music Entertainment.

Registration by Eventbrite is Required.  Please register at:

Tuesday, October 31 | 9:00-10:00 a.m.
*Please arrive by 8:45 a.m. so the program can begin on time. 

Co-Hosted by OutLoud at Sony Music Entertainment
and the Diversity Committee of Citi Private Bank

Event Host: Wade Leak ’89*, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel,
Chief Compliance, Ethics and Privacy Officer
Sony Music Entertainment

The Sony Building, 25 Madison Avenue (at 25th Street)
27th Floor

Speaker: Professor Katherine Franke,
Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Columbia Law School
Director, Center for Gender & Sexuality Law
Faculty Director, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project


This term the Supreme Court has before them two cases of great significance for LGBTQ rights. Professor Franke will provide an overview of these cases, the specific legal questions at issue, and the larger stakes for civil rights law more generally. The first case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that the owner of a bakery who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple violated Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. The baker claims that this ruling abridges his First Amendment rights to religious liberty and free expression insofar as the ruling imposes a substantial burden on his sincerely held religious belief that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman, and abridges his right to artistic expression. The Court is also considering whether to take an important sexual orientation discrimination case: Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital. In this case the 11th Circuit ruled that the prohibition in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against employment discrimination “because of . . . sex” does not encompass discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation. The 7th Circuit had previously held that sexual orientation discrimination claims were actionable as a form of sex discrimination under Title VII, so the Court is faced with a circuit split on this issue.

*Wade Leak ’89 oversees compliance in areas such as radio promotion, online marketing, code of conduct, privacy, parental advisory labeling and records management.  He also handles important company litigations and advises the company’s business units on a variety of legal issues.  Wade began working in the music industry in January 1999 when he joined the Zomba Group of Companies as in-house counsel and handled various legal issues for the recorded music and music publishing companies, including litigation, employment, trademark and corporate governance.  In 2003, he joined the Legal and Business Affairs department of BMG Music as head of litigation after Bertelsmann’s acquisition of Zomba.  Wade received his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University, and after graduating from Columbia Law School in 1989, was a judicial clerk for Justice Christine M. Durham of the Utah Supreme Court.  He then worked at the law firms of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Bodian & Eames before joining Zomba.

CLE Readings:

The Road to Systemic Oppression is Paved with Good Intentions

Posted on October 11th, 2017 by Elizabeth Boylan

An Essay on National Coming Out Day

Cross-Posted on

Each year, on October 11th, my Facebook feed is populated with the personal stories of friends and others sharing their experiences of “coming out” – of publicly disclosing their sexuality or gender identity to friends, family, or colleagues.  National coming out day was founded in October 1988 to “celebrate individuals who publicly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, [queer,] and/or transgender.”[1]

National Coming Out Day was initiated in 1988 as a response both to direct action movements by LGBTQ activists, and the critical lack of public acknowledgment of LGBTQ persons by the general public in the United States. The crisis of HIV and the experiences of persons living with HIV and AIDS were diminished and ignored by government officials. News media, when confronted with having to report on the matter, frequently presented inaccurate or speculative information.  The lack of clear and accurate information regarding HIV and AIDS in popular media, and Public Health officials’ original designation of HIV/AIDS as “GRID”: “Gay Related Immune Deficiency” drew a false equivalency through association between a terrifying epidemic and homosexuality. As a result, serophobia[2] magnified the homophobia, biphobia, queerphobia and transphobia already present in society, leading to a lack of progress in the achievement of equality measures and public support for LGBTQ persons.

National Coming Out Day’s originators, Jean O’Leary and Rob Eichberg, saw that actions taken by LGBTQ activists at the time were often in reaction to anti-LGBTQ initiatives or actions; as such, it was easy for the media to stigmatize LGBTQ persons as defensive and reactionary: To counter the perceived stigma of this, “they came up with the idea to celebrate coming out and chose the anniversary of [a march held on Oct. 11, 1987 in Washington, DC] to mark it.”[3]

The “reactionary” element that is referenced in much of the literature and around National Coming Out Day – particularly as catalogued by neoliberal LGBTQ groups such as the Human Rights Campaign – alludes to the activism and advocacy of ACT UP, the “AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power” founded in New York in 1987. ACT UP, in its founding principles, notes “We are dedicated to empowering groups to take direct action to help end the AIDS Crisis. ACT UP is committed to a democratic inclusive activism.”[4]  The group sought to bring public attention to the public health crisis of HIV/AIDS and the impact it was having on the experiences of LGBTQ people in the United States.  ACT UP centered on engaging in direct action and empowering those individuals most stigmatized and at risk of institutional or personal violence as a result of their sexuality, gender, or serostatus to be at the forefront of demanding political and cultural change.  A press release from the prestigious Dance Theater Workshop accompanied an award for their work in 1988 “For meeting the challenge of the AIDS epidemic and its crisis of conscience with vigilant acts of political and cultural provocation – thereby giving voice to the essential creative will of our humanity.”[5],[6]

“The late 1980s then became a symbolic ode to the 1960s radicalism…. This mantra of immediate and fundamental change was very significant because achieving this singular vision ACT UP challenged many of the existing social, political, economical, and religious norms, making it inherently radical in its approach towards getting concrete results.”[7]

ACT UP’s radical tactics and confrontational methods of engaging with health-care providers, pharmaceutical companies, police, and community leaders had direct impacts on the provision of rights and healthcare for LGBTQ persons and spoke clearly to the rightful anger and discontent of LGBTQ persons at their maltreatment by social and political institutions.

National Coming Out Day sought to distance the ways that LGBTQ persons were perceived from the radical activism of ACT UP, and in doing so, they presented a palatable veneer for public consumption that ignored, denied, and silenced the rightful anger of the persons most vulnerable in the LGBTQ communities.  It also presented a false vision of what “LGBTQ Action” represented – – “Pride” rather than “Protest.”

Pride can exist in subjugated communities, and it must as a means of creating a positive organizing force.  In publicly identifying, people must be granted the dignity of pride: the privilege to be righteous in expressing that their unique experiences matter and have value.  However, when we address the need and organizing force of pride within subjugated communities, it must be utilized as a tool for demanding that peoples’ needs be met, and human injustice be addressed.

In seeking to re-cast the LGBTQ movement’s public persona from one of “Empowered Protest” (ACT UP) with an ethos of visibility or “Pride without Protest”, National Coming Out Day homogenized the LGBTQ movement, and distanced visible LGBTQ persons in the greater public eye from those activists whose work was having a direct impact on changing policy and obtaining rights for LGBTQ persons through direct actions and radical activism.

In Ties that Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences, Sarah Schulman addresses this issue: “Visibility was a construct that the gay and lesbian movement invented to explain and excuse the cruelty we were experiencing. We denied that it was intentional. Instead we invented the idea that it was an inadvertent consequence of heterosexuals having a lack of information about what we are really like. If they would discover how we truly are, they would not want to hurt us….Looking back at the way we created the issue of ‘visibility’ as a strategy for change is a painful confrontation with the realization that it was an engagement with magical thinking.”[8]

Nearly 30 years later, looking on the founding of National Coming Out Day, there are parallels in discourse regarding LGBTQ rights and activism to those in the late 1980s – there is of course the contingent of persons and groups, namely the Human Rights Campaign, who sought equality in marriage rights as a primary issue for same sex couples in the United States, and experienced success upon the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Marriage equality, while hailed as a cultural victory, is a “privilege” that was pushed to the forefront of public discourse around LGBTQ issues in the United States at the expense of furthering fights to change policy in regards to critical rights, such as employment protection, and the inclusion of sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression as protected classes under hate crime statutes at the State level:

* Only 20 states and the District of Columbia have statewide protection in place for persons from employment discrimination based on gender identity

* 22 States and the District of Columbia have statewide protection regarding employment discrimination on the basis of sexuality.

* Gender identity and expression are only protected in 17 states and the District of Columbia under hate crime statutes.

* Sexuality is only acknowledged as a protected class under hate crime statutes in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

* 20 States do not offer any protection for LGBTQ persons under their current hate crime statutes.[9]

In the wake of the Obergefell decision of 2015, we have seen a marked increase in right-wing affiliated religious groups in the United States mobilizing Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation and “Religious Liberty” exemptions so as to deny services and equal access to LGBTQ persons on the alleged basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs.  This movement fundamentally undermines the rights that LGBTQ persons are entitled to as human beings in the United States.

In 2014, a Columbia Law School press release noted, “With increasing frequency, opponents of same-sex marriage, reproductive rights, and gender equality have sought a safe harbor in religion to justify otherwise illegal employment and business practices.”[10]  In a blog post addressing this issue, Professor Katherine Franke noted, “With greater and greater frequency, respecting equality rights is seen as optional while respecting religious liberty is mandatory,” speaking to the disturbing trend that was developing as marriage equality gained traction in state legislatures throughout the United States, and which has continued to develop at the Federal and State level in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The presence of highly visible cultural phenomena that frequently center the narratives of white, professional, upper-middle class LGBTQ persons seem to push forward this narrative of “coming out” as being a positive experience.  In activism and in allegory, this hinges on “spectacularly brave gays and lesbians” as Schulman calls them, to be leaders in creating a visible queer population, who face social stigmatization and rejection to pave the way for a less treacherous path of living openly for other queers. Such pride without protest can only occur when the first persons coming out do not face substantial risks to their personhood, livelihood, economic resources, housing, or well-being due to publicly disclosing their sexuality and/or gender identity.  By placing the onus on LGBTQ people to come out, it privileges those who already have social capital based on race, economic status, or social standing.  This ultimately, too, puts the person who is “out” in a precarious position of being publicly exposed to greater scrutiny, and leads to a paradigm enabling and favoring a “model minority” stereotype, which further burdens and invisibilizes persons in the LGBTQ community who are multiply marginalized and at risk for experiencing greater systemic and individual violence on the basis of their identity.

The idea of “visibility” in media is hailed as an achievement for LGBTQ people, but it is a false notion that such increased visible representation is an indicator of substantial change in the pursuit of rights or equality for LGBTQ people.  In November of 2016, the Guardian featured an article with the headline, “LGBT characters on TV will make up larger percentage than ever, study finds.” And in 2012, Vice President Joe Biden talked around the issues of advances for LGBTQ rights and equality by equating cultural zeitgeist with success in stating, “when things really began to change, is when the social culture changes. I think “Will & Grace ” probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far.”[11]

The “study” mentioned in The Guardian is GLAAD’s 2016-2017 media report.  While the data of the report indicates the highest percentage yet of LGBT characters on television in the 2016-2017 season in the 21 years of the organization’s monitoring (4.8%), it also addressed serious issues about falsely equivocating or endowing this increased quantity with value. In the Report’s introduction, Sarah Kate Ellis, President & CEO, GLAAD states: “…the numbers remain only part of the story. For all the advancement made, many LGBTQ characters still fall into outdated stereotypes or harmful tropes.” Ellis addressed the disproportionate lethal violence that queer female characters are subjected to so as to serve (often straight, cisgender) protagonists, and the real message such “representation” provides – the acceptable systemic devaluation of queer female persons in society.

It is not without irony that at a time when Joe Biden’s beloved situation comedy, Will & Grace, is being revived on NBC.  The sitcom centers on Will, a gay cisgender male character who is a white, upper-middle class, able-bodied lawyer in New York.  The cast features two prominent white cisgender gay male characters, Will, and Jack, with their cisgender, heterosexual female friends, Grace and Karen. The primary 4 characters all live in well-appointed apartments, the gay characters are never shown as having sex, and the show largely ignores issues such as economic inequality, racism in LGBTQ communities, HIV and AIDS, and violence against LGBTQ people. While popular, the show’s association with a notion of progress for true LGBTQ rights falsely equates visibility and acknowledgment (“yes, there are gay people, here are some that won’t cause your Nielsen stock to plummet”) with “real change.”

A core concern, too, when discussing National Coming Out Day is the fact that encouragement to “Come Out” is complicated for persons whose identities and experiences put them at greater risk of institutional and physical violence.  When paradigms that further privilege white, cisgender, upper-middle class lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals are enforced, it further marginalizes persons of color, persons who experience economic inequality, religious and ethnic minorities, and particularly transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, especially those whose experiences and identities place them at the intersection of multiple marginalized groups. Systems that institutionalize violence against marginalized individuals (such as discriminatory practices in finance, access to healthcare, social services, and education) may have multiplying oppressive effects on multiply marginalized individuals.

A prominent report by Lambda Legal asserts “44% of reported hate murders in 2010 were committed against transgender women.”[12]  The 44% statistic only represents those crimes officially categorized as hate crimes in FBI statistics and AVP analysis. The actual number of anti-transgender hate murders that occurred in 2010 is likely higher but ultimately underreported due to systemic transgender and anti-gender-non-conforming discrimination by communities, families, and the criminal justice industrial complex.  Lambda Legal’s report addresses the fact that this epidemic of lethal violence against transgender women is a terrorizing element that may discourage transgender from disclosing their experience or “coming out”, and discourage these people from “seeking community support” when victimized in other ways.

In 2017 to date, 23 transgender individuals have been murdered, which represents an increase over the 27 recorded in total for the calendar year 2016 by GLAAD[13].  21 of the 23 people who were the victims of transphobic murder in 2017 year are people of color. GLAAD Reports:

Victims of anti-transgender violence are overwhelmingly transgender women of color, who live at the dangerous intersections of transphobia, racism, sexism, and criminalization which often lead to high rates of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness….the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reports an alarming multi-year trend showing that transgender women experience a greater risk of death by hate violence than any other group.[14]

Increased visibility is not the answer to resolving the issues of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and queerphobia in our society.  When “coming out” or the experience of “being out” puts an individual at risk of violence, we cannot ethically justify the risk of persons’ safety – economic, social, or personal – as a means of propelling social change, nor can we suggest that the continuation of the tradition of “National Coming Out Day” benefits anyone in the LGBTQ community, as it particularly disadvantages those at greatest risk of violence.

As a community, we cannot continue to practice systems that privilege a select few in their “being out,” for this ultimately perpetuates paradigms that enforce model minority stereotypes, and further marginalize those at greatest risk of institutional and personal violence.  It is our responsibility as community members to develop actions that center the voices and needs of those most marginalized among us in seeking change.

Assimilative movements, or movements that hinge on “Pride without Protest” have not proven the test of time, and only serve to create a false perception of equality.  Particularly at a time when our President has taken multiple actions to decrease, diminish, and undermine the rights that LGBTQ persons have fought for, we cannot place any stock on “visibility” as any sort of panacea for achieving real and lasting rights for LGBTQ people, or for protecting anyone from personal or institutional violence.

The institutions of systemic violence have always been present in our society; while there has been some progress in the last 40 years in LGBTQ movements – whether they served only individual communities within the larger LGBTQ community, or whether they served the community as a whole – we need to recognize the real work and sacrifice – the protest, passion, and commitment to revising legislation and engaging in work, writing, radical community support, and action that have garnered success in moving towards equality – and redouble our efforts to meet these current challenges with “vigilant acts of political and cultural provocation – thereby giving voice to the essential creative will of our humanity.”

[1] Mitchum, Preston. “On National Coming Out Day, Don’t Disparage the Closet.” The Atlantic. 10/11/2013.  Accessed 10/11/17.

[2] Serophobia is defined as “ a manifestation of fear and aversion by certain people, towards people living with HIV… [which] manifests… through acts of exclusion or discrimination, whether implicit or explicit.” Accessed 10/11/17.

[3] Human Rights Campaign. “The History of Coming Out.” Accessed 10/11/17.

[4] ACT UP. “Documents.” Accessed 10/11/17.

[5] ACT UP New York. “Home Page.” Accessed 10/11/17.

[6] Gere, David. How to Make Dances in an Epidemic: Tracking Choreography in the Age of AIDS. University of Wisconsin Press. 2004. 82-83.

[7] Farooq, Sameen. ACT UP: The AIDS Revolution. Accessed 10/11/17.

[8] Schulman, Sarah. Ties that Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences. The New Press. New York. 2009. P 45-46.

[9] The Movement Advancement Project. “Hate Crime Laws.” 10/2/17. Retrieved 10/11/17.

[10] Columbia Law School. “New Project on Religious Exemptions and Civil Rights Launches”. 3/24/2014. Retrieved 10/11/17.

[11] NBC News. “Transcripts on Meet the Press: May 6: Joe Biden, Kelly Ayotte, Diane Swong, Tom Brokaw, Chuck Todd.” Retrieved 10.11.2017.


[13] Adams, Nick. “GLAAD Calls for Increased and Accurate Media Coverage of Transgender Murders.” 9/25/17. Retrieved 10/11/17.

[14] Adams, Nick. “GLAAD Calls for Increased and Accurate Media Coverage of Transgender Murders.” 9/25/17. Retrieved 10/11/17.



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