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  • 24 Oct 2018 1:38 PM | BALIF Administrator (Administrator)

    BALIF is outraged to learn the Department of Health and Human Services is lobbying to establish a new legal definition of sex that intentionally excludes non-cisgender people.  The effort, if successful, would limit the definition of gender to a male/female binary that is "based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth."  It would further require persons seeking to amend their birth certificate to provide "reliable genetic evidence" of their gender.

    This proposal contradicts established medical and individual understanding of gender and gender identity, and judicial decisions around the country. It is one of the latest attempts by the Administration to limit civil rights protections for millions of Americans and marks a new low in its efforts to dismantle LGBTQI rights. Such an effort will not pass without a fight.  BALIF stands with our transgender, queer, and intersex family in solidarity against this attack and will not be silent. We understand that this is an attempt to erase the visibility of our community and we will not be erased! 

    If you or someone you know is impacted and needs support during this difficult time, please contact Trans Lifeline. They provide direct service, material support, advocacy, and education to our community. For those interested in providing financial support, we encourage you to listen to those impacted and donate to trans, queer and intersex-led organizations/projects leading this fight. Here are just a few that could use your support: Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP),  National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE)Trans LifelineTrans:ThriveTrans Justice Funding Project,  Freedom for All Americans (FFAA)Casa Ruby,  Trans Pride initiative (TPI)Sylvia Rivera Law ProjectInterActIntersex & Genderqueer Recognition Project.

    Also, please consider coming to BALIF's Halloween Party fundraiser this Thursday evening at The Lookout to meet representatives from, and support the Black LGBTQIA+Migrant Project (BLMP) housed at Transgender Law Center. Let's harness our resilience and collective power to build a safe and healthy tomorrow for everyone.  

  • 03 Jul 2018 10:32 AM | BALIF Administrator (Administrator)

    The case, Rhines v. South Dakota, centered around the conviction and subsequent imposition of a death sentence of an openly gay man for first degree murder.  Make no mistake that the underlying facts of the case are disturbing.  But what BALIF finds truly disturbing is that the case exposes the vile biases facing LGBT defendants in the justice system, and that there is seemingly no Constitutional checks and balances afforded to LGBT defendants when these injustices are exposed.

    The Rhines case exposed a clear anti-LGBT bias on two fronts.  First, the prosecution unnecessarily placed the defendant’s sexuality on display to apparently prejudice jurors.  Largely through calling witnesses to testify that they had either engaged in sexual acts with the defendant or had witnessed Mr. Rhines engage in displays of affection with persons of the same-sex.  In fact, the introduction of these witness statements was especially egregious given the fact that one juror was heard ponitificating that homosexuality was a sin during voir dire.  Second, and which was the main issue on appeal, the jury exhibited a pervasive anti-gay bias throughout deliberations.  Explosively, the jury went so far as to send the trial judge a note containing questions exposing the jury’s concern that the defendant would enjoy prison if sent.  Specifically, asking if Mr. Rhines would be able to “marry or have conjugal visits?  Or if he would “mix with the general population?”  After the jury’s decision to impose the death penalty was entered, several jurors issued sworn statements that the jury’s rationale behind its sentence was that the defendant “shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.”  And that there was frankly “a lot of disgust” over his orientation.  

    Mr. Rhines cited to these statements in his appeal arguing a clear violation of the Sixth & Fourteenth Amendment’s right to an impartial trial.  However, there was just one caveat affecting the defendant’s claim.  South Dakota has a “no impeachment” rule which prohibits defendants from impeaching jury verdicts with evidence of statements made during deliberations.  So, Mr. Rhines could not use the evidence to challenge his sentence.  But his chances appeared to improve slightly when the Supreme Court announced its landmark decision in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado last year.  The Pena decision held that states’ “no impeachment” rules are inapplicable in situations where jurors have made clear and explicit statements indicating racial animus and if racial bias was a significant factor in the decision to convict.  Naturally, Mr. Rhines challenged South Dakota’s “no impeachment” law on Constitutional grounds arguing that the Pena decision logically extends to LGBT persons.  Unfortunately, with the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the case, the holding in Pena remains confined to racial bias.  It seems that LGBT defendants will have to live with the status quo for now.  Or not.

  • 04 Jun 2018 7:56 PM | BALIF Administrator (Administrator)

    In the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision today, the Supreme Court rejected the arguments of those who had hoped to chip away at the civil rights of LGTBQI individuals under the guise of religious freedom.  The Court was unequivocal: "gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth."  While the Supreme Court concluded, for factual reasons specific to this case, that the bakers at Masterpiece Cakeshop must be given another hearing before the Colorado Human Rights Commission, it also made clear that "the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect [gay persons and gay couples] in the exercise of their civil rights."  

    Although BALIF is disappointed the Supreme Court declined to definitively resolve future cases involving disputes between LGBTQI people and businesses who seek to discriminate against us purportedly on the basis of religious beliefs, we are encouraged this decision reaffirms the central principle that there is no special carveout from civil rights laws, including protections for LGBTQI people, for discrimination motivated by religious beliefs.  The Supreme Court also made clear that courts considering similar disputes in the future must do so "without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market."  We are therefore confident that the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision will prove to be a hollow victory for those who seek to discriminate against the LGBTQI community.  BALIF's fight to ensure full legal protections for members of the LGBTQI community continues undaunted. If you would like to join our fight through BALIF's Amicus Committee, please email us at

  • 03 Apr 2018 1:50 PM | BALIF Administrator (Administrator)

    In late 2017, BALIF’s CCBA Committee debated a resolution at the CA Conference of Bar Associations (CCBA) Conference of Delegates that provides for equal access to rehabilitative and other programming opportunities to LGBTQI and other prisoners at high risk for sexual assault placed in solitary confinement for their own protection. The resolution overwhelmingly passed.  That portion of the resolution has now been included in current legislation being considered by the CA legislature: SB 990. SB 990 will help ensure that the dignity of transgender people is honored in incarceration settings and that LGBTQI people and others at high risk of sexual assault and harassment have an equal opportunity to access rehabilitative, educational and work programs. SB 990 will also require that people entering jails and prison be given an opportunity to specify their preferred first name, gender identity, gender pronoun, and honorific (e.g., Mr., Ms, Mx.) and will require all facility staff to use the designated name, pronoun and honorific when addressing the person. SB 990 will further require that people housed outside of the general population for their own safety be provided equal access to rehabilitative, religious and educational programs.

    We are very proud to support SB 990 and submitted our Letter of Support to Senator Wiener on April 2, 2018. You can view that letter here. We are also proud to have ensured the support of CCBA’s lobbying staff as this bill moves through the legislature.

  • 24 Jul 2017 8:09 AM | BALIF Administrator (Administrator)

    We are rooting for all of the BALIF student members taking the 2017 California Bar Exam, July 25 and July 26, 2017.  We look forward to celebrating with you, and mentoring you to future success! 

  • 17 Apr 2017 11:27 PM | BALIF Administrator (Administrator)

    Please join us in welcoming our new 2017-2018 Board of Directors! We Welcome our newest board members and look forward to another busy and wonderful year with BALIF!

    2017-2018 BALIF Board 


    Peter Catalanotti

    Mario Choi

    Nick Clements

    Sarah Nicole Davis

    Jamie Dupree

    Stephan Ferris

    Jaclyn Gross

    Kevin Jones

    Felicia Medina

    Nyla Moujaes

    Jennifer Orthwein

    Ashley Pellouchoud

    Annick Persinger

    Lauren Pietsch

    Lindsey Rosellini

    Stan Sarkisov

    Alex Touma

    George Tran

    Meaghan Zore

  • 04 Apr 2017 10:05 AM | BALIF Administrator (Administrator)

    The BALIF Foundation is thrilled to announce its inaugural summer fellowship of $2,500 for a law student working in the field of LGBT rights.  The application can be downloaded from the BALIF Foundation's website at or by clicking here, and has been extended to April 14, 2017, with the recipient selected by April 30, 2017.  Please spread the word to law students planning to do summer work in the LGBT community.  Questions?  Contact Jamie Dupree at  

    The BALIF-APABA joint scholarship deadline has also been extended to April 07, 2017.  Click here for the application. The one joint $3,000 scholarship will be awarded to a law student committed to LGBT services.

  • 28 Mar 2017 12:33 PM | BALIF Administrator (Administrator)

    A great way to serve the LGBT legal community and become more involved in BALIF is to join BALIF's Board of Directors. BALIF's Directors are elected by the BALIF membership, and each Director holds office for two years. BALIF seeks a board that reflects the diversity of our LGBTQI legal community, and we specifically encourage people of color, women, transgender people, and non-binary/gender non-conforming people to run for the Board. All Directors must attend BALIF's Board Retreat the evening of Saturday, April 22 and during the day on Sunday, April 23.

    BALIF's bylaws require gender parity on the Board, with a certain number of positions allocated to Directors who identify as male, female, or other genders (a broad category including but not limited to non-binary, genderqueer, gender variant, and gender non-conforming). To run for the Board or nominate someone else, please send a candidate statement of up to 250 words to Julie Wilensky ( and BALIF's Administrator, Katie Carlson (

    To achieve gender parity on the Board, BALIF is seeking additional candidates who identify either as female or the broad “other gender” category. The deadline has been extended to March 30 for all candidates, regardless of gender.

    Elections will be online starting on April 3. There will also be an opportunity to vote in person at BALIF's annual general membership meeting on Thursday, April 13, 2017 from 6 - 8:30 p.m. The results will be announced at the end of the meeting.

    Want to learn more? Please contact Julie Wilensky, BALIF's Amicus Chair and Secretary, at

  • 11 Mar 2017 9:11 AM | BALIF Administrator (Administrator)

    February 21, 2017 - San Francisco, California BALIF strongly supports Senate Bill 239 (SB 239) and commends BALIF member Scott Wiener for introducing this very important legislation to repeal laws that criminalize and stigmatize those living with HIV. SB 239 seeks to eliminate criminal statutes that, in certain cases, allow people living with HIV to be prosecuted for having unprotected sex and sentenced to up to 8 years in prison. 

    According to a 2015 report by the Williams Institute, HIV criminalization disproportionately affects women and people of color. Forty-three percent of those criminalized under California's HIV-specific criminal laws are women, despite comprising only 13 percent of people living with HIV in the state. Blacks and Latinos made up two-thirds of the people who encountered the criminal justice system based on their HIV status, despite comprising only about half of people living with HIV in California. 

    These laws are an artifact of a different era. During the 1980's and 90's, California passed these discriminatory criminal laws and singled out people with HIV for harsher punishment than people with other communicable diseases. Not only are these laws discriminatory, they are not based in science and are extremely detrimental to HIV prevention goals.

    Today's HIV treatments are highly effective in preventing the transmission of HIV, essentially reducing the chances of transmission to virtually nil. For many years now, there has been growing evidence of the benefits of HIV treatment as a prevention method. In 2011 a landmark study showed early initiation of antiretroviral treatment in people living with HIV with a CD4 count between 350 and 550, reduced HIV transmission to HIV-negative partners by 96%. Quite a few follow-up studies since have also reported significant reductions in HIV transmission, resulting in new infections being averted. In 2014, a study called PARTNER did not find a single HIV transmission in 16,400 occasions of sex between gay men and 28,000 between heterosexuals where the HIV-positive partner had a viral load below 200 copies/ml. In 2015, a similar study exclusively of gay male couples, Opposites Attract, also found no transmissions from partners with an undetectable viral load. 

    This has led to the idea that treatment as prevention could be used as part of a 'test and treat' strategy - increasing testing and treatment coverage to decrease community viral load and reduce the rate of new HIV infections. However, current California law discourages people from getting tested because mere knowledge of a positive HIV status could subject a person to criminal liability for engaging in unprotected sex. Without the knowledge of one's status through testing, people do not seek treatment, thereby placing their and others' health at greater risk. 

    BALIF joins the organizational cosponsors of this bill (ACLU of California, APLA Health, Black AIDS Institute, Equality California, Lambda Legal and Positive Women's Network - USA) and the many other organizations including the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Los Angeles HIV Law and Policy Project, Transgender Law Center, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the Free Speech Coalition, Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) and Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education, and Research Project (ESPLERP), in our support of this bill. It is time to remove these discriminatory, stigmatizing and counterproductive laws from the books and focus on a 'test and treat' strategy to eradicate HIV. There have never been any benefits to these archaic laws, but given the current science, there is no justification for any law that discourages people from getting tested and treated. 

    Click here for the PDF document.

  • 07 Mar 2017 4:24 PM | BALIF Administrator (Administrator)

    On March 2, 2017, Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF) and Impact Fund, joined by 45 additional organizations, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court inGloucester County School Board v. G.G. The case, brought by 17-year old Gavin Grimm, challenges a school board’s resolution that facially discriminates against transgender students based on sex regarding the use of sex-segregated restrooms. The lawsuit argues the bathroom policy is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment and violates Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination by schools.

    On Monday, March 6, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Fourth Circuit in light of the Departments of Justice and Education rescinding Title IX guidance clarifying protections tor transgender students. As Shannon Minter of National Center for Lesbian Rights said, because this move is procedural to allow the Fourth Circuit to consider the Department of Education’s new position, the Supreme Court’s decision “should not be seen as sending a negative message in any way,” and “Title IX still fully protects transgender students.” The amicus brief from BALIF and Impact Fund makes clear that federal courts across the country have consistently concluded that discrimination against transgender people violates federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination. The Department of Education’s new, ill-informed position on this issue does not change that fact.

    BALIF is proud to be among the many organizations supporting Gavin’s case, including NAACP LDF’s brief on the history of segregation in restrooms and other public accommodations, the brief of school administrators from 31 states and DC, a brief from 101 transgender Americans, and many others.

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