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Watson Workshop Series Focuses on Gender Identity

The Watson Workshop series of evening discussions that showcase the expertise of members of the Hotchkiss community on gender identity issues continued on May 9 with a conversation on LGBTQ, Gender, and the Supreme Court. 

The student designed and executed workshops are held in the Watson Common Room and are open to the entire Hotchkiss community. Alumnus Robert Kuhn '75, who is the community education outreach coordinator at Women's Support Services in Sharon and senior director of Kuhn Associates Sustainability Advisors, spoke about LGBTQ issues in the workplace at an earlier workshop. About 25 students, staff, and faculty attended the May 9th discussion led by Instructor in History and Law Paula Russo, who outlined the Court’s role in balancing individual rights with the government’s concern for promoting public good in LBGTQ cases.

She noted the Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale, a case of the Supreme Court decided in 2000 that held that the constitutional right to freedom of association allowed the Boy Scouts of America to exclude a homosexual person from leadership role in spite of a state law requiring equal treatment of homosexuals in public accommodations. More generally, the court ruled that a private organization such as the BSA may exclude a person from membership when "the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group's ability to advocate public or private viewpoints". 

In a five to four decision, the Supreme Court ruled that opposition to homosexuality is part of BSA's "expressive message" and that allowing homosexuals as adult leaders would interfere with that message, therefore violating the first amendment’s freedom of speech.

Noting upcoming gender identity cases that may come before the Court, she said LGBQT citizens are in a precarious spot. The United States Congress has not added the categories of “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” to federal civil rights legislation—and fewer than half of the state have added those terms to their own anti-discrimination laws. In the absence of those protections, LGBT legal rights advocates have had to argue that the ban on sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to LGBT people.

The Watson Workshop series will continue May 23 at 6:30 p.m. in Watson Common Room with a presentation led by Instructor in Art Terri Moore on the contemporary queer art scene in New York City. 

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