by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
There's no doubt about it - 2014 was a year for the record books in terms of LGBTQ equality. Around the globe LGBTQ communities found a voice, however strong or faint, and for the first time in, well, forever, others were listening. Here's a look back at the national LGBTQ news stories of 2014.
Same-sex marriage is now available to a majority of states that are home to nearly 65 percent of Americans. In its ruling in Windsor v. United States, on June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court paved the way for states and the federal government to legally recognize same-sex marriages. However, even before that, in December 2012, Washington, Maine and Maryland became the first states to vote for marriage equality at the ballot box. Minnesota voters also rejected a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. It was a historic victory. And even as unbelievable as it was, nobody could've predicted what happened next.
As the nation settled into its new role as 'evolving' on the issue, more and more states would change. Soon after our win, lawmakers in Delaware, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Illinois, and Hawaii voted for marriage equality. Twenty-one consecutive court rulings in some of the most conservative states in America would expand the scope of same-sex marriage.
Marriage equality was secured in Kansas, Idaho and Oklahoma. State court rulings allowed same-sex couples to wed in New Jersey and New Mexico.
On October 6, The Supreme Court, refused to hear appeals from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin, clearing the way for marriages to commence in these states.
On September 3, however, the good luck streak was tempered when U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman upheld Louisiana's law against same-sex marriage. And it came to a momentary halt when a divided U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, on November 6, upheld laws against marriage equality in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
This disagreement between the lower federal courts make it likely the Supreme Court will return to the issue in 2015.
But at the end of the year we moved ahead again big time in Florida.
On August 21, 2014, Judge Hinkle ruled that Florida's laws barring same-sex couples from marriage violate the equal protection and due process requirements of the federal Constitution and stayed his ruling until January 5, 2015. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court (on December 19) both subsequently denied the State of Florida's request to extend the stay.
Last week, the Washington County Clerk filed a motion asking Judge Hinkle to clarify his ruling following confusion generated when a private law firm issued a memorandum concluding that Judge Hinkle's ruling did not permit other county clerks to issue marriage licenses and that those who did so would face criminal prosecution.
On January 1, 2015, federal district court Judge Robert L. Hinkle reaffirmed his marriage ruling in a new order stating that clerks of all Florida counties must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after his stay expires at the end of day January 5, 2015.
When the stay of his prior order invalidating Florida's ban on marriage by same-sex couples expires on January 5, 2015, the federal Constitution requires that all Florida county clerks must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
There is, as we all know, more work to be done. In 29 states, LGBT Americans can still be fired from their jobs based solely on their sexual orientation. In 33 states, Transgender Americans can be fired based solely on their gender identity. We still don't even have a federal law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Gay men in America earn 10% to 32% less than similarly qualified straight men working in the same occupations. Transgender men and women are both more likely to be the victims of violent crime and more likely to be incarcerated. In some states, same-sex couples are discriminated against in the ability to adopt children.
Still, we must remember to celebrate what a monumental victory this has been so far. It's good for the soul. Being able to get married and be as happy - or miserable - as married straight couples in America doesn't make other issues of anti-LGBT discrimination go away. But marriage equality has been a movement toward fairness and justice for all. And right now, this movement is unstoppable.
TRANS ACTIVIST CECE MCDONALD FREED
After serving 19 months in prison, the African-American Transgender activist CeCe McDonald left incarceration in February. She was arrested after using deadly force to protect herself from a group of people who attacked her on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her case helped to shed light on the violence and discrimination faced by Transgender women of color.
According to police reports, in 2011, McDonald and two friends were walking past a Minneapolis bar when they were reportedly accosted and insulted with homophobic, Transphobic and racist slurs. McDonald was hit with a bar glass that cut open her face, requiring eleven stitches. A brawl ensued, and one of the people who had confronted McDonald and her friends, 47-year-old Dean Schmitz, who was high on meth and cocaine, was killed. Schmitz, whose rap sheet included assault and who had a swastika tattooed across his chest, had lunged towards McDonald who, feeling as though her life was in danger, armed herself with a pair of fabric scissors she found stashed in her purse and stabbed McDonald in the heart. Although it was self-defense, she says, she took a plea deal that sentenced her to 41 months instead of the possible 80 years in prison for the stabbing death of Schmitz.
CeCe McDonald was jailed for defending herself. At the time of the attack, the murder rate for Gay and Transgender people in this country was at an all-time high. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs documented 30 hate-related murders of LGBT people in 2011; 40 percent of the victims were Transgender women of color. Transgender teens have higher rates of homelessness, and nearly half of all African-American Transgender people - 47 percent - have been incarcerated at some point.
They are here and they are queer. They are also undocumented and they are demanding #Not1More deportation and an end to the criminalization of LGBTQ immigrants. In 2014 the undocuqueer movement really took off. Groups such as Familia (Southern California) protested outside the LGBT pod at the ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention center in Santa Ana, California, and Southerners On New Ground (SONG) staged a seven-hour sit-in at an LGBT Congressional Caucus meeting, leaving only after Gay and Lesbian congress members promised they'd bring specific protections for queer immigrants to President Obama's attention.
Washington Queer and undocumented youth and DREAMers from California, New Mexico, Washington, Florida, New York, Minnesota, Maryland, Rhode Island, Delaware, Virginia, New Jersey, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Missouri participate in United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led network in the nation with 47 affiliates in 25 states that organize and advocate for access to higher education and legal status for all.
In December, 115 LGBTQ and immigration organizations officially got behind the call to release all Trans people from ICE detention centers, where, according to immigration attorney Olga Tomchin, the department has 'shown over and over that they are incapable of detaining Transgender people with even minimal levels of dignity and safety . . . The only solution is to release [them].'
OBAMA BARS ANTI-LGBT BIAS AMONG CONTRACTORS
President Barack Obama signed an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Although concerns persisted that Obama would include a religious exemption in the measure, known as Executive Order 13672, no carve-out was included beyond the already existing Bush administration language allowing religious-affiliated businesses to favor co-religionists in hiring practices.
According to the Williams Institute, the order will protect 34 million workers, or about 22 percent of the American workforce. In December, the Labor Department announced the rule for the executive order has become final, giving federal contractors 120 days to update their policies to comply with the measure or lose out on federal contracts.
TIME MAGAZINE DUBBED 2014 THE 'TRANS TIPPING POINT' WITH A MAY COVER STORY
TIME Magazine received praise from the LGBTQ community in May 2014, for their cover story 'Trans Tipping Point,' which all but said that the Trans* community has arrived. But for most Transgender women of color, reported violence is on the rise.
The Transgender Violence Tracking Portal, which records incidents of murders, violence, missing persons and harassment against Transgender people, found that a Transgender person is reported murdered every 38 hours.
The murders of Filipina Jennifer Laude by U.S. Army Private Joseph Pemberton in October and Deshawnda Sanchez, who was gunned down as she sought help at a stranger's home in Los Angeles on December 3, made the press, but countless others never made the headlines.
#BLACKLIVESMATTER CREATED BY LESBIANS
Our diversity is our strength. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi (three queer women of color) helped spark the fight against anti-black violence and police brutality by creating #BlackLivesMatter as a response to the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen shot during a scuffle with neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in 2012. The #BlackLivesMatter movement picked up momentum again when the grand jury decisions in the shooting death of unarmed black Ferguson, Missouri, teen Michael Brown and the death of Eric Garner, the black man and father in New York, also unarmed, who was choked to death by cops when they detained him for selling loose cigarettes, did not lead to the indictments of the officers who killed them.
Garza laid out the inspiration for the campaign saying, 'When we are able to end hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free. When Black people get free, everybody gets free. This is why we call on Black people and our allies to take up the call that Black lives matter.'
READING IS FUNDAMENTAL
LGBTQ people are overrepresented in prisons across the country; in 2014 some 2,000 packages of books made it into the hands of LGBTQ people behind bars. Thanks to Madison, Wisconsin-based LGBT Books to Prisoners - more are on the way! The organization also announced a partnership with Trans advocate Janet Mock, who began publicizing the #TransBookDrive campaign to much fanfare on Twitter on November 30; the campaign continued through the end of the year.
THE MAGIC PILL NOBODY IS TAKING
The number of Gay men not taking the so-called 'magic pill,' PrEP or Truvada, is certainly higher than the number of men who are taking the once-daily pill that is said to protect them from the spread of HIV/AIDS. For whatever reason, many men remained PrEP skeptical in 2014, which baffled journalists and activists alike.
'Behavior change is very difficult, even when the stakes are high,' say officials at PrEPFacts.org. 'Despite all that we know about the dangers of tobacco, millions continue to smoke. We also know that we should exercise and eat well, yet obesity is on the rise. We've got the same struggles when it comes to HIV prevention and sexual health.'
Until now, adopting safer behaviors - including condom use - has been the only option available for people who wished to protect themselves from becoming infected. Lots of people were able to successfully change their behavior in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so much so that the rate of new infections dropped by an amazing degree. Since then, however, helping people maintain safer behaviors or getting younger people to adopt them has gotten a lot harder. In fact, more than 50,000 people are estimated to have become infected each year since the mid-to-late1990s. That's about 800,000 new infections since then. Among Gay and Bisexual men, new cases are actually on the rise, especially for young black and Latino men.
'And it's not just individual behaviors that put people at risk for HIV,' say officials. 'There are many external factors that contribute, too. These include poverty, homophobia, racism, homelessness - all of these things can significantly increase HIV risk while also contributing to significant health disparities across various racial and socio-economic groups.'
'We desperately need new tools in order to turn things around,' health officials say. 'PrEP is a new HIV prevention strategy that puts the power of prevention in the hands of HIV-negative people. Now that PrEP has been shown to be effective in clinical trials, the next step is to determine whether and how PrEP can be used to reduce HIV infections in communities.'
PrEP isn't just for men, either. Research shows that PrEP works for HIV prevention for Gay and Bi men and Transwomen. To note again, in the clinical research world, researchers use the term 'men who have sex with men' (MSM) to describe Gay and Bi men, Transwomen, and others who were born male and who have sex with men but who may or may not identify as Gay or Bisexual. The clinical studies often lump these groups together.
The iPrEx study compared Truvada with a placebo pill in nearly 2,500 Gay and Bi men and Transwomen in six countries. All of the participants also got safer sex counseling and condoms, regular sexually transmitted infection (STI) check-ups and treatment, and HIV testing.
When the researchers compared people assigned to take Truvada with those assigned to take the placebo, they found that people who were given Truvada had lower HIV infection rates compared to people who were given placebo. When the researchers took it a step further and looked only at people with detectable levels of the drugs in their blood (a sign than the medication was being taken regularly), they found that transmission dropped by as much as 92%. Further analyses indicate that drug levels corresponding to daily use are associated with 99% protection against HIV.
LGBT SOUTHERNERS GET ATTENTION
Being LGBTQ and coming out can be difficult. Being LGBTQ and coming out in the south of the U.S. can be downright dangerous. Now our brothers and sisters in the Southern states are getting a little help from their friends. It all began in 2014, when several campaigns launched to change the way the Bible Belt treats the L, G, B, T and Q in our society.
The Human Rights Campaign started a multi-year, $8.5 million initiative called Project One America, which aims to make dramatic progress on LGBT rights in the South. The initiative seeks to make progress on three fronts: changing hearts and minds, advancing legal protections and building more LGBT-inclusive institutions from the church pew to the workplace.
OBAMA MAKE HIGH PROFILE LGBT APPOINTMENTS
President Barack Obama made LGBT appointments to important positions in his administration and the judiciary. Principal among them is Ted Osius, a career Foreign Service officer who was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam.
Gordon Tanner was also appointed to a high-ranking post as General Counsel for the Air Force.
To the federal judiciary, the Senate confirmed Lesbian Judith Levy to the U.S. District Court of Eastern Michigan.
On June 17, the Senate took a historic vote by confirming two openly Gay judicial nominees in one day, both of whom were black. Staci Michelle Yandle was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois and Darrin Gayles was confirmed for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!