by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
This year the LGBTQ equality movement seemed to go into overdrive. With more Americans than ever admitting that they know a person who is LGBTQ it has become increasingly more difficult for people with bigoted views to scapegoat the community, openly discriminate against LGBTQ people or treat us like second-class citizens. That's not to say that it does not happen, but it should be pointed out that it is no longer business as usual. There is a lot of work left to do before we get fair and equal treatment under the law in all 50 states. But there isn't any way to look at 2015 and not see signs of success in terms of where we used to be as a community, and where we are headed as a global LGBTQ community. While some of the people who wish to cause harm to LGBTQ rights across the country are still trying to fight tooth and nail for every inch lost each time we win, the bigots are, for the most part, on the run.
Now the community mostly has a new set of problems to deal with. Issues that need answering like how do we accept equality without assimilation, owning the actions of people from within our ranks - however good or bad those actions are, aiding the millions of homeless LGBTQ youth, veterans and adults who need help to get off of the streets. We are finally starting to take a look at making sure our aging community is taken care of when they can no longer take care of themselves. The Transgender community is trying to find their way in this world while at the same time having very public debate on the use of words, public restroom and locker-room facilities and more. While not all of these problems are new, and many have already been discussed by earlier generations, the big difference is that we are no longer having the discussion amongst ourselves; there are a whole lot of people out there willing to help us on this journey towards true freedom and equality in America and beyond.
Sadly, what was noticeable this year are the many reported cases of Gay bashings and murder; Transgender women of color in particular had a pretty scary year as more than one Transgender woman was murdered each month in the U.S. More reports came out of Russia and the Middle East about the abuse, torture, and murder of LGBTQ people with no end in sight. And although some promising words came from the United Nations about protecting human rights of LGBTQ people around the world, the statements and calls for dignified treatment, unfortunately, seem to be just that - words.
As we say goodbye to 2015 and look to the year ahead, Seattle Gay News has compiled a list of the top stories that made the news in 2015 for the LGBTQ community. There might be some things on our list that you may have forgotten or a news report that makes you think about just how far we've come, but the fact remains (the good and the bad, the happy and the sad) that this year of 2015 will go down in the history books as a year of newfound acceptance of LGBTQ people and our continued struggle to secure freedom for all.
KENTUCKY CLERK KIM DAVIS REFUSES TO ISSUE MARRIAGE LICENSES
Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis, who spent five days in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples earlier in the year, has been voted the state's top news story of 2015. For whatever reason, the story of Davis and her feelings about religious exemption, took the nation by storm.
Davis, a Democrat in Morehead, Kentucky, said her religious faith made it impossible for her to comply.
'What I believe, I cannot be separated from,' Davis said. 'If you believe it, if you believe the word of God and you believe it and you live it and you breathe it and it is your heart, mind, body and soul, you can't be separated from that.'
Four couples, two Gay and two straight, sued Davis with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. The Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based law firm with a history of suing public entities over religious freedom issues, rushed to Davis' defense.
Eventually, U.S. District Judge David Bunning threw Davis in jail for refusing to obey his order that she issue marriage licenses. She spent five days behind bars, only to be dramatically released on the same day two Republican presidential candidates visited her. She walked out the front door and appeared on the back of a flatbed truck with candidate Mike Huckabee in front of thousands of screaming supporters, backed by a 150-voice church choir.
Davis' office is now issuing marriage licenses to all eligible couples, but her lawsuit is still pending in federal court.
Her case was voted as the top news story of the year by subscribers and staff for The Associated Press.
The reason, says Kentucky WSPD Local 6 news producer Kelly Kim, explaining why she voted for Davis as the state's top story of 2015, is 'Kim Davis' legal fight over same-sex marriages challenged the court's judgment not just in Kentucky but the entire world. It prompted a political debate among lawmakers, presidential candidates and forced a global review on same-sex rights. It's a strong example of how one person managed to affect the world.'
The June 26 SCOTUS ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which ruled that states are required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, was received with almost universal jubilation and acceptance. The issue of whether or not it was a violation of the Constitutional rights of LGBTQ citizens to be denied the right to legal marriage seemed over by the time the Supremes ruled in its favor. Poll after poll leading up to the historic victory came to the same conclusion again and again: Americans accept same-sex marriage. Millions of dollars in campaign money and legal fees had been spent in state-by-state fights to secure the right for same-sex couples to get married and many LGBTQ leaders felt that the time had come for the federal judiciary to step in and stop the discrimination from happening by making it legal throughout the land. While history will show that America was slow to address the issue, it will also show that by telling our stories of love and the pursuit of the legal right to get married anywhere we choose, millions of hearts and minds were changed. Love was, and always will be, the answer.
Now, more than six months after same-sex marriage became the law of the land, reports have come out about the cost of discrimination, the positive change that marriage equality has brought to cities, towns and neighborhoods around the country, and ever-growing acceptance that the love shared between two men or two women is in fact the #SameLove that is shared between a man and a woman. While it is true that marriage equality is the not the be all and end all of the modern LGBTQ equality movement, it is also true that to date it is our biggest win.
TRANSGENDER MILITARY POLICY CHANGE
In January 2015, on the eve of the State of the Union speech, Aaron Belkin, Director of the Palm Center, called on President Barack Obama to address the military's ban on Transgender service:
'I urge President Obama to address the military's ban on Transgender service during his upcoming State of the Union address, and to clarify whether he supports this discriminatory policy,' said Belkin.
'While I applaud the President and his administration for the historic openness to reviewing the ban, now is the time for the President to lead by outlining his plans and goals for the policies that govern the estimated 15,500 Transgender personnel serving currently in the armed forces,' he said.
In June the U.S. Air Force announced Trans airmen and airwomen would not face 'separation' - i.e., release from active duty - simply for openly identifying as Transgender or receiving a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
The announcement sent shockwaves across the nation that would lead to a much bigger victory just 30 days later when the Pentagon announced it had set in motion a plan to lift the longstanding prohibition on allowing Transgender men and women to serve openly in the military.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the individual services will have six months to prepare for the historic policy change.
'The Defense Department's current regulations regarding Transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions,' Carter said in a statement.
The official date for the policy change has not been released to the public, but Pentagon officials maintain that it will happen in the early months of 2016.
BIGOTS FIGHT BACK WITH ANTI-GAY RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION BILLS
Some people just want the right to discriminate. There is no getting past the fact that, based on so-called religious freedom, they want the government to give them the right to deny services, goods, and rights to people that are LGBTQ simply because they believe that that is what their religions requires them to do.
Early in the year, with the 2015 legislative session in swing, the ACLU began to track a number of 'religious freedom' bills that started to pop up in states around the U.S. If enacted, these anti-Gay bills would allow religion to be used to discriminate and are either intentionally aimed at LGBTQ people or are spurred in backlash to marriage equality becoming a nationwide reality. In addition, these bills include state versions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), marriage license ban bills, broad religious exemption bills and more.
People seeking religious exemptions has been part of the nation's history following passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, as well as after the passage of measures aimed at women's equality in the 1970s and 1980s, and even related to people with disabilities, with some people even seeking to deny medical treatment to people with HIV because they thought their personal behavior was sinful.
Following the defeat of Houston's pro-LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance earlier this fall, the ACLU said it is expecting 'a tremendous wave' of bills aimed at curtailing Transgender rights, particularly in the area of restroom access for Transgender students at schools. Several school districts throughout the country, particularly in the South or rural areas, have attempted to preempt what they fear will be future rulings by the U.S. Department of Education or the courts that would allow Transgender students to use the restroom or locker room consistent with their gender identity.
Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU, said that in 2015, more than 90 pieces of legislation - many of them in the form of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) - were introduced in various legislatures, attempting to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT people. Yet LGBT advocates were successful defeating almost all RFRA-type legislation in all but three states: Arkansas, Michigan and Indiana, where state lawmakers and Indiana Governor Mike Pence were eventually forced to offer a 'fix' after receiving a backlash of negative publicity and criticism from individuals and particularly the nation's business community following passage of the RFRA.
TITLE VII OF THE 1964 CIVIL RIGHTS ACT PROTECTS TRANS WORKERS
Two major victories for the Transgender community happened in January when Saks Fifth Avenue admitted that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act does protect Trans workers and the U.S. Department of Justice filed court documents stating definitively that Title VII applies to Trans people.
During a lawsuit brought against Saks Fifth Avenue by a former employee that claimed they were fired for being Transgender, the department store filed a motion to dismiss the suit on the grounds that Transgender workers are not, in fact, protected under Title VII. Saks' attorneys also claimed that the company is not legally bound by its own nondiscrimination policy, which includes gender identity.
Contrary to Saks' claims, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the U.S. Labor Department, and then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder all found that Title VII does indeed protect Trans workers.
In fact, the Justice Department filed papers in the case stating explicitly that 'Discrimination against an individual based on gender identity is discrimination because of sex,' and therefore barred by Title VII.
On January 26, Saks finally admitted its legal theory was wrong and withdrew its motion to dismiss the suit.
What's more the Department of Justice announced it will no longer assert that 'Title VII's prohibition against discrimination based on sex does not encompass gender identity per se (including Transgender discrimination.).'
POPE GRANTS PRIVATE AUDIENCES TO TRANS MAN AND HIS FIANCÉ AT VATICAN AND TO GAY MAN AND HIS BOYFRIEND AT U.S. VATICAN EMBASSY
Pope Francis met privately with a Trans man on January 24, the first time a Pope has met with an out Trans person.
Diego Neria Lejarraga had gone through gender reassignment surgery and planned to be married soon. He wrote to Pope Francis after his priest called him 'the devil's daughter.'
Francis called Neria on Christmas Eve and invited him and his fiancé to a private audience at the Vatican.
Then, in September, while on tour in the U.S., Francis met with a Gay man and his boyfriend at the Vatican Embassy. Yayo Grassi brought his boyfriend of 19 years, Iwan, and four friends to the Vatican Embassy for a private audience. Grassi met the future pope while he was in high school in his native Argentine city, Santa Fe. In 1964 and 1965, Pope Francis, then known as Jorge Bergoglio, taught Argentine literature and psychology at Inmaculada Concepción.
PREP IS 'GAME CHANGER' IN FIGHT TO END HIV/AIDS
For more than three decades the world has battled HIV/AIDS. In its wake, AIDS has claimed the lives of millions of people; a majority of them Gay men in the United States. As the years passed by, new medications or studies would be released, and hope was given to those who are infected with the terrible plague of our time. Then came PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), a blue pill, that if taken once daily by anyone who engages in sex with a person who is HIV positive, decreases the chance of transmission of HIV into their bloodstream by 99%, according to a number of studies that came out in 2015.
In February, a British study reported that Truvada (PrEP) could be 86% effective in preventing new HIV infections when taken daily. A French study, released at the same time as the British research, also shows that PrEP is equally effective when taken daily. In this study, too, Truvada was shown to be 86% effective in preventing HIV infections.
Then, in September, a U.S. study showed that after two and a half years of trials, no new HIV infections occurred among a group of people on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
For 32 months, researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco tracked the health of over 600 people as they used Truvada daily to prevent the virus in a real-world setting.
The average age of the study participants was 37, and 99 percent were men who have sex with men. The average length of individual usage was 7.2 months. Members of this group also reported a higher likelihood of having multiple sex partners than those not using PrEP.
No one in the study contracted HIV.
The success rate of people using PrEP as prescribed, is a game changer for stopping the transmission of HIV/AIDS from one person to another.
However, 30 percent of participants did contract at least one sexually transmitted infection within six months of the study's commencement. This number jumped to 50 percent after one year. In addition, 41 percent of participants reported a decrease in condom use, in contrast to the 56 percent who said their use of condoms remained unchanged throughout the study.
PrEP has generated controversy in the LGBT community since the Food and Drug Administration approved use of Truvada, also an HIV treatment, for HIV prevention in 2012. Michael Weinstein, head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has continued to be a vocal opponent, calling Truvada a 'party drug' that will discourage use of condoms.
However, dozens of prominent organizations and public figures have supported PrEP for its lifesaving potential, particularly when it is used as part of a safe-sex toolkit that includes condoms.
IRELAND'S LANDSLIDE VOTE FOR MARRIAGE EQUALITY
In May, marriage equality came to Ireland in a landslide vote that rocked church leaders in what was once the most Catholic country in Europe, and the shock waves reached as far as the Vatican.
Sixty-two percent of Irish voters agreed to amend the country's constitution to provide for same-sex marriage, with Yes votes leading in all but one voting district.
Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said his church had been shaken by nothing less than 'social revolution.'
'We [the Church] have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities,' he told RTE broadcasting.
'We won't begin again with a sense of renewal, with a sense of denial.'
'I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution.'
DEADLY YEAR FOR TRANSGENDER WOMEN OF COLOR IN U.S.
The list of slain Transgender women, particularly Transgender women of color, in 2015 grew at a troubling rate. More than 20 women were murdered simply for being Transgender and a majority of the cases remain unsolved.
According to GLAAD, Trans women of color made up a disproportionate number of the victims. The number of Trans women murdered in 2015 exceeded the number of victims killed in all of last year. In many cases, news outlets and law enforcement officials have misreported the genders of the victims.
The spike in the murders of Trans women of color sparked popular interest in hashtags like #BlackTransLivesMatter and further pushed the conversation of society's treatment of Trans people including other Trans issues: misgendering, unemployment, homelessness, the stigma of sex work and health disparities.
ISIS MURDER GAY MEN BY THROWING THEM OFF BUILDINGS IN IRAQ AND SYRIA
The terrorist group Islamic State, or ISIS, began targeting those accused of being Gay in 2015 by condemning them to death and then taking them to the tops of buildings in Iraq and Syria and throwing them to their death while throngs of people watched.
Photos and video of these executions began to pop up on social media sites in early 2015. The executions have taken place monthly, with at least two men killed each month, sometimes as many as six victims were reported as having been murdered by ISIS.
Two Gay men who fled Syria after living under ISIS spoke at the U.N. to tell of being Gay under the regime.
Subhi Nahas and Adnan spoke at a historic meeting of the U.N. Security Council, which was the first of its kind to address LGBT issues.
ISIS, which operates predominantly across Syria and Iraq, is notorious for filming videos in which captives - usually Westerners or opposing fighters - are brutally slaughtered, and are responsible for the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, France last month.
CAITLYN JENNER COMES OUT TO CHEERS AND JEERS
Vanity Fair's July cover featured Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, the Olympic Gold Medalist and star of the reality TV show about the Kardashians, and the world took notice. Regardless of how people feel about Jenner, the fact remains that when she came out as Transgender and revealed her name on the cover of Vanity Fair, the discussions around Transgender rights and the issues that Trans people are trying to overcome were being had everywhere.
Jenner postponed requesting female pronouns or announcing a new chosen name, instead indicating that those shifts in reference would come later with the introduction of a female identity. So many people were waiting with anticipation, that when the photo of Caitlyn Jenner, by famous photographer to the stars Annie Leibovitz, appeared on the Vanity Fair cover it instantly broke the Internet. Everyone was looking and talking and speculating.
In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Jenner said, 'If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, 'You just blew your entire life. You never dealt with yourself,' and I don't want that to happen.'
At first, many people praised Jenner for having the courage to live authentically under the glaring eye of the public. Her children said they were supportive and things seemed to be going well for Jenner; the Transgender community, however, began to make noise about the privilege that money and race has afforded Jenner saying that her experience is not necessarily the same as theirs.
Since her coming out Jenner has rubbed many people the wrong way by often making statements in the media that just don't add up or are damaging to the LGBTQ community at best. Considering that she is a Republican, and says she does not believe in same-sex marriage, and more, you could see how things have started to go south for her and her relationship with the community.
Still, Jenner was named as a runner up for TIME magazine's Person of the Year. During an interview with TIME Jenner said, 'And I am not a spokesperson for the Trans community, I am not. The media kind of projects me as being the spokesperson, but from my standpoint, I am not. I am a spokesperson for my story and that's all I can tell. And hopefully by telling my story, I can make people think.'
She then dropped this bombshell, 'One thing that has always been important for me, and it may seem very self-absorbed or whatever, is first of all your presentation of who you are. I think it's much easier for a Trans woman or a Trans man who authentically kind of looks and plays the role. So what I call my presentation. I try to take that seriously. I think it puts people at ease. If you're out there and, to be honest with you, if you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable. So the first thing I can do is try to present myself well. I want to dress well. I want to look good.'
J. Bryan Lowder at Slate.com said, 'Being Gay or Trans obviously does not oblige one to take any particular position on policy or humor - we Queer folks are a diverse group, and that diversity extends to ideology. Of course, our marginalization means that certain positions - say, supporting a Republican Party that continues to rail against the best interests of queer people - will seem odd or troubling when adopted by a Queer person and [they will] likely come under criticism from fellow Queers. That arguably the most well-known Trans woman of the moment was producing a parade of that kind of dissonance seemed worthy of note.'
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