2019: The Year In Review

News and Stories from Across the Nation

Unlike last year, LGBTQ issues did not figure as prominently in the news media.

But don’t be fooled.

Donald Trump and his administration have been hard at work, gutting nearly every protection put in place by former President Barack Obama.

While some in the media have claimed Trump has been relatively pro-LGBTQ based on statements he has made, that simply isn’t true.

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Some LGBTQ voters were swayed by this particular statement during his presidential campaign: “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.”

Read that again, if necessary.

He wasn’t referring to violence, oppression and discrimination by other Americans in our own country. He was throwing “the gays” a bone while simultaneously offering a wink and a nod to his Evangelical support base by demonizing all Muslims.

This year he finally accomplished the implementation of his irrational transgender military ban.

At press time, Trump had been impeached by Congress, though the articles had yet to be served to the Senate.

As we take a look back at 2019, we’ll start with the transgender military ban and then examine what his continued anti-LGBTQ efforts have culminated in as of this year.

Transgender Military Ban

While Trump first announced his desire to enact a ban on transgender individuals in July of 2017, his efforts were initially stymied by various lower courts.

By April 12 of this year, however, the Trump administration finally achieved their goal and instructed the Armed Services to begin discharging transgender service members.

According to the administration’s policy, any of the thousands of current transgender service members who come out, or are found out after April 12 and are not willing to renounce and suppress their identity, discharge is a distinct possibility.

Although several hundred service members who have previously transitioned will be “exempt,” they will serve under a cloud of suspicion and likely never be able to return if they leave the military for any length of time.

After years of research and consideration by the Pentagon and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, transgender people were officially allowed into the military in 2016. Close to 15,000 transgender troops serve in the military, and Trump’s ban has been denounced by former military leaders, members of Congress from both parties and the American Medical Association. Currently, there are no figures on how many transgender service members have been discharged so far.

“The start of this looming purge represents an unprecedented step backward in the social and civil progress of our country and our military,” said Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Throughout our nation’s history, we have seen arbitrary barriers in our military replaced with inclusion and equal standards. This is the first time in American history such a step forward has been reversed, and it is a severe blow to the military and to the nation’s values.”

Trump’s Overall Impact on the LGBTQ Community

During the Obama administration, the Department of Justice interpreted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in such a way that made discrimination based on gender identity illegal.

With Trump at the helm, things have changed — not just for the transgender community — but for lesbians and gays, as well.

In case you’ve been overloaded with Trump tweets and tall tales from this administration, here is the 2019 culmination of Trump’s time spent in the White House and the negative impact on LGBTQ folks, despite his purported campaign promises to provide protections for our community.

The Federal Office of Personnel Management has removed guidance written for federal agency managers on how to support transgender federal employees completely from policy and documentation, claiming it never prohibited discrimination based on gender identity.

The Department of Justice has allowed all executive branches to interpret religious liberty protections in such a way that give broad exemptions to federal anti-discrimination laws, allowing direct discrimination against individuals, not only for gender identity but sexual orientation, as well.

Under the Obama administration companies contracted by the government were required to comply with federal non-discrimination rules that covered employment non-discrimination toward the LGBTQ community. Under the current administration, companies and business owners are now exempt if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

At the Department of Labor, all references to workplace rights and resources for LGBTQ employees have been removed from their website.

The Department of Education is no longer investigating or taking action on complaints filed by transgender students who have been barred from restrooms or other facilities that match their gender identity.

The Department of Agriculture no longer allows the national 4-H youth program to offer guidance for welcoming and protecting LGBTQ members.

The Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights has opened the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, in an attempt to shift emphasis from protection of equal access for patients to protection of personally-held religious beliefs for private healthcare providers.

Housing and Urban Development, or HUD as it is more commonly known, has removed all training and guidance directives for employees from its website that reference LGBTQ people.

Although this list is not entirely inclusive of all Trump administration activities against the LGBTQ community, it does include much of their efforts.

A final and significantly important note is the Trump administration’s continuing refusal to acknowledge the Equality Act. Although the bill passed the House, Sen. Mitch McConnell has refused to take it up for a vote by the Senate.

If passed, the bill would specifically prohibit all discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Transgender Murders

This year has seen a record-breaking murders of transgender women. (Photo Credit: Victoriia Kulish via Adobe Stock)

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) recently released a report entitled: “A National Epidemic: Fatal Anti-Transgender Violence in the United States” in 2019.

The report examines 22 transgender individuals and gender non-conforming individuals killed in 2019 and details the contributing factors that lead to their deaths.

“Transgender women of color are living in crisis, especially black transgender women,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “While the details of the cases documented in this report differ, the toxic intersection of racism, sexism, transphobia and easy access to guns conspire to deny so many members of the transgender and gender non-conforming community access to housing, employment and other necessities to survive and thrive. Every one of these lives cut tragically short reinforces the urgent need for action on all fronts to end this epidemic — from lawmakers and law enforcement to the media and our communities.”

In addition to the 22 aforementioned individuals, the report also profiles two other cases of transgender women, Johana “Joa” Medina and Layleen Polanco, whose deaths remain under investigation. Both were likely impacted by circumstances fostered by hate, indifference and dehumanization.

Medina, 25, died at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, just hours after being released from ICE custody. She suffered severe health complications that went untreated while she was in detention, according to Diversidad Sin Fronteras. Her family filed a wrongful death and personal injury claim against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. Polanco, 27, was found dead in solitary confinement at Rikers Island on June 7. Her family says authorities knew she had epilepsy and failed to provide her proper treatment despite her condition.

LGBTQ Cases before the SCOTUS

Currently, before the Supreme Court are two cases of significant importance: R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC & Aimee Stephens and Altitude Express v. Zarda (a third case, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, had been consolidated with Zarda). They are cases that could chart the future of workplace anti-discrimination protections in the United States.

Stephens, whom the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan represent, was fired from her job after coming out as transgender, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that her firing was a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Five federal appeals courts and dozens of federal district and state courts have affirmed that view, ruling that existing federal laws protect transgender people from discrimination.

Donald Zarda was fired from his job after a client learned he was gay, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that his firing was a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Seventh Circuit has also ruled that firing someone because of their sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination, as has the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigates charges of workplace discrimination nationwide.

Zarda died in an accident in 2014. His surviving partner, Bill Moore, and his sister, Melissa Zarda, have continued the lawsuit on behalf of the estate. The American Civil Liberties Union represents the estate as co-counsel with Greg Antollino of Antollino PLLC and with Pam Karlan and Jeff Fisher of the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.

This is a key judicial test of the Department of Justice’s efforts to deny LGBTQ people protection from sex discrimination. Should the Supreme Court overturn the lower courts’ rulings, it would take away existing protections from lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees, saying that it is lawful under federal law to fire LGBTQ people for their gender identity or sexual orientation.

“These cases will have a profound effect on the lives of millions of people,” said David Cole, legal director of the ACLU, who argued the case on behalf of Aimee Stephens. “The LGBTQ community has won hard-fought protections in courts before, and we are hoping the justices will not turn back the clock on equality and justice. No one should be fired because of who they are.”

A Look Back at 2019

A positive note for New York’s transgender community in January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) into law. The bill adds gender identity and expression to an existing law that bans discrimination on gender, age, religion, race and sexual orientation.

In March, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosello signed an executive order protecting LGBTQ youth in the American territory from conversion therapy.

The action adds Puerto Rico to a list that includes 15 other states and the District of Columbia, which all ban “conversion therapy,” which is condemned by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association.

In early April three lesbians captured mayor’s positions in key cities across the country.

Lori Lightfoot, 56, became the first LGBTQ person to be elected mayor of Chicago, Ill.

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“Out there tonight a lot of little girls and boys are watching,” Lightfoot told the ecstatic crowd. “They’re watching us and they’re seeing the beginning of something, well a little bit different. They’re seeing a city reborn.” Lightfoot is also the first African-American woman to be elected mayor of Chicago.

The city of Madison, Wisc. also followed suit when they elected lesbian Satya Rhodes-Conway, a Democrat, to the office of mayor.

In Tampa, Florida, Jane Castor, also a lesbian, was elected to the position of mayor. Following a tight race that required a runoff, the former Republican-turned-Democrat became the first openly gay person to be elected mayor of Tampa and the eighth LGBTQ person to be elected mayor of a municipality in Florida.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg participates in the Senator Wahl Birthday at The Walker Homestead in Iowa City, Iowa July 14, 2019.
(Chuck Kennedy /PFA)

On April 14 came an unexpected and unprecedented announcement: an openly gay male was vying for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Seemingly wholesome as white bread mixed with Howdy Doody, 37-year-old Pete Buttigieg clearly has a much higher than average IQ. He’s the mayor of South Bend, Ind., (a small town that is never mentioned without the reminder that it was the home of the Studebaker, a car that hasn’t been in production since 1966), a graduate of Harvard and Oxford Universities, and he also served as a lieutenant in the United States Navy. What’s more, he’s even married. His spouse’s name is Chasten.

At press time, Buttigieg continued to fall in line for the nomination behind Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. He’s been quite adept at fundraising and is extremely popular with many Democratic centrist voters. Will he capture the nomination? Probably not this ‘go round.

But who knows for sure? If not a presidential nominee, he’d definitely make a good vice presidential running mate.

FX announced in June that it was renewing the popular series “Pose” for a third season.

“‘Pose’ has elevated our culture and the TV landscape like few shows before it, and we are honored to partner with co-creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals on a third season,” FX head John Landgraf said in a release

June 11’s season premiere was the series’ most-watched episode to date, and the second season has received continued critical acclaim. “Pose” is set in the year 1990 and follows the characters through the escalating AIDS epidemic as they join the fight as activists while continuing to explore New York City’s ballroom culture.

“This season feels epic. And in particular, in the latter half of the season, there are a couple of moments that are really big,” Canals said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “The back half of the season, I think we start to see some of our characters finally find their bliss. And then for others, we start to see life unravel in really significant ways.”

In many cities and towns across the country the end of June saw multiple Pride celebrations. June 28, 1969, is a significant date in American LGBTQ history: New York City Police conducted a raid on the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar. While raids were not uncommon at that time in history, the reaction from patrons was different that night. This time, the patrons fought back.

While a mixed group of gays, lesbians and transgender individuals pelted police with sticks and rocks, law enforcement barricaded themselves inside the bar, awaiting help from riot control.

Police eventually withdrew from the site, but outrage, uproar and demonstrations continued over the next five days. The following year marked the first Pride celebration and march in New York City.

In June of this year, the city celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Members of the LGBTQ community from around the globe converged on the city to celebrate the date and attend a myriad of events that took place.

An important footnote: the NYPD issued a formal apology for what occurred 50 years ago. “The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize,” Commissioner James P. O’Neill said during a news conference. “I vow to the [LGBT] community that this would never happen in the NYPD in 2019. We have, and we do, embrace all New Yorkers.”

In July, Country Fusion Rapper Lil Nas X, best known for his chart-topping hit “Old Town Road” made the decision to come out publicly. The recording artist, whose birth name is Montero Lamar Hill, made the announcement at the end of National Pride Month via Twitter.

“Some of y’all already know, some of y’all don’t care, some of y’all not gone fwm no more. But before this month ends i want y’all to listen closely to c7osure,” he tweeted.

Nas added a rainbow flag to the tweet and followed up the announcement with an appearance on “Ellen,” where he further confirmed he is now in a relationship.

In early December, Cable Network Showtime introduced the new series “Work In Progress.”

Created and written by Chicago improv-mainstays Abby McEnany and Tim Mason, and co-written by Lilly Wachowski (“The Matrix,” “Sense8”), the series is a funny and uniquely human comedy. Written and shot in Chicago, the eight-episode, half-hour comedy series features McEnany as a fictionalized version of herself, a 45-year-old self-identified fat, queer dyke whose misfortune and despair unexpectedly lead her to a “vibrantly transformative relationship.” In addition to McEnany, the series stars Chicago-based performer Karin Anglin alongside Celeste Pechous, with Julia Sweeney (“Saturday Night Live”) appearing in a crucial role as herself and Theo Germaine (“The Politician”) appearing as a special guest star.

The series is described by creators as “a finely-crafted cocktail of depression, OCD, queerness and anxiety.” Viewers step into Abby’s life, generally a quiet place, yet in perpetual crisis, despite her ability to charm those around her with her self-deprecating and endearing personality. When her confident, suburban sister Alison (Anglin) determinedly sets her up with Chris (Germaine), a younger, sexually-explorative transgender man, things start to radically shift in Abby’s mind in terms of her self-identity and self-worth, allowing her to rethink her choices and even confront the woman who “ruined her life,” With the help of her acerbic best friend Campbell (Pechous), Abby attempts to navigate her way through modern-day dating, therapy mishaps, rude co-workers and more.

You can watch the series Sunday evenings at 11 p.m. or stream it live on the Showtime website.

In mid-December, the town of Hayesville, N.C., which has a population of just under 500 and is located in Clay County, which has a population of around 11,000, experienced a first. Among the participants in the annual Christmas parade was a contingent representing the LGBTQ Democrats of North Carolina.

Although the reaction from some locals in the small town was shock, many responded positively.

From the website fetchyournews.com (FYN) came the following: “I am a local minister’s wife and was delighted to see a group walking in peace and love despite obvious local and vocal opposition to both Democrats and members of the community,” said a woman named Susan, who requested that her last name be withheld. “Any young person in our community who is wondering if they might be a member of the community may have felt comfort in knowing that there is a place for them in a place that is usually dominated by judgment and exclusion.”

According to the website’s report, the county’s Democratic Party leadership offered the following statement:

“The Clay County Democratic Party is inclusive and supports the rights of all citizens, those of the LGBTQ community included. We are happy the LGBTQ Democrats of NC joined along with the Tri-County Democratic Women of NC’s float in the Clay County Christmas Parade, an expression of seasonal engagement, communal celebration, and holiday joy,” shared local Democratic Party Chair Barbara Lanwermeye.

Two members of the contingent, Cindy Nodine and Jan Chatterton, co-presidents of LGBTQ NC Democrats of Cherokee and Clay County, also shared their thoughts with FYN. “We feel very loved and accepted in this small town because so many people do show their love of Jesus by being like Jesus. So much kindness, sharing and giving goes on here in Hayesville. That is what Christmas is all about anyways, right?”

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Posted by David Aaron Moore

David Aaron Moore is a former editor of QNotes, serving in the role from 2003 to 2007. He is currently a contributing writer for QNotes. Moore is a native of North Carolina and the author of "Charlotte: Murder, Mystery and Mayhem" from History Press. Moore has worked for several mainstream and LGBTQ publications as editor, staff writer, contributor and freelancer.