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‘Year of Trump’ is Blade’s pick for top national story of 2017

Trump has delivered a complicated array of setbacks to the LGBT and civil rights community

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top national story, Gays for Trump, March4Trump, gay news, Washington Blade

The ‘Year of Trump’ is the Blade’s top national story. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Although President Trump campaigned in 2016 on being a friend to LGBT people, his first year in office was marked by an erosion of LGBT rights after significant gains in recent years.

The infuriation within the LGBT community over Trump’s hostility to LGBT rights spanned the entirety of 2017 and stood in stark contrast to progress during the Obama years. The attacks helped fuel the “resist” movement against him, making the “Year of Trump” the Washington Blade’s No. 1 story for 2017.

A ban on transgender people in the military, withdrawal of Title IX guidance assuring transgender students access to the bathroom consistent with their gender identity, arguments in litigation LGBT people aren’t protected under existing civil rights law and intervention on behalf of an anti-gay baker before the U.S. Supreme Court are a few high-profile ways the administration undermined LGBT rights in Trump’s first year at the White House.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force said the first year of the Trump administration has been “horrendous, horrific and hellish when it comes to this administration’s actions toward LGBTQ people and our families.”

“He has turned back the clock on decades of progress, or is attempting to turn back the clock on decades of progress that we have made not only in our community, but also for people in this country who are women, who are black, who are immigrants, who are Muslim, who are poor — and he has been a disaster for democracy,” Carey said.

The first major rollback from the Trump administration on LGBT rights was the revocation in February of Obama-era guidance that assured transgender kids have access to school restrooms consistent with their gender identity. Bucking the views of numerous courts, the Trump administration asserted the prohibition of sex discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 doesn’t apply to transgender discrimination.

As a result of the decision, the U.S. Supreme Court nixed consideration of transgender student Gavin Grimm’s lawsuit against his Virginia high school, which barred him from the boys’ room. Grimm graduated without relief, although his lawsuit remains pending in lower federal courts.

The Education Department issued a new memo asserting discrimination and harassment against transgender students in school may amount to sex discrimination under federal law, but the issue of bathrooms isn’t necessarily covered Title IX.

A few months later in July, Trump announced via Twitter transgender people won’t be able to serve in the U.S. military “in any capacity.” That tweet and subsequent guidance to the U.S. military reversed the Obama-era change scrapping medical regulations against their service and enabling them to serve in the armed forces.

As a result of four separate lawsuits and court orders against the ban, the Pentagon was barred from enforcing Trump’s policy, which meant the administration was blocked from kicking out troops for being transgender or denying payment for gender reassignment surgery. The U.S. armed forces were also required to admit qualified transgender enlistees starting Jan. 1 consistent with a target date set by Defense Secretary James Mattis in a June 30 letter prior to Trump’s tweet.

The Trump administration went after the other components of the LGBT community after the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars sex discrimination in the workplace, also prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

When the issue came before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the Justice Department voluntarily filed a friend-of-the-court brief and sent a high-ranking attorney to argue existing civil rights law doesn’t protect gay people from discrimination. That move put the Justice Department at odds with another U.S. agency, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has determined Title VII protects gay people.

Transgender people came next. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in October issued a memo declaring anti-trans discrimination also doesn’t amount to sex discrimination under existing law, reversing a memo from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asserting transgender people are covered.

That wasn’t the only the time Sessions issued a memo endangering LGBT rights. In the aftermath of Trump’s “religious freedom” executive order, Sessions issued a memo asserting broad protections from individuals and businesses under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Without limiting principle in the document against discrimination, a Social Security worker could refuse to process applications for same-sex spousal benefits, or an employer could refuse to grant family and medical leave to LGBT families.

The Justice Department also took the side of “religious freedom” over LGBT rights at the U.S. Supreme Court when justices considered the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. A Colorado baker seeking a First Amendment right to refuse to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples brought the case.

The Trump administration sent to argue on behalf of the baker U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who indicated during oral augments a shopkeeper should be able to put up a sign saying no wedding cakes for same-sex couples — a belief the White House said Trump shares.

The Supreme Court would likely not have even taken up the Masterpiece Cakeshop case if U.S. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch wasn’t confirmed to the bench. Appointed by Trump in January, Gorsuch was opposed by major LGBT rights groups. Since his confirmation, the Supreme Court took up the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and he has issued dissents arguing the fight for marriage equality isn’t over after the 2015 Obergefell decision.

Trump also ignored the LGBT community in more symbolic ways, such as neglecting to issue a proclamation recognizing June as Pride month. The Trump administration has been found to have eliminated questions in federal surveys allowing respondents to identify as LGBT and reportedly barred the Centers for Disease Control from the using the word “transgender” among other science-related words from budget documents.

Additionally, the administration’s budget request would have restricted funding for civil rights enforcement and cuts HIV/AIDS programs and research by billions of dollars.

Carey said these items — especially the “religious freedom” guidance, which she said is “extraordinarily damaging, and will have long-term impacts for the country” — are among the big-ticket items, but “there are dozens and dozens of things that have happened that aren’t in the news.”

“I’ve been working in Washington, D.C., since 1989, and I have worked with Democratic and Republican administrations, I worked through Bush 1 and Bush 2,” Carey said. “And this is nothing like those administrations. We always have policy differences, but I think the kind of haphazard and harmful nature of so-called governing by this administration is certainly something that our community hasn’t seen.”

The actions against LGBT people, Carey said, are consistent with the Trump administration’s efforts targeting other communities, such as the travel ban on Muslim countries, the elimination of deferred deportation for DREAMers and the elimination of the contraception requirement in health care.

Defenders of Trump on LGBT issues will point to a statement issued earlier in the year in which the White House said Trump is “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights” and would keep in place a 2014 executive order signed by President Obama barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.

Trump also made at least openly four LGBT appointments, although they’re few and far between compared to the hundreds former President Obama appointed to the administration at all levels of government and the judiciary.

The highest-profile openly gay Trump appointee is Richard Grenell, a Fox News commentator and foreign policy expert who was nominated as U.S. ambassador to Germany. Democrats are blocking his confirmation over comments he made about the appearance of women on Twitter.

Other openly gay appointments are James Abbott, who was confirmed to the Federal Labor Relations Authority; David Glawe, under secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security; and Claudia Slacik, who was nominated, but not yet confirmed, to the board of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Trump also re-nominated lesbian Democrat Chai Feldblum to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which by law requires appointments of both parties.

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, noted his organization withheld its endorsement from Trump as a candidate in 2016, but also pledged to call “a ball a ball, and a strike a strike” if he became president.

“This administration has done things that are worthy of praise like maintaining the LGBT non-discrimination executive order, like acknowledging the human rights abuses of gay men in particular in the refugee executive order that was put out earlier this year and the appointment of openly gay individuals, several of whom are members of Log Cabin, to prominent posts in his administration,” Angelo said.

But Angelo said his organization opposed the Trump administration’s elimination of transgender student guidance and the transgender military ban.

Treatment of LGBT issues is arguably different in certain U.S. agencies, most notably the State Department. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson retained the position of U.S. special envoy for international LGBT rights, and although Randy Berry left the role, the State Department is expected to fill it. Tillerson also has issued statements recognizing June as Pride month and the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Although President Trump and the White House have said nothing about reports of anti-gay persecution and concentration camps in the Russian republic of Chechnya, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said she was “disturbed” by the reports and Tillerson privately raised the issue in a letter to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations also joined with France and Brazil to block efforts from Egypt and Russia to remove from an Olympics resolution a reference to Principle 6 of the Olympics Charter, which bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action, cited these examples as indications LGBT rights “are increasingly integrated into U.S. foreign policy in spite of the president.”

“We have succeeded by working with allies within this government, allies from other governments, using long-standing policies, and motivating unlikely suspects to recognize that LGBTI people globally deserve our respect,” Stern said. “All of this happens because our movement is strong, loud and insistent.”

However, Stern said the Trump administration’s approach to foreign policy as a whole has by far not been without failures or inconsistent with his domestic LGBT policy.

“Trump’s foreign policy has been about isolationism, militarism, Muslim-bashing, border construction, the control of women’s bodies, and an overall rejection of human rights,” Stern said. “In that sense, his foreign and domestic policies have been remarkably aligned.”

What’s next? The administration will likely continue to fight transgender military service in the courts even if accession begins on Jan. 1 as well as LGBT protections under existing civil rights law. Depending on the outcome of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case at the Supreme Court, the administration will likely embrace a decision in favor of the anti-gay baker, or reject a ruling in favor of the same-sex couple who unsuccessfully sought a wedding cake from him.

Carey said she expects the Trump administration to “still take actions that will be harmful to our community” — such as U.S. agencies implementing the religious freedom guidance against LGBT people — but any such actions against LGBT people will “absolutely” be met with opposition from the community.

“I think it will only increase,” Carey said. “As I talk with leaders in other movements and other communities, there is a hunger to continue to stand together to engage the many people who perhaps before this year have not been as politically active and are ready to stand together whether it’s in the streets, or in the halls of Congress or in their school boards in their towns to stand together to make sure that the most vulnerable people in this country are not going to be attacked again and again and again.”

The White House didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether the Trump administration believes it has upheld a commitment to be “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights” in its first year.

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Florida

Florida ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law goes into effect, negative impact already felt

LGBTQ youth, already at higher risk of depression, anxiety, & suicide than their peers, report their mental health being negatively impacted

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Jack Petocz (with bullhorn) leads Flagler Palm Coast High School protest against Florida's DSG bill (Photo by Alysa Vidal)

TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s HB 1557, known as the Don’t Say LGBTQ law, took effect today. The law, which bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and restricts that instruction in grades 4-12, will immediately begin impacting efforts to make Florida classrooms more inclusive.

But its impacts have already been felt for months. Educators and school staff have shared the chilling effects they are experiencing across the state. Books with LGBTQ characters are being pulled from shelves. Rainbow “safe space” stickers are being peeled from classroom windows. LGBTQ educators are being asked to avoid speaking about their families. As the law officially goes into effect, these impacts will escalate. 

“Since the inception of this hateful policy, lawmakers have assured the public that it would not lead to censorship or erasure of LGBTQ people,” said Joe Saunders, Equality Florida Senior Political Director. “But our community has always known the truth. The Don’t Say LGBTQ law has always been fueled by anti-LGBTQ animus and designed to further stigmatize the LGBTQ community, ban books about us, erase us from classrooms, and force us back into the closet. It is a bigoted and dangerous law that is making Florida less safe for students and families, and we will work tirelessly to see it repealed.”

Throughout the legislative process, lawmakers scoffed at the suggestion that HB 1557 would have negative impacts on the LGBTQ community, even as they refused to clarify its dangerously vague language and prevent the eventual law from doing harm.

A bipartisan contingent of lawmakers offered up dozens of amendments to the bill, attempting to narrow its overly-broad scope and clarify the most vague components. These amendments came after assertions from their colleagues that the bill’s intent was narrow. However, those reasonable amendments were rejected by bill sponsors Representative Joe Harding, Senator Dennis Baxley, and their allies, leaving its language broad and discriminatory.

As a result, the chilling effects were swift and sweeping. Across the state, censorship of LGBTQ lives began in earnest and has continued until today. In Palm Beach County, School Superintendent Mike Burke began by circumventing the district’s material review process to remove multiple books featuring LGBTQ characters, citing concern about the implications of the Don’t Say LGBTQ law. He followed the move in recent weeks by issuing guidance to educators across the district for them to remove books currently being challenged and place them “in a classroom closet” and scour their shelves for other titles that may include LGBTQ characters or mention topics like racism or oppression.

Districts statewide have taken drastic steps in response to the Don’t Say Gay law. Graduation speeches have been scrubbed of references to LGBTQ advocacy. Yearbook pages have had images of Don’t Say LGBTQ walkouts blacked out. Conservative religious activists have successfully initiated challenges to dozens of books in multiple school districts. Rainbow-colored COEXIST banners and Pride flags have been stripped from school walls.

In total, LGBTQ+ equality rights advocacy group Equality Florida has received over 50 complaints of censorship aimed at the LGBTQ community since the bill was signed into law in March.

Most recently, Orange County Public Schools garnered national attention after reports emerged that during seminars designed to discuss the potential implementation of the Don’t Say LGBTQ law, school administrators were advised to begin removing rainbow “safe space” stickers from classroom windows, ask LGBTQ educators to remove family photos from their desks, and avoid talking about their loved ones at work for fear of running afoul of the new law. While exactly what advocates for equality had warned of, the revelation shocked educators across the district, who took to the next board meeting to express their deep concerns and demand written clarification.

All of these chilling effects come as LGBTQ youth, those already at higher risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation than their peers, report their mental health being negatively impacted by anti-LGBTQ policies and the debates that surround them. And they come amidst a surge in online harassment against LGBTQ people nationwide and threats of violence against LGBTQ spaces and Pride celebrations fueled by the dehumanizing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric launched by the DeSantis Administration in defense of the Don’t Say LGBTQ bill.

In March, the governor’s spokeswoman Christina Pushaw took to Twitter to traffic in age-old, anti-LGBTQ tropes to rescue the mired legislation, tropes that have since been parroted by Fox News hosts, right-wing influencers, and have exploded into the digital harassment and threats of violence running rampant across the country.

Equality Florida hosted a virtual press conference with lawmakers and those directly impacted on Friday morning. Those who have been impacted by the Don’t Say LGBTQ law can share their stories at freetosaygay.org.

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Indiana

South Bend Indiana Rainbow Story Hour disrupted by Proud Boys

Seven men — all Proud Boys — entered the library and began arguing with staff and patrons. Several displayed white supremacist symbols

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Proud Boys via Screenshot/Twitter

SOUTH BEND, In. – A Pride Month children’s Rainbow Story Hour event at the St. Joseph County Public Library’s Virginia M. Tutt Branch on Monday was disrupted after the far-right anti-LGBTQ+ group, the Proud Boys, walked in and began loudly arguing with staff and library patrons.

 At one point during the confrontation, one of the group unfurled a flag reading “Michiana Proud Boys,” appearing to identify the men as a local chapter of the white nationalist hate group.

This latest incident follows Proud Boys targeting LGBTQ+ Pride month events- especially Drag Queen Story Hour events- in Sparks Nevada, Wilmington North Carolina, Alameda California, Boise Idaho, many promulgated by highly influential far-right social media stars like Chaya Raichik, the Brooklyn real estate agent behind @LibsOfTikTok who has highlighted these events she calls out as inappropriate and sexualizing children to her more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter.

South Bend’s NPR outlet WVPE reported that the event was a partnership between the library and TREES, a Michiana organization that provides resources for the local transgender community and operates the Tree House Gender Resource center in downtown South Bend.

But before the event was set to start, seven men — all Proud Boys — entered the library and began arguing with staff and patrons. Several displayed white supremacist symbols, according to photos posted on social media.

Police were called — and the group left after about 40 minutes — but they caused so much disruption that the event had to be canceled.

“This definitely came as a shock,” library system communications manager Marissa Gebhard told WVPE. “We were not anticipating any problems.”

The library plans to reschedule the event in a few months, and Gebhard said the system wants everyone to feel safe and welcome at its branches.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as 116th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States”

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Screenshot/YouTube SCOTUS TV via the Associated Press

WASHINGTON – In oaths administered by the Chief Justice John Roberts and outgoing Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the 116th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 51 year-old Justice Jackson made history as the first-ever black woman sworn in as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. She replaces Justice Breyer, whose resignation from the Supreme Court becomes effective at noon Thursday (Eastern) after his nearly 28 years of service on the nation’s high court.

In the simple ceremony held at the Court, Jackson in the constitutional oath, given by Chief Justice Roberts, solemnly swore to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

Justice Breyer gave her the statutory oath, in which Jackson swore to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”

The newly sworn-in Associate Justice was joined by her husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, and their two daughters, Talia and Leila.

The court will hold another formal inaugurating ceremony, called an investiture, in the fall, Roberts said. But Thursday’s ceremony allows her to immediately begin work as the newest member of the nine-seat Supreme Court.

Nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate, in April at a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, addressing the audience of members of Congress, the Biden Cabinet, and White House staff along with family and invited guests, Justice Jackson noted;

“As I take on this new role, I strongly believe that this is a moment in which all Americans can take great pride. We have come a long way towards perfecting our union. In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.” 

As the first Black woman to be nominated to serve on the nation’s highest court which she noted in her remarks:

“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we’ve made it,” she said, to applause from the crowd. “We’ve made it, all of us, all of us. And our children are telling me that they see now, more than ever, that here in America anything is possible.“

Quoting Maya Angelou, an American author, poet and civil rights activist, “I am the hope and the dream of the slave,” Jackson said.

In statement issued by the White House, President Biden traveling back from the NATO conference in Madrid aboard Air Force One said:

“I am honored that the very first judicial nominee I selected as President – the brilliant lawyer who became “Judge Jackson” – has now become “Justice Jackson.” 

Her historic swearing in today represents a profound step forward for our nation, for all the young, Black girls who now see themselves reflected on our highest court, and for all of us as Americans. 

The Supreme Court just gained a colleague with a world-class intellect, the dignified temperament the American people expect of a justice, and the strongest credentials imaginable.  

Justice Jackson is a former public defender who served for almost a decade as a district and circuit judge.  Her nomination was endorsed by top legal experts across the political spectrum, as well as our country’s leading law enforcement organizations.  In her career, she has been confirmed four times by the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support.

She is the daughter of educators and the niece of a police chief—and she too has devoted her life to public service. 

She is also the embodiment of hard work, grace, and perseverance.

Justice Jackson’s wisdom and experience, will make all of us proud for so many years to come.

Like I said after her confirmation, Justice Jackson’s ascension to the highest court in the land makes the sun shine on so many of us in a new way.

Justice Jackson succeeds another extraordinarily brilliant jurist who has also devoted their life to their country, including in the U.S. Army as a teenager and on the Watergate Committee  – Justice Steven Breyer. Justice Breyer’s integrity and his commitment to ensuring our nation’s laws worked for the people have made him beloved by his colleagues and deeply respected across our country. I thank him again for his many years of exemplary service.”    

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