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Top 10 national stories of 2018

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Top 10 national stories, gay news, Washington Blade

Pelosi roars back, courts block military trans ban and more. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

No. 10: Ric Grenell confirmed as ambassador

Ric Grenell, Richard Grenell, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Ambassador to Germandy Richard Grenell (Photo public domain)

After months of Democratic opposition, the U.S. Senate confirmed Richard Grenell this year as U.S. ambassador to Germany, making him the most high-profile openly gay appointee in the Trump administration.

Democrats objected to Grenell — who was confirmed by a largely party line vote of 56-42 — based on comments he made in the past on Twitter about the appearance of women as well as other comments he made downplaying the significance of Russia’s influence in the 2016 election.

After his confirmation, controversy continued following comments he made on Twitter instructing Germany to stop doing business in Iran and an interview with Breitbart London in which he said he backs the populist conservative movement in Europe.

At year’s end, Grenell denounced MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski — who has an antagonistic relationship with President Trump — over comments she made calling Mike Pompeo Trump’s “butt boy.” Brzezinski later apologized.

No. 9: Parkland students find their voice

Emma González, gay news, Washington Blade

Emma González, who identifies as bi, became a central figure in the gun control debate. (Washington Blade photo by Karen Ocamb)

Student Emma Gonzalez became a central figure of the gun control movement this year after the school became the latest site of a mass shooting in the United States.

When a gunman killed 17 people and wounded others at Stoneman Douglas High School, Gonzalez and other survivors joined activism efforts in favor of gun control in Florida and across the country.

During the March for Our Lives rally in Washington D.C., Gonzalez delivered a powerful speech and named the victims of the shooting before holding a moment of silence.

Although Congress didn’t enact significant legislation on gun control, the Florida Legislature approved a bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott that raised the age to buy firearms to 21, established a waiting period and background checks and allowed the arming of some teachers.

No. 8: Anti-trans memo exposed at HHS

An explosive report in the New York Times this year exposing a planned memo within the Department of Health & Human Services that would effectively erase transgender people from federal law ignited a massive outcry among transgender rights supporters.

The initiative asserts Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex discrimination in schools, doesn’t apply to transgender people and calls for government agencies to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of sex “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.”

That would be consistent with other anti-transgender actions within the Trump administration, such as the transgender military ban and reversal of Obama-era guidance requiring schools to allow transgender kids to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity.

The report ignited a firestorm among transgender rights supporters, who took to the streets, demonstrated before the White House and declared #WeWontBeErased on social media.

No. 7: Court rules Title VII bars anti-gay workplace bias

The case law finding sexual orientation discrimination amounts to sex discrimination under federal law continued to increase this year when the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling asserting Title VII of the Civil Rights of Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against gays in the workforce.

The Second Circuit in New York City issued the ruling in the case of Zarda v. Altitude Express. The estate of the now-deceased gay skydiver Donald Zarda filed the lawsuit on the basis of allegations Zarda was terminated from his position for telling a client he was gay.

The Second Circuit is the second federal appeals court to find anti-gay discrimination is illegal under federal law. Last year, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a similar ruling, although the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t reach the same conclusion.

The U.S. Supreme Court may have the final say on the matter. A petition seeking review of the decision is pending before justices, as are petitions in similar cases seeking review over whether Title VII covers anti-gay discrimination and anti-trans discrimination.

No. 6: Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped a major decision this year in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, issuing a narrow decision based on the facts of the lawsuit in favor of a Colorado baker sued for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

In the 7-2 decision written by U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court vacated the decision by the Colorado Court of Appeals against baker Jack Phillips on the basis the state commission handling his case displayed a religious bias against him.

“When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered this case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires,” Kennedy writes.

But the decision kept in place Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act. Although Phillips sought a First Amendment right to refuse services to same-sex couples, Kennedy wrote the right of denial should be restricted to clergy and laws against anti-LGBT discrimination are valid.

No. 5: HRC’s Chad Griffin steps down

Chad Griffin announced plans to step down as HRC president. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After six years as head of the nation’s largest LGBT rights group, Chad Griffin announced this year he’d step down as president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Griffin made the announcement after a successful $26 million #TurnOut campaign that sought to motivate the estimated 10 million Americans who identify as LGBT and 52 million Americans who support pro-LGBT policies to vote in the election. Those voters were credited with contributing to the “blue wave” in the 2018 congressional mid-term election.

During Griffin’s tenure at the Human Rights Campaign, the Supreme Court issued three decisions advancing same-sex marriage, including the 2015 decision advancing marriage equality nationwide. Griffin spearheaded the lawsuit leading to the Supreme Court’s decision against California’s Proposition 8 in 2013.

Other LGBT leaders who stepped down included Kate Kendell at National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gregory Angelo at Log Cabin Republicans, Rachel Tiven at Lambda Legal and Matthew Thorn at OutServe-SLDN.

No. 4: Kavanaugh wins confirmation after brutal fight

Brett Kavanaugh, gay news, Washington Blade

Brett Kavanaugh won a bitter confirmation fight amid concerns from LGBT advocates he would roll back advances. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

When President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to succeed former U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, LGBT rights supporters worried the appointment would lead to a rollback of LGBT rights.

Senate Democrats fought hard against him, decrying the Trump administration for refusing to release records during Kavanaugh’s time at the Bush administration, including when the Bush White House was pushing a Federal Marriage Amendment.

The confirmation process heated up when Christine Blasey Ford testified Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the early 1980s when they were both teenagers. Similar allegations emerged, but Kavanaugh denied he ever sexually assaulted anyone.

Despite the charges, the U.S. Senate narrowly voted to confirm Kavanaugh. It remains to be seen what action he’ll take on LGBT-related cases. Petitions are already pending before the court on Trump’s transgender military ban and the inclusion of LGBT people under civil rights laws.

No. 3: ‘Rainbow Wave’ sweeps country on Election Day

Kyrsten Sinema won election in Arizona, making her the first bisexual person elected to the U.S. Senate. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBT candidates running in the 2018 congressional mid-term elections this year broke pink ceilings and made a “blue” wave turn “rainbow.”

After Democrats nominated gubernatorial candidates representing all four letters of the LGBT acronym, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) was elected governor of Colorado, making him the first openly gay person elected governor in the United States.

Transgender candidate Christine Hallquist ran a historic campaign to become governor of Vermont, but came up short on Election Day. Three other transgender candidates — two in New Hampshire and one in Colorado — won election to state legislatures.

In another transgender victory, Massachusetts voters rejected at the ballot an attempt to undo non-discrimination protections for transgender people, defying a campaign stoking fears about sexual predators in the bathrooms.

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) fended off a Republican challenger and Kyrsten Sinema won election in Arizona, making her the first bisexual person elected to the U.S. Senate.

Four non-incumbent openly LGB candidates running for U.S. House seats — Sharice Davids, Chris Pappas, Katie Hill and Angie Craig — also won, resulting in an expected net gain of two openly LGB lawmakers in the next Congress.

No. 2: Trans military ban lands in courts

Litigation against President Trump’s transgender military ban continued to proceed through the courts this year.

The Trump administration made renewed requests calling on the courts to lift injunctions against the policy — announced by Trump last year on Twitter — in the wake of a report from Defense Secretary James Mattis affirming the ban.

None of the trial courts that issued injunctions against the ban would lift those orders, although two federal appeals courts are currently reviewing whether to take that action.

The Justice Department has filed requests calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the litigation at this time and to issue a stay order allowing the ban to go into effect. It would be unusual for the Supreme Court to take up the case at this stage.

No. 1: Democrats win House

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi is poised to retake the Speaker’s gavel when Congress returns in January.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After two years of President Trump and anti-LGBT policies from his administration, voters across the United States this year elected a Democratic majority in the U.S. House during the congressional mid-terms.

In a “blue wave” election year, Democrats picked up 40 seats in the U.S. House, although Republicans ended up with net gain of two seats in the U.S. Senate. Democrats won a majority in the House for the first time since 2008.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said the Equality Act, comprehensive federal legislation against anti-LGBT discrimination, would be a personal priority in the next Congress.

LGBT rights advocates are expecting movement on the Equality Act as well as oversight over the Trump administration’s anti-LGBT policies, which include the transgender military ban, “religious freedom” actions seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination and the exclusion of LGBT people from the enforcement of federal civil rights laws.

Honorable mention: No Pride proclamation from Trump. For the second year, President Trump declined to recognize June as Pride month, as the Pentagon celebrated Pride while pushing a ban on trans service members.

midterm elections, gay news, Washington Blade

President Donald Trump (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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Congress

Out U.S. Rep. introduces bill to create U.S. LGBTQ history museum

“It is vital to remember our collective past when certain states seek to constrain & repeal existing rights by passing laws that harm LGBTQ+”

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Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) has introduced legislation that would set up the process to create a National Museum of American LGBTQ+ History & Culture, potentially as an official site within the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Pocan, one of nine openly gay members of the U.S. House and co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, said in a statement Thursday the measures would are effort to preserve LGBTQ history “as our community faces unprecedented attacks and attempts to erase our history.” The pair of bills is H.R.9070 and H.R.9071.

“It is vital to remember our collective past – particularly when certain states seek to constrain and repeal existing rights by passing bills that harm LGBTQ+ youth and our community at large,” Pocan said. “Let’s tell these stories, and honor the many contributions the LGBTQ+ community has made to this nation with a museum in Washington, D.C.”

The first bill, according to a news statement, would creates an eight-member commission of individuals with expertise in museum planning or LGBTQ+ research and culture “to look into the viability of establishing such a facility in the nation’s Capital.”

Among other things, the commission would be charged with recommending a plan on action for museum, including fundraising for the museum, and submitting to Congress a plan for construction of the museum, the statement says.

The bill would also instruct the commission to address whether the museum should be part of the Smithsonian Institution, based in the nation’s capital and the world’s largest museum and research complex, per the news statement. The full study, the statement says, would have to be completed in 18 months.

If the Smithsonian were to adopt the a museum on LGBTQ history and culture, it would be similar to other museums under its jurisdiction focused on minority populations in the United States, including the National Museum of African American History & Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian.

The second bill, according to a news statement, would be eligible for consideration by Congress after the commission completes its work and issues its recommendations and allow for formal creation of the museum. More than 50 lawmakers, including all nine openly gay members of the U.S. House, co-sponsor the legislation.

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Utah

New survey shows 72% of Utah residents back same-sex marriage

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah said he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality

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Mayor of Salt Lake, Erin Mendenhall, raises Pride Flag, June 1 2021 (Photo/Twitter)

SALT LAKE CITY – The results of a poll run by the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Desert News found 72% of Utah’s residents agree that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by law as valid, with the same rights as cis-gender marriages.

“For a state that less than 20 years ago passed laws and a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, there has been a seismic shift in opinion,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey also found that 23% of those surveyed disagreed, while 5% expressed that they don’t know.

The poll shows Utahns are aligned with the nation as a whole on the issue. A Gallup poll in May found 71% of Americans say they support legal same-sex marriage, a new high.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, told the Desert News that he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality.

“Utah is a pro-family state, and we recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes. When we see loving, committed couples joining in matrimony, our natural impulse is to support and encourage that love. This gives me great hope for the future,” he said.

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Mississippi

Art spotlights people of color lost to AIDS in the South

The conference was attended by LGBTQ activists from the South, featured 100 quilt panels. Attendees participated in quilt-making workshops

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The National AIDS Memorial and Southern AIDS Coalition have announced a new initiative to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS among communities of color in the South. (Photo courtesy of the National AIDS Memorial)

JACKSON – The National AIDS Memorial has joined forces with the Southern AIDS Coalition to stage a series of art exhibitions and educational forums to honor Black and Brown people in the South who have been lost to HIV/AIDS.

The initiative, titled Change the Pattern, began in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday with curated quilt exhibitions, displays, educational forums, advocacy, storytelling and quilt-making, according to a press release from the National AIDS Memorial. A $2.4 million grant from the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Inc., funded Change the Pattern.

More than 500 hand-stitched quilt panels from the area were featured in what the National AIDS Memorial says is “the largest display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt ever” in Mississippi.

“By creating an empowering message and safe spaces for conversation, we can uplift, inspire and make progress toward ending the HIV epidemic, challenge cultural stigmas and continue the legacy of advocacy that the quilt represents,” said National AIDS Memorial CEO John Cunningham in the release. 

Change the Pattern was announced in honor of Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day during the Southern AIDS Coalition’s annual Saving Ourselves Symposium that took place in August. 

The conference, which was heavily attended by LGBTQ activists from the South, featured 100 quilt panels, and attendees participated in quilt-making workshops to make new quilt panels representing their loved ones.

Interested LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the South were invited to apply for funding to support local quilt-making workshops in their communities so as to ensure that the legacies of Black and Brown people are captured through newly-sewn panels on the quilt through the Memorial’s Call My Name program, according to the National AIDS Memorial press release. 

The application process opened on Sept. 15 with up to 35 eligible organizations receiving as much as $5,000 to support hosting local workshops. 

The first major Change the Pattern Quilt was founded 35 years ago as a visual representation of the need to end stigma and provide equitable resources to communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS, according to Southern AIDS Coalition Executive Director Dafina Ward.

“Change the Pattern is a call to action and change in the South,” said Ward. “Quilt-making has such a deep cultural connection in the Black community and in the South. The sharing and telling of these powerful stories through the quilt, coupled with advocacy and open dialogue, can help end HIV-related stigma and bring the stories of those we’ve lost to light.”

As the Change the Pattern initiative occurs, conversations about how to handle health epidemics within LGBTQ communities of color have become national topics, especially with the prevalence of monkeypox cases amongst Black gay men.

Despite earlier panic about the disease, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a report released on Wednesday said that individuals who were vaccinated against the disease were less likely to be affected over the summer compared to those who weren’t. 

The effectiveness and duration of immunity after a single dose, however, is not known, and few individuals in the current outbreak have completed the recommended two-dose series, according to the report. 

The most recent CDC data reports that 25,509 monkeypox cases have thus far been confirmed in the U.S. Only one death has been reported.

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