2016 has been a year of progress for the LGBT community, but unfortunately the entire year is best characterized as the year of backlash. Whether it is the election of the Trump/Pence ticket, that attack on the trans community with respect to bathroom access or the deadly massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, 2016 put to rest the idea that national marriage equality ended the LGBT struggle. Just like the African American civil rights struggle persists more than 50 years after the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the LGBT struggle will continue to persist as the forces against us double down on discrimination.
Here are the highlights and lowlights of 2016:
Pulse Nightclub Shooting
Orlando LGBT nightclub, Pulse, was the scene of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Forty-nine people were killed and 53 injured in the shooting perpetrated by Omar Mateen, an American-born radicalized Muslim. There were unsubstantiated rumors that Mateen may have engaged in sex with men. Equality Florida and OneOrlando raised over $30 million for the survivors and victims’ families.
Trans visibility has been at its highest in 2016 but the number of trans people killed in the United States has also reached an historic high; at least 24 reported murders. Since 2010, 75 percent of those murdered have been trans people of color.
The Senate confirmed Eric Fanning, 47, to be secretary of the Army, making him the first openly gay secretary of a U.S. military branch.
Which bathroom trans people should use was a hot topic the entire year. When President-elect Donald Trump was asked if Caitlyn Jenner could use any bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower, Trump responded “that is correct.” Unfortunately, many right-wing Republicans disagree with the president-elect.
North Carolina passed a so-called bathroom law which many believe led to the defeat of North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory last November. The election was considered a referendum on the bathroom law.
The fight continues as several other states consider laws denying people in the trans community access to bathrooms that reflect their gender identity. Of course, California passed legislation signed by Gov. Brown that provided for gender neutral bathrooms.
The Supreme Court has taken a case that will put the issue to rest next June. The concern is whether Trump will appoint a right-wing Supreme Court Justice prior to the ruling which might tilt the court against the trans plaintiff.
In June, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the Pentagon was lifting the ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. military. “Although relatively few in number, we’re talking about talented and trained Americans who are serving their country with honor and distinction,” Carter said. “We want to take the opportunity to retain people whose talent we’ve invested in and who’ve proven themselves.”
Pope Francis after a continuing softening toward LGB people called transgender people an “annihilation of man.” Pope Francis said, “Today, in schools they are teaching this to children – to children! – that everyone can choose their gender.” Here we go again; hey Pope Francis being trans is not a choice.
Continuing to cement his legacy as a historic president for LGBT people, President Obama named Raffi Freedman-Gurspan the new White House LGBT liaison, making her the first transgender person in the role since it was created 21 years ago.
In August, a record number 64 openly LGB athletes competed in the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Of the 64 athletes, 10 won gold medals, 11 won silver and 4 won bronze.
A Daily Beast reporter, Nico Hines, created controversy when he went undercover to discover who was hooking up on Grindr at the Olympic Village. His article entitled “The Other Olympic Sport In Rio: Swiping,” created a scandal because many countries participating in the Olympics have laws against homosexuality, some with the penalty being death. Hines’ article could have outed gay athletes and so he was subsequently recalled from the Olympics by the Daily beast which issued an apology to the LGBT community.
President Obama declared 7.7 acres including the bar, The Stonewall Inn, and Christopher Park, as well as several other streets in New York City as the first LGBT national monument. The move officially commemorated the Stonewall Riots and their importance in American and LGBT history. “I believe our national parks should reflect the full story of our country – the richness and diversity and uniquely American spirit that has always defined us, that we are stronger together. That out of many, we are one,” Obama said.
Kate Brown became the highest-ranking LGBT person elected to office in the United States as she became governor of Oregon. Brown is married with a husband but identifies as bisexual.
The Human rights Campaign in its continued pursuit of bi-partisanship endorsed Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk for re-election. To the surprise of many HRC supporters, Veteran and Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth was left out in the cold despite a 100 percent rating on the HRC Congressional Scorecard, while Kirk had a rating of 78 percent.
HRC rescinded the endorsement in the heat of a controversy fueled by Kirk making a racist statement during a debate. Duckworth was the winner Nov. 8, HRC and Kirk the losers.
The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus (SDGMC) didn’t get a chance to sing the national anthem at the annual Out at the Park event at Petco Park. A recording of a female singer in their place was played once the chorus’ microphones were shut off. Worse, the chorus was then subjected to homophobic slurs as they left the podium. The Padres release a public apology via Twitter.
LGBT-affiliated non-profits had a scandalous year. San Diego Pride, The LGBT Center, as well as the Human Dignity Foundation were all plagued with a major scandal.
San Diego Pride unceremoniously dismissed its Executive Director Stephen Whitburn resulting in unprecedented backlash from the community. Then a group from the community established Save S.D. Pride, which cast 122 no-confidence votes at a San Diego Pride Board meeting to indicate their displeasure with Whitburn’s ouster and the Pride Board in general. There is currently a question about who will be putting on Pride in 2017 since the appropriate documentation was not filed with the city by San Diego Pride.
Next, there was the financial scandal at the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation. John Brown resigned as executive director of the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation amid allegations of gross financial mismanagement. Roderick Reinhart replaced Brown as interim executive director. Investigations into the foundation’s finances are ongoing.
Finally, The Center had its own scandal concerning an iconic trans community member. San Diego Police Officer Christine Garcia, the first openly transgender police officer in the San Diego Police Department, was barred from the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance at The Center because she was in uniform. Center executive director, Dr. Delores Jacobs issued a statement that included the following, “Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding of our policy of inclusion the night of the Transgender Day of Remembrance event. This has been discussed with all staff members and the above policy re-clarified for all. We sincerely regret our miscommunication and error; direct apologies for our miscommunications were made to Officer Garcia and Chief Zimmerman. We do not wish to ever make any community member feel unwelcome at The Center – these officers are valued members of our community.”
It is time for the community to have board members that are accountable and have the skills required to manage the increasing complexity of our ever-larger LGBT affiliated organizations.
Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, announced in August that a new fleet replenishment oiler will be named USNS Harvey Milk after the civil and human rights leader who became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States. Mabus said, “Naming this ship after Harvey Milk is a fitting tribute to a man who had been at the forefront of advocating for civil and human rights.”
The Pentagon has reputedly decided to end domestic partner benefits for civilian employees effective Jan. 1, 2017, thereby forcing couples to choose between benefits and non-traditional relationships. When implemented, the Pentagon policy will be undoubtedly be adopted by Fortune 500 organizations as well. You can only be Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell if you can afford to pay for your own health care. For many that means they’re going to the chapel.
Meanwhile, Walmart settled a lawsuit that accused the company of not providing benefits to same-sex spouses. Walmart’s action may establish a precedent that firmly establishes a legal argument that these types of activities against the LGBT community may be considered sex discrimination.
The Movement Advancement Project (MAP), an LGBT think tank, in partnership with 10 U.S. advocacy organizations, released a major new report on the disparities faced by the bisexual community.
The report detailed inequities facing bisexuals which include a lack of support from family members and friends, harassment, disproportionately high rates of workplace discrimination, chronic homelessness, difficulty seeking asylum or navigating the immigration process, lifelong mental health and physical issues including relationship problems and isolation, a high level of risky behavior leading to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as an extreme level of physical violence perpetrated by intimate partners.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Equality Utah sued the state’s education office in federal court challenging Utah’s curriculum laws that bar teachers and students from positive discussions about homosexuality in public schools. The lawsuit is the first of its kind in any state.
“It could set the precedent for the striking down these laws nationally,” said Chris Stoll, attorney for the San Francisco-based NCLR.
Will Walters’ civil rights lawsuit against the San Diego Police Department finally got underway. Walters alleged officers violated his 14th Amendment right to equal enforcement of the law at San Diego Pride 2011 because he was arrested for a public nudity violation and resisting accepting a ticket for said violation. While Walters’ had worn the exact same outfit to prides previously, he was cited in 2011. Walters’ claim is that the nudity ordinance is selectively enforced and women at many events throughout San Diego are allowed to wear thongs, exposing considerably more than he did, without incident. The jury subsequently rejected Walters’ claim.
Will Vice President Pence drive a national Religious Freedom Restoration Act? While Gov. Pence’s efforts were met with swift repudiation in his home state of Indiana will he be emboldened by his role as vice president?