Texas Republicans introduced several bills this week that target the transgender community, including at least two measures seeking to criminalize gender-affirming care for minors and one looking to prevent children from attending drag performances.
Although the Legislature doesn’t officially begin its next session until mid-January, Monday was legislators’ first chance to file their bills for the coming term, potentially foreshadowing the state’s political priorities for the coming year. GOP legislators are barreling ahead with an updated party platform, officially unveiled over the summer, that defines homosexuality as an “abnormal lifestyle choice” and is opposed to“all efforts to validate transgender identity.”
At least two bills introduced this week would designate gender-affirming care for minors as child abuse under state law, and another would revoke liability insurance for providers who offer it.
Gender-affirming care for some minors experiencing gender dysphoria, a medical condition that involves a conflict between people’s sex assigned at birth and their gender identities, is considered medically necessary by a number of major accredited organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association. For minors, such care typically includes puberty blockers, which are recommended to trans youths before the onset of puberty, or hormone therapy for teenagers. Adolescents under age 18 in the U.S. are unable to get gender-affirming surgery in most cases, according to the Endocrine Society.
State Attorney General Ken Paxton tried this year to classify transition-related care for minors as child abuse under state law. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott subsequently called on people to report parents of transgender minors to the state if they suspect the minors are receiving gender-affirming care. Several of those investigations, however, have been tied up in court.
The bill defines a drag performer as anyone who “exhibits a gender identity that is different than the performer’s gender assigned at birth “by using “clothing, makeup, or other physical markers” and “sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs” in front of an audience.
The current definition of “sexually oriented businesses” includes any venue where two or more people perform nude and alcohol is served. Those businesses are bound by special limitations, including a misdemeanor charge on par with vehicle burglary for the business owner if anyone under age 18 is let in. Patrons must be charged entrance fees of at least $5 at such venues, according to Texas statutes, and sex offenders are barred from owning or operating such businesses.
Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic and a former staff attorney at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the wording of the bill “defines drag as essentially any trans person performing at all.”
“A trans actor in a musical singing would suddenly make it ‘drag’ and thus result in the play venue being labeled a ‘sexually oriented business,’” Caraballo tweeted Tuesday.
She added, “This is one of the most radical bills I have ever seen that seeks to completely eliminate trans people out of public life.”
The first official day of the Texas legislative session is Jan. 23. Republicans control both the House and the Senate.
After a successful effort earlier this year to ease longstanding restrictions on service members living with HIV, LGBTQ rights advocates are now pushing for more change. They want to end the U.S. military’s decades-old policy of barring people with HIV from enlisting.
LGBTQ advocacy group Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuitThursday on behalf of three individuals living with HIV: Isaiah Wilkins, a gay police officer in Georgia; a transgender lesbian woman who left the military in 2013 to transition and a straight woman who had dreams of becoming a parachute rigger. (The women are identified in the lawsuit with pseudonyms because they fear further discrimination, according to Lambda Legal.) Minority Veterans of America, a minority-serving organization for current and former service members, is also named as a plaintiff in the suit, which lists Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth as defendants.
The lawsuit describes the ban on HIV-positive recruits as “incompatible” with modern medical advancements. The policy, the suit notes, has been in place since 1991 — years before the development of groundbreaking medical innovations that eventually transformedHIV from a death sentence into a mostly nontransmittable, manageable condition, with early detection and the right treatment.
Because of medical breakthroughs over the past decades, a 25-year-old living with HIV who is diagnosed early and receives appropriate treatment has approximately the same life expectancy as a 25-year-old living without HIV, the lawsuit says. A study published in 2014 in the Journal of the International AIDS Society found HIV patients who are successfully treated with antiretroviral therapy have normal life expectancies.
Thursday’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, follows Lambda Legal’s landmark victory in April, decided by the same court, that requires the Pentagon to now allow HIV-positive service members to be promoted and to deploy overseas.
Before the court ruling, U.S. military policy was to place restrictions on service members if they were diagnosed with HIV after they had successfully enlisted. In a memo to military leadership in early June, Austin eased the restrictions on those currently serving, but he didn’t address the policy that banned HIV-positive recruits.
Kara Ingelhart, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal representing the plaintiffs, called the April ruling “incredibly clear.”
“There should be no barrier for folks like Isaiah who want to serve,” she said, referring to the Georgia police officer.
Discriminating against people based on their HIV status has been illegal in the U.S. for every employer other than the U.S. military since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
“I think that there’s still just a ton of stigma around HIV,” Ingelhart said. “The military could really set an example for equity and inclusion.”
Wilkins, 23, served in the Georgia National Guard for more than two years. He tested positive for HIV while trying to join the Army Reserves as part of the application process for the United States Military Academy at West Point and was discharged from the Army Reserves in 2019. He called the discharge traumatic, and he said his long-held goal of becoming an Army pilot was “cut off” solely because of his HIV status.
The policy “really does discriminate against people who not only have the ability but the desire to serve,” he said.
NBC News reported in June that every branch of the U.S. military has experienced major challenges in meeting its recruitment quotas this year, as a record low number of Americans are eligible to serve because of increasing health- and crime-related disqualifications — and an even smaller number of them want to.
A Defense Department spokesperson declined to comment on the ongoing litigation. The United States Army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Access to physical and mental health care, free or discounted meal deliveries, caregivers and other forms of support are now easier for LGBTQ seniors in New York state to get.
Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law this week making New York the latest state to expand the accessibility of services to LGBTQ people ages 60 and over, who are disproportionately affected by poverty and isolation.
The legislation requires the state’s Office for the Aging to consider gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and HIV status when it calculates which seniors need the most help. It now considers other noneconomic factors including disability, language barriers and isolation caused by race or ethnicity, too.
“This legislation is an important step in addressing those inequities while helping ensure LGBTQ older New Yorkers receive the same respect and support as anyone else in the state,” Hochul, a Democrat, said in a statement Monday.
The measure clarifies the state’s interpretation of a statute in the Older Americans Act of 1965, a law signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as a counterpart to the Social Security Amendments and the Medicare and Medicaid Act. The 1965 law provides funding and community-based services, such as the popular Meals on Wheels program, intended to help older Americans with the “greatest social need” live at home and in their communities “with dignity and independence for as long as possible,” according to USAging, a nonprofit group that supports agencies for the aging.
The premise of the law is to let people “age in place” in their own communities, said Aaron Tax, the managing director of government affairs and policy advocacy at SAGE, the country’s largest organization supporting LGBTQ seniors and their caregivers. However, he added, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer older people — who are often in greater need of social services than their straight and cisgender counterparts — can be averse to seeking out the help the law provides because of stigma and their historical exclusion from government programs.
“In a nutshell, what we hope this legislation will accomplish is to help bridge that divide,” Tax said.
A national AARP survey published in June of more than 2,000 LGBTQ people ages 45 and older found that nearly half of the participants were either extremely or very concerned about having enough family and social support systems to lean on, and 85% of respondents said they were at least somewhat concerned about having enough income to retire. Many participants (52%) also reported feelings of social isolation.
LGBTQ adults over 80 are also at higher risk for developing chronic diseases, and they have increased disability rates compared with straight and cisgender adults in the same age group, according to a 2019 study published in The International Journal of Aging and Human Development. LGBTQ elders living with HIV can also suffer from comorbidities that require an even greater level of access to health care than they already have.
In recent years, LGBTQ senior housing projects have cropped up around the country in part to combat homelessness and provide access to more culturally competent care. A national surveypublished in May 2020 by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law painted a bleak picture when it comes to LGBTQ adults experiencing homelessness: When compared with non-LGBTQ adults, lesbian, gay and bisexual adults are three times more likely to report being homeless, while transgender adults are eight times more likely, the survey found.
To address the disparities,Massachusetts, California and a number of other states have enacted laws in recent years expanding their interpretations of those with the “greatest social need” to include LGBTQ seniors and elders living with HIV.
Tax said SAGE, which runs LGBTQ senior centers in New York City, has long been fighting for the change in New York. Now that it has passed, aging networks will be held more accountable to serve this particularly disadvantaged group, he said.
“We need to recognize that people have differences, and people come to the table with different needs,” he said.
A Virginia school district adopted a policy this week potentially requiring transgender students to submit a significant amount of evidence, including “disciplinary” or “criminal” records, to school administrators in order to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity.
The Hanover County School Board approved the new policy in a 5-2 vote on Tuesday, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. In order for transgender students to use restrooms, locker rooms or changing facilities that align with their gender identity — as opposed to those that match their sex assigned at birth — they must submit a number of documents to the principal of their school.
Trans students are now required to produce a statement specifying their gender identity and expression and have their parent or guardian submit a letter as well. They may also be asked to submit a signed letter from a physician, therapist or counselor verifying that they’ve been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, as well as additional information “related to the privacy and safety of other students.”
After reviewing the documents, the school principal will write a summary of the request that will go before the school board for final approval, the policy states. The board has the final authority over whether to approve or deny the request.
Prior to adopting the policy, one board member, Bob Hundley, attempted to drop the portion about requiring disciplinary or criminal records, referring to the stipulation as a “criminal background check,” according to the Times-Dispatch. That attempt failed.
In an interview with the Times-Dispatch after the meeting, Hanover County School Board Chairman John Axselle III said part of the purpose of the new policy is to ensure that students who wish to use facilities that align with their gender identity don’t have “ulterior intent.”
In an email to NBC News, Axselle declined to comment on the policy beyond what was discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.
A coalition of LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the state decried the policy and called the new requirements an “undue burden” that will force transgender students in the district — which oversees about 17,000 students — to “earn” the right to use public school facilities.
“By adopting the restroom and locker room policy, HCSB has shown it continues to fail the students of Hanover County,” said Narissa S. Rahaman, the executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality Virginia, in a press release, adding the policy will “further stigmatize transgender and non-binary students who are already at risk of bullying and discrimination.”
According to Equality Virginia, the school board approved the policy despite what the organization characterized as “overwhelming opposition,” including nearly 40 public comments objecting to the measure.
Last week, the Hanover NAACP called on Axselle to resign. He told the Times-Dispatch he has no intention of stepping down.
This is not the first time the Hanover County School District has been in the spotlight over its policies — or lack thereof — regarding transgender students.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a lawsuit against the district’s school board in December, alleging that it failed to comply with a statewide law passed in March 2020 requiring districts to enact multiple protections for transgender students by the start of the 2021 school year, including access to bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
The suit, which was filed on behalf of five families with transgender children in the district, is still pending in Hanover County Circuit Court.
The public library in a small Iowa farming town has been embroiled in a monthslong controversy spurred by anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, attempts to censor books with progressive and LGBTQ themes and the alleged harassment of LGBTQ staff members.
The situation reached a tipping point last month when the library — a place referred to by some as the “heart of the community” — was forced to close for more than a week after its interim director resigned, saying he felt ostracized for being gay.
It’s indicative of an undercurrent of homophobia that exists in the town among a small portion of its 5,000 residents, according to more than a dozen current and former Vinton residents. Although not representative of the entire community, the controversy has divided it in recent months, racking up national headlines and leaving some LGBTQ residents feeling unsafe and unwelcome.
With efforts to censor LGBTQ books in many communities across the U.S., along with increased threats targeting Drag Queen Story Hour events, the situation in Vinton appears to be a microcosm of a nationwide trend. It also marks the arrival of a new battleground in the culture wars: public libraries.
“This in particular has really put a dark cloud over the community,” said Dan Engledow, a 42-year-old gay man who has lived in Vinton all his life. “There’s a small group of people who have caused lots of problems.”
Vinton now finds itself facing not only a dearth of library services, which many residents depend on, but also larger questions about how welcoming the community is toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
“Like any small, Midwestern community, it’s really not that open to a lot of the LGBTQ community,” said Molly Jennings, a former editor at The Vinton Eagle and Cedar Valley Times. “It’s the first time that I recall that it has been this blatant.”
‘Not what this town is about’
The library’s simmering culture clash dates back to late 2020, a few months after Janette McMahon, a woman with decades of experience as a library administrator, took over as director from Virginia Holsten, who retired after more than 30 years at the library, McMahon said.
“Change gets really hard when things have stayed the same a long time,” McMahon said.
In January 2021, she hired Colton Neely, who is gay, as the new children’s librarian. She called him “utterly fantastic” but said that after hiring him, the environment some patrons were creating at the library started to become less “comfortable.”
Within a few months after Neely was hired, McMahon said, a patron whom she did not name — though others familiar with the matter, including Neely, have identified this person as the pastor’s wife — checked out several children’s books and refused to return them for a prolonged period of time. One of them was written by first lady Jill Biden and another was by Vice President Kamala Harris (Harris visited the library in 2019 to read hers). “Sometimes People March,” a book about activism that was checked out, referenced the Black Lives Matter movement and the Pride flag.
Eventually, the books came back, but McMahon said some patrons had already started accusing her of having a liberal agenda.
“Gossip runs rampant in lots of places, but in small towns it tends to go very fast,” she said.
In April 2021, the pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Vinton sent an email to a board member who has since resigned expressing concern that the library was biased toward “certain political positions and a certain political party,” according to a copy of the email shared with NBC News. The pastor, Stephen Preus, took issue with the same books and asked why the library had not chosen to instead display a biography of former President Donald Trump and a book by former Vice President Mike Pence. What Preus found even more concerning, according to his email, was what he called the library’s promotion of leftist ideologies, including “the LGBT agenda,” “transgenderism” and “Black Lives Matter Inc.”
Preus did not respond to a request for comment.
Eventually, McMahon said, the growing fervor in the town made her decide she couldn’t effectively run the library. She resigned in July 2021, after serving just over a year, and moved about an hour and a half away. She now leads a public library in Dewitt, Iowa.
With McMahon gone, Neely stepped into her shoes until the library’s board of trustees could hire a more permanent replacement. For months, Neely said, he operated the library from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. essentially by himself. All the while, he alleged, he dealt with both subtle and blatant homophobia from a handful of patrons.
One day, when he was wearing a bow tie, a patron told him to “dress down,” he recalled. “She said, ‘That’s not what this library is about; that’s not what this town is about.’”
Neely also alleged that longtime Vinton resident Brooke Kruckenberg made comments that Neely perceived as homophobic in front of him and her children while at the library. McMahon corroborated that she had heard Kruckenberg and other patrons refer to Neely as “the gay man” in what she perceived as a negative way and that Neely had been the target of what she characterized as microaggressions from Kruckenberg.
And while he was interim director, Neely said, the secretary and treasurer of the library board, Jennifer Kreutner, suggested the library obscure certain titles — including those covering LGBTQ topics — with book sleeves. Kreutner had previously objected to a summer reading challenge that had encouraged patrons to read books by people of color and LGBTQ authors, according to Neely, McMahon and another person familiar with the matter.
Kreutner’s suggestion to cover certain books with sleeves or move them elsewhere in the library was the topic of a heated library board meeting Tuesday night. During the meeting, another board member accused Kreutner of censorship, and several board members argued with Kreutner about some of her behaviors while on the board, according to an audio recording of the meeting shared with NBC News.
“I don’t think it’s a conflict of interest to represent people in the community that come forward with their views and concerns,” Kreutner said at the meeting. She then apologized after a board member accused her of only representing a conservative Christian viewpoint, though she added, “I represent the entire rural community, but most of them are conservative Christians.”
Neither Kruckenberg nor Kreutner responded to NBC News’ requests for comment.
Jimmy Kelly, chair of the library’s board of trustees, said the board was not officially made aware of any discrimination of Neely or other staff at the time of the alleged incidents. He also said in an interview before Tuesday’s board meeting that he had no prior knowledge of Kreutner’s alleged suggestion to obscure certain titles with book covers.
‘Something wasn’t right’
In November, the library board hired a new director. Renee Greenlee, a librarian with years of experience and a master’s degree in library and information science, was someone Neely thought “could fight this crowd back.”
“From the moment I shook her hand, I was like, ‘She’s the one to be in this position,’” Neely said.
Greenlee had worked for about three years as a library assistant at a publiclibrary in Marion, Iowa, where she helped facilitate Marion’s first LGBTQ Pride event, including a drag queen storytime event and a parade around the library. In January, shortly after taking the job in Vinton, she was selected from more than 1,300 librarians around the country by the American Library Association for the I Love My Librarian Award.
Neely said circumstances started to improve at the library after Greenlee took over, and he moved back into the children’s librarian position. Still, he struggled at times to attract families to his storytime events. He said he believes this was partly because parents seemed to disapprove of the fact that he is gay.
“Deep down, I felt like something wasn’t right,” he said.
At a library board meeting March 9, a motion was put on the agenda to establish gender-neutral bathrooms in the building. It passed unanimously, but at the meeting, Kruckenberg joined the chorus of residents claiming the library staff had a “liberal agenda.”
“I don’t believe the library is representing our town well with hiring a majority of staff who are openly a part of the LGBTQ community,” she wrote in a statement, which she then read at the meeting, according to attendees and meeting minutes. Neely and Joey Anderson, who were two of the library’s six employees at the time, are openly LGBTQ, Neely said.
Kruckenberg said she took issue with a “subtle, yet noticeable, display of the LGBTQ agenda,” taking form in the “choices of books on display, the cross-dressing of employees, Facebook posts and the question of non-gender bathrooms being considered.”
Greenlee left that March meeting “white as a ghost,” Neely said.
Anderson, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said in an email to NBC News that Greenlee pulled them into her office the day after the meeting to tell them what had happened. They called the experience “devastating.”
“It contributed to some pretty terrible dysphoria over the next several months,” they said.
According to meeting minutes, a prepared statement shared with NBC News and local news reports, Kruckenberg alleged at the March meeting that she had spoken to library members and parents in the community who had decided to step back from supporting the library, or stop coming completely, because of “staffing decisions” and the “liberal books that are on the shelves.” She said she wasn’t asking for any books to be banned or removed from the library, but instead for the books to be “balanced.”
“For every book on display with a topic of becoming a transgender,” Kruckenberg’s prepared statement said, “I would ask that there is a book on display that discusses how God created and designed people as either male or female from birth, for life.”
Kreutner, who takes the meeting minutes, recorded the March meeting, but she declined to produce the audio file for Greenlee and the city administrator when they asked her for it, board members said during Tuesday’s meeting. The board then spent $300 retaining a lawyer, who sent a letter to Kreutner telling her she was legally obligated to produce the file under public records laws, a copy of the letter shows.Kelly, the board chair, confirmed Kreutner eventually turned over the audio file.
After the March board meeting, Greenlee compiled a seven-page response to Kruckenberg’s allegations that included a diversity audit of the children’s book collection. At an April 13 library board meeting, she presented her findings, which showed that of the nearly 5,800 children’s books and other materials in the library, only seven books had subject headings with the terms “LGBT,” “gay” or “transgender.” There were 31 books with Christian-related subject headings.
Greenlee also condemned Kruckenberg’s comments from the March meeting, video of the April meeting shows, saying they were “discriminatory” and “hurtful” and that she had instructed her staff to let her know if they felt unsafe, threatened or harassed.
“I very much wish that every community member could be happy with all aspects of the library, but I have been in libraries long enough to know that is not realistic,” she wrote in a public statement, which she read in full at the meeting.
Neely was sitting behind Kruckenberg and her family — whom several residents described as a powerful force in town. When Greenlee finished speaking, Neely said many of them started shaking their heads.
“They were just clearly not taking it,” he said.
By May 23, Greenlee called her staff into her office, according to Anderson, and tearfully told them she had put in her resignation letter and accepted a position at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. She said she would leave in early June.
“We’d be without a director, yet again, and still under attack by community members, leaders, and board members,” Anderson said in an email to NBC News.
Greenlee declined to comment on the record for this story.
The library board accepted Greenlee’s resignation and reappointed Neely as interim director at a June 8 board meeting. The meeting drew about 100 people, a crowd so big it had to be moved to City Hall, according to Neely and Kelly, the board chair, both of whom attended the meeting.
Molly Rach, a library assistant for the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who’s lived in Vinton with her husband for eight years, was one of many residents who spoke at the meeting to express disappointment in the situation, saying the community had “run out two highly qualified, highly credentialed library directors.”
“This library is indeed going to suffer, but not because of diverse books or staff members who identify as LGBTQIA+,” she said at the meeting, “but because you are going to have a hard time finding anyone who is willing to put up with being targeted by community members for simply doing their job.”
‘I’ve had it’
It was just a matter of weeks before Neely left, too.
“You could tell half the crowd was just like, ‘Ugh, you’re disgusting,’” he said of the June 8 meeting. “That was the board meeting where I was just like, ‘I’ve had it.’”
He penned a resignation letter to the library board on June 27, writing that despite his hard-earned qualifications, he felt reduced to just “the gay man of the library.”
“It hurts and I am disappointed,” he wrote.
Neely’s departure coincided with that of another staffer.The sudden exitsforced the library to close for more than a week at the beginning of July, leaving residents who relied on the library, like Kelsey Ann Wiederin, a stay-at-home mom of three, in the lurch.
“They just closed their doors, and that was it,” she said.
Wiederin moved to Vinton from the nearby community of La Porte City about a year ago. She said Neely had a knack for interacting with her oldest child, who has a disability. Finding out he resigned earlier this summer was “heartbreaking,” she said.
The other staffer who left around the time of Neely’s departure was Connie Bennett, who confirmed to NBC News she was put on administrative leave. In an email to NBC News, Anderson accused Bennett of previously making what they perceived to be subtle transphobic remarks. During Tuesday’s board meeting, Kelly said an investigation into a staff member, whom he did not identify, had concluded, and that the staff member would be returning to work. He also said theboard voted to refer the situation to the city’s Title VI coordinator for continued monitoring. Title VI is a provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination of protected classes in programs that receive federal funding.
When contacted by NBC News, Bennett would only confirm that she would be returning to work and referred additional questions to the city administrator, Chris Ward, who said in an email that any records regarding personal employee information are confidential unless that employee has been fired, demoted or decided to quit.
After learning that Bennett would return to work at the library, Anderson, who had been the only remaining staff member since Neely’s departure, resigned Tuesday.
The library building is now open for half of its usual hours, but only because seven of the nine board members were trained to help run the library, Kelly said. On Tuesday, the board selected a new director, though she likely won’t start for another month. The incoming director asked that her name not be published before she resigns from her current job.
Meanwhile, the library’s diminished capacity means reduced summer programs and less access to the building’s resources, such as free internet and office supplies for the low-income residents who need them.
Last week, Vinton resident Crystal Pladsen-Coder spoke at a City Council meeting, reading from a petition with more than 400 signatures that urged city leaders to “take a stand” and “lead the way as we reclaim our city.” As the controversy at the library unfolded, she also led an effort to place Pride signs on yards across Vinton in recent months. Shortly after she spoke, someone else used the public comment period to decry the dangers of “critical race” and “critical gender” theory.
Another resident said the words of “one person have been used to brand an entire community,” a sentiment many current and former residents of Vinton share.
“The people that are the loudest kind of get all the attention,” said Tracie Walker, a former Vinton resident who now lives close by.
Walker said she found herself disappointed as she followed the controversy over the past few months. She said she felt like Vinton residents have been lumped together with what she called a very small group of people who don’t represent everyone.
Walker raised her two sons, who are gay, in Vinton in a house near the library. One of her sons, Jordan, said he didn’t always know he was gay, but growing up in Vinton, what he knew for sure was that in some places, he felt comfortable, and in others, he didn’t.
One of the places he felt safe was the library. He was there all the time from fifth grade until about high school, when he said he started “working tirelessly to be passibly straight.”
After high school, Jordan, now 37, felt compelled to leave and eventually landed in Chicago, which he called the “perfect spot” for someone who missed the Midwest to live as his “true self.”
Like many moms, Tracie Walker said she had always hoped her sons would move back near their hometown and raise their families in the area. The past few months, however, have made her realize that dream may be a lost cause.
A Republican lawmaker attended his gay son’s wedding just three days after joining the majority of his GOP colleagues in voting against a House bill that would codify federal protections for same-sex marriage.
The gay son of Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., confirmed to NBC News on Monday that he “married the love of [his] life” on Friday and that his “father was there.” NBC News is not publishing the names of the grooms, neither of whom is a public figure.
Thompson’s press secretary, Maddison Stone, also confirmed the congressman was in attendance.
“Congressman and Mrs. Thompson were thrilled to attend and celebrate their son’s marriage on Friday night as he began this new chapter in his life,” Stone said in an email, adding that the Thompsons are “very happy” to welcome their new son-in-law “into their family.”
Gawker was the first to report on the nuptials in an article published Thursday, the day before the ceremony, though it was not reported whether the lawmaker would attend.
In an email last week to the local newspaper Centre Daily, Stone called the Respect for Marriage Act “nothing more than an election-year messaging stunt for Democrats in Congress who have failed to address historic inflation and out of control prices at gas pumps and grocery stores.”
Thompson, who represents the state’s 15th congressional district, was one of 157 House Republicans who voted against the bill on Tuesday. However, 47 of his GOP colleagues joined Democrats to pass the bipartisan measure following fears that existing same-sex marriage protections could be in the crosshairs of the conservative-leaning Supreme Court.
The Respect for Marriage Act is now being considered by the Senate, where 10 GOP lawmakers must join all 50 Democrats to send the legislation to the desk of President Joe Biden. One of five Republican senators who has already confirmed a yes vote on the bill is Rob Portman of Ohio, who declared his support for same-sex marriage in 2013 after his son came out as gay.
The bill comes at a time when 71% of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, supports same-sex marriage, according to aGallup poll last month.
A woman who worked at a Chick-fil-A in Decatur, Georgia, has filed a federal lawsuit claiming she was wrongfully fired after being harassed for four months by her co-workers for being transgender.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for Northern Georgia in late June by Erin Taylor, 29, who told NBC News she transitioned about three years ago. She is referred to in court documents by her legal name, which is different from the name she uses.
The lawsuit accuses her former employer of condoning a workplace that included “sexual harassment,” “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation” and “retaliation.” Employers in the U.S. are barred from discriminating against LGBTQ employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity following the 2020 landmarkSupreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County.
Taylor started working at the fast-food restaurant in late August 2021 to train as director of operations and soon after was verbally harassed by a co-worker who made “sexual passes” at her and made “very vulgar comments” about her, she told NBC News.
“I was excited, and unfortunately that excitement changed quickly, starting with my first day,” she said.
Taylor reported the incident to her supervisor, and after several complaints was directed to the franchise owner of the Chick-fil-A location, according to the lawsuit.
“The Franchise Owner responded by saying that it should be an honor that with (Taylor) being a transgender woman that someone liked her enough to hit on her,” the suit says.
The owner of the location, mentioned in the suit as Joe Engert, did not return NBC News’ requests for comment Tuesday. Chick-fil-A did not return NBC News’ request for comment either.
Taylor said that after her co-workers learned she was transgender, the “countenance of the entire restaurant changed.” The lawsuit says co-workers started purposely misgendering Taylor, and the co-worker who had initially made advances toward her started making violent and transphobic threats.
“A lot of transphobia started happening,” she said. “Immediately, I became fearful. Immediately, the anxiety started.”
Taylor was fired in November 2021, the suits says. Her employer said she was terminated because she left the job while on the clock, she told NBC News, but she alleges in the suit she was being harassed by her supervisor and was given permission to leave. She filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission that month, according to the lawsuit.
The fast-food chain has a history of anti-LGBTQ behavior, critics say. The company’s billionaire CEO, Dan Cathy, expressed opposition to gay marriage in a 2012 interview, but in a statement the company later said the company’s “culture and service tradition” was to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.” The statement also promised the company would back away from the same-sex marriage debate at the time.
Chick-fil-A pledged in 2019 that it would no longer donate to organizations that had been criticized for what some saw as anti-LGBTQ policies. But Cathy was among those who topped the list of donors who bankrolled an effort in 2021 to kill the Equality Act, the Daily Beast reported at the time after reviewing tax filings and accidental public disclosures.
Taylor said that although she was “walking in blind” to what somehave characterized as the company’s anti-LGBTQ history, she shouldn’t have needed to be aware of it.
“In any professional environment, I would expect that company, and individuals working for that company, to uphold themselves in a professional manner,” she said. “That didn’t happen.”
A Supreme Court decision allowing taxpayer dollars to help pay for tuition at schools that offer religious instruction has sparked concerns about the potential implications of the ruling on LGBTQ rights.
In a 6-3 vote, the court ruled Tuesday that Maine could not prohibit parents from using a state-funded tuition assistance program to pay for their children to attend private religious schools while permitting them to do so in private secular schools. The two schools cited in the case have a history of homophobic and transphobic policies.
The ruling in Carson v. Makin is a continuation of the conservative-majority court’s recent willingness to poke holes in the barrier between church and state. A number of LGBTQ advocacy organizations and other supporters of queer rights are sounding the alarm about what the decision signals about the court’s direction, especially when it comes to reconciling religious freedom with safeguarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people from discrimination.
Following the high court’s decision, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a statement that he is “terribly disappointed and disheartened” by the ruling, which specifically affects about 5,000 Maine children and their families who live in rural school districts that do not have a public school, and therefore must rely on the tuition program to attend private school.
He said the schools named in the suit “promote a single religion to the exclusion of all others, refuse to admit gay and transgender children, and openly discriminate in hiring teachers and staff.” He also vowed to work with Maine’s governor, Janet Mills, to “ensure that public money is not used to promote discrimination, intolerance, and bigotry.”
“While parents have the right to send their children to such schools, it is disturbing that the Supreme Court found that parents also have the right to force the public to pay for an education that is fundamentally at odds with values we hold dear,” Frey said in the statement.
The two private Christian schools involved in the case — Temple Academy and Bangor Christian Schools — “candidly admit” that they discriminate against LGBTQ people, state officials wrote in a May 2021 court filing.
Bangor Christian’s 2021 handbook, for example, says the only “legitimate meaning” of marriage is one that “joins one man and one woman” and states that “any other type of sexual activity, identity or expression that lies outside of this definition of marriage” are “sinful perversions of and contradictory to God’s natural design.”
“Any deviation from the sexual identity that God created will not be accepted,” the handbook states.
Temple Academy requires students and parents to sign a form acknowledging that the school adheres to a conservative evangelical ideology that includes views on marriage and homosexuality that are “often at odds” with the “humanistic views currently prevailing in our society.”
Plaintiffs David and Amy Carson, one of the two sets of parents who sued Maine over its tuition assistance program, told NBC News on Tuesday that they wanted to send their daughter to Bangor Christian because, as Amy Carson put it, the school’s beliefs “are aligned with what we have at the home.”
Martha Boone, principal of Bangor Christian, declined Wednesday to comment to NBC News. Temple Academy did not respond to a request for comment.
Katherine Franke, a law professor at Columbia University, said Tuesday’s ruling is a “huge loss” for LGBTQ equality, adding that the decision will allow public funds to flow to private schools that have policies that seem to conflict with public values.
“That certainly impacts LGBT students most directly, because these schools are well known in Maine for being quite homophobic,” Franke said. “What we’re seeing, I think, in this decision, is this new court bringing together several strands of its religious liberty jurisprudence, or doctrine, in a way that clearly elevates religious liberty rights over all other rights,” she said.
Equality Maine, a statewide LGBTQ rights organization based in Portland, wrote in a tweet that it is “disappointed but not surprised” by the ruling, because many religious schools “openly discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, promote only their beliefs, and are closed to divergent point of views.”
“Because of the Supreme Court ruling, we believe Maine has an obligation to examine their policies and procedures, and change them, to avoid public money to flow to religious institutions that we know discriminate against LGBTQ+ people,” the group wrote in a separate tweet.
The implications of Tuesday’s decision remind Jenny Pizer, acting chief legal officer for LGBTQ civil rights group Lambda Legal, of the late ‘90s, when Congress passed a series of laws that came to be known as “Charitable Choice.” According to White House archives, the laws were intended to clarify the rights and the responsibilities of faith-based organizations receiving federal money.
Pizer said the laws were part of a push to expand partnerships and collaboration between government and religious agencies that left some worried about what she called “a dangerous path of entangling government and taxpayer money with religion.” She said she believes Tuesday’s decision is evidence of those fears coming to bear.
“As members of a community that has been subjected to generations of abuse based on religious condemnation of who we are, this is a very alarming time,” she said. “This decision is the continuation of a trend. It’s not the beginning. It’s not the end. It’s one point on a dangerous road.”
The first National Park Service visitor center focused on teaching LGBTQ history will open right next door to New York City’s historic Stonewall Inn.
Pride Live, the LGBTQ advocacy group spearheading the project, announced Tuesday that the Stonewall Inn — the site of a June 1969 uprising that’s widely considered a major milestone in the modern gay rights movement — will be reunited with its neighboring building in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood to “commemorate the events of the Stonewall Rebellion in their authentic locations,” according to a news release.
The Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center will provide an “immersive experience” to visitors with tours, exhibits, lectures and visual displays centered around LGBTQ culture and history. Park rangers for the Stonewall Inn, which was designated as a national monument by President Barack Obama in 2016, will also work out of the center.
Ann Marie Gothard, a member of Pride Live’s board of directors, told NBC News the visitor center came out of a desire to both “capture the essence” of the era when the uprising took place and connect young people with the legacy of Stonewall. She said part of the purpose of the center will be to include and “motivate the next generation of leaders.”
“If you’ve ever gone down and kind of just observed tourists visiting Stonewall Inn, you’ll see that individuals of a certain age, because it’s a bar, are not allowed to go in,” she said. “So we really want to create a space that’s welcoming for all, whether you represent the gay community or you’re an ally.”
The original Stonewall Inn consisted of what is now two separate buildings: 53 Christopher St., where the current bar is located, and 51 Christopher St., where the visitor center will be. Gothard said Pride Live is convening a group of experts and historians to look into how the two buildings were separated.
The announcement comes during Pride Month, which is celebrated every year in June by LGBTQ people around the world in part to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall uprising. On June 28, 1969, when police attempted to raid the establishment — a common occurrence at that time, when it was illegal to serve alcohol to “homosexuals” — they were met with fierce resistance, sparking a dayslong rebellion and what many consider to be a watershed moment in the history of queer liberation.
The next year, 1970, saw the first annual Pride march in New York City, what was then called the Christopher Street Liberation Day march. In the decades since, many have come to acknowledge Stonewall as hallowed ground and a symbol in the fight for LGBTQ rights.
In a statement Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the visitor center an important memorial to commemorate “an iconic and pivotal moment” in U.S. history. He said he was proud the first center of its kind will open up in New York.
The nearly 3,700-square-foot building is set to open in summer 2024.
Stuart Delery, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ rights, will be the first openly LGBTQ person to serve as White House counsel when he assumes the position next month, President Biden announced on Wednesday. Delery current serves as White House deputy counsel.
Delery was appointed acting associate attorney general, the Justice Department’s No. 3 position, in 2012, becoming the highest-ranking LGBTQ official in the department’s history, according to a White House official.
In his seven years at the department, Delery argued against the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred legal recognition of same-sex marriages, and went on to oversee the implementation of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision overturning the law.
Part of an administrative shake-up ahead of the midterms, the appointment is also one of a number of elevations of LGBTQ people to high-profile roles in the Biden administration. In early May, Bidennamed Karine Jean-Pierre as White House press secretary, making her the first openly gay person appointed to the position.
The administration also tapped Admiral Rachel Levine for assistant health secretary. After her confirmation in March 2021, Levine became the first openly transgender person confirmed by the Senate to a federal post.
Dana Remus, who previously held the post, was key to confirming Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, as well as appointing scores of lower court judges from all sorts of backgrounds.
Don McGahn, who served in the role in the Trump White House, made history at the time by filling appellate court seats at record pace. His efforts were crucial to the confirmations of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.
Delery graduated from Yale Law School and clerked for Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Byron White, according to a White House official. He lives in Washington with his husband and two children.