LGBT+ rights will be “at stake” on Tuesday (5 January), when America elects two Georgia senators in a run-off elections determining which party has control of the US Senate.
Neither of the two Republican senators running for election in Georgia, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, managed to draw a majority on election day (3 November), so they were forced into run-offs against their Democratic challengers, Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
If Republicans win either race in Georgia, they will retain control of the Senate, posing a serious challenge to Joe Biden’s pro-LGBT+ legislative agenda and the Democrat-controlled lower House of Representatives.
If the Democrats win both seats, the Senate will be equally split and vice president-elect Kamala Harris will have a tie-breaking vote.
Sarah Kate Ellis, president of LGBT+ advocacy group GLAAD, told Reuters that the run-off elections puts everything “at stake” when it comes to US LGBT+ rights.
She said: “These two Senate runoff races in Georgia will be defining for the LGBTQ community and whether or not our rights are moved forward in Congress.”
One big example of LGBT+ rights legislation that could be at risk with a Republican Senate is the Equality Act, which would protect LGBT+ people from discrimination in areas like employment, housing and education by amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The Equality Act has struggled to pass through Congress, and Gabriele Magni, a professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, said: “Chances that a Republican-controlled Senate will all of a sudden decide to change their minds on this are very, very limited.”
The Democratic and Republican candidates in Georgia are polar opposites when it comes to the Equality Act, as well as trans rights.
While Ossoff and Warnock have been vocal about their support for the trans community and trans rights and have both committed to voting in favour of the Equality Act, Perdue opposes the Equality Act and has voted for bills to undermine LGBT+ discrimination protections, and Loeffler has previously put forward bills seeking to legally erase transgender children.
One of the most talked-about promises that Biden has made when it comes to LGBT+ rights is to overturn Donald Trump’s ban on trans people serving in the US military which, unlike legislation that would require bills to be passed by Congress, he could do using executive powers.
The GaysOverCovid Instagram has sparked a “gay civil war”.
The world is in the midst of the deadliest rise in coronavirus case numbers since the pandemic began – but some gay men are flouting restrictions to party like it’s 2022.×
Much of the gay community has watched in horror in recent days as a number of high-profile “circuit parties” – largely attended by white gay influencers – went ahead in Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, with one, taking place aboard a boat, ending in disaster.
Now, one anonymous queer person has taken it upon themselves to expose the gay men attending the potential super-spreader events.
An Instagram account, titled GaysOverCovid, was originally set up in the summer to highlight the huge numbers of shirtless, muscular gay men flocking to large parties – but the account took on a life of its own following a huge number of gay circuit parties in Puerto Vallarta, along with other regions.
The account, which was temporarily deactivated following a storm of complaints from gay influencers implicated in the scandal, has sparked a “gay civil war” on social media, with queer people divided on whether it’s right or wrong to shame white gay influencers for flouting restrictions – and for potentially jeopardising people’s lives.
In recent days, the GaysOverCovid Instagram account has joked about the party ship that sank in Puerto Vallarta on New Year’s Eve, and has pleaded with gay influencers to have “empathy” for others.
In one post, the account lashed out at gay men for attending a party in Los Angeles, despite the city’s spiralling coronavirus caseload, writing: “They’re begging people to stay home. And you can’t resist the urge to host and attend a party.
“This is not about you. It’s about the person having a heart attack that’s going to be turned away because there’s no room.”
Controversially, GaysOverCovid has also shared pictures of gay men – some of them frontline healthcare workers – partying on New Year’s Eve, questioning how they could have proceeded with their plans as the pandemic spiralled out of control.
The account has also called out “white privilege”, noting that the vast majority of gay men pictured partying abroad have been white.
GaysOverCovid Instagram sparks reward offer for true identity of whistleblower.
The anonymous curator of the GaysOverCovid Instagram account has faced a wave of backlash from gay influencers embroiled in the controversy, with some even offering financial rewards to anyone who can help unveil their identity.
Some have criticised the account for tracking influencers’ Facebook locations and Venmo transactions in an effort to uncover where they are attending parties – but others have celebrated them for exposing the bad behaviour of gay men.
In one viral Twitter thread, Zack Ford explored some of the reasons why so many gay men are flocking to the likes of Puerto Vallarta at the worst moment of the pandemic.
“This really is a conversation about (mostly white) gay male culture, in group/out-group dynamics, superficiality and body image issues, and what it means to celebrate sexual freedom as gay men,” he wrote.
“It’s actually complicated stuff, and nuance gets lost.”
Ford noted that there was a “massive disconnect” between the gay men who were doing everything in their power to stay safe, and those who are flouting public health guidance.
In its ruling on Thursday, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina ruled that Chapter 50B was in violation of the due process clause, and that it violated the woman’s right to personal safety and liberty.
The court also ruled that the clause was in contravention of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Finally, the court said that the NCGS chapter singled out LGBT+ people and served no government interest, and that it failed the lowest level of a scrutiny test.
In its ruling, the Court of Appeals relied on the Supreme Court’s momentous ruling in June 2020, which declared that LGBT+ people are entitled to protection from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Court of Appeals’ ruling has been heralded as a victory for LGBT+ rights, meaning that queer people across the United States now have equal protection from domestic violence under the law.
Nicholas Yatromanolakis has become the first ever openly gay cabinet minister in Greece after he was named deputy minister of culture on Monday (4 January).
Yatromanolakis was promoted from his previous role of general secretary at the ministry as a part of prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ cabinet reshuffle.
The prime minister left most key cabinet officials in place, with both the ministers for health and finance remaining in their positions, the Associated Pressreports.
Yatromanolakis and other ministers in the centre-right government will be sworn in on Tuesday, according to local media reports.
The new deputy minister of culture has been a vocal supporter of LGBT+ rights throughout his career, according to Greek website Ta Nea.
LGBT+ people have celebrated the promotion of Nicholas Yatromanolakis
His appointment has been heralded as a victory for LGBT+ visibility, with many praising the deputy minister of culture for representing queer people at the highest echelons of Greek politics.
Yatromanolakis, who regularly posts snaps of his rescue dog Vrasidas and his cat Patrick on Instagram, studied political science and international relations at Panteion University in Greece, before heading to the United States for a master’s in public policy from Harvard.
Throughout his time in government, Yatromanolakis has advocated for the rights of children and has advocated for the advancement of LGBT+ rights.
He has also been vocal in urging Greeks to wear face masks in public in an effort to stem rising coronavirus cases.
Yatromanolakis’ appointment comes after several years of advancements in LGBT+ rights in Greece. Same-sex unions have been legally recognised since 2015 – however, full marriage equality is not yet a reality.
There was also a significant advancement in trans rights in 2017, when transgender people were finally granted the right to have their gender legally recognised without undergoing gender affirmation surgery.
A prominent transgender activist in Colombia died on Saturday.
Laura Weinstein, director of Fundación Grupo de Acción y Apoyo a Personas Trans (GAAT), a trans rights group based in the Colombian capital of Bogotá, passed away four days after she was hospitalized with difficulty breathing.
“I have been hospitalized since yesterday because of breathing difficulties,” tweeted Weinstein on Dec. 31. “They gave me a COVID test and we are waiting for the results, but not being able to breath is something that I never wish upon anyone.”https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=mklavers81&dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1344582721356656641&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.washingtonblade.com%2F2021%2F01%2F02%2Fprominent-transgender-activist-in-colombia-dies%2F&siteScreenName=WashBlade&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550px
Wilson Castañeda Castro, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ advocacy group that works in areas along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, on Saturday told the Washington Blade that Weinstein’s coronavirus test came back negative.
Weinstein had previously fought cancer. Castañeda told the Blade her health had deteriorated in recent months.
“We mourn the death of GAAT Director Laura Weinstein,” tweeted Caribe Afirmativo on Saturday. “The joint work and collaborative effort for all these years forged a great friendship between us and her! We are devastated.”
Castañeda told the Blade that GAAT and Caribe Afirmativo in November requested Colombia’s National Electoral Council develop protocols to ensure trans Colombians can vote, regardless of their gender identity.
Weinstein over the last year worked with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to reduce HIV rates among Venezuelans who have migrated to Colombia. Castañeda said she worked with trans women and in particular sex workers.
Castañeda noted Weinstein a few months ago launched a campaign in Bogotá to support trans women and Venezuelan migrants. Weinstein was also among the Colombian LGBTQ activists who backed the 2016 peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that ended the country’s decades-long civil war.
“We will always remember her as a great ally, friend and tireless worker for human rights,” tweeted Colombia Diversa, another Colombian LGBTQ advocacy group.
Tatiana Piñeros, a trans woman who ran for the Colombian Senate in 2018, described Weinstein’s death to the Blade as a “big loss.” Mauricio Toro, who is the first openly gay man elected to the Colombian House of Representatives, is among those who also mourned Weinstein’s passing.
“Her fight and her inspiration will endure forever,” he tweeted.
The never-ending war by LGBTQ+ creators to protect their accounts against bullies who manipulate the automated fiefdom that is Instagram, has once again claimed another casualty as two gay Instagrammers had their account disabled with no apparent hope of appeal.
The reason is that the social media company, owned by Facebook, is built on a system that makes it nearly impossible to restore an account, have a fair hearing with human interaction, or even receive email communications to dispute the company’s seemingly arbitrary decisions to disable or delete an account.
This allows the anti-LGBTQ+ trolls who target LGBTQ+ people nearly free reign.
There is a long history of the Instagram “systems” targeting LGBTQ people, based on the ability of online trolls to be able to manipulate those systems. In May of 2017, Joe Putignano, the author of the bestseller “Acrobaddict” and a gay man who is also a Cirque du Soleil performing artist, model, and a Broadway performer wrote in the Huffington Post,
“We have learned that Instagram does not investigate pictures or accounts that get removed; it is based on an algorithm and bot from a number of reports that deem the account to be either inappropriate or unfit. Instagram claims to take their harassment and bullying seriously; however in a world where LBGTQ people are still considered “inappropriate” where anything we do is considered “adult content” or “pornographic,” then this raises the question “Is our community actually truly safe from discrimination and harassment?”
He then added, “My own account, @joeputignano, had 264.2K followers and disappeared last week when Instagram decided to delete it without word or warning. I woke up in the morning, and it was gone. I was someone who had been harassed since the inception of my account and had been very public about that harassment because I was trying to get help to stop it. It wasn’t a minor harassment either; it was an army of people with fake accounts using homophobic slurs and remarks to report every photo I posted.”
Like most people caught up in the never-ending vortex of non-communications and auto-response, Putignano, also received no answers. However after a concerted campaign of Facebook posts and publicity the social media company relented and reactivated his account.
For husbands Matthew Olshefski and Paul Castle, not unlike Putignano, they now also face the never-ending battle with the social media giant trying to regain access and reestablish their account disabled due to the anti-LGBTQ forces that bully the community at large and Instagram which makes no allowances to stop this scenario from repeating.
Shortly after Matthew and Paul went on their first date in 2016, they started sharing their stories and talents on the internet.
Paul is an artist with a rare form of blindness, and Matthew is a classical violinist who survived a cult in his childhood years. Bonded by their love of the arts, and a shared understanding of “overcoming the odds”, not only did Matthew and Paul become social media influencers: They fell in love and got married.
Along the way, their combined creative forces garnered 100,000 instagram followers, 150,000 TikTok followers, 200,000 Facebook followers, and over 15 million YouTube views.
Matthew shared his beautiful violin music; Paul shared his paintings and illustrations; and together they shared a love story built on unconditional support and a deep admiration for each other.
When the pandemic forced the world indoors last March, Matthew and Paul started their own podcast called “His and His” which touts itself as a “conversation between husbands.” Each week, Matthew and Paul discuss different topics relating to their experiences as gay men. From coming out, to dealing with homophobia, to getting married.
“We had no idea our podcast would resonate with so many people around the world. We have received countless messages from listeners thanking us for giving them the courage to be themselves,” says Paul. “We were so humbled.”
At the launch of their podcast, Matthew and Paul also started a joint Instagram page simply called “Matthew and Paul” where they shared daily pictures along with essay-style posts about their lives together.
“I was stunned by the reaction to our Instagram page,” says Matthew. “I had no idea our stories would bring hope to so many people. Every day we received hundreds of messages from people around the world, thanking us for being so open about our lives and experiences.”
Within a handful of months, the Instagram page grew to 33,000 followers.
“We’ve been creating social media content for over 4 years. This was the fastest growth we’ve ever seen. Something was really connecting with people,” says Paul. “We were thrilled to be representing a same-sex relationship in such a positive way.”
Matthew and Paul’s social media presence began to shift from hobby, to part-time work, and finally to a full-time job. By May of 2020, social media influencing was their primary source of income.
Then, on the morning of December 20, 2020, Matthew and Paul logged onto their shared Instagram account only to find…nothing.
It was gone.
“Your account has been disabled for pretending to be someone else.”
Matthew and Paul were stunned. Pretending to be someone else? For the past 4 years, all Matthew and Paul had aimed to do was be their most authentic selves. It was, in fact, the most frequent comment from their fanbase.
“It’s ironic that we were accused of being someone else,” says Paul, “when our fans and followers thank us for being ‘real’ on a daily basis.”
The next window prompted Matthew and Paul to submit photo identification and await an email from Instagram within 24 hours. An email never came.
“While we waited for the email, we did some research online and discovered people in similar situations waited over 2 months to hear back from Instagram” says Matthew, “and others never heard back at all.”
Meanwhile, their many fans were concerned and confused. What happened to the daily pictures and stories of love that had provided them with so much hope?
“We love bringing this kind of content to the world,” says Paul. “But it’s more than just a bunch of pictures and posts; it’s a message of equality and representation in a world where homophobia still thrives.”
They have been left wondering: Was the takedown an act of discrimination?
“We want answers,” adds Matthew, “but more importantly, we want to get back to what we were doing, being our most authentic selves.”
This is not an issue that occurs in isolated circumstances either it is widespread on the Instagram platform. Adding to the frustrations of LGBTQ users who have lost access to their accounts is the fact that like most of the IT/Internet companies in the San Francisco Bay area which have gone remote as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and its continuing grip on California and elsewhere, Instagram is not staffed except remotely.
A source knowledgeable of the company’s operations but not authorized to speak to the media told the Blade that almost complete reliance on the automated systems and next to no human oversight as a result of the remote virtual work environment has developed into a backlog of disputed decisions on accounts that have been disabled- as a direct result of the algorithms being tripped by repeated so-called ‘complaints’ over content in particular.
The Los Angeles Blade has reached out to Instagram for comment but has not received a response.
The Trump administration has appeared to have given up a proposed regulation that would have allowed taxpayer-funded homeless shelters to refuse to place transgender people consistent with their gender identity, although another measure permitting HHS federal grantees to discriminate against LGBTQ people may be imminent.
With the Trump administration coming to an end less than one month away, the anti-trans rule under the Department of Housing & Urban Development hasn’t yet been submitted to the White House Office of Management & Budget. The Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs at OMB, which manages the rule-making process for federal agencies, has no listing for its rule under the “regulatory review” portion of the website.
A HUD official, speaking to the Washington Blade on anonymity, said in the normal schedule for rule regulations and filings the anti-trans homeless shelter rule “will not be finalized before Jan. 20 and isn’t scheduled for finalization until sometime in April.”
“Given the incoming administration, it would seem likely that HUD will take some form of action to either not finalize the rule or withdraw it from consideration soon after their arrival,” the official said.
It’s unclear whether or not a formal decision was made within HUD to let the rule die with the end of the Trump administration. The HUD official said “basically it wasn’t prioritized and therefore it won’t become a final rule because of scheduling.”
Any number of reasons could have contributed to HUD not prioritizing the rule, including delay due to the volume of comments, public backlash over the anti-trans regulation or simply incompetence in the Trump administration.
It could also be the result of legal uncertainty about the proposed rule in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, therefore illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The underlying reasoning behind the decision applies to all laws banning sex discrimination, essentially making anti-LGBTQ illegal in employment, housing, credit, health care, education and jury service.
With the HUD rule, the Trump administration appeared to propose a workaround for Bostock in the case of sex-segregated homeless shelters, asserting they couldn’t turn away transgender people entirely, but could refuse to place them consistent with their gender identity.
“For example, under the proposed rule, if a single-sex facility permissibly provides accommodation for women, and its policy is to serve only biological women, without regard to gender identity, it may decline to accommodate a person who identifies as female but who is a biological male,” the proposed rule says. “Conversely, the same shelter may not, on the basis of sex, decline to accommodate a person who identifies as male but who is a biological female.”
It’s possible, however, Trump administration lawyers concluded that rationale wasn’t enough to get around Bostock and convinced HUD to abandon the regulation on the basis that it would make the department vulnerable to lawsuits.
The coronavirus pandemic was the dominant international story in 2020, but other news impacted the LGBTQ community around the world over the past year. Here are our picks for top 10 international stories of 2020.
No. 10: Anti-democracy crackdown looms over Hong Kong Gay Games
Organizers of the 2022 Gay Games that are slated to take place in Hong Kong insist the event will take place as scheduled, despite ongoing human rights abuses in the former British colony.
Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government continues to target pro-democracy protesters. The U.S. and other countries have criticized the crackdown.
Shiv Paul, a spokesperson for the Federation of Gay Games, which will oversee the games, in November told the Blade the Gay Games Hong Kong 2022 committee has a contingency plan that will address “potential scenarios/risks such as an ongoing pandemic, social unrest or unseasonal weather events.” The games’ opening ceremony is scheduled to take place on Nov. 12, 2022.
No. 9: Sudan repeals death penalty for homosexuality
Sudan in July repealed a provision of its Penal Code that imposed the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of engaging in consensual same-sex sexual relations.
Article 148 of the Sudanese Penal Code from 1991 said anyone who is convicted of sodomy three times “shall be punished with death, or with life imprisonment.” Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, chair of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council, which was created in 2019 to govern the country on an interim basis after then-President Omar al-Bashir’s ouster, approved the removal of the death penalty provision from Article 148.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.
Lawmakers in Bhutan on Dec. 10 voted to amend portions of their country’s Penal Code that have been used to criminalize homosexuality. The amendment will become law once King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck signs it.
No. 8: Costa Rica becomes first Central American country with marriage equality
Costa Rica on May 26 became the first country in Central America to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Two women became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Costa Rica when they exchanged vows in the municipality of Heredia shortly after midnight. President Carlos Alvarado Quesada is among those who celebrated the historic milestone.
“Today we celebrate liberty, equality and democratic institutions,” tweeted Alvarado. “May empathy and love be the moral compass that allows us to move forward and build a country where everyone belongs.”
No. 7: Anti-LGBTQ crackdown in Poland draws international condemnation
The Polish government’s continued anti-LGBTQ crackdown sparked global outrage in 2020.
Police over the summer arrested Margot Szutowicz, a non-binary person, three times. One of the arrests stems from charges she allegedly damaged a truck promoting anti-LGBTQ messages and assaulted a pro-life demonstrator on June 2.
President Andrzej Duda in the lead up to the Polish presidential election said LGBTQ “ideology” is more harmful than communism.
Duda on June 24 met with President Trump at the White House. Duda on July 12 won re-election.
No. 6: ICE releases Blade contributor from Cuba
A Blade contributor who was in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody for nearly a year was released on March 4.
An immigration judge in September 2019 granted Yariel Valdés González asylum based on the persecution he suffered in Cuba because he was an independent journalist. The Board of Immigration Appeals on Feb. 28 dismissed an appeal of the judge’s ruling.
“I really feel that I am alive now,” Valdés told the Blade after he reunited with his aunt and uncle in Miami. “It is a wonderful feeling to feel free and to be able to take control of your life and above all knowing that you will not be persecuted again because of your ideas or your work.”
Valdés now lives with his boyfriend in Wilton Manors, Fla., and continues to contribute to the Blade.
No. 5: U.N. calls for global conversion therapy ban
The U.N. in July formally called for a ban on so-called conversion therapy.
Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ issues, submitted a report with 130 submissions on practices and testimonies of victims who have experienced conversion therapy from civil society organizations, faith-based organizations, medical practitioners and individuals.
Germany, Brazil, Ecuador, Malta and Taiwan have all banned the widely discredited practice. Maryland, D.C. and Virginia are among the U.S. jurisdictions that ban conversion therapy for minors.
A federal appeals court in November ruled bans on conversion therapy for minors in the Florida cities of Boca Raton and Palm Beach are unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
No. 4: Trump policies further endanger LGBTQ migrants, asylum seekers
The Trump administration’s hardline immigration policy continued to put LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers at even more risk in 2020.
Three police officers in El Salvador who were convicted of murdering Camila Díaz Córdova, a transgender woman who the U.S. deported in 2017 after she fled anti-LGBTQ violence, were sentenced to 20 years in prison on July 28.
Activists say LGBTQ asylum seekers who are forced to await the outcome of their cases in Mexico under the Trump administration’s “return to Mexico” (MPP) policy puts them at increased risk of violence and human trafficking. A Human Rights Watch report notes the closure of the U.S.-Mexico border in March left asylum seekers “to suffer persecution in their home countries or in Mexico.
People with HIV, among other vulnerable groups, who were in ICE custody in 2020 were also at increased risk for the coronavirus as the pandemic spread throughout the U.S.
No. 3: Pope Francis publicly supports civil unions
LGBTQ Catholics and activists around the world in October welcomed Pope Francis’ public support of civil unions for same-sex couples.
Francis made the comments in “Francesco,” a documentary about his life that debuted at the Rome Film Festival on Oct. 21.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, described Francis’ comments as a “historic moment” that “signals that the church is continuing to develop more positively its approach to LGBTQ issues.” Esteban Paulón, an activist in Argentina, noted Francis “in private expressed his support” for civil unions for same-sex couples during the marriage equality debate in his homeland before he became pope.
The Vatican’s tone toward LGBTQ Catholics has become more moderate under Francis’ papacy. Church teachings on homosexuality and gender identity remain unchanged.
No. 2: Biden election celebrated around the world
President-elect Biden’s election in November renewed hopes the U.S. will once again champion LGBTQ rights abroad in an impactful way.
The incoming administration has said Biden will “immediately appoint” a special LGBTQ rights envoy at the State Department and a special coordinator at the U.S. Agency for International Development to handle the aforementioned issues. Biden has, among other things, also pledged to use the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Act to sanction those responsible for anti-LGBTQ rights abuses.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell led the Trump administration’s initiative that encouraged countries to decriminalize homosexuality, but many LGBTQ activists around the world remained highly skeptical of it.
“The planet is crying out for more compassionate, mature, visionary, unifying and empathetic leaders, and we now look to President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris to be an example,” ILGA World Executive Director André du Plessis told the Blade after the election.
No. 1: Coronavirus sweeps the world
The coronavirus pandemic had a devastating impact on LGBTQ people around the world in 2020.
The vast majority of Pride celebrations took place virtually, with Global Pride drawing an audience of more than 57 million people on June 27. Ecuador is among the countries in which advocacy groups launched relief efforts to help LGBTQ people pay their rent and buy food and other basic supplies during coronavirus lockdowns.
The pandemic further exacerbated existing economic, social and racial inequalities. Efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus — such as “pico y género” rules in Panamá, Colombia and Perú that allowed people to leave their homes on certain days based on their gender — sparked criticism among transgender activists who felt they caused further discrimination based on gender identity.
Newsrooms around the world were stretched to the limit in 2020, as journalists, including those at the Blade, struggled to cover multiple once-in-a-lifetime crises at once: a pandemic, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a reckoning over racial justice and police brutality, and the 2020 presidential election.
Here are the Blade staff picks for the top 10 national news stories of 2020.
10: Methodist Church faces split
Amid division in the denomination over LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage, the Methodist Church proposed a formal plan this year to separate on the lack of agreement on religious views toward LGBTQ people.
The Methodist Church agreed to adopt a more LGBTQ-inclusive doctrine while allowing a coalition of conservative congregations in the United States and Africa who objected to change to separate. The “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” would allow the departing congregations to keep their property and give them $25 million to form a new denomination.
The plan would have needed approval in May 2020 in General Conference for ratification. The vote, however, never took place and was postponed until 2021 during the coronavirus pandemic.
9: Trump campaign stages Pride events
Upon stepping down from the Trump administration, Richard Grenell took on a new role as senior adviser for the Trump campaign on LGBTQ outreach and was made co-chair of the Trump Pride coalition, marking the first time a Republican presidential nominee had an LGBTQ political coalition.
Trump Pride held events in states deemed competitive in the election, including Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Tiffany Trump, who had heretofore kept a low profile during her dad’s administration, participated in Trump Pride events in full support of her father, although she was mocked on Twitter during her public appearances.
Arguably, the Trump Pride coalition found success in convincing some LGBTQ voters to come to their side. Exit polls revealed 61 percent of LGBTQ voters backed Biden, the lowest percentage of support ever for a Democratic nominee, while 28 percent backed Trump, doubling his LGBTQ support from 2016.
8: Ric Grenell named acting DNI, 1st out gay Cabinet official
A Republican administration made the historic first of appointing the first openly gay person to a Cabinet post when President Trump named Richard Grenell, who had been serving as U.S. ambassador to Germany, as acting director of national intelligence.
Critics pointed out Trump never sought or won Senate confirmation for the role. Grenell also used the position as a political tool to declassify documents, seeking to impugn Biden for unmasking individuals caught up in surveillance during the Michael Flynn investigation.
But Grenell also used the position to highlight the global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality he spearheaded, threatening to cut off U.S. partners overseas from shared intelligence if they didn’t respect LGBTQ human rights.
Upon his departure, Grenell posted a photo to Instagram asserting President Trump gave him his Cabinet chair because being the first openly gay person to serve at that level was a “big deal.”
7: LGBTQ candidates win big on election night
LGBTQ candidates in the 2020 election achieved historic firsts, breaking barriers and demonstrating political aspirants in marginalized communities have no limit in winning public office.
The LGBTQ Equality Caucus in the U.S. House will be expanded and diversified with the addition of Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones of New York, who will be the first Black, openly gay men elected to Congress. Torres is also the first openly gay Afro-Latino elected to Congress.
Sarah McBride, a transgender advocate famous for her speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, was elected to a seat in the Delaware State Senate, setting her up to become the highest-ranking openly transgender legislator in the United States. Other transgender candidates, Taylor Small in Vermont and Stephanie Byer in Kansas, won seats in state legislatures, nearly doubling the number of transgender legislators in the United States.
6: FDA eases gay blood ban
In a move uncharacteristically positive for the LGBTQ community from the Trump administration, the Food & Drug Administration this year eased the ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.
The previous policy, set up by the Obama administration, required men to abstain from having sex with men for 12 months before making a donation. The FDA, amid a blood shortage during the coronavirus pandemic, shortened the deferral period to three months. The 12-month wait instituted during the Obama administration was a drastic change from the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men instituted in 1983.
President Trump said he had no hand in the FDA decision. When asked by the Blade about the change during a White House news conference, Trump replied, “No. I didn’t know anything about that. That was done by the FDA, very capable people at the FDA.”
5: RBG dies weeks before election
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, known as a champion of LGBTQ rights as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, died after 27 years on the bench. Hundreds gathered at the Supreme Court on the night of her death to adorn the ground with memorabilia in mourning over her passing.
Ginsburg had joined each of the milestone rulings in favor of LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage, including Romer v. Evans, Lawrence v. Texas, Windsor v. United States and Obergefell v. Hodges. Most recently, Ginsburg joined the Bostock decision finding anti-LGBTQ discrimination is illegal under federal civil rights law.
President Trump, however, chose to fill Ginsburg’s seat with Amy Coney Barrett, a jurist who’s a favorite among the Christian right. Shortly after confirmation, Barrett participated in arguments for the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which will determine whether a Catholic foster care agency has a First Amendment right to reject LGBTQ families over religious objections.
4: Landmark SCOTUS ruling on LGBTQ workplace rights
In a historic ruling ending a long fight to prohibit employment discrimination against LGBTQ people in federal law, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the consolidated case of Bostock v. Clayton County that anti-LGBTQ discrimination constitutes a form of sex discrimination.
Although the ruling pertained to employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the decision has broad applications to all laws banning sex discrimination, including civil rights law in housing, health care, education, and credit.
The litigation came about after Gerald Bostock was fired from his job as a municipal worker after expressing interest in a gay softball league and Aimee Stephens, a funeral home director in Michigan, who was fired for being transgender. Stephens died shortly before the decision was handed down.
The Trump administration, however, never fully implemented the decision, and outright flouted it with regard to access to sex-segregated spaces for transgender people. Biden is expected to recognize Bostock fully upon taking office.
3: Calls for racial justice after George Floyd killed
The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police ignited a firestorm of protests and energized the Black Lives Matter movement, bringing calls for police reform, if not to outright defund the police, and end systemic racism.
LGBTQ Pride events, which had been cancelled amid the coronavirus epidemic, were in some cases back on with a renewed focus on anti-racism. (Drama followed, however, when LA Pride planned a solidarity march and sought cooperation with police. Organizers ended up handing over the reins to All Black Lives Matter, an advisory board of Black LGBTQ activists.)
Much of the outrage was directed at President Trump, who reportedly hid in a bunker amid protests that became violent outside the White House. Afterwards, Trump went to St. John’s Church near Lafayette Square with Cabinet officials to hold up a Bible in a controversial photo-op.
2: Biden wins; Kamala Harris makes history
Joe Biden won the presidential election this year, ensuring Donald Trump would be a one-term president and bringing an end to an administration with a record of anti-LGBTQ policies.
Biden, whose comments in favor of same-sex marriage on “Meet the Press” in 2012 are still remembered for their impact, has long-standing connections to the LGBTQ community and issued a detailed policy plan for LGBTQ initiatives he’d pursue in his administration. Biden has pledged to end the transgender military ban and sign the Equality Act into law within 100 days.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who made history as the first woman of color elected as part of a presidential ticket, also has deep ties to the LGBTQ community. As California attorney general, Harris declined to defend California’s ban on same-sex marriage on Proposition 8 in court and raised LGBTQ issues as U.S. senator.
In another historic move, Biden tapped Pete Buttigieg for Transportation Secretary. He would become the first openly gay Senate-confirmed Cabinet official if approved in 2021.
1: Coronavirus ravages U.S. public health, economy
The coronavirus pandemic left hundreds of thousands dead, disrupted lives and threw the economy into a tailspin, stoking fears in a way no other public health crisis has done since the HIV/AIDS epidemic as the virus continued to spread. The outbreak is the Washington Blade’s top national news event of 2020.
COVID-19, which originated in China, had killed by mid-December an estimated 300,000 people in the United States and infected 16 million. Although states kept tabs on racial, ethnic, and gender demographics on the disease, few recorded data on LGBTQ casualties.
An estimated 100,000 businesses across the nation closed their doors as governors ordered residents to remain at home, much to the consternation of conservative activists who said the directives were unconstitutional. The annual Pride month celebrations and parades were among the events cancelled.
The downturn in the economy forced many small business to close and put many workers on unemployment. Hospitality workers, many of whom are LGBTQ people, were hit especially hard. The Paycheck Protection Program saved many jobs, but as of late December, Congress had not come to an agreement on additional stimulus.
President Trump, who continued to insist the coronavirus would simply “go away,” faced heavy criticism for failing to contain the epidemic, leading to major change in the 2020 election.
Honorable mention: Blade reporter refuses to move seat in WH briefing room
When Blade reporter Chris Johnson was fulfilling his role in the pool rotation for the White House press corps, the White House press office sought to humiliate CNN’s Kaitlan Collins by ordering Johnson to switch seats with her. Collins had an assigned seat in the front row of the briefing room, while the seating arrangements had the Blade toward the back.
Johnson refused to move, pointing out the White House Correspondents Association controls the seating assignments, not the White House. Johnson held firm even though he was told the Secret Service was involved in wanting the switch. Secret Service later denied any involvement. Johnson won widespread praise from mainstream media colleagues for his cool-headed, brave handling of the situation. (By Kevin Naff)
Queer MPs such as Charlotte Nichols, Nadia Whittome and Olivia Blake reflect a Britain where young people feel comfortable with and empowered by expressing their identities.
In December 2019, three more MPs in the House of Commons came out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual or queer, bringing the total number of out LGB MPs to a remarkable 56. Of course, Britain is still without its first transgender MP.
The Labour MPs Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East), Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) and Olivia Blake (Sheffield Hallam) came out as queer and bisexual. At 24, 28 and 30 years of age, they represent a new Britain where rapidly growing numbers of young people, in particular young women, now feel they have the space to identify as queer, bi or pansexual.
The average age of an MP is 52, but the average age of an queer MP is 45. Today, nine per cent of the 650 MPs identify as LGB+ but a remarkable 21 per cent of the 130 MPs aged 40 or younger say they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual or queer. When it comes to the 20-somethings who were elected in the general election of 2019 the proportion is one-third.
In contrast, only five per cent of MPs over 50 identify as queer.
This level of representation may seem surprisingly high but it reflects British society today.
Westminster is becoming a place where politicians, young and old, can express their identities honestly.
A June 2020 Ipsos-Mori poll found eight per cent of UK citizens 18 and above said they were only attracted to the same sex (gay or lesbian), three per cent said they were mostly attracted to the same sex, while four per cent were equally attracted to both sexes.
Another eight per cent said they were mostly attracted to the opposite sex but not uniformly. In sum at least 15 per cent of Britons identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, alongside another eight per cent who, in theory, could because they acknowledge their own same-sex attractions.
The growing number of people saying they are same-sex loving is driven by a younger generation who have found space to honestly express their identity.
The 33 per cent of MPs 30 years old or younger mirrors the 25 per cent of 18-30 Brits who say they are only attracted to the same sex (eight per cent), mostly attracted to the same sex (five per cent) or equally attracted to both sexes (12 per cent).
In 2020 just three-quarters of Generation Z (18-24) identify as heterosexual. Similarly, the 21 per cent of MPs under 40 who say they are LGBT+ matches the 22 per cent of Brits 18-40 who say they are same-sex attracted.
The 56 queer MPs represent parties across the political spectrum: 24 Conservatives, 21 Labour, 10 Scottish Nationalist and one Liberal Democrat.
All parties with multiple queer MPs have a broad mix of young and old but all the women MPs are Labour, SNP, or Liberal Democrat. Since Justine Greening and Margot James left the House at the last election, the Tories are without a woman in their LGBT+ caucus.
Whittome, Nichols and Blake illustrate something more about the politics of queer youth. There is evidence that bisexual/pansexual Brits are more left-wing than their gay and lesbian counterparts.
In the Ipsos-Mori 2020 poll, the gay and lesbians split equally into thirds between Tory and Labour voters and others including the Lib Dems, SNP and Greens.
But nearly half of all voters who expressed a degree of same-sex attraction (bisexual/pansexual) went for Labour and only 25 per cent for the Tories. Similarly, gay and lesbians were split 50/50 on how they voted on Brexit, half voting to remain, half voting to leave, but bisexual voters went 57 per cent for remain against only 43 per cent for leave.
Meet the 56 LGBT+ MPs sitting in the House of Commons.
Nadia Whittome, Labour, 24 Mhairi Black, SNP, 26 Jacob Young, Conservative, 27 Charlotte Nichols, Labour, 28 Elliot Colburn, Conservative, 28 Olivia Blake, Labour, 30 Antony Higginbotham, Conservative, 30 Gary Sambrook, Conservative, 31 Paul Holmes, Conservative, 32 William Wragg, Conservative, 33 Angela Crawley, SNP, 33 Dan Carden, Labour, 34 Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Labour, 34 Stewart McDonald, SNP, 34 Cat Smith, Labour, 35 Mark Fletcher, Conservative, 35 Kieran Mullan, Conservative, 36 Hannah Bardell, SNP, 37 Wes Streeting, Labour, 37 James Murray, Labour, 37 Chris Clarkson, Conservative, 38 Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat, 38 Stephen Morgan, Labour, 39 Luke Pollard, Labour, 40 Stephen Doughty, Labour, 40 Damien Moore, Conservative, 40 Lee Rowley, Conservative, 40 Rob Roberts, Conservative, 41 Stuart McDonald, SNP, 42 Peter Gibson, Conservative, 45 Alyn Smith, SNP, 47 Conor Burns, Conservative, 48 Daniel Kawczynski, Conservative, 48 Iain Stewart, Conservative, 48 Mark Menzies, Conservative, 49 Stuart Andrew, Conservative, 49 Martin Docherty-Hughes, SNP, 49 Peter Kyle, Labour, 50 Gerald Jones, Labour, 50 Kate Osborne, Labour, 54 Joanna Cherry, SNP, 54 Neale Hanvey, SNP, 56 Steve Reed, Labour, 57 David Mundell, Conservative, 58 Chris Bryant, Labour, 58 Angela Eagle, Labour, 59 John Nicolson, SNP, 59 Ben Bradshaw, Labour, 60 Crispin Blunt, Conservative, 60 Mike Freer, Conservative, 60 Nick Gibb, Conservative, 60 Nigel Evans, Conservative, 63 Nia Griffith, Labour, 64 Nick Brown, Labour, 70 Michael Fabricant, Conservative, 70 Clive Betts, Labour, 70
Andrew Reynolds teaches politics and public policy at Princeton University and is director of Queer Politics at Princeton.