There were few surprises on the list of senators who voted against Pete Buttigieg’s cabinet position, as almost every single one has a history of opposing LGBT+ rights.
Pete Buttigieg – a.k.a. Mayor Pete – became America’s first openly LGBT+ cabinet member on Tuesday (2 February) when he was confirmed as secretary of transportation by a vote of 86-13.
All of the 13 lawmakers who sought to block Pete Buttigieg are Republicans, almost exclusively from the South – and almost all are overtly anti-gay.
The votes came from senators Richard Shelby and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama; Tom Cotton of Arkansas; Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida; Roger Marshall of Kansas; Bill Cassidy of Louisiana; Josh Hawley of Missouri; James Lankford of Oklahoma; Tim Scott of South Carolina; Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee.
Most of the sorry anti-Pete-Buttigieg list were scored zero on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard, which grades members of Congress on their support for LGBT+ rights, or lack thereof. Only Tuberville and Hagerty didn’t receive zero, because they have not been in elected office long enough.
Eight of the senators have explicitly opposed same-sex marriage; one of the few who hasn’t, Josh Hawley, has instead pledged to aid officials who oppose it. Almost all back religious freedom and the right to discriminate against LGBT+ people.
One senator, Florida’s Rick Scott, expressed comparatively progressive views in the wake of the Pulse massacre, but even his sincerity has been questionedby the LGBT+ community.
The most egregious anti-LGBT+ record undoubtedly belongs to Ted Cruz, who has spent most of his political career fighting against equality.
Back in 2017 Cruz joined forces with another of Buttigieg’s opponents, Marco Rubio, in calling for Trump to implement an anti-LGBT+ order to permit discrimination.
This deeply homophobic bill was also signed by James Lankford, Bill Cassidy and Tim Scott – three more names who voted against Buttigieg, a coincidence so predictable it stretches the definition of the word.
Meanwhile Marsha Blackburn co-chaired the committee that drafted the 2012 Republican platform, considered the most anti-gay in history.
And then there’s Tom Cotton, who’s previously argued that LGBT+ people can’t complain about discrimination in the US because they’d be hanged in Iran. “I think it’s important that we have a sense of perspective,” he said empathetically in 2017.
We couldn’t possibly say whether their votes against Buttigieg were motivated by anti-LGBT+ sentiment, but their political records certainly speak for themselves.
Professor Paul Johnson, lord Alistair Lexden and lord Michael Cashmancelebrate the Armed Forces Bill, which will finally fix a centuries-old mistake and pardon soldiers and marines for historic gay sex offences. And not a moment too soon.
We’re thrilled that the Armed Forces Bill, which was introduced in parliament this week, contains an important clause that will address centuries of persecution of gay and bisexual men who served in the Army and Royal Marines.
The bill will grant posthumous pardons to any soldier or marine who was convicted of or cautioned for the now-abolished offence of buggery – an offence that was used for hundreds of years to criminalise men who had sexwith men.
Although the Policing and Crime Act 2017 granted similar posthumous pardons to some armed forces personnel, it did not apply to historical offences relating to the Army and Royal Marines prior to 1881.
The Armed Forces Bill will grant posthumous pardons to any person convicted or cautioned for an offence of buggery by the courts martial under Articles of War, which were made under annual Mutiny Acts passed by parliament stretching back to 1688.
There is a poignant coincidence that this breakthrough comes at the time when It’s a Sin is such a talking-point, focusing much attention on past injustice and suffering.
A pardon will be automatically granted, when the legislation passes, to a soldier or marine if the other person involved in the conduct constituting the offence consented to it and was aged 16 or over, and any such conduct would not be an offence under a provision in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 concerning sexual activity in a public lavatory.
Back in 2017 we were delighted to work with the government in order to make adequate provision to grant Royal Navy personnel posthumous pardons extending back to 1661. Since then, we have worked consistently for the last four years in an attempt to gain posthumous pardons for those soldiers and marines who were badly treated by cruel laws now rightfully repealed.
We are pleased to see clause 18 of the Armed Forces Bill which, when enacted, will make reparations, as far as they are possible, to those men so sadly let down by the country that they were serving. These were men who, simply because of their sexual orientations, were prosecuted and punished.
The persecution of LGBT+ people in our country has a long history. With the Armed Forces Bill, our country will take one more very important step in addressing that persecution and making sure that it never happens again.
There is a poignant coincidence that this breakthrough comes at the time when It’s a Sin is such a talking-point, focusing much attention on past injustice and suffering.
The posthumous pardons that we have worked hard to ensure be granted will now be considered in a bill that was presented to the House of Commons by secretary Ben Wallace with the support of the prime minister, the attorney general, secretary Priti Patel and other ministers. When it passes, it will close a desperately sad chapter of our history, and right some very great wrongs of the past.
We continue in our work with the government to ensure that the disregard scheme in England and Wales – which allows those people living with a conviction or caution for a repealed homosexual offence to have this disregarded and be pardoned – is extended to further address past injustices suffered by LGBT people.
The Senate is poised to approve Pete Buttigieg to be transportation secretary, the first openly gay person ever confirmed to a Cabinet post, tasked with advancing President Joe Biden’s wide-ranging agenda of rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and fighting climate change.
Buttigieg’s nomination was set for a final vote Tuesday in the full Senate, after the 39-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Biden’s one-time rival in the Democratic presidential primaries received bipartisan praise at his confirmation hearing last week.
UPDATE: The vote was 86-13 with one vote outstanding at this writing. Voting against in the order it was announced: Cotton, Cruz, Cassidy, Marshall, Scott (FL), Tuberville, Shelby, Hawley, Blackburn, Rubio, Scott (SC), Haggerty, Lankford.
It is hard to believe that an island of only 100 x 35 miles has the highest hate crimes rate in the United States. In 2020, six of the 44 deaths that occurred on the island consisted of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. These deaths represent the majority of the murders of trans people that happened in the U.S. in 2020. Followed by Florida (4), Louisiana (4), Ohio (3), Texas (3), New York (3) and 17 other states. Puerto Rico is the U.S. jurisdiction with the most murders of trans people, according to statistics from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Puerto Rico between 2019-2020 also saw at least 12 killings of LGBTQ people, the highest rate of deaths the island has seen in a decade.
Why is this? Why is a Caribbean island with so much multicultural diversity experiencing this level of hate crimes against the trans community and cases of gender-based violence? It is difficult to understand, when you see that Puerto Rico was ranked among the 30 top LGBTQ travel destinations in the world and also when Puerto Rico has the highest overall LGBTQ policy tally among the U.S territories, according to the Movement Advancement Project. MAP is an independent, nonprofit think tank that provides rigorous research about equality in the world. Puerto Rico was placed in a “high” category of LGBTQ policies, along with 18 states and the District of Columbia. The other four territories have a “low” LGBT policy tally scores, as do the other 21 U.S. states. Gender-based violence has also become even more common in Puerto Rico with at least 5,517 female victims recorded, according to the organization Gender Equality Observatory. Also, Puerto Rico has a high level of legislation, protocols and regulations towards gender-based violence or/and domestic violence in comparison to other jurisdictions in the world. However, history has shown us in a very hard way that public policies and laws are just worthless piece of papers when you have a systematic evil in your society, like racism, homophobia and machismo.
Back when I was leading the governor’s LGBT Advisory Board in Puerto Rico (created in 2018), we launched an investigation of how public policies related to equality and LGBTQ rights were being enforced by public institutions. Unfortunately, 99 percent of the public institutions that were supposed to adopt internal protocols and regulations to enforce equality or/and LGBTQ legislations across the island had not implemented any policy. In other words, Puerto Rico had progressive legislation and public policies (e.g. Act 22-2013, to protect LGBTQ workers) but most of them were unenforced laws. Sadly, Puerto Rico is an island full of symbolic laws, which are usually ignored by law enforcement authorities and have no consequences. It’s not only because we certainly have had a history of bad public administration on the island, but because when it comes to certain subjects, the system drags its feet over enforcement. The “system” has never existed to be changed, and that’s why it takes years to do so. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race and color never changed the United States’ system, the systematic racism in our culture, or even the belief of the people and the implicit bias of its citizens towards our black communities. We keep seeing today, five decades later, how the implicit racism in our society is still out there, more rampant than ever. Public policies do not do that much in societies without a real will of change from the inside, real and equal participation of the protected populations in the decision-making process, and a comprehensive and permanent educational approach to change future generations. The Civil Rights Act, as many other federal legislations related to LGBTQ rights and gender equality, became a reality after the U.S. Supreme Court decisions. It was like the system, in some way, was forced to get there without been prepared to be there yet. The Civil Rights Act was not a piece of legislation that came from “the People” (represented by Congress), but from a list of judicial SCOTUS precedents based on an economic constitutional clause, starting with Brown v. Board of Education. In other words, legislation opens the door to change the system but not to change a culture. And the same thing has happened in Puerto Rico.
The lack of interest and acknowledgment of public authorities, public officers and decision-makers towards the existence of systematic evils like homophobia and gender-based violence has resulted in the eternal postponement of concerted efforts to eradicate them on the island. It was not until more than a year of demands from feminist groups and more than 60 murders linked to gender-based violence that the government declared state of emergency over the gender-based violence crisis. But why? Why did a simple action like approving an executive order acknowledging a real crisis or emergency take three different governors to do it? It took former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló less than 48 hours to request a state of emergency in 2017 after Hurricane Maria, but more than three years for the government to admit we were losing our fight against gender-based violence? Some people would say that it’s hard for any politician to admit a failure in the administration, as a justification for the delay, but the reality is different and has nothing to do with public administration 101.
In 2015 former Gov. Alejandro García Padilla approved gender perspective curriculum in schools. In 2017, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló eliminated that directive as a political campaign promise to the religious sector of the island. In 2020 the subject (gender ideology/perspective/violence) was brought into the political arena again during the last campaign. However, it was not a subject brought by the own will of the main candidates who had more of a chance to win the elections back then. It was a controversial subject that neither of them mentioned in their political platforms or even addressed before it was brought up during a debate broadcast on national TV. If it were up to these candidates, these subjects wouldn’t have ever been brought into the public discussion. The fear towards the political power of the religious sector and the conservative vote in Puerto Rico is a very controversial one. Informal surveys were held during the political campaign about the gender perspective and ideology issue and most of the citizens in the island answered that they were against it. During the political campaign on the island, I had the chance to meet with the current governor of Puerto Rico Pedro Pierluisi, and we briefly spoke about the LGBTQ subject. His answers were vague and politically correct. Governor Pierluisi didn’t take up the decision of approving an executive order acknowledging the gender-based violence crisis on the island because it was the right thing to do or he had the will to do it, but because he was forced to do so.
The pressure of a promise made during a political campaign, the pressure made by the civil rights sector, the pressure caused by the last recent murder of a woman and the pressure of having for the first time ever a legislature that has more representation (even a minority) from the left-wing were some of the factors that forced Pierluisi to do so, acknowledging that Puerto Rico was having a crisis. There is no genuine will from the government to address issues related to gender ideology and the LGBTQ community because that will doesn’t exist in our society or in our culture either. Politicians are only a clear and direct representation of what is in the society, because they all come from it. Even when Governor Pierluisi stated during a press conference that the executive order was going to include trans women, the final document didn’t include this population. Once again, the invisibility from the government over this population will make Puerto Rico’s path towards cultural competence education and acceptance of the diversity its citizens harder. Puerto Rico is still a very conservative country with a very sexist/chauvinist culture, and in order to change that and eradicate the crisis of gender-based violence and hate crimes, we need to create a very aggressive holistic approach, both from the inside and from the outside. The involvement from protected populations (minorities, women, LGBTQ people …) within the decision-making process is essential and it will be the only effective approach to reach an actual enforce from our public institutions of anything the government approves.
For the first time, the popular American Girl franchise has released a doll with an LGBT+ storyline, so of course homophobes are trying to stage a boycott.
The iconic dolls were a cultural phenomenon in the ’90s and still command a multi-generational fanbase in the US, with some of the toys selling for thousands online.
Each doll is accompanied by a book telling the character’s story, but the 2021 Girl of the Year, Kira Bailey, is dividing loyal fans – because she has two gay aunts.
In Kira Down Under, the animal-loving 10-year-old goes to Australia to spend the summer at her aunts’ wildlife sanctuary. The book casually mentions that the two women got married “after the law was changed to allow it”.
It’s the first time a same-sex relationship has been mentioned in an American Girl story, and for some, it was a step too far.
“American Girl collectors continue to be the worst people in the world,” said Boston collector Rebecca Nachman as she revealed the debate raging across private fan groups.
“People lost their goddamn minds, there was so much blatant homophobia in the American Girl Facebook groups I’m in, it was horrific. People were saying, ‘children are innocent, they shouldn’t have to read about sex’, as if American Girl is publishing a lesbian porno.”
While many collectors called for a boycott of the beloved brand, others took their anger out on Amazon, where a third of the reviews for the book give only one star.
“Homosexuality is an inappropriate topic for a children’s book and I am very disappointed that it was woven so blatantly into the storyline for Kira,” read one negative review.
“The storyline is inappropriate and far too mature for young readers,” wrote another, and “Parents are not informed of lesbian relationship in the story”.
It’s not the first time American Girl has been hit with a backlash for supporting the LGBT+ community.
In 2005 several homophobes organised a boycott after learning the brand supported the pro-LGBT+ charity Girls Inc. Yet another boycott was called in 2015, after a girl with two fathers featured in American Girl magazine.
American Girl defended the decision to introduce an LGBT+ storyline, saying it was important that the characters reflected the modern world.
“From the beginning, our ‘Girl of the Year’ characters have been designed to reflect girls’ lives today and the realities of the times,” Julie Parks, an American Girl spokesperson, told Yahoo Life.
“As a brand, we’ve always strived to share the message that there’s no ‘magic recipe’ for a family and that families can be made up of all kinds of ingredients – and each is unique and lovely.
“We know for girls who can directly relate to Kira’s circumstances (i.e. a father who has passed away or a couple in a same-sex marriage), we’re glad to show them that the make-up of one’s family doesn’t matter – it’s still a family and that’s all the counts. It’s a sentiment we love at American Girl.”
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The 33rd annual Creating Change conference hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force held its events virtually over the weekend for the first time due to the pandemic.
The country’s largest LGBTQ activist conference brought participants from across the U.S. to connect and share knowledge, skills and mutual dedication to ensuring equity for LGBTQ people and other marginalized groups. Hosted by comic Sandra Valls, the multi-day event emphasized the importance of togetherness and intersectionality.
The conference featured special guests like Adrienne Maree Brown, a Black feminist author and women’s rights activist; and American rapper Big Freedia. Dominique Jackson, who plays Elektra Abundance on the hit-TV show “Pose,” also attended.
“The past election has shown us that when we stand together as a force, we will win,” Jackson said at the event. “But you can’t just show up for (an) election and then sit back.”
Topics covered at this year’s conference include the intersections of LGBTQ people and immigration, transgender activism and recognition, aging as an LGBTQ person and fundraising tips for small and large advocacy organizations. The conference also introduced Kierra Johnson as the Task Force’s new executive director.
“As difficult as these last few years have been for us, I think they’ve also given us a map,” Johnson said in Saturday’s “State of the Movement” speech. “I think it’s undeniable how fragile our democracy is. And we’ve got work to do, right? And it is work that the task force is committed to being a part of.”
Rea Carey is set to step down on Monday after 12 years as executive director.
Johnson served as the Task Force’s deputy executive director since 2018. She served as the executive director of Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity for 10 years before working with the Task Force.
Johnson spoke on her excitement for taking on the role and the strength of the “collective power” of LGBTQ people.
“It is precisely because of this collective power that we have a conference that looks the way it looks. It is because of our collective power that we are seeing changes that we never thought possible 10, 15, 20 years ago,” she said.
New policy changes under President Biden’s administration and additional legislation the Task Force and other equal rights organizations are continuing to push forward were highlighted in a variety of webinars.
Task Force Policy Director Liz Seaton in a workshop highlighted the work the organization aims to do in 2021 that includes a focus on police reform, inclusive sex education, promoting economic justice and expanding nondiscrimination protections. Seaton also recognized the several executive orders focused on equity that Biden has signed since the inauguration.
“We are literally in a waterfall of progressive policy change right now,” said Seaton.
Awards were also given to those leading in LGBTQ rights, including Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, a self-described Puerto Rican butch dyke labor organizer, and leather leadership awardee Gayle Rubin. Mama Gloria won the SAGE Award for Leadership in Aging.
Carmen Vázquez, who passed away on Jan. 27 from coronavirus complications, won the SAGE award at last year’s conference. The Task Force this year paid tribute to Vázquez in the “in memorial” portion of the conference.
Upwards of 1,000 people attended the virtual conference.
They were able to interact with one another on the virtual platform, as well as ask questions during webinars and workshops. The Task Force also hosted inclusive caucuses for a variety of identities across religions, occupations and gender identities.
Game nights were held at night, as well as variety shows, where attendees could present their talents.
In July 2020, he accused LGBT+ people in Turkey of “sneaking up on our national and spiritual values again” and said queer people have tried to “poison young people” throughout history.
“I invite all members of my nation to be careful and take a stand against those who exhibit all kinds of heresy that our Lord has forbidden, and those who support them,” Erdoğan said at the time.
He urged citizens to “come out against those who display any kind of perversion forbidden by God”.
He also took aim at queer allies. He said those who support “such marginal movements contrary to our faith and culture are partners in the same heresy in our eyes”.
“We will not let you step on human dignity,” he wrote. “We will protect nature and the mental health of our children.”
Erdoğan’s latest comments come just days after four students were detainedand called “deviants” by Turkey’s interior minister over an artwork that reportedly depicted rainbows alongside the Kaaba, a sacred building in the centre of the Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
The controversy erupted after Erdoğan appointed a party loyalist to a senior position at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul.
Student-led pushback erupted earlier this month, as demonstrators, many holding LGBT+ Pride flags, argued that the presidential appointment of professor Melih Bulu as rector went against the university’s 158-year-long history of electing its own.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday she’s “optimistic” about the Equality Act and called its passage a “priority” amid expectations the House could vote on the yet-to-be-introduced measure as early as March.
Pelosi made the comments during her weekly news conference in response to a question from the Washington Blade on the timing of the floor vote for the LGBTQ legislation, which President Biden promised during his campaign to sign within his first 100 days in office.
“I’m optimistic about it because I do think we will get strong bipartisan support in the House and in the Senate,” Pelosi said.
The legislation, which Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) told the Blade he’d introduce in February, has been given new life now that Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the White House, as opposed to the Trump administration when the bill died in the Senate, as Pelosi noted.
“This is such an exciting piece of legislation for us,” Pelosi said. “We passed it in the last Congress. No success in the Senate. It went to Mitch McConnell’s graveyard, the ‘grim reaper.’”
A senior Democratic aide told the Blade that Cicilline and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, are looking at the week of Feb. 22 to introduce the Equality Act with a vote expected as early as March.
Pelosi said she’s working with the two lawmakers “for when we will roll it out,” and said after that “we will calendar it.”
“It’s an early priority for us, H.R. 5,” Pelosi said. “And again, it’s about ending discrimination.”
“I’m very pleased with what President Biden has done so far, especially pleased about eliminating the prohibition on trans people from serving in the military,” Pelosi said. “That too, I think, was a triumph for decency and justice in our country, but some other initiatives that he took about contracting and this or that.”
Although the Supreme Court decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County extends vast protections for LGBTQ people under federal law, securing a prohibition against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace sought for decades by movement leaders, the Equality Act would take things a step further.
In addition to the explicit declaration that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination in employment, education, housing, jury service and credit, the Equality Act would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and LGBTQ status in public accommodations and federal programs.
Further, the Equality Act would expand the definition of public accommodations under federal civil rights law to include retail stores, banks, transportation services, and health care services. The legislation would also establish that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a 1994 law aimed at protecting religious liberty — can’t be used to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.
The Equality Act was the cornerstone of President Biden’s campaign promises to LGBTQ people. Biden said he’d sign the legislation into law within his first 100 days in office as recently as October in an interview with Philadelphia Gay News, although he hasn’t commented on the bill in the week since he took office as president.
Reflecting on the absence of such protections under federal law, Pelosi continued, “It’s amazing that we would even have to do such things, but we’re particularly proud of the Equality Act because it’s so comprehensive.”
“Again, ending discrimination in the workplace and in every other aspect, not only is good for the LGBTQ community, for our whole society, but also for businesses that want the very best,” Pelosi said. “They should be hiring without any concern of complaint about the diversity that they are introducing.”
In the previous Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Congress had come out in support of the Equality Act, which Pelosi alluded to in her remarks as she contemplated passage in the Senate. The challenge is greater in that chamber given the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a legislative filibuster.
“That’s why we think we’ll have strong bipartisan support,” Pelosi said. “We think the business community will help us in the Senate.”
Pelosi took a question from another reporter as the Blade tried to follow up with an inquiry on whether the White House has reached out to her on the legislation. Pelosi’s office didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up inquiry on whether that conversation has taken place.
Half of U.S. states lack basic protections for LGBTQ people, according to a report released Wednesday by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group,
The campaign’s State Equality Index, an annual ranking of laws and policies, found that 25 states lack inclusive anti-discrimination statutes and are considered at a “high priority to achieve basic equality,” the lowest of the report’s four categories. (See a map of the states here.)
“These states are most likely to have religious refusal or other anti-LGBTQ laws,” the report said. “Advocates often further LGBTQ equality by focusing on municipal protections for LGBTQ people or opposing negative legislation that targets the LGBTQ community.”
In addition to nondiscrimination policies, the index also graded states on hate crime laws, transgender health care, anti-bullying policies, parenting and adoption laws and bans on conversion therapy, among other criteria.
The report, based on 2020 data, reflects a slight improvement from 2019, when 27 states were ranked in the lowest category. Virginia moved up two spots to the “solidifying equality” category after passing the Virginia Values Act last February, making it the first Southern state to ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations. Kansas moved up one spot to the “building equality” category after the state’s Human Rights Commission began accepting anti-LGBTQ bias complaints in employment, housing and public accommodations.
The Kansas commission said its revised interpretation of the Kansas Act Against Discrimination was based on Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, last year’s landmark Supreme Court decision that determined federal civil rights law banning employment discrimination based on sex included discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia were cited in the index’s highest-rated category, “working toward innovative equality,” for their “robust LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws covering employment, housing and public accommodations.” That’s the most in the report’s seven-year history, and includes newcomers Hawaii and New Hampshire.
At the same time, at least 185 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in 35 states last year, according to HRC. Four were signed into law, including two in Idaho: HB 500, the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which prohibits transgender student athletes from joining teams that match their gender identity, and HB 509, which bars transgender residents from updating the gender marker on their birth certificates. Federal courts have blocked both laws from being enforced.
This week, the Montana House of Representatives passed House Bill 112, a transgender sports ban nearly identical to Idaho’s, and House Bill 113, which would prohibit medical professionals from providing gender-affirming care to trans minors. Both measures now head to the state Senate for consideration.
“While this year’s legislative sessions will undoubtedly be shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2020 election, we also anticipate continued attacks on transgender youth, particularly in relation to athletic participation and access to best-practice, affirming medical care, to continue across the country,” HRC said in a statement.
In the 2021 session, lawmakers in seven states — Florida, Kentucky, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee — have all sponsored measures restricting transgender participation in student athletics. Bills that would penalize or even criminalize providing trans youths with gender-affirming care have also been introduced in five states — Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi, Texas and Utah.
In addition to a trans athlete ban, Republicans in North Dakota also sponsored bills that would prohibit the state from recognizing sexual minorities and exclude same-sex couples from financial assistance with adoption. (The former, HB 1476, was withdrawn on Tuesday.)
“With serious issues like our state’s Covid-19 response and economic recovery, it’s disturbing that legislators are spending so much time attacking vulnerable transgender youth and the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit community as a whole,” Dane DeKrey, advocacy director of ACLU of North Dakota, said.
Advocates say the flurry of anti-gay bills is in direct response to the election of President Joe Biden, who championed gay rights on the campaign trail and has called the pro-LGBTQ Equality Act a top legislative priority. In his first week as president, Biden has already issued an executive order expanding LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections in employment, education, housing and immigration.
“I think the volume of [anti-LGBTQ] bills is going to dramatically increase, particularly because of what is happening at the federal level,” Kasey Suffredini, CEO of Freedom for All Americans, an LBGTQ advocacy group, told NBC News previously. “For the opposition, this is the only avenue for their narrative that treating LGBT people with dignity and respect is a problem for the country.”
Should Congress pass the Equality Act — federal legislation that would add LGBTQ protections to existing civil rights laws — it will provide “critical baseline protections,” according to HRC legal director Sarah Warbelow, but state laws will still be important.
“State laws are often more robust than federal laws — a federal law may only cover business with 15 or more employees, for example, while a state law can apply to every business,” Warbelow told NBC News, adding that accessing state courts is often easier and cheaper.
“And there are limits to what the Equality Act can do in a lot of areas,” she added. “The federal government doesn’t have a lot of power when it comes to anti-bullying laws, or regulations about updating birth certificates or second-parent adoptions.”
Alabama’s policy requiring transgender people to have undergone gender-affirming surgery before they can get state IDs that accurately reflect their gender identities is unconstitutional, a federal court ruled this month.
Fewer than 10 states now require proof of surgery to update the gender marker on a driver’s license.
The Alabama case began in 2018, when three transgender people — Darcy Corbitt, Destiny Clark and an unnamed third person — sued the state after they were denied driver’s licenses that reflected their genders, opposed to their sexes assigned at birth, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The policy for driver’s licenses, which is what we challenged with this lawsuit, requires that people either submit an amended birth certificate or submit proof of having had what they call ‘complete surgery,'” which Alabama interprets to mean both “genital surgery and top surgery,” said the lawyer who litigated the case, Gabriel Arkles, senior counsel at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. An amended birth certificate also requires proof of surgery, although this case didn’t challenge that rule.
On Jan. 15, the U.S. District Court for Middle Alabama, part of the 11th Circuit, ruled that Policy Order 63, the state’s driver’s license policy for transgender people, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because it discriminates based on sex.
“By making the content of people’s driver licenses depend on the nature of their genitalia, the policy classifies by sex; under Equal Protection Clause doctrine, it is subject to an intermediate form of heightened scrutiny,” Senior Judge Myron Thompson, who was nominated to the court by President Jimmy Carter, wrote in the opinion.
Arkles said that any time officials make a policy that treats people differently based on sex, “they have to have a very good reason for what they’re doing, and here they really did not.”
The state argued that the surgery requirement “serves the important government interests in maintaining consistency between the sex designation on an Alabama birth certificate and an Alabama driver’s license,” according to court documents. In addition, the state said Policy Order 63 provides “information related to physical identification” to law enforcement officers.
But the court ruled that those justifications didn’t allow the policy to pass intermediate scrutiny and that the “injuries” it caused were “severe,” acknowledging a number of Arkles’ arguments. The surgery the policy requires “results in permanent infertility in ‘almost all cases,'” the court wrote. Some transgender people might not want or need surgery, and even if they do, it might be inaccessible or unaffordable, as it was for the unnamed plaintiff, the court continued.
“It’s not acceptable for the government to force people to undergo a procedure like that just to get a license that they can use safely and go about their daily life,” Arkles said.
Only 25 percent of transgender and gender-nonconforming people reported having undergone some form of transition-related surgery, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey.
Arkles and his team also argued that Alabama’s policy violates the privacy of transgender people and puts them in danger.
“Any time a trans person shows an ID with the wrong gender marker on it, that outs us, which also puts people at real, real risk of experiencing discrimination and violence,” he said.
The court ruled on only the first argument, that the policy violates the Equal Protection Clause, but it acknowledged the danger and distress the policy poses to the plaintiffs.
“The alternative to surgery is to bear a driver license with a sex designation that does not match the plaintiffs’ identity or appearance,” the court wrote. “That too comes with pain and risk. … For these plaintiffs, being reminded that they were once identified as a different sex is so painful that they redacted their prior names from exhibits they filed with the court.”
Mike Lewis, a spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office, said the office intends to appeal and has “no further comment.”
Arkles said the three plaintiffs have “been through so much” because of the ID policy: Corbitt hasn’t had a license or been able to drive for the last several months, Clark “sort of shaped her life around trying to minimize situations where she would have to show ID,” and the unnamed client, after she showed her ID to a bank teller, was told that she was going to hell.
Corbitt celebrated that “finally the state of Alabama will be required to respect me and provide an accurate driver’s license.”
“Since my out-of-state license expired, I have had to rely on friends and family to help me pick up groceries, get to church and get to my job. I missed a family member’s funeral because I just had no way to get there,” she said. “But the alternative — lying about who I am to get an Alabama license that endangered and humiliated me every time I used it — was not an option. I’m relieved that I will be able to drive again. While much work remains, this decision will make Alabama a safer place for me and other transgender people.”
The state plans to comply with a court order to give the plaintiffs IDs that accurately reflect their genders, but because it plans to appeal, Arkles said, “it may be quite some time before we know what the ultimate outcome is and what will be required of trans people in Alabama.”
A ‘patchwork’ of ID laws
Only eight states and two U.S. territories now require proof of surgery to change a driver’s license gender marker, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank, and the National Center for Trans Equality.
The remaining states have a variety of policies, according to the Movement Advancement Project, which reports that four states (now including Alabama) have “unclear” policies and that 20 states have “burdensome” policies and/or require medical provider certification of gender transition, which doesn’t include surgery.
Arli Christian, a campaign strategist for the ACLU, said 20 states allow people to decide what gender markers are appropriate for them and “what will keep them safe.”
“And that is hands down the best policy for ensuring that all people have the most accurate gender marker on their ID,” Christian said.
Nineteen states also allow residents to mark M, F or X, a nonbinary gender marker, on their driver’s licenses. Christian said the ACLU is pushing for President Joe Biden to create a policy that would allow transgender people to receive federal IDs, such as passports, that accurately reflect their genders without certification from medical providers. It also wants the policy to allow people to choose the gender-neutral X.
“We have a whole patchwork of gender marker change policies across the country,” Christian said. “Many of them need to be updated and modernized so that we can make sure that everybody has access to that accurate marker to be able to go through their lives without discrimination and harassment.”
Although Arkles is preparing for Alabama’s appeal, he said the ruling is a big step forward.
“While we’re going to keep fighting and we’re going to have to keep fighting this case, it is incredibly, incredibly exciting to have a decision from a judge recognizing that this is unconstitutional and to know that our clients are going to get some relief,” he said.