December 31, 2014 at 3:00 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Top 10 national stories of 2014

It was another historic year for the LGBT rights movement, as marriage equality came to a slew of new states, an NFL player came out and President Obama made good on a key promise.

#10 Plight of LGBT southerners gains attention

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The Blade sent a reporter and photographer to tour the Deep South during the summer to chronicle the plight of LGBT activists and residents there. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The plight of LGBT people in the South — where no laws prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination — attracted national attention this year.

The Human Rights Campaign started a multi-year, $8.5 million initiative called Project One America, which aims to make dramatic progress on LGBT rights in the South. The initiative seeks to make progress on three fronts: changing hearts and minds, advancing legal protections and building more LGBT-inclusive institutions from the church pew to the workplace.

To monitor the conditions of LGBT people in the Deep South, the Washington Blade sent staffers to tour several states and interview local LGBT advocates about the hostility and discrimination they face.

 

#9 Author compares Chad Griffin to Rosa Parks

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HRC’s Chad Griffin came under fire in 2014 after an author compared him to Rosa Parks. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“Forcing the Spring,” an account of the lawsuit against California’s Proposition 8, stirred controversy over its lionization of Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin.

The book, written by Jo Becker, compares him to civil rights icon Rosa Parks in its opening paragraph and depicts him as a revolutionary leader on marriage equality, minimizing the role of other LGBT rights advocates. The book was panned by gay blogger Andrew Sullivan and other LGBT advocates.

Later in the year, Griffin apologized to the transgender community during a speech at “Southern Comfort” for what he said were HRC’s past transgressions against the community.

#8 Arizona guv vetoes ‘turn away the gay’ bill

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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

A “turn away the gay” bill in Arizona seen to enable individuals and businesses to deny services to LGBT people ignited an unprecedented firestorm in the media. After the legislation, SB 1062, was approved by the Arizona Legislature, critics decried the bill, including prominent Republicans like Sen. John McCain, Sen. Jeff Flake, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

Major companies based in Arizona — U.S. Airways and retailer PetSmart — urged a veto. The National Football League was reportedly considering moving the Super Bowl out of the state. Although Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, religious freedom “license to discriminate” bills are a national trend and are expected to move through other state legislatures in 2015.

 

#7 Obama makes high-profile LGBT appointments

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Ted Osius, on left, was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam. (Photo by U.S. Embassy in Jakarta; courtesy Flickr)

President Obama made LGBT appointments to important positions in his administration and the judiciary. Chief among them is Ted Osius, a career Foreign Service officer who was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam.

Gordon Tanner was also appointed to a high-ranking post as general counsel for the Air Force. To the federal judiciary, the Senate confirmed lesbian Judith Levy to the U.S. District Court of Eastern Michigan. On June 17, the Senate took a historic vote by confirming two openly gay judicial nominees in one day, both of whom were black. Staci Michelle Yandle was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois and Darrin Gayles was confirmed for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

 

#6 Progress, visibility for trans community 

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Laverne Cox’s Time cover generated major buzz in 2014.

Transgender people saw major victories in 2014 as visibility for the community continued to rise. Medicare lifted its ban on coverage for gender reassignment treatment, enabling contractors to determine on a case-by-case basis whether coverage is appropriate.

Laverne Cox, star of “Orange Is the New Black,” appeared on the cover of Time magazine with the caption “The Transgender Tipping Point.” The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also filed its first-ever lawsuits based on the historic decision in Macy v. Holder alleging anti-trans bias in the workforce.

 

#5 Michaud loses bid for history in Maine

Among the Democratic casualties on Election Day this year was Mike Michaud, who lost his bid to become the next governor of Maine and the first openly gay person elected as governor. Michaud came up short in a race against Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who won 48 percent of the vote compared to the 43 percent won by Michaud.

Many observers blamed Michaud’s loss on the presence in the race of a third-party candidate, independent Eliot Cutler, who took 8 percent of the vote. Non-incumbent gay candidates running for Congress in 2014 also fell short, such as Democrats Sean Eldridge and Clay Aiken as well as Republicans Carl DeMaio and Richard Tisei. Maura Healy, however, succeeded in her bid to become the next Massachusetts Attorney General and the first out person elected in the country as state attorney general.

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Mike Michaud lost to a Tea Party Republican in Maine. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

 

#4 Tim Cook, Michael Sam inspire by coming out 

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Michael Sam was drafted by the Rams after coming out but later cut. (Photo by Marcus Qwertyus; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Coming out stories continued to make national headlines. Michael Sam, a defensive end who played football for University of Missouri, came out as gay. The St. Louis Rams drafted him in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, making him the first openly gay player drafted by the National Football League.

But the Rams cut him at the end of training camp, and he never made it to the field, even though he spent time on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad before being waived.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Inc., also came out as gay, writing in an op-ed for Bloomberg Businessweek, “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

 

#3 Obama bars anti-LGBT bias among contractors

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President Barack Obama signed an executive order barring anti-LGBT workplace discrimination for federal contractors. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

After years of pressure from LGBT advocates, President Obama signed an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Although concerns persisted that Obama would include a religious exemption in the measure, known as Executive Order 13672, no carve-out was included beyond the already existing Bush administration language allowing religious-affiliated businesses to favor co-religionists in hiring practices.

According to the Williams Institute, the order will protect 34 million workers, or about 22 percent of the American workforce. In December, the Labor Department announced the rule for the executive order has become final, giving federal contractors 120 days to update their policies to comply with the measure or lose out on federal contracts.

 

#2 GOP wave dooms pro-LGBT legislation 

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A sharp divide within the LGBT community has taken place over ENDA because of its religious exemption. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

In a GOP wave on Election Day, the Republican Party won control of the U.S. Senate by taking nine seats in the chamber and expanded its majority in the U.S. House to the greatest extent since the Truman administration.

The change in power balance is expected to put the breaks on the advancement of pro-LGBT legislation, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and an expected comprehensive LGBT civil rights bill. It also may open the doors to anti-LGBT legislation, such as a federal religious freedom bill. But even with Democratic control of the Senate, no pro-LGBT legislation reached President Obama’s desk in 2014. Support for ENDA crumbled over discontent with a broad religious exemption that was included in the Senate-passed version of the bill.

 

#1 Supreme Court action brings marriage to new states

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Several couples were married at the Mayflower Congressional United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Oct. 6, 2014. (Photo by Dante’y’s Art Photography)

In a surprise move, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear this year decisions in favor of same-sex marriage from three federal appeals courts, bringing marriage equality to five new states: Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana.

Before the year was out, a total of 35 states and D.C. were considered to have marriage equality following more than 50 court decisions throughout the country in favor of gay nuptials. The only federal appeals court to decide to uphold bans on same-sex marriage was the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, but plaintiffs for same-sex couples who filed the lawsuits in that jurisdiction have called for review by the Supreme Court. Legal experts expect a nationwide ruling on the marriage issue by the middle of 2015.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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