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Marriage was the story of the year in 2009



Supporters of LGBT rights faced many ups and downs in 2009, but no issue proved as tumultuous or gained as much attention as the ongoing fight over marriage rights.

Alternating between legislative defeats in Maine and New York and victories in four states and Washington, D.C., the issue figured prominently into the national discourse. The momentum behind efforts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples last year was unprecedented and often gave gay rights activists reason to celebrate.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, called the advancement of same-sex marriage in 2009 a “capstone to a decade of extraordinary progress.”

“At the end of the decade,” he said, “[we have] five states plus the District of Columbia having the freedom to marry, others shimmering within reach and well more than a third of Americans living in a place where same-sex couples have at least some measure of statewide recognition and protection.”

M.V. Lee Badgett, a lesbian economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said the advancement of same-sex marriage is striking particularly in states that already allowed relationship recognition.

“I think the main thing that we learned is that states are ready to legalize same-sex marriage and it happened in several places that have civil unions or domestic partnerships,” she said. “Legislators realized, [at] the request of their constituents, that those statuses were not the same.”

Joining Massachusetts and Connecticut this year in legalizing same-sex marriage were four states — Iowa, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire — as well as D.C. The victory in Maine was short-lived, though, as voters there overturned the decision in November through a “people’s veto” at the ballot box.

Social conservatives highlighted the loss of same-sex marriage in Maine — in addition to the failure of the New York State Senate to pass marriage legislation in December — as evidence of resistance to granting marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples throughout the country.

Jenny Tyree, marriage analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said the repeal of the marriage law in Maine “further clarified” that “the majority of Americans support the ‘one-man, one-woman’ definition of marriage.”

“There were judicial and legislative decisions that redefined marriage in a handful of states and in the District,” she said. “That was disheartening, but ultimately, we’re pleased that Maine affirmed the decision of voters in 30 other states who say they did not want marriage to be redefined.”

But Wolfson cautioned against reading too much into Maine voters’ decision to overturn the marriage law, arguing that “we’ve been there before and when we stuck with it, we went on to win.”

“Let’s remember that in 1998, the Maine Legislature passed a non-discrimination law, and that was overturned by the voters, too,” he said. “And then we passed it again in the legislature in 2000, and it was overturned again. And then we passed it a third time in 2005, and only then were we able to sustain it at the ballot.”

Wolfson said continuing the conversations about why marriage rights are important for same-sex couples will protect those rights in the future when they’re challenged.

“Maine also showed that we have to push forward just a notch beyond where we are and bring over another small slice of people who have not yet seen the visibility of gay families,” he said. “If we had had those conversations, and that greater bit of visibility with just 16,000 more people, we would have held the freedom to marry in Maine.”

In addition to the advancement of same-sex marriage rights, 2009 also saw greater support for gay nuptials among the electorate, according to recent polls.

One noteworthy poll from April published by Washington Post-ABC News found, for the first time, a plurality of Americans in favor of same-sex marriage. Among those polled, 49 percent said they favored marriage rights for same-sex couples, while 46 percent said they should be illegal.

Badgett said recent polling shows that while same-sex marriage still doesn’t enjoy support from a majority of Americans, attitudes are changing.

“There’s not yet a majority, but there is increasing support,” she said. “And I think it’s quite possible that people that will change their minds over time.”

But Tyree discounted the recent polling data, and said the numbers don’t reflect what happens when same-sex marriage is brought to the voters in individual states.

“It seems like when they really have a chance to think about it, they decided to continue to define it between one man and one woman,” she said. “Yes, the national polling has some merit, but it doesn’t seem to have been any real predictive factor at the state level.”

Polls also continue to show strong support for same-sex marriage among young people. The Washington Post-ABC News poll, for example, found that among responders under the age of 35, two-thirds supported same-sex marriage.

But despite that level of support, Tyree said the position of young people on same-sex marriage is “really still in play.”

“I think that the jury is still out on what they will decide as they start families and become more aware of what’s at stake with the push for redefining marriage,” she said. “Nothing is inevitable, and I think that that is true of how they currently feel about redefining marriage.”

Wolfson said the support for same-sex marriage among young people shows the battle can be won, but at the same time “doesn’t make the battle self-winning.”

“We have to mobilize those young people; we have to engage them,” he said. “There is no marriage without engagement, and there is no way to secure social justice without doing the work.”

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Activists demand ICE release transgender, HIV-positive detainees

Protest took place outside agency’s D.C. headquarters on Wednesday



Jessycka Ckatallea Letona, an indigenous transgender woman from Guatemala who spent nearly two years in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, participated in a protest in front of ICE's headquarters in Southwest D.C. on Oct. 27, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Jessycka Ckatallea Letona is an indigenous transgender woman from Guatemala who fled persecution in her homeland because of her gender identity.

She asked for asylum in the U.S. in 2016 when she entered the country in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Ckatallea on Wednesday told the Washington Blade that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials placed her in a pod with 70 men at a privately-run detention center in Florence, Ariz. She also said personnel at another ICE detention center in Santa Ana, Calif., ridiculed her because of her gender identity and forced her to strip naked before she attended hearings in her asylum case.

Ckatallea spent a year and eight months in ICE custody before her release. She won her asylum case and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“It was a very traumatic experience,” said Ckatallea as she spoke with the Blade in front of ICE’s headquarters in Southwest D.C. “I came to a country thinking that it would take care of me, that it would protect me because of my gender identity.”

Ckatallea is one of the more than a dozen immigrant rights activists who participated in a protest in front of ICE’s headquarters that Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Immigration Equality and the End Trans Detention campaign organized. Ckatallea, Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron Morris and other protest participants demanded ICE immediately release trans people and people with HIV/AIDS from their custody.

The groups placed on the sidewalk in front of the building a Day of the Dead “ofrenda” to honor three trans women—Victoria Orellano, Roxsana Hernández and Johana “Joa” Medina León—who died in ICE custody or immediately after their release. The “ofrenda” also paid tribute to Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, a Venezuelan man with AIDS who died in ICE custody on Oct. 1.

Immigrant rights activists on Oct. 27, 2021, placed a Day of the Dead “ofrenda” outside U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Southwest D.C. that honored three transgender women and a man with AIDS who died while in ICE custody or immediately upon their release. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ckatallea, Morris and the other protesters approached the building’s entrance and presented security personnel with a petition that calls upon President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to “immediately release all transgender people, people living with HIV, and people with medical conditions from ICE custody.”

ICE has repeatedly defended its treatment of trans people and people with HIV/AIDS who are in their custody.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center, the same privately-run facility in which Gotopo was held until his hospitalization. The person with whom the Blade spoke described conditions inside the detention center as “not safe” because personnel were not doing enough to protect them and other detainees from COVID-19.

Congressman Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) is among the dozens of lawmakers who have called for the release of all trans people and people with HIV/AIDS from ICE custody. The Illinois Democrat on Tuesday reiterated this call during a virtual briefing that Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Immigration Equality and the End Trans Detention Campaign organized.

“ICE’s clear inability to do better leads me to seek to end of ICE’s detention of all trans migrants,” said Quigley. “During both the Trump and Biden administration I led dozens of my colleagues to demand that ICE release transgender detainees and end its practice of holding trans migrants in custody. We had hoped that things would change with the new administration, so far I’m disappointed.”

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) also participated in the briefing alongside Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford and Sharita Gruberg of the Center for American Progress and others.

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Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott signs anti-Trans youth sports bill

“Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids & adults- the emails to the Governor to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law”



Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott (Blade file screenshot)

AUSTIN – Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Monday H.B. 25, an anti-Transgender youth sports bill banning Trans K-12 student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. 

H.B. 25 is the 9th statewide bill signed into law this year banning transgender youth from participating in school sports and the 10th in the country. This bill also comes during a year when Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQ bills, including more than 40 bills that specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth — far more than any other state.

“We are devastated at the passage of this bill. Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids and adults, families and advocates, and the many emails and calls our community placed to the Governor’s office to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law,” Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, said.

“Most immediately, our focus is our community and integrating concepts of healing justice to provide advocates who have already been harmed by this bill with spaces to refill their cup and unpack the acute trauma caused by these legislative sessions. Our organizations will also begin to shift focus to electing pro-equality lawmakers who understand our issues and prioritize representing the vast majority of Texans who firmly believe that discrimination against trans and LGB+ people is wrong,” he added.

Earlier this month, the Texas state government was criticized for removing web pages with resources for LGBTQ youth, including information about The Trevor Project’s crisis services. The Trevor Project the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people.

“Transgender and nonbinary youth are already at higher risk for poor mental health and suicide because of bullying, discrimination, and rejection. This misguided legislation will only make matters worse,” Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

To every trans Texan who may be feeling hurt and attacked by this legislation and months of ugly political debate — please know that you are valid, and you are deserving of equal opportunity, dignity and respect. The Trevor Project is here for you 24/7 if you ever need support, and we will continue fighting alongside a broad coalition of advocates to challenge this law,” Paley said.


Additional resources:

Research consistently demonstrates that transgender and nonbinary youth face unique mental health challenges and an elevated risk for bullying and suicide risk compared to their peers.  

  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. 94% of LGBTQ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health. 
  • A newly published research brief on “Bullying and Suicide Risk among LGBTQ Youth,” found that 61% of transgender and nonbinary (TGNB) students reported being bullied either in-person or electronically in the past year, compared to 45% of cisgender LGBQ students. TGNB students who were bullied in the past year reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not. And TGNB students who said their school was LGBTQ-affirming reported significantly lower rates of being bullied (55%) compared to those in schools that weren’t LGBTQ-affirming (65%).
  • A 2020 peer-reviewed study found that transgender and nonbinary youth who report experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity had more than double the odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not experience discrimination based on their gender identity.
  • Trevor’s research has also found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (68%) had never participated in sports for a school or community league or club — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at, or by texting START to 678678.

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Ohio high school cancels play with Gay character after Pastor complains

The School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month until the play was canceled



Hillsboro High School (Screenshot via Cincinnati ABC affiliate WCPO-TV)

HILLSBORO, Oh. — A Southwest Ohio high school’s play was abruptly canceled after Jeff Lyle, a local pastor from Good News Gathering, complained of a gay character. 

Hillsboro High School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month, until students learned the play would be canceled last week, reports Cincinnati’s ABC affiliate WCPO

The story follows a high school senior as she learns about her late sister’s life. It is implied throughout the play that her sister is gay, according to the news station.

The play’s cancellation comes a week after Lyle, a long-time voice of the anti-LGBTQ+ religious-right in Ohio, and a group of parents confronted the production’s directors at a meeting, according to Cincinnati CBS affiliate Local 12. Lyle denies pressuring school officials, but tells WCPO he supports the decision.

“From a Biblical worldview this play is inappropriate for a number of reasons, e.g. sexual innuendo, implied sexual activity between unmarried persons, repeated use of foul language including taking the Lord’s name in vain,” Lyle said. 

Some families say they believe Lyle did influence the school’s decision. 

“I think that’s wrong,” Jon Polstra, a father of one of the actors, told WCPO. “All they would have had to do if they objected to something in the play was not go to the play.”

In a statement to Local 12, Hillsboro City Schools Superintendent Tim Davis said the play was canceled because it “was not appropriate for our K-12 audience.”

The Lexington Herald Leader reports that the school planned to perform a version intended for audiences as young as 11 years old. 

Students were “devastated” and “blindsided” by the news, according to WCPO. 

“It felt like we had just been told, ‘Screw off and your lives don’t matter,'” Christopher Cronan, a Hillsboro High student, said. “I am openly bisexual in that school and I have faced a lot of homophobia there, but I never expected them to cancel a play for a fictional character.”

Cronan’s father, Ryan, also voiced his frustration. 

“They want to say the town is just not ready, but how are you not ready? It’s 2021,” Ryan Cronan said.

Students have started a GoFundMe in hopes of putting on the production at a community theater in 2022.

“If we do raise enough money, I am going to be genuinely happy for a very long time, because that means people do care,” Cronan told WCPO.

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