The first week of 2010 gave us an idea how the year will shape up.
Out lesbian and gay elected officials were sworn in. A lot of attention was paid to Annise Parker, the new mayor of Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city. Her ascendance proved once more that out politicians can win on their own merit even in conservative areas. The same was true for Stan Penfold, who became the first openly gay city council member in the Mormon stronghold of Salt Lake City. In California, the State Assembly officially selected John Perez, a gay Latino, as its next speaker.
The Obama administration also continues to welcome well-qualified LGBT people into its ranks. In a move that delighted trans activists and the community at large, defense industry veteran Amanda Simpson was appointed senior technical advisor to the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry & Security. Furthermore, the administration inserted language into the federal jobs web site explicitly barring employment discrimination based on gender identity.
The growing numbers of out individuals in all branches of government can only further the movement. We are becoming more visible and familiar to people in positions of power and influence. We are gaining more advocates in Washington as well as in state and local capitals who can raise awareness about our issues and push for reform in many ways, big and small. This is crucial because progress on key LGBT policy issues will be stalled.
At the marriage equality front, we need to be vigilant and make sure that we do not lose hard fought gains. Well before lesbian and gay New Hampshirites can settle into their new lives as married couples, there are already attempts to put New Hampshire’s newly effected same-sex marriage law to a referendum. In Washington, D.C., two senators and 37 members of the House, all Republicans and anti-LGBT, have taken the side of opponents who are suing to subject equality to mob rule. The gang, which includes Sens. James Inhofe and Roger Wicker, and the usual suspects such as Reps. John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Michele Bachmann, Jason Chaffetz and Virginia Foxx, filed an amicus brief in support of the anti-gay litigants.
In New Jersey, same-sex marriage proponents got the state’s senate to debate allowing gay couples to wed, a Hail Mary pass which, not altogether surprising, failed. However, Lambda Legal released a statement promising to go back to court and fight for marriage equality.
In Rhode Island, the state legislature defended the single right they had won for domestic partners: the right to make funeral arrangements for each other. Gov. Donald Carcieri had vetoed the legislation, but Rhode Island’s lawmakers overrode the veto.
Moreover, the Democratic Party got some bad news which does not auger well for us and our policy objectives. Longtime Sens. Christopher Dodd and Byron Dorgan announced they will not seek re-election during the mid-term elections. Democrats are thus likely to lose the super majority they currently enjoy. Legislative efforts to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” along with various other LGBT agenda items, are for all intents and purposes shelved indefinitely.
In other news, pro-equality laws took effect in California. The state now recognizes the legal status of out-of-state same-sex marriages that occurred before Prop 8 went into effect in November 2008, and officially commemorates the birthday of LGBT civil rights martyr Harvey Milk.
This week, the 22-year HIV immigration ban which had stopped anyone living with HIV/AIDS from entering the United States was lifted. The first self-identified HIV-positive individual was welcomed at JFK airport in New York. Clement Rulands, a Dutch national, was quoted as saying “I feel proud to be here without the need to hide my status … this is not about me, but about the thousands of others who were afraid to disclose their HIV status.”
Internationally, as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals become more visible, empowered and politically engaged, there will be progress as well backlash. A whole lot of backlash.
In Portugal, the predominantly Roman Catholic country’s parliament passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage. The proposed law now goes to conservative president Anibal Cavaco Silva, who can very well choose to veto it. In another country where the Catholic Church is a major player, the LGBT community continues to fight for its rightful place in society. Ang Ladlad, a Philippine LGBT group that seeks party-list accreditation is asking the nation’s Supreme Court to review the decision of the Commission on Elections to reject Ang Ladlad’s petition for accreditation last year based on religious arguments.
Not surprisingly, Catholic and other fundamentalist leaders are up in arms over civil and human rights won by LGBT people. In Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera said during a homily, “We respect and love those with different sexual tendencies and we should safeguard their human rights, but they cannot be allowed to raise families or be called a family.” Along with other denominational leaders, Rivera is preparing to mount a crusade to contain the plague of equality within the city, whose legislative assembly had approved gay marriage and the adoption of children by gay couples.
But the insidious influence of fundamentalist leaders is nowhere more appalling than in Africa. The outrage over Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill grows. This week both The New York Times and The Washington Post issued scathing editorials on the matter. In Malawi, three human rights activists were arrested for helping to defend the gay couple that held a same-sex engagement ceremony last month. The couple had been arrested, denied bail and subjected to humiliating medical examinations.
In other international news, a South Korean court ruled in favor of a gay Pakistani man who had sought refugee status on the basis that he faced persecution back home. While in Iran, the government decided to no longer classify trans people as mentally disturbed, however they can still be classified as “people with hormonal imbalance” or “diabetics.”
Locally and internationally, our march continues but it will not be easy or fast.
Next week, we should watch out for the federal case against Prop 8 in California. The trial begins on Monday and is expected to last for weeks. It will be the first occasion in federal court where a judge must answer the question of whether the Constitution forbids states like from restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples. The courtroom footage will not be streamed live, but will be available on YouTube daily.
You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon