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Illinois Civil Unions go into effect today

Law that guarantees same-sex couples in Illinois 648 benefits and privileges of opposite-sex unions goes into effect today; lines at County Clerk’s office in Chicago out into the street.

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Illinois

Bernard Cherkasov, the C.E.O. of Equality Illinois, is beaming with pride today.

“It’s a fantastic day.” Cherkasov told the Blade over the phone from his desk at the Equality Illinois offices in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, “We’re celebrating civil unions [for same-sex couples in the state of Illinois]. There is something special about today. The weather is beautiful and people are just smiling. I woke up this morning, suddenly, with 648 new rights and benefits that i didn’t have yesterday. The phone has been ringing off the hook with people asking ‘is it really here?’ and I say ‘yes, civil unions are now actually law!’”

According to Cherkasov, some of the new rights guaranteed by the law are hospital visitation rights beyond visitor hours, emergency medical decision making powers, inheritance rights and the ability for same-sex parents who give birth to a child to have both parents on the birth certificate.

Advocates in Illinois won over both houses in the legislature during the lame duck session, in the last days the lawmakers were gathered in Springfield before the new year, in order to pass the Civil Unions law authored by openly gay Chicago representative, Greg Harris. Governor Pat Quinn, who won re-election in November, signed the bill into law early this year to the delight of families throughout Illinois.

“The downside for me is that I had to be up at something like five in the morning,” joked long-time gay civil rights activist and lead lobbyist in the push for Civil Unions last year, Rick Garcia.

“But this morning I went to Cook county, they opened the office up early, and they were brilliant at the way they had it all arranged and everything was phenomenal.”

Garcia was stunned at the turnout today for licences. “I walked in at a little before 7:00 A.M. and there was this huge line all the way from the Clerk’s office out to the street. I was completely overwhelmed and started to cry. I’ve been crying since six o’clock this morning!”

Garcia looked on as the first couple was given their license and Cook county Illinois conferred its first official Civil Union.

“I could barely see them through the tears in my eyes.”

Anthony Martinez, Executive Director of Illinois LGBT advocacy group, The Civil Rights Agenda, felt a surge of pride this morning as he witnessed couples being conferred legal Civil Unions for the first time in Illinois.

“I am Absolutely thrilled and excited to be witnessing the amazing amount of support and outpouring from the community for civil unions,” Martinez gushed. “These couples have been waiting for this for years and now they can go apply and get recognized. This drives our work at The Civil Rights Agenda, and we’re so thrilled for all of this.”

Martinez is also aware that challenges to these happy couples are still a major risk to be monitored. Last week, the opponents of the Civil Unions law, led by anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera of the conservative activist group, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, called for a voter referendum in the state of Illinois on an Amendment to the Illinois constitution barring recognition of any same-sex partnerships.

“There’s a battle between gay rights and religious freedom,” he told the Chicago Tribune this week. “We want to give Illinois voters the same opportunity other states have had.”

Martinez is doubtful that the group will be able to collect the 300,000 signatures needed to get the referendum on the ballot, but prefers to stay vigilant.

“in terms of what’s next, we take any attack on relationship recognition very seriously, especially with this marriage referendum. Though we don’t believe it will gain traction, we are watching it very closely, and want to make sure any attacks are addressed and that there is a plan and strategy in place to make sure those attacks are defeated.”

He’s also eager to concentrate on celebrating today’s victory.

“Friday we’re going to have sixty couples get committed at a mass civil union ceremony at 5:30 at the Chicago History Museum. Its going to be massive.”

Rick Garcia sees today’s victory as validation for years of hard work.

“One of the things I realized was that was where the rubber hit the road for me. On hot hot days like today in Springfield, you walk around the capital building, and its muggy, but today you see the fruit of your work. People who needed protections and benefits are getting what they deserved today.”

“I’m more thrilled than I thought I would be.”

“This has been a hard spring for us, because there have been six attempts to modify or scrap the civil unions bill. Had it not been for [Illinois LGBT advocacy group] The Civil Rights Agenda and the ACLU, today would have been much different. They stopped every piece of legislation that would attempt to gut this. I’m looking at these couples, together–some for a short time, some for a long time–waiting for this and never expected to see this day, and here it is!”

“That said,” Garcia continued, “separate is not equal. We deserve one set of rules; one yard stick for everyone. We’re going to celebrate for two days, today and tomorrow when ceremonies are allowed to take place for the first time; but the day after we have work to do and that work is equal marriage.”

At the Clerk’s office, Garcia was speaking off camera with several television reporters, one of of which remarked, “Oh my God, Rick you look like the proud father!”

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National

Mixed views among U.S. adults on trans issues: Pew

Most back non-discrimination, but divided on other issues

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A majority of U.S. adults back non-discrimination protections for transgender people, but are less supportive on other issues (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A new survey from a leading non-partisan research center reveals Americans have mixed views on transgender issues at a time when states are moving forward with measures against transgender youth, with strong majorities favoring non-discrimination protections but weaker support for access to transition-related care among minors and participation in school sports.

The Pew Research Center issued the findings on Tuesday as part of the results of its ongoing study to better understand Americans’ views about gender identity and people who are transgender or non-binary. The findings are based on a survey of 10,188 U.S. adults from data collected as part of a larger survey conducted May 16-22.

A majority of respondents by wide margins favor non-discrimination protections for transgender people. A full 64 percent back laws or policies that would protect transgender people from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public spaces, while roughly 8-in-10 acknowledge transgender people face at least some discrimination in our society.

Additionally, nearly one half of Americans say it’s extremely important to use a transgender person’s new name after they undergo a transition, while an additional 22 percent say that is somewhat important. A smaller percentage, 34 percent, say using a transgender person’s pronouns is extremely important, and 21 percent say it is somewhat important.

But other findings were less supportive:

  • 60 percent say a person’s gender is determined by sex assigned at birth, reflecting an increase from 56 percent in 2021 and 54 percent in 2017, compared to 38 percent who say gender can be different from sex assigned at birth.
  • 54 percent say society has either gone too far or been about right in terms of acceptance, underscoring an ambivalence around transgender issues even among those who see at least some discrimination against transgender people.
  • About six-in-ten adults, or 58 precent, favor proposals that would require transgender athletes to compete on teams that match the sex they were assigned at birth as opposed to teams consistent with their gender identity, compared to 17 percent who oppose that and 24 percent neither favor nor oppose it.
  • 46 percent favor making it illegal for health care professionals to provide transition-related care, such as hormones or gender reassignment surgery, to someone younger than 18, compared to 31 percent who oppose it.
  • Americans are more evenly split when it comes to making it illegal for public school districts to teach about gender identity in elementary schools (which is favored by 41 percent, and opposed by 38 percent) and investigating parents for child abuse if they help someone younger than 18 obtain transition-related care (37 percent are in favor and 36 percent oppose it).

Young adults took the lead in terms of supporting change and acceptance. Half of adults ages 18 to 29 say someone can be a man or a woman even if that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth, compared to about four-in-10 of those ages 30 to 49 and about one-third of respondents 50 and older.

Predictably, stark differences could be found along party lines. Democrats by 59 precent say society hasn’t gone far enough in accepting people who are transgender, while 15 percent say it has gone too far and 24 percent say it’s been about right. For Republicans, 10 percent say society hasn’t gone far enough, while 66 percent say it’s gone too far and 22 percent say it’s been about right.

Read the full report here.

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Congress

House passes resolution that calls for Brittney Griner’s immediate release

Detained WNBA star’s trial to begin on July 1

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A participant in the Capital Pride parade parade in D.C. demands Brittney Griner's release. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a resolution passed on June 24 by the U.S. House of Representatives, lawmakers called on Russia to immediately release detained WNBA star Brittney Griner. 

Griner was first arrested in Russia in the days leading up to its invasion in Ukraine. Authorities have charged her with drug trafficking after claiming that she attempted to pass through Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport while in possession of cannabis oil. 

The House’s resolution, introduced in May by U.S. Reps. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) and Colin Allred (D-Texas), made multiple demands of Russia, including that the country “immediately release Brittney Griner,” provide her with consular access and humane treatment and that the U.S. “raise the case of Brittney Griner and to press for her release” in all its dealings with the Russian government.

“This legislation insists on our embassy personnel having access to Ms. Griner and restates our commitment to freeing her now,” Lee said in a statement after introducing the resolution. “We continue to pray for her family and we will continue to work together as three members of Congress, along with others, to spread the message that she is held wrongfully and must be freed now.”

The resolution also expressed support for both Griner’s family and for “all prisoners unjustly imprisoned in the Russian Federation.”

Allred, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, took to Twitter following the passage of the resolution.

“I’m proud the House has spoken in passing our resolution and calling for Brittney Griner’s swift release,” Allred wrote. “Every day an American is held abroad is a lifetime, and I will keep working with @POTUS to do all we can to bring home every American detained abroad.”

Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, welcomed the House’s passage of the resolution this past weekend.

“[Rep.] Stanton and many others are continuing to work with the White House, State Department and Brittney’s family to secure her safe return home,” the team wrote on Twitter.

The resolution comes after reporting revealed missteps on the part of the U.S. government in handling communication related to Griner’s detention. 

According to past reporting, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow failed to connect Griner with outside phone calls permitted by the Russian government when Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, attempted to call her. Cherelle Griner reportedly called 11 times on June 18 on the couple’s fourth anniversary but was unable to reach her wife due to what the State Department claimed to be a “logistical error.”

While the resolution is being heralded by its supporters, it contains no provisions intended to enforce the House’s demands for the release and humane treatment of Griner and others held by Russia. With less than one percent of criminal defendants in Russia being acquitted, it is unclear whether the resolution will do anything to persuade the country’s courts to permit Griner’s release.

Griner appeared in Russian court on Monday for a preliminary hearing prior to her trial that has now been scheduled to begin on July 1. It was also confirmed by Griner’s attorney on Monday that her detention had been extended for six months pending her trial. 

If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.

“We must keep Brittney’s case on the forefront and make clear to the White House that her release should be one of the highest priorities for our government,” Cherelle Griner said in May.

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New York

Protests, revelry mark NYC Pride

Tens of thousands protested Roe ruling on Friday night

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The New York City Pride parade passes down Christopher Street in Manhattan's West Village on June 26, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Sean Robinson)

New York City Pride, one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world, rang in the weekend with equal parts celebration and protest. 

Although the annual Pride march was on Sunday, the entire weekend was filled with an outpouring of public anger in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

Protesters took to the streets of Manhattan on Friday with an estimated 17,000 people gathering to protest the ruling, which made abortion imminently illegal in roughly half of states. At least 25 people were arrested at the Friday night protests, which spread from Washington Square Park through Midtown to Bryant Park. 

In light of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision — which advocates say will harm members of the LGBTQ community — NYC Pride announced that Planned Parenthood would kick off Sunday’s Pride march as the first group to walk. In their statement, NYC Pride said that “[The Supreme Court’s] dangerous decision puts millions in harm’s way, gives government control over our individual freedom to choose, and sets a disturbing precedent that puts many other constitutional rights and freedoms in jeopardy.” 

“As millions gather for LGBTQIA+ Pride this weekend in New York City and cities across the country, our voices will be heard — for the LGBTQ people impacted and the millions with whom we stand in solidarity,” read the statement. “Pride was born of protest and will always be a space to fight injustice and discrimination. Join us as we advocate for bodily autonomy at this year’s NYC Pride March.” 

In addition to the march; NYC Pride had a full slate of Pride programming during the week leading up to it, including Pride Island at Governor’s Island, Youth Pride and a human rights conference. Queer clubs and bars throughout the city hosted various Pride-themed events throughout the weekend.

NYC Pride was not the only organization mobilizing this weekend. 

Reclaim Pride NYC hosted a “Queer Liberation March for Trans and BIPOC Freedom, Reproductive Justice, and Bodily Autonomy,” in partnership with pro-choice groups and community organizations. 

“The [Queer Liberation March] is the annual people’s protest march without corporate funding; corporate floats; politicians’ grandstanding; or police control or involvement,” said the Reclaim Pride Coalition. 

Although Pride originated from a moment of violent tension between police and LGBTQ people at the Stonewall Inn, officers on Sunday carefully patrolled the entire NYC Pride march route. When the apparent sound of gunshots nearly sparked a stampede in Washington Square Park during the parade, the New York Police Department said there were “no shots fired,” later confirming that the sounds were due to fireworks being set off at the park. 

The Washington Post noted fears of violence against the queer community circulated at Pride celebrations across the country.

Police also responded to reports of a shooting at San Francisco Pride, although no suspects or witnesses were found. In light of the epidemic of gun violence — from last month’s elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, to the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in 2016 that left 49 people dead — a fear of active shooters and widespread public anger at the prospect of less rights characterized Pride’s usually jubilant atmosphere.

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