December 29, 2016 at 7:00 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Top 10 national stories of the year
top national stories 2016, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama designated as a national monument the area around the Stonewall Inn in June. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

These are the top 10 national stories of 2016 as selected by the Blade’s editorial staff.

#10: Stonewall Inn named U.S. Historic Landmark

The Obama administration this year through the Department of Interior took unprecedented steps to recognize moments in LGBT history.

Amid Pride celebrations in June, President Obama designated as a national monument the area around the Stonewall Inn where riots in 1969 kicked off the modern gay rights movement.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also issued the first-ever National Park Service “theme study” identifying places and events associated with the history of LGBT Americans.

Among places identified in the survey are the D.C. house of the late gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, which is on the National Register of Historic Places; and D.C.’s Furies Collective House, which in the early 1970s became the operational center for the lesbian feminist and separatist Furies collective.

#9: Kate Brown elected Oregon governor

Kate Brown, gay news, Washington Blade

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown was a ray of hope on Election Night. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

On an Election Night that disappointed many LGBT voters, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown was a ray of hope upon becoming the first openly LGBT person and first bisexual person elected governor in the United States.

Brown had already been serving in the role of Oregon governor for more than a year as a result of being Oregon secretary of state and next in the line of succession when her predecessor resigned in scandal.

But the victory against Republican challenger Bud Pierce affirmed Brown would be allowed to serve four more years. Brown secured 50.5 percent of the vote compared to the 43.8 percent won by Pierce.

In an interview with the Washington Blade last month, Brown said the significance of being the first openly LGBT and bisexual person elected governor is increased visibility because “you can’t be what you can’t see.”

“If I can be a role model for one young person that decides that their life is worth living because there’s someone like them in the world, it’s worth it,” Brown said.

#8: Gavin Grimm case moves to Supreme Court

Gavin Grimm was denied use of the boys' room at Gloucester County Schools in Virginia. (Photo courtesy of American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia)

Gavin Grimm was denied use of the boys’ room at Gloucester County Schools in Virginia. (Photo courtesy of American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia)

The U.S. Supreme Court may be on cusp of another major LGBT rights decision after agreeing this year to review whether a transgender student can use the school bathroom consistent with his gender identity.

Justices issued a writ of certiorari to take up the case of Gavin Grimm, who was denied use of the boys’ room at Gloucester County Schools in Virginia. Although the U.S Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Grimm’s favor, the Supreme Court placed a stay on the decision and agreed to take it up.

The Supreme Court agreed to review the decision even though the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Grimm, asked the court to turn it down.

If the court rules in Grimm’s favor, the decision could be a massive win for transgender students assuring them access to the bathroom in schools nationwide consistent with their gender identity.

#7: The arrival of ‘religious freedom’ bills

With varying success, state legislatures advanced measures aimed at allowing discrimination against LGBT people, often in the name of “religious freedom.”

One such measure Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law would have enabled sweeping anti-LGBT discrimination in the state, including the denial of services to same-sex couples or transition-related care for transgender people.

But a federal court barred enforcement of the measure before it could take effect as a result of a lawsuit filed by New York attorney Roberta Kaplan.

In South Dakota, Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed legislation that would have barred transgender students from using the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a “religious freedom” bill that would have allowed faith-based organizations to deny services to LGBT people.

Those measures could be a precursor to more anti-LGBT bills in 2017. In Texas, lawmakers have pre-filed bills in the same mold, including a measure that would ban city LGBT ordinances.

#6: Eric Fanning confirmed as Army secretary

The U.S. Senate this year confirmed Eric Fanning as Army secretary. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Senate this year confirmed Eric Fanning as Army secretary. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Following an eight-month period of inaction on his nomination, the U.S. Senate this year confirmed Eric Fanning as Army secretary, making him the first openly gay person to head any service in the U.S. military.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) placed a hold on the nomination on the purported basis he wanted assurances from President Obama he wouldn’t move Guantanamo Bay terrorist suspects to a prison in Kansas. Upon pressure from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to move forward with confirmation, Roberts said he received sufficient assurances from the Pentagon.

In an interview with the Washington Blade, Fanning acknowledged the distinction of being the first openly gay Army secretary.

“I increasingly reflect on my own experience when I was younger and working in the Department of Defense and didn’t really see a way forward for me because I didn’t see people like me in positions of leadership,” Fanning said. “So, I think in some ways, it’s an important milestone for a lot of people particularly in the military, even civilians who work around the military.”

#5: Pentagon lifts ban on trans military service

national news, Ashton Carter, Department of Defense, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After a yearlong review geared toward changing the policy, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter this year lifted the ban on openly transgender people serving in the U.S. armed forces.

Carter announced in June the military would undo the medical regulation prohibiting transgender troops from serving openly.

Although Carter said the Pentagon would lift the ban “effective immediately,” the initial change only allowed existing transgender troops to serve openly without fear of expulsion. Medical benefits, including transition-related care like gender reassignment surgery, wasn’t available until October and openly transgender people still won’t be able to accede in the military until July.

#4: Antonin Scalia dies

Laverne Cox, gay news, Washington Blade

Anti-gay Justice Antonin Scalia died in February. In 2015, the Blade snapped this strange bedfellows photo of Scalia chatting with Laverne Cox and Katie Couric at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner.

After gaining an anti-gay reputation for his caustic dissents to gay rights decisions during his 30 years on the bench, U.S. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly this year at age 79 at the Cibolo Creek Ranch in Texas.

The Reagan-appointed justice objected to major decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of gay rights, including the decision in the nationwide ruling last year in favor of same-sex marriage.

President Obama named U.S. Chief Judge Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to succeed Scalia, but the Republican-controlled Senate never held a hearing or a vote on the nomination.

#3: N.C. passes HB2; McCrory flushed in election

Following an outcry over a law he signed barring transgender people from using the public restroom consistent with their gender identity, voters in North Carolina flushed Gov. Pat McCrory at the polls on Election Day.

McCrory signed House Bill 2 after the North Carolina Legislature approved the law during an emergency session with only a single day of consideration. The law bars localities from enacting pro-LGBT discrimination ordinances, undoing one recently enacted in Charlotte, and prohibits transgender people from using the public restrooms in schools and government building in accordance with their gender identity.

The law inspired a massive outcry from LGBT advocates and business leaders who called for repeal. The resulting loss of business in North Carolina cost the state an estimated $400 million.

In a state Donald Trump won handily, McCrory lost to Democratic challenger Roy Cooper by a margin of 10,000 votes, although McCrory initially called for a recount and took almost a month to concede.

#2: Gunman kills 49 at Pulse nightclub

The Pulse nightclub, gay news, Washington Blade

A gunman killed 49 people at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando in June. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The LGBT community faced a stunning tragedy this year when a lone gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

Armed with an assault weapon and a 9 mm Glock semi-automatic pistol, Omar Mateen executed patrons during a three-hour standoff at the Pulse nightclub before Orlando police officers shot and killed him.

In a call to 911 prior to the attack, Matten pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria. Although initial reports said Mateen was a patron of the nightclub and used gay hookup apps, the FBI said it couldn’t find any evidence to substantiate those claims.

A groundswell movement emerged in the LGBT community to take on gun reform. Grassroots groups like “Gays Against Guns” held protests and the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence was formed. But those efforts may be stymied at the federal level as a result of the election.

#1: Trump wins election

Donald Trump, gay news, Washington Blade

Donald Trump’s win is the biggest story of 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Donald Trump defied expectations with a surprise win on Election Day and placed into question massive gains in LGBT rights, making his victory the No. 1 story of the year.

Polls indicated Hillary Clinton would prevail in the 2016 presidential race, but Trump performed surprisingly well in Rust Belt states — winning the traditional “blue” states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — and pulled off an Electoral College victory despite losing the popular vote by 2.7 million.

The victory alarmed many LGBT people because Trump has staked out anti-LGBT positions, including support for the anti-LGBT First Amendment Defense Act, and pandered to social conservative groups that have opposed LGBT rights.

Trump’s proposed Cabinet picks are a who’s who of Republicans with anti-LGBT backgrounds, including Ben Carson as HUD secretary, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as HHS secretary and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as attorney general.

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

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