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Top 10 national news stories of 2021

Capitol insurrection, COVID cancellations, and a new president

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(Washington Blade file photos by Michael Key)

#10: RNC creates Pride outreach coalition

Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, in a video announcement at a Log Cabin Republicans dinner honoring Melania Trump and attended by former President Trump, announced the creation of the LGBTQ outreach Pride coalition — much to the consternation of internal critics.

Following calls on her to resign from anti-LGBTQ conservatives like Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, McDaniel defended the coalition by saying it was a continuation of the LGBTQ initiative set up with Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign — which had enjoyed success by doubling the LGBTQ vote for the Republican candidate after the previous election.

McDaniel wrote an apology letter for poor communication over the creation of the new initiative, which led Democrats to criticize Republicans over the perceived backtracking on LGBTQ outreach.

#9: Caitlyn Jenner makes waves as gubernatorial candidate

Caitlyn Jenner ran for California governor but won just 2 percent of the vote. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Caitlyn Jenner, in a free-for-all recall election in California seeking to unseat Gov. Gavin Newsom, made waves as a Republican gubernatorial candidate, breaking new ground as a transgender candidate while facing criticism for being out of touch.

Early on in her candidacy, the former Olympic champion said she was against transgender kids in sports, citing a need to protect women in athletics. Jenner later modified her position by saying potential players who had gone through the transition process should “of course” be allowed to compete.

Jenner became an unlikely popular figure in conservative media, appearing on Fox News and Newsmax. At the end of the day, Jenner performed poorly at the polls, taking two percent of the vote as Newsom survived the recall effort.

#8: Supreme Court issues non-ruling in Fulton case

United States Supreme Court (Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The U.S. Supreme Court, amid fears it would render a decision this year that would enable sweeping discrimination against LGBTQ people, instead handed down a ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia limited to the facts of the case at hand and with no major impact.

In a unanimous ruling, justices issued a decision in favor of Catholic Social Services, which sought a First Amendment ruling to refuse child placement with same-sex couples over a religious exemption, but it was based on the approach of the City of Philadelphia enforcing its contract with the foster care agency. 

Both sides claimed a small victory. The American Civil Liberties Union, which had argued before the Supreme Court in the case and sided with the City of Philadelphia, said the ruling “will not affect any foster care programs that do not have the same system for individualized exemptions that were at issue here.”

#7: In grim record, at least 46 trans people killed

In a grim milestone, at least 46 trans people were killed by the time of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, reaching a new record in the time the deaths have been recorded.

The violence has consistently had a disproportionate impact on transgender women of color. Among the deaths that brought the tally to a new record was Marquiisha “Quii” Lawrence, a 28-year-old Black transgender woman who was shot and killed in her home in Greenville, S.C.

President Biden, who had brought attention to the issue of anti-transgender violence as a presidential candidate, issued a statement recognizing the 46 deaths and was briefed on the issue in the days preceding the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

#6: HRC president fired after being ensnared in Cuomo affair

HRC President Alphonso David was fired in September. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The president of the Human Rights Campaign was terminated from his role this year following a public dispute with the board after being ensnared in the damning report detailing accusations of sexual misconduct against former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Alphonso David, who had previously served as counselor to Cuomo, was revealed in the report by New York Attorney General Letitia James to have kept a personnel file of one of the female employees alleging sexual misconduct, then having assisted in efforts to leak that file to the media in an attempt to discredit her.

Although the Human Rights Campaign board initially stood by David, the organization later announced an independent review of the matter, which David said he welcomed. David took to Twitter and criticized the board for having privately asked him about resigning, which prompted his termination.

#5: Equality Act all but dead in Congress

Although LGBTQ rights advocates had hoped President Biden would be able to deliver a campaign promise to sign into law a long-sought update to federal civil rights law that would include LGBTQ people, legislation known as the Equality Act is all but dead in Congress.

The U.S. House, acting quickly on Biden’s campaign promise to sign the Equality Act into law within the first 100 days of his administration, approved the legislation in February, although it had fewer Republican votes compared to when the chamber last passed the measure.

But the Equality Act, contorted by critics who claim it endangers women’s rights and privacy, went no further in Congress. In the Senate, where Sen. Joe Manchin has declined to support the bill and Sen. Susan Collins has withdrawn her support, the legislation never got a vote — either on the floor or in committee. No route appears open for the bill.

#4: Buttigieg, Levine confirmed by Senate in historic firsts 

Sec. Pete Buttigieg (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In a pair of historic votes, the U.S. Senate this year confirmed two presidential appointees — Pete Buttigieg and Rachel Levine.

Buttigieg was confirmed as transportation secretary, making him the first openly gay person to win Senate confirmation for a Cabinet-level role, while Levine was confirmed as assistant secretary for health, making her the first openly transgender person to win Senate confirmation for any position.

Although Buttigieg was confirmed with bipartisan support, that quickly faded as the supply chain crisis emerged and Buttigieg faced criticism for his approach to the issue.

For Levine, the road was different. During her confirmation hearing, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), began his inquiries with the words “genital mutilation,” which formed the basis of his rude, invasive questioning. Levine was confirmed by a narrow vote of 52-48.

Adm. Rachel Levine (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

#3: States enact measures against trans kids in sports, health care

(Photo by Glynnis Jones via Bigstock)

Drawing on anti-trans fears, states defied federal laws against discrimination and enacted measures against transgender kids in sports and access to health care, leading to a wave of litigation in the next battleground for the LGBTQ movement.

Among the most stringent measures was a law in Arkansas, enacted by the legislature overriding a veto of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, instituting criminal penalties for providing transition-related care to youth. Other states, including Florida, Texas, and West Virginia, enacted laws prohibiting transgender girls from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity.

LGBTQ legal advocates were quick to file litigation against the measure in court, arguing they violate the prohibition on discrimination based on sex in schools under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Judges have blocked measures from going into effect as litigation moves forward.

#2: Coronavirus continues to rage, nixes LGBTQ events

Despite hopes the coronavirus would fade with the emergence of vaccines, the pandemic continues to rage amid breakthrough infections and refusal of a large percentage of Americans to get the shot, leading to additional deaths and cancellation of LGBTQ events.

More than 386,000 deaths due to coronavirus were reported this year, making it deadlier than the previous year in terms of sheer numbers, as hospitalization rates continued to climb to new highs.

Pride celebrations were among the events cancelled as the pandemic continued through the summer. Large cities like Los Angeles and Boston opted not to have not to have events at all, while D.C. had a much scaled-down event in which Vice President Kamala Harris participated.

#1: After insurrection, Biden inaugurated and reverses Trump anti-LGBTQ policies

The Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol shocked the world. (Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

After a bloody insurrection on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol incited by President Trump, Joe Biden brought with him a sense of renewal and a promise of unity after was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, reversing anti-LGBTQ policies early on during his administration.

Biden on his first day in office signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in Bostock v. Clayton County to fullest extent possible. Days later, Biden signed an executive order reversing President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military, leading to a policy that would enable transgender people for the first time ever to enlist in the armed forces.

In another reversal, Biden issued a White House proclamation to recognize Pride month after Trump failed to issue an official notice for each of his four years in office, with the exception of a solitary tweet in 2019. In the proclamation, Biden urged LGBTQ people to “accept nothing less than full equality.” 

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

Equality Florida quickly condemned the measure

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The Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The Republican majority Florida House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Los Angeles Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66 percent) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56 percent of transgender and non-binary youth said it made them feel angry, 47 percent felt nervous and/or scared, 45 percent felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

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 TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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NCAA adopts new policy amid fervor over transgender athletes

Sport-by-sport approach requires certain levels of testosterone

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NCAA, gay news, Washington Blade
The NCAA has adopted new policy amid a fervor over transgender athletes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has announced it has adopted new procedures on competition of transgender athletes, creating a “sport-by-sport” approach that also requires documentation of testosterone levels across the board amid a fervor of recently transitioned swimmers breaking records in women’s athletics.

The NCAA said in a statement its board of governors voted on Wednesday in support of the “sport-by-sport” approach, which the organization says “preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete.”

Although the policy defers to the national governing bodies for individual sports, it also requires transgender athletes to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections. The new policy, which consistent with rules for the U.S. Olympics, is effective 2022, although implementation is set to begin with the 2023-24 academic year, the organization says.

John DeGioia, chair of the NCAA board and Georgetown president, said in a statement the organization is “steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports.”

“It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy,” DeGioia said.

More specifically, starting with the 2022-23 academic year, transgender athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections, the organizational. These athletes, according to the NCAA, are also required to document testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections.

In terms of jurisdiction, the national governing bodies for individual sports are charged determines policies, which would be under ongoing review and recommendation by the NCAA, the organizational says. If there is no policy for a sport, that sport’s international federation policy or previously established International Olympics Committee policy criteria would be followed.

The NCAA adopts the policy amid controversy over University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas smashing records in women’s swimming. Thomas, which once competed as a man, smashed two national records and in the 1,650-yard freestyle placed 38 seconds ahead of closest competition. The new NCAA policy appears effectively to sideline Thomas, who has recently transitioned and unable to show consistent levels of testosterone.

Prior to the NCAA announcement, a coalition of 16 LGBTQ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally, this week sent to a letter to the collegiate organization, urging the organizations strengthen non-discrimination protections as opposed to weakening them. The new policy, however, appears to head in other direction, which the LGBTQ groups rejected in the letter.

“While decentralizing the NCAA and giving power to conferences and schools has its benefits, we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play,” the letter says. “This would be similar to the patchwork of non-discrimination policies in states, where marginalized groups in some states or cities are protected while others are left behind by localities that opt not to enact inclusive policies.”

JoDee Winterhof, vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the NCAA announcement the new policy was effectively passing the buck.

“If the NCAA is committed to ensuring an environment of competition that is safe, healthy, and free from discrimination, they cannot dodge the question of how to ensure transgender athletes can participate safely,” Winterhof said. “That is precisely why we and a number of organizations across a wide spectrum of advocates are urging them to readopt and strengthen non-discrimination language in their constitution to ensure the Association is committed to enforcing the level playing field and inclusive policies they say their values require. Any policy language is only as effective as it is enforceable, and with states passing anti-transgender sports bans, any inclusive policy is under immediate threat. We are still reviewing the NCAA’s new policy on transgender inclusion and how it will impact each and every transgender athlete.”

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Transgender rights group’s Los Angeles office receives bomb threat

[email protected] Coalition evacuated

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(Public domain photo)

A bomb threat was phoned in Wednesday afternoon to the Wilshire Boulevard Koreatown offices of the [email protected] Coalition, Bamby Salcedo, the president and CEO of the non-profit organization told the Los Angeles Blade.

According to Salcedo, an unidentified male caller told the staff person who answered at approximately 3 p.m., while delivering the threat said; “You’re all going to die.” The staff immediately evacuated everyone from their offices and then contacted the Los Angeles Police Department for assistance.

Officers, specialists and detectives from the Rampart Division of the LAPD responded and swept the building. A spokesperson for the LAPD confirmed that the incident is under active investigation but would make no further comment.

On a Facebook post immediately after the incident the non-profit wrote; “To ensure the safety of our clients and staff members, we ask that you please NOT come to our office.”

In a follow-up post, Salcedo notified the organization and its clientele that the LAPD had given the all-clear and that their offices would resume normal operations Thursday at 9:00 a.m. PT.

“Thank you for your messages and concern for our staff and community,” Salcedo said.

“No amount of threats can stop us from our commitment to the TGI community,” she added.

The [email protected] Coalition was founded in 2009 by a group of transgender and gender non-conforming and intersex (TGI) immigrant women in Los Angeles as a grassroots response to address the specific needs of TGI Latino immigrants who live in the U.S.

Since then, the agency has become a nationally recognized organization with representation in 10 different states across the U.S. and provides direct services to TGI individuals in Los Angeles.

In 2015, the [email protected] Coalition identified the urgent need to provide direct services to empower TGI people in response to structural, institutional, and interpersonal violence, and the Center for Violence Prevention and Transgender Wellness was born.

Since then, the organization has secured funding from the state and local government sources as well as several private foundations and organizations to provide direct services to all TGI individuals in Los Angeles County.

The [email protected] Coalition’s primary focus is to change the landscape of access to services for TGI people and provide access to comprehensive resource and services that will improve the quality of life of TGI people.

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