The LGBT communities had a lot to celebrate in 2014, with amazing legislative, judicial and cultural victories. While there are truly countless victories I could mention, here are some of the highlights:
Boy Scouts welcome gay youth
The year started off with a bang when the new policy for the Boy Scouts of America took effect, allowing openly gay youth to become members. However, the organization still bans gay leaders and adults from the organization. LGBT advocates plan to continue to press the organizaton in 2015 to remove the antigay policy all together, a move supported by several large organizations, such as the Walt Disney Company, which has threatened to pull all funding from the Boy Scouts this year if it doesn’t reverse its ban on gay leaders.
Implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor constituted the single largest conferral of rights to LGBT people in history; as of today, more than half of the states in the country have legalized marriage for same-sex couples.
In just one year, we added more states to our column than we’ve had in the entire more-than decade-long fight for marriage equality. With the addition of 19 states, the number of marriage-equality states now stands at 35, plus Washington, D.C. In one day alone, SCOTUS cleared the way for same-sex marriage in five states (Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin) by deciding not to hear the appeals to those decisions. Currently, 64 percent of the American population lives in a state with marriage equality, and some of the notable states include Arizona, Virginia, Nevada and our very own Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
This past year also marked a new landmark in the fight for marriage equality. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit actually upheld the ban on marriage equality in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The Supremes (and I don’t mean Diana Ross!) have one more chance, on Jan. 9, to take up the issue of marriage equality this term. Hopefully they give us our first win of 2015 and do what they should have done all along: Deal with the constitutionality of marriage bans once and for all.
“Gay-panic” defense dies
California became the first state to outlaw the “gay-panic” and “trans-panic” lines of defense in criminal cases in 2014. The defense has often been used to justify violence toward LGBT people with the “reasoning” that a person’s overwhelming hatred for LGBT people causes them to “panic” and commit violence. The “gay-panic” defense was used successfully in the case of openly gay 15-year-old Larry King, who was shot twice in 2008 in the back of the head by a classmate, Brandon McInerney. With that said, it was unsuccessful in the case of Gwen Araujo, the 18-year-old transwoman from Newark who was beaten to death by four men in 2002. It was Araujo’s death that prompted the creation of the International Transgender Day of Remembrance.
It was a year of celebrity self-outings! The most influential is, without a doubt, college footballer and GQ Man of the Year Michael Sam. Sam made sports history and changed the face of professional sports as we know it (and locker rooms!) when he came out right before the NFL draft. He then set off a media frenzy when he kissed his boyfriend on live TV after hearing the draft results. While commentators were already inappropriately discussing his qualifications purely based on his sexual orientation, “the kiss” sparked weeks of coverage and debate over the role his sexual orientation would play in his career. Athletes have been kissing their significant others when hearing about their draft placement as long as drafts have existed, so while we still have a long way to go, Sam definitely ignited the conversation and has vowed to continue to fight the fight. Other notable people to come out include actor Ellen Page, singer Sam Smith, former Miss Kentucky Djuan Trent and WWE Champion Pat Patterson.
Gay-rights movement Trans*itioned
Laverne Cox didn’t just steal the show in “Orange is the New Black,” she has also single-handedly brought transgender issues to the forefront of the LGBT movement within the United States. Cox was the first transgender person on the cover of Time magazine and was also named Glamour Woman of the Year. As for her direct action, she was personally responsible for turning the Empire State Building purple for International Transgender Remembrance Day and is passionately fighting a prostitution law in Arizona that unfairly targets transgender women by allowing police to arrest anyone who “appears” to be soliciting sex. Moreover, she was influential in Mills College, an “all-female” college, changing its policy to openly accept transgender students.
President Obama has also done his part. In 2014, he issued an executive order to prohibit workplace discrimination by federal contractors and subcontractors based on an employee’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
Social media progress and pitfalls
Earlier in 2014, Facebook gave its users more than 50 custom gender options, including “transgender” to “gender-fluid” and “intersex” and also rolled out options for pronoun choices such as “her,” “him” or “them.” Simultaneously, Facebook provided users with custom privacy settings for their stated gender information so that people didn’t have to share their gender settings with the world, aka their bosses or unsupportive family members and high-school bullies.
A few months ago, however, Facebook took several steps back when it tried to force its users to use their legal names on the site. Drag queens and other members of the LGBTQ community were extremely vocal opponents of the policy, claiming it disproportionately affected members of the LGBTQ community. While Facebook officials said they weren’t targeting the community, they quickly realized they had made a major fumble and reversed the policy.
Conversion-therapy bans survived review by the highest court in the land. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to overturn a California law banning conversion therapy aimed at gay youth and let stand an appeals-court ruling that upheld a law barring licensed therapists from trying to change the sexual orientation of patients under 18. Similarly, a federal appeals court upheld New Jersey’s ban on conversion therapy of youth under 18 by a 3-0 vote. The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the ban did not violate the free speech or religious rights of counselors offering conversion therapy.
Talk about a landmark year. I’m exhausted just from writing about it! With that said, there is still work to be done. We can get married in more than half of the states and, regardless, we enjoy the federal rights of marriage but, when we put in for our “gay honeymoon,” we can still be fired in 29 states where workplace protections for gender identity or sexual orientation don’t exist. Most straight people don’t even know this is a problem, yet it has been estimated that the lack of a federal LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law affects 4-million LGBT workers. The Employee Non-Discrimination Act passed the Senate last year, but Speaker John Boehner ensured it wouldn’t come up for a vote in the House, and it’s now been set adrift in a Republican-controlled Congress, which doesn’t bode well. If nothing else, here in Pennsylvania, we all have to work to pass HB 300 and make sure that at least Pennsylvanians are safe both at home and in the workplace.
For now, just take a moment and revel in all of the progress that has been made in the LGBT movement for equality. We’re incrementally getting there as a society and, if 2014 is any indication of what’s to come in 2015, I’m looking forward to another amazing roller-coaster year!