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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Looking back: National news
Extended for the online edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2016-12-26

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Oh, 2016. It was a year of ( sometimes extremely ) emotional highs and lows—including developments regarding what was quite possibly the most polarizing election ever as well as a mass shooting that, sadly, made the record books.

—Trump card: The biggest news of the year had to be the election of Republican Donald Trump—who had been known before now as a real-estate mogul, entrepreneur and reality-TV figure—as president of the United States by scoring a huge upset over Democrat Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8. The electoral result made many ( especially in the LGBT community ) cautious about what Trump's legacy will be. Clinton ended up in a dogfight with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination, while Trump contended with more than a dozen other individuals, including Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

—Tragedy in Orlando: In what has now become the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, at least 49 people were killed, on June 12, when a gunman opened fire at the Orlando, Florida, LGBT nightclub Pulse—with many of the victims being Latinx. More than 50 people were also reported as injured, and the gunman also died. The tragedy was noted globally, with landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower lit in rainbow colors to show solidarity with the LGBT community.

—Southern inhospitality: In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB2—a so-called "bathroom bill" that forces transgender people to use the public restroom that correlates with the gender they were born. Signing the bill cost the state millions in revenue, with everyone from the NBA to the San Francisco Symphony canceling events there.

—Reversal of fortune: Judges from the Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals, on Dec. 20, reversed the convictions of gay college student Michael Johnson, who was sentenced to three decades in prison for exposing persons to HIV, and ordered that he be retried.

—Marching forward: The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of an openly gay man to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Army—the first openly gay person to serve as the head of any military branch. The confirmation of Eric Fanning, by voice vote, came very quickly after U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts ( R-Kansas ) lifted a hold he had put on the nomination.

—Denied: In Indiana, Senate Bill 344—the so-called "LGB, no T" bill because it did not provide protections for the transgender community—died in the state Senate on Feb. 2 without a vote.

—Rent to be: Rentboy CEO Jeffrey Hurant pled to promotion of prostitution—a case condemned by civil-rights groups as a witch hunt targeting gays and the world's oldest profession.

—Here comes the judge: The Puerto Rico Senate confirmed a lesbian woman to become the next chief justice of the U.S. commonwealth's highest court. Senators approved Maite Oronoz Rodriguez's nomination by a 14-12 vote.

—History lesson: While Black Panther Party founder Huey Newton was a controversial figure in the civil-rights movement, he was also an early supporter of gay rights, as a 1970 speech revealed.

—Like a Rock: Host Chris Rock wasted no time addressing the elephant in the room—the controversy over the lack of diversity of Oscar nominees—at the 88th Academy Awards Feb. 28. Among other things, he rolled out video montages that poked fun at the lack of diversity, including one that put African-American spins on films such as The Martian, Joy and The Danish Girl.

—Sister, sister: In a Windy City Times exclusive, the second sibling of the filmmaking duo known as The Wachowskis came out as transgender. Lilly Wachowski, sibling of Lana, came out in a statement after being threatened with outing by other media.

—Trans liaison: President Barack Obama appointed Raffi Freedman-Gurspan as the White House's primary LGBT liaison—making her the first transgender person in the role.

—Award: Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer, the highest-ranking active officer to challenge the U.S. military's ban on LGBT service members, received the 2016 Leonard Matlovich Medal for Distinguished Service by American Veterans for Equal Rights, the nation's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender veterans service organization.

—Center of love: Tom Swann, 58, and Guillermo Hernandez, 21, of Palm Springs, California, made history as the first same-sex couple to get married inside an immigration detention center.

—Mississippi turning: On March 31, U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III overturned Mississippi's ban on allowing same-sex couples to adopt children. However, in April, Gov. Phil Bryant signed the anti-gay HB 1523 into law; a judge later struck it down.

—No solo Gio: ABC News Correspondent Gio Benitez married Tommy DiDario April 16 in Miami. ABC News journalists, including Martha Raddatz, Rebecca Jarvis, Kendis Gibson, Cecilia Vega and Alex Perez, along with Sam Champion attended the nuptials.

—Legal eagle: Rachel B. Tiven was hired as the new CEO of Lambda Legal, the nation's oldest legal organization fighting for equality on behalf of LGBT people and those living with HIV. Tiven was executive director of the Immigrant Justice Corps.

—Killer dies: Winston Moseley—who confessed to the killings of lesbian Catherine Susan "Kitty" Genovese and two other young women in a handwritten statement—died at 81 on March 28, 2016, in upstate New York's Clinton Correctional Facility. Moseley's death has renewed interest in Genovese's case ( she was killed in 1964 ) as well as her relationship with Mary Ann Zielonko.

—I don't like Ike: Gay-rights group The Mattachine Society sued the Justice Department for failing to produce hundreds of pages of documents related to a 1953 order signed by President Dwight Eisenhower that empowered federal agencies to investigate and fire employees thought to be gay.

—Not cool for school: The U.S. Department of Education published new documents that identify religious colleges that have sought and received exemptions from Title IX. The controversial waivers allow the colleges to receive federal funding without violating their religious beliefs. As of April 1, 232 colleges had obtained a religious exemption from Title IX and 31 requests are pending, according to the department.

—Refusing to rule: On May 16, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided to send the Zubik v. Burwell case, which challenges the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive requirement for employers, back to the lower courts. The ruling was based on the information that both sides submitted a week after oral arguments were heard. The justices said they were not submitting opinions on the merits of the cases, and were not ruling on the issue of religious freedom ( or a violation of it ).

—Anti-trans defiance: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that Texas and other states and officials have filed a lawsuit challenging the Obama Administration's recently released guidance to schools across the country clarifying that federal law already prohibits discrimination against students based on gender identity.

—Train in vain: Federal safety regulators said that the engineer of the Amtrak train that careened off the rails near Philadelphia in May 2015 was likely distracted by radio traffic about an emergency situation on a nearby regional Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority train. Seconds before the crash, which killed eight and injured about 200, Brandon Bostian, an LGBT-rights activist, accelerated to 106 mph.

—AIDS at 35: President Obama issued a statement on the 35th anniversary of AIDS. In part, he said, "We've learned that stigma and silence don't just fuel ignorance, they foster transmission and give life to a plague. We've seen that testing, treatment, education, and acceptance can not only save and extend lives, but fight the discrimination that halted progress for too long."

—Grand finale: Obama also, in June, issued his final LGBT Pride Month proclamation. He said, "LGBT individuals deserve to know their country stands beside them. That is why my Administration is striving to better understand the needs of LGBT adults and to provide affordable, welcoming, and supportive housing to aging LGBT Americans."

—TUF enough: Trans United Fund ( TUF ) issued the first-ever trans-focused questionnaire to presidential candidates. TUF said that no Republican candidate's campaign responded and both the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigns committed to complete the survey, although only Sanders has initially followed through.

—Law and order: Edward H. Gersowitz was installed as the 49th president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, the largest state lawyer association dedicated to protecting the rights of consumers and advocating on behalf of injured persons. He is the first openly LGBT president of a trial lawyers association in the United States.

—Taking care: The Defense Department employed personnel changes, such as expanded maternity leave for female service members and medical coverage for transgender troops.

—Ambush in Texas: A former Army reservist who served a tour in Afghanistan went on a shooting rampage over July 7-8 during a protest over recent police shootings of African-American men in Minnesota and Louisiana, killing five police officers ( including out gay officer Jesus Retana ) and wounding up to nine others.

—Yes, Michigan: Fair Michigan—a Michigan non-profit corporation seeking to end discrimination against persons based on sex, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity—launched the Fair Michigan Justice Project, a program to assist Michigan law enforcement officers and prosecutors in solving serious crimes against LGBT persons.

—Historical changes: The California State Board of Education unanimously voted to adopt a new history-social science framework. The framework sets out guidelines for K-12 schools to implement content standards for history and social science instruction. Among the many changes made to the framework, LGBT people and their contributions to California and U.S. history are accurately represented for the first time.

—Lesbian bishop: Methodists meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, elected the United Methodist Church's first openly lesbian bishop. Delegates at the Western Jurisdictional Conference elected the Rev. Karen Oliveto, senior pastor at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, on the 17th ballot.

—Chelsea lately: Supporters of whistle-blower, transgender activist Chelsea Manning gathered in several cities around the world ( including Chicago ) on her 29th birthday to appeal to President Obama to commute her prison sentence to time served. Several developments centered around Manning in 2016, including reported suicide attempts and assurances that she will get gender-confirmation surgery.

—Hello, Harvey: A Congressional notification indicated that the U.S. Navy would name a ship after the late openly gay San Francisco politician/gay-rights leader Harvey Milk. The notification, which Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus signed, indicated he intended to name a planned Military Sealift Command fleet oiler the USNS Harvey Milk.

—Cleveland is not rocking: Citing security concerns, Cleveland Pride cancelled its 2016 celebration. However, following the cancellation of northeast Ohio's largest annual LGBT parade and festival, several organizations banded together to promote other LGBT-friendly events in the area.

—Injunction junction: A U.S. District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction against the federal government's guidance to public school districts regarding their legal responsibility to allow transgender students to use the same restrooms as other students. The ruling came in the multi-state lawsuit Texas v. United States.

—Mayor marries: Jackie Biskupski, the out mayor of Salt Lake City, married her partner at a private ceremony officiated by their longtime friend, Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. The ceremony was held at the Log Haven Restaurant in Salt Lake City on Aug. 14.

—Family ties: In a major ruling for same-sex and other non-traditional couples, New York's top court ruled that non-biological and non-adoptive parents can seek visitation and custody if a couple splits. Until the ruling, the courts have held that non-biological and non-adoptive parents had no legal standing when it comes to parenting.

—Kate expectations: Amazon series Transparent scored two wins at the Emmys, including Jeffrey Tambor ( Outstanding Lead Actor, Comedy Series ) and newly out lesbian Jill Soloway ( Outstanding Directing, Comedy Series ). Also, Sarah Paulson won Outstanding Lead Actress, Limited Series or Movie award for portraying attorney Marcia Clark in The People v. O.J. Simpson; and lesbian actor/comedian Kate McKinnon became the first SNL cast member to win a supporting Emmy in a comedy category.

—Bi anxiety: A new report previewed at the White House in a groundbreaking policy meeting found that while more than half of the LGBT community identifies as bisexual, bisexual people experience alarming rates of invisibility, societal rejection, violence, discrimination, and poor physical and mental health—often at rates higher than their lesbian and gay peers.

—After all: Former AfterEllen editor-in-chief Trish Bendix was fired from her post after 10 years with the lesbian/queer-focused website. She spent the last two years in her current role managing content and editorial functions daily to keep the site relevant. The website's owners say they will keep the site online and use freelancers at some point for new content.

—Moore or less: Alabama's Court of the Judiciary—saying Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore violated judicial ethics when he ordered judges not to respect the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling on same-sex marriage—unanimously decided to suspend him for the remainder of his term in office. Moore appealed; however, he recently interviewed for U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions' seat, as President-Elect Donald Trump nominated Sessions for attorney general.

—Making news: For the first time, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith publicly acknowledged that he is gay—and it happened during National Coming Out Month. Smith did it while speaking about Fox News head Roger Ailes, who was ousted in a major sexual-harassment scandal.

—Money matters: A judge ruled that the City of Cleveland cannot evade financial responsibility for paying out a record sum, $13.21 million, from a federal civil-rights case against two of its officers and the City. Judge Robert C. McClelland ruled that the City must pay the original award, "plus statutory interest," bringing the total sum to $14.6 million, to Black gay man David Ayers.

—In the club: Icandy, a popular gay bar in Philadelphia, was protested by activists after video surfaced of its owner referring to its Black patrons using the N-word. During a 21-second exchange filmed three years ago, proprietor Darryl DePiano is heard saying the slur while conversing with another man; DePiano has apologized, but that was not enough to quell the anger of LGBT people of color.

—To one's health: NASTAD ( National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors ) announced the launch of a new online training platform, HisHealth.org, to help doctors, nurses and medical professionals identify and unlearn racial biases that create barriers to good care and elevate the quality of healthcare for Black gay men and other Black men who have sex with men.

—Released: One of the men convicted in the brutal 2002 murder of transgender teen Gwen Araujo was approved for parole after serving 14 years in prison. Jose Merel ( sentenced to 15 years to life ) was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2002 beating death; he and another young man killed the 17-year-old after discovering she was transgender.

—About Time: Transgender student-rights activist Gavin Grimm, CoverGirl's first "cover boy" James Charles and bisexual The Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg made Time magazine's annual list of "The 30 Most Influential Teens."

—Changing of the guard: Jean Hodges, chair of the PFLAG National Board of Directors, announced that Executive Director Jody Huckaby would step down in December after serving in this role since January 2005.

—Exonerated: On Nov. 23, four Texas lesbians were exonerated of the heinous crime of the gang rape of two young girls. The so-called "San Antonio Four" ( Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh and Anna Vasquez ) were accused in 1994 of sexually assaulting Ramirez's young nieces, and were convicted in 1998.

—GLAAD to be here: GLAAD launched theTrump Accountability Project ( TAP ). TAP is a resource for journalists, editors, producers and other news makers reporting on the Trump administration that catalogs the anti-LGBTQ statements and actions of Donald Trump and those in or being considered for his administration.

—No protection: Judge Todd Hernandez of the 19th Judicial District Court struck down Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards' executive order protecting LGBTQ state workers and contractors from discrimination.


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