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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2020-05-13
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Looking back: National news of 2017
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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The past year was jam-packed with events and people that ranged from the seemingly trivial to the life-altering. Here's a rundown of some of them that affected/involved the LGBTQ+ community:

—#MeToo: In October, publications reported that film producer Harvey Weinstein allegedly lured women into hotel rooms and bars, and sexually harassed or assaulted them—and actress Alyssa Milano ( one of Weinstein's accusers ) started a movement by women and men who posted stories of being the victims of sexual harassment or assault, all using the hashtag #MeToo. By the year's end, dozens of powerful men in entertainment, business, politics and the news media ( involving everyone from Kevin Spacey—who made the mistake of coming out as gay while being charged with pedophilia—to Matt Lauer ) have been publicly condemned for alleged misconduct.

—Trump card: Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20, stressing the "America First" mantra that led him to defeat Hillary Clinton in November 2016. Trump, of course, proved to be extremely controversial, earning the ire of most of the LGBTQ+ community for declaring a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military and backing homophobic Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore from Alabama. However, courts have ruled that trans individuals could openly serve as of Jan. 1, 2018, and Democrat Doug Jones defeated Moore in a December 2017 special election. )

—March on: The day after Trump's inauguration, more than 600 women's marches took place around the world, including one in Washington, D.C., that drew approximately a half-million individuals.

—Moonlight sonata: In one of the biggest Oscars snafus ever, presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway bungle the awarding of the Best Picture Academy Award, naming La La Land as the winner, when it was actually Moonlight—a film that focused on a Black gay man.

—Book him: A whirlwind of controversy surfaced regarding book-publishing company Simon & Schuster ( and, more specifically, the Threshold Editions imprint ) striking a $250,000 deal with British gay "alt-right" figure Milo Yiannopoulos. Eventually, the book deal was cancelled.

—Being first: New York City native Sara Kelly Keenan ( who prefers female pronouns ) was granted the first intersex birth certificate in the United States.

—Chelsea lately: Before leaving office, President Barack Obama commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence for disclosing classified information that raised public awareness regarding the impact of war on innocent civilians. Manning, a transgender woman, was in the seventh year of a 35-year sentence and was residing in an all-male prison.

—Senseless: Almost 30 transgender individuals were murdered in the United States in 2017. Among the victims ( almost all of whom were individuals of color ) were Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, JoJo Striker, Kenne McFadden, Chay Reed, TeeTee Dangerfield, Stephanie Montez and Brandi Seals.

—Fund house: Gilead Sciences, Inc. announced the recipients of its HIV cure grants program, a fund totaling more than $22 million, which will support 12 new HIV cure research projects.

—I'm sorry: Then-Secretary of State John Kerry formally apologized to State Department personnel who were fired during the so-called "Lavender Scare" witch hunt in the 1950s and 1960s.

—Dear, Mr. President: In an open letter to President-elect Trump, 156 elected officials expressed grave concerns about his Cabinet appointees, and implored Trump to "be a president for all Americans." The letter is signed by U.S. Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney and Mark Pocan, as well as openly LGBT mayors, state legislators, city councilmembers and other LGBT elected officials.

—Having an appointment: Obama also appointed Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, the White House's first openly trans staff member, to the Holocaust Memorial Council. Brought in to serve in the Presidential Personnel Office, Freedman-Gurspan ended her tenure as the White House liaison to the LGBT community. Later, Freedman-Gurspan rejoined the National Center for Transgender Equality as its new director of external relations.

—United we stand: Approximately 175 mayors across the country announced "Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination," a broad-based, nonpartisan coalition comprised of local officials who support equal protections and fair treatment for all LGBT people.

—Scout standing: The Boy Scouts of America said it would begin accepting members based on their gender identity, allowing transgender boys to join.Previously, the organization relied on an individual's birth certificate to determine eligibility for its single-gender programs. The new policy took effect immediately, and affected Cub and Boy scout troops.

—Heavens to Betsy: Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the U.S. secretary of education thanks to a tie-breaking vote in the U.S. Senate courtesy of Vice-President Mike Pence. Pro-LGBT groups criticized the confirmation, as DeVos did not directly answer ( during her confirmation hearing ) if she would take action if religious schools expelled LGBT students. Later in the year, she rescinded the Obama-era Title IX guidance to schools on dealing with sexual assault on campus.

—Backlash: President Trump cited violence against LGBT people as part of his justification for signing an executive order that would bar people from several Muslim-dominated countries from entering the U.S. for at least 120 days. However, immigration-rights activists would have none of that, as protests sprang up across the country. Just before Christmas, U.S. District Judge James Robart imposed a nationwide injunction that blocks restrictions on reuniting refugee families and partially lifted a ban on refugees from 11 mostly Muslim countries.

—Report released: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( EEOC ) released detailed breakdowns for the 91,503 charges of workplace discrimination the agency received in fiscal year 2016—and it marked the second consecutive year that the number of charges filed with EEOC increased.

—Out of Sessions: Jeff Sessions was confirmed as the U.S. attorney general—another move that elicited criticism from the LGBT community. Among other things, Sessions had repeatedly supported laws that criminalize LGBTQ activity, using discriminatory laws to harrass LGBTQ Alabamans and blasting the Lawrence v. Texas decision, which finally ended the criminalization of same-sex relationships.

—Oh, SNAP: The president/founder of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests ( SNAP ), Barbara Blaine, resigned. Her resignation happened shortly after SNAP announced the departure of its national director, David Clohessy. Former SNAP employee ( and ex-Windy City Times writer ) Gretchen Rachel Hammond had filed a lawsuit against SNAP, accusing the organization of referring clients to attorneys in exchange for financial kickbacks.

—Pushback: President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, reportedly encouraged the White House to downplay a leaked executive order draft that would have undone key Obama-era employment protections for LGBTs and implemented a so-called "religious freedom" policy giving legal cover to people accused of discrimination if they claim their religious scruples as the basis.

—Untitled: The Trump administration drew first blood in what many believe is a systematic erosion of LGBTQ civil rights on Feb. 22, when President Obama's guidelines extending Title IX protections to transgender students were rolled back.

—ICEd out: Immigration Customs Enforcement ( ICE ) reportedly arrested several transgender individuals during the year, leading to groups such as The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and Transgender Law Center denouncing ICE.

—For Pete's sake: Openly gay South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg withdrew his bid to lead the Democratic National Committee—a race Tom Perez ultimately won—acknowledging his steep odds of winning and saying he wants to help unite the party.

—Grimm news: The United States Supreme Court, on March 6, sent a closely watched case involving trans student Gavin Grimm back to a lower court. The court was scheduled to hear Gloucester County School Board v. G. G. March 28, but remanded the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, asking the appellate court to reconsider the case "in light of the guidance document issued by the Department of Education and Department of Justice on February 22, 2017." Grimm vowed to keep fighting.

—Pulse help: The Office for Victims of Crime ( OVC ), part of the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, announced an $8,466,970 Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program ( AEAP ) grant to assist victims of the June 2016 mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

—Foul call: The NCAA announced that it will return to North Carolina for championship events after the state, on March 30, reached a compromised repeal of HB2—the controversial statute that came to be known as "the bathroom bill." LGBTQ groups were initially quick to criticize the compromise, which they said still allows for discrimination. Among other things, said compromise prohibits municipalities from passing any ordinance regulating private employment or public accommodations until 2020.

—Here comes the judge: Filling a space created by the death of Antonin Scalia, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate confirmed President Trump's nominee Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. LGBTQ groups criticized the confirmation.

—Rocky Mountain high: A federal district court judge ruled that a Boulder County property owner violated both the federal Fair Housing Act and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act when she refused to rent a housing unit to Lambda Legal clients Rachel and Tonya Smith, a same-sex couple, one of whom is transgender, and their children.

—The Glamour-ous life: Among Glamour magazine's 10 honorees was Women of the Year was Eli Erlick, the founder of Trans Student Educational Resources, the only national organization led by trans youth.

—Act up: Pro-LGBT organizations, bipartisan lawmakers and an unprecedented number of businesses announced the re-introduction of the Equality Act—federal legislation that would finally guarantee explicit, permanent protections for LGBTQ people under the nation's existing civil-rights laws.

—Hernandez hint: A relationship with another man emerged as a possible motive for murder as the family of disgraced ex-Patriots star Aaron Hernandez won a court battle to preserve evidence in his prison suicide. The 27-year-old former NFL player, the father of a 4-year-old daughter, was reportedly a bisexual who penned a suicide note to his prison boyfriend before hanging himself in a Massachusetts jail cell.

—Choosing my religion: LGBT-rights advocates and community members prepared for the worst as word leaked that President Donald J. Trump would be signing a so-called "religious liberty" executive order. But the actual scope of the order Trump signed was arguably not as far-reaching in its anti-LGBT components as stakeholders feared.

—Stopping the madness: Democratic U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Patty Murray, along with Congressman Mark Pocan, reintroduced legislation aimed at reducing bullying and harassment that affects one in five students at colleges and universities across the country. The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2017 would require institutions of higher education to establish policies to prohibit harassment based on actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion.

—Study group: The American Bar Association launched a first-of-its kind nationwide study, conducted by the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, to identify the biases encountered by LGBT+ and/or disabled lawyers in the legal profession and to help develop and implement strategies to ameliorate such biases.

—Fair and Jess: The Democratic National Committee ( DNC ), for the first time ever, hired an out lesbian at its chief executive officer, appointing the former head of EMILY's List to the top leadership position. The DNC named Jess O'Connell as CEO after she served four years at EMILY's List, which seeks to elect pro-choice women to public office.

—It's a rap: Music sponsorship and experiential agency MAC Presents announced a multifaceted campaign partnership with Urban Outfitters on behalf of Chicago hip-hop artist Taylor Bennett, the bisexual brother of Chance the Rapper. The campaign had Bennett become the ambassador of the retail giant's Pride collection, benefitting GLSEN and its mission to ensure safe and affirming schools for LGBTQ+ students.

—Paley news: The board of directors of The Trevor Project—the nation's leading suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth—announced that Amit Paley would become the organization's next CEO and executive director.

—Bar none: In Texas, The Rainbow Lounge—which became ground zero for gay rights in Fort Worth in late June 2009 when a heavy-handed police raid left two patrons injured—was destroyed in a fire.

—Somber anniversary: Cities around the country ( and world ) marked the one-year anniversary of the 2016 anniversary at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Until the tragedy in Las Vegas happened in October 2017, this was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, with 49 people killed.

—Going, going, gone: Six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS ( PACHA ), on June 13, resigned from their posts, citing President Donald Trump's supposed indifference to the issue as their reason. Among those council members was Scott Schoettes, who is counsel and HIV project director for Lambda Legal. In late December, Trump fired the remaining members of PACHA, reportedly informing them without explanation with a letter delivered by FedEx.

—Life saver: One of the two members of the U.S. Capitol police credited with preventing a June 13 shooting on an Alexandria, Virginia, baseball field from turning into a massacre is a member of the LGBTQ community. According to a White House pool report, President and First Lady Melania Trump "met with Capitol Police Officer Crystal Griner and her wife, [receiving a] bouquet of flowers." Officer David Bailey was the other policeman.

—School runnings: In a seven-to-two decision, the U.S. Supreme Court said Missouri could not exclude a non-profit school from a state program just because the school was run by a church. LGBT activists had argued the school should be denied state funding because the school exercised its religious beliefs against homosexuality and against other religions in determining which children it would exclude.

—Gloria, hallelujah: Gloria Carter, JAY-Z's mother, came out as lesbian in a new track featured on the rapper's 4:44 album. The song, "Smile," features JAY-Z and Carter discussing her sexuality in a public first for either one.

—Intersex report: New York City-based Human Rights Watch and InterACT—a Sudbury, Massachusetts-based advocacy that works on behalf of intersex youth—launched a report ( in Chicago ) documenting the extent of medically unnecessary surgeries being performed on intersex children. The report was launched in Chicago because associations like the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are headquartered here, panelists said; AAP has issued a statement in support of the 160-page report's findings.

—PrEP rally: Insurer UnitedHealthCare ( UHC ), on Aug. 3, seemingly dropped controversial pre-authorization requirements it had recently introduced for physicians prescribing the oral medication Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UHC, on July 1, began requiring physicians to obtain quarterly authorizations for PrEP claims; those authorizations had previously only been required annually.

—Law and border: A group of 16 transgender and gay migrants from Central America on Aug. 10 sought asylum in the United States. The migrants—from Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico—called themselves the first Trans Gay Migrant Caravan of 2017. They left Mexico City and walked and used buses and other forms of transportation to travel to Nogales, Mexico, which is on the Arizona-Mexico border.

—Tragedy in Virginia: On Aug. 12, a rally turned tragic in Charlottesville, Virginia, as hundreds of white nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis clashed with counterprotestors—and a car plowed into crowds, killing one counterprotestor and injuring 19 others. Va. Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency during the "United the Right" rally, and LGBT groups decried the violence.

—It's a deal: After four years, the case of Michael Johnson—a former college wrestler charged with infecting a same-sex partner with HIV—was resolved with a plea deal. Several groups stressed opposition to Missouri's HIV-exposure law, including the U.S. Department of Justice, the now-defunct Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and others.

—Vaid and seek: LPAC, founded in 2012 as the first lesbian political action committee, announced that Urvashi Vaid—longtime attorney and organizer in LGBT and social-justice movements—would serve as the organization's interim executive director.

—What can Brown do for you?: California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill making it easier to change gender markers on state-issued identification documents and that creates a gender-neutral, non-binary category in addition to "male" and "female."

—Funeral folly: New guidelines sent to the diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, say that a Catholic funeral may be denied to LGBT people to avoid "public scandal of the faithful." The communication, from vicar general Fr. James Bartylla, is entitled "Consideration of Funeral Rites for a Person in a Homosexual Civil or Notorious Union."

—Cole call: More than 60 people living with HIV ( PLHIV ), PLHIV networks and HIV/AIDS community leaders called on fashion designer Kenneth Cole to resign or be replaced as board chair of amfAR. A letter cited Cole's actions—widely described in media reports—in pushing for a donation of AmfAR funds, over the written objections of amfAR's staff leadership, to a theater project that provided financial benefits to disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

—Wes slide: A married Republican lawmaker with a long history of campaigning against LGBT rights resigned after being caught having sex with another man in his office. Wes Goodman, a congressman from Ohio, has trumpeted his support for "a committed natural marriage," which he defined as a heterosexual union.

—End of the line: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it would not hear lesbian Jameka Evans' employment discrimination case, which would have provided a test of whether federal law against sex discrimination applies to sexual orientation as well.

—Family ties: Vermont's Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sarah Sinnott, whose former partner sought to block her relationship with the daughter they jointly brought into their family through adoption.

—Coming of SAGE: SAGE, the nation's largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT elders, celebrated the renaming of its SAGE Midtown SAGE Center—the first LGBT senior center in the country. SAGE Center Midtown became The Edie Windsor SAGE Center, in honor of its beloved friend, hero and supporter.

—Natural election: In November, 55 percent of the 72 openly LGBT candidates in national elections won their races. These included lesbian Jenny Durkan, who handily won election as mayor of Seattle ( replacing openly gay mayor Ed Murray who resigned in September after allegations surfaced from five men who said Murray sexually abused them as teenagers ); and Danica Roem, a trans candidate who won a stunning victory to the Virginia House of Delegates against a longtime incumbent who had made a name for himself trying to ban transgender people from public restrooms. Also, Minneapolis made history, making Andrea Jenkins the first openly trans woman ever elected to the city council of a major U.S. city.

—Not a piece of cake: During oral arguments for Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy appeared to favor the idea that a business could simply claim a vague religious belief hostile to LGBT people to gain a right to refuse service to them. The decision in that case—and future prospects for Kennedy's record on LGBT record—will be revealed sometime in 2018.

—Change at Victory: Victory Fund and Victory Institute announced the resignation of President/CEO Aisha C. Moodie-Mills, with former Houston Mayor Annise Parker becoming the leader of the organizations.

—More than words: The Trump administration reportedly prohibited officials at the Centers for Disease Control ( CDC ), the country's top public health agency, from using a list of seven words or phrases—including "fetus" and "transgender"—in any official documents being prepared for the 2018 budget. However, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald tweeted that there are "no banned words" while stressing the agency's commitment to data-driven science.

—Keeping up with the Jones: Alabama elected its first Democrat to the U.S. Senate in a quarter-century, as Doug Jones edged President Trump-backed Republican Roy Moore—a racist, homophobe and alleged pedophile. After Jones' win, his gay son said he was proud of his father.

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