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National: Walmart lawsuit; Puerto Rican justice; gay GOP in Texas; Huey Newton
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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A court-approved notice is being mailed to nearly 1,200 current and former Walmart employees who may have been denied the ability to put their same-sex spouses on their employee health plan, according to . The notice is the next step in a class-action lawsuit arising from the case of Jacqueline Cote, a longtime Walmart associate. Cote filed suit in July 2015, alleging that Walmart's refusal to provide health insurance to her spouse prior to 2014 violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Cote et al. v. Walmart Stores, Inc. ( D. Mass. ), is currently scheduled for trial in November; the court will determine whether to certify a class by the summer or fall.

Puerto Rico Supreme Court Justice Maite Oronoz Rodriguez, an out lesbian, has been nominated to be the court's chief justice—a move that would make her the first openly LGBT chief justice in the United States, reported. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, governor of the U.S. commonwealth, announced Oronoz Rodriguez's nomination. Oronoz Rodriguez, 39, has been a member of the court since 2014, when she became its first openly LGBT justice. If confirmed by Puerto Rico's Senate, she will succeed Chief Justice Liana Fiol Matta, who will turn 70 this year—the age limit for members of the court.

In Texas, in her bid to unseat openly gay Lamar County Clerk Russ Towers, fellow Republican Ruth Graves Sisson is running on a platform of "integrity" and "family values, noted. However, there may be a few hitches. Sisson has an extensive criminal record, including 12 misdemeanor theft charges from 1991 to 2006, and police reports contain two separate accusations of racial prejudice against her. With no Democrat running, if Towers defeats Sisson in the March 1 primary, he would become the first openly LGBT person to win an election as a Republican in Texas.

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, The Huffington Post noted. On Aug. 15, 1970, Newton delivered a speech in New York entitled "A Letter to the Revolutionary Brothers and Sisters About The Women's Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements." In part, he said, "Whatever your personal opinions and your insecurities about homosexuality and the various liberation movements among homosexuals and women ( and I speak of the homosexuals and women as oppressed groups ), we should try to unite with them in a revolutionary fashion."

A new Southern Poverty Law Center ( SPLC ) report profiles the top Christian right groups on the frontlines of the campaign to enact state "religious freedom" laws, according to a press release. The report—"Religious Liberty and the Anti-LGBT Right"—shows that the most active national groups backing Religious Freedom Restoration Acts ( RFRAs ) in various states have long track records of working furiously against LGBT rights. Many of these groups have networks of state and local allies to push RFRA bills. See

In Florida, what little hope gay-rights advocates had that an anti-discrimination bill would move forward withered when the Senate Judiciary Committee remained deadlocked on the measure a day after voting 5-5 on the bill, the Associated Press reported. A procedural measure kept the bill technically alive, but its sponsor and other supporters know there's almost no chance the issue can be revived this year.

In West Virginia, a Gilmer County deputy county clerk had a lesbian couple in tears after calling their union an "abomination" on what was supposed to be a happy day, Raw Story reported. Samantha Brookover and Amanda Abramovich said Debbie Allen, the deputy clerk who processed their marriage license, hurled biblical statements at them. Brookover told the Charleston Gazette-Mail they were "flabbergasted and hurt and angry like you wouldn't believe."

Also in West Virginia, a lawmaker argued that defending LGBT rights would open the door to protections for pedophiles, The Huffington Post reported. Republican Del. Tom Fast argued against an amendment to a bill that would ban discrimination against same-sex couples. Fast said, "Once homosexual, bisexual and transgender behavior is elevated to a protected status, there is nothing to stop bigamy, pedophilia or any other sexual practice from receiving the same protection." The non-discrimination amendment ( which ultimately failed ) was added to a bill that would let Uber operate in the state.

GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz yanked a new ad after discovering the featured actress previously starred in a handful of softcore adult films, LGBTQ Nation reported. The ad, titled "Conservatives Anonymous," featured Amy Lindsay, an actress who's appeared in such films as Secrets of a Chambermaid, MILF and Carnal Wishes. Catherine Frazier, Cruz's press secretary, was quick to point out that the campaign would never knowingly hire an adult film actress. Lindsay is now a Republican and a Christian conservative.

Dallas' transgender-inclusive civil-rights ordinance could be facing a challenge like the one that brought down Houston's, according to . A group of conservative ministers planned to meet privately today "to discuss how to fight the ordinance," reported right-wing site Charisma News. The group, the U.S. Pastor Council, grew out of the Houston Area Pastor Council, which helped force a public referendum on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, resulting in voters repealing it last November.

GLAAD has reinstated its Outstanding Blog category to its Media Awards event, according to Queerty. After many bloggers complained, the organization responded with, in part, "The contributions of LGBT bloggers and independent media have been critical to the advancement of this movement and, indeed, GLAAD's mission. Eliminating the Outstanding Blog category was an affront to the tireless efforts of those whose work has been essential to putting a spotlight on the issues LGBT people face, and which too often goes overlooked."

Lawmakers in Charlotte, North Carolina, have set Feb. 22 for a public hearing and vote on whether to extend non-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, Gay Star News reported. The ordinance will directly affect how businesses can interact with LGBT customers, and will apply to stores, restaurants and bars. LGBTI-rights advocates are optimistic the legislation will pass.

Nashville's Metro Council is now on record requesting the city's delegation in the Tennessee legislature to oppose state bills that are anti-gay marriage, The Tennessean reported. In a unanimous vote, the 40-member council approved a resolution asking the Davidson County state delegation to comply with last year's landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage and to oppose any state legislation that is not compliant with it.

In Tennessee, a high school's gay-straight alliance ( GSA ) that's gained national attention will continue to meet after some parents and students said it shouldn't, reported. Both supporters and opponents of Franklin County High School's GSA Club were watching as the school board decided its future. After hearing both sides, the school board decided it needs to review policies and procedures for all school clubs, though the GSA organization is able to continue its meetings.

In North Carolina, Senate leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and Alexander County Magistrate Brenda Bumgarner have asked a federal court to let them defend a religious-exemption law involving civil marriages challenged as discriminatory against gays, The Associated Press reported. They largely blame their request on Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is personally opposed to the law but whose office represents the state in the litigation. The trio filed motions to intervene in the lawsuit as additional defendants, represented by private lawyers.

A trans woman has settled her lawsuit after she was denied hormones while in prison, PinkNews noted. Ashley Diamond, 37, voluntarily dismissed her lawsuit in which she complained that prison officials in the state of Georgia failed to adequately treat her gender dysphoria. The state has agreed to pay $250,000 to settle the lawsuit, the state attorney general's office announced.

A Transgender Health article shows that transgender individuals may experience significant improvement in psychological functioning after as little as three to six months of hormone therapy, with improved quality of life reported within 12 months of initiating therapy by both female-to-male and male-to-female transgender individuals. The article is at

In Georgia, Fulton County health officials openly embraced PrEP for HIV prevention, launching a new clinic for the once-a-day pill to combat the virus among high-risk groups, including gay men, according to Project Q. And combined with a partnership with the drug's maker, Gilead Science, PrEP and the medical exams and physician follow-ups required will be offered for free to HIV-negative people. The effort is aimed at three target groups: young men who have sex with men, HIV-negative people in a relationship with someone who has the virus, and women in high-risk groups.

The Centers for Disease Control ( CDC ) is reporting that an actor in gay pornographic films infected two people with HIV, even after the actor tested negative for the disease, according to CNS News. Researchers said that, in 2014, a 25-year-old male porn actor ( "Patient A" in the report ) tested negative for HIV and, over the next 22 days, had unprotected sex with at least 17 people. The next HIV test came back positive, and further testing showed he transmitted the virus to two men—one of them another adult-film actor. The CDC suggests the porn industry promote the use of condoms, regular HIV testing and the use of antiviral drugs for performers at risk of contracting HIV.

Dallas County justice of the peace Bill Metzger, who posted on Facebook saying he would refuse to marry a same-sex couple, is defending his stance after intense scrutiny and condemnation, reported. That criticism is coming from other judges, who quickly challenged Metzer's stance, saying it likely wouldn't survive a court challenge. In his defense, Metzger referenced Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's interpretation of state marriage laws following the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriages nationwide.

A high school teacher in a suburb of Little Rock, Arkansas, has claimed he was fired after an anonymous hacker gained access to a video of him and another man having sex and posted it to the school's website, ( citing The Washington Blade ) reported. Brian Cody Bray is fighting back after school officials denied him severance pay and reportedly implied he was partially responsible. Now unemployed, Bray has set up a website documenting the alleged crime and advocating for a hate-crimes law in Arkansas.

LGBT students and alumni rallied outside two Christian colleges, protesting each school's request to receive a waiver of LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination protections guaranteed by the federal government, noted. More than two dozen religiously affiliated schools have requested an exemption to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which forbids sex discrimination at any educational institution that receives any federal funding. Said requests were what drew activists and alumni to Biola University in La Mirada, California, and Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

A lawsuit filed by a group of women alleges that the University of Tennessee has violated Title IX regulations and created a "hostile sexual environment" through a policy of indifference toward assaults by student-athletes, reported. The federal suit, filed in Nashville, states Tennessee's policies made students more vulnerable to sexual assault and had a "clearly unreasonable response" after incidents that caused the women making complaints to endure additional harassment.

Some Florida residents are not pleased with a batch of newly issued state license plates that inadvertently have the word "GAY" written on them—with one man even planning to return his plates, noted. Winter Park resident Craig Lukas recently bought a 2016 Volvo from a local dealership, but expressed concern over the car's license plate upon seeing that the first three letters spell out "GAY," reported television station WFTV.

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