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YEAR IN REVIEW Looking back: National news
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2016-01-06

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This year will bring news aplenty, thanks to everything from elections ( local and national ) and the Olympics, among other events. However, 2015 had plenty worth remembering—especially for the LGBT community.

—With this ring: The biggest news of the year for the community had to be the legalization of marriage equality nationwide. In June, the Supreme Court issued a sweeping decision striking down all states' same-sex marriage bans, arguing that the prohibitive laws violated the 14th Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. In the process, plaintiff Jim Obergefell and others became national heroes ( to most ).

—Losing my religion: Religious-freedom measures were contested in several states in 2015. The most contentious battle ( at least, initially ) was probably in Indiana, with Gov. Mike Pence backing the measure. Later, Pence signed legislation revising the law to prevent potential discrimination

—You better clerk: After the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country, the national spotlight focused on Kentucky, where Rowan County clerk Kim Davis refused to let gay and lesbian couples wed. Her continued defiance led to her arrest—and her release, based on a compromise.

However, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin made a series of executive orders in an effort to reshape state government along conservative ideological lines, including one that removes county clerks' names from marriage licenses—thereby complying with Davis' request.

—Cait expectations: The Kardashians became a hot topic for the LGBT demographic in 2015 in a transcendent way: Caitlyn Jenner came out as transgender, complete with a cover on Vanity Fair that Annie Leibovitz photographed. While Jenner has taken some criticism for her comments and for some people's perception that she represents the entire trans community ( as well as the fact that she's a Republican ), many commended her for bringing the issue of being trans to millions of living rooms.

Among other things, Jenner received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the sports-focused ESPY Awards and headlined her own reality series, I Am Cait. Also, Barbara Walters named Jenner the "Most Fascinating Person of 2015" in her annual special.

—Lives matter: The LGBT community became engaged in the Black Lives Matter movement—and spurred people to become inventive activists and form their own campaigns, including #TransLivesMatter.

—Michfest ends: In August, the last edition of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival ( its 40th ) took place. While many embraced the event, it also engendered controversy by employing a strict "womyn-born-womyn" policy.

—Saying farewell: Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer—a champion of LGBT rights—announced that she will not run for re-election in 2016, setting up a big money political battle for her seat in the nation's most populous state.

—Sentenced: A former Florida A&M University band member was sentenced to more than six years in prison for manslaughter and felony hazing in the death of a drum major, making him the first to receive prison time in the case. Dante Martin received 77 months, but prosecutors wanted nine years in the beating death of openly gay 26-year-old Robert Champion during a hazing ritual in November 2011. ( However, Champion's orientations apparently played no role in his death. )

—New leader: The board of directors of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance ( NQAPIA ) hired Glenn D. Magpantay as its new executive director. Magpantay has been with NQAPIA since the beginning, as one of the organization's founders. Since 2009, he has served as NQAPIA's co-director of development.

—Sullivan quits: The Daily Dish's Andrew Sullivan announced that he would "stop blogging in the near future." In a blog post, Sullivan cited health reasons, although he said the decision is not related to HIV. ( Sullivan was diagnosed with the virus more than 20 years ago. ) He currently is a columnist for The Sunday Times of London.

—No protection: Sam Brownback, the Republican governor of Kansas, issued an executive order to remove discrimination protections for LGBT state employees. State employees in Kansas can now legally be fired, harassed or denied a job for being gay or transgender, LGBT-rights advocates said.

—Banning the ban: According to a document, the Pentagon's ban on transgender troops would end May 27, 2016, under a draft timeline on repeal of the policy that affects about 12,000 troops. The memo—circulated among top personnel and medical officials—described the road map for ending the policy and highlights some of the potential issues, including a pilot program that would provide leaves of absences for transgender troops being treated with hormones or having surgery.

—Approval: The U.S. Army approved hormone therapy for Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of leaking national-security secrets to Wikileaks. Manning revealed her gender identity as a transgender female after being convicted and sentenced to 35 years in military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in July 2013.

—Be like Mike: California Congressman Mike Honda tweeted a photo of himself on Twitter in February, holding his 8-year-old transgender granddaughter, Malisa. The image went viral. "As a proud grandpa of a transgender grandchild," the eight-term Democrat wrote, "I hope she can feel safe at school without fear of being bullied."

—Leader of the PAC: LPAC, the country's first lesbian political action committee, announced political veteran Beth Shipp as the organization's first executive director. "As LPAC continues to grow and flourish, we are thrilled to have Beth as our first executive director," said LPAC Board Chair Laura Ricketts.

—Money matters: ViiV Healthcare announced the launch of a four-year, $10 million initial investment to fuel a concerted community response to the HIV epidemic among Black men who have sex with men ( MSM ) in Baltimore, Maryland and Jackson, Mississippi.

—New leader: In Pennsylvania, the Montgomery County district attorney's office charged actor/comedian Bill Cosby, 78, with alleged aggravated indecent assault of lesbian Andrea Constand. In 2005, former Temple University employee Constand claimed he gave her pills and wine that supposedly immobilized her.

—Couple prevails against Wal-Mart: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( EEOC ) said Wal-Mart discriminated against a lesbian employee who sought health coverage for her ailing wife and has ordered "a just resolution" for violating her civil rights. The EEOC ordered the retail giant to work with Jacqueline Cote of New Bedford, Massachusetts, who hopes the ruling will help her pay off $100,000 in medical bills.

—A new force: U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley ( D-Ill. ), who serves as vice chair of the Equality Caucus, announced the formation of a Transgender Equality Task Force. According to a press release from Quigley's office, the task force is designed to "analyze current barriers to full legal and societal equality for transgender people, and will develop legislation and other initiatives to ensure the transgender community has equal access to the American Dream."

—Guilty: Lawrence Reed was found guilty of the murder of gay Clarksdale, Mississippi, mayoral candidate Marco McMillian and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Reed confessed to the 2013 murder. He didn't dispute that he killed McMillian, but claimed he acted in self-defense after saying McMillian tried to rape him.

—I love a parade: Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade made history March 15 as two gay and lesbian groups marched after decades of opposition that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The gay military veterans service group OutVets and the gay rights group Boston Pride were invited by the sponsoring South Boston Allied War Veterans Council to the annual celebration of military veterans and Irish heritage.

—Hello, Larry: Larry Kramer accepted the first-ever Larry Kramer Activism Award from Gay Men's Health Crisis at its spring gala. In part, he said, "The main difference between the Larry Kramer who helped to start Gay Men's Health Crisis in his living room in 1982 and ACT UP in 1987 and the Larry Kramer who stands before you now is that I no longer have any doubt that our government is content, via sins of omission or commission, to allow the extermination of my homosexual population to continue unabated."

—Maya goodness: The United States Postal Service honored the late writer, poet, actor, dancer, director, composer, lecturer and civil-rights activist Dr. Maya Angelou with a "Forever" stamp.

—Now 10-percent gay: After municipal elections, Chicago's 50-member City Council featured five members who are openly LGBT—an all-time high.

—Home sweet home: The New York State Historic Preservation Office unanimously approved the Bayard Taylor Rustin home in New York City as a state landmark. The New York State Historic Preservation Office will forward the nomination to the National Park Service for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. If accepted to the National Register, it will join four ( only ) other LGBTQ sites on the register.

—A rocky Cruz: Gay New York hotelier Ian Reisner issued an online apology for hosting a party for GOP candidate Ted Cruz, saying that he was "shaken to my bones" by the public response. Establishments co-owned by Reisner became targets of an online boycott after Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz spoke at a function that Reisner co-hosted. His numerous holdings include the Out Hotel NYC and a resort he recently acquired on Fire Island.

—Grindr's keepers: A 21-year-old North Dakota man said he revealed explicit messages sent to him from a Republican lawmaker on the gay-dating app Grindr because the legislator had voted against expanding LGBT rights,. Dustin Smith told The Forum he recognized 52-year-old Republican state Rep. Randy Boehning when he appeared in the news with other lawmakers who had voted against an anti-discrimination bill in the North Dakota House. The Forum confirmed that "Top Man!" was indeed Boehning, who said that the "1,000-pound gorilla has been lifted" from him.

—Controversial decision: In a controversial ruling in Missouri, former college wrestler Michael Johnson, 23, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for allegedly infecting one sex partner with HIV and risking the infection of four others. St. Charles County Circuit Judge Jon Cunningham, who issued the sentence, told Johnson, "The main thing is the profound effect your actions have had on the victims and their families." Many HIV activists criticized the decision.

—Donation alteration: A lower risk was among reasons the FDA, on Dec. 21, changed its longstanding policy and recommended that blood banks begin accepting donations from gay and bisexual men—who hadn't had sex with another man for a year. Many in the LGBT community still decried the change, saying heterosexuals do not have to wait any time to donate blood.

One column pointed out that a donor must also wait 12 months after getting a tattoo, being incarcerated for more than 72 hours or traveling to areas where malaria might be found.

—Scouts' honor: Boy Scouts of America ( BSA ) President Robert Gates called for the organization to end its ban on gay adults while speaking at the organization's national business meeting in Atlanta. In late July, the BSA lifted the ban on gay adults as Scout leaders. LGBT-advocacy groups said the change didn't go far enough.

—Dennis the menace: It was revealed that the FBI was investigating former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert for trying to evade bank reporting requirements and lying to federal authorities. It turned out that previously undisclosed sexual misconduct ( specifically, the alleged sexual abuse of a male student back when he coached wrestling at a school ) was at the root of the investigation. Hastert later pled guilty to one count of evading bank rules and one count of lying to federal investigators.

—News you can use: Out journalist LZ Granderson joined ABC News as a contributor. He will continue on as a senior writer at ESPN, where he covers the NBA and serves as tennis editor.

—It's an honor: The U.S. Department of Labor announced that the late gay activist Frank Kameny would be inducted into its Hall of Honor, the organization's highest accoladed. Fired from his job as an astronomer in the U.S. Army Map Service in 1957 because of his homosexuality, Kameny sued his way up to the Supreme Court—the first time a civil-rights claim was brought to justice on the basis of sexual orientation. Kameny, who passed away in 2011, has been widely recognized for decades of service toward LGBT equality.

—Minter wonderland: President Obama named people to key administrative posts, including Shannon Price Minter as a member of the President's Commission on White House Fellowships. Minter is legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights ( NCLR ), a position he has held since 2000.

—New members: The Foundation for a National AIDS Monument announced three new members of its board of directors: actor/activist Zachary Quinto, William Morris Endeavor Board Member Mark Itkin and marketing executive Tom Whitman.

—Charleston massacre: LGBT organizations were among the many issuing statements following the mass shooting that took place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, in June. The white gunman shot 10 people ( with nine dying ) hoping to start a race war. LGBT groups also joined the call for the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina's "public square"—which did take place in a public ceremony.

—"Caged" heat: Undocumented trans and queer leaders from across the country conducted a "die-in" in Washington, D.C., at the intersection of 16th and H St. NW ( at the White House ) to symbolize the deaths of LGBTQ immigrants in detention as well as those LGBTQ immigrants who have been deported back to their death. Six people were arrested at the event, called Operation "Break the Cage."

—I'm coming out: Peter Buttigieg, the 33-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, publicly came out as gay in an op-ed in The South Bend Tribune. He wrote that while "I'm not used to viewing this as anyone else's business … it's clear to me that at a moment like this, being more open about it could do some good."

—International relations: The Harvey Milk Foundation, known around the world for its dedication to promoting equality for the LGBT community, presented its coveted Harvey Milk Medal to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. This historic milestone coincided with the 70th anniversary celebration of the United Nations.

—Philadelphia freedom: The National LGBT 50th Anniversary Celebration and Ceremony took place July 2-5 in Philadelphia. Jim Obergefell, Edie Windsor, Judy Shepard, Bishop Gene Robinson, Wanda Sykes and hundreds of other guests attended and/or took part in the events.

—Episcopal equality: Bishops of the Episcopal Church, on July 1, approved a measure authorizing clergy nationwide to perform same-sex marriages. The vote came at the denomination's general convention in Salt Lake City. Resolutions passed that day replaced "man and woman" with more gender-neutral language in traditional marriage liturgies and endorsed recent liturgies developed for same-sex couples.

—Rent and rave: Jeffrey Hurant, the CEO of Rentboy.com, and six others were arraigned in Brooklyn federal court after their arrest. They were charged with "conspiring to violate the Travel Act by promoting prostitution." The move spurred protests around the country, with activists comparing the arrests to the police raids on gay bars and bathhouses of the 1970s.

—Historic ruling: In a decision that could provide important remedies to thousands of LGBT federal workers who might face sexual orientation discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that existing federal law prohibits employment discrimination against federal workers based on sexual orientation.

—Tech in effect: TransTech Social Enterprises, a creative design firm and training academy, announced a conducting of a national assessment to connect the trans community directly to employment and educational opportunities.

—Update: President Barack Obama, on July 30, signed an executive order updating his administration's National HIV/AIDS Strategy through the year 2020.

—Vivid visits: Pope Francis' visit to the United States generated many reactions for the LGBT community—but none moreso than when it was revealed that he saw anti-gay Kentucky clerk Kim Davis for a few minutes. One Vatican official said there was "a sense of regret" that the pope had ever seen Davis. However, it was also revealed that the pontiff met with Yayo Grassi, a U.S.-based Argentine caterer who is gay and brought his male partner of 19 years to the meeting.

—Placin' Dixon: Missouri gubernatorial hopeful Sen. Bob Dixon released a statement claiming his mother—and "teenage confusion"—convinced him to live as a gay man for five years, LGBTQ Nation reported. Dixon, who has a wife and three children, emphasized his conservative values when announcing his candidacy, claiming that child abuse led him to doubt his sexuality as a teen.

—Houston, we have a problem: In Houston on Nov. 3, residents rejected an equal-rights ordinance by a wide margin. Conservative opponents of the law claimed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance ( HERO )—which would have incorporated sexual orientation and gender identity as well as 13 classes already under federal protection, including sex, race and religion—would allow men dressed as women, including sexual predators, to enter women's restrooms.

—Play ball: David Denson became the first openly gay professional league baseball player. Denson plays for the Helena Brewers, the minor league affiliate to the MLB's Milwaukee Brewers, and came out to his teammates after a teammate used a gay slur in the clubhouse.

—Split decision: The two African-American dads who cultivated a large Internet following due to their photo-perfect family split. In a letter to their 187,000 followers that spanned six Instagram posts, Caleb Anthony, 27, revealed that he and Kordale Lewis, 26, are "no longer together."

—When a Page reads you: Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz found himself on the defensive in Iowa after his speech on the Des Moines Register Soap Box after taking questions from actress Ellen Page, who came out in 2014 at HRC's Time to Thrive conference.

—Marry, quite contrary: April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse—the lesbian Michigan couple who challenged the state's same-sex adoption and marriage bans—exchanged vows Aug. 22 in Southfield. The couple initially filed Jan. 23, 2012, in federal district court, challenging Michigan's ban on adoption by same-sex couples.

—Brutal attack: Two Texas men faced federal hate-crime charges after they reportedly brutally raped and tortured a Black gay man over the course of three hours in 2012 in the town of Corpus Christi. KRIS-TV said that the two men attacked the victim over an unpaid $5 debt. If convicted, the two men face life in prison.

—Victim: A 42-year-old gay man who ran the coffee shop at the Inland Regional Center was among the 14 victims killed in the shooting attack in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2. Daniel Kaufman was identified after his boyfriend, Ryan Reyes, and family spent nearly 22 hours trying to ascertain whether he was one of the persons killed or injured in the incident.

—Deaths in Virginia: In a manifesto, Vester Lee Flanagan II—who shot and killed WDBJ7-TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward on Aug. 26 before taking his own life—said he was a gay Black man. He also apparently claims he was a victim of homophobia from his co-workers, including "black men and white females." Flanagan used social media to post chilling videos showing him approach the scene, raise his gun and fire at the media employees as well as interview subject Vicki Gardner.

—Protecting: The California State Assembly passed two bills—authored by Sen. Mark Leno, with the National Center for Lesbian Rights ( NCLR ), Equality California and Transgender Law Center co-sponsoring—protecting transgender people who work for companies doing business with state agencies and transgender children in the foster-care system.

—Taking over: Dozens of #TransLivesMatter activists took over the stage at the U.S. Conference on AIDS in Washington, D.C., to draw attention to HIV-positive trans women and men as well as gender-nonconforming people Spokeswoman Bamby Salcedo—a Latina trans woman, activist, and subject of the documentary TransVisible—grabbed the microphone during the unexpected protest at the lunchtime plenary, and spoke for 20 minutes.

—Going Shkreli up: Martin Shkreli resigned as the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals amid allegations of securities fraud. Shkreli became "the most hated man on the Internet" in September when he acquired the rights to decades-old AIDS drug Daraprim and unapologetically hiked the price from $13.50 to $750 a pill overnight. Shkreli has pled not guilty to the charges and was released on $5 million bond.

—Stepping down: In a move that delighted Democrats ( and some Republicans ), John Boehner stepped down from being speaker of the house. Boehner made several anti-LGBT moves during his tenure, including stating his opposition to ENDA ( the Employment Non-Discrimination Act ).

—Guv story: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced executive action intended to protect transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment and other areas. He also received the final blueprint regarding a plan to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York state by the end of 2020.

—Pretty as a picture: Sylvia Rivera became the first transgender person in the National Portrait Gallery's collection. Among other things, Rivera was there in 1969 at the turning point of the modern LGBT struggle for equal rights, when patrons of the Stonewall Inn violently rebuffed a police raid. Politicized by this experience, Rivera campaigned with the Gay Activist Alliance in urging the city to enact a nondiscrimination ordinance.

—Crime time: Former gay-porn star Jarec Wentworth ( aka Teofil Brank ) was sentenced to nearly six years behind bars after being found guilty of extorting tech tycoon/Republican millionaire Donald Burns for more than $1.5 million.

—Union action: The Union for Reform Judaism ( URJ ), on Nov. 5, passed a resolution calling on synagogues to embrace transgender individuals. The resolution, which passed in a voice vote at the URJ's biennial conference in Orlando, Florida, gave specific suggestions as to how transgender persons could be welcomed, including having cultural training for staff, making gender-neutral restrooms available, and presenting sermons about transgender issues.

—A new day: Salt Lake City, Utah, officially got its first new openly LGBT mayor. A final vote count done Nov. 17 showed that lesbian Jackie Biskupski defeated incumbent Mayor Ralph Becker.

—Tragedy in the military: A new study from the American Psychological Association said that far more military men are being raped by other men and experience other sexual traumas than is reported by the Pentagon because of the stigma attached to such assaults. The Rand Corp., which conducted the most recent Pentagon sexual-assault survey in 2014, found that about 12,000 men reported being assaulted.

—Tragedy in the military, part two: New documents connected to the 1992 gay-bashing murder of U.S. Navy serviceman Allen Schindler were revealed. Among the revelations were that the Naval Investigative Service questioned Schindler's acquaintances in the service; and that the Navy closely monitored the gay media's coverage of the investigation and trial, paying particular attention to stories in San Francisco's Bay Area Reporter, Chicago's Windy City Times and San Diego's Update.

—Remembering Leelah: Remembering transgender teen Leelah Alcorn—who took her life along a stretch of Interstate 71 near Kings Mill, Ohio in 2014—her friends and supporters teamed to participate in the state's Adopt-a-Highway program, placing a sign reading "In memory of Leelah Alcorn" along the highway where Alcorn's body was found.

—School daze: A Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, elementary school canceled a reading and discussion about the book I am Jazz—about a transgender girl—after an anti-gay organization, the Liberty Counsel, threatened a federal lawsuit.

—Closing: The New York-based pro-LGBT organization Empire State Pride Agenda announced plans to conclude major operations in 2016 citing more than 100 legislative and policy victories over 25 years. The organization said it will identify aspects of its policy work to continue at other groups, and will maintain its political action committee to stay involved in election politics.

—Turning 60: The GLBT Historical Society marked the 60th anniversary of the Daughters of Bilitis—the first lesbian organization in the United States—with a reception at San Francisco's GLBT History Museum on Dec. 13. The guest of honor was Phyllis Lyon, 91—the one surviving co-founder.


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