Top 16 Stories of 2016

When the ball drops later this month, many of us will not be sorry to bid adieu to 2016. It’s been a tough year for the nation, with our recent presidential election, ongoing racial tensions and social-justice clashes and the country’s deadliest mass shooting. However, there were definitely some bright spots of 2016, including for Philly’s LGBT community.

Take a look back at what we consider to be top-16 newsmakers of 2016.

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1. Mass shooting rocks LGBT community

The nation saw its deadliest mass shooting this summer at an LGBT nightclub.

Omar Mateen killed 49 people at Pulse in Orlando, Fla., on June 12. Mateen’s motivation for the slaying was never determined, but the gunman pledged allegiance to ISIS during the incident, which left dozens wounded.

Among the victims was 18-year-old Akyra Murray of Philadelphia. Murray was in Orlando vacationing with her family and celebrating her graduation from West Philadelphia High School the week before. She, her cousin and a friend were among 15 people trapped in a bathroom stall as the shooter fired. Murray was the youngest of the 49 victims.

Word of the massacre began spreading at Philadelphia Pride later that day, with organizers calling for a moment of silence before the annual parade stepped off, and a noticeably increased police presence. The next day, more than 2,000 people assembled at Philadelphia City Hall to mourn the victims and call for LGBT tolerance.

Several LGBT venues in the Gayborhood instituted enhanced security procedures after the attack and a coalition of local bar owners and others collaborated on a large-scale fundraiser for the victims in July. The event ended up netting more than $100,000.

2. Donald Trump elected president

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Political newcomer Trump stunned the nation by winning the 2016 presidential election.

The LGBT community largely turned out against the Republican candidate, who opposes marriage equality and LGBT nondiscrimination measures and has pledged to sign a federal “religious-freedom” law that opponents say would give businesses license to discriminate against LGBT people. LGBT organizations like Equality Pennsylvania, Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club and Liberty Pennsylvania staged intense get-out-the-vote efforts for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the weeks leading up to the election.

Clinton ended up capturing 82.4 percent of the vote in Philadelphia, and 84.24 percent in the ward that includes the Gayborhood.

However, Trump ended up winning Pennsylvania, a state that was decisive in helping him reach the winning Electoral College threshold; Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2.5-million votes.

In the days and weeks following the election, the nation saw a sharp uptick in hate incidents. Southern Poverty Law Center tracked 10 such incidents in Philadelphia and nine in the surrounding suburbs in the 10 days after the election; both city and state governments have released targeted plans to address bias-motivated incidents.

As Trump prepares for his Jan. 20 inauguration, he has begun announcing his cabinet picks, all of whom have anti-LGBT records.

3. State invests in LGBT-youth housing

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Gov. Tom Wolf announced an investment from the state for an affordable-housing complex with LGBT-friendly residences for young adults. The $3-million investment, which came from the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, will help Project HOME and the Middleton Partnership develop the lot at 1315 N. Eighth St.

Groundbreaking for the building is set to take place in April, with construction to be completed 17 months later. The four-story building, which will span more than 36,500 square feet, will include 30 one-bedroom apartments, an exercise room, a laundry room and a community space opening to an outdoor courtyard for special events.

In addition to state funding, the $13-million project will also receive $4.7 million from low-income housing tax credits, $3.5 million from the Philadelphia Department of Housing and Community Development and $1.8 million from Project HOME.

Additionally, a second building with an estimated $14-million price tag will be completed in a second phase for the project. This 40-unit complex will house young adults and adults who don’t necessarily identify as LGBT.

4. Protests, meetings address Gayborhood racism

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A series of public events and protests were held to fight back against allegations of racism in the city’s LGBT nightlife scene.

After reports of racist dress-code and other policies at Gayborhood clubs like ICandy and Woody’s, the issue gained significant steam when a video was released online showing ICandy owner Daryl DePiano using a racial epithet when talking about black patrons. The incident prompted several organizations, including PGN, to sever ties with the business and a number of protests at the club, including those led by Black & Brown Workers Collective. BBWC has continued to call for the community to divest from racist businesses and organizations and has demanded the resignation of Director of LGBT Affairs Nellie Fitzpatrick for what they say has been inaction on the issue.  

Community meetings at William Way LGBT Community Center and the African-American Museum of Philadelphia addressed the issue of racism in the community, and hundreds turned out for a Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations hearing on the topic. PCHR is expected to release a report on the issue next month.

5. Philly welcomes DNC

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Hillary Clinton made history in Philadelphia at this summer’s Democratic National Convention when she became the first woman to accept a presidential nomination from a major party.

Clinton made the official acceptance speech before thousands assembled at Wells Fargo Center July 28. LGBT equality was a common theme throughout the four-day event, including in Clinton’s speech: “We will defend all our rights,” she said, “civil rights, human rights and voting rights, women’s rights and workers’ rights, LGBT rights and the rights of people with disabilities.”

The convention stage also showcased remarks by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and vice-president nominee Tim Kaine. A number of LGBT leaders took the stage, as well as allies who addressed equality issues; one of the convention’s most emotional moments came with a speech by Christine Leionen, whose son, Christopher, was killed in the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando this summer. Hundreds of LGBT advocates participated in two summits during the week.

Though the city reported no convention-related arrests, there were a number of large-scale protests, in Center City and outside Wells Fargo, while some stalwart Bernie Sanders supporters protested vocally inside the convention.

6. Philadelphia schools adopt transgender policy

The governing body of Philadelphia schools adopted a transgender policy for 218 city schools this past summer.

On June 16, the School Reform Commission presented the policy, which mandates that schools respect students’ gender identity with regard to names, pronouns, privacy rights, dress code, physical education and restroom and locker-room access.

Additionally, the policy emphasized the use of gender-neutral language for all students regardless of gender identity, while referring to students’ biological sex as a matter of privacy.

A dozen youth from The Attic Youth Center were involved in drafting the policy, which mirrored the accommodations provided to students in the 1994 Multiracial-Multicultural-Gender Education Policy. The Attic was also instrumental in drafting this policy.

“We’re now working in tandem with the school district for the process of implementation,” said Kel Kroehle, director of the Bryson Institute at The Attic, in a June interview with PGN. “We want this to be a living and breathing document in the school in advance of a conflict.”

7. Trans woman murdered in Frankford

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Maya Young, a 25-year-old transgender woman of color, was the victim of a fatal stabbing Feb. 20.

Police found Young with stab wounds to her upper back and chest in the 4900 block of Griscom Street in Frankford. Tiffany Floyd, 25, and Jose Pena, 20, were arrested one month later.

Young’s murder allegedly stemmed from an argument Floyd had with the victim. Floyd told investigators she felt that Young used “voodoo” to “cast a spell” on her boyfriend. According to Pena’s statement, Floyd stabbed Young after smoking crack with the victim at a park in Frankford. When Young fled, Floyd asked Pena to “finish” her or she would have him killed.

“It was my life or hers,” Pena said in his statement.

Meanwhile, Floyd’s statement contended that she did not intend to kill Young and after stabbing the victim, Pena decided to kill her on his own.

The defendants are currently awaiting trial.

The DA’s Office extended plea deals to both, the details of which have not been made public. Pena rejected the deal and counter-offered; the DA’s Office had not announced a decision as of presstime. Floyd is scheduled for a hearing in February at which time she is expected to enter a guilty plea.

8. Pride grand marshal steps down

Philly Pride Presents, the organizer of Philadelphia Pride, in April announced a dual grand marshal for the summer parade: a coalition of LGBT and ally city workers and the members of Gay Officer Action League, an association of LGBT and ally law-enforcement representatives.

The GOAL announcement was met with backlash by some in the community, with more than 350 people signing on to a petition calling for the group’s removal. The authors of the petition criticized the pick as “antithetical to the spirit and history of Pride,” which they said grew out of the Stonewall Riots, a pushback against police brutality.

Two weeks before the parade, GOAL removed itself from the grand-marshal distinction. In a statement, the organization said it did so “with great regret” but wanted to listen to community concerns.

“GOAL will not accept this honor until the community, loudly and proudly, decides we have earned it,” GOAL concluded.

9. New strategy on Fairness Act moves bill forward

After being stalled for nearly a year, a bill adding extra protections for LGBT people made some progress.

The Pennsylvania Fairness Act would ban discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations for LGBT people.

State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.) introduced the bill in September 2015. However, when it failed to move forward, state Sen. Patrick Browne broke the bill into three separate measures, in an attempt to get the issues in front of new committees.

In a 7-4 vote in June, the Pennsylvania Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee approved Senate Bill 1307, which prohibited housing discrimination, with an additional amendment banning employment discrimination passed in a 6-5 vote.

The Senate State Government Committee scheduled a hearing Sept. 26 in Harrisburg to address this bill plus a separate measure banning discrimination in public accommodations. The meeting was postponed and has yet to be rescheduled.

10. Exec. order prohibits contracting discrimination

Gov. Tom Wolf issued two executive orders to further protect LGBT individuals.

The orders signed April 7 prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in state contracting, which was a new order, and in state employment, which renewed previous mandates.

Former Gov. Milton Shapp issued a similar executive order in 1976 to ban state-employment discrimination for LGBT people in Pennsylvania. Subsequent governors reauthorized the executive orders, with Gov. Ed Rendell adding gender identity and presentation in 2003.

During a 40th-anniversary celebration of Shapp’s executive order and the founding of Council for Sexual Minorities, Equality Pennsylvania Executive Director Ted Martin spoke briefly about Wolf’s new contracting order. He noted that, in addition to 73,000 state employees, the new mandate covered those working on 3,525 state contracts and 9,000 agency grantees for the first time in state history.

“More LGBT Pennsylvanians are safer from discrimination than last week,” Martin said.

11. Kathryn Knott serves jailtime

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Accused gay basher Kathryn Knott spent the first half of 2016 in prison.

On Feb. 8, Knott was sentenced to five-10 months in Riverside Correctional Facility for her role in a 2014 gay-bashing incident that left a local couple injured. The sentence was handed down by Court of Common Pleas Judge Roxanne Covington, who oversaw Knott’s trial in December 2015; Knott’s co-defendants, Philip Williams and Kevin Harrigan, accepted plea deals but Knott chose to take her case to trial and was found guilty of four misdemeanors.

Knott sought several times to reduce her sentence. Ten days after it was handed down, her attorney filed a motion for Covington to reconsider the sentence, for which the judge agreed to a hearing but ultimately declined to grant. Then Knott filed for an early release in June, which Covington also denied. The judge agreed to Knott’s parole request, which was filed at the five-month mark of her sentence.

She also is serving two years of probation, during which she is prohibited from entering Philadelphia, and must pay $2,000 in fines.

Knott is also facing two separate lawsuits. In April, a Norristown woman sued Knott and her father, Karl, for $5 million; the plaintiff, Kathleen O’Donnell, was fired after detectives informed her boss she was commenting on online stories about Knott’s case using the username “KnottyisaTramp” and using Knott’s photo. The Knotts’ attorneys contend O’Donnell impersonated Knott in many of the posts and asked for the suit’s dismissal. The case remains pending in federal court.

In May, the victims of the attack, Zachery Hesse and Andrew Haught, filed a civil suit against Knott, Williams and Harrigan. The case has been scheduled for a tentative trial in December 2017.

12. LGBT outcry after Mummers Parade

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The year got off to a rocky start for the Mummers after one group’s performance mocked the transgender community.

At the annual Jan. 1 parade, Finnegan New Year Brigade featured the song “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” as a member impersonating Bruce Jenner “transitioned” into Caitlyn Jenner. Members also held signs parodying Jenner’s Wheaties box from her days as an Olympian to a box of “Froot Loops.” One member of the group was also captured on video shouting, “F*** the gays.” That man was subsequently banned from all future performances.

Also at the parade, a gay man was assaulted by several Mummers who appeared to be from Finnegan and who the victim said used antigay slurs.

In the weeks after the parade, Mummers leaders met with Director of LGBT Affairs Nellie Fitzpatrick, Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations Executive Director Rue Landau and PGN Publisher Mark Segal.

Throughout the year, some Mummers groups underwent sensitivity training, including on LGBT issues. All groups were also required to submit their skit themes and ideas surrounding the performances to Mummers leadership for approval.

13. Gay man targeted by letter bombing

Police continue to look for the person or people who targeted a local gay man with a letter bomb.

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Jim Alden, 60, was seriously injured when he opened what he thought was his asthma medication in the early-morning hours of Nov. 22. The package exploded in the kitchen of his apartment at 18th and Pine streets, causing injuries to his hands, chest and face.

Officials released surveillance video the following week of what they termed a person of interest in the case: an Asian individual they believe to be a man who can be seen dropping off the package on Alden’s doorstep. Investigators said Alden, a banquet worker at Warwick Rittenhouse Hotel, did not recognize the individual.

They said Alden was targeted — his name and address were on the package — but they are not sure of a motive. Alden and his partner display a rainbow “Love Trumps Hate” sign in their front window and investigators said they were not ruling out that the incident was motivated by antigay animus.

As of presstime, no arrest had been made.

14. Commission on LGBT Affairs promotes local involvement

The city’s Office of LGBT Affairs opened applications for a new Commission on LGBT Affairs.

A statement released by the city in October said the commission will “reflect the diversity of the LGBT community, including members who represent the transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, queer and intersex communities, as well as diversity in ethnicity, religion, race, gender, disability, profession, citizenship status, socioeconomic status, geography, housing status and age. The commission will include or consult with experts in relevant fields, such as racial justice, housing, youth development, HIV prevention, mental health, business, law and policy.”

Through six open-ended questions, 147 applicants expressed their interest in serving on the commission, issues facing the local LGBT community and goals for the group.

The commission will strategize ways to increase LGBT access to government resources, maintain dialogue with LGBT organizations and bring attention to city agencies vital to LGBT community needs. The Office of Diversity & Inclusion, the Office of Public Engagement and the Office of the Mayor will select 15-25 members by the end of the year.

“It’s the next critical step in continued building of permanent structures to support and advance LGBT civil rights here in our city,” Nellie Fitzpatrick, director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, told PGN in November.

15. PGN celebrates 40 years

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Through 40 years, the Philadelphia Gay News has seen history unfold for the LGBT community. The staff celebrated four decades with a gala in April and a special commemorative issue featuring 100 pages of the news PGN has covered, while also putting a spotlight on the biggest story of each year and highlighting the work of staff past and present.

Ongoing features such as “Family Portrait” and “Day in the Life of …” focused on PGN Publisher Mark Segal and the PGN staff, respectively. Print advertisements featured congratulatory messages for PGN. And several staff members recounted their experiences through editorials and op-ed pieces.

“If the truth be told, I’ve never felt my contributions at PGN to be ‘work,’ in the traditional sense of the word,” writer-at-large Tim Cwiek said in his piece, “PGN journalist’s 40-year adventure.” “It sounds hokey, but I’ve always felt my efforts to be a ‘labor of love.’”

In his column, “Mark My Words,” Segal said PGN “is as great as it is due to one factor: the talented and dedicated people who are its family.” He said new employees “quickly pick up the spirit that this paper was founded on.”

“They have all become part of a family that delivers a newspaper to you each week that is committed, as our slogan states, to honesty, integrity and professionalism,” Segal wrote.

16. Cosby to stand trial for alleged sexual assault of lesbian

A lesbian former employee of Temple University accused comedian Bill Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her in his Cheltenham Township home. In a statement, Andrea Constand said she went to Cosby’s, 78, home in early 2004.

Constand said Cosby offered her pills and sexually assaulted her, but the actor described the incident as “petting … touching and kissing with clothes on.”

Charges were filed Dec. 30, 2015. Cosby appeared at the Montgomery County Courthouse multiple times throughout this past year, as his attorneys unsuccessfully sought to dismiss the charges and later argued for evidence included in a deposition of Cosby to be excluded from the criminal trial scheduled for this summer. The controversial deposition — which was taken in a civil case Constand filed in 2005 — was unsealed in 2015 and revealed that Cosby acknowledged he intended to provide drugs to women with whom he wanted to have sexual contact.

Constand is among more than 60 women who have made allegations of sexual assault against Cosby.