The fight for LGBTQ rights has been tougher than ever this year, and support for our community is stronger than it has ever been. Just as with any significant, important movement, there are highs as well as lows. 2019 has been ripe with celebrations of victory, but we have also encountered setbacks and faced opposition with the current Administration. This article highlights what the LGBTQ community has encountered in 2019. 

New Jersey became the second state in the USA to require public schools to teach LGBTQ and disability-inclusive material.

On Feb. 1, New Jersey passed a law that will require all public schools to teach material that is inclusive of LGBTQ history. The content will be incorporated into middle and high school curricula starting in the 2020-2021 school year. Private schools do not have to comply as they are not state-regulated. “The Governor believes that ensuring students learn about diverse histories will help build more tolerant communities and strengthen educational outcomes,” the governor’s office said in a statement. Before New Jersey, California was the only state that had such a law. In May, Colorado followed suit passing a similar law, and other states are now continuing down the same path. 

New York banned the use of gay and trans panic legal defense strategies.

On June 30, New York became the sixth state to ban a defense tactic allowing a defendant to blame a violent act on the fact that they were highly distraught about the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Upon signing the bill into law, Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated, “New York has always been the home of the LGBTQ equality movement, always. It all started here. It started at Stonewall. It started when we hosted the first Pride Day ever. And we’ve kept that legacy alive.” The only other states that currently ban gay and trans* panic defense strategies are California, Rhode Island, Illinois, Nevada, and Connecticut. New Jersey is likely to pass a panic-defense ban early in 2020. 

Illinois joins the bathroom neutrality fight.

On July 26, Gov. Pritzker signed a bill into law requiring all single-occupancy bathrooms to be labeled as gender-inclusive. Sen. Melinda Bush, who sponsored the legislation, told the Chicago Tribune that, “[m]aking single-occupancy restrooms gender-neutral is inclusive, but it also just makes sense. It’s a small change that will make a big impact for thousands of Illinoisans.” The law passed unanimously in the state Senate and with a vote of an overwhelming 109-5 in the Statehouse. The law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Pennsylvania allows residents to select “X” as gender for driver’s license and state ID cards.

On July 31, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) announced that Pennsylvanians would no longer have to check male or female when filling out their driver’s license or state ID card application. The change takes effect in October 2020. Some opponents of the change fear that this will affect compliance with the Real ID program; however, many airlines are now beginning to allow nonbinary options for passengers. Gov. Tom Wolfe fully supports this move, stating that it falls in line with his opinions regarding equity and fairness. Many motorists identifying as trans-nonbinary feel that the change is long overdue.

Billy Porter became the first openly gay Black man to win an Emmy for best lead actor in a drama series.

On Sept. 22, Billy Porter won the highly coveted Emmy award for his work on the FX drama “Pose.” The pioneering show is in its second season and features a highly diverse LGBTQ cast — as well as more transgender scripted regular actors than on any other show in television history. The show is set in 1990 and portrays the HIV/AIDS epidemic as well as discrimination, poverty and pervasive harassment of the LGBTQ community. Porter included a strong message for acceptance in his speech, “[w]e are the people. We, as artists, are the people that get to change the molecular structure of the hearts and minds of the people who live on this planet. Please don’t ever stop doing that. Please don’t ever stop telling the truth.”

Transgender murders are increasing and spreading fear in the community.

As of November, there were at least 25 transgender murders in the United States, including Philadelphia’s Tameka “Michelle” Washington. Mind you, there is no definitive way to confirm the actual number of murders of transgender and nonbinary folks because all crime-related information is voluntarily provided to the government from state and local authorities, and there is no federal source that reports on the deaths or crimes against the transgender community. Also, the numbers are likely even higher because victims are often misgendered and, therefore, not reported as a murder or act of violence against a transgender person.  

This infographic, with information provided by the Human Rights Campaign, highlights the horrific trend in the murders of transgender people. As we can see, the victims are disproportionately Black women under the age of 30 from the South. Florida and Texas are currently tied for the states with the most fatalities.

And this is not new. Sadly, every year-in-review column that I write has a paragraph dedicated to the murders and violence against transgender individuals. Since 2013, there have been at least 157 transgender fatalities due to violent crime in our country, and of these fatalities, at least 70 percent have been Black transgender women. Disturbingly, approximately half of all victims are killed by someone close to them, such as a family member, friend or intimate partner. 

The numbers are not declining — and the year is not even over. In 2018, there were at least 26 fatalities due to violence against transgender people compared to 25 in 2017, 23 in 2016, 22 in 2015, and 13 in 2014. 

The Trump Administration and the LGBTQ Community in 2019.

The Trump Administration has continued to anchor in and set the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality and fairness back.

Jan. 23: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) granted an exemption to adoption and foster care agencies in South Carolina to allow religiously affiliated services to discriminate against current and aspiring LGBTQ caregivers.

April 12: The Department of Defense (DOD) reinstated a ban on transgender service members. This ban causes the discharge of any service members that either come out or are found to be transgender.

April 19: The HHS announced a proposed rule to abandon the collection of data about the sexual orientation of youth in the foster care system, as well as foster and adoptive parents.

May 2: The HHS ruled that hospital officials, staff and insurance companies can and should deny care to patients, including transgender patients, based on their religious or moral beliefs. This ruling was immediately challenged in court.

May 14: President Trump announced that he opposes the Equality Act (H.R. 5). This act is federal legislation that would strengthen our nation’s current civil rights protections for LGBTQ citizens.

May 22: The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it plans to abolish regulations prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in HUD-funded homeless shelters.

July 3: HUD removed the requirements that applicants for homelessness funding maintain anti-discrimination policies and demonstrate efforts to serve LGBTQ people and their families, who are more likely to be homeless.

Aug. 14: The Department of Labor announced that it is proposing a rule to expand the ability of federal contractors to exempt themselves from equal employment opportunity requirements by allowing for-profit and non-profit employers to impose “religious criteria” on employees that could include barring LGBTQ employees.

Aug. 16: The Department of Justice filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court, which argues that federal law “does not prohibit discrimination against transgender persons based on their transgender status.”

Nov. 1: The HHS announced that it would not enforce, and plans to repeal, regulations prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation and religion in all HHS grant programs. Targeted are programs that address HIV, opioid and youth homelessness epidemics.

From Billy Porter’s pioneering energy in Hollywood to teaching LGBTQ history in schools to gender-inclusive bathrooms to President Trump — it has been quite a year! We have a lot of work to do to protect the LGBTQ community in the workplace, schools, housing and abroad, but hopefully, this new decade will bring opportunities to cease the blatant disregard for equality we’ve been enduring. The groundwork has been laid, and now it’s time to drive the movement forward in 2020! 

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