Goodbye, 2020

As 2020 draws to a close, LGBTQ people have little to celebrate in a year marked by the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump’s attacks on the community, and a Secretary of State quietly remaking the State Department and its foreign aid arm, USAID (United States Agency for International Development) as a virulently anti-LGBT agency.

Among the most significant events of the year were the social justice protests sparked by the May 25 police murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis. The protests were orchestrated in many cities, Philadelphia among them, by Black Lives Matter (BLM).

BLM, a Black social justice, queer and anti-violence movement, was founded by three queer women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in 2013 in response to police violence against Black people.

LGBTQ people of all races and ages participated in the daily protests throughout the summer months in Philadelphia and issues related to police violence against queer and trans people in the city were raised in speeches and in various meetings with city officials.

The election was also a defining event for 2020, from the early months of the primary to election day and beyond. President Trump has refused to concede and has filed more lawsuits against Pennsylvania than any other state in his attempts to overturn his loss.

But President-elect Joe Biden and VP-elect Kamala Harris have been building their administration and making LGBTQ history. On Dec. 16, Biden and Harris announced their selection of Pete Buttigieg to be Transportation Secretary. Buttigieg will be the first openly gay person confirmed by the senate to a Cabinet position and will fulfill a key role in environmental justice. Buttigieg also made history at the beginning of 2020 as the first openly gay presidential candidate to win a primary contest.

Among Biden-Harris’s history-making appointments are also two lesbians of color, Karine Jean-Pierre and Pili Tobar. Jean-Pierre, the first Black person and first out lesbian to hold a chief of staff role for a vice-presidential nominee, will be principal Deputy Press Secretary for the Biden administration. Tobar, a veteran of the immigration reform group America’s Voice, will be Deputy White House Communications Director.

Biden-Harris also appointed Carlos Elizondo, who will be the new White House Social Secretary. Elizondo will be in charge of the White House Social Office and oversee all aspects of official social events in the President’s official residence.

Elizondo previously served for both terms of the Obama-Biden administration as Special Assistant to the President, as well as Social Secretary to the Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden. Elizondo also served in both the White House and the Office of the U.S. Chief of Protocol.

The most significant event for LGBTQ people in 2020 was the U.S. Supreme Court decision on employment discrimination. On June 15, the SCOTUS ruled that a longstanding federal law, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, bars workplace discrimination and also protects gay and transgender employees.

The landmark 6-3 ruling represented the biggest moment for LGBT rights since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. Two conservative justices joined the court’s four liberals in the decision: Neil Gorsuch, a 2017 Trump appointee who wrote the ruling, and Chief Justice John Roberts.

Workplace bias against gay and transgender employees had remained legal despite several previous high-profile cases. Two gay rights cases from Georgia and New York and a transgender rights case from Michigan were part of the overall case, which now includes gay, lesbian and trans worker protections.

Another court win for LGBTQ people came Dec. 7, when the Supreme Court chose not to hear a case about barring transgender students from bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

Legal battles brought by Gavin Grimm have been moving through the courts since June 2015 when Grimm, a trans man, was a high school sophomore. In August 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found in favor of Grimm. The Gloucester County, Virginia school board, which has been the plaintiff throughout the various legal challenges brought by Grimm, appealed to the SCOTUS, which declined to hear the case Dec. 7, leaving the lower court ruling in place — with a win for Grimm and a precedent set for trans students.

LGBTQ people faced many other legal challenges in 2020, with cases before the federal and Supreme Court. Fulton v. City of Philadelphia was heard the day after the election by the SCOTUS. The case questions whether gay and lesbian couples can be foster parents. A decision is expected in Spring 2021.

In a 2-1 decision on Nov. 27, a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with marriage and family therapists Robert Otto and Julie Hamilton, who challenged the constitutionality of county and city ordinances in Boca Raton and Palm Beach County banning conversion therapy that attempts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ minors.

The year also marked the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who has a history of anti-LGBT statements, including referencing “sexual preference” during her Senate confirmation hearings, for which she later apologized.

In 2020 dozens of federal judges were confirmed by the GOP-led Senate, and Lambda Legal cites statistics that over a third of them had anti-LGBT biases in their records.

Among the most positive elements to 2020 was that more than 1,000 openly LGBTQ candidates ran for a wide range of local and national offices. 

The roster of LGBTQ candidates was broad and diverse, and nearly every state was represented. There were many Black, Latinx and Asian candidates, speaking to the racial diversity LGBTQ candidates represent. Among the winning candidates were Mondaire Jones and Ritchie  Torres, who will be the first openly Black gay men in Congress when they are sworn in come January.

The coronavirus pandemic was the defining event of 2020 and had a global impact on LGBT people. As PGN has been reporting for months, many countries have used the pandemic as an excuse to employ restrictions on LGBT people while under lockdown, with an emphasis on gatherings or hostels and shelters for LGBT people.

Arrests of LGBT people have occurred in Africa, Asia, South America, Indonesia, Russia, Poland and the Baltics with violations of coronavirus restrictions used as the rationale.

In the U.S., the Trump administration made repeated attempts to restrict access to healthcare for LGBTQ people during the deadly pandemic. This involved attacks on the Affordable Care Act provisions protecting queer and trans people.

The Trump administration also restricted asylum requests overall and those by LGBTQ people in particular, and sent several lesbians back to the countries of origin they had fled due to threats on their lives for their sexual identity.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spent much of 2020 re-crafting the State Department as an anti-LGBTQ vector, putting people with longstanding anti-gay and anti-trans animus in policy positions.

Pompeo argues that “the previous administration” did not support religious freedom and he intends to correct that and “uphold religious freedom as America’s most fundamental value.”

In November, Pompeo signed an anti-LGBT declaration with 32 member states in the United Nations, many of which are authoritarian regimes or considered flawed democracies.

The “Geneva Consensus Declaration” is yet another action by Pompeo to radically reframe U.S. foreign policy to meet the evangelical Christian standard he has set for the State Department and USAID. Throughout 2020, Pompeo has taken actions that shift U.S. foreign policy to reflect anti-LGBT and anti-women’s rights stance, using the State Department’s $41 billion budget to advance his anti-LGBT agenda.

The year also saw the loss of two great LGBTQ allies, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), as well as the most famous AIDS activist, ACT-UP founder, playwright and essayist Larry Kramer.

Despite these many losses on a legal, social and community level, despite the rise in hate crimes, poverty and hunger among LGBTQ people under the Trump administration, and despite the ongoing pandemic, the new year and the new administration looms before us.

The commitment we have already seen from President-elect Biden and VP-elect Harris to supporting LGBTQ people represents a tectonic shift from 2020 and the totality of the Trump years. And it’s something to look forward to in the year ahead.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.