Canadians got a ban on conversion therapy. The U.S. didn’t.
The U.S. also didn’t get the Equality Act despite all the election rhetoric in 2020. While the House passed the Act, the Senate failed to even bring it to debate. Instead of the Equality Act, a slew of anti-LGBTQ laws were either passed or proposed in legislatures around the country.
While President Biden promised the Equality Act would be passed in his first 100 days, it didn’t happen. Republican-led legislatures and Republican governors pushed anti-LGBTQ laws to circumvent any possible Equality Act passage. The ACLU lists dozens of anti-LGBTQ laws either passed or in committee nationwide.
The U.S. Supreme Court didn’t deliver for LGBTQ people, either. In a 9-0 ruling bound to have a long-ranging impact, the U.S. Supreme Court found the City of Philadelphia violated the First Amendment rights to religious freedom of Catholic Social Services (CSS) in the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.
The Court determined that Philadelphia’s refusal to contract with Catholic Social Services for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.
The eagerly anticipated decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, ruled that Philadelphia cannot bar CSS from screening potential foster parents even though the agency refuses to work with same-sex couples, in violation of Philadelphia’s non-discrimination ordinance. Two lower court rulings had previously found in favor of the city, including the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, which found unanimously for the city.
Agreement with the decision was far from unanimous. Several Court watchers called the ruling another clear victory for the religious right.
In November the City of Philadelphia agreed to pay $2 million in legal fees to CSS and to renew the Catholic foster care agency’s contract sans adherence to the city’s nondiscrimination policy.
Yet 2021 had begun well for LGBTQ people with the Inauguration of President Biden.
One of the first actions of the Biden-Harris administration on Inauguration Day 2021 was for President Biden to issue an executive order protecting LGBTQ Americans. Titled “Executive Order on Preventing and Combatting Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation,” the EO begins, “Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love.”
This represented the antithesis of the previous administration, which just days before Biden’s Inauguration, on Jan. 13, issued a 77 page set of rules from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) restricting access by LGBTQ people to social services and healthcare.
Biden had pledged to have his administration “look like America” and that included LGBTQ people. Pete Buttigieg became the first openly gay person confirmed to a Cabinet position: Secretary of Transportation.
Dr. Rachel Levine, former Health Commissioner of Pennsylvania, was confirmed as Assistant Secretary for Health, becoming the highest placed openly transgender person confirmed by the Senate. On October 19, 2021, Levine, a four-star admiral in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, became the first openly transgender four-star officer in the nation’s eight uniformed services.
Other out members of the administration included Ned Price, Spokesperson for the U. S. Department of State — the first openly gay person in that post. Karine Jean-Pierre is principal Deputy Press Secretary for the Biden administration. Pili Tobar is Deputy White House Communications Director. Both are the first out lesbians and women of color in their respective roles. Carlos Elizondo, who is openly gay, is Biden’s White House Social Secretary.
There were cultural pluses for LGBTQ people, notably the gayest Olympics ever — with the first out trans and nonbinary competitors as well. The Tokyo summer games had 168 out players, including the first openly trans and first openly non-binary athletes. Out queer women outnumbered queer men at the Olympics 10-1.
There were 27 countries represented by at least one publicly out athlete in 30 sports, with Team USA dominating with more than 30 out athletes on teams and as alternates.
But the position of LGBTQ people not only failed to improve in 2021 in the U.S., it got markedly worse. A report from the Movement Advancement Project showed LGBTQ people disproportionately impacted by COVID-19–particularly Black and Latinx people. This included being twice as likely to be unable to get necessary medical care and four times more likely to not have enough food to eat as non-LGBTQ households.
The January report, “The Disproportionate Impacts of COVID-19 on LGBTQ Households in the U.S.,” shows that, as a direct result of the pandemic, LGBTQ households experienced higher rates of job losses, serious financial problems, issues accessing health care and increased challenges navigating at-home learning for their children, as compared to non-LGBTQ households.
In August, another report showed LGBT adults living in the U.S. are nearly twice as likely to experience food insecurity as non-LGBT adults, according to new survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau, with 13 percent of LGBT adults reporting living in a household that experienced food insecurity in the past seven days.
The study also found 36.6% of LGBT adults lived in a household that had difficulty paying for basic household expenses in the previous seven days, compared to just over a quarter of non-LGBT adults. Unemployment was also higher: one in five LGBT adults lived in a household that had lost employment income in the past four weeks, compared to 16.8% of non-LGBT adults.
And in September a new study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law revealed 46% of LGBT workers have experienced unfair treatment at work at some point in their lives, including being fired, not hired or harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Williams Institute study states that over 8 million workers in the U.S. identify as LGBT and stipulates that “Employment discrimination and harassment against LGBT people has been documented in a variety of sources and found to negatively impact employees’ health and well-being and to reduce job commitment and satisfaction.”
The study’s analysis drew a succinct conclusion: “employment discrimination against LGBT people continues to be persistent and widespread.”
But there were gains for LGBTQ people as well. The Victory Fund reported in November that when those who won their races in the November election are sworn into office, the U.S. will have hit an historic milestone: There will be more than 1,000 concurrently serving LGBTQ+ officials for the first time in history.
At least 237 LGBTQ+ candidates were on the ballot, which is an 18.5 percent increase since the last off-year election in 2019, according to the Victory Fund.
And two out gay male politicians are running for higher office in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections. State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta is running for the U.S. Senate and Rep. Brian Sims is running for Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor. Both men are from Philadelphia.
The opportunities raised by those LGBTQ people entering office and those running in 2022 offer hope, as does the continued support of the Biden administration. But the early promise of 2021 never fully materialized. LGBTQ people continue to struggle for basic rights as 2021 ends. The challenges for LGBTQ people are many as the nation enters a third year of the pandemic, with no way of knowing if the most vulnerable in the LGBTQ community will get any closer to equity.