10 Ways Discrimination Against LGBT Americans Was Spotlighted in 2016

By Adam Polaski • December 27, 2016 • 1:20 am

2016 wasn’t often an easy year – and for the LGBT community, it was one marked with many uphill fights. And yet, in every single level of government the need for LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections was at the center of so many discussions this year.  In the national executive branch, President Barack Obama and the Department of Defense implemented open service for transgender people. In dozens of state legislatures, hundreds of anti- and pro-LGBT bills surged through consideration. In many local communities, city councils and local lawmakers considered or passed LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances.

As 2016 draws to a close and we look ahead to 2017 – a year where the nation’s highest court will consider a case about transgender people for the first time ever, where dozens of statehouses will once again square off over LGBT protections, and where more and more LGBT people will continue to come out, share their stories, and discuss discrimination they face every day – Freedom for All Americans reflects on the biggest LGBT stories in 2016. Read on:

North Carolina Passes HB 2, Fueling National Outrage and Culminating in Governor’s Loss

On March 23, the North Carolina General Assembly calls a special session one month before the regular legislative session with the sole purpose of passing one of the nation’s most heinously anti-LGBT laws – House Bill 2, which strips away local LGBT non-discrimination ordinances, like one passed in Charlotte this year, and prohibits transgender North Carolinians from using restrooms consistent with their gender identity. The economic backlash to HB 2 began immediately: PayPal, Deutsche Bank and CoStar canceled planned expansions into North Carolina, costing the state nearly one billion dollars in investments and eviscerating planned job growth. Athletic organizations including the NBA, NCAA and ACC pulled high-profile sporting events from the state because of the General Assembly’s refusal to repeal the law.

It was a year full of painful economic and political consequences for North Carolina, and for Governor Pat McCrory, it cost him his reelection bid, in a direct message from voters eager for a change in leadership in a race where HB2 became a central issue. The fiasco in North Carolina brought out thousands of perhaps unlikely allies and launched the reality of transgender lives into the national spotlight. It also set an example for many other states – including Texas, South Carolina, and Tennessee – of what not to do, and many lawmakers distanced themselves from the extreme anti-LGBT discrimination that North Carolina pushed so hard.

Tragic Shooting at LGBT Nightclub in Orlando Results in 49 Deaths

On June 12, a man entered Pulse, an LGBT bar and night club, on Latin Night in Orlando, Florida and open fired on hundreds of patrons, killing 49 in total.  The tragedy galvanized the LGBT community and allies across the country, who rallied in solidarity following the violence. Hundreds of rallies and vigils were held in the wake of the shooting, which took place during LGBTQ pride month.

Freedom for All Americans stood with many in the LGBT community in expressing profound grief for those who were killed and many more who were wounded. A coalition of organizations stood together, including in this statement issued the week of the shooting: “This national tragedy happened against the backdrop of anti-LGBTQ legislation sweeping this country and we must not forget that in this time of grief. Unity and an organized response in the face of hatred is what we owe the fallen and the grieving. Collective resolve across national, racial and political lines will be required to turn the tide against anti-LGBTQ violence. Our response to this horrific act, committed by one individual, will have a deep impact on Muslim communities in this country and around the world. We as an intersectional movement cannot allow anti-Muslim sentiment to be the focal point as it distracts from the larger issue, which is the epidemic of violence that LGBTQ people, including those in the Muslim community, are facing in this country.”

Massachusetts Pushes Toward Fully Transgender-Inclusive Protections with #TransLawMA

On October 1, for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, transgender people became fully equal under Massachusetts’ state law. A law updating Massachusetts law to ensure explicit protections for transgender people in public places – including parks, restaurants, hospitals, and public restrooms – took effect then.

Freedom for All Americans was a founding partner of Freedom Massachusetts, and throughout the campaign, we dedicated our staff member Kasey Suffredini as a chair to the campaign for the past 18 months. Under Suffredini’s strategy and leadership, Freedom Massachusetts has recruited and secured endorsements from more than 250 businesses, more than 350 clergy and congregations, 11 labor unions representing more than 750,000 families, 16 statewide women’s and victim’s advocacy groups, every major professional sports team in New England, the state’s leading law enforcement associations, the entire MA congressional delegation, the state attorney general, bipartisan leadership in the House and Senate, public endorsements from both the Senate President and the House Speaker, and more.

Shortly after the law’s passage, opponents of equality announced they had secured the minimal number of signatures—less than 1% of the state’s population—needed to qualify for the 2018 ballot and put transgender non-discrimination up for repeal. Freedom for All Americans will continue the push to defend the law in 2018.

During the 2016 legislation session, we also saw unprecedented momentum in six additional states, with proactive comprehensive non-discrimination bills advancing for the first time – or farther than ever before. In total, positive legislation to bring LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination statewide was filed in nearly twenty states.

The Department of Defense Lifts Ban on Open Service for Transgender Americans

On June 30, in a historic announcement from the United States Department of Defense, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said that the Pentagon would be ending its discriminatory policy prohibiting open service for transgender Americans. As the largest employer of transgender people in the world (employing an estimated 15,000 transgender people today), the United States military’s decision to end this discrimination marked a significant step ahead for employment non-discrimination.

Updating the Department of Defense policy to ensure these patriotic Americans do not face discrimination allows them to serve openly and with integrity, and demonstrates that transgender people – like all Americans – should be judged for their qualifications, nothing more, nothing less.

The U.S. Supreme Court Grants Review to a Historic Transgender Equality Case

At the end of October the United States Supreme Court granted review in Gloucester County School Board v. Gavin Grimm, the ACLU’s landmark lawsuit on behalf of a transgender boy seeking to use the boy’s restroom while at school, bucking an exclusionary policy from the school district. The Gloucester County, Virginia, School District is seeking to force Gavin – a transgender male – to use female restrooms while on school property. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Gavin earlier this year, but the Supreme Court later granted an emergency appeal from the school district that allowed them to continue banning Gavin from the boys’ room.

The Fourth Circuit’s ruling in April noted that forcing Gavin to use the wrong restroom was “tantamount to humiliation and a continuing mark of difference among his fellow students.” The ruling cited Title IX protections for gender identity – a move affirmed a month later, when the Departments of Justice and Education issued non-binding guidance reminding public schools and universities that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 extends nondiscrimination protections to transgender students. Since the guidance was issued, officials in a number of states have launched a coordinated legal attack aimed at rolling back protections for transgender Americans.

SCOTUS will hear the case in the spring of 2017, presumably with oral argument in March and a decision by the end of June.

100+ Anti-LGBT Bills Are Defeated in 20+ States 

Opponents of LGBT non-discrimination worked on overdrive this year, filing bills allowing for anti-LGBT discrimination in many forms. Almost all of the anti-LGBT bills filed have already been defeated this year, and voices throughout the country are aggressively making the case for repeal of the 4 terrible bills that did become law. No matter what sort of legislation was proposed this year, our movement was there to fight back.

Governors in Georgia, Virginia, and South Dakota rightly vetoed discriminatory legislation that came before their desks, with Georgia’s Republican Governor Nathan Deal rejecting the broad religious refusal bill HB757, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoing a broad “License to Discriminate” bill targeting LGBT people, and South Dakota Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard stamping away a bill that would have prohibited transgender students from using the restroom that aligned with their gender identity.

Fueling the increasingly understood idea that discrimination is not a conservative value, many Republican leaders voted against divisive anti-LGBT bills this year, including leaders in Missouri, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Statewide coalitions formed in many states served as key mechanisms for channeling energy and action into the defeat of anti-LGBT bills. Freedom Indiana led the charge in Indiana, the Fairness Campaign and several groups in South Carolina successfully rallied and fought against anti-transgender and anti-LGBT bills in Kentucky and South Carolina. And in Washington, a broad new coalition formed to ensure that attempts to roll back protections for transgender people do not advance to the ballot – and to send the message that Washington Won’t Discriminate. The business community also sounded off loudly – from major companies speaking out in North Carolina and Georgia to coalitions like Indiana Competes, Georgia Prospers, Missouri Competes, and Tennessee Thrives coming together to combat anti-LGBT attacks – and, significantly, to call for affirmative LGBT protections statewide.

Several Executive Orders Bring Vital Protections to State Employees & Contractors

Governors in several states issued executive orders protecting state employees, and in some cases, employees of state contractors, from employment discrimination. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued an order in April, expanding existing protections in the state, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards restored an LGBT-inclusive executive order in April, and Montana Governor Steve Bullock expanded protections for LGBT contractors.

Even North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, in his narrow attempt to recover from the turmoil he brought to his state by signing HB2 into law, issued an executive order granting, for the first time in NC, employment protections for LGBT state employees. This executive order, of course, did nothing to fix the egregious attacks of HB2 (in fact, the order doubled down on some of the worst elements of the law) – but if HB2 is struck down by one of the many lawsuits challenging its constitutionality, this executive order will protect LGBT state employees.

Hundreds of Bisexual Advocates Celebrate Bisexual Awareness Week at the White House 

On Monday, September 26, Freedom for All Americans was proud to join with more than 100+ advocates from the bisexual community for a very special event at the White House in Washington, D.C. The Bisexual Community Briefing, the third event specifically bringing together bisexual people, was hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement to mark the conclusion of Bisexual Awareness Week (#BiWeek).

Freedom for All Americans was proud to send two representatives – Director of External Communications Angela Dallara and Deputy Digital Director Adam Polaski – to the briefing, following weeks of working with BiNet USA on programming surrounding the #BiStories Project, which works to amplify stories of bisexual Americans to advance LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections nationwide.

Visibility for Transgender Americans Hits All-Time High in Popular Culture

It was a ground-breaking year as more Americans became familiar with transgender individuals, calling unequivocally for transgender-inclusive protections. More newspapers and TV stations covered transgender lives, including perhaps most prominently National Geographic, which featured an instantly iconic image of Avery Jackson, a nine-year-old transgender girl from Kansas. Television shows featured more transgender characters, including Modern Family, bringing these stories into millions of Americans’ living rooms, and Transparent made waves with a moving season, including a breakout episode for transgender actress Trace Lysette, where she powerfully told a cisgender character harassing her, “I’m not your adventure – I’m a person.” Her Story, a web series that earned an Emmy nomination this year, also brought attention for Jen Richards and many other trans women, and Strut featured transgender models.

The Danish Girl won two of the four key acting Oscars at the 2016 Academy Awards – Eddie Redmayne for playing Lili Elbe, a transgender woman, and Alicia Vikander for playing her wife. A new TV ad from Nike debuted during Olympics coverage during the summer, featuring duathlete Chris Mosier, the first openly transgender athlete to make a U.S. men’s national team. Even Tinder, the dating app, became transgender-inclusive this year.

The transgender community also earned significant new allies in 2016, with many musicians, writers, and celebrities speaking out in support of transgender people, bringing this message to a new audience. From Charles Barkley to Robin Roberts to Nick Jonas, many allies spoke out in support, largely tied to anti-LGBT legislation like HB2 in North Carolina and HB1523 in Mississippi.

Freedom for All Americans was proud to add our own splash on the pop culture end of things by airing two TV ads featuring transgender Americans and addressing head-on the need for all Americans to treat transgender people with respect while they use the restroom.

Local Ordinances Passed in Many Cities Nationwide

From Cheyenne, Wyoming to several cities in Indiana to Newmarket, New Hampshire dozens of cities and towns helped move their states forward by adopting LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. More than 200 cities and towns across the nation in places without statewide non-discrimination laws have independently adopted these protections, signaling statewide and national momentum.

These local steps forward will help to advance momentum across the state and throughout the country – and lawmakers in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress will surely notice as years pass.


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