Nine Ways Freedom for All Americans Advanced LGBTQ Equal Treatment in 2017

By Shane Stahl • December 21, 2017 • 1:40 pm

The LGBTQ community fought battles to protect our progress and advance equality at the local, state and federal levels in 2017. With a new Presidential administration being sworn in, an anti-LGBTQ agenda became a reality, and transgender people in particular saw an assault on their freedoms.

However, in the face of disgraceful actions, people across the country stood up to protect LGBTQ people in state houses and judicial institutions, helping stem the tide of discriminatory legislative actions.

The entire team at Freedom For All Americans was proud to support or lead on these efforts along the way, building momentum for LGBTQ non-discrimination protections throughout 2017 and pushing back against discrimination alongside our many allies, coalition partners, and supportive legislators. Take a look!

1) Powerful Coalition of Advocates Defeats Dozens of Anti-LGBTQ Bills in Texas

Within the first five days of 2017, legislators in Texas began introducing bills that aimed to openly discriminate against transgender people in the Lone Star State. On January 5, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick introduced Senate Bill 6, a piece of legislation eerily similar to North Carolina’s notorious House Bill 2. The Texas bill would have banned transgender people from using bathrooms in public schools, universities, and government buildings. Furthermore, it would have overridden local non-discrimination ordinances preventing such discrimination, barring municipalities from considering said protections when awarding government contracts.

Further bills introduced throughout the regular legislative session included those meant to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses, allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions by claiming religious exemptions, and preventing transgender youth from participating in scholastic sports.

It was clear that Texas had an anti-LGBTQ agenda on their minds throughout 2017, particularly affecting transgender Texans. However, thanks to a broad coalition of supporters, resistance against nearly all of the bills was successful, and no more advanced during the regular legislative session.

In addition to state and national groups such as the ACLU and Equality Texas, big and small businesses, the entertainment and sports industries, and ordinary Texans and their families spoke loudly and passionately against transgender discrimination. Major companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Apple voiced their disapproval and disappointment of the legislation, and were joined by over 1,000 small business voices. The NBA, NHL, and MLB also spoke against the harmful legislation, and along with the NCAA, threatened to pull future events, which would cause a severe economic blow to the state. Over 100 transgender people also turned out to testify about the negative impacts that anti-transgender laws would have on their lives. It is thanks to this wide swath of supporters that the bulk of Texas’ anti-LGBTQ agenda did not advance further than the State House.

Even with the voices of opposition convening in impressive numbers, in July, Governor Abbott called for the convening of a special session of the Texas legislature to consider 20 items, including further anti-transgender legislation. The coalition quickly jumped into action again, and the special session adjourned on August 15 with no further action taken on anti-LGBTQ legislation. Because the Texas legislature convenes every other year, they will not formally meet to consider any business until 2019. This will allow our broad coalition to build even more momentum against anti-transgender legislation, so that in 2019, we are ready to fight harder than ever to oppose such discriminatory legislation, and protect all LGBTQ people throughout Texas.

2) Thousands of Voices Urge the U.S. Supreme Court to Rule for LGBTQ Equality in Two Landmark Cases

This year, there was significant action regarding the LGBTQ community at the U.S. Supreme Court, which took a look at two landmark cases — a non-discrimination case around dignity for transgender students, brought by Virginia student Gavin Grimm, and a case regarding a business seeking a religious exemption from Colorado’s non-discrimination law in order to refuse service to a same-sex couple.

Gavin Grimm filed suit against his school district to let him use the bathroom that corresponds to his gender identity, the boys’ restroom. On April 19 of 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court of ruled in favor of Gavin, saying that the school’s policy was in clear violation of Title IX protections.

Following this ruling, the Supreme Court granted review of Gavin’s case, scheduling oral argument for later in the spring.  However, following the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind guidelines for how schools can best respect transgender students – guidelines that formed some of the basis for the 4th Circuit’s ruling Gavin’s favor – the Supreme Court canceled the argument and sent the case back to the lower court for reconsideration. Throughout the case a broad coalition of educators, law enforcement organizations, and groups advocating for marginalized communities have expressed support to Grimm and his family.

On June 26 of this year, the Supreme Court granted review in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, hearing oral argument on December 5. Outside the Court on December 5, hundreds of people gathered to show their support for the plaintiffs. In addition, thousands of small businesses, along with faith leaders and big business, submitted or joined friend-of-the-court briefs given to the Court for consideration.

Freedom for All Americans was proud to shepherd signers for six “friend-of-the-court” briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court this year in both Gavin Grimm and Masterpiece Cakeshop, including briefs featuring faith leaders, small businesses, law enforcement officials, mayors and municipalities, and school administrators.  

3) Protecting Our Progress at the Federal Level

Despite campaign promises, it became clear early in 2017 that the Trump Administration would not support policies that ensure LGBTQ people are treated fairly and equally under the law. The administration hit the ground running with an agenda that sought not to just to roll back existing legal protections, but even undermine the dignity and humanity of LGBTQ Americans. At every turn, Freedom for All Americans was proud to stand against these efforts, mobilize our supporters to express their opposition,  and work toward preserving and advancing dignity and equality for all LGBTQ people.

In February of this year, newly-appointed Education Secretary Betsy Devos announced that she would rescind the guidance given to schools under Title IX regarding best practices and policies for schools in relation on how to best address and respect transgender students. The administration also joined arguments against LGBTQ rights in two Supreme Court cases, Zarda v. Altitude Express, and the Masterpiece case. In both cases, Freedom For All Americans led the way in submitting friend-of-the-court briefs from business leaders and faith leaders.

The biggest issue regarding discrimination this year was the so-called “trans ban” in the military. In a series of Tweets, President Trump announced that he was going to place a ban on transgender troops enlisting in the armed forces, and signed an executive order to that effect in August of 2017. Several troops immediately contested the order, which led to four cases being filed against the administration. Two of these cases, Stone v. Trump and Doe v. Trump, have seen preliminary injunctions granted, putting an immediate halt to the ban. The administration has sought stays in each of the two cases, which have been denied. As of this publication, transgender troops will still be allowed to enlist in the military, beginning January 1, 2018.

4) Positive Non-Discrimination Legislation Is Introduced in 20+ States, Advancing with Historic Momentum in New Hampshire

This year, with the help of grassroots volunteers and strongly-built coalitions, legislation that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination was introduced in over 20 states.

Notably, New Hampshire advanced a comprehensive non-discrimination bill through a largely GOP-led Health and Human Services Committee with a vote of 16-4, indicating strong bipartisan support for the legislation. Although it was ultimately tabled, the bill has been filed for reintroduction in the 2018 legislative session, and Freedom New Hampshire, a bipartisan coalition that Freedom for All Americans is proud to be a founding member of, is committed to seeing it to passage.

Other states that saw multiple pieces of non-discrimination legislation introduced during the year were Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. In each state, certain bills were simply introduced with no further legislative action, and others have been assigned or moved to committee. Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, and Kansas were among other states where similar legislation was introduced. Each time that proactive legislation is introduced, our movement has the opportunity to demonstrate why this work is so vital – and why LGBTQ people must at last be protected from discrimination.

5) Supporters of Transgender Equality Build Infrastructure for 2018 Ballot Fights

Gearing up for 2018, grassroots movements, along with coalitions of diverse community voices, are working to build momentum and urgency for two important ballot fights happening during the year.

On April 3, the citizens of Anchorage will go to the polls to vote on Proposition 1, which would repeal existing non-discrimination laws in the city for LGBTQ people, who are currently protected in housing, employment, and public accommodations. The Fair Anchorage campaign has been working in concert with the Alaska ACLU to educate the community and build a base of support encouraging the people of Anchorage to Vote No on Prop 1. The campaign has elevated the voices of many transgender Alaskans, as well as brought in supportive business leaders and faith voices to band together in standing for non-discrimination. Learn more about Fair Anchorage, which Freedom for All Americans helps to support, here.

In Massachusetts, 2016 saw the passage of comprehensive non-discrimination legislation fully protecting LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and public accommodations. However, opponents began a signature campaign to repeal the law, and they met the threshold needed to force a repeal to the ballot. In response, Freedom For All Massachusetts, which Freedom for All Americans helps to lead, has mobilized an incredibly strong and effective grassroots campaign, as well as gained the endorsement of significant business, faith, municipal, and cultural voices, from Harvard University to the Boston Red Sox. In November 2018, voters will go to the polls to stand up for non-discrimination, and make sure that the Bay State’s comprehensive protections stay part of the law. To learn more about Freedom For All Massachusetts, click here.

6) Local Ordinances Pass in Dozens of Cities, Including Jacksonville

Throughout 2017, many cities across the country stood up for LGBTQ people and passed local ordinances codifying non-discrimination protections as part of the law of their municipality. Of particular note is Jacksonville, Florida, where Freedom For All Americans lent significant support and resources to both Equality Florida and the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality in order to pass a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance.

Additional achievements came in the state of Ohio, where Equality Ohio worked to pass protections in multiple cities, including Akron, Kent, and Olmsted Falls, which passed similar non-discrimination ordinances within weeks of each other. This moved the Buckeye State’s total number of cities with comprehensive protections up to 19, with Akron as the final major metropolitan city in the state to pass an ordinance.

More cities passing ordinances across the country included De Pere, Wisconsin; Sitka, Alaska; and Morgantown, West Virginia.  

7) Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination Launches & Grows to 250+ Mayors in 48 States & District of Columbia

In January 2017, Freedom For All Americans launched a new program, Mayors Against lGBT Discrimination. This group served to being together mayors across the country who signed an online pledge declaring that they believed in comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Currently, the program has grown to over 250 mayors in every state.

In December 2017 the coalition members and the Freedom for All Americans team mourned the loss of Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco, California, the founder of the coalition who unexpectedly passed away in mid-December. We are forever thankful to Mayor Lee for his contribution and dedication to the cause, and we know that our coalition will continue to grow in no small part thanks to his efforts.

8) LGBT University Graduates 59 Apprentices, Fueling Power to Secure LGBTQ Protections

While support in the movement to bring comprehensive non-discrimination protection is high, Freedom For All Americans realized in 2015 that it would be beneficial to everyone to help train a new generation of leaders in order to help manage the ever-increasing demand from cities and states nationwide looking to pass comprehensive protections.

To that end, in 2015, FFAA developed a program known as LGBT University, where apprentices from across the country could apply and be accepted into an intensive, one year training program that teaches how to build a non-discrimination campaign from the ground up, ultimately morphing into a team-based competition to see who can most fully develop a successful ballot campaign incorporating all different work types, including field management, communications digital, and finance. 59 apprentices have graduated so far over the course of three separate cohorts. Many apprentices have ended up with jobs in the non-discrimination movement through their LGBTU participation, including two who now work on staff for Freedom For All Americans. For a list of some of the LGBT-U graduates, click here.

9) Communities of Faith Come Together for Two LGBTQ-Focused National Weekend of Prayer Events

Faith communities showed up in a big way to support LGBTQ people and the fight for non-discrimination this year. In addition to lending their support to various campaigns nationwide, there were two particular instances where faith leaders banded together to unequivocally state that they support protections for LGBTQ people.

The first such display was the National Weekend of Prayer for Transgender Justice, March 24 through 26 of this year, which was inspired by the Gavin Grimm case at the Supreme Court. More than 125 congregations joined together to dedicate their services and sermons that weekend to speaking about the need to protect and love transgender people, as well as offer resources and guidance through their particular institution. This action followed the submission of a “friend-of-the-court” brief to the Supreme Court in support of Gavin, with more than 1,800 clergy representing 50 unique faith traditions signed on.

Furthermore, on December 5, during oral arguments for the Masterpiece Supreme Court case, dozens of faith leaders joined the crowd outside the Supreme Court to demonstrate their belief that LGBTQ people should not face discrimination in any way. Several faith leaders also spoke at the rally, representing their congregations in Washington, D.C. A brief was also filed with the Supreme Court in this case, featuring more than 1,300 clergy signatures. Ahead of the oral argument, more than 100 congregations participated in the National Weekend of Prayer for LGBTQ Justice, coordinated by the Religious Institute and other partner organizations, including Freedom for All Americans.


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