SPECIAL REPORT: What were we covering? The Top 10 LGBTQ news stories of 2021
by Chris Johnson
(The following report appeared in the December 30, 2021, issue of the Washington Blade is reprinted here with permission.)
#10: RNC creates Pride outreach coalition
Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, in a video announcement at a Log Cabin Republicans dinner honoring Melania Trump and attended by former President Trump, announced the creation of the LGBTQ outreach Pride coalition — much to the consternation of internal critics.
Following calls on her to resign from anti-LGBTQ conservatives like Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, McDaniel defended the coalition by saying it was a continuation of the LGBTQ initiative set up with Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign — which had enjoyed success by doubling the LGBTQ vote for the Republican candidate after the previous election.
McDaniel wrote an apology letter for poor communication over the creation of the new initiative, which led Democrats to criticize Republicans over the perceived backtracking on LGBTQ outreach.
#9: Caitlyn Jenner makes waves as gubernatorial candidate
Caitlyn Jenner, in a free-for-all recall election in California seeking to unseat Gov. Gavin Newsom, made waves as a Republican gubernatorial candidate, breaking new ground as a transgender candidate while facing criticism for being out of touch.
Early on in her candidacy, the former Olympic champion said she was against transgender kids in sports, citing a need to protect women in athletics. Jenner later modified her position by saying potential players who had gone through the transition process should “of course” be allowed to compete.
Jenner became an unlikely popular figure in conservative media, appearing on Fox News and Newsmax. At the end of the day, Jenner performed poorly at the polls, taking two percent of the vote as Newsom survived the recall effort.
#8: Supreme Court issues non-ruling in Fulton case
The U.S. Supreme Court, amid fears it would render a decision this year that would enable sweeping discrimination against LGBTQ people, instead handed down a ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia limited to the facts of the case at hand and with no major impact.
In a unanimous ruling, justices issued a decision in favor of Catholic Social Services, which sought a First Amendment ruling to refuse child placement with same-sex couples over a religious exemption, but it was based on the approach of the City of Philadelphia enforcing its contract with the foster care agency.
Both sides claimed a small victory. The American Civil Liberties Union, which had argued before the Supreme Court in the case and sided with the City of Philadelphia, said the ruling “will not affect any foster care programs that do not have the same system for individualized exemptions that were at issue here.”
#7: In grim record, at least 46 trans people killed
In a grim milestone, at least 46 trans people were killed by the time of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, reaching a new record in the time the deaths have been recorded.
The violence has consistently had a disproportionate impact on transgender women of color. Among the deaths that brought the tally to a new record was Marquiisha “Quii” Lawrence, a 28-year-old Black transgender woman who was shot and killed in her home in Greenville, S.C.
President Biden, who had brought attention to the issue of anti-transgender violence as a presidential candidate, issued a statement recognizing the 46 deaths and was briefed on the issue in the days preceding the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
#6: HRC president fired after being ensnared in Cuomo affair
The president of the Human Rights Campaign was terminated from his role this year following a public dispute with the board after being ensnared in the damning report detailing accusations of sexual misconduct against former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Alphonso David, who had previously served as counselor to Cuomo, was revealed in the report by New York Attorney General Letitia James to have kept a personnel file of one of the female employees alleging sexual misconduct, then having assisted in efforts to leak that file to the media in an attempt to discredit her.
Although the Human Rights Campaign board initially stood by David, the organization later announced an independent review of the matter, which David said he welcomed. David took to Twitter and criticized the board for having privately asked him about resigning, which prompted his termination.
#5: Equality Act all but dead in Congress
Although LGBTQ rights advocates had hoped President Biden would be able to deliver a campaign promise to sign into law a long-sought update to federal civil rights law that would include LGBTQ people, legislation known as the Equality Act is all but dead in Congress.
The U.S. House, acting quickly on Biden’s campaign promise to sign the Equality Act into law within the first 100 days of his administration, approved the legislation in February, although it had fewer Republican votes compared to when the chamber last passed the measure.
But the Equality Act, contorted by critics who claim it endangers women’s rights and privacy, went no further in Congress. In the Senate, where Sen. Joe Manchin has declined to support the bill and Sen. Susan Collins has withdrawn her support, the legislation never got a vote — either on the floor or in committee. No route appears open for the bill.
#4: Buttigieg, Levine confirmed by Senate in historic firsts
In a pair of historic votes, the U.S. Senate this year confirmed two presidential appointees — Pete Buttigieg and Rachel Levine. Buttigieg was confirmed as transportation secretary, making him the first openly gay person to win Senate confirmation for a Cabinet-level role, while Levine was confirmed as assistant secretary for health, making her the first openly transgender person to win Senate confirmation for any position.
Although Buttigieg was confirmed with bipartisan support, that quickly faded as the supply chain crisis emerged and Buttigieg faced criticism for his approach to the issue.
For Levine, the road was different. During her confirmation hearing, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), began his inquiries with the words “genital mutilation,” which formed the basis of his rude, invasive questioning. Levine was confirmed by a narrow vote of 52-48.
#3: States enact measures against trans kids in sports, health care
Drawing on anti-trans fears, states defied federal laws against discrimination and enacted measures against transgender kids in sports and access to health care, leading to a wave of litigation in the next battleground for the LGBTQ movement.
Among the most stringent measures was a law in Arkansas, enacted by the legislature overriding a veto of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, instituting criminal penalties for providing transition-related care to youth. Other states, including Florida, Texas, and West Virginia, enacted laws prohibiting transgender girls from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity.
LGBTQ legal advocates were quick to file litigation against the measure in court, arguing they violate the prohibition on discrimination based on sex in schools under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Judges have blocked measures from going into effect as litigation moves forward.
#2: Coronavirus continues to rage, nixes LGBTQ events
Despite hopes the coronavirus would fade with the emergence of vaccines, the pandemic continues to rage amid breakthrough infections and refusal of a large percentage of Americans to get the shot, leading to additional deaths and cancellation of LGBTQ events.
More than 386,000 deaths due to coronavirus were reported in 2021, making it deadlier than the previous year in terms of sheer numbers, as hospitalization rates continued to climb to new highs.
Pride celebrations were among the events cancelled as the pandemic continued through the summer. Large cities like Los Angeles and Boston opted not to have events at all, while Washington, D.C., had a much scaled-down event in which Vice President Kamala Harris participated.
#1: After insurrection, Biden inaugurated and reverses rump anti-LGBTQ policies
After a bloody insurrection on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol incited by President Trump, Joe Biden brought with him a sense of renewal and a promise of unity after he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, reversing anti-LGBTQ policies early on during his administration.
Biden on his first day in office signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in Bostock v. Clayton County to the fullest extent possible. Days later, Biden signed an executive order reversing President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military, leading to a policy that would enable transgender people for the first time ever to enlist in the armed forces.
In another reversal, Biden issued a White House proclamation to recognize Pride month after Trump failed to issue an official notice for each of his four years in office, with the exception of a solitary tweet in 2019. In the proclamation, Biden urged LGBTQ people to “accept nothing less than full equality.”