Top 10 national LGBTQ news stories of 2023: Legislative attacks and Santos drama

by Christopher Kane
(The following piece was written by the Washington Blade’s White House reporter Christopher Kane and appeared in the December 28, 2023, issue of the newspaper. It appears here with permission.)

It was an alarming year for queer Americans as state legislatures took aim at everything from gender-affirming care for transgender people to banning books with queer themes. Here are the Blade’s staff picks for the top 10 stories of 2023.

#10 Pride at the White House

President Joe Biden speaks at the White House Pride month reception on June 10, 2023 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

The Biden-Harris administration in June hosted the largest Pride celebration ever held on White House grounds. Thousands gathered on the South Lawn to hear the president reaffirm his commitment to the LGBTQ community, decry the introduction and passage of legislation targeting queer people, and outline new actions the administration would take to tackle issues from bias-motivated threats and violence to youth homelessness. After the event, right-wing activists drew attention to a trans activist attendee’s topless TikTok video, which prompted a rebuke from the White House. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the “influencer” would not be invited back.

#9 Off-year elections spell victory for Dems, poor showing for Moms for Liberty 

Polls show that Democrats largely over-performed in off-year elections that were held in November 2023, with Democratic hopefuls in competitive races securing decisive victories up and down the ballot – from the gubernatorial race in Kentucky to school board contests in states across the country. Moms for Liberty, an anti-LGBTQ right-wing organization considered an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, backed 139 candidates in school board races who vowed to oppose books, materials, and classroom discussion or instruction on LGBTQ matters or those concerning racial justice. Just over a third of those candidates won.

#8 FDA finalizes new, inclusive blood donation guidelines

Gay and bisexual men who have sex with men have been prohibited from donating blood for decades since the discovery of AIDS, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration narrowing its restrictions only twice since the 1980s. Revisiting blood donation guidelines has been a major priority for the Biden-Harris administration, and the FDA’s decision this year to take a major step away from the discriminatory ban was lauded by LGBTQ groups — some of which vowed that they would continue, in the words of GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis, “advocating for the FDA to lift all restrictions against qualified LGBTQ blood donor candidates.”

 #7 Battle over the Republican speakership

U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) narrowly secured the votes to become speaker in January and only after a historic 15 ballots were cast. He was summarily ousted by a small group of ultraconservative members before the end of the year, throwing the House into turmoil as the Republican conference flailed for weeks without a speaker until they united around U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.). Johnson is an anti-LGBTQ far-right Christian fundamentalist who has advocated for the reinstatement of sodomy laws and nurtured close ties with the most extreme figures on the religious right.

#6 Pelosi steps down from leadership and is interviewed by the Blade

In January, just after the end of her tenure as one of the most celebrated and accomplished House speakers, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sat down with the Washington Blade in her office for an interview about her work advancing the social, legal, and political equality of LGBTQ people in America. From her first speech on the House floor in 1987 demanding congressional action on AIDS to her leadership in 2022 passing the Respect for Marriage Act, the California Democrat has been at the forefront of the battle for LGBTQ rights while also blazing a trail for women to serve in the highest levels of American politics and government.

#5 George Santos drama

Before his time in Washington had even begun, the first out gay Republican elected to Congress was revealed to be a total fraud with respect to matters that ranged from the frivolous (claims of collegiate athletic prowess) to the legally actionable (pilfering campaign donations to buy Ferragamo loafers and content on OnlyFans). At first, House Republican leadership stood by Santos through the torrent of unflattering news coverage, mindful of the party’s narrow majority control of the lower chamber. Eventually, however, lawmakers were handed a damning report by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee and made the unprecedented move of booting him out of office.

 #4 303 Creative v. Elenis

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which is deemed an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, represented a Colorado website designer who, though she had never been asked to provide services in connection with a same-sex wedding, feared that she would be prohibited from refusing such a request because of the state’s LGBTQ inclusive nondiscrimination statute. The U.S. Supreme Court not only agreed to review the case, concluding that the business owner had standing to sue, but ruled in her favor — delivering a blow to LGBTQ rights in a decision weakening the court’s precedent on marriage equality.

#3 Anti-trans policies to figure prominently in Trump v. Biden rematch 

Former President Trump has maintained a decisive lead over the rest of the Republican presidential primary field since the start of 2023, which has widened considerably since the summer. Announcing his plans to run again in January, Trump outlined a plan of attack against transgender Americans, including policy proposals targeting access to gender-affirming care and appeals for congressional Republicans to define gender as immutable and assigned at birth. President Biden, meanwhile, has no meaningful competition from other Democrats leading into 2024, and has vowed to protect and defend transgender Americans while taking steps to shore up protections for the community during his time in office.

#2 Major companies fend off right-wing attacks

The year 2023 saw publicly-traded corporations like Target and Anheuser-Busch InBev take financial hits after their outreach to LGBTQ communities inspired reactionary right-wing backlash. The companies’ responses, in turn, ignited criticism from LGBTQ customers who felt abandoned by their decisions to, for instance, scale back on next year’s Pride collections. Transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney partnered with Bud Light for a social media promotion in April — consisting of a single video posted on her Instagram page — and it was only in December that right-wing activist and musician Kid Rock dropped his boycott against the company, having made headlines months earlier by mowing down cases of the product with an assault rifle.

#1 State of emergency for LGBTQ people in America

State legislatures across the country introduced more than 500 bills targeting the LGBTQ community in 2023, passing 75 in 23 states. Most are restrictions on medically necessary healthcare interventions for transgender minors, treatments that are backed by every scientific and medical society with relevant clinical expertise. Others target trans student athletes, restrict bathroom and locker room access, or prohibit schools from any discussion or instruction on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTQ people and their families have become refugees in their own country. And the Human Rights Campaign declared a state of emergency for the first time ever.

Honorable mention: Blade uncovers Trevor Project scandals

In July, the Washington Blade broke an explosive exposé concerning one of the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organizations, the Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention services to LGBTQ youth. The story revealed financial woes, raised questions about the possible mismanagement of millions of dollars in funds, and pointed to staff dissension — including over management’s alleged union-busting efforts.

Volume 25
Issue 10

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