It’s 2018. Marriage equality is on the books, and most Americans support protections for LGBTQ people.

In theory, teenagers should be able to bring whom they want to prom – but some can’t. Luckily, at least one dance makes sure everyone is welcome.

This week, hundreds of youth flocked to an LGBTQ prom event in Long Island, New York. As the first event of its kind in the U.S. suburbs, the prom has been going on for nearly 20 years.

Nonprofits LGBT Network and Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth host the Annual LGBT Prom. The dance is open to LGBTQ teens and allies.

David Kilmnick, president and CEO of the LGBT Network, explained:

Bullying is still a rampant issue for LGBT youth in our schools and as a result, our kids do not get to experience and enjoy what is a “rite of passage” for all teenagers. It is critical that we continue to have an annual LGBT prom on Long Island, so our young people can bring the date of their choice to the prom and do so feeling safe and with a great sense of Pride.

Offering a deliberately inclusive event is so important, even in the last few years. Scuffles around prom expose the homophobia that teenagers still face.

This spring, an Alabama high school principal forbade a student named Britney from wearing a tuxedo and bringing a female date to prom. He changed his mind only after she reached out to the Southern Poverty Law Center and told him that the First Amendment and Title IX both protected her right to do so.

Racked‘s Nadra Nittle notes the frequency of incidents like these. Some schools simply remain oblivious of students’ rights.

“Too often, schools don’t know the law, flout the law, and don’t have the best interests of LGBTQ students in mind,” Nittle writes. “And they’re counting on students and their families not to fight for their rights.”

A Mississippi high school blocked Kenzie Ellenberger, who’s non-binary, and Mallory Boone from running for prom king and queen this year. 

Kim Ellenberger, Kenzie’s mom, told Commercial Appeal:

People say it’s a sin and she’s going go to hell and that’s bullying. We’ve had bullying in school. You expect it from the kids. You don’t expect it from the adults, but it does happen. I want my child to be able to do what everybody’s else child does without having to fight every step of the way.

Even at more accepting schools, many LGBTQ students are still hesitant at traditional proms. According to Refinery29, transgender and gender-nonconforming teen James van Kuilenburg worried that he was going to be attacked when he dressed flamboyantly feminine at prom with his date, Frank.

He made sure that he had his cell phone on him at all times and made a safety plan for his straight friends to step in if anything happened.

As long as LGBTQ students feel unsafe or unable to enjoy their celebratory nights, inclusive proms matter. And, thankfully, Long Island’s isn’t the only one.

West Virginia teens from more than 10 counties celebrated at the state’s first “rainbow” prom in April. Students from Idaho to South Carolina are finding solace and fun at similar events.

Years before reaching pop music stardom, Cyndi Lauper was down on her luck, broke and homeless.

She was in her late teens and ready to move out of her family's house, but her parents wouldn't sign a lease for her own place. She found a job at a restaurant, but that didn't pan out either and she ended up living on the streets and in a shelter in Vermont.

"I felt like a failure because I couldn't even be a good waitress," the singer recounted Thursday morning to a small group of journalists in the courtyard of a luxury hotel off the Sunset Strip.

She told her experience with homelessness, which came nearly a decade before she became a pop superstar in the early '80s, while unveiling a nationwide report on youth homelessness.

The interactive report ranks how states provide services such as housing and mental health for homeless youth based on a variety of criteria, including access to hormone therapy for transgender people and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

It is a joint project between Lauper's True Colors Fund and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

Washington and Massachusetts ranked first and second on the list, with California and Connecticut tying for third. The lowest ranking states are South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas and Wyoming.

The report found that even in the top-ranked states, there's room for improvement in the availability of services, such shelters, counseling and training for identifying LGBTQ persons. They also said laws should be changed to decriminalize truancy and other policy changes are needed to keep vulnerable youth out of the juvenile justice system.

Lauper said the report can be used as a tool for advocates to make a direct change in the way service providers across the country can assist and ultimately prevent youth homelessness.

The singer said the fund will update its research annually.

Lauper, 65, is best known for hits like "Girls Just Want To Have Fun", "Good Enough" and "Time After Time." Her debut album "She's So Unusual" had four top-five hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1984.

It was the singer's own experiences with homelessness that inspired her to want to improve conditions for displaced youth, especially those from the LGBTQ community. She created the True Colors Fund, which advocates for services providers, such as shelters and clinics for homeless youth, in 2008.

She also said she hopes the effort will inspire young people to contribute to the solution.

"I was brought up in the civil rights movement and I listened to Dr. King all the time," she said. "I know that it was all of us that was going to make a change, not some."

When I go back home to Ohio, the reason my marriage is legally recognized is Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

On the Court, Kennedy was a champion for LGBTQ rights across the US. He was by no means perfect — but as the legal recognition of my marriage can attest to, he was a key figure. And his announcement today that he’s retiring could move a court that has been closely divided but largely favorable to LGBTQ rights to one that is outright hostile to equality once President Donald Trump and a Republican-dominated Senate, both opposed to LGBTQ rights, vote on Kennedy’s replacement. That could, in effect, start to undermine much of Kennedy’s LGBTQ legacy.

Kennedy was typically the swing vote or one of the swing votes in the Court’s 5-4 or 6-3 decisions for LGBTQ rights. Though he was in many ways a conservative justice (one nominated by President Ronald Reagan), he not only acted as a swing vote but wrote the majority opinions that established the laws of the land to protect LGBTQ people. Here are the big examples:

  • In 1996’s Romer v. Evans (decided 6-3), Kennedy invoked the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause to overturn a Colorado state constitutional amendment that prohibited local jurisdictions from protecting LGBT people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • In 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas (6-3), Kennedy cited the due process clause’s guarantee of personal liberty to strike down Texas’s — and other states’ — ban on sex between gay men or lesbians.
  • In 2013’s United States v. Windsor (5-4), Kennedy ended the federal ban on marriage between same-sex partners.
  • In 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges (5-4), Kennedy struck down state bans on the marriage of same-sex couples.

The Obergefell case, which originated in Ohio, in particular has had a huge effect on my life — giving my union legal recognition in the state where I lived for most my life. The decision is really worth reading in full. But if you want the gist of it, here’s the powerful conclusion:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

There have been some disappointing moments for LGBTQ advocates as well. This month Kennedy ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop in a case about whether the Colorado bakery could refuse service to a same-sex couple on religious grounds.

Still, the ruling was so narrow — focused on the process and the way that Masterpiece Cakeshop had been treated, and not so much on whether anti-LGBTQ discrimination is permitted under the law — that it isn’t likely to set a dangerous precedent for LGBTQ rights in the US. As Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, “The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

In short, the ruling doesn’t create a license for anti-LGBTQ discrimination but instead asks the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to take care to respect people’s religious views in its decisions.

And by and large, this is just one of few dark spots in an otherwise exemplary record for LGBTQ equality.

Anti-LGBTQ advocates are already gearing up to weaken LGBTQ rights in the US now that Kennedy is leaving the Court. The anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom quickly sent out a statement saying it “looks forward to the president’s nomination of a person to replace Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court who will uphold the First Amendment and the original meaning of the Constitution.” And Republicans hostile to LGBTQ rights now have a chance to implement their anti-LGBTQ agenda.

The Kennedy exit is coming at a big moment for LGBTQ rights. There are some major issues that likely to arrive before the Court in the next few years: Do religious rights allow people to bypass laws that prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations (such as hotels, bakeries, restaurants, and other venues that serve the public)? Does federal law already prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in some settings? Can transgender people be forced to use a bathroom that doesn’t align with their gender identity?

Kennedy was a reliable swing vote toward LGBTQ rights. With his retirement, the future of that movement — at least when it comes to Supreme Court decisions — looks much less certain.

For more on what Kennedy’s departure from the Court means, read Dylan Matthews’s in-depth explainer.

More than a year has passed since North Carolina repealed controversial House Bill 2 and replaced it with a new law that does not dictate which bathrooms transgender people must use in state buildings.

Then in October, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that transgender people could use public bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity if the facilities are under control of the executive branch. The announcement was part of a proposed settlement of a lawsuit borne out of a challenge to HB2.

That settlement proposal and new arguments over the law that replaced HB2 — House Bill 142 — will be taken up in a federal courtroom on Monday, including new questions about a New Hanover County second-grader and prohibitions against her restroom use in school.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder will preside over the new legal battles simmering over the 7-month-old settlement proposal.

North Carolina lawmakers have argued that the original plaintiffs don’t have standing in the case after the repeal of HB2, and they question whether the court has the authority to enter the consent decree negotiated by Cooper.

HB2 had required people in government facilities to use bathrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates, and it blocked a Charlotte ordinance that added anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

House Bill 142 created a moratorium on local nondiscrimination ordinances through Dec. 1, 2020. And it left regulation of bathrooms, showers and changing facilities to state lawmakers, not the universities, community colleges, local school systems and other state agencies that had been setting their own policies.

Lawmakers contend HB 142 no longer regulates the original challengers of HB2 — a transgender man who works at UNC-Chapel Hill, a lesbian law professor at N.C. Central University, a transgender man who was a student at UNC-Greensboro, a transgender teenage girl who was a student at the UNC School of the Arts and a lesbian couple in Charlotte.

The replacement law is directed at state agencies and local governments, lawmakers contend, and any contentions by the LGBT community of harm and discrimination are speculative.

“Even if they come to pass, the time, place, factual circumstances, applicable trespass or other legal rules, and private and government actors involved — all are unknown,” said Kyle Duncan, a Washington-based attorney representing Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, and House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican.

But when the replacement law was adopted, LGBT advocates argued that it left transgender people in North Carolina without discrimination protections after HB2 put them in the middle of a contentious and high-profile political debate that was monitored across the United States and abroad.

As that debate roared, companies that had been looking at bringing jobs to North Carolina abandoned those plans, and the NBA, NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference threatened to move their major sporting events to other states.

Though the replacement law stemmed some of those impacts, it fell short of satisfactory for Quinton Harper, a 32-year-old community organizer in Carrboro and advocate for people living with HIV.

Harper decided last year to join the lawsuit that will be discussed in court on Monday because he thinks HB 142 keeps a distressing environment in place.

“North Carolina is sending a message to LGBT people like me that we are not welcome here, that we are not deserving of protection from discrimination, and that we are not equally valued members of our communities,” Harper said in a statement last year when the ACLU amended the lawsuit to reflect the repeal of HB2 and the change in the executive branch from Republican Gov. Pat McCrory to Cooper, a Democrat.

Supporters of HB2 and rules surrounding bathroom use in state and government buildings characterize them as necessary to protect privacy in restrooms, locker rooms and showers, particularly at public schools.

They argue that children should be protected from confronting a person of the opposite sex in such situations.

Issues in a New Hanover County school

In court documents filed with the lawsuit this month, the ACLU, one of the groups representing the challengers, brought a new voice into the debate.

Ericka Myers, a member of the ACLU of North Carolina, contacted the organization in January 2018 with concerns about what her second-grader was experiencing in the New Hanover County school district.

Myers’ daughter is transgender, has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and, as part of her treatment, has been advised to live as a female in all aspects of her life, according to the ACLU request to amend the lawsuit to include the second-grader.

“Despite having a letter from her daughter’s treating clinician indicating that her daughter should be allowed to live in accordance with her gender identity, the school bars Myers’ daughter from using the girls’ restroom because she is transgender,” Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina, and attorneys from Lambda Legal stated in that court document.

The school told Myers’ daughter she could use the nurse’s restroom or the restroom in the teachers' lounge, according to the court filing.

“She uses neither, because she feels humiliated and singled out as different for being the only student forced to use those restrooms,” the filing states. “When she has used the boys’ restroom, she has been confronted by other students who told her she was not supposed to be there.”

The second-grader asked to be allowed to use the girls’ restroom after the experience but was told that officials’ interpretation of HB 142 meant it was illegal for them to let her use those facilities.

“She continues to use the boys’ restroom while at school, exposing her to hostility, anxiety and humiliation,” Brooks and the other attorneys said.

Myers has noticed that her daughter avoids using any restroom during the day, which can lead to a rush to get home and occasionally accidents in the car.

Outside of the Vikings practice facility in Eagan, construction crews are building the foundations of a new state of the art facility.

Inside, the team is doing a bit of building of its own, a stronger foundation with the LGBTQ community.

"The Vikings have shown that they are committed to putting on a world-class presentation," former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe says.

On Thursday, the Vikings became the first NFL organization to host a large-scale summit on LGBTQ issues.

But the summit wasn’t exactly the team’s idea, it was Kluwe’s after he accused the team of firing him over his outspoken support of gay marriage and the LGBTQ community.

To avoid a lawsuit, the two sides came to an agreement that included several stipulations.

One of those stipulations was requiring the team to host a special summit to discuss the inclusion of LGBTQ athletes in sports.

“I wanted people to know that this is an issue we are still dealing with in sports” Kluwe explains.

The event brought in more than 200 people, including young athletes, high school and college coaches, and numerous LGBTQ organizations from the across the country.

Kluwe says about a dozen NFL officials also showed up for the event.

“The NFL taking strides on this issue will go a long way,” Kluwe says. “It’s great to see.”

The summit featured more than a dozen speakers, including Chris Mosier, a professional tri-athlete who was the first transgender man to make a U.S. national team.

"If I would have seen someone like me in sports, I think it would have changed my whole experience,” Mosier said during a panel Thursday morning.

Mosier was one of three LGBTQ athletes who shared their stories during a panel Thursday morning.

The other two panel members included Olympic diver Greg Louganis and professional soccer player Joanna Lohman.

"The NFL is one of the sports that have not been having this conversation in the way that other teams and leagues have been," Mosier says.

“I think it’s a big deal that the NFL is having these conversations.

One of the highlights of the summit was an afternoon panel titled “Inclusion in America’s Major Sporting Institutions: A Conversation with the NFL and NCAA.”

The panel featured human resource officers from both organizations and drew numerous questions from the audience.

Kluwe is hoping the summit will inspire other NFL teams to host similar events. He’s hoping the event will become more than just a one-time thing.

“I don’t want it to be one and done,” Kluwe explains.

“I would love to be able to continue this conversation and have it spread to college and high school teams so that athletes of all backgrounds feel included in sports.”

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