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.”

The World Health Organization removed “transsexualism” from the International Classification of Diseases, a diagnostic manual of illnesses used by most countries around the world. The change was announced earlier this week as part of the newest version of the manual, the ICD-11. The removal of “transsexualism” means transgender people will no longer be classified as having a mental illness by the WHO, an international public health agency run by the United Nations. The diagnosis of “transsexualism” was renamed “gender incongruence” and moved from the “Mental and Behavioral Disorders” chapter to the “Conditions Related to Sexual Health” chapter.

This is a historic move,” Sam Winter, a public health professor at Australia's Curtin University, told NBC News via email. “An end to a classification that was a historical artifact had little basis in science, and had massive consequences for the lives of trans people.”

Winter is a member of the WHO Working Group on Sexual Disorders and Sexual Health, which advised the organization on ICD-11. He said the new language — "gender incongruence" — focuses on “how the person identifies” and enables “the diagnoses to be used with non-binary people as well as those who identify as boys/men and girls/women.”

The updated ICD does not remove diagnoses for trans people entirely. Winter said to do so would be counterproductive.

"Quite a few trans people seek substantial ongoing healthcare — it can be life changing, or even life saving. So we need a diagnosis.”

ICD-11 also removes what “residual” diagnoses remained for same-sex attraction that were used to justify “reparative therapies” for gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Winter called it a "historic step."

“Finally, with ICD-11, we have an end to the pathologization of same sex attraction and behavior,” he said.

The WHO said it moved the newly renamed “gender incongruence” to its list of “sexual health conditions" because "while evidence is now clear that it is not a mental disorder, and indeed classifying it in this can cause enormous stigma for people who are transgender, there remain significant health care needs that can best be met if the condition is coded under the ICD.”

Kyle Knight, a LGBTQ researcher with Human Rights Watch, said more than 70 percent of global psychiatric practitioners use the ICD to code their patients, and that the past categorization of "transsexualism" as a mental disorder was a “contributing factor behind a lot of the human rights violations that trans people face.”

The new ICD, Knight said, is a “high-level social sanction for the very existence of this population.”

A diagnostic code in a country that follows the ICD makes it easier to provide health care, but before now, transgender people had to receive a diagnosis of a mental illness in order to access appropriate health care like hormone replacement therapy.

The ICD is used in most countries except for the United States and Canada, where psychiatrists follow the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

"Homosexuality" was removed from the DSM’s list of mental disorders in 1974, but its successor, "sexual orientation disturbance," wasn't dropped until 1987. DSM-5, the newest iteration published in 2017, removed “gender identity disorder” from its list of mental disorders and replaced it with “gender dysphoria,” which is applicable only when the person is significantly distressed by the mismatch between their assigned sex and gender identity.

Knight said some countries already have progressive gender identity laws on the books, like Nepal and India, two countries that have a long tradition of “third gender” people in their societies. The new ICD may not impact their rights, but it could have an impact on the ease with which they access relevant medical care. In other countries with weaker protections for gender minorities, Knight said the new ICD may end up having a political impact.

Winter said the next big question is what will the American Psychiatric Association do, because the DSM is still a compendium of mental disorders and thus categorizes some people as disordered if they meet the threshold for “gender dysphoria," or GD.

“Will APA follow ICD’s lead, in this case by removing the GD diagnoses from the manual?” Winter asked.

While Winter is satisfied with many of the changes in ICD-11, he expressed disappointment that “gender incongruence of childhood" (GIC) — essentially pre-adolescent transgender identity — is still listed in the manual.

“We look forward to the day when GIC comes out of ICD,” he said. “It has no place anywhere in the manual; not even in 'Conditions Related to Sexual Health.'”

“[My teacher] gave me a new way of thinking about who I could be, beyond the defining checkboxes of my race and gender identity.”

 

As a 16-year-old transgender Latina, I’ve been through the wringer when it comes to harassment by my teachers, administrators and other students. Even living in California — a state with broad LGBTQ protections — I was bullied in fourth and fifth grade. While this was going on, I was also trying to stay on top of my homework and study for tests — and trying to understand who I was.

My teachers only made it worse.

Some made direct comments to me about being “too feminine.” Others cut me out of opportunities at school — including by blocking me from attending P.E. class. And too many stood idly by as I was harassed by my classmates.

At times, it felt like the world was against me. This feeling is all too common for LGBTQ youth. A new study of LGBTQ teens by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the University of Connecticut found that 70 percent of LGBTQ young people report feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness in the past week. Astonishingly, my school district even threatened to expel me — me! — in order to prevent this bullying.

Amid all this stress, I did have one amazing supporter — my mom. When my school district tried to kick me out, she reached out to the ACLU, which connected us with an attorney who worked on Seth’s Law. The California law, enacted in 2012, was named after a 13-year-old student who endured years of anti-gay bullying that his school failed to address. It requires public schools in my state to update their policies and programs to protect LGBTQ students. Under this law, my mom was able to file a successful complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, and I was able to stay in my school. I’m lucky to have this support — only one in four LGBTQ youth surveyed by HRC and the University of Connecticut say their families show them support by getting involved in the larger LGBTQ and allied community.

This experience makes it all the more painful to watch the Trump-Pence administration, and its Department of Education, abandon its commitment to stand up for all students — including and especially transgender students. As a young transgender person, I benefited from an administration that fought for me, and my whole life changed for the better. Because of my case, my teachers received training on how to support transgender youth like me, allowing me to walk into my first day of high school knowing that I was Zoey, and that no one could take that away from me.

Last summer I took a trip for LGBTQ filmmakers to Tacoma, Washington. There, I met people who treated me like more than just that transgender Latina kid, more than a curiosity. I stayed with a family who had a gender non-conforming child, and I felt for the first time like I was a big sister. I was supposed to stay with this family for a week — but I ended up staying for three.

My amazing host-family was interested in who I really was, in all of me, and, after years of hiding myself, I finally felt like I wanted to share that with them. After a long battle just to be respected in my school, this trip felt like rehab for my soul.

This trip to Tacoma helped me remember what my wonderful middle school drama teacher had taught me years before — that neither my gender identity nor my Latina identity define the whole of who I am. She made me feel valued not because I was the token transgender Latina girl — but simply because I am Zoey. She gave me a new way of thinking about who I could be, beyond the defining checkboxes of my race and gender identity.

A lot of transgender and Latinx kids see very limited possibilities for our lives. We see the stories of violence and trauma — and 83 percent of LGBTQ youth of color like myself say this racism causes them undue stress. As an HRC Youth Ambassador, I’m embracing my role as an advocate. Earlier this year, I spoke at the organization’s Time to THRIVE conference, where I told hundreds of teachers and youth-serving professionals about my fight, and why they must stand with the LGBTQ young people they serve. Sharing my story in this room filled my heart in a way that gives me hope for the future.

If I could send one message to teachers across the country who are no doubt reading about how the Trump-Pence administration is failing transgender youth, it would be this: All of you, and for all your students, be their special middle-school drama teacher. Create “Tacoma” trips that make trans youths feel safe. Embrace your duty to ensure that trans youth in your schools and in your communities know that they are not alone.

You can tell them that Zoey sent you.

 

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