A total of nine House representatives and two senators who identify as LGBTQ have now been elected to the legislature. In a major step forward for LGBTQ rights, two New Yorkers became the first gay black men elected to Congress in the poll on Tuesday.  Democrats Ritchie Torres, from the Bronx, and Mondaire Jones, from a New York City suburb, won seats in the House of Representatives.

‘A wise person once said, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, then you’re probably on the menu,”’ Mr Torres told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. ‘With Mondaire Jones and I, LGBTQ people of colour will have a seat at one of the most powerful tables, the United States Congress.’ Their election came as a liberal ‘blue wave’ that had been predicted by some pundits failed to materialise. Republicans have retained control of the U.S. Senate at least until run-off elections take place in Georgia in January. They also chipped away at the Democratic majority in the House, gaining five seats. ‘Overall it’s a disappointment,’ said Torres, who said he was hoping for a Democratic sweep of the presidency, Senate and House. ‘Instead, we are likely to have divided government that could result in more gridlock,’ he said.

Six of the seven LGBTQ incumbents up for re-election won in their respective races. They were David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Angie Craig of Minnesota, Mark Takano of California and Sharice Davids of Kansas. The seventh incumbent, Sean Maloney of New York, is leading his Republican opponent Chele Farley by nearly three percentage points with 87% of votes in. The two LGBTQ senators, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, were not up for re-election. Both Mr Jones and Mr Torres said they worried a divided Congress would block measures to advance LGBTQ rights such as the Equality Act, which would add sexual and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that bans discrimination based on race, religion, sex and national origin.

The House approved the measure in 2019, but the legislation stalled in the Senate. President-Elect Joe Biden has promised to make it a priority. LGBTQ candidates won in their local elections as well, including Sarah McBride who will become the first transgender state senator in US history after winning in Delaware.  The landmark victories came not only in blue but also red states such as Tennessee, where Republican Eddie Mannis, who is gay, and Democrat Torrey Harris, who identifies as bisexual, won seats in the state House to become the first openly LGBTQ members of that legislature.

According to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which recruits and supports LGBTQ candidates, that leaves only Alaska, Louisiana and Mississippi as states that have never elected an LGBTQ legislator. Two other Democrats became the first transgender people to win seats in their states’ Houses: Taylor Small in Vermont and Stephanie Byers in Kansas. Before Tuesday’s election, there were four other transgender lawmakers in state legislatures nationwide, according to the Victory Fund.

 

 

 

 

The next landmark case for LGBTQ rights before the Supreme Court of the United States will be heard the day after Election Day.

The Court in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia will rule on the question of whether religious foster care agencies have a First Amendment right to refuse to work with LGBTQ people. It would also be one of the first cases that Amy Coney Barrett presides over as a Supreme Court justice.

After hearing the case by phone on November 4, they will dismiss and go into conference on Friday. That means a ruling, or an order for the opinions, could come as soon as November 9. Fulton v. Philadelphia is the last of five cases being argued before the court next week, Barrett’s first full week. Exact details of her participation, if they have been finalized, have not been announced.

“There are lots of potential consequences here,” Louise Melling, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said.

The case in question involves the Catholic Social Services (CSS), associated with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, losing its city contract in 2018. After an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted two organizations that refused to refer LGBTQ couples or single parents as potential adoption homes, the city council issued a directive to Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services to refuse to contract to CSS and the other group, Bethany Christian Services, if they did not reverse their policies.

Bethany decided to adhere to Philadelphia’s discrimination rules, but when CSS refused, the City of Brotherly Love terminated their foster care contract. CSS and two of their foster parents, Sharonell Fulton and Toni Lynn Simms-Busch, filed lawsuits against the city’s decision. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has represented them.

CSS admitted to discriminating against same-sex couples. It said that it does not certify same-sex couples as foster parents, even if they are qualified under state law. It also refused home studies for same-sex couples considering adoption. Their position is that doing either may lead to what appears as an “endorsement” of LGBTQ people by the organization, violating their religious rights and freedom to expression. CSS has decided it is okay working with single parents but not same-sex couples.

CSS was ruled against in federal court in July 2018 and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals followed. They appealed in emergency petitions to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the petition during that session, before the contract between the two parties expired. The petition was refiled in 2019, and responses were solicited from the involved parties. After four months of conferencing, the petition was accepted this February.

Now, with six conservative justices instead of just four, Chief Justice John Roberts’s Supreme Court will hear the arguments and decide whether religious liberty trumps protections from discrimination. The case was scheduled in August for November, before the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Trump administration’s legal team submitted a brief on behalf of the United States government positing that “governmental action tainted by hostility to religion fails strict scrutiny almost by definition,” supporting CSS and other religious organizations’ right to “religious freedom” across the country.

CSS has lost every time it has gone before a judge in court. Trump’s conservative court may be their one and only opportunity for a ruling in their favor, possibly giving them a final victory.

Philadelphia’s lawyers are being tasked with representing thousands of current LGBTQ families, and the future of many to come in America. The city’s position, according to SCOTUSblog‘s summation of their legal briefings, is that “the lawsuit had originally focused on the constitutionality of the city’s decision to freeze referrals under the 2018 contract, which has now expired.”

Thus “the only real question left in the case is whether the nondiscrimination requirement is unconstitutional. And the answer is no.”

Further, the city claims that their “nondiscrimination requirement” for contractors is legal because “nothing in it suggests that it makes distinctions based on religion,” which is consistent with lower court rulings. CSS has to prove they were targeted by DHS “because of” their religious beliefs.

Philadelphia is joined by two organizations, the Support Center for Child Advocates, which provides legal assistance and advocacy for abused and neglected children in the Philadelphia area, and the LGBTQ organization Philadelphia Family Pride. They are being led by counsel from the ACLU, among several other lawyers representing them.

Several organizations have filed briefs in support on both sides. Seventy-six members of Congress, churches like the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and states including Texas, Nebraska, Arizona, and Ohio filed briefs in support of CSS. They say that they find working with religious organizations essential to their foster care services.

The ACLU cites “over 1,000 people” that filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of them, including “child welfare groups, religious organizations, former foster youth, and nearly half of states and dozens of cities and mayors.” The American Psychological Association, Anti-Defamation League, 24 U.S. Senators and 148 Members of the House are among them.

“The case has implications not only for the future of foster care, but for the protection of all people from discrimination in the alleged name of religion,” the ACLU states.

Artists on Haight Street have found an unusual way to try to save their housing — a weekly drag show. Large crowds are fanning out in front of The Red Victorian every Saturday night, but the real drama is what’s taking place off-stage.

The Red Victorian is a historic hotel near San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. It got the name The Red Victorian in the 1970s when Sami Sunchild of the Peaceful World Foundation created a space for international travelers to have peace talks. Today, marginalized groups are fighting each other over who has the right to stay there.

Back in March, all hotels across the city were forced to halt operations due to COVID-19. The hotel went from making roughly $80,000 a month, to zero. That’s when the employees of the hotel had the idea to use the front windows to perform drag shows every Saturday night.

“I would say it’s unconventional, I hesitate to even call it drag, I would say its trans or gender nonconforming performance art, drag adjacent,” Adam Rice a former employee and organizer for the show said.

From the crowd in the street to the performers on stage, it’s a lot of people who consider themselves others.

“I love that its people you don’t typically see in drag transgender non-conforming,” Johnny Nguyen said.

Many of the performers worked at this hotel and then started living here during the pandemic, they thought they had an understanding with the nonprofit that leases the space that they could stay, but District Commons says these artists are trespassing and that it’s time for them to go.

“My stomach dropped, you know, I felt like I had been injected with ice water,” Rice said when he heard the news.

“I’ll be homeless. I’ll be homeless and a lot of the other people who live here will be homeless, as well,” Sam Hogan a performer whose stage name is “Bussy Dad” said.

Hogan along with the majority of the other performers are BIPOC transgender artists like Gia Regalado.

“I’m currently going through hormone replacement therapy so I’m transitioning from male to female and it’s just so great having a space that I can share that with like-minded people,” Regalado said, “If we were to be displaced from this fight, from the house here, I don’t know where any of us would go.”

The show started as a way to raise money to replace the lost funding from the hotel. The artists say they had an understanding that they could stay here. Their dream is to turn this into a housing collective for black, indigenous, people of color who are transitioning. The show is popular, pack-the-sidewalk-every-Saturday-night popular, but it doesn’t appear to be enough.

“We can’t afford, you know, 40, $50,000 a month,” Zarinah Agnew said.

Agnew is the co-director for District Commons, a nonprofit that helps house formerly incarcerated people and supports community events and art shows like what’s going on at the Red Vic. It leases this building from The Peaceful World Foundation, another nonprofit, and says the artists were given permission to put together a show, but not to live there.

“So they were given permission to run events there for free, with much love and excitement, you know? But they decided to stay and that’s when things got difficult,” Agnew said.

Agnew says this standoff could put the nonprofit out of business.

“We’re not the Hilton, we’re not the Salesforce tower, this is not sticking it to the man. We’re a tiny nonprofit, Peaceful World is a nonprofit and I don’t think this is, like, how we get to the utopia that we’re all seeking,” Agnew said.

For now, they’re at an impasse. It comes down to money, which has been the motivator for why artists and others have struggled to stay in the city that once masqueraded as their safe haven.

“I don’t think we should blame individuals for these things, we should blame systems… maybe the city of San Francisco can look to support some of its most marginalized people, so they don’t hurt each other,” Agnew said.

“With everything that’s going on politically — this space and spaces like it that people like us can safely exist are shrinking by the day,” Hogan said.

The artists have paid $5,000 toward utilities but they do not have a formal lease. District Commons plans to file a forcible detainer in court, which is like an eviction, but because they’re not violating a lease, it’s for trespassing.

What some patients call life saving care is now available in the Big Bend.

Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida is bringing transgender services to Tallahassee. That includes services like Gender Affirming Hormone Therapy, preventative care and telehealth.

Jay Galante is the president of Florida State University’s Gender Odyssey, a student organization dedicated to supporting, empowering and advocating for transgender and gender non-conforming people.

He’s also been a Planned Parenthood patient for the last two and a half years.

“I drove five hours to Kissimmee to receive my hormone replacement therapy,” Galante said.

Now he can receive that care in Tallahassee.

Program Director Samantha Cahen says the expansion will help reach patients across North Florida and get them the care they need.

“We’re now providing these services, it’s opened up a gate especially for our Tallahassee students as well, any of the college students up there. It’s very easy access,” Cahen said. “A lot of patients have issues going to the healthcare center for gender dysphoria, they have that anxiety of meeting up with people and now they have the convenience of actually being seen in their own home, in the comfort zone.”

Galante those within the transgender and gender non-conforming community have some unique challenges. Often times those needs are overlooked by medical professionals, especially those with little experience caring for transgender individuals.

When that happens, it can deter people from seeking out the care they need.

“Just people not understanding pronouns, and not understanding what trans people have to go through in regards to changing their legal name,” Galante said. “Because they’re actually scared of being misgendered, they’re scared of the interactions they’re going to have, they’re scared of being turned away.”

Galante says he just hopes more people take the time to educate themselves about their community, especially those in the medical field.

Because this care, he says, can be life saving.

“It’s life saving in the sense that it literally changes our lives. I would not be the person I am today,” Galante said. “I wouldn’t have the personality that I have, I wouldn’t have the self assurance, the confidence, the comfort, the relationships.”

Sara Blackwood, a transgender woman, was walking home at night on October 11 when her life was tragically cut short.

The 39-year-old was found with a gunshot wound and transported by medics to the hospital, where she passed away, according to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

Blackwood’s death was ruled a homicide and a suspect has yet to be identified. Police initially responded to the scene after receiving reports of a shooting victim but have not released any further information.

“Tragically, she died on National Coming Out Day, a day that is marked every year on October 11 to emphasize the importance of coming out and creating a safe world in which LGBTQ people can live openly as their authentic selves,” said the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in a statement last week.

Bonnie Lambeth, a longtime friend of Blackwood, said she was shocked when she heard about her death.

“Being trans is a motive for murder in a lot of places and so there was always this mild acceptance that this was a risk,” Lambeth told CNN. “I’m shaken by it, but there’s a level of understanding that this was a possibility.”

Transgender and gender-nonconforming people face risks that make them particularly vulnerable to homicide. Some experience bias explicitly because of their gender identity. Blackwood’s death is believed to be at least the 33rd violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person this year in the US, according to the HRC.

“Six transgender woman have been killed over the last 23 days — which is just over three weeks — in this country. This violence is heartbreaking and horrifying. It must end,” said Tori Cooper, HRC director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative, in a statement.

“We have already seen more trans and gender non-conforming people killed this year since we began tracking these deaths in 2013, and the numbers continue to climb, even during a pandemic.”

 

“She was my whole world”

 

Blackwood was an avid fan of the show “My Little Pony,” enjoyed the history of folklore and playing video games, her friends say.

“Sara really loved ‘My Little Pony,'” Lambeth said. “She said she identified the most with Shutterfly because she was shy like her.”

The two meet in an online group six years ago and connected over common interests. They became such close friends that Lambeth said she had Blackwood listed as her emergency contact.

The 39-year-old leaves behind a partner of eight years, Avery Blackwood.

“I loved her so much and I am grieving so deeply,” Avery told CNN. “She was my whole world and I am inconsolable.”

Buy It Now!