12 Biggest Wins for Equality This Year

12 Biggest Wins for Equality This Year

12. Pope Meets With Gay Couple
While there are conflicting accounts of Pope Francis's meeting with antigay Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, it's not disputed that he met privately with a gay couple and their friends at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., during the pope's U.S. visit in the fall. "The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature [Vatican Embassy] was with one of his former students and his family," says a statement from Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, and that former student was gay man Yayo Grassi, now a D.C. caterer, who brought along his longtime partner and several friends. 

“Me being gay is no different [to the pope] than me having blue eyes,” Grassi, who was taught by the future pope in high school in Argentina, told ABC News. “It’s not different than me living in Washington. It is part of my life. And the way he accepted my boyfriend, it is a validation of how happy he is that two people of the same sex can be together and happy.”

11. Salt Lake City Elects Lesbian Mayor
Good election news in November came from a place that surprised many: Salt Lake City, which elected Jackie Biskupski, a lesbian, as mayor. Biskupski, a former state legislator, bested incumbent Mayor Ralph Becker in the nonpartisan race. Both are liberal Democrats; although Salt Lake City is home to the headquarters of the very conservative Mormon Church, its local politics tend to be progressive. Biskupski's victory was certified as official two weeks later. The election also sees Salt Lake City elect its second openly gay City Council member, marriage equality plaintiff Derek Kitchen, and the LGBT haven of Palm Springs, Calif., choose its second consecutive gay mayor, Rob Moon.

10. UN Security Council Holds First Ever Meeting on LGBT-Directed Violence
All 193 United Nations member-states were invited to an August meeting in New York aimed at addressing the violence directed at LGBT people by the extremist group ISIS — the first Security Council meeting ever held on LGBT rights.

The meeting was hosted by Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., and her Chilean counterpart, Ambassador Christian Barros. Two people, one from Iraq and another from Syria, described how they were targeted by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, for being gay. The event was a clear sign the United Nations has started paying attention, and hopefully taking action, against state-sanctioned murder and violence against LGBTs.

9. N.Y. Gov. Cuomo Announces Trans Protections
After the repeated failure of New York legislators to amend the state's human rights law to ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in October he will do so by executive order. He made the announcement at a gala dinner for the Empire State Pride Agenda, a statewide LGBT rights group.

Cuomo “will instruct state agencies and introduce regulations to prohibit harassment and discrimination on the basis of gender identity, transgender status, and gender dysphoria in the areas of public and private housing, employment, credit, education and public accommodations,” a Pride Agenda press release stated.

KATE BROWN

8. First Out Governor Sworn In
Kate Brown became the United States’ highest-ranking openly LGBT official and the first out bisexual governor when she's sworn into office in Oregon, in the wake of a political scandal that saw her predecessor resign over ethics violations. In Brown’s February inaugural address, the new governor tackled the ethics scandal head-on, in pointed fashion. “Oregon has been in the national news for all the wrong reasons. That changes starting today.”

7. Ireland Votes Yes on Marriage
With the world watching, the Republic of Ireland became the first nation to enact marriage equality by popular vote. Irish voters overwhelmingly approved adding this language to the country’s constitution: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.” The successful vote prompted celebration for supporters of LGBT rights, both in Ireland and worldwide. The weddings began November 17. Cormac Gollogly and Richard Dowling, who have been together 12 years, were the first same-sex couple to marry.

6. Boy Scouts Lift Ban (Mostly)
Following its 2013 decision to remove the ban on gay youth members, the Boy Scouts of America lifted the ban on gay and bisexual adults serving as volunteers, Scouts, and employees in July. The BSA will no longer discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, nor require local troops and councils to do so. But the local groups may still set their own policies and may refuse to let gay people serve. 

KENTUCKY COUPLES ALLOWED TO WED

5. Kentucky Couples Win Out Over Kim
After weeks of obstruction by antigay Rowan County clerk Kim Davis, same-sex couples in Rowan County, Ky. were finally granted marriage licenses in September. Many couples, like David Moore and David Ermold, tried numerous times (three for them!) to obtain licenses from Davis, only to be denied because they didn't conform to the clerk's idea of a legitimate couple. After the Supreme Court weighed in, forcing Davis to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, she still refused, resulting in a short stint in jail for her. Regardless, couples like Moore and Ermold — and Shannon and Carmen Wampler-Collins — wed in the end.

4. Air Force Allows Openly Trans Servicemembers
In a historic move, the U.S. Air Force announced that trans airmen and airwomen will not face release from active duty for openly identifying as transgender, according to a report by the LGBT military group SPARTA. “Neither gender dysphoria nor self-identification as transgender is an automatic circumstance that generates involuntary separation,” or removal from duty, announces an Air Force spokesperson. Advocates continue to place pressure on the Pentagon to lift the long-standing ban that bars transgender Americans from serving openly in the military. By the end of Pride month, President Obama shook hands for the first time with a uniformed, active-duty out transgender service member, when Senior U.S. Airman Logan Ireland and his fiancée, Army Cpl. Laila Villanueva, attend the White House Pride celebration. Then in August, it's reported that a Pentagon working group has laid out a timeline that could result in transgender people being allowed to serve openly across all military branches by next May. 

3. Conversion Therapy Ruled a Fraud
In a first-of-its-kind case, a New Jersey court ruled unanimously that a Jewish group has violated the state’s consumer fraud protection laws by claiming it could “cure” clients of being gay. Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) violated the state’s Consumer Fraud Protection Act by marketing “conversion therapy” that has been denounced by every major medical and mental health organization in the country, notes the Southern Poverty Law Center. The lawsuit was filed in 2012, before New Jersey became the second U.S. state (after California) to bar licensed therapists from using the unscientific practice on minors. In 2015, Oregon and Illinois enact similar laws, and members of Congress introduce legislation that would classify the practice as fraud nationwide.

2. The World Says "No" to License to Discriminate
Immediately following Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s signing of that state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act in a secret ceremony in the spring, celebrities from Miley Cyrus to George Takei, religious organizations including the United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church (USA), the Sikh Coalition, the Islamic Society of North America, and Religious Action Center of Reformed Judaism, sporting organizations including the NBA, NCAA, and NASCAR, and businesses from Apple and Angie’s List to Yelp, spoke out against the law as a “license to discriminate” against LGBT people.

Several governors and mayors barred civic employees from taking any official business trips to Indiana. The backlash was swift and loud, and legislators scrambled to amend the law while taking great pains to say that they didn’t intend to discriminate against any Hoosiers — despite Pence’s declaration that he was “proud” of the new law. The amendment that passed the following week is the first mention of sexual orientation or gender identity anywhere in Indiana law.

MARRIAGE EQUALITY

1. National Marriage Equality Is Here
This one's a no-brainer: In June, the United States Supreme Court, in a 5–4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, determined that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to legally marry nationwide, striking down bans in 13 states and Puerto Rico. What a year!

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