LGBTQ people have made great strides toward equality in the U.S. and around the world, but we still have homophobes and transphobes trying to roll back our progress, and unfortunately some of them are running the country. We of course have had the usual suspects to deal with -- Mike Pence, Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer, Louie Gohmert, Pat Robertson, and many more -- but here we'll spotlight some of those who particularly made news this year.
The year's top Phobie Award goes to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal nonprofit that specializes in causes important to the religious right. The group represented Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips at the U.S. Supreme Court, winning a measured victory — the court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which found Phillips guilty of violating the state's antidiscrimination law by refusing to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, did not show sufficient respect for his religious beliefs. The court, in a decision issued in June of this year (arguments were heard in 2017), therefore vacated the ruling, but it did not approve a broad license to discriminate against LGBTQ people, which is most likely what the ADF wanted. The ADF is still fighting for the right to discriminate. It's asked the Supreme Court to take up cases where ADF is trying to end a Pennsylvania school district's transgender-inclusive restroom policy and advocating for a funeral home's right to fire a trans employee. Oh, and it's got another case involving Masterpiece Cakeshop, for a refusal to make a birthday cake that celebrates a trans woman's gender transition. The ADF contends that the state of Colorado is harassing Phillips by expecting him to obey the antidiscrimination law.
“The state of Colorado is ignoring the message of the U.S. Supreme Court by continuing to single out Jack for punishment and to exhibit hostility toward his religious beliefs,” ADF senior vice president Kristen Waggoner (pictured) said of the case. “Even though Jack serves all customers and simply declines to create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in violation of his deeply held beliefs, the government is intent on destroying him — something the Supreme Court has already told it not to do. Neither Jack nor any other creative professionals should be targeted by the government for living consistently with their religious beliefs.”
It's not news that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, known informally as the Mormon Church, isn't accepting of LGBTQ people, but one of its top leaders, Dallin H. Oaks, took the homophobia and transphobia to new heights this year. “Our knowledge of God’s revealed plan of salvation requires us to oppose many of the current social and legal pressures to retreat from traditional marriage or to make changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women,” Oaks said in an address to the church's General Conference in October. Those pressures, he said, come from none other than Satan, who “seeks to confuse gender, to distort marriage, and to discourage childbearing, especially by parents who will raise children in truth.” We could laugh at Dana Carvey invoking Satan when he played his Church Lady character on Saturday Night Live years ago, but Oaks's words are no laughing matter. There's an epidemic of suicide among LGBTQ youth in the church's home state of Utah, and much of the blame can be placed on the denomination's hatred.
Brazil elected a new president this year, and he might be even worse than the man who occupies that office in the United States. Jair Bolsonaro, who has been a member of Brazil's Congress, has said he’d rather see his son dead than gay and would punch men if he saw them kissing on the street. He once told actress Ellen Page she was "escaping normality" because she is a lesbian. He has also made many misogynistic and racist comments and has roused the ire of environmentalists with his plans to open Brazil's rainforest to industrial development. This piece of work takes office January 1.
Paul Makonda, the governor of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, announced in October that officials in the city would begin to track down and arrest LGBTQ people. Homosexuality "tramples on the moral values of Tanzanians and our two Christian and Muslim religions," he told reporters. Soon he claimed to have 100 names, gleaned primarily from social media. It's unclear how many arrests have been made in Dar es Salaam, which is the economic capital of Tanzania, but it is clear that officials in other parts of the nation have started their own antigay crackdowns. In November, 10 men suspected of being gay were arrested at a beach party on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar. Police said there had been reports that a same-sex wedding had taken place. They faced the possibility of forced anal exams, which human rights groups classify as torture.
The entire government of Malaysia gets a Phobie Award for its persecution of LGBTQ people. Malaysians elected a new national coalition government in May, and over the next few months the coalition ramped up its homophobia and transphobia in an effort to gain popular support. The actions have included the arrest of about 20 men in a raid on a gay bar and the caning of two women who attempted to have sex with each other.
It has been a banner year for homophobia in the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis, who once said “Who am I to judge?” about gay priests, said gay people don’t belong in the clergy. Not that the church has ever been truly accepting of gay clergy, but their presence has been an open secret for eons. With the church rocked by sex abuse scandals, Cardinal Gerhard Müller blamed gays for abuse, even though there’s no correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia. A gay man employed at a San Diego parish endured such severe harassment, including death threats, that he resigned; right-wing Catholic groups and publications had called for his removal, so it could be said they encouraged the heinous behavior of some of the flock. And Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput (pictured) essentially denied the existence of LGBTQ Catholics. “There is no such thing as an ‘LGBTQ Catholic’ or a ‘transgender Catholic’ or a ‘heterosexual Catholic,’ as if our sexual appetites defined who we are; as if these designations described discrete communities of differing but equal integrity within the real ecclesial community, the body of Jesus Christ,” Chaput said in October at the church’s Youth Synod in Rome.
Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, is overseeing the Trump administration's effort to define transgender people “out of existence,” as The New York Times put it in an October story breaking the news of a memo circulating among federal government agencies to legally define gender as something immutable and fixed at birth, as indicated by a person’s genitalia. He's also spearheading HHS's "conscience protection" efforts, aimed at aiding health care workers with religious objections to serving certain patients, which could well result in denial of care to LGBTQ people. Severino has a long history of working for far-right groups and opposing LGBTQ rights. He has opposed marriage equality, defended “ex-gay” therapy, and objected to allowing transgender people to serve in the military. He previously worked at the ultranconservative Heritage Foundation, where he and anti-trans author Ryan Anderson collaborated on a paper opposing the idea that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is sex discrimination. He's also worked for the far-right Becket Fund.
As governors of Oklahoma and Kansas, respectively, Mary Fallin and Jeff Colyer signed bills into law that will allow adoption and foster care agencies that provide state-funded services to reject prospective parents who offend the agencies' religious dogma. They could be interfaith couples, single parents, or, yes, same-sex couples or single LGBTQ people. That's discrimination funded with tax dollars. For Fallin, the action was one more notch in a long record of anti-LGBTQ governing. She was prevented by term limits from running for reelection in November, but her successor, fellow Republican Kevin Stitt, has expressed support for the bill she signed. In Kansas, there may be a chance for a turnaround. Colyer, who moved up from lieutenant governor to governor when the intensely anti-LGBTQ Sam Brownback became the U.S. ambassador for religious liberty (!), did not win the Republican nomination for governor in 2018. Secretary of State Kris Kobach did, but he lost the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly, who is an LGBTQ ally, and several Kansas legislators have left the Republican Party for the Democrats. So we can hope.
Whenever the Texas Republican Party approves a platform, it's sure to be anti-LGBTQ. This year's may be its most hateful yet, though. At its biennial convention in June, the party adopted a platform that again endorses “ex-gay” therapy, as it has since 2014, as well as opposing marriage equality and supporting business owners’ right to discriminate against anyone who offends their religious sensibilities. It makes a new call for the state to repeal its hate-crimes law and opposes all efforts to recognize transgender people’s identity. “The official position of the Texas schools with respect to transgenderism is that there are only two genders: male and female,” the document says. In another section, it asserts, “We oppose all efforts to validate transgender identity. We call upon our legislature to enact laws prohibiting the use of hormones before the age of 18 in an attempt to change gender. We believe it should be illegal to remove healthy body parts in minors in an effort to try to transition to the opposite sex.”