Story at a glance
- State laws have continued to push for LGBTQ+ protections, such as banning conversion therapy for minors and granting rights to trans people to self-identify on official documents.
- Reversals have happened, too, with the Trump administration banning trans-identifying people from joining the military and barring those currently serving from receiving critical medication and health care.
- The 2020 presidential election will be pivotal for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies.
2019 was a nail biter for LGBTQ+ legislation in America, with the proposed Equality Act passing through the House of Representatives with bipartisan support earlier this March only to reach a state of purgatory in the Senate, where it still sits today with no verdict.
With 2020 elections just around the corner, let’s take a look at a few other notable dates for the LGBTQ+ community, big and small, progressive and not, from the past 12 months.
California’s Gender Recognition Act: The first day of 2019 saw the California self ID law go into effect. California’s Gender Recognition Act now allows transgender and nonbinary people to submit paperwork to update their listed gender through an online application, meaning they’ll be able to be identified officially by the gender they most identify with rather than the one they were given at birth.
New York bans conversion therapy: Conversion therapy is a controversial treatment dating back to the 1890s that aims to change a person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The treatment involves talk therapy but can also include controversial aversion treatments. Denounced by the American Psychiatric Association, conversion therapy has been banned in a growing number of states, with New York becoming the 15th state to outlaw it.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act: The proposed law would introduce sweeping changes to the federal protections for members of the LGBTQ+ community, ensuring protection against discrimination for everything from employment and housing to education and more. It is the first comprehensive federal pro-LGBTQ+ act to make it this far. Though it’s openly supported by more than 200 major companies such as Coca Cola, Apple and Microsoft, the chances of it gaining traction in the Senate are slim.
The Transgender Military Ban goes into effect: Three years after the Obama administration’s decision to allow transgender individuals to serve openly in the U.S. military while receiving gender affirming care, the Trump administration made a full 180. This April, a policy was implemented banning anyone with gender dysphoria who is taking hormones or has already undergone a gender transition from enlisting. Any currently serving troops must now serve as their sex as assigned at birth and will be barred from taking hormones or getting gender-affirming surgery.
The LDS Church changes policies surrounding LGBT members: In a major shift, the Church of Latter-day Saints reversed its controversial policy of classifying people in same-sex marriages as "apostates." The Mormon church had also banned children of such marriages from blessing or baptism until they turn 18, at which age they were required to move out of their parents’ house and disavow same-sex marriage. Children of parents who identify as LGBTQ+ may now be blessed as infants and baptized. The change in policy is attributed to President Dallin Oaks, who said that the church intended to "reduce the hate and contention so common today."
Massachusetts bans conversion therapy: The state becomes the 16th to ban conversion therapy, a move that has been gaining momentum since 2018.
The 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots are celebrated around the country: 2019 marked half a century since the infamous Stonewall riots took place in New York City. The events are widely thought of as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ movement for equality and representation. Thousands rallied outside the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan to commemorate the protests that occurred 50 years ago and discuss progress still yet to be made. Around the country and the world, LGBTQ+ pride festivals were held in celebration.
A settlement is reached on North Carolina transgender bathroom rights: After a three-year legal fight, transgender people are now able to use the bathrooms, changing rooms and showers that correspond with their gender identity in state-run buildings. The “bathroom bill” settlement overturns part of a state law that was implemented in 2016 known as House Bill 2, which required transgender people in state-run buildings use the facilities that corresponded to the sex on their birth certificates.
The state of Maryland revokes private school’s funding: In July a private Christian School in Maryland had its state funding revoked for non-LGBT friendly policies on the basis that taxpayer money can’t be allowed to go to any institution that discriminates because of its religious beliefs. Bethel Christian Academy filed a federal lawsuit against the state, saying its BOOST school voucher program was thrown out unfairly because of its religious beliefs. The implications of the case may be far-reaching. Some experts fear that if the court sides with Bethel, it will give a green light to other institutions to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community on the basis of their religious beliefs.
The first transgender rights case is brought before the Supreme Court: The court heard oral arguments for a case that will decide if transgender people are entitled to sex-based protections under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act called R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — a historic first for the highest court in the nation. The plaintiff, Aimee Stephens, was working as a funeral director and embalmer for nearly six years and was fired after writing her employer a letter to inform him of her gender transition.
The first LGBTQ Town Hall is held: CNN and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation held an inaugural LGBTQ town hall for the 2020 Democratic candidates to make their views known to the voting public on topics important to the community.
Democrats flip control of both houses in Virginia: The Democratic sweep of the state almost certainly means that Virginia will become the 38th and final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA seeks to end the legal distinctions between sexes in terms of divorce, property, employment and other matters and the bill finally passing could bring about major changes. The wording does not specify “women” so it might also therefore provide legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Conscience rule” struck down: A federal judge struck down a Health and Human Services Department rule that would have allowed health care workers to refuse treatment to transgender patients if it clashed with their religious beliefs, the third judge to do so. Called the “conscience rule,” it was part of a broader agenda by the Trump administration, which has said that it wants to expand civil rights protections for health care workers. The judge wrote that only around 6 percent of the complaints that the government provided the court are even potentially related to providers' moral or religious objections.
Republican lawmakers introduce the Fairness For All Act: As the proposed Equality Act continues to languish in the Senate, a group of Republican lawmakers have drafted what they hope to be a compromise bill. Its introduction by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) marks the first time that an LGBTQ+ civil rights bill has been introduced by conservative lawmakers in either chamber of Congress. While the bill would ban discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in employment, housing, education and public accommodations, it includes exceptions for churches and religious organizations.
What to expect in 2020
This year will be pivotal for state and federal policies surrounding the protections and abilities of LGBTQ+ people. The spotlight is on the 2020 presidential election in November and the still-undecided fate of the Equality Act. With the start of a brand new decade also comes the 2020 U.S. Census — a survey taken by Americans every 10 years. This year’s U.S. Census questionnaire will explicitly ask couples living together to define their relationship to their partners as either “same-sex” or “opposite-sex,” but will not include questions asking about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, making it difficult for non-coupled LGBTQ+ people to be counted.