December 31, 2016

Coming off of the incredible high of winning marriage equality in 2015, 2016 at times felt like a year of bitter bills and backlash. But let’s all remember that there were some incredible wins for the PFLAG family in the last 12 months.

Let’s take a look back at the year for our highlights--and lowlights--of 2016.

BEST: In the year following the Obergefell decision, which granted the freedom to marry across the country, same-sex marriages increased 33% across the United States, according to a Gallup poll. The struggle for couples to find florists, bakers, and even get the license may still have been a challenge (see worst below), but for the majority who could, fairness was never so sweet.

WORST: The attempts to circumvent the legal right to marry continued in Mississippi (where the attempt failed); in Texas (where the attempt failed); in Alabama (where the attempt failed); and in Florida (where the attempt failed). The freedom to marry remains the law of the land...but of course, we must stay vigilant in the year ahead!

BEST: In May, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education released a joint guidance to help ensure the rights of transgender students. In an eloquent speech by Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, she spoke directly to the people of her home state North Carolina (4:25-5:53) and to the transgender community (5:55-6:45) and affirmed, “There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex. This guidance gives administrators, teachers and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies.” Full video from DOJ of the news conference by AG Lynch on its lawsuit against North Carolina regarding HB2 can be viewed here. PFLAGers everywhere appreciated having the administration at their backs as they continued the work of creating safe and inclusive schools. Said PFLAG board president Jean Hodges in an official statement, “We understand that for many adults there is a learning curve on these issues, and PFLAG can help with that education. But we must shift our fear in favor of what is fair and just.” Educate and shift we did...and continue to do!

WORST: Despite the DOE/DOJ guidance, transgender and gender-expansive youth continued to face harassment, discrimination, and violence due to non-inclusive--or nonexistent--school policies. As confirmed by the 2016 report “‘Like Walking Through a Hailstorm’: Discrimination against LGBT Youth in US Schools,” by Human Rights Watch, LGBTQ students face enormous challenges including verbal harassment by fellow students and teachers, and lack of resources, role models, inclusive and enumerated school policies, and culturally competent educators. One case, brought by Gavin Grimm, is likely headed to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in early 2017. PFLAG will submit an amicus brief on behalf of PFLAGers everywhere in support of this transgender student, who simply wants to be treated fairly and with dignity in using the facilities that match his gender identity.

BEST: Corporate America stood up for LGBTQ people in the form of statements, inclusive policy affirmations, and business coalitions supporting nondiscrimination laws and speaking out against bad laws already on the books (see worst below). Target re-affirmed its long-standing policy on use of their facilities by people who are transgender, while full-on coalitions in Texas (Texas Competes) and Tennessee (Tennessee Thrives) issued statements and released reports on the economic impact of discrimination. PFLAG has always supported “buycotts,” not boycotts. Be sure to check out the lists of companies on the two pages above, as well as HRC’s Corporate Equality Index--which includes a number of PFLAG National corporate partners--to see whose policies are inclusive and deserving of your dollars.

WORST: Scores of anti-transgender bills were introduced post-marriage, terrible backlash for the progress made. North Carolina’s HB2--the Public Facilities and Privacy Act--is at the top of the list of horrible anti-LGBTQ legislation passed in 2016. Although commonly referred to as the “Bathroom Bill,” HB2 goes far beyond facilities, forbidding cities and counties from making rules that differ from state law on discrimination and bathroom issues, as well as on minimum wage and other labor-related topics; it also says that North Carolinians can not file discrimination lawsuits in state courts, only in the more restrictive federal courts. Other nightmare legislation includes the anti-LGBTQ counseling bill in Tennessee, which lets therapists and counselors reject patients based on “sincerely held principles.” In more than 20 states across the country, the legislation came fast and furious, and we are preparing for an even further onslaught in the year ahead.

BEST: Transgender representation in entertainment and media continues to be on the rise, and in new and wonderful ways. One highlight? The first-ever Emmy nomination for a show with trans themes, written, produced and directed by trans talent. The web series Her Story, which doesn’t appear on a major network but instead was released for free on YouTube, received a 2016 Emmy nomination in the Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series category, and has already won a Gotham Award. Full of queer and trans talent, Her Story, instead of tackling the “trans people in peril narrative” that has become a sad hallmark of trans inclusive storylines, is about two LA-based trans women and their adventures with dating and sex. It is super smart, super funny, and super real. Also a breakout is actress Alexandra Grey, a trans woman who has been all over television this season. She starred in the first (and highly acclaimed) episode of season three of Transparent, and has a storyline as the sister of one of the main characters on Chicago Med. Next season she’ll star in Dustin Lance Black’s ABC miniseries, When We Rise. Keep an eye on this up-and-comer!

WORST: Sadly, even the above breakthrough can’t mitigate the lack of trans representation in mainstream entertainment...and when it exists, it is usually in the form of a cisgender actor or actress playing the part. Actor Mark Ruffalo found himself in some hot water over this very issue when, in an upcoming turn as producer of the film Anything (which also features Alexandra Grey, noted above), he announced that he had cast Matt Bomer as a trans woman. Folks jumped on it immediately, including Jen Richards, who created and appears in the aforementioned show Her Story. Ruffalo owned it, apologized, and stayed for the conversation...though it remains to be seen if he will recast the role. Overall LGBTQ media representation has been troublesome in the last year, as highlighted by the “Bury Your Gays” trope. GLAAD’s Where We Are On TV report makes clear the horrible details: 25 lesbian and bisexual female-identifying characters have died on scripted broadcast and cable television and streaming series since the beginning of 2016, with most of those deaths serving only to further the narrative of a more-often-than-not straight, cisgender character. Come on, media - do better!

BEST: December 1st was World AIDS Day, and there were major advances on HIV and AIDS research about which to be hopeful. The National Institutes of Health discovered the N6 antibody, a protein produced by the body’s immune system which can neutralize many forms of the most common HIV strain. This discovery may lead to an HIV vaccine. Another solid discovery came in the form of a combination of an experimental HIV vaccine combined with a compound that can stimulate the immune system of a monkey with SIV (the simian version of HIV). It lowered the SIV levels to nearly undetectable in the monkeys, a promising step towards a cure.

WORST: HIV and AIDS still affects 37 million people around the world, with more than 1.2 million HIV-infected people living in the US, and 1 in 8 of them unaware of their HIV status. The most up-to-date statistics show that gay and bisexual men accounted for 82% of HIV diagnoses among males and 67% of all diagnoses. African Americans continue to experience the greatest burden of HIV, though Hispanics/Latinx people are also disproportionately affected by HIV. Overall, since 2003, young African American gay and bisexual men (aged 13 to 24) experienced an 87% increase in diagnoses. We look to the hopeful news above, but are sobered by the statistics.

BEST: In last year’s edition, we reported on the proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (HHS OCR) on Section 1557, the civil rights provision of The Affordable Care Act (ACA) to include explicit nondiscrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression, but noted that we were still waiting for it to go into effect. On May 13, 2016, nationwide nondiscrimination protections were finally codified, confirming that the Affordable Care Act Section 1557 prohibits discrimination against LGBT people in health insurance coverage and health care. These protections are critical because, despite advances in public acceptance of LGBT issues over the past decade, LGBT people and their families continue to encounter discrimination when seeking health coverage and care.

WORST: There is a very strong likelihood that the Affordable Care Act will be severely eroded--if not repealed in its entirety--in 2017, leaving millions of people uninsured and once again adding to the many disparities that LGBTQ people--especially people who are transgender--face in healthcare and treatment. We are of course keeping an eye on this and will keep our members and supporters fully informed, and mobilized for action. Be sure you’re signed up to receive emails from PFLAG National, and that you’re connected to us on Facebook and Twitter.

BEST:  Last year’s list called out We Are The Change 2015 as a best, counterbalanced by a worst of having to wait two years until the next national convention. Well the time has come...We Are The Change 2017 is coming, and there’s no time like the present to get the best rates around: Just $175 for current members. Visit pflag.org/2017convention for more information and to get register today.

WORST: We have to wait until October to convene in Portland, Oregon. Until then, there’s plenty of work to do, and lots of online learning available, both live and on-demand, thanks to PFLAG Academy Online.

BEST: PFLAG continued to participate in important organizational coalitions and federal government collaborations this year, and one of the best helped to create an unprecedented resource: a roll-call training video, “Law Enforcement and the Transgender Community,” that models best practices for police interactions with transgender individuals. For this historic Department of Justice initiative, PFLAG National board member Catherine Hyde and Director of Advocacy, Policy, and Partnerships Diego M. Sanchez were both part of the leadership Subject Matter Expert Team which also created a full curriculum and 90-minute training video. In addition to offering input on the script, production, and content, Diego appears on camera in both videos, too!

WORST: The number of murders in the U.S. of people who are transgender was at a record high in 2016, outpacing the number in 2015...and 2015 saw the number doubled from 2014. Transgender women of color are disproportionately affected by violence. Given that they are also deprived disproportionately of housing, healthcare, employment and other basic needs--and living at the intersection of transphobia, racism, classism, and more--helping this already vulnerable population remains a primary piece of work for PFLAGers everywhere.

BEST: This election season continues to yield conversation and concern, but let’s take a moment to reflect on some high points. North Carolina’s Governor McCrory lost his re-election bid, and was unseated by Roy Cooper who--assuming it hasn’t already been repealed--has vowed to do away with that state’s discriminatory HB2. There were also a number of diverse people voted into office, including the first Indian American woman in Congress (Pramila Jayapal of Washington), the first Latina U.S. Senator (Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada), the first Indian American elected to the U.S. Senate (Kamala Harris of California), the first openly LGBT governor to win an election (Kate Brown of Oregon), the first Vietnamese American woman elected to Congress (Stephanie Murphy of Florida), the first Somali American Muslim woman elected to a state legislature (Ilhan Omar of Minnesota), and the first openly gay state legislator in Georgia (Sam Park). It’s a start...

WORST: ...but we have a long, long way to go. Thanks to a divisive election season which seemed to bring out the worst in so many people, what’s to come is unknown. What we do know is that the president-elect and his many cabinet and administrative nominees have a track record of discrimination against the LGBTQ and other marginalized communities whether in business or in public life. While we can’t yet know for sure what will happen, we sadly have a pretty good idea of where we’re headed, and we’re braced and emboldened for what lies ahead.

And, for this last entry, we choose to end on our best.

WORST: Gay bars are a place of refuge, a place that lets LGBTQ people be open and authentic when, in many cases, there are reasons why they cannot be in other places in their lives. Orlando’s Pulse nightclub was such a place. The LGBTQ community gathered there, and Latinx nights were particular favorites, when LGBTQ Latinx people, and their non-Latinx and non-LGBTQ allies, could meet, dance, and be themselves. The tragedy that occurred there in June devastated the local community and our country. We still mourn 49 lives taken too soon and more than 100 injured.

BEST: Beloved good neighbor to everyone, Mr. Rogers, once said, “"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." In the face of tragedy, PFLAGers are always the helpers. They come together, they rally the troops, they are there for each other the way family should always be there for each other. Not just locally but across the country, PFLAGers served as helpers, holding vigils and rallies, offering up thoughts, notes, and prayers. And for PFLAG Orlando, help came in the form of a memorial quilt, created with love on the other side of the country by PFLAG Napa and sent to the chapter to carry in their Pride parade in November. If nothing else, this tragedy brought out the best of what PFLAG always has been and always will be.

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