By Lisa Keen
2016 will go down in the LGBT history books as a year of sobering pushback against the many gains won in the years prior. In the space of 12 months, the community has gone from having the most pro-LGBT president in history to bracing for a new president who has, so far, nominated a line of cabinet secretaries who are mostly hostile to equal rights for LGBT people. It has seen the largest mass shooting in U.S. history target an LGBT nightclub and an unprecedented number of anti-LGBT bills in state legislatures.
As the year closes, activists are focused on preparing to defend their gains and dodge the seemingly inevitable attacks of the future.
“This is the moment we are called to resist,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell, following the presidential election. “We are about to be tested as never before, and speaking for myself, and NCLR, we will not stand down, sit idle or be silent in the face of oppression, bullying or threat. This election result is devastating for our nation and especially for the most vulnerable. But we will fight on and will never give up.”
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said, “This is a crucial moment for our nation and for the LGBTQ movement. The election of a man who stands opposed to our most fundamental values has left us all stunned … At a time like this, we don’t slow down. We double down.”
But first, a quick look back at the most momentous events in LGBT history for 2016:
1. Donald Trump was elected president. Despite being called the most pro-gay Republican presidential candidate in history and even embracing the LGBT community in front of a hostile Republican convention, Trump’s election has left the community stunned with trepidation. At stake are not only myriad regulations that have sought to curb discrimination against LGBT people in federal workplaces, hospitals and the military, but also the likelihood of one or more extreme conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court.
2. LGBT support was largely behind Clinton. From the beginning of the 2016 campaign, all signs pointed to most LGBT support marshaling behind Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton. And she made clear she valued that support, appointing an openly gay campaign manager and liaison to the community and by speaking out for LGBT equality in many, if not most, of the speeches she gave.
3. Gunman massacres Orlando Pulse. In what has been called the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, American citizen Omar Mateen, 29, a security guard from Fort Pierce, Florida, entered an LGBT nightclub in Orlando at 2 a.m. Sunday, June 12, and shot 102 people, killing 49 before police killed him. While Mateen called 911 during the attack and declared his allegiance with the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL), President Obama said there was no “clear evidence” that the shooter was “directed externally” by any terrorist organization.
4. Justice Antonin Scalia died. Antonin Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court justice most hostile to equal rights for LGBT people, died suddenly and unexpectedly, giving President Obama an opportunity to nominate a more moderate replacement. But even though Obama still had 11 months left in office, the Republican-dominated Senate took the position that the next president — not the current one — should get to choose Scalia’s replacement.
5. Supreme Court agrees to take up transgender case. With only eight justices on the bench, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would review a federal appeals court ruling that favored allowing a transgender student to use a school bathroom consistent with his gender identity, of which he was denied access. The case, Gloucester v. Grimm, asks the court to decide the validity of a U.S. Department of Education interpretation of Title IX, a federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sex in education. The Department says the law also prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.
6. Unprecedented number of anti-LGBT bills. Almost 200 anti-LGBT bills were introduced into state legislatures around the country, a number the ACLU said was “more anti-LGBT bills this year than in any other time.” One that passed into law in North Carolina, HB 2, garnered national attention largely because of its scope. The law prohibited transgender people from using a public restroom for the gender they are living as and barred any local government from having an ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
7. Backlash against HB 2 was swift and powerful. Reaction to North Carolina’s boldly discriminatory new law, HB 2, quickly turned against the legislators who ushered it into being, including North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory. McCrory helped get the law passed and vigorously defended it in the media once it passed. But many corporations and major sporting events announced they would move out of the state because of the discriminatory law. The U.S. Attorney General filed suit against the law. And by year’s end, McCrory found himself losing his re-election bid to a challenger who opposed the law. It was, overall, a message to legislators pushing anti-LGBT legislation in the future that they could not count on the public in general to stand by and let them discriminate.
8. Jeff Sessions nominated as attorney general. While the current U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch jumped in quickly to stop anti-LGBT discrimination in North Carolina and elsewhere, President-elect Trump’s nominee to replace her represents her antithesis. Sessions has spent years opposing equal rights for LGBT people, including his time as U.S. senator. He voted for every anti-LGBT measure and against every pro-LGBT measure. He also once claimed, “Gays and lesbians have not been denied basic access to things such as health or schooling or to the ballot box.”
9. Senate confirms gay man as Secretary of the Army. In May, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of an openly gay man to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Army — the first openly gay person to serve as the head of any military branch. The confirmation of Eric Fanning, by voice vote, came very quickly after U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, lifted a hold he had put on the nomination.
10. Tammy Baldwin wins leadership role. The U.S. Senate’s only openly LGBT member, Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., was selected for one of the Democratic Party’s top leadership positions in the Senate, following the Nov. 8 elections. The Senate new Minority Leader, Charles Schumer of New York, chose Baldwin to serve as Secretary of the Senate Democratic Conference (aka Senate Democratic Caucus). The position is charged with keeping minutes of the Caucus meetings and helping organize its meetings and is the fourth ranking position among the Democrats. Beyond that, however, the position ensures that Baldwin will have a strong influence in Democratic actions in the Senate and, perhaps, positions her to seek even more important roles in the future.