by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
We are winning the fight. Slowly but surely, we'll get there.
That is what we can take away from 2011 and the LGBT community's struggle for equality in the U.S. - and in many cases, around the world. This was not a year of baby steps and begging; on the contrary, 2011 was a year for leaps and screams of 'Victory!'
Yes, we still have work to do. No, we don't have all that we need. But let's take a moment to reflect and, dare I say, celebrate some impressive achievements in the year 2011.
GAY RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS
In what is being hailed as the speech of her career, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said what needed so desperately to be said as she addressed a packed auditorium of human rights activists who gathered in Geneva for International Human Rights Day, December 10.
'I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today,' said Clinton. 'I am talking about Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender people, human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity, who have a right to claim that which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time.'
The best line of her speech? 'Gay rights are human rights.'
On the same day as Clinton's speech, President Obama issued a directive to all federal agencies ordering them to work to promote and protect LGBT rights in foreign countries.
The presidential memorandum directed 'all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.'
Among the steps required by the memorandum are active efforts to fight criminalization of LGBT status or conduct, as well as to support the protection of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.
The president's directive also promised 'swift and meaningful response to serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT persons abroad.'
Also this year, the United Nations endorsed the rights of LGBT people for the first time ever by passing a historic resolution. Activists called it an important shift on an issue that has divided the global body for decades.
'This represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love,' Clinton said in a statement.
Following tense negotiations, members of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council narrowly voted in favor of the declaration put forward by South Africa, with 23 votes in favor and 19 against.
Backers included the U.S., the European Union, Brazil, and other Latin American countries. Those against included Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Pakistan. China, Burkina Faso, and Zambia abstained, Kyrgyzstan didn't vote, and Libya was under suspension from the rights body.
DADT IS OVER
In a monumental and historic moment for the LGBT community, Obama signed the DADT Repeal Act of 2010 during a ceremony at the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., December 22, 2010. Less than one year later, on September 20, the U.S. military's ban on openly Gay service known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT) officially ended. The nation's estimated 65,000 active duty and reserve LGB troops are no longer asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulders, in order to serve the country. After 18 years and nearly 15,000 ruined military careers, it's finally over. DADT is dead.
'I have spoken to every one of the service chiefs and they are all committed to implementing this change swiftly and efficiently,' Obama assured the hundreds of attendees at the ceremony. 'We are not going to be dragging our feet to get this done.'
And they didn't. From the time the DADT Repeal Act was signed until September 20, only a handful of service members were discharged DADT (three of them, including one officer, asked to leave) and the Pentagon set about implementing the repeal under the direct orders of Obama, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the defense secretary. Official anti-Gay discrimination within the ranks of the U.S. armed forces is no more. We won.
TRANSGENDER RIGHTS STATE AND LOCAL LAWS PASS
While we Ls, Gs, and Bs still have work to do, we can all agree that the Ts in our community still face the biggest uphill battle. But in keeping with the rest of the community's successes in 2011, Transgender rights and protections got a boost this year.
Four states (Hawaii, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Nevada) passed Transgender antidiscrimination laws - the most new laws ever in one year. Vermont and California passed new birth certificate laws making it easier for Transgender people to update their name and gender. By a vote of 61-81, the Maine legislature killed an anti-Trans bill, and 13 local jurisdictions passed laws protecting Trans people in the workplace.
Trans health policy improved a bit, as well. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began a process to develop methods to include Trans people in future federal health surveys, paving the way for a better understanding of health disparities Transgender people face.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued new guidelines saying that discrimination against Trans people in renting or selling housing financed in any way with federal funds should be considered discrimination on the basis of sex, and is therefore illegal under existing civil rights laws.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force published the groundbreaking National Transgender Discrimination Survey. With nearly 6,500 respondents, Trans people reported discrimination in every area of life. The report showed both disparate and desperate health outcomes. The study has become the go-to resource for understanding the breadth of barriers facing Trans people.
GAY MARRIAGE ADVANCES
While the courts continued mulling over the constitutionality of California's Prop 8 law, advances were made in the fight for same-sex marriage.
In June, New York legalized Gay marriage, making it the largest state where Gay and Lesbian couples are able to wed.
The Suquamish tribe in Washington state legalized same-sex marriage in August.
In a major policy reversal, this year the Obama administration said it will no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA, a federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Obama has concluded that the administration cannot defend the federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. He noted that the congressional debate during passage of the Defense of Marriage Act 'contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of Gays and Lesbians and their intimate and family relationships - precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the [Constitution's] Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against.'
The Justice Department had defended the act in court until now.
The global force known as social media got onboard this year as its leader, Facebook, added two relationship status options users can include in their online profiles: 'in a civil union' and 'in a domestic partnership.'
Previously, the set options included 'single,' 'in a relationship,' 'married,' 'engaged,' 'it's complicated,' 'in an open relationship,' 'widowed,' 'separated,' and 'divorced.'
The new relationship status updates debuted in the U.S. and several other countries on February 17.
SCHOOL BULLYING ATTACKED
Seemingly fed up with reports of students committing suicide due to anti-LGBT bullying - or bullying in general - a number of states passed anti-bullying laws to make schools safer for all students.
HOSPITAL VISITATION RIGHTS
In January, under federal rules, nearly all hospitals began to extend visitation rights to the partners of same-sex couples. The change in policy is due to the Obama administration's continuing efforts to expand the rights of LGBT Americans.
The federal regulations, however, only apply to hospitals that receive Medicaid or Medicare funding. The rules state that such institutions may not prohibit visitation rights based on sexual orientation. This is a major shift in policy for LGBT couples. In the past, hospital officials often barred visitors not related to an incapacitated patient by blood or marriage.
In addition, many hospitals would not allow same-sex partners to designate each other as someone eligible to make major medical decisions for them if they are injured or seriously ill.
All that changed in January when the new regulations went into effect. Now any hospital found to be violating the new rules risks losing federal funding.
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