By Kaylia Metcalfe
Welcome to December!
Soon the Internet and print publications will be abuzz with End of the Year Lists. Best Books Aimed at Teen Age Girls! Most Influential Side Characters in TV Pilots! Most Popular Ways to Wear Jeans!
Well, here’s a list you might actually enjoy: Unknown LGBT Milestones in 2011.
This was a pretty big year for the LGBT community. And while most of you will remember the repeal of DADT [Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell], gay marriage in New York and the passing of the FAIR Education Act, along with the ups and downs of the Prop 8 struggle and the drama surrounding DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act], I wanted to remind you (or introduce you to) a few other nice things that happened this year in terms of LGBT rights.
Yes, I skipped some (many) of the bigger news items because they already got a lot of attention (and deservedly so). In this small section of your paper, however, I wanted to give attention to stories that might have fallen through the cracks.
So, here it is—2011 LGBT Milestones You Might Have Missed:
Marriage and Civil Unions
- Illinois, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Brazil and Ireland now allow same-sex civil unions.
- The Presbyterian Church approved a constitutional amendment allowing for ordination of clergy in same-sex relationships.
- The Church of Scotland voted to allow openly gay ministers, who can live in civil unions.
- The San Antonio, Tex., City Council approved a budget that includes domestic partnership benefits for city
- Alaska Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner ruled that denying same-sex couples the senior citizen and property tax exemptions given to mixed-sex married couples violates the state’s constitutional guarantee of equal protection.
- The New York State Department of Correctional Services updated its regulations to allow prisoners in same-sex marriages and civil unions to have conjugal visits and seek furloughs if a spouse or partner is terminally ill.
- The U.S. State Department began issuing passport applications that ask applicants for “Mother or parent one” and “Father or parent two” instead of for “Father” and “Mother.”
- The government of Australia announced new passport guidelines that allow intersex people to select “X” as their gender identifier.
- Nepal took a national census and officially recognized a third gender in addition to male and female.
- The Portland, Ore., City Council voted unanimously to expand health coverage for city workers to cover the cost of sex reassignment surgery up to $50,000.
- The U.S. Social Security Administration confirmed that it has discontinued the practice of notifying employers when an employee’s gender marker on a W-2 tax form does not match the worker’s gender in Social Security records (to avoid accidental “outings”).
- The IRS announced that it intends to issue a formal agreement known as a “notice of acquiescence” with the 2010 U.S. Tax Code decision allowing people to deduct the costs for treating gender identity disorders from their federal income taxes.
- The United Kingdom’s Identity and Passport Service announced plans to change passport application forms to include options for same-sex parents to identify as “parent one” and “parent two” and to allow transgender applicants to opt out of selecting a gender.
- Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed an executive order banning discrimination against state employees based on gender identity or expression.
- The Alaska Board of Regents voted to add sexual orientation to its antidiscrimination policy.
- Cook County Jail in Chicago implemented a new policy for housing transgender prisoners, allowing for them to be housed based on their gender identity rather than birth sex.
- The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development launched the “Live Free” campaign to educate the American public on housing discrimination, including discrimination faced by LGBT people. While neither sexual orientation nor gender identity are expressly covered under the Fair Housing Act, such discrimination may sometimes be illegal based on gender expression.
- U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan affirmed in a letter to educators that gay-straight alliances should be afforded the same rights and protections as any other student-initiated organization under the Equal Access Act.
- The California State Senate passed AB 9, known as “Seth’s Law,” after 13-year-old Seth Walsh, who committed suicide in 2010 after constant anti-gay harassment at his school. The bill requires every school in California to implement anti-harassment and antidiscrimination policies and programs that include actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
- California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 117, also known as the Equal Benefits Act, which bars the state from entering into contracts worth more than $100,000 with vendors that do not offer equal benefits to the spouses of same-sex employees.
One can only hope that 2012 will bring even more good tidings. Happy Holidays!
Kaylia Metcalfe is a writer, blogger and activist in Fresno. She is a co-founder of Skeptics Without a Cause and serves on the Gay Central Valley Board of Directors. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.