LGBT Rights in the U.S. in 2011

Although we are still second class citizens in the United States and threatened with measures as extreme as execution in some nations around the world, we did see some landmark changes to LGBT civil rights in the year 2011, along with some defeats. Here’s a recap of the major happenings in the United States…

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In the Prop 8 case of Perry V. Schwarzenegger, two rulings made news. The first was that Imperial County did not have the standing to intervene in the case, while the second asked the California Supreme Court to rule as to whether the proponents of Prop 8 themselves had standing to appeal the case.

The 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin, Texas ruled that the Attorney General did not have the right to intervene in a same sex divorce case. The result was that a Texas divorce granted to two women was legal, despite the fact that same sex marriage is not legal in Texas.

Ohio Governor John Kasich allowed an order prohibiting discrimination in state employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity to expire. A couple of weeks later he reinstated a law to prevent such discrimination but did not include protection for gender identity.

A Virginia court reversed an earlier decision and allowed one half of a lesbian couple to change her last name legally to that of her partner, despite same sex marriage being illegal in Virginia.

The United States Supreme Court rejected an appeal in the case of  Jackson v. The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. The appeal sought to overturn a new law in the District of Columbia which allows same sex marriage.

The US Dept of Housing & Urban Development proposed regulations to eliminate discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In Wyoming, the House passed a bill barring the state from recognizing legal same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, a contradiction to previous Wyoming law. Only three days later the Wyoming Senate approved a resolution, that if voted affirmatively by citizens, would bar recognition of same sex marriage in the state. Wyoming is the state where Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998 for being gay.

The Senate in Iowa rejected a voter initiative to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

The Pentagon released training materials for the military to prepare for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

The Gary Community School Corporation in Indiana approved anti-discrimination policies which include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Illinois approves civil unions for all citizens, regardless of gender.

Gay Central Valley opens the Fresno LGBT Community Center in Fresno, CA. It’s the first such center in Fresno in over 20 years. In September of the same year, they move to a larger space and expand to offer various social and health community groups.



February 2011

The US Dept of State begins issuing passport applications which offer choices “Parent One” and “Parent Two” instead of “Mother” and “Father”.

The House in Iowa allows a ballot measure which could change the state constitution so that only “one man and one woman” can marry.

New York City adopts a new policy regarding transgender marriage license applicants specifying that once an applicant displays a proper photo identification the city clerk may not request further proof of sex.

The Massachusetts governor signed an executive order banning discrimination against state employees based on gender identity or expression.

The Alaska Board of Regents votes to add sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination policy.

The Justice Department announced it will no longer defend the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act due to it being ruled unconstitutional by two district courts.

The Hawaii Governor signs civil unions for all into law.

March 2011

The US Court of Appeals ruled that Indian Prairie School District 204 may not bar students from wearing shirts with anti-gay slogans. The ruling read that if a school permits advocacy of the rights of LGBT students, then shirts expressing criticism of the same.

The Wyoming Senate defeated the previous House bill which would have barred recognition of same sex couples from other jurisdictions.

A District Judge in Minnesota dismissed a lawsuit contending that the ban on same sex marriage violates the rights of LGBT citizens.

The United States House of Representatives Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group votes to defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA after the Obama administration announced it would not.

The Cook County Jail in Chicago implements a policy allowing transgender persons to be housed based on their gender identity rather than birth sex.

USCIS (Immigration Services) announces that it will no longer deny applications for green cards on the part of bi-national same-sex married couples but will put those cases on hold pending resolution of the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Two days later USCIS reverses its ruling and announces that it will continue to deny green cards to bi-national applicants in same-sex marriages.

April 2011

In Nashville, the Metro Council passed a measure requiring businesses with contracts with the city to promise not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill is reversed a month later by the Tennessee Legislature.

The Arkansas Supreme Court rules that a ban on same sex couples adoption is unconstitutional.

Rear Admiral Mark Tidd, Chief of Chaplains of the US Navy, issues a two-page “guidance” memo stating after the repeal of DADT, same-sex couples would be allowed to marry in Naval facilities with Naval chaplains officiating in those states in which same sex marriage is legal.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signs a bill chaning the rules for adoption agencies in the state. Agencies may place a child with a legally single person if it is in the child’s best interest or if there is no married couple available. Same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Arizona.

Montana rules against extending state benefits to same sex couples.

In New York, Governor David Paterson rules that state agencies recognize same-sex unions performed in other jurisdictions, and the NY Dept of Correctional Services has 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 US Dept of Labor updates its internal equal employment opportunity policy to bar discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

May 2011

The Presbyterian Church decides to allow for the ordination of clergy in same-sex relationships.

With opposition in Congress mounting, Rear Admiral Mark L. Tidd suspends his April 13 “guidance” memo supporting military same sex marriage ceremonies from April pending further Naval review.

Delaware Governor signs into law civil unions for all citizens, with all the benefits of full marriage.

The Minnesota Senate approves a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. It passes the House shortly after and will be voted on in November.

Nevada Legislature passes a bill to bar employment discrimination in the state on the basis of gender identity or expression.

The Tennessee Senate passes Senate Bill 49, known as the “Don’t Say Gay bill”, which bars schools from presenting any prepared material or lessons about homosexuality to students before high school.

Nevada Governor signs Assembly Bill 211, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.

The House of Representatives passes a military spending bill with amendments designed to delay final repeal of DADT. The bill would also specify that DOMA applies to all Dept of Justice policies and prohibits the use of military facilities or personnel for performing same-sex marriages.

June 2011

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signs the Nevada Senate Bills 331 and 368, which outlaw discrimination in housing and public accommodation on the basis of gender identity.

Wyoming strikes a blow again, and reverses a lower court ruling that allowed a same-sex couple married in Canada to divorce. The ruling recognizes same-sex marriage in Wyoming only in the context of divorce.

The Virginia Board of Juvenile Justice, which oversees the state’s juvenile correctional facilities, votes unanimously to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In Portland, Oregon, the City Council votes unanimously to expand health coverage for city workers to cover the cost of sex re-assignment surgery up to $50,000.

Cambridge, Massachusetts, announces plans to reimburse city employees in legal same-sex marriages for the federal tax burden they incur for the value of health benefits received by their spouses. Under federal law, employers are required to include the value of such benefits as taxable income, while mixed-sex married couples are not taxed.

The Obama administration issues a “guidance” memo stating that under existing law, states may choose to offer the same level of asset protection to same-sex couples under Medicaid asset recovery plans as it offers to mixed-sex married couples.

US Dept Of Education Secretary affirms 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.

Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware rejects a petition to vacate retired Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which invalidated California’s Proposition 8. It was claimed that Walker being gay and in a long term relationship should invalidate his sitting as judge in the case.

The El Paso Texas city council votes to restore health benefits to the non-married partners of city employees. The benefits had been stripped by a voter initiative in November 2010.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services announces its first-ever grant in the amount of $250,000 to create a resource center for LGBT political refugees.

The United Nations Human Rights Council passes a declaration which for the first time condemns discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The declaration also commissions a study of anti-gay discrimination around the world.

In Wisconsin, it is ruled that Wisconsin’s domestic partnership registry, which offers limited benefits to registered partners, does not violate the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

New York legalizes same sex marriage. In July, when marriages begin, 659 couples marry the first day.

July 2011

Following a federal investigation into the September 2010 suicide of gay student Seth Walsh, the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Education announce a “resolution agreement” with California’s Tehachapi Unified School District addressing bullying based on sexual orientation and gender expression.

The United States Department of Justice files a brief in Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, supporting a plaintiff who is asking for DOMA Section 3 to be ruled unconstitutional. It provides its first account of “a significant history of purposeful discrimination against gay and lesbian people, by governmental as well as private entities”

Rhode Island Governor signs civil unions into state law.

Connecticut Governor signs bill HB-6599, which bars discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit and other laws based on gender identity or expression. The law makes Connecticut the 15th state (along with Washington, D.C.) to outlaw some form of gender identity discrimination.

In Log Cabin Republicans v. United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit lifts its stay of a lower court’s order and orders an immediate halt to the enforcement of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

California governor Jerry Brown signs the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act (SB 48). The new law mandates that educational material in California schools includes information on the contributions of LGBT people to California and United States history, prohibits discriminatory material and lessons and adds “sexual orientation” to existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education.

After a July 11 order from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals requiring that it reveal whether it intends to continue defending “don’t ask, don’t tell”, the Obama administration requests an emergency reconsideration of the court’s order suspending the enforcement of the policy. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals grants the government’s emergency request to reinstate “don’t ask, don’t tell” but bars the government from investigating, penalizing or discharging anyone under the policy.

The US Dept of Justice confirms that it is  investigating Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 in Minnesota for “allegations of harassment and discrimination in the [district] based on sex, including peer-on-peer harassment based on not conforming to gender stereotypes.” Several students, including four who, according to friends and family, were homosexual or perceived as such and committed suicide within the last two years. The school district has a policy barring any discussion of homosexuality and requires staff to remain neutral on matters of sexual orientation.

President Barack Obama announces that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will end on Sept 20th.

August 2011

President Barack Obama signs a proclamation ordering the State Department to bar from entry into the United States anyone who has engaged in oppression against various groups, including those defined by “sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The US Court of Appeals reverses an earlier law in Wisconsin, which banned doctors from prescribing hormone treatment for transgender inmates.

The American Civil Liberties Union files suit against the Camdenton R-III School District in Missouri because of its alleged practice of blocking access to LGBT-oriented educational sites.

Nebraska issues a ruling that a woman who served as a parent to her former partner’s child during their relationship can pursue custody and visitation.

September 2011

The CA State Senate passes 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 would require every school in California to implement anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and programs that include actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The state assembly had passed the bill in June. Governor Jerry Brown signs it into law in October.

California governor signs SB 117, also known as the Equal Benefits Act, into law. The Act 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.

The US Court of Appeals upholds a lower court order requiring Arizona to continue providing health care benefits to the same-sex partners of state workers while a lawsuit challenging the removal of benefits continues. The plaintiffs contend that the law stripping the benefits, which was signed in 2009, violates their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

Following passage in the State Assembly, the North Carolina Senate passes a proposed state constitutional amendment limiting the state’s definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. North Carolina voters will see the amendment on the ballot in May 2012.

The Social Security Administration discontinues 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.

Alaska Superior Court Judge rules 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.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell end on September 20th.  Afterwards, the United States Department of Defense issues a memo clarifying that military facilities may be used for, and that any military chaplain may preside over, any private ceremony that does not violate the laws of the jurisdiction in which it is performed. The memo clears the way for same-sex marriages to be performed in military facilities in those jurisdictions where same-sex marriages are legally recognized.

October 2011

Connecticut becomes the 15th state to ban discrimination against transgender employees.

California Governor Jerry Brown announces the signing of the Gender Nondiscrimination Act (AB 443) and the Vital Statistics Modernization Act (AB 887). AB 443 makes it illegal to discriminate in employment, education, housing, and other public settings based on gender identity or expression and AB 887 allows transgender people to obtain a court order to protect their gender.

November 2011

Voters  in Traverse City, Michigan defeat by a two-to-one margin a ballot initiative to repeal the town’s anti-discrimination ordinance that was enacted in 2010.

The Oklahoma City Council votes to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in city employment.

Massachusetts Governor signs House Bill 3810 into law, which prohibits private employers with six or more employees from discriminating against employees and applicants on the basis of gender identity. Gender identity will become a protected category with respect to private employment and will be added as a protected category to several laws. The new law will go into effect on July 1, 2012.

December 2011

The Obama Administration issues a memorandum directing U.S. agencies acting abroad to use foreign aid to assist LGBT people who are facing human rights violations and to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers. In a related speech to the United Nations in Geneva, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declares that LGBT rights are universal human rights.

In Philadelphia , the mayor signs the Equal Benefits Ordinance. The new ordinance requires contractors accepting service contracts from the city of $250,000 or more to extend the same employment benefits to life partners of its employees that are extended to spouses of married employees.

Orlando, Florida, establishes a domestic partnership registry. The law, which will take effect January 12, 2012, offers registered same-sex partners the right to hospital and jail visitation, the right to make health care decisions and the right to make funeral arrangements.

The Virginia Board of Social Services gives final approval to new adoption regulations. The new regulations, which take effect in May 2012, allow state-licensed private agencies to deny the adoption of a child by same-sex couples. The regulations also allow denial of service based on age, gender, disability, religion, political belief and “family status”.


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