Kim Davis’ Lawyers Want to Remove LGBTQ People From Bill to Make Lynching a Federal Hate Crime

Kim Davis’ lawyers are fighting to keep LGBTQ people out of a Congressional bill to make lynching a federal hate crime.

The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act passed the Senate in December following a unanimous vote of 100 to 0. The legislation has been a long time coming. The bill was first put forward in 1882 and has stalled more than 200 times in the 137 years since, according to the New York Times.

The current version of the proposal was put forward by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Despite its overwhelming popularity, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver plans to lobby against LGBTQ-inclusive provisions in the legislation as it moves through the House of Representatives. The draft bill covers characteristics like “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” in addition to “color,” “national origin,” “race,” and “religion.”

Staver told One News Now this language is a way to pass anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community through the back door.

“So far they’ve been unsuccessful over the many years in the past [at passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act],” the Liberty Counsel founder and CEO claimed, “but this is a way to slip it in under a so-called anti-lynching bill, and to then to sort of circle the wagon and then go for the [jugular] at some time in the future.”

First put forward in 1994, ENDA would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace.

Although it failed to become law, that legislation eventually led to the introduction of the Equality Act, which expands LGBTQ inclusions in standing civil rights law beyond the workplace. It would protect against sexual orientation and gender identity bias in all walks of life, whether housing and education or credit and federal funding.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed Democrats would take up the issue if they won back the House in the 2018 midterms. Democrats now hold a 36-seat majority in the chambers.

Staver warned the LGBTQ-inclusive Lynching Act is a sign of things to come.

“The old saying is once that camel gets the nose in the tent, you can’t stop them from coming the rest of the way in,” he said. “And this would be the first time that you would have in federal law mentioning gender identity and sexual orientation as part of this anti-lynching bill.”

The right-wing activist claimed Liberty Counsel—which famously represented the once-jailed Rowan County clerk in court—was already lobbying House lawmakers to remove the language on LGBTQ identity.

The Orlando, Florida-based firm has a noted track record of anti-LGBTQ advocacy.

Following her brief five-day incarceration, Liberty Counsel took Davis on a nine-day trip to Romania to lobby against same-sex marriage. As sources told INTO at the time, she was “presented like a martyr” during the speaking tour.

Despite Liberty Counsel’s efforts, a referendum to ban marriage equality in Romania failed due to low voter turnout.

Liberty Counsel has also pushed for the introduction of anti-trans “bathroom bills” across the U.S. and is behind lawsuits challenging Planet Fitness’ inclusive locker room policy. They have also opposed local ordinances banning conversion therapy.

As Colorado Swears in America’s First Gay Governor, Denver Bans Conversion Therapy

As Colorado becomes the first state to swear in an openly gay man as governor, Denver also made history this week. The Mile High City became the first municipality in the state to ban anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy.

On Monday, Denver’s City Council unanimously voted to outlaw orientation change efforts from being performed on minors under the age of 18 years old. The city defines conversion therapy as “based on the false claim that being LGBTQ is a mental illness that needs to be cured.”

According to government leaders, the ordinance is “aimed at state-licensed therapists, operating their practice in the city.”

While no known practitioners of conversion therapy are operating within Denver city limits, supporters of the measure believe it’s preemptive. Conversion therapy has been deemed as “ineffective” and “harmful” by every leading U.S. medical and child care group, including Voice for Adoption and the National Association of Social Workers.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock called the ordinance’s passage a “very proud moment for our administration, for members of City Council, and for everyone in Denver who values inclusion and acceptance.”

“Tonight’s vote to ban conversion therapy [is] our city coming together and saying with one voice that we will never allow our LGBTQ youth to be the targets of these dubious practices, and that we are here to support them,” the 49-year-old Democrat claimed in a press release.

“Who they are is something to be celebrated, not maligned, and Denver will always be there to lift up our youth and ensure that they have the opportunity to grow up safe, happy, and healthy,” he added.

Hancock submitted the proposal to a city council committee in December.

At the time, the Denver mayor called reparative therapy efforts “dangerous and immoral,” claiming that his government was “going to make sure that they never happen within [the] city.”

At the time of writing, conversion therapy remains legal at the statewide level in Colorado. Just 14 states (and D.C) have outlawed it. While local municipalities in Florida, New York, and Ohio have taken action to prohibit the practice in their communities, no other cities or counties have done the same in The Centennial State.

Statewide legislation banning “gay cure” treatments has failed in the Colorado Assembly at least four times, facing opposition from conservative lawmakers.

LGBTQ advocates, however, believe 2019 could be different. Control of the State Senate flipped to Democrats in the 2018 midterms, giving them a slim three-vote majority in the upper chambers of the legislature. Democrats currently hold 19 seats, while Republicans boast just 16.

Should a conversion therapy bill head to his desk, Colorado’s new openly LGBTQ governor, Jared Polis, is all but guaranteed to sign it.

The 43-year-old Democrat was sworn in on Tuesday after handily defeating challenger Walker Stapleton by double-digits in the 2018 election. During his inauguration ceremony, Polis said his victory showed “anything is possible in our great state and in our great country.”

Just one other LGBTQ candidate has been elected to a governorship in the U.S.: bisexual Kate Brown, who is currently serving as governor of Oregon.

This Man Sued Mutual of Omaha for Denying Him Insurance Because He Takes Truvada — and Won

What if your insurance denied you coverage because you responsibly took a drug to prevent you from getting HIV? Unfortunately, this is an all-too common practice, but a legal victory today could make it a thing of the past.

A settlement was reached today in the Massachusetts lawsuit Doe v. Mutual of Omaha which challenged an insurance company’s policy on denying applicants’ various forms of coverage for taking Truvada, a medication taken for HIV prevention.

The lawsuit, which GLAD (GLBTQ Advocates and Defenders) filed against Mutual of Omaha, has resulted in the insurance company revising their underwriting guidelines that previously dictated that applicants who take Truvada, a pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV commonly known as PrEP, were automatically declined for long-term care insurance. Long-term care insurance generally covers things like home care, assisted living, adult daycare, respite care, hospice care, or nursing homes; types of care that aren’t always covered by health insurance or Medicare.

As a result of the outcome of the suit, the plaintiff in the case, known only as John Doe, will receive the long-term care policy he applied for.

“We are pleased that Mutual no longer declines insurance coverage based on the use of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, and we call upon other providers of life, disability, and long-term care insurance to do the same,” said Bennett Klein, AIDS Law Project Director for GLAD, in a press release Tuesday. Klein also represented Doe in the lawsuit.

Mutual of Omaha told INTO on Tuesday that it is revising their underwriting guidelines and that they were no longer “[declining] long-term care insurance applications solely on the basis that an applicant takes Truvada as PrEP for HIV prevention.”

Truvada, which was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012, reduces the risk of users contracting HIV by more than 90 percent, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The health protection agency openly sanctioned the use of PrEP for reducing risk of contracting HIV in 2014.

The CDC also reported that 90,000 PrEP prescriptions were filled in 2018, with a total of 1.1 million Americans at risk for HIV nationwide.

Generally, the Affordable Care Act bars discrimination against applicants on the basis of their sexual orientation for health insurance, but allows states to determine applicant eligibility for other types of insurance, such as life insurance or disability insurance.

Unfortunately, Mutual is hardly the first insurance company to reject applicants for taking PrEP. In February 2018, the New York Times reported on a similar circumstance in which Dr. Philip J. Cheng, an openly gay Massachusetts doctor, was only offered coverage for five years on a disability insurance plan because of his PrEP use.

The article also highlighted how insurance applicants who take PrEP are indirectly penalized for taking a preventative medication by insurance companies, while those who do not are much more likely to receive coverage.

“I was really shocked,” Dr. Cheng told NYT at the time. “PrEP is the responsible thing to do. It’s the closest thing we have to an HIV vaccine.”

Following the NYT report, New York state financial regulators stated publicly that they would investigate reports of gay men who had been denied various forms of insurance, including disability and long-term care, because of taking PrEP.

“Denying insurance to people who take steps to prevent HIV makes no sense, undermines public health, and contributes to HIV stigma,” said Gabriel Arkles, senior staff attorney at the ACLU, in an email to INTO Tuesday. “We are pleased that Mutual of Omaha will no longer discriminate against people who take advantage of this form of preventive medicine.”

Donald Trump, Jr. Shares Meme Mocking Trans People on Instagram

Transphobia is the Trump family business these days, if an Instagram post from Donald Jr. is any indication.

On Sunday, the eldest son of President Donald Trump shared a meme mocking trans and non-binary people. In the photo, an individual walks down the street dressed in futuristic attire: space boots, a fur coat, and blue hair reminiscent of The Fifth Element.

The unidentified person is also holding a Louis Vuitton purse.

Meanwhile, a sign in the background reminds Virginia voters to cast a ballot in the midterm elections on Nov. 6. Reading “Blue Wave 2018,” it calls out candidates Tim Kaine and Don Beyer by name.

Given the juxtaposition of Democratic candidates and the individual’s colorfully avant-garde appearance, the photo apes the popular meme, “This Is the Future Liberals Want,” in which a Muslim woman sits on the New York City subway next to a drag queen.

This time around, the caption takes aim at the #NotMyPresident hashtag: “No, no, don’t tell me. Let me guess… Trump is not your president?”

Trump Jr. piled onto the mockery. “I’ll take that bet all day long,” he wrote.

The feedback on Instagram was largely negative. While a typical post on his account attracts 1,000 or 2,000 comments, there are more than 6,900 responses.

Choice comments include: “Not my president either, and that’s a totally fab ensemble,” “Keep this same energy in prison, kiddo,” and “I hope your children grow up to be gay and trans and a drag queen.”

The First Son, however, lashed out at followers who claimed the post was reflective of animus toward the queer and trans community. Responding to a comment asking if Trump Jr. is “against LGBTQ people,” he claimed, “Not at all, and you can find plenty of evidence against that.”

INTO took Trump Jr. at his word, and the results were a mixed bag—to say the least.

The 41-year-old has come out in favor of same-sex marriage in the past, telling comedy podcast The Six Pack in 2012 that he’s “totally for” allowing all couples to wed. “If I have to suffer through marriage, why shouldn’t they?” he asked.

In the next breath, however, Trump Jr. said he “wished every guy was gay” while growing up “because it just meant more women for [him].”

If that didn’t make one question the sincerity of his pro-LGBTQ stance, Trump Jr. has done little to voice support for the community since his father’s inauguration. Instead, he mocked queer and trans students who protested the opening of a Chick-fil-A at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, calling them “triggered.”

Luckily these students won’t likely have to tackle issues more stressful than a yummy chicken sandwich in their lives,” he tweeted in April 2017.

Trump Jr. also lashed out at Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon on Twitter last year after the openly gay athlete called attention to Vice President Mike Pence’s anti-LGBTQ history. Those bullet points include signing a religious freedom bill and contributing to an HIV/AIDS outbreak as governor of Indiana.

Meanwhile, Trump Jr. has yet to break from his father’s administration on any key LGBTQ issues—whether trans inclusion in the military or discrimination against queer and transgender employees in the workplace.

Fittingly for someone with such a mixed record on equality, Trump Jr. failed to see what was “homophobic about [his social media] post.”

The First Family member counts 1.5 million followers on Instagram.

Header image via Getty

Gay L.A. Confronts Racism In New Death at Democratic Donor’s Home

Neighbors have been calling the police for years, they said.

On Monday night, they stood on their front steps as a throng of community activists demanded justice for a second Black man who died in the West Hollywood apartment of gay Democratic donor Ed Buck.

“We’re not okay with it,” Beatriz Albuquerque, a resident of Buck’s building for four years, told INTO. “We told the cops everything we knew, but nothing was enough.”

Buck, who has filled the campaign coffers of local and national Democratic politicians, has long faced accusations of drugging young Black sex workers. In 2017, 26-year-old Gemmel Moore died in his apartment on North Laurel Avenue of an apparent methamphetamine overdose.

On Monday, the eve of what would have been Moore’s 28th birthday, West Hollywood Station deputies responded to a report of a person not breathing at Buck’s apartment at 1:05 a.m, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

“Los Angeles County Fire responded to the location and pronounced a male adult deceased,” the department said in a statement.

The official cause of death remains undetermined.

Community activists say the deceased is in his 50s, but police have not confirmed an age.

Buck’s attorney Seymour Amster claimed to INTO over the phone that Buck did not have a sexual relationship with the man but that the two were friends of 25 years. Amster maintained his client’s innocence.

“The individual did have issues… would use controlled substances at times,” Amster said. “Ed tried to counsel him out of it, tried to help him, and on this occasion, the individual came over and obviously having already ingested something improper. The events happened from there.”

But several neighbors say they have repeatedly called police to report a string of young, drugged Black men coming and going from Buck’s apartment.

Two weeks ago, Celina Salazar found a man outside her building on the 1200 block of Laurel Avenue who appeared heavily drugged, she said. She called the building manager who said the man was looking for Buck. Police had already been called, the manager said.

“Why is he still here?” asked Salazar. “I know that my neighbors have been quite active in asking the sheriff, ‘What is your role here? What is going on?’”

Salazar, a Mexican-American lesbian who has lived in the building for four years, says she wants to know who the police are protecting.

That was the question on many minds Monday night as dozens of reporters crowded onto the lawn in front of Buck’s apartment.

The failure of city officials to arrest Buck illustrates for many the racism that remains deeply entrenched in Los Angeles and its LGBTQ community in particular.

“I couldn’t have one dead body in my house and not be detained, not go down to the station, not go to jail,” said Jasmyne Cannyck, a communications strategist who has worked with Moore’s family. “This man has had two dead bodies in the house, and he’s still in his house.”

Cannyck recounted that several young Black sex workers had stepped forward and reported that Buck met them online or the street and lured them to his apartment and then drugged them.

Buck, a white gay man, has enjoyed the company of some of the country’s most prominent Democratic politicians. He has funneled hundreds of thousands into state and national campaigns, and his Facebook page features photos with Hillary Clinton and former Governor Jerry Brown.

Protesters pressed elected officials to publicly denounce Buck and speak Gemmel Moore’s name aloud.

In a tense standoff, Cannyk questioned West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tempore John D’Amico about what became of a contribution he accepted from Buck five years ago. D’Amico said he didn’t want to give the money back to someone who would spend it on drugs.

But D’Amico joined protesters as they chanted up toward Buck’s lit-up apartment windows, “Arrest him now!”

Photos via Kate Sosin

Wisconsin Gov. Signs Order Protecting LGBTQ Workers From Discrimination Hours After Taking Office

Just hours after taking office, Wisconsin’s new governor signed an executive order protecting LGBTQ state employees from discrimination.

After defeating Republican Scott Walker in a closely-watched race, Tony Evers was inaugurated as the 46th governor of Wisconsin on Monday. During his swearing-in ceremony, the Democrat urged government leaders to “transcend divisiveness” and “governing by retribution,” a swipe at his predecessor’s much-publicized “war on labor.”

Evers’ pledge to turn the page certainly got off to a good start. The 67-year-old signed an order that prevents government workers from being fired or denied employment based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The order calls for “the state to put standard terms in contracts saying that the recipient can only hire on the basis of merit,” the Associated Press reports.

Wisconsin is one of 30 states lacking inclusive statewide laws banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace. Although the state was the first in the nation to pass legislation prohibiting bias in housing and employment on the basis of sexual orientation, it has yet to update that bill to include gender identity.

Republicans control both chambers of Wisconsin’s bicameral legislature, making the passage of trans-inclusive provisions a difficult task.

Despite the conservative roadblock, the governor reportedly intends to push the issue further. According to the Associated Press, his administration intends to “create a model anti-discrimination policy” for other states, cities, and municipalities to implement.

Five cities and Milwaukee County have already passed local nondiscrimination ordinances protecting their trans citizens from discrimination.

Advocacy groups lauded Evers for taking steps to protect LGBTQ people on his very first day in office. Fair Wisconsin Director Megin McDonnell said in a statement the order “modernizes our state’s internal policies to make sure Wisconsin government employees are judged solely on their job performance, not who they are or who they love.”

“Discrimination in any form is wrong,” said Human Rights Campaign Wisconsin State Director Wendy Strout in a statement, adding that Evers “continues to demonstrate that he will fight day in and day out [for] fairness, justice and equality.”

Freedom for All Americans noted that Evers is actually the fourth governor to sign an antidiscrimination pledge in three weeks—two of whom were Republicans. These included Outgoing Governors John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Snyder of Michigan, as well as Michigan’s new Democrat governor, Gretchen Whitmer.

“The momentum for LGBTQ nondiscrimination is undeniable,” its CEO, Masen Davis, concluded.

“Discrimination can and does impact so many LGBTQ people every day,” he continued. “We’re not wasting any time moving the ball forward in 2019—we believe that these executive orders from governors of both parties demonstrate the urgent need to pass enduring and comprehensive protections through state legislatures.”

This issue could soon be headed for the federal legislature, as well.

Incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi pledged Democrats would push for the Equality Act if the party retook the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms. Following the election, Democrats now hold a 36-seat advantage.

If passed, the Equality Act would prohibit anti-LGBTQ bias in all walks of life—including federal funding, education, credit, public accommodations, and jury selection.

It’s unlikely, however, to survive the Senate, where Republicans retain the majority.

Michigan Governor Issues LGBTQ Non-Discrimination Order First Week on Job

After less than a week on the job, Michigan’s new governor has signed a directive that bars LGBTQ discrimination in state employment and services.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was sworn in on Jan. 1, said the executive directive is necessary to attract new businesses and a talented workforce.

“By strengthening non-discrimination protections in state government employment, contracting, and services, we will make Michigan a model of equal opportunity and build a more welcoming and inclusive state that works for everyone,” Whitmer said in a statement.

Whitmer signed the order at LGBTQ community center Affirmations in Ferndale while surrounded by community advocates.

The new rules bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in state employment, contracts and services. It requires every state agency to designate an equity and inclusion officer, tasked with educating employees, taking complaints and reporting to the governor’s office.

Equality Michigan Interim Executive Director Erin Knott said the directive represents a big step in a state that lacks nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

“Governor Whitmer has gone way further than any prior Michigan Administration in ensuring these protections apply to everyone without a carveout or exemption of any kind,” Knott told INTO.  “This is part of a national trend that is guaranteeing as many LGBT people are protected as possible.”

The state’s new attorney general, Dana Nessel, who is the country’s second out LGBTQ person to hold that position, applauded the directive, noting it was “personal” for her. 

“I am grateful that [Gretchen Whitmer] has made anti-discrimination one of her top priorities in her first days in office,” she tweeted.  “I am hopeful that soon our state laws will also reflect the paradigm of equal protection under the law for all Michiganders.”

LGBTQ advocates and Whitmer concede that the directive is a far cry from the statewide protections needed. Knott hopes the directive will create momentum for amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act in the legislature this year.

“Over 40 municipalities have nondiscrimination ordinances on their books,” said Knott. “But that patchwork framework that we have in Michigan does not protect everybody, and we have several communities where there are no protections in place, leaving folks to be vulnerable.”

Image via Getty

NASA, Rice University Uninvite Anti-LGBTQ Russian Leader After Backlash

NASA has “indefinitely postponed” a scheduled appearance from a Russian leader following controversy over his anti-LGBTQ views.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s former deputy prime minister, was set to visit NASA’s Houston facility in early 2019 at the behest of its Trump-appointed head, Jim Bridenstine. Bridenstine lifted current sanctions on Rogozin to allow the meeting. The leader was barred from the U.S. in 2014 following his involvement in the annexation of Crimea.

Adding fuel to the fire were the myriad attacks on LGBTQ people during Rogozin’s long career in public life.

When Madonna spoke out against Russia’s prohibition of Pride events during a 2012 concert in St. Petersburg, Rogozin called the singer a “whore.” He has also claimed that LGBTQ identity is only a matter of Pride for those who have “nothing else to be proud of.”

After Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2014, Rogozin warned Russians that it was a sign of things to come should the country embrace the Western ideals of the European Union.

“[His win] showed supporters of European integration their European future: a bearded girl,” he tweeted.

Initially, NASA spokeswoman Megan Powers defended Rogozin’s visit as a continuation of the long history of cooperation between the U.S. and  Russian space programs. Since 2018, the 55-year-old has served as head of Roscosmo, which oversees the nation’s aeronautics division.

“NASA has historically invited the head of the Russian space agency to visit the United States,” she said in a statement first shared with Politico.

“Following this precedent, and Administrator Bridenstine’s October visit to Russia to participate in crew launch activities to the International Space Station,” Powers continued, “NASA invited the Director-General of Roscosmos to visit NASA facilities in the United States and discuss our ongoing space-related cooperation.”

But after NASA announced the event had been pulled from its calendar, Powers claimed it was being indefinitely postponed. “A new date has not been identified,” she said.

Bridenstine confirmed the invite had been “rescinded.”

“We had heard from numerous senators suggesting that this was not a good idea,” he told the Washington Post, adding that he “wanted to be accommodating to the interests of the senators.”

The government’s space program is just the second entity to rescind Rogozin’s invitation following the backlash to his visit. Despite reports the Russian national would be speaking at Rice University, Bridenstine’s alma mater alleged no such event would be taking place.

The Houston college has “no plans” to bring him to campus, Rice spokesman Doug Miller told the Houston Chronicle.

Bridenstine has yet to comment on that announcement.

GLAAD celebrated victory on Monday after loudly calling on NASA and Rice to reject Rogozin’s virulently homophobic record. In a statement, President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis claimed these entities “did the right thing by standing up to the anti-LGBTQ activism that’s become a hallmark of the Trump administration.”

“Dmitry Rogozin’s anti-LGBTQ animus has no place visiting the United States,” she said, “and it’s reassuring that fair-minded people put marginalized communities and their safety ahead of the Trump Administration’s toxic political agenda.”

As INTO previously noted, the controversy isn’t surprising given that Bridenstine’s views on LGBTQ people don’t differ greatly from Rogozin’s.

The 43-year-old has referred to the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on marriage equality as a “disappointment.” Bridenstine added that allowing same-sex couples to wed is “contrary to millennia of human experience.”

The Trump appointee is also opposed to LGBTQ inclusion in the Boy Scouts and affirming bathroom access for trans students in schools.

Bridenstine is also a climate change denier.

Image via Getty

New York City and California Start Issuing Non-Binary Identity Documents This Week

California has begun issuing state IDs and driver’s licenses that allow for a third gender option, the same week that New York City began allowing gender-neutral birth certificates. Both mark major triumphs for residents who identify as non-binary, as well as for the transgender community at large.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) added the option of an “X” gender marker for those who do not identify on the traditional gender binary as male (“M”) or female (“F”). The policy went into effect Wednesday in accordance with SB 179, also known as the Gender Recognition Act, which sanctions residents to self-identify their gender. The law was officially signed by exiting Governor Jerry Brown on October 15, 2017.

In a similar fashion, both NYC-based parents, and non-binary or genderqueer adults born in the city, can also choose an “X” gender marker when updating or issuing birth certificates. These changes come only months after Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bill into law in October, all in an effort to “[further] the city’s commitment to defending the rights of our LGBTQ community,” as he said at the time. New York City’s new policy replaces a previous one that required transgender people to supply a doctor’s letter in order to change the sex on a birth certificate.

While California might be the latest state to offer a non-binary marker on IDs and driver’s licenses, it isn’t the first. Colorado officially began rolling out “X” gender markers last November, while Arkansas started issuing them without fanfare in 2010. Maine, Oregon, and Minnesota also offer third gender options, as does Washington, D.C.

In addition to New York City, California, Oregon and Washington also allow for a non-binary gender option on birth certificates, with New Jersey slated to join them with similar legislation that goes into effect on February 1.

“Transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers deserve the right to choose how they identify and to live with respect and dignity,” de Blasio asserted this week in a statement to the press. “This bold new policy advances the fight for equality and makes our city fairer for all people.”

Even though the U.S. government does not recognize the existence of genderqueer people on a federal level, legislation like California’s SB 179 and New York City’s latest gender-neutral provision has shed a light on non-binary visibility and representation to some in a way that never before seemed possible.

“Having a vital document like a driver’s license that correctly reflects your gender is such a basic, yet crucial component to living your everyday life,” Daniel Ramos, Executive Director for LGBTQ advocacy organization One Colorado, told INTO in November. “Yet, non-binary Coloradans would have to choose between a ‘M’ or ‘F’ designation that may not match their gender identity. This has opened up non-binary individuals to being forced to explain their gender identity when it’s nobody’s business but their own.”

More importantly, California’s SB 179 bases gender on self-attestation, as opposed to verification by a medical professional––meaning that the accuracy of each individual’s gender identity is determined by that individual. The law also makes it easier for trans and non-binary people to change their gender markers on other legal documents, such as––you guessed it––birth certificates.

Legal precedents set by laws like SB 179 serve for some as a beacon in the midst of the current White House administration, which has made notable, concerted efforts to limit the definitions of gender to a traditional, non-inclusive binary. In October, a New York Times article reported an alleged attempt by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue a memo relegating gender to be determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable”––i.e., limited to genitalia.

The issuance of a third gender option for California state IDs and NYC birth certificates also coincides with a federal appeals court ruling to uphold President Donald Trump’s 2017 ban on transgender personnel from serving in the military, despite three preliminary injunctions still in effect from courts in California, Maryland, and Washington.

Despite the Trump administration’s push-backs against the trans community, many are still celebrating what they consider an important step in non-binary visibility, even if they view it on a smaller, more personal scale.

“[Having an ‘X’ gender marker on my ID will] be a big step for me because I’ll be proud and happy to have an ID that reflects my identity,” said Dominique Dickey, a 19-year-old Los Angeles-based student who identifies as genderqueer, in an interview with INTO. Dickey, who uses they/them pronouns, said that gender markers might not carry as much weight as their ID photo, age, or name, but to them, that’s not the point.

“The ‘X’ gender marker means that I can do something tangible to honor the identity that I’m growing into,” said Dickey.

Judge Tosses Out Christian Lawsuit Against Events Where Drag Queens Read to Kids

Reading is fundamental. And according to one Texas judge, it’s constitutionally protected.

On Thursday, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas tossed out a lawsuit against “Drag Queen Storytime” events hosted by Houston Public Library. Founded in San Francisco, the popular events feature drag performers reading to books to children between the ages of 18 months and 10 years old.

Plaintiffs argued the gatherings contravened library patrons’ freedom of religion. Their complaint states that Drag Queen Storytime is “brainwashing the children of Houston” by promoting secular humanism.

In an 18-page opinion, Rosenthal found the argument didn’t meet the legal standing for a violation of the Establishment Clause. “Because the plaintiffs do not allege facts that do or could show that the event is a religious activity, there is no issue of establishment of religion,” she wrote.

Rosenthal also noted that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate harms arising from the events because they did not attend them.

“The plaintiffs assert the very opposite: they purposefully avoided ‘Drag Queen Storytime’ because of its alleged immorality and potential to harm their children. Instead of witnessing the event, the plaintiffs ‘researched [it] online,’” she claimed.

Complainants plan to appeal the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tex Christopher, who has also protested Houston’s nondiscrimination ordinance and inclusive bathrooms at Target, told the Houston Chronicle that plaintiffs are “excited” about the outcome of the ruling because it “speeds things along.”

“We knew that she wasn’t going to give it a fair shake because this whole case is all entwined with her,” Christopher said.

The four Christian activists behind the lawsuit believe that Rosenthal was unable to be impartial because her mother worked for the library. Others attached to the suit include Calvin Miller, founder of 1 Team 1 Fight Ministries, and Chris Sevier, a member of Special Forces for Liberty.

Special Forces for Liberty has filed lawsuits against drag queen events in several other municipalities in conjunction with Warriors for Christ, a West-Virginia based ministry.

The groups have been involved in numerous other lawsuits related to LGBTQ rights.

Sevier filed suit against several states charging that if same-sex couples are permitted to marry, he should be allowed to marry his laptop. Meanwhile, Warriors for Christ founder Pastor Rich Penkoski petitioned West Virginia to prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriages.

The cases have been less than successful.

In fact, another case to which Sevier is attached faced similar setbacks this week. He petitioned to halt Drag Queen Storytime from being held in Lafayette, La. On Friday, the Lafayette Public Library announced it would allow the events to continue at its branches as litigation makes its way through the courts.

Prior to the decision, patrons hoping to reserve a room for special events at Lafayette libraries had to sign a form saying they would not be participating in Drag Queen Storytime in any way.

The ACLU of Louisiana, which sued to allow the gatherings to continue, celebrated the victory in a statement.

“The library’s unjust and discriminatory ban targeted LGBTQ Louisianans and violated our clients’ First Amendment rights,” claimed Legal Director Katie Schwartzmann. “This is welcome news for our clients and everyone in Lafayette who will once again be able to use library facilities without being unfairly interrogated or censored by library officials.”

The civil rights organization said it would keep fighting to ensure Drag Queen Storytime can organize peacefully.

“Over the past few months, we’ve seen the LGBTQ community in Lafayette come together to speak out against this discriminatory mandate and rally behind the values we share,” added Executive Director Alanah Odoms Hebert.

Image via Facebook