Masterpiece Cakeshop Plaintiffs Finally Make Their Case In Front Of The Supreme Court

If the story about the baker who wouldn’t make a gay wedding cake sounds like old news, that’s because it is.

It’s been five years since Colorado baker Jack Phillips refused to make a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins.

But the case that started as a test over anti-discrimination law during uncertain times for marriage equality in the U.S. now has far-reaching consequences for LGBTQ people as the Supreme Court weighed the issue Tuesday.

At stake is whether businesses can use religion to turn away LGBTQ customers.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, expected to cast the deciding vote, appeared undecided Tuesday.

“It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs,” he said in a statement.

Still Kennedy, who ruled in favor of equal marriage in 2015, noted that if Phillips wins, other bakers might post signs reading, “We do not bake cakes for gay weddings.”

The case dates back to 2012 when Craig and Mullins approached Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cake Shop, about making a cake for their wedding celebration. Phillips declined, citing his Christian faith.

Craig and Mullins filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and won. The Colorado Court of Appeals upheld that decision.

Mullins and Craig are not alone. A spate of cases against other wedding vendors refusing to serve LGBTQ clients have cropped up in recent years across the country, playing out in lower courts.

The Trump administration has thrown its weight behind the Baker, filing a friend-of-the-court brief in September.

The case has hinged on whether or not Phillips’ cakes constitute art that should be protected as free speech.

LGBTQ advocates worry that allowing Phillips to turn away potential clients like Craig and Mullins would open the floodgates for other businesses turning away protected groups under the cover of faith.

“Think about what that would be like to walk into a hairdresser or a tailor shop or a florist or a bakery and be told we don’t serve your kind here,” says Sasha Buchert, Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal. “It harkens back to our worst moments in history when we denied service to African Americans.”

Roberta Kaplan, the attorney who overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, said that a win for Baker would send the country back in time.

“The Masterpiece Cakeshop case is not about either religious liberty or free speechit is about whether a business can treat certain groups of Americans as second-class citizens,” Kaplan said in a statement to INTO. “…A bakery is not exercising its right to free speech when it agrees to sell a cake to one set of customers, but refuses to sell the same cake to others.”

Phillips argues that as a “cake artist,” he cannot be compelled to make custom cakes for same-sex weddings.

Phillips did not respond to a request to comment through his attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom. But the ADF writes in a statement that, “Creative professionals should be free to create expression consistent with their faith and conscience without fear of government punishment.”

But justices appeared more concerned with whether the baker’s reasons for refusal, noting that if he had refused due to the message the on the cake might not be discrimination. On the hand, if Phillips refused solely on the basis of the identity of the clients, he may have violated the law.

Mullins and Craig note that the case extends beyond them just them.

“Through this whole process we have heard so many stories of people who have been discriminated against,” Craig says.

“Should the Supreme Court find against us, the consequences could be far reaching and not just for the LGBT community,” Mullins says. “A loss at the Supreme Court could open the door to many forms of discrimination.”

A decision is expected by summer.


Photos by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Austria Says Marriage Equality Is A ‘Fundamental Right’ in Historic Ruling Legalizing Love

Same-sex couples will finally be able to marry in Austria after the country’s constitutional court ruled on Tuesday that laws prohibiting marriage equality are unconstitutional.

The ruling overturned a 2009 law permitting LGBTQ couples to enter into domestic partnerships but blocked them from receiving the full benefits of marriage. The ban will be lifted on Dec. 31, 2018, allowing same-sex partners to wed as late as 2019. Reports indicate that the European country may move to enact the changes sooner.

Judges ruled the earlier legislation constituted unlawful bias against same-sex couples.

“The distinction between marriage and registered partnership cannot today be maintained without discriminating against same-sex couples,” the court said in its written opinion.

The historic ruling makes Austria the 16th country in Europe to pass marriage equality, bringing the country in line with nations like United Kingdom, France, Ireland, and Belgium. The Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex unions back in 2001.

But what makes Austria unique is that it’s the first country to recognize the freedom to marry as a “fundamental right,” says attorney Helmut Graupner in a Facebook post.

“Today is a truly historic day,” writes Graupner, the lawyer representing the couple who brought the constitutional challenge to the nation’s highest court. “[…] All the other European states with marriage equality introduced it… the political way.”

Austria is the latest country to push for marriage equality this year, following Malta and Germany. Its Western neighbor allowed same-sex couples to tie the knot in October after the Parliament voted 393 to 226 in favor of equality. The push for full marriage rights had stalled for a number of years after Germany enacted civil unions in 2001.

Australia will likely be next after the country voted in favor of same-sex unions in a November plebiscite. Sixty-one percent of voters cast a ballot supporting the right to wed, but that result is non-binding.

The Australian Parliament is currently debating a bill that would make those wishes the law of the land. A decision is expected soon.

But in a curious move, this week’s ruling from the Australian constitutional court will not strike down domestic partnerships. The country has claimed that the option will still be available for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.

Photo by Thomas Niedermueller/Life Ball 2017/Getty Images

This Queer Family Has Been Campaigning For Australian Marriage Equality For 14 Years

When 15-year-old Corin Nichols-Tomlins travels to Canberra this week with his two mums, there’s one member of parliament MP he’s particularly keen to see again: Tim Wilson.

Wilson made headlines this week when he proposed to his boyfriendin a tearful scene as Australia’s lower house prepares to enact marriage equality. He’s the first MP to ever propose in the chamber.

But the tears just outside Wilson’s office a year ago weren’t from his eyes. They were from the rainbow families, who’d traveled there to stop the plebiscite: a non-binding and highly divisive poll on marriage equality that, they warned, would harm families like theirs across Australia.

“Tim Wilson’s reaction was the worst,” Corin tells INTO. “He said he’d still go ahead with the plebiscite even though it goes against what he should believe in. I was pretty outraged. He just said what his party was saying, but I wanted to shout, ‘You’re gay! With a partner of eight years! The plebiscite will hurt so many young people!’ I’m looking forward to talking to him about how, even though the plebiscite went ahead, we still won.”

One of Corin’s two mums, Jac Tomlins, was there a year ago along with 48 others22 same-sex parents and 27 kids aged between eight and 16.

“One girl, Mietta, 16, really took on Tim Wilson,” Tomlins says. “They couldn’t understand, because he’s gay, why he wasn’t on our side. He responded that being part of a team means even if you don’t agree, you support them. Mietta said, ‘I’ve got younger siblings, I’m really worried people at school will say nasty things about their family, please help me protect them.’ Afterwards, we all burst into tears.”

It was part of an emotional day in Canberra.

“I got teary all the time,” Tomlins says. “Sometimes you get trolls saying they’re just kids, you can force them to say anything. But this is genuine. It comes from their soul.”

This week’s trip to the nation’s capital will be extra special for the Nichols-Tomlins family. They’re all going this time: Tomlins, her partner Sarah and their three children: Corin, 15; Scout, 12; and Cully, 10will join other rainbow families ina victory lap as history is made, and closure after a 14-year campaigning journey for this family.

Tomlins and Nichols-Tomlins married in Canada in 2003. Returning home, they took on a court case with Melbourne University Law School to clarify the status of their marriage in Australia but a week before its hearing in 2004, then Prime Minister John Howard passed the Marriage Amendment Act, defining it as a union between a man and woman, nullifying their case. They’ve campaigned for equality ever since.

“Corin was nine months old when we walked down the aisle,” Tomlins says. “Going to Canberra to see the law passed is important because this has been their fight too. They’ve contributed in their own right. I feel we’ve done a good job with our kids to create a sense of worth and value of their families.”

“This has been my entire life,” Nicols adds. “It’s part of my day to day life as much as eating and sleeping. It’s been stressful at timeslike when they first announced there’d be a plebiscite. But the high point was the ‘yes’ resulta very exciting day.”

As they gear up for their family trip to watch legislative history, Tomlin and Nicols reflect on their first trip to Canberra. It was certainly eventful. At one point, they stood and walked out of parliament in protest.

“Prime Minister Turnbull’s claim that Australia would have a respectful debate was dismissive of a question posed by our friend’s son, Eddie, 11, who asked why everyone should have a say on his family,” Tomlins says. “We knew our families would be a focus of the plebiscite. The Right had said so. So Fliss, head of Rainbow Families Victoria, stood up and walked out and we all followed.”

But the trip had a huge impact on Opposition Labor Leader Bill Shorten, who reversed his initial support for the plebiscite after hearing stories from these rainbow families.

“These extraordinarily smart, resilient, articulate young peopleour kidswere able to go down there and have this influence. That’s huge,” Tomlins says. Some of their lines cut through in the news, including Nichols-Tomlins”: “The plebiscite is like funding people to insult us.”

But it wasn’t enough. When the government defiantly pushed through a postal survey, Jac and other mums from the Rainbow Families Network challenged it in the High Court, but their bid failed.

“That was hard and horrible. I had a personal meltdown, as did every resilient advocate I know at some point,” Tomlins says. “I lost the plot, it just all came out. We never thought we’d have to face it. The campaign kicked off so quickly. I thought, I cannot walk down that high street where I’ve lived for 15 years, asking traders like Jim where I get my glasses or my local coffee shop to put ‘Vote yes’ posters up, and have them say no.”

A frienda straight allystepped in to hand out the local posters for Tomlins. But she returned with a warning: “She said, there’s no way you can hand these out, because of the hostility. Someone even threw the posters across the room.”

The campaign was tough. One younger child asked if it was a “no” result, if she’d be removed from her family or if her mums would go to prison. But humor kept this family resilient. Teenager Corin came in on Halloween saying he needed a bible and a badge because he was going trick-or-treating as Lyle Shelton, aleading “no”o campaigner).

Results day was nail-biting; Tomlins “tried to text but my hand was shaking so I couldn’t.” She burst into tears at the 62% “yes” result: “Not tears of joy, tears of release,” she says. “Someone handed me a glass of champagne. I’d had no breakfast. I was pissed as a fart and danced for an hour.”

Corin said it was a “stressful” build up: “I was extremely worried.” At first, he felt “numbness” at the result, but then ecstasy. “Suddenly everyone was hugging, lots of tears, tissues being handed around, confetti everywhere, people dancingespecially Sarah!”

To sit in parliament as same-sex marriage becomes law will be a “remarkable moment but also closure” for Tomlins. “The ‘equality’ has always been the most important part of marriage equality. The getting married part is secondary to the profound message it sends to young people in our community.”

For Corin, there’ll be “many tears of joy after so many years of campaigning. It’ll be finally over!”

If he had one message for Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull, it’d be simple: “I’d have to refrain from swearing,” he said. ” But it’d be what we’ve said all along: children of same-sex families are just the same as any other child raised in heterosexual families.”

“Also, this: you cannot stop love.”

Images courtesy the Tomlins-Nichols Family

Gay Couple in Uzbekistan Arrested, Beaten, and Forced to Undergo Anal Examinations

Two gay men have been arrested and forcibly subjected to anal examinations in Uzbekistan, one of Central Asia’s harshest countries for LGBTQ people.

The detainees are a couple in their 20s, according to a new report from EurasiaNet. Authorities say the men moved into an apartment together in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent after meeting in December, although little is known at the time of writing about the circumstances of their arrest. Reports claim the couple was “engaging in illegal sexual relations.”

The men were reportedly made to undergo inspections to “prove” their homosexuality, a discredited practice that has been likened to sexual assault and torture by LGBTQ advocacy groups.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for a ban on anal examinations.

Uzbekistan is one of three former Soviet nations where same-sex intercourse is a crime. A Communist-era law mandates three years behind bars for men caught engaging in sodomy, although the criminal code isn’t clear on punishments for lesbianism.

The Asian republic has continually resisted pressure from international groups to strike down the law, listed under Article 120 of the criminal code.

Former President Islam Karimov, who ruled from 1991 to his death last year, referred to homosexuality as “disgusting” and a “vile phenomenon of Western culture.” He also suggested that someone would have to be insane to be in a relationship with another member of their same sex.

“If a man lives with a man, or a woman with a woman, I think that something there isn’t quite right, or some change has happened,” Karimov claimed in February 2016.

His replacement, Nigmatilla Yuldashev, has done little to change his predecessor’s tune.

LGBTQ people frequently face harassment, violence, and even death in Uzbekistan, where queer and trans individuals have extremely few rights. The country lacks any non-discrimination protections on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Earlier this year cellphone footage recorded in the southeastern town of Fergana showed four men stripping a man naked and beating him in order to force him to admit to being gay. In the video, the assailants make the unidentified figure sit on a bottle of beer until the container penetrates his anus.

Although life can be easier in the more tolerant cities, it’s extremely bleak in rural areaswhere transgender women and gay men often face honor killings if they are outed.

A gay journalist, Khudoberdy Nurmatov, faced deportation back to Uzbekistan earlier this year from Russian authorities. Nurmatov was reportedly tortured and abused during his detention, but his lawyers argued he would be subjected to worse if the reporter wasn’t granted asylum. They claimed that going back to his home country would be a “death sentence.”

Uzbek officials have yet to comment on reports of this week’s arrests.

header image via Getty

Meet The Faith Leaders Fighting For LGBTQ Rights At SCOTUS

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments from Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Charlie Craig & David Mullins, a case involving the Colorado bakery who refused to provide a wedding cake for a reception claiming religious freedom, on December 5. In a major move of support, the Trump’s administration Department of Justice has sided with Masterpiece Cakeshop filing a brief on behalf of Jack Phillips, the Christian bakera decision the ACLU found “shocking.”

The case is a crucial one for LGBTQ rights, due to a growing number of exclusively evangelical Christian bakers, florists, photographers, and wedding planners that have refused services to same-sex couples claiming their religious beliefs as a defense. But not all people of faith agree that denying LGBTQ people products or services is something that should be defended. Over 1300 progressive faith leaders filed an amicus, or friend-of-the-court brief, arguing in favor of the same-sex couples.

“It is both morally wrong and not constitutionally required to permit blanket discrimination in the public marketplace for goods and services based on the personal religious beliefs of merchants with respect to same-sex couples’ rights and relationships,” the amicus brief states.

Amici believe that, to the contrary, public accommodation laws should be applied on the basis of religiously neutral principles of equal protection under the law.”The amicus brief puts forward two main arguments: LGBTQ people of faith exist and there are religious denominations that are affirming of LGBTQ people. The brief denounces the “false dichotomy” between LGBTQ people and people of faith as well as the notion that all people of faith are anti-LGBTQ: “Any suggestion that ‘religion’ or ‘people of faith’ as a whole reject LGBT equality is false and, frankly, insulting to millions of Americans of faith.”

Notably, the amicus brief provided an interfaith argument.

“As an interfaith organization, we think it’s really important to remind people that the United States is a pluralistic country and that we value religious pluralism,” Marie Alford-Harkey, President and CEOof the Religious Institute, and signer of the amicus brieftold INTO. “What the other side may call religious freedom is actually trampling the religious rights of many people, including Christians, but also including people of other faith traditions. It’s really important for us to lift up the religious values of all kinds of faith traditions that hold up the dignity, worth, and value of LGBTQ people and their place in civil society.”

The beliefs of the signatories expressed views from mainline and Evangelical Protestants, Quakers, Jews of liberal and orthodox backgrounds, Mormons, Muslims, and Catholics. The religious diversity of the amicus brief provides a stark contrast to those in support of the bakery denying cakes to same-sex coupleswhich are predominantly Evangelical Christian.

“As a Muslim, Arab, and American, I believe this case extends far beyond a gross violation of civil liberties,” Iman M. Jodeh, Director and Co-Founder of Meet the Middle East said in a statement. “This opens the door for blatant bigotry and fear mongering toward already marginalized communities. We choose to fight back using the power of love and compassion, two values we can all endorse.”

Over the weekend following the oral arguments, over 100 congregations participated in a weekend of prayer for LGBTQ justice. Some congregations even included eating cake into their weekend of prayer. “Freedom of religion is critical, not just to Methodists, but for all people in this country,” said

Rev. Laura Ann Gilbert Rossbert, a United Methodist pastor based in Denver, CO said in a statement. “But no business has the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people or anyone else because of the owner’s religious beliefs. This weekend of prayer is about praying for and working toward social justice in our communities. That means creating communities where LGBTQ people are treated fairly and their rights are safeguarded.”

During the day of the oral arguments, there will be a strong faith presence in favor of supporting LGBTQ rights. Progressive faith leaders will be present in support of LGBTQ rights not in spite of their faith but because of it.

Why Is Alex Jones So Obsessed With Lesbians?

As a lesbian, I don’t expect straight, white, cis guys to get me or the sapphic set I rep, but it’s still fairly infuriating when they act like they know me/us.

Alex Jones is truly obsessed with mischaracterizing lesbians on his conservative talk show, and this week, the conspiracy theoristwent on a full-on rant about butch lesbians being abusive misogynistic cannibals. The kinds of emphatic claims he spat at his listeners include:

“I’m not blaming all lesbians, but most of these butch lesbians, they want to be the guy smacking the hot chick around. They think that’s manly. A lot of the chicks, they like it. No man will do that to them, and I’m not saying it’s good if a man does that, but some women like it. If they can’t find a man to smack them around, well they found them a girl gonna do it real goodknock them upside their head and have 50 Shades of Grey about the sexy rich guy that’s going to chain you up. Of course, you’re gonna go get chained up one time. They’re gonna put that devil mask or that piggy mask on. They’re gonna say, ‘Now I’m gonna torture you for about six weeks, so start begging for your mommy and your daddy.'”

I’m actually really glad you brought all of this up, Alex Jones. Let me help clarify and correct a few of these misguided ideas you have.

First of all, lesbians were probably the least likely to stan for 50 Shades of Grey because we have way more inspired erotica to invest our time in than some hetero Twilight fan fic that didn’t even have the audacity to cast Kristen Stewart in the movie version. And while many of us do enjoy BDSM, it’s not at all about getting “smacked around” (it’s generally referred to as slapping or spanking, BTW) or some kind of feeling of deserved violence and punishment. There’s a very different motivation for women who enjoy slapping or spanking or generally dominating one another, and it is an intimate act, not one of aggression.

It’s definitely not about one of being “the guy.” Nope, never, not at all. The whole point of sex between women is generally no dudes allowed, so, I guess that’s why Alex Jones is so misinformed. He’s not invited.

Sadly (hilariously?), Alex Jones thinks straight cis men are too sweet and kind to want to engage in anything as uncouth as consensual bondage and submission. They definitely aren’t interested in making women call them Daddy. Meanwhile, straight dudes are out here controlling, creeping on, and full-on assaulting women, abusing the power our patriarchal society affords them when they definitely do not deserve it. (Yeah, yeah, not all men, blah blah blah.)

But back to the lesbiansthe “liberal lesbians” (*raises hand*) that Alex Jones attempts to take to task during several Info Wars episodes as of late.

“They just want to have the guy with the duck’s ass haircut and the James Dean outfit,” Jones says. “They want to be slapping girls around, and statistically it shows it.”

Actually, Alex, here’s what the stats say: 3.6% of lesbian women had experienced intimate partner violence and sexual abuse in their lifetimes and almost a third of them reported have experienced such incidents with one or more male perpetrators. 89.5% of bisexual women reported only male perpetrators of intimate partner physical violence, rape, and/or stalking. So, in all actuality, queer women aren’t the ones you should worry about as a whole.

But let’s say that there are a bunch of lesbians who like getting chained up, wearing masks and getting tortured in dungeons. (Sounds fun!) What they definitely don’t do is some Saw-type shit. But, alas, Alex Jones persists:

“They want to strap you down and take a buzz saw and cut the top of your head off like a pumpkin and pull it off and get a little spoon and go, ‘I’m going to eat your brain now!’” Alex Jones said this on his show. Then he did a (horrific) impression of a brain-eating lesbian saying, “I’m gonna eat your cerebral cortex last! I’ve got power! I love Satan! And I’m gonna suck you dry and I’m going to torture you to death.”

I keep wondering what B-movies he’s seen that have given him this idea, but even the goriest lesbian-tinged zombie flicks are less satanic than Alex Jones’ imaginationand they lack any butches with lesbian triangle haircuts that he seems to think we’re all after. (Not for me, personally, but I’m a sucker for a girl who can pull it off.) We’re way more prone to vampirism than brain eating, TBH, so I think that’s why it’s even more frustrating he can’t get his tropes right.

But, again, he doesn’t even go here.

It was just a few weeks before this tired tirade that Alex Jones, Lesbian Expert, told a story of a lesbian horse trainer who he said was “bossing everyone around” and allegedly hitting on his wife’s 18-year-old niece when they were visiting a horse farm. He demeaned her for “bragging about how she had her son under her control.”

“She was just having kids to have slaves,” he claimed. (Obviously he doesn’t understand how expensive and time-intensive it is for us to get pregnant in the first place and we definitely aren’t in it for the free labor.) He said with disdain that she was “running the women,” to which his guest Gavin McInnes chimed in, “What these butch dykes do is they want to be men, but they end up being a caricature of men. Sort of like a 1950s guy, so they’ll have like a pompadour and sideburns with a little thin moustache and a wife beater, and they’ll come home and go, ‘Hey, where’s my lunch, bitch?’”

First of all, don’t come for Lea DeLaria when she didn’t send for you.

I’m not about to tell you misogynist lesbians don’t exist, but in my experience, they are few and far between and should not be the sole representation for us any more than President Trump is the depiction of manhood.

McInnes, by the way, has his own terrible right-wing show where he once referred to Jada Pinkett Smith as a “monkey actress.” He’s also the co-founder of Proud Boys, which, despite sounding like an all-gay boy band, is actually an alt-right group for men who “refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” So, again, he’s probably friendly with tons of queer women and can properly comment on us in the media.

Thanks to him, though, I can illuminate some hard truths for anyone who might still be under the misconception that lesbianism has anything to do with menacting like one, dressing like one, wishing they could be one. And therein lies the problem for Jones and McInnes and straight guys who just can’t stand that women can exist happily without them. They insert themselves however they can, weighing in with inaccuracies that perpetuate terrible myths that lead to misunderstanding and fear, which then add up to violence and inequality, all because guys like Alex Jones don’t think Ellen DeGeneres deserves Portia de Rossi, who I’m 100 percent certain have, respectively, never asked or been asked “Hey, where’s my lunch, bitch?”

Alex Jones is also transphobic because of course he is, and said the Orlando shootings were brought on by the LGBTQ community themselves, so it’s not like I’m expecting him to suddenly stop being a terrible person who uses sensationalism to bring people to his boring, dumb show. But at the very least, I can help him fact check his “statistics.”

Here’s one I came up with in my research: 100 percent of Alex Joneses are full of shit.

Gay Reporter Speaks Out on White House Christmas Party Snub: The Trump Administration ‘Ignores Me’

When Chris Johnson didn’t get his yearly invite to the White House Christmas Party, he assumed it was a mistake.

Chief political reporter for the Washington Blade, the oldest LGBTQ newspaper in the country, Johnson attends daily press briefings at the White House. He’d been invited to the White House holiday party for the past seven years under the Obama administration. It was during a Thanksgiving dinner with fellow journalists that Johnson learned his fellow colleagues had all received invitesand he hadn’t.

He emailed the next day to correct the apparent mix-up. The White House didn’t respond. Johnson followed up again on Monday and was bounced between spokespeople who eventually stopped answering his messages. When he didn’t hear anything back, he dropped it.

“They never gave me an official explanation as to why I was not invited,” Johnson tells INTO.

The LGBTQ reporter was one of two journalists to be left off the Christmas list this year. April Ryan, one of the few black journalists to sit in daily briefings, was also snubbed by the Trump administration. The D.C. bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks has clashed with Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, asking her whether or not the administration “[believes] slavery was wrong.” (Note: Sanders dodged the question.)

The president famously asked Ryan to set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus in response to a question about his plan to tackle crime in the “inner cities,” one of the president’s favorite subjects. She reminded him that scheduling appointments is not her job.

Ryan tells the Washington Post that she doesn’t believe she was “overlooked” by the White House in not getting invited to the holiday gathering.

“I think they don’t like me,” she says of the slight.

Johnson likewise believes that the cold shoulder from the Oval Office is the result of President Trump’s disdain for the press, as well as his administration’s disregard for LGBTQ rights.

The reporter is the only journalist with a queer media publication to sit in on daily press briefings. He claims that in the past six months, Sanders has only called on him once. After Johnson called out the habitual stiff-arm in an October op-ed, he was finally allowed to ask a question days later.

Sanders hasn’t acknowledged him since.

“I go to the White House Press briefings every day, but the press secretary ignores me,” Johnson says in a phone interview. “She looks my way sometimes, but she won’t call on me for a question. A couple times she’ll look right at me but then her gaze will go somewhere else. So the fact that I didn’t get an invite to the party is consistent with them not engaging me during the White House press briefings.”

He also believes the treatment is “consistent” with the White House’s rollback of protections for queer and transgender people since Trump took office in January. Over the past year, the White House has tried to ban trans troops from serving openly in the military (which was recently blocked by the courts), while chipping away at LGBTQ rights in employment and education.

This week, The Supreme Court is set to hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case in which the Department of Justice has signed onto support the right of businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples.

When the press secretary refuses questions on these issues, Johnson says it’s a way for the White House to dodge responsibility for its actions.

“The fact that we’re being ignored shows the White House doesn’t care to address the policies it’s making that have a lot of undeniably deleterious effects on the LGBTQ community,” he claims. “It makes it harder for the American public to hold the administration accountable for those things.”

But Trump’s hostility is not directed solely at LGBTQ media. Other outlets have refused the White House’s Christmas invitation this year due to the president’s behavior toward the media. The president calls press coverage he doesn’t like “fake news.” He has referred to journalists as “liars” and “sick people,” called the press “the enemy of the American people,” and claimed reporters are “among the worst people I’ve ever met.”

Trump even tweeted a video in July of a pro-wrestler body-slamming a man with a CNN logo photoshopped over his head, which many read as an overt encouragement to physically assault journalists with the network.

Unsurprisingly, CNN claimed in a statement that it does “not feel it is appropriate to celebrate with him as his invited guests.”

Although Johnson considered sitting out this year’s Christmas Party prior to his lack of invitation, he says the annual event holds a symbolic importance. In addition to showing solidarity with fellow members of the press, he believes the tradition is an opportunity to recognize the role journalists play in democracy, as well as serving the public good.

“The White House is the people’s house, no matter who is in it,” Johnson says.

The Oval Office has not responded to comment on Johnson’s snub. After news of the shunning broke this week, Washington Blade editor Kevin Neff called it “deliberate and petty” in an op-ed.

Images via Facebook/Chris Johnson

New York City Bans Conversion Therapy in Historic Move Condemning Anti-LGBTQ Torture

New York City became the latest municipality to ban conversion therapy on Thursday when the City Council voted 43 to 2 against the discredited practice. There was one abstention.

The ordinance, known as Introduction 1650, goes further than other legislation prohibiting conversion therapy. Nine states and the District of Columbia outlaw any attempt to “change” the sexual orientation or gender identity of minors through aversion therapy or shock treatment, which LGBTQ advocates have likened to torture.

But few municipalities have also banned adults from being subjected to conversion therapy. Introduction 1650, sponsored by Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) and Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Queens), does just that.

Mark-Viverito claimed following the ordinance’s passage that the vote was “historic.”

“Conversion therapy is barbaric and inhumane,” the councilwoman said during the Thursday meeting. “We will ensure all individuals will be able to live without fear of coercion to change into someone they’re not.”

“Conversion therapy is a form of psychological torture, pure and simple,” Dromm added, calling it “fraud.” “And so it is fitting that New York City is banning this odious practice.”

LGBTQ advocates applauded the move, especially in a state where many people may not realize conversion therapy even takes place. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo signed an executive order in 2016 preventing insurance companies from providing coverage to conversion therapists, but a wholesale ban of the practice has failed to gain traction.

“Today, New York City took a strong and necessary stand in support of the LGBTQ community,” says Carolyn Reyes, policy counsel for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, in a statement to INTO.

“Often, people are surprised to learn that conversion therapy is still an issue in larger cities across the country,” she continues, “but NCLR recently brought a consumer fraud lawsuit against a therapist engaging in conversion therapy in Berkeley, Calif. It can happen anywhere, and we need every community across the country to stand up against it and protect the health and safety of our community.”

After coming out to his parents at 16, Mathew Shurka was sent to a conversion center in Manhattan, where he would undergo treatment for nine years.

Shurka describes this time in his life as miserable and isolating. He wasn’t allowed to contact his mother or sister for three yearshis therapist worried their presence would make him more effeminateand was prescribed Viagra to help him engage in intercourse with members of the opposite sex. Shurka contemplated taking his own life to end the abuse.

Now 29 years old, Shurka is one of the country’s leading advocates to outlaw conversion therapy. He describes this week’s action as long overdue.

“This is a huge accomplishment today,” he tells INTO. “This is the first amendment to protect the LGBTQ community from conversion therapy on the basis of consumer fraud, ultimately protecting individuals of all ages. It’s the first of its kind in the United States.”

Shurka calls upon the State of New York to take further action.

“The significance today is the willingness of New York city council members to do what Albany was unwilling to,” Shurka says. He adds that state lawmakers “have failed to pass a single LGBTQ bill” since the 2011 legislation legalizing marriage equality in the state. “Our leaders have failed to protect us,” he adds.

New York City is one of several municipalities to ban conversion therapy in 2017, which has been condemned by every leading medical association. States like Nevada, Connecticut, and New Mexico have also blocked the practice this year.

Samuel Brinton, who is behind the 50 Bills, 50 States movement to get every state to bar the anti-LGBTQ treatment, says this victory marks a big step toward reaching that goal.

“The New York City Council should be congratulated for their efforts to ban this fraudulent practice,” he tells INTO in a statement. “We look forward to the State of New York and every other state in the nation doing their part to end conversion therapy’s harm to LGBTQ youth once and for all.”

Brooklyn Stevenson Is Oklahoma’s First Trans Murder Victim in At Least Two Decades

Friends remember Brooklyn Stevenson as “friendly” and “buoyant,” the kind of person who makes a lasting impression.

The 31-year-old trans woman reached out to Paula Schonauer, a trans activist in Oklahoma City, a few years ago when she was employed at a local ice cream shop. Stevenson said she was facing discrimination at her job and wanted to file an EEOC complaint. Her coworkers were misgendering her and calling her transphobic slurs, while bosses were moving her schedule around to get her to quit.

“She was a very sweet, kind personsomeone who was willing to work for her place in the world,” Schonauer tells INTO. “She was always honest and open about who she was.”

The last time that Schonauer spoke with her friend, Stevenson had gotten a job at a beauty supply storea natural fit a person who had an innate eye for fashion and makeup. Schonauer remembers her as someone who was always put together.

Stevenson sounded “happy,” she says.

Her body was discovered at 2:30am on Monday morning after police responded to reports of a disturbance in an Oklahoma City motel room. Although Master Sergeant Gary Knight of the Oklahoma City Police Department couldn’t comment on the specifics of the case, he told the local news station KFOR that the victim’s wounds were “consistent with homicide.”

Stevenson’s family called her an “amazing daughter, sister, and friend” in a statement calling for justice: “We pray that those who committed this heinous crime will be identified.”

Her death marks a dubious distinction: Stevenson is at least the 24th transgender person murdered in the United States this year, making 2017 America’s most violent year for transgender people. (At least one report claims that the number could be as high as 27.)

But advocates say her probable murder is a first for Oklahoma. Toby Jenkins, executive director of Oklahomans for Equality, tells INTO that he can’t recall another transgender Oklahoman being killed in his 22 years of activism locally. Although Schonauer says trans people often experience bigotry and abuse, the murder of a trans individual has yet to be reported in local news.

There are a number of reasons for why that may be.

Stevenson was initially misgendered in police reports, which led to news outlets referring to her by her birth name, not the one that reflected her gender identity. Schonauer says that it was likely the victim “hadn’t had the ability to change her legal name,” meaning that her identification may not have been updated.

“There are a lot of people who lack the resources to fully legally and medically transition,” Schonauer says. “It runs into problems at times like these when a tragedy happens and we’re unable to speak for ourselves.”

Law enforcement officials and local media would update her name and pronouns after members of the LGBTQ community began to tweet about Stevenson being misgendered. Schonauer claims that accountability and accuracy in reporting on the deaths of transgender people is “very meaningful” for the community: “It’s an affirmation of our identities.”

But if the either the victim’s family or LGBTQ activists aren’t able to correct the record, the individual’s identity may never be accurately reflected.

Other trans murders in Oklahoma may have simply been erased.

But if Stevenson’s death is unprecedented in the state, the timing is uncannily relevant: LGBTQ Oklahomans have experienced a deluge of attacks under an administration that has placed queer and trans rights in the crosshairs. LGBTQ centers in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa have been vandalized in 2017, while community members report increased harassment.

Oklahomans for Equality averaged around 120 calls per day prior to the 2016 presidential race, Jenkins says. Members of the local community often call the center for resources or instructions on how to file a discrimination complaint.

But in the weeks leading up to the election, their phone lines were flooded.

“By December 31, we were averaging 300 phone calls per day and had 29 incidents of violence directed at LGBTQ people or very, very hostile discrimination,” Jenkins claims. “That continued to grow to the point that in January and February, we were having trouble following up on all the calls.”

His organization was targeted by a shooter just a month later in a crime that remains unsolved. An assailant fired on the Oklahomans for Equality building in the early hours of March 6, shattering several windows. Thirteen bullets were found.

The devastating attack was the first-ever instance of vandalism in the organization’s 12-year history, but it wasn’t the only altercation that day: A man walked into the center later the same afternoon, screaming anti-LGBTQ obscenities at the front desk staff. Jenkins claims the harasser yelled at employees, “I wish you would all die.”

Things settled down after the incident for several months, Jenkins says. But after President Trump called for a ban on open trans military service, the center began to see an increase in discrimination complaints all over again.

“Hatred and anger leads to violence,” Jenkins says. “That’s why civil society stops it at its source.”

The White House’s assault on LGBTQ rights has been matched in Oklahoma by the state’s legislature. Last year, at least 30 bills were introduced by Republican lawmakers targeting queer and trans people, a record number in the United States. 2017 saw continued debate over a bathroom bill nearly identical to North Carolina’s semi-repealed HB 2, as well as legislation that would nullify any existing LGBTQ protections in the state. Both attempts failed.

Schonauer says that she began to notice a difference in her state as early as 2015, following the defeat of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance. Anti-trans conservatives launched a successful campaign to strike down the LGBTQ-inclusive law, one that falsely branded trans people as “sexual predators” that would target women and children in bathrooms.

Just weeks after the ordinance was voted down, Schonauer was cornered by a group of men at a screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As she was walking out of the bathroom, one of them looked at her and said, “You’re too big to be a woman.”

Schonauer quickly grabbed her wife and walked downstairs, asking to leave as soon as possible. “Let’s go straight to my car and get out of here,” she pleaded.

“That was the first incident that I had experienced in 10 years,” Schonauer says.

Getting justice for Brooklyn Stevenson may prove difficult in a state which won’t recognize her murder as a hate crimes.

Oklahoma is one of 18 states that doesn’t recognize identity-based bias attacks on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Georgia and South Carolina, as well as three other states, don’t have any hate crimes laws at all.

Freedom Oklahoma Executive Director Troy Stevenson (no relation) says local advocates “aren’t sure” if the victim was murdered for being transgender, but given the striking increase in anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, it’s not unlikely. Attacks on transgender people skyrocketed by 43 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Data is not yet available for the past year, but the rise is certain to be even more dramatic.

Local police have not stated whether Stevenson’s death is being investigated as a hate crime.

Local advocates say the response from law enforcement has left something to be desired. The Freedom Oklahoma director claims that it “took a couple days and getting the attention of the community before people started talking about this.”

“We have a great relationship with the local Oklahoma City Police Department and the local FBI office,” Stevenson says. “But there’s levels of bias to this case that may go farther than that. Even with the police being as good on LGBTQ issues as they are, if this was a white woman in the suburbs, you would have found a different reaction.”

The victim was found in northeast Oklahoma City, the most predominantly black area in the state capital.

The advocate claims the police response was the exact opposite of what happened following the attacks on LGBTQ centers earlier this year, as well as the 2016 attack on Pulse nightclub. After 49 people were gunned down at an attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando in June, law enforcement officials helped control traffic for a march in support of victims and their families.

“They were very responsive at that time,” Stevenson says. “We had police escorts coming by our office.”

Schonauer believes that local law enforcement agencies have improved in the past two decades, even if there remains room for improvement. A former officer, she transitioned on the job in 2000, a time when she claims that homophobia was rampant in the department. A number of gay male policemen left their jobs after coming out, whereas her lesbian colleagues largely kept quiet about their sexual orientation, in fear of discrimination.

“There was a time in which it seemed like open season to harass me, and no one would do anything about it,” Schonauer says. “One of the lieutenants said that if I got shot, don’t touch me because I was sure to have HIV. I felt very isolated for such a long time.”

During her 14 years as an out transgender woman on the force, Schonauer claims her coworkers began to come around, inviting her to coffee with them in the morning.

As a former officer, Schonauer believes that police have been “very forthcoming” about Stevenson’s case. She claims that it’s customary for law enforcement not to “release details to the media,” in fear that it will compromise a case.

But the trans advocate says law enforcement officials can do a better job of getting justice for transgender murder victims simply by accurately identifying them in the first place. Police didn’t reach out to Stevenson’s family following her death in order to get correct information to put on the report.

“It’s an invalidation of who she was,” Schonauer says. “In that process, it’s also an invalidation of all of us.”

Stevenson’s mother, Vivian, set up a successful GoFundMe accountto raise money for her daughter’s memorial. The campaign reached its $5,000 goal. Funeral services and solidarity vigils are currently being planned and are set to be announced soon.

A Gay Man Murdered In Australia Gets Some Justice 30 Years After His Death

They could be serving me my morning coffee or pouring my evening beer. One thing we now know: Scott Johnson’s gay-hating killers are likely to still be amongst us in Sydney. Yet still, the Coroner hasn’t recommended re-opening the investigation.

Another thing we now know is that Johnson’s death was not a suicide, as was originally ruled, but an attack motivated by homophobic hate, the findings of a significant Coroner’s report revealed this week.

It has taken almost three decades, two police investigations, three coronial inquests, letters across the ocean from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Kennedy, a national TV drama and well over a million dollars of Scott’s brother’s personal money to come this far.

Justice should not cost this much. If it wasn’t for the dogged lobbying of Steve Johnson, Scott’s brother (both originally from Los Angeles), his death would’ve been dismissed 29 years ago as just another sad case of a gay suicide.

But something didn’t sit right with Steve. He knew how much Scott had to live for and how unlikely he was to take his own life. Scott was a promising mathematician, studying for a PhD (which his supervisor poignantly finished for him). He had a boyfriend of five years and at 27, his whole life ahead of him.

As State Coroner Michael Barnes said this week: “Regrettably, those responsible for the initial investigation quickly jumped to conclusions without thoroughly and impartially examining all the facts.”

The facts are chilling and damning. Scott’s body was found naked at the bottom of a cliff at North Head, near Manly, Sydney. The picture of his clothes folded neatly at the top of the cliff is an eerie final frame of his life, which we now know was cut short by homophobic hate.

The fact that it was a gay hate crime has been teased out in a drip feed of inquests that happened only because of Steve Johnson’s wealth, persistence, influence and intuition about his brother.

The first inquest saw police dismissing the possibility of Scott’s death being linked to his sexuality, even though evidence was heard that the clifftop was a gay beat (cruising ground), which police still didn’t accept. The second inquest not until 2005 included evidence of gay-bashing gangs and murders of gay people on Sydney’s clifftops in the late 1980s. Specifically, the court court heard that a group called the Narrabeen Skinheads bragged about assaulting an “American faggot”.

But it wasn’t until the third inquest that State Coroner Michael Barnes found that Mr. Johnson’s death was the result of a gay hate attack, and that he was either pushed or fell to his death while trying to escape.

The coroner stopped short of recommending a reopening of the case, saying that there were more than “500 suspicious deaths that are awaiting investigation, none of which have received the same scrutiny this case has.” How many of those 500 cases are other gay men, perhaps callously killed by the same homophobic death squad who, for all we know, walk freely amongst us now? NSW Police have stressed the case “remains open” for people to come forward with new evidence. But this isn’t the re-opening of the case, deploying resources to a fresh investigation, that’s clearly required because they bungled it so badly in the first place.

Imagine how many gay men who came from less financially privileged families have been denied justice? Imagine how many families, more trusting and less connected, have grieved over a suicide when really they should’ve been fighting for a perpetrator of a homophobic murder to be brought to justice?

In the case of Johnson, he was able to deploy over $1 million of his own money to hire a private investigator, former Newsweek journalist Daniel Glick, to investigate the case. These resources money, investigators, media should’ve come from the public purse, to protect Sydney’s gay population who were instead hung out to dry, their deaths shamefully portrayed as fetes of their own hand, as opposed to murderous gay bashers.

It is only the second time in Australian history that a third inquest has been ordered in to the death of a single person. The only other is the case of Azaria Chamberlain (“a dingo ate my baby”) as portrayed by Meryl Streep in the film Evil Angels. The unprecedented level of investigation comes from the extraordinary citizen justice a loving, grieving, and well connected brother who said “If I hadn’t conducted my own investigation … all would be quiet. There’d be no memory of this period in Sydney’s history, and families would be still mystified and grieving with no help from the police.”

It has been reported that 88 Sydney deaths dating from the 1970s onward, including 30 unsolved cases, were gay hate crimes. Many cases were marked suicide or cause unknown, but past police conclusions are being called into question. Until this week, Johnson’s death was one of the question marks on that list.

Last year, Australian media outlet SBS’s produced Deep Water, a documentary, podcast, online interactive hub, and a four-part fictional drama inspired by real events. They wanted to attract a national audience to an under-reported story, and to uncover more possible gay hate crimes and murders in Sydney. The producer told Guardian Australia he was inspired by hearing in 2012 about the murder of Ahmed Ghoniem, who was found in Sydney apartment with multiple stab wounds and blunt trauma injuries. His home had been set alight. No one has been charged over the death.

This is still happening, and people are walking free.

How many question marks on that list of 30 unsolved cases could be resolved if NSW police deployed resources to re-open an investigation to find Johnson’s killers? Until they agree, we’ll never know.

This news comes just days before one of the greatest leaps forward in Australia’s history of gay progress: the passing of a law enacting marriage equality, expected next week. It was an option never afforded to Scott Johnson and his partner of five years; a step forward in their relationship forever denied to them.

As the rainbow garland is no doubt triumphantly unfurled next week, that bar I step into for my celebratory drink could employ a barman serving beer who has killed someone for being gay, and got away scott free.

It’s a sobering reminder of how far we’ve come, yet how far there is still to go.

Twitter: @garynunn1

Photos via Justice for Scott Johnson/Facebook