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For LGBTQ community, 2017 was a mixed bag

by John Paul Brammer and Brooke Sopelsa /
Image: Sea of Hearts event in support of Marriage Equality outside Parliament House in Canberra
Marriage equality advocate Russell Nankervis poses for a photograph with a rainbow flag during the 'Sea of Hearts' event supporting Marriage Equality outside Parliament House in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia, 08 August 2017.LUKAS COCH / EPA

From the historical political wins of transgender people in the U.S. to the reported anti-gay purge in Chechnya, 2017 has produced a series of dizzying highs and lows for the global lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.

While there’s not enough space in one article to list all the year’s noteworthy LGBTQ news, here’s a roundup of some of the year’s biggest stories.

HISTORIC POLITICAL WINS

From Virginia’s House of Delegates to Seattle’s Office of the Mayor, LGBTQ Americans scored historic victories across the U.S. this year.

The year’s most notable win is perhaps that of Virginia’s Danica Roem, whose victory over 11-term Republican incumbent Bob Marshall will make her the first openly transgender person to be seated in a U.S. state legislature when she takes office in January.

Image: Danica Roem
Danica Roem, who ran for house of delegates against GOP incumbent Robert Marshall, is greeted by supporters as she prepares to give her victory speech.The Washington Post / Getty Images

Roem is one of nine openly transgender people who were elected to public office in 2017. The number of trans elected officials across the U.S. will more than double once they all officially take office.

"We saw a significant increase this year in transgender people both running for office and winning their elections," Logan S. Casey, a Harvard researcher who has been tracking transgender candidates across the U.S., told NBC News. "Many people across the country were motivated by the political climate itself to become more politically involved, and this includes transgender people."

Former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, a Democrat, became the first lesbian mayor of Seattle and the liberal city’s first female mayor since the 1920s. And she wasn’t the only lesbian to make history in November: In the deep red state of Oklahoma, Democrat Allison Ikley-Freeman won her state senate race and became the first openly LGBTQ person ever elected in conservative Tulsa County.

With the November election of a transgender lesbian and a bisexual woman to the Palm Springs City Council, the California municipality became the first place in America to be represented by an all-LGBTQ city council. The five council members now represent every letter in the acronym.

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

Six governments around the world legalized same-sex marriage in 2017 — Slovenia, Germany, Malta, Taiwan, Austria and Australia.

Image: Marriage Equality Rally in Melbourne
Supporters join in the Marriage Equality Rally in Melbourne, Australia, on August 26, 2017.David Crosling / EPA

In Australia, a nationwide postal survey found the majority of Australians were in favor of gay marriage, and legislation to legalize it was introduced shortly after. The country’s unusual survey approach, however, garnered heated debate and international attention ahead of eventual legalization.

Germany’s process was much more muted. Lawmakers approved same-sex marriage in a landmark vote in June, bringing the country in line with many of its European neighbors. While Chancellor Angela Merkel allowed members of her party to vote their conscience instead of the party line, she voted against the bill.

MEDIA REPRESENTATION

While lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people remain underrepresented in media, according toLGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD, 2017 produced a number of noteworthy highlights involving LGBTQ characters and storylines.

"Moonlight" poster.
"Moonlight" poster.A24

“This year we celebrated standout moments in film including ‘Moonlight’s’ historic Oscar win for Best Picture as well as television victories such as actress and writer Lena Waithe’s Emmy award as well as popular children’s program ‘Doc McStuffins’ featuring a family with two moms,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis told NBC News.

“But LGBTQ characters in Hollywood still lack diversity, with people of color and transgender people grossly underrepresented,” she added.

While “Moonlight,” a coming-of-age story about a gay black man, made history by becoming the first LGBTQ film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, other LGBTQ stories have received mainstream recognition, too.

“San Junipero,” a “Black Mirror” episode that featured a same-sex courtship, brought home Emmys for Outstanding Made-for-TV Movie and Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special.

“Battle of the Sexes,” a film based on lesbian tennis player Billie Jean King, hit theaters in September and was recently nominated for two Golden Globes. Emma Stone was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for playing King, and Steve Carell was nominated for Best Actor in the same category for playing King’s rival, Bobby Riggs.

“Call Me By Your Name,” a coming-of-age film featuring a same-sex relationship, was met with critical acclaim after it came out in November. It was recently nominated for three Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture, Drama.

NBC brought back “Will and Grace” this year as well, heralding the return of a show that featured openly gay characters all the way back in 1998.

TRANSGENDER RIGHTS

From the bathroom to the battlefield, 2017 has seen a series of attempts to roll back transgender rights.

In February, just one month after President Trump took office, his administration formally rescinded Obama-era guidance that permitted transgender students in public schools to use bathrooms and other facilities that correspond with their gender identity.

In a series of unexpected early morning tweets in July, President Trump attempted to reverse U.S. policy by announcing the military would “not accept or allow” transgender people to serve “in any capacity.” The tweets left the nation in shock and thousands of currently serving transgender people in the dark. The social media posts also set off months of lawsuits and court cases, but after four federal judges blocked Trump’s attempted ban, trans people are expected to be able to enlist in the military starting Jan. 1.

In October, the Department of Justice (DOJ), led by Trump appointee Jeff Sessions, released a memo asserting that federal civil rights law does not protect transgender people from discrimination at work. The memo refers specifically to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex. The memo directly contradicts a 2014 memo issued by former Attorney General Eric Holder, which made explicit the DOJ's position that Title VII does protect trans employees.

ANTI-LGBTQ VIOLENCE

The number of hate crimes committed in the U.S. rose 5 percent in 2016, compared to the year before, according to data gathered from local law enforcement agencies by the FBI. The data, which was released in November, found an increase in hate crimes against the LGBTQ community in 2016 compared to the previous year. Of the 7,615 known hate crime victims, 1,255 of them were targeted due to sexual-orientation bias, accounting for nearly one in six hate crime victims. The number of victims targeted due anti-transgender bias also increased — from 76 in 2015 to 111 in 2016.

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a national LGBTQ advocacy group, at least 28 transgender people have been fatally shot or killed by other violent means in 2017. This number is up from 23 in 2016, HRC noted.

“While the details of these cases differ, it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities, barriers that make them vulnerable,” HRC stated in its report.

INTERNATIONAL CRACKDOWNS

On the global front, we saw an “assault on human rights” in 2017, according to Jessica Stern, executive director of international LGBTQ advocacy group OutRight Action International. “For every step forward, we struggled not to take a step back,” Stern told NBC News.

Violent crackdowns on LGBTQ people in Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Egypt and the Russian region of Chechnya have harrowed the international community.

Kidnapping, torture and murder of suspected gay men are among the allegations levied against the semi-autonomous region of Chechnya. As many as 20 men are believed to be dead as a result of the anti-gay police sweeps, though only three deaths have been verified by human rights groups. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has denied the allegations, claiming, “We don’t have any gays” in Chechnya.

Fifty to 100 LGBTQ people were reportedly arrested in the ex-Soviet country of Azerbaijan in September after raids on bars and private homes, according to activists and local media reports. Azerbaijani officials denied allegations of an anti-gay crackdown and said the raids were part of a campaign to stop prostitution, but activists charge that police specifically targeted gay men and transgender women in Baku, the Eurasian nation’s capital.

The Central Asian country of Tajikistan announced in October it has compiled a list naming 367 suspected gay citizens to test them for sexually transmitted diseases. An official journal published by the country's Prosecutor-General’s Office said prosecutors and police identified the 319 men and 48 women through operations called “Purge” and “Morality.”

From the public caning of two men for having gay sex in the conservative province of Aceh to the detention of 51 men at a “gay spa” in the capital city of Jakarta, anti-gay sentiment has been growing in Indonesia this year. A state university in the country even reportedly tried to weed out LGBTQ applicants.

“The road ahead is one of struggle,” Stern said. “But the LGBTIQ community is resilient, and we will prevail.”

THE COURTS

President Donald Trump has made considerable progress in reshaping the federal courts. After inheriting 120 federal judicial vacancies, Trump has made 59 appointments to fill the seats, and the Senate has so far approved of 18 of them.

LGBTQ advocates have raised concerns over his appointees. Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ civil rights group, said roughly one third of Trump’s judicial picks have anti-LGBTQ records.

“This burden will be hitting the people who need the protection of the courts the most,” Sharon McGowan, director of strategy at Lambda Legal told NBC News. “As unpopular as this president is, he has the opportunity to install over 100 federal judges who will serve the rest of their lives.”

Image: Trump shakes hands with Neil Gorsuch after announcing him as his Supreme Court nominee
File photo: President Donald Trump shakes hands with Neil Gorsuch, federal judge serving on the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals, after announcing Gorsuch as his nominee for the Supreme Court in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Jan. 31, 2017. Michael Reynolds / EPA file

Trump’s highest judicial appointee, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, will be helping to decide a landmark case involving gay rights in 2018: Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In December, the high court heard oral arguments in the case, which involves a Christian baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The case will be decided by late June and, according to legal experts, could have “tremendous implications” for the LGBTQ community.

The U.S. Department of Justice, led by Trump appointee Jeff Sessions, submitted an amicus brief in support of the baker, arguing, “Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights."

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