His husband died months after they were able to marry. He’s still fighting for Social Security benefits.

Before their wedding day, Michael Ely and James Taylor hardly ever held hands in public.

When they first started living together, more than four decades earlier and only two years after the Stonewall uprising, it was dangerous to be an openly gay couple. Homosexuality was still considered a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association.Social Security Benefits

But surrounded by close friends on that day in November 2014, two weeks after Arizona began legally recognizing same-sex marriages, Ely and Taylor walked out of the Pima County courthouse holding hands as a married couple.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how that felt,” Ely said. “After that we started holding hands everywhere we went.”

Seven months later, Taylor died of liver cancer, and Ely was left mourning the loss of his partner of 43 years, a skilled guitarist who he always called “Spider.” Because Taylor, a structural mechanic for aerospace company Bombardier, was the main breadwinner for the couple, Ely was also left without an income.

And now, more than three years after his partner’s death, Ely still has not qualified for Social Security survivor’s benefits. The Social Security Administration requires that a couple be married for at least nine months before a spouse’s death for a widow to collect survivor’s benefits. Because Ely was only married to Taylor for seven months before he died, he is not eligible.

Last week, Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ legal advocacy organization, filed a lawsuit against the Social Security Administration on behalf of Ely, arguing that excluding surviving same-sex spouses from Social Security benefits based on the nine-month requirement violates their equal protection and due process rights under the Constitution.

“By denying same-sex couples an important benefit associated with marriage, that they paid for with their own taxes, the federal government is replicating the same harms of marriage inequality,” said Peter Renn, a lawyer with Lambda Legal. “They’re basically putting same-sex surviving spouses to an impossible test that they can’t meet.”

A spokesman with the Social Security Administration said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Ely is one of several same-sex surviving spouses across the country who have been denied social security benefits based on the nine-month requirement, Renn said. He could not estimate how many such cases exist, but said his office has received numerous calls from people in similar situations. He also anticipates more cases could emerge soon, now that spouses like Ely have exhausted all of their administrative options, appealing their cases through the Social Security Administration.

“People like Michael have been basically in administrative purgatory for a number of years,” Renn said.

Lambda Legal has also joined a lawsuit in New Mexico on behalf of Anthony Gonzales, whose husband Mark Johnson, a fifth-grade teacher, died of cancer in February 2014. Gonzales and Johnson were in a relationship for almost 16 years, and they got married on the first day they were legally allowed to do so in New Mexico — Aug. 27, 2013. But because their marriage lasted less than nine months, Gonzales has not been able to qualify for Social Security survivor’s benefits.

by Samantha Schmidt, Washingtonpost.com, November 28, 2018

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Taiwan voters reject same-sex marriage

Taiwan voters rejected same-sex marriage in a referendum Saturday, dealing a blow to the LGBT community and allies who hoped the island would become the first place in Asia to allow same-sex unions.

In Taiwan, three referendum questions initiated by groups that opposed marriage equality passed, while those put forth by same-sex marriage advocates did not.Taiwan
 
For instance, the majority vote was yes on a question that asked, “Do you agree that Civil Code regulations should restrict marriage to being between a man and a woman?”
Voters, meanwhile, rejected a question put forth by LGBT activists that asked if civil code marriage regulations “should be used to guarantee the rights of same-sex couples to get married.”
Amnesty International Taiwan’s Acting Director Annie Huang called the result “a bitter blow and a step backwards for human rights” on the island.
 
“However, despite this setback, we remain confident that love and equality will ultimately prevail,”Huang said in a statement. “The result must not be used as an excuse to further undermine the rights of LGBTI people. The Taiwanese government needs to step up and take all necessary measures to deliver equality and dignity for all, regardless of who people love.”
 
By Hira Humayun and Susannah Cullinane, CNN.com, November 25. 2018
 
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Chinese Scientist Claims to Use Crispr to Make First Genetically Edited Babies

The researcher, He Jiankui, offered no evidence or data to back up his assertions. If true, some fear Crispr could open the door to “designer babies.”

Ever since scientists created the powerful gene editing technique Crispr, they have braced apprehensively for the day when it would be used to create a genetically altered human being. Many nations banned such work, fearing it could be misused to alter everything from eye color to I.Q.Crispr

Now, the moment they feared may have come. On Monday, a scientist in China announced that he had created the world’s first genetically edited babies, twin girls who were born this month.

The researcher, He Jiankui, said that he had altered a gene in the embryos, before having them implanted in the mother’s womb, with the goal of making the babies resistant to infection with H.I.V. He has not published the research in any journal and did not share any evidence or data that definitively proved he had done it.

But his previous work is known to many experts in the field, who said — many with alarm — that it was entirely possible he had.

“It’s scary,” said Dr. Alexander Marson, a gene editing expert at the University of California in San Francisco.

While the United States and many other countries have made it illegal to deliberately alter the genes of human embryos, it is not against the law to do so in China, but the practice is opposed by many researchers there. A group of 122 Chinese scientists issued a statement calling Dr. He’s actions “crazy” and his claims “a huge blow to the global reputation and development of Chinese science.”

If human embryos can be routinely edited, many scientists, ethicists and policymakers fear a slippery slope to a future in which babies are genetically engineered for traits — like athletic or intellectual prowess — that have nothing to do with preventing devastating medical conditions.

While those possibilities might seem far in the future, a different concern is urgent and immediate: safety. The methods used for gene editing can inadvertently alter other genes in unpredictable ways. Dr. He said that did not happen in this case, but it is a worry that looms over the field.

Dr. He made his announcement on the eve of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, saying that he had recruited several couples in which the man had H.I.V. and then used in vitro fertilization to create human embryos that were resistant to the virus that causes AIDS. He said he did it by directing Crispr-Cas9 to deliberately disable a gene, known as CCR₅, that is used to make a protein H.I.V. needs to enter cells.

By Gina Kolata, Sui-Lee Wee and Pam Belluck, NYTimes.com – November 26, 2018

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Dutch Clinics to Start Offering Surrogacy to Gay Couples

Gay couples who want to have a child through a surrogate mother can do so at Dutch clinics from next year, according to a survey by television program De Monitor. Until now that has been impossible in the Netherlands due to strict regulations, newspaper AD reports.

At least two Dutch clinics will start offering surrogacy to gay couples next year – MC Kinderwens in Leiderdorp and Nij Geertgen clinic in Elsendorp. In Leiderdorp the surrogate mother must also donate the egg. In Elsendorp the surrogate and egg donor may be different people. 

“I think it’s too crazy for words that gay couples, but also women with oncological complaints for example, have to go abroad to fulfill their desire to have children”, Nij Geertgen director Marc Scheijven said to De Monitor. “While we have all medical and technical experience in house.”

By Janene Pieters on November 13, 2018 nltimes.nl

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Can a Fired Transgender Worker Sue for Job Discrimination?

In 2013, a funeral director who had been known as Anthony Stephens wrote to colleagues at a Michigan funeral home, asking for patience and support.

“What I must tell you is very difficult for me and is taking all the courage I can muster,” the letter said. “I have felt imprisoned in a body that does not match my mind, and this has caused me great despair and loneliness.”

“I will return to work as my true self, Aimee Australia Stephens, in appropriate business attire,” she wrote. “I hope we can continue my work at R. G. and G. R. Harris Funeral Homes doing what I always have, which is my best!”

Ms. Stephens had worked there for six years. Her colleagues testified that she was able and compassionate.

“He was a very good embalmer,” one said. “He was very, very thorough. Had obviously had a lot of practice prior to coming to the Harris Funeral Home. Families seemed very pleased with his work. He did a good job.”

Two weeks after receiving the letter, though, the home’s owner, Thomas Rost, fired Ms. Stephens. Asked for the “specific reason that you terminated Stephens,” Mr. Rost said: “Well, because he was no longer going to represent himself as a man. He wanted to dress as a woman.”

Mr. Rost also said he did not want to address Ms. Stephens as Aimee. “I’m uncomfortable with the name,” Mr. Rost said, “because he’s a man.”

The case went to court, and Ms. Stephens won in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati. Discrimination against transgender people, the court ruled, was barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex.

“It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex,” the court said. “Discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex.”

by Adam Liptak, NYTimes.com, November 12, 2018

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In Scottish schools, students will be required to learn about LGBTI history

Just 18 years ago, it was still illegal in Scotland to “intentionally promote homosexuality” in schools.

Now, the Scottish government will mandate all state schools introduce a curriculum that explains the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activism. Schools will also educate students on the use of LGBTI terminology and discuss ways to address homophobia.Scottish

“Our education system must support everyone to reach their full potential,” Scottish Deputy First Minister John Swinney said Thursday. “The recommendations I have accepted will not only improve the learning experience of our LGBTI young people, they will also support all learners to celebrate their differences, promote understanding and encourage inclusion.”

The move came after a campaign called Time for Inclusive Education presented a series of suggestions to the Scottish government. According to a 2016 research report on the Scottish LGBTI community published by the group, “90% of LGBT people have experienced homophobia, biphobia or transphobia at school.” The same research found that 27 percent of LGBTI people had attempted suicide — some more than once.

Scottish ministers adopted all of the recommendations from the campaign’s working group. The Guardian reported there will not be options to opt out of the curriculum, which will be interspersed throughout various subjects.

Swinney said this makes Scotland “the first country in the world to have LGBTI-inclusive education embedded within the curriculum.”

In recent years, Scotland has reckoned with its legacy of discrimination against the LGBTI community.

In a unanimous vote in June, Scottish lawmakers chose to pardon men who were previously charged with participating in homosexual acts. The BBC reported at the time that sexual relations between two men was decriminalized in Scotland in 1981. Some of the acts that were previously considered illegal and for which gay men are now being pardoned included consensual sex in private, or even acts such as kissing in public. In some cases, men perceived as flirting with another man could also have been charged.

Thousands of men were to be pardoned after the law was passed in June. But when it comes to the LGBTI community, there are still divisions within Scottish society, especially among religious leaders.

Washington Post, by Siobhan O’Grady – Nomvemb er 9, 2018

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A Democratic House, Nation’s First Gay Governor

Control of Congress now split; LGBTQ community makes impressive strides

On a night when the Democratic Party achieved a net gain of somewhere between 30 and 35 seats in the US House of Representatives, wresting control from the Republicans and finally putting some check on President Donald Trump, the LGBTQ community enjoyed key victories, including the election of the nation’s first out gay governor and the defeat of an anti-transgender ballot initiative in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts referendum resulted from the efforts of anti-trans activists to repeal a 2016 law that guaranteed equal access to public accommodations regardless of gender identity. A yes vote upheld that law and garnered roughly 70 percent of the vote, after a hard-fought campaign.

In a written statement, Carol Rose, the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts said voters “reaffirmed our Commonwealth as a place that fiercely defends our basic values of dignity and respect for everyone. At a time when transgender rights are being threatened nationally, we absolutely must preserve the rights we have secured at the state level.”

In Colorado, Jared Polis, an out gay Democrat elected to Congress in 2008, was elected governor with a margin of about seven percentage points. Polis succeeds two-term Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper.

“Every Coloradan wants good schools, healthy communities, and more opportunity for the next generation,” Polis said in a written statement. “So the time is now to unite in our common purpose, rooted in our shared love for our home of Colorado, and move forward together, confident that what makes us unique isn’t just the boldness of our ideas — it’s the resilience and the spirit of Coloradans, who make change happen, who bring these bold ideas to life.”

In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown, an out bisexual Democrat who took office in 2015 after her predecessor resigned and won a special election the following year, held on to her office, with a five percent margin over her Republican opponent.

In Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, an out bisexual member of Congress first elected in 2012, trails her Republican opponent, Martha McSally, who was elected to the House two years later, by about 16,000 votes. According to CBS News, however, there are more than one million early ballot votes that have not yet been tallied, so it will be at least several days until that race is called.

The Democrats’ sweep of the House saw the election of at least four new LGBTQ representatives: Christopher Pappas, who will be New Hampshire’s first LGBTQ member of Congress; Angie Craig, Minnesota’s first out lesbian or gay person elected to the House after defeating Jason Lewis, an outspokenly anti-gay Republican representing suburban Minneapolis; Katie Hill, who defeated anti-gay California Republican Steve Knight; and Sharice Davids, who will be Kansas’ first out lesbian or gay member of Congress and the first Native American woman to serve there. (Gina Ortiz Jones trails Texas Republican incumbent Will Hurd by about 1,200 votes in unofficial returns, but that race has not yet been called.)

Gay City News, by Paul Schindler, November 8, 2018

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