IOWA CAUCUSES -- GOP FRONTRUNNERS ATTACK LGBT EQUALITY IN FINAL PUSH: Whichever GOP candidate emerges as the winner of tonight’s Iowa caucuses, it spells danger for LGBT equality. In the final days leading up to the Iowa caucuses, the GOP frontrunners launched fresh attacks on LGBT people in a last-ditch effort to score conservative cred.  Yesterday, the thrice-married Donald Trump threatened marriage rights for LGBT couples, pledging to appoint justices who would reverse last June’s Supreme Court decision. Meanwhile, at a Sunday Cruz campaign rally, LGBT couples’ marriages were disparaged as “evil” -- a characterization that neither the Rubio or Trump campaigns refuted when given the opportunity on CNN. And in Cedar Rapids, Rubio -- who has previously committed to appointing justices to overturn Obergefell -- also doubled down on his pledge to repeal President Obama’s executive orders, including an order protecting LGBT workers. But Trump, Cruz and Rubio aren’t the only GOP presidential candidates attacking the rights of loving and committed same-sex couples: eight candidates -- Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee -- have all pledged their support for the discriminatory First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) -- or similar legislation -- that would create broad loopholes and put LGBT Americans at risk for discrimination in their daily lives.

MORE THAN 150 ANTI-LGBT BILLS INTRODUCED ACROSS 30 STATES: At the start of the fifth week of the 2016 legislative session, 37 state legislatures are currently in session with four more set to begin this week: Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon and Connecticut. Already, HRC is tracking more than 150 anti-LGBT bills in 30 states. From Virginia to South Dakota, mean-spirited bills attacking LGBT people are popping up at an alarming rate -- but nowhere is this more true than Oklahoma, which continues to lead the way with 26 anti-LGBT bills HRC has dubbed the “Slate of Hate.” These anti-LGBT bills range from a proposed Joint House Resolution that would put the right to discriminate on the ballot; an extremely dangerous pro-“conversion therapy” bill; and numerous pieces of legislation attempting to undermine marriage equality. One outrageous bill – Senate Bill 733 – even goes so far as to invade the privacy of all Oklahomans seeking marriage licenses by requiring them to be tested for communicable and infectious diseases – and unconscionably denying them a license if they test proves positive. Get more state by state info here.

IN HISTORIC FIRST, HHS SAYS GENDER AFFIRMATION SURGERY MUST BE PROVIDED TO TRANS WOMAN UNDER MEDICARE: For the first time in history, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has found that a private insurer that provides coverage through a Medicare Advantage program must cover a transgender person’s gender affirmation surgery. The decision came following a suit filed by Charlene Lauderdale, a transgender Air Force veteran covered by United Healthcare through Medicare Advantage. In May 2014, HHS lifted a ban on transition-related coverage, but was not specific on how that decision would apply to gender confirmation surgery. HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow called it “a tremendously important step towards helping ensure that transgender people who rely on Medicare are no longer denied access to the basic, yet crucial, medical care they need.”

DNC NAMES NEW CO-CHAIRS OF LGBT ADVISORY BOARD: The Democratic National Committee has appointed openly gay former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and prominent HIV & AIDS activist Rev. José M. Román as the new co-chairs of its LGBT Advisory Board, which was launched last December. According to the Washington Blade, “Through the advisory board, the DNC said it intends to disseminate information to LGBT people across the country, who in turn can provide the DNC information on issues that matter to them.” Congratulations to Mayor Parker and Rev. Román on their appointments. Applications to the board are still being accepted.

STATE SNAPSHOT

INDIANAPOLIS STAR EDITORIAL BOARD: “IT’S NOT COMPLICATED — PASS LGBT RIGHTS”: Detailing the deeply flawed non-discrimination bill passed through committee last week, the editorial board of the Indianapolis Star describes how lawmakers have made an attempt to pass urgently needed LGBT non-discrimination protections much more complicated than it should be. The legislation would unacceptably exclude any and all protections for transgender Hoosiers, includes dangerous anti-LGBT religious refusal language, would undermine existing protections for race and religion, and would remove the authority of municipalities to pass any new, fully inclusive LGBT non-discrimination protections at the local level. More here: http://indy.st/20BVkPg

JACKSONVILLE MAYOR BANS DISCRIMINATION IN CITY HIRING: After holding three community discussions on LGBT non-discrimination protections late last year, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced plans to ban discrimination in city hiring and by city contractors, so that practices will comply with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s ​(EEOC) ​guidance regarding anti-discrimination policies. ​Given the EEOC's position that gender identity and sexual orientation are included under Title VII, we expect the Mayor's directive would therefore provide employment protections to LGBT city employees as well. There are currently two non-discrimination bills proposed in Jacksonville and they will be heard by the entire city council in three hour-long public hearings starting this week. The bill proposed by Council Member Tommy Hazouri would add LGBT protections in housing, employment and public accommodations to the city’s Human Rights Ordinance (HRO), while Councilmember Bill Gulliford’s bill proposes putting such an addition up to a public vote later this year. HRC is a leading member of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality which commended Republican Mayor Curry for taking a significant step forward regarding city employees.  JCE also expressed its support for the bill introduced by Council Member Hazouri. That bill currently has three co-sponsors -- Democrat Tommy Hazouri and Republican Council Members Aaron Bowman and Jim Love.

WEST VIRGINIA BUSINESS GROUPS SPEAK OUT AGAINST ARIZONA-STYLE RELIGIOUS REFUSAL BILL: The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports on growing opposition to HB 4012, which bears a striking similarity to a bill vetoed by Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer in 2014. The bill would allow any person to claim their religious beliefs excuse them from following any state or local law. Not only could the bill allow businesses to refuse service to LGBT people, the broadly-written bill would go even further, putting all minority communities at risk for discrimination. “Generation West Virginia, a statewide group that works to improve opportunities for young people, and the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce are opposed to the bill. They released statements about the economic impact the potential legislation could cause.” More here: bit.ly/20j2o6u

ADVOCATES FIGHT OUTRAGEOUS UTAH ANTI-LGBT ADOPTION LEGISLATION: Proposed legislation in Utah that would require judges to favor non-LGBT couples over LGBT couples in adoptions and foster care placements made by the state is clearly unconstitutional, says Troy Williams, Director of Equality Utah, along with other LGBT advocates. “Gay parents have equal protection now under the law,” Williams said. “Any effort by (Republican) Rep. (Kraig) Powell to roll back the rights and liberties of LGBT Utahns will be met with fierce resistance from our community.” A Utah judge last fall created a firestorm when he ordered a foster child taken from a lesbian couple in favor of placement with a non-LGBT couple; he eventually reversed his decision and relinquished the case. The Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision last year ensured that LGBT couples not only have a right to marriage, but also the same rights and benefits that flow to married non-LGBT couples. More here: nyti.ms/1QSYLhL

CHARLOTTE, NC TO HOLD FORUM ON LGBT PROTECTIONS TODAY: Today, newly-elected Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts is set to host a forum on LGBT non-discrimination protections with the Charlotte Community Relations Committee and the Community Building Initiative. The purpose of the event is to convene a space for a public conversation about a possible ordinance, and explore a path forward that ensures all residents and visitors are welcome. As efforts mount to finally pass these critical protections for the LGBT community in Charlotte, the TurnOUT Charlotte coalition, which successfully helped elect a pro-equality city council, plans to announce its re-launch at a press conference later today. A partnership between Equality North Carolina, MeckPAC and HRC, the TurnOUT! Charlotte coalition was formed after an effort to pass a non-discrimination ordinance in Charlotte failed in March of last year. Charlotte is currently one of the largest cities in the country that does not explicitly protect the LGBT community from discrimination. The City Council is expected to discuss the ordinance at a meeting on February 22. More here: bit.ly/1QRPlDh

MONTANA’S REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR GOV. SAYS HE’S FOR LGBT PROTECTIONS... BUT NOT REALLY: In an interview with the Billings Gazette editorial board on Friday, Republican candidate for governor Greg Gianforte “clarified” his stance on nondiscrimination ordinances, saying that he’s in support of protections for workers but not consumers citing concerns regarding “regulation burdens” and “freedom of religion.” This news comes following Montana Governor Steve Bullock signing of a historic executive order that will prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for state employees, as well as state contractors and subcontractors, just last month. In 2014, Gianforte opposed an NDO in Bozeman, which was eventually passed, making it one of the four cities in Montana which has a non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT residents and visitors from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. ICYMI, check out Buzzfeed’s Dominic Holden’s profile of Gianforte long record of opposing LGBT equality.

PALM BAY, FL CITY COUNCIL CONSIDERING LGBT-INCLUSIVE NDO: The City Council of Palm Bay, Florida is set to vote on a human rights ordinance that would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBT people in housing, public accommodations and employment. Councilmembers opposing the ordinance are already using the all too familiar anti-transgender rhetoric and so-called “religious freedom” arguments. The ordinance, which was originally supposed to be debated on January 19, will be heard this Thursday. More here: on.flatoday.com/1m7ItVm

PRO-LGBT BILLS PASS VIRGINIA’S STATE SENATE, ANTI-LGBT BILL SENT BACK FOR REVIEW: Last week Friday, two bills that would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in public employment and housing cleared the Virginia State Senate. Additionally, legislation that had been dubbed the “Kim Davis Bill” by Democrats, as it was initially intended to allow court clerks with religious or moral objections to marriage equality to send same-sex couples to the DMV instead, was sent back to Senate Courts of Justice Committee for further review. Due to the broad language in the bill, there are concerns that it grants cover for clerks with any sort of objections to a marriage, including an interracial one for example. If by some chance the bill does make it out of committee again and passes a Senate vote, Governor McAuliffe has already promised to veto the measure. More on that here: wapo.st/1UBJTn8

ANOTHER NEW JERSEY SCHOOL DISTRICT CONSIDERING INCLUSIVE TRANSGENDER STUDENT POLICY: Following the lead of other New Jersey school districts like those in Cherry Hill and Princeton, NJ.com reports that the Board of Education for West Windsor-Plainsboro School District has voted to adopt a policy that is more welcoming to transgender students. Under the policy, the student and their parents would meet with the Superintendent to discuss gender pronouns and use of bathroom facilities, which will be handled on a case by case basis. A second vote on the policy is expected during the Board’s next meeting. More here: bit.ly/1Q5FzIO

AROUND THE WORLD

ITALIAN WEDDING SOUP: Over the last week, tens of thousands of demonstrators, both for and against proposed civil unions and adoption legislation, have rallied in hundreds of cities across Italy. Italy is the only Western European nation that has not yet embraced marriage or civil unions, with corresponding rights to adopt. A vote is expected tomorrow.

INCREASE IN SUPPORT FOR SAME-SEX MARRIAGE AMONG ANGLICANS: A new poll of YouGov has found a large increase in the number of Anglicans who support same-sex marriage. Today, 45 percent of those polled were in support of marriage equality, versus 37 percent who were against it; three years ago, 38 percent were in support of marriage equality and 47 percent who were against it.  The leadership of the Anglican Church is against same-sex marriage. At a meeting last month, it stripped the American branch, the Episcopal Church, of all voting and decision-making power within the larger church for three years over its pro-equality stance on same-sex marriage. In July 2015, The Episcopal Church voted to allow its clergy to perform same-sex marriages, showing support for its LGBT church members. More here: bbc.in/201W0LH

RIGHT TO REGISTER IN BOTSWANA: The LeGaBiBo courtroom battle, which has been going on since 2012 continues unabated. LeGaBiBo, the preeminent LGBT group in Botswana, is fighting for government registration, in a battle that has seen twists and turns throughout. Though the court ruled in their favor, a series of government appeals have turned this into a complex legal drama. A final ruling is expected in the coming month, and activists are confident that yet again the court will rule in their favor and put the matter to rest. More here: bit.ly/1Sxl3p7

READING RAINBOW

The Idaho Statesman breaks down an ongoing battle in the Idaho State Legislature regarding taxes and same-sex marriage... Slate takes a look at how Planned Parenthood is helping transgender patients access hormone therapy… Fusion addresses the need to curb the epidemic of violence against trans women...  The Nation assesses the need to look at the intersection of LGBT identity and poverty... HRC mourns the death of Monica Loera, the first known transgender victim of homicide in the U.S. this year…. Reuters gives a breakdown of all the anti-LGBT legislation that has been introduced in Oklahoma…. The International Business Times reports on the first church in the United Kingdom to offer transgender baptisms… ABC News highlights how the FAA is making it easier for transgender pilots to get certified…. KSTP covers a pilot program launched in Minneapolis and St. Paul to combat LGBTQ youth homelessness… The Advocate takes a deep dive into the tragic spike suicides of young gay Mormons…. AL.com advises on the upcoming #RuralPride summit in Huntsville, Alabama…. and The Guardian reports on vigils being held in India ahead of a court ruling on an anti-LGBT law.

Have news? Send us your news and tips at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to subscribe to A.M. Equality, and follow @HRC for all the latest news. Thanks for reading!


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