9 LGBTQ Legal Moments That Shaped 2019

The LGBTQ community had some major wins and losses this year, with the biggest ruling still to come.

2019 saw some of the biggest legal advances and setbacks for LGBTQ people in history—from blockbuster Supreme Court cases finally having their day, to favorable findings in smaller but deeply meaningful state cases.

Here are some of the moments that shaped the law in 2019 and will shape the legal landscape for generations to come.

  1. SCOTUS Hears Blockbuster LGBTQ Workplace Discrimination Cases

    Aimee Stephens
    SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

    Time practically stood still for LGBTQ Americans this October as the Supreme Court heard three blockbuster LGBTQ workplace discrimination cases widely considered to be the most substantial for queer people since the court granted marriage equality nationwide in 2015.

    The court could not keep themselves from talking crap, however. While the cases hinge on whether or not sex discrimination law protects LGBTQ people, justices were so fixated on whether or not their ruling would let trans people use bathrooms, they failed to focus on legal arguments. They are expected to rule next year (on sex discrimination, not bathrooms—we hope).

  2. Judge Throws out Trump’s Discriminatory Health Care Rule


    Trump tried so hard to roll back LGBTQ healthcare protections in 2019. In May, the Department of Health and Human Service proposed redefining the Affordable Care Act to gut anti-discrimination protections for trans people.

    The Department was also poised to roll out “conscience protections” that would have let doctors turn away trans people and those with HIV/AIDS. Two judges looked at the new rule and kicked it to the curb. The Trump administration is expected to appeal the rulings.

  3. Trans Military Ban Takes Effect

    trans military ban protest
    Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

    Donald Trump finally succeeded in the largest layoff of transgender people in history with the purging of thousands from military duty after his transgender military ban was finally allowed to go into effect. The ban impacts an estimated 13,700 transgender troops.

  4. Trump’s Dangerous Judicial Confirmations Change the Nation

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    2019 saw a barrage of ultra-conservative anti-LGBTQ judicial nominations from the Trump administration. So many judges were appointed this year that in December, Vox declared Trump has shaped the court in his three years as President Obama did in eight, noting that that impact will be felt for decades to come.

    Notable appointments included Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Lawrence VanDyke, whom the American Bar Association found to be unqualified because he refused to say he would treat LGBTQ people fairly—and then he cried about being called out. Other anti-LGBTQ favorites include Matthew Kacsmaryk, Kenneth Lee, Neomi Rao, Eric Murphy, Allison Rushing, and Chad Readler.

  5. Gay Man Sentenced to Die in Homophobic Trial

    death penalty
    David J Sams/Getty Images

    Charles Rhines was sentenced to die and the Supreme Court declined to hear his case in a deeply sobering turn of events this June. The 61-year-old confessed to killing Donnivan Schaeffer during a South Dakota robbery in 1992. The case took a particularly troubling turn when prosecutors argued that Rhines would enjoy prison because he’s gay. Advocates argue those homophobic arguments have led to the decision to end his life.

  6. State Department for Refuses Recognize Gay Couple’s Daughter as a Citizen

    MoMo Productions

    A gay married couple living in Atlanta sued the State Department in July for refusing to recognize their daughter as a U.S. citizen. James Derek Mize and Jonathan Gregg found that even though they legally married in 2015 and are both U.S. citizens, the law requires them to be biologically related to their daughter, which advocates say directly targets LGBTQ families.

  7. Gay Couple Prevails in Florist Discrimination Case


    After a two year back and forth, the Washington Supreme Court declared case-closed on a highly anticipated discrimination case involving a same same-couple denied wedding flowers. Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed filed suit against Arlene’s Flowers and won. After the Supreme Court refused to hear the flower shop’s appeal and kicked the case back to the lower court, following the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling, the couple won again.

  8. California Barber Ordered to Pay $80,000 to HIV+ Man for Denying Him a Haircut

    The nation saw the costly consequences of discrimination when a California barbershop was hit with an $80,000 fine for refusing to cut the hair a man with HIV. In 2017, Nikko Briteramos went to King of Kuts for a trim and instead wound up with a discrimination lawsuit, which he won in June with the help of Lambda Legal.

  9. Federal Government Has to Issue Nonbinary Passports

    Greg Blomberg / EyeEm

    2019 was notably not the year that nonbinary passports made their way into the hands of travelers, but legal advancements have set the stage for just that going into next year. In February, a judge denied a State Department request to stay his order denying nonbinary intersex person Dana Zzyym a gender-neutral passport. Without any movement from the Trump administration to issue the passports, Lambda Legal filed a brief at the U.S. Court of Appeals asking the court to uphold the lower court’s ruling in May.

Kate Sosin is an award-winning, trans-identified news and investigative reporter.