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Beyond marriage equality, challenges ahead for LGBT rights advocates

Supporters of Arkansas' ban on same-sex marriage clash with gay rights activists at a rally at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., on Nov. 19, 2014.
Supporters of Arkansas’ ban on same-sex marriage clash with gay rights activists at a rally at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., on Nov. 19, 2014. Danny Johnston, AP (File)

Even as same-sex marriage edges closer to becoming legal nationwide, gay rights advocates face other challenges in 2015 that may not bring quick victories.

In Congress, for example, liberal Democrats plan to introduce civil rights bills in the House and Senate that would outlaw a broad range of discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. However, Republicans will control both chambers in the new Congress, and there is no sign that GOP leaders will help the bills advance.

Absent such a federal law, activists will seek to pass more nondiscrimination laws at the state and local levels, but some efforts are meeting resistance. A conservative-led coalition in Houston is trying to overturn a gay rights ordinance approved by the city council in May, while a similar ordinance passed in August by the city council in Fayetteville, Arkansas, was repealed by voters on Dec. 10.

The Fayetteville vote was close – the repeal side got 52 percent of the votes – and the issue is expected to resurface.

“Both sides have reason to continue on,” said Mayor Lioneld Jordan, who supported the ordinance. “What we have to do is pull everybody together and see what can be worked out.”

Another contentious issue is the ban on transgender people serving in the military. Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has suggested the policy be reviewed but gave no timetable, and advocacy groups are increasingly vocal with their impatience.

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“There is no valid reason that our transgender troops should continue to be prohibited from serving openly and honestly,” said Ashley Broadway of the American Military Partner Association, which represents partners, spouses and families of LGBT service members.

Friction over transgender rights also is surfacing in school policies, as evidenced by a controversy in Gloucester, Virginia. Officials at Gloucester’s high school allowed a transgender boy – who was born female – to use the boys’ restroom, sparking complaints that led the county school board to reverse the decision.

The board adopted a policy on Dec. 9 that restricts male and female restrooms to students with “corresponding biological genders” and says transgender students could use an “alternative private facility.”

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