Progress for LGBT people, courtesy of the pope, NH Republicans and a judge

Here’s a tale of two states, the pope and a Virginia student who just wanted to use the bathroom.

The battle for equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is an ongoing struggle. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

Even in the face of repeated attacks by the Trump administration, legislation all across the country intended to allow discrimination, even going so far as allowing adoption agencies to turn away gay parents, and rising incidences of hate crime, there are reasons to be hopeful.

Photo by Ashley L. Conti | BDN

Just across the border in New Hampshire, a Republican-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate this year passed bills that will extend non-discrimination protections to transgender people and make so-called conversion therapy illegal. Conversion therapy is junk science that says LGBT people can be “cured.” It’s an abusive practice that should end.

The bills are headed to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk, and he says he will sign both. The strong votes in the New Hampshire Legislature, lead by Republican lawmakers, are groundbreaking, and show that treating all people fairly and with respect can – and should be – a bipartisan issue.

Meanwhile in Maine, similar legislation to ban conversion therapy is stuck in limbo, waiting for a potential special session. The bill passed out of committee and out of the House, but not a single Republican broke ranks to support it. No Republicans backed the bill in the Maine Senate.

For all the New Hampshire envy among Maine Republicans, now sure would be a good time for them to take the lead from our closest neighbor and do the right thing.

On Tuesday, a federal court in Virginia ruled in favor of Gavin Grimm, a transgender 19-year-old boy who, while a high school student in Gloucester County, fought for his right to use the appropriate bathroom. His case made national headlines, going all the way to the US Supreme Court, before being sent back to a lower court for review.

“All I want to do is be a normal child and use the restroom in peace,” Grimm said during a school board hearing, filled with adults who cheered when someone called him a “freak.” “This could be your child. I’m just a human. I’m just a boy.”

The case became so prominent, in fact, that Maine Gov. Paul LePage – never missing an opportunity to be on the wrong side of the facts, the law and history – filed a brief opposing Grimm and attacking his parents. LePage literally went out of his way to be nasty.

But to no avail.

According to the judge in the case, the school district’s bathroom policy violated Title IX, which protects students from discrimination based on sex.

While the ruling does make up for the way Grimm was treated by his school district, the ruling will hopefully pave the way for other students, making their lives easier and allowing them to live as their true selves.

And, now for the pope.

According to published reports in the LA Times and elsewhere, Pope Francis told Juan Carlos Cruz, a victim of sex abuse by a priest, “I don’t care about you being gay. God made you that way and loves you as you are and I don’t mind. The pope loves you as you are, you have to happy with who you are.”

The Vatican is not commenting on the conversation, which was retold by Cruz, and officials suggest that the remarks don’t mark a formal change in church doctrine, but the simple words of kindness and love were no doubt heard by LGBT people – Catholic or not – all around the world.

Sometime in the next few weeks, the US Supreme Court will decide whether it’s OK for businesses to turn customers away because they are gay or lesbian. State legislatures are finding new and inventive ways of being cruel, and the Trump administration continues to press dangerous policies that target LGBT people.

Maine is stuck in a place where partisanship outweighs principal and allows the barbaric practice of conversion therapy to continue.

And yet, there is reason to be hopeful.

The loving words of Pope Francis, the ruling of a federal judge, the leadership of New Hampshire Republicans – those are reasons to celebrate and to believe in our society’s ability to be better and to do the right thing.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at