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Christopher Rudolph   |   August 2, 2013    4:12 PM ET

Congratulations are in order for one of Huffington Post's very own!

Reporter Lila Shapiro, who began working for The Huffington Post in 2009 and has been writing for Gay Voices for just over a year and a half, has been named the Sarah Pettit Memorial LGBT Journalist of the Year award winner by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA), "a national organization of journalists, media professionals, educators and students working from within the news industry to foster fair and accurate coverage of LGBT issues."

One of the judges from NLGJA specifically praised Shapiro for her reporting: "Shapiro shows a sophisticated understanding of sensitive topics - her story about life in Harlan County (and the alleged hate crime there) went far beyond any other story I have seen on the topic to get at the true nature of the people there and the complicated secrets they must keep."

NLGJA's Excellence in Journalism Awards were introduced in 1993, and honor exceptional reporting in various journalistic areas such as feature writing, online reporting, photojournalism and student journalism.

We wanted to send out a quick congrats to Shapiro, and if you want to read more of her fantastic reporting the following pieces are more than worth your time:


Transgender Student Sues University That Expelled Her For 'Fraud'

Lila Shapiro   |   February 27, 2013    5:02 PM ET

Back in early 2011, Domaine Javier was on track to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a nurse. She had been accepted to California Baptist University's nursing program with a pair of scholarships, one academic and one for music based on her audition for the university's woman's chorus.

But things started to unravel before she even began classes. In April 2011, Javier revealed that she was transgender in an episode of an MTV show called "True Life." In July, she received a letter from the university accusing her of fraud because she had given her gender as female on her admissions application. A few months later, she was expelled.

This week, Javier filed a lawsuit in Riverside, Calif., against the university, accusing it of violations of California's Unruh Civil Rights Act and breach of contract. While many other cases have explored similar issues related to the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community and religiously affiliated institutions, the laws are least tested when they come to transgender individuals.

Javier's dispute with the university stems back to a typically routine question on her admissions application. Along with writing about her academic goals (a Bachelor of Science in Nursing) and religious affiliation (Catholic), she was asked to indicate her gender. There were two check boxes, labeled "male" and "female." Javier was born male, but she has thought of herself as female for as long as she can remember, and she's presented as a girl since she was 13. She checked "female."

The lawsuit contends that Javier's explusion is covered by California's civil rights protections and argues that she has lost roughly a half-million dollars in scholarships and future wages as a result of the school's actions. But she said the case is about more than the money she believes she is owed.

"I believe that education is for everyone, regardless of their gender," Javier wrote in an email this week. "Everyone deserves a shot at a bright future. CBU deprived me of this right and treated me unfairly -- something no one deserves."

Neither California Baptist University nor its outside counsel handling the lawsuit responded to requests for comment.

Like many other religiously affiliated institutions, the school forbids same-sex relationships, through a policy banning "sexual conduct outside of marriage, as defined by the State of California." However, Javier's complaint asserts that there is no school policy that mentions transgender students. While some schools, such as Brown University, have shifted their policies in recent years to become more inclusive of transgender students, there has been little similar movement among Christian colleges and universities, according to Paul Southwick, the lawyer representing Javier.

"I think that there is a lack of discussion within Christian higher education on what to do with transgender persons, because they don't fit in traditional categories that we can deal with -- like you can't engage in homosexual conduct, or we believe in marriage between a man and a woman only," Southwick said. "But in terms of transgender persons who aren't necessarily engaging in any behavior, there really hasn't been much of a discussion or a policy, and they really get left in a very uncertain position."

Suzanne Goldberg, a professor at Columbia Law School who specializes in sexuality and gender law, said the university could have a more difficult time defending itself against Javier's lawsuit than against an anti-gay discrimination case. "While the position against same-sex sexual relations in some religions is widely known, I don't think the same is true for positions regarding gender identify," she said.

The school's position may also be difficult to defend, Goldberg said, because it appears to set up a Catch-22 for transgender students.

"There is no indication from these facts that the student intended to misrepresent herself or her identity to the school," said Goldberg after reviewing the complaint. "In fact, as the complaint points out, to represent herself as male would have also created the appearance of fraud. It's a we-win-you-lose framework."

How A Drag Queen And Catholic Priest Reached An Understanding

Lila Shapiro   |   February 23, 2013    8:36 AM ET

NEW YORK -- If only the Vatican could solve its dispute with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community as easily.

The Rev. Richard Baker walked into Lillie’s Times Square one day last week with a bone to pick. A drag queen named Epiphany and an event planner named Michael Fratz had planned to host a Sunday brunch drag performance at the Manhattan restaurant, which happened to be next door to his church, St. Malachy's. Holding a flyer for the show in his hand, the reverend told the manager of Lillie's he didn't think it appropriate to have a drag show next door to his Sunday Mass.

Shannon Noecker, the manager, recalled that Baker was "upset about the event and the time, that he said it wasn't appropriate for the community, and that he would continue to fight against the event in any way he could." The owners of Lillie's, both Irish and raised Roman Catholic, decided to move the event to a different venue.

Fratz and Epiphany weren't satisfied with this solution, and began planning a protest march to the steps of the church. "It's just so outrageous that he would drum up controversy about our teeny tiny drag show," Fratz said. "We want a drag brunch on Sundays. It has nothing to do with Father Baker. We're not seeking to offend him and the pope and everybody else. We just want to do what we want to do."

A week later, Baker, Fratz and Epiphany had set aside their disagreement. All concluded they had reached a new level of understanding and optimism.

"It's been a learning curve in diplomacy," Epiphany said in an interview with The Huffington Post on Friday afternoon, summarizing the week's charged emotions. "Initially I was completely offended. Now, I feel victorious."

"It was just a beautiful thing" Baker agreed.

A week earlier, Epiphany and Baker were far from simpatico. When Baker first heard about the drag show brunch, his mind immediately went back to a Times Square of an earlier era, when pornography, prostitution and drugs ruled the neighborhood. "I had a concern about what this means," he said, when he first saw the poster for the drag brunch. Recalling his predecessor at St. Malachy's, Baker said, "He worked so tirelessly to fight the crime and the drugs and the prostitution, so when these things pop up I guess I got a little too overzealous."

Epiphany, who has been performing as a professional drag queen in New York for the past nine years, said she was shocked that anyone would object to her show, which she described as family-friendly and mainstream. "I work at more bar mitzvahs than a DJ, I really do," she said. She said she never had a run-in with the church, until now. "If I wanted to clash with the church, I'd move to Rome, or i'd stay in the small Christian conservative town I grew up in," she said. "I moved to New York to be a free person."

Fratz also recalled his childhood, and thought of the longstanding conflict between the LGBT community and the Catholic church, which has often served as a leading force against legalizing same-sex marriage. "I was born and raised on a a dairy farm in western Maryland, going to Lutheran church every Sunday, so it was very intimidating and offensive to me, to be, from my perspective, bullied by a church institution," he said.

But in the end, Fratz, Epiphany and Baker were able to easily resolve their differences, with the help of New York City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, who organized a conference call to talk the whole thing out.

"Speaker Quinn's office brought the two parties together to discuss the matter and both sides were heard," said Zoe Tobin, a spokeswoman for Quinn. "Each party acknowledged their differences, but figured out a way to live next door to each other in peace. New York's strength is in its diversity, and the speaker is thankful to have helped achieve a successful result."

After the meeting, Baker said he now has no problem with the drag show brunch. "Its a very innocent show," he said. "I understand that now. We were able to talk, and it was awesome."

The protest, meanwhile, has been cancelled. Instead, Epiphany and Fratz are planning a rally on Sunday at noon, in solidarity with drag queens everywhere. "It won't be against the church, we have the support of the Church," she said. After the rally, there will be brunch.

Afternoon Links, Catholics And The Pope

Lila Shapiro   |   February 13, 2013    4:49 PM ET

Earlier this week, I wrote about how LGBT Catholics are hopeful -- if not optimistic -- that the next pope might be less vehemently anti-gay than Pope Benedict XVI, who this week announced to much surprise that he planned to retire.

Early reports speculating over top candidates, however, have not looked promising for LGBT Catholics. The Bilerico Project looks into one name that has floated near the top of many lists of possible successors -- Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana. "Turkson is so anti-gay that he actually defended draconian laws that criminalize homosexuality and gay sex, including Uganda's notorious "Kill the Gays" bill."

Still, many LGBT advocates in the United States have noted that while the Vatican remains as stringently opposed to gay rights as ever, Catholics outside the Church leadership are increasingly supportive of LGBT rights. In one interesting sign of this, a blogger at Pam's House Blend noted that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn -- poised to sign marriage legislation this Thursday - will not only be the sixth Catholic governor to sign same-sex marriage legislation into law, but also, every U.S. governor who has signed such legislation has been Catholic.

Gay Rights Mention In State Of The Union?

Lila Shapiro   |   February 12, 2013    3:30 PM ET

Hopes are high among gay rights advocates that Obama will say something about LGBT rights in his State of the Union address tonight at 9:00 PM. WIll he talk about comprehensive immigration reform that includes gay and lesbian couples? Will he push Congress to act on an anti-LGBT workplace discrimination bill or hint at an executive action on this front? Will he weigh in on the upcoming Supreme Court cases?

In attendance tonight will be a bi-national lesbian couple that could face separation under current immigration law as well as the wife of the nation's highest ranking "out" gay or lesbian service member -- she'll be sitting next to the first lady.

Stay tuned.

Afternoon Links, Pope Resigns Edition

Lila Shapiro   |   February 11, 2013    1:10 PM ET

Pope Benedict XVI shocked catholics on Monday with his sudden announcement that he was stepping down. For LGBT advocates and allies inside and outside the Church, the news came mostly as a relief.

"For the last three decades, Benedict has been one of the main architect's of the Vatican's policies against LGBT people," Francis DeBernardo of the New Ways Ministry, a pro-gay ministry and advocacy group for LGBT Catholics, wrote in a statement.

"We are praying, too, for LGBT Catholics and their families and friends, whose lives were made more difficult living under Benedict's reign both as pontiff and as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), where he served previously," DeBernardo wrote.

And while DeBernardo cautions that it is difficult to predict who -- and how conservative -- the next Pope will be, speculation over Benedict's successor has already begun to run wild. At Actup.org, a post runs down some top contenders -- and all three are "vehemently anti-gay."

'I'm Sure I'll Be Down There Tomorrow Looking At The Devastation Again'

Lila Shapiro   |   February 8, 2013    2:50 PM ET

Pedro Correa survived the last storm, Hurricane Sandy, by clinging to the roof of a floating house.

He'd stayed behind on his block in Oakwood Beach, Staten Island, to pump water out of his basement as the sea swept in. A few days after that storm, he came to the tough decision that he and his family weren't going to rebuild the seaside home that he'd poured his lifesavings into over the last half decade.

On Friday, as he sat in his family's rental apartment on higher ground, he sounded like he was finally beginning to appreciate the benefits of that choice. "I really don't have a care in the world now," he said. "We're gonna sit home and relax and enjoy the snow. Maybe go sledding. "

More than three months after hundreds of people stayed home to ride out what proved to be the most deadly storm in the borough's recent memory, Staten Island is bracing for yet another storm.

This time, according to a press release from the National Weather Service, "there is no significant threat to life." Although the weather service is predicting possible beach erosion in the Rockaways and flooding of some shore roads and basements, its press release describes the potential flood levels as "moderate."

Even so, residents of the most vulnerable areas have moved out of harm's way and remain nervous. Sue Somma, a resident of Oakwood Beach who has been staying with family farther inland, said she was dreading going back to her house Friday to collect her winter clothes. "We keep saying, we're gonna go back because our conditions are tough right now where we are, but my daughter is terrified and I'm not very peaceful about it either," she said. "But it's not something we can really put off much longer."

Although the Staten Island Advance is reporting that at least one coastal community is a "ghost town," Correa and others said they know of people who have returned home to the shoreline. "They just finished rebuilding," he said. "I'm sure I'll be down there tomorrow looking at the devastation again."

Correa said he was particularly concerned about an elderly woman who lives in one of the few surviving homes on his old block. He did not know where she planned to ride out the storm this time, and said he couldn't reach her because she doesn't have a phone. Workers for the city's recovery program installed her home's new heater in the basement, he said.

"The block has no protection from the sea now, so if they only get a couple of feet of storm surge, the heater's done."

A spokesman for New York City did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tina Downer, one of Correa's former neighbors, said she already heard reports of flooding in the area, during this morning's high tide. Downer has no plans to return to her former home: Earlier this week, she and other residents were relieved to learn that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is supporting a plan to buy out owners of the most damaged properties along the New York shoreline. "If there were another flooding condition, it's not going to be easy to get out," she said. "That's why the buyout is so important."

Teddy Atlas, a former boxer who runs the Theodore Atlas Foundation, a local charity, said he and his team just finished putting a new roof on the home of a family that had been living without heat since November.

"There's an old saying in boxing, 'If you kill the head, the body will follow," he said. "These storms have been pounding at these people's bodies for so many rounds now, it starts to break you down mentally as well."

Afternoon Links, Boy Scouts Edition

Lila Shapiro   |   February 6, 2013    5:11 PM ET

-- The Boy Scouts of America announced today that it would delay a vote on a controversial policy banning openly gay scouts and troop leaders.

"After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America's National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy," the Boy Scouts said in a statement.

-- The Family Research Council thought the delay was promising news. Gay rights, not so much.

"Every day that the Boy Scouts of America delay action is another day that discrimination prevails," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. "Now is the time for action. Young Americans, gay and straight, are hurt by the inaction associated with today's news. The BSA leadership should end this awful policy once and for all, and open the proud tradition of Scouting to all."

-- The public, meanwhile, appears to be in favor of ending the ban. From a Quinnipiac University poll today, 55 vs 33 percent of voters say the Scouts should drop the ban.

Afternoon Links: Gay Marriage Marches And The Boy Scouts

Lila Shapiro   |   February 4, 2013   11:57 AM ET

-- Forces on both sides are gathering momentum as they prepare for the Supreme Court's hearing on same-sex marriage this March.

Same sex marriage supporters are organizing marches on the two days of the Supreme Court hearings this spring.

So are same-sex marriage opponents. "Save the date"!

-- On Sunday, the president called for the Boy Scouts to end its ban on openly gay scouts and troop leaders. In an interview on CBS Evening News, he explained, "Gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and walk of life, and the Scouts are a great institution that are promoting young people and exposing them to opportunites and leadership that will serve people for the rest of their lives, and nobody should be barred from that."

HRC Endorses Christine Quinn For Mayor

Lila Shapiro   |   February 1, 2013   11:12 AM ET

Not surprisingly, the Human Rights Campaign announced it is endorsing Christine Quinn for New York City Mayor. If elected, Quinn would be the first openly gay mayor, and the first woman to hold the position.

"New York needs Christine Quinn because she approaches every issue she cares about with passion and drive," said HRC President Chad Griffin, according to a press release. "Whether it's equality for all New Yorkers, great public schools or twenty-first century infrastructure, Chris is ready to fight for the city New Yorkers deserve."

Morning Links: Gay Marriage Foes And Transgender Inmates

Lila Shapiro   |   January 30, 2013   10:19 AM ET

-- Same-sex marriage opponents look to be in dire financial straits, according to a Reuters report. According to the article, ProtectMarriage.com, the advocacy group defending Proposition 8, showed a $2 million deficit in its legal fund at the end of 2011 - the third consecutive year that expenses exceeded donations. From Reuters:

"Unless the pace of donations starts to pick up right away, we could soon be forced over a financial cliff," ProtectMarriage.com said in an email to donors earlier this month.

-- The Westboro Baptists are the latest group to file a brief to the Supreme Court on Prop 8. Why? Because "same-sex marriage will destroy this nation." Read the full brief here.

-- A transgender inmate in Virginia is the latest to win a court victory, after the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled she was entitled to a hearing over whether the Virginia Department of Corrections violated her constitutional rights by not allowing her access to an evaluation for surgery.

Afternoon Links: Romney Advisor, Transgender Rights And Chick-Fil-A

Lila Shapiro   |   January 29, 2013   12:59 PM ET

-- David Kochel, the top Iowa adviser for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, is speaking out in support of same-sex marriage. "If we're the party of freedom and liberty, then we should be for personal freedom and individual liberty and that extends to marriage as far as I'm concerned," Kochel said over the weekend on a radio show.

-- Maryland could be the next state to join the 16 (and the nation's capital) that have laws banning anti-trans discrimination. The Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2013, introduced Tuesday -- with bipartisan support -- would ban workplace, housing and public accommodations.

-- The Chick-Fil-A controversy over the company's funding of anti-gay groups is still spinning. As the Advocate puts it, "The only real outstanding question is just how antigay are the groups that Chick-fil-A continues to give to?"

Morning Links: Rhode Island, Colorado, And Vandalism At Law School

Lila Shapiro   |   January 24, 2013   11:19 AM ET

-- The New York Times takes a look at the marriage fight in Rhode Island, the only state in New England that has not legalized gay marriage. As per usual, NOM is leading the opposition on the ground. The Times quotes the local leader:

"We belong to the United States of America, not to the United States of New England," said Christopher Plante, the executive director. "Rhode Island stands with the vast majority of Americans in understanding that marriage is the union of one man and one woman." Thirty states have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

-- Meanwhile, yesterday in Colorado, the Senate's Judiciary Committee advanced legislation to allow civil unions on a 3-2 vote. The Denver Post has the story.

-- The offices of the Lambda Law Students Association at Boston College Law School were vandalized over Martin Luther King weekend. The school is investigation the case.

Morning Links: Prop 8, Sodomy Laws, And Carrie

Lila Shapiro   |   January 23, 2013    9:52 AM ET

-- Proponents of Proposition 8, the ban on gay marriage in California that will be tested before the Supreme Court this spring, filed their opening brief with the court on Tuesday. Buzzfeed reports on the brief:

Our Constitution does not mandate the traditional gendered definition of marriage, but neither does our Constitution condemn it. This Court, accordingly, should allow the public debate regarding marriage to continue through the democratic process, both in California and throughout the Nation.

-- Montana, one of several states to keep laws criminalizing sodomy on the books even after the Supreme Court made them unenforceable, appears poised to finally repeal its law.

-- The Advocate has a long profile of Boys Don't Cry director Kimberly Peirce, who is rebooting Stephen King's Carrie. "Maybe I haven't lived Carrie's exact experience, but you draw from the things that are similar in your own life that you are working out."

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