Points of Progress: Legal protections for LGBTQ employees, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the July 6 & 13, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

The United States has confirmed the first African American leader of a military branch. In June, the Senate unanimously approved the nomination of Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as chief of staff of the Air Force. General Brown has flown 3,000 hours, including combat missions, and oversaw Air Force operations in the Middle East from his command post in Qatar.

Kevin Dietsch/Reuters
Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.

In a video released shortly before his confirmation, General Brown shared his experience living in what he describes as two worlds, including moments in his career “that didn’t always sing of liberty and equality.” The Senate vote also makes General Brown the Pentagon’s first Black senior leader since Army Gen. Colin Powell. Although General Powell served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993, he didn’t serve as chief of staff of the Army. (The Wall Street Journal)

Why We Wrote This

This is more than feel-good news – it's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.

2. United States

The Supreme Court has affirmed that LGBTQ employees are legally protected from workplace discrimination under a 1964 civil rights law. Approximately 11 million Americans identify as LGBTQ, but 28 states offer the community little or no workplace protections. In a surprise decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal law barring sex discrimination in the workplace extends to sexual orientation and gender identity. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first nominee to the court, wrote that employers who fire LGBTQ people based on “traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex” are breaking the law. The decision is expected to have a sweeping impact on cases pending in lower courts. (USA Today)

3. Panama

Scientists have identified a “temperature tipping point” for tropical forests, or a threshold at which the amount of carbon the forests store drops. When trees get too hot or dry, they can stop absorbing carbon through photosynthesis. And when they die or decay, they release the carbon locked up in their wood back into the atmosphere. Tropical forests hold about 40% of all the carbon stored by land plants. The researchers found that when daytime temperatures reach above about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, tropical forests lose that carbon more quickly. Scientists monitored tropical forest behavior in various thermal conditions at nearly 600 sites around the world, including the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Based on the study and future warming predictions, scientists believe South American forests will be most affected by climate change, but understanding this temperature threshold could help improve conservation efforts. (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute)

4. Italy

For the first time, archaeologists have mapped an entire Roman city using scanning technology. The ground-penetrating radar created highly detailed images of Falerii Novi, a town about 30 miles north of Rome. Researchers say the scans helped piece together the city’s water system layout and revealed evidence of a religious processional route that probably never would have been uncovered by excavation alone. Some mysterious monuments may offer clues about the culture of the Faliscan people, who occupied this region before it was ultimately conquered by Rome.

Yara Nardi/Reuters
Falerii Novi specialist Raniero Pedica shows a map of the ancient Roman city being explored using radar technology.

“You can dig a trench and get little insights, but it’s very difficult to see how [those artifacts] work as a whole,” said Martin Millett, a classical archaeology professor at the University of Cambridge. With the radar technique, archaeologists were able to look at the entire 74-acre site, gaining new understanding of life and governance in the Roman Empire. (The Guardian)

5. China

Pangolin scales are no longer included on the official list of traditional Chinese medicine ingredients, a major step in protecting the world’s most trafficked animal. More than 130 tons of scales and other pangolin-related products were seized in cross-border busts last year, representing up to 400,000 animals, according to a conservation group’s estimate. This change came shortly after the status of the cat-sized mammal was raised from a second-level protected species to first-level, a category shared by the panda. 

A conservation worker cradles Lijin, a pangolin, on June 9, 2020, before its release from the Jinhua wild animal rescue center in China.

“I am very encouraged,” said Zhou Jinfeng, secretary-general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation and longtime pangolin advocate. “Our continuous efforts for several years have not been in vain.” (CNN, The Guardian, China Daily)

6. Kenya

Kenya has banned single-use plastics in national parks, beaches, forests, and conservation areas. Three years after banning plastic bags nationwide, the East African country will no longer allow visitors to bring items such as plastic water bottles, disposable cutlery, and straws into protected areas. The new rule came into effect on World Environment Day as part of the country’s green agenda. Renowned for its striking landscapes and wildlife, Kenya has been waging a war against plastic for years. In 2017, it joined the United Nations #CleanSeas campaign, promising to protect its waters from marine plastic litter and promote recycling. (United Nations Environment ProgramGlobal Citizen)

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