2009 was a year of momentum for the LGBT community. For the first time, federal legislation was passed that included sexual orientation and gender identity, over 250,000+ LGBT people and allies marched on Washington for civil rights, same-sex marriage was legalized in several states, and the Obama administration fulfilled some campaign promises while ignoring others. Every December, Bilerico Project's Managing Editor, Alex Blaze, and I get together and pick our top ten stories of 2009. Here's our picks for this year, but we've added in an honorable mention since so much happened over the past year.
Everyone's favorite American Idol contestant, Adam Lambert, came out this year, but found himself the center of controversy after he performed his new song at the American Music Awards. Lambert deviated from his planned performance to include simulated oral sex with a guy, kissing both a woman and a man, and leading another guy around on a chain. ABC quickly canceled his Good Morning America appearance the next morning citing concerns that he might not be family friendly, and the LGBT community quickly called out the double standard of chastising Lambert for a racy performance while idolizing female artists like Brittney Spears or Madonna. Peggy Noonan, however, blamed Lambert as a symbol of the degradation of American culture. Oh, the horror of two men kissing on television.
Pop superstar Lady Gaga came out as a bisexual in 2009 with no cost to her career. Gaga has gone on to become one of the biggest celebrity LGBT activists including marching and speaking at the National Equality March.
Chaz Bono also had a coming out this year, when he announced he was starting to transition. Celebrity gossip site TMZ broke the story and handled the item with professionalism and respect. The LGBT community adapted and defended Chaz's decision faster than any other announced transition, hopefully showing that transgender issues are becoming more understood by the wider community. Chaz's mother, pop diva Cher, has also accepted his decision without blinking and has offered her support.
On the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the Texas ABC and the Fort Worth police raided a gay bar on its opening weekend. One patron was hospitalized with brain injuries. The police claimed the gay panic defense. The Texas ABC ended up firing two agents over the incident, but the Ft. Worth police department reviewed their actions and blamed the gay guy's brain injuries on himself.
It was part of a bigger story of police brutality increasing across the board, with LGBT people taking the brunt of the increased violence. A gay bar was similarly raided in Atlanta, and a Lambda Legal lawsuit against the police department is in the works. A lesbian couple's political fundraiser was busted by cops pepper spraying people. All the while the police continue to spend inordinate amounts of resources trying to arrest men cruising for gay sex, falsely arrest gay men to try to close down legal, sex-based establishments, and ignore crimes with LGBT victims.
It's not surprising that our top story of 2008 would keep on coming back as California's marriage activists decide what to do to overcome the fact that a majority of their state didn't think they deserved equal rights. Early in the year, our hope lay in the lawsuit to overturn Prop 8, which lost in May. Later that month, a newly formed marriage org hired to big shot straight lawyers to challenge Prop 8 in federal court. A divisive debate started among California LGBT activists as they decided whether to put Prop 8 back on the ballot in 2010 or 2012.
The Supreme Court may not be friendly to Olson and Boies's arguments, and the Californian people may not move as quickly as we want them to. We're confident California same-sex marriage advocates will eventually prevail, but the big question is "How?"
Tension between the LGBT community and Barack Obama started with some of his less fortunate statements on the campaign trail, built when he called on homophobe Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Inauguration in January, intensified with the lack of action on LGBT issues throughout the first months of his year, creating a powder keg of resentment in the LGBT population. The spark came in June when the Department of Justice filed a brief defending DOMA in Smelt, a challenge to that law that Gay, Inc., wanted nothing to do with because they knew it wasn't going anywhere.
The explosion that followed showed that the first Democratic constituency to end its honeymoon with Obama was the gay community. Anger, betrayal, and disappointment flowed all over the LGBT blogosphere, and the White House made little attempt to smooth things over with the community. A straight line can be drawn from the rancor that followed to anger against the Democratic Party that will likely continue throughout Obama's term. While the Smelt case was later dismissed on a technicality, and while the DOJ, according to most LGBT law scholars, was legally required to defend DOMA, the brief was a symbol for all the lack of progress on LGBT policy over the last decade. The community's hope for change after our bitter loss in California in 2008 was hung around the president's neck, and the language used in the brief made it clear that he wasn't our fierce advocate.
2009 was a horrible year for LGBT print media. The Advocate shed a good portion of their workers and announced the venerable magazine would become an insert in sister publication, Out. Newspapers also fared poorly in the new media environment. Employees and the LGBT community were shocked when longtime institutions The Washington Blade and Southern Voice were suddenly shut down by owner Windows Media. While all three papers re-organized into new publications with new owners, the Washington Blade was America's oldest LGBT newspaper. It has been replaced by DC Agenda. Other publications shutting down this year included: The South Florida Blade, 411 Magazine, David Magazine, the New Mexico Voice, the New York Blade, HX magazine, Genre magazine, the New England Blade, and the Houston Voice. Also hit hard were LGBT bookstores. Longtime institutions like New York City's Oscar Wilde Bookstore, Washington DC's Lambda Rising Bookstore, and Indianapolis' Out Word Bound Books, all shut their doors in 2009.
Online LGBT media, however, continued to rise as more Americans took to the internet to get their LGBT news, entertainment and gossip. Blogs were often honored in 2009 for their coverage of LGBT events (including the New York City Anti-Violence Project's Courage Award given to Bilerico Project Editor-In-Chief Bil Browning, Joe Jervis, Pam Spaulding, and Andy Towle) and queer political bloggers broke into the mainstream media and were cited nationwide in newspapers, magazines, and on television and radio. Bilerico Project was named the Advocate magazine's Top Political Blog in 2009, called "a must read" by the Washington Post in their list of influential political blogs, and was a finalist for The Blog Awards' Best LGBT Blog for the second year in a row.
After decades of lagging the world in respect for HIV+ visitors and immigrants, the federal government finally dropped the ban on HIV+ people into the country. This shameful period of American history will be remembered as one of the darkest chapters of America's war on people with HIV. Decades after most countries had dropped their own bans on travel by PWAs since there was no scientific basis for the laws, America continued to enforce it while the rest of the world denounced our discriminatory behavior. President Obama promised to end the ban during his campaign and kept his promise within months of his inauguration.
One of the biggest stories of the year was the National Equality March in Washington DC. The march was called for by veteran activists David Mixner and Cleve Jones, but was quickly poo-pooed by other activists and bloggers worried about timing issues and the possibility for bad press if no one showed up. After a few months of wrangling and hand wringing, bloggers, celebrities, and other activists started endorsing the march and got the ball rolling nationwide. Contributor Kip Williams led the organizing initiative for the NEM, while contributors Bil Browning, Nadine Smith, and Rev Irene Monroe sat on the executive steering committee for the event. Over 250,000 people attended the early October protest - including celebrities like Lady Gaga, the cast of Hair, Cynthia Nixon, and Dustin Lance Black. All told, the march was accomplished in under 6 months with less than $175,000 unlike previous marches that cost millions of dollars and took years to plan.
Ballot initiative fatigue set in a long time ago, but we were involved in three more battles this past year in Kalamazoo, Maine, and Washington. The summer and autumn saw attack ads from the right claiming that we were going to sexually molest grandma in the bathroom, use schools to turn kids gay, and overturn God's natural order.
Each campaign often struggled to get attention over the cacophony on federal issues, but our attention came crashing down on them in November. Kalamazoo maintained their law outlawing discrimination against LGBT people, Washington voted to keep their expanded "everything but the word" civil unions law, but Maine decided, by a close margin, to overturn the same-sex marriage law that was passed in May, leaving them with civil unions.
The strategic debate ensued, since the community saw Maine's Question 1 as a well-run do-over of the Prop 8 that still lost, while anti-discrimination legislation that included transgender people and civil unions prevailed.
On the positive side, it's quite an accomplishment that same-sex marriage was recognized by two states in January and is now recognized in four, with two more set to go in 2010.
Connecticut, which started performing same-sex marriages in November of 2008, codified its supreme court's ruling in favor of marriage rights in March. Marriage started in 2008, but they specifically carved out a religious exemption in the legislation. Then Love Makes a Family shut down.
In April, the Iowa supreme court ruled for same-sex marriage, and licenses started being handed out later that month. Following this decision was a whole lot of "Iowa?" and "Iowa!"
New Hampshire's house passed a marriage bill in March, and it passed the senate and was signed by the governor in June. Marriages will start this Friday, and, even though that's technically 2010, it's pretty damn close.
Five years ago, any of these states legalizing same-sex marriage would have generated blog posts for months, and now another state doing so is greeted with a yawn by both the mainstream media and queer media. Progress?
President Obama signed the first pro-LGBT piece of legislation in United States history when he put his signature on the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The legislation was first proposed a decade before after Shepard, a gay college student from Wyoming, was beaten and tied to a fence to die. Contributor Cathy Renna was one of the first LGBT activists to reach Matthew's hospital bedside and worked with his mother, Judy Shepard, to ensure passage of the legislation. The new law has already been instrumental in forcing an investigation into the death of Puerto Rican teenager Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado.
(Crossposted from my home blog, Bilerico Project. Come visit me there to see why both the Washington Post and the Advocate named us one of the top 10 LGBT political blogs in the nation.)
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