12/23/2013 10:09 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Transformative Year

2013 was a momentous year for the LGBT community, with nine states (California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Utah) joining the marriage equality ranks; landmark marriage rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court; the Social Security Administration making it easier for transgender people to obtain Social Security cards reflecting their true gender identity; strong moves in sports and the arts; and Presidential Medals of Freedom awarded posthumously to Bayard Rustin and Dr. Sally Ride.

The year began auspiciously, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women in combat roles. President Obama declared in his second inaugural address that "the most evident of truths -- that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall..."

Amid the horror of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, openly gay police officer Javier Pagan received attention as one of the first responders. In November, after Boston won the World Series, Pagan made the cover of Sports Illustrated along with fellow officers and Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. SI's April 29 cover made some history as it featured 12-year NBA veteran Jason Collins announcing he was gay. Top WNBA draft pick Brittney Griner came out on April 17. Robbie Rogers, who came out in February, became the first openly gay player in Mayor League Soccer in May when he signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy. The long-term impact of these sports "outings" remains unclear, but paths have been charted for a new generation.

The June wedding of Alvin Ailey dancers Antonio Douthit and Kirven Boyd was but one of many refutations of the persistent claim from some quarters that the push for marriage equality is "a white thing." While oppressions are pointlessly ranked and causes set in gratuitous competition, love happens. To watch the Douthit-Boyds in performance is to have one's categories swept away by their art.

Notable gay-related films released in 2013 include the Beat Generation drama Kill Your Darlings, directed by John Krokidas in his feature film debut and starring Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg; and God Loves Uganda, a documentary by Roger Ross Williams on efforts by American evangelicals to promote their anti-gay beliefs in Africa. An unfinished independent project filmed during the summer in Brooklyn is Naz + Maalik, about a pair of gay Muslim teenagers whose furtive behavior as lovers arouses the suspicion of an FBI agent; director Jay Dockendorf and his collaborators are raising funds via Kickstarter.

In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered historic rulings in the Windsor and Perry cases, overturning the federal denial of recognition to same-sex marriages and restoring marriage equality in California. Edith Windsor, whose irrepressible personality made her the perfect "poster girl" for marriage equality at age 84, was a finalist for Time's Person of the Year. That honor ended up going to Pope Francis, whose international charm offensive included criticizing church leaders' excessive focus on social issues like abortion and gay marriage, and said, "Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?"

On the other hand, Francis told La Stampa in December, "Women in the Church must be valued not 'clericalised.' Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism." This is unpersuasive. Francis has reached out to the laity and brought to life the Jesus of the Gospels in a way his recent predecessors have not; but on doctrinal matters he is no radical.

The cause of marriage equality grew more bipartisan in 2013, when former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman organized a pro-equality amicus brief in the Perry case signed by more than 100 Republican officials; Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) endorsed marriage equality after learning his son was gay; and former president George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara served as witnesses at the wedding of Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen in Maine.

The year's remarkable string of marriage equality victories ended on an exhilarating note when U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby, an Obama appointee, ruled Utah Measure 3 unconstitutional, setting off a rush of same-sex couples to county clerk's offices in the conservative state ahead of an expected stay of the ruling. Shelby deliciously cited Justice Antonin Scalia's bitter dissents in Lawrence and Windsor to bolster the argument in favor of marriage equality.

One of the early beneficiaries of the rules change in the U.S. Senate on judicial and executive nominees was longtime LGBT advocate and Georgetown Law Professor Chai Feldblum, who won confirmation in December to a second term on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This gave little comfort to advocates unhappy with President Obama's resistance to signing an executive order protecting LGBT employees of federal contractors; he prefers a legislative solution. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was passed by the U.S. Senate, but stalled in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

The trans-inclusive ENDA passed by the Senate stood in happy contrast to the lower profile taken by the cause of transgender equality in the public square. There were state-level advances, including a directive by the Oregon Insurance Division (issued just before Christmas 2012) that insurance companies doing business in the state must expand healthcare coverage for transgender people; a California law protecting the rights of transgender students; and a law in the District of Columbia enabling people to obtain birth certificates reflecting their correct gender identity. On the downside, the National Organization for Marriage, floundering and debt-ridden, turned its sights on spreading misinformation and stoking fears about transgender youth.

December brought the passing of former South African President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the revolutionary-turned-statesman who emerged from 27 years in prison to steer his nation through a relatively peaceful transition to democratic rule. He had presided over the adoption of the world's first national constitution that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation.

As news spread of Madiba's death, people gathered outside his home in Johannesburg and began chanting, singing songs from the freedom struggle, and dancing in celebration of his life. At the memorial service in FNB Stadium where world leaders gathered on December 10, the booing of President Jacob Zuma by his own countrymen revealed the contrast between the transformative leader they mourned and the self-aggrandizing strongman they were left with.

Mandela always resisted the mythmaking that grew up around him. He wanted to be seen as an ordinary man whose legacy would be carried on by others. He did bring a rare set of qualities to his work: courage, discipline, endurance, craftiness, and a steel spine. He was a master political strategist. But his greatest gift was in loving his country more than he hated his enemy, putting his moral force behind reconciliation in order to build a non-racial and non-sexist democracy.

President Obama, eulogizing Madiba in Johannesburg, spoke of continuing challenges: "[A]round the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger and disease. We still see run-down schools. We still see young people without prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, and how they worship, and who they love."

Obama is right: much work lies ahead. This is particularly true for LGBT people internationally, with persecution receiving official encouragement in Russia, mob violence escalating in Jamaica, and homosexuality re-criminalized by a court ruling in India. On December 20, Uganda and Nigeria both passed harsh anti-homosexuality bills. As the struggle for dignity and justice continues, let us use our strength to honor our love, open new avenues of cooperation, and make the most of 2014. A luta continua.

This piece appeared in Bay Windows.