The Biggest LGBT Advances Of 2016

12/30/2016 01:55 pm ET Updated Dec 30, 2016

Do we have to do a year in review for 2016? This was a rough one, but what if I told you there were some really great milestones for LGBTs this year? Amidst all the bad news, 2016 had some real bright spots. And 2017 could have even more -- but only if we work for it.

Some of my favorite milestones were small, like marriage equality finally being legalized in Antarctica -- great news for gay penguins. And other advances were huge, like the entire country of Malta banning pray-away-the-gay camps.

And it wasn't all political -- there was more visibility for LGBTs last year than ever before. In March, Israel hosted its first trans beauty pageant. In July, the Navy announced they'll name a ship after Harvey Milk. Sulu's openly queer now, as is Tracer and Wonder Woman. Sarah McBride became the first openly trans person to speak at the Democratic National Convention. For the first time ever, the Small Business of the Year award went to an LGBT-owned business. Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel became the first EU leader to marry a same-sex partner. The Oscars announced they'll consider genderfluid people in both male and female categories. And we got a ton of amazing queer films: Moonlight, Other People, Love is Strange, Carol, Women who Kill.

Now, compared to overturning unjust laws or winning new rights, visibility might seem kind of minor and frivolous. But the first step to overturning laws and winning rights is simply to be seen. Change starts when queer people speak up and demonstrate that we are everywhere: on stage, in business, in politics, in the Navy.

And once queers are visible, we can organize against unfair treatment.

That organizing is how, this year, Australians stopped a harmful referendum on equal rights. The Canadian Conservative Party removed language hostile to queers from their platform. After Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore told county clerks to defy the Supreme Court and not issue marriage licenses to gay couples, citizens organized complaints and got him suspended. North Carolinians voted out the governor who signed a terrible bathroom bill, and Salt Lake voters elected their first openly queer mayor.

Step one to making change is to be seen. Step two is to speak out. And that makes your work a lot easier when you get to step three: fixing bad laws. There were a ton of major legal advances around the world in 2016: civil unions legalized in Estonia, adoption legalized in Portugal, homosexuality decriminalized in Belize. Gay men can now give blood in Northern Ireland, and many countries are pardoning queers arrested under outdated laws over the last century. By the end of 2016, the population living in countries where same-sex marriage is legal reached one billion people. That's up from zero people just a decade and a half ago, and it didn't happen by itself -- it happened because queer people were visible, made noise, and demanded change. These are all achievements we can be very very proud of.

LGBTs are ending 2016 with more visibility, more allies, and more rights around the world than at any point in history. But the year also took a lot out of us: we said goodbye to some amazing queer role models, saw a surge in laws that target queers, and endured an unbearable tragedy.

And 2017 could hurt even more. There's an organized effort to undo marriage and many other rights. We have elected leaders who defended the criminalization of homosexuality. And there's been a rise in bias-based violence against queer people. For all the advances that we've made in the last 12 months, we stand to lose far more.

So what do we do? Don't lose sight of what got us this far. In 2017, we're going to need to be more visible, more organized, and more noisy than ever before. Be out everywhere you can. Join groups that are fighting for equality, and if there aren't any near you, start one. March. Protest. Don't give up any progress without a fight.

2016 was bad. Now we have 365 days to make sure 2017 won't be worse.

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