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Saturday, January 1, 2011

EDGE 2010: The Gay Year in Review

By Steve Weinstein -

The military dominated the conversation in ’10
The military dominated the conversation in ’10

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ...

We finally won the right to serve openly in the military. Gay marriage gained but then gained and stalled in the biggest prize, California. Political campaigns became centered on candidates’ positions, not what they did in their bedrooms. Even the GOP had to sit up and take notice.

In the movies, on TV and in real life, children became the latest "must have" gay accessory. More and more people from all walks of life came out, while politicians and religious figures were exposed as preaching against us in public while loving us in private.

Africa remained a continent that hasn’t learned the lesson from its colonial past, that oppressing anyone leads to more oppression. But the women there and elsewhere may finally find some relief from HIV infection. And gay men have a valuable new drug in their arsenal of HIV prevention.

Overall, a good year, with a lot of unfinished business in ’11.


1) The Repeal of DADT

The LGBT community -- and indeed all Americans -- got a Christmas gift courtesy of Congress and President Barack Obama.

The "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" policy was the military equivalent of prohibition: a social experiment that didn’t work. There were the well-know cases of decorated officers like Margaret Cammameyer. There were those Arab translators let go right at the beginning of the Iraq War. They were privates and majors, Navy SEALs and Special Forces operatives.

And they all had to live their lives in secret. This, despite survey after showing that the vast majority of the American people agreed DADT had overstayed its welcome.

Then there were all those pesky allies. By 2010, nearly every Western democracy had openly gay military personnel. Those who complained that repealing DADT would erode troop morale and create a weak military had to explain nations like Britain and Israel.

So there it was. After all the sit-ins, the Lady Gaga tweets, the TV movies, the court cases (and Log Cabin Republicans deserve a shout-out here), it came down to the stroke of a pen.

The president had to move the signing from the White House to an Interior Department auditorium, there were so many people who clamored to be present at that historic moment.

Independent U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman and GOP Sen. Susan Collins proudly stood by, as did Sen. Scott Brown, who was one of eight to break ranks.

As for the military, the commander of the Marine Corps, the strongest senior official opposing DADT, now says he will head the implementation of the new policy for his division. And according to the not-always-reliable World Net Daily, one Army officer has indicated he will refuse to implement the new policy of openly gay military personnel. And no one has tried to get out of the service because of it.


2) Marriage Comes to New Hamptshire, D.C.; Comes to Calif., Leaves Calif.

The year began with the advent of same-sex marriage in New Hampshire, making that five out of six New England states legalizing gay marriage.

The gay-marriage juggernaut in the Northeast got another big boost when the District of Columbia made it legal in March. Although Washington is not large in size, it has more people than many states. And no one can denigrate the symbolic importance of marriage equality in the nation’s capital.

As for California ... well, they do things differently out there. After the two opponents in the Bush v. Gore electoral 2000 imbroglio joined forces to stop it, the defenders of the marriage ban were clearly outgunned.

The federal judge seemed to agree. On August 4, 2010, U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker overturned Proposition 8 but also stayed the ruling, which meant the voter initiative would remain in effect pending appeal. So gay marriage was now legal in California. Except that it wasn’t.

The case continues to meander through the court system with both sides fully expecting to argue it in front of the Supreme Court, possibly as early as 2011.


3) Series of Gay Suicides Inspires a Campaign

One could legitimately ask whether there are more gay teens committing suicide, or whether they used to be swept under the rug and now we know about them.

In the end, the answer doesn’t matter, because they are happening, and they are horrific. The list of gay teens committing suicide ranged across the country. They spanned socio-economic, educational, ethnic and religious lines.

There a was farm boy in Pennsylvania. An inner-city college student hoping to be a chef. A college student studying violin. They go on.

In the wake of this national tragedy, some states, such as New Jersey, instituted tough new anti-bullying statutes. But the stories coming out from the schools these victims attended were as horrifying as the deaths themselves. In case after case, teachers and administration turned their backs on relentless bullying. Some defended the attackers. Some joined in.

The one positive out of this whole heartbreaking story is columnist Dan Savage’s start-up, "It Gets Better." The Youtube video series features people from all walks of life -- housewives to employees, presidents and prime ministers and clergy. They are all there to tell gay youth to hang in there, because once you leave the dirtbags who are causing you so much grief, you will find the rest of the world is not such a bad place.

U.S. Rep David Cicilline (Dem. R.I.)  

4) Gay No Longer an Issue in Political Campaigns

The year began with Annise Parker becoming the out-gay mayor of Houston. Texas’ largest city made history with the most powerful out-gay official (let’s not count New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, "gay" for 90 days before he left office) in the country. And in Texas!

Or maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised. This was the year when being gay not only wasn’t a big deal, it wasn’t noticed.

How far have we come? Far enough that a transsexual can run as a fiscal conservative for office in San Francisco. Far enough that no one mentioned his sexuality when David Cicilline took over Patrick Kennedy’s Rhode Island seat in the U.S. Congress.

Far enough that, when GOP candidate for governor of New York Carl Paladino made comments about gays being sick and his opponent being a bad parent for taking his kids to Manhattan’s Pride Parade, everyone running on his party’s slate condemned his statements (which he retracted).

Unfortunately, there was one horrible stain on the elections this year. In Iowa, voters removed state judges who legalized gay marriage last year. The precedent for judicial intervention horrified observers like former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Sean Hayes & Kristin Chenoweth on Broadway  

5) Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

In gay world, it’s one of those "Well, duh" (affect Valleyspeak here) moments: In March, Latino singer Ricky Martin told everyone what they already knew: he was gay. Martin’s announcement probably had more impact because of the residual machismo of Latin-American culture.

But he wasn’t the only one. A senior member of the Conservative cabinet in the United Kingdom came out. So did the former head of the Republican National Committee. And radio talkshow host Stephanie Miller, the mayor of Cambridge, Mass., and bunches of other people.

Actor Kevin Spacey came out ... sort of. In an interview, he pretty much said he was gay but it wasn’t anyone’s business. Veteran actor Richard Chamberlain apparently agrees. The now-out actor recently said that leading men had better stay in the closet, echoing a widely ridiculed essay in Newsweek (from a gay writer!) that maintained that Sean Hayes was not believable wooing Kristin Chenoweth in the Broadway revival of Promises, Promises.

Apparently, these guys didn’t consult Cheyenne Jackson, who continues his ascent as one of Hollywood’s leading men, or Neil Patrick Harris, who manages to play horndogs onscreen while married to a man off. On the female side, there’s Portia De Generes, Cynthia Nixon and many more. But you can’t argue with ignorance.

Some on the right are accusing the party of "drinking the Kool-Aid"  

6) Turmoil in the GOP

The 1930s homespun comedian Will Rogers is famous for his line, "I’m not a member of an organized party -- I’m a Democrat."

The donkeys were traditionally the ones kicking up their hind legs, while the GOP elephants walked slowly, grandly toward their goals.

Oooops. Leave it to the gays to create a wedge in the party of Hoover, Reagan and all things Bush.

Cindy McCain joined her daughter Meghan and came out for gay rights. She posed for a NoH8 photo and expressed approval of gay unions.

Laura Bush, the former first lady, said she supported gay marriage, thus joining former Vice-President Dick Chaney and his wife. (Also along for the ride were Hilary Clinton and her hubby, former President Bill Clinton.)

GOProud, a new group formed by dissenters who didn’t believe the Log Cabin Republicans were conservative enough, caused a major brouahaha when CPAC, the major convention for right-wing political activists, brought the group in as a sponsor.

To show how deep the rift has become even on the far right, when a speaker tried to denounce GOProud and the gay rights movement at CPAC, a crowd of mostly younger people shouted him off the stage.

GOProud is already roiling the waters for next year’s CPAC. Once again, they’ve been invited to the table. And once again, fire-breathing homophobes like Peter LaBarbera, the one-man band called Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, are fulminating.

As mentioned above, several GOP senators defected on the vote to repeal "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell." Glenn Beck, the darling commenter of the far right, told his Fox News audience that he didn’t see gay marriage as much of an issue, because it didn’t affect his pocketbook.

Many other pundits weighed in with the observation that gay marriage was coming to this country sooner or later, so the GOP could either embrace it or follow.

One of the main points in the debate has been the increasing divide between older Republicans and those under 30, who strongly support gay rights.

Ted Olson, who engineered George Bush’s win in 2000 and whose wife (who died on 9/11) was the intellectual darling of the New Right, not only argued in the courts against Prop. 8 but argued publicly for other gay causes. And California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did an about-face and stated point-blank that he wanted to see Prop. 8 overturned and gay marriage legal in the Golden State.

Even Ron Paul, the congressman who is the hero to the libertarian ultra-right, voted to repeal DADT.

Ken Mehlman, who helped George Bush win the White House, came out and promised to help further gay causes in the GOP.

Does this mean that the party of Lincoln is going back to its roots? Probably not, but it does signify that some are voicing what many have long thought: that continuing what Pat Buchanan called a "crusade" will eventually have the same effect as those other crusades: defeat.

The photo that launched 1,000 late-night TV jokes: George Rekers at Miami’s airport  

7) Gay Sex Is Wrong, Except When I Do It

It’s always a pleasure seeing a public homophobe exposed as a same-sex lover. History is strewn with hypocrites like televangelists Jim Bakker and Ted Haggard.

Considering the large number of pastors and others who rail and preach against the evils of homosexuality, only to found indulging in same in the privacy of no-tell motels, it’s worth remembering the old adage, "the guilty dog barks the loudest."

This year, we had the edifying spectacle of George Rekers. This is the guy who sold himself to the attorney general of Florida as an "expert" so that he could thwart worthy adults from rescuing children from the state’s Dickensian foster care system and putting them in loving homes.

So it was rough justice when a photographer for alternative weekly The Miami New Times caught George Rekers with an attractive young man at Miami’s airport. Rekers had taken Jo-Vanni Roman, 20, on a trip overseas.

Rekers claimed Roman was there to help carry his luggage -- even though in the photo he’s doing that himself. Where did Rekers find his valet? On

Rekers, one of the most prominent members of a group of psychologists who claim they can "cure" patients of their homosexuality, said he was working on the escort to convert him. According to Roman, that included several erotic massages.

Another scandal that dominated the headlines involved a self-proclaimed "bishop" of an Atlanta megachurch with a wider TV following.

Several young men who were befriended by Eddie Long accused him of pressuring them into having sex with him.

Long is denying the charges, but the evidence thus far appears overwhelming. His congregation is split about his guilt, but, like Haggard, his wife is standing by him, at least for now.

In stark contrast to Long, the pastor of another Georgia megachurch came out with grace and dignity.

James Swilley told the media that, after he divorced his second wife, he was upfront about why. She encouraged him to come out, which he did. He said he was also impelled by the rash of gay suicides.

It wasn’t only the United States that saw these cases of "do as I say, not as I do." In Australia, for example, the nation’s most notorious homophobe was caught -- surprise! -- leaving a gay sex club.

David Campbell, former transportation of New South Wales was seen using a government car while leaving a sauna, spa and "porn lounge" in a Sydney suburb.

The juiciest coming-out story of the year was -- again, surprise! -- a conservative Republican.

Calif. State Sen. Roy Ashburn, a family values kind of guy, was arrested in Sacramento for driving drunk after leaving a gay bar. In the ensuing meltdown, Ashburn came out, gave a mea culpa for his misdeeds and promised to be a good boy.

And no mention of this story in 2010 would be complete without at least a sidelong glance at the seemingly never-ending saga of the Catholic Church.

This was the year that priest-abuse cases metastasized in Europe, engulfing the present pope, who, documents show, actively suppressed cases of abuse while he presided over Munich.

Belgium and Ireland became so overwhelmed by the flood of abuse cases that prelates in both countries resigned. Some, like the head of the Portuguese church, simply blamed the whole crisis on gay men.

Annette Bening & Julianne Moore  

8) Gay Parenting Goes Mainstream

Elton John just did it. Neil Patrick Harris did it twice, with twins.

They are two of the better-known gay couples that became parents this year. As kids have become the latest "must have" accessory in the gay world, more and more gay men and lesbians are shifting from bars to baby sitting.

The trend was epitomized by one of the years’ "prestige" pictures, The Kids Are All Right, in which Julianne Moore and Annette Bening are a couple who had kids via Mark Ruffalo. The film is being touted for a Best Picture Oscar, along with nominations for all three actors.

On the smaller screen, Modern Family depicts a trio of couples, one two men with an adopted daughter. The show ranks as the third most popular among conservative Americans.

Gay parenting was a theme on several TV shows. On Rules of Engagement, for example, Sara Rue plays a surrogate mother for a friend.


9) Hatred in Africa

While gay rights progressed in much of the world, in the former Soviet republics and the Muslim world the situation remained grim.

Nowhere, however, managed to rack up as much hatred as Africa. Nation after nation seemed to be vying for some Adolf Hitler memorial for generating the most hatred against a group of its citizens.

For a while, it seemed Malawi would win this dubious honor. The tiny, impoverished landlocked nation so beloved by Madonna and Brangelina made headlines when it imprisoned two men for daring to express their affection publicly. A huge international protest finally got the men out of jail, but they remain so fearful of their safety that one has reportedly taken a female partner.

Zambia, just to the west, has stirred such passions that Human Rights Watch has warned that gay men are going underground. In Kenya, the government encouraged anti-gay mob attacks.

In NIgeria, warring Christian and Muslim factions agree on only one thing: Gay men and lesbians must be sought out and killed. "The real threat of death or serious injury is not from legal actions by the state," a human-rights activist said, "but from mob violence and unofficial actions by the police who are a law unto themselves."

Workers at a LGBT advocacy group in Zimbabwe were held in prison for six days and tortured.

But the two worst cases are Cameroon and Uganda.

In Cameroon, LGBT citizens are routinely tortured by the police. Anyone can report that someone is gay and have that person arrested. Lesbians lose custody of children. There is no support for the HIV-positive or AIDS prevention.

Uganda presented a special case because of the well-documented links between the nation’s most homophobic politicians. The nation’s legislature has been dealing with a law that would criminalize homosexuality. The law was drafted with the help of American evangelists and missionaries.


10) A Cure for AIDS?

This wasn’t the year we found a cure for AIDS. This wasn’t the year we found a vaccine for HIV. But this was the year we came a lot closer.

It all happened, as it often does, by chance, and the news was always as surprising as it was unexpected.

An American living in Berlin has apparently expunged the HIV virus entirely from his body. The news broke last year, but this year further tests and follow-up confirmed it. He had received a bone-marrow transplant. Even though the procedure isn’t for everyone, there are lessons in its success.

A daily pill already available on pharmacy shelves can dramatically prevent new infections in gay men. Gilead’s Truvada is already being used to treat people with HIV.

A study showed that the medicine has surprisingly high rate of prevention when taken by sexually active gay men -- 73 percent if taken daily.

A vaginal gel spiked with an AIDS drug can cut nearly in half women’s chances of being infected. This is crucial, since women represent a huge rise in HIV rates.

Even the pope became a cause for cautious optimism. The bombshell in a new book of interviews with the pontiff was a mention of the legitimacy of condoms when used by male prostitutes.

Of course, for women, gay men and everyone else, condoms remain far and away the most effective way to prevent HIV infection.

Although Vatican officials and Catholic apologists tripped over themselves to "explain" the quote, follow-ups only showed that the church is beginning to thaw on the issue of condoms as disease (as opposed to pregnancy) prevention.

EDGE Editor-in-Chief Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007). 

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