Part 5: Our Hall of Fame
Jerry Joachim was among the founders of The Advocate. The now internationally known magazine is celebrating its 45th anniversary of covering LGBT lives. But it began as a newsletter for a group called PRIDE, an acronym for Personal Rights in Defense and Education, and Joachim was its president. The newsletter evolved in September 1967 into a local LGBT newspaper called The Los Angeles Advocate. Joachim hosted a meeting between LGBT groups and local police in his own home and the forum was announced in the first issue, promising that "a complete account of what went on" would come in the next issue. And so began The Advocate's reporting on the LGBT movement.
Billie Jean King first exploded onto the tennis scene in the 1960s, winning her first Wimbledon title during her first doubles tournament, and then 20 more Wimbledon titles by the end of the 1970s. In 1971, she was the first female athlete to win more than $100,000 for winning a match, but King knew it was wrong that she and other female players were generally paid less than male players.
She fought Bobby Riggs, one of the top-ranked U.S. players of the 1930s and 1940s to take a stand against sexism and unequal pay in one of the most famed and storied tennis matches of her life, the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes." Though Riggs was past his prime at that point, he claimed that the women's game was inferior, striking a nerve with King. She trounced him, in a tennis match watched by 50 million people around the world. Three years later, King became the first president of the Women's Tennis Association.
King was well accomplished by the arrival of the 1980s, when a palimony lawsuit from a former lover suddenly put her personal life in the spotlight. King, who was married, was having an affair with her assistant. King beat the lawsuit, but it still cost millions in endorsements and lead to a divorce. Despite all she had lost and left to lose, the tennis star decided to host a press conference in 1981 against her lawyer’s wishes to admit to the affair. Now she is one of the most vocal proponents of LGBT people and women in sports from the school level, up to the pros.
Director Donna Deitch's Desert Hearts got the attention of Sundance in 1986, but it still has the affection of lesbians who were moved by its love scenes. The independent film portrayed intimacy between two women with such reality that it changed the filmmaking that followed. When The L Word on Showtime was taped, it was required viewing for each actress. The movie tells the story of an uptight university professor who is romanced by a younger casino worker. Deitch won the Outfest Achievement Award in 2008 for that and her continued excellence in portraying LGBT themes, including during Emmy-nominated miniseries The Women of Brewster Place.
When Patricia Ireland became president of the National Organization for Women in 1991, The Advocate praised her as "America's Most Powerful Woman." That was the headline on the cover story in which Ireland came out as bisexual in an interview that same year.
For her part, Ireland avoided labels of her influence or her relationships, saying, "The words I use are the words I use."
Ireland was already well known as a guiding voice for lesbian rights through her work with NOW in Florida. During her 10 years running NOW and those that would follow, Ireland has fought antigay ballot initiatives, been arrested in front of the White House for protesting the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and she helped organize the 1993 March on Washington for Gay, Lesbian and Bi Civil Rights. "I am not the exception to the rule," Ireland wrote in her memoir of the realization that propelled her into activism on behalf of women. "I fall into an oppressed category, and I damn well don't like it."
It’s maybe hard now to remember a time on television and in movies where straight women didn’t have gay best friends, HIV-positive sons, or transgender daughters. But actress Judith Light had no problem doing it early on. Throughout her lengthy career on stage and screen, Light’s choices for roles have reflected the actress's passions in real life, making her a true ally for LGBT people, and the right cover subject for a 1996 feature in The Advocate on straight females as allies.
Light played Jeanne White in the 1989 TV movie The Ryan White Story, which chronicled the life of a young boy who became a face of HIV/AIDS at a time when stigma and discrimination against people with HIV was rampant. In the soapy dramedy Ugly Betty, Light played media matriarch Claire Meade, mother of Rebecca Romijn’s transgender character, Alexis. She's even credited with helping former Who's the Boss? co-star Danny Pintauro to come out.
Off screen, Light has tirelessly raised funds and awareness for LGBT rights, as well as HIV. She has been aligned with several philanthropic and activist organizations like Broadway Cares; Equity Fights AIDS, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the Hetrick Martin School, and dozens of others.
The tragedy on September 11 brought Americans shocking sadness, but the victims gave us long-lasting inspiration.
New York City fire department chaplain Mychal Judge, who his coworkers learned was gay after his death, symbolizes those who risked their lives to help others. The Franciscan friar died while helping victims at the World Trade Center. Helping others is what he had always done, working with the homeless or AIDS patients, plus victims of the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800.
Mark Bingham made it clear that the hijackers picked the wrong flight with United 93, and the bravery of he and fellow passengers has changed every flight since. In addition to a judo instructor, a weightlifter, a one-time paratrooper, and a former college quarterback, the 6-foot-4 gay rugby player Bingham was on board. The 31-year-old San Francisco public relations entrepreneur was one of the those who stormed the cabin, preventing the al-Qaeda terrorists from slamming United 93 into either the U.S. Capitol or the White House. Bingham and the other rebels on that flight saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.
-Neal Broverman, Lucas Grindley
The gay romance told in Brokeback Mountain was so intimate it almost never got made. Agents pushed their actors away from the script. Common wisdom in Hollywood was homophobic and had always assumed roles like these could derail promising careers. That's why two up-and-coming young actors willing to play the roles of cowboys Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, who were locked in a secret affair in the Wyoming mountains, were repeatedly called "brave."
The late Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were both nominated for Academy Awards for their performances. The movie was a Best Picture nominee. All of them lost while Ang Lee won for Best Director and the screenplay and music took home Oscars.
It's a testament to what they accomplished, though, that the next time a gay romance comes along with two buzzed about young actors in the lead roles, it's unlikely the actors will be commended for their courage.
When "don't ask, don't tell" was finally repealed in 2011 and troops began serving openly, many thought of Army National Guard Lt. Dan Choi. For one thing, he'd already caused a ruckus when trying to reenlist.
Numerous soldiers had spoken out, groups had formed to fight for DADT repeal, but Choi knew how to make an impression, whether speaking at rallies or being arrested for handcuffing himself to the gates of the White House in protest. It began when he went on The Rachel Maddow Show in 2009 and came out.
"Only an unflinching commitment to improve the lives of others can determine the nature of one's service," Choi said after the military announced it would honorably discharge him 17 months later.
Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts is the first openly gay member of Congress to come out voluntarily, and ever since he has been a lightning rod for antigay rhetoric. Never one to just take a punch without punching back, Frank's blunt take on politics didn't make him any less of a target. But that same style combined with know-how got things done for LGBT rights.
To name a few, Frank helped pass a hate crimes bill, he is a founder of the Stonewall Democrats, and he hired a senior legislative assistant who become the first openly transgender Hill staffer in 2009. His critics claim he pushes the "gay agenda," an accusation which Frank proudly replied to after repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" was signed by the president in 2010, saying the agenda is "to be protected against violent crimes driven by bigotry, it's to be able to get married, it's to be able to get a job, and it's to be able to fight for our country. For those who are worried about the radical homosexual agenda, let me put them on notice. Two down, two to go."
Frank, the highest-ranking openly gay member of Congress, came out after the late Gerry Studds of Massachusetts. Studds was forced to come out while Frank was the first member of Congress to come out voluntarily. He talks now about starting work in 1971 at age 31, a year before being elected to the Massachusetts state House, worried that someone would learn his secret.
"I spent nights and weekends alone and terrified that someone would find out that I was gay," said Frank in an It Gets Better video. "I didn't have the courage to be honest about my sexuality until I was 47 years old, I'd been a member of Congress for six years." But Frank understands the value of coming out at any age, even while downplaying the weight of his own decision. "I have enormous admiration for people who do that now when they're in their teens and are not in some ways insulated from the prejudice," Frank said. "So for those who do that, I thank you, because you've helped make this world better or all of us."
Frank is retiring from Congress in 2012 after 16 terms.