Newsmakers of the Year
It’s always gratifying to end the year on a high note, especially when it’s one of the biggest gains ever for the gay rights movement: the legislative death of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” No doubt a significant victory for President Barack Obama, whose commitment to fierce advocacy had been repeatedly questioned while repeal efforts stumbled.
While a now-divided Congress casts doubt on further federal LGBT gains in the next session — and while setbacks for marriage equality in places like New York and New Jersey are still stark reminders of what’s yet to be achieved — there's much to celebrate in 2010. Though by no means exhaustive, this list gives a glimpse of those who shaped LGBT news, seasoned activists, newfound allies, and impartial-but-incisive jurists alike.
Pennsylvania representative Patrick Murphy
Many heroes converged at the Department of Interior in Washington, D.C. to witness President Obama sign “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal into law on the morning of December 22. But one politician received more rousing applause than any other, to the point where the voices of many exuberant ceremony attendees were rendered hoarse: outgoing Congressman Patrick Murphy, who spearheaded repeal efforts in the House. The Iraq War veteran never had any doubts that he’d see an end to the discriminatory policy. “I used to jump out of airplanes for a living, so I was always confident that my chute was going to open up,” he toldThe Advocate. “Paratroopers don’t quit.”
Ted Olson and David Boies
Two ultra-famous attorneys who argued opposing sides of Bush v. Gore a decade ago undeniably helped to mainstream the marriage equality movement this year. In January, the duo put the issue on trial in San Francisco before U.S. district judge Vaughn R. Walker, who eight months later declared in a sweeping opinion that California has no interest in discriminating against gay and lesbian couples who wish to marry — couples including the plaintiffs in the case, Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier; and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo. Proposition 8, the antigay state ballot measure that passed in 2008, violated fundamental rights, Walker found. The case is now before a three-judge panel of the ninth circuit court of appeals.
President Obama has presided over an astounding gay civil rights milestone this year. But it hasn’t made us forget about one of the fiercest advocates working in the executive branch today: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who declared in a 2010 pride speech that “gay rights are human rights,” who has pushed tirelessly to secure benefits for gay State Department employees, who wore purple on the October 20 remembrance day for gay teens lost to suicide, and who recorded an “It Gets Better” video before it became nearly de rigueur for other high-ranking, like-minded officials.
Maj. Margaret Witt and Maj. Mike Almy
We could devote an entire “people of the year” list for to service members and advocates who had the guts to speak up and fight hard against “don’t ask, don’t tell”: advocacy groups like Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Servicemembers United; members of Congress who stood up while others wavered; discharged members of the armed forces who were arrested for taking a stand against bigotry — we are all indebted for their work. And we found two repeal voices quite powerful for their simple resonance: Maj. Margaret Witt (pictured left), an Air Force flight nurse who won her federal lawsuit for reinstatement in September; and Maj. Mike Almy, another decorated Air Force officer who was booted after 13 years of military service when his private emails were searched (on his last day of active duty he was taken off base by a police escort). Almy has filed his own reinstatement suit along with coplaintiffs Staff Sergeant Anthony Loverde and Petty Officer Second Class Jason Knight.
Though both Witt and Almy received plenty of media attention, neither is a grandstanding activist. In interviews, Witt is a woman of few words. But the sum of those words is infinitely powerful: I love my work, I love to serve, I just want my job back. Almy took a story of profound personal tragedy and made a compelling case to the country on why this devastating policy needs to end. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that nearly 8 and 10 Americans now support gays serving openly in the armed forces.
Victoria Kolakowsi and Theresa Sparks
2010 was a year of multiple historic firsts for the transgender community. Among the most powerful: the first openly transgender person elected to the bench. Victoria Kolakowski (pictured left) narrowly won her November race for Alameda County Superior Court in California’s East Bay, and as Transgender Law Center executive director Masen Davis saw it, “We’re fortunate that the voters judged Vicky on her merits.” Kolakowski joins another Bay Area transgender victory in the midterm elections: Theresa Sparks (right), who was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Robin McGehee and Kip Williams
Some bristle at their tactics; others revel in them. One thing’s for sure: When GetEqual's Kip Williams and Robin McGehee (pictured center, along with backers Paul Yandura, left, and Jonathan Lewis, right) launched the direct action group this spring, they did it with a bang — organizing a group of activists and gay service members including Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. James Pietrangelo II, who handcuffed themselves to the White House gates in protest of "don't ask, don't tell." A symbolic statement, to say the least. The group has an uphill battle next year as they try to push the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) in a Congress now divided. But don’t expect them to soft-pedal their message.