Gives Thanks

By Advocate Contributors

Originally published on Advocate.com November 16 2010 11:00 PM ET

Lady Gaga Speaks Out for Gay Rights

You’re nobody till somebody hates you, and Lady Gaga is no mere arriviste. Because she has a monstrously large gay fan base, she may have seen it as a badge of honor when Fred Phelps and his Westboro bullies picketed her concerts with “God Hates Lady Gaga” signs. She also drew the ire of Camille Paglia, who emerged from mothballs to give Our Lady G a tongue-lashing, calling her overconceptualized, calculating, and antiseptic. Trouper that she is, Gaga soldiered on. She continued to provoke as a multiplatinum-selling fashionista of the highest order. But we most love Gaga for having our back, for actively railing against injustice of all kinds—witness her impromptu appearance in Maine in September to speak out against “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Criticize her meat dress as tasteless if you will, but there’s no denying this Lady is a champ. 

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Doma is Declared Unconstitutional

Little in the Oval Office has changed since 1996 when it comes to marriage equality. President Bill Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act that year, told this magazine firmly, “Marriage is an institution for the union of a man and a woman.” Added rhetorical flourishes aside, President Barack Obama hasn’t strayed far from this bumper sticker of a position, even if Laura Bush, Ken Mehlman, and more than half of the American populace have. Thankfully we have a judicial system cognizant of the law’s absurdity, given that it bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages lawfully performed in states that allow them: In July a judge in Massachusetts ruled unconstitutional a critical section of DOMA, writing that it “plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state.” Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders’ civil rights project director Mary Bonauto awaits the next battle in the case, with the federal government’s appeal expected to be heard in the fall of 2011. “We are more than ready to deal with an appeal,” she says. “We have confidence in the strength and justice of our case.” 

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Olson and Boies Take on Prop. 8

Brilliant attorneys with undeniable courtroom charisma don’t always bring about the desired resolution in a lawsuit. But we’re hoping to have our cake and eat it too in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal challenge to California’s anti–marriage equality Proposition 8, which reaches the U.S. court of appeals for the ninth circuit in early December and is expected to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. During the three-week trial in January, the former adversaries in Bush v. Gore (the high court case that effectively decided the 2000 presidential election) featured testimony from leading experts in the case for marriage equality (including University of Massachusetts, Amherst, economist M.V. Lee Badgett and Harvard University history professor Nancy Cott) and reduced their foes to a simpering mess on the witness stand (that’s you, Institute for American Values president David Blankenhorn). Speaking as everyday Americans rather than seasoned activists, the four plaintiffs in the suit—Kristin Perry, Sandy Stier, Jeff Zarrillo, and Paul Katami—proved infinitely moving as witnesses. Now’s not the time to gloat—but by any measure it was an impressive showing.

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Best Companies Gets Better

The list of companies that achieved a 100 rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index grew once again, to 337 in the 2011 report (that’s way up from 13 companies in 2002). Top scorers included Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Wells Fargo, Toyota, General Motors, Chevron, Ford Motor, Citigroup, Bank of America, AT&T, JPMorgan Chase, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Cardinal Health, and Goldman Sachs. Newsmakers from the list included two previously top-rated companies, Target and Best Buy, which took hits to their scores for cash contributions to the campaigns of antigay politicians.

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Celebrities Come Out

It all began last December when, after being spotted on an all-female cruise with her girlfriend, Family Ties actress Meredith Baxter surprised a generation of TV viewers by acknowledging she’s a later-in-life lesbian. The overwhelmingly positive response—not to mention sudden high visibility—seemed to open the floodgates for others. By spring Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie told The Advocate that he identifies as queer, while Will & Grace’s Sean Hayes ended a dozen years of speculation by telling this magazine he’s gay. Pop star Ricky Martin wrote on his website that he is “a fortunate homosexual man,” and True Blood’s Anna Paquin disclosed her bisexuality in a PSA for the Give a Damn Campaign. Two women in music, Christian vocalist Jennifer Knapp and country-western singer Chely Wright, raised their profiles by coming out as lesbian. Also coming out this year were talk radio host Stephanie Miller and former Power Ranger David Yost, and even the venerable Archie Comics caught up with the times and introduced a character who revealed he’s gay to unflappable Jughead. The biggest political coming-out was by former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman—and then there are all the politicians whose orientation was revealed (but kudos to California state senator Roy Ashburn, who came out after his drunk-driving arrest and apologized for his antigay record). Regardless of how, where, or why they spoke out, the message is welcome.

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Gay Kissers Break the Record

When College of New Jersey students Matty Daley and Bobby Canciello announced in August they would attempt to break the Guinness world record for longest kiss, they wanted to make one thing clear: It wasn’t sexual. “I am in a relationship, and my boyfriend supports the cause completely,” Bobby said. “We all know each other, and we’re very close friends.” When the time finally came to go for the record, friends of the two took turns emceeing the “Our Lips Are Sealed” event on UStream, reminding viewers repeatedly that this was about the fight for equal rights. Camera crews—and the stray protester or two—turned out as the clock ticked down and on September 19 at 8:06 p.m., Matty and Bobby were victorious, having stood lip-locked for 32 hours, 30 minutes and 45 seconds, beating the previous record by 23 minutes. They were tired and hungry but thrilled they’d captured so many eyes. The two are petitioning Guinness to certify the record, and the earliest they’ll appear in the book is 2012, but they agree that they got their message across. Says Bobby: “Love is universal no matter who you are.” 

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Gay Jocks Hit Cologne

If only Leni Riefenstahl could have trained her lens on this German athletic event: At the end of July about 10,000 competitors converged in Cologne, Germany, for Gay Games VIII, featuring an expansive athletes’ village for after-event festivities (and perhaps a little carousing). The Gay Games selected Cleveland as the host city for 2014!

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Political Wives Support Equality

As political wives go, Cindy McCain (pictured) and Laura Bush have always seemed a bit inaccessible. Maybe because they weren’t fashion icons like Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Obama or intriguingly self-destructive like Mary Todd Lincoln and Betty Ford, the wives of U.S. senator John McCain and former president George W. Bush didn’t capture a large gay following. But when Mrs. McCain and Mrs. Bush declared themselves proud proponents of marriage equality this year, gays found a reason to be enamored. In January, Mrs. McCain posed for a photo in the No H8 campaign, which raises money for equal marriage rights and other gay causes. She then caused a stir in November when she appeared in a PSA for NoH8 condemning the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, only to tweet a day later:  "I
fully support the NOH8 campaign and all it stands for and am proud to
be a part of it. But I stand by my husband's stance on DADT."

Ultimately, it was the even-tempered Laura Bush who m ade people sit up and pay attention when she declared on Larry King Live in May that committed gay couples “ought to have, I think, the same sort of rights that everyone has." When a Republican former first lady, so well liked and respected by middle America, endorses marriage equality, you know the national sentiment is evolving. 

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Marriage Equality Comes to D.C.

“You are my friend, my partner, my love. I will love you today, tomorrow, and forever.” With that simple, resonant statement, Sinjoyla Townsend wed Angelisa Young on March 9, making them the first gay couple to tie the knot in Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the marriage equality bill into law late in 2009, and in July a D.C. court of appeals ruled against allowing an initiative on the ballot to invalidate same-sex marriages entered into in the district. 

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Annise Parker Takes Houston

The decade began on a positive note when Annise Parker assumed office January 2 as Houston’s mayor—the first lesbian leader of a major American city. Parker soon sprang into action, working on issues both arguably sexy (implementing preservation of historic buildings in Houston, the nation’s largest urban center without zoning) and decidedly not sexy (pushing for a citywide drainage fee). But Parker, active in gay causes since her college days at Rice University, has not shied away from LGBT rights. Using an executive order in April, she added gender identity and expression to Houston’s nondiscrimination policy for city workers and expanded LGBT protections to users of all city-run facilities. She wants to offer municipal employees partner benefits and is pushing for a citywide vote on the issue—the only way to change the current policy. This year Parker found herself pitted against Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov as both city leaders vied for an important 2014 oil convention. Although Moscow eventually won out, in a strange bit of irony, the lesbian mayor was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world in April, while the virulently homophobic Luzhkov was fired by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in September.

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Catholic Kiss-Off

The Annes broke up with Catholicism. Actress Anne Hathaway revealed this year that when her elder brother Michael came out, “The whole family converted to Episcopalianism.… Why should I support an organization that has a limited view of my beloved brother?” (She added that she didn’t stick with the Episcopal Church either.) Author Anne Rice (pictured), in an unheralded, unassuming Facebook post that became international news, wrote, “For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.” 

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Videos Get the Gay Makeover

 AIDS/LifeCycle riders re-created Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”, fit guys in tiny shorts created a super-synchronized dance ode to Perry’s “Peacock” (with an actual peacock), and U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan made their own elaborately staged version of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.” The music video remake trend was in full force this year, whether by gays or in tribute to emerging gay icons. The production values have gone up significantly since the first crop of “Single Ladies” remakes in messy bedrooms, so would-be Cecil B. DeMilles take note: You better bring it.

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Straight Allies Take the Field

Professional sports aren’t known for being particularly gay-inclusive, but player by player, progress is being made. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo first showed his support with a Huffington Post op-ed in 2009, and he continued pressing the issue in 2010. On the eve of playing in the Super Bowl for the New Orleans Saints, vocal gay rights proponent Scott Fujita (pictured) spoke with The Advocate about his and Ayanbadejo’s positions: “If Brendon’s like me, I don’t know if he’d consider what we’ve done all that courageous. We have strong feelings about equal rights, and to me, expressing those feelings isn’t courageous, it’s the right thing to do.” From the field to the rink, when French-Canadian sportscasters mocked out figure skater Johnny Weir for being too effeminate to compete against men at the 2010 Olympics, Dorothy Hamill was visibly upset—and said as much—on his behalf. Former basketball star Isiah Thomas and his son Joshua posed for the No H8 campaign in support of marriage equality in August, and internationally, Real Madrid footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and Sale Sharks rugby player Ben Cohen have both repeatedly expressed their support for gay rights. In September cricketer Jimmy Anderson took his support a step further—he stripped nude for the U.K. gay men’s mag Attitude.

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LGBTS Disrobe Down Under

 Spencer Tunick, the American photographer famed for his images of nude masses of people, was commissioned by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras to take portraits of a truly massive crowd of 5,000 buck-naked celebrants on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. At 6 a.m. on March 1, Tunick welcomed the crowd and thanked the “heterosexual people who have come here to get naked with their gay friends.” Everyone braved the chilly temperatures and Tunick’s directions to stand, lie, raise their arms, and kiss (a partner, a friend—or, if alone, a stranger) for the creation of his striking images of all body shapes, ages, and colors.

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Dan Savage Makes It Better

Moved by the heartbreaking suicides of several gay youth, author and sex advice columnist Dan Savage (pictured) recorded a very simple video with his husband, Terry, telling LGBT teens that the torment and harassment they face as young adults will abate as they escape high school bullies, oppressive churches, and insensitive families, and adding, most significantly, that suicide is not a solution. His YouTube channel quickly filled to capacity with similar videos from celebrities and others, sharing messages of hope, and “It Gets Better” quickly became a widespread Internet meme, even prompting an “It Gets Better” video from President Obama and a planned book.

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HIV Travel Ban is Lifted

 On January 4 the law that had prevented HIV-positive non-U.S. citizens from traveling or immigrating to the United States officially ended. Over the years—since 1987, when the policy was first implemented, and then in 1993, when Congress made it law—activists decried the ban as having no public health benefit, and both domestic and international groups boycotted the VI International AIDS Conference, held in San Francisco in 1990, to protest the immigration law. Although a policy for Homeland Security to provide short-term waivers was eventually put in place, particularly so that seropositive activists and physicians could travel into the country for HIV-related confabs, the VIII International AIDS Conference, which had been planned for Boston in 1992, was moved to Amsterdam as an international protest. During a White House ceremony in October 2009, at which President Obama announced the repeal, he called the ban “a decision rooted in fear rather than fact,” adding, “We are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people with HIV from entering our own country. If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it.”

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America Goes Gleek

 No wonder gay viewers are among the nation’s biggest Gleeks. The smash hit features out and proud teen Kurt (played by gay actor Chris Colfer, pictured) who has a fierce attitude, a super-supportive dad, and friends who are there for him. Colfer’s not the only out talent involved—Jane Lynch snapped up an Emmy for playing delectable villain Sue Sylvester, heartthrobs Jonathan Groff and Cheyenne Jackson have joined the cast, and Ryan Murphy is the mastermind behind it all. The innovative musical series also promises more gay characters—Darren Criss has begun appearing as gay student Blaine, and Kurt reportedly will get a boyfriend this season. And maybe audiences will finally meet teenage diva Rachel’s (Lea Michele) two gay dads. All this and show tunes too!

AMERICA GOES GLEEK CHRIS COLFER X390 (FOX) | ADVOCATE.COM

An Editor Strips for Scholarship

 Zack Rosen, editor of website The New Gay, had to do something to set himself apart from others vying for Freedom to Marry’s scholarship to the annual progressive powwow Netroots Nation. So he promised to show the goods—the full monty—on porn site Fleshbot if that site’s readers went to FreedomToMarry.org to vote for his scholarship bid. The promise proved too tantalizing for Fleshbotters to ignore, and Rosen and two other winners were whisked off to Las Vegas for the July convention. Rosen made good (and then some) on his promise.

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Brendan Burke's Legacy

When it comes to gay rights and acceptance, the Burkes have become one of the most vocally supportive families in sports. Brendan Burke, a student manager for the Miami University hockey team, was also the son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke (pictured). Brendan came out in 2009 in an article for ESPN.com, making headlines for hockey fans in the U.S. and Canada. After 21-year-old Brendan was killed in a February car accident, his parents picked up his legacy by participating in Pride parades, launching an antibullying website to aid LGBT youths in Canada, and spearheading an internship program for students who aspire, as Brendan did, to work in hockey administration.

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First Lesbian Episcopal Bishop Consecrated

Mary Glasspool never wanted to be a lightning rod when she was tapped to become the first openly lesbian Episcopal bishop. And yet by the time she was consecrated in May in Long Beach, Calif., conservative factions of her church—as well as the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams—had already cast her in that light. Her new position, Williams contended, would only serve to further erode ties between the Episcopal Church and the larger Anglican Communion. Considering the warm welcome she met in the Los Angeles diocese, Glasspool may ultimately prove her naysayers wrong. And she’s provided company to Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who ascended to church leadership in 2003 under similarly controversial terms. “Having Mary’s support is something I’ve longed for,” he told The Advocate earlier this year. “It’s been a bit lonely these past seven years.” 

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Daniel Radcliffe Supports Gay Youths

 One straight ally who got involved — even before the autumn’s tragic string of reported suicides — is Harry Potter portrayer Daniel Radcliffe. In May the 20-year-old international superstar recorded a suicide prevention PSA for the Trevor Project, and he then spent a lot of time telling media outlets why he bothered. “It’s something I’ve always been quite passionate about,” Radcliffe told MTV News. “Because I grew up around gay men, it was always a natural thing to me. It was never something I ever gave a second thought to.… And now I am in a position where I can help an amazing thing like the Trevor Project.”

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Rachel Maddow Covers Uganda

 Rachel Maddow has been key to focusing public consciousness on Uganda’s draconian “kill the gays” bill—and its connection to the secretive, homophobic Christian group known as the Family, whose members include many powerful U.S. religious and elected officials. “The idea for the ‘kill the gays’ bill was first floated at an event associated with the Uganda National Prayer Breakfast, an event sponsored by the Family,” she told viewers of her eponymous talk show in February. In jaw-dropping reports featuring investigative journalist Jeff Sharlet, Maddow helped underline bill sponsor David Bahati’s cozy relationship with some evangelical U.S. politicians and preachers, including U.S. senator James Inhofe and megachurch pastor Rick Warren. Only after the GLAAD Media Award–winning reports and ensuing the public outcry did Inhofe and Warren disavow the murderous bill—which remains pending in Uganda’s parliament.  

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Constance McMillen Goes to Prom

Senior year was anything but easy for Constance McMillen. When the 18-year-old invited another young woman to her prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss., she had no idea the nation would be riveted by her actions—or conceive of the blowback she’d receive. Last spring school district officials told McMillen she couldn’t bring a same-sex date to the prom, then canceled the event altogether when McMillen resisted their decision. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the district on McMillen’s behalf, a group of parents set up an outside prom, and then the story gets really crazy. “They had two proms and I was only invited to one of them,” McMillen told The Advocate. “The one that I went to had seven people [including her and her date], and everyone went to the other one I wasn’t invited to.” McMillen soon transferred schools, and she graduated in the summer. There’s a happy ending: The school district settled with McMillen for $35,000 and agreed to a nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation. Sounds like a perfect way to close out the TV movie currently being made of McMillen’s inspiring story. 

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"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Whiplash

 “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is no longer the law of the land. Wait, yes it is. Sort of. Maybe? The legal machinations after a federal judge’s September decision in the case Log Cabin Republicans v. United States of America declaring the policy unconstitutional threw the already turbulent process of repealing the 17-year-old policy into a confusing spasm—one reminiscent of the Prop. 8 decision tumult only a month prior. If you’re still confused by the back-and-forth, you’re not alone. Between injunctions and stays, the matter is not settled as of press time; however, the Department of Defense has limited discharge approvals to the secretaries of the respective branches of the military, which should considerably reduce discharges while the matter churns in courts and Congress.

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GetEqual Confronts the White House

 Our hat’s off to Kathy Griffin. But March 18 wasn’t her day to rule the gay news cycle. While the comedian and gay rights supporter spoke at a large Washington, D.C., rally to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” members of the direct action group GetEqual were more interested in hijacking the event than being in the audience. Lt. Dan Choi (pictured), who was later to be honorably discharged for coming out on national television, talked his way onto the stage and implored those in attendance to march to the White House. The rest is photographic history: Choi and Capt. James Pietrangelo II handcuffed themselves to the gates with GetEqual’s support and stood resolutely until they were arrested. Since then the viral protest group has shut down Las Vegas Boulevard, disrupted congressional committee meetings, and heckled President Barack Obama at Democratic fund-raisers. Effective advocacy or counterproductive, thorn-in-the-side shenanigans? History will be the judge.

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Marriage Equality Circle the Globe

 Maybe it’s something in the water. Three countries touching the Atlantic—Argentina, Iceland, and Portugal—all passed marriage equality legislation this year. Iceland’s prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir (pictured), wasted no time in becoming the first gay head of state to legally marry, tying the knot with her partner in June.