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A Tipping Point,

A Tipping Point,


In every civil rights battle there comes a time when momentum tips irreversibly in its favor. Was 2007 that year for us? John Cloud contends, no.

There aren't many years that change everything. 1861. 1945. For gays, the most obvious is 1969, the year of Stonewall, although I am also fond of 1869, the year Karl Maria Kertbeny coined the term homosexual in pamphlets arguing against the Prussian antisodomy law. Even 1769 counts -- gays seem to be good at '69s -- as it was the year an influential essay explored Socrates' sexuality, including his fondness for young men.

A couple of other years come to mind: 1985, when Roy Scherer Jr. announced he had AIDS, which came as a shock to those who knew him as Rock Hudson. You could also include 1957, the year a psychology journal published a paper by researcher Evelyn Hooker showing that sample groups of gays and straights performed no differently on psychological tests. The paper was later used to help persuade the American Psychiatric Association to withdraw its classification of homosexuality as an illness.

It happens that 1957 was also the year the term tipping point first appeared. Actually, University of Chicago political scientist Morton Grodzins deployed the more elegant expression "tip point" to describe the moment when the proportion of African-Americans in a neighborhood grew sufficient to spark "white flight." His phrase was later popularized to the point of cliche to mean any social change that has reached a critical juncture.

I'm dallying in the past because the nice people at The Advocate have asked me to write about our year just ending, and 2007 was among the least consequential for gay history in some time. Not only did 2007 look nothing like a tipping point; it was actually a year when the struggle for gay equality took a half step back. It was a pathetic excuse for a year.

A few silly things happened. During the Super Bowl, CBS aired a harmless, funny ad showing a couple of unkempt (and presumably straight) guys accidentally kissing when their lips meet in the middle of a candy bar. One of the men then says they should "do something manly," so they fling open their shirts and rip out patches of chest hair. They scream primordially, and one shows the other the body hair in his hand. It all seems highly precoital; in fact I haven't seen something so gay since I watched my last Falcon DVD. And yet the ever-vigilant Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation somehow got offended.

It was a whole year of such inanity. In February an evangelical church official told The Denver Post that defrocked minister Ted Haggard -- who admitted "sexual immorality" after an escort said he had sex repeatedly with Haggard for years -- was now "completely heterosexual." Which was not completely believable.

Meanwhile, amid the trivial there was no progress, only lateral movement. No state authorized gays to marry in 2007, unless you count Iowa, which equalized marriage law for four hours, literally, before the judge who had ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional issued a stay on his own ruling. (Exactly one gay couple was able to wed.) Instead, New Hampshire became the latest state to offer the separate-but-equal indignity known as civil unions.

Even in a year of continued war, the federal government didn't stop discharging gays under the fatuous "don't ask, don't tell" policy. In fact, the now-departed Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Gen. Peter Pace, told the Chicago Tribune in March that he believes gay sex is "immoral." The next day, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both cravenly declined to disagree with Pace when reporters asked the senators whether homosexuality is wrong. Clinton and Obama waited until that evening to trot out spokespeople to say gays aren't actually immoral.

Throughout the year, Obama, Clinton, and John Edwards embarrassed themselves by defending marriage inequality in various debates. And just recently, Obama's campaign signed up a preacher who claims to believe the twaddle that sexuality can be changed if you just pray hard enough.

And those are the Democrats. Rudolph Giuliani, who has generally supported gay equality and famously lived with a gay couple when one of his marriages was failing, promised the Christianists in 2007 that, if elected, he would appoint right-wing judges like the preposterous Clarence Thomas. Wondering whom to vote for among these twits, I am reminded of the great Italian polemicist Oriana Fallaci, who told The New Yorker before she died in 2006, "Why do the people humiliate themselves by voting? I didn't vote. No! Because I have dignity.... If, at a certain moment, I had closed my nose and voted for one of them, I would spit on my own face."

So when do we get to the part of 2007 that was a tipping point? Surely not May -- and yes, I am only up to May, though I promise to speed up -- when, in a little-noticed decision, the Food and Drug Administration said it would continue its policy of barring men from giving blood if they have had any sexual contact with another male in the previous 30 years. You can visit a gonorrheal call girl in the morning and then go give blood in the afternoon, but if you and another guy jacked each other off at summer camp when you were 13, you are ineligible. The policy dates to 1983--1983! A year of AIDS panic and Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell (who, blessedly, went to heaven in 2007, along with fellow cretin D. James Kennedy).

OK, here's the sum total of good news from 2007: In California gay inmates can have even more prison sex now that state officials have changed their policy to allow conjugal visits for gays. Hot. But that's all I can think of.

Oh, wait -- there was that pro basketball player who came out. Except he's actually a retired basketball player. And no one had ever heard of him. I'll buy you a cocktail if you can spell his name correctly without the aid of Google.

It was a long year of near misses. We almost got a gay mayor in Dallas, but Councilman Ed Oakley came in second. Instead, we got the straight Republican mayor of San Diego, Gerald Sanders, who joined the gay cause with a weepy press conference announcing he had reversed his position and now supports same-sex marriage. The press conference was very sweet -- Mayor Sanders, who has a lesbian daughter, blubbered like an overgrown hound -- but at this very late date in history, what he said was completely obvious: We are human beings who deserve equality. Thanks.

We almost got a gay character in the best-selling children's book series of all time -- but actually Albus Dumbledore is dead, and although he is the mightiest wizard of the era, he apparently couldn't find a boyfriend in 115 years of life. (What hope have I?) J.K. Rowling outed Dumbledore post-publication, not letting him speak for himself in the thousands of pages of books in which he he appeared.

We almost got a gay senator -- except he says he's not, that he just takes a wide stance. Once again we will not get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; as I write this, the House has passed ENDA and the Senate is considering it, but this president will never sign it. Which means the bill is entirely symbolic -- and yet in the process of getting enough votes for ENDA in the House, we sold out transgender people yet again by removing protections for them from the bill.

We did get Doogie Howser -- nearly 20 years after he was a (presumably) gay teenager, with a hit show, whose coming-out would have really meant something. We also got a former college basketball player named Zach

Puchtel who came out as bi, although on his blog he recently said that though he's "not straight," he prefers to be with women. (He's also now an insurance salesman -- seriously -- so I'm not even sure why we're talking about him.) Similarly, we almost got an emo musician named Pete Wentz -- except that, oh, yeah, he told The Advocate he doesn't like penises. Sorry, but you're not a bisexual if you dislike penises.

And finally, we got word from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that "in Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country." Which is true. In Iran the homosexuals are castrated and murdered by the state. They live in fear of the religious fanatics who run the country, the ones who publicly hanged two teenage boys in 2005 just for being gay. (Have you seen the pictures? I can barely look at the kids -- one not old enough to shave -- as the hangmen begin their work.) Ahmadinejad is the one person who can make Dick Cheney look better. Cheney, the proud father of a lesbian. Cheney, who can be seen in photos beaming over his grandson, who was born in 2007 to Mary Cheney and partner Heather Poe. Cheney, who is said to want to bomb Iran. Perhaps he'll get his way in the New Year, which could make 2008 a real tipping point, for us and everyone else.

Cloud is a staff writer at Time.

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