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A Tipping
Point, Year?

A Tipping
Point, Year?


In every civil rights battle there comes a time when momentum tips irreversibly in its favor. Was 2007 that year for us? Two opposing views. Sean Kennedy argues, Yes.

If anyone deserves thanks for making 2007 a breakthrough year for gay people, it would have to be Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Not only did the swarthy Iranian dictator show the world that you will be laughed at if you dare assert something as ridiculous as there are no homosexuals in your country -- the guffaws of the Columbia University audience that greeted this statement still echo in my ears -- but the incident also gave rise to the loopily effective Saturday Night Live video "Iran So Far Away," in which Andy Samberg serenades the Islamic leader. Against a seductive slow-jam beat, the cutie-pie comic talk-sings about his love affair with Ahmadinejad, impersonated by cast mate Fred Armisen, while Maroon 5's Adam Levine supplies plaintive falsetto vocals on the chorus. "You crazy for this world, Mahmoud," Samberg eventually concludes, as the object of his affection reclines in a sparkly red cocktail dress before him. "You can deny the Holocaust all you want, but you can't deny that there's something between us. I know you say there's no gays in Iran, but you're in New York now, baby--it's time to stop hiding and start living." Then Samberg reaches out and tenderly caresses his love's beard. Touching stuff -- although maybe not in Tehran.

If the video was not as radioactive as 2006's Samberg-Justin Timberlake collaboration "Dick in a Box," which everyone and their mother was talking about, "Iran So Far Away" was arguably more influential, taking on a man revered in much of the Islamic world, who reputedly could send a nuclear-tipped warhead into Israel if he wanted. Its breezy caricature potently showed how outdated Ahmadinejad's homophobia is and, by extension, indicted the prejudice and hatred of antigay zealots in our own country. The implicit message, seen by millions of people around the world: If you speak out against gay people, you will look like an idiot.

Certainly that's what happened to Isaiah Washington, who kicked off the year with his gleeful utterance of "faggot" backstage at the Golden Globes in front of his stunned Grey's Anatomy cast members -- including T.R. Knight, the original object of the epithet. As ugly as the episode was, it achieved at least one positive result: The ascension of this f word into the verboten. A.I. (After Isaiah), the slur is no longer acceptable in public discourse. Hallelujah!

Indeed, in terms of acceptance, 2007 was the year that the gays were finally embraced on a visible nationwide scale in America--when society at large came to our side. There was Ellen hosting the Oscars only weeks after she acted as confessor to a teary-eyed Knight on her talk show. (Too bad she would go on to tarnish her golden aura by defying the Writers Guild of America strike and tangling with an animal shelter.) There was Melissa Etheridge, who in accepting her Oscar for Best Song (for An Inconvenient Truth's "I Need to Wake Up") thanked her "incredible wife Tammy and our four children," scoring one for gay families everywhere. There was Melissa again, at the Democratic presidential forum on LGBT issues televised by Logo -- now seen in 28 million households! There were those damn Democratic candidates themselves, whose professed support for all things gay only made their lack of support for marriage equality that much sadder -- not to mention Barack Obama's dubious dalliance with "ex-gay" gospel singer Donnie McClurkin. And who could forget the gay and lesbian military heroes: brave men and women like Eric Alva, the first soldier injured in the Iraq war, or Ciara Durkin, the first casualty of Iraq or Afghanistan to be posthumously identified as LGBT? Former Joint Chiefs chairman Peter Pace may think homosexual sex is "immoral" -- a remark that helped torpedo his nomination for a second term -- but the righteous service of Alva and Durkin powerfully contradicts him.

And if I can toot our own horn for a minute, The Advocate celebrated its 40th anniversary in high style at a Los Angeles party that none other than Katherine Heigl, one of Hollywood's major up-and-comers, happened to drop by, only two nights after nabbing an Emmy for her role on Grey's Anatomy. Her date? Mr. Knight, her BFF, for whom she valiantly stood up all year long.

Although Knight himself missed out on an Emmy, the fact that he was nominated was victory enough for all that he had been through. Indeed, a welcome new trend seemed to materialize before our very eyes on the small screen: the actor whose career improves after coming out. Knight wasn't the only beneficiary -- Neil Patrick Harris was also up for an Emmy, for his widely praised work as the misanthropic Barney on the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Who'd have thought? That old canard that audiences won't take to gay actors playing straight roles has finally been debunked. Both Knight and Harris play emphatically heterosexual characters -- indeed, the bulked-up Knight has transformed himself into a hetero-sex symbol -- and no one seems to care. If anything, their shows are more popular than before.

Even the broadcast news closet seemed to crack just a bit when Anderson Cooper, commenting on his show about baby paraphernalia imprinted with his and CNN colleague Erica Hill's names, joked that her husband "clearly has nothing to be nervous about." And one of the best surprises of the year had to be hottie Thomas Roberts, formerly of CNN -- and last seen on the channel in the spring, when he told Cooper of his molestation by a priest -- keeping his new gig as a correspondent for syndicated entertainment show The Insider despite a vicious attack from a gay blogger, who posted what he claimed were nude photos of Roberts from the newsman's purported Manhunt profile. A year ago Roberts might've lost his job after an "expose" like that.

And where were our foes in 2007? For a change, nowhere. Hear that sound? Ah, nothing--bracing, invigorating silence. With the ultraconservative Republican base as near to ruins as it has ever been, evangelical firebrand Jerry Falwell dead and buried, and culture war maestro Karl Rove departed from the White House, there was no one to take the reins of the far-right hate machine. The Republicans' best hope for preserving power? Pro- choice, pro-gay rights presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, who was leading in national polls at press time, or Mitt Romney, whose real convictions might be more sympathetic to us than his current stump speech would suggest.

That quietude paved the way for such major legislative accomplishments as the Matthew Shepard Act hate-crimes bill and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, guided through Congress by perhaps the most gay-friendly leadership in history. Although the latter bill unfortunately omitted protections for transgender people, it was unprecedented to witness two pieces of pro-gay federal legislation pass at least one congressional chamber. And both bills are key parts of our civil rights agenda--parts that many observers, including the current Democratic presidential contenders, agree are crucial building blocks in the ongoing effort to gain federal marriage equality.

Of course, neither bill has been signed into law, and ENDA still needs to pass the Senate. But that seems like a foregone conclusion, especially if the White House flips parties in 2009. Critics might deride the current ENDA's failure to include gender identity or call the bill pointless because President Bush won't sign it. They might want to remember this: In 30 states you still can be fired if you're gay or lesbian. That discrimination at least ends as soon as ENDA enters the books. As if foreshadowing that day, the Republicans grudgingly let Larry Craig--the first gay senator?--keep his job after they initially tried to oust him following his airport bathroom shenanigans.

But the surest sign that 2007 was the year for gay people was a little-noticed event in Washington, D.C. The lack of controversy about it says more about how far we've come than anything else. On September 6 the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History unveiled, under the title "Treasures of American History," two vintage gay rights picket signs from 1965 donated by pioneering activist Frank Kameny.

Alongside mainstays of Americana like Thomas Jefferson's writing desk and other recent acquisitions such as boxer Joe Louis's gloves, these placards' simple messages of first class citizenship for homosexuals and discrimination against homosexuals is as immoral as discrimination against negroes & jews are at once shocking and ho-hum. As an accompanying photo attests, the signs were once paraded by daring social outcasts in front of the White House; now they'll be preserved forever as symbols of our national evolution.

In civil rights struggles people often talk about being on the right side of history. Well, now we're literally on that right side, behind a glass enclosure with dozens of other unquestioned artifacts of American goodness. When we look back on 2007 years from now -- and more to the point, when our ancestors look back hundreds of years from now at this historical moment -- it will be clear that this was the tipping point, when our vision for ourselves finally started to slide into reach. Just picture all the children at the Museum of American History holding their parents' hands as they pass by the display and look in wonder at the weathered picket signs, the faded yellow buttons next to them expressing gay is good. I can hear their voices already, building to a din as the future advances. "Gay is good," they'll say, before fixing their eyes on Mom and Dad. "I mean, hello!"

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