The penultimate year of the 2010s is now in its 15th month. At least that's what it feels like. It was only about 10 months ago when Adam Rippon became America's sweetheart and the survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School became uninentional heroes. Those events of February encapsulate the entire year -- especially for our community -- soaring highs and stunning lows.
As we begin the new year with a disastrous presidency teetering on collapse and an illegitimate president looking for a scapegoat to rile up his base, it's easy to fill with dread. But the outlook is not so dark. In less than a week, Nancy Pelosi takes over the House of Representatives, dozens of newly elected LGBTQ politicians get sworn in, and Robert Mueller's investigation continues. After a banner year of film and television representation last year, Hollywood preps even more queer-centered productions. Conservative nations, including India, are making huge strides toward equality.
Behind all these stories are individuals; people whose bravery, insight, even humor, helped turn a dour 2018 into a year of resistance and resilience. Obviously, not all things are rosy though -- some groups are still working ceaselessly to do our community harm, and wielding results. Meet all these people, mostly good but a few bad, below.
Person of the Year: LGBTQ Migrants
It's hard to believe that any LGBTQ person would clamor to get into Trump's America. The incompetent racist has shown absolute malevolence to the L,G,B, and Q, and launched an all-out war on the T. But as bad as we have it here, there are millions who have it so much worse.
Our American bubble was burst this year by the caravan of migrants -- i.e., aslyum seekers -- marching north through Mexico into the U.S. These people are absolutely destitute and desperate, many literally running for their lives.
Of the approximately 3,600-member caravan, at least 50-100 are LGBTQ. Their situation is so dire they had to separate from the larger group and seek safety in numbers after encountering jeering and taunts from fellow migrants, as well as Mexican locals they encountered on their journey. The queer migrants told NBC News some of them were robbed by their fellow travelers, while others were pelted with garbage by other migrants. But as some of the queer asylum seekers told Rolling Stone, what they faced in their native Central American countries was far worse. LGBTQ people -- facing violent discrimination and dangerous sex work -- spoke of certain death upon returning to places like Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
Their lives will not get much easier when they seek asylum with U.S. immigration officials. Convincing the American government you are fleeing violence, oppression, or extreme poverty has always been difficult and cumbersome, but the Trump administration has made it even more onerous. A judge just struck down guidance from the Justice Department -- enacted by racist former-Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- that made it more difficult for migrants to gain asylum because of domestic abuse and gang violence. That ruling helps, but Lynly Egyes of the Transgender Law Center, said it remains very difficult to prove homophobia or transphobia is a threat to one's live or livelihood.
Even with all these hoops and all this hate, these people push through. These migrants believe they deserve better lives and are fighting to make that happen. They still believe America is the land of opportunity. For their bravery, tenacity, optimism, and persistence, the LGBTQ migrants are our people of the year.
Finalist: Conversion Therapy Survivors
Some of us living in big cities think of "conversion therapy," also commonly referred to as "ex-gay programs," as anachronistic; a problem we no longer have to worry about. But conversion therapy is still very much a scourge.
UCLA's Williams Institute estimates that around 700,000 LGBTQ adults have undergone conversion therapy in a vain attempt to turn them straight or cisgender; that's more people than the population of Washington, D.C. Tens of thousands will undergo it in the coming years.
States and municipalities are taking action by banning the practice among children and teens. But the practice remains legal in 35 states, many of which are the most prone to push it on gender-nonconforming youth. Meanwhile, there are virtually no legal obstacles to performing it on people over the age of 18, many of whom are impressionable young people seeking love and validation. Unlicensed, under-the-table "ex-gay" programs also exist and are hard to prosecute.
All these facts and laws fail to illustrate the human toll; what it does to the self-esteem and development of people already at a disadvantage in society. Two well-received films were released this year that helped personalize the crime of conversion therapy -- The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Boy Erased. The former film was loosely based on the true story of Zach Stark and the latter on the memoir by Garrard Conley.
Dismal or offensive representation in mass media is a topic often brought up in LGBTQ circles, but there may be no minority more invisible in mainstream film, television, and the internet than Asians -- gay, bi, straight, cis, or transgender. This year's Crazy Rich Asians shook things up, though in a hyper-fantasy world of opulent wealth. Back on Earth, Eugene Lee Yang is increasing representation of gay Asians, and not just as wealth- and marriage-obsessed strivers. One-fourth of the adventurous internet quartet known as the Try Guys -- who started on Buzzfeed but now have their own production company -- Yang proudly centered his queer identity this year, granting interviews to LGBTQ publications and discussing the importance of seeing himself as attractive in a world where "no fats, no femmes, no Asians" is still a thing.
"I'm aware of comments that have always sort of been around how I look," he told Out. "And it's interesting, because the core of my experience has always been very othered. Because of my background, growing up Asian in a town with no other Asians, that compiled a lot of great mental blocks, emotionally. Sure, I haven't come to terms emotionally with my own attractiveness in my mind, but I have been able to watch myself as an attractive, like, piece of visual content in a weird way, through my work."
Yang also walks the walk, using his following to increase awareness of the Trevor Project, which offers free hotlines for struggling queer youth. Yang hosted the TrevorLive fundraiser this month in L.A. and filmed a video of him volunteering with the organization; it now has nearly 1.8 million views.
In the clip, Yang explains how he can empathize with struggling LGBTQ kids: "I would be able to speak personally about being able to overcome my own self-loathing and my own bouts of depression growing up. I really did hate who I was... Everything I am today, that people know, was born from that struggle and getting over that struggle was probably the most poignant and hardest thing I ever had to do in my life, so I guess to be able to talk to other kids about it is probably one of the most important things I can do."
Finalist: Janelle Monae
It's been quite a year for singular pop sensation Janelle Monae. On the eve of the release of her critically acclaimed and artistically groundbreaking album Dirty Computer in April, the multitalented star quietly came out in a very humanizing and revealing Rolling Stone interview.
"Being a queer black woman in America -- someone who has been in relationships with both men and women -- I consider myself to be a free-ass motherfucker," she stated bluntly.
Monae has historically dodged inquiries relating to her sexuality. "I only date androids," she'd often reply, before swaying the conversation back to music. But throughout 2018, the previously ambiguous singer's newfound transparency has only further endeared her to fans. Initially identifying as bisexual, Monae later clarified that after reading about pansexuality, she realized that "these are things that I identify with too -- I'm open to learning more about who I am."
The fashion-forward artist also caused a stir when she not-so-subtly addressed female sexuality by donning the now-infamous "vagina pants," created by Dutch designer Duran Lantink, in the video for her single "Pynk."
If you're in the New York area, you can now see these lush chaps reminiscent of the female anatomy in person, at the Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology's current exhibition, "Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color." -Desiree Guerrero
Finalist: Hannah Gadsby
It's safe to say that Hannah Gadsby changed comedy forever in 2018. Midway through her incendiary summer Netflix special Nanette, the deadpan lesbian from Tasmania burned it all down with an excoriation of toxic masculinity that grew out of her rage from having been bullied, beaten, and sexually assaulted for her gender and sexuality.
Her performance was a tour de force custom-made for the #MeToo era in which her gentle comedy veered into a metered furor. With the audience already enrapt from Gadsby's affable humor about subjects like her small-town roots, they remained captive as she detailed the horrors of having been beaten for being a lesbian before segueing into demanding an end to propping up bad men/great artists like Pablo Picasso and Roman Polanski.
"There is no way anyone would dare test their strength out on me, because you all know there is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself!" Gadsby said in Nanette.
The special became water cooler conversation for months.
"I didn't do it lightly," told The Advocate this summer. "I really did break the contract with my audience. To be facetious, I think I can be proud that I've been able to shock them and pique this attention. That's very hard to do in this day and age."
Gadsby, 40, proclaimed in her special that she was quitting comedy, but she shows no signs of stopping. Just this month she appeared atThe Hollywood Reporter'sWomen in Entertainment breakfast and took down the alleged "good men" who stand by silent and complicit allowing "bad men" to be bad.
"I want to speak about the very big problem I have with the good men, especially the good men who take it upon themselves to talk about the bad men," Gadsby told a confused audience of Hollywood A-listers. "I find good men talking about bad men incredibly irritating, and this is something the good men are doing a lot of at the moment."
Gadsby may have vowed to retire from comedy, but her career as a cultural lightning rod is just taking off.
Finalist: Rachel Weisz
Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz pulled off a hat trick playing queer in two excellent, prestige films in 2018, a year that will go on record as one of the best for LGBTQ cinema. Tired of the dearth of meaty roles for women in Hollywood and bored with heterosexual romance, the straight ally began a deep dive into lesbian literature to find a suitable story to adapt.
"It can just get really boring watching heterosexual people, whether you're gay or not," Weisz told The Advocate last spring. "It's boring, particularly when the woman is the object of desire rather than the agent of desire. That's what we've been spoon-fed -- that the woman is the object of the male subjectivity, of his desire and passion. Oh, I'm bored of that. Really bored."
Weisz pored through classics of lesbian literature including Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, Isabel Miller's Patience and Sarah, and Ann Bannon's Journey to a Woman.
But at the end of her research, the Oscar winner for The Constant Gardener shepherded Disobedience, Naomi Alderman's 2006 love story between women in a cloistered Jewish community in London, to the screen with A Fantastic Woman director Sebastian Lelio at the helm. Weisz stepped into the role of Ronit, the rabbi's daughter who was ousted from her Orthodox community for her sexual transgressions. She returns to her home upon her father's death and rekindles a passionate relationship with her first love, Esti (Rachel McAdams), who, despite knowing she has no interest in men, stayed behind and married their best childhood friend, Dovid (Allesandro Nivola).
Fast-forward to awards season and Weisz is part of a trio of actresses likely to garner Oscar nominations for their roles in Yorgos Lanthimos's The Favourite, a wicked romp that focuses on the women who seek to gain favor with the 18th-century English monarch Queen Anne (Olivia Colman).
Queer to its core, The Favourite has both Emma Stone's Abigail and Weisz's Sarah the bedding the queen, but a narrative emerges that Anne and Sarah's borderline sadomasochistic relationship is a love story worth cheering for.
Having already landed several awards and nominations from various groups, including several Golden Globe nominations, The Favourite is poised for a possible Best Picture Oscar nomination. No other film about queer women, not even the prestige film Carol (2015), has been able to crack that category in decades.
Finalist: The Rainbow Wave
The 2018 midterm election saw not only a blue wave, with Democrats gaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives and winning gubernatorial contests in some unlikely places (Kansas!), but a rainbow wave, as more than 150 out LGBTQ candidates elected to local, state, and national offices. Colorado's Jared Polis (pictured, left) became the first openly gay man elected governor of any state. Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema (right), like Polis a veteran of the House, will be sworn in as the first out bisexual U.S. senator when Congress reconvenes in January. Some of the other big victors in the rainbow wave were Sharice Davids of Kansas, the first gay Native American elected to Congress; Angie Craig of Minnesota, the first out lesbian (or LGBTQ person in general) elected to Congress from that state; Katie Hill, a bisexual woman elected to Congress from Southern California; and Dana Nessel, a lesbian who as Michigan's attorney general will be the first out statewide elected official there. All of them knocked off homophobic opponents. There were many more out and proud candidates elected to city councils, mayoral offices, state legislatures, and congressional seats across the country. Meet them here and here.
Finalist: Freddie Mercury
Queen's lead singer, who died in 1991, had a surge in fame this year thanks to the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody,with Rami Malek's mesmerizing portrayal of Mercury. The film has received some criticism for taking liberties with the timeline of Mercury's life (he came out to his bandmates as HIV-positive after Queen's legendary Live Aid performance, not before, as the movie has it) and for downplaying and/or pathologizing his bisexuality. But Bohemian Rhapsody has been a major commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing musical biopic of all time, and the Queen hit from which its title comes is now the most-streamed 20th-century song. And Freddie Mercury has been introduced to a new generation.
Finalist: Alliance Defending Freedom
Our People of the Year list encompasses those who had a major impact on our lives for good or ill, and the anti-LGBTQ legal group Alliance Defending Freedom certainly had that impact for ill. ADF, which also received our top Phobie Award this year, represented Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips at the U.S. Supreme Court, winning a measured victory -- the court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which found Phillips guilty of violating the state's antidiscrimination law by refusing to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, did not show sufficient respect for his religious beliefs. The court, in a decision issued in June of this year (arguments were heard in 2017), therefore vacated the ruling, but it did not approve a broad license to discriminate against LGBTQ people, which is most likely what the ADF wanted. Trump's Department of Labor, however, cited the case in encouraging federal contractors to discriminate against those who offend their religion, and the ADF is still fighting for the right to discriminate. It's asked the Supreme Court to take up cases where ADF is trying to end a Pennsylvania school district's transgender-inclusive restroom policy and advocating for a funeral home's right to fire a trans employee. Oh, and it's got another case involving Masterpiece Cakeshop, for a refusal to make a birthday cake that celebrates a trans woman's gender transition. The ADF contends that the state of Colorado is harassing Phillips by expecting him to obey the antidiscrimination law. Pictured: ADF senior vice president Kristen Waggoner.
Finalist: Emma Gonzalez
Gun control may well be the most important issue of our time, and among the most inspiring crusaders for the cause are Emma Gonzalez and the other young people who survived the mass shooting in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Gonzalez, who is bisexual, gave a powerful, inspiring speech (watch below) at the March for Our Lives the month after the tragedy. Pushing aside tears, Gonzalez spoke of the horror of living through the attack before naming all 17 if those who died, pointing out the activities they will never enjoy again thanks to our nation's lax gun laws. Then, for nearly four excruciating, powerful minutes, Gonzalez stared straight into the audience and said not a word. Then an alarm went off, indicating the end of the six-minute massacre. "Fight for your lives before it's someone else's job," Gonzalez said, before exiting the stage. This year Gonzalez also protested at the office of anti-LGBTQ, gun-loving Congressman Steve King of Iowa, who had insulted her and other activists, and she also was disdained as a "skinhead lesbian" by Maine politician Leslie Gibson, who was subsequently forced to drop out of his state legislative race. Bur smarter, more thoughtful political figures appreciate the work of Gonzalez and her fellow Parkland students -- among them former President Barack Obama, who wrote a laudatory piece about them in Time.
Finalist: Randy Rainbow
Randy Rainbow first rose to prominence during the 2016 presidential campaign, through viral videos that combined spoofs of classic musical numbers with scathing political commentary. In 2018, the gay entertainer has only refined this talent, as he continues to lampoon the Trump administration and its cavalcade of drama, controversies, scandals, and all-around fake-news-ery to the tune of "Oklahoma!"and more.
As media and social media struggles to keep pace with, fact check, and respond to the tumult, Rainbow does so with an impressive degree of wit, retooling the rhymes of Broadway hits to reflect the headlines of the day. For example, in a parody of The Sound of Music's "My Favorite Things," Rainbow nicely summarizes Trump's agenda with, "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, destroying the First Amendment, white nationalists, big fake tits, brutal dictators, and cold-hearted liars..." Rainbow croons. "Tyrants and traitors and climate deniers." In a spoof of "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" from Fiddler on the Roof, "Fact-Checker, Fact-Checker," Rainbow takes aim at Kellyanne Conway's "alternative facts" gaslighting: "I thought that facts that you fictionalize are called something else ... like lies."
Rainbow's reach isn't only within the LGBTQ community. "You might assume my demo is mostly LGBT, but I'd say that more than half of the fans on my Facebook page are straights. Go figure," said Rainbow, who counts celebrities like Debra Messing and reporters like CNN's Brianna Keilar as fans. Clearly, there is not only a universal need to fact check, but also to laugh at the absurdity of the current political moment. For providing both, Rainbow is a worthy finalist for Person of the Year.
There are other encouraging signs of progress. A film centered on a transgender woman, A Fantastic Woman, won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. A host of transgender actors have also appeared in big productions this year: Hari Nef in Assassination Nation, Jake Graf in Colette, and Rebecca Root in Colette and The Sisters Brothers.
Root, who portrayed a cisgender character in The Sisters Brothers, a Western, spoke with The Advocate about how content creators are finally beginning to realize that transgender actors can play a diversity of roles in addition to trans parts. "They are now genuinely caring and wanting to nurture minority talent," said Root, adding, "The whole climate is changing, and certainly, even the last five years, it's changed beyond recognition."
No other show on television has impacted LGBTQ lives like Pose, the groundbreaking FX series that centers on ball culture in 1980s New York. Pose not only centers on transgender and queer people of color -- it also stars them, setting a record for the number of transgender series regulars and a new bar for representation in television. The show, created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals, is unafraid to show the hardships and joys within this marginalized community, including issues like HIV, sex work, and found family. Billy Porter received a much-deserved Emmy nomination for his performance as Pray Tell, but all of the trans women involved in the production -- actors Indya Moore as Angel, MJ Rodriguez as Blanca Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson as Elektra Abundance, Hailie Sahar as LuluAbundance, and Angelica Ross as Candy Abundance, and producers Our Lady J and Janet Mock -- deserve awards recognition.
As Hollywood still struggles with portraying transgender lives, Pose provides an example of how to do things right: Let historically marginalized people tell their own stories, both in front and behind the camera. The gay co-creator Murphy is also a stellar example of how a person can use his or her privilege to help uplift other voices that need to be heard. As Canals attested to The Advocate, Pose was almost never made -- it took Murphy's faith, Canals's tenacity, and their diverse team of collaborators to see it through to the finish line. And the world is a more inclusive place for their efforts.