The decade of the 2010s saw unprecedented steps forward for the LGBTQ community in the U.S., with the winning of the right to marry same-sex partners and serve openly in the military, the election of many out candidates at the local, state, and national levels, and a rise in visibility in the culture. There also were a few steps back, especially under the presidency of Donald Trump (reversing the policies of President Barack Obama), and systemic problems that continued unabated, like the epidemic of violence against transgender people, especially women of color. Around the world, the news was a mixed bag. Several countries in Western Europe and South America enacted marriage equality, and Taiwan became the first nation in Asia to do so. But Russia stepped up its oppression of LGBTQ people, and many countries in Eastern Europe and Africa remained hostile. Herewith, a look at the top LGBTQ news stories of the decade.
June 26, 2015, is a date that will be forever celebrated among LGBTQ Americans and their allies. That's when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples had the right to legal marriage in every state in the union. "The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 5-4 majority. "Same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry." The case was brought by 14 same-sex couples and two men whose same-sex partners were deceased, with the latter including the man for whom the case was named, Jim Obergefell (pictured). Obergefell had married his terminally ill partner, John Arthur, in 2013 on the tarmac of Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Maryland, where same-sex marriage was legal, but their marriage was not recognized in their home state of Ohio. Obergefell's case was consolidated with those of other plaintiffs from Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee. While the other stories in this listing are presented in no particular order, we pronounce marriage equality the number 1 news event of the decade for LGBTQ Americans.
When Bill Clinton took office as president in 1993, he had promised to repeal the military's ban on lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members. Of course, LGB people had served, often with distinction, in the armed forces for many years, but they had to stay closeted; if they were found out, it usually resulted in discharge, and not an honorable one at that. Clinton encountered much resistance in Congress, so instead of the repeal of the ban, there came a law establishing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy — LGB troops were not to come out, but the military was not to investigate service members' sexual orientation either. That didn't work out so well, as LGB people in the armed forces continued to be investigated and discharged. The next Democratic president, Barack Obama, managed to engineer the repeal of DADT, allowing LGB members to serve openly. Congress passed the repeal bill in 2010, it was signed into law by Obama, and it went into effect September 20, 2011. The religious right still objected to open service, but most members of the military agreed the repeal was a nonevent. The ban on open service by transgender people is a separate issue — it was a military policy but not written into law, so Obama and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter were able to lift it in 2016 without congressional action. Sadly, Donald Trump has reinstated it. More about that farther down.
Two years to the day before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for nationwide marriage equality, it handed down two important decisions that paved the way. On June 26, 2013, it ruled that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional; the section had prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, so same-sex couples, even if their state recognized their marriage, could not file joint federal tax returns or claim other federal benefits. The ruling came in a case brought by Edie Windsor (pictured), who was forced to pay more than $360,000 in estate taxes because the federal government did not recognize her marriage to her late wife, Thea Spyer. Windsor would not have owed the taxes if the feds had recognized their union — in other words, if she had been married to a man. DOMA had been passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996; when Barack Obama became president in 2009, he didn't clearly support marriage equality (although he had appeared to support it back when he ran for state office in Illinois in the 1990s), but he and his administration eventually said they considered DOMA unconstitutional and declined to defend it in court. (The remaining aspect of DOMA — allowing states to not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states — fell in the marriage equality decision of 2015). On the same day in 2013, the high court let stand a lower court's ruling that struck down California's Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot measure approved by voters that revoked marriage equality in the state. California state officials had declined to defend Prop. 8, so that task fell to the measure's supporters, and the Supreme Court ruled that they did not have legal standing to defend it.
The world of organized religion saw much activity on LGBTQ issues in the 2010s. Pope Francis gave many Roman Catholics hope with statements such as "Who am I to judge?" regarding gay people. That and other comments got him named The Advocate's Person of the Year in 2013 — a designation that didn't mean he was entirely supportive of LGBTQ people, but that he stood to have great influence on their lives. Francis offered further hope by telling a gay man in 2018, “God made you like this and loves you like this,” and he met privately in 2015 with a transgender man from Spain who later said he found Francis to be “kindness personified.” Still, Francis cautioned against admitting openly gay people to the priesthood, maintained the church's opposition to same-sex relationships, and condemned the idea that gender can be fluid. No one could realistically expect him to change centuries of Catholic doctrine, but the back-and-forth was frustrating to LGBTQ Catholics and their families. Among other Christian denominations in the U.S., the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America named its first gay bishop, and the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches made church marriages available to all. The United Methodist Church remained opposed to LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage, but so many church members disagree that the denomination may split. The Southern Baptist Convention stayed homophobic and transphobic, as did other churches of a fundamentalist bent. Lest it seem we're being Christian-centric here, there wasn't a lot of change in other major religions. Conservative and Reform Judaism remain LGBTQ-friendly, while Orthodox Judaism is not. Many followers of Islam are hostile to LGBTQ people, but there is some movement toward greater acceptance.
The decade saw more visibility for transgender Americans than ever. In 2014, Orange Is the New Black's Laverne Cox became the first openly trans person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the acting category. That year she also was the first out trans person to appear on the cover of Time, which pronounced that we were at "The Transgender Tipping Point." Further trans cultural visibility included the reality show I Am Jazz, about trans teen Jazz Jennings; the TV series Transparent, dealing with the late-life coming-out of a trans matriarch (although the main character was played by a cisgender man, it had many trans cast and crew members); another TV series, Pose, with numerous trans performers and behind-the-scenes talent, including Janet Mock as a director; the high-profile coming-out of Caitlyn Jenner in 2015; and the 2017 Chilean film A Fantastic Woman, which starred trans actress Daniela Vega and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the first trans-themed movie to do so. Transgender people still face oppression and worse in the U.S. and around the world, but visibility is helping to encourage acceptance.
Transgender progress wasn't limited to TV shows and movies. In 2017, Virginia's Danica Roem became the first out trans person to be elected to a state legislature and then seated (a previous groundbreaker, Stacie Laughton, was elected to the New Hampshire legislature in 2012 but withdrew before being sworn in, and Massachusetts legislator Althea Garrison wasn't out when she was elected in the 1990s but was outed shortly afterward). In 2019 Roem made history again by being reelected. She beat deeply anti-LGBTQ opponents both times. Other trans pioneers during the decade included Victoria Kolakowski, elected as a Superior Court judge in Alameda County, Calif., in 2010; Phillipe Cunningham and Andrea Jenkins, elected to the Minneapolis City Council in 2017; and Lisa Middleton, who won a seat on the Palm Springs, Calif., City Council the same year. Christine Hallquist was the Democratic candidate for governor of Vermont in 2018, but she lost to Republican incumbent Phil Scott. More trans candidates hope to make history in 2020. One of the highest-profile ones is Sarah McBride, national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, who's running for state Senate in Delaware. She's already made history; in 2016, at the Democratic National Convention, she became the first openly trans person to address a major American party's national confab.
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual pols had some big victories in the teens. Tammy Baldwin (pictured, left), a lesbian, in 2012 became the first out LGBTQ person elected to the U.S. Senate, after having served several terms in the House; she was reelected in 2018. That year Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema was elected as the first out bisexual U.S. senator. The rainbow wave of 2018 also saw Jared Polis elected governor of Colorado, making him the first out gay man elected as governor of any state (New Jersey's Jim McGreevey wasn't out when elected and came out just before resigning). Oregon's Kate Brown, who is bisexual, became the nation's first openly LGBTQ governor in 2015, when she moved up from secretary of state to succeed Gov. John Kitzhaber upon his resignation (Oregon has no lieutenant governor); she was elected in her own right in a special election in 2016 and reelected in 2018. Annise Parker, a lesbian, made history by taking office as Houston's mayor in 2010; it's the nation's fourth-largest city, and at the time it was the largest to have an out LGBTQ mayor. She won reelection twice and now heads the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to elect out candidates to office. Chicago, the nation's third-largest city, is now the largest with an out mayor, having elected Lori Lightfoot (pictured, right) in 2019. Also winning elections to make 2019 the year of the lesbian mayor were Jane Castor in Tampa, Fla., and Satya Rhodes-Conway in Madison, Wis. Another lesbian, Jenny Durkan, was elected mayor of Seattle in 2017.
Beyond mayors, governors, and members of Congress, there's now a viable gay presidential candidate. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., is vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination, and he's polling well in some early-voting states, including Iowa, whose caucus, to be held February 3, represents the first vote of the primary season. Buttigieg has already made history as the first out candidate to take the stage in a major party's presidential debate (Fred Karger, who sought the Republican nomination in 2012, didn't make the cut). He's made further history by sharing his coming-out story on the debate stage. He has his detractors, including among the LGBTQ population; some deem him insufficiently progressive or lacking experience, and others point to his rocky relationship with South Bend's African-American community. Still, there's no denying the groundbreaking nature of his candidacy.
In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration approved Truvada, which was already used in HIV treatment, for use as pre-exposure prophylaxis — that is, to be taken by HIV-negative people to protect them from acquiring the virus if exposed. It was no less than a revolution in HIV prevention, significant for at-risk groups such as gay and bisexual men and transgender women, and it proved highly effective. Another drug, Descovy, from the same maker (Gilead Sciences), was approved for PrEP in 2019, and it may have fewer side effects than Truvada. The revolution has not been without controversy, with criticism of Gilead's profits and a lawsuit against the company for patent infringement, as the federal government developed the preventive use of Truvada. Also, some have called Truvada a "party drug," claiming it encourages careless sex. But the success of PrEP still represents a major advance in prevention. Equally revolutionary: Undetectable = Untransmittable — the recognition that if an HIV-positive person's viral load is suppressed to undetectable levels, he or she cannot transmit the virus to a partner. It would have sounded like an impossible dream at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and '90s.
Feminists have been talking about sexual harassment and assault for decades, but heightened awareness came in 2017 with reports of serial harassment and assault by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and others — and perpetrators began to face more consequences than ever before, being arrested and losing jobs. The #MeToo movement has had several LGBTQ heroes. Among the heroes is journalist Ronan Farrow (pictured), whose reporting on Weinstein won him a Pulitzer Prize. Also, one of Weinstein's first accusers was queer actress Rose McGowan. Weinstein will go on trial soon, while once-beloved comedian Bill Cosby is now serving a prison term for the 2004 rape of Andrea Constand, who publicly came out as a lesbian in 2015 to disprove Cosby’s assertion that he could read the desires of women. She was one of 60 women who accused him of assault, and the only one with a case where the statute of limitations had not run out. Transgender actress Trace Lysette of Transparent was among those who accused the show's star, Jeffrey Tambor, of sexual harassment, with the result that Tambor was fired from the series. However, some prominent LGBTQ people have been accused of sexual predation as well. Chief among them is Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey, who has been accused of assault by multiple men. Spacey has denied that he engaged in such behavior, but when fellow actor Anthony Rapp came forward to say Spacey had made unwanted advances toward him when Rapp was underage, the older man took the report as an opportunity to come out as gay — drawing him much criticism from the community. Charges that Spacey assaulted a Massachusetts busboy were dropped in 2019, but the actor's career is in shambles; he was fired from the TV series House of Cards and edited out of the film All the Money in the World. Bisexual film director Bryan Singer has also been accused of sexual predation; he contends the allegations are motivated by homophobia. Singer reportedly behaved erratically and clashed with colleagues on the set of the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, and he was fired before filming concluded.
The 2010s saw increasing recognition of the issues faced by LGBTQ youth and seniors. California in 2012 became the first state to bar licensed therapists from subjecting minors to so-called conversion therapy, aimed at turning LGBTQ people straight or cisgender. Now 18 states have such laws, along with many cities and counties; overseas, Germany is moving toward a ban. LGBTQ youth are still more at risk for bullying and suicide than their straight or cisgender peers, but organizations such as the Trevor Project, GLSEN, and others are addressing these problems. Awareness is also building of the situation of LGBTQ seniors, who are more likely than their straight and cis peers to face loneliness and poverty; LGBTQ-welcoming senior housing complexes have opened in major cities including Los Angeles, San Diego, and New York.
"Intersectionality" became a key term and theme of activism in the teens, with the recognition that we all are made up of multiple identities and may be marginalized for more than one of them. The Black Lives Matter movement, which arose mid-decade in response to police violence and other manifestations of systemic racism, has been a study in intersectionality. Its founders include queer women Alicia Garza (pictured, left) and Patrisse Cullors, and one of its leaders is DeRay Mckesson, a gay man (pictured, right). "Just like we don't live in a two-dimensional world, we don't live two-dimensional lives," Garza told The Advocate in 2015. "Our lives are multidimensional, and because of the systems that we live under, there are particular punishments and sanctions for different aspects of who we are." And Mckesson once told The Advocate, “I’m not ashamed to be gay. All of me gets to show up and you don’t get to decide how. But I also don’t feel that burden to come out. I feel the burden to do really good work. The biggest thing I can do in the movement is be a gay man doing really good work and not be afraid to love.”
Transgender people, especially Black trans women, remain at high risk for violence, including homicide. The Advocate has been tracking murders of trans Americans for several years, usually finding more than 20 trans victims in a given year, and there are undoubtedly many more that go unreported, with victims misgendered by police or media, or their deaths not reported at all. In 2019 we found there were at least 21 murders of trans people in the U.S., with all but two of the victims being Black women. The woman pictured, Muhlaysia Booker of Dallas, provides a key illustration of the violence trans Americans face. She was assaulted by a mob in an apartment complex in April, after a minor traffic accident, then shot to death on a street one month later.
Unauthorized immigrants to the U.S. face many dangers, especially given Donald Trump's harsh anti-immigrant policies, and LGBTQ immigrants are often at heightened risk. LGBTQ people in the migrant caravan from Central America, so demonized by Trump in 2018, had to split off from others to avoid homophobic or transphobic violence at the hands of their fellow migrants. And most of the LGBTQ migrants were fleeing such violence in their home countries. Being in the custody of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement is no guarantee of safety. Roxsana Hernández (pictured), a 33-year-old transgender refugee from Honduras, died in ICE custody in 2018. The officially noted cause of death was complications of pneumonia and HIV, but civil rights groups have said she was abused while in custody and that her death was preventable. Now lawyers for her family have filed a complaint holding federal immigration agencies and their contractors responsible for her death.
Hillary Clinton, serving as secretary of State in the Obama administration, made a history-making case for LGBTQ rights at a United Nations meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2011. "Being LGBT does not make you less human," Clinton said to the audience, which included delegates from countries that criminalize homosexuality. "And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights," Clinton said, revisiting remarks she made at the State Department in Washington in 2010 that played on her own 1995 women’s rights speech in Beijing. Obama, Clinton, and her successor at State, John Kerry, incorporated LGBTQ rights into foreign policy, putting pressure on anti-LGBTQ nations to change their ways. Trump administration officials say they're working to decriminalize homosexuality around the world, but given Trump's anti-LGBTQ domestic policies, there's reason for skepticism.
How much did Clinton's message resonate with other nations? Some appear to have taken it to heart, others not. Russia in 2013 enacted its infamous "gay propaganda" law, banning any positive mention of LGBTQ identity that might be accessible to minors. It has also turned a largely blind eye to the situation in Chechnya, a semiautonomous Russian republic, where LGBTQ people have been tortured and killed in what amount to concentration camps. Poland and some other Eastern European countries remain deeply homophobic, as do many African countries. Uganda's proposed "kill the gays" bill was amended to become a "life imprisonment for gays" bill and then overturned in court, but homosexuality is still criminalized there. On the positive side, several nations in Western Europe and Latin America enacted marriage equality in the 2010s, with the heavily Catholic Republic of Ireland even doing it by popular vote. In 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia with marriage equality.
The more things change ... the more they change. Donald Trump's victory in the Electoral College to win the presidency in 2016 was a shocker, with Hillary Clinton favored to win in almost every poll -- and she did win the popular vote. Trump has rolled back almost all of Obama's pro-LGBTQ policies or made them unenforceable. He has reinstated the trans military ban, put in policies aimed at encouraging discrimination in the name of religious freedom, and appointed anti-LGBTQ judges. And his administration has argued in the Supreme Court that existing civil rights law on sex discrimination doesn't include sexual orientation and gender identity, while Trump also opposes a bill, the Equality Act, that would amend the law to explicitly include those characteristics. Trump is currently under impeachment, although unlikely to be convicted and removed from office. But voters could remove him from office in 2020, and perhaps a new, LGBTQ-supportive administration is on the horizon. Stay tuned, stay informed, and above all, vote.