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Going into 2006, I had a dark cloud over my head--a lingering effect of the last presidential election. When George W. Bush was reelected, it was as if the nation said to me, "There's no place for you here." Since then I've repeated the mantra, Hang in there, just a couple more years to go.
Two, to be exact. After the 2006 election, with the Democrats regaining Congress, I felt the fog start to lift, and I can again imagine a future for myself and my community.
But it wasn't just the election that changed my outlook. Thanks to Web logs, mostly those put together by young gay men, an unprecedented number of celebrities came out in quick succession. T.R. Knight from Grey's Anatomy and How I Met Your Mother's Neil Patrick Harris are now openly gay, yet they play straight men on their shows. And I haven't heard any questioning of their abilities to play hetero characters. Lance Bass, who also came out in 2006, is as popular as ever.
While I'm relieved these entertainers can live and work truthfully, I was more personally affected by former congressman Mark Foley's outing. I was astonished to learn there existed men like Foley who lived double lives--pursuing gay relationships in private while furthering an antigay agenda in public. I guess I was naive. But now it makes sense, because just like in school, those who rail most vehemently against us are usually the ones most uncomfortable with their own sexuality.
While Foley had a vote in Congress and President Bush on speed dial, disgraced evangelical minister Ted Haggard had more direct influence on how conservative Americans viewed gays--at least until he resigned in disgrace for being involved with a male prostitute. From his pulpit Haggard worked to convince his huge congregation that gays were sinners, all while he enjoyed the company of men after hours. Haggard's surname seems fitting now. He represents the tired, worn-out strategy of hiding and deceit, which seems finally to be going out of fashion.
And in between Foley's page scandal and Haggard's resignation, we lost a gay hero who refused to apologize for his life even when such a stand could have cost him everything. I'm talking about the late, great Gerry Studds, the first gay person to serve openly in Congress. Studds was one of the queer pioneers who helped make it possible for young gay people to live as freely as we do today.
If real men like Studds broke the closet open, then the outings of 2006 have shattered the door to pieces, allowing optimism to break through. Perhaps 2007 will be the year in which another state makes a commitment to marriage equality or gays and lesbians are allowed to serve openly in our military. For the first time in a long time, I'm hopeful.