Growing up, I never dreamed that openly LGBT people could be politicians, athletes or celebs, let alone thrive as teachers, cops, doctors or clergy. It was shocking news when the late Rock Hudson was outed by AIDS; tennis icon Billie Jean King revealed she is a lesbian; and former Rep. Barney Frank came out. Yet, as I write this, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) who‚Äôs running for governor, has just come out as gay, and the sky hasn‚Äôt fallen.
‚ÄúMy #gaydar missed it, but happy to welcome @RepMikeMIchaud to team lgbt,‚ÄĚ Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who is gay, tweeted. Many in the media agree with Michaud, who wrote in an op-ed column in the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News, ‚ÄúWhy should [being gay] matter?‚ÄĚ
Media mavens had the same reaction recently when Gawker, the news and gossip site, seemingly confirmed what many have long suspected: Fox News anchor Shepard Smith is likely gay. Smith was in a New York bar with ‚Äúa muscular 6-foot-2-30-something white male.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúAt a time when gay people can marry and fly helicopters in the Marines, is it time to consign outing to history, alongside other 90′s crazes like Zima and square-toed shoes?‚ÄĚ Alex Williams wrote in the New York Times about Gawker‚Äôs Smith reveal.
At the risk of sounding so 1999, I beg to differ. We can marry now in 14 states plus Washington, D.C.; a celeb comes out every nano-sec; and ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt Ask, Don‚Äôt Tell‚ÄĚ has been repealed. Coming out often no longer involves the drama, tears, fears and angst of yesteryear.¬† When I was young, I felt like I was in an ‚ÄúAfter School‚ÄĚ special when I told my family I was queer. Last summer, when I saw relatives for the first time in years, we chatted about same-sex weddings we‚Äôd attended. Jim Parsons of the ‚ÄúBig Bang Theory‚ÄĚ came out seamlessly by briefly mentioning his partner in a New York Times interview.
‚ÄúThat may seem like a big announcement to some people. For me, it‚Äôs just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation millworker or a lifelong Mainer,‚ÄĚ Michaud wrote in the op-ed saying that he‚Äôs gay, ‚ÄúOne thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine.‚ÄĚ
Michaud‚Äôs being gay has nothing to do with how effective a governor he would make.¬† Yet, fair or not, his being gay and coming out do matter. Michaud isn‚Äôt a right-wing, anti-gay hypocrite. Yet, he didn‚Äôt come out voluntarily. He disclosed his sexual orientation after his opponents insinuated that he‚Äôs queer. ‚ÄúI wasn‚Äôt surprised to learn about the whisper campaigns … some of the people opposed to my candidacy have been using to raise questions about my personal life,‚ÄĚ Michaud wrote in his op-ed. ‚ÄúThey want people to question whether I am gay.¬† Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer. Yes I am.‚ÄĚ
Some may not care who Shepard Smith dates or which celebrities and politicians are closeted. Yet many of us still struggle with homophobia. In this country, you can be fired in the workplace for being gay in 29 states, and 33 states have no protection for employment discrimination based on gender identity. While ENDA is likely to pass the U.S. Senate, it‚Äôs unlikely to be passed by the House of Representatives.
My friend Penny recently talked to her pal. ‚ÄúHer 19-year-old nephew just came out,‚ÄĚ she said, ‚Äú His father said to him, ‚Äėbeing gay is a sin! How can you still go to church?‚Äô‚ÄĚ
This young man‚Äôs story is far from unique. In a world where despite much progress, homophobia remains a part of our daily life, coming out still matters.
Over the past 10 years, I‚Äôve often used this space to target and critique a series of anti-LGBT figures ‚ÄĒ from politicians to criminals to closeted celebrities. My attacks have ranged from stinging to the occasional angry full-on takedown. It‚Äôs remarkable how much things have changed for the LGBT movement in those 10 years. So a quick look back at some of my favorite targets of the last decade and how they have evolved during that time.
1. The Democratic National Committee. This might seem an unexpected target, but the reality is that the party‚Äôs support for LGBT rights and legislation is an Obama phenomenon. From Bill Clinton‚Äôs support for DOMA to Howard Dean‚Äôs firing of a gay liaison and other shenanigans (pitting black delegates against gay ones, denigrating the gay press and threatening to sue the Blade), the Democratic Party has a complicated history with our community. Obama deserves the credit for turning around that sorry record. Today, the Democratic Party includes marriage equality in its platform. Ten years ago, there had been no movement on pro-LGBT federal legislation. Today, we have an expanded hate crimes law and have repealed ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt Ask, Don‚Äôt Tell.‚ÄĚ DOMA is next to go.
2. The Bush administration. George W. Bush became the gay community‚Äôs public enemy No. 1 after his cynical assault on marriage equality in 2004, a crusade masterminded in part by former RNC Chair and Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman. The Bush years were ugly, from his calls for a federal marriage amendment to an odd and stubborn refusal to even utter the word ‚Äúgay‚ÄĚ in public. Ten years later, Mehlman is out of the closet and raising money to support marriage equality. Dick Cheney supports marriage equality, as does Laura Bush. And George has paid a steep price for his horrendous, reckless presidency ‚ÄĒ relegated to the dustbin of history and rendered persona non grata at last year‚Äôs Republican National Convention. He is rightly blamed for the country‚Äôs economic mess and will be remembered as among the worst presidents in American history.
3. Martin O‚ÄôMalley. Another unlikely target, considering O‚ÄôMalley was popular with LGBT residents of Baltimore from his days as a City Council member and mayor. He even endorsed marriage equality in a TV interview years before running for governor. He later disavowed that interview and was booed off the stage at a private LGBT donor gathering after advocating for civil unions over full marriage rights. After a 2007 court ruling limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples, O‚ÄôMalley issued a cruel, stinging statement invoking the Catholic sacraments and reiterating a call for civil unions. But after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo successfully shepherded marriage through a Republican Senate there, O‚ÄôMalley had an epiphany and adopted full-throated support for the cause. He was a latecomer, but ultimately played a key role in passage of the bill and of the subsequent ballot measure last year. He‚Äôs now a rumored 2016 presidential aspirant (along with Cuomo).
4. Religion. Perhaps the greatest force opposed to our full equality, organized religion gets a lot of ink. From the attacks of Pope Benedict to the reparative therapy efforts of Scientology, religions (and cults in the case of Scientology) remain a key threat to LGBT people. But even that‚Äôs changing. If you visit a local Catholic church, you‚Äôll find openly LGBT people in the pews and gay support groups operating. And they have something to celebrate with the news this week that Benedict is stepping down after nearly eight years of anti-gay pronouncements. More and more religions are moderating their views on our full inclusion in church life, including in marriage. Evangelical Lutherans now recognize the same-sex relationships of church leaders; the U.S. Episcopal Church allows same-sex marriages in states where it‚Äôs legal. There‚Äôs a long way to go to full acceptance, of course, but progress is undeniable and change is happening at a brisk pace.
5. Anderson Cooper & Jodie Foster. Closeted rich and famous people have come in for a healthy dose of criticism on this page over the years. After all, if the wealthiest and most successful among us won‚Äôt come out, how can we expect the schoolteacher in Alabama or the construction worker in Iowa to do the same? Cooper and Foster became the poster children for the closet but in the last year, both publicly came out. Better late than never, right? Maybe Shepard Smith and Queen Latifah will follow their lead.
6. Mark Foley & Larry Craig. The Blade wrote about Foley‚Äôs sexual orientation for years before he was forced to publicly acknowledge the truth after his page scandal. Craig‚Äôs story is more twisted but both ultimately got what they deserved. Their names haven‚Äôt appeared in the Blade for years ‚ÄĒ two relics of a closeted past. Good riddance. Now if only Lindsay Graham would come out.
Even after all that progress, there‚Äôs still no shortage of organizations and public figures to take to task ‚ÄĒ think Sam Arora, Rick Santorum, Tony Perkins and the National Organization for Marriage. And our work is far from complete. We need a federal law outlawing anti-LGBT employment discrimination; a stop to religion-based bigotry; and an openly gay professional athlete would be nice, too. But the list of our enemies is a lot shorter than it was 10 years ago. Here‚Äôs to the next 10 years of progress.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was December 2002. Sodomy laws remained on the books in 14 states. No state or jurisdiction in the country had yet legalized same-sex marriage (‚Äúmarriage equality‚ÄĚ was not a term in popular use). Congress had yet to pass a single piece of pro-gay legislation. The Democratic Party took gay money and votes but mostly paid lip service to our concerns. Barack Obama was a member of the Illinois state Senate. President George W. Bush was in his first term and the country was still reeling from the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Bush would later make opposition to gay rights a cornerstone of his re-election campaign, pushing for ballot measures on marriage in key battleground states and even using his State of the Union address to call for a federal constitutional amendment banning recognition of our relationships.
What a difference a decade makes.
Ten years after joining the Blade, I have been privileged to occupy a front-row seat to some of the most significant and historic events the movement has seen. Make no mistake that the election of Barack Obama marked the turning point in this quest for equality. Without his (fierce) advocacy, many of the landmark achievements of the past four years would not have been possible. But the tide began to turn before Obama‚Äôs arrival on the national political scene. And it began in 2003 with the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned sodomy laws in that state and 13 others, reversing a devastating 1986 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick that upheld a similar law in Georgia.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, still considered the court‚Äôs swing vote, wrote the unforgettable majority opinion: ‚ÄúThe petitioners [Lawrence and Garner] are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.‚ÄĚ
Finally, after decades of struggle, the mere fact of being gay could no longer be considered criminal.
Kennedy noted that the Lawrence case ‚Äúdoes not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.‚ÄĚ That, however, has finally changed as the high court this year agreed to hear two such cases on the Defense of Marriage Act and California‚Äôs Prop 8. In 10 short years, we‚Äôve gone from fighting over private sex acts to impending Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality.
That ruling helped to trigger a wave of fast-moving change. Just a year later, in 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. And the good news keeps coming. From Obama‚Äôs victory in 2008 to Congress passing its first LGBT rights bill ‚ÄĒ an expansion of the federal hate crimes law ‚ÄĒ to repeal of ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt Ask, Don‚Äôt Tell.‚ÄĚ
There have been so many highlights during my 10 years at the Blade, but one moment that has always stayed with me occurred in June 2009 at President Obama‚Äôs first Pride Month reception in the White House. Obama, flanked by first lady Michelle Obama, said, ‚ÄúWelcome to your house.‚ÄĚ It was such a simple gesture, yet they were words that none of us had ever heard before. And the president and first lady stayed to mingle, chat and pose for photos as a DJ spun Madonna tunes in the East Wing. A joyous and surreal moment after so many bleak years under Bush.
It hasn‚Äôt been all cocktails and dance divas, though.
I‚Äôve edited and written countless stories over the past decade and two have haunted me. We profiled a Baltimore gay couple in their 30s, both public school teachers. One was diagnosed with cancer and died within months. He‚Äôd been estranged from his family over his sexual orientation and had a will and other legal documents in place at his death. The family sued to have their son‚Äôs body exhumed and moved to the family plot in Tennessee ‚ÄĒ and they won. The surviving partner finally prevailed on appeal but lost everything in the process of an expensive legal battle to simply keep his partner in the ground.
In another case, the Blade exposed the fact that four teens shot on a Newark, N.J., playground were gay. Three of them died. The mainstream media refused to report the basic fact that this was a hate crime motivated by the victims‚Äô sexual orientation.
It‚Äôs been a whirlwind and unforgettable decade, from interviewing newsmakers and celebrities to chronicling historic civil rights advances to mourning crime victims to fighting with Bill O‚ÄôReilly over the evils of Scientology and outing closet cases like Shepard Smith.
As we celebrate our 2012 Election Day victories, we look forward to a time when true equality comes to all 50 states and to countries around the world. We‚Äôre not there yet and, so, keep reading.