Bil Browning

Top 10 LGBT Stories of 2009

Filed By Bil Browning | December 30, 2009 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics, The Movement, Weekly Reader
Tags: AFER, Atlanta, Atlanta Eagle, ballot initiatives, Barack Obama, bathroom issue, bisexual, California, Connecticut, David Boies, DOJ, DOMA, domestic partnership, education policy, Fort Worth, gay marriage, iowa, Kalamazoo, lesbian, LGBT, love makes a family, Maine, marriage, New Hampshire, New Jersey, police, police brutality, Prop. 8, Question 1, r-71, rainbow lounge, referendum, same-sex marriage, schools, smelt, stonewall, Ted Olson, transgender, Vermont, violence, Washington, year-end list

2009 was a year of momentum for the LGBT community. For the first time, federal legislation was passed that included sexual orientation and gender identity, over 250,000+ LGBT people and allies marched on Washington for civil rights, same-sex marriage was legalized in several states, and the Obama administration fulfilled some campaign promises while ignoring others. Every December, Alex and I get together and pick our top ten stories of 2009. Here's our picks for this year, but we've added in an honorable mention since so much happened over the past year.

Honorable Mention: ENDA Doesn't Pass

While the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was one of Bilerico Project's top legislative goals this session, unfortunately it didn't pass in 2009. Congressional leaders have repeatedly assured the community that this version of ENDA will be us-capital.jpgfully inclusive of both sexual orientation and gender identity, but delays in the House pushed passage back until 2010 at the earliest. Activists have become more vocal about passing the landmark non-discrimation bill after it was left floundering in committee, and earlier this year ENDA was pushed to the side by the battles over relationship recognition in Maine and Washington. House members told Bilerico Project in exclusive interviews that ENDA should be voted on in the House sometime in February before being sent to the Senate. LGBT activists and pundits, however, worry that the timing would put potential passage right before the mid-term elections which could scare off Democrats in conservative districts. The fate of ENDA is still unknown.

The complete top ten list after the jump.

10. Adam Lambert, Lady Gaga, & Chaz Bono Come Out

Everyone's favorite American Idol contestant, Adam Lambert, came out this year, but found himself the center of controversy after he performed his new song at the American Music Awards. Lambert-Gaga-Bono.jpgLambert deviated from his planned performance to include simulated oral sex with a guy, kissing both a woman and a man, and leading another guy around on a chain. ABC quickly canceled his Good Morning America appearance the next morning citing concerns that he might not be family friendly, and the LGBT community quickly called out the double standard of chastising Lambert for a racy performance while idolizing female artists like Brittney Spears or Madonna. Peggy Noonan, however, blamed Lambert as a symbol of the degradation of American culture. Oh, the horror of two men kissing on television.

Pop superstar Lady Gaga came out as a bisexual in 2009 with no cost to her career. Gaga has gone on to become one of the biggest celebrity LGBT activists including marching and speaking at the National Equality March.

Chaz Bono also had a coming out this year, when he announced he was starting to transition. Celebrity gossip site TMZ broke the story and handled the item with professionalism and respect. The LGBT community adapted and defended Chaz's decision faster than any other announced transition, hopefully showing that transgender issues are becoming more understood by the wider community. Chaz's mother, pop diva Cher, has also accepted his decision without blinking and has offered her support.

9. Stonewall Repeats 40 Years Later

On the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the Texas ABC and the Fort Worth police raided a gay bar on its opening weekend. One patron was hospitalized with brain injuries. The police claimed the gay panic defense. rainbow.jpgThe Texas ABC ended up firing two agents over the incident, but the Ft. Worth police department reviewed their actions and blamed the gay guy's brain injuries on himself.

It was part of a bigger story of police brutality increasing across the board, with LGBT people taking the brunt of the increased violence. A gay bar was similarly raided in Atlanta, and a Lambda Legal lawsuit against the police department is in the works. A lesbian couple's political fundraiser was busted by cops pepper spraying people. All the while the police continue to spend inordinate amounts of resources trying to arrest men cruising for gay sex, falsely arrest gay men to try to close down legal, sex-based establishments, and ignore crimes with LGBT victims.

8. California Tries to Overturn Prop 8

It's not surprising that our top story of 2008 would keep on coming back as California's marriage activists decide what to do to overcome the fact that a majority of their state didn't think they deserved equal rights. Early in the year, our hope lay in the alg_olsen_boies.jpglawsuit to overturn Prop 8, which lost in May. Later that month, a newly formed marriage org hired to big shot straight lawyers to challenge Prop 8 in federal court. A divisive debate started among California LGBT activists as they decided whether to put Prop 8 back on the ballot in 2010 or 2012.

The Supreme Court may not be friendly to Olson and Boies's arguments, and the Californian people may not move as quickly as we want them to. We're confident California same-sex marriage advocates will eventually prevail, but the big question is "How?"

7. The Justice Department Defends DOMA and LGBT's Sour on Obama

Tension between the LGBT community and Barack Obama started with some of his less fortunate statements on the campaign trail, built when he called on homophobe Rick Warren to doma.jpgdeliver the invocation at the Inauguration in January, intensified with the lack of action on LGBT issues throughout the first months of his year, creating a powder keg of resentment in the LGBT population. The spark came in June when the Department of Justice filed a brief defending DOMA in Smelt, a challenge to that law that Gay, Inc., wanted nothing to do with because they knew it wasn't going anywhere.

The explosion that followed showed that the first Democratic constituency to end its honeymoon with Obama was the gay community. Anger, betrayal, and disappointment flowed all over the LGBT blogosphere, and the White House made little attempt to smooth things over with the community. A straight line can be drawn from the rancor that followed to anger against the Democratic Party that will likely continue throughout Obama's term. While the Smelt case was later dismissed on a technicality, and while the DOJ, according to most LGBT law scholars, was legally required to defend DOMA, the brief was a symbol for all the lack of progress on LGBT policy over the last decade. The community's hope for change after our bitter loss in California in 2008 was hung around the president's neck, and the language used in the brief made it clear that he wasn't our fierce advocate.

6. Print Media Takes a Nosedive; Online Media Soars

2009 was a horrible year for LGBT print media. The Advocate shed a good portion of their workers and announced the venerable magazine would become an insert in sister publication, Out. newslaptop.jpgNewspapers also fared poorly in the new media environment. Employees and the LGBT community were shocked when longtime institutions The Washington Blade and Southern Voice were suddenly shut down by owner Windows Media. While all three papers re-organized into new publications with new owners, the Washington Blade was America's oldest LGBT newspaper. It has been replaced by DC Agenda. Other publications shutting down this year included: The South Florida Blade, 411 Magazine, David Magazine, the New Mexico Voice, the New York Blade, HX magazine, Genre magazine, the New England Blade, and the Houston Voice. Also hit hard were LGBT bookstores. Longtime institutions like New York City's Oscar Wilde Bookstore, Washington DC's Lambda Rising Bookstore, and Indianapolis' Out Word Bound Books, all shut their doors in 2009.

Online LGBT media, however, continued to rise as more Americans took to the internet to get their LGBT news, entertainment and gossip. Blogs were often honored in 2009 for their coverage of LGBT events (including the New York City Anti-Violence Project's Courage Award given to Bilerico Project Editor-In-Chief Bil Browning, Joe Jervis, Pam Spaulding, and Andy Towle) and queer political bloggers broke into the mainstream media and were cited nationwide in newspapers, magazines, and on television and radio. Bilerico Project was named the Advocate magazine's Top Political Blog in 2009, called "a must read" by the Washington Post in their list of influential political blogs, and was a finalist for The Blog Awards' Best LGBT Blog for the second year in a row.

5. Congress Lifts the HIV Travel Ban

After decades of lagging the world in respect for HIV+ visitors and immigrants, the federal government finally dropped the ban on HIV+ people into the country. This shameful period of American history will be remembered as one of the darkest chapters of America's war on people with HIV. Decades after most countries had dropped their own bans on travel by PWAs since there was no scientific basis for the laws, America continued to enforce it while the rest of the world denounced our discriminatory behavior. President Obama promised to end the ban during his campaign and kept his promise within months of his inauguration.

4. The National Equality March

One of the biggest stories of the year was the National Equality March in Washington DC. DSC_8900.jpgThe march was called for by veteran activists David Mixner and Cleve Jones, but was quickly poo-pooed by other activists and bloggers worried about timing issues and the possibility for bad press if no one showed up. After a few months of wrangling and hand wringing, bloggers, celebrities, and other activists started endorsing the march and got the ball rolling nationwide. Contributor Kip Williams led the organizing initiative for the NEM, while contributors Bil Browning, Nadine Smith, and Rev Irene Monroe sat on the executive steering committee for the event. Over 250,000 people attended the early October protest - including celebrities like Lady Gaga, the cast of Hair, Cynthia Nixon, and Dustin Lance Black. All told, the march was accomplished in under 6 months with less than $175,000 unlike previous marches that cost millions of dollars and took years to plan.

3. LGBT Activists Win Washington and Kalamazoo, but Lose in Maine

Ballot initiative fatigue set in a long time ago, but we were involved in three more battles this past year in Kalamazoo, Maine, and Washington. The summer and autumn saw attack ads from the right claiming that we were going to sexually molest grandma in the bathroom, maine.jpguse schools to turn kids gay, and overturn God's natural order.

Each campaign often struggled to get attention over the cacophony on federal issues, but our attention came crashing down on them in November. Kalamazoo maintained their law outlawing discrimination against LGBT people, Washington voted to keep their expanded "everything but the word" civil unions law, but Maine decided, by a close margin, to overturn the same-sex marriage law that was passed in May, leaving them with civil unions.

The strategic debate ensued, since the community saw Maine's Question 1 as a well-run do-over of the Prop 8 that still lost, while anti-discrimination legislation that included transgender people and civil unions prevailed.

2. The Marriage Map Expands from Two to Six

On the positive side, it's quite an accomplishment that same-sex marriage was recognized by two states in January and is now recognized in four, with two more set to go in 2010.

Connecticut, which started performing same-sex marriages in November of 2008, codified its supreme court's ruling in favor of marriage rights in March. Marriage started in 2008, but they specifically carved out a religious exemption in the legislation. Then Love Makes a Family shut down.

In April, the Iowa supreme court ruled for same-sex marriage, and licenses started being handed out later that month. Following this decision was a whole lot of "Iowa?" and "Iowa!"


In Vermont, a bill to legalize same-sex marriage passed the senate in March and the house in April, overriding the Republican governor's veto in March. Marriage started in Vermont in August.

New Hampshire's house passed a marriage bill in March, and it passed the senate and was signed by the governor in June. Marriages will start this Friday, and, even though that's technically 2010, it's pretty damn close.

DC's city council passed a marriage bill two times, and the mayor signed into law in December. It will become law in January if Congress doesn't act, which it's not expected to do.

Five years ago, any of these states legalizing same-sex marriage would have generated blog posts for months, and now another state doing so is greeted with a yawn by both the mainstream media and queer media. Progress?

1. Inclusive Hate Crimes Legislation Passes

President Obama signed the first pro-LGBT piece of legislation in United States DSC02453.JPGhistory when he put his signature on the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The legislation was first proposed a decade before after Shepard, a gay college student from Wyoming, was beaten and tied to a fence to die. Contributor Cathy Renna was one of the first LGBT activists to reach Matthew's hospital bedside and worked with his mother, Judy Shepard, to ensure passage of the legislation. The new law has already been instrumental in forcing an investigation into the death of Puerto Rican teenager Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado.

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The Hate Crimes Bill wasn't "passed," it was used to hold the Defense Appropriations hostage.

It will be a big story when a piece of LGBT Legislation actually does get passed. That doesn't look likely in the near term unless we change some US Senators or change the minds of their constituents. I suggest the latter would be easier, and much more effective.

Maybe in 2010 we will finally get to the real work of creating equality, instead of wishing and hoping for a "political solution."

The LGBT Community needs to be inspired and our dysfunctional movement needs to be re-ignited. This will only happen with a plan to win. Only 1 out of 10 people in our community participates or contributes. That fact should encourage all of us to recognize that we do not have a strategy or plan and to be painfully honest about our future. We have been doing the same things, with the same groups, for decades - and we have very little to show for it.

This MUST be the year we finally let go of the past (and all the tired tactics) and seek a real strategy to create our equality. To do this, everything and everyone must be held accountable. The sleepy idea of "incrementalism," with the uninspiring goal of "one of the days," isn't enough.

If we truly want equality, we will need to create it. Our movement has never been focused on that goal. There will not be a political or legal solution. Our "demands," no matter what the volume, will not liberate us. HRC (and others making a living off our struggle) and their millions in contributions, will not deliver equality. We must do it ourselves.

We need to figure out how to create our equality and I suggest we start from scratch. I suggest we objectively analyze ALL efforts and account for ALL our resources. We need a new direction and we can start by learning to let go of organizations and ideas that have had decades to deliver, but haven't produced.

Judas Peckerwood | December 30, 2009 8:47 PM

The most important thing we have to do is stop giving free passes to politicians -- mostly Democrats -- who ask for our money and votes but oppose FULL equality under the law for queer Americans, especially marriage rights. I'm appalled by the number of LGBT apologists who leap up to defend bigots from Obama on down, when they would NEVER support ANY politician who backed ANY kind of discrimination based on race, religion, etc.

Why is the LGBT community as a whole so afraid to demand the full rights we deserve immediately? It's as if we're ashamed of ourselves.

"The Hate Crimes Bill wasn't "passed," it was used to hold the Defense Appropriations hostage."

That is how all things pass. I dont think there is any bill that gets passes for just one thing.

Sad as that is, it is the truth.

I think you're right on, Andrew. I've recently launched a new website to create an online community dedicated to achieving LGBT equality. I believe equality will come through economy. Supporters of LGBT rights need to coalesce not just politically but through everyday commerce. We are a powerful economic demographic, and we need to leverage that power. Do business with those who champion and defend equal rights for all - and turn our back on those who won't. It's amazing how quickly political policy changes when big business is standing behind it. I hope you'll join us!

Given that the marriage equality map would not have expanded as much as it did and that Washington and Michigan probably would not has passed pro-gay legislation without the National Equality March, the NEM should have been higher on the list. The NEM was a huge kick in the ass to the queer liberation community and a refreshing reminder that "Yes, we can" fight and win our own liberation, despite the attacks and the insults from bloggers and Gay, Inc.

There are 20 million LGBT people in the United States. Maybe 200,000 people participated in the National Equality March. It was a positive and helpful "gathering" of like minds, but it had nothing to do with Washington State or Kalamazoo, Michigan.

This idea of demanding, via a March or other protest, is one of the "old ideas" we need to retire. Nobody changes their mind because someone else is marching, or demanding, or angry. They change their minds because they understand. If this type of behavior lead to "understanding" it would make sense. We'd all be marching.

Let's be honest about the National Equality March - it brought together a lot of very well intentioned people (especially many young people who had never participated before) and it gave them hope - primarily because it demonstrated they were not alone. The failure of the March was that it didn't provide something for the "new" advocates to embrace - something to inspire them. Maybe a strategy or plan to obtain our equality, or maybe a plan to actually win. We have very limited participation in our "movement" primarily because nobody thinks we can win. We MUST think about winning and not just surviving.

We need to leave these old ideas behind - this isn't 1964. We live in a different world and we must begin to think differently. We must begin to really understand our plight and create a solution. As much as I respect and admire the organizers and participants in the March, I know we can do better and smarter. Our new world requires new ideas.

Think of some. Hurry.

Judas Peckerwood | December 30, 2009 9:55 PM

Not sure what you mean. The NEM occurred after all of our 2009 marriage equality gains except DC, and just before our loss in Maine and the letdowns in NJ and NY. And while I can't speak for Michigan, I did work in the field here in WA, and as far as I saw the NEM had no impact on the ballot initiative vote whatsoever.

The NEM may well have had lasting positive effects on the LGBT rights movement, but I don't think you can count marriage equality advances among them -- not yet, anyway.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | December 30, 2009 11:22 PM

No offense Lonnie, but NEM had no impact on our work to win marriage equality in DC and the march happened in DC.

You can make a claim for NEM being higher on the list without exaggerating its impact or claiming it has responsibility for things it did not.

Rev. Donna Tara Lee | December 31, 2009 8:27 AM

I was a local organizer for the NEM and I can tell you that it's immediate impact was to bring out a whole new generation of activists. This in itself is a great + for our movement.

Secondly, I am now a member of a nationwide committee built upon the march. We are reorganizing structurally and by the end of 2010, if not sooner, we shall have in place a viable working organization based on grass roots organizing. We will be working to pass GLBTQ legislation on the natl. level. Our goal is as it's always been, complete equality now.

The end of 2010? Why a whole year to "organize?" Plus, what's the strategy?

I'd like to know more about this grassroots effort, and perhaps most specifically why this is the first time I'm hearing anything about it. We've done the "Queer elites planning political strategy on the community's behalf behind closed doors" thing, it doesn't work. The fact that this effort seems to already be in full swing yet this seems to be the first we're hearing about it does not fill me with confidence.

The "elites" (your word) or the establishment doesn't have a "strategy."

A "grass-roots" organization may have some value, but what is the STRATEGY?

We have too many organizations all doing the same thing - raising money and providing false hope.

I would like one of these groups to provide us a "strategy to win." If the new group doesn't have that, why get together? It's time to figure out how to achieve our equality and then get to work.

Great list, Bil. I'm glad you mentioned ENDA. In terms of long term impact, I think the one that is most interesting is the demise of many LGBT print media outlets, and the rise of online news and opinion. When I look at the Alexa percentage of viewers of the 2 billion people online worldwide, I count over a million people reading the top US LGBT newsites and blogs daily. That's pretty impressive, and I also think that will do more to increase our social and political muscle as a community than almost any other single factor.

An additional LGBT newspaper to close this year is the Triangle Journal (Memphis).

Good news, even if tentative, is that the Liberty Press (Kanaas) was able to rally after announcing impending closure.

You forgot about the at least 587 men and women discharged by the Obama administration under Don't Ask Just Beat Up the Gays & Discharge Them, Replacing them with Felons and Fascists.

You also didn't mention the lawsuits challenging Just Kick the Gays Out the Obama Department of InJustice has blocked from being heard in the courts, as they argue that this unconstitutional law is good for military unity, and they have to defend the law.

Did you forget to mention that the hate crimes law was tied to military funding, used to discharge gay men and lesbians? Must have been an oversight on your part, otherwise I am sure you would have written that.

Ummm... There's a lot of legit criticism to post about the Obama administration, but blocking legal challenges to DADT isn't really one of them. In Witt v. United States Department of the Air Force, the administration didn't even appeal the Ninth Circuit's ruling in favor of Major Witt.