Thursday 25 November 2010

Five LGBT Victories To Be Thankful For in 2010

Today is Thanksgiving, and what better way to celebrate than looking back on the year that was, and recalling some of the best victories the LGBT movement saw in its march toward equality.
Sure, 2010 wasn't all peaches and cream. Legislation like the Respect for Marriage Act or the Employment Nondiscrimination Act saw little traction, and whether "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" gets repealed remains probably the biggest question mark for what's left of this year. But let's leave the creatures of Congress and the White House out of this list, and look for some real people power and activism out in our streets, communities (both online and off), and neighborhoods that led to some special moments for LGBT rights this year. Honoring these victories while downing some cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, or green bean casserole (always the most underrated Thanksgiving delicacy) seems like the perfect way to celebrate a day meant for giving thanks.
OK, on the surface, a competition on The Today Show hardly sounds like the subject matter of an important LGBT victory. But indeed it was, when earlier this year bloggers and organizations united to open up a competition that same-sex couples were originally banned from participating in. It all started with Jeremy Hooper over at Good As You pointing out that The Today Show's "Modern Wedding" contest -- a contest where lucky couples would get the wedding of their dreams in front of morning television's largest audience -- wasn't open to same-sex couples. That resulted in a blog post heard 'round the world, or at least through the LGBT blogosphere. It also led to some unique and inspiring collaboration between LGBT bloggers and one of the biggest LGBT organizations, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). Thousands of people wrote The Today Show and put pressure on producers while GLAAD worked with the show behind the scenes. The end result? The competition was retooled, and same-sex couples were allowed to participate. Again, it may not be the type of victory one remembers in the history books for years to come, but it demonstrated a model of campaigning and organizing that is, unfortunately, all too rare, where bloggers and organizations meet eye-to-eye and put pressure on targets collaboratively.
Hands down, the most famous student of 2010 had to be Constance McMillen, the 18-year-old Mississippi woman who took her high school to task for denying her a chance to attend her senior prom with her same-sex date. McMillen's story became a rallying call for equal rights in schools, as she dealt with homophobic classmates and administrators who wanted more than anything to keep her away from prom. And indeed they did, by holding a "secret prom" that McMillen and several other students weren't invited to attend. But it's McMillen who gets the last laugh in this story, as her story is now being made into a television movie, and more importantly, her lawsuit against her school district resulted in sweeping change that established a non-discrimination policy inclusive of LGBT students. McMillen also was awarded $35,000 from her court settlement, and went on to make stellar videos for GetEqual, and march in the New York City Pride Parade. Not too bad for a woman who one year ago was roaming high school halls instead of championing the movement for safe schools.
Election Day 2010 saw some wonderful victories for LGBT rights (Jerry Brown, Pat Quinn, Deval Patrick,  Neil Abercrombie, Kamala Harris, David Cicilline), and some frightening developments (Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, huge losses in New Hampshire that could threaten marriage equality, and the ouster of three Iowa Supreme Court Justices who ruled for marriage equality in the state). But one community's Election Day story is particularly important for the LGBT community. That would be Bowling Green, Ohio, where a vote on two citywide ordinances kept in place laws that protect LGBT residents from discrimination when it comes to fair treatment in employment, housing, and education. Pretty awesome, and a sign that community organizing (especially on college campuses!) can yield amazing results for the LGBT movement. As the manager for One Bowling Green, the organization that led the charge to keep these two ordinances, said, "Now Bowling Green residents will not have to live in fear of being fired from their jobs, denied housing, or discriminated against in public education and public accommodations simply for being who they are." Yeah, that's definitely something to be thankful for.
Across the world, the number of countries that recognize same-sex marriage tripled this year, with Portugal, Iceland and Argentina joining the marriage equality club. Iceland might not be that big of a surprise. After all, it is the only country in the world with an openly gay leader (Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir). But Portugal and Argentina sent a loud and proud message that even in the most Catholic of countries, marriage equality can find robust support. For her part, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner even recorded a video segment blasting the Catholic Church for being against same-sex marriage. Kirchner said that the Catholic Church can't say it's a church dedicated to peace and justice, if it's also a Church that fosters a climate of violence toward LGBT people. Booyeah.
OK, so we said we'd leave the creatures of Congress and the White House out of this list. We'll still honor that statement, but let's head back to the nation's capital, because in March of this year, the city saw its first same-sex marriages take place after the City Council voted in favor of (and the Mayor signed) legislation enacting marriage equality. Angelisa Young and Sinjoyla Townsend were one of the first couples to get a marriage license, and one of the first couples to get married. As Young told the Washington Post in regards to being one of the first same-sex couples married inside the Beltway, "You know what they say about everyone getting 15 minutes of fame? I can't wait for Minute 16." That's one of the best quotes of the year. Why? Because it shows what the battle for marriage equality is all about. It's not about grandstanding or taking a big public stand. It's about the lives of LGBT people, and the right of same-sex couples to get married like everyone else and then enjoy their time together like couples and families are supposed to do. Young's quote gets at just that -- yes, it's important to be front and center during these times. But it's also about families and relationships and building lives with the person you love. This time of year, that's something we should all take a moment to honor.
Happy Thanksgiving. Sure, this year had its low points, and there's still so much work to be done. But there's also a fair amount of work to be thankful for, and no better time to be thankful for it than today.
Now if you'll pardon me, there's a whole batch of green bean casserole getting the shaft over the more popular sweet potato casserole. And we just can't have that.

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