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December 25, 2008

The Top Ten LGBT Rights Moments of 2008
By Michael Jones
It's hard to believe that we’re already ready to turn the page over to 2009. But before letting go of 2008, let’s take a moment to look back at the year that was in LGBT rights. And what a year it’s been! We’ve added two states to the “We Allow Gay Marriage” list – although one of those states had its membership revoked. We added one more LGBT person to the rolls of the U.S. House of Representatives. We commemorated the 30th anniversary of the death of an LGBT rights icon. And there was a little thing called the Election, too, that had quite the impact on LGBT rights. But enough introduction; let’s get to the top-ten moments in LGBT rights for 2008.

10. AARP adds some SAGE. The largest advocacy group in the entire world got their LGBT on this year, by sponsoring their first ever conference on LGBT aging issues. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) co-sponsored “It’s About Time: LGBT Aging in a Changing World,” with the group Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE) in October 2008. The conference focused on addressing the social isolation felt by many LGBT seniors, especially in a senior care system that is largely designed for addressing the needs of an aging heterosexual population. An important conference? No doubt. An important overture by the AARP to show that LGBT aging issues are on their radar screen? Absolutely.

9. DPs in the MW, SW, NW and more. It’s not a civil union, it’s not marriage, it’s a… domestic partnership! And this year saw the establishment of same-sex domestic partnership registries in cities across the U.S., including Cleveland, Phoenix, Dane County (Wisconsin), and the state of Oregon, to name a few. Domestic partnerships (DPs) are typically non-binding registries in a community, but they are a very symbolic effort to show that a city welcomes LGBT persons. Cleveland’s DP registry will no doubt help its push to land the 2014 Gay Games, even though it’s up against Boston (where same-sex marriage is recognized), and Miami.

8. Advancing Rights in Nepal. Sandwiched between India, Bangladesh and China, Nepal is mostly known for the Himalayas. This year, it became the first South Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. Not too shabby for a country that two years ago didn’t even consider gays and lesbians full citizens. Nepal’s only openly gay member of Parliament, Sunil Pant, even had the honor of addressing the United Nations earlier this month, when the body considered its first ever official statement on sexual orientation. And the best part is that Nepal’s actions may have spillover consequences in neighboring India, whose highest court is considering overturning India’s criminal ban on homosexuality.

7. Narrowing the God Gap. Popular sentiment would have you believe that LGBT rights and religion mix about as well as beer and clam juice. This year, the LGBT movement got its religion on, and in a big way. Whether it was Newsweek’s cover story on how the Bible justifies gay marriage, or the launch of faith-based coalitions across the U.S. to speak on behalf of marriage equality, religion and LGBT rights stood together this year. Our favorite groups this year included California Faith for Equality and Florida Clergy for Fairness – both of which emerged over ballot questions that sought to revise their state constitutions to ban same-sex marriage.

6. The T in LGBT. Transgender rights made some bold leaps forward this year. A U.S. city elected its first transgender mayor this year, with Stu Rasmussen winning election in Silverton, Oregon. But the year was capped off by even more highlights, including (1) a record number of transgender delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Denver; and (2) the passage of discrimination bans against trans people in Detroit and Kansas City, and the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) in New York State.

5. And then there were three. Election 2008 saw the addition of the third LGBT member of Congress, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado). Rep. Polis will join Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) as the U.S. House’s openly LGBT contingent. As #3 on our list once said, “You’ve got to elect gay people.” Here’s proof that we’re still heeding that lesson. And while we’re on the subject of LGBT politicians, Portland, Oregon elected their first openly gay mayor too, Sam Adams. (Not the guy that the beer is named after!)

4. The United Nations has never sounded better. It may have taken sixty years, but the United Nations (UN) celebrated 60 years of human rights by pushing forward the first ever statement addressing sexual orientation. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another 60 years to mention it again! The statement was put forward by France and the Netherlands, and calls on world governments to decriminalize homosexuality. The statement is non-binding, but could have real symbolic impact in curbing the fact that 86 countries currently fine, lock up, or kill people just for being LGBT. Sadly, the U.S. has resisted signing the document (but we have a feeling that will change once Susan Rice takes office). Also sad is that a counter-statement, organized by Syria, argued that homosexuality was a perversion and that the UN had no business addressing the issue. Boo to them, but yay to France and the Netherlands and the more than 65 countries that endorsed the pro-LGBT statement.

3. Whole Milk. Thirty years ago this year, Harvey Milk (the first openly gay man ever elected to public office) was assassinated along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone inside SF’s City Hall. Milk had just helped lead California to a mammoth gay rights victory in the defeat of the Briggs Amendment, the statewide ballot measure that would have banned homosexuals from teaching in public schools. What impact might Harvey have had if he were around this year to see the battle over Prop 8? We’ll never know, of course, but the launch of the movie “Milk,” directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Sean Penn, certainly served as a rallying point for the LGBT rights movement. The film became an organizing tool for LGBT rights activists to champion marriage equality (and to point out the hypocrisy of some Cinemark employees). But movie aside, Harvey Milk’s legacy has never been more relevant than it was this year. All of us certainly needed to hear his words this year: “I ask my gay sisters and brothers to make the commitment to fight. For themselves, for their freedom, for their country...Gay people, we will not win our rights by staying silently in our closets...We are coming out. We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays.”

2. Will you marry me, Connecticut? Connecticut became the third (and then weeks later, the second) state in the U.S. to legalize gay marriage, when an October State Supreme Court ruling was issued that said the state’s ban on gay marriage was illegal. Within weeks, Connecticut gay and lesbian couples were applying for marriage licenses. And even better? Connecticut voters had a chance on Election Day to vote for a Constitutional Convention – a process that would have opened the Constitution up for revision, and could have resulted in an amendment banning same-sex marriage. Connecticut voters turned that proposal down, ensuring that gay marriage will remain legal in Connecticut for the foreseeable future. In 2009 we’re likely to see another one or two states join the ranks of Connecticut and Massachusetts as states that legally recognize same-sex marriage.

1. Propositioned. It became a national codeword for discrimination against LGBT people, and the most expensive campaign in the history of the United States for a social issue. California’s Proposition 8, which sought to revise the constitution and overturn the State Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage, was undoubtedly the LGBT issue of the year. Yes, it passed. But now the fight is on, and it’s gone nationwide. There’s lots to be said about Proposition 8 – from how certain Inauguration Day ministers supported and championed discrimination against LGBT people, to how certain churches funded millions of dollars to California to peddle discrimination, to how certain politicians were critically silent on the issue of marriage equality – but since this is a top ten list covering the best in LGBT rights news this year, let’s look at the positive. Prop 8 has resulted in some of the best LGBT organizing we’ve seen in decades. Stonewall 2.0 is what it’s been called. But in the wake of Prop 8, we’ve seen nationwide campaigns – led by Join the Impact – to draw attention to the issue of gay marriage, and to stand in solidarity with gay and lesbian Californians, who lost the right to marry. But it’s not just JTI…it’s the Courage Campaign, and it’s renewed passion from the Human Rights Campaign and Equality California (both of which took some substantial – albeit justified – heat for not handling Prop 8 very well during the Election) to fight (and fight smartly) for marriage rights. Though on one level it’s a clear setback, Prop 8 is also providing LGBT rights groups with a real opportunity to push for and obtain equal rights. As Harvey Milk once said, when you lose, “Fight the hell back.” That’s what we’re doing, and the result is that it’s a damn proud time to be LGBT.

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