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Hindsight from 2020

The Queer Decade in Review.


“Hindsight is 20/20.” That cliché has never been more apropos than at this particular moment in time. The year 2020 will decide many critical issues for LGBTQ people, and we have no idea what those outcomes will be. But the future is inevitable, and the direction we take in 2020 may depend on how clearly we can see our past. Call your optometrist and update those reading glasses as we look back on the queer decade that was 2010 to 2019.

The Scruff dating app is released on July 23.

“It Gets Better” is launched.
Gay writer Dan Savage created the online “It Gets Better” movement in September as a reaction to the spike in suicides amongst queer youth. In Texas, the death of 13-year-old Asher Brown inspired a gay city-council member, Joel Burns, from Forth Worth to talk about his experiences with anti-LGBTQ bullying. The hope was that young people contemplating suicide might find strength in hearing from openly LGBTQ role models.

Lady Gaga’s meat dress.
Queer performer Lady Gaga created a pop culture moment that will never be forgotten on September 12 when she attended the MTV Video Music Awards in a dress made entirely of meat.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed.
The decade started out with a political bang. On December 22, the ban on LGBTQ troops serving openly in the military, known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, was overturned by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama. The ban was implemented during the Clinton administration as a compromise to avoid a total ban on LGBTQ troops. For years, many service members were outed and forced to leave their careers because of who they loved. It eventually came down to eight Republican senators who crossed party lines to vote for the repeal, reminding us of a time when party affiliation didn’t always determine how a senator would vote. It was a hopeful beginning to what would become a transformative decade for queer Americans.

Nikki Araguz’s marriage is nullified in Wharton, Texas.
Nikki Araguz Loyd, who recently and unexpectedly passed away at the age of 44, was a trailblazer for transgender rights. In August of 2008 she married firefighter Thomas Araguz, who was killed on the job in 2010. The morning after her husband was buried, Nikki learned that two separate lawsuits had been filed by his family in an attempt to take away her spousal benefits. Araguz’s family claimed that Nikki was born male and therefore not female at the time of her marriage to Araguz, so the marriage should be invalidated. In May, State District Judge Randy Clapp ruled in favor of the family and nullified the marriage. The spousal benefits remained on hold while Nikki fought for them in court. She eventually prevailed in 2015 when another state district judge overturned the prior ruling. Nikki continued to fight on behalf of her community up until her last days. She is survived by her husband, artist William Loyd, their two children, and countless friends who miss her.

Texas passes blanket anti-bullying legislation.
While not exactly a complete win for Texas students, the ultra-conservative Texas State Legislature passed laws in May that were aimed at protecting young people from harmful bullying in schools. The push for the bipartisan legislation came in response to a string of LGBTQ youth suicides across the county and within the state

Trans golfer Lana Lawless plays in the LPGA.
Pro golfer Lana Lawless reached a settlement on May 25, 2011, with the Ladies Pro Golfers Association that allowed her to participate in LPGA tournaments going forward. The settlement changed the rules for how women athletes are formally characterized in sports.

HISD extends protections against discrimination to LGBTQ employees on August 11.

“Gay rights are human rights.”
In December, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton marked International Human Rights Day in Geneva, Switzerland, proclaiming “gay rights are human rights.” This was a throwback to her U.N. speech in the ’90s when she said, “Women’s rights are human rights.” Clinton set the stage for the Obama administration, which would prove to be one of the most progressive and LGBTQ-inclusive in American history.

Barack Obama became the first sitting American president to support marriage equality.
On May 9, President Barack Obama said unequivocally, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married” during an interview with out journalist Robin Roberts, thus bringing the Democratic party and the country to the progressive forefront on an issue that had been a longtime wedge. Obama credited his daughters, Sasha and Malia, for helping influence his “evolution” on the subject. He would go on to win reelection against Mitt Romney in November of that same year.

Adam Lambert in May becomes the first openly gay singer to top the Billboard charts with his sophomore album, Trespassing.

Frank Ocean comes out.
His open letter, published on Tumblr on July 3, was widely acknowledged in the notoriously anti-LGBTQ music industry as a watershed moment that would define the industry going forward. Ocean wrote: “I don’t know what happens now, and that’s alright. I feel like a free man.”

PrEP is approved for use in the U.S. by the FDA.
The FDA approved Truvada for use as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in the U.S on July 16, 2012. The drug has proved to be over 90% effective at preventing the transmission of HIV when used as prescribed. It is changing the way people perceive “safe sex,” and it has helped reduce the stigma of HIV. PrEP has opened up the conversation about HIV prevention and transmission and has made space for the motto, U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable), and other fact-based approaches to safer and better sex.

Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is elected the first openly lesbian U.S. senator on November 7, and Mary Gonzalez becomes the first openly pansexual person elected to the Texas House of Representatives.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker wins third and final term with 57% of the vote.
In her final bid to serve the city of Houston as mayor, Parker won a decisive victory over her opponent, thus beginning her final term as the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city. Under her executive authority, Parker extended benefits to City employees, prevented discrimination against LGBTQ people by vendors hired by the City, and other important changes. While the defeat of Houston’s civil-rights ordinance was her most significant challenge in her final term, her electoral victories would go down in history as a major step forward for LGBTQ politicians.

Ten states legalize gay marriage.
Same-sex marriage rang in the new year in Maryland, allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry in the state beginning January 1. Delaware, California, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, and Utah followed suit.

NBA Player Jason Collins comes out as gay in April, making him the first out active player in one of the four major American professional team sports.

New Jersey and California in June pass the first legislation in the country banning LGBTQ conversion therapy.

The Defense of Marriage Act is overturned.
On June 26, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 split decision, ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. DOMA denied federal recognition of same-sex marriages while it was law. The lawsuit was brought by New Yorker Edie Windsor, whose marriage to Thea Spyer was recognized in their state in 2008. When Spyer died in 2009, she left her entire estate to Windsor. When Windsor tried to claim the federal estate-tax exemption for surviving spouses, DOMA barred her from doing so and treated the couple as if they were strangers. Her lawsuit forced the U.S. to recognize marriage equality, at least in the states that offered it. The case set the stage for the Supreme Court’s nationwide LGBTQ marriage equality ruling in 2015.

Putin signs a law in June banning LGBTQ “propaganda”
in Russia.

The Advocate magazine in December names Pope Francis their Person of the Year for his religious acceptance of LGBTQ people.

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) passes
City Council.

On May 28, the Houston City Council, in an 11 to 6 vote, passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). Council sat for hours as Houstonians shared stories about the necessity of the law. Although opponents of the ordinance focused primarily on the trans-inclusive aspects of it, HERO actually extended protections to over 15 different protected classes of people. The victory was short-lived as opponents of the law quickly forced a ballot initiative for voters to consider. This was only the beginning of a national anti-trans campaign.

The names of the City Council members who voted No on the ordinance were Brenda Stardig, Michael Kubosh, Jack Christie, Dave Martin, Dwight Boykins, and Oliver Pennington—you know, just in case their names pop up on another ballot (say, like for county commissioner or something).

The Amazon Prime television series, Transparent premieres in February.

Bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst wins Eurovision Song Contest in May.

Michael Sam is drafted to the NFL.
Although his NFL career would not be long-lived, Michael Sam made history when he became the first openly gay player drafted to the NFL when the St. Louis Rams picked him up in May. He celebrated by kissing his boyfriend on television—another first for the NFL.

Laverne Cox is nominated for an Emmy.
In August, Laverne Cox became the first transgender actor nominated for her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. Cox notes that “Sophia is written as a multi-dimensional character who the audience can really empathize with. And for trans folks out there who need to see representations of people who are like them, that’s really important.” Cox was also nominated in 2017 and 2019.

Obergefell v. Hodges
The biggest LGBTQ news of the decade was the June 26 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which extended marriage equality nationwide. The broadly written 5-4 opinion, authored by swing-vote Anthony Kennedy, opened the doors for LGBTQ Americans in states like Texas to finally and legally tie the knot. In the last whimpers of a dying cause, some county clerks (like Harris County’s Stan Stanart) briefly tried to prevent the marriages before finally relenting. For one day, and fittingly in the midst of Pride Week, LGBTQ Americans got a huge win. Although they understood that there were still many battles left to fight for true equality, on this day they were able to say they won. The White House, Houston’s City Hall, and numerous monuments all over the world were lit up in rainbow colors.

Caitlyn Jenner comes out as transgender.
For all of her flaws, Caitlyn Jenner did bring her story of transition into the living rooms of Americans in a way that had never been done before in an April 15 interview with Diane Sawyer. Baby Boomers who idolized Jenner during her Olympics prime were forced to have a conversation about what it means to be transgender in America. As it turns out, Americans didn’t truly know her until she said, on the cover of Vanity Fair, “Call me Caitlyn.”

The Texas State Legislature tries to pass a “bathroom bill.” Thanks to House Speaker Joe Strauss, it fails in April.

In June, Nyle DiMarco, a deaf model who won America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars, comes out as sexually fluid.

Houston Pride takes place in Downtown Houston for the first time on June 25.

Demi Lovato’s “Cool for the Summer”
Pop star Demi Lovato dropped hints about her sexuality after releasing her bi-curious single “Cool for The Summer” on July 1. Although she never confirmed being queer, Lovato said “All of my songs are based off of personal experiences. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with experimentation at all.”

Fun Home, based on the award-winning graphic novel by lesbian artist Alison Bedchel, wins the Tony Award for Best Musical in June.

Boy Scouts of America lifts their ban on openly gay leaders on July 27.

LGBTQ fan-favorite Carly Rae Jepsen releases E • MO • TION in August.

HERO is overturned at the ballot box.
It was a confluence of circumstances that led to the November 3 overturn of HERO after its passage the previous year. A smear campaign aimed at the transgender community played a large part. Groups like the ironically named Pastors Council and anti-LGBTQ leaders like Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick threw their full weight behind defeating the ordinance. Houstonians’ fears were stoked by the supposed danger of men dressed in women’s clothes lurking in public bathrooms. The political backlash to marriage equality also worked against the ordinance, as well as a pro-HERO campaign that failed to adequately reach out to communities of color. That perfect storm resulted in a trouncing of the ordinance. HERO would not be mentioned again at City Council for the remainder of the decade. One step forward, two steps back.

The Pulse Nightclub Massacre
Around 2:00 a.m. on June 12, a shooter entered Orlando’s packed Pulse Nightclub. He killed 49 people and wounded 53 others, making it the largest terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11, and the deadliest attack on a gay club since 1974’s arson attack at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans. All over the country, the LGBTQ community mourned the loss of so many LGBTQ siblings. The tragedy became a political football in the tumultuous 2016 election, and politicians offered responses that ranged from consoling to tone deaf and downright despicable. The #WeAreOrlando movement helped people express their grief, and a candlelight vigil at Houston City Hall attracted hundreds of mourners. The attack sparked discussions on the relevance of gay clubs and how they have historically been vital gathering spots where we organized, commiserated, celebrated, and fell in love. The Pulse Nightclub massacre will never be forgotten, nor will the 49 souls that were taken from us.

Kate Brown of Oregon becomes the first openly LGBTQ governor in the U.S. in May.

Gay writer Garrard Conley’s memoir Boy Erased is released on May 10. Chronicling his experience in conversion therapy, Conley’s book is made into a widely released motion picture in 2018.

Sylvester Turner launches the Mayor’s LGBTQ
Advisory Board.

Mayor Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Board is made up of 49 LGBTQ Houstonians, a number reflective of the 49 lives lost in the Pulse Nightclub massacre. The inaugural advisory board included members from every faction of Houston’s LGBTQ community, and it continues to elevate voices that had never been heard before.

The California State Board of Education voted unanimously to begin teaching LGBTQ history in classes.

Hillary Clinton
She became the first woman nominated for president by a major party on July 26. She was the first presidential candidate to walk in a Pride parade. Clinton is a professional glass ceiling-breaker, but she fell short when she lost the Electoral College vote to Donald Trump in an astonishing November defeat. The decade would soon take a significant turn for the worse for LGBTQ Americans.

RuPaul’s Drag Race goes mainstream.
In September, the Supermodel of the World won the Emmy for Outstanding Reality TV Show Host for the first time. In 2017, Drag Race was moved to VH1, where it was an instant hit. RuPaul has won the Emmy every year since.

The Navy approves the naming of the U.S.N.S. Harvey Milk, a naval fuel ship that began construction in December 2019.

Donald Trump becomes president of the United States.
On January 20, the same day that Donald Trump was sworn into office, all mentions of the LGBTQ community were wiped from www.whitehouse.gov. By February, Trump had removed all of the Obama-implemented guidelines for the fair treatment of trans students in schools. In July, Trump put in place a ban on transgender troops in the military, and then he removed LGBTQ-related questions from the 2020 Census. (In 2019, the Log Cabin Republicans, the LGBTQ wing of the Republican party, inexplicably endorsed Trump for re-election in 2020.)

Lady Gaga headlines the Super Bowl LI halftime show in Houston on February 5.

The show Billions introduces Taylor, the first non-binary character on a major television series, in February. Non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon made history again when they were nominated for a Critic’s Choice Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

Moonlight wins the Oscar for Best Motion Picture on February 26.

OutSmart adds the “Q”
The cover of the June 2017 OutSmart magazine added a Q for “queer” to its “LGBT” subtitle, indicating a more inclusive description of the community it serves. Throughout the country, the LGBT label was expanding as “queer” became the blanket description of choice, replacing the more patriarchical “gay.” The complete initialism is more like LGBTQQIP2SAA—and just to be safe, many people add a “+” to whatever their preferred queer label is.

The Texas State Legislature tries and fails to pass a “bathroom bill” in August.

Trans pop star Kim Petras releases her first major hit single, “I Don’t Want It At All,” in August.

#MeToo and the LGBTQ community
In 2017 the country was coming to a cultural reckoning with sexual harassment. In an October article published in the New Yorker, gay journalist Ronan Farrow exposed Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein as the monster he was. The LGBTQ community was not immune—actor Anthony Rapp revealed that when he was 14, actor Kevin Spacey allegedly made unlawful sexual advances on him while working on Broadway. Spacey lost major roles, and his part in the film All the Money in the World was recast and re-shot post-production in order to erase the controversy from the film.

On October 1, Pride Houston’s board voted unanimously to make Lo Roberts president and CEO of the LGBTQ organization.

The City of Houston recognizes Intersex Awareness Day on October 26.

Nine transgender Americans are elected to office.
Transgender Americans scored election victories in historic numbers across the country in November. Danica Roem, Andrea Jenkins, Phillippe Cunningham, Lisa Middleton, Stephe Koontz, Gerri Cannon, Tyler Titus, Raven Matherne, and Jacquelyn Ryan were elected to seats ranging from state representative to school board member. Roem received considerable attention for her win over an 11-term, Republican incumbent in the Virginia House of Delegates. Jenkins became the first openly transgender black woman ever elected to public office in the United States.

Houston civil-rights pioneer Ray Hill dies.
Ray Hill passed away in December after enjoying a long life of activism on behalf of the LGBTQ community. As one of the founding fathers of Houston’s LGBTQ activist legacy, Hill was a proud thorn in the side of many Houston politicians. He often was the first to raise the alarm when an injustice against the community was being perpetrated. At the time of his death, he had been the longtime subject of a documentary about his life entitled Loud Mouth Queer! Ray co-organized the first National March on Washington for Lesbian & Gay Rights in 1979. He was a cofounder of nearly every LGBTQ organization in Houston, as well as a public-radio pioneer, convicted felon, prison-reform activist, writer, performer, speaker, and fearless warrior who never hesitated to serve as a lightning rod for controversy in the interest of advancing civil rights. He was a pain in the ass, and he will be sorely missed.

Lesbian pop star Hayley Kiyoko released her first album, Expectations. In the album, the singer, also known as Lesbian Jesus, showed the world what it was like to be unapologetically queer. It was Kiyoko who coined #20GAYTEEN, a year in which she informed her fans via Instagram on January 1: “It’s our year, it’s our time. To thrive and let our souls feel alive. #20GayTeen” 2018 was indeed a huge year for queer pop. Troye Sivan released an entire song about bottoming, and Janelle Monáe introduced the world to bisexual lighting and an entire ode to vaginas with her song “Pynk.”

Out Olympians Adam Rippon, Gus Kenworthy and Brittany Bowe
Adam Rippon became the first openly gay Olympian to represent the United States during the Winter Olympics in February. Skier Gus Kenworthy and speed-skater Brittany Bowe also competed, although Rippon was the first to qualify. Kenworthy gave his boyfriend, Matt Wilkas, a historic post-run kiss caught on camera. The image was broadcast around the world, and firmly made the 2018 Olympics one of the queerest ever.

Miss Vanjie, Miss Vanjie . . . MISS VANJIE!

Love, Simon
In March, Love, Simon became the first wide-release teen rom-com with a gay leading character. The sweet story was based on the teen novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and followed Simon through his public outing and subsequent high-school romance. For a short moment, Simon turned the teen silver screen rainbow.

OutSmart magazine turns 25 in April.

Paris Is Burning, the documentary that showcases the 1980s New York City ballroom scene, is required viewing for LGBTQ people. Ryan Murphy went a step further and created an entire show around the scene, and appropriately cast trans actors to portray the trans characters. Pose, which debuted on June 3, gave viewers a rare window into the lives and struggles of trans women of color. It also proved that trans people can write, produce, direct and portray their own stories. 

Houston Pride hosts its 40th LGBTQ celebration on June 23.

India legalizes gay sex on September 6.

The Rainbow Wave
During the November 2018 midterm elections, a record 399 LGBTQ candidates ran for office at all levels of government, including 22 for Congress and 4 for state governorships. Of the 399 races, 164 ended in victory. For the first time in history, there was a double-digit number of LGBTQ representatives in Congress, including bisexual Arizona Senator Kirsten Sinema who narrowly flipped red Arizona to blue. States like Kansas gained two LGBTQ leaders. In Colorado, Jared Polis became the state’s first openly gay Governor and Briana Titone became Colorado’s first transgender state legislator after she was inspired to run by Danica Roem of Virginia.

Texas State Legislature’s first LGBTQ Caucus is formed
The Texas State Legislature has never been rife with LGBTQ representation. Before Rep. Mary Gonzalez was elected in 2012, it had only one previous member, Rep. Glenn Maxey. But the elections of 2018 changed that when five LGBTQ representatives were sent to the House by voters, thus creating the first substantive LGBTQ Caucus on January 10. The five members are led by Gonzalez, the most senior representative. Erin Zweiner, Celia Israel, Julie Johnson, and Jessica Gonzalez are the other four. Together, they put forward several pieces of legislation that advanced LGBTQ issues. They were even successful in getting committee hearings for some issues that Republicans had categorically blocked for decades.

Pete Buttigieg
It’s pronounced “Boot-Edge-Edge” according to his campaign merch. Mayor Pete, as he is affectionately known on the campaign trail, is the first gay person to launch a viable presidential primary bid on January 23. Hailing from South Bend, Indiana, where he is currently mayor, Buttigieg is a veteran, a Rhodes Scholar, and the youngest candidate in the Democratic primaries at age 37. As he rises in the polls, scrutiny of his candidacy rises with it. However voters may personally feel about his politics, they cannot deny that his campaign is historic for the LGBTQ community and the nation at large. When the decade started, Buttigieg wasn’t allowed to serve openly in the military or marry his partner. This presidential race is indicative of the tremendous progress the LGBTQ community has made in a relatively short time.

Houston Pride Grand Marshals make history.
On April 26, Pride Houston named Mike Webb the first non-binary Pride grand marshall in the world. Harrison Guy became the LGBTQ organization’s first black male grand marshal. The honorary grand marshals were four trans women of color—Atlantis Narcisse, Dee Dee Watters, Ana Andrea Molina, and Monica Roberts.

World Pride in NYC celebrates 50 years since Stonewall.

Lil Nas X becomes the first openly gay rapper to win a Country Music Award.

Angelica Ross and Billy Porter
The two stars from Pose made history. Ross was a series regular on Pose, and her character was murdered in an emotional episode that earned high praise for Ross and the series. Ross was quickly cast as Donna Chambers on season nine of American Horror Story, which made her the first out trans actor to be the lead in two series. In September, Billy Porter became the first openly gay black man to win an Emmy award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. His character’s storyline also made news for being focused on a black, gay, HIV-positive couple with a significant age difference, touching on an aspect of gay romantic life that is often ignored.

Two LGBTQ-focused presidential forums take place in September and October. One is broadcast on CNN.

Harris County acknowledges the 20th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance with a resolution in November.

PrEP becomes more accessible
On December 3, the Department of Health and Human Services launched Ready, Set, PrEP, a program to more widely distribute PrEP medication in an effort to prevent HIV infections. One important aspect of the program is the drug’s free distribution to people who could not otherwise gain access to it. This major stride in HIV prevention has a goal of eliminating new transmissions of the virus during this generation.

Megan Rapinoe named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year in December.

Old Dog, Old Tricks
In a last-ditch effort to gain voter support in his bid for Houston mayor, candidate Tony Buzbee sent out a trans-phobic mailer to supporters one day before the runoff election on December 14. The mailer stoked old lies like the bathroom myth and the dangers of drag queens reading storybooks to children. Buzbee had previously tried to court the LGBTQ vote by expressing fake sympathy on their issues, and with promises of a HERO 2.0. This mailer, along with a text from President Donald Trump and a robo-call from Trump Jr., revealed Buzbee’s duplicitous true colors. Houstonians who thought that the city had evolved beyond such hateful rhetoric were reminded that they can never sleep as long as there are homophobic politicians who talk out of both sides of their mouths. Buzbee was soundly defeated by Turner by a margin of 14% points.

Merriam-Webster declared the gender-neutral singular pronoun “they” as its Word of the Year.

Queer Representation in the Media
Since 2010, queer representation in the media has increased at an astounding rate. There are more out, queer people serving in elected positions. There are at least 99 television characters who are openly queer, according to GLAAD. There are out, queer musicians in practically every genre of music. There are queer leads in award-winning movies. There are queer storylines with actual substance focusing on characters that are often under-represented in mainstream media. Netflix has a series called Special focused entirely on a gay disabled man. Showtime is premiering a new show called Work In Progress about a suicidal, butch lesbian with OCD.

It seems like there are more queer people than ever, but that isn’t exactly true. What happened in the 2010s was that more people came out. More people became visible. More people started living authentically. And that has created a tidal wave of “outness” that is reaching LGBTQ kids in the closet (even in rural South Dakota) in a way that it never has. But the fight is never over. In 2020, the LGBTQ community will continue fighting for more, because it’s not only how we will survive, but how we will thrive.

Here’s to hoping we can see clearly in 2020 and beyond.

This article appears in the January 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.


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Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.

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