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|2010 in Review: Top 5 national LGBT headlines|
|Written by Laura Douglas-Brown|
|Friday, 24 December 2010 00:00|
This year comes to a close with a tremendous victory for gay rights: a law setting into motion repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the ban on openly gay military service members that enshrined anti-gay discrimination in federal law.
But the top five LGBT national news stories of 2010 were not all positive. As we celebrated victories like federal court rulings against DADT and California’s Prop 8, we also witnessed a string of LGBT youth suicides — a sobering reminder that launched a viral campaign to make sure our young people know “It Gets Better.”
‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ down to the wire
This year’s biggest gay news cliffhanger has to be the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which saw multiple victories and setbacks throughout the year, before winning passage during the final days of a lame-duck congressional session.
The Log Cabin Republicans filed a federal lawsuit challenging DADT in 2004. On Sept. 9, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips ruled DADT violates the First Amendment right to free speech and the Fifth Amendment right to due process in the federal constitution. But the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals then issued an injunction keeping the ban in place while the case progressed through the court system.
As the Log Cabin case and others moved through the courts this year, DADT also saw frequent action in Congress. The U.S. House passed a measure allowing for repeal as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill, but that effort failed in the U.S. Senate in September when supporters could not garner enough votes to invoke cloture and end a Republican-led filibuster.
Republican wins in the November election appeared to further doom DADT repeal in Congress — despite a long-awaited Pentagon report, released Nov. 30, that showed a large majority of military members do not think repeal will hurt the military, and two days of congressional hearings that sent the same message.
On Dec. 9, the Senate again failed to pass cloture on the massive defense bill. But on Dec. 15, the House voted 250-175 in favor of a stand-alone bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
On Dec. 18, the Senate approved the stand-alone repeal on a vote of 65-31. At press time, President Obama was to sign the bill on Dec. 22.
The legislation does not immediately repeal the gay ban. President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen still need to certify that the military is able to remove the policy without adverse effect.
Over Obama: Did president do enough for gay rights?
After winning the White House with strong support from LGBT voters, President Obama faced scrutiny this year as the midterm elections approached with what some activists felt was a lack of progress on key gay issues.
While an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes bill finally passed under Obama’s watch, and his administration appointed a record number of LGBT officials, activists were furious that the administration defended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act against lawsuits seeking to overturn the anti-gay policies.
Critics were not swayed by White House arguments that the policies would be better overturned by Congress than the courts.
And while Obama issued a memorandum that instructs the Department of Health & Human Services to issue regulations that would require hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding to allow same-sex couples visitation rights, and the U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines reminding all school officials that federal law mandates they take action against anti-gay bullying, activists remained concerned.
The mounting anger prompted national media coverage wondering if gay voter anger might sway the vote on Nov. 2 to give Republicans victories in the U.S. House and Senate.
Republicans did win control of the U.S. House on Nov. 2, but Congress still passed a law to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the waning days of the lame-duck session before new legislators take office — adding another fulfilled promise to Obama’s list.
For gay teens, proms and promises that ‘It Gets Better’
This year began on an optimistic note for gay youth, as teens in Mississippi and right here in Georgia made worldwide headlines for their bravery in taking a same-sex date to the high school prom.
In Mississippi, Constance McMillen wanted to take a female date to her senior prom, but the Itawamba County School District canceled the April 2 dance to prevent her. A federal judge took her side, and ordered the school district to create a non-discrimination policy, pay McMillen $35,000, and pay legal fees.
Here at home, Derrick Martin was kicked out of his home in the wake of media attention to his decision to take his boyfriend to the high school prom in tiny Cochran, Ga. After graduating high school, Martin decided to put his new visibility to work offering support to others who face similar situations and launched Project Lifevest (projectlifevest.org), an effort to help other LGBTQ youth in need.
But later in the year, the nation received a sobering reminder that many LGBT young people don’t feel as empowered as McMillen and Martin, as a string of suicides around the nation sparked shock and sorrow.
In response, gay author and columnist Dan Savage launched a video campaign to tell LGBT youth that “It Gets Better.” The popular campaign drew celebrities from President Obama to Tim Gunn, as well as many from everyday members of the LGBT community.
Prop. 8 court battle gives hope for gay marriage
California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure that amended the state’s constitution to halt gay marriage, has been a non-stop battle in both courts of law and the court of public opinion since it passed in 2008 — and gathered steam in 2010.
A federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban, led by famed attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, scored a huge victory in August, when U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional.
But rather than allowing gay couples to resume marrying in California, Walker issued a stay on his ruling pending the outcome of inevitable appeals. While California state leaders, refused to defend the law, the Yes on 8 campaign challenged the ruling as expected.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals heard arguments in the appeal on Dec. 6, in which supporters of the ban argued that gay marriage “will make children prematurely preoccupied with issues of sexuality.”
The appeals panel is expected to issue its decision in 2011. The case is widely expected to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
Celebrities go Gaga for gay rights
As national fights over gay marriage and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” percolated through 2010, the list of celebrities speaking out for LGBT rights grew extensively. At the head of the pack was Lady Gaga, who lobbied and spoke out repeatedly for repeal of the ban on openly gay military service members.
Three media visibility campaigns put celebrities out front for LGBT rights this year. In addition to the “It Gets Better” campaign against LGBT youth suicide and bullying, New Yorkers for Marriage Equality and the “No H8” campaign drew big names for the cause.
Backed by the Human Rights Campaign, New Yorkers for Marriage Equality produced videos with celebrities including actors Whoopi Goldberg and Fran Drescher.
Photographer Adam Bouska’s “No H8” campaign — built off of Prop. 8, the California ballot measure that banned gay marriage in the state — grew extensively throughout 2010.
Celebrities also advanced visibility for LGBT rights simply by coming out. Those who chose 2010 as their year to be publicly honest about their sexual orientation include pop star Ricky Martin, actor Sean Hayes (known for “Will & Grace”), country singer Chely Wright, actress Amber Heard (“Zombieland,” “Pineapple Express”), actress Sara Gilbert (“Roseanne”), Christian singer Jennifer Knapp, and actress Anna Paquin, who came out as bisexual.
Top photo: Left: Dan Choi chained himself to the White House fence to protest ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ (by Michael Key / DC Agenda) Right: Constance McMillen’s empowered legal battle to take a female date to her Mississippi high school prom stood in stark contrast to multiple LGBT youth suicides this year.
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