Highlights and Low lights for Gays in 2009

As many of you know I like to have fun on the site but there are times when I think it’s more appropriate to be serious about some of the issues facing all of us, in particular those in the GBLTQ community. Since this site only focuses on gay men I thought I would ask a few notable gay men to give us their perspective on issues that have affected them during the last decade or just in 2009. Here, in no particular order, is what they had to say about events that impacted the gay community during the past year, both positive and negative –  

Victor J. Banis, author 

It is such a tradition in our culture, to take stock of the departing year, that it will surprise some to know that I’d barely given it a thought, engrossed as I was in my own lows and seeking frantically for a high to which I could attach my hopes for the New Year. 

When I did take a few steps back to look at the larger picture, what I saw was a bleak landscape cluttered with the dead and dying hopes for gay marriage. And lower still, for me, was the relentless war waged against them by the White House and the Department of Justice whenever and wherever the measures came up. Nor has anyone shown any interest in changing “Don’t ask, Don’t tell”. And don’t even get me started on Rick Warren. Dispiriting indeed. 

Not much comfort to be found, either, in the Lambda Foundation’s anti-het stance, nor in their cavalier dismissal of every pioneering effort that took place before 1980. The book store closings added to the gloom, though this may have been a little less painful for me than for some, since with one or two exceptions – Lambda Rising in D.C. e.g., or Unabridged Books in Chicago—most of them had spent the year boycotting me anyway. Which is to say, quoting Ms. Parker, “inseparable my nose and my thumb”. 

But what of the highs? I wish I could point to one shining moment and say, here, this was the pinnacle of our year, but honestly I don’t know what that would be, although I am probably overlooking something, and I hope someone else here comes up with a good example. 

What I get the most satisfaction from, however, is a bit intangible, and it boils down to, we’re still here and we’re still queer. If the gay marriage movement has lost some notable battles, I remain convinced that the war is far from over – and there is some joy to be found in the fact that with each successive wave we find ourselves closer to the beach. The very debate over the issue would have been all but unthinkable no more than a decade ago. It would be lovely to think that these things could be accomplished overnight, but realistically, much of our gay revolution has been shaped by attrition. So, patience, and soldier on. 

I feel the same optimism regarding the whole M/M controversy. Notwithstanding the fact that it greatly discomforts some (though I confess I am rather at a loss to understand why), I remain convinced that this movement has brought some much needed fresh blood to a genre that had grown moribund to say the least. While the mainstream gay press (what is left of it) continues to churn out grim AIDS memoir after grim AIDS memoir, publishers such as MLR Press, Lethe, and Amber Allure, among others, give proof that gay-themed books can still be enjoyable to read. Or, maybe I should make that, can once again be enjoyable to read, since, frankly, there was an awful long time when I didn’t find any of it worth reading. Independent authors—Edward Patterson’s splendid books come to mind immediately—are flexing new muscle, and with undiminished optimism for the future, others start up new publishing ventures—one of them, YOM has asked me to do some editing, and it sounds like an exciting project. 

So, Goodbye, 2009, it’s nice to wave you on your way. And, I welcome 2010 with a glad smile—but, if you want anything more than a smile, Mister New Year, you’d better get around to showing me what you’ve got in mind for us, and before too long, okay? Otherwise, get somebody else to change your crappy diapers. I’m still smelling last year’s stink. 

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Rick R.Reed, author 

I write about crime. I think about crime. It figures into my fiction and now, plays an even bigger part in my non-fiction, since I am the official “gay crime” blogger for a very popular and esteemed true crime blog called IN COLD BLOG . I have always found that the scariest things in life are the things that can really happen and that life’s worst monsters don’t morph into wolves or sprout fangs with blood lust, but those that are right before our eyes. 

2009 had some memorable moments for me in terms of gay crime. Right off the bat, I can think of three, which thinking about leads to more universal thought about crime, persecution, and perception in general. The three I thought of: 

1. Jonathan Bleiweiss. Don’t know him? Google him, you’ll come up with lots of unsavory hits. The Broward County, FL police officer was openly gay and an honored public figure. And then he goes and screws it all up by being caught with his hands down the pants of not one, but several illegal immigrants, abusing his power as an officer of the law to cow them into submission. Here we are struggling as a community to be seen as worthwhile and not predators, and Bleiweiss comes along and demonstrates how we can go from esteemed to reviled when we let our power and our sex drives get the better of us. Shame on you, Jonathan! For full story, click here

2. Jack Price. 2009’s shining example of what it means to be a victim of hate crime. A gay man, minding his own business, is attacked by a gang of thugs simply for being who he is and winds up in the hospital, clinging desperately to a life someone else got to say was not worth living. Full story here

3. Atlanta’s Raid on The Eagle. Atlanta’s premier leather bar became a target in 2009 for police persecution. Note I said “persecution” and not “prosecution.” When drug abuse, murder, assault, rape, theft, and much more heinous crimes were exploding within that southern city’s borders, police officials decided to conduct a sting operation on a leather bar. Who were they protecting, again? Full story here

The good thing about all of the above is that gay people, like myself, have refused to keep quiet about such outrages and will continue to fight and speak out against persecution. 

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Batboy – a Canadian and well known blogger 

Down side:
Those statements from the Pope, Proposition 8 in California, anti-gay legislation in Africa, imprisonment of gay citizens in Indonesia or execution in Iran. All fairly obvious examples. 

Up side:
In 2009, same-sex marriage was legalized in Mexico, Sweden, and some U.S. states; and civil partnerships in Hungary and Ireland.
The first openly gay head of a national government was elected in Iceland. 

On a less momentous note, Milk won the Oscar for best screenplay, and Dustin Lance Black’s unguarded, topical acceptance speech was greeted warmly. The public discussion of Milk provided a nice contrast to the interminable, embarrassed giggling and insulting jokes which were the typical media response to Brokeback Mountain’s nomination just a few years ago. 

In my corner of the world, progress is steady. In fact, a lot of the progress I’ve seen this year hasn’t involved milestones at all. What I’ve noticed are examples of the gradual acceptance of gay people as just part of the scenery, business as usual. Gay athletes, politicians, or TV characters are discussed without their sexual orientation being the central issue. Couples interviewed on news stories or reality TV are identified as ‘Jim and his husband’ or ‘Janet and her wife’ very casually now, at least here in Canada.  To me, this is where the real change happens: in people’s minds, in the gradual acceptance rather than the dramatic gestures. (Although it doesn’t make for much of a ‘year in review’ list, I’m afraid.) 

In this part of the world, I think it’s become less a political struggle than a matter of watching the tiny victories pile up until they, inevitably, reach critical mass. A shrinking number of people guard the barricades against ‘gay infiltration’, by fighting for specific legislation, not realizing that the back gate has been left wide open and the enemy has already strolled in and set up lawn chairs. 

The 2009 news item I find most encouraging is not, strictly speaking, directly related to gay rights: the Iranian Wear Drag For Human Rights campaign. Recently Iranian men, as a combined gesture of support for women’s rights, gay rights (sort of), and political freedom in general, took to wearing the traditional women’s veil as part of their demonstrations. It began in response to an effort by the Iranian authorities to discredit a student protester by posting altered photos of him dressed in a veil, and hinting at his lack of masculinity. This sparked a campaign in which men took the veil as a symbol of protest and of solidarity with Iranian women. A member of the campaign explained, 

Majid-Tavakoli - a demonstrator

“With great pride I will wear women’s clothing…Because they were the ones who demanded their rights from the very beginning…From now on, in a show of respect towards Iranian women and girls, I will take a veil with me as a symbol of protest to every demonstration I attend, whether in the streets or in the university.”  

One female Iranian journalist commented, 

“The world was surprised to see women at the forefront of the Green Movement, going face to face with baton-wielding Basij militiamen. The truth is, Iranian women are fearless because they have withstood years of harassment by the morality police who try to enforce Islamic dress and comportment upon them. They have fought tirelessly for democratic reform because they have the most to gain from it. For the first time, Iranian men have also organized to promote gender equality.” 

This may seem off-topic but I find it extremely promising. 

First, because I agree with those who believe homosexuals are despised at least partly because women are despised, so that anything which promotes sexual equality promotes gay rights. 

Second, because it is an example of, presumably, mostly straight men voluntarily becoming targets of ridicule and relinquishing their position of dignity to identify with women. 

Third, because they let themselves be seen as effeminate in order to do so. 

Fourth, because it opens up the topic of gender in a new and productive way. 

Finally, this happened spontaneously in one of the most homophobic and misogynist cultures in existence. 

This is the kind of attitude change I’m talking about. You can’t entirely engineer it; it just has to happen when the time is right. 

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Teddypig, well known blogger who has his own site here, always has strong opinions both pro and con on gay issues. He had this to say – 

It’s hard to pick any highlights for me for 2009… 

Uganda, which is trying to not only criminalize homosexuality but attach the death penalty to those who are HIV Positive. 

Here at home, Obama after all his promises to our community during his election, decides that reversing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and The Defense Of Marriage Act are not only low priorities but his own staff members are publicly supporting they continue. 

These comments are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg in the fight for equality whether it’s gender based or relates to sexual orientation or any other form of discrimination. What affects the gay community ultimately affects all of us as we fight to gain equal rights whoever we are and wherever we live. 

I would like your comments on the topics raised by the four  contributors. Maybe you have  a few views both pro and con.

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

12 comments

  • As a U.S. citizen and resident of Iowa, I was stunned and very pleased when the denial of same-sex marriage was determined to be unconstitutional (by a 7-0 vote by the IA Supreme Court, no less!). I know that it will be an issue in the upcoming Gen. Assembly but hopefully they will pursue issues that actually matter, i.e. the budget, health care, etc. etc.

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    Sherry F (from the Midwest)

    Reply
  • Great post guys. Some good, some not so good milestones. I do think I am a bit spoiled living in Canada where I take for granted things like gay marriage and hate-crime legislation. I also work or an employer who openly accepts gay employees and couples and who accommodates their needs as they do a het couple. Oh, it’s not perfect but when I see my American friends struggling for things I think should be no-brainers I realize what we do have here.
    *
    Seeing a gay man’s perspective is always different than mine as a straight woman no matter how sympathetic I may be to the plight. Thanks for sharing. May 2010 see more steps forward than back.

    Reply
    • Tam
      You’re right – we are spoiled living in Canada. I hope that in a few years the US will evolve in the area of human rights for everyone, not just straight people.

      *
      One of the reasons I asked the guys for their perspective was so that we could all appreciate their struggle, every day of their lives, in areas others take for granted.

      Reply
  • Thanks so much to all of you for your comments, for giving all of us your perspective on the year gone by and the year to come. Batboy, I’m copying Victor here and saying “thank you” for letting us know about the Iranian situation in particular. I had no idea about the Wear Drag movement, and it brought me absolutely to tears to see it. I’m lucky enough to live in a country where the law is on my side and protects me from official sex-based discrimination, but still, I know what it’s like to be made to feel “less than” and not good enough, to be ignored or passed over in the workplace, and endangered in the street, simply because I’m female, and even the men in my life who love me the most have never gone to these lengths to put themselves in my shoes. What a wonderfully courageous thing to do.
    *
    Thanks, guys, for your insights. I hope 2010 is a better one.
    (and we’d better ALL be putting pressure on the White House, I’ll tell you that!)

    Reply
    • Ally: Given the circumstances, I thought they were incredibly courageous. And you’re right, we don’t often see that level of empathy here.
      .
      I guess I should add that it’s not actually *called* the Iranian Wear Drag For Human Rights Campaign. That was just my designation. I don’t know how it’s referred to in Iran.

      Reply
      • Batboy
        I think that was a stroke of genius calling it The Iranian Wear Drag for Human Rights Campaign. You are so much more talented than I thought. 😀

        Reply
    • Well said Ally. I think if more people experience similar struggles perhaps we can all empathize and try to do something to get those in power to listen, and maybe pass laws that protect everyone.

      Reply
  • batboy, thank you for the Iranian wear drag campaign. How very courageous and exactly what the struggle for equal rights is (and has always been) about. I didn’t know about this, and I truly am grateful for your sharing it with me. As to the others, yes, memorable ups and downs. And, yes, Teddypig, you’ve noticed, too.

    Let us all pray, and work, for a wonderful New glbt Year.

    Reply

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