Over the past 10 years, I’ve often used this space to target and critique a series of anti-LGBT figures — from politicians to criminals to closeted celebrities. My attacks have ranged from stinging to the occasional angry full-on takedown. It’s remarkable how much things have changed for the LGBT movement in those 10 years. So a quick look back at some of my favorite targets of the last decade and how they have evolved during that time.
1. The Democratic National Committee. This might seem an unexpected target, but the reality is that the party’s support for LGBT rights and legislation is an Obama phenomenon. From Bill Clinton’s support for DOMA to Howard Dean’s firing of a gay liaison and other shenanigans (pitting black delegates against gay ones, denigrating the gay press and threatening to sue the Blade), the Democratic Party has a complicated history with our community. Obama deserves the credit for turning around that sorry record. Today, the Democratic Party includes marriage equality in its platform. Ten years ago, there had been no movement on pro-LGBT federal legislation. Today, we have an expanded hate crimes law and have repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” DOMA is next to go.
2. The Bush administration. George W. Bush became the gay community’s public enemy No. 1 after his cynical assault on marriage equality in 2004, a crusade masterminded in part by former RNC Chair and Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman. The Bush years were ugly, from his calls for a federal marriage amendment to an odd and stubborn refusal to even utter the word “gay” in public. Ten years later, Mehlman is out of the closet and raising money to support marriage equality. Dick Cheney supports marriage equality, as does Laura Bush. And George has paid a steep price for his horrendous, reckless presidency — relegated to the dustbin of history and rendered persona non grata at last year’s Republican National Convention. He is rightly blamed for the country’s economic mess and will be remembered as among the worst presidents in American history.
3. Martin O’Malley. Another unlikely target, considering O’Malley was popular with LGBT residents of Baltimore from his days as a City Council member and mayor. He even endorsed marriage equality in a TV interview years before running for governor. He later disavowed that interview and was booed off the stage at a private LGBT donor gathering after advocating for civil unions over full marriage rights. After a 2007 court ruling limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples, O’Malley issued a cruel, stinging statement invoking the Catholic sacraments and reiterating a call for civil unions. But after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo successfully shepherded marriage through a Republican Senate there, O’Malley had an epiphany and adopted full-throated support for the cause. He was a latecomer, but ultimately played a key role in passage of the bill and of the subsequent ballot measure last year. He’s now a rumored 2016 presidential aspirant (along with Cuomo).
4. Religion. Perhaps the greatest force opposed to our full equality, organized religion gets a lot of ink. From the attacks of Pope Benedict to the reparative therapy efforts of Scientology, religions (and cults in the case of Scientology) remain a key threat to LGBT people. But even that’s changing. If you visit a local Catholic church, you’ll find openly LGBT people in the pews and gay support groups operating. And they have something to celebrate with the news this week that Benedict is stepping down after nearly eight years of anti-gay pronouncements. More and more religions are moderating their views on our full inclusion in church life, including in marriage. Evangelical Lutherans now recognize the same-sex relationships of church leaders; the U.S. Episcopal Church allows same-sex marriages in states where it’s legal. There’s a long way to go to full acceptance, of course, but progress is undeniable and change is happening at a brisk pace.
5. Anderson Cooper & Jodie Foster. Closeted rich and famous people have come in for a healthy dose of criticism on this page over the years. After all, if the wealthiest and most successful among us won’t come out, how can we expect the schoolteacher in Alabama or the construction worker in Iowa to do the same? Cooper and Foster became the poster children for the closet but in the last year, both publicly came out. Better late than never, right? Maybe Shepard Smith and Queen Latifah will follow their lead.
6. Mark Foley & Larry Craig. The Blade wrote about Foley’s sexual orientation for years before he was forced to publicly acknowledge the truth after his page scandal. Craig’s story is more twisted but both ultimately got what they deserved. Their names haven’t appeared in the Blade for years — two relics of a closeted past. Good riddance. Now if only Lindsay Graham would come out.
Even after all that progress, there’s still no shortage of organizations and public figures to take to task — think Sam Arora, Rick Santorum, Tony Perkins and the National Organization for Marriage. And our work is far from complete. We need a federal law outlawing anti-LGBT employment discrimination; a stop to religion-based bigotry; and an openly gay professional athlete would be nice, too. But the list of our enemies is a lot shorter than it was 10 years ago. Here’s to the next 10 years of progress.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.