“I wish you would make up your mind, Mr. Dickens,” an editor says to Charles Dickens in an iconic New Yorker cartoon, “Was it the best of times or was it the worst of times?”
Last year was the best and the worst of times.
Writing this, I hear on the news that same-sex marriage is now legal in Florida, our country’s third largest state. A couple that has been together for 40 years talks about being able, finally, to marry. Now, same-sex couples can marry in 36 states, plus Washington, D.C. President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Last year proved once again that coming out still matters in our culture where homophobia is all too alive and well. Apple CEO Tim Cook became the first Fortune 500 CEO to come out. You’d have had to be made of stone not to have been inspired when Cook said, “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”
I know nothing about football, but I was among the many in 2014 who were thrilled when Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted by the National Football League. A kiss may, as the song says, be “just a kiss.” But it was a lot more than that when Sam kissed his boyfriend to celebrate his having been drafted by the St. Louis Rams. The Rams later cut him, but “the kiss” will live on forever.
Kudos to “Orange is the New Black” star Laverne Cox! It takes a star to make the cover of Time magazine. As Time’s caption said, it was “The Transgender Tipping Point.”
Props to Pope Francis. An institution like the Catholic Church won’t quickly or easily change its attitudes toward LGBT people. Yet, the Pope has (partly) opened the church’s long-closed windows (toward acceptance and inclusion of LGBT people).
Unfortunately, there was much to decry in 2014. Who among us will ever forget Ferguson and the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and John Crawford III and the failure of grand juries to indict the police involved in these shootings? Like many of us, I’m appalled by these shootings, and I hope that I’m not racist. Yet, an article in the January/February issue of Mother Jones tells how research shows that most of us have “racial” biases that “we cannot consciously control.” More than half (51 percent) of those who take the Implicit Association Test, an online test that measures unconscious racial prejudices, “show moderate to strong bias,” the magazine reports.
Racism is still entrenched in the culture at large and in the LGBT community. Yet, there’s a glimmer of hope. “Research suggests that once we understand the psychological pathways that lead to prejudice, we just might be able to train our brains to go in the opposite direction,” writes Chris Mooney, author of the Mother Jones piece.
If I could get everyone to read one book, it would be Charles M. Blow’s memoir “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.” Blow writes of growing up, black and dirt-poor in rural Louisiana. Political issues of race, poverty and sexuality become engagingly personal in his work.
As the Blade reported in its yearlong series, poverty is a searing reality for many – from youth to elders – in the LGBT community.
LGBT people still have no federal protection against employment discrimination. We can be fired just for being queer in 29 states.
Creative artists – from actors to poets – make art no matter what the year. Highlights from 2014 for me included seeing the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C.’s production of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives;” interviewing poet Venus Thrash for the Blade; and watching Lily Tomlin receive a Kennedy Center Honor on TV.
It’s tempting, with all the bad news, to give in to despair. But, in the spirit of the New Year, let’s do what we can. Some ideas: Volunteer with Food and Friends, donate to Different Drummers, or support Split This Rock – the D.C. organization that fosters a national network of socially engaged poets.
Here’s to a better 2015!
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.