December 29, 2015 at 2:50 pm EST | by Richard J. Rosendall
2015: Year of the Arsonist
demagogues, gay news, Washington Blade

Reichstag fire, 1933 (Photo public domain; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

“Set the motherfucker on fire!” That recent call by a Donald Trump rally goer concerning a black protester, with another attendee yelling “Sieg heil,” illustrates the viciousness fueling Trump’s presidential campaign. If you take this lightly, Google “lynching.” It is not just that what happened in Europe in the last century could happen here; what happened here could happen again. Trump’s incitements, and those of his rivals, do not just pander to intolerance, they spray gasoline on the fire.

Hate-spewing demagogues were not the year’s only newsmakers, but they produced its most dangerous legacy. The demons they unleashed cannot easily be tamed. But the haters cannot win the general election unless the rest of us allow it. Before we head back into battle, let us review some positive developments of 2015, though with cautionary notes.

The landmark victory for nationwide marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, which President Obama celebrated by lighting the White House north front in rainbow colors, inspired opponents to switch tactics by pushing “religious freedom” laws (better dubbed “religious supremacy”) to continue their anti-gay attacks. The Equality Act represented a new approach to LGBT anti-discrimination legislation, but stood no chance in a Republican-controlled Congress. Openly gay Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson and several colleagues launched the smart, well-designed Campaign Zero policy website.

The U.S. Department of Labor strengthened its guidance to protect its transgender employees. The Departments of Justice and Education supported Virginia trans student Gavin Grimm’s successful effort to use the boys’ restroom. On the downside, the anti-trans panic that overturned the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance revealed a weakness in making our case that recalled the 2008 Proposition 8 debacle in California.

Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out as a transgender woman brought more visibility to the trans equality struggle, but the blend of her conservatism and blindness of privilege drew plenty of barbs. It is worth remembering that our struggle is not about personalities. We should resist pointless arguments like whether she deserved Glamour’s Woman of the Year award. Alas, those who hurl “men in dresses” slurs got an assist from Jenner, who used the expression herself. A private intervention by experienced trans activists might be in order.

In healthcare, CDC data show that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) taken daily reduces sexually transmitted HIV infection risk by more than 90 percent. But CDC also reports a nearly 87 percent increase in new HIV infections among Black and Latino gay and bisexual youth. At-risk populations must be informed about and provided this life-saving treatment.

LGBT cultural visibility continued with films like Carol and The Danish Girl, and with the Broadway triumph of Fun Home, based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel. Jennifer Hudson made “I Still Love You,” a beautiful music video with an interracial gay theme. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington made an historic trip to Cuba.

President Obama’s even-tempered persistence led to diplomatic breakthroughs on blocking Iranian nuclear weapons, combating climate change, and resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba. Irish voters strongly approved marriage equality, rejecting admonitions by the Catholic Church. Free and Equal, a United Nations campaign for LGBT equality, highlighted the cost of homophobia and transphobia. LGBT people from Colombia to Uganda continued to face violent repression.

On Veteran’s Day, LGBT veterans and other activists dedicated Frank Kameny’s memorial stone in Congressional Cemetery, four years after the gay rights pioneer’s death. Also honoring the past was a rejuvenated Mattachine Society of Washington, originally founded by Kameny, now led by Charles Francis and dedicated to “archive activism.” (Note: I am the group’s secretary.) One of its 2015 discoveries was a document in the Reagan presidential library showing that Nancy Reagan refused to help her friend Rock Hudson get admitted to a French hospital when he was dying of AIDS in 1985. Gathering and preserving evidence is as crucial in documenting our past as in moving forward, as with the DC-area needs assessment study released in November by the DC Trans Coalition.

Like African Americans, women, immigrants, and religious minorities before us, LGBT people have faced a backlash ever since we first stood up for ourselves. Organizations come and go, and the focus of our efforts changes; but the work of democracy continues.


Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at

Copyright © 2015 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.

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