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Five decades of progress since Stonewall

20 events that shaped the LGBTQ movement

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This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which are credited with launching the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Since that time, the country has seen tremendous progress in LGBTQ equality and acceptance. Here is a list of 20 events that have shaped the LGBT rights movement over the last 50 years.

June 28, 1970:

Upwards of 2,000 people took part in New York’s Christopher Street Liberation Day that commemorated the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. This march is seen by many as one of the first Pride events.

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The first Pride parade in New York, 1970. (Photo courtesy Gay and Lesbian Information Center, New York Public Library)

Dec. 15, 1973:

The American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness.

John Fryer, gay news, Washington Blade
Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny and John Fryer (in disguise). Kameny and Gittings spoke on a 1971 APA panel entitled ‘Gay is Good.’ They returned in ’72, joined by Dr. John Fryer, who appeared anonymously as a ‘homosexual psychiatrist.’ (Photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen via Wikimedia Commons)

June 8, 1977:

Voters in Dade County, Fla., repealed a gay rights ordinance the Dade County Commission approved earlier in the year.

Anita Bryant’s campaign against the ordinance ahead of the referendum prompted outrage among LGBT activists across the country and a boycott of Florida orange juice. The Miami-Dade County Commission in 1998 approved a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation.

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Anita Bryant (Photo public domain)

Nov. 27, 1978:

San Francisco Supervisor Dan White assassinated City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone inside San Francisco City Hall.

The assassination of Milk, a pioneering activist who was the first openly gay man elected in California, sparked an outpouring of grief that included a candlelight vigil in which up to 40,000 people participated. White’s sentence for voluntary manslaughter in connection with Milk’s murder sparked what became known as the White Night riots that took place in San Francisco in May 1979.

White Night Riots (Photo by Daniel Nicoletta via Wikimedia Commons)

Oct. 14, 1979:

The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights took place in D.C. The gathering was the first of several large LGBT rights marches that have taken place since the Stonewall riots.

The 1979 National March on Washington for Gay Rights. (Washington Blade archive photo by John M. Yanson)

July 3, 1981:

The New York Times published an article on a “rare and often rapidly fatal form of cancer” that later become known as AIDS.

The AIDS epidemic has killed more than an estimated 600,000 people in the U.S. It also sparked activism that persists to this day, even though medications and access to treatment have allowed many people with HIV/AIDS to live longer lives.

Ray Engebretsen allowed the Blade to document him in the last stages of his life. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

June 30, 1986:

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick ruled the Constitution does not protect consensual same-sex sexual activity. The decision upheld a Georgia law that criminalized oral and anal sex among consenting adults.

(Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

Sept. 20, 1996:

President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples that were legally performed.

Edith “Edie” Windsor challenged DOMA after she paid $363,000 in federal estate taxes when her wife passed away in 2009. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 found DOMA unconstitutional.

Edie Windsor, Capital Pride parade, gay news, Washington Blade
Edie Windsor challenged DOMA after she paid $363,000 in federal estate taxes when her wife passed away in 2009. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 found DOMA unconstitutional. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Oct. 12, 1998:

Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student, died after two men brutally beat him and left him tied to a fence.

Shepard’s death sparked outrage across the country. It also prompted his parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, to become vocal LGBT activists through their work with the Matthew Shepard Foundation they created after their son’s murder.

President Obama in 2009 signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal hate crimes law.

Matthew Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade
Matthew Shepard (Photo courtesy of the Matthew Shepard Foundation)

June 29, 1999:

James Hormel became the first openly gay U.S. ambassador.

President Clinton named Hormel to represent the U.S. in Luxembourg. More than half a dozen other openly gay men have been named ambassadors since 1999. These include current U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell.   

June 26, 2003:

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas ruled sodomy laws are unconstitutional.  

Nov. 2, 2003:

New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson became the first openly gay bishop ordained by the Episcopal Church.

Gene Robinson, gay news, Washington Blade
Bishop V. Gene Robinson (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

May 17, 2004:

Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

Feb. 1, 2009:

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the world’s first openly LGBT head of government when she was sworn in as Iceland’s prime minister.

Sigurðardóttir left office in 2013.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and Luxembourgish Prime Minister Xavier Bettel are openly gay, while Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić is a lesbian. Elio Di Rupo, who was Belgium’s prime minister from 2011-2014, is also openly gay.

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir (Official portrait)

Sept. 20, 2011:

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law that prohibited openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military, was officially repealed.

“As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love,” said then-President Obama. “As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members.”

The Pentagon in 2016 announced it would no longer prohibit openly transgender people from the military. The Trump administration has reinstituted this ban.

President Barack Obama signs the bill repealing the military’s longstanding gay ban known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Dec. 21, 2010. At the 2016 White House Pride reception, Obama quipped, “Today we live in an America where ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ don’t exist no more.” (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Nov. 6, 2012:

Tammy Baldwin became the first openly LGBT person elected to the U.S. Senate.

Tammy Baldwin, women, gay news, Washington Blade
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) became the first openly LGBTQ U.S. senator in 2012. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

June 26, 2015:

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country.

James Obergefell, who was the lead plaintiff in the case, legally married his late-husband, John Arthur, on the tarmac of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in 2013 after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA. The couple’s home state of Ohio did not legally recognize their wedding. 

Obergefell v. Hodges, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade
LGBT rights supporters celebrate on the steps of the Supreme Court on June 26, 2015 — just as the decision by the court to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples becomes public. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

June 12, 2016:

A gunman killed 49 people inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The massacre was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history until a gunman killed 58 people and injured more than 500 others at a Las Vegas concert on Oct. 1, 2017. 

The Pulse nightclub massacre sparked renewed calls for gun control from LGBT rights advocates and their supporters. It also prompted President Trump, who was running for president, to renew his calls to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

2016, The Pulse nightclub, gay news, Washington Blade
A makeshift memorial outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)​

Nov. 7, 2017:

Danica Roem became the first openly transgender person elected to a state legislature in the U.S. when she defeated then-Virginia state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County), a vocal opponent of LGBT rights.

Danica Roem, gay news, Washington Blade
State Del. Danica Roem (D-Prince William Co.) is sworn in as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates on Jan. 10, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Nov. 6, 2018:

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis became the first out person elected governor of a U.S. state.

Jared Polis, gay news, Washington Blade
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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Arts & Entertainment

After COVID hiatus, John Waters resumes touring schedule

‘Every single thing is different after COVID’

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John Watersis on the road again. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

For the first time in nearly two years, writer and filmmaker John Waters will be appearing on stage this fall before live audiences in the Baltimore-Washington area, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Waters, who lives in Baltimore, is scheduled to bring his spoken-word holiday show, “A John Waters Christmas,” to The Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., on Dec. 15, and Baltimore Soundstage on Dec. 21. He’ll also be at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on Nov. 29 and The Vermont Hollywood on Dec. 2.

Waters’ holiday shows were cancelled in 2020 due to the theater closings and travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some book signings for fans were converted to Zoom sessions. He last toured the country in November and December of 2019.

This year, with vaccinations on the rise, Waters has made a few in-person appearances, including a concert with gay country crooner Orville Peck in Colorado in July, where he was “special guest host”; a Q&A session with fans in Provincetown in August and a music festival last weekend in Oakland, Calif. He’s scheduled to visit another 18 cities between now and the end of the year, including a weekend in Wroclaw, Poland, where he’ll be honored during the American Film Festival there in November.

Waters said he has completely rewritten his spoken-word shows to reflect changes brought about by the COVID pandemic. “I haven’t done it in a year and a half,” he said in an interview with Town & Country magazine. “Every single thing is different after COVID. You cannot do the same show. Nothing’s the same.”

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Theater

‘Hadestown’ comes to the Kennedy Center

Levi Kreis discusses return to live theater

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Levi Kreis is an out actor who plays Hermes in the national tour of ‘Hadestown’ soon opening at the Kennedy Center. (Photo courtesy of Levi Kreis)

Hadestown
Through Oct. 31
The Kennedy Center
$45.00 – $175.00
Kennedy-center.org
For Covid-19 safety regulations go to Kennedy-center.org/visit/covid-safety/

Early in September at New York’s Walter Kerr Theatre, out singer/actor Levi Kreis was in the audience for the long-awaited Broadway reopening of “Hadestown,” Anaïs Mitchell’s rousing musical reimagining of the Orpheus myth in which the legendary Greek hero descends into the underworld to rescue his lover Eurydice. 

After almost 18 months of pandemic-induced closure, the Tony Award-winning folk opera was back and the house was full. In a recent phone interview, Kreis describes the evening as “love-filled, and electrifying and emotional after such a difficult time.” Now, Kreis is onstage in the national tour of “Hadestown,” currently launching at the Kennedy Center. As Hermes, the shape-shifting god of oratory, Kreis is both narrator and chaperone to the story’s young lovers. 

A Tennessee native, Kreis, 39, has triumphantly survived turbulent times including a harrowingly prolonged coming out experience that included six years of conversion therapy, education disruptions, and music contract losses. He officially came out through his acclaimed album “One of the Ones” (2006), which features a collection of piano vocals about past boyfriends. And four years later, he splendidly won a Tony Award for originating the role of rock and roll wild man Jerry Lee Lewis in the rockabilly musical “Million Dollar Quartet.” 

Throughout much of the pandemic, Kreis leaned into his own music and found ways to reconnect with his largely gay fan base. But he’s happy to now be touring, noting that all the “Hadestown” cast have been hungering to perform before a real live audience.

When not on the road, he’s based in New York City with his husband, classical-crossover recording artist Jason Antone. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Hermes is the same role for which André De Shields—the brilliant African American actor, also gay, and some decades your elder won a Tony and has resumed playing on Broadway, right?

LEVI KREIS: That’s right. It’s really a testament to the creative team. Rather than laying us over what Broadway created. They’re creating a tour that’s uniquely different; still true to the beauty of the story but with a different flavor. 

BLADE: What attracted you to the part?

KREIS: First, I fell in love with the show. My own musical sensibilities understand the origins of where this music comes from. It’s very bluesy and gospel. Southern and rootsy. And that’s everything I’ve created in my career as a singer/songwriter.

BLADE: With your life experience, do you feel called to mentor?

KREIS: The biggest effort I’ve given to this narrative is being a pioneer of the out-music movement starting in 2005 which was a moment when gay artists were not signed to major labels. I want through eight major labels—when they found out I was gay things always went south. 

It’s been amazing to be a voice in LGBTQ media when no one was speaking about these things. It’s popular now, but back when it mattered it was a lot harder to start my career as an openly gay artist and speak about these issues rather than keep quiet, cash in, and only then come out. 

BLADE: Where did that nerve come from?

KREIS: Less about nerve and more about being beaten down. How many things have to happen before you give up and decide to be honest?  

BLADE: For many theatergoers, “Hadestown” will be their return to live theater. Other than it being visionary and remarkably entertaining, why would you recommend it? 

KREIS: We need encouragement right now. But we also need art that facilitates a lot of important conversation about what’s happening in the world. This has both elements.  

“Hadestown” is not a piece of art that you easily forget. You’re going to walk out of the theater with a story that sticks with you. You’ll realized that your own voice matters. There’s a part in the show, Orpheus’ song, when the gods encourage him to get the balance of the world back again by telling him that his voice matters. 

BLADE: Is it timely?

KREIS: Art is here to change the world. And this piece of art hits the nail right on the head. I’m a purist when it comes to art and song. There’s a reason why we do it. people are listening now in a way they haven’t listened before. To miss that is to miss the role of society, I think. 

BLADE: And going forward? 

KREIS: It’s going to be interesting. We could double down on super commercialized theater or we may decide to really go the other direction and reclaim innovation. That remains to be seen. 

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Books

Book details fight to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Clinton-era policy was horrific for LGB servicemembers

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‘Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
By C. Dixon Osburn
c.2021, self-published $35 hardcover, paperback $25, Kindle $12.99 / 450 pages

When Senior Airman Brandi Grijalva was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, she talked with a chaplain’s assistant about some problems she had at home. The chaplain’s assistant said what she told him would be confidential. But when she revealed that she was a lesbian, the chaplain’s assistant no longer kept her conversation with him confidential. Grijalva, after being investigated was discharged.

Craig Haack was a corporal in the Marines serving in Okinawa, Japan. Haack, who had made it through boot camp, felt confident. Until investigators barged into his barracks. Looking for evidence “of homosexual conduct,” they ransacked everything from his computers to his platform shoes. Haack was too stunned to respond when asked if he was gay.

In 1996, Lt. Col. Steve Loomis’ house was burned down by an Army private. The Army discharged the private who torched Loomis’ house. You’d think the Army would have supported Loomis. But you’d be wrong. The army discharged Loomis for conduct unbecoming an officer because a fire marshal found a homemade sex tape in the ashes.

These are just a few of the enraging, poignant, at times absurd (platform shoes?), all-too-true stories told in “Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by C. Dixon Osburn.

As a rule, I don’t review self-published books. But “Mission Possible” is the stunning exception that proves that rules, on occasion, are made to be broken.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was the official U.S. policy on gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the military. Former President Bill Clinton announced the policy on July 19, 1993. It took effect on Feb. 28, 1994.

Sexual orientation was covered by DADT. Gender identity was covered by separate Department of Defense regulations.

Congress voted to repeal DADT in December 2010 (the House on Dec. 15, 2010, and the Senate on Dec. 18, 2010). On Dec. 22, 2010, Former President Barack Obama signed the repeal into law. 

DADT banned gay, lesbian and bisexual people who were out from serving in the U.S. military. Under DADT, it was not permitted to ask if servicemembers were LGB. But, LGB servicemembers couldn’t be out. They couldn’t talk about their partners, carry photos of their girlfriends or boyfriends or list their same-sex partner as their emergency contract.

It took nearly a year for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to go into effect. On Sept. 20, 2011, Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “certified to Congress that implementing repeal of the policy {DADT} would have no effect on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion or recruiting and retention,” Osburn writes.

Before DADT, out LGBT people weren’t permitted to serve in the military. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was intended to be a compromise—a policy that would be less onerous on LGB people, but that would pass muster with people who believed that gay servicemembers would destroy military readiness, morale and unit cohesion.

Like many in the queer community, I knew that DADT was a horror-show from the get-go. Over the 17 years that DADT was in effect, an estimated 14,000 LGB servicemembers were discharged because of their sexual orientation, according to the Veterans Administration.

But, I had no idea how horrific “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was until I read “Mission Possible.”              

In “Mission Possible,” Osburn, who with Michelle Benecke, co-founded the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), pulls off a nearly impossible hat trick.

In a clear, vivid, often spellbinding narrative, Osburn tells the complex history of the DADT-repeal effort as well as the stories of servicemembers who were pelted with gay slurs, assaulted and murdered under DADT.

Hats off to SLDN, now known as the Modern Military Association of America, for its heroic work to repeal DADT! (Other LGBTQ+ organizations worked on the repeal effort, but SLDN did the lion’s share of the work.)

You wouldn’t think a 450-pager about repealing a policy would keep you up all night reading. But, “Mission Possible” will keep you wide-awake. You won’t need the espresso.

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