Athletes and Ambassadors in 2014

2014 saw a mixture of advances and stark reminders of continued injustice.

The gay journey in America proceeded on many paths in 2014. Here are highlights [Note: this does not include developments after my print deadline on the morning of Dec. 17]:

Legal protections. The march toward nationwide marriage equality accelerated, with victories in several federal circuit courts. A high point came in August, when Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner grilled hapless defenders of the Indiana and Wisconsin gay marriage bans. A setback in the Sixth Circuit provided the conflict among circuits that Justice Ginsburg said was needed to get the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the issue. In Congress, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) pledged to introduce a new LGBT rights bill that revives the comprehensive approach taken by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) forty years ago.

Sports. Openly gay athletes continued their pioneering efforts. Derrick Gordon of UMass, the first openly gay NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball player, has glowed since coming out. Robbie Rogers of L.A. Galaxy won an MLS Cup as an openly gay player. Michael Sam’s record of sacks in the preseason suggested that his absence from an NFL roster is not for lack of talent but because he is gay, as Cyd Zeigler of OutSports says. Older gay players mentored younger ones; continued anti-gay bias makes this support crucial.

Police and justice. The catalog of police killings of unarmed black men was mind-boggling. Yet many mostly white police unions remained belligerent, treating any criticism of excessive force as slander. But the size, diversity, and persistence of crowds of protesters suggest that denial will not make the issue go away.

Some gay people objected when national LGBT groups joined in the protests. To read some comments, you would think that saying “thug” over and over could erase or justify the stark racial disparity in our justice system. This shows blindness to our own diversity and ignorance of our history.

When people feel excluded from any reasonable expectation of justice, as happened in San Francisco in 1979 when Harvey Milk’s assassin Dan White escaped a murder conviction, riots like White Night can occur. Deploring violence rings hollow without justice. America was founded in revolution. If public safety officers can evade culpability even when they violate their own rules on camera, their thuggery has official backing. At Stonewall in 1969, gay people reached their breaking point. We honor them for good reason.

Military and international. The transition to openly gay military service has gone so smoothly it has generated little news. The fight to end discrimination against transgender service members continues; two dozen have been discharged in the past two years. The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lawsuit by Sexual Minorities Uganda against Scott Lively for crimes against humanity can proceed. In diplomatic news, Ted Osius III joined a growing list of openly gay envoys when he was sworn in as ambassador to Vietnam.

Health. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) led 80 senators and House members in urging an end to the lifetime ban on blood donations by men who have had sex with men, calling for science to replace stereotypes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for wider use of Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention, despite strong opposition by Michael Weinstein of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. There have been no new HIV infections among more than 500 Kaiser Permanente customers using PrEP. New York and the District of Columbia adopted rules forbidding health insurers from denying medically necessary treatment to transgender people. D.C. joined California and New Jersey in passing legislation banning “ex-gay” conversion therapy for minors.

Media. Schadenfreude was rampant after Sean Eldridge failed in his bid to buy a congressional seat and husband Chris Hughes provoked a mass walkout at The New Republic by sacking top editors. Hughes was faulted for wrecking a century-old magazine in his effort to create a “vertically integrated digital media company,” that is, a word salad. Former TNR writer Jamie Kirchick at The Daily Beast dubbed them “America’s worst gay power couple,” but their youthful hubris and confusion of wealth for wisdom transcend sexual orientation.

GOP reform. A group of young conservatives, their eyes on 2016, called for removal of anti-gay language from the Republican Party platform. Don’t hold your breath.

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Blade and Bay Windows.