Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009: Queer Year in Review

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Activists just won same-sex marriage in the megalopolis of Mexico City, giving equal rights to a couple of million lesbians and gay men. When the bill passed 39-20, supporters reportedly yelled, "Yes, we could! Yes, we could!"

It seems almost like a taunt considering U.S. queers that voted for Obama and the audacity of hope are stuck with mendacity and, "Oh no. Not at all the right time. Couldn't possibly. Nope." We get stonewalled even when issues don't require congressional votes or signatures.

Just in the last couple of months, Obama remained silent when LGBT activists fought to preserve same-sex marriage in New Hampshire. He ignored a proposed bill in Uganda giving the death penalty to queers until the Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had already spoken out, and even the homophobe Rick Warren had condemned the measure.

We should have known what was coming. He campaigned with the same anti-gay preachers as Bush during Democratic primaries, and then installed Warren at his inauguration, despite the reverend's years of destroying AIDS programs in Africa by preaching abstinence and hatred of lesbians and gay men.

Almost first thing, Obama set up his Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Office instead of rescinding Bush's executive order allowing discrimination in faith-based programs which meant LGBT people could be summarily fired, and clearly not hired.

In February, when two different rulings extended the federal benefits of marriage to two gay couples, and hinted at huge weaknesses in the Defense of Marriage Act, Obama missed the chance to repeal the act as an unjust denial of rights to gay citizens. Instead, his people aggressively defended DOMA in June, using Bush administration arguments claiming gay marriage was bad for the federal budget, and encouraged incest and the marriage of underage children.

In a general attack on civil liberties, Obama's Justice Department also used Bush arguments in cases of torture, rendition, and spying. The first case was as early as last February, and in October, pressed to release a report on the "suicides" in Guantanamo, the administration went almost beyond Bush, according to The Washington Independent's Daphne Eviatar, "insisting that there is no constitutional right to humane treatment by U.S. authorities outside the United States, and that victims of torture and abuse and their survivors have no right to compensation or even an acknowledgment of what occurred."

That's a year under Obama. Disenchanted American queers looking for leadership should forget the federal level and look to the states, or even abroad, for models of activism and signs of hope. Because we have had bright spots this year.

The phenomenal Welsh rugby player, Gareth Thomas, struck a blow against homophobia in sports last week by coming out at the age of thirty-five. In rugby, he's as much a legend as Derek Jeter in baseball, but with more influence since rugby is far more popular worldwide.

Likewise, this week's victory for same-sex marriage in Mexico City has a huge impact. Since the population of Greater Mexico City includes almost 21 million people, a stroke of a pen gives civil rights to a couple million queers.

Lesbian and gay couples in Colombia saw progress earlier in the year when a series of High Court rulings extended the rights of civil unions, giving same-sex partners almost the same benefits as heterosexuals, notably excluding those related to adoption.

Just two weeks ago, Houston, Texas became the largest city in the U.S. to elect an openly gay candidate. Annise Parker, running on a pro-neighborhood, tough on crime platform, found herself attacked as a dyke by her African American opponent Gene Locke who tried to create an unholy alliance of homophobic black pastors and white evangelical Christians. He failed, in part, because turnout was light, and strong support from the African American community didn't materialize. I'd like to think it was because his hateful message wasn't persuasive, though it may also have been because voters don't like the rain.

In November, it was nice to see Klaus Wowereit, a gay mayor of a much larger city, Berlin, get almost as much attention as German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the celebrations for the fall of the Berlin Wall. Mayor since 2001, he's rumored to have his eye on higher things.

He wouldn't be the first gay head of state. In January, that trail was blazed when open lesbian Johanna Sigurdardottir, Social Affairs Minister, was asked to serve as interim Prime Minister of Iceland after the coalition of the conservative government collapsed. A few months later she was officially made Prime Minister when her party won the election.

And in Iran, where there are neither entirely free elections nor open lesbians, and gay men are executed even in the midst of civil turmoil, we disillusioned Americans have the example of LGBT activists at work in university campuses, daring to demand their human rights alongside everyone else as Iranians push for change. That is audacity. That is hope.

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