2011 was a very exciting year in the LGBT community with some key advancements and few very disappointing set backs. GayWhistler continues to be very active in helping to create a safer and more accepting environment for the LGBT community and are proud to share a snap shot of 2011.
American Pop Culture had an enormous effect on the LGBT community with Lady Gaga leading the charge with the “Best Video with a message” at the MTV awards and the LGBT community embracing a new gay anthem “Born this way.” Katie Perry sang about sexual diversity in “Last Friday Night” and PINK’s “Perfect” grabbing hold just at the end of 2010 and climbing to the top of the charts in early 2011 as she encouraged her fans to be proud of who they are. Rihanna also released her Billboard #1 single S&M which also had themes of sexual diversity. On the small screen (TV) “GLEE” continued to reach millions sharing their message of acceptance of diversity with their various themes dealing with homophobia, school bullying, and alcohol abuse. We saw our first Transgender TV Star take centre stage on “Dancing with the Stars” as Cher & Sonny Bono’s transgender son, Chaz Bono stepped up and showed America how well he could dance and hold his own despite huge public protest in allowing him to participate on the show. We had some disappointments as well when Tracy Morgan went off on a rant claiming that he “would stab his son if he were gay.” Gay A-list actors Neil Patrick Harris hosted the Tony’s while Jane Lynch hosted the Emmy’s showing America that you can be out and successful.
From Pop Culture we turn our heads towards the political landscape and no doubt one of the most inspiring speeches came from the US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton as she addressed the United Nations on the International Day on Human Rights. Her thirty minute address specifically acknowledged that LGBT rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are LGBT Rights. This address only re-enforces the creditability and relevance of the LGBT community where in July the United Nations after many years of lobbying granted the IGLTA (Int’l Gay Lesbian Travel Assoc.) official consultative status to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The BC Government dropped the ball when it released their official “Tool Kit for Marketing to China” by specifically asking BC businesses NOT to market or promote any ‘gay activities’ to the Chinese market. This was thankfully quickly retracted and was a huge source of embarrassment to Tourism BC.
We did see some good progress made on the LGBT youth front as the Vancouver based non-profit “Out in Schools” was recognized by the nation’s largest public foundation dedicated to social justice and the environment as one of Tides Canada’s ‘Top 10 of 2011.’ The program however, had some controversy though, as some Vancouver parents accused the program of encouraging or promoting homosexuality. What the program does do is educate the youth on sexual diversity where the children have all the information they need to make informed decisions. Know that what they may be feeling, is normal and that they are not alone. That being said, teenage suicide and bullying continued to dominate the headlines in 2011. In an unprecedented move the National Governments in both the US and Canada released their own “It Gets Better” videos. In Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird responded to the tragic suicide death of Ottawa teenager, Jamie Hubley, by calling on all Canadians to promote tolerance and acceptance. “Bullying, homophobia, intolerance and incivility have no place in our schools,” Baird said. “It underlies the real challenge of depression and mental health, especially among young people.” US President Obama among other high profile American celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Anderson Cooper release their own “It Gets Better” videos in raising awareness and action.
South of the boarder, the United States, continues to grabble with equality among all their citizens, specifically with marriage. We witnessed the US President Obama publicly challenging the “Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)” as America continues to determine if marriage is a ‘State’ or ‘Federal’ right. The number one most watched political YouTube video (for 2011) was that of a 19-year old Zach Wahls who spoke about “Family” while addressing the Iowa State assembly on the topic of same sex marriage. His compelling address was well received and the state of Iowa continues to allow same-sex marriage, however by 2013 the Republicans are projected to take control of the Senate which could allow for this “right” to be revisited and taken away. New York State legalizes Same Sex Marriage while California continues to fight ‘Proposition 8’ to win back their right to marry the person they love.
US Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta was chosen to deliver the ritual ‘first kiss’ after the docking of a naval ship commemorating the end of the Iraq war. The significance of this is Gaeta is a lesbian and also shows the changing mood of the US military with the repeal of DADT - Don’t Ask Don’t Tell allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to be out at work. What is even more interesting is US Presidential candidate, Rick Perry, released his ‘Strong’ YouTube video which highlighted how terrible America has become now that openly gay & lesbian soldiers can serve in the Armed Forces. His video was the third most watched political video on YouTube (2011) and also become YouTube’s most dislike video in its history.
2011 saw some amazing advancements within professional sports when the NBA, MLB and the NHL all took disciplinary actions against Kobe Bryant (LA Lakers), Joakim Noah (Chicago Bulls), Roger McDowell (Atlanta Braves), Wayne Simmonds (Philadelphia Flyers) for using anti-gay slurs. We also saw a few more athletes come out including Kajsa Bergqvist (Swedish Olympic bronze medalist), Steven Davies (British cricket), Graeme Obree (Scottish Cycling), Mike Verschuur (Dutch Automobile racing), Jeffry Wammes (Dutch Gymnastics), Johnny Weir (US Figure Skating), David Testo (Soccer), Ian Roberts (Australian Rugby), Rick Welts (Phoenix Suns), Jonathan de Falco (Belgium Soccer) Michael Irvin (Dallas Cowboys) straight ally helping to fight homophobia both on and off the field. Vancouver & Whistler also welcomed the 2011 North America Outgames where at the Human Rights Conference the organization was able to pass a declaration for the various sporting bodies within BC and beyond to create safe sporting environments for all athletes, coaches and trainers.
So what does this all mean? 2011 was a year of incredible advancements in LGBT rights in many parts of the world, however we also witnessed that if we are complacent and do not fight for our rights and freedoms they can be taken away faster than what it took to achieve them. What happens in the US and abroad can have an effect on Canadian policy. We have seen that when our community is given a safe environment to be authentic their contribution to society is so much stronger. It is our hope that 2012 and beyond reporting on such milestones will be a non event.
Dean Nelson | Executive Producer, GayWhistler.com