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Major Stories in 2008

Before I begin, let me say that I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving, since I neglected to mention it in my rush to finish last week’s column. I know it can be a stressful time, and I hope you were able to make it with a mimimal amount of drama.

For me, Thanksgiving and the seamless transition into the holiday season is a reminder that the year is rapidly coming to an end, and I start thinking about all of the year’s happenings. It’s been an unpredictable year dominated by Iraq, politics, and the economic crisis, but 2008 also had some developments of particular interest for the LGBT community.

Locally, we came close to losing OutLoud, the bookstore that has served our area since 1996. The owners had intended to sell the business due to health concerns, but thankfully they have decided to remain open. I know that online shopping is preferred by many people, but I think it’s important to have local physical places available, particularly because bookstores serve as a hub of information for local events. This year also saw the opening of OutCentral, the long-awaited LGBT community center. I am looking forward to great programs from them in 2009.

Nationally, the presidential election was a hotly contested affair that saw members of Manhunt cancelling their subscriptions after it was discovered that one of the site’s founders donated money to John McCain’s campaign. While that issue seemed to be resolved with his resignation, the affair raised the question of political affiliations in the LGBT community.

When Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech, he made it a point to include gays in his vision of America. We will have to wait to see how much of a priority LGBT issues are during his administration, but after the blatant homophobia of the George W. Bush, many people were heartened by that simple act. Nationally, there were many gay politicians elected, including E. Denise Simmons, the nation’s first African American openly lesbian mayor of a major city (Cambridge, MA), Stu Rasmussen, the nation’s first transgender mayor (Silverton, OR), Sam Adams (mayor of Portland, OR), Jared Polis (Congressman from Colorado), Jason Bartlett (state representative from Connecticut), and Kevin Beckner (County Commissioner in Tampa).

And of course it’s impossible to mention politics in 2008 without mentioning Proposition 8. The California bill revoked gay marriage after it was legalized in May. Although there was a great deal of disbelief after it passed, the upshot was that it may have given rise to a new era of activism. There were nationwide protests, including in Nashville, that were largely organized online. Let’s hope that people maintain this level of energy and interest for upcoming political fights.

Proposition 8 served as a timely backdrop for the release of the Gus Van Sant biopic on Harvey Milk. Before being assassinated by a political rival, Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk rose to national prominence due to his crucial role in defeating Proposition 6, also known as the Briggs Initiative, a bill which would have outlawed the employment of gays, lesbians, and their allies in public schools. Despite Milk’s importance, the LGBT community sometimes fails to remember its history, so hopefully Van Sant’s movie will draw more attention to this legendary figure. While it seems that Milk will not be playing in Nashville, a documentary entitled The Times of Harvey Milk is widely available on DVD. In another positive development for the acknowledgement of gay history, the ONE Archives Gallery and Museum opened in October. ONE was the first gay publication in America, and the opening of this space is a valuable contribution to our cultural memory.

Gay visibility in the media was boosted by Rachel Maddow, who received her own program on MSNBC after being a frequent guest host for Keith Olbermann. In what may be a sign of changing times, Maddow’s visibility as an out lesbian does not seem to be driving people’s interest in her show in a positive or negative manner. Comedienne and actress Wanda Sykes also surprised many people by coming out.

On the health front, a potential breakthrough for dealing with HIV emerged from Germany. A U.S. citizen there who was suffereing from leukemia and HIV received a bone marrow transplant, and the patient now shows no signs of having HIV. It is unclear exactly how that can be translated into a large scale treatment option, given the paucity of bone marrow donors, but it is an exciting development that offers hope for the future.

In regards to education, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network initiated a well-received ad campaign directed at curbing the use of anti-gay phrases among young people. A gay high school in Chicago was proposed, but ultimately shelved due to a debate about its necessity and concern over segregating gay students, as opposed to integrating them into the school system. In cyberspace, an online school for LGBT students is currently in development. Open to students around the world, the GLBTQ Online High School should be a fascinating experiment in the use of distance education. Its website is www.glbtqonlinehighschool.com and it is worth visiting.

And these are just some of the major stories of 2008. I mention these only as a reminder that although we experienced some setbacks, there are many positive stories in the LGBT community that are a reason to be optimistic.

From “Blackout” for 12/11/08 by Anthony Rucker

 

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