It’s been a banner year for gay rights in 2010…DADT repealed, more publicity than ever for anti-bullying measures, and the repeal of Prop. 8! Here, we name five of the fiercest advocates of the year (and three more worthy of recognition).
> Dan Savage: By launching the “It Gets Better” project, Savage, the writer of Savage Love, the globally syndicated sex (and relationship) column and host of the podcast by the same name, started a movement to help gay teens realize that self hatred is not the answer. His campaign spearheaded the public push for anti-bullying and proved to be a positive response to the fall’s string of gay teenage suicides. It’s one of the most viral video campaigns with a cause in history, and it’s sparked intelligent discussion about Safe Schools bills and anti-bullying measures. Savage’s project, which may have just started with a video of him and his partner Terry and three key words, has exploded into a phenomenon, a plea for people struggling with depression to value their lives, and a reminder that everyone in this world deserves basic human decency and respect.
> Robert Gates: Who would’ve ever thought that the biggest supporter of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” that ass-backwards military policy that barred gay and lesbian soldiers from discussing their sexuality, would be the United States’ heterosexual Secretary of Defense? He pushed other military leaders to support DADT repeal and publicly questioned the actions of opponents to repeal, including John McCain. Once repeal finally was passed by the legislative bodies of Congress, Gates voiced his confidence in its success, saying, “I am convinced that the U.S. military can successfully accommodate and implement this change, as it has others in history.” It’s nice to see an ally tell his disbelieving peers to pipe down and quit fear-mongering.
> Lady Gaga: Dressed in dark-framed glasses, a suit jacket and black tie, with no dye in her blonde hair or meat on her thin body, Gaga led a rally in Maine the day before a vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Gaga had been the popular champion for DADT for awhile, launching video campaigns, tweeting out her ass, and marching to ensure its repeal. Her songs are all about embracing yourself for who you are, and apparently, her new song is destined to become the New Gay Identity song. More importantly, her success with the gay community and the responses she’s gotten from her musical activism have sparked advocacy by other singers—Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R,” Katy Perry’s “Firework,” and Pink’s “Perfect.” The radio these days is more positive and just-go-be-yourself happy…and also a whole lot gayer. And there’s Gaga to thank.
> Chris Colfer and the Glee Kids: I’m not the most ardent Glee fan, but ask anyone who’s even a casual viewer, and they’ll tell you that the most interesting, hands-down-best part about this season of the Fox show is Kurt’s storyline. Kurt, the only openly gay kid in his school, is incessantly pushed around and called homophobic epithets. But when he visits a private, all-boys school in the area with a zero tolerance policy on bullying, he befriends a totally cute boy who sings a totally cool rendition of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” Kurt, played by the wonderful Chris Colfer, who’s quite a revelation in some of his first acting work, is one of the first lead high school-aged gay characters on a TV show, and the show-runners are doing a great job of carefully crafting the plot. Some episodes assert the “It’s OK to be gay!” message so forcefully that it borders on preaching, but I’m OK with it. Colfer is setting a great example for young teenagers with confusing, non-traditional feelings and showing them that it’s alright—even normal—to be confused or upset or to face opposition. What matters, as he sings on sweetly early on in the season, is to be yourself and “come on, get happy,” no matter what.
> Lisa Cholodenko and The Kids Are All Right: One of the best films of the year and an Oscar hopeful for Picture, Director and Actress(es), The Kids Are All Right may have been known as “that lesbian moms movie,” but it did so much more than that. It’s a heartfelt, very real depiction of the idea that same-sex marriage works (as if we needed a depiction), and, while fictional, it shows that gays can be part of a functioning family unit. But it doesn’t sugarcoat marriage and is willing to admit that marriage is hard, regardless of gender. By the end of the movie, you forget that Cholodenko’s film is about lesbians. And that sense of normalcy is advocacy in and of itself.
And Three More Who Matter
> Equality Matters: It’s brand new, so I don’t want to speak too soon, but this new, LGBT-centric arm of Media Matters, the exceptional media watchdog group that exposes lies and half-truths perpetuated by conservative mainstream media, looks like it has a lot of promise. They’ve already gotten a one-on-one interview with the President, and they should continue to grow in the coming months, committed to making sure that conservatives bent on catalyzing anti-gay fear don’t go uncorrected.
> Barack Obama: I’ve been hard on him and gotten pissed at him, sure (I’d like to officially declare that I spoke too soon on the legitimacy of his “It Gets Better” video), and sure, he still can’t say that he thinks two dudes or two ladies should be able to tie the knot. But under his administration, he’s passed the Matthew Shepard Act, which federally adds sexual orientation as a protected category for hate crimes legislation; approved the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; and been more vocal than any other president about gay rights.
> Kathy Griffin: The fiery comedienne has always been a fierce, famous advocate for gay rights (in part, perhaps, because so many of her fans and friends are homo). This year, on My Life on the D-List, she continued her support by being more than outspoken about Proposition 8 in California, marriage equality in general, and in one surprisingly emotional episode, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Her It Gets Better video was also one of the best and most straightforward, speaking not just to teenagers but the parents and adults who cause problems for those teenagers. Say what you want about her style and potty mouth (millions of others have), but she’s someone who’s using her fame to actually try to make a difference in the world.