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The Year In Review

By Eric Hunter · January 4th, 2001 · Gay & Lesbian Issues
New Year's Eve has always baffled me. It's one of those events, like prom and college reunions, that comes with huge expectations and often, not surprisingly, palpable disappointment. In spite of our better instincts, we place all of our proverbial eggs in one basket, thinking a single night will live up to such overblown expectations. More often than not, all we are left with is a really bad hangover and the sinking feeling that a mound of work is waiting for us at the office the next day.

Perhaps the over-hyping of New Year's Eve 2000 -- $3,000 per night hotel rooms, $2,500 concert tickets, Y2K mania -- foreshadowed the reality check the following year would bring. Were there victories for the gay and lesbian community in the year 2000? Sure. But in many cases we also found new limits.

In January, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of a New Jersey court ruling requiring the Boy Scouts of America to comply with a state law banning antigay discrimination. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the Boy Scouts have the right to bar gays. The decision led to a backlash that continues to play out in cities around the country, with a growing number of United Way chapters, businesses and school districts severing their ties with the group because of its anti-gay policy.

The year also began with the Vermont legislators debating how to fulfill a mandate from the state supreme court granting gay and lesbian couples the same rights as heterosexual married couples. In March, the Vermont House of Representatives voted 76-69 to send a civil-unions bill to the state senate. After the Vermont legislature gave final approval to the bill, Gov. Howard Dean signed it into law, making Vermont the first state to give gay and lesbian couples equal rights with married heterosexual couples. Although the direct benefits of the bill are restricted to state residents, out-of-state couples have been traveling to Vermont for civil unions since the bill took effect July 1.

Unfortunately, this monumental advance for gay and lesbian rights did not come without a backlash. Anti-gay forces turned the November elections into a battle over civil unions.

While Gov. Howard Dean won reelection and Democrats held the state senate, House Republicans have pledged to amend the law in ways that will temper its power.

With the issue of gay marriage in the forefront in 2000, reaction to the breakup of two high-profile lesbian couples was dramatic. In August, after more than three highly documented years together, comedienne Ellen DeGeneres and actress Anne Heche announced the end of their relationship. Soon afterward DeGeneres began openly dating, and Heche began dating a man. After starting the year by appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone for a story revealing Rock legend David Crosby is the father of their children, in September rocker Melissa Etheridge and director Julie Cypher announced the end of their 12-year relationship.

Notoriously antigay radio personality Laura Schlessinger spent the year battling to get her syndicated talk show on TV. Much of the grassroots effort to stop the show came from a homemade Web site, StopDrLaura.com. In May, attention focused on Cincinnati when Procter & Gamble refused to advertise on Schlessinger's new show because of her controversial antigay stance. Despite this setback, the show hit airwaves in September to negative reviews and low ratings. After a one-month hiatus, the show returned to the air; but by November, it was bumped from its afternoon time slot to 2 a.m. Industry rumors say the show is now on its last leg.

2000 was a banner year for high-profile gay, lesbian and trans-gendered entertainment. At the Oscars in March, Hilary Swank won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in Boys Don't Cry, the story of Brandon Teena, a woman who lived as a man. The gay-themed film American Beauty, produced by openly gay producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Openly gay screenwriter Alan Ball took home the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

The big screen wasn't the only place where high-profile gay and lesbian stories debuted in 2000. In December, the U.S. version of Queer as Folk, the controversial British miniseries of the same title, debuted on Showtime to mostly rave reviews. And few could escape the omnipresent mug of Richard Hatch, who launched his 15 minutes by taking home the $1 million prize on the ratings juggernaut Survivor.

In this year of testing our limits, antigay violence sorrowfully continued across the country. In March, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network reported antigay abuse more than doubled since the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy was instituted. In July, Arthur "J.R." Warren, a gay African-American man was found killed in West Virginia. Investigators said a pair of teen-agers killed Warren by beating him and then running over him to make his death appear a hit-and-run accident, because Warren allegedly claimed he had a sexual relationship with one of them. September brought news of the shooting of one man and injury of six others when a man opened fire in a Roanoke, Va., gay bar.

Underscoring the country's limits of tolerance in 2000, federal hate-crimes legislation died under pressure from the Republican leadership in Congress. The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, which would have included sexual orientation in categories covered by hate-crimes law, was deleted from a defense-spending authorization bill, despite a previous 57-42 Senate vote in favor of the bill. Thankfully things weren't as bleak on the state level. After 11 years of attempts, the New York state legislature passed a hate-crimes measure increasing penalties for antigay crimes.

The year 2000 had its highs and lows, and 2001 is a question mark. Most believe Washington will not be the gay-friendly seat of power it has been characterized to be over the past eight years. And although one Clinton will remain in public service, her power, working as a freshman senator, will be somewhat limited. As a community, we have to be tougher and work smarter. We've come a long way in three decades. Just think where we can be in three more.

CONTACT ERIC HUNTER: letters@citybeat.com



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