It was a very exciting year in the LGBT* community, with some key advancements and few setbacks in 2011. (*LGBT includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited (gay First Nations people), queer, questioning, intersex, and their friends, family and allies.)
American pop culture had an enormous effect on the LGBT community with Lady Gaga winning Best Video With a Message at the MTV awards for "Born this way." Pink's "Perfect," Katie Perry's "Last Friday Night" and Rihanna's "S&M" all had themes of sexual diversity. On TV we saw more gay characters and themes dealing with homophobia, school bullying and alcohol abuse - most notable was Glee.
The first transgender TV star, Chaz Bono, took centre stage on Dancing with the Stars, despite huge public protest in allowing him to participate. Tracy Morgan went off on a rant claiming that he "would stab his son if he were gay." A huge public backlash ensued.
The most inspiring speech came from the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as she addressed the United Nations. Her 30-minute address specifically acknowledged that LGBT rights are human rights. The UN granted the International Gay Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) official consultative status to the UN Economic and Social Council.
Here at home, the B.C. government dropped the ball when it released its official "Tool Kit for Marketing to China" by specifically asking B.C. businesses not to market or promote any "gay activities" to the Chinese. This was thankfully quickly retracted and was a huge source of embarrassment to Tourism B.C.
We did see some good progress made on the LGBT youth front, as the Vancouver-based non-profit "Out in Schools" was recognized by Tides Canada's Top 10 of 2011.The program, however, had some controversy, as some parents accused it of promoting homosexuality. The program aims to educate youth on sexual diversity.
In an unprecedented move, the national governments in both the U.S. 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."
The United States continued to grapple with same-sex marriage. U.S. President Obama publicly challenged the Defense of Marriage Act. The most-watched political YouTube video was of 19-year old Zach Wahls who spoke about family while addressing the Iowa State Assembly on the topic of same-sex marriage. New York State legalized same-sex marriage, while California continued to fight Proposition 8 to win back their right to marry the person they love.
U.S. Petty Officer Second Class Marissa Gaeta was chosen to deliver the ritual "first kiss" commemorating the end of the Iraq war. The significance of this is Gaeta is a lesbian, and it also points to the changing mood of the U.S. military with the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to be out at work.
Meanwhile, U.S. presidential hopeful Rick Perry released his Strong YouTube video, in which he argues America has become terrible that openly gay 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.
Twenty-eleven also 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) and Wayne Simmonds (Philadelphia Flyers) for using anti-gay slurs. More athletes also came out, including Johnny Weir (U.S. figure skater), David Testo (soccer), Ian Roberts (Australian rugby) and Rick Welts (Phoenix Suns).
Vancouver and Whistler also welcomed the 2011 Outgames where at the human rights conference the organization was able to pass a declaration for sporting bodies within B.C. and beyond to create safe playing environments for all LGBT athletes, coaches and trainers.
So what does this all mean? It 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 U.S. 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 in 2012 and beyond, reporting on such milestones will be a non-event.
Dean Nelson is executive producer of GayWhistler.com, which promotes Whistler to the gay and lesbian community and produces events such as WinterPRIDE, Whistler's annual gay ski week.