In the last 10 years, as One in Ten has developed, the queer community and American culture at large have changed dramatically — and often in unpredictable ways. Many thought this would be a time of impressive political gain, with Clinton elected weeks after the first show aired. But in fact, some of the gay community’s most overt political setbacks have come during this time. Simultaneously, however, popular culture has been the arena most overtly moving us forward — with Melissa Etheridge playing stadium shows in farm country and makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin sashaying into millions of living rooms on morning talk shows.
As soon as certain queers became cool — and profitable — the ripples spread into advertising, youth culture, and, of all places, the boardroom. Corporations have begun outpacing politicians in promoting partnership recognition and benefits, competing with other companies to prove that they offer good workplaces.
Make no mistake: there have been limits to the progress. A casual count indicates that more states in the last 10 years have passed anti-gay laws of one kind or another (many anti-gay-marriage-related) than have passed actively pro-gay laws. And for every high-profile media portrayal, the spotlight reveals our society’s still-present prejudices (go ahead, name your favorite male-on-male kiss from Will & Grace). But the Ellen effect has turned out to be more enduring than some pundits would’ve had you believe, a fact most noticeable in teen television programming: kids now routinely see same-sex pairs on their favorite shows — from Dawson’s Creek to Real Sex — and gay/straight clubs are proliferating in high schools coast-to-coast. And consider this: the younger siblings of today’s teens have only lived in the One in Ten era. The timeline below is a road map of the world that has formed them — and the world they will carry forward into the next decade.
Fire-breathing dykes. The year that One in Ten goes on the air is a year in which queer women roar. The young activist group Lesbian Avengers is founded in New York City, staking out the territory of female-centered, nonconformist queer activists.
The good colonel. Margarethe Cammermeyer refuses to go quietly when asked to accept a discharge from the military after admitting to being a lesbian. In decades of military service, from Vietnam (where her actions earned her the Bronze Star) to her role as chief nurse of the National Guard Bureau, Cammermeyer has been highly praised; her lesbianism is the sole factor in her discharge. Her story later makes her a household name and the subject of an HBO movie starring Glenn Close.
Conventional wisdom. Bill Clinton makes history as the first major-party presidential nominee to mention gays in his acceptance speech. At the Democratic National Convention, he refers to gays not as " them " but " us ... Americans. " At the Republican National Convention, Patrick Buchanan — who lost his party’s nomination to George Bush — denounces gay and lesbian civil rights from the podium during prime time.
Yes, she is. Melissa Etheridge comes out as a lesbian at the Triangle Ball for Bill Clinton’s inauguration. She and partner Julie Cypher become the most prominent faces of lesbian partnership and parenting until their break up, after 12 years together, in 2000.
Military injustice. Disappointing many of the very people who had voted him into office, and establishing the conservative pragmatism that would dog his administration, President Clinton signs a new gays-in-the-military policy into law. " Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue " theoretically allows gays and lesbians to serve as long as they cloak their orientation, and anti-gay witch-hunts are supposed to end. Instead, broadly interpreting what actions qualify as a soldier " telling, " the military becomes more vigilant in discharges than it has been for many years.
Massive march. The March on Washington brings between 800,000 and 1.2 million marchers to the city, earning national media coverage as one of the largest gatherings in the nation’s history. A controversy erupts when the National Park Service’s crowd estimate trims several hundred thousand off the totals reported by the march organizers, the local transit authority, and the press.
Irish gays need not apply. Organizers of Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade refuse to let members of ILGA, an Irish gay-lesbian group, march in the parade under a banner identifying themselves as such, as they had done the year before. When ILGA sues, the city sides with the would-be marchers.
Murder in Nebraska. Transgendered Nebraskan youth Brandon Teena lived as a popular young man until suffering a brutal rape on Christmas Day 1993, at the hands of two local men who had discovered that Teena was biologically female. As the new year begins, local authorities do not arrest the men, despite having positive identification, which allows the men time to find and murder Teena, along with two others. Later in the decade, an Oscar-winning movie about Teena’s life, Boys Don’t Cry, makes the case far more widely known.
The parade doesn’t pass by. Organizers of Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade cancel the annual event rather than abide by a court order to allow gays and lesbians to march. In its place, an hourlong caravan of cars, full of those opposed to the gay marchers, drives the route in protest. The case later finds its way to the Supreme Court, which eventually rules in favor of the parade organizers.
A gay Fantasia. For the second year in a row, gay playwright Tony Kushner’s Angels in America wins the Tony Award for best play (Part One: Millennium Approaches, in 1993; Part Two: Perestroika, in 1994), along with the Drama Desk Award both years, and the Pulitzer for Millennium.
All clear. Bill Clinton signs an executive order barring denial of security clearances to gays and lesbians simply on the basis of sexual orientation, causing outrage on the political right. The specific prohibition against homosexuals receiving such clearances was signed into law by former president Reagan.
Death in Oregon. Activists and decadelong life partners Roxanna Kay Ellis and Michelle Abdill are murdered execution-style in a grisly hate crime that makes national headlines. The women, AIDS-care volunteers, were well-known in their community for their work in fighting two anti-gay initiatives.
A few good words. Cherry Jones wins the Best Actress Tony Award for her role in The Heiress. In her acceptance speech, nationally broadcast on network television, she thanks her lesbian partner. Far from suffering any fallout, her career goes on to include movie roles and another Tony nomination for A Moon for the Misbegotten.
Cocktail hour. In December, protease inhibitors — in combinations that will later be known as " the AIDS cocktail " — are first introduced, with wide release following soon thereafter, in early 1996. The drug regimen proves remarkably effective in maintaining the health of some HIV-positive men — a result that inspires many gay men to return to unsafe sexual practices.
Baby dyke makes waves. Kelli Peterson, a student at Salt Lake City East High School, tries to initiate a Gay-Straight Alliance. Rather than allow her to do so, the local school board bans all non-curricular clubs from using school facilities for meetings.
Wedding-bell blues. Congress passes the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), denying federal recognition to same-sex marriages and allowing states to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages that took place in other states (though no states at the time allowed such a thing). Eventually, 30 states follow suit with DOMA acts of their own.
Mandela’s new world. South Africa, in the post-apartheid era, becomes the first nation explicitly to include gays and lesbians in the civil-rights protections of its constitution.
Aloha victory. A Hawaiian judge rules that the state failed to show a compelling reason why gay couples suing for the right to marry should be denied and, in his decision, writes that denying this right is a form of gender discrimination. A ballot referendum and further legislative wrangling eventually keep gay marriage from becoming legal, but the state creates a set of domestic-partnership benefits that outpaces those offered anywhere else in the US.
Funny ha ha or funny gay? After nearly two years of speculation, Ellen DeGeneres not only comes out herself — in the famous YEP, I'M GAY Time cover story — but brings her character out of the closet on her TV show, Ellen. A brief ratings spike sees the show through the end of the season, but the following season is its last, with finger-pointing on all sides as to whether homophobia or a lack of funny material killed the show.
Partner as parent. In an historic decision, a Texas court rules that a lesbian woman who had helped raise her partner’s child should be allowed to sue for parental-visitation rights. The court writes that the decision should be based on the significance of the woman’s interaction with the child.
Two dads, one win. New Jersey changes its adoption laws to allow for joint adoption of a child by a same-sex couple — the first state in the nation to do so. Foster parents Jon and Michael Galluccio had sued to for the right legally to adopt Adam, who was HIV-positive and drug-addicted at birth, and whom they had raised since infancy. They later go on to adopt two more children and chronicle their story in the book An American Family.
Deadly blast. In the fourth Atlanta-area bombing in seven months, the gay nightclub Otherside is bombed. The FBI links the attack to the Centennial Park bombing at the Olympics months earlier.
Alaskan triumph short-lived. An Alaska appeals court overturns the state’s version of DOMA, but it is a short-lived victory for activists, as proponents get enough signatures to put the anti-gay amendment on the November ballot, at which time it passes.
Married at last. Two Dutch men, one terminally ill, are the first same-sex couple in the world to legally marry, when the Netherlands decides to sanction same-sex unions with all the privileges of marriage.
An angel in Laramie. Mathew Shepard is beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming — a case that draws sustained news coverage and sparks further debate about hate-crimes legislation. Fred Phelps pickets Shepard’s funeral, but locals dressed as angels shield mourners from the protestors.
Terror in London. Two are killed and more than 100 injured in London, when a nail-bomber makes a gay Soho nightclub his third target; his first two bombs earlier ripped through ethnic-minority neighborhoods.
Granite State progress. New Hampshire sheds another piece of its conservative armor when it repeals its ban on adoptions by gays and lesbians. With the ban overturned, only Florida retains the prohibition on homosexual adoption.
Be prepared for reversal. New Jersey rules that the Boy Scouts of America cannot ban members on the basis of sexual orientation. The case eventually goes on to the Supreme Court, which rules that the Boy Scouts may discriminate.
Beware the purple one. The Reverend Jerry Falwell warns readers of the National Liberty Journal that Tinky Winky — a purse-carrying Teletubby — is homosexual and thus a bad role model for their children. The triangular antenna on the genderless lavender creature is cited as being a known homosexual symbol.
I do! After a protracted legal and legislative battle, Vermont creates " civil unions, " establishing a legal relationship status for same-sex couples that affords them most of the state-controlled privileges of heterosexual marriage. In fall elections, conservative attempts to " Take Back Vermont " largely fail to unseat the pro-civil-union governor or alter the make-up of the legislature enough to undo civil unions.
Faltering steps. The Millennium March on Washington is plagued by trouble. Faulted as un-inclusive by some, too assimilationist by others, it draws a much smaller turnout than its 1993 predecessor, with crowd estimates as low as 200,000. Thousands of dollars are reportedly stolen from fair vendors, and the march itself goes several hundred thousand dollars into debt.
Here come the brides. In Texas, a male-to-female transsexual becomes the first woman to legally marry another woman, with a state-court ruling that as long the couple’s birth certificates record one of them as male, the law cannot prohibit their marriage.
Cable gets it on. The American edition of Queer As Folk, a popular British TV show known for its frank depictions of gay sexuality, debuts on Showtime — and (even while introducing middle America to topics like rimming and twink sex) becomes enormously popular with straight female viewers.
Trans-history made. Rhode Island breaks new ground by amending its constitution to prohibit discrimination against transsexuals and cross-dressers.
I play one on TV. With its gay title character (played by a straight man) and flamboyant sidekick, Will & Grace wins three Emmys, including Outstanding Comedy Series, and carves a solid niche in the Nielsen Top 20 (and often Top 10).
Ich liebe dich. Germany passes a partnership law that affords same-sex couples the same inheritance and tenants’ rights as straight married couples.
Bay State love. Massachusetts couples sue for the right to marry, beginning an odyssey through the court system, even as the legislature takes on a DOMA bill that critics argue would not only prohibit gay marriage, but would also make it illegal to afford marriage rights to same-sex couples even under other terms.
Kiwi makes waves. Georgina Beyer becomes the first transsexual member of a national parliament when she is elected to the Parliament of New Zealand. A transvestite prostitute in her youth, Beyer underwent sex-reassignment surgery, entered local politics, and eventually became mayor of the City of Carterton before her election as MP.
Brave goodbyes. The September 11 tragedies claim many gay and lesbian lives, two of which become household names: Mark Bingham, an openly gay rugby player who died while trying to fight the hijackers on Flight 93; and Father Mychal Judge, a gay chaplain who administered last rites for World Trade Center casualties before succumbing himself.
Don’t tell Tommy. Rosie O’Donnell, whose lesbianism is not exactly a huge secret, officially comes out in a TV interview as a way of drawing attention to the fight of a Florida gay couple to keep the foster child they have raised since infancy. O’Donnell introduces the world to her partner and releases her memoir, Find Me (Warner Books).
Don’t stop persecuting. The Servicemen’s Legal Defense Fund releases data showing that the number of annual orientation-related discharges from the military is higher now than it has been since Ronald Reagan was president.
Progress in the heartland. Cleveland Heights becomes the first Ohio city to extend health care to same-sex partners of city employees, joining 128 municipalities nationwide with similar benefits.
ENDA makes its move. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) leaves committee and heads to the full Senate for a vote, the date of which has not yet been determined.
Tragic partners honored. President Bush signs into law the Mychal Judge Act, which provides death benefits to the same-sex partners of public-safety officers killed in the September 11 attacks.
David Valdes Greenwood can be reached at email@example.com