Having just celebrated the one year anniversary of L.A. Weekly‘s Time For Tea column (our first was published on 12/19/2018), it’s time to reflect on the LGBTQ community and how the past year has affected us. It’s been a trying year in some ways, but in others it’s been triumphant. Let’s take a look back (click links within text to read the original articles).
The third year of Donald Trump’s presidential term saw some setbacks for the LGBTQ Americans that can’t be ignored. Although the Democrat-controlled House voted to impeach him this month on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, the Republican-controlled Senate will most likely not vote to remove Trump from office and we don’t don’t know if the Senate will even allow for a fair trial. As everyone took time off for holidays, the Democrats held the Articles of Impeachment from the Senate, so this is all still developing. But as we noted in one of out first T4T pieces, even if Trump is removed, there are many reasons why a religiously conservative President Mike Pence would be bad or even worse for the LGBTQ community.
We did begin the year on a high note, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi committing in January to the Equality Act, which would “provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs and jury service” (according to the Human Rights Campaign’s website). In March, the Equality Act was officially introduced in the House, coinciding with a great op-ed for The Advocate written by Pelosi and Rep. David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), the chief author of the bill.
The Equality Act was passed by the House on May 17, and now awaits a vote in the Senate, which most likely won’t be passing it anytime soon. The Senate has a Republican majority and many Republicans have vowed to vote against the bill out of fear that it will take away their constituents’ “religious freedoms” by forcing them to treat LGBTQ people equally (such as a providing a wedding cake for a gay wedding). Even if this legislation miraculously passes the Senate, Trump would then have to sign the act into law, which also seems unlikely. But at least the Democrat-controlled House is still fighting the good fight for us.
Since the Equality Act doesn’t look likely to pass without a Democrat majority in the Senate (and/or a Democratic president), one other possible chance for the LGBTQ community to achieve equality is through the Supreme Court. In April, the Court announced they would be hearing multiple cases concerning civil rights laws and anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The cases were argued in October and the decisions will be released in 2020. These cases will have lasting repercussions on LGBTQ Americans in terms of workplace discrimination, but with Trump’s conservative appointees Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh completing a conservative majority on the bench, we wont hold our breath for a favorable decision. However, hopefully the over 200 major companies who signed an amicus brief with the court urging them to protect LGBTQ equality will have a positive impact on the decision. We perhaps got a scary foreshadowing of what’s to come next year when the court voted in January (5-4) to allow Trump’s transgender military ban to stay in place while it’s challenged in the lower courts.
With next year’s presidential election looming, of course the race for the Democratic primaries began in 2019. In April, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg made history when he became the first openly LGBTQ presidential candidate in the United States. Perhaps some of his policies have turned out to be slightly problematic, especially for people of color, but considering Joe Biden announced his official candidacy the same month, the current Democratic frontrunner doesn’t necessarily have the best track record in terms of LGBTQ and women’s rights either.
The LGBTQ community’s battle with Chick-fil-A continued throughout 2019 when it was revealed that the Christian-based fast food chain wasn’t keeping its 2013 promise to cut back on anti-LGBTQ charitable giving. What Jesus has to do with chicken sandwiches is beyond us, and considering many LGBTQ people love chicken just as much as heterosexual people, it seems odd to politicize chicken. At least it prompted competing fast food chain Popeye’s to create its own inclusive chicken sandwich that is supposed to be just as delicious.
2019 also saw the unfortunate emergence of multiple “Straight Prides” across the country, including in our own state. Luckily, none turned into resounding successes, so hopefully there won’t be anymore in 2020. And of course, the political crisis in the Middle East with Israel was not resolved this year, but Trump definitely shook things up in this arena, and we shared thoughts on how today’s political climate can make life complicated for a liberal, LGBTQ Jew. Despite our differences, it seems that, for the most part, based on those hard Thanksgiving dinner conversations with family, we’re indeed heading down a path of love and tolerance.
Fortunately, the year in pop culture for the LGBTQ community was slightly more favorable than the year in politics. We began the year with the Kevin Hart Oscar hosting controversy, which blew up even more when he appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show at the beginning of the year and both of them tried to make excuses for his past homophobia (Ellen may not have had the best year with public opinion from the LGBTQ community after she was again criticized for hanging out with former President George W. Bush at a Dallas Cowboys football game in October). Thankfully, when the Oscars aired (without a host) in February, the actual show itself showcased a lot of LGBTQ representation, including many LGBTQ roles winning major awards and Lady Gaga becoming another on a very small list of out bisexual people who have won Academy Awards.
Elsewhere on television, RuPaul’s Drag Race awarded the crown and the $100,000 to both Monét X Change and Trinity “The Tuck” Taylor, who tied as winners of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season 4 in February, followed by Yvie Oddly winning season 11 of Drag Race in May. And Drag Race wasn’t the only show spotlighting LGBTQ equality. Season 1 of uber producer Ryan Murphy’s first show for Netflix, The Politician, debuted in September and Murphy brought inclusivity to a whole new level, with the sexual fluidity of many of the main characters depicted in a very natural way.
Moving from television to the world of popular music, GLAAD honored Beyoncé and Jay-Z with the Vanguard Award for being LGBTQ allies in April in Beverly Hills. Since Beyoncé and Jay-Z may not be the first names that pop into your head when you think of LGBTQ advocacy, we questioned if they deserved the award, but ultimately conceded that they did. A month later Madonna received the same award in New York City, which we used as an excuse to celebrate her being one of pop music’s reigning LGBTQ allies. One month later to coincide with Pride, Taylor Swift released her own gay anthem called “You Need to Calm Down,” which we explored as a successful (or not) LGBTQ anthem. Ultimately, it was.
Finally, we can’t discuss LGBTQ pop culture in 2019 with mentioning Empire’s Jussie Smollett, unfortunately. The whole bizarre incident began back in January when Smollett claimed he was allegedly attacked by “MAGA” hat-wearing Trump supporters in Chicago who put a noose around his neck and called him racist and homophobic slurs. Our piece in February was written before more details emerged, and to this day we still know for sure if the actor was really attacked or if he set it all up, although Chicago police want us to believe it’s the latter. Either way, we stand behind the piece, because we don’t need “explicit evidence that Trump’s hatred is making people more brazen to display their hatred as well.”
Local In L.A.
Living in a bustling metropolis like Los Angeles with a vibrant LGBTQ community provided many highlights and events that we spotlighted throughout the year. The Paley Center’s annual PaleyFest in March, which benefits the Paley Center’s preservation and archival digitization efforts, featured a lineup of shows that had an increasing representation of LGBTQ characters on TV, including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Grace and Frankie and Pose. While LGBTQ representation on television may be at an all-time high, it perhaps wouldn’t be where it is today without Showtime’s 2000 series Queer As Folk, which was honored at Micky’s in West Hollywood back in August by Celebration Theatre, the country’s oldest, continually producing LGBTQ theater (it was founded in L.A. in 1982 by Mattachine Society pioneer Chuck Rowland), as part of its “Celebrating Brunch” fundraising series.
In May, RuPaul’s DragCon returned to the Los Angeles Convention Center bigger than ever for its fifth time and July found the return of LGBTQ film festival Outfest Los Angeles. The official Los Angeles Pride celebration returned to West Hollywood in June, which was headlined by Paula Abdul, Meghan Trainor and Years & Years. It was a fun time and the event was overall much more organized than last year, when paying ticket holders had to be turned away one night because they oversold and reached capacity, but it still left us wondering if it was in the spirit of Pride. In contrast, we compared Pride in San Francisco, which took place three weeks later and did perhaps a slightly better job of inclusivity. In August, downtown L.A. threw their fourth annual “DTLA Proud” Festival, which was all about love and visibility despite a transphobic incident that happened nearby at Las Perlas bar after those involved left the event.
Las Perlas wasn’t the only business to come under fire for its treatment of the LGBTQ community. In April, the small Asian country of Brunei enacted a penal code where people who have sex with someone of the same gender could be stoned to death, in addition to many other outrageous “punishments.” The Sultan of Brunei owns the Dorchester Collection, a group of luxury hotels around the world, which includes the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air. When the LGBTQ community and our allies began a boycott, the Sultan caved. Celebrities including George Clooney and Elton John joined rights groups in the boycott, as did large companies including JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank, who told their staff to avoid using Brunei-owned hotels. In a televised speech at the beginning of May, after the boycott began, the Sultan said he would extend a moratorium on capital punishment and ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
In the world of drag, L.A. had some big milestones to celebrate in 2019. In August, L.A. drag legends The Boulet Brothers celebrated the fourth anniversary of their signature neighborhood-making Queen Kong party at Precinct in downtown L.A. Unfortunately, the party also served as the final one ever because the Boulets’ careers are blowing up thanks to their reality show, The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula, now on Netflix. And while Queen Kong may be gone, the Boulets definitely aren’t. They still put on their annual Halloween party and are also hosting a New Year’s Eve party at the Globe Theatre downtown this year. Another Los Angeles drag legend, Tammie Brown, who also appeared on season one of RuPaul’s Drag Race, celebrated her 20 year career as a drag performer at the Long Beach Hamburger Mary’s in October.
Finally, two singing legends with a history of LGBTQ advocacy set up shop in a pseudo-residency in Los Angeles this year. First in September, Broadway legend Idina Menzel starred in the non-musical play Skintight at the Geffen Playhouse. Menzel’s character arrives at her father’s house and meets his new live-in boyfriend, who is the same age as her queer son. From Rent to Wicked, Menzel’s stage shows have included messages of inclusion, tolerance and in the case of Rent and Skintight, explicit LGBTQ storylines as well. Two months later in November, Madonna played a 10-night residency at the Wiltern for her Madame X Tour, the smallest theater she’s ever played on tour before. It was definitely a treat for L.A. fans to see their idol in such an intimate setting.
Despite an unfriendly political climate and some pop culture and local happenings that we prefer to forget, overall 2019 was not a bad year for LGBTQ Angelenos. We wish our readers, our community and our allies a happy, healthy and safe New Year, and we look froward to covering more LGBTQ stories (hopefully more positive than negative!) in 2020. In the words of LGBTQ icon RuPaul, “everybody say love!”