BY PAUL SCHINDLER | For the past decade and a half, Gay City News has strived, with every issue, to provide thoughtful, incisive, and comprehensive news and arts coverage for the nation’s largest and most diverse LGBT community.
Thankfully, that has turned out to be a huge but also very exciting job. When we launched in early 2002, New York State did not yet have a gay rights law. Sodomy laws, with criminal penalties for gay sex, were still in effect in about a quarter of US states. Only one country in the world – the Netherlands – gave same-sex couples full civil marriage equality.
The progress since then has been breathtaking. But, it’s also been uneven. For half the life of this newspaper, the LGBT community faced a hostile administration in Washington, with a president who won a second term, in part, based on his campaign putting same-sex marriage bans on the ballot in as many states as possible to pull out social conservatives on Election Day.
Barack Obama’s election in 2008 promised new hope for many Americans, and LGBT voters largely shared that assessment, but on the same day America chose its first African-American president, California overturned marriage equality with Proposition 8, proving how far we still had to battle to win over our fellow Americans’ hearts on our freedom to marry.
The fight for dignity and equality accelerated considerably in the past eight years, with the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy jettisoned in 2010, gay marriage secured in New York the following year, the Defense of Marriage Act struck down in 2013, and full marriage equality achieved last year. And in the past several years, the Obama administration has moved in an impressively comprehensive way to advance non-discrimination policies and practices for gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans through executive action.
Obama will be remembered as our most pro-LGBT president to date, but his “evolution” came at the speed it did only through the persistent demands of our community. Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a very close call in 2010. And had the administration not been pressured and cajoled on its marriage equality posture, it’s unlikely that Attorney General Eric Holder would have arrived at the historic 2011 administration decision to stop defending DOMA or the president himself would have endorsed marriage equality the following year.
And as Obama prepares to leave office, we still don’t have the political juice on Capitol Hill to pass basic civil rights protections in law for our community nationwide.
This is no time to turn back. In Albany, we must build on promising new efforts to reestablish our political standing after the cratering of the Empire State Pride Agenda late last year. In Washington and around the nation, we must insist on comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation – with no special outs for those who would hide behind purported religious beliefs as license to treat us as less than full citizens. The talk this week that some advocacy groups may be prepared to trim their sails in order to avoid messy fights over public accommodations protections – which guarantee the rights of everyone to access business services, public spaces, and even bathrooms – is wrong-headed.
Retreat is not an option. We’ve come too far for that.
The next big task ahead of us is to ensure that the progress made during the Obama years can be expanded under a Hillary Clinton administration. In two weeks, we’ll know what we are facing in Washington come January. Even in the best of outcomes, with Democrats restored to leadership in both the Senate and the House (the latter a tall order, indeed), we will have to play smart ball to have our priorities – the Equality Act, first among them – addressed in a very crowded legislative calendar.
When 2016 becomes 2017, Gay City News will be there, continuing in our mission to produce the best and smartest reporting we can. May we continue to live in exciting times.