November-December 2003: Ten Years After

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This issue completes the tenth volume of this journal, a minor miracle in itself, no doubt, but also a milestone of sorts in the GLBT rights movement. For it was in the context of the events of a decade ago that this journal was first conceived.

The year was 1993: Bill Clinton had just taken office and was immediately confronted by the “gays in the military” crisis, which stayed on the front page for months. Colorado passed its notorious “Amendment 2,” which preemptively banned all protection based on sexual orientation statewide. In contrast, Hawaii seemed poised to legalize same-sex marriage after a dramatic ruling by that state’s high court. A new study came out—and made the front page of the Times—claiming that homosexuals constitute only one percent of the population. As if to prove this study wrong, the 1993 March on Washington assembled what was and remains the largest gathering of gay men and lesbians in history.

So here we are, ten years later, and we’re back on the front page. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas was a huge turning point, finally driving the State out of our bedrooms for the first time in centuries. This would have precipitated a discussion on same-sex marriage anyway, but it came just as Canada was busily legalizing such unions and the Massachusetts high court seemed about to do the same (still no ruling at press time). A gay bishop was ordained in the Episcopal Church. Democratic candidates for president wooed the gay vote. And then came “the Fab Five” and Boy Meets Boy, the arrival of actual, out gay people on mainstream TV—dating, winning contests, making over Jay Leno—a first on this legitimacy-conferring medium.

But there’s also a nagging sense of “Plus ça change…” The legal wrangling over same-sex marriage seems almost a replay of the Hawaii situation of ten years ago. The 1993 “Don’t ask, don’t tell” compromise for military service is still with us, only now the debate has heated up again. Congress is still agonizing over the passage of a simple non-discrimination law covering sexual orientation, a measure that fourteen states—still only fourteen—have enacted. And behind it all, the religious Right seems as determined as ever to thwart our progress. Following Lawrence they predicted, then orchestrated, a “backlash” that included, among other efforts, Pat Robertson’s thirty-day prayer campaign for a “change” in the Supreme Court’s composition.

Still, it would be hard to mistake 2003 for 1993. The truly alarming prospect Colorado-style hate laws sweeping the country ended with the Supreme Court’s 1996 ruling in Romer v. Evans. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is so widely viewed as a failure that surely its days are numbered. Same-sex marriage, still a bizarre notion ten years ago, is coming to be seen as an inevitable evolution. And even as the government apparatus creaks along, the private sector has been fairly tripping over itself to recognize same-sex relationships and enact nondiscrimination policies.

A major element in the G&LR’s success over this decade has been the art of Charles Hefling, who’ll be retiring after this issue. Charles always recoiled at my use of the epithet “the brilliant” before his name, but that does not detract from its accuracy. We will continue to run earlier works and hope for the occasional guest appearance. Thank you, Charles.

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