HOUSTON VOICE • DECEMBER 31, 1999
could have predicted either the amount of litigation
that has taken place or the range of victories that have
occurred over the course of the decade," he said.
Based on breadth and impact, Cathcart picked the
1996 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Romer vs. Evans
as "the highlight of the decade."
In November 1992, Colorado voters passed
Amendment 2, which would have repealed all antidiscrimination measures for gays and lesbians
statewide. The measure touched off a firestorm of similar attempts in other states, and became a key issue at
the 1993 March on Washington.
With the Romer case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
Amendment 2 unconstitutional, in one of the high
court's first pro-gay decisions, deflating many of the
efforts to pass copycat legislation in other jurisdictions.
"Up until the time of Romer, it looked like we as
a community were going to be faced with putting
extensive time, energy and money into fighting
these bad anti-gay referenda, which was time and
energy that could be spent pushing for positive
steps," Cathcart said.
Even high profile defeat, like the Hawaii
Supreme Court's decision in December 1999 ending
hopes for gay marriage there, helped advance the
cause of gay rights in the courts by at least bringing
the issues to public attention, Cathcart said.
This month's decision by the Vermont Supreme
Court that gay couples in that state must receive
equal rights is proof of the growing success in that
debate, he noted.
• 'Visibility and access'
For many who don't follow politics closely, one of
the most tangible moments of gay progress in the
decade came in 1997, when Ellen Degeneres came out
on her prime-time television show. The event, hyped
in the mainstream media for months in advance, put
gays in America's living rooms as never before,
although the show lasted only one season longer.
And while "Ellen" showed mainstream America
the daily life of a gay person, the 1998 murder of
gay Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard,
covered in the general press more extensively than
any anti-gay hate crime to date, showed the world
our greatest fears.
"I don't think, even as optimistic as we were,
that any of us thought we would see the amount of
change that has happened in the last 10 years, and
the level of progress we have made in terms of visibility and access," recalled Cathy Renna, community relations director for the Gay & Lesbian
Alliance Against Defamation.
"In the very early 1990s, the only way to get access
to the media was through mass protest or picketing,"
she said. "Now, there is an unbelievable increase in the
level of access we have, whether it is Time magazine
or one of the TV stations or movie studios."
Like HRC's Besen, Renna said she believes the
rise in gay visibility in the media began with "a
ground swell of people coming out," especially
those involved or interested in journalism.
Increased coverage of gay issues in the news
media, in turn, helped change the hearts and
minds of those in the public, creating a climate
where television producers were willing to take a
chance on "Ellen" in 1997.
"What this really shows is the challenge that we
now have," Renna said. "The level of media visibility has prompted an enormous amount of public
discussion, and now we have to translate that into
more legislative victories and institutional victories.
"Now that we have all of this visibility and
access, what do we do with it?" she said. "That is
the what our community needs to be asking as we
head into the next century."
Openly gay elected officials
1999: 180 (including four in Ga.; Atlanta City Council member Cathy
Woolard became the state's first in 1997)
U.S. schools with gay-straight alliance clubs
1989: two (both New England private schools}
Gavs discharged from the U.S. military
1994: 617 (first year of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy)
Gay lead characters on prime-time TV
19&: zero (Ellen DeGeneres became the first on "Ellen" in 1997)
1999: one (Will on NBC's "Will & Grace"; plus 28 more supporting and
recurring charactes on cable and broadcast shows)
States with sodomy laws
1990: IS (plus the District of Columbia)
States with non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation
1990: one (Wis.)
Companies offering domestic partner benefits
1999: about 3,000 (including 80 Fortune 500 companies)
Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Gay, lesbian & Straight Education Network,
Serviceniembcrs legal Defense Network, Gay & lesbian Alliance Against
Defamation, lambda legal Defense & Education Fund; Human Rights
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