If you’re anything like me, it probably seems that the past decade went by fairly quickly. Wasn’t it only yesterday that we were ringing in 2010? (OK, honestly? I don’t remember much about that year at all. The year 2000 definitely made a deeper impression.) In any case, there have been some pretty monumental changes for the LGBT community in the last ten years. Here are just some of them.
Policy and Law
The first major victory for LGBT people in the 2010s was the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010. The full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” (a policy, enacted in 1993, that allowed gay people to serve in the military only if they kept their sexual orientation secret) was implemented in September of 2011.
Marriage equality now seems to be the most significant legal victory we’ve had in recent years, or possibly ever. Given the rampant discrimination against LGBT people in more critical areas (housing, employment, etc.), few activists considered it to be a top priority. Indeed, a fair proportion of LGBT people viewed – and still view – the drive for marriage equality as an attempt to conform to heterocentric standards. And yet…many of us wanted to marry the person we loved. As a number of state Supreme Courts determined that denying same-sex marriage was against their constitutions, other state supreme courts ruled otherwise, so for a while, the right to marriage for gays in the United States depended on which state you lived in. It became inevitable that the Supreme Court would have to determine the ultimate fate of marriage equality.
In 2013, in the case of United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. DOMA was a law that defined marriage (for federal purposes) as between a man and a woman. With the Windsor ruling, gay couples who had been married in states with legalized same-sex marriage began to enjoy the federal rights, benefits, and privileges of other married couples. Two years later, on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court gave their ruling on the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, finding that marriage is a fundamental right, one that would be guaranteed to same-sex couples in every state.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when you’d have been hard-pressed to name more than a few – if any – major public figures who were truly out of the closet. That began to change, as I remember it, around the mid-1990s with celebrities like Melissa Etheridge and Ellen DeGeneres. It became more common in the 2000s, but I feel safe in saying that probably more public figures have come out of the closet in the last ten years than in every previous decade of human history combined. 20 years ago, if a celebrity came out as gay, you’d see their face on the cover of Time. Nowadays, they’d be lucky to have it noted on Page Six.
Much more surprising than pop culture celebrities outing themselves has been the ever-increasing number of politicians who are out of the closet…and getting elected. This was unheard of when I was growing up. But in the “Rainbow Wave” of the 2018 midterm elections, at least 399 openly LGBT people ran for office, at all levels of government, and 164 of them won. Now we even have a major candidate for the office of President of the United States who is openly gay.
Equally astounding, in my opinion, has been the tremendous shifts in the ways we think about gender, and the rise of transgender rights. In 2007, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC, the United States’ largest LGBT advocacy and lobbying group) was willing to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA, which still hasn’t been passed), even though it excluded protections for transgender people. Such a decision would be unthinkable for any major LGBT organization today. (In the late 1990s, PFLAG became the first national organization to adopt a transgender-inclusive policy.)
In the past decade, transgender people became more visible than at any time in human history. As trans visibility grew, various institutions also began to change. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) removed the term, “gender identity disorder,” from its fifth edition, replacing it with “gender dysphoria,” nothing that “gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder.” Other groups, organizations, and religious denominations (e.g. Girl Scouts of America, the Episcopal Church, etc.) also became more affirming for trans, gender nonconforming, and non-binary people in the past decade.
In 2012, the FDA approved the first drug for reducing the risk of contracting HIV. Truvada prevents the transmission of HIV, and researchers are working to find new HIV prevention tools that do not require taking a pill every day. Meanwhile, the U=U campaign has been educating people on the fact that people with undetectable viral loads cannot transmit the HIV virus, which has gone a long way towards destigmatizing people who are living with HIV.
New Orleans’s LGBT Community has seen a good deal of change as well. The last lesbian bar in town, Rubyfruit Jungle, closed in 2012. Meanwhile, a long list of LGBT organizations and groups have launched here (BreakOUT!, NOAGE, Stonewall Sports, the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, Last Call, to name just a few). And in 2019, New Orleans citizens voted to amend the city’s charter to include a Human Rights Commission, with greater power to investigate complaints of discrimination by businesses in the city than previous protections.
On June 12, 2016, 49 people were gunned down at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. It was the largest mass-murder of LGBT people in United States history. According to the most recent Hate Crime Statistics Report by the FBI, hate crimes against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people increased almost six percent from 2017 to 2018 (the most recent year with available data). Hate crimes against transgender people increased by 41 percent in the same time period. In 2017, President Trump tweeted that he would ban transgender people from the military again, a major change from just a year earlier, when President Obama announced a policy which would let trans people serve openly. As of today, no openly trans people can join the U.S. military.
Since the 1970s, lawmakers and activists have been working to include LGBT people in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equality Act of 2019 was passed by the House of Representatives in March of last year, but it has yet to pass the Senate. If passed, it would “prohibit discrimination on the basis of the sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition of an individual, as well as because of sex-based stereotypes.” This would mean an end to discrimination against LGBT people in areas like housing, employment, and public accommodations, across the United States. Given the current makeup of the Senate, it’s easy to think to yourself, “yeah, that’s not going to happen.” Well, maybe not this year.
But you never know. If the 2010s have taught us anything, it’s that things can change a lot quicker than we thought.