Under the headline “Bull & Bear Moments,” the weekly Gay City News marked its 10th year anniversary last week with a look back at the successes and challenges faced by the gay rights movement since 2002.
The social climate has been transformed dramatically since Lesbian Gay New York was officially renamed Gay City News in 2002. It began publication amidst a heated tug of war between those for and opposed to gay rights and marriage equality at the state level.
At this time in 2002, New York State did not yet have a gay rights law — despite 31 years of protests and demands in Albany. Republican Governor George Pataki had, by September 2002, clearly signaled his interest in signing such legislation, but the GOP-led State Senate was still not prepared to play ball. A month later, when the Empire State Pride Agenda announced its support for Pataki’s reelection, the logjam finally broke. The law won approval that December.
Less than nine years later, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo signed marriage equality legislation, making New York the sixth and largest state to allow same-sex couples access to civil marriage rights. Again, the State Senate was the final hurdle and, again, it was led by Republicans.
Meanwhile, at the national level, former President George Bush represented a forceful opposition to granting same-sex couples the right to marry with his endorsement of the Federal Marriage Amendment. Around the same time, Massachusetts became the first state in history to allow same-sex marriages in the United States.
As years progressed, as the paper illustrated in year-by-year charts, more states legalized gay marriage, some withstanding political pressure, others caving to referendums and court appeals. The majority of states — 80 percent — still don’t allow same-sex couples to marry, however, the Obama Administration stance on the issue has evolved drastically.
President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have all come out in support of LGBT rights and marriage equality after years of remaining tight-lipped about the topic. The repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and the refusal of the Department of Justice to defend the Defense of Marriage Act solidified the federal governments slowly growing support of LGBT rights.
As Americans and New Yorkers, we can certainly take pride and satisfaction in the progress we’ve made — from Albany to Washington to Hollywood — but the elections now just six weeks away remind us of the fact that, in a democracy, at least some advances can be transitory. The recent political conventions provided the starkest contrast to date between a Democratic Party unembarrassed about embracing our community’s aspirations and a Republican Party still willing to give at least lip service to the most reactionary anti-gay forces — and give LGBT Americans next to nothing.
The paper cautioned that any advancements of the LGBT agenda cannot and should not discourage the continued fight for full equality.
The irony of this tenth anniversary for Gay City News, then, is that even as we look back on a decade of astonishing progress, we are perched on the cusp of a critical, even watershed moment in our community’s history. Forward or backward. Freedom or continuing constraints. Justice or injustice. Love or bigotry.
These are the choices that lie immediately in front of us in the autumn of 2012.