12th June 2016 is one of those ‘I know where I was’ days: in the kitchen, making my morning coffee and watching the headlines. As soon as Ben the newsreader said ‘shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando’, I felt a new awful that grew for the rest of that long day.
49 young people were murdered and 53 injured at Pulse Nightclub, turning an otherwise ordinary Saturday Latino night into America’s largest mass shooting. While the questions of gun control could only be answered in America (where of course they weren’t), the collective grief, trauma and vulnerability was shared by the global LGBTQ community and their allies. The idea of a fully safe space, of gay bars being sanctuaries, was shot apart.
Yet we stood. The following evening, in an incredible feat of organisation as well as solidarity and love, around 7,000 people gathered in Soho, first in silence, then evolving into an unofficial opening party for Pride season. I saw old school friends, met new crushes who swiftly friend-zoned me and was hungover on a Tuesday.
Our silence and prayers didn’t reduce the tragedy, or end homophobic deaths in 2016. There’s also been sickening reports from Syria and Iraq and a 13 year old child who died from suicide in Australia. But undoubtedly the response to Pulse Orlando (including millions in international fundraising) brought LGBTQ people together. There’s always power in community.
— Steve Taylor (@stetayuk) June 14, 2016
Media representation and misrepresentation
At the end of that long Sunday, Owen Jones happened to be on Sky News for their nightly paper review. Emotional and frustrated by a total lack of coverage on some front pages, and then a presenter describing the shooting not as a homophobic attack but one on ‘all people having fun’, he walked off live TV. ‘I just heard this voice saying, you know you can’t stay here, don’t you,’ Owen told Winq magazine for their Men of the Year issue.
The celebration alongside silencing of LGBTQ identities continued throughout 2016. The Metro had a full front page photo of the Soho vigil, Loose Women welcomed its first transgender panellist and Saara Alto, an engaged Finnish lesbian came 2nd in The X Factor. Elsewhere, the Daily Mail dedicated its front page to attack PrEP as a ‘gay lifestyle drug’, Loose Women described gay men as ‘the new must have accessory’ and The Sunday Times tried to out the Bishop of Grantham.
And surreal stereotyping was on full display in October when menswear retailer Jacamo, who sells manbags but not footballs, tweeted a campaign ad claiming ‘real men have balls, not man bags’. They apologised for ‘any offence caused’ but still aren’t sorry enough to delete the tweet. As I started writing this review, Richard Hammond’s ice cream comments were added to the same toxic masculinity file. Why do these cheap slurs matter? Doesn’t BBC One adding a same-sex kiss to its landmark Christmas ad show there’s enough acceptance? Matthew Todd and Jack Urwin show the cumulative effect of hateful headlines and so-called jokes in their books both released this year. And one viral Twitter thread about a young Supergirl fan going to a comic book store reminded us that positive media representation is life-saving.
So, I want to tell you all what happened in the store today. It’s probably the single greatest moment I have ever experienced working here.
— 🌈Mary🌈 (@sapphicgeek) December 3, 2016
PrEP and HIV/Aids
December always starts with World AIDS Day, and UK campaigners had great news to celebrate throughout the month. NHS England finally announced it will trial PrEP, a drug for those at high risk of HIV which can cut infection by 99%. Soon after, 56 Dean Street and other sexual health clinics in London announced 40-50% reductions in HIV diagnoses compared to 2015. Matthew Hodson from NAM said that innovative services and a combination approach to tackle HIV is working.
The campaigns to get behind for 2017 are making PrEP widely available across the UK, #SRENow to add compulsory sex and relationship education to the school curriculum, and creating a National HIV/Aids Memorial in London.
— Matthew Hodson (@Matthew_Hodson) December 29, 2016
Politics and LGBTQ rights
When Pink News named David Cameron ‘Ally of The Year’ at their annual awards in October, no one seemed to agree with them. Benjamin Cohen explained that his leadership in bringing same-sex marriage to Britain deserved recognition. Yet this year the mental health charity PACE closed due to lack of funding and government cuts in January, and the current Conservative justice minister stalled the SNP’s Turning Bill in an act of petty partisan politics.
I went to my first and second same-sex weddings this year, and I’m grateful for our political leaders who used their power to make it happen. But the passionate response to a mis-named award highlighted the same fractures of politics seen across 2016. What good is the right to marry in Britain (not Northern Ireland) or hopefully soon for all gay and bisexual men to donate blood, when Brexit seems to have legitimised hate crime for some and the police failed to protect gay lives from a serial killer?
When the UK does leave EU, there’s little risk of LGBTQ rights changing and perhaps a chance to shift our diplomatic energy back to the Commonwealth, where homosexuality remains illegal in 40 of the 52 nations. Earlier this month Chad became the 73rd nation globally to criminalise homosexuality, and a second vote at the UN tried to get rid of the new LGBTI rights advisor Vital Muntharborn before he started the job. The creation of the role and vocal defence from many nations is a political highlight of 2016, along with Randy Boissonault MP becoming Canada’s first LGBTQ2 special advisor, and Justine Greening MP becoming the UK’s first out Equalities Minister.
Incoming American Vice-President Pence was named Homophobe of the Year by All Out supporters amid very real fears of a rollback of LGBT rights including same-sex marriage under Trump’s administration. In North Carolina, the transphobic bathroom law HB2 contributed to Governor McCrocy’s defeat. Despite a new Democrat Governor and boycotts from Paypal, Bruce Springsteen and NBA causing very clear economic damage to the state, our foe petty partisan politics has blocked the law from being repealed. Expect more state-by-state battles over LGBTQ rights in 2017 without an ally in the White House.
— All Out (@allout) December 20, 2016
Taking inspiration into 2017
And this year we’ve mourned and celebrated the lives of countless artists and performers. Especially poignant musical loses to the LGBTQ community were David Bowie, Prince and George Michael, each unapologetic in breaking and bending gender norms. Going into 2017 when everything feels uncertain and up for fight before the year has even begun, we must hold on to these role models: the artists, survivors, campaigners whose stories or stardom speak to us. There’s a rich LGBTQ history of liberation and creativity that is helping us write what comes next. Learn and celebrate it (reminder: LGBT History Month is in February). Act on the obituaries you read. Dance, be openly gay and eat ice cream.
— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) December 26, 2016
Follow me on Twitter @JoeyKnock for more #LGBTQProgress stories throughout the week. I’ll keep blogging a round up every fortnight in 2017.
What were the important LGBTQ stories and moments for you in 2016? What have I missed from this review?Comment below