Here is Richard Burnett’s 24th annual column of the past year’s heroes and zeros.
HERO American Rapper Lil Nas X for coming out as gay on June 30. On July 29 his song Old Town Road became the longest-running No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100, for the 17th consecutive week. Lil Nas X then became the first openly-gay man to receive a Country Music Association award, and is the first openly-gay rap artist to be nominated for Grammy Awards.
Hero Reggae Dancehall legend Eek-A-Mouse for performing with a Rainbow flag in June while singing, “Jesus loves everyone whether gay or lesbian.” He dealt with the backlash in his pro-gay Controversial Song released on August 8.
Zero Comic actor Kevin Hart, for stepping down as host of the 2019 Oscars after refusing to apologize for his anti-gay Tweets.
Hero Billy Porter, who on September 22 became the first openly-gay Black man to win an Emmy Award for Lead Actor In a Drama, for Pose. Porter also took issue with Kevin Hart’s homophobic Tweets, saying in an interview, “You turn around and oppress other people the same way you’re being oppressed. Fuck you.”
Hero Russian LGBTQ activist Yelena Grigoryeva who was fatally stabbed in St. Petersburg on July 21 after her name was listed on a website that encourages people to “hunt” LGBTQ activists.
Heroes Band members Paul Landers and Richard Kruspe of German hard rock band Rammstein, for kissing onstage in Moscow on July 29 in defiance of Russia’s anti-gay law.
Hero Montreal actress and director Marianne Farley whose lesbian-themed Marguerite was shortlisted for Best Live Action Short Film at the 2019 Oscars.
Hero RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Brooke Lynn Hytes who was named one of the three judges for the upcoming Drag Race Canada TV series.
Hero Merriam-Webster for adding the nonbinary “they” to their dictionary on September 17.
Hero Télé-Québec TV series Passe-Partout for introducing character Madame Coucou as lesbian in their May 6 episode.
Hero Mattel for introducing their Creatable World gender-neutral dolls on September 25.
Hero PBS children’s TV show Arthur which opened its 22nd season on May 13 with Arthur’s teacher Mr. Ratburn marrying his same-sex partner.
Hero Disney’s animated children’s TV series Star Wars Resistance for introducing characters Orka and Flix as a queer couple.
Zero The Harford County Liquor Control Board for, in May, warning Maryland bars they could lose their liquor licenses if they present “adult entertainment” drag shows.
Heroes Robert Gravel High School students in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood, for wearing makeup to protest the suspension of a classmate for wearing makeup. Ironically, the high school specializes in theatre education.
Hero Drag queen “DYHZY” – a.k.a. Estanislao Fernandez, son of Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernandez.
Hero Brazilian drag queen Pabllo Vittar who ranked in Time magazine’s ‘Next Generation Leaders’ list published on October 10.
Hero Brazil’s Supreme Court which on June 13 ruled to make homophobia and transphobia a crime.
Zero Actor Jussie Smollett who claimed he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack on January 29.
Hero Actor George Clooney for starting the international boycott of nine luxury hotels with links to Brunei, after that country announced gay sex would be punishable by death beginning on April 3. Meanwhile, Montreal-born Omar Sharif Jr. Tweeted on April 1, “I think it’s egregious to out people; in this case, I think it’s warranted. I will volunteer myself second to be executed according to Brunei’s new anti-LGBT law on the condition that the Sultan’s son is first, and that the Sultan himself cast the first and last stones.” Faced with growing boycotts and condemnation, Brunei’s ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolklah, backed down on May 5.
Zero Iran, for charging famous Iranian-Kurdish singer Mohsen Lorestani with “corruption on earth” – i.e. being gay – a charge which carries the death penalty.
Zero Turkey, for banning all LGBTQ public gatherings, firing tear gas and arresting LGBTQ activists at Pride marches and events in Ankara (May 10), Istanbul (June 22) and Izmir (June 30).
Heroes The 100 Cuban LGBTQ activists who defied their Communist government to hold an unauthorized Pride March on May 11, after authorities cancelled that country’s 12th annual Pride march. There were at least three arrests after clashes with police.
Heroes For approving same-sex marriage: Ecuador (June 12) and Ireland (October 21).
Heroes Angola, which decriminalized same-sex relationships on January 23; Bhutan’s lower house, which overwhelmingly voted on June 8 to decriminalize homosexuality; and Botswana’s High Court, which decriminalized same-sex relationships in a unanimous June 11 ruling.
Zero The Anglican Church of Canada, whose vote to approve same-sex marriage failed to pass at its general assembly on July 12.
Heroes The few thousand LGBTQ activists who participated in the first-ever Pride marches in their hometowns: Kathmandu in Nepal (June 29); Skopje in North Macedonia (June 29); Tiblisi, Georgia (July 8); Bialystok in Poland, complete with riot police to protect marchers from 4,000 far-right bottle-throwing homophobic thugs (July 20); Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina (September 8); and Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv (September 15).
Hero Serbia’s openly-lesbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic for marching in Belgrade’s Pride march on September 15.
Zero Nivea, who were dropped by the FCB advertising agency after a Nivea rep allegedly said “We don’t do gay at Nivea” when shown an ad with two men touching hands.
Hero Coca-Cola, who launched their hugely controversial “Love is Love” ad campaign in Hungary, featuring gay couples kissing.
Hero Always sanitary products, who announced in October it will redesign its pad products to be more inclusive: Always will remove the Venus symbol – used to represent the female sex – from its products to be inclusive of transgender and nonbinary customers.
Hero LGBTQ activist and lawyer Maurice Tomlinson for battling the odds to organize Montego Bay Pride in Jamaica.
Hero The University of Winnipeg, for launching their Two-Spirit Archives, the first in Canada. Longtime two-spirit activist Albert McLeod donated most of the items in the archives.
Heroes The thousands of Alberta students who walked out of their classes on May 3 to protest Premier Jason Kenney’s position that parents be notified when their children join gay-straight alliances at school.
Zero Ex-conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer for his anti-LGBTQ views.
Zero Toronto Catholic District School Board vice chair Michael Del Grande who likened LGBTQ issues to bestiality and pedophilia.
Heroes Residents of Chilliwack, B.C., who painted 16 Rainbow crosswalks on their private properties in November after city council voted against painting a Rainbow crosswalk in town to support LGBTQ Pride.
Zero U.S. President Donald Trump. On November 4, the Trump Administration announced the immediate repeal of sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination provisions in federal health regulations, capping a year of actions by the administration undermining the health and well-being of LGBTQ Americans and those living with HIV.
Hero Pitcher and LGBTQ civil rights advocate Sean Doolittle of the World Series champion Washington Nationals of Major League baseball, for declining an invitation to a White House ceremony because he disagrees with the policies of Donald Trump, not to mention Doolittle’s wife has two mothers.
Heroes The Vancouver Canadians, Class A minor league team for the Toronto Blue Jays, for hosting their inaugural Pride Night at Nat Bailey Stadium on July 23; and the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose LGBTQ Night on May 31 was the team’s most-attended game in seven years.
Hero South African intersex athlete, middle-distance runner and two-time Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya who on May 1 lost her case at the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport to compete as a woman in all races.
Hero The International Football Federation (FIFA), for enforcing its new code banning racist and homophobic behaviour by players on the field, and by fans in the grandstands.
Zero The FGG – which licenses the Gay Games – for announcing on November 11 that they remain committed to holding the 2022 Gay Games in Hong Kong despite the pro-democracy protests. This, from the same organization that revoked Montreal’s right to host the 2006 Gay Games because they disputed Montreal’s projected attendance figures (which would have been accurate when you combine the numbers of the 2006 Montreal World Outgames and the FGG’s 2006 Chicago replacement games).
Heroes Inspired by Los Angeles Rams male cheerleaders Quinton Peron and Napoleon Jinnies at the 2019 Super Bowl, Steven Sontag and Driss Dallahi became the first men in the previously all-female NFL New England Patriots cheerleading squad.
Zero Gay anchorman Shepard Smith who – after 23 years at virulently partisan and conservative Fox News – announced his resignation from Fox on October 11 (on National Coming Out Day).
Hero Pioneering LGBTQ publications Washington Blade which turned 50 on October 18 and Fugues which trun 35th in April.
Heroes Whembley Sewell, named Executive Editor of Conde Nast’s LGBTQ publication them; Dawn Ennis, named managing editor of Outsports; and Ben Hunte, hired as the first LGBTQ correspondent for BBC News.
Hero The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for donating $100 million towards gene research for an HIV cure.
Zero Health Canada, for reducing the blood donation ban on men who have sex with men from one year to three months, instead of eliminating the ban completely.
Zero Toronto serial killer Bruce McArthur who on January 29 pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder. On February 8, he was sentenced to life in prison.
Hero Montreal LGBTQ activist Matt McLauchlin who kickstarted a campaign to lobby the City of Montreal, Ville-Marie borough and mayor Valerie Plante to name the public square next to Frontenac Métro station after 23-year-old LGBTQ activist Joe Rose. Joe was stabbed to death by four homophobic teenage thugs aboard the No. 358 bus outside Frontenac Métro station in the early-morning hours of March 19, 1989, just because he had pink hair. The brutal killing was a pivotal moment in the LGBTQ history of Montreal.
Heroes The Mexican and British editions of Vogue magazine for featuring indigenous Zapotec transgender woman Estrella Vazquez on their December 2019 covers.
Heroes The all-transgender “Team Trans” hockey team – comprised of players from Canada and the U.S. – played their first match at the Friendship Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on November 10.
Hero Jazell Barbie Royale, the first Black trans woman to be crowned Miss International Queen, on March 8.
Zero Jean Edens Lindor who on October 10 pleaded guilty for the second-degree stabbing murder of Montreal trans sex worker Sisi Thibert in 2017.
Zero Stonewall UK co-founder Simon Fanshawe, for signing an open letter in the September 22 edition of The Sunday Times, stating trans rights puts women and children at risk.
Hero India, for passing the Transgender Rights Bill in parliament on August 5.
Zero Chick-fil-A for backpedaling after initially announcing on November 18 that it will no longer donate to anti-LGBTQ organizations. The fast food chain was widely condemned in 2019: it will cease operations at its first UK outlet after the Oracle shopping centre in Reading announced it will not extend the restaurant’s lease beyond six months, in April 2020; protestors crashed the grand opening of Toronto’s first Chick-fil-A on September 6; and Chick-fil-A lost several deals to open restaurants in U.S. airports.
Hero Lawyer Mounir Baatour, the first gay man to run for president of Tunisia. On October 13, law professor Kais Saied won the election with 72.71 percent of the votes.
Hero Los Angeles drag queen “Maebe A Girl” who made history in April when she was elected to the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, becoming the first drag queen elected to public office in the U.S. She has also entered the race for the 28th Congressional District; that election will take place on March 3, 2020.
Hero Lori Lightfoot who was sworn in as Chicago’s first lesbian mayor on May 20.
Hero Gianmarco Negri who became Italy’s first transgender mayor when he was elected in Tromello on May 26.
Heroes The 74 out LGBTQ2 candidates who ran in Canada’s 2019 federal election. Just four queer MPs were elected to office on October 21: Seamus O’Regan and Rob Oliphant (Liberal Party), Eric Duncan (Conservative) and Randall Garrison (NDP).
Hero U.S. presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg who said at the September 12 Democratic Presidential Debate that after serving as a military officer in Afghanistan, “I came back from the deployment and realized that you only get to live one life, and I was not interested in not knowing what it was like to be in love any longer. So, I just came out. I had no idea what kind of professional setback it would be.”
Hero The Bank of England who put computer pioneer and WWII codebreaker Alan Turing on the new face of the new £50 note.
Hero Canada, which on April 23 launched its new $1 coin marking 1969 as a “turning point” for LGBTQ civil rights in this country.
Hero Canada, which as of June 4 now allows its citizens to identify as gender “X” on their passports.
Heroes The 23 Google workers who protested their employer in the “Resistance Contingent” in the San Francisco Pride Parade on June 30, after parade organizers refused to ban Google from their parade for not removing homophobic videos from Google’s subsidiary, YouTube.
Heroes Eight prominent LGBTQ content creators – including Montreal-based trans YouTuber Chase Ross – for launching on August 14 a U.S. class-action lawsuit against YouTube for censoring their content.
Heroes Quebec literary icon Michel Tremblay, awarded L’Ordre des francophones d’Amérique on July 3; American literary icon Edmund White, awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters on November 20; and pop icon Cyndi Lauper, awarded the United Nations inaugural High Note Global Prize on December 10, for her work to prevent and end homelessness among LGBTQ youth.
Hero Team Montreal Pride for their strong albeit unsuccessful bid to host WorldPride in 2023.
Hero Legendary LGBTQ activist John Banks who organized Montreal’s first Pride march in 1979, drawing 52 marchers. Forty years later, Fierté Montreal Pride awarded him their inaugural Prix John Banks.
Hero Quebec Gay Archives co-founder Ross Higgins who was awarded the Senate 150th Anniversary Medal.
Heroes WorldPride NYC, for commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in the largest Pride celebration in history. In addition to their massive parade on June 30, there was a grassroots Queer Liberation March retracing the steps of the original Christopher Street Liberation Day March of 1970 — the world’s first-ever Pride March — that ended with an afternoon rally in Central Park’s Great Lawn. There, queer hero and ACT UP founder Larry Kramer said in a speech about fighting HIV/AIDS, “In the end, we failed. I certainly feel that I failed. There is no cure for this plague. Too many of us are still getting infected. We have become too complacent with PrEP. Research for the cure is still in the Stone Age. The few treatments we have are woefully expensive and come with troublesome side effects. Their manufacturer is holding us up to ransom.” But Kramer would end his speech on a positive note: “If you love being gay as much as I do, fight back! Please give me something to be proud of again. Please — all of you — do your duty of opposition in these dark and dangerous days. Thank you for being here.”
Heroes For coming out in 2019: Toronto-based Deloitte chief of staff Michael Cherny as trans; former MLS soccer player Matt Pacifici, Australian footballer Andy Brennan, CrossFit games athlete Alec Smith and Olympic Gold Medalist Kerron Clement came out as gay, as did actors Connor Jessup, Brian J. Smith and Ryan Sampson, Rwandan gospel singer Albert Nabonibo, YouTuber Daniel Howell and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson; Indian sports star Dutee Chand came out as lesbian; British pop star Sam Smith and RuPaul’s Drag Race UK contestant Divina de Campo came out as non-binary; Star Wars icon Billy Dee Williams came out as gender fluid; singer Jann Arden, YouTuber Lilly Singh, former NFL football player Ryan Russell and Disney sitcom star Joshua Rush came out as bisexual; and Welsh former pro rugby player Gareth Thomas came out as HIV-positive on September 14 after learning tabloids sought to reveal his HIV status.
Hero Legendary Quebec LGBTQ activist Laurent McCutcheon who died July 4 after receiving medical assistance in dying, after a long battle with cancer.
Heroes Literary icons John Giorno and Patricia Nell Warren, bestselling authors Wayson Choy and Binyavanga Wainaina, cartoonist Howard Cruse, dancer Hector Xtravaganza, NYC drag legend Hattie Hathaway (a.k.a. Brian Butterick), queer activist Michael Doughman who put Dallas on the gay map, disco pioneer and Village People producer Henri Belolo and pioneering 1960s trans soul singer Jackie Shane, trans comedienne Daphne Dorman and Hollywood “fixer” Scotty Bowers, U.S. marriage equality activist Diane Olson, Montreal based trans activist Michelle DeVille, gay activists Bernard Daoust and Conrad Borgias, and Haitian queer activist Charlot Jeudy, who all passed away in 2019. RIP.