News, politics and pop

Heroes and Zeros of the Year 2015

Richard Burnett
Richard Burnett

Here is my 20th annual column of the past year’s heroes and zeros.

Hero Legendary Dykes to Watch Out For cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel Fun Home won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Zero Bill Cosby, who, after meeting chart-topping At Seventeen lesbian singer/songwriter Janis Ian, had had her banned from TV in the 1960s because, Ian says, she wasn’t “suitable family entertainment.”
Zero  Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani, who told The Sunday Times magazine on April 19, “A homosexual man is a man 100%. He does not need to dress homosexual. When homosexuality is exhibited to the extreme—to say, ‘Ah, you know I’m homosexual’—that has nothing to do with me. A man has to be a man.”
Zero  Italian fashion designer Dolce and Gabbana, for criticizing same-sex families and calling children born through IVF “synthetic.”
Hero   Elton John, for launching a boycott of Dolce and Gabbana. Then, in September, after Russian TV pranksters fooled Elton – the first western rock star to perform in the-then Soviet Union, in 1979 – into thinking he was talking to Vladimir Putin, the real Putin called Elton to apologize and invited him to meet and discuss LGBT civil rights. Meanwhile, the Elton John AIDS Foundation granted $75,000 to fund a University of Toronto study into how Canada’s refugee policies affect asylum seekers living with or at risk of acquiring HIV. Thank you, Elton.
Hero   Argentina, for lifting the ban on gay men donating blood.
Hero   90-year-old Evelyn Farha, honorary president of The Farha Foundation which, since 1992, has distributed $9.5 million to 76 Quebec organizations providing services to HIV/AIDS victims (housing, medication, food, palliative care and homecare) as well as HIV/AIDS prevention and education programs.
Zero The Democratic Unionist Party, for blocking the Northern Ireland Assembly’s vote to approve same-sex marriage.
Heroes   For legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015: the Republic of Ireland (though I don’t like civil-rights issues being decided via referendum) and Mexico. Chile approved same-sex civil unions and Mozambique decriminalized gay and lesbian relationships.
Hero  B52’s singer Kate Pierson wed her longtime girlfriend Monica Coleman in Hawaii.
Zero The Edmonton Reggae Festival, for not taking a public stand against homophobia after booking anti-gay performers Queen Ifrica and Capleton. In the end, the Canadian High Commission in Jamaica denied Capleton permission to enter Canada.
Hero  Activist Maurice Tomlinson, for fighting for LGBT civil rights in the Caribbean.
Zero  Conservative Senator Donald Plett, who gutted transgender rights Bill C-279 with a transphobic amendment that barred trans people from public washrooms. In the end, the bill failed to pass.
Zero  Former Houston Astros baseball star Lance Berkman who opposed a Houston ordinance protecting LGBT people. Berkman said allowing trans women into women’s restrooms “is a little strange to me (because) they could be a child predator.”
Zeros  Transphobic thugs worldwide, for attacking trans people, such as trans man Yoshi Tsuchida found dead with his face skinned off in Tokyo in November, and trans Filipina woman Jennifer Laude who was murdered in October 2014 (convicted U.S. Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison on Dec. 1, 2015).
Heroes  Nova Scotia, which now allows transgender people in the province to identify their preferred gender on their birth certificates; and Quebec, which made it easier for trans people to change their gender designation on provincial IDs by removing surgical and medical requirements.
Heroes  Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and Ryerson University in Ontario, for introducing “gender-neutral” and “gender-inclusive” washrooms on campus.
Candis CayneHero   Trans actress Candis Cayne, a Grand Marshal at Montreal Pride 2015. “There is definitely a trans ceiling (in show business), but boundaries are being broken right now,” Cayne told me. “My form of activism is going to auditions, teaching producers and others on the set, going on news programs and talk shows and talking about being a trans woman. I may not have been marching on the White House, but I was doing my part.”
Heroes   Young Brits and Americans, who do not see their sexuality fixed in stone: in 2015 surveys, one in two young Brits say they are not 100% straight, while one third of young American say they aren’t 100% straight.
Hero  Montreal-raised couturier Rad Hourani, who launched his new multi-disciplinary exhibition of 33 original artworks, Neutrality (Neutralité), which expands on his vision of a neutral world without boundaries or limits, at the Arsenal Montréal contemporary art venue. “It makes no sense to be tagged as straight, gay or lesbian,” Rad told me. “I think it is limiting to categorize somebody as straight, gay or lesbian, to categorize them as one. What I love is when someone tells me, ‘Richard has a girlfriend,’ then a few months later, ‘Richard has a boyfriend.’ I like when there are no boundaries. I am a man who is attracted to men, but I don’t need a label.”
Heroes   On Aug. 24 openly-gay refugees Subhi Nahas from Syria and “Adnan” from Iraq briefed the U.N Security Council on violence by ISIS targeting LGBT people.
Zeros U.S. authorities for busting on Aug. 25.
Zero Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who withheld same-sex marriage licenses “under God’s authority.”
Zero Madonna’s gay brother Christopher Ciccone, who defended Kim Davis: “The gay community feels the need to be sore winners. The rights we have all fought for mean nothing if we deny her hers.” This is one man I don’t want to see on his knees.
Hero   The YMCA’s Sprott House, Canada’s first transitional housing dedicated to LGBT youth, opened in Toronto.
Hero   British pop star Mika, who performed three sold-out nights with the OSM at the Maison Symphonique de Montréal in 2015. “Sexuality and identity have been the ingredients of my music and lyrics since the beginning,” Mika told me. “It was always there. It’s just that my figuring out was done in a different way and under a lot of pressure.”
Zero The New York Mets baseball club, shamed into cancelling their kiss cam that showed two men kissing as a joke.
Hero   The Oakland Athletics baseball club, who on June 17 honoured Glenn Burke, pro baseball’s first openly-gay player. Burke died at the age of 42 in 1995 of complications from AIDS.
Zero The homophobic thug who attacked Mathieu Grégoire, 21, with a beer bottle at the Festival Western de St-Tite. Grégoire later organized the awareness-raising Zumbathon contre l’homophobie party in Trois-Riveres on Oct. 30.
Zero The Toronto Transit Commission, for pulling ads for, claiming the ads promote sex in public places.
Zeros LGBT activists, who trashed director Roland Emmerich’s film Stonewall before even seeing it. After the film opened, the reviews were worse than the film’s weekend box office gross.
Heroes    New York City’s landmarks commission, for designating the Stonewall Inn a historic landmark in a unanimous vote on June 23. The Stonewall was originally designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2000.
Hero   Marc Segal, the dean of American gay journalism, who published his acclaimed memoir And Then I Danced: Travelling the Road to LGBT Equality.
Heroes   Pink Triangle Press, who shuttered the print editions of Xtra in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver, which continue to publish online at Meanwhile, in July, France’s best-known gay magazine, Têtu, folded after 20 years.
Hero   DC Comics, for gave gay superhero Midnighter his own comic series. Midnighter is a 21st century superhero: he uses Grindr while saving the world at the same time.
Hero   Montreal’s legendary Black & Blue circuit party, which turned 25 years old.

Hero   Suzanne Girard, who co-founded the Divers/Cité queer festival in 1993 with Puelo Deir. Divers/Cité put Montreal on the international LGBT map but, sadly, officially folded in February 2015 after 22 years.

Heroes   The six openly-queer LGBT politicians elected to Canada’s parliament on Oct. 19: Liberal MPs Scott Brison, Rob Oliphant, Randy Boissonnault and Seamus O’Regan (former Canada AM co-host), as well as NDP MPs Randall Garrison and Sheri Benson.
Zero Accused British serial killer Stephen Port, charged with poisoning four young men between June 2014 and September 2015. 
Zero Oregon’s West Salem High School, for suspending freshman quarterback Garrett Moore for “inappropriately” touching another player during football practice, when in fact Moore was executing a snap as instructed by the center.
 Michael SamHero   Michael Sam, despite leaving the Montreal Alouettes not once, but twice. Upon his first arrival in Montreal, Sam told me, “I’m not trying to do anything historical, except help Montreal win some games. I have a responsibility to show respect for the game and handle myself the right way, carry myself the right way, so that future athletes gay or straight can be inspired by what I’m doing.”
Zero Martin Shkreli, whose company Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of the generic drug Daraprim used by AIDS patients, from $13.50 a pill to $750.
Hero   The CDC, for recommending sexually-active gay men at very high risk for HIV infection (which the CDC estimates at one-in-four gay men) should take PrEP.
Zero Gay hotelier Ian Reisner, who nastily called gay people “cheap” and “entitled” when he defended his dinner with anti-gay 2016 GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz.
Zeros Le Journal de Montreal, for pruriently pursuing Quebec celebrity Joel Legendre who was caught masturbating in a Longueil park in 2014; and Legendre himself, for lying about it when the incident made headlines in March 2015.
Zeros The hooligans who attacked the LGBT Pride march in Kiev on June 6; ultra-Orthodox Jew Yishae Schlissel, charged with murder and six counts of attempted murder in the July 30 stabbing attack at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade; and Turkish police, who used a water cannon to disperse Istanbul’s Pride parade on June 28.
Heroes   The hundreds of brave participants at the Delhi Queer Pride Parade in New Delhi on Nov. 29; at the 2nd annual Pride parade in Nicosia, Cyprus on June 6; at the inaugural Six Nations Pride event at Veteran’s Park in Six Nations of the Grand River Territory – Canada’s first on-reserve aboriginal Pride event – on July 25; at Jamaica’s first-ever LGBT Pride celebrations in Kingston and Montego Bay; and at the inaugural Pride parade in the tiny, isolated Arctic town of Norman Wells, in the Northwest Territories.
Zeros The UK’s National Union of Students for banning cross-dressing and drag, and passing a motion demanding white gay men stop “appropriating” black female culture (delegates actually used jazz hands instead of applause); as well as the organizers of Free Pride Glasgow – the “anti-commercialist” alternative to the main Glasgow Pride festival – for banning “offensive” drag queens.
Zero Mary Cheney, who questioned in a Facebook post why drag is “socially acceptable.”
 Panti BlissHero    Irish drag icon Panti Bliss, who lectured at Concordia University in February 2015. Panti told me, “First of all, there’s a billion kinds of drag queens in the world with different motivations, and some of them might be horribly misogynist, so I can only speak for myself. When I’ve done drag, I’ve always rejected terms like ‘female impersonator’ because that’s not what I’m doing. As for drag queens being bitchy, they’re just being themselves! If I am parodying anything at all, it is the tools our society expects women to use to express their femininity. What I’m really doing is taking those tools — makeup, big hair and sequins — that our society decided women have to use and that men are not allowed to use.”
Hero   Toronto drag icon Michelle DuBarry, 84, crowned World’s Oldest Drag Queen by Guinness World Records.
Heroes    Montreal’s Tableau D’Hote Theatre company for their revival of Michel Tremblay’s landmark 1973 play Hosanna about a drag queen and her biker boyfriend. The play won four Montreal English Theatre Awards in 2015, for lead actor (Eloi ArchamBaudoin), supporting actor (Davide Chiazzese), best director (Mike Payette) and Best Independent Production.
Zero Facebook, who reneged on their promise to dismantle their “Real Names” policy.
Hero   Sweden, which added the gender-neutral pronoun “hen” to the dictionary. The pronoun can be used without revealing gender.
Hero   Polish Catholic priest Krzystof Charamsa, who publicly came out on Oct. 3 and slammed the Vatican’s “inhuman” treatment of homosexual Catholics.  He was immediately fired from his senior post in the Holy See.
Hero   Out Montreal author H Nigel Thomas, whose book No Safeguards was shortlisted for the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s 2015 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction.
Zero Utah justice Scott Johansen, who ruled on Nov. 10 that a baby girl be taken from her lesbian foster parents April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce and placed with a heterosexual couple.
Heroes The thousands of Mormons who quit their church in Salt Lake City on Nov. 15 following the church’s new policy calling those in same-sex relationships “apostates” and denies their children baptisms.
Hero   Out TD Asset Management CEO Timothy Thompson, who for five years will donate an annual scholarship of $20,000 to a student at  McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management who demonstrates leadership within the LGBT community. The first recipient will be named in September 2016.
Heroes    For coming out in 2015: trans icon Caitlyn Jenner, 82-year-old acting legend Joel Grey, Swiss football star Ramona Bachmann, former Major League Soccer player Matt Hatzke, NBC Nightly News anchorman Thomas Roberts, Quebec journalist Francois Cormier, pop  superstar Miley Cyrus, ESPN columnist Israel Gutierrez, pro baseball players Sean Conroy and David Denson (both in the minor leagues), MLB umpire Dale Scott (home plate umpire for the crazy 53-minute 7th inning of Game 5 between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers during the 2015 American League Play-offs), former boxer Yusaf Mack, Olympian and freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, and actor Jussie Smollet, who plays the gay son Jamal Lyon on the Fox TV series Empire.
Heroes   Legendary female impersonator Jim Baily, iconic It’s My Party singer Leslie Gore, global Canadian television personality Chris Hyndman, Montrealer and 2009 Mr. International Rubber Stéphane Donaldson, Playgirl’s 1992 Man of the Year Dirk Shafer, vintage adult film star Cole Tucker (from an AIDS-related illness at age 61), and several younger porn stars – Mateo Stanford (age 35), Blue Blake (52), Zac Stevens (25) and Dimitri Kane (20) – all passed away in 2015. RIP. 
Read Richard Burnett’s POP TART blog for The Montreal Gazette at 
Read Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill online at