Newsmakers of 2016

Heroes and Zeros of the Year 2016

Richard Burnett

Here is my 21st annual column of the past year’s heroes and zeros.

Hero United States VP Joe Biden, for officiating the Aug. 1 wedding of Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie, both longtime White House aides. Tweeted Biden, “Proud to marry Brian and Joe at my house.”

Heroes Sydney’s Mardi Gras organizers, for uninviting Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, who refused to hold a vote in parliament to legalize same-sex marriage (Turnbull prefers to pass the buck via a divisive national referendum).

Heroes The Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation in Saskatchewan for hosting the first Two-Spirit and Pride Parade in Canada on June 9, and the Eskasoni First Nation, whose Nov. 5 Pride Day was the first celebrated by a First Nation community in Atlantic Canada.

Heroes AGUDA, the Israeli National LGBT Task Force, who – after Israeli LGBTQ activists unsuccessfully demanded Tel Aviv Pride be cancelled over government funding of LGBTQ tourism – seemed to say they will no longer be complicit in “pinkwashing.”

Zeros Ugandan police, for raiding an LGBTQ Pride-week fashion show at Kampala’s Club on Aug. 4. Police detained hundreds of spectators for 90 minutes, beating and humiliating them as 16 other attendees and participants were arrested and later released without being charged.

Zeros Turkish police in Istanbul for using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a Trans March on June 19 and LGBTQ Pride march on June 26.

Zeros Peruvian police for using water cannons against LGBTQ activists in Lima on Feb. 13.

Zero Haitian Capital Commissioner Jean Danton Leger, who issued an order to block the four-day Massimadi LGBTQ arts festival in Port-au-Prince. The festival was postponed.

Zeros Organizers of the Cody Stampede Rodeo and Independence Day Parade in Cody, Wyoming, who allowed a float that featured a wildlife scene with an outhouse and sign that read “Transgender Restroom.”

Hero Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban president Raul Castro, who lead Havana’s Pride parade on May 14.

Zero Fidel Castro, who sent thousands of gay men to labour camps known as Military Units to Aid Production. Even after Cuba decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in 1979, Castro’s regime forcibly quarantined people living with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitariums until 1993. Only after Castro resigned in 2008 did he apologize for the camps, known by the Spanish acronym UMAP, during an interview with a Mexican newspaper in 2010. Castro died on Nov. 25 at age 90.

Hero Barack Obama, who in June unveiled The Stonewall National Monument in New York, which will cover nearly eight acres in Greenwich Village, including the historic Stonewall Inn.

Zero The U.S. Department of Homeland Security which prosecuted CEO Jeffrey Hurant who on Oct. 7 admitted in federal court that he broke the law by promoting “the exchange of sexual conduct in return for a fee” on his site. Sentencing is set for Feb. 2, 2017.

Zero Wikileaks, for publishing data on gay men in Saudi Arabia, a country where just being homosexual can lead to imprisonment and execution.

Zeros The homophobic thugs who kidnapped, raped and decapitated gay Syrian refugee Wisam Sankari who was so badly mutilated that after he was found dead on July 25 he was identified by the trousers he was wearing.

Zero The terrorists who in April hacked to death Bangladesh LGBTQ activist Mahbub Tonoy and Xulhaz Mannan, editor of the local LGBTQ publication.

Zeros The five homophobes who kidnapped and tortured a 20-year-old gay man in Guadeloupe for five days in January. The unidentified victim was burned several times with a clothing iron.

Zeros The U.N group of 51 Muslim states who blocked 11 LGBTQ organizations from attending a high-level AIDS meeting in June; and the 54-member Africa group who in November unsuccessfully demanded the U.N. revoke the appointment of human rights expert Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand, who has a three-year mandate to investigate violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) worldwide.

Hero Botswana, for deporting anti-gay U.S. pastor Steven Anderson.

Zeros Homophobic U.K. soccer fans. A survey released in September by British LGBT charity Stonewall, reports 72 per cent of football fans have heard homophobic abuse at matches, while one in five 18 to 24-year-olds said they’d be embarrassed if their favourite player came out.

Heroes The Premier League, which backed Stonewall’s LGBTQ Rainbow Laces campaign; The Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League, for wrapping their hockey sticks in Pride Tape; the Canadian Football League, which hosted their first LGBTQ Grey Cup party on Nov. 27 at Striker Sports Bar in Toronto; the San Diego Padres, who apologized to and sponsored the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus holiday show after accidentally muting the Chorus singing the U.S. national anthem during a pregame ceremony in May; NHL Buffalo Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson, who has a Rainbow flag on the back of his hockey helmet; and Real Madrid superstar striker Cristiano Ronaldo who, after Atletico midfielder Koke reportedly called him a “faggot” during a Nov. 20 match, replied, “A faggot, yes, but a rich one, bastard.”

Zeros Texas and 10 other U.S states (including Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Arizona, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia) who on May 25 announced they are suing over the Obama adminstration’s directive to U.S. public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. Makes me wonder, just how many Republican lawmakers have been arrested for bathroom misconduct?

Hero Montreal’s Vanier College, which added 15 gender-neutral washrooms across their campus.

Heroes The National Basketball Association, which announced it is moving their 2017 NBA All-Star game from Charlotte to protest North Carolina’s anti-trans “bathroom bill”; the Cirque du Soleil, who cancelled its North Carolina concerts, as did Bruce Springsteen, who posted on Facebook, “Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”

Heroes The 43 out LGBTQ athletes who competed in the Rio Olympics.

Zero Daily Beast “journalist” Nico Hines who dangerously outed athletes in an exploitative gay-baiting story headlined “I Got Three Grindr Dates in an Hour in the Olympic Village.” The Daily Beast pulled the story, apologized and sent Hines home after the IOC called the article “unacceptable” following an international outcry by LGBTQ athletes, activists and journalists.

Hero Tinder, which on Nov. 15 finally allowed users to type a word that describes their gender identity. While some critics charge such disclosure may put trans people at risk, Montreal trans stand-up comic Tranna Wintour – another hero, who had a big year wowing audiences in Montreal and New York – told me, “Unfortunately dating period as a trans person is always a risk. I don’t think Tinder’s upgrade is making it any more dangerous.”

Hero Gay diver Greg Lougainis, who won gold medals at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, and finally got his picture on a Wheaties box in May.

Hero Gay 21-year-old Australian pop sensation Troye Sivan who dedicated his Song of the Year win at the 2016 ARIA Awards to LGBTQ youth.

Zero Gay YouTube star Calum McSwiggan who claimed he was assaulted in a West Hollywood anti-gay hate crime on June 27. After being charged with vandalism and filing a false police report, he plead guilty to vandalizing a car, received a sentence of three years’ felony probation, 52 sessions of anger-management counseling and was ordered to pay $7,000 in restitution. Prosecutors dropped the false police report charge as part of a plea agreement.  

Zero Fiat heir Lapo Elkann who was arrested Nov. 27 for allegedly faking his own kidnapping to get $10,000 to pay for a two-day drug binge with a male escort.

Zero Gay British “journalist” and Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos. Enough said.

Zero Late Quebecois icon and filmmaker Claude Jutras who, according to a 2016 biography by Yves Lever, was a pedophile. The Quebec film world was “shocked” by the revelations.

Zero Gay Apple CEO Tim Cook who hosted a June 28 breakfast fundraiser for anti-gay Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Hero Canada’s federal Liberal government, which on Nov. 10 began accepting gender-neutral travel documents for people planning to fly into, or through, Canada; and then on Nov. 18 passed Bill C-16 in the House of Commons, to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

Hero Gay Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault, who was appointed PM Justin Trudeau’s Special Advisor on LGBTQ2 issues.

Zero Canada’s federal Liberal government, which – when it raised the Rainbow flag on Parliament Hill on June 1, also a first in Canadian history – called it the “Pride Flag.” Trudeau’s Special Advisor on LGBTQ2 issues, Randy Boissonnault, didn’t catch this, nor did a bunch of media outlets that should know better: The Advocate, CBC and Buzzfeed. The Rainbow flag was created by Gilbert Baker at the request of slain gay activist and icon Harvey Milk in 1978. Baker – who never calls the Rainbow flag the Pride flag – once told me, “The first time I saw the Rainbow flag on a flag pole was amazing, but what makes a flag a flag is that it’s not mine; it belongs to the people. It is torn from the souls of the people. So much art is all about branding, but mine – the Rainbow flag – it’s not about me. I don’t get royalties. If I did, it would change everything, and the Rainbow flag would not have the power that it does have today.”

Heroes Sad to see still more LGBTQ media outlets fold, such as AfterEllen, Next magazine and Frontiers magazine, which had been around since 1981 and which I wrote for in the 90s. RIP.

Heroes LGBTQ bars around the world, many of which closed in 2016, including my favourite queer bar in Tel Aviv, called Evita. Without a hint of irony, Haaretz reported, “Tel Aviv users of Grindr, the dating app for gays, repeatedly encountered a pop-up ad inviting them to celebrate the absolutely last week of Evita Bar, which closed its doors (on Aug. 1) after 12 years.”

Zero The American military, for imprisoning whistleblower and trans service woman Chelsea Manning in an all-male maximum security prison. Meanwhile, Thailand announced in July it will introduce separate jails for its LGBTQ prisoners.

Heroes Toronto artists William Ellis and Jordan Tannahill, who on June 29 closed their fabled Videofag performance art space in Toronto.

Hero Author Annie Proulx, who told me in September that Brokeback Mountain “coalesced thoughts and feelings that many people secretly held. The story and the film helped show the injustice of ostracism to a general public. The time was right for change and the story seeped into the culture. By making the protagonists individualistic, hard-working tough cowboys, the most masculine American identity, the story packed a stronger punch than if the characters had been any other profession.”

Heroes Black Lives Matter, for putting politics back into Pride Toronto and Vancouver Pride; plus hats off to the three queer founders of the Black Lives Matter movement: Patrisse Marie Cullors-Brignac, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, along with their most visible activist, openly-gay Deray Mckesson.

Zero 29-year-old Omar Mateen who killed 49 people and wounded 53 others inside the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12. A self-loathing gay man shaped by a homophobic society and culture, Mateen preferred to be a mass killer than be gay.

Heroes The New York grassroots activists who founded Gays Against Guns, in the wake of Orlando. There now is a new gay agenda in America: Stop the NRA. If anybody can do it, it’s the queers.

Zero The U.S. Embassy in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, for publishing on its website a photo of six men signing a condolence book for the victims of the Orlando killings, with the caption, “LGBTI community signing the condolence book.” Many of the men pictured were later attacked by anti-gay mobs in the streets of Abidjan.

Zeros The gunmen who opened fire inside La Madame, a gay club in Xalapa, Mexico, killing seven and injuring 12 on May 22. The story went mostly unreported until the Orlando massacre.

Hero The Supreme Court of Mexico which on June 3 approved same-sex marriage across Mexico.

Heroes The 50 clerics in Pakistan affiliated with the Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat who issued a fatwa on June 26 deeming it lawful to marry a transgender person; Geraldine Roman, the first transgender politician elected in the Philippines, on May 9; and Metro Bank, who on Nov. 3 became the first British bank to welcome customers who don’t identify as male or female – customers can opt for the title “Mx” rather than Mr., Mrs. or Ms.

Zero Dame Edna, a.k.a. Australian comedian Barry Humphries, who called trans women “mutilated” men. Time to hang up your frocks, Barry.

Zero George Takei who criticized making Sulu (the character he portrayed in the original Star Trek TV series) gay in the 2016 movie Star Trek Beyond. Talk about boldly NOT going where no man has gone before.

Zeros Cissy Houston and her late daughterWhitney Houston, whose husband Bobby Brown confirmed Whitney was indeed bisexual and in a longtime relationship with her assistant Robyn Crawford. Brown believes the pressure on Houston to conform and live a heterosexual life led directly to her death.

Hero Rod Stewart, whose 1976 song The Killing of Georgie – an elegy to a murdered gay friend – was initially banned by the BBC, then became the first-ever Billboard Top 40 song about queer people. Forty years later, in March 2016, Stewart said of his five-year-old son Aiden, “He likes dressing up as a lady. So we don’t know which way he’s thinking… If he turns out to be a homosexual, that’s okay with me. As long as he’s happy.”

Hero Montreal Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin who on June 2 was named successor to James Levine as music director of the Metropolitan Opera.

Hero GRIS-Montréal executive director Marie Houzeau who was awarded the 2016 Women of Distinction Award in the Social Commitment category, by the Montreal Women’s Y Foundation.

Hero Desmond Tutu’s reverend daughter Mpho Tutu-Van Furth who gave up her Anglican Church license so she could marry the woman she loves, Marceline van Furth.

Hero 17-year-old Instagram sensation James Charles who became the first ever male COVERGIRL – or CoverBoy – for CoverGirl’s newest mascara, “So Lashy.”

Hero Scotland, for passing its “Turing Law” pardoning gay and bisexual men convicted of consensual gay sex when it was illegal, as opposed to England, whose own “Turing Law” bill shamefully fell after a Tory filibuster in the House of Commons.

Hero Norway, which became the first country in the world to offer HIV prevention drug PrEP for free. Meanwhile, PrEP was approved for sale in Canada as of Feb. 28.

Hero Marc Hall, who spoke at Montreal schools about the critically-hailed 2016 play Prom Queen: The Musical which chronicles his battle to bring his boyfriend to his high school prom back in 2002. “I was just 17, trying to figure out who I was and there was so much pressure on me,” Marc told me. “I wondered could I even do this? Am I strong enough? At the same time I was cast as this poster child for LGBTQ rights, which was quite intense for a 17-year-old. It was quite overwhelming.” In Montreal, as Prom Queen played to sold out houses at the Segal Centre, Marc Hall inspired a new generation to fight for change.

Heroes Lesbian Judge Maite Oronoz Rodriguez who was appointed Chief Justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court on Feb. 12, the same day Kael McKenzie was sworn in as Canada’s first transgender judge, on the Provincial Court of Manitoba.

Heroes LGBTQ  journalist Andrea Houston who teaches Ryerson University’s new Queer Studies course; and Line Chamberland,  research chair in the study of homophobia at the Université du Québec à Montréal, which in September received a $2.5 million grant from the Conseil de recherches en sciences humaines du Canada (CRSH) to conduct a seven-year study on LGBTQ issues.

Hero Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel, who on May 15 became the first EU leader to marry his same-sex partner, Gauthier Destenay.

Hero Calgary drag queen Mz. Rhonda – a.k.a. LGBTQ activist and ordained pastor Ron Eberly – laid a wreath beneath the cenotaph at Central Memorial Park on Remembrance Day, to honour fallen LGBTQ soldiers. Let us hope this tribute will be expanded to Remembrance Day ceremonies across Canada, including Ottawa.

Hero Washington, DC, drag queen Shi-Queeta-Lee who on Nov. 17 became the first-ever drag queen to perform at The White House when she appeared (as Tina Turner) at the Transgender Community Briefing, an event sponsored by The White House Office of Public Engagement to celebrate the accomplishments made by the trans community. Shi-Queeta-Lee performed a fabulous version of Proud Mary.

Heroes Master Seaman Francis Legare made Canadian navy history on Feb. 23 in Victoria when he embraced his same-sex partner, Corey Vautour, after more than eight months at sea aboard the HMCS Winnipeg, which has a crew of 250. Being the first sailor off a ship is considered a Canadian navy honour decided by random raffle. “I am speechless,” Legare said after the kiss.

Heroes For coming out in 2016: NCAA player Derrick Gordon, Christian rock band Everyday Sunday frontman Trey Pearson, Spanish Olympic figure skater Javier Raya, Montreal pop singer Coeur de Pirate (a.k.a. Béatrice Martin), pro skateboarder Brian Anderson, Matrix filmmaker Lilly Wachowski (as trans), Lord Ivar Mountbatten, Haitian-Canadian DJ and record producer Kaytranada (a.k.a. Louis Kevin Celestin), and actors Colton Haynes, Nico Tortorella and Sara Ramirez.

Heroes Pulitzer-winning playwright Edward Albee, Coronation Street creator Tony Warren, Montreal Gay Village pioneer and mythic K.O.X nightclub founder Bruce Horlin, trans icon Lady Chablis, New York Times street-fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, Quebecois actor André Montmorency, Canadian folk legend Penny Lang, Mexican pop icon Juan Gabriel, beloved Toronto drag queen Chris Edwards, actor and trans activist Alexis Arquette, 1980s British pop icon Pete Burns, and Montreal drag legend Sheena Hershey all passed away in 2016. RIP. 

Read Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill online at