Year in review

Heroes and Zeros of 2019 (part 1)

Richard Burnett

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.