Year in review

Heroes and Zeros of 2019 (part 2)

Richard Burnett

Here is Richard Burnett’s 24th annual column of the past year’s heroes and zeros.


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.