It’s hard to believe that a year marked by the heartbreaking suicides of a number of gay U.S. teens, including 13-year-old Asher Brown and Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, could also be a banner year for gay rights. But their tragic deaths spurred an outpouring of public sympathy, hope and help for gay youth, including It Gets Better—a popular project featuring gay adults talking about overcoming bullies and hurt.
In other ways, too, it was a landmark year. Several U.S. court rulings took aim at discriminatory policies like the American Defence of Marriage Act, the military’s so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy (DADT), and California’s Proposition 8, banning gay marriage. In August, Prop 8 was declared unconstitutional by a federal court, and celebrities of all stripes, from Lady Gaga to Cindy McCain, urged the repeal of DADT. Even military brass now oppose the policy. Also on the political stage, Iceland’s prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir, married her same-sex partner, Jónina Leósdóttir, after the country’s parliament voted unanimously to legalize gay marriage, 49-0. Toronto similarly treated the sexuality of gay mayoral candidate George Smitherman with a giant yawn. And a groundbreaking study, published in Pediatrics journal, showed kids of lesbian parents may be better off than those raised by straight couples.
Pop culture did its part. There was The Kids Are All Right, starring Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as lesbian parents. Bollywood saw its first gay kiss in Dunno Y . . . Na Jaane Kyun, which explores the relationship between two gay Indian men, while Dancing with the Stars, the Israeli edition, got its first same-sex dancing duo. Wildly popular shows Grey’s Anatomy and Glee (starring Jane Lynch, who married her real-life same-sex partner this year) featured not only gay characters, like Glee’s Kurt Hummel, but female characters like the cheerleading duo on Glee whose sexualities are unclear: not gay, not straight, not a big deal, normalizing the continuum that’s redefining human sexuality.
Pop culture maintains a powerful hold on what’s acceptable, especially among youth. The more gay teens see themselves as cool and typical on the small screen, the fewer reasons they have to consider themselves anything but.