2010 In Review: The Year For LGBT Americans Several gay teens committed suicide, motivating the "It Gets Better Campaign." And "Don’t Ask, Don't Tell" was repealed. Eliza Byard, executive director for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, reflects on the year for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Americans.
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2010 In Review: The Year For LGBT Americans

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2010 In Review: The Year For LGBT Americans

2010 In Review: The Year For LGBT Americans

2010 In Review: The Year For LGBT Americans

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Several gay teens committed suicide, motivating the "It Gets Better Campaign." And "Don’t Ask, Don't Tell" was repealed. Eliza Byard, executive director for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, reflects on the year for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Americans.

NEAL CONAN, host:

Last week, President Obama signed the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the law that barred gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military. And that changed the way many in the gay community will remember 2010.

Yes, gay marriage continues as an issue in federal court. But a YouTube channel called, It's Gets Better debuted to help young men and women cope with taunts, isolation and suicidal thoughts. And Colorado appointed its first Latina and openly gay member to the state Supreme Court, Monica Marquez.

As we continue our conversations with people of diverse backgrounds on how things has changed in 2010, we want to hear from members of the LGBT community, what feels different and why? Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Eliza Byard is executive director for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and joins us from our bureau in New York City. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION. I hope you were able to get to the bureau fairly easily today, one of those post-blizzard conditions.

Ms. BYARD: Well, I left extra time. I got here a bit early, but it's a great pleasure to be with you.

CONAN: And I wonder, that one vote in Congress, the celebration that President Obama presided over at the - I guess, the Interior Department was too busy, too many people for the White House. How much did that change things?

Ms. BYARD: Well, it was a very welcome, grace note on a very difficult year, I would say. You know, really, since 2003, with Lawrence versus Texas, when the Supreme Court weighed in to say that you cannot outlaw being gay and lesbian in this country, we've been in a process of figuring out exactly how we're going to get to full and real equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans in this country. And this was watershed year. But it was a very difficult one with some real high points and some real low points.

CONAN: And as you look at these big issues, is it possible to separate your life from the way these things make you feel?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BYARD: Well, it's interesting. I think that any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person who follows politics dreads a national election year. I mean, you cannot have an election year these days without really feeling like you're going to be a punching bag. We are, I would say, the current Willie Hortons of the American political scene. And this year was no exception with Rand Paul and Jim DeMint and Michele Bachmann. I mean, DeMint and Bachmann weren't up for election but they had plenty to say. And when you want to scare the American electorate, you beat up on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. And that made it a really, really tough year.

CONAN: Just to avoid some of the emails and I'm sure you just misspoke Michele Bachmann, a member of the House of Representative. She was up for election this year.

Ms. BYARD: Oh, excuse me.

CONAN: That's okay.

Ms. BYARD: I meant Jim DeMint, Jim DeMint.

CONAN: Jim DeMint was not up for election, the senator from South Carolina. And I wonder, the continuing fight over Proposition 8, that's the California referendum that overturned the right to gay marriage in the state of California and that's now in federal court. And is it meaningful to you that this is a court issue and not a popular issue?

Ms. BYARD: Well, it is hugely meaningful. And I think that trial, in and of itself, really provided an illustration of what this year was like. There were some unbelievably thrilling highlights. I would point to the list of questions that Judge Walker issued to both sides, really just saying, all right, give me your best case. Give me all your best arguments on these questions before I rule.

You know, I had the opportunity to hear David Boies to speak about his approach to the trial. And he said, his purpose on taking on this case was to put his faith in the American system of adversarial justice to the test. Let's put opponents of the right to marry for same-sex couples on the stand and simply post the questions directly, give them every opportunity to put the evidence out there. And the fact is, right down to a rational basis test, they had nothing when it came right down to it. And that was quite amazing.

But then again, when Judge Walker went ahead and actually issued his ruling, we had a, sadly, rather predictable backlash against him. And I think that whole cycle, in it of itself, was remarkable. And then I think, to look ahead - then looking ahead to the elections, you had the recall of judges in Iowa.

So back to your - you know, what does it mean for judges to rule on the constitutionality of something if they then can face an electorate that will vote them out of office, just like a legislator, when they do the right thing.

CONAN: Judge Walker, a federal judge, not subject to a vote. The three judges in Iowa were among those who decided that the law in the Constitution of the state of Iowa did not permit the continuation of a ban on marriage for gays and straights - gays and lesbians.

Ms. BYARD: Thank you.

CONAN: So anyway...

Ms. BYARD: Thank you, Neal. I think when you live with these issues 24 hours a day, you - they all blend together in a picture (unintelligible) so I appreciate it.

CONAN: Here's an email from Kurt(ph) in Tucson. For me, the - as an active gay guy, the best change was DADT, "don't ask, don't tell," because it no longer gives people an excuse to discriminate or judge based upon traditional effeminate stereotypes. It means a giant step towards society viewing gay people as just people who are physically attracted to people of the same sex, equal. And that's an important part of this, I think.

Ms. BYARD: That is hugely important. I also point out what, often, people don't think about as much. But the way that "don't ask, don't tell" was used against women in the military was really, really horrendous. The threat of outing and what it meant to charge someone, quote, unquote, "with being a lesbian, in the military" was really a very powerful part of the effect of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

But I think it's true. The United States has now joined some of the other nations of the world that allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly, in saying that, really, there is no compelling national interest in denying these people the right to serve their country as they wish.

CONAN: Let's go next to Bob, and Bob's on the line from Reno.

BOB (Caller): Hi. Great show. I am calling from Nevada. In 2009, our state legislature courageously overrode our governor's veto of a civil union domestic partnership bill and - so 2010 was the first year that those of us could register for domestic partnerships and get almost everything close to marriage equality.

But the downside is that at same session, we tried to get protections in for gender identity, gender expression, into housing, employment and other protections. And there is a huge phobia, even among legislators and others who support lesbian and gay rights, to take it the next step further and extend those rights to transgender individuals. And I think that is one fight that we have to dig in our heels as - particularly as the lesbian and gay and bisexual community, and fight much, much harder than ever before.

CONAN: Diana Aviv, would you agree?

Ms. BYARD: I would. Bob, I thank you for raising that point, because I think it's very important for everyone to remember, not only that transgender people face even higher and more severe rates of violence - that's true both in schools and for older transgender people, but also, they have few - even fewer protections.

I'd point out that there are - in more than half of the states in the Union, I can be fired simply for being a lesbian. There are even fewer states that offer any protections for transgender people for losing their jobs. And I think it's absolutely true, the issue facing transgender people and lesbian and gay people are related through the question of gender expression and gender variance, not exactly the same and also not taken on often in the same way or with the same fervor. And we need to make sure that continues to happen.

CONAN: Bob, thanks very much for the call.

BOB: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Ronda(ph), Ronda with us from Germantown in Wisconsin.

RONDA (Caller): Hi. I'm the parent of a lesbian. And for me, 2010 is sort of the first year that I've been able to hope for a lot of options for my child that, you know, were just absolutely not there before, for her. And I just think - I'm looking towards to 2011 and beyond and really opening up a lot more opportunities for, you know, adults that, you know, have that are lesbian or gay or bisexual, so that, you know, they can fully embrace their own self-determination.

CONAN: Ronda, when you say better options, how does that manifest itself? What do you mean by that?

RONDA: Well, just for example, you know, the option to marry. You know, that's just simply not on the table for many people, and you know, many states throughout this country. And you know, that's such a huge quality of life issue. The fact that, you know, my child can't choose to, you know, to marry the person of her choice is the - a huge issue for us as a family. And, you know, it's just - when you have a child, you look forward to the day when, you know, they're going to, you know, celebrate some of these milestones in their life. And, you know, for my daughter, that's just simply not an option in our state. And so, you know, we continue to strive to, you know, open up more opportunities for our children and for, you know, people for themselves.

CONAN: Ronda, thanks very much for the call.

RONDA: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's see if we can go next to Rick(ph), and Rick's with us from Gays Mills in Wisconsin. Another call from Wisconsin.

RICK (Caller): Hi. Yes. It's good year at Harvard. There's still a major issue and that is, until we have no tolerance for intolerance, so that you don't make gay jokes or knock down gay people in public - as reference, they wouldn't do the same thing about women or blacks anymore. We're sort of the last area where you can just have intolerance and speak as loudly as you want about it. I think until that changes, a lot of other things won't fall in line.

CONAN: And - you don't hear many gay jokes on the media much anymore, though.

RICK: Well, you know, probably not from NPR, but there are a lot of other places you hear them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And I wonder, Eliza Byard, what do you think?

Ms. BYARD: Well, I think a couple things. I think that in the national discourse, we had an election year where you had female candidates telling male candidates to man up. I think it's true that we have different kinds of depictions of lesbian and gay people in popular culture. But we also have a world in which nine out of 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children face bullying and harassment and violence at school. One in five LGBT students reports having been assaulted at school. And about 30 percent of these students are skipping school out of fear for their personal safety.

So we still know that words like faggot and dyke are weapons of choice for young people who wanted to demean their peers, whether or not they're actually lesbian, gay - lesbian or gay. So the language of disrespect in this country remains deeply homophobic and sexist, and that leaves us a lot of work to do. Obviously, the "It Gets Better Project," I think, represented a tremendous outpouring from the LGBT community for young people who are suffering.

We heard a lot about suicides of LGBT young people this fall. It was a unbelievably sad time when the nation's attention finally turned fully to the question of bullying in our schools and the place of LGBT issues within that horrific crisis. And at a time when I think the community became overwhelmed and just deeply impatient with the failure to act to end this problem, we had this sort of end run around other forms of communication in this kind of direct address from the community to young people everywhere. And it was incredibly moving to see, but also frustrating in its origins because there's so much that schools could and must do to address the issues.

CONAN: Rick, thanks very much for the call.

RICK: Thank you. And well put about public discourse. Bye-bye.

CONAN: And Eliza Byard, we thank you for your time today.

Ms. BYARD: Well, thank you so very much. And again, here's hoping that Ronda is right, and 2011 and beyond will be a time of expanding opportunity and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in this country.

CONAN: Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, with us from our bureau in New York.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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