People of the year: they range in age from 24 to 70. Some were arrested while fighting for equality. Others broke the rules by speaking out when no one else would. And a few brought change through simple acts of kindness. They all deserve to be honored.
Lane Hudson only wanted to protect young people when he decided to post a series of suggestive online exchanges between Florida congressman Mark Foley and a male former congressional page in the fall of 2006. He wasn't trying to create a huge scandal.
But a scandal ensued. Foley resigned. The Democrats took back Congress. And now Hudson, 29, is holding his head up high. "I hope gay rights advocates will stand up and say they're proud that it was a gay man who finally took action to stop Mark Foley," Hudson told The Advocate in a story published in the December 19 issue.
A former Democratic congressional aide from South Carolina, Hudson posted the e-mails anonymously on a blog, Stop Sex Predators, in September. He denies allegations that he was part of a preelection plot against Republicans, arguing that he merely wanted to expose the corrupt environment that protects the powerful on Capitol Hill. The fact that the Democrats may have benefited only made it better, he says. "Mark Foley is a pervert who abused his office," Hudson told The Advocate. "I am happy that my efforts brought justice and helped to elect a more fair-minded majority to the United States Congress."
We are too.
Center of attention
Billie Jean King
She may have charmed the crowd with her "Aw, shucks--me?" attitude at the August ceremony naming the USTA National Tennis Center after her, but Billie Jean King, flanked on court that evening by Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, and Venus Williams, can boast of a lifetime of calculated--and dedicated--effort befitting that unprecedented recognition. Naming the Queens, N.Y., facility, which is the site of the U.S. Open, after King is an especially remarkable gesture in light of the untold millions the USTA gave up in potential corporate-sponsor naming rights.
We all know her amazing record: pushing for equal prize money for female tennis players and the first women's professional tour; beating self-proclaimed male chauvinist Bobby Riggs in the 1973 Battle of the Sexes; and becoming one of the first openly gay athletes in the early 1980s when her longtime lesbian relationship came to light.
But 2006 was definitely her year, marked by an HBO documentary about her life and by the renaming of the tennis center. "I think it's great that a woman's name is on something this special, and I think it will send out a great message," she said at the time of the dedication ceremony--adding, in her self-effacing way, "It's going to take me years to even realize my name's on this."
It didn't take a village to bring down one of the nation's most powerful antigay religious leaders--only one little-known gay escort with courage.
Mike Jones, a 49-year-old former prostitute from Denver, decided in early November to disclose his sexual relationship with evangelical leader Ted Haggard because Haggard had been campaigning for a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. "I really agonized over it for quite a while and finally decided I needed to say something," Jones told The Advocate in a Web site exclusive November 3, adding that he exposed Haggard "on principle, for the gay community."
The revelation rocked the evangelical world. Haggard resigned from his post as president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals on November 2. He was fired two days later from his job as pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., which he founded. And evangelical Christians nationwide were forced to confront the issue of homosexuality in the church.
Jones has said he had sex with the antigay religious crusader every month over a three-year period but that it was only this past spring chat he discovered who Haggard really was.
He doesn't treat what he did lightly, but he stands by it. And so do we. "I wish Haggard peace." Jones told Advocate.com. "I do not wish him ill."
Jake Reitan and Haven Herrin
Jake Reitan comes from a devout Lutheran family, but it wasn't faith that led him to get involved with Soulforce, one of the country's most outspoken religious LGBT organizations. "My mother called and said she wanted me to go to a Soulforce protest with her," he says. "I said I would go if she would get arrested with me. We ended up getting arrested together, and it was an incredibly moving experience."
Reitan, 24, and his Soulforce colleague Haven Herrin, also 24, are leading a crusade to energize other queer youths to stand up and be heard. In March they led a group that embarked on the first Equality Ride, a two-month bus tour of colleges, universities, and military academies--including West Point and Jerry Falwell's Liberty University--that are hostile to LGBT students. The riders' uninvited stops at conservative campuses triggered mixed reactions; they had respectful meetings at some schools but were immediately arrested at others.
"The Equality Ride taught me that real courage is the willingness to have conversations that you may not always win," Herrin says. "It's not about how well we argue; it's about love and kindness. In the end that's what's going to change people."
As remarkable as the Equality Ride was, Reitan and Herrin didn't stop at that in an amazing year of activities. In August they launched the Right to Serve campaign against the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Since then 44 young activists have tried unsuccessfully to enlist at recruitment centers across the nation. Some have been barred from speaking with recruiters or even been arrested. Either way, Reitan believes they're making an important point. "'Don't ask, don't tell' is the most oppressive law facing LGBT people," he says. The duo's confrontational tactics--they've been arrested 14 times between them--are a throwback to the sit-ins and public protests of the '60s. They say it's a brand of activism uniquely suited to queer youths. "Young adults are really good at saying here's what reality is, here's what it should be, and my, isn't there an uncomfortable difference between them," Herrin says. "You don't bring this conversation into people's communities by working behind the scenes. We have to get out into the streets."
For 2007, Reitan and Herrin are organizing a follow-up to Right to Serve and a second Equality Ride, this time with two buses. They are also planning a marriage equality action, Right to Marry, in which they will drop by the homes of state and U.S. senators in New York, California, and New Jersey. "You've got to believe in your own potential to make things happen," Reitan says. "If you've got a vision for an America that you want to create, then get out there and create it."
Mitchell Gold says he's "just a country boy trying to make good" with the Faith in America ad campaign he launched in January 2006. Through a series of newspaper ads and billboards in U.S. cities, the furniture magnate from North Carolina is reaching out to evangelical Christians in an effort to get gays and lesbians "off the sin list."
"People think that I'm doing this because I'm religious. I'm not at all religious," says Gold. "Because religion has been used to discriminate against LGBT rights, I have made it a point to learn how to communicate with religious people and to educate them."
In partnership with gay-focused organizations Metropolitan Community Churches and the National Black Justice Coalition, Gold decided to initiate funding for a media campaign designed to help fundamentalist Christians see gays and lesbians as real people. "It's really starting to have an impact," he says, noting a recent survey that shows increasing support for gay rights among conservative Christians. "What we found was that people are really curious about this subject. A lot of our advertising has changed to being open-letter ads. Now we are thinking about longer letters in direct mail."
Amen to that.
It's the rare national lawmaker who publicly supports full marriage equality, but Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold joined that select club in April when he announced not only his opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment but his belief that the government should grant gay couples the right to marry. His sensible proviso was that churches and other religious bodies shouldn't be required to do the same.
Although his bold stance i wasn't enough to beat back the same-sex marriage ban on the ballot in his home state in 2006, it was a web come lesson in political courage for his Capitol Hill colleagues. "It was really a matter of my own personal conscience that led me to do this," he told The Advocate, adding that his "many" gay and lesbian friends "now know that there's no doubt in my mind that they should be able to have the same privileges that I do."
Too bad he recently decided not to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. But such vocal support from a powerful leader gives us hope for a better America.
Like civil rights pioneers before her, Helena Stone simply wanted the freedom to use public accommodations just like anyone else. So after her third arrest for using a women's bathroom at New York City's Grand Central Terminal, where she worked as a telephone technician, the 70-year-old trans woman (nee Henry McGuinness) filed a complaint with the city's Human Rights Commission.
Stone's case was settled in October when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed to let transgender people use the restrooms of their choosing throughout the sizable railroad and subway system it operates. Stone, who has been transitioning for 10 years, was thrilled with the landmark outcome, which will help pave the way for similar decisions in jurisdictions around the country. Because of her, trans people in New York City are less likely to suffer the indignity Stone faced when she was denied the use of a basic public facility.
Friends in need
Cholene Espinoza and Ellen Ratner
As the desperation of Hurricane Katrina's victims played out on her television in New York City, Cholene Espinoza thought, I can not go on until I at least try to help them. Then, unlike most of us, she took action. Never mind that Espinoza, a United Airlines pilot, and partner Ellen Rather, a White House correspondent, are among the most high-powered of lesbian power couples. Throughout 2006 the two made room in their lives for trips to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, where they used their energy and ingenuity to help residents repair their lives.
Ratner and Espinoza first delivered a U-Haul truckload of supplies but ended up buying land to help community members build an education center and public swimming pool in DeLisle, Miss. To raise money, Espinoza wrote a memoir, Through the Eye of the Storm, outlining her adventures as an Air Force pilot in the first Gulf War and an embedded reporter in the current one. Rather, a Fox News commentator who's also syndicated on radio stations across the country, donated the proceeds of her book Ready, Set, Talk! At this point the couple have raised almost $1 million toward their goal of $1.3 million; the facility is set to open in 2007. Hundreds of volunteers and donors have poured money and time into this rural community based on their connection to Espinoza and Ratner's work.
"If someone told us 18 months ago that two lesbians, a couple, would partner with two United Methodist [Church] ministers of mostly African-American congregations, white and African-American members of a rural Mississippi community, the YMCA, and [Republican] Gov. Haley Barbour to build an education center and a public swimming pool--when, four decades ago, many in this same region chose to fill in public pools rather than integrate them--we would have referred them to a local psychiatrist," Espinoza writes to The Advocate. "We learned that our differences don't have to create divisions."
Conservatives "take the world as it is, and they try to make the best of it. They don't come to the world with a fixed ideology and try and rig the facts and reality to fit that ideology. And that--to my mind--that latter philosophy is what typifies George W. Bush," gay media icon Andrew Sullivan told National Public Radio in October.
A onetime Dubya champion who saw Bush as a moderate who would shrink government and reach out to gays, Sullivan wasted no time in condemning the president once he began using a ban on same-sex marriage as a political wedge. With his 2006 book, The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back (HarperCollins); his incisive blog on Time.com; and numerous appearances in the national media, Sullivan is one of the best-known gay political voices in America. From this platform, he advances well-articulated arguments that seek to guide Republicans back to a more centrist position--one that includes gays and lesbians.
He's a conservative Christian who knows how to reach into people's hearts and minds. He has an uncanny knack for hitting a nerve and sparking a debate, something the national conversation around gay rights sorely needs. Agree, disagree, or agree to disagree, you can't deny the power of a strong communicator. Sullivan personifies what author Richard Florida described in his book The Rise of the Creative Class as a "thought leader."
When Wayne Besen heard that President Bush had invited Alan Chambers, head of the "ex-gay" group Exodus International, to a June 2006 White House press conference in support of amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, he reached into his pocket and bought a plane ticket to Washington, D.C. "That was one straw too many," Besen says. "I rented a room at the National Press Club and flew in a kid who had been hurt by an 'ex-gay' camp." Besen, 36, held his own press conference to educate people on the harmful nature of the "ex-gay" movement.
Author of the 2003 book Anything but Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, Besen has in recent years become a powerful force against those who argue that gays are called by God to "change" their sexual orientation.
After Bush's press event Besen launched Truth Wins Out, a nonprofit group dedicated to educating the public about LGBT lives while debunking the "ex-gay" myth and "religious-right disinformation campaigns." He has organized protests, won support from mainstream health groups, and pressed the media to provide balanced reporting on the issue. "You can argue about Scripture until you're blue in the face," Besen says. "Nobody's ever going to win that argument. But you can make a persuasive case that these 'ex-gay' ministries are harmful."