50 Years of Gays in the Media & in the Streets: The 2000’s

July 16, 2014 in inQueery

hoursheader2000sThe 2000’s were full of gay-rights victories and setbacks. While social acceptance of LBGT people grew in cinematic endeavors, reforms were much needed in order to repeal anti-LBGT laws and help bolster the case for equal treatment. ­­­While some progress was made in the way of reforms, other propositions spelled trouble for the LBGT community which found itself gaining more legal standing in the U.S. Below are some of the films and history-making headlines that the LBGT community experienced in the 2000’s.

The movie “The Hours” was released in 2002 and detailed the lives of three women (one of them being Virginia Woolf) who were all interconnected by the novel Woolf authored Mrs. Dalloway. The LBG themes in the movie included a same-sex kiss with one character, and a bisexual interplay in the relationships of another. While gay themes in any movie are typically rare, bisexual themes are even more so, and the narrative of “The Hours” took a small step in showcasing bisexuality in a more natural setting. While the film tried to break new ground, one small state in the U.S. tried to do the same in their legislation. That state was none other than Massachusetts.

What started as a battle in 2003 became a landmark victory for gay rights supporters in 2004 when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that not allowing same-sex couples to wed was unconstitutional in the case of Goodridge v. The Department of Public Health. Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage, and with the ruling, set the stage for legal challenges to state constitutions across the nation. While Massachusetts set the bar for equal rights and protections for lesbian and gay citizens, it was not without its detractors. One of the detractors was none other than Governor Mitt Romney who, at the time of the ruling, barred out-of-state same-sex couples from wedding. While Romney supported an amendment to Massachusetts’ Constitution, action was never pressed forward, and same-sex marriages still took place. Following the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts in 2004, another film would be released in 2005 that would tug at the heart of the LBGT community and allies alike.

In 2005, Brokeback Mountain was released with an operating budget of fourteen million starring the late Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. The film centered on the relationship of two sheep herders who share an physical and emotional affair that endures even after the two are married with children. The film went on to become a commercial success (a rarity with LBGT-themed cinema) and also took home a bevy of awards. While Brokeback Mountain was not the first film to depict the hardships of discrimination felt by the LBGT community, it did serve as a huge cultural milestone in American cinema that caught the attention of a substantially larger audience than most films at the time did. Even with the attention of a large audience, same-sex marriage detractors held a significant grip over legislative options for same-sex marriage. This power was displayed in full force when a ballot measure was introduced in California that would restrict marriage rights to only opposite-sex couples.

When Prop 8 was initially introduced in 2008, voters turned to their polling offices in droves to make their voices heard. Those voices voted marginally in favor of Prop 8 which effectively sealed the right of LBG men and women to marry the partners of their choosing. With the ballot initiative recording 52% of California residents in favor of Proposition 8, same-sex marriages were no longer free to occur as they once did in the state. While the ballot initiative was eventually overturned in 2013 due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s dismissal of the case, same-sex marriages were on hold for five years before they eventually resumed in the golden state. While Prop 8 passed in 2008, another film made its debut the same year that chronicled a life that we briefly touched on in earlier iterations of this series. That film was Milk.

In the same month that Prop 8 passed in California, Hollywood released the film ‘Milk’, a biopic film which followed the life and death of Harvey Milk. The film starred Sean Penn as Harvey Milk and displayed the legend’s effort to not only gain entry into public office, but to hold his seat throughout the duration of his term. While the commercial success of the film fell short of meeting the benchmark that was set by Brokeback Mountain, it nonetheless became an important piece of LBGT cinematic history that entered the psyche of American pop culture. Not too long after the film, an overdue piece of legislation was passed in 2009 that sought to deter violence against LBGT people and pursue justice against those who take part in it.

The Matthew Shepard Act was signed into law on October 28th, 2009 and expanded federal hate crime laws to include acts of violence against those believed to be LBGT. The bill was signed into law by the 49th incumbent President Barack Obama and was a delayed response to the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard. While no amount of bill-signing can undo the damage that has already been done to the community, the passage of it was a reminder to many that the issue of violence against the LBGT community is a pervasive issue that isn’t going away anytime soon.

While the 2000’s saw some difficult times for the LBGT community, it was also a decade of transformation and acceptance. Damaging propositions were passed, inspiring films were made and released, and marriage equality was becoming a reality for many. While there is still much work to be done both within and outside of LBGT circles, the battles waged and won have set the stage for the decade to come. Those same battles continue to inspire something far greater for all of us: a renewed sense of hope that true equality in the United States will no longer be a dream, but one simple aspect of the country we live in.

That’s all folks!
For the previous decades: 1960’s | 1970’s | 1980’s | 1990’s

J.J. Medina is a contributor at InQueery.
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