A recap of the top LGBT news stories from the past 12 months recalls the highs, lows the community faced
From the LGBT perspective, 2006 started off with a bang. A big bang. On a mountain. In a tent. With cowboys.
Director Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” the story of two star-crossed lovers who both happened to be cowboys made headlines from the time in was released in December 2005 all the way through to the Academy Awards in late winter.
The movie which won more than 70 awards and was nominated for more than twice that many filled movie theaters.
But not all theaters. In fact, some theaters banned the movie completely, including the one in Childress, Texas, a small North Texas town that was the setting for part of the movie.
But the really big story for LGBT people in North Texas and around the country was the elections, starting with the primaries and lasting all the way through the Democratic sweep in November’s general election.
Five openly gay candidates threw their hats into the ring in the primaries in Dallas County, including two Gary Fitzsimmons and Jim Foster who ran unopposed in the primaries for county-wide positions.
And when the general election rolled around, Fitzsimmons was the new district clerk and Foster was the new county judge, and Mike Dupree had been re-elected as the Precinct 5 constable.
The gay candidates rode a wave of voter discontent with the war in Iraq and scandals in the GOP that also swept Democrats into power in the House and gave them a tenuous hold on the Senate as well.
In Dallas County, Democrats won every county election in which they had a candidate, including every judicial seat.
Scandals knocked some GOP stalwarts out of office early, including U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas who resigned after being indicted following a campaign finance investigation, and U.S. Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, who resigned quickly after news of his sexual suggestive and sometimes sexually explicit e-mail exchanges with underage male congressional pages.
But scandal also touched the Dallas County Democrats when it was revealed that Tom Malin, an openly-gay candidate for the District 108 seat in the Texas House, had previously worked as prostitute.
Malin stayed in the race but lost to Jack Borden, another openly-gay candidate, who lost in the general election to Republican incumbent Dan Branch.
Politics at a different level also heated up in 2006, when Dallas Mayor Laura Miller announced mid-year that she would not be running for re-election. Roger Herrera, a gay lawyer, immediately announced his mayoral candidacy while three-term gay City Councilman Ed Oakley waited until early December to formally kick off his campaign for mayor.
Scandal reached beyond the political realm in 2006 and into the world of religion.
In November, massage therapist Mike Jones told the Denver Post and the world about his years-long sex-and-drugs affair with the Rev. Ted Haggard, lead pastor with the right-wing New Life Church in Colorado and head of the National Association of Evangelicals, was said to have the ear of President Bush and was an ardent campaigner against gay marriage. But he had to resign both positions in disgrace after admitting, finally, to “sexual immorality.”
Within weeks, the Rev. Paul Barnes, pastor of another Colorado conservative megachurch called Grace Chapel, had resigned after admitting that he had been “struggling” with homosexuality since childhood, Christopher Beard, who headed the “Twenty-FourSeven Ministry” youth program at New Life Church had admitted that he, too, had engaged in sexual immorality and he resigned as well.
The fight for same-sex marriage rode a roller coaster in 2006. With Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney already forcing clerks there to abide by a turn-of-the-20th-Century law prohibiting couples who could not legally marry in their home states from traveling to Massachusetts to wed, the outlook for expanding marriage rights took a nosedive in July when both the New York Superior Court and the Washington State Supreme Court ruled against same-sex marriage rights.
In that same month, an appeals court upheld the gay-marriage ban that had been approved by voters in Nebraska, and a superior court judge in Connecticut ruled against eight couples seeking the right to marry there.
But things took a swift upswing beginning in late October when the New Jersey Supreme Court handed down a ruling requiring lawmakers there to pass legislation giving same-sex couples access to all the same rights as married heterosexuals whether it be called marriage or something else and to do it within 180 days. Garden State legislators responded quickly, introducing legislation to establish civil unions and getting it approved by both the House and the Senate in 10 days. Gov. Jon Corzine signed the measure into law a week later.
And in other promising news, the California Supreme Court announced in December that it would hear an appeal of a lower court ruling against gay and lesbian couples seeking legal marriage in that state.
Marriage prospects looked even brighter for gays and lesbians abroad as the year drew to a close. Canadian lawmakers voted against a proposal to reconsider legislation that had granted marriage rights to same-sex couples there. Officials in Mexico City announced plans to recognize same-sex civil unions, and Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that gay marriages performed in other countries must be recognized in Israel.
And on Dec. 1, legislation went into effect in South Africa granting marriage rights to same-sex couples, a year after that country’s highest court had ordered lawmakers to implement such a law.
The past 12 months were also a time of transition for Dallas’ LGBT community some exciting, some bittersweet and some sad.
In June, Tim Seelig, artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale, announced he would be stepping down from that position at the end of the Chorale’s 2006-2007 season.
In September, Ann Richards, Texas’ beloved former governor and a longtime ally of the LGBT community, died of esophageal cancer. By the end of the month, Dennis Vercher, editor of Dallas Voice for 20 of the newspaper’s more than 23 years, had also died, finally losing his nearly 20-year battle with AIDS.
On a celebratory note, Cathedral of Hope ended its year-long drive to become affiliated with the United Church of Christ denomination in November, when the members of the denomination’s North Texas region voted overwhelmingly to welcome the world’s largest LGBT church into the UCC fold.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, December 29, 2006.