Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The 90s: Visibility

In 1995 a group of twenty students wanted to create a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at East High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. The groups intentions was to be a safe space for LGBTQ students. The school board fought against the GSA's creation insisting it would constitute endorsement of homosexuality, and they asked the state attorney general whether they could ban the club. Luckily they did not have the right to band the club. The Federal Equal Access Act from 1984 ensured that if one noncurricular can meet, any noncurricular club can meet. Unfortunately this did not end the battle. The media jumped on the school and the oldest of the students, Kelli Peterson (pictured below) became the spokesperson of the group. Some students started talks of starting an antigay club, then the school board decided to band all extracurricular clubs. 

In 1998 a lawsuit was filed by the East High Gay/Straight Alliance (with help from Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the ACLU, among other groups) in an attempt to fight back against the school board's prejudice decision. The Alliance won the case in 2001, however the school had already backed down on its ban on extracurricular clubs and had accepted the school's GSA in 2000.

During the 90s LGBTQ visibility increased dramatically. Several celebrities and athletes decided to announce their homosexuality including Steve Kmetko, Clive Barker, Yves Saint Laurent, k. d. lang, Melissa Etheridge, George Michael, Rudy Galindo, Martina Navratilova, Billy Bean, and Greg Louganis (among others). In entertainment depictions of AIDS became sympathetic towards both the victims of the disease and gay men in general. On Broadway both Angels in America and Rent became huge hits which tackled the reality of AIDS. In 1994 Tom Hanks won an Oscar for his portrayal of a gay man dying of AIDS in Philadelphia. Movies such as The Birdcage (1996), In and Out (1997), and My Best Friend's Wedding (1997) all depicted comical depictions of gay men that while admittedly stereotypical did increase visibility. 

Television became much more receptive to homosexuality as well. In 1997 Ellen DeGeneres came out on her sitcom Ellen. The media had a frenzy over Ellen coming out of the closet and her high-profile relationship with actress Anne Heche. Another popular sitcom dealing with homosexuality, Will & Grace, premiered in 1998 and quickly became one of the most popular shows on television. The queer visibility was frightening to some. In 1999 Rev. Jerry Falwell warned that the purple Teletubby Tinky Winky was gay and therefore "damaging to the moral lives of children." Fortunately, no one cared. 

Additional/Relevant Reading:
Kelli Peterson --
Gay America: Struggle for Equality -- Linas Alsenas, pg. 136-140

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