The gay highs and lows of 2009

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The arenas of sport and politics undoubtedly held some of the best moments for LGBT causes this year.

Both were areas in which high-profile figures stood up for gay equality where the issue had previously been contentious.

In sport, Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas and Irish hurling hero Donal Og Cusack revealed they were gay. Both sports are seen as extremely macho, yet these stars have received unprecedented support from their families, teammates and fans.

Although no major politicians came out of the closet this year, plenty sought the pink vote by showing support for LGBT issues.

Tory leader David Cameron apologised for Section 28 and has taken care to include gay people in his messages on family. He praised civil partnerships in his Conference speech and it was claimed that reaching out to gay groups was one of his top five priorities.

The year also saw the first Downing Street reception for LGBT History Month, where Gordon Brown openly criticised laws banning gay marriage in California. His wife Sarah was photographed waving a pink Union Jack flag as she joined the London Pride parade in the summer. Both Cabinets had a record number of out gay ministers, although Angela Eagle remains the only out lesbian in parliament.

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Gay business secretary Peter Mandelson also enjoyed a prosperous year. Effectively deputy prime minister, he now has the longest job title in parliament: Baron Mandelson of Foy in the county of Herefordshire and Hartlepool in the county of Durham, Lord President of the Council, first secretary of state, and secretary of state for business, innovation and skills. His return to politics was predicted by no one and equally surprising was his almost comic speech at the Labour Conference.

Worldwide, campaigns for gay equality held their momentum. The US states of Vermont and Iowa legalised marriage for gays and lesbians, while Washington DC is expected to gain marriage equality in March.

and Mexico City also legalised same-sex marriage this year, while progress in civil unions was made in Australia, Austria and Latin America.

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In the UK, a straight couple began an unusual quest for marriage equality. Katherine Doyle and Tom Freeman, both 25, are fighting for the right for a civil partnership and, by default, the right of gay couples to have a marriage. They hope to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Gay campaign group Stonewall made homophobic bullying in schools its priority. The charity released disappointing figures about the extent of anti-gay bullying among children and teachers this year, and its campaign for anti-bullying week last month was supported by Cameron, Brown and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. Stonewall also said it would seek to change to law to allow religions to hold civil partnerships, if they wish.

The saddest news this year undoubtedly came in the news of Stephen Gately’s death. The Boyzone singer and his civil partner were on holiday in Majorca when he died of undiagnosed heart problems. When Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir wrote his death was “sleazy”, gay and straight fans alike were disgusted, leading to a massive number of complaints to the Press Complaints Commission. The surge of anger demonstrated the public’s affection for him.

The BBC had one of its most dismal years for offending gay people. Although quick to fire Carole Thatcher for a slightly tasteless, private joke about a black tennis player’s hair, the corporation was seemingly unaware that the behaviour of some of its best-paid stars, such as Chris Moyles and Jonathan Ross, was offensive to many gay people. Moyles was found in breach of the Broadcasting Code by regulator Ofcom for imitating the gay singer Will Young where he”adopted an effeminate and high pitched voice.”

But the worst moment for the corporation came this month. At very best, asking websites readers to discuss whether gays should be executed was stupid. The ‘Have Your Say’ debate on Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law, and the following responses to criticism, showed the BBC as confused, naive and unable to comprehend why gay and lesbian licence fee-payers demand better of it.

Violent hate crime was a particular worry for LGBT people this year. The shocking death of Ian Baynham in Trafalgar Square, followed by the attack on gay Liverpool policeman James Parkes, showed that vicious and violent homophobia was still present. This month, David Kilcullen was found guilty of the homophobic murder and attempted murder of a gay couple who lived in south-east London.

Two trans women, both of whom worked as prostitutes, were also murdered. Destiny Lauren, 29, was killed in Kentish Town, while graduate Andrea Waddell died in Brighton. Although transphobia was not cited as a motive by police, their deaths served as reminders that trans people often struggle to gain employment.

Figures for the last year in London showed an 18 per cent rise in reported homophobic crimes, but further north, in Manchester, police recorded a 63 per cent jump. Police said this rise could reflect increased confidence in reporting.

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Veteran gay rights activist Peter Tatchell was forced to abandon his campaign to become a Green MP after numerous head injuries sustained while fighting for human rights. He subsquently gave interviews to the Daily Mail and the Guardian in which he detailed the toll a lifetime of campaigning had taken on his body.

Although the Conservative Party made efforts to reach out to gays and lesbians, these were overshadowed by its European alliance with the Polish Law and Justice Party. David Cameron broke away from an alliance with the EPP in Europe to honour an election promise he made but his new allies have been accused of homophobia, racism and anti-semitism.

Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill pulled out of attending a special gay Conference event citing the party’s alliance with Polish politicians as the reason.

The most damning legislation worldwide for gays and lesbians was Uganda’s private member’s bill to punish “aggravated” homosexuality with the death penalty. Although Ugandan politicians have said in recent weeks that the harshest aspects of the bill will be toned down, gays and lesbians in the country can still expect severe punishment if parliament passes the bill. While Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was quick to criticise the election of a US lesbian bishop, it took him weeks to make a public statement on the situation for gays in Uganda.

In the US, gay marriage saw some setbacks. Voters in Maine stopped gay marriage becoming law, while gay rights campaigners in California failed to get Proposition 8, which restricted marriage to heterosexual couples, overturned. The disappointments reiterated the fact that such rights have only ever been passed by courts or legislature, instead of voters.

Next year will see a general election for the UK. While the vast majority of rights for gays and lesbians are already enshrined in law, issues such as gay marriage and religious civil partnerships may come to the fore.

There is also the Equality Bill, which has been controversial among many groups, especially gay and faith-based ones. It is currently passing though the House of Lords, which some describe as a graveyard for equality legislation.

So, what will 2010 bring? Progress towards gay marriage in the UK, an openly gay premiership footballer, a Tory prime minister joining London Pride? Keeping reading to find out. Happy New Year to all our readers!

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