2014, the year of... gay rights

As we move toward 2015, i-D looks back at the year past and dissect the things that defined it. Greg French examines a year that the topic of gay rights was put centre stage.

by Greg French
21 December 2014, 3:35pm

"I can't change. Even if I try. Even if I wanted to." Those were the lyrics that resonated from The Staples Centre at the beginning of the year, as Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, Mary Lambert and Madonna were streamed globally from the 56th Annual Grammy's ceremony, singing Same Love. The awards gripped headlines for days to come, following the marriage of 33 straight and same-sex couples during the performance, officiated by actress and singer Queen Latifah. The event was a significant cultural moment that opened the dialogue of gay-rights for 2014, a year that continued to put the topic at centre stage.

Of course, a performance doesn't possess the power to change viewpoints overnight and it didn't come without criticism. Rapper Le1f took to Twitter to express his own views on The performance. "That time that straight white dude ripped off my song then made a video about gay interracial love and made a million dollars". Whilst clearly not pleasing all, it did however mark a clear stance acting in complete juxtaposition to events further afield in Northern Eurasia. At the close of 2013, events had taken a sinister turn, following President Putin's anti-gay laws, in the run up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The laws themselves banned the promotion of homosexuality to minors, followed closely in the media by a series of enforcements of them, including pepper spraying and beatings. High profile figures immediately jumped to support, calling for a boycott of the 2014 games, and in some cases, aligning the viewpoints to infamous historic dictators. Tom Daley, who came out as gay this year, along with the likes of Ian Thorpe and Ellen Page, was asked by hundreds to not attend the sporting event.

The media however, was at points, so drastically influenced by hyperbole in communicating events in Russia that it failed to recognise some of the more defining cultural moments happening back in our own territory; a stance that perhaps did more harm than good.

Cue March then, when for the first time same-sex marriage legislation came into play in England and Wales, which allowed same-sex couples to legally wed. Gay-rights group Stonewall, who had been ardently campaigning for the passing of legislation commented,"This historic step will mean that, for the first time, every gay person in England and Wales will finally enjoy exactly the same rights as their heterosexual friends and family". The company had come under fire last year, following a series of advertising campaigns released on a fleet of London buses emblazoned with the slogan 'Some people are gay. Get over it'. With same-sex legislation still not in place in Northern Ireland, there's certainly still some getting over it to be done.

May saw the release of Pride at the Director's Fortnight section of The Cannes Film Festival, a film that depicted the true story of the support of miners in 1984 by gay activists. At the time, the National Union of Mineworkers was reluctant to accept support, due to the union's concern of association with an openly gay group. What blossomed was a heart-warming relationship, which is beautifully communicated in the film, winning it the Queer Palm award at the festival. It was a cultural message that, like Macklemore's earlier performance, demonstrated that communicating love, and not hate, wasthe way to move things forward.

HBO's Looking series was also a great success - heralded by some as the break out show of 2014. Profiling a group of young gay men and the intricacies of their love lives, it suggested a point where being gay is just as acceptable a form of entertainment now as the girls of Sex and the City. There were however alternate events which suggested otherwise. Following the coming out of Apple CEO Tim Cook, Russia wasted no time in removing a giant iPhone statue outside a university campus, under claims it was "homosexual propaganda".

Another significant name that caused ripples in 2014 was Conchita Wurst. Described as "the most gender-queer performer yet" to grace the Eurovision stage, the singer who represented Austria was crowned the winner of the contest with a staggering 52 point lead with her song Rise Like A Phoneix. Whilst the contest is synonymous with camp extravagance, the crowning of Wurst was yet another performative example of a changing shift in cultural viewpoints, after stepping out on stage to perform in heels, a dress and a beard. The song itself was used to highlight tolerance levels towards gay rights and to give confidence to those around the world who feltoppressed. Putin came under fire once more, after criticizing the singer, with the Russian Orthodox Church stating that Conchita was an "abomination." The use of such terminology is testament to the continued prejudice that gay people are facing around the world on a daily basis. How brave therefore, that people like her are prepared to stand up on a global stage and highlight in-equality, which we all need to continue to open our eyes to.

Interesting then, that so closely after Wurst's "gender-queer" performance, that social media giant Facebook announced the introduction of 71 gender options in the United Kingdom, following successful integration into the U.S version. 2014 marked the point where users can now identify as asexual, polygender or suggest their ownalternative, alongside the ability to choose an appropriate pronoun with which to publicly be referred to. Other establishments such as Google+ have followed suit, allowing the digital generation to openly express the sexuality in which they associate most with.

Of course, there is still a staggering amount of work to be done on a global scale to eradicate LGBT inequality for good. But for the U.K. in 2014, there were some monumental leaps forward, and for that, we should be proud. Look no further than the record-breaking turn out at London Pride 2014, with an estimated 750,000 people participating in the annual event. It's important therefore, that we all continue to stand up and be proud, so that one day it's not just our year of gay rights, but everyone's around the world.


Text Greg French

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