Caitlyn, Carol and Kim: 2015 in LGBT rights

In between pouring Bucks Fizz and marvelling at how quickly another New Year has come around, it’s nice to reflect on what the past twelve months have brought us. There’s been some surprises; back in January 2015, how many of us could have envisaged a future where the Tories would boast a majority government, Donald Trump would be a favoured Presidential candidate and Justin Bieber would be releasing half-decent music? When it comes to LGBT rights, though, 2015 could easily be taken as a straightforward progression of the overall acceleration of equality and acceptance that’s occurred throughout the 21st century. To do that, however, would be to overlook a considerable number of watershed moments, as well as the distance the gay rights movement still has to travel.

The big headline moment came when the US legalised same-sex marriage. It was a sudden, ground-breaking decision which, all told, panned out remarkably smoothly (even Kim Davis, the clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licences on fairly hypocritical religious grounds, seems to have begrudgingly accepted it). Another equally momentous event was Ireland’s ‘Yes’ vote for equal marriage – arguably even more momentous, since it was decided via referendum and so had the official backing of a majority of citizens. It was one of those special, rare moments where the law and public opinion marched to the same beat, and it’s hard to see either doubling back now.


Away from the statute books, one of 2015’s most sensational events was the unveiling of Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair. The high media exposure of Caitlyn (formerly Olympic athlete Bruce) has, predictably, led to some backlash, and she was described this week as ‘the Grinch who stole the trans movement’. However, much as I hope that the world looks beyond the cult of Kardashian and supports trans people in all walks of life, Jenner is still notable as one of the first people to publicly transition and be accepted for it. For too long the ‘T’ in LGBT was left in the shadows, and even five years ago it would have been hard to picture a trans woman being named Glamour’s Woman of the Year. That’s exactly what happened this year, however, and it was accompanied by a much wider acknowledgement of the gender spectrum. Transgender, gender-fluid and non-binary identities are gradually moving into the light, while the views of the once radical Germaine Greer – who claimed that transgender women were ‘not women’ – suddenly seem prehistoric. If 2015 is to be remembered as anything, it should be as a year of trans visibility.

2015 was also a notable year for positive, widespread integration of LGBT people and issues in culture. For a case-in-point, look no further than Todd Haynes’ dazzling Carol. Hands-down one of the year’s best films, the buzz around it centred on its artistic merits rather than the fact that its star-crossed lovers were female. Adverts and reviews described it as a love story, rather than specifically a lesbian love story, and there wasn’t a single cinema ban on the grounds of ‘indecency’; contrast that to the furore sparked ten years ago by ‘gay cowboy film’ Brokeback Mountain. Contrast it, too, to Stonewall, which tanked after its focus on a ‘straight-acting’ lead and its overlooking of black trans characters led to accusations of dumbing down and white washing. Audiences in 2015 weren’t just open to diversity – they were actively hostile to films that weren’t diverse enough.

LGBT identities in 2015 weren’t just unremarkable, they were increasingly common

As a white, cisgendered man, I’m aware that I get an easier ride than many, so my perception of overall attitudes towards sexuality and gender is probably quite rosy. However, even taking my subjectivity into account, I’d still say there’s reason for us all to feel optimistic. With arguments about whether homosexuality is natural or acceptable fading fast, there’s a greater sense that sexuality is now ‘just one of those things’ – a sense that how you define yourself doesn’t define you. Acceptance is priceless, but there’s something to be said for having your sexuality or gender identity be completely unremarkable. What’s more, LGBT identities in 2015 weren’t just unremarkable, they were increasingly common. A Yougov poll found that 28% of British adults considered themselves something other than exclusively heterosexual, which rose to a staggering 49% in 18-24 year olds. As with gender, there’s been a remarkable embrace of the spectrum of sexuality, a continuation of which can only benefit societies and the multitude of identities that exist within them.

It’s also important to remember, though, that countries like Britain are still a relative minority. As we head into 2016, homosexuality carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia and Iran and is illegal in a further 70 countries (not forgetting Russia with its shady ‘homosexual propaganda’ laws). Tempting as it is to rest on our laurels and assume equality is a won battle, when we broaden our outlook it’s clear that there’s still much more to be achieved.

In twelve months’ time, as we switch over to Hootenanny and clear our throats for another New Year’s countdown, who knows what landmark 2016 moments we might have to look back on. Maybe, for the first time, the number of countries where same-sex marriage is legal will outweigh those where it’s illegal. Maybe those rumours of Premiership footballers preparing to come out will turn out to be more than mere rumours. Maybe it’ll be something as simple as that grumpy old lady next door watching Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and deciding she doesn’t mind the gays after all. Big or small, these are all vital steps on a collective journey towards that simple but most precious of commodities – equality.

More about the author

About the author

Harry Mason likes to call himself a freelance writer, even if his tax forms say he's technically a waiter. He graduated last year from the University of East Anglia, and writes predominantly about social politics and film. He looks forward to the day when he's able to grow a beard; until then, you'll just have to blame his so-called 'bleeding heart lefty views' on youthful naivety.

Follow Harry on Twitter.

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