Who will take the title of Queer of the Year? Will celebrity triumph in the form of Rosie O’Donnell? Or will the ground breaking, but little known, transgender public official Kim Coco Iwamoto take the prize? Their fate rests with you (yes, YOU!). I can only surmise that Joe is currently reworking the lyrics to the “Miss America” theme which he will then sing to the winner as they make their triumphal walk down the runway.
Vote below in a poll that will be open until January 3. One need not be queer to take a position and vote. Which queer person captured your imagination the most for 2006?
Here are the contenders in a nutshell:
Laurel Hester served for 23 years as a police officer in Ocean County, New Jersey. Upon learning that she had terminal lung cancer, Hester became concerned about the fate of her partner, Stacie Andree. Heterosexuals passed on their police pensions to surviving partners, but a Republican Controlled county board rejected allowing such benefits to transmit to same-sex partners. Shortly before her death in February 2006, Hester filmed an impassioned plea to be delivered to county officials. Upon learning her story, the board reversed their initial decision and granted surviving same-sex partners equal access to pensions. Hester’s story also brought the issue of same-sex partners’ rights to national attention.
Lane Hudson became frustrated by a lack of action both on the right and the left regarding Congressman Mark Foley. Hudson first exposed Foley’s years of sexual harassment against interns on a blog. Many people attribute the Foley scandal to the demise of the Republican Congress in 2006. Hudson, however, also exposed the HRC’s internal failures as well. The HRC administration disavowed Hudson and ultimately fired him for exposing Foley. This has left many people wondering, just what type of mission guides the administration at the HRC?
Kim Coco Iwamoto had a long career as a civil rights attorney (having earned her law degree at the University of New Mexico (so, you know she already has a special place in my thoughts)). This past year she won a position on Hawai`i’s State Board of Education. That victory made her the highest elected transgender person in the nation. Iwamoto argues that Hawai`i could be a model for the rest of the United States. “This election speaks less of me and much more, I think, of the place and the people of Hawai`i,” she said, “the fact that Hawai`i's always been a place of fair-minded, critical thinking voters who vote on the issues and who see people for the substance of their character."
Mike Jones became the most well-known male escort in the United States when he outed über-evangelical Ted Haggard. Jones claimed that Haggard paid him for both sex and drugs during a three-year relationship. Haggard had a long career and made lots of money fomenting homophobia based on his religious interpretations. His exposure has shown that the evangelical movement has some disreputable people at the helm. Many people discount Jones because he worked as a prostitute; however, I am leery of such moralistic judgments or such easy dismissal. There are many male prostitutes who have sex with men like Haggard. Few, though, have ever bothered to tell their story. Moreover, even Karl Rove attributed Republicans’ 2006 failures, in part, to Jones’ revelation. "The profile of corruption in the exit polls was bigger than I'd expected," said Rove. "Abramoff, lobbying, Foley and Haggard added to the general distaste that people have for all things Washington, and it just reached critical mass.” By “all things Washington,” Rove really meant “Republicans’ lies, greed, deceit, and hypocrisy.”
Rosie O'Donnell garnered numerous nominations on the JMG web-page. Rosie’s fans point out that she is one of the most recognizable lesbians in the nation. During her new stint on the television program The View, Rosie often talks openly about being a lesbian mother and making a family with her partner. She has also used her platform to draw attention to homophobia and sexism. Many argue, though, that her greatest contributions come from her daily appearance on The View by providing a human face to queer issues.
Soulforce, founded by Mel White and Gary Nixon, organized a program called “EqualityRide” this past year. In 51 days, White and Nixon drove young students to 19 military and religious universities that currently ban LGBT people from enrolling. Soulforce operates as an interfaith organization which seeks to end “spiritual violence” against queer people. They have adapted and altered strategies articulated by Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Mahatma Gandhi that emphasize non-violent confrontation and civil disobedience. The organization currently has a youthful following, particularly among queers who identify as Christians. Many in the group consider themselves inheriting progressive movements from a weary older generation.