The 10 Most Important LGBTQ Events of 2015

Jim Obergefell swarmed by press in front of the Supreme Court building.
Plaintiff Jim Obergefell speaks to members of the media after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling regarding same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015. 

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

As 2015 heads into the holiday slowdown, let’s take a moment to reflect on the incredibly intense year of LGBTQ battles we’ve just experienced in order to mark how far we’ve come and to recalibrate for the fight ahead.

Here are my picks for 10 good, bad, and ugly moments of 2015. Feel free to share your own nominations in the comments.

10. Caitlyn Jenner comes out: In June, the Olympic athlete and reality TV star introduced herself to the world as Caitlyn, the woman she has been waiting decades to publicly inhabit. She’s stumbled along the way, pissing off trans people and advocates with her privilege and naiveté, but no one can deny that her visibility has jump-started dinner-table conversations about what it means to be transgender in ways that may, at least in small part, ultimately help move the needle forward on a global understanding that sex and gender are not so fixed and binary.

9. Kim Davis refuses to issue marriage licenses: In the dust of a Supreme Court victory that made marriage equality the law of the land, Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk Kim Davis went from unknown entity to household name when she refused to issue marriage licenses because she said she didn’t believe in same-sex marriage. The story played out over several months, with the ACLU defending both same-sex and opposite-sex couples who were turned away by Davis, and the evangelical Christian firm Liberty Counsel using sharp elbows, including to create arguably the biggest news story to come out of the pope’s visit. This likely isn’t the last we’ll see of Kim Davis or the story, but the furor around this story is representative of some of the last, sensational flames of opposition to marriage equality.

8. Carol hits the screens: ‘It wasn’t so long ago that big Hollywood blockbuster films wouldn’t dare have a lesbian character as the main protagonist, unless perhaps they were diseased or murdered or later turned straight. And first-rate actors would avoid being cast as gay, lest they be typecast forevermore and banished to a land of on-screen marginalization. Cate Blanchett headlining Carol is a key turning of the corner on LGBTQ representation in movies. The film is sure to be nominated for multiple awards, and it breaks the historic mold for LGBTQ protagonists.

7. Illinois school district rules in favor of trans student: In the midst of the trans bathroom panic we’re seeing play out in pockets around the nation, a welcome win in Illinois gives us hope that logic and the law can prevail. This fall, a high school in a Chicago suburb voted to grant a trans student permission to use the locker room that aligned with her gender identity. The move came after the school was found to have broken the law, in violation of Title IX under the federal civil rights law, when it denied her access to the girls’ locker room. This win sets a precedent that we hope will play out in other cases.

6. Transparent wins at the Emmys: The Amazon show Transparent, which features a transgender lead character, is many things to many people. Although the trans lead is played by cisgender male actor Jeffrey Tambor, the show is groundbreaking in its inclusion of trans people on both sides of the camera, and in trying to get it right. The formula was successful at winning the hearts of awards voters, as it took home five Emmys and two Golden Globes in 2015.

5. Houston repeals HERO: We watched an ugly battle play out in Houston this summer and fall, when voters in the nation’s fourth-largest city opted to repeal broad nondiscrimination protections for more than a dozen protected classes. The opposition employed scare tactics and peddled lies that exploited the community’s lack of understanding about trans people, with claims that gender identity and expression protections would allow men to enter women’s restrooms to commit crimes. The loss set a worrisome precedent that we may see play out in other states.

4. Equality Act introduced: On the heels of the Supreme Court marriage decision, the Equality Act was introduced in Congress. The landmark legislation would extend protections under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. It would also notably expand the definition of public accommodations and include sex as a protected class, broadening protections for all people, including women and people of color. This will ensure women are not kicked out of places for breastfeeding, for instance, and that people of color are not discriminated against when shopping or hailing a cab. While the bill is not likely to pass in this Congress, it serves as model legislation for state efforts and will hopefully one day be signed into federal law.

3. Indiana rejects RFRA: An incredible precedent was set in an unlikely place in early 2015, when Indiana came together to reject a measure that would allow broad exemptions in the name of religion, allowing discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers. In part because the NCAA tournament was soon to take place in the state, the national lens was cast more harshly on Indiana, forcing business leaders to take a stance, thankfully on the right side of history. Gov. Mike Pence, who championed the RFRA, has seen record low approval ratings as a result. The defeat sent a strong message to other states that anti-LGBTQ sentiment is bad for business, which helped defeat a similar proposed measure in Arizona and will hopefully serve as a model in the months to come.

2. The Supreme Court marriage decision: In Obergefell v. Hodges, the highest court in the land ruled it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the same rights and privileges as everyone else, striking down marriage bans in states across the country and making marriage legal and equal everywhere. The victory was a culmination of decades of work by many organizations and individuals, and the significance of the historic decision was felt on June 26, 2015, when rainbows and tears of joy filled people’s TV screens and social media feeds.

1. Record number of trans murders: I wish I could share something uplifting as the No. 1 event in 2015, but the nearly two dozen trans women of color who were killed this year take on an exigency that casts a gloomy and sobering shadow over the glitz and glamour of media exposure and wins in the court and legislatures. We must continue to fight to educate people about gender identity and expression to combat the ignorance and fearmongering that dehumanizes trans people and hold us all back from equality and advancement.