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SheWired's Top 30 Lesbian Events of the Decade

SheWired's Top 30 Lesbian Events of the Decade

Once everyone survived Y2K panic, the race for gay marriage heated up around the globe in the early 2000's. While LGBT activists stood in the trenches waging the war for equitable civil rights, lesbians in politics and pop culture came out of their closets en masse and crashed through many a glass ceiling.  Same-Sex marriage, the Hate Crimes Bill, lesbian mayors and Prime Ministers, Ellen Degeneres, Wanda Sykes, AfterEllen, Kelly McGillis, Meredith Baxter, Rosie O'Donnell, Melissa Etheridge,  South of Nowhere, Grey's Anatomy andThe L Word are just a few of the higlights.

Once everyone survived Y2K panic, the race for gay marriage heated up around the globe in the early 2000's, and nowhere more divisively than in the United States. While LGBT activists stood in the trenches waging the war for equitable civil rights, lesbians in politics and pop culture came out of their closets en masse and crashed through many a glass ceiling.

Same-Sex marriage, the Hate Crimes Bill, lesbian mayors and Prime Ministers, Ellen Degeneres becomes the queen of daytime, South of Nowhere, Grey's Anatomy andThe L Word are just a few of the highlights of the first nine years of the decade in which lesbian visibility made unprecedented strides. And that all happened amidst national tragedy including 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Great Recession.

The staff atSheWired offer up this by-no-means definitive list of the Top 30 Lesbian Events of the Decade.

Vermont Becomes First State to Legalize Civil Unions for Same-Sex Couples in 2000

In December 1999 the Vermont Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Baker v. Vermont that the differing ways the laws in the state treated same-sex couples relative to opposite-sex couples was discrimination. Although it also ruled Vermont legislature intended for marriage to be union between a man and woman, the court compelled the State to create statutory remedy addressing the difference in how the two kinds of couples are treated. The Vermont Civil Unions bill attempted to give "civilly united" same-sex couples all rights and responsibilities of married opposite-sex couples had under Vermont law. Governor Howard Dean signed the bill on April 26, 2000 and it went into effect on July 1, 2000.


Hilary Swank Wins Oscar for Boys Don't Cry in 2000

Hilary Swank ushered in the decade of LGBT visibility in 2000 with a bang when she took home the best actress Academy Award for her riveting — and heartbreaking — portrayal of Brandon Teena inKimberly Peirce's Boys Don’t Cry. Swank’s win on Hollywood’s biggest stage put the spotlight on our community’s struggles on one of the most-viewed programs of the year.


Lesbian Sheila Kuehl Elected to California Senate, Kehoe and Goldberg Elected to CA Assembly 2000

After becoming the first openly gay person elected to the California State Assembly in 1994, and serving 3 terms, Sheila James Kuehl then became the first openly gay person elected to the California State Senate in 2000. The same year, openly lesbian Christine Kehoe and Jackie Goldberg were elected to California Assembly.


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(continued) Founded in April 2002

Founded in April 2002 by Sarah Warn, provided a dedicated Web site for lesbian and bisexual women in the media. Bought in 2006 by gay network Logo, the blogs, regular columns, vlogs and reviews serve as an important hub for visibility and continue to be a beloved community for our community.


Tipping the Velvet on BBC in 2002

In 2002, lesbians everywhere tuned to the BBC for their three-part adaptation of Sarah Waters’ beloved best-seller Tipping the Velvet. Following Nan’s coming out, love, loss and learning to love again, the Rachael Stirling and Keeley Hawes starrer continues to be a must-see favorite on DVD.


Massachusetts Becomes First State to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage in 2003

In November 2003, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts became the first high court in the United States to rule opposite-sex only marriage laws unconstitutional, and it was required to allow same-sex couples full marriage equality in the case of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health. On May 17, 2004, the 50th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Goodridge decision went into effect, thus the first legal same-sex marriages occurred on U.S. soil. By the end of the decade, Massachusetts marriages were considered safe and the state was suing the federal government for discriminating against its legally married same-sex couples in the disbursal of federal recognition and benefits.


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Showtime's The L Word airs in January 2004

No other show has meant as much to the lesbian community as Showtime’s The L Word did when it launched on Jan. 18, 2004. For six seasons every Sunday until it wrapped its run in March, The L Word told stories of our lives, loves and losses to legions of lesbians and our straight allies.


The Ellen DeGeneres Show Premieres September 8, 2004

The Ellen DeGeneres Show premiered Sept. 8, 2004, and in addition to interviews with some of the day’s biggest celebrities, also brought a lesbian into millions of homes across the nation. Ellen’s unique brand of relaxed comedy reaching millions in Red State America was one giant leap for our community, and with wife Portia de Rossi, who appeared as a guest on the show in March, DeGeneres continues to be perhaps our biggest and best example.


Sex and the City Star Cynthia Nixon Comes Out About her Lesbian Relationship in 2004

Emmy and Tony winner Cynthia Nixon won over gay men and women worldwide As one of television's fab-four -- the Sex and the City gals, but since she fell in love with her partner, education activist Christine Marinoni, in 2004, Nixon's activist colors are continually showing. While falling in love with a woman is something lesbians know happens every minute of every day, it's not every day that a star one of the all-time most beloved television shows speaks with candor about her newfound relationship with the same sex. Since she met Marinoni, Nixon has continually spoken out for lesbian and gay rights. 

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Gay Marriage Goes International 2001-2005

Starting in 2001 with the Netherlands, countries around the globe began to legally recognize gay marriage. Belgium caught on in 2003, and Spain in 2005. Also in 2005, the US' northern neighbor, Canada, began recognizing same-sex marriages. 

Cherry Jones Wins the Tony and Kisses Her Girlfriend on Primetime Awards Show in 2005

Thespian and lesbian Cherry Jones won her second Tony Award in 2005 for her portrayal of the implacable nun in Doubt. Never one to hide her personal life, Jones kissed her then girlfriend Sarah Paulson before taking to the podium. The critically lauded actress joined the cast as President Allison Taylor on 24 in 2008 and took home the Emmy for that role in 2009.


South of Nowhere airs in 2005

While The L Word juggernaut was creating a small-screen frenzy, the little lesbian show that could, South of Nowhere, premiered on Nov. 4, 2005 on the N. Created by Tom Lynch, the issues-oriented show tackled abortion, hate crimes, drug addiction, coming out in high school and more. But it wasn’t long before legions of “Spashley” fans were borne out of the central storyline that chronicled the wide-eyed love between Mandy Musgrave’s hot handful Ashley and Gaby Christian’s adorable and together Spencer. SON’s final episode aired in Dec. 2008 after three short seasons. It’s safe to say it’s time for a feature film!


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Rosie O’Donnell Joins The View in 2006

The big-hearted lesbian button pusher Rosie O’Donnell gave The View a wake-up call when she joined Barbara Walters’ semi-round table in Sept. of 2006. At her best O’Donnell spoke up for gay and lesbian rights, promoted Broadway and exhibited her trademark unabashed fawning over celebrities she admires. But O’Donnell also went famously toe-to-toe in a feud with Donald Trump, absurdly called Kelly Ripa homophobic and argued ad nauseum with conservative co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck. It was a blowout with Hasselbeck that led to the undoing of O’Donnell’s tenure on show, but while O’Donnell was on, it was almost always a ratings blitz.


Amelie Mauresmo Wins Two Grand Slam Singles Titles in 2006

French, athletic, continually at the top of her game and a lesbian, Amelie Mauresmo was a force on the court throughout the decade until her retirement earlier this month. But 2006 was the year the decorated tennis player pulled in two Grand Slam wins at the Australian Open and at Wimbledon.


Melissa Etheridge Wins Best Original Song Oscar for "I need to Wake Up" in 2007

Melissa Etheridge went from singing lesbian anthems to crafting a rallying cry for the environment with 2007’s best original song Oscar win for “I Need To Wake Up,” which was featured in the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth. Her rocking performance really woke up the Academy Awards in 2007.


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E. Denise Simmons Becomes the First Lesbian African American Mayor in the U.S. in 2008

A Notary Public and Justice of the Peace, E. Denise Simmons took a seat on the Cambridge, Mass. City Council in 2001. The Cambridge City Councilors elected her unanimously on Jan. 14, 2008, making her the first openly lesbian African American mayor in the country.


Grey's Anatomy Gives Primetime a Lesbian Story Line in 2008

Just as The L Word was wiping out more than half of the lesbian characters on TV, Dr. Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) on Grey’s Anatomy came to our rescue when she developed feelings for a colleague, Dr. Erica Hahn (Brooke Smith). While that story line was brief, it paved the way for primetime’s No. 1 lesbian couple: Callie and new girlfriend, Dr. Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw).


Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon Tie the Knot in June of 2008

Long-time activists for lesbian and gay rights, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who in 1955 founded the country’s first political / activist group, The Daughters of Bilitis, said their “I Dos” on June 16, 2008 in San Francisco after 56 years together. The couple became the first to wed in San Francisco once the California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage before it was overturned with Prop 8 five months later. Martin died at age 87 just two months after she and the love of her life legally wed.


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Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi Say "I Do" in August 2008

Their August 2008 wedding made headlines all over the world — as well as the cover of People magazine. While Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi both made for beautiful brides, their nuptials shed light on the need for equality as they tied the knot in California before voters approved Prop. 8 and nixed our right to wed in the state.


Rachel Maddow Becomes the First Openly Gay News Anchor on Prime Time in 2008

Radio personality Rachel Maddow landed her top-rated MSNBC show, which premiered in September of 2008, during the run-up to the Presidential election.  She became the country’s first-ever openly gay news anchor on primetime.  Maddow continues to ask the tough questions of politicians with her brand of academia tinged with snark. Plus, she is possibly just about everyone’s favorite butch.


Wanda Sykes Announces Marriage to her Wife in November 2008

Comedian Wanda Sykes recognized the increased need for visibility in November 2008, when gay rights nationwide took a hit with the passing of Prop. 8 and other anti-gay legislation was approved by voters. Officially coming out at a Las Vegas rally — and announcing that she legally married her wife in October 2008, Sykes brought her powerful voice to the fight for equality.


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The State by State Gay Marriage Blitz of 2008 and 2009

While gay marriage went global in the earlier part of the decade a handful of states got on board and legalized gay marriage beginning with Connecticut in October of 2008. Next up, in the first week of April 2009, Iowa and Vermont made same-sex marriage legal. New Hampshire became the fourth state to legalize it in June 2009, and the District of Columbia gave its gay citizens the right to marry in Dec. of 2009. Citizens of California in 2008 and Maine in 2009 had the right to marry dangled before them before voters pulled their rights.



Iceland’s Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir Becomes First Gay World Leader in 2009

Amidst her country’s economic meltdown, Johanna Sigurdardottir, the then 66-year-old openly lesbian member of the country’s Social Affairs Ministry stepped up to become the country’s Prime Minister in Feb. of 2009. A member of the Social Democrat Alliance, she lives with her long-time female partner and has earned the moniker “Saint Johanna.”


Kelly McGillis Comes Out –2009

A pin-up girl for the eighties Top Gun teen boy crowd, Kelly McGillis nonchalantly came out as a lesbian on SheWired’s Girl Rock video blog last Spring. While the Witness and The Accused star’s admission didn't shock her lesbian fans, it was the massive straight media blitz surrounding her coming out that made it a remarkable event of the decade.


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Laura Ricketts Becomes First Lesbian Owner of a Major Sports Team --2009

Laura Ricketts made history in October 2009 when she became the first-ever openly gay Major League Baseball owner. The Ricketts family purchased the Chicago Cubs earlier this year for a reported $845 million and officially took the helm this fall. Ricketts lives in Chicago with her partner and serves on the board of the LGBT advocacy organization Lambda Legal. Ricketts, along with her brothers Pete, Todd and Tom head the new Cubs board of directors, with Tom Ricketts serving as chairman.


President Obama Signs Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

On October 28, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The law gives the Justice Department authority to fully investigate and prosecute bias-motivated crimes.


Meredith Baxter Comes Out— 2009

A beloved former TV mom and made-for-TV movie cult icon, Meredith Baxter came out as a lesbian concurrently on the Today Show, in The Advocateand People once she was spied on the Sweet Caribbean Cruise in November. Baxter, who had been living her life fairly openly with her partner Nancy Locke, took control of the possible media spin and told her story with candor. She told the Advocate she hopes that her coming out will help with visibility. “The message I get is that I’m America’s mom. And because research seems to show that people who have someone who is gay in their family — or a friend or just know someone in the community who is gay — they seem to have a more open attitude about gay and lesbian issues,” Baxter said.


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Annise Parker Becomes Mayor-Elect of Houston in 2009

Former Houston City Council member and current Controller for the city, Annise Parker ran as an openly gay woman and beat attorney Gene Locke to become only the second woman and first lesbian to run Texas’ largest city (the fourth largest in the country). Parker is slated to take office in January.


Simone Bell Elected First Openly Lesbian African-American State Legislator in December 2009

Voters in Georgia elected the first openly lesbian African-American state legislator in the US. Simone Bell, a Victory Fund-endorsed candidate, won a runoff election to represent Georgia State House District 58.  She becomes the second openly LGBT member of the Georgia State House, joining Rep. Karla Drenner.

Jane Lynch's Career Explodes 2005-2009

Jane Lynch is all over 2009, but she’s also worked for it, with roles — in this decade alone — as a lesbian in The L Word and Best in Show, as well as A Mighty Wind, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, For Your Consideration and scores more.


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