The year 2015 will always stand out for me as the year American gays and lesbians won the right to marry. Here are some other people and events worth remembering.
Lesley Gore, who recorded pop hits like “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry” in the 1960s, died at age 68. All her angst-ridden songs about boyfriends were quite an act because Gore was a lesbian who is survived by a female partner of 33 years.
After her success as a teen, Gore went on to a songwriting career and performed in nightclubs. “Out Here on My Own,” a song written with her brother Michael for the movie Fame, was nominated for an Oscar. Ten years ago she hosted In the Life, the PBS show about LGBT issues. In 2012, Gore participated in a public service video of her hit “You Don’t Own Me” — now recognized as a feminist anthem — urging women to vote against Mitt Romney and anti-abortion candidates.
Also passing this year was Ronnie Gilbert, a member of The Weavers folk-singing quartet founded with Pete Seeger in 1948. The Weavers had several hit records before the socially conscious singers were blacklisted during the anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s.
Gilbert worked as an actress and toured the women’s music circuit in the 1980s and ‘90s. She recorded two albums with Holly Near and often performed with her. Gilbert married her partner of 20 years, Donna Korones, in 2004. She died at age 88.
In June, the Tony Award for Best Musical went to Fun Home, based on the graphic memoir by lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel. The show follows Bechdel as she grows up and discovers she’s a lesbian in the confines of a dysfunctional family whose father is a closeted gay man.
Although gay-themed plays and musicals have succeeded on Broadway for decades, Fun Home is the first musical with a lesbian protagonist and lesbian love songs. Before an audience of millions on the Tony Award telecast, Sidney Lucas sang “Ring of Keys,” which expresses young Bechdel’s wonder at identifying with an older lesbian. Later in the show, after making love with a woman for the first time, college-age Bechdel sings the hilarious “I’m Changing My Major to Joan.”
Transgender lives came into greater prominence this year with the highly publicized coming out of Caitlyn Jenner and the success of the Amazon TV series Transparent.
Veteran TV and film star Jeffrey Tambor, who won an Emmy and Golden Globe as lead actor in a comedy for his portrayal of the transitioning Maura, honed his craft with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in the 1970s. Tambor’s co-star in Transparent, Judith Light, who has won two Tony Awards for her work on Broadway, also acted with the Milwaukee Rep early in her career. Lesson: Buy some tickets to the Rep and watch new stars emerge!
Unfortunately, greater awareness of transgender individuals induced Toilet Panic, with GOP legislators here in Wisconsin and elsewhere trying to restrict gender non-conformists or people in transition from their choice of restrooms. It would all be a sick joke except for this: the threat of unisex bathrooms hyped by anti-feminist zealots contributed to the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment to our Constitution in 1982.
I’m not offering “toasts and roasts” this year because far too many villains dominated the news. My greatest hope is that reason triumphs over all forms of extremism in 2016.