What Time is calling the "decade from hell," was nothing short a time of growth, self-discovery, exploration and transformation for me. This decade seems as though it has flown by, but entirely contained within that time was my journey from childhood to adulthood.
On New Year's Eve 1999, I was just a scared and confused, albeit no less headstrong, 13-year-old boy on the precipice of a life-changing moment. Only months after the turn of the millennium I came out to my family, my friends and, eventually, the world.
So, any list of top LGBT moments in this decade is more than mere history for me. It isn't just facts and figures. It certainly isn't boring and staid. It is personal. This history contains important moments in time that served as defining and formative moments of my life, in my growth into adulthood as an American and in my development as an LGBT activist.
Campaigns and actions for which older LGBTs worked or volunteered were news stories or TV specials I witnessed as an openly gay teen starving for community and for a place to fit in. These leaders' and my mentors' victories or losses helped to shape and mold me or are connected to some other formative or important time of my youth.
They say all politics is local. I say all history is personal. Many of the "top LGBT moments of the decade" also serve as the top defining moments of my life. Some are of national importance. Others are, perhaps, events of local interest or not as well-known, yet they are no less significant to my personal history and the journey that's taken me from closeted teen to openly gay adult.
Here are just some of those events...
A Union in Wait
I was only 12 or 13 when what I thought about the place of LGBT people in my sleepy hometown of Winston-Salem and native North Carolina were affirmed in the media and public discourse.
During an evening at home, dinner was being prepared as the local news reported on the growing, statewide controversy over a same-sex union ceremony in Wake Forest University's Wait Chapel. The campus church, Wake Forest Baptist, was itself very open and welcoming of LGBT members. But the church's and university's association with the North Carolina Baptist Convention created unique challenges and a publicly-fought battle for acceptance and love.
The lesbian couple eventually got their union ceremony. Wake Forest Baptist Church became even more welcoming of LGBT people. And, the local political and religious struggle, playing out for me on TV screens and in newsprint, served as a spark of hope and inspiration.
When I got older, after I'd come out and left my conservative, fundamentalist Baptist church, I'd finally meet that lesbian couple. I'd join Wake Forest Baptist. One of those women would eventually become the spiritual mentor of my youth. From lonely preteen to high school graduate, Wake Forest Baptist's journey toward LGBT inclusion informed my own personal, spiritual journey.
Millennium March on Washington
In the month I came out to family and friends, the nation's LGBT community gathered in Washington, D.C., for the Millennium March on Washington. Only 14 years old and near the end of eighth grade, I happened upon CSPAN's televised coverage of the event while flipping through the channels. I saw two young people, not much older than me, talking about a gay-straight student club they'd started at their school in Utah. Their voices and story inspired me.
I thought to myself, "How cool would it be to start something like that next year when I go to high school?"
I don't remember the names of those young people. In fact, I don't remember much else about the coverage of the March. What I do know, is that the March and those teens inspired me. The next year I'd take my first step into the world of LGBT activism. With the inspiration from those youth and with help from local advocates, I'd start my school's first gay-straight alliance.
My peers and I were pioneers then. In 2000, only nine gay-straight alliances existed statewide. I look back on my time in high school and compare it to teens' experiences in high school now. I can't help but feel old and irrelevant: a decade later, the number of gay-straight alliances here has grown ten-fold.
BSA v. Dale
My friends Ted and Zach first introduced me to Scouting in fourth grade. I joined their Cub Scout pack and moved up with them and other friends into Boy Scouts. When I did come out, I knew nothing of the Scouts' policy against openly gay members or leaders. That would change in the summer between middle and high school.
The U.S. Supreme Court's June 2000 decision in favor of the Boy Scouts of America's right to set its own membership and leadership standards was a turning point in my life. I didn't quite know what would happen as fall set in and I headed into my first year of high school.
I went ahead with my plans for a gay-straight alliance. Only two weeks prior, another school in my system had finally won the right to start their own club. My hometown paper and other news-media covered the incident and were more than willing to follow-up on my school's decision to allow a similar group.
After I came out to the world in a 200-word news brief buried in the "B section" pages of The Winston-Salem Journal, my Scout leader sat me down. "How could you do this," he asked. "What do you think you're doing to your parents, your brothers?"
He said "they" would be voting on my membership. I didn't return to another troop meeting until my mother convinced me I should at least ask about my membership. I went back in December. The troop's leaders were gathered for a meeting, and I asked my Scoutmaster what they had decided.
"If you choose to live that lifestyle, then you are choosing not to be a Boy Scout," he said.
As the words made it into my ears and through my mind, all I heard was, "You're not welcome here."
The combined experience of gay-straight organizing at my school, and my troop's rejection of me, created Winston-Salem's "little queer engine that could." Through the end of high school, I'd become more and more outspoken about bullying and discrimination against youth. In those years, I'd find a purpose and meaning for my life.
Massachusetts legalizes same-sex marriage
I was such a geek when I was in school. Hell, I'm still a geek now. I knew of no other teen my age who ritually read the morning newspaper everyday or watched national news with such passion -- I still remember the news coverage of Massachusetts' 2003 decision to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.
The next day, I walked into my chorus class singing, "We're going to the chapel and we're going to get married. Gee I really love you and we're going to get married. Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, we can get married now," or something like that.
I don't quite know how my teachers kept me from getting my ass beaten every day, but they did.
Anti-gay marriage amendments
As winter turned to spring in 2004, I celebrated my 18th birthday with joy. That weekend, I headed out to my hometown's only gay club. My first time there was an experience like nothing else. There was energy. There was life. Although no stranger to the LGBT community or to activism by this time, it felt good to be in a place where I knew everyone (or almost everyone) was just like me.
That was the night I met Andy. He was a student at the state arts college in my city. It wasn't my "first time," by any means, but this time was different. I went home with him and for the next few weeks a "spring fling," of sorts, ensued.
Lying with Andy on his bed one afternoon after school, we we're watching TV when a presidential press conference interrupted whatever had been entertaining us. President Bush announced his support for a federal constitutional amendment on marriage, and for the dozens of anti-gay state constitutional amendments on marriage making their way to the ballot that year.
By the time the 2008 election rolled around, I'd worked my way through almost three years of college and a few months stint of non-profit work and found myself hired as the editor of the Carolinas' LGBT newspaper.
When California legalized marriage for same-sex couples, I was certain the journey toward full marriage equality nationwide would keep moving forward. It wasn't meant to be. Election day came and went and I, along with the rest of the LGBT nation, felt grief, anger and frustration.
I'm not old enough to have witnessed or participated in the Stonewall Riots, or the early days of on-the-ground LGBT activism. I never witnessed or participated in the grassroots activist work of groups like ACT-UP. But what I saw in the days after Prop. 8's passage was both inspiring and something I think I'll remember the rest of my life.
On "NBC Nightly News," just days after Prop. 8's victory, I watched as Brian Williams quickly ran through the top stories in the show's opening sequence. To see thousands of people, marching in protest in cities across the nation made me speechless, brought tears to my eyes and seemed, at the time, the deliverance of the more active, on-the-ground LGBT civil rights movement I've been wishing to see and still hope might come.
Like the events in the early years of this decade, those closing this time mark important milestones not only in the time line of our movement but also in that of my life. The 2000s were the foremost, defining years of my life thus far. The history contained therein has made me the person I am today. The people, places and things of this time coalesced to inform my worldview.
Time is wrong. The 2000s weren't the "decade from hell." The 2000s ... it was my decade.