The Gay 2000s: Twenty Decade-Defining Lesbian Happenings

While the rest of the world is bemoaning our apocalyptic state at the close of the century’s first decade, us gays have quite a bit to be thankful for! Heaps of ladies have marched proudly out of the closet, we’ve acquired way more Civil Rights than we had in 1999 and overall our media visibility has skyrocketed. Granted, there’ve been many setbacks; like the death of Dana Fairbanks DOMA and many popular votes reminding us how unpopular we were in high school and um, hate crimes, and well really a lot of bad things. Anyhoo!

Let’s take a look back at some of the many defining events of this decade. These are in random order, and much like the producers of reality television programs so popular in this decade, this list is only a few hours of the 87,600 hours, many of which were probs important.


BEST: For Kids, It’s Slightly More Okay To Be Gay


It’s a different world out there, kids. There’s the anecdotal changes, like an increase in “Gold Stars” amongst youngsters as young lesbians are feeling less pressure to “try boys” than most adult lesbians did at their age. Then there’s quantifiable changes, like rising numbers of GSAs and college campus LGBTQ groups as well as additional resources for homeless LGBT youth in urban areas.  In 2001, 1,000 GSAs had registered with GLSEN. By 2008, the number was up to 4,000. And a recent New York Times magazine cover story reports that kids are coming out in middle school.

WORST: Gay kids are still being bulliedbully

A 2007 GLSEN study showed that 9 out of 10 LGBT students (86.2%) had experienced harassment at school in the past year, three-fifths (60.8%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and about a third (32.7%) skipped a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe.


BEST: Rosie O’Donnell comes out (2002) and then proceeds to do a number of awesome things like yell at Elisabeth Hasselbeck on The View. rosieodonnel

Guys have you ever been on an R Family cruise? It has changed the lives of thousands of families who can afford to take vacations and Riese has been on three for various reasons and she highly recommends it. Did you watch that documentary? Remember how awesome and sassy Rosie was on The View? Remember how Ro did us proud in the Hassleback smackdown? Remember how you were way sadder than you thought you’d be when it was clear she and Kelli were having problems? If you think her coming out didn’t matter to your life, think again — it was kinda a big deal. And she’s never compromised since.

The history of the country has been written by the rich white men who could afford to do exactly as they wanted whenever they wanted. The fact that women like Rosie & Ellen can afford to be honest means they’re in a unique position to be the catalysts of change in major ways.


WORST: “A Shot at Love” and Katy Perryfake-bisexuals-ftwDouble-Shot-Love-Ikki-Twins-01

The Shot at Love franchise made every bisexual woman in America want to shoot herself, upping the ante in season three by replacing our Cyberstar Tila Tequila with the bisexual Ikki twins.

In 2008, Katy Perry released “I Kissed a Girl” and managed to reinforce every bisexual stereotype in the book. Oh, and Katy was put on the cover of OUT and given the headliner spot at Dinah Shore for it! What’s that about? We’ve kissed girls for real, but for some reason OUT hasn’t called.


BEST: Lawrence v. Texas (2003)

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws in this landmark case. Though lesbians aren’t exactly the most sodomy-saturated group, it was still super important. You can’t legislate in the bedroom folks! Although people are certainly still trying.


WORST: The Defense of Marriage Act & State Amendments Against Gay Marriage

It was passed in the 90’s, but we’re certainly still feelings the effects of DOMA. Efforts in this decade to overturn the act, which prevents a federal marriage equality bill, have all come to nothing. Even the Obama administration is still using it against us to deny benefits, despite our hopes to the contrary.

At the beginning of the decade, only one state had amended its constitution to restrict the legalization of gay marriage. Now, there are 29 states with such amendments. Not content to just remain neutral, those states had to make an actual statement against equality. Thanks, guys!


BEST: Gay TV & Ellen’s Renaissance

This was the decade that launched gay TV into the mainstream. Queer As Folk ran from 2000 to 2005, making way for The L Word (2004-2009) which legitimately shattered the public’s stereotype of lesbians as hippie bushwackers w/guitars. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you know, it helps end symbolic annihilation etc.).

After having her second TV sitcom canceled in 2001 and following a rough coming out period in the mid-9os and subsequent depression, Ellen came back in a big way in ’03 with her daytime talk show. Since then, she has all but taken over the world and is the most famous lesbian ever. And really, we couldn’t ask for a better symbol of the lesbian community. Ellen is funny, she’s charming, she’s in love with her hot wife, and even mainstream America thinks she’s awesome.


LOGO (the first gay network) launched in 2005, here! launched that same year and Bravo became the gayest-network-that-isn’t-actually-gay. Lesbian characters popped up on mainstream shows like The O.C., America’s Next Top Model, Stargate Universe, South of Nowhere, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Top Chef, Greek, One Tree Hill, All My Children, House and so much more.

Familiar faces on the TV now include Wanda Sykes, Suze Orman, Rachel Maddow, Jenna Valez-Mitchell, Jackie Warner, Tabitha Coffey, Kim Stolz, and you know … so much more.

Worst: Women Still Face Barriers When Telling Lesbian Stories

The thing about The L Word is that while it was great to have queer lady storylines on TV, it still accounts for like 95% of the queer lady storylines on TV five years later. And I don’t know about you, but there’s only a certain amount of baby-kidnapping interrogation-taping swimming-pool-murder  I can relate to. Why haven’t we heard more complex, more diverse, more real stories about our lives? It’s not because they’re not there; it’s because it’s really f*cking hard to get them out there — and not just for gay women, but for women in general (the biggest problem with lesbian stories, often, is that there are often men in the story)

9 percent of the 250 top-grossing domestic films of 2008 were directed by women and no woman has ever won an Oscar for directing. No woman of color has ever been nominated by the Academy for the Best Director category (more on this in this awesome bitch magazine article about female directors). From an NPR story on this topic:

Nia Vardalos says it’s no secret that female directors are treated differently by studios — even sometimes by their own crews. She says she had no sense of being an artiste — someone entitled to challenge the budget, the number of shooting days or the rules.

“One day my focus puller turned to me, and he said, ‘As a female filmmaker, you have one shot,'” she recalls, “‘and if you go over budget, that bond company will be here in a second, breathing down your neck. So you’re right to keep everyone on schedule.'”

Autostraddle faves Anyone But Me and We Have To Stop Now are fabulous shows that are produced in the form of webseries for a smaller audience that has to know where to look for them, and most gay and lesbian films are only shown in (admittedly awesome) gay and lesbian film festivals. Similarly this has often been the only avenue of opportunity for women of color (more on this in item #3).What that means is that gay ladies who want to do us proud and make movies/TV/stories/art about our real-life feelings are doing it largely on their own and unsupported, without the funding of Hollywood studios or the backing of major producers or the budget of, I don’t know, Jersey Shore. The bad news there is that the people in offices behind desks haven’t been convinced yet that our stories are important and meaningful and interesting to the public; the good news is that it doesn’t even matter, because we’re just going to go ahead and do it anyways.  ONWARD HO PIONEERS!


BEST: Obama’s election (2008)

We finally saw a ray of sunshine in politics — a majority voting for a minority! That’s the spirit! Maybe this gay ray of sunshine will materialize some time in the next decade! Or we’ll just have a ridiculously attractive presidential family, as is evidenced in this photo!


WORST: Bush gets elected. Twice.

And our dreams of equality were squashed for eight whole years. Chris Rock said it best:

The beautiful thing about the gay marriage issue is the absolute only issue that the President will answer. The President don’t give a f*ck, he will give you a straight answer on gay marriage. “Mr President, what about the war, when’s it gonna end?” “Well, you never know, we’re talking to people, and we’re looking for stuff, and we might find it, we might not, and it’s out there, we’re gonna get it, you never know, how’s it going, yeah!” “Mr President, what about the economy, when’s it gonna pick up?” “Well, you never know, we’re talking to people, and economic indicators indicate that indications are coming to the indicator, you know what I’m saying, all right!” “Mr President, what about gay marriage?” “F*ck them faggots!”



BEST: The Power of the Gay Dollar Recognized

At last the power of the gay dollar was recognized as many mainstream marketers bucked conservative outcry and followed the money trail. Hey, it may be self-serving but in a capatalist society, marketability is clout. With the recession and consumer confidence near record lows in 2009, markets were glad to hear that the nation’s GLBT market were more upbeat about the economy’s direction than their heterosexual counterparts. Also, more and more lesbian businesswomen are entering the marketplace, starting new businesses and succeeding.

WORST: Being gay is really f*cking expensive

According to the New York Times, your love of fingerblasting is costing you and your partner at least $41,196 over the course of your lifetime. It’s true that most of the articles about this are just coming out recently, but let’s be real, you’ve been fingerblasting for a long time now, and you’ve probably been losing more money than heteros for the whole decade. (NYT says that nearly all these costs would be erased if same-sex marriage was legalized. Just saying.)

Also all that stuff we just said about the gay market is only partially true. We can tell you firsthand that it’s not easy to convince anyone that women without men in their lives are a viable and eager market, even though they totally are.



BEST: The Millennium March (2000) and the National Equality March (2009)

These two marches on Washington let the world know that queers have needs, too. Also, if this photo is representative, we are very attractive as a group.

Worst: The Other Side is Mobilizing Too

Much like a large animal in its final death throes, the anti-gay movement has been all over the place this decade. The Westboro Baptist Church has been protesting everything that moves (including Lady Gaga, Autostraddle’s Fish Out Of Water article, and fun!). The American Family Association has sent Rachel like two million emails because she is somehow on their list, wtf. NOM makes us want to punch walls. Rick Warren is on TV all the time buttering up to middle America.

Then there’s the ex-gay movement, led by Exodus International. Not only do they say being gay is a choice (it’s not), but they accuse the gay community of discriminating against THEM (we’re not). What we’re against is treating someone’s identity like a psychological affliction. You can’t pray away the gay.

All these groups claim that recent victories for “traditional marriage” mean God is on their side, the gays will never win, etc. Luckily, we’re pretty sure this is just their final surge before completely collapsing in on themselves, like a dying star. History, logic, and most people under the age of 35 are on our side, after all.


BEST: More Visibility for Lesbians of Color

It would take a 50,000 word article to highlight all the action for this topic — we almost didn’t include it because we knew there was no way we could cover even 1/100th of it, and it seemed deductive to throw all of us into one category here. So feel free to add links and your own opinions!

The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force continues its commitment to diverse racial representation at its annual Creating Change Conference and the Racial Equity Campaign aims to bridge the divide that “fissures the LGBT rights organizations and dilutes its potential.” Just this year, we saw Simone Bell become the first openly black lesbian official in the United States, winning District 58 in the State of Georgia, and Wanda Sykes be the first out lesbian to appear on the cover of Ebony magazine. The recent same-sex marriage vote in DC gathered support largely thanks to Rev Dr. Dennis Wiley & Rev Dr. Christine Wiley, black Christians and two of other most vocal & visible supporters of equality for the LGBT community. The chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Julian Bond, is well-known as a strong supporter of LGBT equality and spoke at the New Jersey vote a few weeks back.

The 00’s also brought us out out writer/director Shamim Sarif, actress Skyler Cooper, actress Michelle C. Bonilla, screenwriter Alice Wu, hip-hop artist Mélange Lavonne and actress Felicia “Snoop” Pearson among many many others. Miss Cleo came out in 2003, Sheryl Swoopes in ’05, Wanda Sykes in ’08, Jane Valez-Mitchell in ’09 and our dear Tila Tequila as a lesbian in ’09.

Lesbian films like Saving Face (2005, Asian-American), Mississippi Damned (2009,  African-American), When Kiran Met Karen (Indian-American), Cherin Dabis’s Amreeka (Palestinian-American) and Black Aura on An Angel (2007, African-American) have offered more visibility.

Furthermore, the African-American lesbian experience was explored in documentaries like U People (2009), The Aggressives (2005) and The Butch Mystique (2003). Reality programming offered some racially diverse casts including the Asian & Latina cast of Logo’s first lesbian reality show Gimme Sugar, and gay/lesbian characters of color appeared on broadcast & cable shows including The L Word, One Tree Hill, Degrassi: The New Generation, Flash Forward, Grey’s Anatomy, Dante’s Cove and Stargate Universe. Lesbian websites and magazines also offer platforms for women of color, like Afterellen’s “Come With Me If You Want to Live” and Autostraddle’s upcoming vlog starring Nat Garcia.

WORST: Institutionalized Racism Continues to Slow the Process of the GLBT Movement

In 2002, lamented a lack of black women in black movies, and in 2006 further lamented that “rarely have black women played gay.” Queers of color battle racism in cyberspace.  This year we did a story on how the allegedly gay-friendly Filipino community often prefers its lesbians to keep it in the closet. From 2006-2010, GLAAD has consistently reported zero African-Amerian lesbian characters on scripted broadcast television series. Cable numbers were only slightly better, with Tasha from The L Word pretty much holding it down for three years.

Perhaps this is part of why a 2009 Equality Forward HRC survey revealed that nearly 38% of African Americans feel ignored by the white LGBT community and nearly two in five LGBT people of color do not feel part of the larger LGBT community in their city or in the United States.

In 2007, the 13-year-old African-American Lesbian-targeted Venus Magazine readers were in for a big surprise when Charlene Cothran, the magazine’s publisher, announced that she’d been “redeemed,” was no longer a lesbian, and therefore was changing the mission & direction of the magazine to help gays who wanted to find God and leave the lifestyle.

When Prop 8 passed in CA, an Associate Press exit poll erroneously reported that 70 percent of black voters voted against gay marriage, compared to 49 percent of whites & 32 percent of Hispanics — and although the Gay & Lesbian Task Force later debunked those stats, some damage had already been done and it was shocking how quickly white gays began pointing fingers. Controversy also sprung up when many people [cough us too] felt it was inappropriate for gay white male activists (or anyone) to directly compare the modern gay rights movement to the black civil rights movement of the 60s. [If anything it has more in common with the second wave feminist movement, criticized for being a largely white middle-class movement which generally ignored oppression based on racism and classism, a problem which persists today.] The #uknowhowiknowurgay twitter scandal once again offered an opportunity for in-fighting and then evolved into the equally horrifying #uknowhowiknowureblack.

We hope to move past this in the next decade — which begins with all of us giving each other the benefit of the doubt, offering constructive criticism and focusing on how we can work together without disrespecting the unavoidably unique struggles that face minorities within a minority.


BEST: Netherlands legalizes same-sex marriage (2001)

It was the first country to do so; there are now seven countries where gay marriage is legal. Thanks for setting a trend, Netherlands!


WORST: Laws against same-sex adoption

It’s always been a bit harder for LGBT people to adopt. In 2008, Arkansas and Florida made it even by passing even stricter laws again same-sex adoption. There are seven states where same-sex adoption is illegal (a lot of those bans simply apply to people who aren’t married). In case you were wondering exactly how much conservative lawmakers and voters hated gay people, the answer is: even more than they care about children. Great.IE167-005


BEST: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom issues marriage licenses (2004)

Acting on his own, the mayor issued over 4,000 marriage licenses to same-sex couples, including Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon, Rosie O’Donnell & Kelli Carpenter, and best-lesbian-cartoonist-ever Alison Bechdel & Amy Rubin.martin-lyons-marriage

WORST: Prop 8 passes in California (2008), Question 1 in Maine (2009)




Yes, it passed, and that sucks. But thousands of people protested Prop 8 in cities all over the world, Prop 8: The Musical happened, plus Keith Olbermann made that speech we liked.prop-8-musical


BEST: Massachusetts allows gay marriage (2003)

The state officially became the most advanced state in the union, and it also happens to be Rachel’s home FUCK YES.rainbow_mass

WORST: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

In the first nine years of the decade, 7,468 service members were kicked out of the military for DADT violations. Homophobia is still rampant in the armed services, and there’s no chance of that going away while DADT is around.

Democratic leaders have said the policy will likely come up for repeal in 2010, so we’re hoping DADT’s mark on the next decade will be minimal.


Pages: 1 2See entire article on one page

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1120 articles for us.


  1. A post on lesbian women of colour would be great, actually. I’d love to know who was in those photos!

    Also perhaps some features on international queer women? *hello from malaysia/australia! :D*

  2. I love that picture of Gavin with that sweet, sweet older couple. It’s precious. And let me just say that I am STILL sad that he pulled out of the race for governor in California. I really believed in him and that he could have won. It would’ve been nice to have a true ally in a position of power.

  3. Pingback: The Gay 2000s: Twenty Decade-Defining Lesbian Happenings QV China

  4. Pingback: The Gay 2000s: Twenty Decade-Defining Lesbian Happenings Wiky Blog

  5. Someday, someday it won’t even be necessary to divide lists into ‘lesbian happenings’ and ‘other’.
    But for now, I shall take comfort in the fact that Ellen/Rosie/Maddow et al, have made it, if not ok, then at least possible to be outspokenly gay. And for that, I am truly grateful. VIVA THE REVOLUTION!

  6. What about Exes and Ohs? Seriosuly great show with characters that seem more like real people with actual (funny) problems, and it only lasted six episodes! And it had Heather Matarazzo in it! Ftw.

  7. There should be an update post about how different/the same 2011 has been. Also, maybe something about how the US stacks up against other countries in the world when it comes to overall rights and protections for queer folks of all shapes, sizes, colors, identities and fabulousnesses!

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!