2020 will certainly be one for the history books. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, queer spaces closing at record rates, and months of political strife, the past year also saw some landmark victories for LGBTQ equality and visibility. From political gains to standout pop-culture moments, these wins inspired hope for a more tolerant, inclusive future. And let’s be real. After nearly four years of President Donald Trump’s decidedly anti-LGBTQ administration, that hope was much-needed.
Below, find seven moments of queer joy, triumph, or resilience that are worth celebrating, and prove that 2020 wasn’t all bad.
Jaida Essence Hall’s Drag Race Season 12 winSantiago Felipe/Getty Images
The 12th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race offered us all a weekly (albeit brief) respite from 2020’s unending chaos. The latest season wrapped in May, with Milwaukee-based queen Jaida Essence Hall (pictured above) snatching the crown. “I hope I can inspire so many young, Black people like myself who never feel like they’re special or that what they offer the world isn’t important,” a tearful Hall told Entertainment Weekly after the season finale. “Hopefully, they see this and realize, ’What I am and who I am is enough, I matter, and I have something special to offer to the world.'”
Landmark civil rights protections at the federal levelSAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images
I know, I know: June feels like a lifetime ago. But Pride Month actually brought with it a momentous win for LGBTQ equality. On June 15, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of three LGBTQ plaintiffs who alleged workplace discrimination. The landmark decision set a legal precedent of federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ workers, meaning employers nationwide can no longer penalize or fire employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sadly, two of the three plaintiffs (including outspoken transgender activist Aimee Stephens of Michigan, pictured above) passed away before their cases were decided. But the ruling was hailed as a significant victory by LGBTQ advocates, celebrities, and legal experts alike.
Brooklyn Liberation’s enormous rally for Black trans livesCole Witter
Also in June, more than 15,000 New Yorkers took to the streets of Brooklyn for rally and protest for Black trans lives. I know our eyes have begun to glaze over after such a stressful and news-heavy year, so I’ll repeat that: More than 15,000 New Yorkers took to the streets for Black trans lives. The massive event (in the middle of a pandemic, no less!) was made possible by a team of 150-plus organizers from groups like Brooklyn Liberation, The Okra Project, and GLITS.
Eliel Cruz of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, who helped organize the action, told The New York Times that he was amazed by the turnout. “The violence that’s affecting Black trans women and Black trans folks is finally getting the attention that it deserves,” he added.
Aiden Thomas’ history-making New York Times bestsellerSwoon Reads
Out author Aiden Thomas changed the game for trans representation in literature with Cemetery Boys, his massively successful Young Adult romance. The novel — which follows the antics of Yadriel, a trans Latinx teen, and Julian, a ghost he accidentally summons — dropped in early September. Within a week, Thomas became the first trans author to have a book about a trans protagonist debut on The New York Times Fiction Bestsellers list. The book’s smash-hit success was “totally wild and unexpected,” Thomas told NewNowNext earlier this year: “I didn’t think it was possible, so it wasn’t even on my radar. So then when it happened it totally caught me off guard. … I feel I’m so very lucky and honored to be in this really incredible situation.”
America’s unprecedented “Rainbow Wave”Paul Morigi/WireImage
This November’s election cycle was historic for a number of reasons. Chief among them? The unprecedented “Rainbow Wave” of openly LGBTQ politicians who won their races at all levels of government. According to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, some 334 out candidates were voted into office this year. That record-high total includes incoming Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride (pictured above), who is now the highest-ranking openly trans elected official in the country.
In a statement, Annise Parker, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, described the trend as “unthinkable” only a decade or two ago. Do these gains for queer representation in government automatically guarantee a safer, more equitable world for LGBTQ Americans? Of course not, and it’s crucial that we hold our elected officials accountable for bettering the lives of all LGBTQ people. But the widespread success of LGBTQ candidates does signal a shift public acceptance. With a few exceptions, out candidates are being critiqued and assessed on the strength of their policy platforms, not their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Queer-inclusive holiday movies galoreJojo Whilden
Say what you will about whom Abby should have ended up with in Hulu’s Happiest Season. There’s one thing we can all agree on: 2020 was the year of the queer holiday movie. From the Clea DuVall-helmed Hulu Original to Paramount’s Dashing in December, holiday-themed movies from major studios featured more LGBTQ characters and storylines than ever before. This inclusive shift resonated with viewers, too. The aforementioned Hulu flick shattered records for the streamer on its opening weekend. Here’s hoping that means even more queer-inclusive genre films in the years to come.
Celebrities coming out on their own terms
Mrs. Carol Denise Betts @jessicabettsmusic #LoveWins @robertector pic.twitter.com/aPsx03PvtT
— Niecy Nash (@NiecyNash) August 31, 2020
From Niecy Nash’s gay wedding announcement heard ’round the world to Auli’i Cravahlo’s lighthearted TikTok about being bisexual, celebrity coming-out moments in 2020 were more personal and unique than ever. Whether they broke the news via formal announcements or casual social-media posts, these newly out celebs were overwhelmingly met with love and excitement from fans. And that’s certainly cause to celebrate.