50 pop culture moments that defined a decade of LGBTQ excellence
From Pose to Moonlight to Troye Sivan, a (subjective) countdown of an extremely queer 10 years
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. It won the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada.
Given that this is the 100th edition of this column and that we're nearing the final days of my first full decade writing about all things gay on the regular, I figured why not go all out and count down the queer pop culture moments that defined an absolutely extraordinary decade for LGBTQ excellence?
What exactly is my criteria for such a list? Basically, I wanted to celebrate LGBTQ achievements by LGBTQ artists that, at least in some way, found their way into general popular culture (though you may or may not question whether the latter was the case in a few examples). I didn't include work created about queer folks by The Straights (though the films Can You Ever Forgive Me? and The Favourite were hard to exclude as a result) and I also only included one example per artist, even if in many cases they had multiple reasons to be on the list. And obviously, it's all highly subjective. While I did consult a few dozen folks to come up with the list, ultimately the ranking has a lot to do with my own taste.
One of the most incredible things about putting it all together was how long it really could have been. I settled on 50 (myself and the CBC Arts team are furiously working on a much, much grander 2010s retrospective coming very soon so I simply didn't have time beyond that), but honestly could have easily been 250. Imagine in any other decade having so many viable options that you leave off films like Francis Lee's God's Own Country, Craig Johnson's The Skeleton Twins, Desiree Akhavan's Appropriate Behavior, Yen Tan's 1985, Stephen Cone's Princess Cyd, Stephen Dunn's Closet Monster or Ira Sach's Love is Strange. Or TV shows like Cucumber, Sense8, Élite, Orphan Black, One Day at a Time, Glee or True Blood. Or books like Roxane Gay's Hunger, Hasan Namir's God in Pink, Hilton Als's White Girls, Vivek Shraya's even this page is white, Casey Plett's Little Fish or Joshua Whitehead's Jonny Appleseed. Or music from BROCKHAMPTON, Adam Lambert, Kim Petras, Against Me!, Mykki Blanco or King Princess. Not to mention Rachel Morrison's Oscar-nominated cinematography in Mudbound, Mike White's writing on Enlightened, Lily Tomlin in Grandma, Andrew Rannells on Girls, Connor Jessup on American Crime, Ben Whishaw in A Very English Scandal, Tituss Burgess on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Cherry Jones and Sarah Paulson in or on anything...
It was an embarrassment of queer riches this decade when it came to our creative output, and the following 50 examples are definitely just the tip of a most fabulous iceberg we should all be very grateful for.
50. Are You The One?
One of the most revolutionary depictions of sexuality on any screen in 2010s came from...an MTV reality dating show. The 7th season of Are You The One — in which 20 sexually fluid folks of various gender identities are taken to a tropical island to try and match up — is both wildly entertaining and tremendously insightful in terms of how it depicts what it's like for queer and trans folks to try and find love. Reality dating shows are usually ground zero for problematic heteronormative fantasies, but instead we got discussions of transphobia, femmephobia, toxic hyper-masculinity and sexualized racism.
49. Harry Styles's "Lights Up"
Harry Styles — unquestionably one of the biggest male pop stars in the world — released a music video on National Coming Out day this past year where he's dancing half-naked while an assembly of brutally attractive men and women caress him. Immediately and rightfully labelled a "bisexual anthem," the fact that Styles essentially announced he's not straight and the world barely flinched marks some pretty significant progress in popular culture. (Imagine if Justin Timberlake had done this in 2002?)
48. The AIDS documentaries of 2011-2012
Unfortunately, the two films depicting HIV/AIDS most will probably remember the 2010s for are two Oscar-winning garbage fires, Dallas Buyers Club and Bohemian Rhapsody. But the decade should instead be remembered for kicking off with three extraordinary documentaries that look back at the onset of the epidemic each in their own unique way: David Weissman's We Were Here, Jim Hubbard's United in Anger: A History of ACT UP and David France's Oscar-nominated How To Survive a Plague.
47. Andrew Scott on Fleabag
Beyond being more or less the greatest achievement in serial storytelling in 2010s, the second season of Fleabag also let gay actor Andrew Scott become the most lusted after man in the world for a hot minute thanks to his perfectly sexy (and just perfect in general) portrayal of "Hot Priest."
46. Years & Years' Communion
The rise of the queer pop star was definitely a major thing in the 2010s, and any discussion of which has to include Olly Alexander and his British synth-pop band Years & Years. Their 2015 debut album Communion is basically non-stop bops (I still have "King," "Real," "Take Shelter" and "Shine" in heavy rotation five years later) defiantly and blatantly about queer love and sex — and it was hugely successful, debuting at #1 in the UK and selling over one million copies worldwide.
Arguably no medium has upped their queer storytelling game more in the last decade more than television — so much so that the annual GLAAD Media Award for best comedy series went from "the award we just give to Will & Grace" (it won six times in the 2000s) to an actual competitive prize that means something. And this past year, it deservedly went to Tanya Saracho's brilliant Vida, an unapologetically Latinx and queer series with a historically all-queer and all-Latinx writer's room.
44. Kristen Stewart on Saturday Night Live
After starring in one of Hollywood's biggest franchises (which made her the highest-paid actress in the world in 2011 and 2012), Kristen Stewart quickly and gloriously seemed to adopt a zero fucks policy when it came to pretty much everything, including expressing her queerness as an A-list celebrity. This is perhaps best exemplified by her incredibly charming (and legitimately hilarious) Saturday Night Live monologue in 2017, where she taunts Donald Trump for his obsession with her ex-boyfriend Robert Pattinson and casually makes it officially clear she's queer in the process.
43. SOPHIE's OIL OF EVERY PEARL'S UN-INSIDES
For much of the 2010s, little was known about Scottish musician SOPHIE as she tried to remain anonymous, concealing her identity in interviews by masking her voice or covering herself — which led to some assuming she was a man using a female stage name and accusing her of "feminine appropriation" (including most famously Grimes, who called it "fucked up"). But in 2017, SOPHIE came out as a trans woman, releasing a music video for "It's Okay To Cry" in which she used her own voice and image in her work for the first time. It would be the lead single from OIL OF EVERY PEARL'S UN-INSIDES, a sprawling album of experimental pop that won her massive acclaim (and a Grammy nomination).
42. Xavier Dolan's Tom at the Farm
While most view 2014's Mommy as the crowning achievement of Quebec filmmaker Xavier Dolan's prolific first decade of work, its predecessor Tom à la ferme (Tom at the Farm) is right up there with it. Dolan's fourth feature film as a director, the psychological thriller (adapted from Michel Marc Bouchard's play) is a sexy, gripping ride that remains one of his most accomplished films, and arguably features his best performance as the titular Tom.
41. Brandi Carlile's By the Way, I Forgive You
"The song is just for people that feel under-represented, unloved or illegal," Brandi Carlile said of "The Joke," the lead single off her Grammy Award-winning 2018 album By the Way, I Forgive You. And that's really what the genre-bending singer-songwriter — who has been out since 2002 — has been providing with her music all along. (As a bonus, try not to tear up watching her queer "I Will Always Love You" in a duet with Dolly Parton this past summer at the Newport Folk Festival.)
40. Queer Eye
It somehow hasn't even been two years since the second coming of the Fab Five, but Netflix's Queer Eye reboot already feels like it's been on forever — and I mean that as a compliment. To admittedly varying degrees, Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France, Karamo Brown, Bobby Berk and Canada's own Antoni Porowski gave this decade a much needed dose of endearment, making us all cry while challenging social norms.
39. Tig Notaro's Live
On July 30, 2012, comedian Tig Notaro was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts. Four days later, she got on stage at Largo in Los Angeles and addressed the diagnosis in an instantly legendary set that would ultimately be released as the comedy album Live. Notaro thankfully survived the cancer thanks to a double mastectomy, and would later adapt the experience into the narrative of her very underrated Amazon series One Mississippi (which, if you have not seen, please do).
38. Anohni's Hopelessness
In her first album after coming out as trans, Anohni delivered us a profound sonic masterpiece in 2016's Hopelessness, a political statement of an album that touches on everything from state-sponsored execution to animal rights, It would earn her a BRIT Award nomination for Best British Female, a year after she became only the second transgender person to ever be nominated for an Academy Award when her song "Manta Ray" was up for best original song (though the Oscars very problematically did not ask Anohni to perform at the ceremony — leading her to publicly boycott).
37. Schitt's Creek
Arguably the most popular Canadian television export since The Kids and the Hall (if not ever), CBC's very own Schitt's Creek gave us both everyone's favourite pansexual sweater enthusiast David Rose (series co-creator Dan Levy) and the fictional utopia we all deserve: a world where homophobia doesn't seem to exist and David's sexuality is simply accepted by all the show's characters without question.
36. Andrew Sean Greer's Less
Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (an incredibly rare feat for a comedic novel), there were personally few reads this decade I found as delightful as Andrew Sean Greer's Less. Following an aging novelist as he travels the world on a literary tour (though really he's avoiding the wedding of an ex-boyfriend), Less is very much about what it means to get old as a gay man...but it's also hilarious and romantic, landing with a perfect ending that still makes me tear up when I think about it.
35. Pedro Almodóvar's Pain and Glory
Another masterfully realized reflection on gay aging is currently still in cinemas: Pedro Almodóvar's Pain and Glory, a semi-autobiographical look at a filmmaker whose hope and health is fading, portrayed by longtime Almodóvar muse Antonio Banderas essentially playing Almodóvar in a career-best performance (give him an Oscar nomination, please). Four decades and 21 feature films after his 1980 debut Pepi, Luci, Bom, the director continues to prove why he is undoubtedly one of the greatest queer filmmakers of all time.
34. Perfume Genius's "Queen"
Perfume Genius — a.k.a Mike Hadreas — kicked off a decade of living up to his stage name by releasing his acclaimed debut album Learning in 2010. And while pretty much everything he did since qualifies as queer excellence, peak Perfume was probably the gleaming, epic 2014 single "Queen," which he has described as a song inspired by "gay panic" and " the power one can derive from knowing their mere being is making everyone around them extremely uncomfortable." The result is one of the most soaring tracks of the '10s.
33. Big Freedia on "Formation"
Probably the single of the decade was Beyoncé's "Formation," which wouldn't have been the same without the wise words of the queen of bounce herself, Big Freedia: "I did not come to play with you hoes, haha. I came to slay, bitch! I like cornbread and collard greens, bitch! Oh yas, you besta believe it." And while this is just a tiny percentage of the contributions Big Freedia offered this decade (see also her reality show Queen of Bounce and albums Big Freedia Hitz Vol. 1 and Just Be Free) it did rocket her to a whole new level of exposure, queering an iconic single from the world's most celebrated musician a long the way.
32. Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine
Shot entirely with three iPhone 5S phones, Sean Baker's film Tangerine was one of the best films of 2015 in large part thanks to the breakout performances of its leading ladies Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriquez. Neither of the trans women had any acting experience prior to the film, with Baker having met them at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. But the pair carry the film, leading them to become the first transgender actresses to have an Oscar campaign thrown for them. Though they would unfortunately not be nominated, both got Independent Spirit Award nominations and Taylor went on to win).
31. Ocean Vuoung's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
After releasing three lauded collections of poetry (one of which won him the T.S. Elliot Prize), Massachusetts-based writer Ocean Vuong made it even more clear why he's one of our most exciting queer writers with his first novel, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous. Written in the form of a letter from a Vietnamese American son to his illiterate mother, it debuted at #6 on The New York Times bestseller list and even got Vuong on the mainstream talk show circuit — which isn't exactly commonplace for queer poets.
30. Tegan and Sara's Hearthrob
Everything Canadian twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin have done in their 20-year career has been queer excellence, but in 2013 they decided to take their talents into the mainstream by actively trying to make a conventional pop album (they openly credit Taylor Swift for inspiring them to try). Turns out they were quite good at it. Hearthrob — with immensely catchy tracks like "Goodbye, Goodbye," "Drove Me Wild" and lead single "Closer" — maintained their identity while turning up the hooks...and giving them a #3 debut on the Billboard 200 (their highest ever, which remains the case).
29. Please Like Me
Initially — and reductively — pegged as "an Australian Girls if Hannah were a gay dude," Please Like Me centred on 20-something Josh (played by and suggestively based on creator Josh Thomas) as he navigated his relationships with his lovers, family and friends (including Hannah Gadsby). This, of course, sounds like the tagline for countless other series, but under the guidance of Thomas — previously known best in Australia as a comedian and podcaster — it easily set a high bar for wit, insight and charm and only got better with each of its seasons (its fourth and final is honestly ranks up there with the second season of Fleabag as one of the decade's best).
28. Dee Rees's Pariah
In 2011, we met one of the most exciting queer voices to emerge in film this past decade: Dee Rees. Her semi-autobiographical directorial debut Pariah — which follows a Black teenage girl embracing her queer identity — was a huge critical favourite when it premiered at Sundance. And it launched a career that would include 2015's Emmy Award-winning Bessie Smith biopic Bessie and 2017's Mudbound. The latter led to two huge milestones: Rees was the first Black woman to ever be nominated for a writing Oscar or to direct a film for which an actor or actress was nominated for an Academy Award (which is, frankly, insane given that it was just a few years ago and still remains the case).
27. Sam Smith's "Stay With Me"
While, contrary to their own Oscar speech, Sam Smith may not have been the first gay to win an Oscar, they did give us a lot to appreciate in the 2010s, including their undeniably harrowing signature single "Stay With Me." The 2014 release would win Grammys for record and song of the year, and Smith accepted the former with a much more fact-based speech than at the Oscars: "I want to thank the man who this record is about who I fell in love with last year. Thank you so much for breaking my heart because you got me four Grammys."
26. Billy Porter's red carpet fashion
No one redefined what celebrity male fashion could look like this decade more than actor Billy Porter, whose tuxedo gown was literally the best thing about this year's Oscars and who wore this while becoming the first openly gay Black man to win an Emmy for best drama actor. In a world where the aesthetic for men on red carpets has been "normative bore" for far too long, bless Porter for showing everyone how it can be done.
25. Céline Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Robin Campillo's BPM (Beats Per Minute) and Alain Guiraudie's Stranger By The Lake
This is cheating but France's queer film output in the 2010s was so incredible that not including the three films I consider the crème de la crème — 2013's unbearably sexy thriller Stranger By The Lake, 2017's powerful AIDS activism docudrama BPM (Beats Per Minute) and this year's exquisite 18th century lesbian romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire — would be too shameful. While Palme d'Or winning (and straight male gaze-heavy) Blue is the Warmest Colour got more mainstream attention, this trio of masterpieces are much more worthy of yours.
24. Master of None's "Thanksgiving" episode
Lena Waithe became the first LGBTQ woman of colour — and woman of colour, period — to win the Emmy for comedy writing for the 2017 "Thanksgiving" episode of Master of None. Set over an evolution of Thanksgivings between Denise (Waithe) and her mother (Angela Bassett) as the latter comes to terms with her daughter being a lesbian, the episode is about as brilliant a coming out narrative as they get.
23. Daniela Vega in A Fantastic Woman
The 2010s were a massive decade for the evolution of trans representation on screen, and Chilean actress Daniela Vega is a very notable part of that narrative. In the 2017 film A Fantastic Woman — her very first acting role — Vega plays Maria, a trans woman reeling from the death of her boyfriend. Vega's stunning performance helped lead the film to an Oscar for best foreign language film, and set the stage for Vega to become the first transgender person in history to be a presenter at the ceremony.
22. Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right
In another historic awards moment, Lisa Cholodenko became the first openly queer woman to direct a film to a best picture Oscar nomination with The Kids Are All Right (it notably also received nominations for Cholodenko's screenplay, co-written with Stuart Blumberg, and for Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo's performances). And deservedly so: The Kids Are All Right — one of the first mainstream films to depict a same-sex couple raising children — is still smart and warm and hilarious almost a decade later.
21. Kate McKinnon and Bowen Yang on Saturday Night Live
Two of the few undeniably great things about a very uneven decade for Lorne Michaels's 45-season-and-counting Saturday Night Live were the additions of two tremendously talented gay comedians: Kate McKinnon (who joined in 2012 and has been the best thing about SNL ever since) and Bowen Yang (who came on as a writer in 2018 and cast member in 2019). Though obviously McKinnon is in a league of her own at this point, Yang has already injected so much queer life into the series this past season that it gives us hope for its future
20. Andrew Haigh's Weekend
Few things in the 2010s made me swoon harder than Weekend, a 2011 independent British film written and directed by Andrew Haigh. Perfectly naturalistic and uniquely sensitive, the film expresses so much about modern queer sexuality through its subtle story of two men who just met spending a weekend together full of sex, drugs and intimacy. It's really one of the best films of the 2010s, period.
19. The Assassination of Gianni Versace
Ryan Murphy truly outdid himself in the 2010s — so much so that we've included (spoiler alert: the other one isn't The Politician) two of his television series on this list, because they are simply too outstanding and vastly different to lump together. The first came in early 2018, with Murphy dramatizing the events surrounding the assassination of Gianni Versace. Except as the series developed over nine gripping and occasionally quite horrifying episodes, it became less about Versace and more an examination of the psychology of his murderer, Andrew Cunanan. Anchored by a stunning, who-knew-he-had-that-in-him performance by Darren Criss as Cunanan, The Assassination of Gianni Versace ultimately came together as a brutal and brilliant dissection of homophobia — both internal and institutional — unlike anything television's ever seen.
18. Fun Home
The first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist, Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron's Fun Home dominated the 2015 Tony Awards, winning five trophies (including best musical) from their 12 nominations. Adapted from Alison Bechdel's 2006 graphic memoir of the same name, it follows Bechdel's coming out as a lesbian while dealing with the suicide of her closeted father. It ran for 26 previews and 582 regular performances on Broadway before touring around the world.
17. Janelle Monáe's Dirty Computer
Bless Janelle Monáe. Five years after her last album The Electric Lady was released (which is not to suggest she was being lazy: she built up an impressive acting career in between), Monáe graced us with her glorious Dirty Computer on in 2018, one day after coming out as a queer on the cover of Rolling Stone. "Being a queer black woman in America — someone who has been in relationships with both men and women — I consider myself to be a free-ass motherfucker," she said in Rolling Stone, and Dirty Computer sure did reflect that. Full of queer anthems that felt markedly transgressive in the mainstream context Monáe led them to, the album surely gave a generation of queer folks new light — and introduced a lot of people to the term pansexual.
Though its legacy has unfortunately been somewhat tarnished by the sexual harassment allegations that led to the firing of its lead actor Jeffrey Tambor, let's not forgot how wonderful Jill Soloway's Transparent was, particularly in its first two seasons. Inspired by Soloway's own father coming out as transgender, the series followed Maura Pfefferman (Tambor), his ex-wife (how did Judith Light not win an Emmy for this?) and their three remarkably fucked up grown children (Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass and Gaby Hoffmann). More than anything, Transparent was an incredibly insightful window into the human journey.
15. Jeremy Dutcher's Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa
In 2018, the Polaris Music Prize for best full-length Canadian album was given to two-spirit musician Jeremy Dutcher for Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, an album performed entirely in his native Wolastoq language. Dutcher followed in the footsteps of Kaytranada (2016's 99.9%) and Lido Pimienta (2017's La Papessa) to become the third Polaris winner straight to identify as something other than straight. "It's so exciting, the kind of space that's really opened up in this music scene," Dutcher told this column last year. "For two-spirited artists, trans artists, queer artists...anyone under the umbrella. It's really incredible." What's also incredible is Dutcher's decade in general, of which the Polaris win is only one of many highlights. He personally believes that the album's release itself is his true pinnacle, given it was five years in the making. A classically trained operatic tenor and composer from the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, Dutcher studied 110-year-old wax cylinder recordings of Wolastoqiyik people singing their traditional songs. The album incorporated these recordings, writing musical arrangements around them.
14. Luca Guadanigno's Call Me By Your Name
A profoundly stirring love story between two men (and a peach) set in 1980s Italy, Luca Guadagnino's sensual, heartfelt Call Me By Your Name.essentially made Timothée Chalamet's Elio and Armie Hammer's Oliver instant icons of queer cinema — and finally got gay cinematic legend James Ivory an Oscar winner (making him, at 89, the oldest Oscar winner ever). Though let's please just let that legacy be and not give the film a sequel (especially if its based on André Aciman's dreadful sequel to the book the film is based on).
13. Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road"
After ascending to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 on April 13 of this year — just weeks after that very magazine disqualified his song from its separate Hot Country Songs chart for reasons that reeked of racism — Lil Nas X decided to do something that's sadly still taboo in mainstream music (particularly country and hip hop, the genres "Old Town Road" straddles): he came out on the final day of Pride Month. Instead of that preventing him from continuing to dominate the charts (as I'm sure many a handler or record exec told him it would), Lil Nas X stayed at number one for a record-breaking 19 weeks and went on to be nominated for 6 Grammy Awards, including record, album and music video of the year.
12. Janet Mock's Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More
One of the leading trans rights activists of the 2010s (not to mention a writer, television host, director, producer and contributing editor for Marie Claire), Janet Mock could be listed here for dozens of different reasons. Being the first trans woman of colour hired as a writer for a TV series in history and signing a three-year deal with Netflix giving them exclusive rights to her TV series come to mind. But it's her 2014 memoir Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More that feels too momentous to ignore. The first book written by a trans person who transitioned while they were young, it made the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction and helped give Mock the platform that would make her a leader for the rest of the decade to follow.
11. Troye Sivan's Bloom
In many ways, the idea of being a queer teenager in the 2010s honestly sounds pretty horrifying to me. I'll take the more vocal institutional discrimination of the late 1990s over having to deal with the self-esteem destroyers that they must be facing on various social media any given day. But if there's one reason why I'd wish for an alternative universe where I were 16 years old today, it's Troye Sivan. Because as a confused queer teenager, I'm not sure I personally could have asked for more than a self-assured, well-spoken and painfully dreamy twink idol who also makes really, really great music. And that is Troye Sivan, who gave us Bloom last summer: an instant classic pop album filled with bops from start to finish, including a title track that is basically a beautiful ode to bottoming.
10. Todd Haynes's Carol
In 2015, the genius queer minds of filmmaker Todd Haynes, screenwriter Phyllis Nagy and late novelist Patricia Highsmith (not to mention actress Sarah Paulson) came together to create Carol, a glorious adaptation of Highsmith's 1952 novel The Price of Salt. Starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in, frankly, the best performances of either of their careers, the 1950s-set film follows an aspiring photographer as she begins an affair with an older woman going through a divorce. I will live for its brilliance annually well into the 2020s.
9. Hannah Gadsby's Nanette
Hannah Gadsby's Netflix special Nanette singlehandedly changed queer comedy through its revelatory dissection of what it's like to be a queer comedian. And pretty much any LGBTQ comedian will tell you it's been beyond impactful. Pioneering out comedian Elvira Kurt says the special "will be life-affirming and life-changing to more people than Hannah can imagine or will ever know," counting herself among that tally. "What appealed to me most was her pursuit of being her authentic self onstage — very relatable to me personally because it parallels my own journey with the craft and form these past years."
8. Orange is the New Black
While its popularity had faded by the time its final season was released on Netflix in 2019, we should not forget the pioneering legacy of Orange is the New Black. A borderline phenomenon in its prime, its ensemble cast featured at least 10 LGBTQ characters, including the two women (Taylor Schilling's Piper and Laura Prepon's Alex) whose romance was at times the centrepiece of the show. It also really introduced the world to Laverne Cox, who became the first openly transgender person to be on the cover of Time magazine and to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in part because of her work on the show (and also because she's amazing in general).
7. Ellen Page coming out
In 2014, Ellen Page became one of only a handful of folks at her level of celebrity to make the decision to come out publicly when she made a heartfelt speech at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's inaugural Time to Thrive conference. "I am here today because I am gay," she announced. "Maybe I can make a difference — to help others have an easier and more hopeful time. I feel a personal obligation and a social responsibility." And Page didn't just come out: making good on the promise of that speech: she spent the rest of the decade using her celebrity to amplify LGBTQ stories and other LGBTQ artists.
I'm aware not everyone agrees, but I thought Andrew Haigh and Michael Lannan's short-lived HBO series Looking was a legitimately revolutionary exploration of what it means to be gay. And instead of rehashing why, I'll direct you to this 2015 article I wrote right after its final episode aired that concluded with a wish that that the show's legacy "is a viewership that stops looking for validation from Grindr or potential husbands (or, increasingly, both at the same time), and starts utilizing their privilege to take a long, hard look at themselves." Though from personal observation a half-decade later, I can't say it seems like they did.
5. Frank Ocean's Channel Orange
On July 4, 2012, Frank Ocean published an open letter on his Tumblr that addressed the queer themes in his lyrics, saying, "I don't know what happens now, and that's alright. I don't have any secrets I need kept anymore...I feel like a free man." His coming out was a game-changing moment for the hip hop industry, with Jay-Z, Tyler, the Creator and Russell Simmons all immediately announcing their support of Ocean. And then a week later, he released Channel Orange — an immaculate collection of songs about unrequited love, queer sex and existential longing that has come to be regarded as one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the 2010s (and followed it up with what Pitchfork named the most critically acclaimed album of the decade, 2016's Blonde).
4. Lady Gaga's "Born This Way"
Whether you like it or not, the undeniable LGBTQ anthem of the 2010s was the first single off of Lady Gaga's 2011 album of the same name, "Born This Way." And, really, it deserves to be. Lady Gaga took a song with lyrics like "Don't be a drag, just be a queen" and "No matter gay, straight, or bi / Lesbian, transgender life / I'm on the right track, baby / I was born to survive" and pushed it as far into the mainstream as possible, selling over 8 million copies worldwide of the track alone and performing it at the 2017 Super Bowl halftime show for 117.5 million viewers (it was the second most-watched halftime show of all time and actually found higher average viewership than the game itself). Surely, the impact that had on giving hope and strength to an entire generation of LGBTQ youth was massive.
The aforementioned Ryan Murphy would probably be the first to admit he's been aided by his privilege as a white gay cis male who has been working in the industry since the 1990s. But with Pose, he smartly surrounded himself with a diverse staff of talented writers and directors (including the likes of Janet Mock, Our Lady J, Tina Mabry and Steven Canals) to tell a story that's hardly his own: the New York ball culture scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. With the largest cast of trans actors ever assembled for a narrative television series — many of whom had never acted before — Pose had a lot riding on its shoulders when it premiered. But thanks to the thoughtful writing and multiple star-making performances by trans women of colour (Indya Moore and Mj Rodriguez in particular), the show found an undeniably engaging and heartfelt groove within a few episodes, and by its second season basically became the crowning achievement in LGBTQ representation this decade. Every episode was an hour of education, perspective, heart and soul, giving us a powerful and urgent window into Black queer and trans experiences.
2. Moonlight and its Oscar wins
After La La Land was erroneously named best picture at the 2017 Oscar ceremony, Moonlight became the first LGBTQ-themed film to take the prize in perhaps the most dramatic fashion possible. While it's unfortunate the film just couldn't have its moment without all the onstage chaos that overshadowed its win, it's still pretty magical to say these words out loud all these year later: "Moonlight won best picture." It was a very rare case of the film that deserved that prize actually winning it, and it put Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney's story of a queer Black boy front and centre on the world stage.
1. RuPaul's Drag Race becoming a genuine worldwide phenomenon
Since debuting in 2009, RuPaul's Drag Race has undeniably become a worldwide institution. What other reality show can still pack bars week after week with heavily invested fans? (Or maybe I'm just not paying attention to people who still watch Survivor.) Even more important is that as Drag Race continues to push further and further into the mainstream, with it comes thoughtful messages of self-acceptance and empowerment that always feel genuine and sincere. The quality of the series itself (which has had its up and downs over the 2010s) might not qualify as "excellence" in the same way Moonlight or Pose or Channel Orange do, but many of its contestants sure do (see, for absolute starters: Sasha Velour, Alyssa Edwards, Sharon Needles, Bianca Del Rio and Canada's own Brooke Lynn Hytes). And it's hard to look back at LGBTQ culture in the 2010s and not marvel at how many ways RuPaul's Drag Race defied expectations and put the talent of the 100+ queens that graced its stage in the past decade out there for the entire world to see.