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Has 2014 Been a Good Year for Gay Rights?

03/07/2014 06:02 EST | Updated 05/07/2014 05:59 EDT

So it's Boston, soon it will be St. Patrick's Day, and for those of us with Celtic genes, we will be saying "It's a great day to be Irish." Except the headline that reads "Gay rights group gets OK to join Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade."

Guess it wasn't 'Kiss me I'm Irish' but 'Kiss me, I'm heterosexual" and some of us didn't get the memo.

It's surprising when you think of it, that in the era of Macklemore and Neil Patrick Harris and openly gay football players that we could live in a world where this still happens, where this is still even an issue.

But 2014 has been a mixed bag when it comes to ensuring basic respect for same sex couples. And as the world was talking about whether the IOC should have hosted the Olympics in Russia with Putin's clear anti-gay policies, the state of Arizona was trying to enact modern Jim Crow laws against gays and lesbians. And then there is Toronto, where the Mayor opposes flying the rainbow flag or participating in Pride -- the largest tourism event in the city because he "can't change" who he is. Neither can LGBTQ people, but apparently that's not the point.

But some of the most disturbing moves are being made in Nigeria and Uganda. President Museveni of Uganda, for instance, expressed his concerns thusly: "Even now I have not fully understood that you can fail to get attracted to these beautiful women and get attracted to a man. That is a very serious matter."

Clearly Museveni has never seen a picture of Ryan Gosling. A clear case for universal appeal.

Just a year ago, it was leaked that CIDA was funding an agency in Uganda that believes that homosexuality is a 'perversion'. While the agency protested that their work in Uganda was restricted solely to development work and not proselytization, this seems somewhat at odds with the reality that much of the virulent homophobia across the world has been fuelled by the religious right in the West. The religious right attacks the very idea of what constitutes as traditional African culture, twisting it as something homophobic, exclusionary and fearful when that couldn't be further from the truth. One prominent U.S. religious organization that works in Africa, for instance, suggests that gay men are more likely "to engage in pedophilia." Using cheap scare tactics is par for the course for the religious right, but it does lead to increased violence towards those who don't fit heteronormative roles.

So much for turning the sword into ploughshares.

And so while the world seemed to stand still when Ellen Page came out, people may think that we are making progress.

Jack Burkman, though, doesn't see this as a sign of progress. A prominent Republican strategist, he claims he has been working on legislation that would ban gay athletes from playing in the NFL, citing the showering issue as his line in the sand, "Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man?" This fear on behalf of these massive, straight men sharing shower time with their teammates is at best irrational, at its worst, it is disingenuous fear-mongering. The manipulation of language, the contrasting of "son" with "man," hints at predation, takes us right back to the persistent slur of pedophilia. This is homophobia at its worst.

Burkman, and all those who perpetuate homophobia, ought to be deeply and profoundly ashamed of themselves. They ought to be ashamed that Binyavanga Wainaina faces violence where he lives in South Africa because he is gay. Or what about the anti-gay violence in South Africa, where more than 10 lesbians are raped or gang-raped every week due to their sexuality. It's known as 'corrective' rape. These are the real-life consequences of hate-mongering.

And we should all be ashamed that we put up with the antics of a petulant, homophobic mayor in one of the most multicultural, diverse cities in the world. While we laugh at Jimmy Kimmel's jokes about sweaty, crack-addicted Ford, we forget that he is a mayor who attempted to portray his homophobia as simply an immutable part of his character. If homophobia, or racism, or anti-Semitism, can be understood as mere personal preference, then all the ground we have made to deconstruct and address systemic hatred is lost.

Things may be getting better, but it is clear we can't take any gain made for granted. Openly gay actors and athletes is a good start, but we still have a long way to go before a gay soccer player can step out onto the pitch without hearing homophobic chants, or a man can get married to his boyfriend in Kansas.

And that's a damn shame.

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