2015 A to Z: Pop Culture Year in Review

By : Kirk Hartlage
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Last year was indeed a – forgive us – a watermark year for the LGBT community. Groundbreaking changes saw incredible advances in equality, which are reflected in the shows we watch, the products we buy and even how manufacturers sell said products to us. But despite the outpouring of rainbow-festooned support, not everyone is allowed access to the message that we gays and lesbians are still here, we’re still queer, and as far as marrying who we want, you better get used to it.

Take, for example, the child of one of those alleged “Million Moms.” The young boy or girl who just wants to play with a Barbie dolls, enjoy some colorful snack chips, or needs some type of pain or cold and flu relief. Heaven forbid if they want to multi-task their lunch with education, thanks to the alphabet-shaped noodles in their cup. No, now that the companies that make these products have demonstrated their dedication to diversity – be it in their 2015 marketing or philanthropic efforts – organizations like One Million Moms, the American Family Association and other conservative zealots have provided their right-wing parents a whole new list of businesses to avoid.

We’ve seen this page out of their playbook before. So, considering the success of their Disney boycott of a decade-and-a-half ago, we’re not too concerned companies like Mattel, Campbell’s or Frito-Lay are going away anytime soon.

And neither are our favorite shows and singers or trends and tunes – not if we have anything to say about it. Grab a bowl of ABC soup, and have an alphabetized look at what we were really talking about in 2015.

Adele – As quickly as our newest power-piped-performer-already-deemed-an-icon soared up the charts to tell us “Hello,” we said goodbye to any chance of seeing her in concert when all 56 of her 2016 North American Tour dates sold out within minutes of going on sale.

Bengals Butts – During a live post-game locker room interview with Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Adam Jones, the NFL Network accidently showed several of Jones’ teammates in various states of undress. While some players were filmed with their backsides facing the camera, others appeared entirely full-frontal naked. The clip, of course, went viral, giving new definition to the term “armchair quarterback.”

Caitlyn Jenner– From a ratings-busting interview with Diane Sawyer, to “first look” photos on the cover of Vanity Fair, while appearing on multiple reality television shows and beating Twitter records set by President Barack Obama, the retired Olympic athlete practically made transitioning a decathlon of its own.

Doritos – Frito-Lay launched Rainbow Doritos, a limited-edition, lesbian-friendly-cool-ranch-flavored line of snack chips, available for a $10 donation to the It Gets Better Foundation. The entire supply of 10,000 bags sold out in a single day.

Escorts – In August, agents from the Department of Homeland Security and the New York Police Department raided Rentboy.com’s Manhattan headquarters as part of a money laundering and state prostitution investigation. Founded in 1997, government officials apparently only recently became aware of the site’s purpose: “where anyone curious about exploring male-male companionship can hire a man by the hour.”

Fun Home – The show, which details the life of an emerging lesbian with a closeted dad, and is based on the graphic memoir of Alison Bechdel (author of the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For”), won this year’s Tony for Best Musical, proving that Broadway is indeed the gayest place on Earth.

Gender fluid – The unofficial phrase of the year was used to describe a long list of celebs, including pop star Miley Cyrus, deaf “America’s Next Top Model” contestant Nyle DiMarco, trans bodybuilding and powerlifting champ Janae Marie Kroc, and Lily-Rose Depp, the 16-year-old daughter of film star Johnny Depp. We think it might have been a situation in our early teen years involving gender fluids – specifically those of the opposite gender – that made us gay in the first place.

How to Get Away With Murder – ABC’s hit show continued to shock with some of the most graphic gay sex scenes on network television, then turned up the voltage by revealing Viola Davis’ character was bisexual, and in making one of its gay leads HIV-positive. That plot change explored mixed-status relationships and took PrEP primetime.

In The Lonely Hour – In his debut album, Adele’s male counterpart Sam Smith dominated awards shows in 2015. At one he thanked his ex for inspiration, saying, “I would like to thank the man that I fell in love with last year – the man who this album is about. Thank you so much for breaking my heart, because you got me four Grammys!” Smith ended the year on another high, when “Writing’s on the Wall,” his theme for the movie “Spectre” became the first James Bond song to hit number one in the UK.

Jussie Smollett – The star of Fox’s hit “Empire” proved one long-standing acting rule untrue: that a gay man can indeed portray a gay character in Hollywood.

Kravitz, Lenny – Why, oh why, couldn’t the legendary guitarist’s pant split, which exposed his impressive jewelry-adorned junk during a Stockholm concert, have happened at his appearance in Katy Perry’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, where wardrobe malfunctions are the norm?

Laverne Cox – The Emmy-nominated actress became the first transgender person commemorated with a Madame Tussauds’ wax figure, and was also included on Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People” list. Indeed, when magazines wanted to put a little more color into their trans community coverage they turned to Cox; Entertainment Weekly dressed the star as the Statue of Liberty for the cover of a June issue devoted to LGBT Hollywood & Pop Culture. However, in a list of their favorite fictional LGBTs, EW editors went straight, bypassing characters perceived as “fem” over more straight-acting ones: Will over Jack (Will & Grace), Mitch over Cam (Modern Family), and Robin Williams’ Armand over Nathan Lanes’ Albert (The Birdcage).

Moschino Barbie – What appeared to be a first for toy manufacturer Mattel – putting a boy in a TV ad playing with the iconic doll – only turned out to be a fauxmercial. The spot, which features the boy saying, “Moschino Barbie is so fierce!” was produced by the fashion label to announce the arrival of a collector’s edition doll that sold out within minutes.

Netflix and Chill – While straights were using the expression as slang for hooking up, we were actually watching the streaming service and others to catch some of the best, and sometimes steamiest programming around. Grace and Frankie, Sense8, and Transparent (on Amazon) became must-see TV, while HBO decided people were, in fact, not Looking at their gay take on Sex and the City and cancelled the show.

Orlando City – The debut season of Florida’s newest professional sports team struck a nerve with LGBT fans with the inclusion of a dedicated Pride night, just in time to kickoff Come out with Pride week in October. By season’s end, the soccer club announced their latest expansion: the launch of the aptly-named Pride, a professional women’s team.

Peeno Noir – If the ode to black wang from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt couldn’t win an Emmy for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics (since – gasp! – it wasn’t nominated), then surely its performer – actor Tituss Burgess, who was up for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series – should have.

Queens –Steve Harvey allowed Miss Colombia to be Miss Universe for a hot minute before naming Miss Philippines the true winner, but he wasn’t the only host to award a crown to the wrong queen this year. RuPaul did it first, when she named Violet Chachki the winner of Drag Race Season 7 over our very own Ginger Minj.

Rugby – The shorty-short sport saw the most gay action this year, so to speak. Keegan Hirst became Britain’s first openly gay Rugby League player in August, and quickly became a cover model for LGBT periodicals across the UK. Retired player Gareth Thomas, whose award-winning biography came out in paperback this year, had his coming out story detailed in a September online ad for Guinness Beer. Meanwhile, Cosmopolitan France magazine celebrated the Rugby World Cup with a steamy video featuring nothing but naked rugby players. Stateside USA Rugby signed a memorandum of understanding with International Gay Rugby (IGR) that promotes a diverse and inclusive environment in all levels of rugby, working to end homophobia in all areas of the game.

Soup – While the E! Network put a lid on theirs, Campbell’s hoped consumers would do the opposite with theirs, encouraged by a TV ad that featured two gay dads doing their best Star Wars impersonations while feeding their child spoonfuls of Chicken and Stars Soup. The ad, part of the company’s “Made for Real, Real Life” campaign, convinced right-wing zealots that Campbell’s had indeed turned to the dark side.

Tylenol – In their diversity-themed “How We Family” campaign, the pharmaceutical manufacturer said it didn’t matter who you loved, but how, and used real life gay (the Redwood O’Hares) and lesbian (the Thompsons) families to demonstrate.

U.S. Supreme Court – Thanks, nation’s highest court, for making marriage equality the law of the land, but no thanks for stigmatizing any gay, bi, lesbian, transgender or ally who didn’t immediately put a rainbow filter over their Facebook profile pic on June 26.

Vogue – This year marked the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the Harlem drag ball dance style to mainstream culture, and no one celebrated it better than Channing Tatum in a viral video for Vanity Fair promoting “Magic Mike XXL.” Perhaps if Madonna stuck to the hand-and-arm choreography she knows best instead of performing with a full-length Armani matador cape, she wouldn’t have fallen backwards down those stairs at the Brit awards.

Wiz – Third time’s a charm, at least for NBC with their latest live musical broadcast. The Wiz was, by far, the network’s most colorful production yet thanks to its vogue-ing Emerald City residents, also its gayest. That and Queen Latifah.

XXX – The past year was not kind to the gay adult film industry; what seemed to be a larger-than-usual number of porn stars either lost or took their own lives in 2015. Kamrun, an Africa-American performer who first appeared in porn in 1997, passed away from unknown causes in January. Christopher Luke McAteer, a model for the gay porn website Corbin Fisher where he performed under the name “Clay,” committed suicide in April after he allegedly fired rounds at the Kentucky restaurant where he worked; later that month Rylan Knox died after hanging himself in his boyfriend’s apartment. Mateo Stanford died in June of unknown causes in his native Spain, where the 35-year-old lived; Cole Tucker, who started making appearances in gay pornography in 1996 at the age of 43, died of an AIDS-related illness that same month. Reality show performer Mehran Chestnut (known as “King B”) died in September; his death was ruled an accident due to inhaling cleaning solvent and suffering acute chloroethane toxicity. In October, producer/director/actor Blue Blake, née Glenn Marsh, was found dead of unknown causes in his London home. The 52-year-old was a former Royal Marine, inducted into the GayVN Hall of Fame in 2005, and in 2008 published an autobiography, Out of the Blue: Confessions of an Unlikely Porn Star. Zac Stevens, who performed in a number of gay adult films with Men.com and Helix Studios, committed suicide in San Diego in November at the age of 25. An autopsy confirmed Dimitri Kane took his own life in November; Kane, whose real name was Constantine Moraitis, was allegedly living at the Banyan Treatment Center in Pompano Beach for drug addiction.

Yaaas! – As in “Yaaas, queen!” It’s our favorite contribution to the general lexicon since “You better work!”

Zachary and Elijah – The children of Elton John and David Furnish were caught in the middle of a war of words between their parents and fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. In a March cover story for an Italian magazine titled “Long-Live the [Traditional] Family,” the designers came out against the use of surrogate mothers claiming children need “a mother and a father.” Dolce said, “I’m not convinced with what I call children of chemistry, synthetic babies… rented uteruses, seeds chosen from a catalogue.” John responded on Instagram, saying, “How dare you refer to my beautiful children as ‘synthetic?’ Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions. I shall never wear Dolce and Gabbana ever again. #BoycottDolceGabbana”

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