On January 3, Tammy Baldwin assumed office as the first openly gay person ever elected to the US Senate. She didn’t think it was a big deal, though, and kept repeating in interviews that “I didn’t run to make history.” But the voters had spoken, and they sounded pretty excited about lesbian leaders. By September, when New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn spectacularly lost her bid for the city’s Democratic mayoral nominee, the fact that she was a lesbian seemed to be the main reason she didn’t lose by a larger margin. The man she lost to, meanwhile, is married to the author of a 1979 Essence magazine article titled “I Am A Lesbian.”
Elsewhere in the U.S. political landscape, 2013’s national victories for gay rights featured lesbians at their center. Edie Windsor, plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that overturned section 3 of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, won a lawsuit for the nearly $360,000 in federal taxes she was obliged to pay on the estate of her late partner, Thea Spyer. It was a gay rights victory for the Citizens United era, as one friend of mine quipped, fighting discrimination by upholding estate tax privileges. The Court’s decision was issued on June 26, two days before the 44th New York Gay Pride parade at which Windsor served as Grand Marshall. The crowd was far too jubilant to gripe that the corporate event called Pride Weekend had once been the community event called Christopher Street Liberation Day.
From the gritty streets to the glossy sheets, lesbians were exalted as a metaphor for all kinds of domestic arrangements in 2013. In May, The New Yorker celebrated Mother’s Day with Chris Ware’s cover featuring two lesbians in their spacious kitchen, reading the card left by their three children. On June 28, Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier, plaintiffs before the Supreme Court whose case legalized gay marriage in California, celebrated with the first same-sex wedding to be performed in San Francisco City Hall that day. Across the country, Beth Asaro and Joanne Schailey, the first pair to have a civil union in New Jersey in 2007, were married by the mayor of Lambertville when same-sex marriage became legal in the Garden State on October 20. Lesbians had become the face of gay marriage, and, maybe not coincidentally, gay marriage had been rebranded as “marriage equality.”
While it’s safe to assume that not all lesbians found love and money in 2013, those who were down on their luck only tended to appear in fictions rather than headlines. The year bloomed with stories about lesbian criminals. Mediaphiles spent the summer buzzing about Netflix’s original series “Orange is the New Black,” a serial reboot of the “women in prison” films of the 1950s—though now the lesbians behind bars are not necessarily dastardly butch villains so much as alt-femme anti-heroes. That is not to say, however, that the hot butch has no place in 2013’s mediascape. She was wonderfully realized in Max Freeman and Margaret Singer’s web series “The 3 Bits,” where the conniving Mr. Pussy tries to lure the earnest Roman into the shadowy underworld of drug dealing and away from her honest life as a lesbian hooker.