We may have been quarantined, on lockdown, social distancing, missing our favorite restaurants and outings, longing for friend hangouts, challenged with online dating, touch deprived, sick of tight quarters with our live-ins or just off kilter with the arrangement of our lives in 2020, but there was no shortage of sexual and gender events to both celebrate and shake our heads about. 

Looking back on all that happened in 2020, here were some of the highlights when it comes to sexuality and gender. 

Sexual Harassment

It’s dizzying to try to keep up with the other ongoing pandemic, the often ignored one: sexual harassment. The good news is that it has been continually named and exposed and we can only hope that it is changing. 

2020 saw a bevy of cases involving everyone from Sommeliers to a top whiskey critic, top modeling agents, museum curators, a Paris mayor, a UK legislator, many U.S. public servants and legislators, the NFL, a Yale law professor, the Hearst Magazine president, a hymn-writer resulting in the Catholic church dropping his hymns and harassers from Jeffrey Epstein’s circle. It goes on and on and they are too many to name.

In such a year, it is ironic that the United Nations decided not to renew the contract of Purna Sen who was appointed in 2018 to address harassment, assault and discrimination at work, including within the UN.

LGBTQ

So much happened around LGBTQ Rights this year. The story of the year was that LGBTQ people were disportionately affected by the pandemic in the U.S., especially LGBTQ people of color. We were more likely to contract the virus, while we have less affordable access to healthcare, and are more likely to have been negatively affected economically including losing jobs and taking pay cuts.

Due to urgent need of donated blood in the U.S. during the pandemic, the FDA loosened the restrictions on men who have sex with men from a deferral period of one full year to 3 months. Restrictions on blood donations were also relaxed in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

The Trump administration attempted to roll back an Obama-era executive order that protected transgender individuals from discrimination in healthcare, but it was blocked by a federal judge.

Sadly, at least 42 transgender or gender non-conforming people were killed in the U.S. this year, a majority of them Black or Latinx transgender women.

There was a lot of good news for LGBTQ folks. Croatia gay couples can now foster children

Hong Kong struck down discriminatory public housing policies that restricted access to same-sex couples, Washington state banned the gay panic defense as a defense to a crime, Albania became the 3rd European country to ban conversion therapy, the president of Zambia pardoned nearly 3000 people that were convicted of homosexuality, same sex marriage became legal in Costa Rica and on February 11, the first same-sex couple in Northern Ireland got married.

Womxn’s Rights and Gender Issues

As far as Womxn’s rights and gender issues, again, the lead story was the pandemic. The emotional impact of the pandemic is mostly falling on women. With women comprising 69% of health care professionals, women were more likely to experience an increase in unpaid care and domestic labor, job and income loss and and an increased risk of domestic violence. At the start of the pandemic, about 2,651,000 women left the workforce bearing disportionately the demands of unpaid domestic labor and child care. There was a 2 hour gender gap in unpaid work and domestic care during the pandemic. Mothers who continue to work had to reduce their work hours five times more than fathers.

In positive news, that impacts people of all genders, especially womxn, the idea of decriminalizing sex work has broken through into public conversation this year.

Reproductive Health and Justice

A study in the U.S. shows that pandemic-related worries about finances and job stability, as well as general unease about the future, may be having an effect on how women feel about having children. It is reported that more than 40% of women have declared having changed their plans about when to have children, or how many children to have, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, black women (44%) and Hispanic women (48%) were more likely than white women (28%) to state that they wanted to have children later or wanted fewer children because of the pandemic. There was an estimated 60 million potential fewer users of modern contraceptive due to disrupted services during the pandemic.

The SCOTUS upheld the Trump Administration rule that employers could deny access to birth control on health care plans if they have religious or moral objections. Many U.S. states used the cornavirus pandemic as an excuse to ban abortions.

Most Important of All

Beyond the pandemic, the biggest, most important story of the year was the story of George Floyd’s death and the firestorm of protests it evoked across the U.S. and around the world. Racism and white supremacy were brought forward into the light so that we can examine the systems that harm people of color and have a broader public conversation about how we change them. The conversation about defunding the police and creating community systems that are designed to address various kinds of problems people face, including mental health issues, homelessness, health issues and other social challenges offers hope for what we will create in the future. 

Many Black authors who write about racial justice saw their books flying off the shelves, and we all get to continue to deepen this conversation and the work to create a truly just and equitable society. What is the first book you will read about racial justice, racism and whiteness this year? We get to understand ever more deeply how much race, gender, sexuality, disability and other aspects of who we are are interrelated. 

I hope that we create new pathways to sexual liberation, empowerment and fulfillment for all people in 2021. I invite you to actively be a part of it.