The Year in Queer: Pop Culture Moments of 2020

by Anders Hare (he/him)

Featured Photo Above: Photo by Anna-Louise from Pexels

Welcome to the 2020 Charlotte Pride Magazine! This article is part of the annual Charlotte Pride Magazine, published this year as a special year-end retrospective for 2020. You can see all 2020 Charlotte Pride Magazine content here, as well as finding distribution locations for our limited print run.

Not even the chaotic events of 2020 can cloud a year of historic accomplishments, cultural distinctions, and overall OMG moments among our favorite queer and queer-affirming icons. This year brought forth excellence and innovation in all facets of LGBTQ entertainment. Celebrate 2020’s most vibrant and queer moments of pop culture.

Jaida Essence Hall Claimed Victory on ‘Ru Paul’s Drag Race’ (Season 12)

Jaida Essence Hall. Promotional image courtesy Project Publicity.

After an astounding twelfth season of the iconic “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” series, Milwaukee, Wis., native Jaida Essence Hall emerged as the winner, with Crystal Methyd and Gigi Goode ending as runner-ups and North Carolina’s-own Heidi N Closet as Miss Congeniality. Hall began drag in the early 2010s and eventually made a name for herself in Milwaukee, performing at the Milwaukee Bucks halftime show in 2019. Her aim following her appearance on “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” is to inspire young, Black people coming up behind her. She tells Entertainment Weekly, “I hope I can inspire so many young, Black people like myself who never feel like they’re special or that what they offer the world isn’t important.”

Elliot Page Announced He is Transgender

Elliot Page as Vanya on Netlfix’s “The Umbrella Academy.” Photo/Still Credit: Netflix.

If he wasn’t already a household name for his roles in “Juno” and Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy,” then Elliot Page surely is now. The Oscar-nominated actor took to social media to announce he is transgender and non-binary. Page addressed his followers in an emotional statement saying, “I love that I am trans. And I love that I am queer. And the more I hold myself close and fully embrace who I am, the more I dream, the more my heart grows and the more I thrive.” Before transition, Page was one of Hollywood’s most recognizable openly gay actors, known for his roles in “Hard Candy,” Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” and Sony’s reboot of “Flatliners.” His announcement further cements him as an inspiration to let other aspiring queer actors that if he could do it, they can too.

Elton John and ‘Rocketman’ Won Big at Industry Awards

It’s no secret that “Rocketman,” the biopic depicting the life of music legend and queer icon Elton John, ruled the box offices in 2019 and early 2020. The musical film swept at this year’s first quarter award season –– no surprises there either. “Rocketman” earned 16 industry awards, with John and lyricist Bernie Taupin garnering Best Original Song at both the Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards for their 2019 anthem “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again.” The film’s lead actor Taron Egerton picked up seven nods as well for his portrayal of John including Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globe Awards. A supporter of the LGBT community, Egerton told NME, “Elton John’s a gay icon. And who are we, as frankly heterosexual filmmakers, to not put that element of his story? How dare we. And that’s not what we did.” “Rocketman” also earned a nomination for Outstanding Film – Wide Release at the GLAAD Media Awards. With its critical acclaim, “Rocketman” remains a staple in the life of the icon that is Elton John.

‘Happiest Season’ Broke Barriers in Hollywood

As the first holiday film centering an LGBTQ couple produced by a major studio, Clea DuVall and Mary Holland’s “Happiest Season” is sure to be a Christmas classic. The Hulu original film stars Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis coupled together as they venture home for the holidays in a narrative built on themes of family acceptance and remaining true to self. The holiday flick also stars queer Dan Levy, riding high on his post-“Schitt’s Creek” role. Ranked highly among viewers and critics alike, “Happiest Season” is a heartwarming holiday tale that proves that love –– and entertainment –– knows no boundaries when it’s genuine.

Niecy Nash and Jessica Betts Tied the Knot

Niece Nash’s and Jessica Betts’ wedding. Photo via Twitter/Niecy Nash.

2020 was full of surprises, but none compared to the joyous occasion that was the union of “Claws” actress Niecy Nash and R&B singer Jessica Betts. The pair wed in an intimate ceremony on Aug. 29 in California. The announcement of their marriage broke the internet as it was many fans’ first time learning of Nash’s sexual orientation. Despite not disclosing her sexuality prior, the Emmy winner told People Magazine her marriage to Betts was “not a coming out,” but a “going into myself.” She detailed, “I love who I love. At one point in my life, I married twice and I love those people. And today I love this person. I’ve done everything I wanted to do on my own terms and my own way. So my choice now in a partner has nothing to do with who I’ve always been. It’s a matter of who I am in this moment.”

Zendaya Won an Emmy for Role in ‘Euphoria’

History was made at the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards as Zendaya won Outstanding Actress In A Drama Series for her role as Rue in HBO’s “Euphoria,” becoming the youngest and second Black actress to do so. Popular among the queer community, the show follows recovering teen drug-addict Rue as she forms an often-uncertain relationship with her transgender classmate Jules, played by Hunter Schafer. When speaking on the show’s innate inclusion, Zendaya told Deadline, “I think that that’s what’s good about ‘Euphoria’ is it makes other people feel less alone in their experiences. It makes them know that they’re not the only person dealing with what they’re dealing with.” With an Emmy under her belt, Zendaya is ready for another season of the lauded series.

‘Love, Victor’ Set the Small Screen Ablaze

Photo/Still from “Love Victor”/Hulu.

Fans of the critically-acclaimed “Love, Simon” were treated to second helpings of the self-discovery tale with “Love, Victor.” Set in the world of the groundbreaking 2018 film, the Hulu original series follows Michael Cimino as Victor Salazar, a teen from a half Puerto Rican, half Colombian-American family struggling with his sexual orientation at Creekwood High School after his family’s relocation to Atlanta. Riddled with endearing teen romance, “Love, Victor” brilliantly elevates the genre of queer media. The series was Hulu’s most-watched drama and garnered a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 93% upon its release. Critically-acclaimed, “Love, Victor” is a must-watch contender for the soon-approaching 2021 award season as hopefuls expect the series will be better received than its predecessor.

Lil Nas X Pushed The Envelope past ‘Old Town Road’

Photo/Still from Lil Nas X’s “Holiday”/Vevo.

Perhaps you’ve heard of a little song called “Old Town Road.” It’s the song that put queer rapper, Lil Nas X, on the map in 2019. In a move nothing short of iconic, the track not only earned Lil Nas X two Grammys for Best Music Video and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, but also a GLAAD Media Awards this year. Dodging the term one-hit wonder, the rapper made strides, blending genres, cultures and audiences with his western-chic looks, epic troll sessions and down-to-earth personality. His latest single “Holiday” continues to break records, earning over 50 million views on YouTube since its release. Lil Nas X’s innate style continues to develop as he readies his debut album for the world in 2021.

LGBTQ Candidates Run Historic Campaigns

A highlight of a distinct election year was the inspiring campaigns of a record number of LGBTQ candidates in what some activists have called a “Rainbow Wave.” The most high-profile candidates included the historic presidential campaign of Pete Buttigieg, as well as other federal and state races like those of Delaware’s Sarah McBride and New York’s Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres. Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., became the first openly gay major presidential candidate in U.S. history. The presidential hopeful made it far in 2020, running against Democratic titans such as Presidential-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. In Delaware, well-known trans activist Sarah McBride, who previously worked for the Human Rights Campaign, won her race for a seat in the Delaware state Senate. Her victory makes her the highest-ranking, openly transgender elected official in the country. New York’s Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones won their U.S. House races to become Congress’ first openly gay Black members.