The 2004 Visibility Awards

Ellen DeGeneres
Ellen DeGeneresWhile Ellen DeGeneres maintained a low profile this year (at least until last week), the continued success of her daytime talk show and her ability to appeal to millions of Americans make Ellen a positive force for lesbian visibility even if she never mentions her sexuality on-camera.

Amelie Mauresmo, Rosie Jones & Michele Van Gorp
Although there are many lesbians in professional sports, few have been able to come out without risking their livelihoods, but this year French tennis player Amelie Mauresmo, golfer Rosie Jones, and basketball player Michele Van Gorp challenged that assumption. Mauresmo has been openly gay for a few years and has taken her fair share of criticism from other players about not being feminine enough, but she got the last laugh in 2004 by becoming the highest-ranked female tennis player in the world. Jones and Gorp, meanwhile, came out publicly this year despite the LPGA and WNBA’s general preference that lesbian athletes stay closeted, and neither appear to have experienced negative career consequences because of it. All three women are an inspiration to female athletes, gay and straight.

Mary Cheney
Although politics doesn’t often qualify as entertainment, the lines were blurred this year when Mary Cheney’s sexual orientation became the subject of the televised vice-presidential debate, followed by countless newspaper and magazine articles, TV news coverage, and even a Saturday Night Live skit. None of this was initially Mary’s doing, but that was part of the problem: missing from all the debate over Mary’s sexuality was Mary herself, who refused to comment publicly on this or any other issue. Rumors that she was behind the Republican’s “how dare you” defense at the mention of her alternative sexuality didn’t help matters, nor did the fact that she actively supported the campaign of an anti-gay president. Clearly Mary didn’t seek to become the poster child for the gay marriage and sexuality debate, but by her silence she helped the Republicans reinforce the idea that calling a lesbian a lesbian is offensive.

Melissa Etheridge
From her low-key openness about her relationship with wife Tammy Lynn Michaels to her decision to go public with the news of her breast cancer diagnosis, Melissa Etheridge continues to garner respect—and new fans—among both gay and straight Americans.

The Russian pop duo finally fessed up to faking a lesbian relationship for profit, disappointing many lesbian/bi teens and making a joke out lesbianism (and themselves).

Bryan Fuller & Todd Holland
Bryan Fuller and Todd Holland, the gay co-creators of the short-lived Wonderfalls, gave us the only new lesbian character on network TV in 2004—and a closeted Republican one, at that. Although the series, which debuted in March, only lasted four episodes before being canceled, the character of Sharon is a reminder of what can be achieved when writers rise above stereotypes to create three-dimensional lesbian characters.

Spike Lee
Spike Lee’s heterosexual-male-fantasy version of lesbianism She Hate Me falls squarely in the “thanks, but no thanks” category of lesbian visibility. It reinforced all the old stereotypes about lesbians secretly yearning for men, and then it was peddled as a liberated view of lesbianism. Sorry Spike, we’re not buying it. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

That’s it for this year! Check out our new 2004 timeline for more details on how events unfolded.

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