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Barriers remain despite recent gay rights milestones, advocates say

Gays have scored victories for same-sex marriage and adoption, but the future of "don't ask, don't tell" is uncertain. And recent teen suicides raise questions about societal acceptance.

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By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2010; 12:42 PM

A judge's order this week ending the military ban on openly gay service members capped a ground-breaking year for gay rights advocates, who have won a series of courtroom victories on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to adoption.

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But several recent incidents have highlighted a harsher reality. At least five teens across the country have taken their own lives after allegedly being taunted as gay. This week, authorities arrested 10 people in the Bronx, N.Y., in connection with the brutal assault of two teens and an adult who police say were tortured for being gay.

And earlier this week, Carl P. Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor in New York, grabbed headlines for saying that children should not be "brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option."

The incidents have sparked outrage from gay rights advocates, who say they are evidence that America in many ways remains a hostile place for gays and lesbians despite the movement's significant and rapid progress.

"It's a very odd moment, because there's all of these horrific things happening, and they are happening at a moment when we're making faster progress than, I think, ever before," said Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, an advocacy group.

This summer, supporters of gay unions won a historic victory when a federal judge struck down California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. The decision followed a ruling in Massachusetts declaring unconstitutional the federal government's ban on recognizing legally married same-sex couples. Both decisions are on hold pending appeal.

On Wednesday, Florida officials announced they would comply with a court ruling that the state must drop its 33-year ban on adoptions by gays.

And a federal judge on Tuesday ordered the military to end its "don't ask, don't tell" policy forbidding gay and lesbian members of the military from serving openly. That decision came weeks after a federal judge in Washington state ordered the reinstatement of a decorated Air Force officer who had been dismissed for revealing she is a lesbian.

But the Bronx attacks, the rash of teen suicides and the remarks by a prominent politician - who later apologized - have cast a shadow over those gains.

According to police, the 10 men in the Bronx attacks lured the teens and a 30-year-old man into a home and "tortured" them for several hours while using gay epithets.

Last month, Tyler Clementi, 18, a Rutgers University student, jumped off a bridge after a sexual encounter he had with another man was caught on a webcam and broadcast. About the same time, Seth Walsh, an openly gay 13-year-old, hanged himself in his Fresno, Calif., home after complaining of bullying, according to media reports.

Asher Brown, 13, of Houston, shot himself after classmates mocked him by calling him gay, his parents told the Houston Chronicle. Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old from Indiana, hanged himself after enduring years of torment, a friend told news organizations.


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