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The Oscars: a year for the gay

According to the latest Nielsen ratings, 43.7 million viewers plugged into the Oscars this year. It was the highest ratings for the award show in the past 14 years. What attracted mass viewers?

Ellen DeGeneres and Jared Leto at the Oscars
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Ellen DeGeneres. Some think the golden ticket was Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres. DeGeneres, who has won the support of many, young and old, holds a special spot in the hearts of the LGBT community. For LGBT parents who may have been watching the show with their children this past Sunday, seeing DeGeneres, an out and proud gay woman leading a prestigious award show, stamps a strong message.

A gay person can be successful.

I’m sure many gay teenagers tuned into the Oscars, happy to view somebody who loves the way they do. Again, the same strong message is portrayed.

A gay person can be successful.

Jared Leto. Jared Leto winning the Academy Award for his supporting role in “Dallas Buyers Club” took a secondary seat to his inspiring acceptance speech. Playing a transgendered character suffering from AIDS in the film, Leto dedicated his award to AIDS victims and encouraged people to keep fighting for their dreams.

“This is for the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS and to those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love. Tonight, I stand here in front of the world, with you and for you,” said Leto during his speech.

Leto’s public acknowledgement of AIDS is the result of decades of hard work and advocacy. Free AIDS testing, the development of successful drugs that slow down the virus, and countless hours of research are a far cry from AIDS' horrible beginnings.

Stigma of AIDS. In the 1980s, many gay men were being infected with the HIV virus. Little was known about the deadly virus. At the time, President Ronald Reagan led the United States. Reagan virtually ignored the AIDS crisis for years, as more and more individuals fell victim to the fatal disease. Reagan’s indifference and religious leader’s view of AIDS as a just punishment helped foster an air of hostility against the LGBT population and unnecessary suffering. The death of actor Rock Hudson to AIDS in 1985 finally forced Reagan to start discussing the epidemic. Many feel that millions of lives could have been spared if Reagan had employed a more active stance against AIDS.

Youngster Ryan White, who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion in 1984 served as a bright spot in AIDS awareness, White traveling the talk show circuit to educate America. White’s death in 1990 was not in vain, The Ryan White Care Act passed to help uninsured and low-income individuals suffering from AIDS to pay for their treatment.

What was formerly a death sentence, is now a controllable disease. While a cure is yet to be found, approximately 30 drugs have been approved to combat AIDS. Today, AIDS is not condemned as a "gay disease." Former NBA star Magic Johnson has been living with AIDS for 23 years.

For LGBT individuals, the 2014 Oscars is a symbol of how far we have come and the barriers we have smashed. Let me take you back a bit.

5 Years Ago: President Barack Obama extends health care benefits to LGBT partners of federal employees.

10 Years Ago: Only the state of Massachusetts allows gay marriage.

17 Years Ago: Ellen Morgan/DeGeneres comes out as gay on her television show. After the next season, the “Ellen” show is canceled for being “too gay” oriented. DeGeneres’s career suffers for 7 years.

30 Years Ago: An unknown disease is killing parts of the gay community. The concept of LGBT marriage and gay families is non-existent.

40 Years Ago: “Homosexuality” is enjoying its recent deletion from the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” no longer classified as a disorder. However, several LGBT individuals are still being beaten, harassed, and tortured. No shows centering on gay families exist.

The concept of a successful lesbian Oscar host is unfathomable. . .

Readers, what LGBT changes do you hope to see in the next 40 years? Please write a comment below.

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