In a few more days, 2013 would come to a close. But before that – the holiday season. It’s that time of year again, where coloured lights, Christmas trees, sumptious meals and festive carols blanket our island with holiday cheer. A time to spread joy and mirth. A time for reflection and redemption. And what better time to take stock of all the gifts this year has afforded those of us who engage in LGBTQIPA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Pansexual, Asexual) activism than now?

Legal obstacles have been overcome. Same-sex marriage became legal in France, Uruguay, Brazil, New Zealand and the UK. Legislation (Delaware, Illinois, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Rhode Island) and court decisions (California, New Mexico, New Jersey, Utah) allowed 10 more states in the US to recognise same-sex couples in matrimony, bringing that total to 18. Laws were passed securing some adoption rights for same-sex couples in Austria and Portugal. A third gender option is now available for birth certificates in Germany. California passed a wide-ranging law protecting the rights of transgender children

There was no shortage of high-profile coming out stories. In the sports arena we had Jason Collins and Tom Daley. Actor-songstresses Raven-Symoné (I’m such an unashamed That’s so Raven fanboy… squee!) and Charice (Glee!) spoke about their same-sex attractions. People as diverse as Michelle Rodriguez and Clive Davis revealed their bisexuality. Local activist Vincent Wijeysingha came out via Facebook. Parliamentarian Nikki Sinclaire and whistleblower Chelsea Manning were prominent faces of the transgender community. These brave men and women help increase LGBTQIPA visibility and embolden other brave souls in the community.

Then there was the unexpected developments. Ex-gay organization Exodus International issued an apology to the LGBTQIPA community and repudiated conversion / reparative therapy. The Pope (The Advocate’s Person of the Year), on the issue of gay priests, uttered “Who am I to judge?”

Unfortunately, not everything in 2013 was good news.

Judicial gymnastics led to the reinstatement of a sodomy ban in India and revocation of marriage licences for same-sex couples in Australia. Our own 377A of the Singapore Penal Code was upheld. Same-sex marriage was banned in Nigeria and Croatia. Russia signed into law a sweeping prohibition against “gay propaganda“. Parliament of Uganda passed its Anti-Homosexuality Bill (also known as “Kill the Gays” bill for proposals to include the death penalty for homosexuals, which have since been dropped) which criminalises same-sex relations with life imprisonment.  Violence against members of the LGBTQIPA community have been reported in countries such as Brazil , Haiti , Honduras, Jamaica , and Russia.

But this holiday season, as we come together to give thanks to all the good that has been achieved so far, I see no reason not to be hopeful. We have made progress. It may be ponderous, forever stuck in the awkward shuffle of “three steps forward, two steps back”, but it’s progress nonetheless. We may not be able to make great strides through revolutionary acts, but we may continuously engage in small struggles in disparate parts of the world with conflicting results that collectively deflect inch by desperate inch towards change for the better.

To those all the activists out there, thank you. It is you, “the men (and women) in the arena”, tireless in your efforts and dedicated to the cause, who have made the change possible.

To those who see only the setbacks, please do not give in to pessimism. Progress does not come easily. It will come only when people with vision and hope set out to work for it unrelentingl. Keep the faith. Keep it strong. Wear it well. We will taste the fruits of our labour.

To those confronted with bigotry or prejudice, remember: despite how ugly or untenable it might be, hatred should not be returned in kind. One should not hate those who do not understand. It is the season of kinship and love, after all. A time when we remember the ties that bind. When we reaffirm the love we feel towards everyone, our family and friends and neighbours, even to those who may not accept or understand. For one day they might. One day they might come to know and love who we are. And that would be such a beautiful gift.

And to those who might be reading this, Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays – if that’s more your thing), and have a wonderful 2014!

Ivan Teo, 20, is a full-time national serviceman. He will be heading to the United States in 2014 for university.