I recently made a comment on Facebook concerning the announcement from Don Lemon (of CNN) that he is gay. My comment was an admittedly crude remark that Mr. Lemon by making this announcement (as well as his statement concerning the problem of homophobia in the black community), had “bigger balls” than his counterpart at CNN, Anderson Cooper (who is believed to be gay himself). The larger substantive issue that I was attempting to speak about focused on the developing responsibility that popular, well liked individuals in the public sphere currently have towards the community for which they represent. Like Rachel Maddow, I believe that public figures must be open and honest about their sexuality in order to further promote acceptance within the wider community which they influence.
But in saying this, I must recognize that I am comfortable in asserting this requirement of other people due to the fact that I represent an extremely privileged segment of society; college educated white males. Placing calls to action from this community which I essentially am not a part of might be controversial, but there is something to celebrate in the fact a fast growing contingent of people like me (straight white dudes) are not only “tolerant” of the gay community, but feel it necessary to express opinions that 10 years ago even moderate or conservative members of the diverse gay political establishment would not promote out of fear of reprisals.
Ten years ago I was a sophomore in a large public school in upstate New York. That year, a fledgling group of extremely brave individuals began a disciplined and complex political campaign to promote visibility of gay rights within the student body. I hung around these people because I supported their movement, but mainly because I was new to the area and these individuals were understandably sensitive to the feelings of an outsider in our shared suburban community (plus I had a crush on the charismatic leader of the group). There were only a few major sudden changes concerning policy, and I do not remember if any of the stated political goals were fully accomplished in my three years with the group. However the steady progress that I witnessed between 2001 and 2004 did demonstrate several huge changes not only in the acceptance of gay individuals, but improvement of the atmosphere for all “different” people.
In 2001, a person like myself who was supportive of gay rights (and most defiantly not an example of traditional suburban masculinity) could frankly expect an ass kicking at the hands some less than understanding young men on the bus. In 2001 few people beyond those actually inside the gay-straight alliance participated in the Day of Silence, where gay individuals and their supporters choose not to speak in order to demonstrate the oppressive nature of intolerance in the school community. By 2004, consisted anywhere between 1/3-1/2 of the entire school. In 2001, school administrators visibly denied allowing the gay-straight alliance status as an “official” club. By 2004, every member of the administration had a rainbow pin proudly displayed during events like the aforementioned day of silence. The year after I graduated, I was in the audience for my sister’s junior prom, and watched a same-sex female couple walk down the red carpet. This was shocking for many of the parents in the audience, but the students seemed unfazed by the two young women holding hands.
My first year in college saw George Bush re-elected largely due to the cynical strategy of Karl Rove to drive up turnout amongst the traditionally Republican voting bloc of Evangelical Christian’s in the 2004 elections. In response to the freak out after the state supreme court decision in Massachusetts allowed gay marriage, Republicans actively worked to place constitutional anti-gay marriage initiatives in critical swing states, including the deciding state of Ohio. At that point, only a minority of Americans desired full marriage rights (or even the second class status of civil unions) to be extended to same-sex couples. A majority of Americans even supported George Bush’s call for an amendment to the federal constitution prohibiting marriage equality. Today, a majority of Americans support providing full marriage rights to same-sex couples.
This reality of full marriage equality might come as soon as Anthony Kennedy writes his inevidtable majority decision in Perry vs. Schwarzenegger (the Prop 8 case). Remember, he is the same person who wrote the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, which declared that state laws criminalizing gay sex unconstitutional. But any supporter of gay rights can tell you that the fight for equal rights does not end with this possible victory.
Don’t Ask Don’t tell finally ended this year after public sentiment forced action on the part of the Obama administration to fulfill a promise that they made during the campaign. What finally forced the unwarranted dismissal of good soldiers during a time where we are fighting three wars? It was a survey sent to service members that stated a conclusion similar to Charles Barkley. The military is full of professionals who don’t care about whom their team members sleep with, rather the vast majority of service members in every branch just want other capable and dependable soldiers in their units.
The victory with don’t ask don’t tell is well, telling about what the future looks like for the battle for equal rights in this country. It is my generation that has grown up with a larger proportion of openly gay individuals in the public, and in our own smaller community. From these small events, from the acceptance of Ellen into our households, to the popularity of Glee (on FOX nevertheless), it is my generation that is answering the call from decades of gay activists in our glaring apathy towards any differences in sexuality.
Yesterday Long Beach literally shut down for our pride parade (the number one money making event for the city). Every city and county official was present in parade itself, as was our congressional representative. This was an event that saw everything from men-dressed as nuns, to people involved in BSDM cos-play, to our local high school marching band playing Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” (I PROMISE that I will have photos/videos up today). But the most important sight at the event were the protesters- all three of them. They were contained to one loosely protected pen, and their signs were no where near as fiery as those from Fred Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church. Instead the older men held up a few signs with Bible versus, and the lame “God does not accept the way you are”.
The time of the bigots is short, and true equal rights is an inevitable reality. This is an amazing development in just ten years- one that is helped by every influential celebrity comes out in support of the movement.
UPDATE: Salon’s Alex Pareene reports that even Focus on the Family is saying “No Mas” in their efforts to fight against gay marriage.