But the avant-garde demand for revolution inevitably runs against the immediate need for majority protection and basic rights. Most of the efforts of the LGBTQ rights movement moved toward reform rather than remake. And so we have decriminalized gay sex, legalized gay marriage, and allowed gay people to serve openly in the military. And many of us have slipped into a kind of complacency. We once said, “Silence is equal to death.” Now we said, “love is love.”
As more queer people come into the light, parts of the community that were more hidden from the mainstream are demanding their visibility, especially transgender and non-binary people, many of whom were children and teens who in previous generations did not dream. You must not have seen the coming out. And it has made a lot of people of many different political stripes very uncomfortable.
Martin Dauberman, a pioneer, said, “A lot of the improvements in LGBTQ lives that pollsters point to—and on which we base our conclusions that significant progress has been made—don’t really tell us much about how people feel privately.” But what are you feeling?” The gay rights movement historian who, at age 92, has some long-term perspective on the issue. “And I think what we’re seeing now are personal feelings coming to the fore again.”
For most of modern history in the United States, queerness had to be carefully concealed to avoid police harassment and violence. Eventually, promiscuity came to be tolerated if it conformed to heterosexual norms—gender appropriate, couple-centered, monogamous. Now the emphasis on recognition from gay people who do not conform to expectations about gender seems to be a bridge too far.
We’ve been here before. Lionheart activist Urvashi Vaid, who tragically died last year at the age of 63, wrote about this in her prescient book, “Virtual Equality”, which was published in 1995. As a candidate, Bill Clinton had supported the gay vote, but he eventually triangulated his way to the Defense of Marriage Act and the disgraced “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military.
In a 1994 speech, Waid warned us, “In finding ways to change it rather than aspiring to join the mainstream, we risk losing our gay and lesbian souls in order to gain the world.” “
Years of effective activism came to an end with the Supreme Court’s striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act. But as supporters of voting and abortion rights will tell you, the Supreme Court’s decision proves to be a shaky scaffolding on which to build your independence. The Court struck down the Voting Rights Act and overturned Roe. The fight for ballot and physical autonomy has mostly gone down to the state and local levels. It is clear that gay people will receive a frosty reception from the courageous majority of the nation’s highest court.
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