The Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality was, rightly, greeted with something akin to euphoria by the GLBT community and many of its straight supporters. There are a number of major battles yet to be fought involving discrimination tucked within the arcane laws of many states which allow open and no-recourse discrimination—being able to be fired from a job or evicted from rental housing among them. They will be dealt with and we will win.
But an article in the New York Times raised a most interesting question: what will increasing equality and acceptance do to the gay community and its sense of unity?
When I first entered the community in the 1950s, gays had no rights. None. We were treated with universal scorn and contempt. The subject of homosexuality was taboo on television, and when CBS, in 1967, finally aired a documentary called “The Homosexuals,” host Mike Wallace’s opening words were to the effect that “Americans” viewed homosexuals with disgust clearly implied that we were being denied even our nationality.
To be gay was to be the member of a secret, underground society with our own secret codes. The only place we had to socialize with others of our own “kind” were the gay bars, which were subject to frequent and relentless police harassment. Homosexuality was classified as a mental illness by the American Psychological Association. It is hardly surprising given the fact gays were constantly told they were almost sub-human, for it to become, for some, a self-fulfilling prophecy. An unrelated but illustrative experiment involved several people coming up, at different times, to an unwitting “subject” and saying variations on, “Are you all right? You look ill.” Though the subject was initially feeling fine, after several people telling him he looked ill, he actually became ill. And so it was with society and many gays.
With increasing acceptance, the question arises as to whether we are in danger of losing many of those things which bound us as a distinct community. Independent gay bookstores began closing as gay themed books made their way into mainstream bookstores. Many gay bars are now no longer exclusively gay. Whereas it was always a case of “us against the world,” that is no longer totally true.
It could be argued that African-Americans have gone through roughly the same thing as they become more assimilated into the general society, but have managed to maintain their own sense of culture. But skin color still, even in the most accepting circumstances, makes them stand out. Can/will the same be true of caucasian gays? Or will married gays with children become like married heterosexuals with children and form a little sub-culture of their own wherein their homosexuality takes second place to their simply being parents? The general social mixing of gays may be compartmentalized.
When I lived in L.A., a gay friend became the first gay man (gay marriage wasn’t even on the horizon, of course, and he didn’t have a partner) to be allowed to adopt a child. He subsequently all but vanished from the gay scene, all his time and efforts devoted to the child. I certainly don’t begrudge him that, and it’s totally understandable, but now we are facing untold and growing numbers of gays in his same situation.
The Court’s decision on marriage will definitely change the entire gay community in significant ways we cannot fully understand at the moment. But at what cost?
Well, as the old saying goes, “the future lies ahead!”
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).