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The Trajectory of the Gay Rights Movement

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Supreme Court Gay Marriage

The rise of the gay rights movement to popular acceptance is probably the most amazing political event of my lifetime, perhaps outside of this nation electing an African-American president. Social movements in American history are for the most part SLOW in advancing, with often decades between any positive institutional change. Then there can often be a big push forward thanks to specific historical circumstances that leads to a certain amount of institutional change, followed by another period of stalling, even as activists continue to fight for change. As I always tell my students, the African-American freedom struggle did not start in 1954 and end in 1968. It started in 1619 and continues today, and if we consider slave resistance broadly, as an identifiable movement for the vast majority of that time. But there have only ever been two periods in American history when enough white people wanted to push forward those rights that the movement could achieve major victories, 1863-70 (or so) and 1954 (or so)-65. Otherwise, too many white people have simply not cared or have been openly hostile for institutional change to create more equal conditions for African-Americans. It’s the same for other movements. Organized labor hasn’t won a nationwide comprehensive pro-worker bill since the Fair Labor Standards Act 77 years ago. The environmental movement can still win big victories in executive action but major environmental bills can win in Congress no longer, and as today’s EPA decision shows, hostile courts can undo them. Lilly Ledbetter was a rare legislative victory for the women’s rights movement in the last few decades.

This story is not entirely untrue in the gay rights movement. After all, there was a tremendous amount of suffering and oppression until fairly recently (and especially in the transgender community, continues today). Gays were routinely murdered on the streets of almost every American city. Clearly the murder of Matthew Shephard was a transitional moment here, akin to the murder of Emmitt Till, that finally started to move heterosexuals toward greater tolerance. Why this particular murder? As with much of history, it’s really impossible to say. After all, my basic theory of change in American history is that you just never know what will capture the attention of the general public, but activists have to fight like everything will in order to be ready to take advantage of that attention. And the gay rights movement does have identifiable antecedents back into the 1950s through the Mattachine Society and other pioneering groups.

But the gay rights movement has advanced at a shockingly fast rate. Even 10 years ago, national gay marriage seemed impossible. I grew up in Springfield, Oregon. In 1992, the Oregon Citizens Alliance passed a city ordinance allowing gays “no special rights,” which was really the right to be recognized as humans. My high school friends were on the streets holding up signs advocating the oppression of gays. That fall and the next couple of election cycles, statewide laws based around that Springfield law nearly passed. In Oregon. Not Texas or Mississippi. Oregon. And one did pass in Colorado. How did we go in 23 years from widespread hatred and revulsion of gays to clear majorities supporting for gay marriage and the Supreme Court granting them that right? That’s a question historians will be debating for a long time.

I also am of the fairly strong belief that the gay rights movement is not going to enter into that long period of stagnation that plagues other movements, although there is some sort of end point toward gay acceptance and legal victories. There’s obvious a lot of fights that still need to be won. First, given Hobby Lobby, it’s entirely possible that the Supreme Court is going allow religious exceptions to corporations for recognizing these gay marriages. Right now, the South is basically going full George Wallace/Orval Faubus against this ruling. We already know that the LGBT community suffers from significant discrimination in housing and employment and in many states there is nothing they can do. And transgender community still suffers the routine murders that killed gay men for years. There’s a long ways to go.

Continued victories are hardly inevitable. It once seemed that the Equal Rights Amendment was a sure thing and support for the women’s movement not only stalled out, but in fact that movement went into decline, taking a defensive posture against declining reproductive rights, fighting against pay inequity that remains stubborn, and dealing with continued misogyny throughout society. Scott pointed this out the other day, cautioning that the only things standing between LGBT people and renewed marriage oppression are the life of Anthony Kennedy and the 2016 presidential election. In a strictly legal sense, this is true. Yet the public support of gay marriage has risen so quickly and really shows little sign of abating. Again, this was also true of abortion in the 60s and 70s.

Here’s what I think the gay rights movement is different. First, lots of gay people are wealthy white men. This is a different kind of underclass than African-Americans and women. These are people who are the overclass except that they are gay. That these are people with access to real power matters. Second, the political campaign to get people to come out to their families and friends has obviously been overwhelmingly successful, even at a sometimes high personal cost to the brave people doing this. The reality is that almost all of us today know people who are openly gay. It’s a lot easier for white people to not know any black people than to not know any gay people. Obviously, we all know women, but as several commenters noted in yesterday’s thread, abortion just cuts differently because of the ability to frame the fetus as a baby. There’s nothing equivalent to this in the rest of American society. That helps explain the stagnation of abortion support versus the still growing support for gay marriage–a support that most importantly skews very heavily to younger voters, suggesting an almost near universal acceptance for people under the age of 30.

Abortion is hardly the whole of the women’s movement and that gets at the potential challenges of the LGBT movement in achieving future victories. As many others have noted, the gay marriage movement was a successful campaign because it was fundamentally conservative. It tapped into the most basic rights in American society, even if marriage politics have always been hotly contested. The African-American freedom struggle also succeeded when asking for the most fundamental of rights: voting rights and the end to the daily routine humiliation of Jim Crow. It’s when you start getting into challenging economic power and personal choice that it gets much harder for social movements to win in the United States. Housing discrimination can be a tough victory. Equality at the job even harder. African-Americans still face routine discrimination in job interviews over something as simple as their name. The women’s movement fight for pay equity has been a decades-long struggle and still has not achieved parity.

So again, you never know what is going to happen. But all trends point toward increasing support for gay rights and the acceptance of gay people into the fabric of American society.

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  • KmCO

    I am just finishing Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, and in the context of this massive judicial victory, it’s been stunning to see how rapidly things have changed on this front. As just one example, as late as the 1960s, a bar could be raided and stripped of its license for serving a single person that the authorities suspected might be gay, in New York City. Reading this, I had to remind myself again and again that we blessedly do not live in that world anymore, and we never will.

    How did we go in 23 years from widespread hatred and revulsion of gays to clear majorities supporting for gay marriage and the Supreme Court granting them that right? That’s a question historians will be debating for a long time.

    I have been wondering this for a long time. The best guess at an answer at this point seems to be the visibility hypothesis, but it seems to me that that alone does not quite capture it. I don’t have any guess about what that something else might be, though.

    • I highly recommend that book to everyone.

    • MAJeff

      One of my favorites.

      One of the things that is significant, though, is that the repressive culture of the 1960s, with laws against serving alcohol (or congregating in public, or mandating certain amounts of gender-specific clothing…) were themselves backlashes. The 1930s ushered in new forms of *specifically* anti-gay repression.

      In other contexts, the 1930s were the first time the federal government targeted homosexuals qua homosexuals in policy. Prior to that, sexual acts had been targeted, but the military exclusions of the 1930s were the first federal policy to specifically target gays as an explicit social category.

      • That stuff is important to remember because the popular public view of gay history (really all of sexual history) before the 1960s is one of repression and oppressions. And it’s a lot more complicated than that.

        • MAJeff

          I remember reading the Lawrence decision, and seeing Katz’s The Invention of Heterosexuality cited. I was actually a little gobsmacked. Fits well with Chauncey, and really points to the historical complexity of sexuality, and the attempts to categorize, organize, and control it.

      • NewishLawyer

        Interesting. The 1930s also contained some of the first large-scale popular culture references to homosexuality. I am thinking of Cary Grant in a woman’s robe in Bringing Up, Baby screaming “All of the sudden, I’ve gone gay….”

        • Feathers

          I had a professor who held that the 60s would have happened in the 30s if not for the stock market crash. The Depression, World War II and the Cold War pushed the social changes caused by the introduction of the automobile off for 30 plus years. Being able to explore new possible personae in new places while not moving away to do so was a huge change.

          • DrS

            Interesting. I’ve recently been musing on how good public transportation, and urban density, makes it a lot easier to meet other people, including for sexy times.

            • Linnaeus

              There’s also the anonymity factor as well – it’s easier to get “lost” in the city and avoid people you’d rather not see.

              • DrS

                This too, and also more density to find a greater number of possible people who are into what you’re into.

                No wonder conservatives have such an aversion to public transportation.

                • KmCO

                  No wonder conservatives have such an aversion to public transportation.

                  And big cities.

          • Henry Holland

            While I enjoyed Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 that KmCO referenced above, there’s a line of thought I ascribe to that suggests the sparkplug for gay rights in the US was the end of World War II. The idea is that some of the soldiers that were returning from Europe, Asia and the Pacific basically thought “I like guys, why the hell would I go back to Abilene [small town Iowa/Montana/rural Nebraska etc.], I’ll stay in New York/Los Angeles/San Francisco” which were the major ports of call for returning soldiers.

            All three cities of course had gay scenes before 1945, but that was the catalyst.

            I’m glad that the city of Los Angeles honored the street in Silver Lake that has the house where Harry Hay started the Mattachine Society.

        • Aimai

          There are several scenes in various Cary Grant movies where he takes on a sterotypically gay role–and Bogart himself parodied a gay man in a scene in the Big Sleep or the Maltese Falcon when he pretends to be a gay bookseller.

          • KmCO

            I recently finished reading The Maltese Falcon, published 1930, and the character of Joel Cairo is pretty explicitly drawn as gay.

            A lot of pre-Code Hollywood movies contained characters implied to be gay, and some scenes in those films are nothing short of homoerotic. I’m thinking specifically of a scene in some James Cagney movie (regrettably, I cannot think of the title at the moment) which featured two male side characters in a bed together, fully clothed but regarding each other pretty amorously.

      • KmCO

        True. The backlash to visible homosexuality really began in earnest in the 1930s and grew in the following decades due to a variety of factors including the backfiring of Prohibition efforts to reign in “moral vice,” gender anxiety following WWII, and the increasingly popular conception of gay men as child predators (fueled in large part by media campaigns and law enforcement propaganda).

        • MAJeff

          I think you mean WWI.

          Those “moral vice issues remind me of sodomy laws themselves. I think it’s kind of funny how Jennie was going off on 19th Century sodomy laws. Eskridge has discussed pretty convincingly how often they were used for more to assuage racial anxiety than to specifically target “homosexuals” as a type of person. Sodomy has long been a moving target, which is the kind of complex history that wingnuts just can’t comprehend.

          • KmCO

            Both, really. I tried to edit my comment to note that the backlash to visible homosexuality began in the ’30s but really flourished in the next three decades.

            Eskridge has discussed pretty convincingly how often they were used for more to assuage racial anxiety than to specifically target “homosexuals” as a type of person.

            They also grew out of xenophobia and middle-class aversion to the “ways” of the working classes.

            • MAJeff

              Oh, I see where you’re going. Yeah, totally. Let’s not forget that there were more folks discharged from government employment for homosexuality during the McCarthy years than for communism. The “red scares” were pretty damned pink.

              • Manju

                The “red scares” were pretty damned pink.

                How long have you been waiting to drop this line?

                • Ahuitzotl

                  Its a great line, well worth hanging onto

              • rea

                And although ironically, what brought McCarthy down was Roy Cohn using his relationship with McCarthy to get preferential treatment from the army for his boyfriend.

                • MAJeff

                  Roy Cohn

                  *spit*

                • DW

                  And that little boy who nobody liked grew up to be… Roy Cohn

              • Pat

                Churchill kept power after WWII by claiming his opponents were gay. Remember Turing?

                • Ahuitzotl

                  What? (a) Churchill DIDNT keep power after WW2 (quite famously so, I thought). And why would Turing be seen as an opponent by Churchill?

                • Pat

                  Here’s a link.

                  We had McCarthy, and the Brits had their own purges.

                • wjts

                  A link which says nothing about Alan Turing, Churchill’s purported enmity towards him, or Churchill claiming his political opponents were gay as a means of holding on to power after WWII. (Which, as Ahuizotl said, he very famously didn’t: Churchill was dumped as Prime Minister in July of 1945.)

              • JL

                All the way back in the ’20s or ’30s, the National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards put up signs in their union halls saying that red-baiting, queer-baiting, and race-baiting were anti-union. They understood the connections, and they had some significant queer leadership too.

                Of course, the CIO booted them out around 1950 for being supposedly Communist-dominated.

    • MAJeff

      The best guess at an answer at this point seems to be the visibility hypothesis,

      More than visibility…contact. More people actually *know* someone who is LGBT. Coming out as a strategy may have started in the 1970s, but it was really the AIDS crisis of the 1980s/90s that drove it to new levels. It was hard to stay in the closet when you were sick and/or dying. That politicized a whole lot of people, and relationship recognition was part of that politicization.

      As more folks came out, more folks saw it was possible to come out. and they came out. And straight folks got to know more and more folks in their families, workplaces, churches, unions, and the like.

      • DrDick

        I think that this is a key point as well.

        • Steve LaBonne

          This is exactly the reason why I used to be moderately supportive of the “new atheists”, before it became clear that being assholes was their top priority. Acceptance has to be preceded by visibility (and contact).

      • Barry Freed

        This exactly. Also seeing or hearing about gay men being kept from the side of their decades-long partner’s sick/deathbed evoked much sympathy. I really think the AIDS crisis had a lot to do with it.

    • alex284

      I think that we reached a tipping point a decade ago. Gay people are more likely to come out if there’s less homophobia, and there’s less homophobia if more gay people come out. We reached a point where we changed equilibria to one that’s more accepting of teh gayz.

      And a bar in 2009 was raided because it was a gay bar (in Texas, if I remember correctly). But at least that was TX and not NYC, so, progress.

      • MAJeff

        Yup. Waco.

        • BubbaDave

          Fort Worth. Waco would have been less surprising, being what Molly Ivins referred to as “the Vatican City of the Baptists.” Fort Worth did its reputation a lot of harm with that raid.

      • Pat

        Ladies and gents, I give you Gavin Newsom, the man who married 4000 gay couples in 2004:

        Because this is about human beings, it’s about love, it’s about life. If you distill the essence of everything, what life is about, every single one of us is given a short moment in time on this planet, and we all have one universal need and desire, and that is to be loved and to love.

        And to deny that for your own political expediency, I don’t want to live in that column, it ain’t worth it. So this to me was a no-brainer.

        And I’ve got to tell you, it has informed me [on other issues]. That is why I came out years ago to legalize marijuana, because I can’t be that person on any issue. I just can’t do it. I am not that good. I can’t fake it. And I won’t.

        Do what you think is right, because one damn thing is an absolute certainly: We come and go. Politicians are a dime a dozen. We are given a very short moment in time, and people don’t give a damn about us. It ain’t about us. And we get so damn consumed that somehow we have superiority or something that is unique and special about us, and then we become a self-preservation project, and we lose complete touch with you and everybody else. Is it any wonder that people hold us in such low esteem? People don’t care anymore because they don’t believe in us, they don’t trust us. And that’s why we should change politics, not just accept the cynical frame that, “well, that’s just politics.”

        Wow!

        • Aimai

          When one man marries 4000 couples we have got to admit that polygamy is here to stay.

      • JL

        And a bar in 2009 was raided because it was a gay bar (in Texas, if I remember correctly).

        Also one (content note: that link has eyewitness accounts of police violence) in Atlanta that year. I remember that it especially shocked people because that particular bar had a lot of elders as patrons and the notion of police roughing up and threatening old people was extra-distressing.

  • MAJeff

    Per your conversation regarding the importance of personal contact and personal narratives. A few years ago, Powell, et. al. took a hard look at some opinion data. Yeah, sustained contact with LGBT folks has an impact on policy preferences.

    One of the interesting aspects, though, was that having friends was a more significant predictor than having family members.

    • Linnaeus

      One of the interesting aspects, though, was that having friends was a more significant predictor than having family members.

      You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.

      • MAJeff

        Exactly.

      • NewishLawyer

        There are people who dispute this notion. I think that certain parts of fan culture are strongly into the idea of “Family by Choice”

        • MAJeff

          That’s not exactly on point here, though.

          Families of choice, as most of us would understand that term, would have shown up as “friends” in the public polling information that was analyzed. “Family” would have referred to kin, those with formally recognized relatives (biology, marriage, or adoption).

          So, yeah, the issue here is one of you pick your “friends” but not your kin.

          My asshole fundamentalist uncle is kin. He may not be part of my family of choice, and being related to me certainly hasn’t improved his impression of gay folks. People with whom I have sustained friendship relationships are, by necessity, more comfortable with it (or it’s “bye-bye”). I have to see him (well, I’ve avoided it for almost three years) to placate my mother. I choose to maintain relationships with “friends.”

        • Linnaeus

          Certainly, people can regard relationships as being familial even if those relationships are not based on law or biological descent. But “choice” is the operative word here. A friendship is predicated on the choice of both parties to be friends, whereas my mother’s brother is regarded as my uncle regardless of the depth of the relationship I have with him. So I can see why having a friend who is gay might have greater effect on my own attitudes about gay people – I’ve cultivated a relationship with that friend and want to see that continue to prosper, which entails support for that person. From there, I can then generalize my experience to those who also have gay friends.

      • alex284

        In other words, the sample was self-selected.

        • MAJeff

          No. the research samples were randomly selected. Friendship circles are self-selected.

  • Lee Rudolph

    And transgender community still suffers the routine murders that killed gay men for years.

    There’s also a steady (if possibly smaller) stream of murders of lesbians for being lesbians.

    • BubbaDave

      And “corrective” rape. Society has gotten better, but there is still a lot of vile hatred left to stamp out.

  • NewishLawyer

    I remember reading somewhere once that gay people are largely seen as being an upper-middle class, educated, and artistic minority. There are obviously gay people in all races and socio-economic groups and education levels but I think Erik rightly notes that the fact that many upper-middle class and educated people can be gay and lesbian helps the cause.

    SSM also helps because it is a status quo fight. Kennedy’s majestic passage in Obergefell is basically a homage to small c conservative and middle-class values. This isn’t about Harry Hay wanting to rip everything to shreds. This is about Bill and Steven want to raise their children in Mill Valley too.

    • Ronan

      Not looking to contradict your point that , “the fact that many upper-middle class and educated people can be gay and lesbian helps the cause”, which I know is a subtle argument.

      But just to complicate the narrative a little…..

      http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/03/the-myth-of-gay-affluence/284570/

      • MAJeff

        I harp on that point about affluence regularly, but the other issue involves this: who’s the public face of the movement? Often, it’s professional-class white folks who have the resources and skills to gain political and media access.

        • Shakezula

          This.

          See also Ellen DeGeneres. (Not the first out celebrity by any means, but certainly the most … I think the word I want is ‘dorbs.)

    • LeeEsq

      Thank somebody for that. I have no patience with revolutionary utopianism. I do not see Harry Hay’s wanting to rip everything to shreds and start all over again would work better than every other attempt at revolutionary utopianism. Most people want stability and do not find the idea of burning everything down attractive even if they are on the outside. Most people on the outside just want in on the inside.

      • alex284

        I’ve lived Harry Hays’ vision a few times (there are some sanctuaries in the US and Europe, my partner is at one right now and I’m headed there in a few weeks). It’s not a template for how everyone should live, but it is really nice to be in a place where I can hug everyone, hang out with boys who wear dresses, and openly talk about my relationship with my partner without being told I’m a moral degenerate or whatever (my sister! who votes Dem! Not 2 years ago!).

        It’s really not as unpleasant as you’re imagining it.

        • LeeEsq

          I am not personally in favor of what can be called public wildness. I think that a lot of social justice and peace is based on a certain amount of calmness and orderliness in public places. Flaunting romantic or sexual success is just as distasteful as flaunting wealth. There are always going to be people who simply have bad love lives, I’m one of them so far, that are going to felt left out of the fun. I’d really prefer to live in a place where I don’t have to be reminded of this daily.

          • KmCO

            I can’t get behind this. I see nothing wrong with certain public displays of exuberance. I’m pretty introverted and do not like to draw attention to myself, so I personally am not one to do so, but I actually admire people who do. And my own love life has thus far been nothing short of abysmal, but I don’t mind people being amorous in public if it’s a genuine display and not just a flaunting (as some people do out of a certain macho bravado).

            • LeeEsq

              There is nothing wrong with certain public displays of affection like hand-holding, light touching, hugging, and kissing but the actively being as visible and lovey-dovey as possible certainly feels excluding. It may or may not be their intent but lack of intent doesn’t change effect. I imagine that getting some glee at making lonely people feel lonelier is at least part of the appeal for some jerks even if it is a largely subconscious thought.

              • Aimai

                That’s just bizarre–the accusation that anyone, anywhere, is living their life and holding hands or kissing their lover in order to “make lonely people feel lonelier” is truly taking solipsism to new depths. If you feel sad when you see other people being happy you should consult a therapist, stat.

              • KmCO

                I imagine that getting some glee at making lonely people feel lonelier is at least part of the appeal for some jerks even if it is a largely subconscious thought.

                No. That’s projection on your part.

          • Ronan

            There’s a , stupid in many many ways, book about the west of Ireland in the 70s (saints scholars and schizophrenics) which despite its faults gives a pretty good description of such an egalitarian society based around the strong policing of unconventional behaviour and stigma against social hierachies. There are certainly some benefits to it but some quite severe costs aswell.

            I think it’s mainly an aesthetic preference tbh. I don’t see public displays of ostentatious behaviour as undermining social stability in advanced western countries (although it might undermine certain types of egalitarianism , which might also be – on the whole-better off lost)

          • JL

            alex284:

            it is really nice to be in a place where I can hug everyone, hang out with boys who wear dresses, and openly talk about my relationship with my partner without being told I’m a moral degenerate

            LeeEsq, in a responding comment:

            I am not personally in favor of what can be called public wildness.

            How could anything alex284 described there possibly be described by a reasonable politically liberal person as “public wildness”?

    • Jackov

      but I think Erik rightly notes that the fact that many upper-middle class and educated people can be gay and lesbian helps the cause.

      Loomis is highlighting more than money and education – “First, lots of gay people are wealthy white men. This is a different kind of underclass than African-Americans and women.” Wealth is only one of the necessary requirements for membership in the overclass. Being white and male are also requirements. Many upper-middle class and educated people can also be women and minorities but women and minorities can not be both white and men.

  • MikeJake

    How long have people accepted the notion that homosexuality is innate? This has been increasingly established as fact, AFAIK. Have people always suspected it was thus, or have they looked at it more like a decadent culture thing? Hard to ignore the persistent presence of homosexuality throughout history.

    • NewishLawyer

      Well there are lots of conservatives who still don’t think it is innate.

      I suspect that there was always an idea of innate homosexuality but it was talked about much more with euphimism. How many “confirmed bachelors” were really homosexual?

    • Linnaeus

      How long have people accepted the notion that homosexuality is innate?

      One thing I’ve been a little uncomfortable with is the idea that one’s sexuality has to be innate in order for it to be “legitimate”. I do understand why that line of argument is convincing because it appeals to people’s sense of fairness with regard to things that people have no control over. But part of me wishes that it didn’t have to come to that.

      • Yeah, that construction of innate sexuality also erases the explicitly political lesbianism of radical feminism in the 70s.

        • rea

          There is a difference between being gay and having same-sex sex.

          • Pat

            After decades together, we seem to always be having the same sex.

      • KmCO

        One thing I’ve been a little uncomfortable with is the idea that one’s sexuality has to be innate in order for it to be “legitimate”.

        +1

        Few aspects of anyone’s personality, sexuality/gender, and psychosocial makeup are entirely innate. That does not make them any less legitimate, or real.

        • Steve LaBonne

          I too have always been uncomfortable with the “innateness” argument. People have every damn right to screw (consensuallly) whomever the hell they want to, just because. It’s nobody else’s business.

          • CD

            … and much more importantly, to fall in love with whomever they want and form relations of responsibility with others regardless of gender presentation.

            It’s worth going back to David Schneider’s work on U.S. kinship every now and then. Screwing functions as a symbol. It doesn’t need to.

      • MikeJake

        Sure, but if there’s a strong correlation between increased understanding and acceptance, that’s useful to know. Nobody is personally required to accept anyone, and they might have to be intellectually “guilted” into doing so by appealing to their reason before they’re willing to accept certain notions of equality.

        And I don’t see that as necessarily a negative thing. It means people respond to education and outreach.

        • Linnaeus

          Oh, I don’t mean to downplay the progress that’s been made. You use the tools you have, and I get that. I just hope that we can expand those tools.

  • DrDick

    I would just add that this has been the most amazing political event of my lifetime, as well, and I was born in 1952. Compared to the African American and other racial/ethnic civil rights movements or the Women’s movement, this has been like a rocket.

  • MAJeff

    One of the things I returned to this weekend was the epilogue to Angels in America.

    This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all.
    And the dead will be commemorated, and we’ll struggle on with the living, and we are not going away.
    We won’t die secret deaths anymore.
    The world only spins forward.
    We will be…citizens.
    The time has come.

    Bye now.
    You are fabulous, each and every one.
    And I bless you: more life.
    The great work begins.”

    That has been such a formative cultural touchstone for me for so long. It helped set the stage. That speech was first performed in 1992. The cocktail had not yet been introduced.

    AIDS politicized LGBT communities in ways that hadn’t been seen since the early liberation days, and it did so in much larger numbers. The AIDS crisis built movement leaders and and new forms of political solidarity as some of the existing splits between gay men and lesbians were (at least temporarily) healed in political struggle. New mobilizing capacity was built and new political relationships were developed.

    I noted above the importance of HIV/AIDS in driving people out of the closet. It was also, however, a significant issue with regard to mass politicization, and broader political identity development in LGBT communities.

    • Pat

      Our daughter didn’t understand why we were a little teary last week when the decision came down, but we also had a lot of friends who didn’t make it to see this day.

    • JL

      Yep. ACT UP and similar groups really deserve more mainstream credit.

  • nbeaudrot

    Will & Grace doesn’t even get a single mention? Or in general the effort to depict gay as “normal” in popular media products.

    • alex284

      I get the feeling that this entire post is based on an understanding of gays derived from Will and Grace.

    • NewishLawyer

      I mentioned it over the weekend thread. I think that people born after 1976 or so grew up knowing openly gay people and seeing them portrayed in the media in a neutral (and therefore positive life). We had Pedro from the Real World III and saw him cooking with his partner. There was also Beth from Real World II. So we grew up with a more normalized concept of homosexuality. We also had the coming out scene from Reality Bytes and other matter of fact treatments of LGBT life.

      There are a lot of people I knew in Junior High School and High School who are out of the closet now. I wonder how many of them would have been out in high school if they attended from 2004-2008 instead of 1994-1998. I grew up in a fairly progressive town.

      • LeeEsq

        By 2004, high schools in major metropolitan areas probably thought they would receive a hard crack down if they attempted to suppress teenage homosexual couples.

    • NewishLawyer

      Now that I think about it, it was fairly revolutionary of MTV to show Pedro cooking with his lover in an ordinary domestic scene in 1993 even if the show was Real World: San Francisco.

      • MAJeff

        They even had a commitment ceremony.

    • LeeEsq

      People make fun of the old Sydney Poitier movies currently but they performed a very important function in mid-20th century America. They created a new image of the African-American man has an outstanding and educated citizen rather than as a menace or a comically relief character from the upper class. There were lots of movies and other media from the mid-1940s and 1950s that laid a lot of prep work for Civil Rights by humanizing African-Americans and other people of color to White Americans. I think that Will & Grace and other media from the 1990s with LGBT people had the same function that Sydney Poitier movies did.

      • wjts

        Popular culture can undoubtedly play a big role in shifting social attitudes. Basil Dearden’s Victim gets a fair amount of credit from some folks for helping to change UK laws on homosexuality.

        • That’s such a fantastic film.

          • wjts

            I picked up Criterion’s Dearden box set during one of Barnes and Noble’s semiannual 50% off sales on Criterion DVDs and Blu-Rays. Thirty bucks got me The League of Gentlemen, Sapphire, Victim, and All Night Long.

            • I buy one film a month. That box set is my July purchase.

      • Drexciya

        People make fun of the old Sydney Poitier movies currently but they performed a very important function in mid-20th century America. They created a new image of the African-American man has an outstanding and educated citizen rather than as a menace or a comically relief character from the upper class. There were lots of movies and other media from the mid-1940s and 1950s that laid a lot of prep work for Civil Rights by humanizing African-Americans and other people of color to White Americans. I think that Will & Grace and other media from the 1990s with LGBT people had the same function that Sydney Poitier movies did.

        Aside from this cringe-worthy description, this quote illustrates why I wish people would be more uncomfortable with these kind of avoidable and breezy comparisons between the history of black civil rights and the history of the current gay movement. Will & Grace is a distinct benchmark because a gay person was responsible for its creation and conception and because the show had (some) actual gay people in mind for its audience. Movies like Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, by contrast, had no creative control from black people and were constructs of a kind of racist pseudo-benevolence that had utility for a black face but had no relationship with black people, no responsibility to black people, (aside from Portier’s acting), limited inclusion of black people and no particularly honest grappling with the dynamics of black people (much less the peculiarities of interracial marriage).

        Movies about the white liberal imagination that include black faces are not the same as movies that are especially interested in black people or black issues. And I, for one, would adopt more skepticism about the humanizing qualities of infallible respectability as a needed precursor for having your humanity visible or acknowledged. Even if your stated thesis were true and even if it did have some measure of influence on white people, it’s not a humanizing influence if a suit, a tie, a wonderful education and perfect white teeth ready to smile (no matter what) is what it takes to make that humanity evident.

        • LeeEsq

          I wasn’t actually thinking of Guess Whose Coming to Dinner or even in the Heat of the Night but Sydney Poitier’s earlier films from the 1940s and 1950s or even smaller things. The fist issue of seventeen magazine had an article denouncing racism against African-Americans and Jewish Americans when it was published in the mid-1940s. A small and probably not that helpful thing but a sign that progress was being made in that an article in a teen magazine was doing prep work for greater social change.

          A lot of successful social change requires prep work and getting people in the majority group ready for it in advance. Your not trying to change the active persecutors but the members of the majority group that just went along with whatever persecution was happening without thinking that much about it. Its how the natural resistance to social change gets weakened.

          • Pat

            If you’re making a nod to obscure prep work, I want to give a shout-out to Mad Magazine, which pushed tolerance and skepticism of corporations throughout the seventies and eighties.

  • Bruce Vail

    ‘First, lots of gay people are wealthy white men.’

    I share your view that the support of a lot of affluent/wealthy people made the gay marriage SCOTUS decision possible. But I think is also entirely possible that these same affluent/wealthy people will withhold their support for fair housing, fair employment, etc., legislation precisely for the reason that they don’t suffer very much from these problems.

    I hope I am not too cynical, and that progress on gay rights will continue to be made. But I worry that more comprehensive forms of anti-discrimination legislation will be far more difficult than the marriage issue.

    • I don’t think they will withhold their support for these issues to the extent that they could be negatively affected. For other people, sure they might not care at all.

    • LeeEsq

      If affluent/wealthy LGBT people view their tribe as being LGBT people than chances are they will be very willing to help less fortunate LGBT people. People tend to be a lot more generous with their property for members of their group than not their group. Tribalism could save the day.

      • JL

        I think there is a serious question as to whether many of them view their tribe as being LGBTQ people (or at least, whether their LGBTQ tribe includes the less fortunate parts of the community). The Andrew Sullivan problem.

    • JL

      This this this.

      Some people criticize marriage equality as an issue that only matters to rich white cis gay men. I think this is radical-hipster-bubble nonsense. Marriage equality matters to a lot of people, and arguably has more material significance for more marginalized people. The correct variant of this argument is that marriage equality does matter to rich white cis gay men in addition to a lot of other people, while many other issues affecting LGBTQ people do not.

      I twice had letters to Andrew Sullivan published on his blog as Dissents of the Day. One of them was about LGBTQ employment anti-discrimination laws. He didn’t consider such laws worth lending his support to.

      • Rob in CT

        Oh, of course he didn’t. That’s so Sully.

        That quote he used about it being hard to see what’s right in front of your nose was very appropriate.

  • Drexciya

    If you want to know why this deliberately narrow definition of gay rights is more politically successful and why gay priorities mirrors the needs of its whitest, most advantaged members, look no further than the image you used to head the post. Mainstream gay politics rests on the deliberate erasure of trans and queer people’s needs when convenient, the whitewashing and exclusion of black and brown queers and the shamelessly heeded invisibility of lesbians. You could say that the face “gay politics” is that of rich white males, but that’s too passive and it fails to underscore the degree to which mainstream gay politics (from both gay and not-gay participants) was and is entirely fine with using racism, sexism, anti-trans politics and class-apathy to propel its own success while signaling its compatibility with those characteristics.

    • Richard Gadsden

      That reminds me very strongly of the kerfuffle that’s happened recently when London Pride got an application to join the Pride March from LGBTQ* UKIP (a organisation widely believed to be racist) and then refused to refer it to their own diversity advisory group. This, understandably, provoked the resignation of the BAME advisor on the diversity group.

      They then reversed their decision and banned UKIP from the march. And then let them “sneak” onto the march on the day with a nod-and-a-wink from the stewards.

    • JL

      Re: Your Buzzfeed link: And this is why so many LGBTQ people dislike the HRC in particular.

      Back when I thought they were just a more mainstream group that had access to power structures because of that, I supported them. Diversity of tactics works both ways right? You need the mainstream lobbyists as well as the radicals. Then I found out that they were exclusionary (and how), not merely mainstream-friendly, and stopped supporting them.

      Of all the big mainstream LGBTQ organizations I think the most inclusive and respectful is the National LGBTQ Task Force. And I suspect they’re that way because they run a big activism conference (which I go to every year) where many of the otherwise-excluded groups show up and push the issues that usually get swept under the rug.

  • alex284

    And the gay rights movement does have identifiable antecedents back into the 1950s through the Mattachine Society and other pioneering groups.

    For the beginning of the gay movement, I’d go back to Richard von Krafft-Ebing. Of course there were people who were being imprisoned for homosexuality and people who didn’t like that fact before the late-19th century. But von Krafft-Ebing is a good place to start because at least he had a concept of homosexuality as an orientation as opposed to a practice.

    These are people who are the overclass except that they are gay. That these are people with access to real power matters.

    How many gay Supreme Court justices are there? How many gay members of Congress? How many openly gay presidents have there been? How many gay Fortune 500 CEOs?

    And, of course, the same thing about being “the overclass except that they are X” can be applied to straight black men and straight white women. Yet somehow it isn’t. Heck, we could even point out that straight white women as a daily presence in the lives of straight white men, are ostensibly loved, have access to many of the same resources, and yet somehow sexism still exists. Or we can point to the straight, black man who happens to be the most powerful person in the country, but racism still exists.

    I’m not just talking about the stereotype that gay men are a bunch of wealthy white men who are not amused by homophobia, but about the real workings of homophobia that prevent gay men from being accepted by straight men into the Old Boys’ Club. If we agree that homophobia exists, that homophobia is something practiced by actual human beings, and that homophobia has real world repercussions, how can a statement that some gay men are wealthy and white be taken to mean that they have access to the same sort of power that wealthy, white, straight men in their position would?

    Obviously, we all know women, but as several commenters noted in yesterday’s thread, abortion just cuts differently because of the ability to frame the fetus as a baby.

    Abortion isn’t the only front at which the women’s rights movement is fighting. There are still lots of people – lots of young people – who don’t want to have women as their bosses, who don’t think that women has an equal right to earn a living, etc. These issues can’t be explained away by babies – sexism is still very real.

    I don’t really know what the point of this post is (homophobia is over? SSM won’t be rolled back? it’s all happening, like, really really fast?), but my vague objection is that oppression isn’t about simple hatred or lack of knowledge of another group. Women are well-known to men and yet sexism persists (even when babies aren’t involved). Every white person could really have black friends and I don’t think that racism would suddenly end. These systems of oppression have reasons for existing and the oppression will continue until those reasons are gone.

    Have the reasons homophobia exist disappeared? Perhaps, I’m not even sure what they are. But until I can kiss my partner in a restaurant without being kicked out (not even 5 years ago! in a major, “liberal” city!), not get teased by straight people for being sensitive or having a feminine voice, and feel free enough to be openly gay even when there’s no apparent benefit to being honest about myself, I’m not going to believe it.

    Maybe we’re getting to a point where there’s an abstract acceptance that gay people exist and they’re not going to change no matter how much they’re punished for being gay. That’s not the same thing as full acceptance.

    • “And, of course, the same thing about being “the overclass except that they are X” can be applied to straight black men and straight white women.”

      No. That’s just wrong. Especially about race. In fact, that’s a pretty shocking thing to say about black men.

      The point of the post is that those very things you describe are today possible, feasible goals, whereas in 1978 in San Francisco, you may well have been murdered in the street for those things you want and the cops would laugh it off.

      • Drexciya

        If we agree that homophobia exists, that homophobia is something practiced by actual human beings, and that homophobia has real world repercussions, how can a statement that some gay men are wealthy and white be taken to mean that they have access to the same sort of power that wealthy, white, straight men in their position would?

        The question of whether homophobia exists, whether homophobia has negative consequences and whether homophobia (as experienced by white male Americans, especially of a certain class) has oppressive effects that are comparable to sexism and/or racism are entirely separate. When thinking through the disparities, consider that your framing makes parity with the most powerful and oppressive members of society a viable goal. You should also consider that very little about homophobia automatically problematizes or minimizes a white male’s involvement in whiteness and maleness or the protections inherent to that involvement.

        I think what’s being acknowledged here is that, unlike some other forms of oppression, white gay people have avenues of personal and professional assimilation into existing power structures. They can and in some cases do belong to that power structure, and that assimilation was utilized powerfully for a cause that was near and dear to their hearts, which lead to swifter integration into mainstream political discourse. It’s not unseemly to think through why this was the case and to pinpoint and analyze the dynamics that made it so. It’s not unseemly to note that such a path to some modicum of political acceptance was and is out of reach for many other oppressed groups (including those who reside at intersections which encompass gayness). Although, as ever, I would have preferred a different (and, for that matter, differently invested) spark for this conversation. Also:

        “And, of course, the same thing about being “the overclass except that they are X” can be applied to straight black men and straight white women.”

        No. Just…no.

        • wjts

          I think what’s being acknowledged here is that, unlike some other forms of oppression, white gay people have avenues of personal and professional assimilation into existing power structures.

          Most important, I think, is that a not-insignificant percentage of the straight, white male power structure have historically been willing to regard homosexuality within their own ranks as an unfortunate and embarrassing peccadillo (provided it was discreet) rather than as an absolute bar to entry.

          • Aimai

            Oh yes. There are varieties of acceptable gay behavior and always have been. Culturally speaking some forms of sex-with-same-sex partner are not seen as really “gay” at all. There’s the long period of “experimentation” that used to be permitted to young men in all male schools and the army, or young women prior to marriage. And there is domination/penetrative sex for men which in many cultures is seen as haut masculine rather than feminine/gay.

    • wjts

      How many gay Supreme Court justices are there? How many gay members of Congress? How many openly gay presidents have there been? How many gay Fortune 500 CEOs?

      None, so far as I know. Six who are out, plus one who is openly bisexual. James Buchanan? One, so far as I know.

      • DrS

        BP isn’t in the Fortune 500, I don’t believe as that list is US based corps. Large multinational though. Their CEO resigned after being outed and that was a mere 8 years ago!

        • wjts

          I was talking about Tim Cook at Apple.

          • DrS

            Yes, sorry I wasn’t clearer. I know that Tim Cook is the only out gay Fortune 500 CEO.

            I find it interesting that the BP guy quit only back in 2007. Wonder if that would be the case now?

  • FMguru

    I think there are three factors contributing to the extremely rapid success of the gay rights movement.

    1) Fundamentally, gay rights don’t really upset the economic status quo so it really didn’t cost the Overclass anything to grant them or give them a strong reason to oppose them. This is very different from labor rights, environmental rights, women’s rights, etcetera.

    2) The AIDS crisis, which radicalized a lot of people who in less apocalyptic circumstances would have probably kept their heads down and muddled through like previous generations. Those people became the core of the leadership pushing for gay marriage.

    3) Finally, the way that the movement refused to listen to its putative allies telling them to “go slow” and not rock the boat and bide their time and oh god you’re going to trigger a backlash. They pushed and pushed and pushed and what do you know they won.

    • Peterr

      Re #3: It wasn’t just refusing to listen to putative allies, but also to elements within the community saying “go slow.” Harvey Milk’s first political battles were with the gays trying to work slowly through straight allies. These gays were appalled with Milk for trying to challenge these allies for a seat at the table — how ungrateful of him! Milk’s reply was that the gay community should not have to depend on the kindness of strangers.

      The same took place with the Proposition 8 case in California. The plaintiffs in that case ruffled a lot of feathers in the LGBT cocktail crowd for trying to push too hard, too fast.

    • BubbaDave

      Re: your point 2, I wonder how much effect the radicalization had in radicalizing people who weren’t radical theorists. Prior to that you had a lot of voices in the gay rights community condemning marriage as a tool of oppression. I wonder how much the response to the AIDS crisis empowered the folks who looked at modern American middle-class life and didn’t think “petty bourgeois slaves to the Man” but instead thought “I have the right to as much of that lifestyle as I want, and I’m willing to fight for it.” For a lot of people I know, the gay agenda is a nice house with a lawn, a pair of good jobs, maybe children, and participation in the community as equals. Just like any other family on the block, except that it’s Tim and Steve or Tina and Donna.

      • Pat

        I think you’re right here, Bubba. Dan Savage talks about coming out when all you had to look forward to was violence and death. In the eighties and nineties, it seemed like a lot of my gay friends were experimenting with different lifestyles, group living, what have you, but many ended up with a single partner. Then they just wanted the comforts of home and the security that they could keep it.

    • UserGoogol

      I think focusing on the economic status quo is myopic. Certainly it helps to have fewer enemies, but abortion rights don’t really upset the economic status quo much and that hasn’t helped much. (There’s certainly ways in which it connects with the more economic side of women’s rights, but abortion would be a pretty safe concession for the rich to make and still have women be paid less.)

      I think it’s more about the specific ways LGBTQ rights do threaten the status quo, and how they’ve been able to adapt to that. Namely, LGBTQ rights threaten broader gender norms. The later letters more than the former, but heterosexuality is certainly a big part of how society “traditionally” expected genders to act. And a big part of how gay rights have advanced is by confronting that directly.

      And then I think a big part of why they’ve succeeded so quickly is because once you get the basic idea that some people are gay and there’s nothing particularly wrong with that, the rest kind of follows pretty quickly. With black people and/or women there’s a lot of institutionalized oppression you have to overcome, with gay people it’s a short step from “gay people are not subhuman” to “gay people should be treated with equal dignity.”

      But then that does show how the rest of LGBTQ has some difficulty ahead. There’s a lot of ways people can clash with gender roles, and transgender and queer people by definition cover quite a few of those ways.

  • “Right now, the South is basically going full George Wallace/Orval Faubus against this ruling.”

    I don’t think this is true. The South is not at all united on this issue like it was vs integration. Many clerks are issuing licenses; the exceptions appear to be in the minority, it seems from anecdotal (Twitter) evidence.

    Once the courts start slapping injunctions, I expect those exceptions will fall away. The Texas AG may encourage resistance, but I haven’t heard him offer to pay any 42 USC 1983 awards against obstructionist clerks.

    • For example.

      “While many states were quick to accept Friday’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down same-sex marriage bans nationwide, state officials in Mississippi and Louisiana issued that statements that made it unclear when, exactly, marriages could begin.

      “But after those officials clarified their positions, clerks began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Monday.”

      (Buzzfeed. POS website won’t let me paste on phone.)

  • Peterr

    As you say, Matthew Shepard was the LGBT parallel to Emmitt Till. What made his murder a powerful touchpoint in this movement toward fuller rights was that he wasn’t a drag queen dancing lewdly on a truckbed in the pride parade. He was an ordinary-looking college kid. It didn’t happen in the extraordinary world of the Castro district in San Francisco, but on an ordinary road outside Laramie, Wyoming.

    To many people, Matthew was a kid-next-door kind of guy, and to hear of him beaten and left to die (which he did a week later) stunned folks. To listen to his parents brought lumps to the throats of millions of other parents around the country, as they made the connection to their own kids.

    • Well true, but there were lots of kids like this who were killed all across the nation.

      • Peterr

        That’s where the Wyoming context matters.

        Wyoming in the American imagination is The West. People wear cowboy hats to church. You’ve got ranchers on horses, as well as rugged individualism married to a sense of “take care of your neighbors”.

        • Maybe? I don’t think see this as an adequate explanation for why this particular murder changed the world when so many others didn’t.

          • Peterr

            I’ll buy “maybe” — I’m just trying to take a stab at your question.

            Going back to your Emmett Till comparison — part of what made his death powerful was the willingness of his family to display the full horror of his death at the funeral. Shepard’s death was similarly vividly public, and IIRC, his mother was not shy at speaking out.

            Another piece of the context is the year — 1998. We’re mostly past the height of the AIDS epidemic by then (certainly past the fearful Reagan era), but AIDS was still a powerful part of what Straight America associated with the gay community: “AIDS is how gays die.”

            Then came Shepard’s death, not from a sexually-transmitted disease, but from a shocking hateful beating. It broke the overwhelming media stereotype of the era about gays and how they die.

          • LeeEsq

            There isn’t really ever going to be an adequate explanation why this event matters while past events did not. Sometimes something really is the right place and the right time. I think that Matthew Shepard was killed just at the point where a majority of young heterosexual people and just enough older heterosexual people could accept homosexuality for a variety of earlier prep work and social change.

            • Pat

              Makes history interesting.

      • KmCO

        Perhaps it was the especially horrific details of his murder that got people’s attention in a way that other murders hadn’t. All such murders are horrible, but there was something that really stuck with me as a teen when the story broke about the fact that he was beaten and then abandoned in a field, to linger for days. Also, the murder occurred in 1998. I have to wonder if that was just late enough for the public’s collective awakening to the humanity of LGBT people to begin.

  • mojrim

    The picture you chose makes the point perfectly, Erik. Photogenic, middle-class, white, etc… Not just better media skills (Thank you Major) but also a friendly, non-threatening, and utterly recognizable face for a plurality of voters. It’s exactly the argument I made several years ago among my friends. When they despaired at getting same sex marriage through in WA, I told them that their status made it inevitable.

    • Pat

      All the pictures on the front page of the LA Times, showing happy couples coming out of San Francisco during the Winter of Love in 2004 did it for me. I could see love in all their faces, and that turned my heart around. Having gay friends was not enough, but seeing happy newlyweds was.

      I think gay marriage happened because it happened. Sort of.

  • CrunchyFrog

    A part of the story – only part, but it’s there – is how the anti-gay legislation was sold to the public. The 1992 movement was against “special rights”. Well, of course, what that meant was that laws had been passed saying people couldn’t be discriminated against on the grounds of race, creed, etc., and now sexual orientation was being added to the list. But the propaganda at the time, in those early years of the right wing wurlitzer, made it sound like gays were actually being given special privileges because they were gay. I remember people commenting on that, but when I asked them to name one of the special rights they couldn’t. Basically, by misrepresenting the issue they both got more votes and generated more antipathy towards gays.

    SImilar propoganda took place in 2004 with the gay marriage issue. Also remember that Rove’s machine was behind making this a ballot measure in so many places specifically to get the Xtians out to vote. But in addition a lot of the propoganda was designed to make it sound like gays would get rights straight people wouldn’t have.

    Yes, there has been an amazing change of attitudes. But I also think that sometime after 2006 the right wing hit machine decided that gay marriage was no longer a useful wedge issue and shifted their propoganda elsewhere, and that played a role.

  • I wonder how much celebrity culture helped. Americans so love to identify with celebs … finding out that some were gay may’ve had a non-negligible effect.

    At any rate, it’s not over yet. My ex moved to Memphis, where the county bans anti- gay employment discrimination. If she moved back to Mississippi, she’d have no such protection.

    • Linnaeus

      At any rate, it’s not over yet. My ex moved to Memphis, where the county bans anti- gay employment discrimination.

      Even that’s not safe, considering the recent trend of attempts of conservative state legislatures to curtail the ability of counties and municipalities to enact ordinances that go beyond what state law does with respect to such things as anti discrimination, prevailing wages, etc.

      • All too true. Some say that the new decision will have a Windsor-like tipping effect on discriminatory laws. I fear it will take an amendment to Title VII, tho I wonder does rational-basis review overlap with Title VII, if RB is becoming more robust.

  • When it comes to this subject, using “gay [whatever]” and “LGBT [whatever]” interchangeably is painfully inaccurate. Trans acceptance and activism haven’t made nearly as much headway as the other letters in that acronym. Sometimes concepts that are meant to convey solidarity instead lead to weak voices being covered up by stronger ones.

    • JL

      And few people know or care about bi issues at all except for bi people (and many bi people aren’t even aware that certain issues might be connected to their bisexuality because most people don’t talk about those issues).

      46.1% of bi women experience attempted or completed rape, compared to 13.1% of lesbians and 17.4% of straight women (source). More than 60% of bi women experience physical violence or rape from an intimate partner (mostly a male intimate partner), and a full 15% have had a partner use a knife or a gun on them compared to 4.4% of straight women (same source). 15%! Regardless of gender, bi people last year were 2.1x more likely to experience sexual hate crimes than LGBTQ hate crime survivors in general.

      Hardly anybody outside of bi caucuses, bi support groups, bi political organizations, even knows this, let alone talks about it. I first learned that this data existed from a bi caucus at an LGBTQ conference.

      • Rob in CT

        Those are some really awful numbers.

        Why? Is this basically about partners who are angry at being left for a member of the other sex and responding with violence?

        • Rob in CT

          In an attempt to not be lazy, I clicked the link to the cdc report and found this bit:

          Among women who experienced rape, bisexual women were significantly more likely to have first been raped between the ages of 11 and 17 years, as compared to heterosexual women. Future studies might examine whether the age at which bisexual women experience other forms of violence (stalking, intimate partner violence) are similarly experienced in adolescence.

          Given that age range, this suggests abuse at the hands of family may be a bit part of it.

          • Pat

            Often kids who are raped are the ones rapists believe won’t tell. Bi children often keep their orientation secret. It’s a burden that puts them at risk from predators.

          • JL

            Family abuse is definitely one option suggested there. Another one is violent, biphobic school bullying.

            I discuss some other possibilities below in reply to Pat. Though like I said, nobody has really studied the reasons that I know of. It’s only recently that it occurred to scholars that they should try looking at bi people separately from gays and lesbians.

            I’m glad you clicked the link – there’s so many more grim numbers there, too many for me to include in a comment.

          • Ahuitzotl

            In an attempt to not be lazy,

            clearly one Internet Tradition you’re not aware of :)

        • Pat

          Not at 60%. There are major control issues going on here. Of course, all domestic abuse is about controlling the victim, but it highlights the idea that a large subset of the population both desires bisexual partners and seeks to control everything they do, with violence if necessary.

      • Pat

        These are incredible stats, JL. I don’t doubt your research, but it begs the question why?? What do you think drives this violence?

        • JL

          As far as I know nobody has properly studied what drives the violence, but I have some speculation (both as a bi person myself and as someone who does a lot of volunteer sexual and domestic violence work as well as a lot of volunteer LGBTQ work).

          Bi women are stereotyped as promiscuous, as male fantasies come true (women for a guy to have sex with and also watch make out with other women! like something out of bad porn!), and as having no sexual boundaries or limits. Bi men are stereotyped as STI vectors (and also promiscuous). Bi people of all genders are stereotyped as cheaters, liars, deceivers, and generally untrustworthy (which I suspect drives some of the domestic violence). Bi people of all genders are stereotyped as depraved (see TV Tropes’ Depraved Bisexual trope page for pop culture examples of how this plays out). Most of these negative stereotypes tie directly into sex and intimacy, and the violence against bi people also ties directly into sex and intimacy.

          Bi people are also invisible until we aren’t. Either a straight person or a gay/lesbian person could be partnered with a bi person and never know it, and that’s threatening to some people. Some lesbians see bi women as, essentially, infiltrators contaminated with male cooties, possibly bringing in diseases and patriarchal influences. Straight people partnered with out bi people have to accept that their bi partners have this whole other community (a community that is in general subject to plenty of negative stereotypes in its own right) that they, the straight person, can never be more than an associate of. My straight cis husband has no problems on this front and doesn’t understand why other straight cis people partnered with bi people do, but not all straight cis people are as reasonable as he is. And gays and lesbians, in my experience, sometimes assume that the partnered-with-straight-people bisexuals in their communities are participating in LGBTQ cultural/political life against the wishes of their partners, or for the purpose of cheating, which reinforces the “untrustworthy” stereotype.

          • Aimai

            Fascinating. Thanks for posting this.

          • Rob in CT

            Bi women are stereotyped as promiscuous, as male fantasies come true

            And when fantasy and reality don’t match up…

          • Pat

            So it’s possible that no one will ever read this, but I’ve got to put in a reply. First of all, I think that you’ve identified an important aspect of intimate violence. I can’t believe, though, that 60% of bi people are even out to their partners, family and associates. So a large part of this violence has to be occurring without the abuser being told that their victim is bisexual. That’s really important.

            Bear with me here – I want to go over some ideas we all know, but trying to put them together like a puzzle.

            1. Abuse and rape are crimes of domination and control. The abuser drives the crime, alternating between praising the victim and tearing them down, isolating them from other people, teaching them that only the abuser is worthy of trust and intimacy. And it’s all about being worthy – the abuser drives the victim to work for their approval.

            2. Abusers are serial. As abusers move from relationship to relationship, they typically maintain their modus operandi.

            3. Abusers fear being exposed. They choose their victims and groom them for abuse, seducing them, isolating them. The violence escalates when the victim starts looking for the exit, but I don’t believe that this is the start of the problem.

            So it’s not the case that abusers don’t attack the straight people they date. They choose bi people, knowing or not, over and over again. While I get that a lot of straight people have trouble understanding that bi isn’t pan, or that bi people can be perfectly monogamous, I don’t think misunderstanding is the basis for your observation.

            I think abusers choose bi people because when they meet them, they feel a sense of empathy from the bi person. Out or not, bi people get why any one person finds any other person attractive. It can foster an immediate sense of intimacy, which abusers crave. (This is my leap of faith, here – I don’t have any evidence for this part.)

            I think that it’s not that bi people are perceived as untrustworthy – rather, that abusers see them as being not credible witnesses. It’s more important to the abuser to choose a victim people won’t believe.

            It’s not about what the victim does, but it’s all about who the victim is.

  • Richard Gadsden

    I’d be very cautious about selecting US-specific explanations. This has happened at similar speeds on similar timescales across a wide variety of western nations, including in Latin America.

    There are some country-specific narratives out there (notably Ireland, where rejection of the political role of the Catholic Church after the paedophilia scandal played a major part in their adoption of SSM) but the overall trend is remarkably similar across virtually all the western world.

    It’s clearly cultural, because the impact across the rich countries of East Asia (Korea, Japan, Taiwan) has been effectively nil.

  • JL

    Here’s what I think the gay rights movement is different. First, lots of gay people are wealthy white men. This is a different kind of underclass than African-Americans and women. These are people who are the overclass except that they are gay.

    The existence of rich white cis gay guys is important, but shouldn’t be overstated (particularly because rich gay men are often used as a negative stereotype of LGBTQ people by people like Scalia, a way to brush aside discussion of oppression). Even gay and bi men are more likely to be poor than straight men, gay men and same-sex couples are more likely to receive government benefits than straight men and different-sex couples, and gay and bi men earn less than straight men in general.

    Another important aspect of this is that rich white cis gay men and other LGBTQ people don’t necessarily prioritize the same issues – hi, Andrew Sullivan – and so what can happen is that issues that rich white cis gay men (but not ONLY rich white cis gay men, that’s an important qualification) care about get prioritized over issues that they don’t care about.

    When was the last time you heard anyone (other than me, if you read my blog or Twitter) talk about the fact that bi women are more than 2.5x more likely to be raped than either straight or lesbian women, and also more likely to experience physical or sexual domestic violence and to be injured by domestic violence? How often do you hear about access problems in domestic violence services for people in same-sex or similar-gender relationships? Youth homelessness gets some attention because kids are sympathetic, but how often do we talk about LGBTQ adult homelessness? Rich white cis gay men’s ability to access the power structure doesn’t seem to help much with these issues.

    • I’m sure this is all true and major issues within the community. The one thing I’d say is that I’m talking specifically about the trajectory of institutionalized legal victories where having a lot of rich white men (even if that’s a minority of the community) can help a lot. A lot of what you are saying reminds me of the split in the feminist movement in the 70s where the concerns of wealthy white women took precedence over, say, welfare politics and ended up focusing on the relatively esoteric ERA than the concerns of poor women or women of color.

      • JL

        The analogy to second-wave feminism is interesting and makes some sense. Though I would be curious about the percentage of LGBTQ people who are rich cis gay white men (even for a broad definition of rich) vs the percentage of second-wave feminists who were rich white women. My intuition is that the latter percentage would be higher, but I have no data to back that up.

        One thing about the institutionalized legal victories: It is worth noting that the LGBTQ world has some distinguished, long-established impact litigation firms specifically for LGBTQ and HIV+ issues – Lambda Legal, GLAD, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Have other anti-oppression movements relied on impact litigation to the same degree? That’s not a rhetorical question, I would love to know the answer. If they haven’t, is your point about the existence of rich white cis gay guys relevant here (maybe there was more LGBTQ impact litigation because there were more LGBTQ lawyers)? There are good reasons to be wary of the side effects of impact litigation, but it’s a very useful way to gain institutionalized legal victories.

        Perhaps unsurprisingly, all of those organizations seem to be getting more inclusive of non-rich-white-cis-gay-men and more interested in the priorities of more marginalized folks, as time goes by. Lambda Legal, which was once stodgey and respectability-obsessed enough to piss off Dan Savage, has run an excellent years-long project on police and court misconduct against LGBTQ people. GLAD’s heavily in the news right now because of Obergefell, but a lot of our (I volunteer on the helpline there) recent work has focused on either youth or trans people (or both) and the helpline answers prisoner letters and does some direct advocacy for trans prisoners in Massachusetts. I can also say that, um, the organization seems to be making some strides toward internal inclusivity as well in the time that I’ve been volunteering there. The NCLR has traditionally been pretty family-law focused, and they will defend the prioritization of marriage and other family issues to the death against the criticism of more radical factions, but they’ve become a fantastic resource for trans youth and trans parents, aslyum seekers, and low-income LGBTQ people.

  • Hayden Arse

    I wonder just how much the internet, and access to information may have accelerated this movement. If the widespread dissemination of information can accelerate social change, is it possible that we could see other social change happen much faster than we would expect based on historical patterns? For example, could the backlash to income inequality take off like wildfire?

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  • Second, the political campaign to get people to come out to their families and friends has obviously been overwhelmingly successful, even at a sometimes high personal cost to the brave people doing this. The reality is that almost all of us today know people who are openly gay. It’s a lot easier for white people to not know any black people than to not know any gay people. Obviously, we all know women, but as several commenters noted in yesterday’s thread, abortion just cuts differently because of the ability to frame the fetus as a baby. There’s nothing equivalent to this in the rest of American society.

    One of the major, major differences, I think, is that it’s possible to know an LGBT person and not know that part until they tell you. In my area it actually is impossible not to know any people of color, and of course in many parts of the South one would be interacting with people of color constantly, but that doesn’t eliminate racism. And as you mentioned, everyone knows women. But in those cases you *know* that they’re African American/Hispanic/a woman, etc. from the beginning and are, consciously or subconsciously, framing everything they do based on the stereotypes you already know, and putting it into that context. Once gay people started coming out in larger numbers, I imagine there are several people who learned that someone they knew was openly gay and had the startling thought, “Him/Her? But they seem so normal!” thus shattering a lot of their stereotypes. I think it really does put the issue in a different context.

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