Dear Dr Ren:
I went to a gay wedding recently where family and friends celebrated and danced. After the usual toasts, someone stood and solemnly reminded us of the struggle it has been to get to this point. Shortly thereafter, the parents of the brides got standing ovations for their support. The mood lightened as friends shared their stories about the couple and it once again became just another happy wedding.
I live in the gay ghetto surrounded by open-minded friends and colleagues. I am aware that some people must still remain closeted or face horrible consequences, but this seems very distant from my reality. I am grateful to everyone who has made my life as safe and easy as it is. But honestly, I’m glad I don’t have to be part of the battle constantly. I believe that in many places it is not a big deal to be queer any more. I’m optimistic and happy most of the time. My life makes sense.
Am I living in an isolationist’s bubble or am I right that all the work done for decades to fight homophobia and oppression has paid off?
Good News or Fantasy
Dear Good News,
The answers are “yes” and “no.”
Only half a century ago, you certainly could not have found your comfortable gay ghetto anywhere. American biologist Alfred Kinsey had recently published his research exposing a homosexual lifestyle, but it was still underground and dangerous. The McCarthy Era still reigned. We were a long way from Stonewall.
A quarter century ago, AIDS gripped us, simultaneously exposing and mobilizing us. Grief swept through our community even as we organized and gained strength. The religious right drew a line in the sand and we gathered in coastal cities to comfort and protect one another. When the internet eventually connected us, we learned our numbers and found our voices. We organized, though there was still great danger in coming out. Many lost their families, friends and jobs. Too many lost their lives.
Meanwhile, the women’s movement had celebrated reproductive rights and watched lesbians emerge from Twilight Girls to a full range of womyn and grrlz. Universities established women’s studies departments and governments enacted legislation in reaction to women’s demands. Lesbians spearheaded many of these changes.
Now we enjoy much protective legislation regarding discrimination based on our orientation. In major urban centres, we can always find gay neighbourhoods. We have developed organizations specific to our needs and a community identity. We hold annual Pride parades with major corporate sponsors. We have become a force. We have staged a revolution and we have won.
Well, that is one side of the argument. We needn’t move far from Davie and Denman or Commercial and 1st Ave to be in an area where it is not safe to hold our sweetie’s hand. Only an hour’s drive east will remind you that homophobia is much more than a five-syllable word. The Surrey school board still battles to “protect” children from the knowledge that some homes have two mommies or daddies. Aaron Webster was beaten to death in Stanley Park for being gay only a few years ago and two of his killers are already free, such a trivial crime was it deemed to be.
Has any reader not attended a fundraiser for Little Sister’s legal defence fund? Have you tried to find a copy of XtraWest in the ‘burbs?
Further, we live in one of only five countries where gays can legally wed. There are still nine countries where homosexuality is punishable by death — death!
Queers have higher rates of depression, suicide, and other self-abusive behaviours like smoking and drug abuse across the board.
“Faggot” is a schoolyard pejorative hurled by tots too young to grasp its meaning, but aware of its insulting power.
Recent research hinting at possible genetic manipulation for orientation had clergy reconsidering their position on the sanctity of the womb if it meant they might obliterate gay babies. Churches have split ranks over the ordination of gay ministers and performing gay marriages.
Still, we make progress with each passing year. The more visible we become, the less hatred survives.
You ask if you are blinkered by living in a gay ghetto. Of course you are. We gather together for safety and power. If you were in a tiny town in Oklahoma or Afghanistan or Peru, your experience would be much different. It is easy to forget this when you are surrounded by peaceful acceptance, as we would wish for all our sisters and brothers. Such is not the case.
What happens on the edges inexorably becomes mainstream. And given that homosexuality is benign and universal, it will continue to be woven into society’s fabric.
So while we cheer our progress and dance at our weddings, we must remember that we are far from the finish line. Homophobia remains an issue. None of us is free until all of us are free.