Beyond Visibility: Surviving the storm of a gay-bashing election season

 
 

ENEMIES WITH FACES

Unfortunately for right-wing traditionalists, it’s a lot harder to convince your followers to wage war against an enemy when your enemy has a face. Thanks to the tireless efforts of LGBT rights activists, it is now safe to come out almost everywhere in America, which means a lot more Americans are aware of their gay neighbors. And Americans who don’t know real-life gay people, do know TV gay people.

Throught the entire decade of the 1980s — when the Moral Majority launched itself into the middle of America’s political dialogue — there were only about 10 gay and lesbian characters on American TV. In the 2011-2012 TV season, there are are over 85 LGBT characters on American TV. But queer visibility doesn’t stop there. Where does America go for its daytime entertainment? Ellen DeGeneres. (Lesbian.) Where does America go for its nightly news? Anderson Cooper. (Gay.) Where does America go for financial advice? Suze Orman (Lesbian.) Where does America go for awards show hosting? Neil Patrick Harris. (Gay.) Where does America go for cooking tips? Cat Cora. (Lesbian.)

With the help of a Muppet, Cat Cora teaches children about flan. And gay sex. 

Thirty years ago, a person could have said, “I don’t believe gay people should have the right to get married” and all they would have been rejecting was a concept. Today when a person says that, they’re saying, “I don’t think the friendliest, funniest woman on daytime television should be able to marry the gorgeous, talented woman she’s so very in love with.” Which is one of the reasons why last year, for the first time in history, a majority of Americans (53 percent) said they believed same-sex marriage should be “recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages.”

It’s easy to demonize unknown entities; it’s a lot harder to convince people Ellen and Portia are going to kidnap their children and eat them for dinner.

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

Being a gay person during election season in America is not easy. Whether you like it or not, you are going to be dragged into the national spotlight. Not your ideology about the economy, not your personal principles of faith, not your beliefs about war and immigration and infrastructure and education. No, who you are, the very essence of your identity, is going to come under fire. You will not be able to turn on a televised debate, read opinion pieces in national newspapers, or even pursue Twitter without stumbling across homophobic hate speech about how you don’t deserve the same rights as everyone else because you are, at worst, an abomination to your Creator, and at best, a threat to the stability of society.

And even though times are changing, even though “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been overturned, even though more and more states continue to pass marriage equality legislation, even though most Americans are rushing toward the correct side of social history, the political rhetoric can be monumentally discouraging.

When that kid on the playground told my nephew his pink nail polish was “girl stuff,” my nephew rolled his eyes and said, “That’s a dumb rule. Who made it?” and went about the business of separating his most awesome toy trucks from his super lamest toy trucks. I have no doubt that he’ll show the same sense of indignant independence when his kindergarten classmates mimic the words that have been passed down from politicians to preachers to parents to kids about gay people.

But it breaks my heart a little bit that he’ll ever have to hear someone say I’m not normal.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them!

What bolsters my hope is the knowledge that things really are getting better. The more LGBT people come out, the more LGBT television and movie and book characters we see, the more LGBT news anchors and talkshow hosts and actors and radio personalities we get acquainted with, the more impossible it will become for evangelical right-wingers to fear-monger their constituents and parishioners.  

My sister showed my nephew some music videos of Adam Lambert after the playground nail polish incident, and he fell in love. Here’s what he knows about gay people: They’re “fashionable rock stars” (Lambert), they buy the “very best toys in the world” (me), and they’re “wicked good” at soccer (my girlfriend). They’re the most awesome people on earth, basically.

Harvey Milk said that knowing a gay person “once and for all … break[s] down the myths, destroy[s] the lies and distortions.” My nephew knows a gay person. My grandmother knows a gay person. Everyone who owns a TV knows a gay person. 

Gay people won’t escape the hate tornadoes of this presidential election, and probably not the next one either. The storm is still roaring — but the tide seems to have turned. The day is coming when so many gay people will be known to so many Americans that Moral Majority propaganda won’t hold sway anymore. On that day, the country will echo my already wise nephew. Gay people can’t get married? “That’s a dumb rule. Who made it?”

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