If you ask the average person if they think gays’ & lesbians’ well-being is getting better or worse nowadays, most will say worse.
To which I say: bullshit.
Keep in mind, I am gay, I do not think gays & lesbians enjoy equal rights, and I do think there is a lot of work still to be done for us to not be treated as second-class citizens and not to worry about our own safety.
But the overall trend is a positive one. Even after 6 1/2 years of the Bush administration (supposedly purveyors of homophobia), and over a decade of Republican control over Congress which ended only recently.
Think about it: most prominent Republicans won’t say something deeply insulting about gay people. Rick Santorum was roundly criticized by most people for making circumlocutory comparisons between gay people and animals. Even right-wingers, for the most part, kept their mouth shut. Twenty years ago, Santorum would’ve enjoyed far more support.
The fact that even a large number of conservative Republicans back civil unions for gays & lesbians is shocking, considering gays & lesbians were considered subhuman when I was a kid (and that was the 80s, folks). Sure, marriage is a sticking point, but I suspect that is a mental barrier that older generations will never truly accept because their opinions and perceptions have fossilized. I know for a fact that I would have difficulty referring to my partner as “my husband” – it just sounds strange to me.
More and more kids are coming out in high school. During the 80s, coming out in my large, urban high school would have been inviting daily death threats. Nowadays, teenagers in rural, remote high schools are coming out, and while they face harrassment, they enjoy far more support from many of their parents, peers and teachers. Again, when I was growing up, homosexuality was considered, at best, a form of mental illness, and worst, an evil that should be purged from the planet.
Gay visibility on TV and popular media is growing, although they tend to focus on annoying caricatures (think Chris Crocker, William Sledd, and Marc on Ugly Betty), but there are a few exceptions. Will (from Will & Grace) provided a more rounded, less stereotypical image of gay people. Ellen DeGeneres is liked and popular with her talk show (well, it doesn’t hurt that she’s blond and thin).
I was heartened to read that the audience listening to Iran’s Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia laughed loudly with derision at his claim that there are no gay people in Iran. Twenty years ago, they might have cooed with jealousy.
This is not to say that gays & lesbians have it easy, that we’re universally accepted, or that we enjoy the same rights and ability to pursue happiness as everyone else. We don’t. Clearly. And there are elements in the Bush administration and among the Republicans that are more than happy to exploit people’s homophobia to get an extra vote or two.
But the trend is in the right direction. The homophobia they’re exploiting is not as strong as it was even a decade ago.
It’s good to be upset by the way things are – dissatisfaction is one of the best motivators for change. But it’s not worth keeping yourself asleep at night, imagining things are truly going down the shithole, when a clean look at the way things really are suggests they are not.