This year's grassroots 'Equality Across America' March, on October 11, showed a generational shift in the LGBT movement. While there was optimism about President Obama on the part of LGBT youth, which represented much of the 150,000 to 200,000 rally attendees, many don't seem willing to wait for the President to fulfill his words of support for the LGBT community. Many LGBT youth feel that the elder mainstream LGBT organizations have not done enough and are too patient with Government. Many of the youth believe it is their moral right to have legislative action, as well as a change in the style of leadership within the traditional LGBT organizations. Much of the current communication has shifted to the cyber world, where the sharing of information, on Facebook and Twitter, is quick, broad and out of the hands of those who would have traditionally held power over what is communicated. Still, one has to wonder, why does so much of the LGBT community seem to have a sense of complacent acceptance for unequal civil rights? The March and subsequent rally were jovial, respectful and peaceful. But where was the rage? The march was clearly a motivating experience for many, a sense of doing one's part to further the moral fight for equality. Speakers emphasized that attendees should take rally motivation and energy back to local communities, where change issues can be addressed. Banners included an interracial couple's sign which read "our marriage was once illegal too," as well as "End the harm from religious-based bigotry and prejudice," "We won't Wait for full equality," and "When do I get to vote on your Marriage?"
Why was it that the race riots of the 1960s had so much more passion? Certainly the horror of racial violence and prejudice warranted rage and the deep need for change. Participants in this LGBT March, and in the three others that so many attended since 1987, acted quite civilly in comparison to the pain and suffering manifested in the race riots in Washington years ago. Similarly, the rage against the government's failure to address the growing AIDS epidemic, seen later in the 1980s has given way to the present day's friendly, peaceful demonstrations, which have often struggled with good attendance. Shouldn't there be a greater degree of discontentment? Maybe the reason is that many of us can too easily 'pass' in America and avoid many of the overt forms of discrimination. Why does the LGBT community appear to be so complacent? Is it that our elder LGBT leadership has failed us, as some in the current grassroots media suggest? Is it that many of us are now able to live out a happy, successful, healthy and, at times, a freer lifestyle, as long as we stay in certain areas of the country? Not so for the 49-year-old gay man, who was savagely beaten, in College Point, Queens, by two men who shouted gay slurs, two days before this year's March. The news described him as a gentle, openly gay man. Why should LGBT people have to consider trying to 'pass' when anticipating danger? Is this more a feature of the elder LGBT generation, which suffered decades of political, religious, social and legal hatred and discrimination? Today many of the LGBT youth typically feel that their sexual orientation is their right and feel it needs no justification.
Those individuals who support religious and government policies that preach inequality have blood on their hands! Hearing one report that spoke of the rise in LGBT teen suicide, I wondered why, if there is such a thing as a Day of Judgment, how a Supreme Being might view those who blindly followed religious and political leaders who promote the suffering, hate and inequality of LGBT people, theoretically in order to save their own necks on their own feared Judgment Day.
As Troy and I set off for Washington with our group of friends, we were aware of how few of our LGBT peers, whom we had spoken to in the days before the March, were aware of or interested in attending this March in Washington. We were struck by the degree of complacency and wondered about it within the LGBT movement. Is this a reflection of a 50-plus generation, which bears the trauma of decades of hate, discrimination and the devastation of the AIDS crisis? Surely they deserve gratitude and respect for their efforts to fight historic, deeply systemic hatred and prejudice. Or is it that the majority of LGBT individuals feel their lives are 'good enough,' so that there is not a sense of urgency for change that would warrant making the effort to attend a March in another city. Not so for our good friend who was unable to order an autopsy when his partner of 25 years died suddenly in a major NYC hospital and then had to pay heavy taxes even though he was willed his partner's share of their co-op. There is a price, but do we see it clearly enough?
Gay and Lesbian people can often 'pass' for straight when they need or choose to. Unlike Rosa Parks, gay people could sit anywhere on the bus, as long as they keep their authentic gay selves in the closet. Gay areas such as Chelsea, parts of Fire Island, Provincetown, and Castro Street have traditionally offered welcomed safe havens, where LGBT individuals could feel safe enough to discard temporarily the protective layers of pretense and experience their full authentic Selves. Many an LGBT individual can identify with the experience of 'straightening up,' when feeling physically or emotionally threatened at some point in their lives. But do we fully connect with the psychological price of wearing the various layers of protective illusion? Matthew Shepard's mother, Judy's spoken words at the Rally were quick and painful reminders of the vulnerability of members of the LGBT community to horrific and tragic violence. Hate is alive and well in America. In Cynthia Nixon's passionate rally speech, she noted that the political support for maintaining legal inequality of LGBT citizens gives support to the notion that we are somehow less human and, therefore, gives justification for the continuation of violence toward LGBT individuals. As long as those in political power maintain and promote the idea that some members of society are less human, as demonstrated by our not having the same rights and responsibilities granted to all other American citizens, violence will remain politically supported and legally justified. One would think our first U.S. President of color would understand this issue and it does appear, at least for the moment, that he does. The question is, will the President act on his word? So far the only concrete thing the LGBT community has received is permission to join the Easter egg hunt on the White House lawn. The feeling at the rally was that some mainstream LGBT organizations and individuals, such as Congressman Barney Frank, are confident to wait for the President to act and felt this March was misdirected, a waste of time. During the HRC black tie Gala event, the night before the March, President Obama gave no timetable regarding taking action to dismantle 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' or overturn DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. Some have expressed concern that Democrats won't always be in power or have a majority in Congress and the time for action is now. The question is, are we willing to wait and see?
When Lady Gaga began to speak at the rally, many young people in the crowd rushed forward, while several of the 50-plus individuals around me searched their Blackberries to figure out just who she was. The pop icon spoke from the podium with eloquence and passion, communicating respect toward those who had worked for decades within the LGBT movement, and her own commitment to intolerance for LGBT discrimination within the music industry. Some in the media chose to replay one sound bite when she had shouted to those that discriminate, "Are you listening?" Clearly their wish was to devalue her and attempt to make her look foolish. Is the Right Wing worried that energetic, cyber-savvy LGBT youth may be on to something as they gain motivation, direction, and momentum, while steadily and respectfully standing on the shoulders of the knowledge and painful journey that Elder LGBT groups have weathered? What amazing strength such a joint movement would be able to harness, should experienced LGBT organizations and the energetic, psychologically les burdened, cyber youth be able to join forces effectively.