Being who you are is not revolutionary; it’s human. The fact that being out in America has ever been a struggle is a testament to our country’s capacity for inhumanity. Fortunately, that’s changing. Now, more so than ever before, gay people are not only tolerated, but accepted. We’re not just here; we are thriving. This is especially true for gay men, even more so white gay men. What is also true is that gay men are just as capable of racism and sexism as any other group of people. Like I said, being who you are is not in and of itself revolutionary.
There is a gap between victories relevant to the lives of gay men and the rest of the LGBT community, and it is threatening to become a chasm. Ask a white gay man living in West Hollywood, a latino transgender man in Albuquerque, and a black lesbian in Dallas the same question: “Does America love you yet?”
Breakthroughs in the Supreme Court and the court of public opinion have most heavily favored white gay men. Meanwhile, queer women, transgender people, and LGBT people of color and immigrants continue to fight tooth and nail for things like equal pay, access to healthcare, or even the right to use the restroom without being berated.
What does it mean when a lesbian co-worker and I can both keep rainbow flags on our desks, all while knowing that my being a man increases the likelihood that I’m paid more for doing the same job? Or that I, as a black gay man, am still reeling from the paradox of the Voting Rights Act being essentially gutted just 24 hours before two key Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality? It means we all still aren’t free.
If gay men fail to fight for more vulnerable members of the LGBT community, it will be all of our undoing. We have to care and fight for issues that aren’t directly about us. That is community. That is what it means for the letters “LGBT” to be spoken of as cohesive unit.
“Where are we as an LGBT community forty-five years after the Stonewall Rebellion?” Laverne Cox asked during her acceptance speech at the LOGO Trailblazers Gala in June. “Sylvia Rivera warned us about becoming a movement that was only for white, middle class people. And forty-five years later, the most marginalized of our community are still struggling.”
Meredith Talusan addressed this as well in a recent essay at The American Prospect, in discussing Dan Savage’s 2011 “It Gets Better” campaign: “For me, as for many other trans people, it didn’t and doesn’t get better, and to treat us as though we’re seamlessly part of the same LGBT umbrella is to hide the fact that we’re being included for lip service.” To put it more bluntly: The only thing more dangerous than a bigot is a coward dressed as an ally.
It is not a coincidence that just as gay men in America enter what is essentially a Golden Age, every few months the LGBT community is overtaken by a debate that pits one segment against another. It’s also not a coincidence that the debate is almost always between gay men and a more marginalized part of our community. The heated arguments over the word “tranny” and the deluge of essays sparked by Sierra Mannie’s Time essay are just a couple of examples. We have to learn how to speak across the distance of our identities. And doing so begins with listening, something all allies must learn to do. We’ve spent so much time convincing straight people we need them to be our allies that we sometimes forget to be allies to each other.
This is our reckoning. Gay men have more rights, wealth, and influence than the rest of the LGBT community. We have to decide what it means for us to lay claim to the word “community.” If the answer to the question, “Does America love you yet?” is yes, then the question must become, “What are we going to do with that love?”
Being who you are is not revolutionary, but love — the kind of love that says, “You are not like me and that is exactly why I am fighting for your right to live freely” — that is the revolution itself.