The nature of LGBT activism is changing fast in this post-DOMA/Prop 8/DADT world. As LGBT acceptance grows and anti-gay laws continue to fall, it’s easy to forget where we came from, how we got here and what’s left to accomplish.
Pride week seems a good time to reflect on some of that.
One recent story illustrates just how dramatically different the world is today: Michael Sam’s NFL draft and kiss with his boyfriend broadcast live on ESPN. The “ick” factor remains a potent enemy of LGBT equality, from straight men tweeting their horror at the kiss, to opponents of Maryland’s recently approved trans rights law trying to scare voters into thinking men dressed as women will flock to bathrooms and locker rooms. That’s why spontaneous displays of affection like Sam’s are important — such visibility will slowly ease the discomfort some feel at the sight of two men or two women together.
Although Sam’s coming out is a courageous step, some won’t recognize his process as particularly pioneering. When Martina Navratilova came out in the early 1980s, she lost untold millions in endorsement deals and endured the homophobic and misogynistic barbs of commentators and tennis fans the world over. Contrast that with Sam’s carefully choreographed announcement, Visa endorsement deal and the NFL’s aggressive moves to shield him from criticism.
Indeed, much has changed. From the days when activism meant taking to the streets, as chronicled in HBO’s “Normal Heart,” which debuted last month, to our modern view of activists as lawyers and lobbyists.
As things get better, it’s important to remember that not everyone is benefitting from all the positive change. The Blade in January embarked on a special yearlong series focusing on poverty in the LGBT community. We’ve told many stories of those in our community struggling with chronic unemployment, discrimination and health care dilemmas. There’s much more to come this year in the series.
Poverty isn’t the only problem facing the LGBT community. From transgender people who face disproportionately high rates of violence and discrimination to prison inmates coping with discriminatory laws behind bars to LGBT youth living on the streets to the stubbornly high rates of HIV infection among MSM, there is much work ahead.
And as we remember those less fortunate at home, let’s also look abroad to those LGBT people struggling to overcome hate in countries around the world like Russia, Uganda and elsewhere where being LGBT can mean imprisonment and even death.
The Blade is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year and our Pride float will reflect the changes in both the LGBT community as well as at the paper itself — from our early days as a black-and-white one-sheet newsletter featuring stories about police harassment to our modern incarnation complete with social media platforms and mobile app.
If there’s one common thread in all the thousands of stories the Blade has published over the years it’s our focus on telling the stories of LGBT people. Some readers still occasionally question why we disclose the sexual orientation of sources in our stories. The reason speaks to our core mission of chronicling our own history and overcoming hate and bias through visibility. Encouraging visibility is also why Pride celebrations remain important. Not everyone lives in LGBT-friendly places like D.C. They come from rural Virginia, Pennsylvania, Western Maryland and other locales that seem close by but for some can feel a world away from a city like Washington with its pro-LGBT politicians, an openly gay candidate running for mayor, marriage equality law and progressive laws protecting transgender residents.
So as we celebrate Pride this weekend in D.C., let’s be mindful that marriage equality isn’t the only goal of the movement and that when the weekend’s revelry ends we need to recommit ourselves to finishing the job.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.