There's a great debate going on here at The Huffington Post and I'd bet money this is going to shape the LGBT community for decades. The question has been raised: is the point of the gay rights movement to make us accepted as normal, or to get the larger society to accept what makes us special?
Editor of The Huffington Post's Gay Voices, Noah Michelson, recently wrote an editorial, Why I Never Want to Be Just Like Straight People (And Why You Shouldn't Either), which takes the issue head on. He makes a strong case for why the LGBT rights movement wasn't originally intended to make us conform to heterosexual standards. He also points out how the younger generation of LGBT activists like myself come across as smug and completely unappreciative. How dare we emphasize our normalcy over what our forebears fought for: the very special-ness of homosexuality.
To all of these points, I completely agree with him. It is darn near impossible for any generation to fully appreciate their forebears. I cannot fathom what it was like for those who served before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and future generations will have no idea what it was like for me to serve in the United States military. This is just how things work. I also agree that, in 1969, if gays had kept being quiet and playing nice, the LGBT rights movement would have gone nowhere. Assimilationist movements like the Mattachine Society failed miserably compared to the more flamboyant and assertive gay liberation movements, like the Gay Liberation Front. Yet, a more relevant question is: are the tactics of 1969 as useful today?
I respectfully believe that Michelson misses the mark entirely by putting our movement into a straight/gay dichotomy. The LGBT rights movement is transitioning from an era of "We're here!" to "We're home!" Those of us pushing for acceptance and normalcy are continuing our advocacy in a way adapted to the times. However, LGBT acceptance will never be an either/or issue of hetero or homo-normative.
Just like any other social movement, the changes we make in society are a two-way street. Gay spousal benefits have forced companies to consider issues like paternity leave for straight husbands. LGBT families, by example, are getting straight families to question the gender-divide in household labor. We're also seeing more monogamous dating in the LGBT community and emphasis on traditional family values. However, this cross-pollination of social norms isn't going to happen across the whole country at once.
So how are we going to deal with the LGBT divide that is widening each year? It is a given that we're going to see an increasingly fragmented gay community, both politically and culturally. We're going to have to adapt and learn how to agree to disagree.
In my recent article I spoke against certain kinds of inter-generational dating and faced a lot of backlash, especially on Twitter. I've never been called a self-hating bigot by so many people in my life, despite the fact I served openly under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" with people who truly hated me and wanted to harm me for it. I risked dishonorable discharge for my sense of honesty and pride, so I chalk the comments off as ignorance. Not all people who disagree with the most liberal view are self-hating bigots, so The Huffington Post editorial decision to encourage all sides of the debate is a great example to follow.
Fortunately, this conflict is the result of a successful LGBT rights movement. Each generation has fought and each generation has made it better for the next. Acceptance and the ending of homophobia was the goal and we're starting to see some of this come into fruition. The LGBT desire for indifference is part of that fruit's taste.
Most of all, I'd like to apologize to anybody who was offended by my last blog. However, I stand by my words in that I do think this is a generational difference in the LGBT community's values and norms. Many of us are irritated by the positive Will and Grace media stereotypes of gays, and we're irritated by leaders in the gay community reinforcing right-wing stereotypes, because none of it applies us. Our resistance to an LGBT-dominated identity is out of the desire to express our authentic, individual selves. It's a luxury we can never fully appreciate, and a hard-won luxury at that.
Just as each stage of the LGBT rights movement has adapted it's strategy, developing indifference and normalcy is an equally important stage of our social movement. Rather than boiling blood or breaking computer monitors, I'd recommend a different emotion: glory and gloating.
In nine years I truly hope my generation can feel just like Noah Michelson and be pissed off at how little those kids understand what we gave up for them. It would be the greatest compliment of all.