There's a good commentary
by David Halperin in NYT
about the endurance of gay culture despite people heralding its demise for the past several decades. I think the disconnect on this lies in people confusing gay culture with gay politics. As a political activist, I am a total assimilationist that is, I want equality under the law and that's that. But culturally, people are free to do whatever they want. Some of those in the LGBT community who have reacted coolly toward marriage-equality activists seemed to think that if we were free to marry, we would be forced to marry. In fact, civil marriage equality simply increases our options.
On the other hand, I can sympathize with inveterate counterculturists who feel that something has been lost. Back when gay life existed in a parallel world divorced from our jobs and birth families, a certain freedom reigned to let loose and create and experiment. Years ago, gay science fiction writer Samuel "Chip" Delaney wrote an elegiac piece about the sleazy old Times Square neighborhood that coexisted with New York's theater district before Rudy Giuliani chased out the porn shops and made room for Disney. He argued that we need that kind of space. But my sympathy only extends so far, given the other-side-of-the-tracks reality underlying that underworld freedom. Going to the club in the old days often meant paying some young thug not to slash your tires or smash your windows when you went partying in a blighted warehouse district. D.C.'s old gay club zone, where that sort of thing used to happen, is now the site of our ballpark.
A similar nostalgia can be found among some black separatist types regarding the old days of segregation and the Chitlin Circuit in which black culture thrived in its parallel world. I heard the notorious Rev. Willie Wilson talk along these lines fifteen years ago at a memorial gathering at Howard University for Betty Shabazz (the widow of Malcolm X), in which he talked about the terrible things that the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 did to education in the black community. It is no surprise, of course, that Rev. Wilson is no champion of integration. This sort of talk causes some people's jaws to drop, but you can find a good deal of it if you look for it.
To be sure, landmark court decisions and historic legislative milestones like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have not solved all problems. Public school desegregation met with stiff resistance, which led to white flight from cities and the creation of communities like Pearl, Mississippi in which private Christian academies were created whose racial discrimination was protected by the First Amendment. So, to the extent that Brown v. Board did not solve the educational discrimination issue, it is largely because integration has not really been tried. Former Mississippi Governor Kirk Fordice, for example, won the cooperation of the state legislature in underfunding public schools. The failure of public schools is then used to justify public funding for private school vouchers. This is similar to the Republican Congress doing its best to sabotage President Obama, then blaming him for the failures that they worked so hard to ensure.
So we should be under no illusion that political and policy victories will remove the hatred from everyone's hearts, any more than they will erase gay people's desire to create our own celebrations. We will always find or create new spaces in which to express ourselves. But on the political side of things, we assimilationists were right, and we have mostly won. No, equality isn't everything. So there's no need to thank us. But you're welcome anyway.
(Photo: cover of the 1978 novel Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran, set in 1970s New York and Fire Island.)