Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tear Down the Ghetto Walls

In the post-Stonewall era, the gay community has made enormous strides. From a time when our sexuality had to be hidden because it was not only socially unacceptable but also illegal to now, when gay people are highly visible (Ellen, Barney Frank, David Geffen, Philip Johnson -- just to name four people at or near the peak of their respective professions), the Supreme Court has struck down antiquated sodomy laws as unconstitutional, and we can get married (at least in Massachusetts), the gay community has come farther in the past 40 years than any of us might have imagined.

Granted, we still have a long way to go toward achieving civil equality. (Social equality may never come, but we'll have to live with that.) The military in this country still prohibits gay people from serving openly. There are dozens of states where we can be fired or denied housing simply because of our sexuality. Most states in the union have passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as being solely the territory of heterosexual couples.

With the changes we have gone through, something has changed about our community. The ghettos (I use that term not in a perjorative sense) are disappearing. Where we once needed the Castro and Chelsea and Provincetown and West Hollywood as safe enclaves, the greater visibility we have gained since 1969 has shown the straight world that we are everywhere, and that we have valuable contributions to make as citizens.

As usual, of course, Andrew Sullivan has said it better than I can.

But I will say that I think this is a good thing. My partner and I are planning our first ever cruise. (At least it's MY first ever cruise.) Many people have asked if we are going on a gay cruise. The answer is no, and the reason is two-fold. First, gay cruises are overpriced. Second, ghetto walls can only be torn down from the inside. The more we separate ourselves from the rest of society, the less that broader society feel our presence. Yes, it would be nice to be able to hold hands on deck without thinking that the Kansas families on the Lido deck are staring at us -- but if the Thompsons from Topeka never see a gay couple that doesn't look like the flamboyant types the media point their cameras at during Pride parades, how are they going to learn exactly what it is they are being asked to tolerate.

The New York Times had a story in today's issue on this same basic topic.

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