Ellen’s “Yep, I’m Gay” Time cover turned 20 years old this year, and if she were the benchmark of the progress of gay rights I could definitely say we’ve made incredible progress. She lost her show, and for a couple of years her career at the end of the 90s; today she’s one of the most successful talk show hosts ever, hopefully not close to retiring, and still absolutely out. The general landscape of LGBTQ representation in the media has been transformed: we’ve had shows devoted entirely to LGBTQ characters (I mean The L Word had its flaws, but its existence in itself was something amazing), and gay characters have gone from the token gay best friend in Sex and the City to complex, real characters that actually have lines – and plot lines. It is very, very, far from perfect – the L and the G are getting there but the B and T in the acronym still have a long way to go, and that’s without mentioning all the others – but there’s a general sense that it’s getting better. And that’s true outside of the US, and not only in the media: France, the UK, Ireland, even Taiwan legalized marriage equality, visibility is on the rise in politics and elsewhere. There are setbacks, including the election of Trump, but it seems that equality has become mainstream.
And I think in a sense this is threatening to make us complacent. First of all because it’s not true everywhere; the events in Chechnya are only the latest ones (attempting) to make the headlines, but between Indonesia and Tanzania alone there’s enough to fuel nightmares; around the world crackdowns actually seem to be on the rise, and that’s not mentioning longstanding issues such as vulnerability to HIV/AIDS or even access to healthcare in general. Which might be a test for the sense of solidarity that’s supposed to exist within the LGBTQ community: now that the issues we face differ wildly from one country to another, how do we keep fighting? I mean it might be easy to care a little less when our own situation got so much better, it might be difficult to realize what the reality is on the other side of the world when we’ve won so much at home. But it’s dangerous for the altruistic reason that we should care about others, and the selfish reason that think might change again, and not for the best. We must continue to care, we must extend that sense of community all around the world to those who just had the unfortunate destiny to be born in the wrong place; because if we do not mobilize for those two men who were publicly beaten in Indonesia, if we do not try to help those who are being persecuted in Chechnya, who will?
And secondly, this sense that we’ve sort of won or at least that the “fighting in the streets” part is done is dangerous because it makes it seem like we’ve done all there is to do, that all of us have arrived to that point of relative acceptance and tranquility. And that’s not true. There’s a reason why activists in the US are adding a color to the rainbow this year to include people of color (even though whether that’s the best way to do it is another question); the LGBTQ community has been proven to be no less racists than others, even sometimes more. In France a survey showed about 30% of gay men voted for the far-right National Front (despite their campaign promise to revoke the law on marriage equality) because they bought their frankly racist message. And that is not OK. A community that has been persecuted for being different should know better, and must know better, than to adhere to a message of hate and ostracize people within its own ranks.
So if there has to be a message for Pride this year, I’d like to be that no matter how far we’ve come, we’re not equal until everyone, everywhere, has equal rights. And how much we need to remember to fight for that.