Taking a Step Back: The Past and Future of LGBT Equality Collide

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This week has been a busy week for reporters on LGBT issues. There have been hundreds of pages of Pentagon report to read, hours of hearings to listen to, and oh yeah, Illinois passed civil unions.

In just two or three decades, historians will look back on weeks like this with a much more objective eye than we have right now. They’ll look at Senators McCain, Sessions, Graham, and others with their obstinate, cruel defense of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. They’ll consider the arguments made in these hearings, from showers to cohesion to a basic inability to interpret a research study. The Daily Show will have a montage of people over the years saying “It’s working,”—yes, it’s working to force gays and lesbians to lie constantly, because you know what wouldn’t work? Disciplining homophobia in the troops.

That is the argument: It’s better to look out for the homophobes than the gays. It would be too disruptive if the straight troops should ever happen to find out that their bunkmate has a partner of the same sex at home. It’s the ol’ “Don’t Flaunt It” and “Don’t Rape Me” tropes, tight-clamped down with the strictest of invasive enforcement—and it’s “working.”

The conversation is not profound. We think it is because the change would be profound, a significant step forward toward ending the segregation of nonheterosexuals. But the conversation is already antiquated. It’s a bunch of old straight white men defending their bigotry, but it’s also still a mucky-muck media world where their bigotry is still “controversial” and in which we still have to play politics to get the right thing done.

There are folks in Illinois who worked very hard to get a civil unions bill passed there, and no doubt, it is a step forward. Still, our perspective is finally changing and our standards are rising. The DADT hubbub alone was not responsible for the shrug offered by the movement for this achievement; why be impressed by civil unions in Illinois when you can still drive west and get married in Iowa? The impact of such victories has shrunk because they are, indeed, significantly less monumental.

If we take a step back from it all, we see the harsh juxtaposition. We are as forward-thinking as we are backward-living. We are so caught up in the age of information that the forest is irrelevant because we cannot discern the trees from the weeds—weeds eager to threaten the entire ecosystem so they may prosper. Weeds, by the way, never compromise.

It is this limbo that continues to tear us apart. We can watch guys dancing with each other and singing to each other on Glee every week, but it’s a concern that our troops might have a problem being ogled in the shower?  We want it to get better, but we’re still not sure how to respond when we overhear a parent respond poorly to a son coming out? We are being torn at the seems as we maintain a cognitive dissonance that gets more extreme with each passing month, and yet we continue to have the conversation as if it’s still a controversy and right and wrong are still up in the air?

And at the end of the day, did we stand up? Did we call it out? Did we demand equality and condemn the continued demonization of gays and lesbians? Or was it all just par for the course in the political game?

In this light, the direct actions of GetEQUAL seem surprisingly underwhelming. We continue to be beaten down, but we are pacified. Fourteen people stood up for equality—that’s enough. DADT Repeal has a lot of Likes on Facebook, so equality is bound to happen soon. We have extensive reports about everything that’s happened and lots of political influence, so the people are informed; now it’s just a waiting game.

The true and necessary process of achieving equality is slacking, and it’s because we’re the slacktivists.

The future and past of LGBT Equality are colliding, but the work is not done until the past is behind us. Are we moving, or are we just being carried along?

What do we want the historians to say we did when they look back?

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