As Gay Pride Month comes to a close, we need to take stock.
It's difficult to turn critical during an annual pride celebration, especially in this year marked by historic gains like the legalization of gay marriage in California.
But we should pause to acknowledge that the state of the movement is a good news-bad news situation.
First the good news: We are on the cusp of an epic shift in the public face of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the United States.
Same-sex couples are self-identifying in record numbers across the farm belt, according to census data analyzed by the Williams Institute at UCLA. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of same-sex couples jumped 71 percent in Nebraska, 68 percent in Kansas and 59 percent in Iowa.
These numbers indicate not an increase in the gay and lesbian population living in these states, but in the willingness of people to acknowledge their own identity, according to Gary Gates, the demographer who authored the study.
Gates is predicting that we'll also see startling increases in same-sex couples in every ethnic, racial and geographical community in the United States when he's finished studying the data.
Finally, people across a diverse cross-segment of communities are coming out. That is real progress.
But now the bad news: The LGBT movement is focusing on conservative issues like tax reforms, rights of inheritance and enacting state laws to approximate marriage for same-sex couples.
These fiscal issues appeal broadly to a cross section of the American public. They make gay rights more palatable to more people. However, they also leave significant sections of the LGBT population behind.
The problem with placing a conservative agenda at the heart of an LGBT movement in the midst of a demographic shift may not be readily apparent. But it is profoundly alienating to segments of the population who already feel outside of the mainstream LGBT movement.
In poorer segments of the community, the lack of federal entitlements, including Social Security and Medicare, are far more important to same-sex couples than employer-sponsored partner health care or a set of state laws approximating marriage.
Even hate crime legislation is a more complex issue than it might seem. Many African Americans who are LGBT are reluctant to embrace new and stringent laws that could easily be aimed at other members of their already overpoliced communities.
Diversity — of opinion, of class, of race and of ethnicity — is a challenge within any civil rights movement. It is also an opportunity. The LGBT community gains strength with increased numbers of community members willing to identify themselves publicly, no matter their socioeconomic position.
But the increasing number of visible LGBTs will not translate into political strength until we develop an agenda that speaks to the needs of all gay people, not just the privileged few.
Heather Tirado Gilligan is a freelance writer who lives in San Francisco. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of commentary on domestic and international issues. It is affiliated with The Progressive Magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; e-mail: email@example.com; Web site: www.progressive.org. For information on PMP's funding, please visit http://www.progressive.org/pmpabout.htmlanchorsupport.
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