Some people think we were herded into gay ghettos in the past; if we had been, equality would have come sooner for the LGBT community
While editing Tyler Curry’s column for this week’s paper titled “Taking the ‘T’ out of LGBT,” I exchanged a few texts with him about the first couple of paragraphs. Tyler wrote that those who have opposed the gay-rights movement defined the acronym we use to describe our multi-faceted community. It’s his opinion we didn’t have a choice in the matter.
I disagree. It was my generation who took those letters and formed the acronym, not the opposition. We took that power to the streets, our placards emblazoned with the four letters that represented who WE said we are. And, we pushed those signs in the faces of the haters. For years, they’ve hated us for it, but slowly, oh so slowly, they’re getting used to it. But why did it take so long?
A few of the texts Tyler and I exchanged addressed that question. Tyler wrote to me that “we were all forced into the gay ghetto.” Again, I disagree. While we did refer to Oak Lawn as the gay ghetto, it wasn’t always a safe place for us. I remember parking on the streets off The Strip and almost sprinting to get inside one of the clubs. A lot of the people living in Oak Lawn and their guests didn’t cotton to a bunch of queers running amuck in their streets. Confrontations between us and them were frequent.
But the problem is that we weren’t all forced into the ghetto. Had we been, equality would have come sooner. So many of us during those days passed as straight. At work, we feminized our boyfriends’ names, and we became adept liars. Only a smidgin of the community lived in Oak Lawn. The rest of us lived throughout the Metroplex, rarely encountering outright verbal or physical assaults.
Most of us were quiet about being gay in those days. Too many of us left the fighting to the activists. Had we all taken to the streets in mass, same-sex marriage would have become the law of the land years ago. Don’t believe me?
God knows we haven’t been treated well, but, as a group, we haven’t faced the lawlessness other minorities did. Although there were arrests at the gay bars, and newspapers did print the names of gay men, we didn’t face the fire hoses and police dogs the blacks did in earlier years. No, we weren’t treated well. There were too many attacks on gays, my uncle, who died from his injuries, being one of them.
I’m saying that if all gay men and lesbians were as identifiable as blacks during the Civil Rights movement or Jews during the Holocaust, we would have been rounded up. However, too many of us, way too many of us, hid behind a straight façade and did nothing. The advances we’ve made are because of the activists who wouldn’t back down and wouldn’t stop their marching forward.
Certainly, people are going to disagree with me, but if you’re my age or older, think about those days. How many of us came out at work during the ’70s, ’80s and even the ’90s? How many of us stood up in church when they railed against the gay-rights movement and told us we were going to hell? How many of us said, “The hell with it. I’m taking it to the streets.” Fortunately, enough gays and lesbians did.
I wasn’t the activist Bill Nelson and Terry Tebedo were. I did volunteer work, and I joined in picketing some of the businesses owned by homophobes. But I didn’t do enough. If I had, if thousands of others like me had, we would be light years ahead in our fight for equality. For too long we left that battle in the hands of the too few.
If the majority had rounded us up into a gay ghetto, had the police opened their fire hoses on us and set their dogs on us, we would have fought back. No doubt about it. Also, if they had done all that, then the U.S. Supreme Court would have had something in its hands to rule on. The majority of Americans didn’t like seeing blacks treated that way during the Civil Rights movement. They wouldn’t have liked seeing a bunch of guys wearing Ralph Lauren subjected to it, either.
What do you think would happen if busloads of gays and lesbians descended upon Austin to protest the state’s ban on same-sex marriage? Imagine hundreds of thousands of men and women chanting in front of the Capitol in unison. Imagine that happening across the nation. Powerful.
So, no. We weren’t forced into any ghettos. We chose to go there on the weekends after a week of pretending to be straight, and our movement has progressed because there have been brave men and women who wouldn’t pretend, who were passionate about being treated with legal respect. Men and women who didn’t give a rat’s ass about passing for straight. The opposition didn’t like it, but they certainly didn’t define us.
We said this is who we are: LGBT, and we fueled the movement with a feeling of pride after years of being told we had nothing to be proud of. The political energy that defined those decades on The Strip is waning, having moved to offices around the city — out of the ghetto. It’s just evolution.
Looking back, I wish I had done more. I wish I had carried one more sign, marched down one more street or come out to one more person. If we had all done it, just imagine where we’d be today.
Steve Ramos is senior editor at Dallas Voice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 7, 2014.