Opinion: Gay Culture Goes Mainstream

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Recent discussions in Dallas surrounding the Pride Parade and an apparent tightening of nudity and lewdness laws simply reflect evolving gay culture. Those who seem most put out by the enforcement of existing laws miss the evolution. Those who are intent on sexual glorification as the sole expression of pride miss the point.

A half century ago gays met in unmarked bars, public parks and restrooms, and dark alleys. We worked, disguised as straight, married to keep up the image and raised children in often loveless marriages. When we were found out we were fired, arrested and demonized.

A half century of work and struggle has led us through fear, hate and discrimination. The battle has cost lives beyond measure in a masterful menagerie of ways from dragging down desolate roads in the dark of night, to hogtying to a lonely fence on a windswept plain, to plain old outright shooting in the head in the supervisor’s office. The battle has quashed happiness in sham marriages, employment termination and being ostracized from families, friends and churches. The battle has stolen treasure in lower wages, glass ceilings and unequal taxing.

Throughout the past half century battles have been fought and lost. The Anita Bryant fiasco in Florida stands as a seminal moment, a nadir in the newly found efforts to secure equality for gays. Harvey Milk gave his life to the cause of expanding equality beginning his efforts long before being the first openly gay publicly elected official in San Francisco; in his quiet camera shop as the Mayor of Castro Street.

Over the past two decades we have witnessed defeat piled upon defeat across the nation as state by state discrimination was enshrined into state constitutions pressed forward by a hateful minority onto an unwitting majority.

The past fifty years have yielded victories along with those defeats. Small cities, counties and even some states began to open to gays and began to provide limited protections within the confines of over arching state and federal laws. Companies began adding protections in their polices for gays and many even came to understand the added value of gay employees in their better educations, work ethic and skill sets. Social acceptance has allowed us to find our rightful places in our families, churches and work.

Notwithstanding the dwindling deeply closeted self haters masquerading as social moralists heterosexuals love gays. They envy our happiness, our sense of style, skills and ability to love even under imposed discrimination. They covet our neighborhoods and clubs and the music we listen to. They buy into our communities after we have taken run down slums and gentrified them. They pay us to move on and do it again. Here in South Florida the cycle has run many times in many places.

Once upon a time Victoria Park was a gay enclave, until straights convinced us otherwise by paying our prices. We moved north, first across Sunrise Boulevard and eventually to Wilton Manors. Straights are moving into Wilton Manors, truly a gay city including the mayor. Just as they did in the Castro in San Francisco, where on my last visit there were more straight couples pushing perambulators than there were gay couples holding hands.

Straights are moving into our nightlife, appearing in gay bars dancing in that strange rhythm they have.

This is all positive, a product of the long battle for acceptance and rights. Wonderful will be the day when a gay bar is no longer necessary as place of refuge. Wonderful will be the day when buying or renting a house anywhere no longer comes with the attendant side glances. Though the war is not yet won, more and more the battles are.

Along with our march to acceptance and equality comes the inevitable, and wholly expected, integration of gays into the American culture. Within that integration we still maintain our identity, our culture and intuitions. Those who focus on the way we were will miss out on the place we are. The place we are is a much better place than the place we were. Ric Reily


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