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Saturday, October 7, 2023

October 7-8, 2023: LGBT Rights in 2023

[As we begin another LGBT History Month, this week’s series has highlighted some important moments across American history in the fight for gay rights and equality. Leading up to this weekend post on the current state of that ongoing battle!]

On one definite sign of progress, one frustrating regression, and a key battleground.

1)      Cultural Representations: In this weekend post almost exactly five years ago, I highlighted a trio of groundbreaking late 1990s cultural representations of LGBT lives. They certainly reflected a changing zeitgeist, but unfortunately it was not changing that fast nor that much—in a recent rewatch of Law & Order: Criminal Intent (what can I say, I’m a sucker for Vincent D’Onofrio’s Bobby Goren, the 2nd best TV detective of all time), I came upon a 2004 episode where the solution (semi-SPOILERS) hinged upon two characters being gay and hiding that fact from their employer (which would, one of the characters made clear, fire them if their sexuality were revealed). Which makes it quite striking that less than two decades later, I routinely see LGBT couples featured (without commentary, as it should be) in TV commercials and other everyday media, as just part of the fabric of culture and society. My teenage sons can’t really imagine a pop culture landscape where that wasn’t the case, and that’s a very good thing.

2)      Educational Repressions: No area of progress can ever be taken for granted, however, and if certain prominent forces have their way future generations of teenagers will not be nearly as collectively aware of the presence of LGBT lives in their society. I’m thinking, of course, of political movements and laws like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay,” a bill which requires educators to pretend that LGBT people quite simply do not exist (and which overtly bans books that feature gay lives in any form). As a public school student in Virginia in the 1980s and early 1990s, that was largely my experience—I can’t remember a single reading nor lesson that featured LGBT lives, identities, stories, histories, etc. in any way (certainly not overtly, and probably not even implicitly). Not at all coincidentally, there was not a single out LGBT student at my high school during my time there, nor was I aware of meeting someone with a sexual orientation other than straight until I attended college. That’s the repressive and abusive world to which these bigots want to return us, and unfortunately they’re making progress.

3)      Legal Protections: Pop culture and education are thus two significant spaces in which to fight for continued and expanded representation of LGBT Americans. But above and beyond them, and indeed directly informing those fights as well as many others, is the basic but crucial fact that LGBT rights are protected under the Constitution, key elements like the 14th Amendment, and related laws like the Civil Rights Act. It’s those protections which advocates of so-called “religious liberty” seek to deny, which are at risk in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which are absolutely being targeted by the anti-LGBT forces in our current moment (most blatantly in anti-trans laws, but that’s without doubt just the tip of the iceberg). The ongoing fight for LGBT rights is of course a human rights battle, but it is also, and most importantly for this blog and its author, a foundationally American one.

Next series starts Monday,


PS. What do you think?

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