feature image via livingneworleans.com
Y’all, good news: U.S. society has officially accepted queers, the fight is over! In fact our sexuality is as boring as our middle school haircuts. So says David Carr, the New York Times’ brilliant media columnist, in a piece that made me shake my head sadly.
Carr earned his reputation as an expert on media — how it works, where it’s headed and its impact. I’ve met him twice, a fact I use to make my journalist friends jealous, and he’s as bright, well-spoken and insightful in person as he normally is in print. But in the column, Carr does what many well-meaning writers and public figures do — he conflates the relative social acceptance of gay white men with the achievement of justice and equality for queer people.
In the piece, he rightly chastises Gawker for harassing and outing Fox News anchor Shepard Smith in a particularly Gawkerish fashion. He notes, also correctly, that these sorts of public outings rarely receive much attention anymore.
“We know why: The culture has moved on,” Carr writes. “People see other people who happen to be gay at their workplaces, in their schools and on their televisions. Somewhere along the way, what was once a scarlet letter because just another consonant in the personal résumé. And now that gay marriage is a fact of life, a person’s sexual orientation is not only not news, it’s not very interesting.”
Being gay is so passé it makes me rhyme!
He then explains how totally chill everyone is about gay marriage — solidly more than half of Americans support it, although only 14 states allow it. Carr’s focus on marriage is telling given that the original Gawker piece had nothing to do with Smith marrying anyone. Thanks to mainstream LGBT rights groups like the Human Rights Campaign, marriage equality stands out as the most visible queer fight.
Even Smith’s employer Fox News, Carr writes, has mostly gotten over its hostile aversion to marriage equality: “From what I can tell, Fox News has done a decent job of representing the broad range of conservative views on same-sex marriage and seems to have, along with the rest of the country, evolved.” Fair enough — Bill O’Reilly no longer says gay marriage is the same thing as bestiality. Sally Kohn, the station’s only openly lesbian contributor, left Fox last week to head to MSNBC, but viewers responded well to her during her three years with the network.
That’s something. But it’s not enough to have token gay representation and to not be constantly declared icky in prime time. Bill O’Reilly’s tacit approval of gay and lesbian marriage does not satisfy me.
I don’t mean to downplay the significance of marriage equality for many people. In a way, too, it indicates progress that a famous gay white man can hang out at a bar with his boyfriend and that no one bats an eye when a widely-read blog publishes a story about that man’s sexuality. But pieces like Carr’s cause damage because they encourage straight allies and queers to raise a drink (perhaps a gin and cucumber like the one Smith was drinking in the bar) in celebration of a fight fought and won.
The journey toward queer equality and justice includes so much more than marriage, and so much more than the social stability of famous white gay men. It includes promoting mental and physical safety for queer youth like the transgender high school student being persecuted by the California Justice Institute. It includes fighting for laws guaranteeing nondiscriminatory access to housing and employment.
According to a 2010 analysis of FBI crime data, LGBT people are more likely to be the target of hate crimes than any other group and the 2011 NCAVP Hate Violence report found transgender people of color specifically are almost 2.5 times as likely to experience discrimination as their white peers. An Argentinian psychologist told NPR in 2012 that the average life expectancy for trans* people is 30-32 years. According to a study from the UCLA School of Law, LGBT youth make up 40 percent of homeless teens.
In his capacity as media guru, Carr offered a meaningful objection to the Gawker pieces and offers an interesting analysis of the ways in which “the culture has moved on.” But columns like his give people a pass to keep right on moving on instead of sticking around to pursue the necessary fights to make it possible for all queer people to live in safety, pursue economic security and live full and happy lives.
Audrey is a Texan living in Managua, Nicaragua. She loves journalism, country music and talking to strangers. Follow her on Twitter @audreywhitetx.