Riding my bike along the Hudson River in Manhattan yesterday, I encountered not one but two giant billboards using gay marriage (recently legalized here in New York state) to sell stuff. Manhattan Mini-Storage dispensed with its usual cleverness (“If you store your stuff outside New York, it might come back Republican”) to proclaim bluntly, “Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get gay married” (if there’s a connection to storage, it’s escaping me). A few blocks south, a Kenneth Cole ad proclaimed: “Gay people getting married? Next they’ll be asking to vote and pay taxes.”
How strange, over the past year, to be accosted by thirty-foot-tall corporate endorsements of same-sex marriage doubling as ads, to watch gay marriage become a savvy political strategy that a fiscally conservative governor could push to bolster his liberal bona fides, to see the endorsement of marriage equality become the penance required for a homophobic outburst (this was Tracy Morgan’s homophobic outburst, to be precise; at the time, I tweeted, “Proof that entrenched societal homophobia and marriage equality can co-exist”). It is, after all, the same year in which 50 percent of transgender people were harassed at work, nearly a third of LGBT students skipped a day of school out of concern for their safety, yet another year in which gay people in at least twenty-nine states can be denied housing or a job simply for being gay. As Nancy Goldstein observed here at TheNation.com the night the New York state legislature legalized same-sex marriage, kudos to New York for this win for gay rights, but don’t forget that Mayor Bloomberg slashed funding for homelessness prevention programs that were “pretty much the only path to housing for many of the LGBT youth in city shelters.”
This National Coming Out Day, I’ve been thinking harder about this paradox. Here in New York City, at least, gay marriage, as policy, has become fashionable to endorse,* and gay marriage, as a social experience, has become fairly comprehensible and commonplace, not only for a gay subculture but also for the many straight friends and relatives who have participated in gay weddings. Recently, on his MSNBC show, Chris Hayes suggested that the gay community has made out better than most interest-based groups under the Obama administration, and reading reports of the sweeping impact of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, I’m full of admiration, not only for the implications of the policy change but for the politics of the win. In The Atlantic, Kerry Eleveld recently argued that LGBT activists have learned to play hardball, and have earned Obama’s respect—and, more than that, Obama’s willingness to spend political capital on their concerns. It looks like things are on the up for the LGBT movement. And yet to reach into all the corners of gay people’s lives, all the sites of discrimination, the movement must not lose sight of the economic justice facets of the struggle for LGBT equality, nor the fact that the corporate-compatible, revenue-neutral gay rights issues are the ones where we’re making the most progress. It’s getting easier to come out by talking about—or having your own—gay wedding—which is a wonderful thing! But there are lots of other aspects of gay life where the impact of homophobia is still largely kept closeted, and where we need not only rights, but public services. Those need our activist energy, too.
* Democrat David Weprin’s support for gay marriage may have been a factor in his loss of Anthony Weiner’s seat. Clearly, this fashion has geographic limitations.