Are We Seeing a New ‘Tipping Point’?
Recent events suggest good changes for the gay
Inquirer, July 6, 2003
PO Box 8263, Philadelphia, PA 19101
By Malcolm Lazin
According to author Malcolm Gladwell, a “tipping
point” occurs when gradual trends of social change cross a certain threshold
and become widespread social consensus.
If so, 2003 could be the year the tipping point comes for
the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) civil-rights movement.
For such movements, tipping points come when a social
construct called prejudice—or, more specifically, homophobia—for the GLBT
community undergoes significant change. Forty years ago, politicians such as
Lester Maddox, George Wallace, and Strom Thurmond got elected by being overt
racists. In 2003, a suggestion of a supposedly better bygone day got Trent
Lott banished from Senate leadership.
Thirty years ago, opportunities for women were largely
limited to the careers of teacher, nurse, secretary and wife. A tipping point
changed a 2,000-year-old social construct of woman as a husband’s property.
Now we have signs of significant change for the GLBT
community. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned laws that criminalized same-sex
consenting intimacy. In a 6-to-3 decision, the court concluded that gay
Americans deserve respect and have a constitutional right to personal liberty.
Canada, which shares with us a dominant language and a
continent, has authorized gay marriage. New Hampshire’s Episcopalians
selected as their bishop an openly gay man in a long-term relationship.
Family-marketed Wal-Mart joined more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies in
offering workplace discrimination protection to its GLBT employees.
CBS received only 10 calls and 46 e-mails out of 8
million viewers about a kiss between songwriters Scott Wittman and Marc
Shaiman at this year’s Tony Awards. Bravo has announced Boy Meets Boy, a gay
reality show to compete with CBS’ new series Charlie Lawrence, which
includes Nathan Lane as a gay congressman. Ratings for Will and Grace, Six
Feet Under, Queer As Folk, among other programs with gay themes and
characters, remain high. All are watched by a diverse gay and mainstream
As recently as an April interview with the Associated
Press, Sen. Rick Santorum was questioning whether Americans had a
constitutional right of privacy in their bedroom. Two months later, the
Supreme Court affirmed that constitutional right for all Americans.
Clearly, GLBT civil rights remain an uphill battle. Even
though 28 states, including Pennsylvania, offer hate-crime legislation, even
after Matthew Shepard and many other murders and assaults, no federal laws
provide such protection to gays. Neither Pennsylvania nor federal law provides
workplace discrimination protection, even though recent polls demonstrate that
88 percent of Americans and 83 percent of Pennsylvanians favor GLBT inclusion.
The Boy Scouts insists on policies that exclude GLBT
youth. In too many public schools across the land, students and teachers can
use the word faggot without any discipline. The Department of Defense, the
nation’s largest employer, sanctions and facilitates homophobia by
prohibiting gays in the military. This is clearly blind prejudice, especially
when all of our NATO allies except Turkey have openly gay personnel without
The ultimate absurdity of the don’t-ask, don’t-tell
policy was exposed when our commander-in-chief and Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld welcomed British military personnel with their gay soldiers to fight
side-by-side with our service members in Iraq. Israel’s military has gay
personnel. Only gay Americans are statutorily denigrated as they bear arms for
Vermont stands alone among the states in allowing gay
civil unions. Thus, GLBT citizens are deprived of a fundamental liberty: the
right to choose, and have civil law affirm, one’s life partner. Such
homophobia causes patent discrimination in custody, adoption, immigration,
Social Security and pension benefits, hospital visitation, and inheritance, to
name but a few deprivations. Gays do not ask for special rights—merely the
same rights enjoyed by all other Americans.
Congress has overwhelmingly passed the Defense of
Marriage Act, the implication of which is that homosexuality endangers
heterosexual marriage. But I know of no American who has one child fewer, no
heterosexual husband or wife who abandoned a spouse because a gay or lesbian
couple was living in the neighborhood.
As for child-rearing, studies strongly demonstrate that
gays and lesbians make good parents. Yet Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist
(R., Tenn.) recently pandered to the far right by calling for a constitutional
amendment to prohibit same-sex civil unions. If enacted, that amendment would
trump states’ rights by eliminating the right of each state to make that
As we approach the 2004 presidential election, President
Bush needs to prove himself a leader. Leaders unite. They call on us to
fulfill the American dream. As Texas governor, Bush opposed hate- crime
protection for gays. After he became president, the measure swiftly passed in
Texas and was signed by his successor, also a Republican.
Patrick Guerriero, former mayor of Melrose, Mass., and
now executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, has opined that President
Bush needs to decide whether gays are part of the American family and
Republican Party. The President needs to state—and demonstrate by his
actions—that homophobia and compassionate conservatism are incompatible. In
2004, presidential candidates will not be allowed to hide in a political
That’s because gay Americans are a growing political
force. In exit polls in recent federal elections, about 5 percent of voters
identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. We are being joined by our
parents, families, neighbors, co-workers and friends. With gays coming out of
the closet, and with the benefits of positive media coverage, the tipping
point will be reached. The question is not if, but when. When engaged by a
civil-rights movement, Americans have recognized again and again that our
inalienable rights are the birthright of all Americans.
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