It is an odd time to be gay in America. Whether you are celebrated or despised depends on where you stand at any given moment.
The most dramatic example of this dichotomy occurred on Sunday evening at the Academy Awards. To attend the glamorous event, one had to drive past anti-gay protesters shouting vile condemnations of homosexuality. Once inside, guests were treated to perhaps the most pro-gay Oscar extravaganza in history.
First, openly gay Dustin Lance Black won Best Original Screenplay for “Milk”. Black gave a moving acceptance speech to thunderous applause and told GLBT youth that they were “beautiful, wonderful creatures of value…no matter what anyone tells you.”
The icing on the cake was superstar Sean Penn’s remarks after winning an Oscar for his role as Harvey Milk.
“For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, and, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support.”
The GLBT community has come a long way. It is now acceptable for top tier straight men to play gay roles without it negatively impacting their careers. This is no small achievement and we should be quite grateful to have obliterated this barrier that once seemed insurmountable. (Let’s not forget Tom Hanks who played a gay man with AIDS in Philadelphia.)
Before we sip the Champagne, we should remember that there is still an ongoing taboo against openly gay actors playing leading men in Hollywood. On the morning of the Oscars, the New York Times Magazine wrote a profile on actor Rupert Everett discussing the obstacles he faced as a result of coming out. The article spoke of the time he was turned down for a major movie role because of his sexual orientation. An MGM executive told his agent, “to all intents and purposes, a homosexual was a pervert in the eyes of America.”
Clearly, some glass ceilings still need to be shattered. It should be a major priority among GLBT activists to make sure this breakthrough in Hollywood comes to fruition.
Equally jarring was my experience in Charlotte, North Carolina this past week. My organization, Truth Wins Out, traveled there to counter Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out” conference, where they teach people to “pray away the gay.”
On a beautiful Saturday morning, I broke away from our protest group to attend a seminar at Love Won Out. It was heartbreaking to see more young people than I ever had before at this traveling “ex-gay” road show. There was a cardboard sign that read “Youth Track”, and several teenagers – some that appeared not much older than 13 – were being taken inside by their desperate and confused parents.
Outside the conference were many dedicated local activists, such as Matt Comer, who organized our protest. Counter-protesters from Operation Save America greeted us. They preached that in 1973 the Lord turned against America. In this year, they said, God was angered by Roe v. Wade, the American Psychiatric Association removing homosexuality from its list of mental disorders and Israel’s war with the Arabs. Yeah – this is a bizarre conclusion to draw, but one that compelled about one dozen troglodytes to bring signs calling us “whoremongers.”
On the other side of town, the Human Rights Campaign held its annual North Carolina dinner. Much like those who attended the Academy Awards, attendees were greeted by belligerent Bible-thumpers who shouted Scripture into megaphones.
The dinner itself was an elegant affair that featured an excellent motivational speech by HRC Executive Director Joe Solmonese and a keynote address by Sen. Kay Hagen (D-NC). It was truly inspiring to hear Sen. Hagen, who occupied the seat once held by the notorious Jesse Helms. (R-NC).
The week ended with a hateful ad by The Policy Council of West Virginia, which compares same-sex marriage supporters to snipers targeting families. The more we progress, it seems the more our opponents regress and resort to shrill and bombastic attacks.
At any given moment, GLBT people are portrayed as either wonderful or wicked. While it is still painful to be put down, I can’t help but notice that when it counts – whether in Hollywood or Charlotte – it is we who are increasingly on the inside. While our opponents could win Oscars for their dramatic protest performances, they certainly can’t like the way the script is unfolding.