As a local gay activist at the beginnings of the AIDS crisis I have to admit I was very afraid of what would happen. I worried more about the political and social ramifications than I did the health ones, perhaps because mortality is so unfathomable when you are young.
There was talk then of isolating the groups—homosexual en, hemophiliacs and Haitians—who were getting the disease. Schools kicked out youngsters with hemophilia, ambulance workers and health care providers refused to be near homosexuals, and the politicians and preachers of the extreme right talked of camps, isolation and interment.
Sociologists now think those most extreme measures never happened because we started to get more information on the disease, and because of the astounding way the LGBT community came together to take care of our own. Gay people stood together and spoke out to tell others we were human, we were dying and nobody was doing anything to help.
I’m starting to get similar feelings of fear once again. In California, they are actually preparing to put a proposition before voters calling for gay people to be shot. In Indiana, Governor Michael Pence, a potential GOP candidate for president, has signed a law making it OK for people to discriminate against LGBT folks on the grounds of “religious freedom.” Other states are expected to enact the same law being widely circulated by conservative groups for copying.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, there are 103 anti-LGBT bills in 28 states. And yet we hear little about these laws and much about the fact that 37 states allow gay marriage with hopes the Supreme Court will make it 50 by the summer.
I read constantly about gay bars fading away and gay neighborhoods disappearing because LGBT is going mainstream, that the younger generations so accept LGBT people we can simply meld into the straight community and have a suburban house with two SUV’s, a dog and kids.
Across the country, groups advocating gay rights are splitting up into separate groups concentrating on the social needs of LGBT youth, LGBT homeless, victims of domestic violence, the transgendered and others.
Here in Buffalo, NY, Mayor Byron Brown recently announced a new drive for “diversity and inclusion” and in his long list of excluded groups never mentioned LGBT. All our specialized community groups either didn’t notice (because the media took no note) or found taking that on isn’t in their mission statement. And oddly, none of the named minority groups on the diversity panel seemed notice that one of their fellow federally recognized protected groups wasn’t at the table.
In fact, where were the protests from our friends of LGBT when the Indiana law was passed? The White House condemned it through the presidential press secretary, but there was no rush by other politicians to denounce a law that makes discrimination legal. Julian Bond, who walked the Selma bridge with Dr. Martin Luther King, was one of the first to speak out against the law, but other leaders of other minority groups, where are they?
In fact, how does a referendum on shooting LGBT people even get so close to being put on the ballot? Would that happen with any other group? Would it even get this close if it were making it legal to shoot dogs? Why isn’t the very thought of such a thing an outrage?
Meanwhile, homophobic Senator Ted Cruz goes to the college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell (one of the first to bring up that round ‘em up into camps idea in the 80’s) and announces he’s running for president. The moderates and progressives all say don’t worry he doesn’t have a chance. But people don’t realize Cruz is not only a smart politician, but a constitutional scholar that can make legal discrimination look like religious freedom. And if he can’t be president, what about vice-president, just one heartbeat away?
I don’t want to be the old gay geezer walking down the street with the sign saying “the end is near.” But I’m getting vibes like I felt once before. I worry our LGBT leaders, especially at the local and state level, have gotten a little too relaxed and too confident in the wake of some spectacular victories in marriage equality and military service. We can’t get complacent.
I think we should be scared. Very scared.
Rod Hensel is based in Buffalo, NY where he was a gay activist and Mattachine Society chapter president in the ’70’s and ’80’s. He later co-founded Stonewall Democrats of Western New York. He is currently helping to organize the SIlver Pride Project of the Pride Center of Western New York to address issues of concern to LGBT seniors, and writes on LGBT senior issues for Buffalo’s Loop Magazine. You can find him at facebook.com/rodney.hensel.