That’s how I’m feeling as I try to write this post. Blocked.
Why do I feel blocked? It can’t be because there isn’t anything to write about. Two major Supreme Court decisions have resulted in a tectonic shift in the LGBTQ rights movement. The federal government no longer defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. Same-sex couples in California can get married if they wish.
And now, sitting in front of my computer, I feel . . . blocked.
It’s not just the Supreme Court decisions that are rendering me speechless. It’s the fact that so much change has been happening so quickly. Think about what’s happened – just in 2013:
On January 21, Barack Obama became the first president to discuss gay rights in his inaugural address.
On April 13, Jason Collins became the first professional athlete to come out of the closet.
On June 19, the Board of Directors of Exodus International, the largest ex-gay ministry in the world, announced last week that it was shuttering its reparative therapy operations, issuing an apology to the individuals who had been harmed by attempts to treat their homosexuality.
And on June 26 – well, you know the rest.
These are events that have impacted three of our country’s major social institutions – religion, professional sports, marriage – just in this past year. If we cast our net wider and look at state-by-state events, we continue to see significant institiutional change. California, for example, recently issued a ban on insurance discrimination against transgender patients. In addition, the California Assembly passed a bill that would provide transgender students equal access to facilities and programs based on their gender identity. And a week before the SCOTUS decisions, Colorado’s state civil rights division ruled that, by preventing 6-year-old transgender student Coy Mathis from using the girls’ restroom, the Fountain-Fort Carson School District acted in a discriminatory manner and needlessly created a harassing, hostile environment for her.
I could go on and on and on. It’s like a house of cards, with one critical card holding up all the others. Once you pull out that card, the entire house comes tumbling down. And that’s probably why I’m having this deer-in-the-headlights reaction – because even though change has been happening for a very long time, there’s been slow movement, then gradual acceleration. Now it’s like a roller coaster that’s just started zooming down the hill that it’s worked so hard to scale, and the ride is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying.
Social psychologists – and political pundits – call this the bandwagon effect. As more people come to believe in something, others become more willing to “hop on the bandwagon” and join in that belief system. Malcolm Gladwell re-branded and popularized this concept in his 2002 book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. A “tipping point,” according to the book description, is “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”
Have we hit that tipping point?
If we examine public opinion data on same-sex marriage in the United States, I think we can see the bandwagon effect – or tipping point – in pure, living color. Ten years ago, according to Gallup Poll data, 39% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. Five years later, in 2008 (the illustrious Proposition 8 election year), 40% said that same-sex marriage should be legal. In 2012, that number jumped to 50%. And last month, a Washington Post-ABC News poll indicated that 55% of Americans support same-sex marriage. Going from 39% to 55% in a ten-year span is a HUGE change – especially when it involves such a controversial, value-driven, institutionally-ingrained issue. No wonder I’m feeling so shell-shocked.
But I think there’s another reason for this rare I-have-nothing-earth-shattering-to-say moment. Since the decisions were issued on Wednesday, a lingering question has been in the back of my mind: Where will we go from here? The movement has been so focused on marriage equality, and while full marriage equality obviously hasn’t been achieved yet, I fear that our community will rest on its laurels, assuming that the fight is over. But the fight is anything but over.
This past Thursday, I participated in an event at the San Joaquin Pride Center in Stockton, California. When I got there, I had a conversation with Nicholas Hatten, the director of the center. In the midst of our discussion, he said to me, “I hope that people in our community don’t decide to pack up and leave. I hope they don’t stop speaking out and contributing money. Because if they do, we’re dead.”
My thoughts exactly.
We can shift our collective LGBTQ community energies to planning our respective weddings – choosing wedding attire, selecting the perfect venue, figuring out who to invite and where to seat them during the reception, planning the honeymoon.
Or we can roll up our sleeves and focus our energies on moving towards equality, justice, and acceptance for all LGBTQ people. We can reduce the rates of LGBTQ youth depression and suicide. We can ensure that our LGBTQ students are in a safe, affirming, and inclusive educational environment. We can work towards ending victimization of LGTBQ people. We can fight for the right of intersex people to make decisions about their own bodies. We can demand full health care for all. We can push Congress to pass an inclusive Employer Non-Discrimination Act. We can fight for immigration rights in our community. We can work towards racial justice for all. We can ensure that our LGBTQ aging population is treated respectfully, fairly, and equitably. We can work towards full accommodation of LGBTQ people with disabilities. There is still work to be done, and I haven’t even begun to name all the issues.
My block is gone. I’m ready to move forward.