These LGBT "game changers" are moving us all forward, into a world where sexual orientation is no longer the characteristic by which we solely define people.
June, the month that urban gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans attend a parade, buy rainbow bracelets and "Some dudes marry other dudes. Get over it" t-shirts at a festival, and mingle in dance bars with the rural LGBT people who've come in to the big city to celebrate Pride. Once the glitter and streamers are cleaned up and a frightening number of us make the walk of shame, it's back to the routine, whatever that may be. For some, it's continuing to work to advance LGBT causes and rights; for most of us though, we celebrate who we are, but the challenges of everyday life soon take precedence once again.
On an episode of Anderson Live this past spring, Anderson Cooper and Gay Rights Activist / High Priest of the Fight Peter Staley lamented that a majority of young LGBT individuals don't know their gay history. I would assert that a majority of older LGBT individuals don't either, including many of those who were in the fight. We know what we experience, but learning about the past... well, it's too much like having Mrs. Miller standing at the front of the classroom explaining why the Battle of Waterloo has any significance in our lives.
Still, there are those whom we should be paying attention to, allies and trendsetters who are making life better for all LGBT people. Whatever their motivation or the venue, each is someone who has been bold and forward thinking. Whether their contributions will be remembered by future generations is yet to be seen, so let us celebrate what they have done in the here and now.
Anthony Kennedy and SCOTUS
Seriously, this is a column about gay culture. Did you think I wasn't going to bring up the biggest victory on the national stage we've ever had? The progress achieved in U. S. v Windsor is far from complete, as it fails to recognize gay and lesbian marriage as an inherent right. Plus, a future Republican president with the opportunity to stack the court can facilitate its overturn. (Which is why Ginsberg needs to retire now. Love ya, girl, but open up the seat for a liberal 40 year old!) Nonetheless, by the slimmest of margins, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing gay/lesbian weddings and providing those persons in homosexual marriages equal protection and rights.
Of course, those opposed, including four justices, viewed the win as a battle cry. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia argued "By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition." Scalia's opinion is filled with such vitriolic language, so let's dissect this argument. First, nowhere in the majority opinion was there a declaration about enemies of human decency. Second, maybe it's time the traditional definition of marriage be examined. It doesn't seem to be working too well, especially among straight people.
Also writing a dissenting argument was Justice Alito, who had among his arguments this pearl: "The Constitution does not guarantee the right to enter into a same-sex marriage." He's right, of course, but what he fails to mention is that the Constitution doesn't guarantee the right to enter into an opposite sex marriage, either. In fact, the word "marriage" doesn't show up in the Constitution at all. A literalist could therefore argue that no one in America has the right to marry.
However, let us forget Alito and Scalia, as history surely will. Instead, let's focus on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has been consistent in being the swing vote in cases involving LGBT rights, writing the majority opinion for both Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned sodomy laws, and U. S. v. Windsor. Although Kennedy typically leans to the right, joining brethren Alito, Chief Justice Roberts, Scalia and Mini-Scalia, aka Clarence Thomas, in decisions, he has recognized the source from which all of our liberties come from: the Constitution. If, as many maintain, marriage is a guaranteed right, codified by tradition and law, then it is a guaranteed right for all, at least here in the United States. It's spelled out pretty clearly in the 14th Amendment. It's also in the Constitution that you have the right to voice your dislike of gay marriage, but you can't deny others' rights because you want to exercise yours.
So, thank you, Justice Kennedy, for knowing the difference between rights and rhetoric.
While we're talking about U. S. v. Windsor, how wonderful is Edith Windsor? Not only is she an 84-year-old warrior, she's adorable as can be.
"Same Love" has been on the Billboard charts for 17 weeks, as of the second week of July, and only climbed to number 14. Compared to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' other hits, this may seem like a letdown. However, the fact that it's spent four months on the charts and is still climbing shows it has staying power and is becoming part of the American conscience. For those unfamiliar yet, “Same Love” addresses freely what it is to be gay in America, the prejudices that confront the LGBT community, and the perspective of an LGBT individual. The song is a breakthrough for the LGBT community for a few reasons.
It’s one of the first songs that deals with what it means to be gay or lesbian to gain heavy rotation. Certainly, numerous gay and lesbian artists have addressed this issue in their music, but those songs didn’t resonate with the larger public (and as has been noted in this column before, most LGBT artists who enjoy commercial success opt for gender-neutral lyrics -- see "I've Got the Music in Me", 24 February 2009). Songs in the past that had gay or lesbian undertones usually had a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” approach to them, such as the “gotcha!” ending of The Kinks’ “Lola”. Not so for “Same Love”, which is upfront with the idea that being gay or lesbian isn’t a choice or a mistake, most notably in the chorus (sung by lesbian artist Mary Lambert): “I can’t change / Even if I tried / Even if I wanted to”.
What’s more, the song is a definite revolution for the rap/hip-hop world. Granted, rapper Frank Ocean famously came out last year, but really, the average person wouldn’t know Frank Ocean from Frank Baum (he wrote The Wizard of Oz). With its frequent airplay and club rotation, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ song has not only become a battle cry for the LGBT community, it’s taken hold among a predominately straight audience. Giving the song even more creds is that this isn’t a gimmick song, something the duo cooked up to appease gay and lesbian fans; it’s a true commitment to LGBT causes.
Macklemore, whose gay uncle is mentioned in the song, reacted strongly when he learned that an event at one of his concerts resulted in an outrageous act of homophobia. After performing "Same Love" at a Macklemore and Ryan Lewis concert in Omaha, Macklemore introduced Danielle Renae, who had a surprise for her girlfriend Michelle Rogers:
When Danielle's school, Grace University, found out what she had done, they kicked her out. What's more, the university is demanding that she pay $6,000 for her classes this semester, classes that she wasn't allowed to attend. When Macklemore heard about this scam, he took to Twitter in support of Danielle and wife Michelle's petition to get Grace University to back down. If you care to join him in protest, you can sign the petition here.
Thanks, Macklemore (and Ryan Lewis), for not only "getting it", but for speaking out in support of it.
While we're on the subject of music, though, I must mention unsigned country singer Steve Grand's new video, "All American Boy", the video of which features a same-sex crush and has gotten 1.2 million hits on YouTube in its first ten days online.
Gay love in country music and hip-hop? Next thing you know, they'll be letting those homosexuals have their own TV shows. They do? Batten the hatches; the end times is a-comin'!
Beauty and the Gender-Bender
Casey Legler is a beautiful woman, so beautiful, in fact, that she could be modeling the latest gowns from Alexander McQueen or the House of Versace. You will find her on the runway, but not showing off the latest in women's fashion; instead, she'll be part of the line-up showing off the latest styles and trends for men. Signed by the Ford Modeling Agency's men's division, Legler is redefining gender roles and rules.
She doesn't want to be a man; in fact, she's noted in interviews that she quite enjoys being a woman. It's just that with the right makeup and hair, she looks like a male model. A stunning male model. The kind of male model that makes uninformed gay men and straight women think, "Ooh, where can I get me a man like that? I wonder if I can shirtless pics of him on Google." (Actually, you can, but you may be disappointed if you're not expecting breasts.)
Legler isn't the first to engage in such gender-bender behavior in the fashion world, but she is certainly generating the most press, having already been written up by Vogue and Time. As she tells Time, "We have very specific ways in which we identify as man or woman, and I think sometimes those can be limiting." She goes on to mention that she can look "fierce in a dress and I've been taught by the best queens about how to rock some heels", but it's her work as a male model that has generated a meteoric rise.
No one can predict how long Legler will be in demand as a model; it's a fickle and unforgiving business. What is clear, though, is that she has broken down walls for other models, both female and male. Because of what she has achieved, she has shown the world that our cultural stereotypes of male and female-appropriate fashion needn't be so restricting. It's OK -- better -- it's fashionable to wear what looks good on you, whether society's narrow definitions say it's acceptable or not. Of course, as with Casey, it's not a halfway proposition, so throwing a low cut dress over your hairy, unshaved chest is still going to look odd. Society may not be ready for a wave of full-blown cross-dressing individuals, especially in the business world, but we are approaching a time when our personal choices are more likely to be honored.
So, thanks to Casey for leading the way into a new world of gender definition.
These "game changers" are moving us all forward, into a world where sexual orientation is no longer the characteristic by which we solely define people. Game-changers are all around us really; they don't just live on the national or international stage. They include that gay man who is the first to come out in his small rural town, the lesbian couple that proves to their older neighbors that being gay isn't a barrier to being good parents, and the young athlete who is living proof that if you can play, you should. The spirit of Pride lives in these people, so even though Pride is officially over, celebrate them. Then go out into your own world and change the game yourself. Even if it's a small change, it matters.