Frank Bruni: Visibility Helped Change Minds in New York

Openly gay New York Times op-Ed columnist Frank Bruni writes about what he believes is one of the biggest reasons marriage equality finally made it's way to New York state: those who once opposed same-sex marriage had their minds changed by the gays and lesbians in their lives:

Bruni "Why such widespread backing, from such surprising quarters? One major reason is that the wish and push to be married cast gay men and lesbians in the most benign, conservative light imaginable, not as enemies of tradition but as aspirants to it. In the quest for integration and validation, saying 'I do' to 'I do' is much more effective — not to mention more reflective of the way most gay people live — than strutting in leather on a parade float. We’re not trying to undermine the institution of marriage, a task ably handled by the likes of Tiger Woods, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards and too many other onetime role models to mention. We’re paying it an enormous compliment."

"But an even bigger reason is how common it now is for Americans to realize that they know and love people who are gay. AIDS had a lot to do with that. This month is the 30th anniversary of the disease’s emergence, a ghastly dawn chronicled in the current Broadway revival of 'The Normal Heart.' And it’s worth pausing to note how drastically the epidemic raised the stakes of secrecy and silence, pulling homosexuals from the shadows. If we wanted people to take up arms against a scourge associated primarily with gay men, we had to make them appreciate how many gay men they were close to."

"Over the last quarter-century the love that dared not speak its name turned into a veritable motor mouth, to a point where the average American, according to an astonishing Gallup Poll last month, thinks that about 25 percent of the population is homosexual. Hardly. But that perception underscores how visible gay people have become. And familiarity changes everything."

Read the entire piece here.


  1. David Peterson says

    “Familiarity changes everything” is SO true. Over and over, in referenda, in lobbying legislators, in working for change in public schools, businesses, houses of worship, it is knowing individual glbt people that makes the most difference.

    Organizations have been doing this in a systematic way; for example, for the past 40 years, SpeakOUT in Boston ( has been sending trained glbt speakers out to schools, college classes, professional associations, houses of worship, social clubs, etc. Hundreds of other organizations nationwide have speakers bureaus who do similar work. One major purpose is so that everybody in the audience will meet ordinary glbt people, hear their stories, and have an opportunity to ask/discuss questions.

    Even more important, perhaps, are the glbt people who come out individually to their families, friends, at work, etc.

    The bottom line is that the lies and negative false stereotypes perpetrated about us by our anti-gay foes collapse when people meet and get to know us. Indeed, familiarity changes minds and hearts.

  2. Mark says

    Excellent article. One strong point that needs repeating, this vote did not occur because most of the gay community community dressed in leather, but becasue we dressed in business suits. Not because we stand naked on floats on weekends,but because we walk our dogs, mow our lawns and raise our families.
    I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate our uniqueness by recognizing our sexuality, but that is not what got us here today.That image is what our enemies sieze upon to mark us, and we are so much more than that!

  3. says

    Oh please — why slam the leather community in this otherwise moving piece? Have we really grown that conservative in our quest for equality Yawn. What else powered the “motormouth” of visibility other than wonderfully outrageous and uninhibited leather, drag and other queens of all walks. Who cares about the “image our enemies seize upon” — they also think we’re all pedophiles who want to marry trees. Dancing your little heart out in a leather thong on a float in the 90s while your friends were dying is one of those amazing gay memories that show we’re human just as much as proposing to your partner. Young people today (and those of the past, like myself) are much more inspired by our bravery in being ourselves than in the fact we want to settle down. There’s no need to start infighting, all types of gay people accomplished this — although the Times’ slant seems to be that straight people did. Let’s celebrate together.

  4. says

    The leather community was out and proud when the business suit brigade was still cowering in their closets.

    Back at the start of the post-Stonewall gay rights movement the biggest struggle was toget people to come out TO THEMSELVES!!!! Everyone had a million pathetic excuses to claim the ‘weren’t really gay” — even as they sucked your cock while doing so. Coming out in the real world was WAY avant-garde. To so much as bring it up to the business suits was enough to put them on the fainting couch. Those who were out were — OUT THERE — gays, lesbians, transpeople of all sorts whohad risked it all to be alive. It took EONS for the business suits to catch up. They don’t deserve any applause.

  5. candideinncc says

    I agree with David and Marke. The process of coming out was led by those who were the most flamboyent…the drag queens. Straight people will never like the extremely effeminate men or butch women among us. Tough.

    While I agree that it may have been the gay brother/cousin/son or lesbian sister that won the day here, they never were in the lead of the gay movement. They followed the brave people who had the nerve to be in the streets in the ’70s and ’80s. Credit where credit is due.

  6. brenda says

    Not to mention that the leather men were and are major fundraisers for the causes that gay men hold dear, including battling AIDS–especially in local cities devoted to gay leather life. I find this columnist’s nasty little attack against leather men much like the insistence that drag and transgender concerns be kicked out of the “normal,” “straight-acting,” “mainstream” world of assimilating gays.

    Now you see why there are still some gay folks who say “personally, I’m against marriage” because there are still gay folks who (however well-intentioned they may think themselves to be) are just a tiny bit self-hating enough to lob attacks against other gays who don’t assimilate and conform.

  7. GregV says

    “The leather community was out and proud when the business suit brigade was still cowering in their closets.”

    |”Cowering in their closets??” Henry Gerber established the Society for Human Rights and published Frienship and Freedom to fight for gay rights for Americans in the 1920’s, and The Mattachine Society was marching in their business suits in the ’50’s. The Daughters of Bilitis and gay women like Del Martin and Phylis Lyon were meanwhile doing their part, before most of us were even born, “in spite of” their polyester skirts.
    Gay heroes-in-business-suits throughout the decades like William Haines, Frank Kameny, Bayard Rustin, and Harvey Milk were hardly “cowering in their closets.”

  8. DrWill says

    I must thank the drag queens and leather men for putting gay into the conversations of ordinary Americans. I am one of those “non-descript” gays that doesn’t dress any different than the boring heteros. I didn’t want the attention. That being said, I recognize the struggle that the more obvious gays faced on my behalf. My personal journey of coming out to family and coworkers helped the cause by making gay ordinary. I would not have been able to do that without the extraordinary people who inspired me to be open about who I love.

  9. Paul R says

    I honestly don’t think Bruni was attacking the leather community; I think it was just an example. It used to be the case (and often still is) that when the media covered a Pride parade or almost any gay event, they *always* showed the most extreme, shocking images possible, and for many Americans that was guys in leather on a float. The Washington Post described the Pride parade there in exactly that way in the mid-1990s, and I wrote them a letter asking why they’d failed to mention the thousands of ordinary people in attendance, who far outnumbered those in “shocking” outfits.

    Don’t get me wrong: I fully respect and recognize the contributions that the leather, drag, and other communities have made to our cause. But I think Bruni was just drawing on an obvious cliche. And even if he wasn’t, it’s an unfortunate truth that at one time many (stupid) Americans thought all gays were into leather, and that knowing “normal” gays helped increase acceptance. Again, I am not against leather in the slightest, and encourage people to do and dress however they like. It’s a big community, and it would be awful if we were all the same.

  10. jamal49 says

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I sent a thank you note to each Senator, Republican and Democrat, who voted for Marriage Equality in NY State. They deserve to know that we are grateful for their courage to vote against some very nasty, hateful, irrational and vengeful people.