What Has Made Gay Rights Move So Fast? Familiarity.


Anyone who's been paying attention understands how rapidly the LGBT rights movement has progressed over the past decade or so.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, Gallup last week reported that "half or more [of the nation] now agree that being gay is morally acceptable, that gay relations ought to be legal and that gay or lesbian couples should have the right to legally marry," while in 1996, 68% of Americans said they disagreed with marriage equality.

Though many activists are wary of comparing the African-American civil rights movement and gay rights, and he admits the comparison is skewed, journalist Mark Z. Barabak notes that equality movement has found success in a much shorter amount of time.

Gay affluence and its political benefits may have something to do with it, sure, but the movement is perhaps most positively impacted by familiarity.

…Experts and advocates agree on one explanation above all others: Familiarity.

"People came to understand we existed," [legendary activist Cleve] Jones said. "They worked with us. They knew us. They had [gay] family members. That demystified it and made it harder for them to hate us in an abstract way."

That was an avenue obviously unavailable to African Americans. "It isn't as if white people suddenly come to discover they have African American children or relatives," said Kenneth Sherrill, a professor at Hunter College in New York and a longtime gay activist.

Gays and lesbians "are born into straight families and live in straight neighborhoods and go to straight schools and work in straight businesses," Sherrill said. "There's a kind of familiarity that's exceedingly difficult to achieve in the case of race."

And, yes, popular culture has played a role. Vice President Joe Biden did, after all, mention Will & Grace when endorsing marriage on Meet the Press.