If We're Winning the Battle for Equality, Why Do People Keep Yelling "Faggot?"

I like to think of myself as a pessimistic optimist.

For instance, when I hit a drag club, I know my make-up's the worst of every queen there. Yet I continue to believe that with enough practice, someday I'll be more attractive.

When I try on a new dress, I know that my curves are in the wrong places. (No one ever sings, "I like big guts and I cannot lie.") But I also know that whether it's myself, or the people I'm with, all it takes is a shot or two and gradually I start to get gorgeous. (This serves in lieu of practice on the first one, too.)

That's how I greeted the Supreme Court's ruling on marriage equality: I knew it was only the first step -- but it was a huge one. I'm not alone in this: everyone from Nixon to the noxious have noted there are more fights to come in America's courtrooms.

Thing is, people don't live in courtrooms. They live in the real world. And here, the battle isn't over, either, because -- and this will shock you -- some people are jerks.

An example: A friend of mine is on the Different Stroke Dragon Boat Team in Montgomery, Alabama that raises money for charity. Her team proudly supports LGBTQ people, even though that's not who they raise money for. (More about that in a moment.)

She's seen a lot of positive changes in Alabama. The team gets requests for their team T-shirt, an outline of the state of Alabama with an equals sign. People no longer have to whisper that they support the team.

"I'm pleased with how supportive Montgomery has been," she says. Already this year her team has raised close to $5,000 for Bridge Builders Alabama and Rebuilding Together Central Alabama, charities that help provide housing to low-income seniors. "I think hearts and minds are changing," she says.

Unless of course you're a jerk.

Last week one of her teammates was boating on a crowded local river when he spotted two children who were about to jump from some rocks into a shallow portion of the river. A decent sort, he warned them of the danger. In response, their father -- after seeing an equal sign on the boat -- called her friend a "faggot." For good measure, the mother and grandmother repeated the slur.

Not being a decent sort, I like to imagine what's going to happen when these "God-fearing" idiots -- because you know they'd claim to be -- get to the pearly gates.

God: "Let me get this straight: You verbally attacked someone who helps both children and old people?"

Idiot: "Well, yuh see..."

God: "Shut up. Get in line over there, with the puppy abusers and Mike Huckabee. And you might want to hang onto that tall boy tethered around your neck; it's pretty hot where you're going."

How is it, despite all our social progress, even with hundreds of people around, some people find it completely acceptable to spread such hate? Psychologists call it the the social identity model of deindividuation effects. People in crowds often "become capable of acts that rational individuals would not normally endorse." In other words, they can get away with being a homophobic idiot.

Indeed, while non-jerks like myself might find this type of behavior stunning in light of current events, social psychologist Nathan Heflick says we shouldn't be. Indeed, he would suggest it's the success of the LGBTQ movement that empowers such people: "This is especially likely to occur... when people feel like the identity of their group has been challenged."

There is no law against being such a jerk. That doesn't mean there's not hope. There was a time when shouting the "N-word" in public was acceptable, and now it's not -- even among those using beer cans for jewelry.

As a society, at least when it comes to race, we've transitioned out of the days when overt racism was acceptable. That doesn't mean covert and institutional racism aren't still issues, but it's progress.

At this point you might be reading this with casual interest. You live in a blue state. You sure don't live in Alabama, where the Chief Justice is still in hysterics about marriage equality.

That feeling isn't entirely unfair. The convergence theory of crowd behavior holds that what's acceptable to a large group is the product of "the coming together of like-minded individuals... An individual in a crowd behaves just as he would behave alone, only more so."

What, then, explains what's happening to my neighbors?

I live in the bluest city in one of the bluest states, a city that HRC gives 93 out 100 on their Equality Index. I go to Red Robin in my dress and no one cares. Unless I'm eating buffalo wings; no one wants to see that. (Make-up, wing sauce, mixed with ranch dressing: it's not pretty.)

And yet my two friends next door, two lesbians, are moving because the people behind their house and mine have made their lives miserable. The neighbors yell obscenities over the fence at my friends, like "biscuit eater." Other times the neighbors just turn the hose on and "accidentally" spray it over the fence at my friends and their grandkids.

Is what my homophobic neighbors are doing illegal? According to the city's municipal code, yes. But proving such cases is incredibly difficult and often not worth the fight. After seeing the scorched earth left behind by a wedding cake, it's hard to imagine the collateral damage from a battle over a house.

These are the battles LGBTQ people continue to fight across this country. Not just in the courts, but on the rivers and in our backyards. Fighting not just against unfair laws and treatment, but against human nature's worst instincts and the people who defend it.

I plan to start my battle by getting dressed in drag in my backyard.