In our current political discourse, right-wing politicians continue to demonize the LGBT community in sad and desperate attempts to rally their base. While, happily, their efforts have not been as effective as in the past, any attempt to make gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people feel anything less than equal can lead to devastating consequences, as the ongoing string of youth suicides so painfully highlights.
Any preventable loss of dignity and human life must be stopped. The question is, "How?"
While prior efforts have focused on the issue of harassment, it is time for the LGBT community to take the dialogue one step further. When you are a teen, simply waiting for your next birthday can seem like an eternity. Telling our youth that life will indeed get better, some years into the future, is not enough. We must instead create a world in which there is no longer any shame in being gay. We must show that each and every one of us has something of value to contribute to this world, period.
The first step is creating discussion with the haters around where their anti-gay beliefs come from, and challenging those beliefs with facts. But we then need to take that dialogue even further and examine more closely what they hope that such convictions will ultimately achieve.
Typically, those who hold negativity toward those who are LGBT can be placed into two main camps: those who believe that being gay is unnatural, going against nature, or those who believe it goes against religious teaching.
With either group, the case can be made to counter such beliefs with facts. For example, those who believe that being gay is unnatural may be surprised to learn that homosexual activity has been observed in close to 1,500 species, and that such scientific certitudes should be spotlighted. For those who believe that homosexuality violates religious principles, pointing to texts such as the Bible as justification, and dialogue around translation issues, intent, and historical context, might be beneficial.
However, in both situations, while factual evidence might change some minds, most will still be unwilling to let go of long-held beliefs. My question to them then becomes, "What do you hope these beliefs will achieve?"
Most have never looked holistically at their views, nor tried to fit their beliefs into a larger framework. They were simply told by others that being gay is less than ideal, for whatever reason, and have not challenged that assumption.
If they truly believe that being gay is a sin or abnormal, what then? Does that mean they support the harassment of LGBT individuals? Do they hope to "convert" LGBT folks to heterosexuality, which no reputable medical or psychological association supports or validates, even going so far as to consider such "conversion therapies" potentially harmful? Do they want us to remain celibate and single, never experiencing love and affection? Do they wish LGBT people would simply disappear? If anything, they are creating an environment where gay youth feel that suicide is preferable to life.
But imagine, for a moment, that there were no LGBT people on the planet. Just what would this world look like?
Imagine the world without the Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by Michelangelo, a gay man. Imagine the world without that famous Mona Lisa smile, or the iconic painting of Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper, both by Leonardo da Vinci, another man who was probably gay. Imagine the world without the music of The Nutcracker or Swan Lake, by Tchaikovsky, also gay. More recently, imagine the world without the music of Johnny Mathis, Joan Armatrading, Elton John, Melissa Etheridge, George Michael, or the Indigo Girls, among countless others.
Imagine the world without the plays of Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, Paula Vogel, or Stephen Sondheim. Imagine how literature would look without the writings of Virginia Woolf, Truman Capote, Alice Walker, or Augusten Burroughs. Imagine sports without such legends as Martina Navratilova, Greg Louganis, Johnny Weir, or Billie Jean King. Imagine the world without the comedic brilliance of Lily Tomlin, or Andy Warhol's groundbreaking Campbell's Soup Cans painting, or Roland Emmerich's smash hit movie Independence Day. Imagine Glee without Jane Lynch and Chris Colfer. Oh, wait -- you're right! There wouldn't even be a Glee without gay creator Ryan Murphy.
These, of course, are just a few of the LGBT individuals who have created lasting impressions on our society, and, indeed, the world. (A more complete list can be found here.) I've created aTwitter campaign using the hashtags #rethinkgay and #imaginetheworldwithout, hoping to challenge stereotypes and change hearts and minds. Join me, extend this conversation, and together we can eventually reach some of the haters.
Harvey Milk had it right, all those years ago. We need to tell our stories and make our presence known. As he said, back in 1978, "I hope that every professional gay will say 'enough,' come forward and tell everybody, wear a sign, let the world know. Maybe that will help."
Tell your stories. Live authentically. Show the world what our lives are like, and how our presence on this Earth is not merely to be valued, but is, in fact, essential.
Without us, the world may still continue to turn, but it would be a far grayer and less fun place.