Wow. Yesterday, the shock over the news of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn DOMA gave way to elation. Personally, my head is still spinning as I absorb the reality of it all. It’s truly a time to celebrate. I think my gay head just might explode.
And from a social change perspective, it’s astonishing to consider just how quickly the gay rights movement — and the marriage issue in particular — has gained momentum over the last few decades. Social change, as we all know, takes quite a bit of time — generations, in fact.
When I came out to my family in 1993, the AIDS crisis was ravaging the gay community. Gay marriage was scarcely on anyone’s radar (save for Andrew Sullivan’s then-controversial cover story, “Here Comes the Groom,” for The New Republic).
Attitudes toward gay people were vastly different in America, and it really wasn’t all that long ago. Yet today, more than 58 percent of Americans support gay marriage, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll.
Of course, there are a near-infinite number of factors that got us from there to here. But as PR professionals, how did communication help speed up the process? Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Television: From “An American Family” to “Soap” to “Will & Grace” to “Glee” to “Modern Family,” gay characters became visible — and oftentimes, relatable — to television viewers. Hollywood writers and producers played a significant role in removing the stigma around LGBTQ individuals by showing them as integrated into families and communities.
- Access to information: Post-Internet, the world suddenly became smaller. Young people, particularly those living in less-than-accepting areas of the U.S., could safely go online, learn about their orientation, meet other gay people — and not feel quite so alone.
- Social media: With Facebook and other social media platforms, LGBTQ folks suddenly became less hidden and mysterious. Even your grandmother and your best friend’s mom from high school could peruse your photos and (hopefully) realize that gay people are really not that different.
- LGBTQ advocacy groups: Public education and outreach efforts on behalf organizations such as ACT-UP; Human Rights Campaign; Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders; Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Parents, Families, Friends, & Allies of Lesbians and Gays; among many others, surely helped raise significant awareness and “move the needle” toward social change.
And last but certainly not the least, the simple act of brave individuals “coming out” to family and friends — via letter, email, telephone or in-person — helped shift perspectives and shape the world we live in today, where yesterday’s SCOTUS decision was met with more celebrations than protests.
Although we still have a ways to go in this civil rights movement, it’s an exciting time to believe in social change and be a part of the LGBTQ community.