Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Queers Versus The Homosexuals

We are in a new era. And the erasure of gay men and lesbians is intensifying.

May 19, 2023
A queer activist at the 13th Annual Trans Day of Action. (Erik McGregor via Getty Images)

Do you remember the homosexual?

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? He was, for a period, a key figure in the conversation about gay rights. He was Will in “Will And Grace,” or Keith in “Six Feet Under,” or Cam in “Modern Family” — a normie-enough dude randomly distributed across the human population and country. Once invisible and closeted, the AIDS epidemic exposed him without mercy in every state in the country. With this unexpected visibility, and in the wake of hundreds of thousands of young corpses, the survivors built a movement that won every gay and lesbian the right to be free from discrimination and to marry and serve openly — and proudly — in the military.

It was the most speedily successful civil rights story in memory. Its case for equality was simple and clear: including us in existing institutions needn’t change anything in heterosexual life. “Live and let live” in equality and dignity was the idea. And the most powerful force behind this success was the emergence of so many ordinary gays and lesbians — of all races, religions, backgrounds, classes, and politics — who told their own story. America discovered what I had discovered the first time I went into a gay bar: these people were not the stereotypes I was told about. They were not some strange, alien tribe. They were just like every other human, part of our families and communities; and we cared about each other.

What would happen if and when we won the battle was always an open question. The question of transgender rights — associated with but very different from gay rights — remained unresolved. But in the new climate of acceptance, transgender people also became increasingly visible and accepted, and they too won a stunning victory in the Supreme Court. The Bostock decision in June 2020 gave those who identified as the opposite sex full civil rights protection. Yes, there were still skirmishes over cakes. But with equal rights, and growing toleration, it seemed as if we’d achieved a settlement that would allow us all — straight, gay, and trans — a chance to get on with our lives in freedom.

And now? Back in culture war hell.


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