Keep Your Allies Close

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

The time has come. The LGBTQ community, specifically the gay community in this case, have come to a place where we will have to start making some important decisions on how we treat our straight allies and advocates.

At Sunday’s Grammy’s, Macklemore & Lewis performed a grand gesture toward the gay community alongside Queen Latifah and Madonna with much fanfare. With their huge pro-gay anthem “Same Love” providing the soundtrack, Queen Latifah officiated 34 couples’ marriages. These couples ran the gamut from interracial, gay, straight, white, black, and any other checkbox the producers felt were important to cross off, with the clear message that it is the same love binding these people together regardless of their differences. For all of its gaudy grandstanding, it was surprisingly touching and felt as heartfelt as such a gesture could in the middle of a media maelstrom like the Grammy’s.

But then the naysayers appeared. As with just about any positive action from someone in the spotlight, particularly one targeted at the LGBTQ community, there was little satisfaction to be had. The denizens of “gay Twitter” and other such cliques of vocal, successful, and secure LGBTQ pockets took it upon themselves to poke the same holes in this gesture as they have with every other recent event. The couples had no sooner placed the rings on each other’s fingers than the firestorm of social media malcontents began stirring the pot. 

Cultural appropriation. Media stunt. Too many straight people. Insincere. Inauthentic.

These were just the first batch of complaints that I saw flash across Twitter while the performance was still going on. That isn’t even to mention the hideously cyncial people who were in a veritable snit before the show had even commenced. I was struck with how often this exact series of events have gone by me in the last couple of years.

Whether it be Lady GaGa reassuring her fans to be themselves or Macklemore & Lewis clamoring for marriage equality, we seem to have reached a crossroads. Or perhaps more appropriately, we have become a culture of aggressive double speak. We demand our beloved celebrities’ use their huge star power to help us gain equality and civil rights, but spew venom the moment they do it on a grand stage. We question why this singer has not come out in support of gay rights, all while rolling our eyes at another for speaking out in earnest. We wonder why there are no television programs with positive gay characters as leads, but proclaim any show that does to be unsatisfactory.

I’ll be clear: I understand that simply asking for more and encouraging forward progress of fruitful and meaningful actions and representations are an important part of any minority group’s rights movement. But it is a very different thing to excessively bite any hand that dares feed us, particularly when there are powerful fists waiting in the wings to beat us down.

Has Macklemore possibly used the ever-popular LGBT movement to gain some popularity and appear progressive? Sure. Does that change the impact of having an extremely popular, Top 40 song explicitly discussing gay rights in a positive light? Not one bit. And the argument that we don’t “need” to feel validated by a straight white man is inevitably a short sighted one when you consider the current landscape for gay rights.

Visibility and public opinion for the LGBTQ movement has moved at an almost breakneck pace compared to similar causes. Consider what we have at this point. We have gay award show and talk show hosts on all major networks. Gay television shows with gay characters written by gay writers. Out athletes as well as out singers. Out politicians as well as out actors. There is a sensational amount of stories and lives in the increasingly diverse image of our community.

So why are we so threatened that someone outside of our community is trying to help us tell another? I ask that LGBTQ people begin to consider the effect of their negativity and hostile reactions to our allies’ actions, not just for those we are currently battering but also for those who may look to this disproportionate backlash and decide to keep their pro-gay opinions to themselves for fear of similar retaliation.

As self-sufficient as we like to think ourselves to be, the significant actions and opinions of allies will be what finally win us the rights and respect that we deserve. Without our supportive families, progressive politicians, and, yes, vocal celebrities and public figures, we would not have been able to make the progress that we have in the last 25 years.

We have a long way to go, and this isn’t the time to relax and simply be happy with what we’ve got. But small victories are still victories and should be treated as such. It’s time we lose some of our more aggressive strains of entitlement, and celebrate those who are working to celebrate us.

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