Visibility by George Hazimanolis

Congratulations to Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents on four great years of reporting on the LGBT community in and around Pittsburgh.  I try to check in every day to see what the topic is, sometimes leave a comment or two, and often wish that more people would comment to keep the discussion going.

I enjoy the blog topics that have to do with our visibility and assimilation into straight culture.  They are topics that generate a lot of opinion both for and against.

Visibility is key if we want to achieve the civil rights that we seek.  It means being out to your family and co-workers.  It means saying “my partner” or “my girlfriend/boyfriend” in public.  It means not going into hushed tones in a restaurant when talking about certain issues.

That’s hard to do for many people, and I understand.  But nobody said this was going to be easy.  When you look back on the last two decades and the strides we’ve made (and we have come a long way despite the obstacles we still face), you can point to one over-arching theme that has helped: visibility.

Once we become visible to others, prejudice and bigotry become less of a tool for the opposition.  It’s very rare for someone to un-friend someone once they know they’re gay rather than the other way around – knowing they’re gay before you get to know them.  Once friends become allies, half the battle is won.

When people see that we’re in every profession, that we have families just like everyone else, that we pay taxes and mortgages and rent and worry about making ends meet and getting through life like everyone else, there is a sense of normalcy to us.

And that’s the key:  we’re normal. 

Acceptance leads to partner benefits, marriage, and the rights and responsibilities afforded to everyone else. This has been happening, and it’s led to some unforeseen circumstances.  As we become more accepted and integrated, do we lose some of our history?  Does the fact that we can now go to “straight” bars and clubs mean that the exclusively gay places we used to go have to close?  Some very historic gay bars have closed recently, both in Pittsburgh and elsewhere.  Some say it’s the natural progression of things.   There are at most a handful of gay bookstores left in the country.  Gay literature is available at chains and on the Internet.  Gay ghettos seem so 70s as we spread our wings and live where we want to, whether it’s in the suburbs with children or a condo in the city.  Straight people move into gay neighborhoods because we paved the way with gentrification.

I have no answers to these questions, and I guess that time will tell how it all turns out.  There is a historical analogy.  Looking back at immigrant groups that have come to this country and African Americans who were forced into a segregated society, a pattern eventually emerges.  First generations self-segregate into their own neighborhoods because they feel comfortable and safe among their own group.  (African Americans never had a choice, and some white European immigrant groups also were forced into segregated neighborhoods in the steel towns around here, but that’s another story). 

Subsequent generations become assimilated into the larger culture and leave the old neighborhoods.  Where the first generation had their own churches, social clubs and stores, and life revolved around that small circle, the next generation, more educated and mobile, left it all behind.  The ethnic churches fell into decline, the social clubs are not what they once were, and the mom and pop stores are gone.

I can’t help but wonder if that’s the progression of gay culture as well.  We gain acceptance, but we lose a piece of what made us unique in the first place.  Younger people never experienced what it was like to be gay in the 1960s and 70s, just as we don’t personally know what it was like in the 1940s or 50s.  Every generation makes its own way and builds on the success of the last generation, and that means that things change.  I think we are starting to witness how the next generation is going to build on the progress we’ve made, and I think they’re going to do a great job.  Maybe even to the point that in twenty years, being gay will not be an issue at all.  And isn’t that the goal?

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I have no idea where or when I met George.  He's been reading the blog regularly and we bump into one another on a regular basis.  He invited us to “live blog” the Celebrate Life, Celebrate Art event in 2009 which was a fun foray into fusing social media with a different kind of advocacy – the arts!  We're looking forward to tackling that again in 2010 and always look forward to comments from George.  Thank you, George, for being the first to respond. 

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