Why has LGBT Rights movement progressed quickly while Ethnic Inequality is still so prevalent in the United States?
There are a lot of moving parts here that make this complicated. One is that its a tough question to ask (and brave of you) because whenever we start to compare oppressions people can become angry and defensive. Which is why intersectionality is such a useful concept to have to understand how power and oppression work, because we can see the relationships between various kinds of inequality. So I have a couple of ideas that I would explore if I was going to try to answer your question.
One is that things may not be as good for lgbt folks as you think they are. As a white college educated gay man, you are among the more privileged group of lgbt folks. So while you may feel accepted, lower income lgbt folks and lgbt folks in urban and rural areas may not feel as confident as you in the way the world is changing. They are probably still experiencing harassment and abuse in more overt ways from other people, from police and social institutions. When they experience oppression because of their class or race or gender, sexual orientation becomes part of the oppressive apparatus.
And this point brings me to the next one. To the extent that things got better for lgbt folks quickly, it really didn’t happen overnight. It felt that way, I know. But there were years of activism and organizing and research leading up to gay marriage. Although the lgbt movement may not have been as visible as the Civil Rights or Women’s movement, it has been around just as long.
And a key point — LGBT activism (specifically around marriage) was supported with a lot of money from gay white men. That’s the thing the LGBT community has on their side that no other oppressed group has — really powerful and wealthy white male members of the political and economic elite.
There is an argument to be made that the fight for gay marriage was not the right fight. It was the fight that was winnable because it said, “We are just like you (middle and upper class, wealthy, white couples), only 2 men or 2 women.” So it does not upset the gender dichotomy so much. And if you look you will will see that while LG rights among well off Americans are doing great, there is tremendous push back against the BTQ part of the alphabet. Especially when they are poor and black or brown.
So I really love that you asked this question because there is still so much work to do. I am all about intersectionality — no one is free until the least among us is free.
I think the main thing is that there many of the following don’t impact the entirety of the LGBTQ community in the same way, at least when it comes to making social progress:
• Jim Crow Laws
• the Prison industrial complex
There is a degree of intersectionality that needs to be discussed when it comes to these issues. And a white gay male won’t have the same experience as another LGBTQ identifying individual with a different ethnic background or gender. There’s a reality that systemic oppression has kept other groups down in a way that the overall community of LGBTQ has not necessarily needed to deal with as a whole. I would actually argue it’s a different social justice fight all together and not really comparable 1:1 as they each have their own nuances and unique issues they’re attempting to solve for
The reality is quite different for transgender people, especially those who come from working class backgrounds and cannot afford a kind of physical transformation that conforms to the normative gender norm. A few years back while conducting research on LGBT identity construction, I have met many middle class gay men who look down on transgender people for their appearance, and justify their prejudice by claiming that transgender people ruin the image of the LGBT community.
Bisexual people are also a forgotten group in LGBT activism. They are also not very popular, being perceived by the normative gay group as promiscuous. Honestly the finding that hit me the most from my research was how discriminatory some privileged elite gay men can be against other groups in the LGBT community. It makes me wonder if it makes sense to refer to them as a “community” at all.
Race came out of existence as a means of creating a subservient class/caste to exploit the labor of. Race is inherently tied to class, especially when racial formation is tied to colonization (think Blauner hypothesis). Prejudice against LGBTQ+ people occurs regardless of and within every class; well-off people might still be discriminated against, but the oppression tends to be worse for poor people and PoC. Also, I think that neoliberalism is more willing to absorb and pretend to celebrate LGBTQ+ people so long as it upholds the current economic & political structure. That’s why corporate Pride events and drag queen makeup sponsorships are commonplace but a riot led by Black trans women against the broken healthcare system or police brutality might fail to get popular support.
LBGT movements cut across cultural boundaries while prejudice tends to reinforce them.
There’s a really good Hidden Brain episode about this. In a nutshell, it is because 1) LGBT ppl are not segregated in the same way ppl of color or even sex are (sex due to workplace segregation)….therefore it was much more likely a non-LGBT person would know an LGBT person, and have empathy and support for them. 2) The LGBT community was very well organized, in part due to the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, and basically rallied around one issue – marriage. This was a smart move bc marriage comes with a cascade of other social privileges, thus creating more equality.