I posted, elsewhere, a couple months ago, and I mentioned without even thinking about it that there was no guarantee that the US was going to get more queer-accepting in the future, and, if it did, that it would remain that way. That upset a straight person in the comments. He pointed to some statistics about how young people were more likely to vote against Prop 8, and I pointed out that there were several times in history when people were more accepting of same-sex desire or bending the rules around gender, and other times when people were less accepting, and that there is no general movement towards queer equality.
I have little faith in humanity's ability to collectively mature or gain wisdom, and a quick glance at history would show there's little evidence to support such a theory. As critics of the way history is taught have pointed out for decades, history isn't a story about the development of humankind, predetermined to arrive where we are today.
Anyway, this person responded:
why would they [young voters] swing back? Young people grow up today with gay friends and family members. From a young age they see it as no big deal. I see it progressing in a manner similar to interracial marriage.[...]
I agree that many people sacrificed and worked hard to make the progress thus far happen. I think for the most part the war has been won, and all that is left at this point is cleaning up bit by bit state by state. The question is not whether gay people get rights but when. There is just no reason I can see anyhow that young people would start to reject their gay friends and family and try to reduce the rights they are acquiring.
There are definitely many people who think like him. They see the goal of LGBT equality as something that will happen, whether we work for it or not, and our work only makes it happen sooner. It's a bizarre understanding of the world, but, if you think about it, not all that different from other ways Americans, especially progressive Americans, understand the world.
Generally, progressives see intolerance, of blacks, Jews, gays, trans people, etc., as coming from an amorphous "fear of difference." And, like most fears of the unknown, it can be solved with a little education. If people just see how cool gays or what-have-you are, then they won't want to discriminate.
It's a shallow understanding of oppression that doesn't give all that much respect to the oppressors - it assumes that they don't know what they're doing, that they act in "ignorance." But in the real world, if it was all about ignorance and a fear of the unknown, we would have solved these problems a long time ago. For example, slave-owners generally knew many, many black people, but that didn't make them the biggest challengers against that institution. Discrimination against black people happened for many economic and psychological reasons, but ignorance isn't one of them.
Oppressors generally know what they do - that's how they become oppressors. The expression "speaking truth to power" grates on my nerves because of that; power knows the truth about what it's doing, it just doesn't care!
But it's an all-too-easy way to think about oppression, for several reasons. First, it lumps all -isms together: if it's a fear of difference, we understand the prejudice, and, voila, we don't have to analyze it anymore. It makes the world easier to understand, and I don't ever underestimate people's intellectual laziness, especially since issues relating to identity and oppression don't interest most people.
Second, it makes the progressive feel good about her lack of prejudice - she's simply more educated than the average bear. This is partly where progressives pick up the "snooty" label; as much as I hate to admit it, there are people on the left that I've see who come off as terribly arrogant just because they support X, Y, or Z piece of legislation. As if anyone who knew what they did about whatever group is affected by that legislation would come to have the same opinion about it.
Third, it's attractive because it fits neatly into America's history and the our way of understanding the world. That is, people will continue to work hard, the world will improve, and we can constantly expand and improve our collective quality of life. It probably didn't help that this country was started on the notion that this land was empty and that this country had to be expanded westward, always leaving space for development, but we see this mentality manifest itself pretty much everywhere, including in the recent financial crisis, which was, fundamentally, caused by the fact that the housing market was supposed to continue to grow so that those bad credit default swaps would eventually have value.
But, going back to queer equality specifically, there are no guarantees that we're going to get an equal spot at the table, and, if we do, that we'll keep it forever and ever. In many ways, our society has created a space for queer people right now, no matter how small or large a space it may be for some of us, because it works for society's goals. Should the way our society function change drastically, or should its goals fundamentally shift, there's nothing that guarantees the little lot we've carved out for ourselves.
Consider this data from the Patrick Egan study of Prop 8 results (links to pdf), which was discussed in the LGBT blogosphere a month ago because of its racial analysis:
While age affected how people voted on Prop 8 to a moderate degree, knowing someone who was gay or lesbian didn't affect someone's vote all that much. Considering all we hear about how if people just get to know us before voting, that's pretty surprising.
What that suggests is that the age trend on LGBT issues, that is, how younger people tend to be more likely to vote in favor of the queers on ballot initiatives like this or are more likely to support us in general, is mostly unrelated to actually knowing someone who's LGBT.
I would suggest that instead it says more about the changing values of the coming generation and how, because of their beliefs on a variety of issues, goals, and how they understand the world, they're more likely to come to the conclusion that someone being gay is no big deal and that marriage isn't just about a man's power over a woman. But actually knowing us? Jeez, lots of people know us and don't particularly like us. Even Rick Warren says he has gay friends.
Discrimination, as shocking as this statement may be, often benefits the dominant class. And prejudices and stereotypes are often more powerful than mere ignorance that, once exposed to light, vanishes into the shadows. The way people understand the world is a complex combination of disposition and experience, and a lot of it isn't logical. And simply saying to someone that gays and lesbians and bisexuals are just as capable of monogamous fidelity as heterosexuals are doesn't mean that they're going to necessarily believe it, or that they're going to vote against a measure like prop 8.
The most we can do is try to work with the existing value framework we've set up and convince the dominant society that our rights, autonomy, or opportunity is required by their own values, which is very different from thinking that we can just educate away the current problem.
Otherwise it reminds me of something I read somewhere but can't find at the moment, about how Christopher Columbus kept on telling his crew that he wanted to teach the Indians he encountered in the US to "speak." Not "speak Spanish" or "speak Italian" or "speak a European language," but to speak. They had to correct him that the Indians already knew how to speak - they were speaking their own language. But to him, that didn't count.
It's not like all the people who voted against us in California or elsewhere know nothing about us; they just don't think what we'd like them to think about us. And that's much harder to fight against, since there's no reason that Americans can't go back to ignorance if, in fact, it was never ignorance at all, just a different set of values and knowledges.