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We have changed the world forever
We have changed the world forever
by Jim Toevs - SGN Contributing Writer

This Christmas Eve is a good time to recall Tony Kushner's piece which appeared in The Advocate just ten years ago: December 23, 1997. I have referred to it often over the years, and like so much of what Tony has given us, it is a gift that keeps on giving.

"Gay perestroika: a movement succeeds when so much has changed that there's no going back."

In & Out, the most recent of the recent crop of homo-friendly box-office hits (and the best by far), marks a paradigm shift. Written by "Paul Rudnick," which everybody knows is Libby Gelman-Waxner's nom de stage and cinema, the film is a modest, graceful, self-effacing comedy, replete with the divine, divine, divine Joan Cusack and Tom Selleck (who's never done anything for me before, but here smooches with Kevin Kline and makes my eyeteeth throb - v. To beat rapidly or perceptibly, such as occurs in the heart or a constricted blood vessel; n. A strong or rapid beat; a pulsation.)

This is a film in which the big event is an outing. One would expect such a narrative to address the formidable obstacles, internal and external, the outed character faces - to take as its central theme the courage required to come out in a homophobic world. And to an extent this is what In & Out does. Only in one aspect does the film differ from what's anticipated: The homophobic world into which the lead comes out is, um, not particularly homophobic. The real event, it seems to me, is everyone's realizing that there's not much fuel left to feed the last acceptable form of social bigotry. Suddenly it's not OK to be anti-Gay. Homophobic-leaning gestures are made by all the characters, but all are surmounted.

We've won! We can't get married or serve in the Army, but we've won. We're at the table. A month ago President Bill "Bipartisan Compromise" Clinton spoke at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) dinner in Washington, D.C., used the words "Lesbian" and "Gay" a number of times, and even suggested that if we want our civil rights, we'd better support Bill Lee's nomination for Civil Rights Commission chairman - that Lesbian and Gay rights are intricately connected to affirmative action in the United States, programs to overcome the effects of past societal discrimination by allocating jobs and resources to members of specific groups, such as minorities and women. And the big Queer-power crowd cheered! Thus spake the Arkansas Abomination, the signer of the Defense of Marriage Act and the welfare reform bill, the inventor of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." As Ellen DeGeneres, who kisses women on prime time, watched, Clinton asked the many homos on his staff - the White House staff - to take a bow (v. 1. take a bow; acknowledge praise). He said, we need to "broaden America 's imagination." Pinch me; I must be dreaming. We've won!

This is, of course, an irresponsible thing to say, but it's true, isn't it? Homophobia is still rampant: You can still get killed for holding your boyfriend's hand; your parents may still forsake your deathbed because they can't face your sexual orientation; Gay teens face ostracism and worse. But winning doesn't mean all is perfect or that the fight is over. In spite of the fact that there's still no federal written guarantee that we're covered by the 14th Amendment, is it permissible (I'm not entirely sure) to state that we've turned a significant corner and that the struggle for Lesbian and Gay civil rights is now, with In & Out and DeGeneres and Clinton partying down with the HRC to be counted a success.

Racism still exists, but the African-American civil rights movement changed the world forever. Sexism still exists, but feminism changed the world forever. Homophobia still exists, but we have changed the world forever. It's what Gorbachev said about perestroika: A movement succeeds not when everything is perfect but when so much has changed that there's no going back. This is inarguably where we're at. Skirmishes will be won and lost, greater changes are to be anticipated, and the fight still needs everyone's best, but think of those women and men at the first Mattachine demonstration in 1965 and then watch a tape of Clinton 's HRC speech.

Something's changed. Sure he's a sellout and mostly hound-dogging after Gay money, but only a fool would say that his appearance isn't of real historic significance. The glory belongs neither to Clinton nor exclusively to the folks at the HRC (though they deserve a round of applause) but to all of us - we worked hard for something that was once unimaginable to come to pass. But as that wise woman Whitney Houston sang, "Impossible things are happening every day."

I'm nauseating myself. But I hope my point's not mistaken. We're still living in a world of shit, a lot of the shit is homophobic, all the shit's interrelate and the fight is far from finished. But if we don't take an opportunity like a movie or a speech to mark that progress has been made, how are we going to remember, when we have cause to despair, that political action changes the world?

Amen!

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