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The Gay Rights Movement Has Gone Mainstream -- But Is That a Good Thing?

New York's gay community just won the kind of equality that will make us just like everyone else. But do we want to be just like everyone else?

This story first appeared in Next Magazine.

As the sweltering month of June ushers in Pride, who knew that it would also beget one of the gayest summer blockbusters of the year— X-Men: First Class? The central dilemma facing the mutants as they discover and learn to accept their super powers is whether they hide their gifts to fit into human society, or revel in and celebrate what makes them different, knowing that if they do, they’ll never quite fit in? In other words, what is gained, and what is lost, by going mainstream?

It’s a question well worth asking in 2011, as many of the cultural and political goals of the mainstream gay rights movement have been won, or are close to being so. Put aside for a moment the depressing news about youth suicides, bullying and gay bashings—or the temporarily thwarted push for marriage equality in New York and the rest of the country. Instead, squint your eyes a little, and take a look around. It’s been a hell of a year for the gays.

While the president finally moved to repeal DADT, and he along with every celebrity and Mayor Bloomberg rushed to shoot their “It Gets Better” videos, Mother Monster, patron saint of the born-this-way gays, garnered more followers on Twitter than the President. At suburban multiplexes audiences fell hard for the two moms portrayed in Academy Award-nominated The Kids Are All Right, while on the small screen the gays snagged their own reality show, The A-List: New York; Modern Family’s gay dads were nominated for Emmys (Eric Stonestreet won); and Glee’s Chris Colfer won a Golden Globe for brilliantly bringing Kurt Hummel to life each week. Colfer was also named one of the 100 most influential people on the planet this year according to T ime Magazine.

All of which is to say, in 2011, the gays have arrived—and are now firmly entrenched in American mainstream culture. A cause for celebration, right? Not everybody thinks so. This year as we celebrate Pride, there’s a notable queer backlash a-brewin’ on the margins. It’s not quite the gay Tea Party movement, but more voices seem to be proclaiming: we’re here, we’re queer, and there are a lot more interesting things about gay life than Lady Gaga’s new album or going to the chapel.

“In my standup routine lately I’ve been pleading with the rich gays not to start getting married and hav[ing] children,” says performer and writer Mike Albo,. “It’s a real problem. How are they going to afford those big houses on Fire Island that we get to crash at if they have to pay that private-school tuition? How mainstream do we get before we all become Republicans?”

Albo’s joke is hardly academic. The New York Times recently reported that in New York State the majority of deep-pocketed funders lobbying for a gay marriage bill this year are wealthy, conservative members of the Republican Party. With polling now showing a majority of New Yorkers supporting gay marriage, the issue is now when, not whether, it happens. Great, right?

Depends on where you’re sitting. Kenyon Farrow, a writer, activist and former director of Queers for Economic Justice, is quick to point out the implications this could have on national politics if mainstream gay issues like marriage equality come to be seen not as radical rewriting of the status quo, but as mainstream, even bedrock, conservative issues. “I think the GOP sees which way the wind is blowing, and where the poll numbers are going, and they’ve decided to turn marriage into a conservative issue. New York State will be the testing ground for a national strategy,” Farrow tells me.

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