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The Third Generation of Gay

By Frank Bua

It should come as no surprise that the Supreme Court did not issue rulings today on two critical gay rights cases, Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v Windsor. According to the "bible" for Supreme Court junkies, SCOTUS Blog, landmark decisions require greater deliberation and tend to come out during the final day(s) of the Court's session -- which this year is "penciled in" as June 24. Make no mistake: Gay D-Day is coming soon to a theater near you, and its release is inexorably and poetically linked with New York City's Pride celebrations. When the decisions come down, any progress will likely be tempered with disappointment that more sweeping change didn't take place. And this shouldn't surprise anyone, either.

For the LGBT community and our allies, the past month has been a whirlwind of success and setback; we may not have always enjoyed the ride, but we've certainly had a front seat on the roller coaster. The Boy Scouts allowed gay boys to join, but will still kick them out when they turn 18. Immigration Reform is making its most successful revival since 1986, but the Uniting American Families Amendment (UAFA) was rather ceremoniously excluded from the Gang of Eight's Bill and the Senate Judicial Committee's markup. The Land of 10,000 Lakes completed the most stunning same-sex turnaround since Ken Mehlman came out, yet the Land of Lincoln failed to get the Democratic controlled Illinois House to even vote on a marriage measure. Hate crimes and HIV are back to levels that we haven't seen since the 1980's. And that's to say nothing of harmful international revelations of the obvious: the Vatican has a gay lobby and Russian freedom is taking a page from the Soviet playbook.

There are always roadblocks to change, and President Obama understands this better than most. The most memorable line of his second Inaugural Address, "From Seneca Falls, to Selma, to Stonewall" was more than a pretty alliteration, or historic recognition of the LGBT movement in a broader civil rights context: it demonstrated his understanding of time as an agent of change. The Women's Suffrage and Civil Rights movements had a not-coincidental three-generation gestation period; the amount of time between Seneca Fall's Declaration of Sentiments and the passage of the 19th Amendment was 72 years. Likewise, 69 years passed between the creation of the "separate but equal" doctrine in Plessy v. Furgeson and the March to Selma, which placed the final exclamation point on the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In such cases, as the older generation dies off, it takes with it the oppositional ignorance that was too ingrained to accommodate. The intermediate generation develops relationships with people from the minority group and begins to question the premise for -- and justification of -- discriminatory behavior simply because "that's the way it's always been done." The next generation comes of age with a different worldview and frankly can't understand what the problem was to begin with. Stonewall was 43 years ago; we may have to pave some more roads (and dig some more graves) before we find ourselves at the end of the rainbow.

Justice Roberts may find people falling all over themselves to support our movement, but 38 states still do not allow gays and lesbians to marry - and our movement is about more than just marriage. We need to push for inclusion of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) in Immigration reform to protect LGBT bi-national couples (paging Senator Schumer), demand Congress pass the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to end workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification, educate our youth that while HIV may be treatable it is not curable, and move the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (ECDF) into law so that the 400,000 children in foster care can be placed in homes with loving - and yes, even gay - parents. We need to give our youth the mechanisms to steer clear of hatred of others and themselves, and to take care of the LGBT elders who were on the frontlines of our movement long before many of us were born. We need our President to issue his long-promised executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers, and we need to exercise the power of the purse by frequenting LGBT-friendly businesses, avoiding others (as if the Valdez spill wasn't enough of a reason to avoid ExxonMobil) and supporting candidates (Quinn, Booker) that speak to our issues.

I too am eager to find out the decisions in Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v. Windsor, but our journey for equality will continue beyond these important cases. In the end, it is the court of public opinion that matters most -- and the WIlliams Institute indicates we are doing pretty well there.

After all, it's about time.

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