Upcoming Queers & Allies Club President Derek Deng, left, and cabinet member Rediet Zerihun, right, during the Day of Silence.
San Marino High School

Opinion: ‘That’s so gay’ — Why today’s progress for the LGBTQ community isn’t enough

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Newton’s Third Law of Motion has served as the foundation of scientific inquiry in physics for more than 300 years, but in the context of modern society, the scientist’s words encapsulate the tug-of-war in a dichotomous world schismed by political parties, gender, and sexuality that has resulted in social stagnancy.

The LGBTQ community, namely, has fallen victim to this “one step forward, one step backward” cycle. On the surface, the United States has made major strides in normalizing queer culture during the past decade: words like “dyke” and “fag” have fossilized as hate speech, movies such as “Call Me By Your Name” have cemented gay love stories into the cinematic canon, and Pride parades have become a cornerstone in metropolitan areas like New York and Los Angeles.

Progress is often a complex, nonlinear process though. While 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges legitimized same-sex marriage nationwide on paper, the law has been far from an indicator of equality, which has existed in name only. Social injustice still runs rampant through the country with homophobic organizations (ex: the alt-right) and “gay panic” defenses continue criminalizing the non-heteronormative inside and outside the courtroom, which begs the question:

Is it really easier to be part of the LGBTQ community now than it was in the past?

For women, the answer is self-evident as females have become more receptive and public about their queer identity (Janelle Monáe, Hayley Kiyoko, Kehlani, Demi Lovato, Rita Ora, SOPHIE, and Halsey are just a few that have impacted the music industry).

Men, on the other hand, are static in their attitudes; the same three artists from 2015 — Troye Sivan, Frank Ocean, and Sam Smith — remain the sole male LGBTQ representation in the pop music industry while gay character roles are still given to straight actors. What prompts this gender disparity, however, is not so much the extremist animosity of “toxic masculinity,” but the societal default to condone hegemonic masculinity, which demands “aggressive and violent behavior,” a lack “of vulnerable emotions,” and heterosexuality from men.

Until this concept of the “ideal man” in society is deconstructed, it is impossible to end homophobia where it truly matters: in the workplace, at home, and in school. Hollywood can release all the “Boy Erased” films producers want and try to shed light on the most gruesome parts of queer adolescence, but all mass culture has done thus far is popularize the LGBTQ without addressing the problems the community faces.

Of course, one of the most infamous perpetrators of hegemonic masculinity is our nation’s very own president, but these regressive attitudes can even be found locally. At San Marino, for example, the number of publicly-queer females outnumber their male counterparts in a 2:1 ratio, and almost five years have passed since a gay couple had a public relationship on campus (a lesbian one is currently ongoing).

But this phenomenon cannot be simply chalked up to a specious scarcity of queer males in the community. The fact that “gay” is still used pejoratively despite its 1990s timestamp and that the Gay-Straight Alliance has to be revived in an era allegedly more sensitive to the LGBTQ community attests to the overwhelming forces of hegemonic masculinity at work.

“There [are] a lot of instances of casual homophobia… treating LGBT people as lesser than,” said Derek Deng, upcoming President for the 2019-2020 Queers & Allies club, the new title for San Marino’s GSA.

Current sophomore Rediet Zerihun was also quick to chime in on the topic, noting how women tend to be more sympathetic towards the LGBTQ community because “there [are] no repercussions” for their actions and because the two marginalized groups share similar experiences.

“Women know what it’s like to be repressed,” Zerihun continued, and that factors into the way they treat other people.

Meanwhile, junior Marcus Gomez said, the immediate reaction to being a male Ally is the infamous, reputation-wrecking question: “Are you gay?”

Simply put, “you’re not supposed to choose sympathy,” Gomez explained, which is why men tend to be “more criminalized” for supporting the queer community.

The hegemonic masculine model can also take more implicit means, junior Grace Wongchaiwat noted; the football team, for example, receives exceptional funding for “air-conditioned buses” while other sports like girls’ tennis don’t receive the same luxury despite having more CIF titles to their name. This inequitable funding can even be extended to the VAPA programs, which received budget cuts at the start of this year, Gomez believes, because said activities are seen as inherently “more feminine.”

What struck me most about this interview with the cabinet for next year’s Queers & Allies club, however, was the role curriculum, or the lack thereof, played in the attitudes developed on campus.

While 2018 and 2019 was about raising a “woke” generation, a group of people who were cognizant of undermined struggles like sexual harassment (#TimesUp), the assumption that “people [are] educated” is still not valid. The LGBTQ community is not normalized in society, and to do so, schools need to bring the topic up inside the classroom as well to address the “mental…and sexual” implications of the queer experience, Gomez said.

It’s why pro-LGBTQ activities, such as the Day of Silence, are still relevant, why additional changes still need to be made. If we stand idle and accept the specious “progress” modern society has granted though, America is no better than it was 50 years ago during the Stonewall Riot era.

And the LGBTQ community deserves so much more than history’s cyclical animosity.

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