The battle for marriage equality has been a fight looked on by Americans nationwide. The community celebrated a victory at the death of DOMA and repeal of Proposition 8. People have walked a painful and arduous path to this win for the community, but marriage equality has been presented as the gay community’s most pressing issue, when there are issues that are equally or more worth fighting for. These issues include being protected from discrimination in the workplace and combating HIV and AIDS.
The Washington Post interviewed Terry Stone, of Center Link, which is a “nationwide coalition of more than 200 community centers that serve lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people.” The Washington Post reports, “Stone said that latest survey of the community centers’ patrons found that their top concerns were anti-bullying at schools, transgender rights, HIV and AIDS issues, and the need for more laws against anti-gay discrimination in employment, housing and healthcare.”
While this survey cannot express the wishes of a worldwide community, it brings up a valid point. Why has the issue of marriage equality become the main focus, continually covered by media outlets? The mainstream media always “sells” products and information that they want or that fit their agenda, ideology, philosophy, etc. The mainstream media has latched so tightly on marriage equality, not because it is the top concern of the LGBT community, rather it is because of the group of people in the LGBT community that are most vocal and visual in this fight. What is revealed is a separation in the community based on race, class, and privilege.
Upon a glance at the top online news sources, on the topic of the death of DOMA, the galleries and images show a trend in race. The people celebrating this victory are white. The galleries offer at maximum one or two pictures where the central focus in the photograph is a person of color. Examples for reference include: the Washington Post, the New York Times, Huffington Post, USA Today, and CNN (videos, rather than images show the white dominance in this issue). I want to follow-up these sources by reminding folks that these are mainstream sources of news, and there are more niche, specific publications and news sources that covered marriage equality differently, however these are clearly the sources of news that people are most often using.
The concern with the demographics behind the fight for marriage equality goes further than race. Class and privilege are very much part of the discussion. Folks that were rallying and fighting for marriage equality are generally middle to upper class people. This can be viewed from the fact that people had the time to take off work to go to these rallies and protests. This is not meant to generalize the entire population of the groups fighting for marriage equality, but is certainly a point to ponder, as people who work paycheck to paycheck (people in the lower class) can’t take days off even if it was the person’s greatest wish.
What you end up with is a combination of dominantly white and privileged individuals fighting for marriage equality. This is the type of the community that the mainstream media wants to cover. They do not want to cover other issues because the demographics would be very different. The Washington Post continues in their previously referenced article to write, “A joint open letter issued in June, signed by 35 leaders, said that gay and bisexual men, while comprising only about 2 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for more than 63 percent of new HIV infections in 2010. It said the rate is particularly high for young black gay men.”
While HIV and AIDS is not solely a black issue, it is one that is very prevalent, especially in the black gay community. If the mainstream presented this issue as it presented gay marriage, it would ultimately send a call to others that this is something that people need to care about. This indicates that perhaps the mainstream media has no interest in helping this community and other communities like it. There is no clear-cut reason why the mainstream media does not report as heavily on issues, like HIV and AIDS, that innumerable people in the LGBT community find more important than marriage equality.
The lack of representation of the black gay community, is based in homonormativity. Beyond being physically built a certain way, homonormativity can include race, based on the society in which it lives. In America there is a white dominance, which can be seen clearly in our entertainment industry. Thus, white is beautiful, and other is not. Homonormativity therefore dictates even more specifically that in America the top of the gay community is composed of masculine, discreet, white, gay men and feminine, discreet, white women.
Until this homonormativity is battled, the issues that will receive attention in the LGBT community will be the issues fought for by the middle to upper class white folks. People of color, and the transgender community will continue to be ignored. However, now that the battle for marriage equality has essentially boiled down to a state-by-state battle, it will be interesting to see if the community will take on a different nationwide issue.