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LGBTQ Americans Have Cause for Anxiety and Hope in the 2020s

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In an otherwise difficult year, one bright spot for me was having the opportunity to write for you and the readers of The Advocate. As I’m sure you’re aware, the folks behind this outlet work very hard in making sure you’re well informed. We owe a debt of gratitude to this wonderful team, who put their heart and soul into their work. 

This past year has been an opportunity to share and learn, with you, some wonderful high-points about our community and beyond, including the incredible week of Pride 2019, all the colorful benefits of drag queens, and a look behind the scenes of the Macy’s Parade through the eyes of one of our own. We also had some dubious topics, but had the benefit of wisdom from leaders in our own community, gaining insight from, a gay ambassador, a gay — and brave, broadcast journalist, and a gay congressman.

Together we learned the back-story behind the first gay Republican congressman who came out 25 years ago, an Out 100 actor who still looks and feels great at 50, and a very special Catholic priest who changed my life.

And through sharing aspects of my life with you, and hearing from you, I’ve grown to appreciate the fact that we’re all dealing and coping with something in our crazy, mixed up, and always challenging lives. Perhaps the most consequential piece I wrote in 2019 was my article with New York Times columnist Frank Bruni about gay men and aging, and my very personal experience about turning 55. I hope readers benefitted from the messages of staying positive and being optimistic about the future.

As we look ahead to the 2020s, I think we have some legitimate reasons to be hopeful. Next year will almost feel like a transition year, and some elements of the year won’t be easy by any means; however, I think our community is used to taking some hits, fighting back, enduring, and moving forward in venerable ways.

First, we will say goodbye (again) to Will & Grace and sadly and all too suddenly to Schitt’s Creek in 2020. These shows were revolutionary in their own way. Will and Jack made being gay not only enjoyable, but acceptable, and hip immediately after the reaction to the Ellen coming out show. That show’s popularity sadly faltered after Ellen’s climactic moment and was eventually canceled in the spring of 1998, because, according to The New York Times, “…the cancellation attracted protests…from gay rights groups, which accused ABC of pulling out because of concerns about [gay] content.” In a nutshell, it was just “too gay.”

Then, NBC, a few months later, launched a show that was just too gay, and with a first — a gay man as one of the title characters. The show became an iconic hit, Without Will and Jack, we wouldn’t have the much beloved David and Patrick. Schitt’s Creek still presented gay as fun, with the same dash of outrageousness, and an added sense of boring and normal. The romance between two bookends was at once hilarious and realistic. It’s a harbinger for how gay love, in all its messes and marvelousness – and boringness – will be portrayed during the next decade.

Also, the 2020s will be filled with more shows like the breakout hit Pose, where characters will be unafraid of being themselves, HIV+ and happy, proud and loud about being transgender and creating different types of families. Realism at its realist — like the new surprise hit Work in Progress, where gender non-conformity is celebrated, with characters who are free to love who they want, and how they want. The next generation, today’s younger audiences, who are more open minded and more accepting, will demand broad, expressive and representative depictions of our rapidly changing culture. The days of white, straight vanilla Hallmark movies are over – and hopefully, those will be changing too.

And the 2020s will usher in a wave of professional sports players finally coming out of the closet due to a confluence of events. First, for the most part, society is becoming more nonchalant about gay athletes. European soccer, rugby and hockey stars have come out with barely a kerfuffle, and that wave will hit here soon. Football star Ryan Russell's coming out in August, while he was still eligible to play, was met with nearly unanimous support from his NFL cohorts. More and more athletes are coming out to their teammates in high school and college, and soon they will almost be encouraged to come out to their co-players and fans in the pros.

Why? Because professional sports are losing their fans, and audiences, most notably from that younger demographic who represent the futures of the sports’ fan bases. For a variety of reasons, the leagues are going to have to start cultivating and captivating this next generation, and part of that is by mandating more inclusivity, and making their athletes more human and relatable. The egomaniacs like Antonio Brown, shunned by the NFL this year, are being replaced by the humbleness of LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who gave a moving speech about supporting hungry kids while accpeting the Heisman Trophy this month.

And this generation is not only speaking up for causes, but they are speaking up for themselves and coming out to their athlete moms and dads — who also in turn are speaking up for them. Dwayne Wade is the most recent and the most outspoken example. His honesty and compassion on behalf of his son has won widespread admiration, and his actions will drive other parent players to do the same, and in effect ease the path of tolerance for the adults in the locker room.

And intolerance won’t last long in our government. It may look bleak and bad now, and it will get worse before it gets better in 2020. But it will get improve.

Last year saw the awe-inspiring rise of Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay presidential candidate, and one who actually leads in the polls for next year’s early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire as of this writing. What a triumph for our community. Gay office holders and candidates are more prevalent than ever, and those numbers will grow during the next decade. We already have a lesbian mayor of the third largest city in the U.S. And, could we also see the first openly-gay and HIV+ positive man become mayor of New York City? 

While all of this is happening, there might be a bump in the road next year. Regardless of whether Buttigieg is the Democratic presidential nominee or not, the LGBTQ community will likely be a punching bag for Trump and all the down ballot candidates that follow his divisive ways. It’s going to be the dirtiest campaign of our lifetime. Trump and his acolytes will have no bounds, and unfortunately that means dividing at all costs, and using the LGBTQ community as one of its wicked wedges. 

Add to that an upcoming decision from the Supreme Court about protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, and you might have the perfect storm of hate and vitriol, from Trump supporters and the far right. Hopefully, this will be the last gasp of hate directed at our community during a national election, and optimistically, people will stand-up to the fact that there is no room in our campaigns, and in our government, for hate and exclusion, and vote in a more forward-thinking way. 

The 2010s brought our community more acceptance and support. We saw the passage of same-sex marriage, but we also saw corporate America wake up and start to look ahead. Diversity programs and inclusionary initiatives are almost a prerequisite for any company that is expected to not only attract top-talent, but to survive and thrive in the eyes of a more diverse consumer base. Industries, particularly technology and retail, are realizing the fact that, again, the next generation, will demand more. If our government fails to protect us, it will be businesses, whose ranks are quickly growing on lists like the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, who will jump to our defense. 

So, in a perfect world, we should see better representation of our community in television and film, in locker rooms and stadiums, and in government and businesses during the next decade. The 2010s started with the repeal of “don’t ask, don't tell,” and opening up the military released a plethora of opportunities and advancements for LGBTQ folks. The next decade should take us to new heights unseen, with more victories, more achievements, more love and more freedom.

Happy New Year to all of you, and may the next decade bring you all that is good, right, and joyous.

John Casey is a PR professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.

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