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Recently I had drinks with a straight friend, and he brought up the news about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's daughter Michaela coming out as demisexual. "What is that?" he asked with a snicker. After I told him what that meant, he came back with a rather sarcastic but telling comment.
"Will there be a D added to LGBTQ or LGBTQA or LGBTQ+ or whatever you guys go by these days? Pretty soon you'll have an acronym that has 26 letters if you keep going at this rate."
And last month, another friend sent me a picture of the recently adapted Pride flag that incorporates Black, brown, and trans people, asking what the new colors mean. When I wrote back and explained, she replied with a similarly caustic comment: "There aren't many colors left to put on that flag. Maybe we need another one? You should write a column about that."
I've been thinking a lot about what our community means lately, and perhaps not with much clarity. Do we have too many letters and too many colors about who we are? Have we tried to appease so many that we're now appeasing too few? And are we all still fighting for the same things? Do we all even share the same purpose anymore?
Will there eventually be not more acronyms but rather a divided cluster of letter ellipses, i.e. LGB, TQA, QTBB (Queer Trans, Black and Brown), or BPDN (Bi, Pan, Demi, Nonbinary)? Or flags that represent divided peoples, the traditional rainbow flag, the trans, Black, brown, and a third flag for the pan, demi, and nonbinary?
Are we entering a new era of sexuality descriptions and representations? Has what stood for the last 50 years become outdated? Is our community being reconfigured, reassembled, and reinvented?
In February, I wrote about the fact that for the first time in our history, three of the national legacy LGBTQ equality organizations (National LGBTQ Task Force, Human Rights Campaign, and National Center for Lesbian Rights) are being led by Black executives. Progress or prophetic?
In an era of politically driven cancel culture, there seems to be a wave of cancel culture within our own culture. Heritage Pride, which runs the New York City Pride events, banned LGBTQ law enforcement through 2024. Many left the venerable organization, not only because of this move but for others in the past. Now there are a litany of NYC Pride groups, some with their own Pride parades and events.
I spoke with the leaders of Heritage and the NYC Gay Officers Action League about this turn of events, and I ended the column by basically saying both sides were right. But maybe that wasn't right. Could both sides be wrong? Or will both sides indignantly go their own way?
Last month, Out Alliance, the Rochester, N.Y., region's primary LGBTQ advocacy and services organization for nearly half a century, more or less dissolved, and it now ceases to exist.
According to an article about the demise of the organization in the Rochester City Newspaper, Out Alliance had received "criticism that grew louder in recent years that it only catered to the needs of gay white men, who for so long had formed its base, to the exclusion of people of color, people with disabilities, and transgender or gender-nonconforming people."
The organization's former communications director, Tamara Leigh, said Out Alliance has lost all credibility. "You'll find a select few, usually older people who really aren't up on what's going on with them, who are still reminiscent of the agency that once was," she told the paper. "But for the most part, you see very hurt, angry, disappointed people who want to know where the money went, what the agency's been doing ... they have absolutely no thumbprint on what the community is going through at this point."
Over the weekend, another wall fell when Boston Pride disbanded. In what is a disconcerting and very complex story, Boston Pride started to splinter a few years ago when a Pride parade was interrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters who demanded more representation. Disillusioned former volunteers started their own organizations, Pride 4 the People, Boston Black Pride, and Trans Resistance.
In the end, the board of directors for Boston Pride, which has been the area's leading LGBTQ+ advocacy and events group for the last 50 years, decided to throw in the towel.
I don't think we can look at these fragmentations as one-offs. Rather, they are harbingers of things to come as a new generation rises and replaces what have traditionally been organizations made up of predominately white gay men and lesbians. Those of us who have been around for a while know that is the truth.
We became familiar -- and comfortable -- with whites leading the charge, dictating the agenda, and for a time, keeping trans, Black, and brown people somewhat at bay. For some, it was paramount that to be accepted, white gay men and lesbians needed to assimilate into the socio-economic demographic of a predominantly white society, led by a white establishment. We frowned upon people of color and transgender individuals. They were a risk to our ability to be absorbed and accepted. These groups were marginalized far more than white LGBs.
Today diversity and inclusion are the cause du jour in most of society and in corporate America; however, in many state governments, white men are trying to hold on to their last vestiges of authority by frantically passing anti-trans bills, draconian abortion laws, and race-restrictive voting regulations.
Are the leaders of our local governing establishments, i.e. the Heritage of Pride, Boston Pride, and Rochester's Out Alliance trying to hold on as well? Are they turning a blind eye to diversity and inclusion? Do they lack the ability to address it correctly? Communicate it effectively? Implement it successfully? Or has our community, which has always been vocal, given way to new voices that demand to be heard in new ways?
We could very well be at a point of radical reckoning in our community, the likes of which probably have not been seen since the early days of the AIDS pandemic, when women stepped in to lead when men were too sick to do so. Our community transitioned then from Stonewall rebellion to ACT UP resistance. The ripple effect of AIDS was felt on an entire generation, and it forced changes in so many directions.
And here we are today. What will become of LGBTQ? Will the rainbow flag spawn new color schemes on different flags? Will there be not one but several regional June Pride parades? Are all those traditional local heralded alliances and organizations that have stood tall for 50 years about to be wiped out? What will replace them? Who will lead us? Who will lead you? Where will you go? What will we call ourselves? Will we coalesce or digress? Will we keep fighting among ourselves? What will we end up fighting for?
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.