More than thirty years after the first cases of HIV/AIDS spurred an organized response by the budding gay community, the final frontier of gay rights has been reached: the ability to assimilate into the mainstream, the equity of legal standing, the right to marriage. But as gay men and women realize legal equality, some gay individuals still face uneven social challenges that diverge from the perceived interests and needs of the group. Nine years ago, Andrew Sullivan foreshadowed the dissolution of a communal gay identity in his article “The End of Gay Culture”, writing, “[W]hat encompasses gay culture itself will expand into such a diverse set of subcultures that ‘gayness’ alone will cease to tell you very much about any individual.” Arguments that the gay community should redirect and broaden its approach beyond marriage equality, while well intentioned, rely on the existence of a monolithic gay community. Today, the use of the word “community” goes beyond the semantics, creating an outdated premise for viewing gay individuals whose dissimilarities often mean their only common thread is being a sexual minority. This is not a strong enough link to define a community whose different interests and needs will not always align, if at all.
The major issues facing gay individuals beyond marriage equality are defined by their intersectionality. This concept acknowledges overlapping forms of injustice that may affect an individual whose sexuality, gender, race, or economic status compound their day-to-day experiences with power and authority. For this reason, the central issues facing gay individuals are not felt equally among subsets of the gay identity, and do not register as a problem in our collective ethos. Consider youth homelessness, not an issue traditionally linked to the gay community. But while 5 percent of youth identify as LGBT, 40 percent of all homeless youth do. For gay children, different religious and cultural traditions between families can make coming out an experience of love and compassion or an instantaneous loss of support and family that seemed in harmony the previous day. It is a dichotomy I am lucky to be on the former side of, and one that is hard to imagine experiencing. Almost half of American children without a place to call home identify themselves as a sexual minority, yet the double-edged sword of this vulnerability leaves them without a voice in a national dialogue about a community that claims to consider them as members.
The issues specifically facing disadvantaged members of the gay community do not make headlines for several reasons. First, they lack the systematic narrative of marriage equality, which has a sea change in public opinion, court victories, and most importantly, a finite “end date,” that is, when all fifty states recognize same-sex marriage. Earlier this month the Supreme Court decided to take state bans of same-sex marriage up in spring proceedings, weeks after Florida became the 37th state to recognize such unions. Secondly, the progress made in gay rights on a national stage benefits a set of individuals who have the most in common with the dominant culture of privileged, college educated middle-to-upper class gay men. For heterosexual couples, marriage is an institution most commonly utilized by upper-income individuals, a trend that may cross over. Finally, the intersectional struggles that affect disadvantaged gay Americans do not create a common constituency. The threat of eviction for LGBT youth is due to homophobic households, while higher-than-average HIV rates in some subsections of the gay populace are tied directly to the socioeconomic and racial makeup of the individuals.