Every time a "controversial" topic comes to the forefront in politics, I watch an endless stream of snarky tweets and Facebook status updates make it to my phone. Generally the "debate" is very lopsided, either heavily "for" or "against". This would seem to make sense on the surface; everyone knows that LGBT people are almost all "left-leaning" progressives who strictly adhere to the Democratic party platform on every issue. Correct?
Well, no, not really. Nearly a quarter of LGBT people vote Republican. So, where are these folks? I would be hard-pressed to name five LGBT friends on my social media platforms, out of hundreds, who voted for Romney.
This sort of invisibility and insularity within a community is nothing new though. In 1972, New York Times film critic Paula Kael famously remarked, "I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are, I don't know. They're outside my ken." This perception came, despite Nixon winning in one of the biggest landslides in U.S. electoral history.
This self-imposed orthodoxy, and resultant silence, is not limited just who we vote for, but on issues unrelated to being LGBT. Gun control. Deficit reduction. Global warming forecasts. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). I constantly find myself holding back thoughts and questions about these issues that might indicate a bias, whether or not one may actually exist.
Can we successfully keep illegal weapons out of the hands of bad people any more than we have tried with illegal drugs? If Medicare and Medicaid are the largest and fastest growing part of the budget, and we're running huge deficits, shouldn't reforming those programs be a priority? Are the CBO estimates of the ACA's costs accurate? Why have some measurements shown a leveling off in global temperatures in the past 10 years? Who actually listens to dubstep? I generally don't dare pose these questions in public forums because I worry that I will alienate people by asking them. People often forget, though, that you can ask someone hard questions while ultimately agreeing with them, just as Chief Justice John Roberts did during the Affordable Care Act oral arguments.
There is a price to be paid for having a narrow trade space for ideas. When we get used to seeing and hearing only one side of things, it numbs us to the fact there are a lot of perspectives out there which are very much different from our own. This lesson was hammered home several weeks ago when a friend of mine in the military (who happens to be a person of color) was assaulted for being transgender.
I woke up one morning to find a self portrait of him posted online with the caption, "This is what it means to be trans." He was bruised and bloodied; a black-eye swelled hideously, and a gash ran across his face from the bridge of his nose, across his cheekbone, and onto his cheek. A wave of emotions hit me when I saw it: disgust, anger, and sadness washed over me.
He lives in a large large city in a solidly blue state. He and a friend had been clubbing in the "gay district", and were headed home after it closed. While they were waiting for their food at an all night eatery he was accosted by two people who demanded to know if he was a man or a woman. When he told them it was none of their business, they attacked him.
He refused to fight back. His attackers were women, and he did not believe it was right to hit them. The picture he sent me was the result.
He also refused to report the incident for fear of being outed and losing his job. This highlighted yet another reason why the services' exclusion policy hurts people who just want to serve their country and do their job. However, it also made me think about how there are different kinds of silence. I came to the unpleasant realization that if I did not tell his story, no one would hear it. This is in no small part due to the lack of visibility transgender people of color, and those in the trans-masculine spectrum, have.
There is silence due to peer pressure not to express ideas outside the expected political norm. There is the silence of too few LGBT people of color finding media outlets that cross demographic boundaries. Trans men are also underrepresented in discussions on transgender issues. Other times, we see the marginalization of people in the LGBT community because they would look out of place on the cover of Vogue or GQ. There are copious ways to exclude people for being different, even within our own community.
Diversity isn't just something that should be strived for in American culture as a whole; it is something that must be actively encouraged within the LGBT community itself. We do not make ourselves stronger when the marketplace of ideas and perspectives is self-limited. It falls upon those of us who do have voices within the community to encourage diversity. Whether it is encouraging civility and rational discussion, promoting bloggers whose demographics fall outside your own, or bringing in voices with different perspectives to organizations you belong to; it is our duty to ensure that everyone ultimately has a seat at the table. The worst thing we can become is a colony of Sneetches.