Is it Time for the Gay Moralist to Retire?

First published at on February 25, 2011

It is a strange, challenging, and encouraging time for me as the Gay Moralist.

For almost nineteen years I have been giving my talk “What’s Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?” at universities around the country. [] I sometimes quip that the talk is old enough to vote, and soon will be old enough to drink. More notable is the fact that it is now older than many students in the audience.

Which gets me thinking about where our movement is, where it’s going, and how we’re supposed to get there.

Much has changed since I first gave the lecture on April 15, 1992, when I was a graduate student at the University of Texas. Despite refinements over the years, the talk still analyzes and rebuts common arguments against homosexuality, many of which haven’t changed: it’s unnatural, it’s against the bible, it threatens society and so on. The difference is in the social context.

In 1992, many audience members claimed never to have met an openly gay person. Now virtually all of them know such people in their daily lives.

In 1992, portrayals of us in the media were few and far between. Elton John was barely out; Ellen’s big announcement was five years away. Now our presence, while not exactly commonplace, is at least not shocking.

In 1992, marriage equality was scarcely on the radar. Now we have it in a handful of states and have debated it vigorously in every state.

In 1992, my first two presentations were in Texas, and people showed up with Texas-sized bibles to cite chapter and verse to refute me. It was common in the early years to encounter vigorous opposition in most audiences (alongside some vigorous support as well).

Now, the other side hardly ever shows up or speaks up. On the rare occasions when they do, they are decisively outnumbered. Among most college audiences, the claim that “Gay is good” doesn’t inspire debate. It inspires a “duh” or a shrug.

All of which lends credence to the view that we’ve won the war. It’s a view I hear repeatedly: Yes, there are still isolated pockets of homophobia, and there are some ugly battles left. But the anti-gay right isn’t merely losing. For all intents and purposes, it has already lost.

Polling data seems to back up the “victory” narrative. Younger generations are vastly more likely to support gay rights than their parents and grandparents, and they tend to retain such attitudes as they age. Thus, as soon as their elders fade away or die (as one audience member charmingly put it), victory is assured.

And yet…

And yet I still get mail—which, unlike in 1992, now comes via Facebook or e-mail—from young people who struggle with anti-gay ideas.

And I know plenty of people in their 20’s and 30’s who are closeted to some degree—and not just when dealing with older folks.

And the religious right counts many youth among its true believers—like the two young women, probably no older than my talk, who were standing outside my event last week distributing those charming little “Chick Publications” comics warning people that they’d rot in hell if they didn’t turn to Jesus. []

And—what should go without saying—older people matter too. They still vote; they’re still our families, neighbors, and friends; we still share a world with them.

All of which means that retirement probably isn’t yet in the cards for the Gay Moralist. Change, however, is.

My plan is twofold, and I welcome readers’ suggestions in the “comments” section or the forums.

First, I’m creating a new “stump speech” to reflect the changing context, tentatively titled “Haters, Sinners, and the Rest of Us: The Gay Debate Today.” It will still provide audiences the tools to dismantle anti-gay arguments. But it will also reflect the revolution in attitudes and confront the increasing chasm between sides.

Second—and here’s where I really need help—I’m going to seek out new, more challenging audiences for the original talk.

Recently I noticed a young audience member wearing the uniform of a nearby (very conservative) military academy. “Cool,” I thought to myself. “A right-winger who really needs to hear this.”

Turns out that he was there because he was dating one of the guys in the hosting school’s gay group (which says a lot, not just about the changing world, but also about my own assumptions).

He got me thinking, though: how do I reach the conservative military academies? The traditional religious schools? The people who aren’t showing up or speaking up? Yes, I can put up YouTube videos, like Dan Savage’s awesome “It Gets Better” project. But how do I reach those who aren’t already looking to learn?

It would be easy to respond, “You don’t. They’re closed-minded bigots.” But if there’s one thing that two decades of doing this has taught me, it’s that people can surprise you.

I’m not ready to write these folks off. Even if you don’t care about them, even if you don’t care about TRUTH, remember this: some of them will have LGBT children. Reaching them may help break the cycle of homophobia.

The Gay Moralist is ready for a new campaign. I’m open to suggestions. Readers?