An essay by Josh Kruger
If you’re LGBT today, you’re a member of one of the most widely visible demographic groups in the U.S. You contribute creatively to arts and culture, you run small businesses, you vote in massive numbers, and you now sit in the U.S. Senate and publicly direct Fortune 500 companies. You proudly hold seats on boards of directors commanding community organizations, orchestras, charities and museums.
If you’re LGBT today, you’re also 190 percent more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than your straight counterparts. You’re three times more likely to say you don’t fit into your community than your straight counterparts. And, if you’re a young person, the picture can be especially grim. While your peers in high school say that grades, college and finances are the top problems they face, you – as an LGBT youth – are more concerned with your family rejecting you, being bullied for who you love and (worse case scenario) being outed in an unsafe place. It’s no wonder why gay youth try to kill themselves more than almost any other demographic in the country.
But we don’t always like to read about these stories. And mine is no exception.
A few months ago, I was punched in the face by a man who said he hated “faggots.” While my kneejerk and, frankly, hilarious reply to his slur may have warranted at least some kind of response, it did not give carte blanche for every idiot with boxing experience to give me a run for my money, at least not physically.
What makes the experience worse is that the assault happened in a homeless shelter in Northeast Philly. And no, I wasn’t a staff member – or a volunteer.
I was a resident.
This type of experience, disenfranchisement, poverty, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, assault, a broken social service system more concerned about pensions than actually affording individuals a hand up the social ladder – this is the experience of many of our peers, my peers. Yet, the unpleasant reality facing our community makes its discussion verboten. We’d much rather allow ourselves to be paraded about as though we’re all making six figures, working out every morning, dressing nattily to brunch and adopting Chinese babies with our beautiful new husbands. We’re still kowtowing to the idea that as gay men we’re either good for campy laughs or aping straight culture everywhere from musicals and theater to television – like the old standby Will & Grace and now Andy Cohen on Bravo. These are all depictions of gays that are “pleasant,” if not “safe” for public consumption. But this is not always the reality. Far from it.
And these depictions do such a great disservice to most of us. If one of the gays from the A-List was assaulted, for example, it would make national news. Or Lance Bass gets engaged – hurray! But what about a transgender hooker who gets stabbed on 12th street? Scarcely a whisper.
Even the bow-tied, Ivy League-educated gays with pipe dreams of monogamy, but with anonymous (and hot) Manhunt profiles, are misleading us all.
Sure, if you want to contribute to the social conversation by flashing your Log Cabin Republicans card, I think you deserve a seat at the table. Just keep in mind that the other seats at the table are reserved for those in poverty, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, those without high school diplomas, those who cannot sit there because they killed themselves, drug addicts, alcoholics, transgender folks, and those living with HIV.
I’d love to see more real depictions in the media that speak to who the gay community really is – gay bus drivers, gays on disability, gay men who are underemployed, lesbians who are alcoholics, trans people who live on 52nd Street instead of the Gayborhood – because that’s the reality that I’ve seen.
Is it bleak? Sometimes. But we are the 90 percent.
And some of us are just scraping by.
Josh Kruger is a writer and consultant based in Philadelphia.