Watching an episode of Glee every week usually results in my having at least one OMFGTISFG! moment. (That stands for Oh My F***ing God This is So F***ing Gay!) Whether it’s Kurt coming out to his dad, an episode about bullying, or Blaine serenading Kurt, it’s pretty much guaranteed that something will happen on Glee that makes me marvel about how much has changed when it comes to GLBT issues in the U.S.
This week’s OMFGTISG moment didn’t actually happen in the episode, but rather came during the first commercial break when the Google Chrome “It Gets Better” ad aired. To say it was nothing short of extraordinary is an understatement. We’re talking about one of the most influential corporations in the world coming out and endorsing one of the most important gay projects ever . And not in some insignificant way like a five second “CBS Cares” spots. No, this was a done in a huge way with a ninety second ad buy in one of the most popular shows in the country.
And by doing so, Google basically told everyone in America who is opposed to gay issues to go eff themselves because they are a bunch of bigots. It was simply amazing.
The ad had Woody from fricking Toy Story!
I’m sure when National Organization for Marriage president Maggie Gallagher saw it she threw something at her television. Or more likely her computer after one of her evil minions forwarded it to her. I mean what are the odds Maggie Gallagher watches anything other than Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and the dessicated corpse of Ann Coulter whenever she shows up on TV?
And that ad got me thinking about how much has changed when it comes to GLBT visibility in American pop culture. As long as we’re talking about ads, has anyone else seen Neil Patrick Harris‘ Comcast XFinity commercial? I know NPH was previously a spokesperson for Old Spice, so his being a spokesman isn’t exactly a breakthrough, but A) those XFinity ads have been all over broadcast TV and B) Comcast is a much bigger deal than Old Spice.
And the fact that Comcast picked arguably the most famous gay man in America — a man who is not only in a long-term relationship with another man, but recently became a parent with that man — to be the spokesperson for their product tells me that in huge swaths of the country, being gay is no big deal. Otherwise, I honestly can’t see a corporation — which are notoriously leery about how they spend their ad dollars — going with a man as out as NPH.
No, things aren’t perfect, but if I go back even five years to shortly after I took over AfterElton.com as editor, I can only marvel at how much has changed for the better and how quickly.
In 2005, there was no Brothers & Sisters, no Torchwood, no Ugly Betty and sure as hell, nothing like Glee. Yes, there had been significant breakthroughs on television with Ellen on ABC, Will & Grace on NBC and Queer as Folk on Showtime. But we all know what happened to Ellen DeGeneres after her character came out, and while W&G was a huge hit, many in the gay community were frustrated by Will’s lack of a real love life until much later in the series’ run. And for all the success of QAF, it was a cable show and never exactly crossed over into the mainstream.
And do you remember how the gay stuff either always seemed to happen in very special episodes or the secondary gay characters only showed up in every other episode for just a few minutes? Well, now on shows like Modern Family, Happy Endings, and Brothers & Sisters, the gay stuff is front and center and in almost every episode. (Of course, as anyone who watches 90210 can tell you, there are still examples of barely there gays still happening.) And the networks even advertise the gay stuff in their promos for the show, which is what ABC has done with Max in Happy Endings.
Kevin and Scotty from Brothers & Sisters, Marc St. James from Ugly Betty, Barca from Spartacus
Max from Happy Endings, Captain Jack from Torchwood
Even more noteworthy is the fact that as recently as 2006, far right groups like the American Family Association took credit not just for killing off The Book of Daniel (which featured a gay character who was both Christian and Republican), but with intimidating NBC over an episode of Will & Grace with Britney Spears playing a conservative Christian woman.
Yes, the AFA and other wingnuts still prattle on about Glee “shoving the gay stuff down our throats” and country western stars still say stupid crap, but if anything, Glee has only gotten more gay and become more popular. And the number and diversity of GLBT characters on TV has only gotten better. (Note, in this case when I used the word “diverse,” I’m referring to the types of characters we see, not race. On that score, TV still does a terrible job.) Over the past five years, we’ve had gay cops, gay gangsters, ominsexual Time Agents, gay parents, gay vampires, gay gladiators, bisexual reality stars, gay marriages, gay kisses and gay sex.
Granted, when it comes to the movies, GLBT visibility still blows like a whale in heat, but I have to believe that what’s happening on television will eventually spill over to the box office.
And all that gay visibility in pop culture is having an effect on the real world. In 2005 — just six years ago — most polls showed that nearly 60% of Americans were opposed to same-sex marriage. Today, 51% of those same folks support same-sex marriage. Not civil unions, mind you. But marriage. And when the Republicans in Congress decided that they had to defend DOMA since the Obama administration wouldn’t, the law firm they hired quickly backed out of the case because they didn’t want to be associated with such blatant bigotry.
As someone who has been involved with gay rights issues for more than twenty years, and has been in a long-term relationship for nearly that long, I have to tell you that for a long long time it felt like fighting for gay rights was was one step forward, two steps back. Every advance was met by a huge backlash and the feeling that we needed to wait at least a year before trying for anything more.
It sure as hell doesn’t feel that way anymore. In fact, it feels like things are happening so fast, it’s actually hard to keep up with it all. The final battle might not yet be over, but it’s really hard to not believe that we’ve won the war.
Next Page! Who was that gay man on Doctor Who?