I know the author Fran Lebowitz mostly because she is so quotable. In a recent article she nailed what I have felt for a long time — that much of the progress we have made as a gay community is because of AIDS. That most massive of dark clouds had an astonishing silver lining. It forced us out of the closet.
As Lebowitz said in a recent interview in The Awl:
The idea—and not just the idea, the actual life of homosexuals—changed immeasurably because of the acceptance of homosexuality. And that was because of AIDS. No one ever says that. Or how AIDS caused gay marriage. I mean, it would never have existed. You could pretend to your family that you were straight, but you couldn’t pretend you weren’t dying.
As AIDS forced our entire community out of hiding, it also pressured my generation into pretending we were normal. Even if we had HIV, even if we were dying, most of us did not want to be associated with this disease the culture so deeply feared. As Lebowitz tartly puts it:
And after AIDS, I think that [homosexual] people were afraid of a kind of official response to AIDS, like they would be arrested, or put in jail, all these kind of things, which are not unlikely things, by the way, and so they made up a lie. ‘We’re just like you. We are just like you, we’re exactly like you.’ But of course, they were not exactly like straight people. They were nothing like straight people.
Only now, after being outed by AIDS and overcoming the stigma of being gay and possibly diseased, are we coming into our own as people. That is the current gay politics: to be accepted as people, unique in our own rights and equal as citizens.