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Out of the ghetto.

FOR HALF A CENTURY THE SEPARATIST IMPULSE HAS SHAPED GAY life. It has been the motor force of change, propelling us into the future. Separatism has displayed itself in the pre-Stonewall urban sexual subculture of gay men; in the alternative institutions created by lesbians in the 1970s; in the community centers, political organizations, and religious groups we formed in the 1980s; and in the many businesses that cater to our tastes. In lots of ways separatism has served us well. So why not a bigger, better separatism in the future? Why not lavender malls, a queer political party, a gay Ivy League, and Q-Span? Because separatism's viability was rooted in particular historical circumstances -- and times change.

Separatism has been a demographic phenomenon made possible by the baby boom. Experts have noted that the numerical strength of the boomers let them make history; the gay community flourished as the boomers grew up. The numbers of that generation let us fashion viable communities. Separatism has also been an urban privilege. In migrating to these places of refuge, we created large doses of concentrated queerness. Urban anonymity allowed us to navigate the crosscurrents of the closet. We were open in the Castro but not with our parents a thousand miles away. We built a separatist world while minimizing the risks of exposure.

Separatism has been a response to oppression. Pre-Stonewall, it functioned defensively, protecting us from hostility. Since Stonewall it has served as a way to build a power base to make change. And it's worked. Yet our successes are ineluctably leading to integration. The separatist impulse is undermining itself. We can see this in the difference between issues of the 1970s and of today. In the 1970s we fought police harassment, sodomy laws, and the classification of homosexuality as a disease. We wanted government out of our bars and bedrooms and the shrinks out of our psyches. Now the battleground has shifted to gays in the military, same-sex marriage, workplace organizing, the right to parent, and fairness m the schools. Each has integrationist implications. What is a wedding but the place where all the worlds of a couple converge in public? How can coming out at work not foster integration? The push for equality inevitably takes us down that road.

Over the years we will see more community centers, gay-studies majors, and queer Internet sites. In time the scales will tilt. Integration will come from a post-Stonewall generation that has hardly experienced the closet. Queer parents win sit on school boards and visit their children's classrooms. Families that celebrate a wedding will be able to share Christmas dinner and Passover seder. As gay officials win higher offices, they will represent the whole electorate and prod their queer supporters to care about a broad range of issues. Religious gays will play healing roles as the millennium leads us away from fundamentalism. But wait. Do I hear echoes of a warning cry from 19th-century feminists whose organizations faded after suffrage until their daughters were suffocated by the feminine mystique? From German Jews who thought assimilation was proof of progress? From African-Americans who Pursued integration only to see treasured community institutions atrophy as racism revived?

Here's the paradox. Separatism leads to integration as communities reach for inclusion in society. Integration leaves a communities defenseless -- unless along the way the last vestiges of oppression have been expunged from memory. I worry about the swing in the pendulum that will soon be under way.
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Title Annotation:gay community will move from social separatism to integration
Author:D'Emilio, John
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 11, 1997
Words:577
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