I’ve heard some talk lately that gay rights will be the defining movement of our generation. And, in the immediate wake of 6/26, it’s easy to see why people say that. The moment was strong for me. It was a turning point that made me sure we were living in a world where “It gets better” videos will someday no longer be necessary, because it never got bad for gay kids in the first place. But ultimately, 6/26 was a foregone conclusion, 10 years ago. In The New Gay Teenager, Ritch C Savin-Williams writes about a generation of teens who view sexual orientation from a fundamentally different standpoint than any previous generation -- in a way that says, not only are gay or bisexual rights non-negotiable, but that those definitions are falling away, and the new standard of sexual behavior and attitudes toward orientation is: “If it doesn’t hurt anyone, then who cares.”
The teens he interviewed in his 2005 book we now call millenials. And they are voting, entering the workforce, and revolutionizing the cultural and economic marketplace with every field they enter. Saying that gay rights is the defining movement of their generation is silly, because for them, gay rights is over. Once the Greatest Generation passes and the boomers firmly take their place as the senior voting block, we’re going to have some debates about the other major equality landmarks (employment discrimination, trans rights, etc.) but in any area where millenials have the power? There won’t be a debate. We’re in a lockstep path to equality in gay rights that will only be slowed down as we try to mop up the messes of racism and sexism left to us by prior generations.
The defining movement of our generation will be global human rights. We have inherited a world with fundamental inequalities based on nationality. We have inherited a nation with national economic debt beyond comprehension, and a moral debt that may be beyond our ability to repay. Within our generation, those debtors will come collect. So we are in a race to outrun them. Civilization has always been unstable. Nothing about that really ever changed, until Hiroshima and the ensuing two decades. World War now has extinction-level consequences, and the proliferation of intercontinental nuclear missiles into the hands of world-power governments threatens to calcify the status quo, while the proliferation of nimbler dirty bombs and bio-weapons threatens to destroy all order as we know it.
We have also inherited a world rich with technology that strives to put it in the hands of people who can do the most with it. More easily than ever before, ideas from anywhere can become real in a fraction of a second. And those ideas are turned more and more to the future. We were born into the information age, where science and technology are lauded, and virtually all of human knowledge is at our fingertips. We seem odd to prior generations, because we are faced with extending human empathy beyond the scope and complexity of any generation before us. It has caused some weird things to happen. We have to turn that empathy and innovative drive towards global human rights because if we don’t, the consequences have been laid bare for us in a hundred literal apocalypse scenarios.
Our generation will face the end of readily available petroleum. Our generation will face scarcity of water, and the first real impacts of global warming. Our generation will face the consequences of harvesting labor from sweatshops for our products. Our generation will face a world community with a justifiable anger towards America for our part in all of these problems. And so we are in a race against time, against the consequences of the past towards a future where the measure of a human is by the content of their character.
We are racing in defiance of history, because the cycle says that we’re headed to another dark age. Versions of gay rights have been on the table before -- and then Athens fell, and Rome shortly after. Civilization has trended towards human rights before -- and then totally collapsed. And that honestly keeps me up some nights. Like this one, writing this column. Because to me, gay rights isn’t the defining issue of our generation. If we don’t accomplish gay rights it will be because our entire civilization collapsed. That’s what it would take to counter this fundamental shift in understanding of sexual orientation: the visigoths (or whatever their equivalent is, in 2025). Gay rights will be a side effect of our success, universal human rights will be the measure of it.
So please, please, please take action. Think about big ideas to save the world. Or find someone who does and throw your weight behind them. Or educate someone who needs it. Or get informed about issues so the politics of soundbites can come to an end. Volunteer or donate, vote or innovate, teach or listen, participate. This race is a marathon, but it’s also a relay, and it’s going to take a lot more of us going full speed to win it.