Most younger gays think of the gay community as a place to have fun. And, to be sure, the primary recreational spaces, such as bars, are self-supporting.
But the youngest and newly out gays seem to have little sense that we are a community that needs our ongoing care and support. There are numerous institutions – social service and gay advocacy groups among them – that are far from self-supporting and depend on us all for their survival.
Consider AIDS service providers and LGBT community centers. While some of their funding comes from government grants, private foundations, and wealthy donors, those do not cover their total expenses. They need the rest of us to help fill the gap, particularly during the current economic downturn when other sources are cutting back and are less able to provide support.
I know of no briefer or blunter way to express it than this: If you gain something from the gay community – and all of us do – then give something back. Don’t think of it as a donation; think of it as returning a favor.
What do we get from the gay community? To begin with the most obvious, the very newspaper you are reading would not exist without a community of readers, supportive advertisers and gay-friendly venues willing to distribute it.
Another obvious benefit is the variety of bars, establishments and organizations that facilitate socializing with other gay people. Despite the existence of the Internet, a surprising number of people have met good friends or even their life partners through these venues.
If you have HIV, there are medical facilities that specialize in treating the disease. In fact, the powerful drugs that fight HIV are largely the result of persistent lobbying by gays during the 1980s and early 1990s. To those early advocacy efforts, we owe a great deal and I, for one, owe my life.
LGBT community centers offer psychological counseling services to help you over the rough spots in your life.
You get a birthright to a healthy self-esteem since LGBT people are no longer, as they once were, labeled as criminal, sick or immoral. These are victories won by the gay community over prevailing views at the time.
You gain in more and more places the right to legally marry – or at least form a union that receives some benefits and protections under the law. To many of us older gays, this seems absolutely remarkable. It was an option that I could not even consider in the 1950s and 1960s.
In many places, you have the right not to be discriminated against. In the past, people often were fired when their sexual orientation was discovered. That still happens, but far less frequently now.
Soon you might be able to serve openly in the U. S. military. Imagine the effect on public perceptions of openly gay men and women wearing a military uniform with a few medals and stripes.
If these things are worth anything to you, and surely they are, then send at least a small contribution – say, $100 – to an LGBT advocacy or social service agency. Most of us can afford that much. Think of it as payment for services rendered or eventually to be rendered.
Writing this column has persuaded me to do just that.