When, twelve years ago, I moved out here to write screenplays, I hoped to used the medium of film to promote a better understanding of gay people. I believed then (as I do today) that images were very often a more powerful means of promoting understanding of our fellow human beings than arguments, no matter how carefully and how eloquently made.
Yes, great orators have been able to change minds — and even the course of a war — with a well-delivered speech, but could words alone help people overcome prejudice? Would Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the greatest orators of the last century, have been as effective, as transformative a figure, if not for the televised imagery of police brutally beating people peacefully protesting, petitioning the government for a redress of their grievances against Jim Crow? When Andrew Young, then Mayor of Atlanta, spoke to us at Williams, said that the television made the difference in winning people’s hearts and minds.
Young had worked with Dr. King in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
What the then-Mayor of Atlanta said about TV and the Civil Rights Movement got me thinking of the changes that have taken place just since I moved to Los Angeles, changes in attitudes more than anything else. If there were a battle for the social acceptance of gay people, it has been won. I’m not quite sure when nor I am entirely sure how. But, if now that I have finished my graduate work and I decided again to try my luck at the entertainment industry, any efforts I would attempt to promote a better understanding of gay people would seem almost superfluous. People may still object to state recognition of same-sex marriage, but most do so not out of animosity against gay people, but because of a belief that sexual difference is a defining aspect of the institution.
Only in remote sections of America now do people suffer from acknowledging their sexuality. This is not to say that all hurdles have been overcome. Same-sex couples still do not enjoy the benefits of recognition in an overwhelming majority of states. Yet, it is far easier to come out now than it was a decade ago.
And sometimes, I wonder if maybe the TV series Will & Grace had something to do with it. It had just completed its first season when I moved to LA in 1999 — and would stay on the air for seven more seasons, enjoying fantastic ratings for the better part of its run. It presented a gay man as an amiable, attractive, non-threatening guy next door type. And maybe that made all the difference.