...gay people were like this giant INVISIBLE group that was right there amongst us all along, but everybody was pretending they weren't. This worked out nicely for straight people who didn't want to have to think about what they didn't want to have to think about. Well, what do you know, gay people got tired of pretending, because a) nobody likes pretending and b) it occurred to them that they might like the same legal and social rights as heterosexuals. Conservatives promptly labeled equal rights for gay people "special rights", meaning rights for somebody who wasn't them.
The good news is that progress has been, by historic standards, fairly swift. What may be the strangest residue of that progress is Don't Ask, Don't Tell. While you can argue that it served a bridging function while a tradition-oriented establishment came to terms with a new reality, history will look back with blinking incomprehension at a policy that will seem to have been thought up by a preschooler, along the lines of "If I cover my eyes, can you see me?"
So straight people have had to think a few thoughts that make them squeamish in coming to terms with all this. Sorry about that. But now that you've had those thoughts, you can stop thinking about it now! If you KEEP thinking about it, maybe you have other issues.
He's right about all of this, but I want to comment on the first paragraph. Nonbelievers have also been this giant invisible group in America.
Wonder about the "giant" part of that? Well, even admitted atheists and agnostics are as numerous in America - far and away the most religious developed nation on Earth - as Jews, Muslims, and Mormons combined. And three times that many Americans describe themselves as "nothing in particular" when it comes to religion. How many of those are nonbelievers who simply don't want to admit it? Most, I suspect.
Our being invisible has worked out well for organized religion and for believers who don't want to think about it very much, but how has it worked for us? Many of us are forced to pretend belief, because we're worried about our jobs, about our election prospects, or about our children being bullied in school. And politicians are so unconcerned that we even see a president declaring that we shouldn't be considered patriots or even citizens of our nation.
Can you imagine the uproar if any politician, let alone the President of the United States, had said this about Jews or Mormons or even Muslims? OK, these days we see all kinds of lunacy directed against Muslims, but it still would have been front-page news. Yet there are far more of us nonbelievers in America, and yet politicians feel completely free to disparage us. (Heck, in the GOP it's probably a requirement. I doubt if a Republican could get nominated for any position these days if he was willing to grant citizenship to atheists and agnostics.)
Recently, Carl Paladino, the right-wing Republican running for governor of New York, made disparaging remarks about homosexuals. There was a huge uproar, and he was forced to apologize. Can you imagine this happening if he'd made similar remarks about atheists? What's the difference? Well, can you imagine that there would have been an uproar over similar anti-gay comments before gays had started coming out of the closet? That's the difference, I suspect.
A humorous aside here. Paladino made his anti-gay remarks to a small congregation of Orthodox Jews. When he later apologized, the rabbi complained that he'd "folded like a cheap camera." Here's his comment:
I was in the middle of eating a kosher pastrami sandwich. While I was eating it, they come running and they say, ‘Paladino became gay!’ I said, ‘What?’ And then they showed me the statement. I almost choked on the kosher salami.
No one thinks it's odd that Paladino would try to appeal to this tiny fringe of a minority religion. Certainly, any antisemitic comment would be unthinkable. Our nation has advanced that far, at least. There is still plenty of discrimination against gays, of course, but even far-right candidates - at least in a general election in a state like New York - must be careful of what they say. This, too, is progress.
But how did that happen? We didn't see any progress at all when gay people were invisible. It must have taken a lot of courage to come out of the closet, especially at first. Heck, it still takes courage, at least here in Nebraska. But now that gay people aren't invisible, now that we see they're our friends and relatives, attitudes are changing - and rapidly (you might well wish that progress was quicker, but this is lightning fast for social issues).
We nonbelievers should learn from this. OK, there are some differences. Non-belief isn't something innate, like race or sexual orientation (although I seem to have been an atheist all my life). But as long as we stay invisible, people won't realize that we're here, that we're their friends, their co-workers, their family. It's easy to deny civil rights to some faceless enemy. It's not so easy when it's your son or daughter. It's not so easy when it's the friend you've known since grade school or the co-worker you talk to every day.
Visibility isn't an option for everyone. For some of us, it's a lot easier than for others. But if it's an option for you, please consider it. You don't have to tell everyone, and if you do, you don't have to rub their noses in it. Even I don't do that, not everywhere. Not everyone has to be an outspoken "new atheist." The gay community did just fine with diversity. Some gay activists were a lot more aggressive than others, and many weren't really "activists" at all. But even telling their parents was a big step - and an important one...
...Because every step they took made it easier for other gay people. They still have a long way to go, but they're clearly on the way. We nonbelievers argue among ourselves about tactics, but there's room for diversity in our community, too. The so-called "new atheists" might be too aggressive for you, but at least they're becoming visible. And visibility must be the first step.
We can learn a lot from gay rights, don't you think?