Positive Living: Threatened But Accepted

As we approach another Pride season, I want to take a few moments and see where we are as a community. Are we living up to our quest to be a truly fair and equitable society? How does the rest of society view us? Are we winning or losing in the so called “culture wars?”

I’d say the state of our community is “threatened but more accepted than we think.”

There is certainly plenty to be angry and frightened about in today’s neo-fascist world, and it is easy to get mired in “doom scrolling.” But it seems to me that we are winning the culture wars in all sorts of interesting ways, like by challenging social norms.

We may be doing better than we think when it comes to winning over middle America on LGBTQ+ acceptance. Just look at the hundreds of commercials we see today — I remember being just 22 and telling someone I was dating at the time that I didn’t understand why we didn’t see gay people selling toothpaste, beer or cars. He assured me, in 1983, that it would never happen.

Today, I can point to dozens of commercials with LGBTQ+ characters. Recent ones I’ve seen include Turbo Tax, which featured a gay couple who are funky enough to be from Gulfport, and VW with two brides kissing each other in the backseat of a “bug.”

They’re far from the only examples, with a number of companies partners with LGBTQ+ celebrities. Hellmann’s features Kate McKinnon; Mountain Dew, Aubrey Plaza; NYX Cosmetics, Cardi B; Paramount+, Drew Barrymore; Rakuten, Christian Siriano; GM and Netflix, Jonathan van Ness and Antoni Porowski and Doritos have been marketed by Elton John.

During the Super Bowl, the LGBTQ+ advocacy organization GLAAD tracked an increase of ads with LGBTQ+ representation from 2023 to 2024 jumping to 10 ads, along with visibility for bisexual women and queer women. The majority of tracked ads, however, featured white LGBTQ+ representation and included no visibility for transgender and nonbinary people. We’re doing better but clearly we still have work to do.

It seems clear to me that by and large, mainstream society has moved on. The majority of people are no longer shocked when a male actor they like shows up with an openly gay NFL player as his date to the American Country Music Awards.
Fictional characters have also moved from tragic supporting roles to leading men or women; Hollywood and beyond has matured in how our community is portrayed. We’ve gone from silly and campy “Will and Grace” episodes to gritty, older and bearded gentlemen who are lovers in “The Last of Us.” The series showed us that there are queers even in an apocalypse.

LGBTQ+ characters and movies with LGBTQ+ themes are all the rage. I was six episodes into a bingeworthy Netflix series when the lead character — the epitome of a “tough cop” — is talking on his cell as he is driving. He ends the call by saying ,“I love you too sweetheart.”

The character in the car with him says , “I didn’t realize you had a girlfriend,” to which he casually replied “I don’t.” It was simple. Effortless. Without a parade. But it let the viewer know the lead character they had grown to love over the past six episodes was “one of those kind of guys,” even with his tough and masculine exterior. I thought it was done in a real Pride 2024 style.

I do have a secret I’d like to share as well: I like country and western music. OK, more specifically I like male country singers. So when I was introduced to Mr. Dixon Dallas on YouTube, I took notice.

He’s a typical hunky cowboy heartthrob, complete with boots, a cowboy hat, a southern drawl and a behind that fills out his jeans in a way I’m pretty sure is illegal here in Florida. At first I was digging the easy smooth new country when Mr. Dallas surprised me by letting me know that the blue-eyed honey he was crooning about was a dude.

Then he went on with lyrics that described in shocking detail (for the genre, especially) both what he’d like to do with that dude but also what that dude could do to him. Honestly, even I almost blushed on some of the lyrics. It was amazing!
I love his music and I’ve since discovered Mr. Dallas sings about all sorts of usual stuff, with the only exception being that his love interest in the song is always a guy.

So let’s remember when we are marching this year that we need to continue to bring Pride to mainstream America — in movies, in pop culture, with celebrities, with entertainment, and even in country and western music! Stay the course and pursue the “gay agenda’” with vigor, because America is listening.

Greg Stemm is a longtime resident of Pinellas County and a founder of St Pete Pride. He is an outspoken activist on many issues, including HIV/AIDS education.

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