Adrienne Kennedy, a scrawny and perpetually tired-looking young woman, has spent the majority of her life in Irvine, California. She is passionate about pursuing a degree in microbiology and plans to attend medical school upon completion. In her free time, Adrienne enjoys cooking, rock climbing, paying in exact change, and keeping her mouth shut in public to avoid physical harm.
On the night of June 27, 1969, a routine police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a popular hangout among gays in New York, resulted in three days of riots and protest. Tired of being legally persecuted because of their sexual identity, the inhabitants of the bar fought back and inspired thousands more to do the same. This event is now known as the Stonewall Rebellion, and it triggered the creation of more than three hundred gay liberation fronts by the end of 1970 (Batie). The Stonewall Rebellion is often referred to as the defining moment that sparked the gay rights movement. Coincidentally, Alexandra Chasin, a former professor of literary and cultural studies at both Yale and Columbia University, observes that the gay and lesbian movement constituency became a target market at the peak of their social recognition and enfranchisement (Chasin xvii). This is likely influenced by the “documented shift in marketing practice from targeting the mainstream or mass market to including more specialized niche markets” in the mid 1960s due to “increasing levels of competition for the mass market” and the “availability of specialized media products”(Wardlow 15). The above-average disposable income of homosexuals was likely another factor in their establishment as a niche market. A study done by the Simmons Market Research Bureau claims that the average individual income is $36,800 for gays/lesbians, compared to $32,287 for heterosexuals, and the average household income is $55,430 for gays/lesbians, compared $32,114 for heterosexual households (Wardlow 25). In fact, The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) population has recently become so appealing as a marketable group that “research and media companies have dubbed it the ‘Dream Market,’ promising U.S. firms direct access to millions of gay and lesbian consumers with billions of dollars in annual income” (Wardlow 16).
Considering the number of incentives to engage in this “dream market,” it is no surprise that since the 1990s there has been a “rise of production, distribution, and consumption of commodities aimed at a gay and lesbian market” (Chasin 61). Television shows such as Showtime’s Queer as Folk and The L Word target an exclusively gay audience by depicting diverse characters dealing with real life problems and relationships, much like any other television show, but the majority of these characters are part of the LGBT community. These television shows instantly developed an almost cult-like following among the gay community, just as the popular sitcom Friends did with a predominantly heterosexual audience. Companies supporting alternative lifestyles such as Hot Topic began to sell all kinds of merchandise related to these shows such as shirts and pins referencing popular quotes from these shows, on top of their usual selection of rainbow colored paraphernalia expressing gay pride. In 2005, MTV networks created Logo, a gay and lesbian television network that includes everything from music videos to movies to news. Exclusively gay reality television shows such as “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a competition between several male transvestites to perform the best drag show, also frequent this network. Chemistry.com is one of the few internet dating sites to include both heterosexuals and homosexuals on their site, and they often advertise to the gay community through Logo. Large companies such as Subaru and Levi’s took their campaigns to the next level and played commercials directed at a gay audience on non-gay networks such as Bravo and HGTV, as well as Logo. Many other non-gay institutions have also begun to support gay events; Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm each host an annual “Gay Day,” and many nightclubs have dedicated a day each week to an LGBT audience. This increased accommodation of homosexuals in the market gives gay men and lesbians to the idea emancipation can be achieved through the market through consumption. Participating in the market gives homosexuals a feeling of assimilation because they believe they are contributing to society through consumerism, the idea that “an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable” for our country (Chasin 15, “consumerism”). In fact, Alexandra Chasin believes that “marketing to gays and lesbians serves to legitimize them in the US as individuals and as members of a subculture” (Chasin 15).
But is there a downside to this booming gay market? Writer and editor Andrew Sullivan believes that this growing acceptance of gay and lesbian culture will inevitably put an end to it. Considering the increasing numbers of openly gay Americans and institutions, a more likely downside is contrary to Sullivan’s beliefs. Could the ease of social networking for homosexuals be secluding them from the rest of the population? As more exclusively gay programs are created, the need for interaction between homosexuals and heterosexuals may diminish. The lack of common ground between the two groups could encourage many homosexuals to avoid the majority of the population altogether. Sociologist Erving Goffman describes this behavior as “in-group alignment,” which is a method of coping with social stigma by making it the essence of your identity through surrounding oneself with other people who share the same stigma (which in this case is homosexuality) and often conforming to stereotypes in order to feel socially accepted (Trevi-o 116). He claims that people who take this stance “may advocate a militant and chauvinistic line-even to the extent of favoring a secessionist ideology” (Goffman 113). This viewpoint is apparent among some homosexuals who often refer to heterosexuals with condescending and almost derogatory terms such as “breeders” and “squares.” This mentality can even been seen in the popular lesbian television show, The L Word, where the character Alice, the only bisexual among her lesbian peers, is consistently disrespected for being attracted to men. Dana, a character reluctant to make her sexual orientation public due to her status as a well-known professional tennis player, is also accused of being a “closet case.” The cast is rarely seen mixed among heterosexuals, attending only all-gay spas, parenting groups, sporting events, etc. To put it simply, they are in their own ideal gay world. However, at the same time, the increased accommodation of gays and lesbians in the market through television shows like The L Word gives LGBT communities “a profound sense of social validation” in a capitalist society (Wardlow 15). Because gays and lesbians are beginning to feel more socially accepted, the need to protect their identities with tactics such as in-group alignment is diminishing. It is likely that this mentality among some homosexuals is simply the fading remnants of a history of oppression. Andrew Sullivan reinforces this theory by claiming that “it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between gay and straight teens today” because they have grown up with an “internalized sense of normality” (Sullivan). Young homosexuals feel no need to identify with a stigmatized group because homosexuality itself is becoming increasingly more “normal.”
The increased accommodation of the LGBT community as a niche market, however, is not the only contributor to this sense of normality. The mainstream appearance of homosexuals in popular television shows has increased visibility and promoted their social acceptance among heterosexuals. An article in USA today states that, “the first television sitcom to depict a gay character was All in the Family, where Archie Bunker mocks Mike's friend Roger, whom he considers effeminate. Roger, it turns out, is straight — but Archie's macho bar buddy Steve is gay” (Sparta). This groundbreaking episode was aired in 1971. It portrayed the message that not all gay people were simply stereotypes; they could be your friends and family. After this event, there were many other gay appearances in television in shows such as “Corner Bar”, “Three’s Company”, and “All My Children.” The widely popular sitcom Friends depicted a gay marriage in 1996. The following passage written by NPR news editor Sara Sarasohn describes how this affected her mother-in-law:
Ellen and I had our wedding ceremony 13 years ago, when gay marriage was neither legal nor a hot political topic. Our families may have had the opportunity to watch gay weddings on TV sitcoms before they came to ours, but back then gay marriage wasn't even on the radar for a lot of straight people. Ellen's mother tried to get her to wear a dress by saying, "Those two girls who got married on 'Friends' wore dresses, and they both looked very nice." She lost her argument -- Ellen wore pants. But I wore an ivory-colored floor-length dress (Sarasohn).
Ellen’s mother was more concerned with trivial aspects of the wedding, like who was going to wear a dress, than the fact that it was an incredibly controversial event. This suggests that she considered it to be normal, which is uncommon for an older woman thirteen years ago. A few years after this appearance on Friends, the sitcom Will and Grace was aired, which became “the most successful series portraying gay principal characters” (Sparta). This television show seemed to cause almost every teenage girl who watched it to want a “gay best friend” like the character Will. Although this show depicted gay characters, it was directed at a mostly heterosexual audience, which portrayed the message that it was perfectly acceptable for gays and heterosexuals to mix.
The mainstream opinion of homosexuality has evolved from the “deviant behavior of a stigmatized people, to a criminal activity, to a clinical disorder, to a positive social identity and subculture” throughout the twentieth century (qtd. in Wardlow 18). This has been influenced dramatically by the appearance of homosexuals in mainstream television along with their establishment as a niche market. Gay icons, such as comedian Ellen Degeneres and the musicians Tegan and Sara, however, have broken the boundaries of their niche and become well known among heterosexuals for their accomplishments instead of their homosexuality. It seems that sexual preference can now be out shined as the defining aspect of a person, which raises the question: will sexual preference ever become as trivial as the color of your eyes?
Batie, Alan. "The History of the Stonewall Rebellion." Gender and Sexuality. Web. 18 Sept. 2009.
Chasin, Alexandra. Selling Out The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes to Market. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. Print.
"consumerism." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 20 September 2009.
Goffman, Erving. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. New York, N.Y: Simon & Schuster, 1986. Print.
Sarasohn, Sara. "Once Political, Now Just Practical." New York Times. 30 Aug. 2009, Late Edition (East Coast): New York Times, ProQuest. Web. 21 Sep. 2009.
Sparta, Christine. "Emergence from the Closet." USA Today 11 Mar. 2002. Web. 7 Sept. 2009.
Sullivan, Andrew. “The End of Gay Culture.” The Presence of Others. Ed. Andrea A. Lunsford & John J. Ruszkiewicz. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. 381-92. Trevi-o, A. Javier.
Goffman's Legacy. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, Inc., 2003. Print. Wardlow, Daniel L. Gays, Lesbians, and Consumer Behavior Theory, Practice, and Research Issues in Marketing (Monograph Published Simultaneously As the Journal of Homosexuality ... Journal of Homosexuality , Vol 13, Nos 1/2). New York: Harrington Park, 1996. Print.