Examining the Drastic Changes in Public Opinion—The 1990s
In the early 1990s, I remember RuPaul getting a lot of attention in entertainment news. While I had seen Jamie Foxx portray “Wanda” on In Living Color, and Martin portray “Sheneneh” on The Martin Lawrence Show, and even heard about Flip Wilson’s portrayal of “Geraldine,” I never knew of any Black men so serious about dressing up like a woman they would make a career out of it. RuPaul’s appearance in the 1990s introduced the concept of a national figure (in my day) who didn’t care about what other people thought about his choices. While his presence was liberating to some, for the most part, homosexuality was still seen as unacceptable.
Later, during my high school years, I remember philosophies starting to change. I don’t know if I can put my finger on why, but it seemed like people were becoming more open-minded. In the black community, when rumors surfaces that certain celebrities were gay, I remember people saying they didn’t care what others did in the privacy of their bedrooms, as long as they didn’t approach them… For the first time, I also remember there being an intellectual debate around homosexuality. Where as in the past, the Bible was enough evidence to support the immorality of homosexuality, it became insufficient in philosophical debates that argued that homosexuality was natural, and that animals exhibited homosexual behavior. The argument that homosexuality was nature and not nurture was prevalent and talks of a “gay gene” promoted the idea that people are born gay. It was also during this time that homosexuality became a “lifestyle.” Historical Black figures like James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, and Angela Davis were presented as evidence that homosexuality had been in the Black community for a long time.
I think Ellen Degeneres was one of the first famous people to come out of the closet. And when she did, she made waves. As I recall, the waves were not all waves of disapproval. Yes, her show was canceled later (some may say because of her falling ratings that resulted in her sexuality), but her coming out had a ripple effect that did not only influence other celebrities to come out of their own closets, it also shifted public opinion as a whole. We will see more of this as we make our way into the new millennium.
What do you remember about the public opinion of homosexuality from the 90s?
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