Mainstreaming is the act of incorporating a social or cultural group into the mainstream society, but it is also the adopting of mainstream values and sensibilities by that same social or cultural group.
The modern LGBTQ movement is said to have begun with the Stonewall Riot that started on June 27, 1969. At the time, it was common for gay bars to be raided by police and it was also common for those who frequented those bars to have their lives destroyed when their names were printed in the newspapers the following day. On that particular night at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, a handful of Drag Queens, Transgender people, sex workers, and other folks resisted the police and a movement was born.
While they may have been overly idealistic and utopian in their ideas, the early LGBTQ movement was not just about freeing the world from homophobia, it was also about making the world a better place for everyone. They challenged sexual puritanism and sex-shaming; the concepts of marriage and enforced monogamy; patriarchal institutions that held back women; classism and racism; and a host of other concerns. Their aim was never to be “normal” or status quo, but to remake society in such a way as to end the oppression of all communities and so that people could be who or what they were without shame or censure.
Over the decades these ideals were sidelined by folks in the movement who just wanted to be seen as normal and who wanted to be accepted in polite society. Additional factors, too, have had an impact on the mainstreaming of the LGBTQ movement and culture. These include more positive portrayals of LGBTQ folks on television and in the movies and the embrace of LGBTQ employees and customers by large corporations. While this mainstreaming has helped us make gains in such things as the right to serve in the military, same-sex marriage, and a growing acceptance of LGBTQ folks by society at large, these gains have only really been extended to the “right” type of people – those who can pass in polite mainstream, heterosexual, white, cisgender, monogamous society. The mainstreaming of LGBTQ culture helps those who are white, cisgender, male, affluent, and vanilla, but it does little to address rights and privileges denied to the more marginalized parts of our community – LGBTQ People of Color, Lesbians and Bisexual Women, Transgender folks, Drag Queens and Kings, the LGBTQ working class, folks in open and polyamorous relationships, fetish communities, and sex workers. The mainstreaming of LGBTQ people only perpetuates the inequalities, assumptions, and sexual prudery of the larger society and incorporates these into our own.
Another downside to this mainstreaming is the diluting and “de-gaying” of LGBTQ identity and culture. Our community used to have a fire in its belly and a strong idealism. We had many things that held us together as a community – shared experiences (like coming out), a need for safe and secure alternative spaces (like LGBTQ bars, bookstores, and community centers), common causes (fighting homophobia, discrimination, and harassment), empathy and solidarity with other marginalized communities, and even an appreciation of divas and campiness. As LGBTQ people and institutions are becoming more mainstream, we are losing those institutions that have helped us and defined us. LGBTQ folks are getting more of their LGBTQ news from mainstream media, so we are losing LGBTQ papers and publications. Along with those, we also lose an LGBTQ-centered perspective. LGBTQ folks are meeting people and finding dates and hookups online and through apps like Grinder. As we do so, LGBTQ bars, community centers, and social organizations are getting less patronage. The combined effects of mainstreaming and gentrification are pushing many LGBTQ institutions out of business. Many of these LGBTQ institutions were once strong and thriving in our community. They provided safe secure places for us to be ourselves. They especially provided shelter and safety to those of us who are less likely to pass in mainstream society. Institutions such as LGBTQ Bars, community centers, and papers also provided us places to share our unique history, culture, sensibilities, and values and norms that sometimes diverge from those of mainstream heterosexual society.
Gentrification and mainstreaming are complex issues. They have both their positives and their negatives. Ultimately, they end up benefiting only certain privileged demographics within the LGBTQ community at the expense of the poor and the marginalized. For better or for worse, gentrification and mainstreaming are also decimating longstanding LGBTQ community institutions and sensibilities.