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The state of gay rights

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Posted: Wednesday, February 8, 2006 12:31 pm | Updated: 2:10 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Over the past month, entertainment writers have been tripping over themselves describing this awards season as heralding the year of the homosexual.

Movies like "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote" and "Transamerica" have been sweeping up Golden Globes, SAG Awards and Oscar nods. Things were looking downright promising for the gay rights movement.

Then, one day last week, a rampage at a gay bar in Massachusetts seems to have changed all that.

Jacob D. Robida, 18, was suspected of attacking patrons at Puzzles Lounge in New Bedford, Mass., wounding three patrons. Over the weekend, he was fatally wounded in a shootout with police in Arkansas.

Is this a setback for the gay-rights movement? A sobering return to reality? asap talked to experts on gay and lesbian culture and history about recent events -- and about what's next for the movement.

PUBLIC REACTION

Concern for the well-being of the gay and lesbian community has become common in mainstream America after acts of violence against homosexuals, says Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist on the board of directors of the City University of New York's Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies.

"How the culture responds tells us where we are," Drescher said. "It's been open, sympathetic and concerned."

David Smith, a policy director for the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, says he sees good and decent citizens grappling with the gay and lesbian acceptance issues.

"At the end of the day, Americans always end up on the side of fairness," Smith said. "Sometimes it just takes a long time."

DEGREES OF SUPPORT

America is divided, says Sean Cahill, a policy institute director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

"The country is kind of split on issues like partnering and parenting, while on something like nondiscrimination laws, we have strong majority support for those laws," Cahill said.

"There's strong support for certain basic protections, but then opposition for gay marriage. People don't want gay people to be discriminated against or attacked physically for being gay."

RED VS. BLUE

It's interesting that the gay bar attack was in the very "blue," very liberal state of Massachusetts, explains Lee Badgett, research director of the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies in Amherst, Mass.

"This horrible thing happens in the only state in the country that allows gay couples to marry," she says. "People like to see those things in areas where it isn't so accepting."

HOLLYWOOD

It says a lot that multiplexes in suburban, mainstream America are playing "Brokeback Mountain" and "Capote," Cahill says.

"Hollywood is catching up with television," which has been portraying homosexual characters on shows like "Ellen" and "Will and Grace" for several years, Cahill said.

But the visibility isn't enough, he said.

"It hasn't reflected the breadth of the gay community," he said. "There's not a lot of openly gay people of color. A lot of the visibility is of men."

Or, as Badgett sums it up:

"The vulnerabilities are still always there. It's a tale of two cities. It's the best of times and it's the worst of times."

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