By Kellen Kaiser
The radio made me cry. I was stuck in the usual crush of LA traffic, impatiently pushing the buttons that change the radio station (my car’s old-school) when Power 106, the major hip hop station switched songs. It had a good beat, a catchy chorus and as I tuned into the lyrics I realized a watershed moment had come. The song“ Same Love” by Macklemore was about homophobia, particularly in hip-hop, and more generally about the need for equality and gay rights. The lyrics include the gem, “I might not be the same, but that’s not important. No freedom till we’re equal, damn right I support it.” I couldn’t help that upon its reaching my ears, tears sprung into my eyes. My favorite verse begins looking forward to “the day that my uncles can be united by law.”
Macklemore, famous from his single which raves about thrift store bargains, on this track laments, “When kids are walking ’round the hallway plagued by pain in their heart. A world so hateful some would rather die than be who they are.” He concedes, “And a certificate on paper isn’t gonna solve it all. But it’s a damn good place to start. He sums it up as, “Whatever God you believe in. We come from the same one. Strip away the fear. Underneath it’s all the same love.” That’s what I’m talking about.
A decade ago as an assignment for a required English class in college I wrote my own version of this song. It wasn’t nearly as eloquent, and was backed by very rudimentary beat boxing on my part, delivered in between verses. “Boom patcha, boom, boom patcha!” It contained gems like “Your homophobia is bothering me; it makes you a wack MC.” I got an A on it, which in retrospect seems very generous.
I therefore can’t credit Macklemore fully for the novelty of the concept. He isn’t the first rapper to challenge the homophobic status quo in hip hop but he is symbolic of a larger change. It wasn’t just that it’d been written, other rappers like Brother Ali had beaten him to the punch (Tight rope from 2009) but that it was getting airplay, in a major market.
Equal Rights has hit the mainstream. And for some reason it’s just slowly hitting me that it’s the case. As more and more states pass marriage equality into law, I’ve celebrated and waited for California, my home state, to come around, while I watched the lawsuits wind their way through the courts. My own mother got married in the first round of gay marriage in San Francisco that went on to be annulled. Maybe this feeling, like it could get taken away, like we’re one Republican president away from being back at zero, has distracted me from what going on a the culture at large. When I googled anti–homophobia rap song, I found a PSA from A$AP Rocky advocating equal rights in the classroom and on the sports field. There were quotes from Jay-z and Kanye West lending their support. These signs strike me as more permanent. They can’t be shrugged off as political pandering. They aren’t based in the push pull of the electoral cycles. They are cultural shifts.
Turning on the television, I see an Ad for a new show, produced by JLo, featuring two moms. This adds to the bumper crop of gay characters on TV shows like Modern Family and Glee etc. JC Penney’s ads for both Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day have same sex parents. The New Yorker cover follows suit. This is the definition of a zeitgeist.
I really feel like we are near or at a tipping point where the majority of Americans will believe in equal rights. That’s not to say that the work is done or that the battle is over but that hope is well founded and that what we have established and fought for has mattered and will ultimately prevail.
It’s not that I had it bad growing up, I was raised in a gay mecca in the Eighties, but times really have changed. There were less visible cultural icons to serve as role models. We’re talking Pre-Ellen, Pre Neil Patrick Harris, kiddies. When I was a child the gay characters on TV were guest stars who were dying of AIDS primarily. The books about gay families were published exclusively by tiny independent presses (thank God those existed) and could only be found in major metropolitan areas. I’m not sure Barnes and Noble even existed back then let alone featured a queer studies section. More personally, when my parents got married in a non-legally binding ceremony, my classmates insisted it was impossible that it could have happened and called me a liar. As a kid that was pretty much the worst. Not being believed. Having my reality repudiated. If I’d been born once marriage equality had entered the national dialogue, my peers might have had a different view point or at least some clue as to what I was talking about. Maybe they would have heard a rap song and formed a more progressive opinion. Maybe one of the few particularly traumatizing episodes of my school years would have been mediated. As a gesture of bittersweet consolation, I will at least have the chance to say … w