When I was a grade-school student in Baltimore, young men with black skin were chased out of white neighborhoods with baseball bats. I went to an elementary school integrated barely a decade earlier. The folding chairs I set up in my middle school gym were still marked “George Washington Carver High School.” One of my most vivid memories as a child was a summer evening when the house on the corner was ablaze and my mother so upset and angry she was in tears. It had been firebombed because a Jewish family moved in. A couple of years later, in 1968, the city of Baltimore exploded in riots. Six people died, seven hundred were injured, and six thousand arrested.
On November 7, the United States Senate passed ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The act prohibits discrimination on the basis of an “individual’s actual and perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.” Though it has been hailed as a great advance for civil rights, there’s very little about the lives of gays and lesbians in 2013 that reminds me of the dire times of my youth.
On the contrary, these days homosexuality isn’t much of a disadvantage. In some contexts it’s chic and popular. Moreover, gays and lesbians are very successful and well-placed throughout society. There’s no data about the sexual orientation or “gender identity” of Ivy League professors, but anecdotal evidence suggests that they are dramatically overrepresented compared with the number of homosexuals in the general population. This is exactly the opposite of black professors, who are underrepresented, even today. The same difference appears with law partners at elite firms, tech millionaires, and much more.
I have no doubt that in many circumstances gays and lesbians feel put upon. A 2013 Pew study reports that 21 percent of LGBT respondents felt themselves discriminated against in hiring, pay, or promotion decisions. Sounds bad, but I’m virtually certain that obese individuals suffer from discrimination at much higher rates. Smokers find themselves discriminated against in hiring and promotion decisions; white males complain about reverse discrimination. Everybody has a grievance, some imagined, others justified.