Mark Zuckerberg: Gay Rights Icon?

Zucks

Sure he's an accidental billionaire, but is he also a surreptitious same-sex savior?

Mark Zuckerberg is not just an accidental billionaire; Facebook’s founder is also a fortuitous gay rights pioneer. Though neither queer by orientation nor activist by nature, the creation of his social network has forever change the means by which homos, on and off the range, negotiate the terms of their lives. His digital quest for openness has picked the locks of closet doors for the last half-decade. In connecting the globe, he has enhanced the ability of LGBT individuals to connect to each other and reconnect with the world around them. Facebook’s impact on the gay movement is palpable on a personal and political level.

Social media has changed the terms by which gay romancing is negotiated. The chat rooms and message boards of the 1990’s gave rise to an over-sexualized hook-up culture. Those looking for mates could find their fantasy man or woman online via Gay.com or CraigsList.org. There were lots of awkward dates and one-night stands, but little lasting or meaningful encounters. That is because the mediums delivering the connections were devoid of the one essential ingredient for any kind of successful relationship—authenticity.  With Facebook, you are your imperfect, fully integrated self, and you are not hooking up with a random stranger. You are usually connecting with someone you already know. Thanks to that “Interested In” tab, you identify how well they might want to get to know you!

Ten years ago, it was fairly easy for gay people to live compartmentalized lives. Many of us were out to our friends, but perhaps not to our family or colleagues. With news feeds, relationship statuses, and photo tags, social media makes it pretty hard to hide the truth. As our aunts, fathers, and grandmothers become our Facebook friends, they are learning that a digital connection is also a holistic association.  No longer are we able to easily pick the parts of people we love. When you see a person’s whole life reflected onto a computer screen, you understand that it is the sum all their interests, likes, and activities that make them who they are.  Sure, privacy settings can safeguard you to some extent, but the genie is really out of the bottle; new media makes it very difficult to cling to old ideologies like “don’t ask, don’t tell” because it is an invitation to the world—or at least your world—to be told all about YOU. That is forcing significant progress in areas outside of our personal lives.

There is a reason that gays are now integrated into the military. Nearly eight in ten Americans believe that the ban on openly gay service members was unfair. That is a dramatic reversal from when the policy was adopted only eighteen years ago. The simple fact is that when people know someone who is gay, they begin to change their minds about gay rights. The issue becomes less political and more personal. People of all political persuasions have Facebook accounts, and they see happy pictures of their niece and her girlfriend on vacation and festive photos of their son and his husband decorating the Christmas tree. Polls begin to reflect this accepting sentiment; politicians always follow popular opinion. In twenty years when same-sex relationships are commonplace, it is Zuck we should be toasting at our weddings!

I doubt Mark Zuckerberg has ever fancied himself a gay liberation icon. Anyone who traverses so boldly across the frontier of openness, though, cannot escape the simple fact that when you open a digital window into people’s lives, you forever change the quality of life for those who had previously

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