As a minority group, LGBT as a label is quite different than many other labels. There are some dynamics unique to this community that I think warrant some inspection. Sometimes we want to talk about lgbt labels or homophobia and I've been hearing some great perspectives, but other times I hear some very misguided stuff. Let's just go through a list of few of the dynamics of lgbt issues so we can better understand them.
LGBT is a group of groups
Lgbt is a group of groups. Those groups have varying degrees of privilege and varying degrees of acceptance within the straight majority. Although other minorities battle with this too, the degrees of privilege within the lgbt community vary to a much greater degree. The experience of a 'straight acting' (it's a thing) white male gay person and a very butch lesbian are too different to compare, yet both are gay. The 'straight acting' white male gay has been accepted as 'one of the good ones'. We can see from financial demographics and mass media (as well as our own understanding of patriarchy) how they have been assimilated to a much greater degree than others. That is not to say that they have been accepted as 'straight' in the same way that the Irish are now considered white. Just that the degree of privilege is very different.
Other lgbt sub-cultures are mined for interesting entertainment for straight people which others are not. Drag queens and transgender people are crushed together in a meat grinder to produce RuPaul's drag race. Feminine, stereotypical gay men are tasked with whipping straight women's boyfriends in shape on Queer Eye and being the witty side kick on every design show ever. Pretty, feminine lesbians are pretty much not good for anything except pornography for straight men, but they are apparently great at that. You will never see anyone like me on TV, although we are apparently so gay-positive as a society. We often use these shows as examples of equality in programming and say things like "Isn't it great that they are so okay with showing gay culture on TV?" when these shows are nothing but minstrelsy and do nothing except further the heteronormative status quo.
So now we have a situation where the lgbt people who have been given enough by the straights to calm down (the 'straight acting' white men and some of the richer pretty white women) are actively driving the conversation for all of us. Straight people point to them as proof of the progressiveness of todays society.
Yes, some of us are doing fine. Some of us have enough money and no one ever utters a slur around us or even notices us and life is good. Others are still in fear for their lives in North America in 2014, though. Let's remember that. Homophobia is not over. Not even close.
Citing your 'lgbt friends opinion' is even less helpful to a discussion of minority issues than pointing to your 'black friend's opinion'. Not only do we all have different opinions by virtue of being people, but our personal experiences are sometimes so different that they cannot be compared easily.
This brings up questions, though. Does this mean we have to talk about each specific group separately? What does that mean for interesctionality? Well, no we can go on as usual, that's why the lgbt umbrella term exists, but it's important to realize and understand that there are vast degrees of oppression experience in this community when we talk about it.
Aren't there like, infinite possible groups to be aware of, though? What about the gay spectrum and where do people fit on it? Where is the line where a person is queer or gay?
Being Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Is About Who You Love, Not Who You Fuck
Listen, I'm gonna level with you, I've heard some messed up stuff recently about this. It seems you can't talk about being oppressed as a gay person anymore because inevitably some straight person will chime in talking about how sexuality is a spectrum and how they like kissing girls sometimes and so they might actually be queer and therefore your experience or thoughts or whatever about your own oppression mean nothing because they personally haven't experienced them and they are queer by the very loose definition of the term that they have decided to use.
Here's the thing though. Being gay is about who you fall in love with and who you see yourself beside when you think about your wedding day (if you do). It is not about who you would feel comfortable having sex with.
Straight people who would have sex with partners of the same sex are straight people who are truly not homophobic. That is all. The only thing, for instance, that separates a blow-job given by a woman from a blow-job given by a man is the idea that one makes you think you're gay and the other doesn't. Remove that homophobia and concern and you are left with a simple blow-job. That isn't what gay means. It isn't even what queer means.
Equating sex with sexuality causes all manner of problems from the over-sexualisation of gay media representation to the sexual deviancy argument to sexual tourism and an increase in straight people coopting queer and gay labels for themselves. So many problems, you guys!
Being gay means having to tell your family. It means knowing you will probably never get to hold your partners hand innocently on the bus. It means feeling like a partner of the same sex is natural and normal for you in a world that is constant and consistent in reminding you that it is not natural or normal. I could never imagine myself with a man for instance, although I have had sex with several of them, love them as friends and have a child. That is what makes me a gay woman. It has nothing to do with who I sleep with.
Being gay is not something you can choose to do sometimes and not others.
Being Gay Is Seen As a Lifestyle Choice
Lgbtpeople have this lovely added problem of being accused of 'choosing' our lives. It is exacerbated by this misguided idea that who you have sex with is the factor which determines your sexuality that I discussed above. I think it's pretty self-explanatory but since gay people are not a race born to each other, being gay seems random, to some it seems like something we can 'choose' not to be. Religious people condescendingly 'love us' while they try to have our civil rights legally removed at the same time. Others (sometimes the same people) instead revile us and seek to eradicate us through ex-gay camps at best and violence at worst.
This makes our struggle very difficult. How do you convince someone you deserve civil rights when they believe you chose to give them up? How can you argue with a person's religion?
Hopefully I have explained a few things that make some sense here. I hope it comes in handy the next times you are discussing lgbt issues or the next time an lgbt person gets angry on an online forum and you don't understand why.
Edit: To clear up any confusion, I am not saying that people who are heterosexual or do not choose to have same sex sexual partners are homophobic. I can understand how it sounds like I might be implying that, but I am not.
I also would like to call attention to the first section of this post where I mention how little one single lgbt person's opinion matters overall. These are topics and personal politics which have many valid schools of thought associated with them, some contradictory, and mine is but one of many. Well, mine is a mix and match of many, more accurately.