The Smithsonian magazine is marking its 40th anniversary with a special issue that tells us 40 things we need to know about the next 40 years.
The issue covers the environment, population issues, medicine and science, arts and culture, and technology. Scientists, experts and thinkers predict that by 2050, jellyfish will have taken over our oceans, electric cars will be given away for free, World War III will be fought in space, and medical innovations will enable us to regrow severed limbs. President Obama, who penned a short article, remains “full of hope about what the future holds.”
But what about us? Where will we be 40 years from now?
Like the president, I am rather optimistic about the state of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. By mid-century, Americans and citizens of other developed nations will be scratching their heads wondering what the big deal was about granting a minority group the same rights, privileges and standing as anyone else. We will be in the military and our families will be recognized. We will not be anxious about getting fired because we happen to be queer. We will not fear getting raped, beaten or killed because of how we look, speak or act. We will be full citizens.
Part of my hopefulness rests in changing demographics. A couple of decades from now, the generation that is most uncomfortable with non-heterosexuals will be gone, as will their antiquated notions, undue influence (especially in government and policy), and resistance. They will be replaced by people of my generation who tend to be more comfortable with difference and who have lived, worked and loved openly gay and transgender women and men.
By 2050, the United States will be home to at least 400 million people and will be far more diverse. We will have learned to live with plurality. More than 50 percent of the population will be of color: about 29 percent Hispanic, 13 percent Black, 9 percent Asian and 2 percent American Indian/Alaska Native. Immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants will account for most U.S. population growth. Countries like Mexico, China, India, the Philippines and Pakistan will lose citizens migrating to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy.
This flow of people results in a flow of ideas. Those receiving immigrants will be exposed to different cultures just as those sending émigrés will also have their traditions challenged by expatriates remitting much needed dollars and Euros. Women who leave children, husbands and families to find work in another land will become empowered and expect more respect and autonomy. Queer individuals who come out and succeed away from confining and repressive families and societies will refuse to stand in the shadows and remain silent.
Ideas and culture will also spread through technology, particularly through the web and mobile devices. People in less developed and more oppressed nations will learn about equality, freedom and opportunity. The younger generation will realize that their lives are not predetermined by caste and religion. Women will demand parity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will aspire for the freedom enjoyed by their counterparts in the West.
We are already seeing this happen, slowly but surely. Unless a major catastrophe or total economic meltdown occurs, when fear will again rule rather than reason, I think that life can only get better for all of us. Until then, we continue the struggle. We come out, we reach out, we change hearts and minds. We create the future we deserve.
You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.
Image by Sucheta Das/Associated Press.