The thing that struck me the most about the Unity Statement this past January of 22 gay groups was its absence of vision, its failure to get beyond policy prescriptions and address the ultimate goal of the gay movement. Like so many documents coming out of Washington, D.C., it was long on self-congratulation and stock phrases, but short on what the president’s father once called “the vision thing.”
Too many gay activists and leaders, it seems, have failed to ask themselves what they, through their activism and lobbying, ultimately seek to accomplish. They focus too much on passing this or that piece of legislation, securing this or that “right,” pushing for “equality” and “fairness,” yet, in the end, they rarely articulate what all these things mean in our lives today.
To be sure, it’s not all that easy to articulate that vision. When I attempt to do so, I find myself telling stories rather than outlining a list of specific goals. I respond that what we seek is what I experienced just over six years ago, the first time I brought a date home for Thanksgiving. My family treated this man as they would the different-sex schweetie (i.e., significant other) of any one of my (straight) siblings. My Dad recognized him in his toast at dinner, welcoming him into the family.
A few weeks later, this man invited me to his office’s holiday dinner where I received a welcome similar to that he received in my family.
The stories seem to articulate the better part of our “ultimate goal,” that our families, our friends, our professional colleagues include our “schweeties” with us in their lives. Add into a few other things, such as state recognition of our unions, repeal of the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (DADT) policy and general acceptance of the normality of homosexuality and you pretty much have it.
Most of what we seek involves changes of attitude, things that we cannot get by lobbying legislators in Washington — and the various state capitals — (or by petitioning courts) to change laws or write new ones. To be sure, we need legislation to grant partnership benefits and repeal DADT, but otherwise, the government can’t really help us, to borrow a phrase from NGLTF, create the change we need.
Too often, gay activists suggest that by coming out, we make it easier to change laws. I, however, see coming out as an end unto itself. The more people see that openly gay people are as normal and as varied as the rest of society, the more they will accept us and treat us with dignity.
This is happening all over the country, even in some of its “reddest” regions.
Gay groups should focus less on Washington (and state capitals) and more on presenting a positive image of gay and lesbian Americans. Many gay people — and a few organizations — are doing just that. And it’s working. My reader “glisteny” got it exactly right when he commented to a recent post, “things are a helluva lot better for gay people today than they were as recently as 20 years ago.” Things are a helluva lot better for us than they were as recently as 20 years ago. For that matter, things are a helluva lot better than they were five years ago as Connecticut prepares to recognize same-sex civil unions and Oregon may follow suit.
I’m not saying that we are where we ultimately should be, but we’re getting closer every day. I believe that the primary reason the most extreme social conservatives have been heating up their anti-gay rhetoric of late is that they have become desperate. They recognize the increased social acceptance of gays and are troubled by it. We are no longer as marginalized as we once were. These social conservatives seen to know that they will not succeed in undermining the social progress of the past twenty years.
In light of this progress, gay leaders should focus on the “vision thing,” what they, through their activism, ultimately seek to accomplish. As they do that, they will see how good things really are for us, how far we have come and understand how close we are to fully realizing that vision.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com