In the wake of last fall’s election when no national gay group endorsed the victor of the presidential election, when voters in eleven states approved referenda defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, it would seem that gay leaders would be re-evaluating their organizations’ strategies. They would hold conferences to ask where they went wrong. Some leaders would resign, others would be fired. Fresh blood would be brought in. The new leaders would offer conciliatory gestures to the political party which strengthened its majority in our nation’s capital.
Yes, two gay leaders, GLAAD‘s John Garry and HRC‘s Cheryl Jacques have since left their jobs, but they left not because of policy differences, but for other reasons. It doesn’t seem that the elections of 2004 have changed anything for national gay organizations. Gay leaders continue to lash out at the president and the GOP. And they have not yet come up with a new strategy to present gay concerns to the American people.
Nothing manifests this more than NGLTF Executive Director Matt Foreman’s statement released this past week, included in the Task Force’s latest newsletter (which you can download here). He accuses those who say gay leaders need to take responsibility for last fall’s defeats as having a “blame-the-victim mentality.” Mr. Foreman got it exactly wrong. They’re not blaming the victim; they’re criticizing the strategy.
As Another Gay Republican put it so eloquently in his comment to my first post on Foreman’s letter, “Our political strategies, with minor exception, have failed spectacularly, and to say that we shouldn’t be re-evaluating those strategies and looking for ways to convice people of the rightness or morality of our cause seems outright stupid.” Exactly. Since initiatives that gay leaders opposed passed in a number of states last fall, those whom Mr. Foreman mocks are saying that gay leaders need to find new means to make their case.
Mr. Foreman’s reluctance to want to educate the public about the reality of our lives makes me question why he wishes to serve as head of one of the nation’s largest gay advocacy organizations. Reader Demesne Lord, normally one of my toughest critics, agrees with my last post faulting Mr. Foreman, yet notes the absence of any reference to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mr. Foreman claims that black people do not need to show the American public that they can be good neighbors and good people. He’s right. By and large, they don’t need to any more. Because forty years ago, Dr. King dared to stand up and challenge racial injustice.
Forty years ago, discrimination against blacks was more pervasive in many states than it is against gays in America today. Yet, Dr. King didn’t take it as a given that racism was wrong. He spoke out against it. His courage, his wisdom, his eloquence helped change attitudes toward black Americans. Many of his speeches and writings, particularly his “I Have a Dream” speech and his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” have become classic statements of the American vision.
Dr. King’s record notwithstanding, it’s enough, Mr. Foreman claims, to say that discrimination is immoral. Well, Mr. Foreman is wrong. We need to make clear to people why one’s sexuality is an irrelevant criterion on which to judge an individual’s character. They should evaluate our quality not by judging us on our sexuality, but by considering how we deal with that sexuality. We need to engage our fellow Americans and not merely dismiss “anti-LGBT prejudice” because, as Mr. Foreman puts it, “the ‘justifications’ for it are just as hollow, as unjust, as unfounded, as ridiculous as all those offered in the past to support the second class treatment and vilification of other minorities.”
Mr. Foreman does seem to “get” the reasons some people disapprove of our behavior. He notes that some believe homosexual behavior is “unnatural,” that the “thought of gay sex revolts” them. Alas that he dismisses these “‘ick’ sentiments” (as he puts it) “as hardly unique to gay people.”
Wrong again. Anti-gay attitudes are unique because most anti-gay activists believe that we choose to be gay. No wonder they are ever eager to embrace ex-gays. The very existence of ex-gays, individuals who were once gay, but now lead apparently “happy” heterosexual lives, helps make their point. We need to find a way to confront these attitudes, to convince people that while we don’t choose to be gay, we do choose how to deal with our sexuality.
He is right that we will not win using intellectual arguments. He says instead we should go for the gut and put “others on the spot to support us, to stand up for us.” He’s wrong there. If we put others on the spot, we may succeed only in pushing them away. We need to take the initiative ourselves to change hateful attitudes.
Many gay people already have taken that initiative. And the attitudes of Americans are already changing. More and more Americans could care less if someone’s gay. For most people, homosexuality has become just a big neutral. As Uncle Jimbo put it in his post opposing the ban on gays serving openly in the military, “Homosexuality is rapidly becoming a yawn issue, “Oh you’re gay, that’s nice. What time is the movie?”
It’s this shift in attitude which, I think, has caused so much consternation among social conservatives. They know that Americans are increasingly accepting gays into the social mainstream. Mr. Foreman may see the reaction of social conservatives to this acceptance as just “another ugly chapter in our nation’s long romance–or struggle–with the forces of intolerance and bigotry,” but his very words show that he neither understands America nor recognizes the changes in attitude toward gay people which have taken place over the past quarter-century.
The last time I saw a gay person portrayed in a negative light in a mainstream movie was in “BRAVEHEART,” a movie nearly a decade old. Most TV shows depict gay people as ordinary folks, as good role models or as talented stylists. An increasing number of companies have adopted non-discrimination policies and offer benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of their employees. Someone may raise an eyebrow if an individual brings a same-sex date to a social function, but that person would likely not be averse to the gay person’s presence.
This is not to say that every thing is hunky dory and that our work is done. It’s merely to say that things are improving at a faster pace than most of us could have imagined when we first told our families we were gay.
In short, Mr. Foreman just doesn’t get it. The “ugly chapter” that he sees is merely the desperation of certain social conservatives. They may be able to win on gay marriage, but they will not be able to push gay people back to the margins of society. Indeed, their stance on gay marriage is their only position on gay issues which resonates with the American people.
And if we’re going to defeat them there, as last fall’s ballot initiatives showed, advocates of gay marriage need to change their strategy. Once again, I turn to the thoughtful comment of Another Gay Republican: “To say ‘it’s immoral, and if you can’t see that you’re an idiot,’ make us feel morally superior, but it’s not winning ballot initiatives.” As AGR put it, it may not be fair that we have to “‘prove’ ourselves worthy,” but It wasn’t fair that Dr. King had to do the same thing more than four decades ago.
We need to follow Dr. King’s example and instead of whining that people hate us, we need to offer a positive vision of why they should love us. Why they should judge us as they would anyone else, where sexuality is only one aspect of an individual’s character and not the defining one.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com