Backlash, Bullies, and Victory Blindness
The fight for equality cannot stop while scapegoating continues.
On behalf of my friend Dorothy Gale, I wish to apologize for gay tornados.
Lately, “the gays” have been blamed for a long list of ills, both real and imagined. The looming prospect of nationwide marriage equality has sent some social conservatives around the bend. It is not just twisters for which we are on the hook. The catalog of cataclysms includes droughts, hurricanes, autism, ebola, economic recession, 9/11, the Amtrak wreck, 900,000 abortions, wiping out Christianity, even the Rapture.
As Rev. Jerry Falwell said after 9/11, “You helped this happen.”
The nuns at St. Catherine’s, who were always punishing us unjustly, told us unearned suffering was redemptive. So in a spirit of Christian fellowship, and to avoid the national trauma of a long trial, I have started confessing to everything anyone blames on LGBT people. I answer each idiotic charge with an abject apology: “There I go again. What was I thinking? I am so sorry.”
I fear St. Dominic Savio, patron of the falsely accused, would weep at my irreverence. Forgive me. As Mae West said, “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”
A favorite tactic in the anti-gay backlash is for religious bigots to claim they are being persecuted for their beliefs. Thus when conservatives blame gay people for everything under the sun, they are exercising their freedom of speech; but when we defend ourselves, we are called “liberal thought police.” If you and your same-sex spouse simply wish to conduct business in the public marketplace without facing discrimination, you are accused of anti-Christian bullying, even if you are Christian yourselves.
Many on the right slammed gay liberals for condemning gay hoteliers Mati Weiderpass and Ian Reisner after they hosted an event for Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz. When Reisner’s apology was widely panned (he implausibly claimed naïveté about Cruz’s anti-gay positions), we were excoriated for our severity, despite Cruz having proposed an anti-gay constitutional amendment the day after the gay event. I am sorry (again), but it is preposterous for tycoons like Weiderpass and Reisner to be painted as victims because they are subject to criticism for their political activity like everyone else.
One senses something akin to Stockholm Syndrome in the solicitude for our opponents by some gay conservatives, the insistence that somehow the rules everyone else takes for granted should not apply to gay people. We are supposed to disarm unilaterally before we have even won. Conscience clauses are demanded to let merchants discriminate against us as they may not do against racial or other minorities. Sorry again, but no.
I myself have stoutly defended our opponents’ free speech rights. This does not require surrendering our own rights. The fact that we are winning does not mean that we are finished. That mistake is what Michelangelo Signorile, in his new book It’s Not Over, calls victory blindness. One example of unfinished business: until LGBT people are included in the non-discrimination protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in many states you can marry your same-sex partner on Saturday and be fired on Monday.
Some gay conservatives dismiss coalition politics (which my own D.C. colleagues and I have found instrumental in victories ranging from police accountability to marriage equality) because their privilege blinds them to the vulnerability of others. They accuse liberals of coercive groupthink because our recognition of LGBT diversity causes us to support (say) trans women of color whose struggles are different from those of gay white men.
How are gay conservatives’ claims of victimhood any less silly than complaints by students at Oberlin and Mt. Holyoke that disagreeing with them is a form of violence? Rule of thumb: if your article decrying “thought police” finds a publisher, you may be exaggerating their power.
I strive to be civil in my advocacy, to persuade rather than demolish. But when there is a rush to scapegoat a gay railroad engineer, when the media still regard homophobic slanders as acceptable, when our love is still widely treated as a laugh line or a dirty little secret, I will humbly beg your pardon for my inclination to continue the fight. Equality is not an object, but a habit.
Richard J. Rosendall, a writer and activist. Email Richard Rosendall