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06/01/2009

Envisioning a politically powerless opposition

by Jeremy Hooper

An incentivized bully is, typically, a satisfied bully. Every school kid knows that whether lunch money, a desirous bus seat, or the nuclear codes that your sister Malia found in daddy's wallet are the commodities lying on the negotiation table, the one-sided young oppressor at the head of that table is less intimidating when he or she is reveling in smug, paid-up contentment. Unfair, but unfortunately true.

But what if that table flips? When both the intimidator and the target grow up, and it's the latter that suddenly seizes the attraction, size, and popularity mantels while the former flounders, to where does that bully then channel the vestigial (or possibly even heightened) energy? What happens when the long-reliable payouts dry up but the cause and commitment both remain steady?

These questions have been on my mind in recent months, as I've led a puzzling dual life in which I've joyously celebrated the LGBT community's considerable and well-deserved victories, while also keeping somewhat of a nervous eye on our organized opposition. What I've found is that with every Iowa comes a growing number of folks who think "They-owe-a" God a more intense anti-gay push back. For every Vermont, there is some new "pro-family" leader who hopes to convince his pissed off followers that they've been robbed of their voices. And as I start to feel better about my life, future, and movement, I feel a concurrent sense of trepidation for the same.

Recently Mat Staver, a lawyer and dean of the uber-conservative Liberty University, responded to the Vermont legislature's marriage-legalizing actions by first implying that the lawmakers are, by virtue of their vote, unfit to serve. But then Mat really stepped up the scary when he said this:

"I think what we are seeing in America is literally the beginnings of another revolution. And I'm not talking about just simple ideas of complaining, I'm thinking that, indeed, people are tired of our social fabric simply being unwound. First by judges, but then what happens over time is the legislatures then become emboldened by these runaway judges and they become disassociated with the will of the people. And I think we're coming to a point in time where the people are just fed up..I believe they will draw a line in the sand and there will be a huge push back, maybe another American Revolution." [Staver to Concerned Women For America, 4/9/09]

It's an easy tendency to write off "revolutionaries" like Mat Staver as fringe. But considering he leads a constantly replenishing student body, regularly lands bookings on mainstream cable TV, and has a "pro-family" network that might just dwarf our entire organized movement, it would be to our side's peril to ignore his words.

Another colorful example is WorldNetDaily columnist Judith Reisman, who recently added this denunciation of schoolyard tolerance to the "culture war" pantheon:

"Under color of a "Safe Schools Movement" battling alleged "bullying" of so-called "gay" children (K-12), some see GLSEN as a modern version of the Hitler Youth and as preparing the ground for a larger, sweeping, schoolroom Youth Brigade."
...
Both the GLSEN youth and the Hitler Youth were trained to be revolutionary leaders of the brave new world order. GLSEN school clubs and their teacher sponsor/trainers are now funded by major corporations and by some state funds. GLESN's Day of Silence and "GAY ALLY!" pledge cards for kindergartners and other children are direct assaults on traditional parental, American values
" [Reisman to WND, 4/1/09]

Just like Mr. Staver, Ms. Reisman invokes war imagery, painting gays as a literal enemy that the masses can easily understand. It's not just concepts (marriage, adoption, hate crimes protections, etc.) that they are now painting as metaphorical enemies: With an alarming upswing, there is a willingness to decry "pink fascism" (the term placed upon the gay rights movement by highly-rated conservative talker Michael Savage) and the literal human "enemies" who supposedly foster the same. Gays are said to be robbing the "good" people of all that is right in the world, and the need to halt the progress is tacked down with "do or die" stakes. If these folks don't desire to turn the war literal, then they could've fooled me. The question: Will they soon fool those who are more than ready to hit the streets and shed some pride flags into a more militant form of vigilante activism?

Staver and Reisman are but two voices of a VERY annoyed movement. After decades of political power, the religious right is seeing once-dependable polls turn against them, their long-reliable arguments nipped in their fallacious buds, and their dependable demographics being replaced by a new and engaged voting block that stands for an entirely different set of American values. They're having trouble finding friends in D.C., and are in search of that one unifying leader who will replace their retiring or dying senior class. And if that weren't irritating enough, they're seeing this all play out in the public sphere of journalism, since you can't turn around in a local newsstand without running into yet another article that details their woes.

So let's assume that this current downturn is different from some of the religious community's past power dips. In terms of gay rights, there are certainly rightful reasons to assume this, considering all of the permanent gains that we've made or are this close to making. If they have no reason to assume that political action can either stop or rollback the LGBT team's progress, where do those who think that opposing gays is a commandment from the big guy upstairs turn to fulfill their earthly duties?

Take Don't Ask Don't Tell (puh-frckin'-leeze ::ba dum dum::). Once this short-sighted policy is repealed, there is no reasonable expectation that another ban could ever go into place. Even the ban's staunchest supporters would admit that. And that's of course great news for those of us who are sick and tired of fighting this, one of the most offensive skirmishes in this so-called "culture war." But let's think about the soldiers who will now not only have the freedom to live openly, but also the burden of doing so. The burden of having principles that leave no option for staying in the closet for even one more day, but principal figures in your life for whom your reality may be too much to swallow. While my faith in decency leads me to believe that the vast majority of even those soldiers who hold heated views against homosexuality will refrain from taking action against the out gays who are suddenly in their midst, there is no guarantee that pacifism will be universal.

Or let's look at ENDA. We all know why the (mostly) faith-based opposition is against employment non-discrimination for LGBT people: Because they know that it will further demonstrate to society just how biased their anti-gay rhetoric truly is. However, most of those for whom "gay" and "god " are antonyms are unlikely to succumb to the progress privately, even if they must comply publicly. So say a homo-hostile owner is unable to terminate the lesbian worker whose "lifestyle" turns his stomach. She's fully qualified and he's legally powerless. She's proud of her country's progress, while he longs for the "good ol' days." Is it wrong to assume that some of these heated gay rights foes—the ones who take off work to protest en masse—might concoct creative new ways to terminate their unwanted work force?

Then there's of course the big-daddy issue to end all issues: Wedding cakes that feature both a topper and a bottomer. We must give our political opponents credit in terms of their ability to present same-sex marriage as a worse threat than bird flu-laden anthrax. But any honest person who has the ability to decipher wall-writing has always known that their pushes on this issue come with built-in expiration dates. That's because civil marriage is an inevitable -- period, end of story. However, our marriage reality doesn't stop the fact that some see hating marriage equality as part of Endtimes prophecy —period, end of this storied spinning orb that we call home. So as we get ten, twenty, FIFTY full-equality states and a federal government that respects the same, what will their remake of Wedding Crashers look like? Somehow I have trouble imagining that it'll remain a comedy.

Now, I don't mean to sound like a queer Chicken Little. I also don't meant to imply that all, or even anywhere close to most of those who oppose gay rights, are themselves "bullies." I genuinely don't think they are. But I do mean to say—unabashedly, unapologetically, and precautionarily—that there is a growing militancy that directly parallels our community's growing acceptance. It may be a relatively small minority population, but so are we. It doesn't take a 51%+ mob to keep me awake at night. In fact, a smaller band of rogue renegades may be even more intimidating, as they will be easier for large swaths of the population ignore.

I would argue that for the LGBT community, the scenario of a politically powerless far-right could be quite scary: Worse on the ground than they were in the voting booth. What this means for the next wave of LGBT activism, I'm not sure. But I, for one, am not going to pretend I don't see what I so clearly do perceive. And I'm not going to overlook the willingness of a scared, wounded, down-on-luck bully to trade in lunch money for more costly recompense.

-Jeremy Hooper
Good As You
www.goodasyou.org

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Your thoughts

I can understand those fears. After all, they are rooted in past experiences with civil rights campaigns based on sex and on race.

I don't think you can ever avoid militant misogyny, racism, xenophobia or homophobia. There will always be peripheral groups who are willing to invoke violence so as to achieve their vision of a more perfect world.

What matters, I believe, is how the public perceives such actions. Sure there are men who thunk women are inherently inferior, but the general populace looks down on that view. Likewise with racism.

This huge force acts as a powerful buffer. As more and more people know more LGBT people and realize that there is no Us versus Them in this so-called debate, that buffer grows stronger. And when the occasional flare of violence does occur, it grows stronger still, as people increasingly realize that the GLBT community is diverse, distributed and equal.

There can no longer be an attack on all of the GLBT community. It's in every jurisdiction, although sometimes it's in the closet. Its population is larger than most religions. Its lifestyle is totally varied. And even when people come out, that except for no longer living in abject, mind numbing, horrifying terror, their lives are no different, making the community ever more distributed and diverse.

That said, GLBT activism needs to change NOW. For too long, it's been focused exclusively among middle class and upper class Caucasians living in urban areas. The activist community needs to work hard to reach out to the poor and to the rural. That's where the minds that can be changed are now. That's where these fringe cults develop. Reach out now and most of your fears - valid though they are - can be avoided.

Posted by: Dave | Jun 1, 2009 10:48:33 AM

"The Gay Agenda" is now a common word used by organized religion in this part of the world. The problems we face here is similar, but of even greater complications. Most Asian countries are still stuck in third world mentality that the words of religious institutions such as ex-gays are absorbed as absolute truth. And in my battles I feel alone as the community is badly divided, taking interest on petty issues such as the minutest of slurs that bigger threats are ignored.

I received lukewarm responses asking me not to bother. However, there is a glooming danger lurking for LGBTs lurking that only a few of us notice as the real agenda of hateful anti-LGBTs are doing their indoctrinations in schools, colleges about our "dangerous" existence. Many here do not realise that if a counter voice is not done soon, their bigoted voices would be too loud to be silenced. And paranoid disillusioned people will start attacking us for simply being.

This post strikes me deep, as emotional as I was when I written my latest post. Things are however, looking better there because of cool people like you around. But unfortunately for us, especially in Muslim Malaysia, they have the license to paint us however they want to. Even to the point of making us look like a communist gang ready to strike. And yes, they use the "endangering children" arguments here too!

Big thanks for your voice.

Posted by: Yuki Choe | Jun 1, 2009 11:16:54 AM

I think you can chalk it all to what is called "victory disease:"

" a psychological phenomenon noted in various instances of military history in which, due to complacency brought on by a victory or series of victories, leads to another skirmish with usually disastrous consequences for the commander and their army."

This happened when the Supreme Court overruled the sodomy laws. We were so busy celebrating while the religious right used the decision to plan against marriage equality. The most dangerous place to be in any war is in the driver's seat or the winner's circle.

Posted by: a. mcewen | Jun 1, 2009 11:56:59 AM

When I decided to become a gay rights activist, I came to the realization deep down that I will be doing this for the rest of my life, regardless of where official laws "protecting" lgbt people stand.

We have a black president, but I have a boss who still uses the "n" word.

It never ends.

Nothing worth fighting for is easy.

Posted by: Bonnie_Half-Elven | Jun 1, 2009 12:15:09 PM

Nothing you wrote surprises me. Like Dave said, it is all rooted in history, and I usually see it as human nature. The militancy is starting now because I think some of the inevitability of the future is starting to sink into the minds of our opponents. I think our opponents will split into two groups within 5 years or so. One will be more moderate and harder to deal with politically, and the other will be more extreme/militant and will be harder to deal with physically. The extremists might end up being our very own gay rights equivalent to the KKK (maybe they will call themselves "The 700 club"! :).

Posted by: DanM | Jun 1, 2009 2:32:20 PM

*nods* I feel the exact same way. I felt it when I turned on Glenn Beck on Fox News after my mom praised him and thought, "He won't be satisfied 'til there's a second Civil War, and he's playing it for laughs." I felt it yesterday when I found out about Tiller being murdered. (At church, but his church doesn't count, you know. And I'm actually pro-life, but can't use the label without making my own self sick, and I don't count, either.) I wasn't sure how to articulate this feeling. Thank you for taking a stab at it.

Ultimately, I feel optimistic for our cause(s), but there will be trouble between here and there. It's easy to ignore in NYC, but even here sometimes, I see where trouble lies. I hear it a lot on the phone to relatives in Florida and in Michigan, which are both economically depressed right now. And dinner is turning over and over in my stomach at this very moment.

Posted by: GreenEyedLilo | Jun 1, 2009 8:29:17 PM

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