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01/20/2014

On MLK Day, What Brandon Ambrosino Should Learn About LGBT Activists

by Jeremy Hooper

People who know my work might think I agree with an MLK Day–themed column that Brandon Ambrosino, a gay journalist whose current trend is toward writing contrarian pieces on LGBT rights Screen Shot 2014-01-20 At 6.42.22 Pm-1subjects, contributed to Time.com. After all, I am someone who has taken great strides to disconnect the person from his or her words and actions, choosing to always focus on the latter rather than place a label on the former. I even once wrote an article for The Advocate in which I made the case for this kind of advocacy, a theme I carry out in my book. On the surface, you'd think I'd be in full agreement with a column that encourages LGBT rights activists to follow Martin Luther King's advice about loving your enemies.

And I do somewhat agree with the sentiment. However, it's the execution that I find not only wrongheaded but even objectionable.

For the same of focus, let's hone in on just one section:

The current landscape of queer politics is growing increasingly hostile. We no longer prize intellectual conversation, preferring instead to dismiss our opponents in 140-character feats of rhetoric. We routinely scour the private lives and social media accounts of our political opponents in the hopes of demonizing them as archaic, unthinking, and bigoted. Whenever we find an example of queer hatred, we are quick to convince the public that the only proper way to deal with these haters is to hate them.

In contrast to contemporary gay activists, King found a way to condemn evil without condemning the evildoer. From within the midst of a people grown weary with struggle, King stood up to remind the oppressed of the humanity of their oppressors; to remind them that if love were the goal, then the path of hatred would never lead them there.

FULL PIECE: On MLK Day, What Gay Activists Should Learn from Martin Luther King [TIME.com ]

So Brandon's broadly stroked idea here, which is carried out throughout his piece, is that ours in a movement that has traded down on intellect and has traded up on smear campaigns, all (or at least most) of which is personal and dirty. But even though Brandon is describing the kind of opposition work with which I am as intimately familiar as a person could possible be, having been doing it for over nine years here on G-A-Y, in a book, and as a consultant for our movement's two top national organizations (and tangentially with other countless campaigns, activists, and groups), he is not at all describing me, my work, or the key laborers with whom I have done this work.

Take the part about "scour[ing] the private lives and social media accounts of our political opponents": I am someone who is always on the look out for vicious things that people who publicly fight against LGBT rights say about us on the Internet. And when I find it, I call it out—and LOUDLY! But that doesn't mean "demonizing" the person or ascribing any certain label to the person or his or her motivations. Instead, it is looking at a person who has made a choice to enter into this debate and judging the public contributions that the individual has offered up for public consumption. That's the nutshell nature of public discourse.

I've surely written more posts and whatnots about Maggie Gallagher than anyone on the face of the planet, but I don't wish her an ounce of harm (and, in fact, have invited her to lunch). Same goes for everyone who fights against me. I do not make it a goal to ruin the lives of those who fight to make mine harder. I don't dance on my opponents graves when they pass away, nor do I even use labels like "bigot" or "hate monger" in my writing (you'll find about four instances in nearly 20,000 blog posts, all of them as references rather than my own labeling). It's just not in my nature, nor do I find it the most productive way for me to engage.

And I'm not an anomaly. I can tell you that most of the teams I work with on projects like GLAAD's Commentator Accountability Project follow similar models in the their own engagement. It's certainly the strategy our marriage campaigns have taken, focusing on the good of love and equality rather than "demonizing" the opponents, even as we continue to do the important oppo research work. Because again, doing this opposition work does not mean meeting harsh word with harsh word; doing opposition work simply means knowing what's out there, calling it out for what it is, pushing back against it in a smart way, and pushing forward in hopes of moving past it. I intentionally say "moving past" rather than "moving over," because my guiding imagery is of our movement passing by our opponents and waving at them from our fast moving trains, not of us steamrolling over and destroying their lives in the fearful way that they so often suggest we want to do or in the way that it seems many of them want to do to us, our rights, and our families.

Then let's also consider Ambrosino's quite reductive claim that "We no longer prize intellectual conversation, preferring instead to dismiss our opponents in 140-character feats of rhetoric." This just seems like a silly thing to say, frankly. Yes, I would agree that Twitter is an odd world where some people, from any political side, sometimes take the low road (see the thousands of vicious words I got from Fox News viewers after I went on that network). But that said, I also see a lot of brilliant, funny, and downright productive conversation on that strange playing field we call Twitter. And when it comes to LGBT activists who do our movement's heavy lifting, I certainly see engagement that goes well above dismissal. I even think Twitter's anti-LGBT activists would agree on that point, in fact.

Regardless, when did Twitter become the beginning and end of our conversation? Apart from that social media world, I constantly consume brilliant LGBT rights commentary, both on independent and in mainstream media outlets. There is more commentary than ever nowadays, with a media consumer able to tailor fit a new stream that comports with and/or challenges said consumer's beliefs. If you are reducing what those of us who opine on LGBT rights "prize" to only what we say in our Twitter accounts, then I would argue that you are the one being both anti-intellectual and dismissive.

I just think that Brandon's premise here and throughout his piece (which I encourage you to read in full and form your own opinions) is off the mark. I understand the drive to write a column like this on this honorable day, as ours is, in fact, a hostile world and it surely would be better if we could all "Kumbaya" rather than clash. I get it. I love the sentiment. I am a vegetarian, pacifist, family man who does yoga any chance I can get: big fan of tranquility.

I am not, however, a fan of seeing a movement to which I have dedicated a large portion of this decade being unfairly characterized as being on some mean-spirited and unfair campaign that's more concerned with cutting down oppositional individuals than it is with overcoming the oppositional bumps in the road. We are at war with bigotry in all of its forms. Virtually every LGBT activist I know (and I know many) would gladly allow every anti-LGBT activist to blow off as much verbal steam as he or she likes, so long as that engagement did not have any weight or force in law. Most are quite capable of articulating it, too.

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