My Photo
Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Deeds ... not just pretty words

It sounded so nice and, well, "united." Twenty-two gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organizations (ranging from the Log Cabin Republicans on the right to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force on the left to the Human Rights Campaign from the whatever the hell its position is these days) got together and drafted a unity statement.

In essence, the statement vowed that the diverse organizations would continue the fight for LGBT equality in the face of continued opposition from the religious reich ... oops! I mean "right" ... who is masquerading as the Republican Party these days.

For a brief, shining moment, it appeared that we were growing up as a movement. The '50s had been a gestation period as groups like the Mattachine Society ( and the Daughters of Bilitis ( took the first hesitant steps out of the womb-like closet. Then came the Stonewall Riots ( in 1969 and the modern American gay right movements was born amid the brutality of New York City cops, the taunts of angry drag queens and the sounds of shattering glass and rocks thudding against riot gear. In the '70s we entered our turbulent adolescence to the throbbing beat of disco music and confused sexual freedom with true freedom. Like misbehaving teenagers who found themselves grounded, the '80s saw many of us sent to our rooms as AIDS was decreed from the pulpit (and frequently from the government) to be the punishment for our wild adolescence excesses. The Clinton era of the '90s saw us emerging and claiming a place at the table. There were gains. There were losses. But on the whole, the gains outnumbered the losses.

Now, faced with a hostile president and Congress and 13 states that have made homophobia an official policy by banning same-sex marriages and civil unions, 22 GLBT organizations forged a statement of unity affirming that they will continue to fight for equality even in the face of such long odds. It had the feel of the founding fathers putting aside their differences and signing the Declaration of Independence, thus thumbing their collective noses at England and overwhelming odds. And we all know how that ended.

Surely victory lies ahead and equality is just around the corner.

Or is it?

From this week's edition of The New York Blade there arose the first rumblings dis-unity as groups that were not part of the original 22 signatories raised objections:

"Gay leaders who were not a part of the unity statement criticized the collaborative document, noting that marriage equality was featured last on the agenda's priority list.

"One gay rights leader went further and said the statement appeared to be political cover for criticism the Human Rights Campaign received last month for what appeared to be a retreat from marriage equality and support for President Bush's efforts to privatize social security.Gay leaders who were not a part of the unity statement criticized the collaborative document, noting that marriage equality was featured last on the agenda's priority list."

Suddenly I get that same queasiness I experience when I watch Matt Crowley's The Boys in the Band ( For those who have never seen the play (or the movie version), it concerns a group of gay men in pre-Stonewall New York who gather to celebrate the birthday of one of the group. Sparks fly between Michael, the host (and poster-boy for self-loathing homosexuals), and just about everyone else in attendance. By the end of the play a tearful Michael bemoans that gay men seem destined to destroy each other.

As an historical "document," The Boys in the Band is a window into who we once were and provides insight into who we sometimes still are. As "entertainment," I always get the feeling I need a good, long shower after watching it.

I get that same feeling when I see cracks in the united front portrayed by the "unity statement." I can understand the reasons put forward by the organizers of the statement; yet, I can also identify with the feelings of those who are taking issue with it. On a smaller scale I've seen the same thing happen here in Kansas City. I'm royally pissed with another GLBT group claims credit or gets publicity for a project a group I'm involved with has been involved with. But when the shoe is on the other foot, I can say, 'Oh, I'm sorry you didn't get to take part in the interview, too' to another group while smugly thinking, Serves you right, you publicity whores.

On the whole, we as a movement have yet to move out of our adolescence. We've had to fight for recognition for so long that if a bit of that recognition goes to another group, we take it as a slap on the face. We tally up and catalogue such insults and when the opportunity arises, we exact a revenge by excluding those who we believe excluded us. A cycle is born and continues. And what Will Rogers once said about Democrats could apply so easily to us: When you tell them to form a firing squad, they stand in a circle.

That's the down side of the unity statement and all the "drama" that it has entailed.

But beyond all the backbiting and cries of "exclusion," there is hope. By getting a diverse groups of GLBT organizations to come together, we really have signed our own Declaration of Independence. We are free and independent now.

Once we were viewed as a bloc that voted almost exclusively Democratic. This allowed the Democratic Party to take us for granted. Witness Bill Clinton's wooing the gay vote in '92 with promises to overturn the military's ban on gays and lesbians. "I have a vision for America and you are part of it," he told us. Once elected, he compromised on the military policy down to the point where the final compromise was little different from the original position ( Then he signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Most recently he encouraged John Kerry to speak out against gay marriage during the 2004 elections as a way of courting rural voters. It seems the attitude of the Democratic Party toward gays has become "We only want to lock you away in the attic like a distant relative we're ashamed of, but the Republicans want to lock you up. So why would you vote for them?"

So now we find ourselves standing alone on the field of battle, two armies of mediocrity on either side of us. But in our solitariness we are free. That independence is out of circumstance and necessity at the moment. And that independence gives us greater power than we ever had before. We can swing close elections by throwing our support not to a party, but to individual candidates who best support our interests - whether they be Democrat, Republican, or a third party. If a major political party wants our support, let them earn it by deeds and not just pretty words.