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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

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

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Confusing winning a battle with winning a war

The Defense of Marriage Act has gone down in defeat, just as predicted. We can all breathe a sigh of relief that - at least for now - the Repugnantcans and their henchmen on the far right extreme of the religious reich won't be writing discrimination into the Constitution this year as a first step in turning America from a democracy into a theocracy.

We won that battle, so we can celebrate at our gay pride parades and hoist a few toasts at our favorite watering holes.

Then most of us will probably forget about making our voices heard on LGBT issues until the next time the fun-D'uh-Mental-ists and their GOP masters need a boogieman to scare voters to the polls.

For much of the gay community, we approach gay activism the same way the fundies approach defining us. Just as being gay means more than indulging in one of those sex acts the religious bigots denounce as "abominations" (but yet have such an obsessive interest in), being a gay activist means more than just speaking out when the radical right takes steps to deny our rights.

Joe Strupp, a straight man who is a senior editor for Editor & Publisher magazine, understands that fact. On the day that debate began in the Senate on the so-called Married Protection Amendment, Strupp wrote a column titled "Editorials should come out ... for gay marriage." In it he wrote:

It is bad enough that newspapers have not taken a harder stance in favor of gay rights in the past. But to allow this short-sighted misuse of the Constitution to move ahead without condemnation would be the ultimate irresponsibility.

Forty and fifty years ago, some of what kept the fight for black civil rights going came from newspapers. Either through the strong, tireless coverage on the news pages, or the brave, stubborn stand on some editorial pages, the plight of blacks seeking justice was a clear, necessary story that many papers would not let go.

Today's fight for gay rights has some similar elements, but it has not reached the level of demand for full justice that the civil rights movement before it did. I remain puzzled that gays and lesbians are not taking their battle for true equality to the streets in huge numbers. That could be part of the reason that the newspapers have not taken up their cause as a priority.

He's right. Not just about newspapers shying away from taking a stand on gay issues, but on the reluctance of LGBT folks taking to the streets to demand our rights.

The LGBT community has become a victim of its own success, albeit limited success. We have become nonchalant and complacent ... able to be stirred only when something like the marriage amendment comes along. And in all likelihood, even that didn't move many of us because it was predicted the amendment was almost certain to fail.

I include myself in that number as well. My sole contribution to the debate was to post a link on my Democratic club's web site to the Human Rights Campaign's online petition that allows supporters to contact their Senators and voice opposition to the amendment. Oh, sure, I could defend my lack of effort by pointing out that my Senators are both Republicans. Missouri's Jim Talent is a tool of the religious right and Kit Bond is a party-line asswipe who will vote as his party tells him, so my letter was unlikely to make a difference.

But I should have written - and so should many others - just to let our elected officials know that they had gay and lesbian constituents who were willing to make our voices heard.

After nearly six years of the Bush administration, the most rabidly anti-gay administration in U.S. history, we have been cowed into silence. We think our voice makes no difference to politicians who pander to the religious bigots. We content ourselves with tidbits and forget about demanding a place at the table.

Joe Strupp gets it exactly right: to advance our cause, we must be willing to take our struggle to the streets.

That doesn't just mean waving a banner at the gay pride parade. It means living as activists every day.

Nor does it mean letting our straight allies do the work for us.

Take, for example, a recent local incident in which a man was fired from a position as choir director for a Catholic church because he was also the music director for the Heartland Men's Choir, a gay singing group. Of the letters to the editor about the incident printed in the local newspaper, the vast majority of supporters identified themselves as straight.

Where was the LGBT outrage?

Or for another example, last summer two lesbians were assaulted with a baseball bat simply for walking down the street and holding hands. This happened only a few blocks from my home and the perpetrators were never found. The local Anti-Violence Project held a community forum on the incident and only a handful of people attended.

Where was the LGBT outrage?

We cannot now allow ourselves to become too complacent. Unfortunately, the complancency comes from confusing winning a battle with winning a war.

Just because we work in a company that recognizes domestic partners doesn't mean we quit pushing for equality for all LGBT people. Just because we've never been gay bashed doesn't mean it's safe for all LGBT people to walk the streets. Just because we attend a church that welcomes LGBT folks doesn't mean we don't speak out against churches that wrap their bigotry in scripture and try to force their beliefs on everyone.

Back during the early, dark days of the AIDS epidemic, the gay community was stunned into silence as we watched friends sicken and die and feared we ourselves might become the solemnly reported statistics of those infected and those dead. Faced with our own premature mortality, we were silent as the Reagan administration refused to even utter the word "AIDS" until thousands were already dead and the preachers and pundits proclaimed AIDS was evidence of God's wrath.

It took a straight ally in the form of Bette Midler to articulate exactly what the gay community needed to hear. "For Christ's sake, open your mouths! Don't you people get tired of being stepped on?" said the Divine Miss M.

Just as we needed to hear those words from Bette back then, so, too, now we need to here Joe Strupp saying, "I remain puzzled that gays and lesbians are not taking their battle for true equality to the streets in huge numbers."

But beyond hearing those words we need to act on them, too.