Michelangelo Signorile burst onto the scene more than 25 years ago, and the intervening years have done nothing to diminish his fire. Signorile’s public debut came when he disrupted a speech given by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict) by jumping on a marble platform and shouting “He is no man of God,” which, years later, is arguably widely recognized, even by Catholics.
Signorile followed that act by making outing a political tactic, taking on such closet cases as businessman Malcolm Forbes and Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams. Today, outing is much more widely accepted, even by the mainstream press.
A quarter century later, Signorile is still pushing the envelope and making people (appropriately) uncomfortable. In his latest book, It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, & Winning True Equality, Signorile sounds a much-needed cautionary note about the success of the LGBT movement.
Here are five key points from Signorile well worth keeping in mind as we move into a new era of civil rights.
1. We’re suffering from “victory blindness.”
We’ve gotten so accustomed to an unbroken string of successes that it’s almost like living in a dream. But as Signorile argues, “Maybe it’s time to get rid of the bedtime story and wake up from the dream.” Signorile uses the case and point of Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla, who was forced to resign for contributing to California’s Proposition 8 campaign. Signorile notes that too many people–including LGBT activists–were willing to look the other way instead of holding Eich accountable for his actions. The reason: winners can be magnanimous. Signorile makes the case that homophobia is just as offensive as always and doesn’t deserve a break.
2. Don’t let the opponents of LGBT rights cast themselves as victims.
The religious right is in the process of rebranding itself as the winner of the international victimhood sweepstakes. As Signorile points out, that sets them up for a pity narrative. We can’t for a minute let anyone forget that the homophobes are not the victims. Religious liberty bills are just the latest threat “not just to LGBT people trying to lead their lives but also to all marginalized groups.” We should call those motivations what they are: bigotry.
Signorile calls this “covering,” a concept he adopted from writer Kenji Yoshino. Covering is when we “tone down a disfavored identity to fit into the mainstream.” Some of covering is related to the closet–does the name Aaron Schock ring a bell?–but not all of it. Consider the freakout when Michael Sam kissed his boyfriend on live television. This simple gesture was considered an in-your-face expression of sexuality by a lot of people rather than an ordinary show of affection. Or think about director Steven Soderbergh being told that Behind the Candelabra was “too gay” by the supposedly liberal Hollywood establishment. The reality of gay life remains too hard for even our friends to accept.
4. LGBT issues should be part of the school curriculum.
If you want to change the attitudes of future generations, start now. Signorile makes the case for LGBT history and culture being taught in an age-appropriate way from the earliest grades right through high school. Not only will this increase acceptance in the future, it is the best antidote for the bullying crisis that is currently being afflicted upon LGBT youth.
5. The media has to abandon the “two sides to every argument” approach to LGBT issues.
The mainstream media has yet to recognize that paying homage to objectivity is now giving voice to bigotry. Every time the media turns to Catholic League president Bill Donohue, whom Signorile accurately calls “the league of one,” for comment, they perpetuate the idea that his outlandish comments are legitimate. He’s a fringe figure, and at some point the media has to start treating him as such. Ditto Erick Erickson. Not everyone is going to agree with everything we want, but let’s not turn to certified hate groups for their views.
Along with the wisdom Signorile dispenses are some long-standing grudges. (If Andrew Sullivan didn’t exist, Signorile would have to invent him.) Sometimes it feels as if Signorile is determined to find the dark cloud for every silver lining. Just because we have a long way to go doesn’t mean we should minimize how far we’ve come so quickly. And sometimes we have to live with incremental advances as long as we don’t abandon the long-term goal. They may be crumbs now but they set us up for returning for the rest of the cake.
Still, the movement needs a bracing reminder of where we keep coming up short. Signorile may be the last angry activist, but as his book proves, there’s still a lot to be angry about.
Discover more about Michaelangelo Signorile’s It’s Not Over