There he goes again. Perez Hilton, the loud-mouthed self-styled “Queen of All Media” knows how to make a scene and for the most part, we just try to pretend that he doesn’t exist. Full disclosure: Your editor was a college-pal of Mario Lavandeira, Perez’s real-life persona. But there he was, last week, asking Miss California what she thought of gay marriage and true to form, he’s milked the moment for all its worth, doing interviews on MTV, Fox and calling Carrie Prejean a “bitch” and “the c-word”. So, are Perez’s attacks on Prejean helping or hurting the cause of gay rights?
Here’s a hint: Carrie Prejean was given a heroes welcome at San Diego megachurch The Rock this Sunday. The AP writes:
“The San Diego Christian College junior, model and member of the San Diego Padres “Pad Squad” received a heroine’s welcome from fellow members of the Rock, where she was the guest of honor at morning services. Seated onstage across from McPherson, she recalled resisting multiple opportunities — from her appearance on NBC’s “Today” show to a performance with Miss USA pageant owner Donald Trump — to edit, explain or expound upon her remarks.
“I knew I had to stay true to my beliefs and not let them intimidate me into taking back what I said because I don’t take back what I said,” she said.”
In fact, if you are a social conservative frustrated by the advance of gay rights in the past few months, you’re probably thanking Perez right now. In singling out Prejean, Perez chose a beautiful, all-American (by definition!) girl who has the whole “I care about gay people, but I am entitled to my opinions” shtick down. Perez may have wanted to make her into a poster child for homophobia, but instead, he’s transformed her into a doe-eyed Anita Bryant, in the worst sense of the term.
Furthermore, does anyone think that Perez’s name-calling is actually in the service of gay rights? In 2006, I wrote a story for Salon about Perez’s tactics of forcibly outing people (mainly by drawing cum stains on their photos) and argued that “Spreading gossip is just your average pedestrian variety of immorality. Claiming that you’re doing it to further civil rights is an outright sham.”
And here’s where the quandary with Perez’s latest foray into the realm of gay crusader lies. It’s not that he’s genuinely interested in helping out gays and lesbians, it’s that he’s looking for attention. Sometimes, his talent for drawing the spotlight onto him actually does some good. I think the question he posed to Prejean was a good one, but the subsequent ‘angry gay man’ routine he’s been doing since then may have spiked his site’s traffic, but it’s only served to hurt the cause of equality.
Watch Carrie Prejean say she’ll pray for Perez:
This is sort of a muddy pool to wade into. After all, on one hand you have someone like Perez Hilton, who when not acting like every horrible gay stereotype imaginable, is screaming at the top of his lungs in self-righteous fury. On the other, you have HRC’s Joe Solomonese, who is so tepid in his defense of gay rights you have to strain to hear any sense of moral outrage as he debates anti-gay activists. Surely, there must be some happy medium, right? In bringing up the gay rights question at the Miss USA pageant, Perez was putting our issues in the public spotlight, but naturally, he made it all about him and in doing so, actually lost the battle he was trying to wage. In calling Prejean a “bitch” and making her out to be evil as opposed to ignorant, he only reconfirmed the anxiety of many straight people that anyone who disagrees with gays and lesbians will be treated as less than human.
Surely, we can do better than this. There has to be a way to have a civil conversation about civil rights. This doesn’t mean that we can’t say to someone like Miss California, “We’re not denying you your religious beliefs, but you can’t impose them on our civil, nonreligious rights.” This doesn’t mean that we can’t make a moral argument for equality. In fact, we should, but how does demonizing beauty pageant contestants get you any closer to changing hearts and minds?
It’s strange that for someone who prides himself so much on exposing celebrity image and media manipulation, that when it comes to himself, Perez can’t control his own image. Anyone should be free to say and do what they want, but we put it to Perez: If you believe that gay celebrities have a duty to come out of the closet to advance gay rights, don’t you have a duty, if you’re going to use LGBT rights to get you free press, actually do something positive for those rights you’re screaming so loudly about?
— Japhy Grant