One of my worst dates ever went downhill over a kiss. It was in the early ’90s, and we were waiting for a table at a crowded restaurant in New York City’s West Village. To pass the time, we started making out while sitting on a stoop separating the smoking and non-smoking sections.
Before things could get too hot, the hostess came over and told us to cool it because customers were complaining. We’d have to stop, or we’d have to leave. Insulted by what was clearly an antigay demand (It was Friday night, and the restaurant was packed with straight couples doing pretty much the same thing), we chose door number two, the exit.
As a gay black man, I’ve learned to grit my teeth and deal with discrimination. Meanwhile, as a gay black man, I’ve learned to determine when I’m being treated a certain way because of my race and/or sexual orientation and when it’s because I’m living in the real world where people won’t always give me service with a smile.
This week’s viral video star Chris Donohoe clearly hasn’t learned that lesson.
It all started when the management at Wynn Las Vegas asked Donohoe to leave the pool because his skimpy yellow swimming briefs broke the hotel’s “no-Speedos” dress code. Donohoe was quick to play the gay card. Apparently, in his mind, skimpy yellow swimming briefs, which the hotel decided were Speedos, are as gay as Grindr, and banning them in a dress code is blatantly homophobic.
Donohoe made a stink. He posted a since-deleted video to Facebook where he challenged the hotel’s policy and eventually received both an apology and an invitation to wear whatever he wants to at the Wynn’s pool in the future, as the hotel also ended its “no-Speedo” policy.
One great step for gay mankind? Well, not quite.
In his anger over his treatment at the Wynn’s pool, Donohoe suggested he’s not quite the gay Rosa Parks he seems to think he is when he said: “I’m a white guy and I have power in society and I still feel completely powerless.”
Is he actually embracing white privilege while suggesting that it would have been OK or less shocking for the Wynn to have tossed a gay black man wearing a speedo from the pool because black guys have less power in society than white guys? For someone claiming to be fighting for minority rights, it was probably the most entitled tone-deaf thing he could have said as a member of a majority.
Hey, Chris, call us when the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a baker’s refusal to make your wedding cake on the grounds of his antigay religious beliefs. Or when you experience treatment that actually has serious ramifications for gay men everywhere and not just one whose feelings are hurt because a deluxe Vegas resort didn’t (initially) bend its rules for a powerful white guy.
I gather this white guy with power in society isn’t too concerned with discrimination that lands outside of his personal bubble and clearly doesn’t know what real powerlessness is. He probably doesn’t know what it feels like to be denied housing because of the color of his skin, or to be accused of shoplifting by a store security guard because of the color of his skin, or to be banned from a childhood friend’s birthday party because of the color of his skin. (Yes, that’s all happened to me.)
These are the pressing offenses that people who are not white and do not have power in society have to live with every day in the United States. Being asked to leave a swimming pool because of what we’re wearing is the least of the problems we might face over the course of a lifetime. But Donohoe is white and powerful. How dare anyone challenge or inconvenience him?
Donohoe’s comment echoes the one Lauren Elizabeth Cutshaw, a woman from Bluffton, South Carolina, recently made when the police pulled her over. Among the reasons the 33-year-old gave the officer for why he shouldn’t arrest her for reckless driving and DUI: She made good grades in school. She was a cheerleader. She was in a sorority. And this gem: “I’m a white, clean girl.”
Given the epidemic of police brutality against blacks in the United States, this wasn’t the wisest or most effective thing to say (and it also indicates that this deluded “white, clean girl” needs to stop living in the past). The cop booked Cutshaw.
Comments like hers and Donohoe’s not only underscore the reality of white privilege, but they show that some white people aren’t above actively using it to their advantage. They not only benefit from it, but they also feel entitled to it.
With that one sentence buried in all his hollow talk about justice for all, Donohoe revealed that he is more interested in his own rights than gay rights, in making his life better, not improving things for anyone else. Sadly, it’s an attitude I encounter all too frequently in the gay community.
We clamor for gay rights, demanding that we be treated as fairly as everyone else, yet many of us don’t bestow that same respect upon other targets of discrimination within our own group. Racial minorities, people who are overweight, and guys who aren’t masculine enough or young enough are constantly treated like second-class gay citizens by people who should know better.
By acknowledging his “power in society,” Donohoe was also acknowledging the supremacy and the power of white men. The Wynn wasn’t just refusing to allow a gay man a spot at its pool. They were denying a gay white man.
I’ve been denied entry into places in the past because I wasn’t dressed up to their standards. Those incidents annoyed me, but not as much as the interrupted kiss on the stoop in that West Village restaurant in the early ’90s. The hostess’s offensive demand was clearly fueled by our sexual orientation. The others may or may not have been.
Donohoe no doubt would make them all about his being gay. He might protest: “But I’m white. I’m powerful.” Behind his righteous indignation would be certainty that because of his racial status, the world doesn’t just owe him equality. It owes him everything.