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.
3. LGBT people and our allies are still uncomfortable talking about the complexity of the community.
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
Exqueeze me! Outing was invented by Adolph Brand long before it was used by an American. see Rosa von Praunheim’s “The Einstein of Sex”
HOw about an article on Rosa von Praunheim?
Signorile makes some interesting points in his cautionary notes. However, I think he makes the mistake of assuming that male sexuality is always black and white. In most men, there is no definitive sexuality. There might be a predominant sexuality but not a definitive one.
It’s dangerous to out men who might have had a couple of homosexual experiences but who remain committed to their heterosexual sides. If they’re happy with their heterosexual sides, outing them as “homosexuals” is a homophobic act in itself.
A lot of gay activists suffer from what I call “agenda vision” and refuse to see the complexity of many men’s sexualities.
I’ve always admired Michelangelo Signorile. Sharing
Michelangelo inspired me to be proud of who I am.
The incremental advances we have made have been because of the blood, sweat, tears and hard work of those considered “extremists” and NOT because of those who promote and pursue the incremental approach. Without the “extremists” pushing so hard America would have completely ignored the incrementalists.
@jason smeds: I think you completely miss the point of his “outings”. He never outed anyone for the sake of outing them. He ONLY outed people who actively worked against gay people and their rights while having sexual encounters or relationships with people of their same sex. It doesn’t matter if a person is 100% gay or 1% gay or 50/50 bisexual, if you are playing in the gay sandbox in private while harming openly gay people and their families on the playground in public then you are a HYPOCRITE (regardless of your orientation or identity) and your hypocrisy should be exposed.
“Signorile may be the last angry activist…”
Far from it! He just has a larger platform for expression. Let’s hope that SCOTUS goes the right way… if not, the nation will see how really f’n angry we actually are after decades of institutionalized mistreatment.
Then, even with marriage equality, it will still be legal to fire people in some states, simply for being gay. We are FAR from done.
The right wing bigots will consistently play the victims, calling on the gay community to be “Tolerant” of their “Politics”.
Their “Politics” are bigotry, and tolerating bigotry is supporting it.
@Zekester: “He ONLY outed people who actively worked against gay people and their rights while having sexual encounters or relationships with people of their same sex. ”
THIS is pretty much what Adolf Brand said in the 1800’s. However, it is a bit of a stretch to claim that David Geffen and Liz Smith were actively working against the Gay Community
The Thing with these Gay Activists / Gay Spokesmen today is that the same “media powers that be” that repeatedly provide the likes of Anne Coulter with a platform are the ones deciding WHO is “a credible gay spokesman”.
@MarionPaige: said…”THIS is pretty much what Adolf Brand said in the 1800’s. However, it is a bit of a stretch to claim that David Geffen and Liz Smith were actively working against the Gay Community”
David Geffen controlled an entertainment empire where gays were “Encouraged” to stay in the closet.
Same with Liz Smith, she was a gossip queen who wouldn’t tell the real gossip even if it was about somebody anti-gay.
@Zekester: You don’t know what you’re talking about. Were you in NYC during those years? Why has it become so commonplace for people these days to believe that their experience is the sole arbiter of truth? For your information, Michael went after Liz Smith, Malcolm Forbes, David Geffen, and others who were never hostile to the gay community. Furthermore, Michael’s position was that, given the plague, being in the closet was an unacceptable choice for those with a public voice. Agree or disagree with him, there was a lot of rage in those years. The question whether a closeted person who does not do harm to the community should be outed was in direct response to Michael’s writing. Outweek was certainly a significant force in the NY gay community at the time.
It sounds like he believes in totalitarianism.
@MarionPaige: @MarionPaige: The practice actually dates back a couple of thousand years at least, and probably further.
@jason smeds: “Might have had a couple of homosexual experiences”? You’re referring of course to famous fundamentalist preachers who are caught in a motel with a male hustler while doing crystal meth?
@scotshot: No he’s referring to the men who suddenly convert to heterosexuality on being confronted by his gaping A-hole and buttocks the consistency of putty.
@James Hart: It sounds like you’re stupid.
“They may be crumbs now but they set us up for returning for the rest of the cake.”
If we only have “crumbs” and we eat them because we are still hungry there will be no cake! We need at least big slices and not eat them on an empty stomach.
@jason smeds: “couple of homosexual experiences”
This piece is not about them though you can’t eat just a couple if it is good, and it is “definitive!”
@enlightenone: Oops! …and then it would be definitive!
Two snaps and a circle, okay!
@Saint Law: Not at all. I just think that he wants to control the beliefs of others, and that IS totalitarianism.
So in other words you don’t have a real complaint.
I love Signorile (met him at Champs circa 1995)and agree with a lot of what he has to say, BUT if I recall he did try to “out” people who weren’t against the “community”.
I remember when I first moved to NYC in the early 90s there was a campaign of plastering posters throughout the city outing celebs, politicians, et. al. If it was 2015 I would have taken photos with my I-phone and posted them as an example. Jodi Foster, Tom Selleck were just a couple of people who were in these posters being “outed”. I remember friends telling me that Signorile was behind the posters.
Selleck and Foster didn’t do anything against us.
Thank you Jar! I didn’t read down far enough to see your posting. We are in sync (and not in the Timberlake kind of way).
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