Last time we checked in with The American Prospect‘s Gabriel Arana, he was arguing that making Matthew Shepard the face of gay rights was a mistake. So what’s the liberal rag’s fag writer up to this week? Calling the National Equality March “incoherent” (which it might be), but also claiming that its very purpose — to give gays visibility — is irrelevant. Ugh.
Say what you will about Cleve Jones’ birthday party in D.C. this weekend, but one thing it will do is give LGBT Americans more visibility. Yes, despite Congress being out of session. And yes, despite a holiday weekend. The march, for all its problems, reckons to be a defining moment in the gay civil rights struggle. And yet, argues Arana (who is gay), the one thing gays don’t need much of right now is visibility.
We haven’t reached the end of the gay-rights movement, but the modern issues we are fighting for — achieving marriage equality, passing the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, and repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — aren’t really issues of visibility. People know we’re here and that we’re queer, which is to say that the public-relations war has been won in many respects. The most recent New York Times/CBS poll shows that 63 percent of Americans favor either gay marriage or civil unions. An even greater majority thinks gays should be protected from job discrimination. And young people, the best indicator of where we are headed, overwhelmingly support gay rights; based on polling data, 38 states would have marriage equality if only those under 30 made the laws. Of course discrimination still persists, but in 1990, few would have thought marriage would be on the table in a serious way. At the time of Stonewall, marching publicly as a gay person was a seditious political act. It’s just not anymore.
He’s right about Stonewall. What transpired that night, and in the years and decades since, has been a push to let every American know that they know a queer person. But the fight for visibility — a word that doesn’t mean “Will & Grace” — isn’t over. Not when the U.S. government forces gay Americans to hide in the military. Not when the healthcare debate forgets that untold numbers of gay Americans are struggling to find affordable care because the law prevents them from sharing benefits. Not when a supposedly gay-friendly president keeps pushing us to the periphery because he is too busy.
What we need now, more than ever, is visibility.
But that’s not the only place where Arana is wrong.
Today, we are not responding to an immediate threat, like we were with the Anita Bryant and Act Up protests. Instead, the campaign billed as the Equality Across America movement, with its laundry list of things it is supposed to represent and associated workshops, is ultimately incoherent. The march has a theme but no message. Because of this, most of the press coverage — and talk among those in the gay community — has been about Obama’s speech at the HRC, or the fact that Lady Gaga is appearing. Visitors to D.C. mostly talk about what hotel to stay at over the weekend, where to go out, or what the best way to get into the city is. In other words, it’s a typical pride parade.
Anita Bryant was a threat, yes, but she was also a lunatic. What we face now — no hate crimes laws (yet!), employment anti-discrimination laws, marriage rights, adoption rights — are immediate threats for tens and hundreds of thousands of LGBT Americans who cannot make termination decisions and funeral and arrangements for their partners, for parents who face losing their foster children at the whim of a bureaucracy, for military personnel who face losing their jobs, benefits, and livelihood because of a government-sanctioned discriminatory law. Those are IMMEDIATE THREATS. As in, they are affecting us right this second, and will affect us tomorrow, and the next day. Anita Bryan was child’s play compared to the immediate threats to gay Americans’ life, liberty, and happiness.
It’s too bad Arana, for all his complaints, doesn’t even have a reasonable solution.
But with an administration in office that ostensibly supports gay-rights issues and a Democratic majority in Congress, it should be a watershed moment. It’s the first time in which gay-rights leaders are in a position to put real pressure on Washington. Instead of having a general “awareness raising” campaign where gays say they want equality, organizers could have instead presented the administration with a concrete list of demands — and a deadline for each. For example, Obama should immediately suspend Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell discharges and set in motion the formal process to repeal the law. In the next six months, he should campaign publicly for passage of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would make it illegal nationwide to fire someone because of their sexual orientation. By the end of 2011, he should have a similar campaign to end the Defense of Marriage Act. Having these concrete goals makes for better slogans — “End Goal? ENDA!” perhaps? — and they also provide a metric for progress.
Deadlines? We’ve demanded Obama immediately suspend DADT; he won’t. We’ve demanded he do more to lobby Congress to pass ENDA; he hasn’t. We’ve demanded Obama help kill the Defense of Marriage Act; he’s done nothing.
We already have these concrete goals. And they’ve already been met with Obama’s stonewalling.
(The one smart thing Arana has to say? “Groups like the HRC could also threaten to withhold contributions to Democratic candidates until real progress is made. Instead, what we currently have is a weekend of glitzy events where politicos hobnob with donors and the rest of the gay community caps their weekend vacation with a feel-good march.” That’s true.)
Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be taking advice from a guy like Arana.
At the last pride weekend I attended in New York City, I awoke on the day of the parade dehydrated and with a headache. I had stayed up late the night before and drank too much. By the time I dragged myself out of bed, the parade had been going on for two hours. What a shame, I thought. But the shame was not that I missed making an important political point; I regretted missing the pridestravaganza of go-go dancers, baton twirlers, and floats passing by.
That’s not why we’re going to D.C. But feel free to have some bubbly back on our behalf. That is, of course, if you can’t make it to the NEM yourself, Mr. Arana, given that you live in D.C.