How could the Religious Wrong possibly be ahead in the polls regarding California's anti-gay Proposition 8?
How? If that dangerous, divisive bill is passed, it would render Ellen DeGeneres' marriage – and thousands of other legal marriages — null and void. Now, some will say that the hate-mongering, religion-motivated measure is leading in surveys because of the money flooding into the state from non-California right-wing churches. Some will say it's because of the incendiary, fear-inducing, television-shown lies they call ads.
Both are true: But there is also this question: Are GLBT people and their allies doing enough to engage people outside their own circles?
I saw two different views on, of all places, the entertainment news site Jossip. Both of these people rightly oppose Proposition 8, which would limit civil marriage to one man and one woman, and both put some of the blame for the campaign so far on gays and lesbians themselves.
We are losing on Prop. 8, here in California, in part because so much of the gay community has capitulated to both fear and the expectation of those around us to be, ultimately, respectful. So, even long time "partners"–those together for 20+ years, refuse to bring up their relationships to their families, they don't hold hands across a table at a restaurant or in a shopping mall, and certainly they (out of respect) often avoid small displays of affection in front of the extended members of their family.
This works well enough, for we are largely unseen for whom we really are, even to the folks who are closest to us–or who we believe to be closest to us. I understand that I may be speaking to a demographic of the gay community that is marked by age or region, but I think that largely, this holds true. We fade at family dinners, while dining at restaurants, and even when walking down the street….because social conservatives ask us to.
This is a struggle for legitimacy–both the gay rights struggle, as well as the struggle to get the liberal political agenda some air time. If silence prevails on the side of liberals, the GOP's voice will be a singular one, making the pushing of their own agenda ever so much easier to do.
I think we're losing on Prop 8 here because so much of the gay community is so inwardly focused and ultimately interested only in their individual life experiences. The result is that they don't knock on doors or do phone banks, they don't send money, and they don't rabble-rouse. It's not because they're being "polite", it's because our community is not so much a group of individuals with a sense of collective interest as a collection of individuals interested primarily in themselves.
The civil rights movement of the 60s worked because more members of the African-American community could see beyond their individual lives and support a collective right; we can't seem to get outside our bedrooms–show a gay man a photo of an attractive shirtless athlete and all thoughts of propositions, voting, phone banks, and social movements disappear altogether in the face of an appealing fantasy.
Ironically, the appeal of the fantasy life (the expectation that a better guy is right around the corner, that we'll look like underwear models if we switch to lowfat latte) is driven in large part (I think) by the unappealing social realities of gay life: inequality, intolerance, "tolerance" itself (I mean, give me a break – you're gonna tolerate me?? Gee thanks), legal and social inequities – all of that make it more appealing to escape into coffee shops and bars and chatrooms.
So the Mormons and the rightwingnuts are motivated in common cause against the insidious sodomite, and the GLBT "community" (which isn't really a unified voice, as is proven time and time again, as much as a bunch of bickering, self-interested individuals barely connected by a sort of sexual outsider-ness) dither and waffles and gets distracted by shiny objects. I loves me my gay guys, but sometimes we can be so self-destructive, and so oddly find complaining about defeat and oppression more comfortable than doing something to achieve victory.
Both are interesting points of view, and as a member of the GLBT community, I suspect there are elements of truth in each. The problem is that the threat exists now. We don't have the luxury of time for processing and dealing with our psychic wounds or for bad-mouthing those who would put fantasy before a real, tangible danger. It's time to wake up, grow up, and do what needs to be done to win something GLBT people have never had — equality under law.
This is about equality. America promises equality to all but does not deliver it to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens. If you want to get religious about it, that fact is a sin. If this hateful bill wins, equality in California doesn't exist. Ellen's marriage will be over. And a deep chill will run through an entire nation of people desperate to be equal under law for the first time in their lives.
GLBT people and allies need to go directly to those who support the bigoted bill and point out the inaccuracies in the opposition's ads. We need to talk about our families, our longstanding relationships, the reality of life as a second-class citizen. And we must help the organizations shaping the No on 8 messages hitting the media. There is no time to waste in this. The "Yes" forces are bringing in the big bucks - $25 million at last count, way ahead of the pro-justice side — and telling passels of unanswered lies. It is time to fight and fight hard.
The bottom line is this: The only poll that counts is the one being taken Nov. 4. Between now and then — three weeks — GLBT people in and out of California, along with their allies and loved ones and anyone who really believes in equality for all to get beyond the converted choir and reach out to naysayers. If they can afford it, they need to give-give-give to No on Prop 8 efforts and counter the deep-pocketed hate squad. It's the only way we — and equality — have a chance.
by Natalie Davis
Natalie Davis is an award-winning investigative reporter and interviewer who has worked in print and broadcast journalism since 1979. She earned her stripes working for WCVT, WRKA (Louisville), WCBM, CBS-Baltimore, and Sirius Satellite Radio (New York) and as a contributing writer and editor at the Baltimore Alternative and the City Paper alternative weeklies in Baltimore and Washington. Her writings have appeared in publications (print and online) around the world, including the Baltimore Sun, the Baltimore Afro, Music Monthly, Out Magazine, Metro Weekly, Bay Windows, Business Credit, Mademoiselle, Institutional Investor, and many more. A committed pacifist, Davis is also a respected progressive-issues activist, organizer, musician, and public speaker. She co-founded and still moderates the Baltimore Activists Coalition and established the still-vital The Armchair Activist effort, which promotes citizen action for peace, GLBT equality, feminism, progressive issues, and human rights. Additonally, she operates Grateful Dread Public Radio, a community service Internet radio station. Her blog, All Facts and Opinions, resides at https://gratefuldread.net.
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