How does one acquire political clout? I'm not an expert on the subject, but I know you don't get it by chasing photo opportunities with politicians (which is what advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign seem to think)! They don't impart it to you. They expect you to have it already! You've got to bring it, and you've got be able to either impress or frighten them with it!
What impresses them most is money, but if you can't match the multi-million dollar campaign donations they get from big corporations like Merrill Lynch or Goldman Sachs (and who can?), then you'd better represent a mobilized constituency. Politicians respect any constituency with the proven ability to deliver (or withhold) votes come election time!
This need for mobilization presents a stiff challenge to LesBiGay political organizers. For the reasons I cited in Part One, Gay people are a b*tch to organize! Relatively little is known about us as a voting bloc. It's not even clear that we are a voting bloc. I know there's been polling in so-called Gay Ghettos, but those communities aren't a good representation of the LGBT demographic. Ghetto dwellers are overwhelmingly White, male, upper/middle class, and out of the closet. It's a safe bet that most Lesbian and Gay Americans don't fit that description! I daresay the only thing all Gay Americans have in common is their sexual orientation and the persecution that accrues to it.
Of course, you don't have to leave the closet in order to vote in your best interests; it's a secret ballot, after all! However, for Gay people who do remain closeted, shame exerts a powerful influence over what they're willing to do for the cause.
Closet cases aren't the only ones who struggle with shame, either; it's just that their struggle tends to be more intense. Sexual shame is our common denominator, even those of us who appear to have overcome it. It's a persistent demon that we can never completely conquer. (I see you out there shaking your head. He's not talking about me, you boast. I'm queer and proud! You're a liar on both counts!)
In a world that considers any deviation from heterosexuality aberrant and slams home the point relentlessly, there's no way to avoid internalizing some degree of shame. Though it's religion-based, and many of us aren't religious, Bible bigot terrorists seem to use Scripture effectively as a weapon against devout and atheist alike.
I think I know why it's so effective. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you already know of my contention that LGBT folk have a direct spiritual connection to God. I think that's why we gravitate toward religious institutions and the creative and helping professions, which logically accrue to God and spirituality. We're particularly vulnerable to suggestions that we're spiritually corrupt, that we're immoral, and/or that God despises us. On a deep subconscious level, nothing is more important to us than our relationship with the Holy Mother/Father!
Granted, I may be wrong about that. However, I'm not wrong when I say imposed shame is one of the main stumbling blocks that keep us from demanding our Civil Rights! I'm convinced that the shame within us must be deactivated before we can ever mobilize into a powerful voting bloc. It's a tall order, to be sure, and political strategists aren't equipped to address this problem.
It's going to take activist educators and theologians fanning out over the Web and all over the country, spreading a gospel of entitlement in Gay and Straight communities alike. It's going to take repeated, methodical attacks on the Right Wing misinformation machine. It's going to take an ACT-UP-style movement against Bible bigotry. Our slogan for the 21st century ought to be Shame = Injustice!
That's a long-term strategy, but what can we do right now? With no political clout of our own to wield, appealing to powerbrokers' sense of fairness is our best alternative. Every now and then, this tactic works. Sodomy laws were abolished in the United States because determined Lesbian and Gay lawyers (and Gay judicial pages agitating behind the scenes) successfully appealed to an ethical majority of Supreme Court justices. Most of those jurists (Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, David Souter, John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with Sandra Day O'Connor concurring on issues of equal protection) had a gut-level commitment to the concept of equality for all Americans. They were courageous and professional enough not to let personal prejudice and discomfort about homosexuality influence their legal judgment.
We can't count on that happening again, though! Justice O'Connor, the highly influential swing vote, has retired, and it's not inconceivable that George W. Bush will get the chance to put yet another ideological clone of Antonin Scalia on the Court before he leaves office. There's no doubt in my mind that "Blue Dog" Democratic senators would join their Republican colleagues to support Bush's next nominee!
You can't appeal to someone's sense of fair play if they don't have one, and in light of recent court decisions, that's a fact worth remembering! A trend has emerged where State and Federal judges refuse to rule on our legal challenges to discrimination. Instead, they refer our cases to State legislative bodies, and what a depressing development that is! We'd be crazy to expect the same level of ethics, courage and professionalism from politicians. They couldn't care less if we're treated fairly or not! Most of them see Gay Rights as a polarizing "wedge" issue to be either exploited or avoided; we'd best be prepared to fight tooth and claw for every piece of legislation we want!
If we're not prepared to do at least that much, we'll see no more victories, and we may even lose ground. I fear lost ground may be inevitable; as my friend Dr. Jerry Maneker recently pointed out, people plagued by shame are far more likely to settle for what they get (or don't get) than fight for what they deserve!
I doubt this current generation of Gay people is really in the mood to fight for equality. I think we'd rather go along like we have in the past, b*tching from the sidelines while powerless HRC lobbyists pursue empty promises from Democratic leaders. We'd rather fool ourselves into thinking we can garner respect from mainstream America by clinging to demeaning media stereotypes. We'd rather alienate potential allies by presenting ourselves as cultural anarchists!
The latest example of the latter preference are horrible new names being applied to the children of same-gender couples, labels like "Gaybies" and "Queer Spawn!" Who's applying them? Naturally, it's immature Left Wing activists looking for new ways to offend Conservative sensibilities! Much more of that kind of thing, and state child welfare agencies en masse will begin questioning our suitability as parents!
Frankly, I'm not confident that I'll see a true passion for Civil Rights among Gay people in my lifetime. However, I do believe Jesus Christ's Unshakeable Generation will someday spawn a Great Generation like the one the late Peter Jennings wrote about, that hardy group of folks who grew up in the Depression, fought World War II, and fueled the Civil Rights movement with their anger. I think the world will eventually see an LGBT generation with an unquenchable thirst for justice, an unwavering sense of entitlement, a lower level of sexual shame than any of their predecessors, and a steely resolve before which bigotry and ignorance will not stand!
With this blog, Christ, The Gay Martyr, I want to help lay a foundation for them to march on. With the important work he does exposing "ex-Gay" con artists in addition to his insightful political commentary, Wayne Besen is helping to lay it, too.
This essay is dedicated to the memory of Coretta Scott King.