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Historically, the Left has used the energy of gay people, and then dumped us.

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Saturday, Jan. 20, 2001. Demonstrators in D.C. protest the presidential inauguration of George W. Bush.

United States

Gay-Bashing in the Anti-Bush Movement

by Bill Weintraub

April 9, 2001. In 1976, when I was still in my 20's, I served as gay liaison to the Committee to Elect Saundra Graham, an African-American woman and radical, running as a grass-roots candidate for state representative in Massachusetts.

Her opponent was a New Deal Democrat who'd held the seat for 30 years. He was good on traditional labor issues, but was both racist and ultra-homophobic. We wanted him out. So I threw myself into the job, and soon recruited about 300 lesbian and gay volunteers, or about half the total Graham campaign force.

One day the campaign manager, a young straight guy not long out of Harvard, mentioned that he was putting together a dance for the campaign workers. That's nice, I said. Let me know where and when and I'll invite the gay people. He looked aghast. You can't do that, he responded. Most of the people there, he said, referring to the campaign's other source of volunteers, will be working-class. They can't be around gays.

weintraub I couldn't believe what I was hearing, and didn't even have to think about my response. Either we go to that dance, I said, or we walk, all 300 of us. We're in this one hundred percent, or we're out.

The matter was considered so momentous that it was brought to the candidate herself. Saundra had gotten her start in local politics by leading a group of welfare mothers who disrupted a meeting of the Harvard Board of Trustees. She was an excellent tactician, and she didn't hesitate for a moment. Gay people, she said, are invited.

At any rate, only a few gay couples showed up. There was a little same-sex dancing, but no one seemed to notice or care, and the campaign went on. We won a big victory in the election itself, and our openly gay participation in that campaign was one of the many instances of committed activism that helped make Massachusetts the excellent state for lgbt people it is today.

A few months after that victory, the campaign manager came to see me. He was now representing a group of liberals who wanted me to run for City Council. I said to him, I'm still angry about that dance. He said, It's in the past, let's move forward. Which he clearly had, and which we did.

Coalitions Without Betrayal
I learned an important lesson from that incident: even in a radical coalition, you can encounter homophobia, and the only way to deal with it is to be uncompromising. Doing so secures both your self-respect and the respect of the non-gay people around you. Anything less diminishes you as a human being, and almost guarantees that the people you're working for, once in power, will treat you no better than the bums you fought so hard to throw out.

The sad truth is that, historically, the non-anarchist Left, like the military, the universities, and the churches, has used the energy of gay people, and then dumped us when our sexual identity became inconvenient.

I had reason to remember that lesson recently, when a member of an anti-Bush bulletin board I'd subscribed to put up an anti-gay post, referring to a Republican provocateur who'd gotten into the list as a someone who "probably suck cocks" [sic].

I posted immediately to the board, saying that sort of homophobic slur was unacceptable, and an insult to all the gay people who'd been in the forefront of the resistance from the beginning.

Sheltering Homophobia
I got no response—that is, no apology. So I tried again. And again. In all, I posted a total of five times. All I got were suggestions to get over it. My reply: I've lived with this sort of bigotry all my life. I don't care where it occurs, in the Republican Party or on this board, it does not get by me. Not ever. It's not acceptable. So I want an apology—a plain, simple, I'm sorry. And a commitment not to do it again. Everybody should get clear about this. The days of being able to casually say rude, nasty things about gay people are over. We don't accept it anymore. Not anywhere. Not from anyone.

Finally, the perpetrator allowed as how he'd been "rude and lude" [sic], but that it wasn't bashing, that he was merely stating what that particular preference usually does.

In the meantime, the list moderator, someone named Donna Rae, demanded that I take the issue off the list and settle it privately with the guy. She said I was being divisive. I said no way. I didn't make a homophobic post. The other guy did. And if the list and our cause didn't include fighting homophobia, what was it about? Or as I put it: I'm working against Bush because he supports bigots—I AM NOT WORKING WITH BIGOTS TO OUST BUSH.

eminemThe moderator even suggested that I learn a lesson from Elton John, who had just appeared in concert with Eminem. I told her that Elton John was a political naïf, that if Eminem was anti-Semitic or anti-Black no one for a moment would think of giving him a Grammy, that I didn't model my politics on Elton Johns or any other entertainers, that I had many years experience in anti-violence work, and that Eminem's lyrics get gay men killed.

When it was clear to me that the dope who'd made the remark wasn't going to apologize, particularly since he had the support of the group moderator, I left the list, closing with a valedictory story from one of my Holocaust survivor mentors about not making alliances with bigots.

Only one person on the list supported me, and that was in private, with a very dignified email to the homophobe that was immediately posted by the latter to the list. So, that person, too, left the group.

Gay-Bashing Redux
I heard privately from the moderator one more time after I left the list. She was remarkably nasty, accusing me and the other person of being Republicans in sheep's clothing, and having cut-n-run, although she claimed she was going to throw us off the list anyway—apparently for objecting to homophobia! Both, of course, were accusations of cowardice of the sort commonly made against gay men by, for example, people like Eminem who uses the word faggot as a synonym for coward.

She also said that I was immature for insisting on an apology, a classic, though somewhat old-fashioned slur. The charge of immaturity was most commonly leveled at gay men during the heyday of psychoanalytic psychiatry, from about 1925-1975, when it was routine to say that we were immature, that our psychosexual development had been blocked by poor parenting, leaving us eternal juveniles.

In response to these charges of cowardice and immaturity, I pointed out to her that I had been active politically as an openly gay man under my own name for 30 years, and asked her three questions: 1. Who are you? What's your real name? 2. What are your credentials? What have you done politically? 3. What's your agenda? What is the purpose of the list?

She refused to answer any of those questions. Which told me that nothing about her could be trusted. Not even her name or gender. She could be Donna Rae, or she could be Donald Duck. The reality is that, on the Internet, it's impossible to know.

What was clear, however, was that she and at least some members of her small group were homophobic, and not worth a moment more of my time.

Goading the Sleeping Dog
My main point is that as we enter into coalitions in the anti-Bush resistance, we have to be very clear about who we are, and what we're fighting for. That's particularly true for young gay people for whom the counter-coup may be their first experience of coalition politics.

As I learned all those years ago in Cambridge, when you're openly gay among non-gay people, even political people, some of them will inevitably become uneasy, and may behave irrationally despite what they may say or believe. They, like everyone else, have grown up in an intensely homophobic society, and your presence may bring that homophobia out.

When that happens, you have to be very firm that you will not accept second-class status, not even in the name of the Cause. If they can't or won't understand that, then you can't work with them.

Because, as I mentioned before, you'll get screwed. Even if you're not jettisoned outright, there are those on the Left who will attempt to impose more subtle forms of the closet upon you. For example, after I published an article, "America: The Incipient Fascist State," in GayToday, two non-gay readers emailed me to suggest that I would be more effective and reach a larger audience if I didn't tell people that I was gay.

My response was that my gayness is intrinsic to every aspect of myself, including my politics, and that I would never hide it.

Organizing on the Net
The second point to my story is the ambiguity inherent in the Internet as an organizing tool. In previous political work I've done, I've known those in the coalition as human beings, people with faces and names and addresses and phone numbers. As we organize the first national grass-roots political campaign on the Net, we have to contend with the fact that our co-activists in cyberspace may or may not be who they say they are. This, among other things, diminishes both their responsibility and accountability.

So, before working with a group, you need to find out who the people are and who's making the rules, and demand that they commit publicly to the fight against homophobia, sexism, and racism. Even then, you have to constantly reevaluate their performance. Oral Majority's Bob Kunst is a known quantity. He's been active for years. And is at present doing a good job.

But you can't take anyone for granted.

The counter-coup is about regaining power. To get it, most activists will behave well. But some will behave very badly indeed. The only way to defend yourself is to be crystal clear about who you are and what you believe, and demand the same of others.

Bill Weintraub is a gay liberationist who has recently initiated a national campaign to heighten awareness of safe sex alternatives, and to legitimize them. He is also a founding board member of the NYC Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project.

Related links:

For the Oral Majority.


For Complete Coverage of U.S. Politics

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

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Bush Plus
U.S. politics and the Bush administrationAll about George W. Bush, Dems, Greens, GOPs, and the morass of U.S. politics.

Gay Mundo
gay pride The Gully's ultragay coverage. Includes musings on activism, info on queers from Taiwan to Puerto Rico and more.

Color and Cash
race and classThe Gully's complete coverage of race and class, two intertwined pillars of American society.

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