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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Keeping Our Cool

Radical reactions to defeats will not bring about the changes we need.

By Steve Charing

Believe it or not, I agreed with Bill O’Reilly’s recent assessment that the actions taken by a group of radical gay activists in a Lansing, Michigan church would hurt our cause. Of course, O’Reilly’s looking out for us warrants suspicion, but his point is well taken.

We have just experienced one of the most gut-wrenching defeats in our struggle for equality when the nefarious Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriages in California was approved by voters by a relatively narrow margin on the same night we decisively elected Barack Obama president.

The consequences of Prop. 8 were stunning and tragic. A coalition of religious organizations and social conservatives managed to scare enough voters to restrict marriage to a man and a woman.
Tempting as it may have been to vent frustration and anger, the results do not give license to irate LGBT folks and supporters to act out their impulses by defacing religious buildings or other targets, as was widely reported. And it is no excuse for a radical queer group, Bash Back!, to disrespectfully disrupt services at Mount Hope Church in Michigan.

According to reports, about 30 gay activists in pink and black garb from the Lansing chapter began shouting during a service on November 9, throwing fliers at the congregation and making out with one another. They allegedly yelled, "It’s OK to be gay" and "Jesus was a homo" among other slogans.

From the Bash Back! website:

It received some media coverage, especially from a delighted FOX News, to heighten Bash Back!’s visibility—a stated goal on its website.

And with other Bash Back! chapters in such places as Chicago, Memphis, Milwaukee, Denver, Olympia, Philadelphia, Upstate New York and Washington, DC, we can expect similar outbursts around the country. This doesn’t help win friends and influence people, as the saying goes.

Barring any surprise legal victory in the California Supreme Court, our defeat on Prop 8 will clearly delay the ultimate goal of full marriage equality for those who aren’t fortunate to live in Massachusetts and Connecticut. It’s back to the drawing board where our efforts must be directed towards educating the public as well as clergy of all denominations that gay people marrying will not infringe upon their religious beliefs nor will it destroy the institution of marriage.

We must continue to tell our stories to elected officials so that they can see the human side of discrimination. We must explain how continuing to be treated as second-class citizens hurts families.

We must also point out that in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been legal for over four years, the institution of marriage has not been undermined as the State’s divorce rate remains among the lowest in the nation.

This approach does work if the politician has an open mind.

One of the positive outcomes of the Prop 8 travesty was the nationwide mobilization of a movement called Join the Impact. In just a few short days of grass roots organizing and effective use of the Internet’s social networking sites, the campaign on November 15 mustered sign-waving crowds in the hundreds of thousands across the country from D.C. to Seattle to peacefully and resolutely demonstrate in support of our goal of marriage equality.

In Baltimore, for example, a thousand attended a rally outside City Hall last month to hear speakers tell their stories to a diverse crowd of gays and straights, old and young, blacks and whites.

"Our mission is to encourage our community to engage our opposition in a conversation about full equality and to do this with respect, dignity, and an attitude of outreach and education," says the JoinTheImpact mission statement on Facebook.

JoinTheImpact in Baltimore is quickly amassing hundred of supporters on Facebook, which validates its principles of educating the public and elected officials.

The tactics used by Bash Back!, on the other hand, will only serve to alienate moderate citizens and embolden right wing conservatives to continue their attacks on us as out of the mainstream and to generate fear of gays.

Our ultimate victory, whenever that will be, will be won at the ballot box and in the legislatures. Elected officials will vote according to the wishes of their constituents. We need to make our case and convince them respectfully. Allowing Bill O’Reilly and others to whip up anger against us because of radicalism will stop us cold.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you that violence is NEVER the answer, but I happen to be very well informed about this church ( I grew up in Lansing ). What this church does and says to and about gay people is a hate crime. The video claims the fire alarm was pulled. I spoke with the LFD and that is untrue. Also, there was no damage done to the church. There was no one having sex in the bathrooms. There were no arrest. This group is made up of young people. They are taking a Malcomb X approach to gay rights. Again, I do not support this group in any way, but, knowing the church as I do, and knowing this gave a great deal of publicity to the church (you should read their stance on homosexuality) I have to admit, what BB did made me chuckle a little. It's a fine line. One I would never cross. But, these people are tired, and a group like this was inevitable. I have a difficult time believing BB's attempt of justice through invasive protest was any worse than what the GLBT community has endured from the Religious Right....although again, I'm NOT condoning BB's actions.

Just another look at it!

Anonymous said...

This is seriously ridiculous. Wake up! Clearly Bash Back! is not trying to change people's minds or win over moderate people. They are trying to confront oppressors in any way they can. The action at the church was called for long before prop 8 was passed and to my knowledge had absolutely nothing to do with prop 8. I also know that bash back! is opposed to marriage and asking straight people for equality. They are not trying to be polite nor do they care about winning the hearts and minds of straight white people...just thought I would put that out there

Anonymous said...

Since this piece ran in the Washington Blade, I am including the comments that were made online:

RCS on 12/7/08 11:34 AM:
Bash Back's activities are counter-productive, but they are atypical of the response of most gay groups that organized peaceful protests, often outside the Mormon churches that helped fund the Proposition 8 Campaign. You are right to point out the positive effect of organizations such as Join The Impact. They are doing important work in a non-confrontational way that helps advance the cause of gay rights. At the same time, one should not forget groups such as Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign that have been out there fighting for gay rights all along. Good essay.

Ye Olde Fart on 12/6/08 12:16 PM:
Steve, good column and points well taken.

rpcv84 on 12/5/08 8:22 PM:
While I don't agree with the concept of gay marriage (I, like Governor Douglas of loony liberal left Vermont, believe civil unions are more than sufficient), at least the author's bottom line point is correct: "Radical reactions to defeats will not bring the change we need."

Anonymous said...

Steve, this new movement reminds me of a passage from the auto-biography of Leon Trotsky:

"The impulse originated within us. In the intellectual circles in which I moved, nobody did any actual revolutionary work. We realized that between our endless tea-table discussions and revolutionary organization there was a vast gulf."

While I object to violence I consider the acts of Bash Back mere street theater. Their taunting of the opposition is reminiscent of Stonewall. It was inevitable that this kind of activism would evolve. We are becoming what we were.

In recent years we lost our exuberance. We traded the closet for assimilation. To our shame we have ostracized and marginalized those who don't "fit in." When Barney Frank started whining against transsgender inclusion in ENDA it became clear that homophobia was becoming rampant in the queer community!

Today, the so-called "Day without a Gay Day" was supposed to show the world how much financial clout we bring to the table. That's just plain silly. Calling that "activism" defiles the language.

It is as though we are saying that queers who fit in and have money should have equal rights.

That is a very sad regression, Steve. I'm old enough to remember (don't tell anybody) when black folk straightened their hair and bleached their skin in an effort to gain acceptance.

That was a time before "pride" entered the vocabulary.

You are correct when you say that this doesn’t help win friends and influence people. But some of us, and increasingly more of us, have no desire to befriend or influence bigots.

We just want equality. We want it now.

John said...

You are right to point out the positive effect of organizations such as Join The Impact. They are doing important work in a non-confrontational way that helps advance the cause of gay rights. At the same time, one should not forget groups such as Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign that have been out there fighting for gay rights all along.


How's that Kool-Aid taste? Join the Impact? What impact? A rally at city hall on a Saturday? Someone forgot to read the first step in the social action guide book.

Step One: Make sure the policy-makers are home before you stop by.

And HRC wouldn't know grassroots or social activism if it bit them in the *ss. Besides a few tacky fundraisers what exactly have they produced?


John Flannery