Why the LGBT community isn’t ready to be on the front lines of the civil rights movement.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act and “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” are being debated in Congress as gay marriage is being argued nationwide. President Obama recently addressed the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) National Dinner on the eve of the National Equality March; and the LGBT community finds itself at center stage of the civil rights movement, at last.
The problem: we are neither equipped nor organized to fight at this level, because we are unwilling to grow up, be responsible, and hear the real concerns of our opponents.
First, simply peruse the pages of any gay rag in town. The writing is subpar, the content lacks substance, and the most widely read columnists use their pages for rants about bar owners and he-said-she-said nonsense. LGBT media constituents, it’s time to upgrade your conversations. Gossip and pettiness makes our entire community appear childish. These infantile tactics and self-indulgent public displays of poorly written condemnation must end.
Next, drive by the “Marriage of the Minds” headquarters in Hillcrest. With their hearts in the right place, and with a passion that is unmatched, these barely-out-of-college kids are doing their best to create some awareness for a significant LGBT equality issue; however hand-drawn magic-marker signs and door handles with rainbow stickers are not the way to attract the wealthy donors you need to create meaningful change (although, it’s certainly a way to give those who miss their university LGBT alliance days something to do). Moreover, t-shirts, frayed jeans, and faux-hawks are no way to be taken seriously. You have something to say that could make a real difference, so leave the sorority house antics where they belong.
Then, take a look back at the reaction in our own community to President Obama’s speech at the National HRC Dinner in October. Penny-pinching lesbians grumbled that the well-heeled white guys cheered the President, while supporters of the National Equality March complained that HRC’s efforts should somehow be discredited due to the money it generates and the wealth of its membership; that somehow the President’s HRC address was a slap in the face to the following day’s march. Seriously? The President addresses the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, is televised live on CNN, and you’re going to grouse about it? Twenty years ago, that kind of attention for our community would have only been dreamt about.
Finally, in blatant disregard for the concerns of our opponents, we generally ignore some key facts about them; the acknowledgment of which would force us to rise to a level of responsibility we are still unwilling to accept. We are a bona fide religious issue for people: trying to “change hearts and minds” is far different from shifting the way one interprets her faith. For most folks, faith isn’t up for discussion, it’s non-negotiable. And for those people, the unconscious reaction to your babbling on about gay rights is a mental picture of you having gay sex. This wasn’t a hurdle in past civil rights movements because the mental pictures of women in voting booths or of black kids sitting next to white kids in class didn’t include butt sex. This is crude, yes. Nevertheless, simple sensitivity to it is critical to our success.
What do we do instead? We find the most outrageous ways possible to exhibit our sex lives; complete with nudity, outlandish costumes, and drug-fueled circuit parties. We choose the exact images to which Average Joe would never want his kids exposed. We are stereotyped, dehumanized and Middle America goes back to work on Monday, amused at best.
We demanded the limelight, and now we’ve got it. So grow up. Put on some clothes. Drop the glow sticks and stop bitching at one another publically. Everybody gets it – you’re “proud” of your sexuality, and you’re a big sissy. There’s no need to prove it to anyone. Let’s start having adult conversations about why equality matters. Demonstrate what you’re willing to do to earn it, and how you can support one another, instead of flaunting why you think you deserve it (and how if you don’t get it, you’ll strut down the street in a feather boa, Speedo, and high heels in defiance).
What if we, both as individuals and as a community, blatantly displayed our similarities as every day, tax-paying, patriotic citizens? What if we created a spirit of community collaboration, and developed a healthy respect for the concerns of our opponents? Until we are willing to do this, expect more of the same.
Arlon Jay Staggs received his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from Mississippi College School of Law in 2000. He is a professional writer, business owner, professor, and activist. Arlon is a member of the Human Rights Campaign Steering Committee in San Diego. Even though his opinions are usually spot-on, they are not necessarily the views of SDGLN.com or the Human Rights Campaign. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org