How the queer movement came to a halt.
By Gregory Miller
Gays are lazy. We want equality—we want to get married, we want to serve in the military, and we want hate crime protection—but we don’t actually want to do anything about it.
We’ll loll in our IKEA recliners, scoff when you push our issues to the back burner, and make sophisticated political jokes about you while we brunch. But to take physical action in the form of adamant protest? Girl, please, not in these shoes!
We’ve come a long way since 1926 when the New York Times shockingly printed the word “homosexuality” for the first time—the first form of physical activism. By 1969, the gay movement was in full swing. In June of that year, when police raided a Greenwich Village gay bar, gays, lesbians, drag queens, and the like fought back with an actual, material protest that erupted into what came to be known as the Stonewall Riots. We’re talking an outright mob—an overturned car on Christopher Street, brass knuckles, chaos, the works.
Nearly a decade later, gay activism struck again in full force. Thanks to Sean Penn, the name Harvey Milk may ring a bell. Milk became one of the first prominent gay officials elected not through campaigning, but by intense dedication to grassroots efforts. He got out on the streets, going door-to-door, talking to anybody who would listen. And the best part is, Milk wasn’t a lifelong politician. He was a normal 40-year- old guy who saw how much the world needed change.
From there, the movement only grew bigger. Or so it seemed. Today, members of the LGBT community are still second-class citizens, rarely given full equality in the workplace. But the days of rioting are long gone. The thought of a gay riot right now seems downright laughable, if not thoroughly implausible.
Massive gay organizations like the Human Rights Commission forge the movement today, but with minimal effectiveness. In the Prop 8 debacle in California, the Mormon Church outspent the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Prop 8 didn’t pass because the majority of people thought it was best for the state; Prop 8 passed because its supporters wanted it more than we didn’t, or so their efforts and money demonstrated.
At one point, the commission halted an ad promoting the “Stop the Hate, Vote no on 8” campaign because it felt “too negative.” Because if there’s one thing we should worry about when fighting for our rights, it’s whether or not we’re coming on too strong. And yet we keep writing our checks to them because we don’t know where else to send them, and the HRC continues to funnel its money and efforts into the same old, tired places. Andy Towle of the successful gay news blog Towleroad suggested that perhaps the tides of gay activism have shifted since the days of Harvey Milk. The grassroots that activists like Milk held so dear are the new corporatized norm. We see it all the time in pop culture; D-list celebrities using their public statuses to “fight” for gay rights. Lady Gaga screams for Obama to start listening or films a YouTube video in front of a flag, and we applaud her as though she’s just signed and dated our equality on the dotted line.
Kathy Griffin claims us as “her gays” and devotes one episode per season of her show to champion us. In return, we shill out for their tours, they go home richer, and we go home still unable to wed. There’s nothing grassroots effective about that.
Of course, some activists lead the cause in a vigorous fashion. Lieutenant Dan Choi fought to the bitter end to maintain his dignity and career, until the U.S. military discharged him under the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy earlier this year. Even still, Choi’s out there, speaking to anyone who will listen, gathering press wherever he can. No other activist today is like Choi. Gaga and Kathy may talk the talk, but I’d like to see those two arrested for chaining themselves to the White House fence. Choi has become our Martin Luther King Jr., but without the army of active, passionate African Americans behind him.
Generation Y, and to some extent Generation X, feels so apathetic to the debate because we’ve grown up in comparatively cushy lives. Most of us have never felt the pain of staying in the closet to maintain a job or watched an entire league of our sore-covered friends wither away from the havoc of AIDS.
Unless something changes in the young gay community, total equality remains a long way off. In the 2008 vice presidential debate, both Biden and Palin rejected gay marriage. The moderator joked that at least they agreed on something. Yep, absolutely hilarious.
The truth is, major political parties and their power players don’t wave rainbow flags because we don’t demand they do so. If we want change, we’ve got to fight for it. To a generation that would rather ManRoulette than hold a protest sign—step up. Lady Gaga isn’t going to save us, so stop telephoning her, and start a protest already.
Illustration by Jaqueline Mary Evangelisti.