Please note-

*Please note- Your browser preferences must be set to 'allow 3rd party cookies' in order to comment in our diaries.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Equality :: Two steps forward, one step back

By Winnie McCroy -

To look at the proliferation of gays in the media, on television, and in the public eye, gay issues abound, from the fight for marriage equality, to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to the media spotlight on LGBT teen suicides.

You could call it the year of the gay.

It’s true: the modern gay civil rights movement is in-arguably making strides. But with every victory comes an inevitable backlash. As gay culture becomes more mainstream, anti-gay forces become even more extreme, from the vitriolic remarks by pundits like Glenn Beck and Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins to the anti-gay violence fomented against our LGBT youth.

With the growing power of Republicans in Washington, DC, could this anti-gay rhetoric overpower the gay communities’ message of hope and progress?

(upper) A poster at an anti-gay marriage rally in Indianapolis; 
(lower) Maggie Gallagher of the NOM 

Deep pockets

The battle for marriage equality is a prime example. As the LGBT community moves closer to having their relationships legally validated, opponents like Focus on the Family and Maggie Gallagher’s National Organization for Marriage dig deep into their pockets to prevent this from occurring.

"Our opponents have a lot of money, and we generally don’t. We are more of grassroots organizing, which doesn’t always work in our favor," said Marriage Equality New York Board President Cathy Marino-Thomas.

"Some of the rhetoric I hear is unbelievable-that we are damaging the sanctity of marriage, all kinds of inflammatory hate speech," said Marino-Thomas. "People who don’t understand our families and are a bit skittish are taken away by this rhetoric; it gives them an excuse for hate. I think that mostly, that is what’s causing a lot of the anti-gay backlash."

But Marino-Thomas was stalwart against this tide, noting that throughout history, it was not uncommon for the underdog to suffer in this way, adding that if the LGBT community was not going somewhere with their issue, our opponents wouldn’t expend the effort they have to defeat us.

(upper) Kevin Jennings with President Obama; 
(lower) Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins  

Out of step with reality

When it comes to our LGBT youth, however, the suffering of the underdog has taken a tragic turn. The high-profile media attention on a recent spate of gay teen suicides has opened the nation’s eyes to this epidemic. But even widespread public concern does not deter anti-gay forces from spreading their vitriol.

"Since GLSEN’s founding, people who oppose civil and human rights for LGBT people have always sought to discredit our purpose," said Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, a group that focuses on creating safe, affirmative learning environments for all children, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

"Some comments we’ve seen over past the past two years, particularly those directed at Jennings and his new appointment, are consistent with the old and tired attacks on us and our mission," said Byard. "But in the past couple of months, the public has been alerted to very urgent nature of issues we seek to addressing schools, and in that context comments like those from FRC and other fringe organizations are increasingly bizarre and out of step with reality and our will to do well by children."

In the recent past, FRC’s Perkins has blamed homosexuals for child sexual abuse, and has even opposed anti-gay bullying measures, saying in a column published on The Washington Post’s On Faith blog that "the homosexual movement" was to blame for gay youth suicides, and was now "exploiting these tragedies."

Both Perkins and radio pundit Lou Dobbs have taken pot-shots at GLSEN founder Kevin Jennings, labeling him "bizarre," and alleging that he is promoting homosexuality and drug abuse in public schools. Byard notes that over their 20-year history, GLSEN has forged strong partnerships with every national education organization and many school districts across the country committed to protecting their students. That track record speaks volumes against this hate speech, said Byard.

"Anyone who understands the dynamic of bullying and seeks to address this public health crisis knows you have to address homophobic and transphobic violence head on-you can’t do it without addressing the violent language at its core," said Byard. "So the issue now is to get past the point where a fringe group is considered to be a meaningful part of this educational debate."

"It should be clear that anti-gay bias at schools is not an issue with two sides that somehow includes FRC in that debate. There are conversations to be had about the merits of different approaches, but that’s not what they do," she continued. "We work with those who are genuinely interested in reducing bullying, but Lou Sheldon and Tony Perkins are not part of that world. Their comments come from a specific set of religious beliefs that have no place in our schools."

(upper) Soldiers dismissed under DADT;
(lower) anti-DADT advocate Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council  

Positive images

MENY’s Marino-Thomas was disconsolate about how this sort of indiscriminate anti-gay rhetoric affected our LGBT youth. "If our marriages and families got proper recognition, young people would be able to grow with more self worth, and we would probably see a lot less suicide," she said. "These issues go hand in hand... as a marriage activist, I will make myself responsible for marriage equality, but as an adult in the gay community, I have to accept responsibility and help these children."

When it comes to providing gay youth with affirmative examples of gay adults in society, intertwined with gay civil rights and marriage equality is the issue of gays in the military. The back and forth debate around the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is also a prime example of this anti-gay backlash at work.

According to the Washington Post, a recent Pentagon study indicated that 70 percent of active-duty and reserve troops asked said repealing the policy would not harm unit cohesion, the oft-touted canard surrounding this issue. Top brass shared this opinion, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada and President Obama have pushed to end the ban.

Still, Senator John McCain has led the charge blocking consideration of a bill repealing the policy, and conservative pundits like FRC senior fellow Peter Sprigg, who once said he preferred to "export homosexuals," stated on MSNBC, CNN, and Larry King Live that "the presence of homosexuals in the military is incompatible with good order, morale, discipline, and unit cohesion. That’s exactly what Congress found in 1993. And that’s what the law states."

If, as Byard noted, the issue of establishing a meaningful dialogue with FRC and its ilk is a moot point; the question them becomes, when military leaders write of DADT that "the stated premise of the law-to protect unit cohesion and combat effectiveness-is not supported by any scientific studies," why do mainstream media outlets like MSNBC continue to turn to these fringe conservatives for comment?

"Any time anti-gay activists are given the opportunity to speak on the national media, CNN, MSNBC and other networks are by default lending legitimacy to their point of view," said GLAAD Deputy Director of Media Programs Herndon Graddick. "This is a problem, especially on cable news networks where they feel the need to give what they call balance. An example is Tony Perkins’ recent comments in the Washington Post about the bullying that ultimately led to suicide. There are not two sides on teen suicide, but these respected media outlets give voice to a really fringe element of the anti-gay movement."

Screen shots from the National Organization for Marriage’s 
Gathering Storm ad campaign against gay marriage  

Anti-gay orgs well-funded

Graddick said that in most cases, "major media outlets want to do the right thing," and are happy to work with GLAAD to be more responsible in their coverage. But in some instances, GLAAD takes a harder stance, like when CNN hosted ex-gay movement activist Richard Cohen presented "the obviously false and scientifically unproven idea that gay people could be cured."

"We have to make sure people who are not gay and are unfamiliar with gay issues are not given this misleading information," said Graddick. "We encourage and hold news organizations accountable to represent facts and not lend a platform that lead people to believe there are choices... and prevent people from getting the false idea that being gay is something to be cured."

These well-funded anti-gay fringe organizations do not represent the majority of Americans, said Graddick, and keeping their views off respected media outlets "allows for people to not have rabid anti-gay opinions shoved down their throats, and allows them to make decisions of their own on these issues."

"I think more than anything they’re out of touch with the majority of Americans, including those people serving in the military," said Aaron Tax, legal director of Service Members Legal Defense Fund, an advocacy organization based in Washington, DC. Referring to the recently leaked Pentagon study, Tax said that by and large, the majority of those serving in the military (which he called the Will & Grace generation) knew gay people, had gay friends and family members, and it was not an issue for them.

Repeal of DADT is a bipartisan issue, supported by conservatives and liberals alike, said Tax. Questioned about the efforts of those speaking against it, including Sen. McCain, Tax said, "I think people will see that for what it is: a delay tactic. At this point, both sides of the aisle are calling for its repeal."

"This is certainly a historic time in the sense of an unprecedented number of voices calling for its repeal, including President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullan," said Tax. "The three key military leaders are calling for repeal of DADT. In the past, senators including McCain were looking to military leadership on how to vote and if and when to move to repeal this. All you have to do is open the newspapers to see historic support for this move."

SLDN is working hard to get the Senate to take up the vote in this lame duck session and bring the bill, which is attached to the National Defense Authorization Act (the bill that funds the military) to repeal DADT (in much the same way it was first passed in 1993).

Until that time, warns Tax, gay service members should not come out. The House voted to repeal DADT this summer, but even if the Senate votes to repeal it, the president must then repeal the bill, the top three military leaders must authorize their certification for repeal, and then 60 days must pass before it goes into effect. During that time, warns Tax, DADT discharges will continue as the military’s anti-gay policy clashes with what has been shown to be popular opinion supporting openly gay service members.

(upper) The dedication of the LGBT flag at the LGBT Community Center in NYC; 
(lower) the flag after it was torched this summer  

Battle hits NYC

The battle between gay rights and the anti-gay backlash has also come to a head here in New York City. This past summer, employees at the LGBT Community Center on W. 13th Street in gay-friendly ground zero Greenwich Village arrive at work to discover that their rainbow flag had been torched.

"We reported it to the Hate Crimes Unit of the NYPD... and then we had a conversation internally and decided that this was a moment where the community needs to respond, to let young people know that this was not okay, and that the Center was a safe place to go," said Center Executive Director Glennda Testone. They held a rally attended by about 200 people, including the gay youth choir, and rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker donated two new flags, which were raised after a small ceremony.

"The message of the event was that we are a proud strong community, and we are not going to be intimidated-we are not going anywhere," she said. "This is our city, and this is our Center."

Achieving equality for LGBT people in the city is an ongoing process. In the past year, we have made strides with the Dignity for All Students Act, Gov. Paterson’ transgender protection act, and the establishment of the LGBT Homeless Youth Commission, but even after legislation is passed, it takes time for people’s behaviors to change.

"The bottom line," said Testone, "is that we have along way to go. We don’t have marriage equality, the recent LGBT teen suicides have touched people in the city in a profound way, and the hate crimes recently in [Greenwich Village gay bars] Stonewall and Julius, and in the Bronx are really hitting home. There are still people in the city who want to harm us and create a climate where we feel isolated and afraid."

Testone said she works hard to bring visibility to Center programs, to show that it is a safe, welcoming place for LGBT people of all ages. After the spate of gay suicide and hate crimes, the Center felt compelled to do something to give the community a way to support each other and young people. In addition to a "You Can Make it Better" campaign, the center is working on a challenge gift of $35,000 from an LGBT philanthropist to provide each of their 1,000 youth members with a $35 Center membership card that allows them access to the Cyber Center and youth-specific events.

"The message we are trying to send is that you belong, that we will always support you," said Testone. "We are asking LGBT adults to buy a Center membership for themselves, and one for a young person. I think it is so important when a young person finds their community to know that they are part of this Center."

Although an anti-gay backlash is to be expected any time the gay community makes strides, activists say that on issues like teen suicide, these pundits should not play fast and loose with the safety and well-being of America’s children.

"All I can say to our opponents is shame on you for not believing in the founding principals of our country," said Marino-Thomas. "They get away with it because they have more money and a farther reach in the media, but in the end right will win out, and we will see over the next decade a real change on this issue. I think we will see equal rights won in end-I just hope there’s not too much carnage left in its wake.


1 comment:

  1. Gays need to get a handle on how they address bullying in schools and heterosexual teens. I find that adult LGBTs are waaaaaay to aggressive with teens in response to some bullying and/or homophobic statement made by a teenager.

    We really need to chill out on that. And find a different way of communicating about these issues instead of name calling and attacks on non-LGBT youth.

    The things I've seen written about Willow Palin in the last week by adult gays is way over the top. America's youth is not a group of people we want against us. We need to get with that reality.