The Sexual Outlaws
The battleground for GBLT equality has shifted since Rechy's book was published in 1984.
At the time when Rechy's book was published, the struggle centered around vice squad entrapment and brutality, sodomy laws and similar raw attempts to suppress homosexuality through prohibition and brute force. The targets then were gays and lesbians in the parks, the cruising grounds, the bars.
The struggle has changed since then, and so have the targets. Now the "silent rich, the cozy students, the quiet couples" are on the front line of the war for GBLT equality, the targets of social conservative attacks, the focus of scorn and hatred, lies and fear-mongering.
The shift in the struggle reflects our changing culture and gains in legal equality for GBLTs over the last quarter century. Gay and lesbian progress widened the war.
When Rechy's book was published, almost all gays and lesbians were closeted, and police harassment was rampant.
In contrast, today:
(1) private, consensual sex between gays and lesbians has been decriminalized, after a long legal struggle;
(2) being gay or lesbian has ceased to be an obstacle to a mainstream career in business or -- in the "blue" states -- in politics;
(3) more and more middle class gays and lesbians are "out", living without fuss in "good" neighborhoods alongside their straight neighbors;
(4) large numbers of gays and lesbians are raising families;
(5) most major corporations have workplace protection policies in place and offer benefits to domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees;
(6) roughly 65% of gays and lesbians live in states with anti-discrimination laws on the books;
(7) recent polls show that more than 75% of Americans believe that gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly in the armed forces;
(8) politicians court the GBLT vote in our larger cities;
(9) civil unions or domestic partnerships are available to gays and lesbian couples in California, Connecticut, New Jersey and Vermont; and
(10) marriage is available to gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts.
But because of the progress gays and lesbians have made in the last quarter century, and because social conservatives are up against the wall and know it, social conservatives have unleashed a full-fledged, virulent, unprincipled gay-baiting political movement within our country, spearheaded by the President of the United States and prominent Republicans in Congress, aimed squarely at middle class gays and lesbians -- the "silent rich, the cozy students, the quiet couples" -- all in the name of "protecting marriage".
The gay-baiting political movement is a uniting force holding the Republican coalition together at this point, fueling the party with cash and foot soldiers from the so-called "Religious Right", and forcing the party's hand on issues ranging from health policies to filibusters.
The concern for "protecting marriage", of course, is all sham, pretense, smoke and mirrors. Social conservatives have been attacking gays and lesbians since long before Rechy's book was published twenty years now -- since the days of Anita Bryant's orange juice crusades and Jerry Falwell's "Declaration of War" against homosexuality in the formational days of the Moral Majority. Social conservatives are attacking gays and lesbians because it "sells" among a frightened minority of Americans.
But the social conservative political movement is more dangerous to gays and lesbians now than it was when Rechy's book was published, both because (1) the attacks are now focused on the "silent majority" of gays and lesbians, rather than on a small number of "sexual outlaws" and the closeted, often married, Johns who fueled the rough trade in the streets, and (2) the purpose and intent of the attacks now are to deprive gays and lesbians of the most basic right of citizenship, equality before the law, rather than to suppress gay vice. If social conservatives succeed, gays and lesbians will be stripped of basic legal rights.
In other words, everyone who is gay and lesbian is now on the battlefront.
An odd side effect of this shift in focus is that social conservatives have been forced to become more open about the irrationality of their rhetoric. In the days when Rechy's book was published, social conservatives could make a plausible case -- on the surface, but no deeper -- that their concern was vice, not homosexuality. It was a lie then, of course, as anyone familiar with the struggle for gay and lesbian rights knows, but at least it was a plausible lie.
Now, however, because the attack is focused on "people like us", the lie is less plausible. How does one differentiate between a straight couple raising kids and the lesbian couple next door also raising kids, on any rational basis?
The lack of connection between same-sex marriage and doing anything to strengthen staight marriage is so weak that even George Bush, a Yale graduate who plays at being a benighted, "aw shucks" sort of guy, can't plausibly go beyond mouthing the mantra -- "protect marriage" -- by trying to draw a relationship between "protecting marriage" and keeping gays and lesbians from marrying. Not to mention the Vatican, which usually speaks in a language so arcane and indirect as to have been dubbed "Vatican Speak" by observers, which has been forced to show the raw hatred and prejudice behind the their efforts to stop civil marriage in countries such as Canada and Spain by comparing gays and lesbians to animals and "cockcroaches".
All in all, as the war has become focused on middle class gay and lesbian families -- "people like us" -- the fangs have been barred at last -- the unreasoning and irrational nature of the attack is becoming impossible for social conservatives to hide, despite efforts to hide behind the curtain of "protecting marriage".
And the disconnect -- the increasing transparency of the lies -- has made a difference in public opinion, despite the unrelenting nature of the gay baiting campaign.
The utter idiocy of efforts to "protect the military" from having gays and lesbians serve openly, for example, has been so transparent and obvious that support for open service in the armed forces has grown from under 50% of those polled in the early 1990's to over 80% in recent polls. The American people looked at the issue in the decade since "don't ask; don't tell" was foisted upon us all by social conservatives and a weak-kneed President who was afraid to stand up to them, despite straight talk from conservatives like Barry Goldwater, and decided that it is an idiotic policy.
Right now, less than 50% of Americans favor same-sex marriage. That will change over time, if for no other reason than that demographics will out, and social conservatives know it.
And what is changing it? Experience.
Vermont has now had several years' experience with "separate but equal" civil unions, and the state has quietly come to accept legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples as a good. What made the difference? Largely the fact that the legislative process during the battle over civil unions involved a lot of "town hall" meetings all over the state, when gay and lesbian couples came out to their neighbors. As these couples entered into civil unions and legal recognition of their relationships was absorbed into the fabric of life in Vermont, the issue defused.
In Massachusetts, a year has passed since gays and lesbians started marrying, and the public has moved on. The sky didn't fall, and none of the catastrophes predicted by the rabid right and their Massachusetts mouthpiece, Mitt Romney, have come to pass. Straights, gays and lesbians have been marrying each other, and going about their business. A majority of Massachusetts citizens are now opposed to the proposed state constitutional amendment that created so much storm and fury last year. In fact, things are so quiet now in Massachusetts that the first anniversary of same-sex marriage in the state passed almost unnoticed yesterday.
Connecticut and California legislatures passed strong civil union or domestic partnership laws in recent months -- the Connecticut law grants "separate but equal" status to gays and lesbians, and California's law is not much less expansive -- and ordinary citizens of the states don't seem willing to go to the barricades over the issue. New Jersey's legislature also has enacted a strong domestic partnership law last year.
But, in an increasing number of states, social conservatives have succeeded and will continue to succeed for some time to come.
I think that there are two reasons:
(1) Social conservative gay baiting reinforces a lifetime of social conditioning about gays and lesbians. It is not much of a leap from hearing the schoolyard put down "you fag" day in and day out to believing that "the fags" might somehow endanger your marriage to Susie-Sue, even if you can't quite think of a reason why.
(2) Social conservative lies and "bait and switch" tactics are largely unexamined or ignored by straights who don't care enough about gay and lesbian issues to actually take a look at what is being told them and examining the irrationality behind it.
In short, social conservatives depend on straight lack of experience with gays and lesbians and straight fear of homosexuality, both of which abundant commodities among straights in most of the "red" states.
Why is this so dangerous?
The reason is that along with a shift in targets has come a shift in tactics, an attempt by social conservatives to take the issue of gay and lesbian equality off the table using state and federal constitutional amendments.
Constitutional amendments cut off the political process, and gay and lesbian equality depends, in the long run, on the political process, on the process of slowly changing the minds of straights, state by state. And the FMA -- amending US Constitution -- will not only cut off the political process, but also reverse the gains made in states like Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, California and New Jersey.
Up to this point, it seems to me, gays and lesbians have been "playing nice" -- coming out and talking about why legal equality is important to gays and lesbians and their families -- instead of street fighting. I don't think that will do.
As a friend pointed out to me a year or so ago, gays and lesbians cannot count on straights for help with this battle. Although gay baiting is red meat to social conservatives, gay equality is an "oh, of course ..." issue to most straights, an issue which is not of particular importance, even though they might be "on our side".
In short, the issue does not touch them, and so gays and lesbians cannot depend on straights to think much about the issue or to actively battle social conservatives on the issue. Gays and lesbians might have sympathy from straights, but straights will not be foot soldiers for gay and lesbian equality. Gays and lesbians cannot count on most straights to stand up and be counted.
And so social conservatives will, unless gays and lesbians stop them, continue to use gay baiting as a source of funds and ground troops. And they will continue to make gains.
I think that we -- gays and lesbians and straights to whom the issue is important for some reason -- should take the war to straights on moral grounds.
The orchestrated, well-financed, Republican-sponsored gay-baiting campaign to roll back the clock, to return gays and lesbians to the closet, to the days of "The Sexual Outlaws" -- denying gays and lesbians employment equality, family recognition, the right to raise their children, and to live as other citizens in our country live -- is based on prejudice and deception, and it is immoral.
Gays and lesbians need to confront that fact -- the fact that the gay baiting campaign in this country is immoral. It is not just unfair, but immoral.
I think that it is time to:
(1) call out the social conservatives, to confront them on moral values, to call them for what they are -- prejudiced, unreasoning, irrational purveyors of hatred, liars -- people who are embarked on a course that is immoral;
(2) call out straights who are silently cooperating with social conservatives out of perceived self-interest -- think Republican politicians, because they are cowed -- or because they believe that prejudice against gays and lesbians is somehow different than prejudice against race or religion -- and confront them with the fact that they are supporting a course that is immoral;
(3) confront "opinion leaders" -- ministers, rabbis, commentators -- who are standing silent on this issue and put them on the spot, demanding that they speak up in their pulpits and newspaper columns as fully and directly as they do when other minorities are under attack;
(4) confront straights of good will who "go along" without thinking -- relatives and friends, for example, who buy into the idea that "marriage is between a man and a woman" -- and force them to think through the issues and confront the issues;
(5) confront gays and lesbians who actively work in the gay-baiting campaigns as ground troops for social conservatives, and call them out, including public "outing" if that is needed to stop them; and
(6) finally, we need to think -- each and every of us -- about whether our own actions contribute to the gay-baiting campaign by supporting institutions that are part of that campaign, and remove our support from those institutions.
All this is self-evident, I guess.
But what was true in Rechy's time -- "the outlaw absorbs the hatred that would otherwise swallow them" -- is no longer true.
All gays and lesbians are on the firing line now and it is time for "silent rich, the cozy students, the quiet couples" to engage in hard combat.