Beyond a "Day Without a Gay"
By: Bob Minor
"Day Without a Gay" on December 10, 2008 was a predictable flop. Beginning somewhere as a last-minute protest against California's Proposition 8, people were asked to call their employers to tell them that they'd miss work because they're gay.
Then, the theory went, everyone would see how valuable LGBT people are. They'd get the point, regret any discrimination, and embrace our love for each other.
I've purposely not traced down the origin of this. Somewhere in some insular blog, one of many that only like-minded people read? Maybe Facebook friends?
I don't want to know. Please don't tell me.
I'm usually relieved that somebody's doing something. And, on second thought, the attempt was successful in providing comedic material for two nights of Jay Leno. It enabled viewers to laugh at being gay, like Jack did on "Will & Grace."
A charitable explanation is that the idea arose uncontrollably out of overwhelming enthusiasm, desperation, and frustration. Therefore, proposers saw no need to consult people outside of a privileged circle of those not threatened by it.
It was doomed to fail because whoever proposed it forgot that in most of the country people can still be fired - and are - for being LGBT. It didn't consider (or maybe worse, care) that most aren't high enough in the economic structure to live above discrimination's consequences. It wasn't in touch with the reality of other LGBT people's lives where a boss who's looking for a reason to fire them because they're LGBT and legally can't, now has legal cover: they don't show up for work.
It would be nice if we all were self-employed, high enough in the economic class system, or working for bosses who'd think this was a fabulous idea that wouldn't make these bosses look bad. But that's not most of us. We're still struggling to make it illegal to fire us for being LGBT so when we do get to marriage equality we can afford a ceremony.
The majority in any group not defined by class is working class. But if all we pay attention to are the images found in LGBT media, our efforts will leave our majorities out.
It's probably one of the reasons why the Mormon and Catholic Churches were down-right surprised that anyone would be upset with them after they bankrolled Proposition 8. They're insular too.
They aren't reading about real LGBT people. They don't know them as human beings with the range of emotions all humans possess. They discuss them as stereotypes defined for institutional prejudices.
The media and Internet have steered many of us to reading, blogging, surfing, watching, and relating only with those who agree with us. If people only watch FOX, the world looks corporate right-wing. If their friends are all like them, that's the world.
I sat in a doctor's office and noticed the older generation of patients reading the newspaper. The twenty-somethings text-messaged the whole time. Yet, insularity isn't generational; it's the modern corporate media world, including the Internet.
We speak to our own, hang out with our own, read about, blog about, and complain to our own. Eventually we begin to drink our own bathwater believing it's champagne.
I'm not recommending we spend more time trying to figure out the radical right-wing who is addicted to their religion and political crusades. We can get stuck in that, getting worked up and endlessly, ineffectively complaining about the unreachable.
Their ideas haven't changed in decades. Their strategies are quickly identified and seldom new.
I'm not recommending including people like anti-marriage-equality evangelist, Pastor Rick Warren in the inaugural festivities of a President. Given that only two months ago Warren was one of the most televised supporters of Proposition 8, comparing the marriages of LGBT people with incest and child molestation, Obama's choice was an insensitive expression of heterosexual privilege.
For all the hope I invested the President-elect, there was no reason other than symbolic to include this media-hungry, cagey, mega-church fundamentalist in the festivities. To respond that Obama did it to embrace inclusivity, or to attract the right-wing that will vote against him anyway, is to affirm the equivalent of promoting prime media exposure for a smiling pastor who spent money and time on TV fighting against the marriages of people of color by comparing their love to incest and bestiality.
For LGBT people, Warren at the inauguration says, first, that Obama believes they have no real power to affect his presidency. For all of their protesting, they're considered toothless. Don't even expect affirming symbolism. Evangelicals are more coveted than them.
Second, they're being told to wait, it's not their time yet. They should graciously accept all this from those who know better – they're on the back burner when it comes to rights.
Great speeches and talking-points can't dilute that symbolism. No matter how liberally Kum Bay Ya this looks, it contradicts a strategic principle of George Lakoff's linguistic studies. When you move to the right, you affirm and restore the right-wing frame. Warren's frame must be worth moving toward in Obama's world.
I'm not talking about trying desperately to convert people who raise money and crowds by condemning LGBT people to eternal hellfire unless they love the people the right-wing approves. They're not open to admitting they're wrong. They're "open" for converting us.
I'm talking about relating to those in that movable middle who are potential allies if they feel we are their allies. They're awaiting our presence, support, and voices of our experiences, which, if we pay attention, aren't that different on a very deep level from their own.
Short-sighted LGBT leaders criticized the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force for not limiting its work to gay issues (meaning issues personally affecting the critics) when, believing all oppressions are related, it decided to tackle racism, classism, and ageism. Fortunately, its inclusive approach has trained leaders who are now demonstrating around the country that LGBT people are humans working for all humanity.
The next "Day" will only work if we break these insular patterns no matter how uncomfortable that might be. For the long-term, each of us needs to identify our demographics and then begin to live outside their limitations.
Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., is author of When Religion Is an Addiction, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, and author of Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.fairnessproject.org.
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