I wasn't the only one gasping in astonishment last week at how visible queers were at the Democratic Convention. They broke ground by including a pro-gay plank in their platform openly supporting same-sex marriage. Straights like Rahm Emanuel, Obama's first chief of staff, brought us up, acknowledging Obama's work to allow queers to serve openly in the military. Tammy Baldwin, the out dyke US representative, spoke to the crowd. So did Jared Polis, the out gay congressman from Colorado who didn't just present gayness in the flesh, but used the words, declaring, “My great-grandparents were immigrants. I am Jewish. I am gay.”
In contract, the Republican National Convention officially invited the gay Log Cabin Republicans to attend for the first time, but the GOP had no openly gay speakers, and most importantly, its platform was “more aggressive in its opposition to women's reproductive rights and to gay rights than any in memory” according to a New York Times editorial.
Only four years ago, the Obama strategy was only minimally better than the Republican one. We were kept offstage at all costs, seen as a political, though not financial, liability. Throughout his run, Obama avoided gay photo ops and any promises he made were to our trusty leaders behind closed doors. At the same time, he campaigned openly with some of the same gay-hating preachers as Bush. Adding insult to injury, he asked Rick Warren, architect of some of the most vicious and deadly gay-hating campaigns in Africa, to bless his administration.
I guess it didn't take, that invocation. Or maybe God has switched sides. Eventually, we got more than a thank you for our checks. The last few years have seen the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Hillary's hugely important speech on the international stage declaring gay rights are human rights, and Obama's own declaration that LGBT people might just deserve equality in America, too, in particular when it comes to same-sex marriage.
We're told that this was the plan the whole time. Deal with the economic crisis, pass health care reform, and then when the most dire things were out of the way, move on to The Gays.
Yeah, maybe that was the plan. Or maybe Obama only kept his promises because for once we held the Democrats accountable. Starting with Warren's appearance at the inauguration, when we squealed like hell. We also ranted about betrayal when Obama's Justice Department defended some of the US's anti-gay policies in court. We demonstrated, filed our own lawsuits, threatened to keep our money in our pockets, sometimes sidelined our own Democrat-ass-kissing national organizations, to declare that if they didn't do better, they'd have to win 2012 without our big gay dollars and our big gay votes. And it paid off.
Now, in the post-Convention excitement at growing acceptance and visibility, it's essential to keep in mind that legal rights and cultural change do not emerge only from the audacity of hope, or as gifts from our benign leaders. If we just sit around thinking nice thoughts and cheerleading an ostensibly supportive party, not only will we not make more progress, but the little we've gained will be rolled back, quicker than you can exclaim, “Goddamn.”
Change is the result of work. A ton of it. Using as many strategies as possible. Street activism and demos. Fat donations. Letters, emails, sit-ins, measured editorials, furious diatribes. Also important are movies, art, and books that in radical acts of imagination help us see more clearly the world around us –– and imagine a whole new one. Artists can be like scientists, exploring the universe of identity in a controlled environment, sharing their results.
LGBT activists can't let up now. Just look at the erosion of pro-choice gains. Most states have implemented so many restrictions on abortion, it's all but illegal. And in terms of race, the Jim Crow laws may have been pulled from the books years ago, but New Racists are back at it, most notably passing laws designed to keep minorities and poor people from voting. Their language and rhetoric are full of hate. And individuals that five or ten years ago may have been indifferent to the subject when Collin Powell was secretary of state and Condi Rice was advising President George W. Bush, now hold strong and repellent views that amount to Black is Bad. And so are independent women.
It doesn't take much to shift the tenor of a party. A whole nation can suddenly swing to the right. Former allies can jump ship. Complacency will kill us. So can refusing to see ourselves as part of the larger American project of liberty and justice for all. Queers of color, immigrant queers, those of us with tits, and poor queers are already more embattled than ever. Hate's contagious. Everybody will pay if we don't push forward together.