A reader writes:
Andrew, please: one word makes all the difference. Some gay leftists believe. Or many gay leftists believe, if you prefer. Twice you fail to make this crucial distinction in your post, and so twice you make a sweeping and thus ridiculous statement about what “gay leftists” believe.
Could you explain more specifically who you’re referring to when you write “the gay left”? As a liberal-minded, twenty-something gay myself, I can assure you that I do not hold those views you ascribe to me. As one who associates with other liberal-minded gays (and several conservative ones as well), I can assure you that none of my friends holds those views either. Maybe by “gay left” you mean something different than liberal gays, but what that could be, I don’t know.
By “left” I do not mean gay liberals, like, say, the HRC. They opposed marriage rights for so long for pragmatic and tactical reasons – because it embarrassed their Democratic Party pay-masters. By left, I mean those who opposed the push for military service and marriage rights from the get-go as a surrender to bourgeois conservatism. They wanted all gays to have no choice but to be associated with the New Left and, like many ideologues, spent a great deal of energy purging and demonizing those gays who dissented.
Much of the gay left, mercifully, has now abandoned their stance (but not Michael Bronski, it appears). I wish I could claim some credit but most of it goes to George W Bush, who unified the gay movement around marriage rights in a way no gay writer or leader could. But among those who once virulently opposed gay civil equality in these areas: leftists like Bronski, Paula Ettelbrick, Peter Tatchell, Richard Goldstein, Michael Warner and a whole slew of others whom the late and great gay journalist, Randy Shilts, called the Lavender Fascists. Evan Wolfson, the real hero of the marriage equality movement (and a hardcore liberal himself) recently noted:
”[Marriage equality] was the subject of big divisions within the movement, within the legal groups and within Lambda,” he says, noting there were two distinct approaches from opponents. ”There was the ideological opposition, and the strategic or tactical or timing opposition… That was the biggest dividing line, the biggest source of arguing amongst a group that might quibble or haggle over a particular legal idea but basically agreed over a whole range of things,” says Wolfson. ”The one thing that people would argue about more than any other was marriage.”
”Nobody was going to challenge that we needed to get rid of sodomy laws,” Ettelbrick explains. “No one was going to challenge that we needed antidiscrimination laws to deal with everything from HIV to sexual orientation.” But marriage ”was hotly debated.” She adds, ”I think it was a really important part of our movement that’s seldom been fully addressed, to tell you the truth.” …
A ”defense of sexual freedom” was provided during the debate by people like Michael Warner, who countered Sullivan’s book, Virtually Normal, with his own book published in 2000, The Trouble With Normal. ”At a time when the largest gay organizations are pushing for same-sex marriage,” Warner writes in his preface, “I argue that this strategy is a mistake and represents a widespread loss of vision in the movement.”
This is what and who I mean by the gay left. (For a glimpse into the internal struggle within the gay rights movement, this piece – rare in the gay press – is very helpful.) It was once extremely powerful and to oppose its victimology argument and its insistence that all gays be corralled into one far left political positions was to go through a political wood-chipper. I know it seems bizarre today, and with Bush, the left might have retained more power for longer. But it was the defeat of the arguments of the gay left that allowed for the emergence of a movement for civil equality in marriage and military service. Bronski’s attempt to rewrite history represents the final gasp of that dead end.
(Photo Illustration by Todd Franson for Metro Weekly. Original cake photo by James Steidl/iStockphoto)