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Byron Kennard

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What's a Drag Queen Got to Do with Global Warming?

Posted: 09/22/11 04:09 PM ET

Gays are making giant strides in building public support for same-sex marriage. Last May, the Los Angeles Times reported on five recent national polls showing a surge in support of same-sex marriage, including a Gallup survey that found -- for the first time -- a majority (53 percent) of Americans supporting this right.

To this, I say hurrah! I'm a gay man. This trend warms the cockles of my heart.

Meanwhile greens appear to be losing ground in building public support for action on climate change. In the four-year period from 2007 to 2011, public concern dropped 14 percentage points. Today, less than half of Americans (48 percent) say they are concerned about climate change.

To this, I say boo! I'm an environmentalist. This trend sends chills up and down my spine. And the contrast here intrigues and perplexes me. What gives? Do gays know something greens don't?

The answer is not found in politics -- at least not in conventional politics. Here gays and greens are both struggling to hold on.

Sure, six states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage through legislative or judicial action, but every time the question has been put to a popular vote, it has been rejected. Twenty-nine states have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, while 12 others have laws against it.

For greens, politically, it's also tough going. The 2010 midterm elections were a calamity for them. Now the anti-environmental Tea Party is calling the shots in the House of Representatives, and President Obama is being forced to back-peddle on his environmental commitment.

In this disheartening political setting, I'm compelled again to ask: How come gays are nevertheless winning the battle for public opinion? If the answer isn't politics, what is it?

The answer, I argue, is pop culture. Gays are circumventing conventional political obstacles by exploiting the immense power of pop culture, which is both omnipresent and subversive. This stratagem has worked like magic.

There's a funny explanation for this success: fun itself! Persecuted minorities often cope with stress by engaging in self-deprecating humor. (Chris Rock is a genius at this.) So it is that gays are masters at using comedy to advance their cause. Thank you, Ellen! Thank you, Will and Grace! Thank you, Modern Family!

Consider the impact of Glee, the "gayest show on TV" and the top-ranked entertainment series for teens and one of three for adults under age 49. Glee's immense popular success infuriates right-wing critics, who view the show as a triumph of moral depravity. "It's a nightmare," says Glenn Beck. Beck and other right-wing critics can rant and rave all they want, but they cannot stamp out this subversive power.

There's an interesting connection to be made here. Glee came on the air two years ago. In July 2011, Dr. Jan van Lohuizen, a Republican who served as Bush's pollster in 2000 and 2004, released a new analysis of polling data spanning more than a decade and showing "a striking and undeniable acceleration in support of same-sex marriage over the past two years." (Italics added.)

A coincidence? I don't think so. Consider this: a May 2011 Gallup poll showed support for same-sex marriage among young voters -- Glee's audience -- increased an astounding 16 percent in the last year. Hey, I thought, contemplating this, maybe greens, so often accused of preaching to the choir, should instead be auditioning for the glee club!

At the least, I thought, it's up to me as a gay environmentalist to take a stab at it. That's what the Rue Rylvester campaign is all about, a series of short (90-second) videos I'm posting on YouTube that poke fun at climate deniers.

Rue Rylvester (an actor in drag) is a shameless parody of Sue Sylvester, the villainous cheerleading coach that the Glee audience loves to hate. As the world's top-ranked "climate lifestyle coach," Rue tells clients that global warming simply isn't happening, or, if it is, humans certainly aren't causing it, but, well, since it is happening, the thing to do is relax and enjoy it.

Yep, this is crap, and Rue is full of it, but she's funny as the dickens. And that's -- thank you for asking -- what a drag queen has to do with global warming.

 

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