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Marriage Equality and the Myth of "Gay Apartheid"

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Last week's successful repeal of Maine's same-sex marriage laws was a painful reminder that the United States remains far from a "perfect  union". Yet as disappointing as the Maine defeat was, the real disappointment actually resulted from the reactionary tactics employed by many  in the Marriage Equality movement. Tinged with racial overtones and dolled up with dubious numerical data, self-appointed same-sex leaders reached new highs in their low-down blame game.

Among the lowest was David Mixner, the longtime civil rights activist and author for whom an "expanding system of Gay Apartheid in America" must now be resisted by any means necessary. Positing the need for civil disobedience and fearful of "surviving more of the same", Mixner dramatically implored his blog's readers to rise up, fight back and remember that "Freedom, Liberty, Justice are not mere words".

Mixner's clever use of identity politics would certainly be admirable if it weren't so deplorable. The accusation of Apartheid and appropriation of its liberation struggle demonstrate Mixner's obvious indifference to both historical sensitivities and the power of his own prose. 
 
Smugly confident as he preaches to the converted, Mixner is all metaphor and analogy -- with little meat to back him up. Gay Apartheid, he laments, is becoming an established "way of life and everyone is beginning to adjust to it". Yet while LGBTs certainly contend with inequitable political protections, there is (thankfully) no Gay Apartheid in these United States of America.

A quick history lesson:  Apartheid refers to a South African political system brutally enforced from 1948 to 1994 and anchored around government engineered racial and ethnic segregation. At its best, Apartheid rendered its victims vote-less, citizenship-less, land-less entities within their own nation. At its worst, arrest, torture, imprisonment, exile and death awaited South Africans (of all colors) who rallied against the Apartheid regime. South Africa's majority Black, Indian and Colored populations were forced to carry identity cards, barred from city-center living and required permits to move within society. There were virtually no legal mechanisms to resist the Apartheid leadership, let alone elections to challenge it.

Yet here is Mixner crying Apartheid -- along with fellow LGBT talking head Herb Hamsher in a post on this site from the same day. Cloaking their language in anger and outrage, Mixner and Hamsher conveniently confuse political defeat with wholesale political disenfranchisement. They invoke the legacy of  Apartheid as a shock tactic, a wake-up call, a rallying to arms; all the while dishonoring the brave thousands who literally took to arms -- beaten, imprisoned and killed as part of the anti-Apartheid movement.

The most worrisome element of this historical neglect isn't its lack of tact -- but rather its lack of fact. Voters have struck down same-sex marriage laws in all 31 states where it has been put on the ballot and this is indeed disheartening. But the resulting legislation has not caused gay people to lose their jobs, their homes, their passports -- their very freedom of movement. There are no gay identity cards or impoverished townships, segregated public services or forced relocation. Gay ghettos may exist in many urban centers, but Chelsea, West Hollywood and Boystown could hardly be classified as Gay District 9s let alone Gay Sowetos.

Laced with historical inaccuracies and steeped in elitism and entitlement, the term Gay Apartheid is deeply offensive and unnecessarily divisive. "It insults not just every person who lived under Apartheid, but the future generations that will have to deal with its consequences," observes South African AIDS activist and Nobel Prize Nominee Zackie Achmat, who notes that 20 million South Africans were imprisoned during the Aparhteid period. "This language reflects a self-obsessed commodificaton of identity politics by American LGBT leaders," adds Achmat, who founded the Treatment Action Campaign in 1998. "They fail to recognize connections to broader social justice issues both in the US and abroad."

Along with Gay Apartheid, phrases such as "Gay Jim Crow", "Gay is the New Black" and "back of the bus" are additional examples of the race-baiting rhetoric clearly aimed at the Oval Office. Sure, these homo-hysterics may make for good headlines. But their true intent is clear, their prejudice no longer deniable and their use totally unacceptable in any civil Civil Rights movement.
 
As it hogs the media spotlight in tandem with the Marriage Equality debate, homo-hysteria also denies important pro-LGBT advances the oxygen they deserve. The signing of the Matthew Shepard Act, ending the travel ban on HIV-positive foreigners and the recent election of openly gay mayors in cities like Chapel Hill, NC are hardly footnotes -- particularly to the grassroots activists who championed them. They may lack Mixner's heft or Hamsher's Hollywood connections -- but their causes are no less valid (or vital) to the LGBT masses. Nor are other battles still in play, including an end to workplace discrimination, Don't Ask/Don't Tell and the scourge of HIV.

Barely a week after the Maine defeat, LGBT leaders are calling for an economic boycott -- or "time out" -- of the White House and Obama. Unsurprisingly, Mixner is right behind them, exercising his myopic might and demonizing the very Democratic White House that could actually advance his agenda. Obama certainly has yet to fulfill the campaign commitments made to LGBT voters, but there remains every reason to believe he will make those promises whole.

There will be no promises, however, from Obama's Republican replacement -- elected in 2012 as a result of Left Wing reactionary recklessness. Far Righter than Reagan, more backward than Bush, this is the regime Mixner should actually be attacking -- a regime that could truly usher in the era of Gay Apartheid in America.

I asked Mr. Mixner to comment for this story, to explain his claim of Gay Apartheid and justify its continued (ab)use in his battle for Marriage Equally. He politely declined in favor of "agreeing to disagree", an unusually passive ploy for a man with such a commendable track record of public activism.

Mixner's diss was as surprising as it was disappointing. After all, as rioters raged and prisoners rotted, even Mandela managed to meet Botha during the height of Apartheid's tyranny. But Gay Apartheid or no Gay Apartheid, I'm hardly some P.W. Botha. And as for David Mixner -- well, he's certainly no Nelson Mandela.