There's a full-blown emergency playing out in Texas. It's a gay civil rights emergency, and, if left unchecked, a disaster will occur that could affect the future of gay and transgender people there for some time to come. And yet, there's largely been dead silence from business leaders, public figures, much of the national media and pro-gay politicians. It's time now for those who wield great influence in the state -- like Apple's Tim Cook -- and for governors of states that support equality, public figures and celebrities to speak out loudly in the media before it's too late.
Gay activists in Texas are fighting against an unprecedented number of anti-gay bills being pushed by opponents of rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as the Texas legislative session comes to a close at the end of this month. Any of the more than 20 anti-LGBT bills that get out of committee in either legislative chamber -- and a few have -- will easily pass in the Republican-dominated conservative legislature and be signed into law by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. Though bills originating in the House must be voted on by midnight Thursday, any of the anti-gay bills could be tacked on as amendments to other bills right up until the last day of the session at the end of the month.
It's all part of a Republican-led plan to stop or slow rights for gay and transgender people, anticipating a possible Supreme Court victory on marriage equality nationwide come June.
Already, the "Pastor Protection Act" passed the Senate. After a group of pastors came before legislators last week and unleashed defamatory rhetoric -- one feared being forced to officiate over the weddings of pedophiles while another ranted that he was afraid he'd have to marry people "to animals" -- GOP Sen. Craig Estes, chief sponsor of the bill, dropped compromise language to which the American Civil Liberties Union and others had agreed. Activists now fear the bill, if it becomes law, will allow an ordained clergy member who happens to also be employed in a civil job as a county clerk or justice of the peace to refuse to perform a marriage that "violates a sincerely held religious belief," even in his or her role as a public servant.
Among the bills that could get a vote in the House today or tomorrow is one that would bar state or local funds from being used to grant marriage licenses to gay or lesbian couples and, as its chief sponsor described it, would "protect state sovereignty," deeming Texas free from recognizing same-sex marriages from out of state, no matter what the Supreme Court rules.
Yet another bill in committee may be attached as an amendment to a bill today and would allow adoption agencies that receive state funding the right to discriminate against gay couples based on the agency's "sincerely held religious beliefs," and, activists fear, could allow for child welfare agencies to put kids in dangerous "ex-gay" programs.
Another bill that could be added as an amendment would subject transgender individuals to criminal charges if they don't use the "right" public restroom. Still another bill targeting transgender students would essentially put a bounty on their heads while forcing school districts to monitor bathrooms: As the bill is currently written, if a student can show that he or she experienced "mental anguish" upon seeing a transgender student in the bathroom, the school district must pay the student $2,000 in damages. Then there are two "religious liberty" constitutional amendments, and five differently-worded bills that would prevent enacting and enforcing local ordinances throughout the state banning discrimination against LGBT people.
Some of these bills, if they became law, would be unlikely to withstand court scrutiny, especially if the Supreme Court rules for marriage equality in June. But that's not the point. As Texas conservatives often have done with the passage of harsh anti-abortion laws, the effort is all about slowing progress by tying up the issue in the courts. It's similar to the tactic many Southern states employed during the segregation era as well. This is especially true of the bill that bans funds for marriage licenses. While the state's constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman would be overturned, the law banning funding for licenses would likely have to be taken back up through state and federal courts to overturn.
"Legislators are trying to enact laws that subvert the courts and lock in discrimination for as long as possible," Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network told me. "If they have their way, it might take months and even years to sort out. And if more litigation is necessary, it would impose real harm -- financial and otherwise -- on gay and lesbian families simply trying to exercise their constitutionally protected rights."
Weeks ago, business leaders and others waited until a "religious liberty" bill that passed in Indiana was signed by Governor Mike Pence before speaking out and successfully sending him (and governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, who signed a similar bill) into retreat. But in Texas, with its much more powerful conservative base, an all-out war against bigotry needs to begin right away.
Politicians like Gov. Cuomo of New York and Gov. Inslee of Washington, who banned travel to Indiana, should threaten such action against Texas now. Rock bands that dropped their tours to Indiana, and celebrities like Rihanna who blasted the state, need to do the same now with regard to Texas. Apple has a major center of operations in Austin, and has been expanding, just finishing construction of a $300 million campus that is hiring thousands more Texans in coming months and years. The company's openly gay CEO, Tim Cook, who's been outspoken on gay rights, should threaten to pull out of the state if any of these bills moves further and certainly if the governor signs them.
Other progressive, gay-supportive high-tech companies with a major presence in the state include Dell, IBM, and Advanced Micro Devices. All of them must put their money where their mouths are: either Texas legislators drop these bills now or they jeopardize further business and expansion in the state.
These bills must not be allowed to become law. What we have in Texas is a five-alarm fire ready to engulf its LGBT citizens and threaten their rights for years to come. There's no time to wait.
For almost two weeks a boycott has been in full force against two gay hoteliers, Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass, who hosted anti-gay U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), now running for the 2016 GOP nomination for the presidency, at their Central Park South apartment. One of them boasted about it on Facebook a couple of days later, seemingly oblivious to the backlash he'd face. In a matter of days, Cruz, one of the most vocally anti-gay members of the U.S. Senate, introduced two bills aimed at blunting same-sex marriage, including a constitutional amendment. Organizations such as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the New York City Gay Men's Chorus have canceled fundraisers at the men's hotel, Out NYC, and the Fire Island Property Owners Association is under pressure to take a stand against the men, who own businesses in the Fire Island Pines, including a nightclub, bars and a hotel.
The most telling thing that Reisner said at the outset, quoted by The New York Times in response to the backlash, perhaps hoping the entire affair would blow over, was that marriage equality is "done -- it's just going to happen," as if it doesn't matter anymore and the men could pursue support of Cruz on other issues upon which they agree, such as his right-wing policies toward Israel. As the uproar grew, the men released a statement, changing course, saying that the evening provided "the opportunity to have a candid conversation with Senator Ted Cruz on why he should rethink his view on gay marriage," as if this was all about reaching out to the other side. When that didn't quell the outrage, and with a protest by LGBT activists soon to happen in front of their hotel on 42nd Street last week, the men offered a full-blown but insincere apology that was all about trying to save their businesses, with Reisner declaring he was "shaken to the bone." Indeed.
Reisner's first words revealed his true belief, and they've been echoed by some gay activists and some gay pundits in the media in recent days. Jamie Kirchick of The Daily Beast called those who support the boycott "illiberal" for enforcing "groupthink" and criticized Reisner and Weiderpass for apologizing. And he used Reisner's same initial logic as the excuse for hosting Cruz: "Gays have won the cultural argument and are likely about to win the legal argument definitively this summer, when the Supreme Court is expected to find in favor of a national right to same-sex marriage."
This is what I call, in the first chapter of my new book, "victory blindness," and many LGBT people, including even many activists, often succumb to it in this heady time of big wins. In fact, every one of us can and does succumb at various moments, wanting to only see the victories and not face the deeply embedded homophobia and transphobia still pervading our culture, and slough off the decades-old political movement still organizing against us and still quite determined. After all these years of callous indifference and outright hatred, it's easy to become spellbound by the wins, telling ourselves a bedtime story about how we've reached the promised land.
But Ted Cruz and other anti-gay conservatives are fighting us at every turn to keep us from getting full civil rights, and every other announced or would-be GOP presidential contender publicly supports the effort. There are no federal protections for LGBT people, as we see stories every day of people thrown out of restaurants, shops, and taxis, or fired from their jobs, simply for being gay or transgender. And our enemies are now on a "religious freedom" crusade, casting themselves as victims, intent on pushing bills to create exemptions to any laws that do ban discrimination. Just looking at Texas, Cruz's home state, there are more than 20 anti-gay bills that conservatives are intent on getting out of committees in the legislature in the next three weeks. The goal is to try out many differently worded bills, hoping some will stick and get support from the larger public.
The most pernicious thing about victory blindness is that it inspires a change in tactic. We hear calls that we should be "magnanimous" in our wins, and that full equality is "inevitable." We're told to change our "tone" and be gracious. New York Times columnist David Brooks scolded us to do just that back during the Indiana debacle a few weeks ago. And gay writer Andrew Sullivan and even some progressive gay activists did the same last year when anti-gay Brendan Eich resigned from Mozilla, developer of the Firefox Web browser, under pressure because he refused to disavow his donations to the Prop 8 campaign and even to virulently anti-gay Pat Buchanan. That criticism was launched against LGBT activists even though not one LGBT group or prominent individual had actually called for Eich to resign; the pressure came mostly from other, gay-friendly companies with which Mozilla does business, and from developers who work with the company. Nonetheless, Sullivan helped the right wing whip up a campaign against what Newt Gingrich called "the new fascism."
And now still others succumbing to victory blindness are doing the same thing again. In the Washington Blade Mark Lee chastised activists for "attempting to outlaw political opinion," with the headline of his opinion piece charging that many of us are really "not ready to win," because we should be embracing those who would reach out and work with Ted Cruz and should be fostering "an appropriate sense of communal celebration and circumspect congeniality."
But that is the fallacy that victory blindness promotes. It makes people believe the best strategy moving forward is to be nice and respectful -- just when we actually need to be as confrontational as ever. And that allows the backlash to organize, giving it a space to grow, allowing our enemies to use some of us as cover. This has happened to other movements, and it will happen to us if we allow it to happen. A week before the Ted Cruz event, Weiderpass organized a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), another vocal anti-gay Republican. As long as people like Johnson and Cruz are working against LGBT equality, none of us should be giving them any cover, let alone raising money for them. We surely don't have the luxury to join them on other issues with which some of us may agree, not when they're trying to make us second-class citizens.
And that's why the boycott against the hoteliers is so important and really is a watershed moment. We've got to make it clear to the enemies of equality that we are a force with increasing public support, moving full speed ahead and accepting nothing less than equality. We've demanded and received support from major corporations, who've put pressure on politicians to refrain from an anti-gay agenda. There thus can be no double standards. Now we must send a message to those among our own -- particularly those of enormous privilege -- who've succumbed to victory blindness and let them know that they too cannot support our enemies. No abject apology can undo the message that Reisner and Weiderpass have telegraphed to anti-LGBT forces in the GOP. And we have to make sure no one does it again. This is not the time for any of us to pull back.
Some in the media have portrayed the Supreme Court justices' questions in Tuesday's historic marriage equality oral arguments -- particularly those by conservative justices talking about ancient Greece and the "millennia" -- as completely out of touch. That may be so when it comes to actual history, but sitting inside the court during arguments in Obergefell vs. Hodges on Tuesday as a protestor screamed out, "If you support gay marriage, you will burn in Hell!" I couldn't help but think that the court, judging by the questions posed and predictions based on 2013's Windsor decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, actually represents where the American people are on marriage equality.
Justice Scalia, after the heckler was carted out, broke the room's silence, quipping, "It was rather refreshing, actually." I doubt he'd have made a similar wisecrack had the protestor been pro-gay and called marriage equality opponents "haters." And it's likely that Justices Thomas and Alito agreed with the basic sentiments Scalia seemed to be expressing -- a sense of pride, even, that passionate religious opposition to same-sex marriage rang out loudly, at the same time that conservatives across the country continue to craft "religious freedom" laws to blunt LGBT equality in the states.
A majority of the country, we're told by the polls, favors marriage equality. In some recent polls it's a bare majority, while in a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll it reached a high of 61 percent. That majority was well-represented, in roughly those percentages, by the court's four liberals and by Justice Kennedy, who might represent the softer support in that majority. The liberals on the court, like many Americans who've come to support marriage equality, were not only much more well-informed on the issue than during the Windsor arguments in 2013, but much more forceful in their adversarial questioning.
Justices Kagan, Sotomayor and Breyer aggressively questioned John Bursch, special assistant attorney general for Michigan, arguing on behalf of the opponents of marriage equality. The questions and statements were relentless, and they debunked his weak argument that marriage is for the sole purpose of procreation, and therefore should be restricted to heterosexuals. Justice Scalia tried to throw him a lifeline, reminding him that his case didn't rest on procreation alone, but it didn't work. Joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kennedy, Bursch's arguments were completely slayed by the liberals on the court in the end.
Even as polls show a majority agree with the sentiments these pro-equality justices expressed, the roughly 35-to-40-something percent of Americans opposed to marriage equality seem to be very opposed, at least from what we see happening in the country. In that recent Washington Post poll that shows record high support overall for marriage equality, six in 10 Republicans are opposed -- surely a reason why Republican would-be and announced presidential candidates still remain opposed to gay marriage -- and among "conservative" Republicans, the same poll showed 71 percent opposed.
They, too, were well represented among the justices on Tuesday. While Thomas stayed silent as usual, it's fair to say from past decisions that he's in the camp of Scalia and Alito, who, like many in the 40-something percent minority, focused over and over again on how marriage has supposedly been defined as between a man and a woman for "millennia" -- again, a completely inaccurate read of history, but one with which many Americans agree. Justice Roberts joined in on this, stating that every definition of marriage he's seen defines it as between a man and a woman, as did Justice Kennedy, perhaps making some equality supporters nervous when he made the "millennia" claim too. Even liberal Justice Breyer challenged attorney Mary Bonauto, who argued on behalf of the gay and lesbian couples seeking to marry, by claiming marriage has supposedly been defined as between a man and a woman for "thousands" of years.
While in the case of Breyer, who later pummeled Bursch, this might have been a devil's advocate question to elicit an articulate answer from Bonauto, for Kennedy it seemed to be an expression of his discomfort with moving too fast, even though, by virtue of his history of rulings, he supports gay rights. He perhaps could be viewed as representing that mushier middle who support gay marriage, but still have some concerns about how far equality should go and how fast. An Associated Press poll released yesterday shows that while a majority of Americans believes gays shouldn't be discriminated against generally (and supports marriage equality), a majority believes wedding-related businesses shouldn't have to serve gay couples (52 percent, down slightly from a prior poll of a few months ago which showed 57 percent shared this opinion.)
The Supreme Court's ruling in Loving vs. Virginia in 1967, was a 9-0 decision, striking down bans on interracial marriage, and helping to rapidly shift public opinion. No one is expecting anything close to that in this case. Most legal experts see the 5-4 split we saw in Windsor in favor of marriage equality, though Justice Roberts could surprise and make it 6-3, and, whether he joins or not, the decision might be on narrow grounds and have few broad implications for gay rights beyond marriage. Either way, what the justices do by and large represents where the American people are on the issue and how, though a majority favors equality, the minority is substantial and deep-seated in its beliefs -- and encompasses entire parts of the country throughout the Deep South, where conservatives are busy promoting dozens of laws to blunt marriage equality. There will be an enormous amount of work for LGBT activists to do, and many more battles ahead, including those back at the Supreme Court.
In The American People, Kramer describes George Washington as a man who had sex with men -- a “big queen,” he said in an interview -- and writes the same of Alexander Hamilton, who “was in love with George,” Ben Franklin, Andrew Jackson, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and “the most powerful gay man” in American history, J. Edgar Hoover. Historic Jamestown was a hotbed of gay sex, Kramer writes, partly because the settlement for a long time only included men. And not only did Abraham Lincoln have intimate affairs with men – a thesis that was seen as far-fetched a number of years ago, but which more historians now support – but, Kramer writes, Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth was queer, too, and Joshua Speed, thought to be Lincoln’s lover, was a “hustler” as well as a “gift” from Booth.
But it’s all much more complicated than that, detailed in over 700 pages (and Volume 2 is on the way next year). In an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress Kramer talked about his version of history, and again criticized his long-time friend, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, for not queering Lincoln in the Steven Spielberg 2012 film, "Lincoln," for which he wrote the screenplay.
“We were very close friends,” Kramer said of Kushner. “We speak to each other again, but he was very mad with me that I publicized the issue. I really thought that he had a responsibility as a gay artist to indicate that about Lincoln, that there was enough known. I put him in touch with all kinds of academic people who support that there was enough to indicate” that Lincoln was involved with men.
“I’m not asking for a love scene in the movie,” Kramer said, “but just some touch that would indicate that it was there. And for all I know Spielberg was not in favor of what? I don’t know. But I just...I lost a little respect for Tony, because I think a gay artist has a gay responsibility. There, I said it.”
Kramer also talked about what he sees in studying history that many historians didn’t see with regard to who was queer.
“In the case of Washington, he was a big queen, basically,” Kramer said. “He decorated everything. He designed all the uniforms, the buttons. The correspondence exists with all the dealers he dealt with in England to make everything. And then there was a man called Baron von Steuben, who was German, who designed all the maneuvers for all the troops of all the great armies in Europe. And he kept getting thrown out after he made the armies real – like Rockettes [laughs]. He got kicked out and he came to George. And he and George hit it off like nobody’s business.”
“George put him to work right away and they designed all these maneuvers and it was like putting on show,” Kramer said. “That’s for starters. And there’s no question, that Alex [Alexander Hamilton], really-- whether it was a father/son thing -- that Alex was very much in love with him. And Alex Hamilton was very handsome. And George was much older. And that’s been written about. There was a mutual attraction between them…Hamilton also had a young lover, a fellow officer, John Laurens is his name. There were letters between the two. Even the [Ron] Churnow book mentions that.”
In the past two weeks, Indiana has become ground zero in the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights following the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But while a recent Atlantic article called it "irrational" for the equality conversation to be housed in a state where same-sex marriage has been legalized, HuffPost Gay Voices Editor-at-Large Michelangelo Signorile completely disagrees.
While there are still 13 states that ban same-sex marriage, Signorile was "really baffled" by that Atlantic piece for presuming "that marriage equality is the be all and end all for LGBT rights." While marriage equality is a "great thing" for couples, he said, they're still vulnerable to discrimination in Indiana without workforce protection.
"If those couples don’t have protections, they can be fired for getting married once it becomes public and there’s a public record that they are married," Signorile said. "They can literally be fired if there’s no law protecting them from being fired."
But there's also a "larger fight" beyond same-sex marriage for LGBT people who aren't married, and Signorile explained that to now ignore Indiana in the fight for equality would be to also disregard the state's discriminatory impetus for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
"What [Indiana was] trying to do here were create the exemptions for what they see is the future battle to get those rights," Signorile said. "They were trying to build in the exemptions that would allow them to continue to discriminate once we do get a bill passed to protect people."
"She's a prominent politician, she's a prominent individual," Signorile told HuffPost Live host Alex Berg this week. "She should be out front on [LGBT] issues. We need a full civil rights bill at the federal level...she should be not just on board with that, she should be leading and talking about that and championing that."
Signorile, who is also the editor-at-large of HuffPost Gay Voices, also said he was skeptical of what he described as a "blind following" and "adoration" of Clinton among many LGBT leaders.
"C'mon, she's a politician," he noted. "We need things, let's push her."
The queer rights movement has come a long way over the past 50 years and has seen an especially mind-blowing array of triumphs secured in just the last five years. From marriage equality sweeping much of the United States to the transgender community gaining traction, momentum and unprecedented visibility, today the dream of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is closer to becoming a reality than ever before.
But before you break out the champagne and start drafting an invite list for a celebratory party, there's some bad news: we've still got a long way to go before queer people attain all of the rights that non-queer people have. And, what's more, we have a lot more work left to do in terms of changing the way that non-queer people think about the lives and experiences of queer people on the most fundamental of levels.
HuffPost Gay Voices Editor-at-Large Michelangelo Signorile is on the front line of that war -- and has been for over two decades. His latest book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, available in stores and online today, is an in-depth look at where the queer rights movement has been, where it's going and serves as a reminder and warning that no one should be declaring "mission accomplished" just yet.
I recently chatted with my colleague Mike about his new book including everything from how "the closet" has changed over the years to his vision for our future and how we can -- hopefully -- one day achieve victory.
Noah Michelson: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you got the idea for the book? Is there a specific moment you can point to when you thought "OK, it's time to look into this more closely"?
Michelangelo Signorile: The book came together over a period of several years. It actually crystalized as an idea as far back as 2009, when facts on the ground, in terms of how people experienced homophobia and transphobia, were never quite matching the celebrations in the media of the victories, which then were still baby steps compared to now. It's crazy but the victories kept changing, growing, sometimes dramatically, as did the facts on the ground. But what remained constant was that there was always a disconnect between the two, in terms of what I would see or hear from my radio listeners and people online out across the country, and how the wins were celebrated in the media or among activists. And I felt it was something very troubling that needed to be fleshed out and discussed.
The first chapter is entitled "Victory Blindness." What exactly does that mean and how is it affecting the movement?
Victory blindness is something we all succumb to at times. It's a term I use to describe the phenomenon in which we focus on the wins, so starved for validation, that we allow them to blind us to the continued bigotry we face. We become enthralled, intoxicated -- spellbound by even a little bit. The effect is that it obscures our reality -- literally our vision -- and it makes us lose our gumption, not wanting to rock the boat, fearful that we'll lose what we've gained and not get what little bit we think we need, when in fact we need a lot and we should be strong and confident knowing our allies will stay with us. In that chapter I use a vivid example, in a section titled "A Story of Victory Blindness," in which too many activists, claiming that we'd gotten a lot and had a banner couple of years, asked us to accept a situation that validated bigotry and urged us to be "magnanimous," fearful that the right would portray us as going too far -- but in fact this only allowed the backlash to grow because we seemed disjointed and that made us seem weak. We were and are still hated and despised by many -- despite having so many allies now -- and we have no rights in most states nor federal protections. So this is victory blindness, and it can have the terrible effect of actually allowing the backlash to grow because it telegraphs that we will back down.
The part of the second chapter, entitled "We Don't Serve Fags Here," that intrigued me the most is your discussion of the closet and how, even in 2015, it is such an enduring and dangerous phenomenon. How has the closet changed since you began writing about it and what do you think needs to happen for it to vanish altogether -- or is that even possible?
So many people clearly have come out in the past 25 years, since I wrote my first book, Queer in America, and people are coming out at much younger ages. And certainly many transgender people are coming to terms with their gender identity at younger ages. Whether transgender, gay, bisexual or lesbian, people are seeing so many people in public life who are out and it's influencing them and that's great. Rosie O'Donnell and I talked about that in our Town Hall at SiriusXM about the book. She said she was influenced by Ellen DeGeneres, and then she obviously further influenced so many to come out. So that's all good.
But we still see the closet strictly enforced among public figures. We still see the media not going there in discussing public figures -- even those in the glass closet -- sending the message that it's still shameful. We still see Hollywood enforcing the closet. And, in my research for It's Not Over, I found that even as things had changed, many many more average LGB people than we think are still deeply closeted, living tormented lives, married to people of the opposite gender when they're not bi, just to pass as straight, particularly in conservative parts of country. For example, upwards of 80 percent of gay men in Mississippi, according to some of this interesting research, using fascinating data sets, are closeted, not publicly acknowledging they are gay. Again, victory blindness obscures these people's hardships. I think it is possible to vanquish the closet but it's going to take enormous work. We have to get to a place where people do not go in the closet -- where they're raised as queer, and that will only happen when we revolutionize education and teach about sexual orientation and gender identity in school, k-12. It's just starting in California. We need to take it to all 50 states -- and I discuss this a lot in the book. And because it will take a while that's another reason why it's far from over.
We've seen many incredible victories for the movement in recent years -- some of them unfathomable even five years ago -- and yet, the more ground we gain, the more pushback we're seeing -- from the number of reported hate-based attacks in the United States increasing to this frightening new crop of "religious freedom" bills aimed at allowing discrimination against queer people. Some have written off this ramping up of anti-queer sentiment as the last gasp of a soon defeated right-wing coalition. How do you feel about that assertion and what's the danger in framing these events in this way?
You know, everything is the last gasp of something -- until people get their breath again. We thought we saw the last gasp of racism 50 years ago. Then we thought we saw it over and over again, including when President Obama was elected, right? We were "post-racial" and all this. Obviously it wasn't true. The enemies of LGBT equality, similarly, as they have done with women, will keep working at finding ways to try to thwart us. They will send up trial balloons that dismally fail, or only work for a time. Some of us, succumbing to victory blindness, will think, "Aha! We've finally stumped them!" And then they'll be back. This is ingrained in our culture, this homophobia, this transphobia. It's passed down. Everyone has it -- and I have a lot of research in the book on implicit bias, and it defies all the breathless polls we see -- including those of us who are queer. Our opponents exploit that. We can never underestimate that. And we have only to look at the other movements -- the women's movement, the civil rights movement, whose shoulders we stand upon, to see that.
Tell me about "covering." What is it and why can it be harmful?
I'm indebted -- we all are -- to Kenji Yoshino, the esteemed law professor at New York University who wrote the book Covering, in 2006, so ahead of its time. i've tried in It's Not Over to do what he asked us all to do in that book: to popularize the word "covering" and make it as commonplace as the word "closet." Covering is when members of marginalized groups attain certain rights and then think that the best strategy is to try to fit in -- not to focus on difference. He writes about it from the perspective of race, as an Asian American, as well as from the perspective of being gay. For queer people, covering is when we tone down or assimilate in, or try to show cultural tastes that are more in line with the mainstream, and downplay our own culture. And certainly, refraining from showing same-sex affection or sexuality is covering. And covering actually isn't all bad. Yoshino talks about how it can help win some rights. But we've now reached its limit. To break through the deeply ingrained homophobia, that implicit bias which I spoke to a lot of researchers about we have to show who we are, fully desensitize people and focus on that difference and that diversity. Covering is happening not just in our own lives, with each of us individually, but throughout popular culture, when culture makers cover us -- sanitize us -- in depictions on TV and film, and in the media. We need to break through it all.
Bullying has gone from being a buzz word to almost being a cliche -- even the Real Housewives trot out that term to talk about how they treat each other. In some ways it feels like we're not taking it seriously because it's been talked about so much in the past several years. The problem is, even though there's been a sharp increase in visiblity around the idea of bullying, the problem is far from being solved. What are your thoughts on how bullying is framed today and what do you think the solution is?
It's true that bullying has become a kind of catch-all for so many things. I think in terms of definition we need to go back to basics. I interviewed Danah Boyd, a researcher who has done a lot work with teens, surveying and interviewing them, and looking at all the data on bullying. And what she first was surprised about is that, for all the stories of cyberbullying -- and it is a very real problem -- kids still say that most bullying happens to them at school. And they also say that the Internet, rather than being, as their parents believe, an extension of that bullying, is often a refuge from it, or a self-empowerment tool, where they can connect with people like themselves from far and wide. So in my chapter on bullying I talk about going back to basics of self-empowerment and turning back to the women's movement of the '80s, too, and the lesbian feminists who used self-defense to empower themselves, not just to beat off attackers physically but to empower themselves emotionally and build enormous confidence within a brutal world. It's something we can really do now for a lot of young people, with so many more parents who are accepting and supporting their kids as gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender. I think self-defense, self-empowerment, building that confidence for the future, has been missing in our tool-kit. We need to pressure schools, we need to change administrations, we need to pass laws and we need to let kids know their lives will be better in the future when they are adults. But we also need to empower kids, in the here and now, to defend themselves in every way when we can and to build that confidence.
I love the chapter entitled "Not Up For Debate," which is about abandoning the idea that the media needs to cover both sides of these issues. When The Huffington Post came out in support of marriage equality during the Supreme Court hearings in 2013, the number one question I was asked by other news outlets was "Do you think you can stay objective if you're saying that you support marriage equality?" Why do you think it's important for the media to stop trying to stay neutral on these issues? What do you say to those who claim that abandoning that neutrality means stories can't be accurate or fair?
This really is a two-pronged question -- one about journalism and one about bigotry. Let's start with journalism. I've long maintained that "objectivity" and "neutrality" are a bit silly to strive for because it's really impossible, particularly when you as the journalist are a member of a marginalized group and other people have made up the rules of "objectivity." From the moment you decide something is a story you're making a value judgement. I'd rather see honesty, particularly about what is settled. And I am happy to see more of our media going in that direction, being more honest about what its values are -- while at the same time maintaining, or striving to maintain, fairness to opposing views.To me, objectivity is less important than being fair and striving to be fair. I always make sure to show the opposing view, and present it fairly, even if it's clear what my view is. But -- getting to the second part of the question, the homophobia, and transphobia, issue, the bigotry -- the opposing view is now completely debunked when it comes to a scientific point of view. There are no reputable scientists, medical associations, sexologists, etc., who see homosexuality, bisexuality or transgender identity as harmful -- and so all the media is left with to show an opposing view is bigotry, most often from religious conservatives. And they just do not have a place anymore -- and perhaps never should have -- in public policy debate. The media no longer bring white supremacists on to debate racial issues. It's time they stop bringing on anti-gay hate groups too. It's not about censorship -- and I'm not saying there shouldn't be debates about our issues -- but with these particular people, simply promoting bias, the debate must be over.
What kind of an effect do you think challenging the way that we, as a culture, think about masculinity will have on men -- both gay and straight -- as well as women and genderqueer people?
I get to all of that in the last chapter of It's Not Over, in discussing taking on professional male team sports and the masculinity it promotes. It is a masculinity that, by definition, is homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic. The chapter talks about the short term and what must be done in taking on the NFL and other leagues, but then, yes, it gets utopian in discussing the long term -- redefining masculinity, beginning in our schools. But I feel like, look at how far we've come and what we've accomplished -- there's so much more we can do. Let's think big. I think straight men, who often feel they have to measure up and compete -- which I think is often what leads to the bullying and homophobia -- will be just as liberated from confining gender norms as gay men, women and genderqueer people. And in that sense I think it takes us back to the roots of the queer movement, about not just "rights" but liberation of the entire society around these issues.
I was heartened to see that you aren't just raising issues or problems, you're also offering solutions. There's a powerful manifesto at the end of the book and this is not the first time you've written one. What goes into writing a manifesto and why is it crucial that our movement has one to guide us?
Writing a book is a weird thing. On the one hand, it's just a bunch of ideas, a bunch of writing, strung together -- or at least that's what you tell yourself, particularly at the beginning, to make it seem less daunting! But really, in the end, it's almost like an organic, living and breathing thing. It takes a reader on a journey, and as you're writing it, you're charting that journey -- and I had a talented editor, Ben Hyman, at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who helped create that, really worked with me on structure in a great way. So, as with Queer in America, that epilogue -- the manifesto -- didn't come together or know its shape until I was done writing the book. There was talk of including it, or what it would be, or maybe not even having it. But it's not until you get there, at the end of the book, that it comes together, or not. All the ideas that you laid out, in terms what you want people to see, and solutions and empowering things people can do, get boiled down, and now you can say it all with a certain authority because you've thought it through, and you know the readers will get the shorthand and immediately connect because they've read the book. And so, it literally just comes pouring out of you. My hope is that it gives people a guidepost, something to turn to, adding in their own personal adaptations of it. That, to me, is a successful manifesto. It makes people think, then apply it in a very personal way -- not just blindly following a command -- and take action on their own, with their own thoughts fused with it.
For years, the radical anti-gay movement has made a paranoid case that "the gay agenda" was an actual book published in 1990. That book was called After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s. It outlined a suggested plan for addressing America on LGBT issues. Much of its outlook was basic common sense and PR. It, in retrospect, looked directive since people with common sense actually acted accordingly in the years after it was published. They acted that way not because they read the book, or had even heard of it, but because, they too had common sense.
The idea that all LGBT people would have and follow a single manifesto, and that there was an actual "gay agenda" is of course, ridiculous.
Two books that have just been released could, together, be looked at as creating a sort of "biblical" arc to our movement. The first, a memoir by out former Congressman Barney Frank, plays like an "Old Testament." Frank deliciously charts his adventures from the closet to the center of the political stage. He tells the tale of LGBT people forging their way across the barren deserts of homophobia, and the political strategies needed to deal with good and bad kings of yore, otherwise known as Presidents.
Frank is candid, and self critical on each step. He details compromises and pragmatic realities. His account of life during the Clinton years is particularly fascinating. Frank describes Clinton not as an "enemy who held out false promise, but as a friend who tried to help us but failed." This description held particularly true not only with DOMA, a strategy conservatives used to trap Clinton ("Forcing Clinton to choose between signing or vetoing a bill against same-sex marriage was a delicious prospect."), but also with the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" debacle.
Frank's harrowing tale of DADT, is one of the hapless hero, who sets off an unfortunate chain of events by means of a well intentioned bungle, but then comes through to help save the day just in the nick of time in the end. It was he who came up with a compromise idea to allow LGBT service-members to serve, but confidentially. He stood by in horror as his idea was then bastardized by the administration with terms that not only did not improve the situation, but made it worse. Years later, he was again in the center as he helped force the hand of a Democratic Senate to pass DADT's repeal literally minutes before a Democratically controlled Congress would be gone for years to come.
Frank's book, and the "Old Testament" rendition of the LGBT movement ends just as the brink of the "messiah-ship" of marriage equality is about to descend and change the tone of activism as we knew it.
Enter Michelangelo Signorile. Almost on cue, Signorile picks up the charge. As the win of marriage equality descends, he is the voice of what is to come. He is the "New Testament" to Frank's "Old." Where Barney Frank was solely about political process, Signorile is the voice for grass roots activism.
The core of the Signorile message is clear and important, and blazened across the cover of the book: It's NOT Over. Just as the path of the Judeo/Christian movement did not end with the birth of its messiah in the Bible, so has the LGBT path not ended with the societal milestone of marriage equality.
In both cases, it is only the beginning.
Where Frank looked for legal and legislative victories, Signorile takes us further into a path towards winning the American psyche. He points out that positive opinion polls only tell a surface story. He cites psychological studies that show ingrained emotional homophobia has not eroded much at all. Just like racism, there is an intellectualism that has suppressed public displays, but the deeper problem still exists on a more secretive emotionally reactive level.
If conservatives thought some unread, unknown book of the 1990s held a movement changing agenda, their tongues should really wag now -- Signorile's book lays out an actual strategy.
We should listen to it.
He proposes a well researched outline of the forces LGBT will be facing. He describes the "religious freedom" strategy designed to chip away at LGBT gains and to increase marginalization. He points out the detriment of "victory blindness" which has already been voiced by celebrities like Madonna and Patricia Arquette, as well as media in general. He describes the danger of LGBT people ceasing to identity strongly with community and becoming invisible and less effective.
His prescription moving forward includes wider education on LGBT history and sociology, the breaking of glass ceilings, physical readiness against hate crimes and an assertiveness with the media that the "debate is over" -- there is not longer a need to present bigotry as a counter opinion to every story about LGBT justice.
Mostly, he tells us to stay vocal and visible.
(Exposing homophobia) is in fact what many LGBT activists and bloggers have been able to do in taking on bigotry, from as far back as the vibrant AIDS demonstrations of twenty-five years ago and up to the stories that viral today on the Internet...
Every chance we have to direct clicks and eyeballs to stories of LGBT discrimination and ugly incidents of rejection and bigotry is an opportunity to challenge the victory narrative, cut through victory blindness and lay the groundwork for the hard, necessary fights ahead.
(That means you'll be hearing more from me in the future.)
The Christian Bible ends with a cryptic, symbol-heavy vision of "end times." It describes the ultimate judgment day. Neither Frank nor Signorile take us there in their chronicles, but I believe we can write the LGBT "rapture" ourselves, without them.
It is a vision that has been inspired by a modern prophet, Martin Luther King Jr.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism [and homophobia] and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality...
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word... one day [we will] live in a nation where [we] will not be judged by the color of [our] skin, [our sexualities, our genders] but by the content of [our] characters.
The comedian and veteran talk show host, 53, sounded off on a variety of topics during the chat. She praised Signorile as "helpful and provocative" in her own public coming out journey, and also cited Ellen DeGeneres as a personal influence.
"I was so overwhelmed by the trajectory of what happened to her," she recalled. "It was terrifying to me to watch what happened to her, but it also was empowering and knocked the door down that I waltzed easily through."
"Not even lesbians would [cater their weddings with pizza]," O'Donnell quipped. "We might have a potluck, we might have bring-your-own chili, but that's only if financial situations are tough."
She had high praise for Lena Dunham, calling the "Girls" creator and star a "child of Gloria Steinem" when it came to women's rights.
O'Donnell and Signorile didn't mince words when it came to closeted politicians who vote against the interests of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
"Let's get those f**kers," she quipped.
The full interview, "SiruisXM’s Town Hall with Michelangelo Signorile," will debut April 13 on SiriusXM Progress channel 127. It will then air on SiriusXM OutQ channel 106 on April 16, as well as via satellite and through the SiriusXM Internet Radio App on smartphones and other connected devices.
It's been an extraordinary week for LGBT people in America, as we saw a battle play out in the media that made all of us who support equality -- lesbian, transgender, gay, bisexual, and straight -- feel proud. Major celebrities, media personalities, prominent politicians, and huge corporations -- even some on Fox News -- were standing up against bigots and speaking out for equality. It was exciting, even dazzling.
But the events also, once again, left some LGBT activists spellbound, claiming some sort of major victory because we'd done well in a media battle. And we did do well, and there's lots of praise to go around. Our movement fought back hard. But we need to keep things in perspective. It's true that, as with Arizona early last year, we were the ones, this time, who raised and framed the story first in the media, and framed it properly, before the extremists on the right could. Two conservative GOP governors were put on the spot, with big business as well as grassroots activists and average Americans all across the country putting on the pressure. GOP Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, an evangelical Christian and a true believer who perhaps lived in a bubble, was caught completely by surprise and found himself pulled apart by forces within the Republican Party.
Probably more than anything else, his catastrophic interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week, in which he wouldn't answer basic questions about how the "religious freedom" law he'd signed could be used to discriminate, turned the tide in the media debate. And then Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas was forced to send a similar bill back to his GOP-controlled legislature after the uproar, claiming that his son -- who'd written a heartfelt Facebook post coming out against the law -- had him reevaluating, as if he'd never spoken to his son before. Clearly, Hutchinson was scrambling, and the idea of turning to family and internal discussion was the least damaging way to make the argument to "family values" Christians, though surely they're still infuriated.
And that was all great. But in the end, the truth remains: Arkansas passed a draconian bill several weeks ago while the largest gay group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) -- and Walmart and much of the American media -- remained silent as many activists implored them to speak up. That bill prevented local ordinances protecting LGBT rights from being passed. It was worded in a way that legal experts believe could withstand court scrutiny, and the only way many activists believe LGBT people in Arkansas will attain any rights is through a statewide bill, which seems unlikely, or a federal law, which seems many years off.
Sure, Hutchinson was forced to retreat on a "religious freedom" bill, but that bill was actually completely unnecessary for any business in Arkansas to boot gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people out of the door -- because there are not, and can't be under the new law he signed in February, any local protections for LGBT people. In Indiana, the "religious freedom" bill, as a statewide bill, supersedes local anti-discrimination ordinances in Indianapolis and elsewhere, so in that state it does have a major impact. But in Arkansas, they'd already done away with the ability to pass local anti-bias laws, so the "religious freedom" bill was just a greedy bit of overkill on Hutchinson's part to pander to bigots.
Sure, it's nice to see that it blew up in his face. But let's please keep in mind that the facts on the ground do not change for LGBT people in Arkansas after the media spotlight moves on. And our groups and our allies were silent a few weeks ago for reasons we still don't know. Was it because HRC saw it as a loss and didn't want to be on the losing side? Was it Walmart flexing its muscle and keeping gay groups, whom it supports, including financially, quiet, because of some other business interests? Was it all bad strategy -- working behind the scenes, and ultimately having dismal failure? Or were those in the business and LGBT establishment asleep at the switch, which seems difficult to believe amid the social media outcry from activists imploring them to wake up?
Whatever the reason, we had a fearful, timid, silent approach at that time -- as opposed to the approach this week -- and we lost big. Had we put up a fierce fight and raised the alarms then, we might have seen the current week's debacle for the GOP play out at that time, and we might have stopped what was, in the end, the most harmful of all these bills from becoming law. And that media uproar, with people like Stephanopoulos and CNN's Chris Cuomo crushing religious-right figures, might then have stopped Indiana legislators dead in their tracks in passing that state's "religious freedom" bill -- or might have broken through Governor Pence's bubble and stopped him from signing it -- and likely would have stopped Hutchinson from going on to the "religious freedom" bill in Arkansas too.
Instead, a terrible bill became law in Arkansas. And a bill in Indiana got passed, which may or may not have an adequate fix (though even a mention of "sexual orientation" or "gender identity" in the amendment will infuriate our enemies). And it doesn't really matter what they do with Arkansas' "religious freedom" bill, as I've explained. So let's spare the celebrations even if they make the Arkansas bill mirror the federal Religious Restoration Freedom Act -- which is now itself something terrible, since it has been used to take away women's rights and was upheld in that effort in the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision. Meanwhile, we had GOP presidential candidates drawing the battle lines for 2016, immediately backing the "religious freedom" law in Indiana.
Months ago, after marriage equality began in Florida, when Jeb Bush said we should "respect" the law with regard to gay marriage but that we must also "safeguard religious liberty," HRC lauded him for the statement on gay marriage -- twice, including with a fawning front page Washington Post interview with HRC Vice President Fred Sainz, who talked of Jeb having been his neighbor -- without hitting him hard on the dog whistle to the right, allowing him to get away with the "religious liberty" language. Bush was among the first potential presidential contenders to support Governor Pence and Indiana's law. (HRC rightly slammed him, although that should have been done months ago.) And we have the evangelical right energized and ready to hold the GOP candidates to their positions, ensuring that gay bashing goes on into the 2016 race for the presidency.
Yeah, we won a major media battle and got amazing support. We should thank people like lesbian longtime journalist Kerry Eleveld and others for lighting a firecracker under HRC with much-needed, intense criticism in recent weeks for its lack of a strategy. It was wonderful, too, to see allies support us, exciting to behold. And hopefully we learned a lot about holding our enemies' -- and gay groups' -- feet to the fire. But in larger frame, LGBT citizens lost protection from discrimination. So, yes, be proud of our work this week. But there's so much more to do. Don't think our opponents aren't already regrouping and calibrating their next attack, moving on to other states. We cannot fool ourselves, dazzled by the events, into thinking that because we won a media battle, we have won the war.
The subsequent program, “SiruisXM’s Town Hall with Michelangelo Signorile,” will debut April 13 on SiriusXM Progress channel 127. It will then air on SiriusXM OutQ channel 106 on April 16, as well as via satellite and through the SiriusXM Internet Radio App on smartphones and other connected devices.
A journalist, author and prominent LGBT rights activist, Signorile has written for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine and Salon in addition to his work with HuffPost Gay Voices. The Michelangelo Signorile Show broadcasts on SiriusXM Progress 127 on weekdays, from 3-6 p.m.
A Time article about the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) three weeks ago offered the observation that the annual event of conservative activists was "mostly silent" on the issue of gay marriage, discussion of which was "brief or nonexistent." From the main stage Jeb Bush confirmed he'd not changed his mind, and still supported "traditional marriage," but, according to Time, he "curtly" moved on. Senator Ted Cruz criticized judges' rulings and said that marriage laws should be left to the states, Time reported, but it was a "brief response" to a question by Fox News host Sean Hannity.
Much of the media followed a similar narrative, and it sometimes had the misleading effect of making it seem as if attacks on LGBT rights and even gay marriage had been purged from the event. And as coverage of CPAC goes, so goes much of the coverage of the conservative movement and the Republican Party.
But I saw a much different CPAC. The event -- and much of the conservative movement -- has moved further into a dangerous phase, in which vilification of LGBT people is done by portraying Christians as victims of the aggressive homosexual agenda. And that, of course, is the crux of the argument promoting pernicious "religious liberty" bills in states across the country that target LGBT people. It was disappointing that much of the media didn't pick up on this at CPAC. And that's a warning that we should stop using discussion of same-sex marriage as the yardstick to measure whether people are "pro-gay," "anti-gay," or indifferent, and instruct the media to do the same. The Supreme Court will likely end the same-sex marriage issue by June, but as 90-year-old Phyllis Schlafly told me at CPAC, the Christian right crusade will hardly end.
From the main stage, where Brent Bozell lamented that there's only "one morally permissible position on gay rights," to the various panels, participants cast themselves as under assault. On a panel about the future of marriage that was ostensibly about single motherhood and the "absence" of fathers, there was despair about the supposed influence of gays. Heather Mac Donald of the conservative Manhattan Institute -- who has written about gay marriage's "unintended consequences" -- lamented that though she understands "the impulse of gays to get married," it's "going to be the final nail in coffin" with regard to talking about the importance of fathers, because that will be seen as "dissing the lesbian couples."
On Saturday, in the main ballroom, conservative columnist Cal Thomas -- who later told me in an interview that gay marriage was a sign of the "end times" -- led a panel discussion on threats to "religious freedom" that included Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. When Thomas asked, "How pervasive is the attack on religious liberty?" Perkins, referring to businesses fined for turning away gay couples, bellowed about, "photographers, wedding cake makers, and florists who are losing their businesses because they refuse to leave their faith at home."
"Our religious freedom does not stop at the door of the church or our home," Perkins said. "We should be able to take it into the workplace and everywhere we go."
FRC has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for putting out horrendous lies about gay people and making odious attacks. But the most bombastic, sensational comments on the panel came not from Perkins or Thomas, but from radio host Dana Loesch. This is significant because the media could, in their new narrative, dismiss Thomas as a somewhat kooky emblem of the old guard, and try to wave off Perkins as the waning power broker whose might in the movement is diminishing. But Loesch is 36, came up through the Tea Party as an organizer, and made her way into the mainstream as a caustic commentator on CNN, and even co-hosted The View once. She says she's heard on 67 radio stations, in addition to her other media outlets, and clearly represents a younger voice of the conservative movement.
"Work is a ministry," she ranted, whirling herself into a frenzy. "Christians view what they do Monday through Friday as a ministry. You don't just hang up your faith."
Loesch then hit on what we should take as a cautionary note when she talked about the callers to her radio show, saying that even many of those who are not religious agree with her. As a radio host myself, I believe her. By the views of my own callers, I know that the public is still very misinformed -- even among those who identify as "pro-gay" or who support gay marriage -- and many believe there is something different about a baker choosing to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple. A recent Associated Press poll backed this up, in which a plurality of those polled favored marriage equality while 57 percent believed a baker or florist should be allowed to refuse service to gays for religious reasons. Loesch clearly knows what could be a new wedge, and where the battle lines on LGBT issues will be drawn moving forward.
"One of the things I find incredibly striking is that -- I'm a Christian and I'm a total partisan hack -- but I have a lot of people who call in and they understand," she said.
If not religious liberty, then what? This is one variable in a multi-faceted attempt for the government to grab individual rights...You don't have to be a Christian to be affected by religious liberty...They say, 'If I'm not taking up your losing rights, well, then what will happen to me when the day comes and someone comes to me? What if you're stoned for walking out in the street for being gay?'
And with that statement she preposterously, frighteningly attempted to turn the "religious liberty" argument into one that is actually defending gays. Yet still, she painted gays as the aggressors, and Christians as the victims.
"I feel like it's time to make Christians a protected class," she said to great applause, seeming not to know or care that religion -- yes, including Christianity -- is already a protected class under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. "We need to have a discussion about making Christians a protected class, and that seems to be the direction it's going."
Anyone who didn't see the homophobia at CPAC -- and the organizing around it that still animates much of the conservative movement, and is bowed to by the GOP -- must have been wearing blinders.
Gay rights are way more advanced than women's rights. People are a lot more open-minded to the gay community than they are to women, period. It's moved along for the gay community, for the African-American community, but women are still just trading on their ass. To me, the last great frontier is women.
And this is where, on LGBT rights, Madonna has succumbed to what I call "victory blindness" (which is title of the first chapter of my soon-to-be-released book). She and many others are intoxicated by the heady whirl of victory -- which the media magnifies in an extraordinary way -- and appear to believe, living within this seductive moment of advances for LGBT rights, that we've "arrived" and the rest of it is inevitable.
Madonna is absolutely right about women and the backlash to their equality. But it is precisely because of that backlash and what it teaches us that she is absolutely wrong about LGBT equality. Women's equality stalled, experiencing a backlash that took feminists by surprise in the '80s, and it's a backlash that they are battling right up until this day. But only in hindsight can the backlash be seen.
In the moment, during the heyday of the '70s and federal legislation and Supreme Court rulings upholding women's autonomy, many women thought full equality was inevitable, exactly like many LGBT activists, progressives, some in the media -- and Madonna -- seem to think today about LGBT equality. Many feminists celebrated and talked of how they'd "advanced." Many women stopped paying attention, became apathetic, thinking the fight was won, while the enemies of women's equality were working fiercely to roll things back.
Now, I could get into the "contest" with Madonna and point out that women are actually included in the 1964 Civil Rights Act while gays are not, which means it's illegal to discriminate against women in housing, employment and public accommodation but perfectly legal to do so in the 29 states that don't have such protections for gays. And I could point out that there are women who are leading nations, and it's quite likely that a woman could be the next president of the United States, while there is currently no openly gay leader of any major nation, and there is only one U.S. senator who is openly gay or lesbian. I could point out that only one CEO of a Fortune 500 company -- Tim Cook at Apple -- is openly gay, while there are over 25 women running such companies. And for transgender people there's even far more invisibility.
But this is not a contest, for heaven's sake. The reason it feels in the moment that gays are "winning" is simply that we have made some important victories in this time frame. But zoom out and you will see the backlash building -- laws being passed to stop anti-discrimination ordinances, "religious liberty" bills advancing -- just as it built against other groups. In the moment, the passage of the Civil Rights Act and later the Voting Rights Act surely made many African Americans believe they too had "arrived." And here they are, decades later, seeing attacks on affirmative action, voting rights stripped away, voter suppression laws passed and Ferguson and far too many incidents like it occurring all the time.
The problem is that the victories -- as significant as they are -- often feed a desperate hunger for validation by marginalized groups that have been starved for so long, leaving many of us spellbound. We've been battered and bruised for so long that we want so much to believe it's nearly done. But this was the mistake women made -- something Madonna alludes to, perhaps without realizing it -- and it's the mistake she and so many others are making now on LGBT rights.
I'm not talking solely or even necessarily about abortion either, nor comparing it to gay marriage, something many people say is a flawed comparison. We could argue that one, but really it's not even necessary. We need only to look at a whole host of other issues, from pay equity for women to the persistence of rape culture -- and the forces stopping legislation to battle both -- and then a whole host of LGBT rights far beyond marriage equality, from discrimination in public accommodations to exemptions for people who hate because their religion tells them to do so.
If we don't learn the lessons from the past, victory blindness too will allow the enemies of LGBT equality to do what they've done to successes not only for women but for people of color and so many other groups. Madonna doesn't mean to do it, but her words serve to divide us when she could be underscoring how all of us who are marginalized are experiencing backlash by an angry, irrationally fearful force among the American people -- a force fueled by bigotry and which has helped consolidate power among the few for a long time.
Our enemies are feeling threatened and getting desperate as we all march forward. None of us -- women, LGBT people, people of color -- has the luxury to become complacent. Victory blindness is enormously seductive and very dangerous. And we've got to help Madonna and a great many others overcome it now.
Long-time conservative columnist Cal Thomas writes a syndicated column for Tribune Media, which appears in respected newspapers across the country, from the Baltimore Sun to Newsday, offering conservative positions on everything from immigration to Iran’s nuclear program. He also co-writes a separate column for USA Today. The subtitle of his new book, ‘What Works?” -- for which Sean Hannity wrote the foreward -- promises “common sense solutions for a stronger America.”
Thomas also believes that gay marriage is a sign of the “end times." For that reason he predicts that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of marriage equality and that there’s not much he can do about it because “everything is right on schedule.”
“I think it’s going to go 5-4 or even 6-3 in favor of same-sex marriage. All of these things are not the cause of our decadence, they’re a reflection of it,” he told me in an interview for SiriusXM Progress at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland on Saturday. He’d just moderated a panel that included right-wing radio host Dana Loesch and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and focused on what Christian conservatives view as a threat to “religious freedom,” mostly from the LGBT rights movement.
“If you read the Scriptures, as I do, in both testaments all of these things are forecast in prophesies, in the book of Daniel and what Jesus and Paul said, so I'm not worried about it,” Thomas continued, describing his surprising reaction to the Supreme Court possibly ruling in favor of marriage equality. “I say everything is right on schedule. I’m trying to shore up my own family first and, hopefully, that will be an example to other people… If you look at not only what Jesus said, but Paul the Apostle, about what things would be like in the end times, people will be lovers of lies rather than the truth. They will elevate things that are called abomination in scripture to normality… All of the prophesies up to the final ones have come true. And that’s why I say that everything is right on schedule.”