In what is being treated like the most important development in Gay Rights in the past quarter-century, it has been discovered recently that the Boy Scouts of America have a policy that bans openly gay scouts. There have been grown adult men dressed in Boy Scout uniforms soaking up attention (and press and camera time, of course) delivering petitions demanding that the BSA change this egregious policy and breathless stories of gays and lesbians discriminated against by the Boy Scouts have dominated gay press coverage for at least the past few weeks.
Within the past week, all of this energy has culminated in the relentless pressure being put on musicians Train and Carly Rae Jepsen by gay bloggers, journalists, and LGBT rights organizations to pull out of their performance duties at the annual Boy Scout's Jamboree, a concert in which scouts and their families are invited to celebrate being a part of the BSA.
Here is why every single person who did so is wrong.
Let me begin by saying that of course the policy that bans gays and gay scout masters is wrong. Any kind of discrimination is wrong, period. That is not the issue here. The issue is how we as a community respond when we see acts of homophobia. In our GLAAD/Queerty/Towleroad/gay blog and media culture, acts of individual homophobia perpetuated by those in the public eye follow a now familiar trajectory:
Celebrity or public figure X says or tweets a homophobic statement/slur, the gay blog/twittersphere makes it a story, GLAAD puts out a public statement condemning the homophobic statement/slur, celebrity/public figure X releases or tweets a carefully worded public statement of apology, and depending on how egregious the homophobic statement/slur is, said celebrity/public figure spends a media approved day of service to some LGBT organization. Rinse, lather, repeat.
I can almost guarantee that some version of this will happen within the next 60 days.
The problem is that you cannot deal with a large organization with deep pockets in the same way you deal with some boneheaded jock/rapper/comedian who has no Twitter self-control, and putting pressure on the hired help of said organization (i.e. Train and Carly Rae Jepsen) not to do their duties for that organization is an insignificant, shallow win that speaks more to the influence the LGBT community has as a marketing demographic than to any real policy changing power of the community or these organizations. Train pulled out of the concert rather early, but the pressure put on Carly Rae Jepsen went on for a bit longer and I personally felt it to be insidious and, well, a bit creepy.
Poor Carly Rae Jepsen, who everyone knows is well on her way to one-hit-wonderland, has her face plastered on marketing materials disseminated by multiple gay rights organizations with deep contacts and even deeper pockets and is forced to give up a paying gig, lest she be branded a homophobe because of performing for public members of an organization that has been branded as such. Never mind that her video had a cute, gay positive message before the song became a monster smash. Never mind that a great deal of the scouts and their families that are attending the BSA Jamboree probably have little knowledge of the antigay ban, nor do they probably care either way.
A blogger friend of mine made a snarky Facebook post after Carly Rae pulled out, saying that "well maybe they can get Ted Nugent to play." Ted Nugent, of course, being the legendary rock star turned virulent homophobe. And that is the issue with our culture right now. That is why getting these artists to back out of the concert is not really a win at all. That an organization that has literally hundreds of thousands of members and has arguably made the lives of the young boys a part of them better for having existed can be turned into (at least in the minds of Professional Gays) somehow the antigay equivalent of the KKK is complete insanity, and leads me to believe that most of the people we get our information from need to step out of the gay echo chamber and step into the real world.
In the real world, policy changes at this level for any organization can sometimes take years to achieve. In the real world, policy changes come with compromise and collusion in addition to pressure. Wouldn't it have been even more subversive to put pressure on Train and Carly Rae Jepsen, two massively popular artists, to each make pro gay rights statements AT the BSA Jamboree? Wouldn't it have been great to spread a pro gay rights statement outside of the "gay media" echo chamber and into the minds of those who are active members of the BSA and who have influence on their local leadership? Wouldn't it have been great to avoid smearing the hundreds of thousands of members of an entire organization as homophobes just so that we could have one cheap win during a media cycle we created?
It would've been nice, but now that we've successfully put enough pressure on Train and Carly Rae Jepsen to pull out of the concert, that will never happen.
That's real talk.
Rob Smith is an Iraq war veteran, author, public speaker, LGBT Activist, and loudmouth living in New York City. He is a contributing author to For Colored Boys..., which has just been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. His memoir Closets, Combat, and Coming Out will be released in January 2014.
Find him at robsmithonline.com.