When I first saw the election results from Maine Wednesday morning denying (yet, again) gays and lesbians the right to marry, my heart sank. Like everyone else, I know the adage that social change is slow (and, indeed, it's quite amazing how far we've come on this issue in such a short period of time). So, it wasn't surprising that my first Facebook post about the Maine debacle said: "As dispiriting as this post-election Wednesday is, let's not forget that we will prevail." OK, call me a half-full glass kind of guy.
But then, I got to thinking ... actually it was more feeling than thinking, which is sometimes the right thing to do (especially as comments started to roll in on my page, responding to my Pollyanna post):
At first, I was questioned. "Are you sure about that?" posted a noted gay writer, whose opinion matters to me. Quickly, though, the tone changed. Spencer Cox, a long time gay activist, commented: "That's what Ann Frank said. Then they sent her to Auschwitz." Harsh, I thought to myself. But that afternoon a lesbian colleague of mine, married (in California, but recognized almost nowhere else) and the mother of two girls posted: "I'm tired of having post-election blues. I'm tired of this being an electoral issue. I'm tired of the tyranny of the majority. I'm just plain tired of it."
And that's when I stopped being a half-full glass kind of guy.
I danced around Facebook and began to note the rising tide of anger on many of my friend's Facebook pages, but notably Spencer Cox's:
Cox: "Awfully tired of being patient and reasonable. On so many levels."
Friend: "Me too. F**king Maine."
Friend: "When did you become patient? Reasonable, always."
Cox: "OK, TRYING to be patient and reasonable."
And then the chorus began, one after another.
Even one young woman, who noted, "Raised-to-be-polite person that I am, I agree: F**k Maine." This paroxysm of anger culminated with this post: "Double f**k Maine with a couple of chainsaws. I'm so f**king mad I might punch the next person I see with a Maine plate."
While now angry myself, I found more of it directed at the Catholic church and groups like the National Organization for Marriage that spent boatloads of dollars on this blatantly discriminatory attack on the LGBT community, rather than ordinary Mainers.
By late afternoon, this anger, now viral on the Web, started to morph into something else: Action. "Well, put on your shit-kicking boots boys and girls and let's go raise us some hell," posted one lesbian. But then came this comment and I knew he was right:"
My question is what happened to good old fashioned civil disobedience. Not this crap that replaced it in the 90's. At some point protesting became an afternoon after work or weekend thing that doesn't disturb anyone's life so I can feel better about having done something. Without economic impact protest is a waste of time. I say flood offices that give marriage licenses. Protest outside of churches where [straight] marriages are taking place."
It's been a generation since ACT-UP"s members and other community activists took to the streets, protesting outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York and the NIH in Washington, among a plethora of similar disturbances. Still, these tactics (and lessons) should not (cannot) be lost in this new struggle for marriage equality. Of course, it makes sense to continue to pursue our rights in state and federal courts, legislative halls and on local ballots. At the same time, as long-time AIDS and gay rights activist Peter Staley told me: "Civil disobedience is the missing piece of activism in our portfolio these days." But he also cautions: "Gay rights activism is as wide as the country but very thin." He worries aloud whether the "twenty-something" generation of LGBT people will do more "than just blog or tweet or take a bus for the day [to march]."
More than two decades ago, as the HIV epidemic was in full throttle, Larry Kramer reportedly asked a group of more than 300 gay men (that soon became ACT-UP): "Do we want to start a new organization devoted to political action?"
After Maine, that seems to be the question. But who will step up?
Visit Steven Petrow on the Web at stevenpetrow.com