Tag Archives: Homophobia

The Party Of Lincoln

31 Aug

The Republican Convention played like conventions past, perhaps enriched by an unusual number of outright lies, but otherwise, pretty much par for the course. Planks of the platform controversial among undecided voters were avoided, attacks were launched, and the rest was pablum for the base.

So why watch? It’s a habit. I’ve been watching since the early 1990s when my work involved studying the political right wing. Keeping an eye on the GOP was critical to that work because it was then becoming and has since very much become the instrument of power of a right wing movement bent on resetting the social, political, and economic clock in America to a time when women were marginalized, the rich were beyond accountability, and overt racism and racial codes were business as usual.

Sound extreme? Hang in there with me.

The majority of the Republican activist base is made up of ideologically inflexible, overlapping rightist factions. They include the Tea Parties, the religious right, libertarians, white nationalists, anti-communist conspiracy theorists, and assorted more exotic white supremacists. That’s why the Republican primary played like a re-run of Barry Goldwater’s famously far right presidential campaign of 1964.

These various factions keep uneasy company with the GOP’s traditional base of old-fashioned economic conservatives. And while the radical factions may often seem at war with one another, they’re mostly unified in their racism and their hatred of liberals, and liberal ideas, including the notion that government, not the private sector, should be responsible for providing a social safety net. Moreover, for the sake of unity, they appear to have conceded to the baseline notion that anybody and anything not not in agreement with them is an enemy of the state.

How, you may ask, did the Party of Lincoln become home to right wing radicals? The answer is, they were invited.

The invitations started going out about 60 years ago. Back then, the GOP was in serious trouble. White Southerners were holding what appeared to be a permanent grudge against them over the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. The stock market crash of 1929 inspired a healthy cynicism of economic elites, and the GOP was rightly perceived as their party. We’d also successfully waged WWII under Democratic presidents, and all while Democratic policy appeared to have pulled the country out of a depression.

Moreover, the Republican elite were viewed as a bunch of aloof aristocrats and intellectuals whose theories were indecipherable and whose policies were all for the rich. Not exactly how they wanted to be perceived at a time when a burgeoning middle class dominated the electorate.

It appeared as though the GOP would have to permanently settle for a role as a pro-capital counter-weight to Democratic liberalism. But as the 1960s rolled around, the libertarian wing of the party started getting organized. They intuited that the cultural fault lines of the time, especially around religion and identity, could be turned into political battle lines. With that in mind, they began rebuilding the party using a dual strategy of 1) splitting liberal coalitions by raising controversial social issues, and 2) building their base by appealing to racism and religiously-based cultural conservatism.

Among the earliest appeals targeted racially sensitive white Southern Democrats. They learned about the power of racism as a political tool by analyzing the failed George Wallace and Barry Goldwater campaigns for president. Both the Wallace and Goldwater campaigns mobilized white Southerners across party lines and attracted more small contributions than any other presidential campaigns until that time.

The lists of both campaigns were used by rightists like Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation. Weyrich’s pioneering use of direct mail marketing became the fundraising template of many right wing institutions.

So the first invitation was to racists. They constituted a chunk of the early fundraising base for key rightist organizations and their continued importance to the success of the GOP explains all of that dog whistling in this campaign.

From an ideological standpoint, Goldwater in particular showed Republicans that racism is a powerful lever.  This except from a previous post makes the point –

He ran on a platform of turning Social Security into a voluntary program, and eliminating farm subsidies…But, because he ran against Civil Rights, he won Southern votes, even from white people for whom the programs he promised to destroy were the most popular.

Goldwater’s strategy turned race into a partisan issue. In 1962, a national poll asked which party would more likely ensure Blacks got fair treatment in housing and employment.  22.7% answered Democrat compared to 21.3% who said Republican. 55.9% said there was no difference. By late 1964, another poll showed that 60% of those questioned said Democrats were more likely to ensure fairness and 7% said Republicans, with only 33% seeing no difference…

In the 1950s, poor white Southerners were the third most liberal voters on issues of government intervention for full-employment, education, and affordable health care, right behind Blacks and Jews. By the early 70s, they did a values flip. When it came to poverty alleviation programs, they went from being liberals to being statistically indistinguishable from wealthy white Northerners, the traditional base of the GOP. Given the ongoing poverty of the South, this move was akin to poor white Southerners cutting off their toes for want of smaller shoes.

And as their values flipped, so did their party affiliation,

In a pattern that would repeat itself throughout the South, GOP voter rolls shot up from 49% to 76% in Birmingham, Alabama’s poorest white communities between 1960 and 1964… Macon, Georgia, went from 36% to 71%. Atlanta went from 36% to 58%, and so on.

The next invitation was to the born-again Christian movement, the fastest growing social movement in the world at the time. The evangelical movement was driven in part by backlash against the social liberalism of the 1960s, including a growing acceptance of women’s equality, free love, LGBT rights, and Black civil rights. As such, it was almost entirely white, straight, and socially conservative.

By aligning themselves with evangelical leaders such as Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, et al, the libertarian elites of the GOP formed an uneasy alliance the cracks in which are lately becoming more apparent. This alliance produced both a highly motivated base for the GOP and gave them legitimacy as an arbiter of family values. With this base and from this moral position, they launched a wedge strategy that involved raising social issues divisive to the Democratic coalition.

By attacking abortion rights as murder, they were able to peel Catholics off of the liberal coalition built by Kennedy. By attacking affirmative action as anti-white racism, they softened liberal whites’ support of civil rights. And by vilifying gays they split just about everyone else, and all while raising buckets of money for the non-governmental organizations of the movement. Issue by issue, they fractured their opposition until the evangelical base of the GOP rose to power as the most highly motivated and well-organized plurality (the largest minority) of voters.

The GOP also mobilized evangelicals and working class Southerners to win regressive tax reform. They did so in order to weaken government, especially in terms of its regulatory role, and got the help of rightists by claiming government had been taken over by feminists and the civil rights lobby. They attacked public schools as sources of secular liberalism, and preyed on the economic uncertainty caused by a changing economy to raise resentment against public employees whom they vilified as lazy clock-watchers.

But in order to get evangelicals involved in politics, they had to do more than touch on their issues. They needed to get them to commit to politics as an act of religion. To do that, some evangelical leaders turned to post-millennialism, the belief that there will be a 1000 year reign of godly men on earth before Jesus returns for the final judgement. The importance of post-millenialism is that it calls on Christians to engage in a takeover of all societal institutions, making politics a matter of life or death (or life after death) for certain evangelicals.

One of the principle ways that conservative evangelicals have served this mission is as Republican precinct captains, allowing them to achieve a bottom-up take over of many state GOP organizations. They also ran evangelicals as stealth candidates who focused on economic issues while hiding their radical social agendas. Stealth candidates went after every kind of office from judge to dog catcher in order to build the cadres of those with the political experience and name recognition to run for more influential offices (Rep. Michele Bachman, for instance).

These strategies are now the staple of Republican base building. Accordingly, Republicans reacted to the urban uprisings of the 1960s with a tough on crime campaign the centerpiece of which is the war on drugs, premised on the notion that America’s drug problem is a black people problem. They’ve attacked immigration, accusing immigrants of color of stealing jobs and government funded benefits. And they’ve attacked Muslims, equating Islam with Christian-hating and terrorism.

Lest we forget, of course, they’ve also accused liberals of being so limp-wristed when it comes to war and trade policy that in their hands the U.S. will tumble from it’s status as world’s number 1 bully and become the 98 lb weakling of the global schoolyard. That fall, I guess, is something to fear when you do in fact know you’ve been a bully, but I digress.

Because the architects of this movement were, for the most part, libertarians, they’ve all the while used the openings created by their various attacks to popularize a laissez-faire philosophy of capitalism that conflates freedom with commerce. Variants of the ideology of free enterprise as freedom live within nearly all of these factions, and for that reason they are able to hang, however loosely, together. And because of what holds them together, the Republican corporate elites have been tolerant of their more extreme views, including the views that we ought to build an electrified fence on our southern border, and that we should abolish all abortions, even in cases of incest or threat to the life of the mother, as just two examples.

The most recent guests to the Party are the Tea Parties. They’re a hybrid of all of the above, with a dose of anti-authoritarianism and distrust of large institutions in general thrown in for good measure. They weren’t invited guests so much as crashers until Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor extended the invitation.

And now that all of these factions have arrived, Reince Priebus, Mitt Romney, and company have a management problem on their hands. As ye sow, so shall ye reap, as they say, and they deserve every bit of their bitter harvest.

But while a little gloating over Priebus’s and Romney’s dilemma may be justified, never doubt that the movement is bigger than the Party. However the various factions entered the fray, they truly are a movement and they pose a very real threat to all of us.

Overheard in Brooklyn

19 Jul

This past weekend, two middle-aged African American men were sitting on a bench in Fort Greene Park. A white gay couple walked by provoking one of the Black men to complain to the other about LGBT people, comparing homophobia to racism. He said, “…I’m a Black man. You know that the minute I walk into the room. There’s no hiding…”

I guess that’s what I get for being nosy. The idea here is that comparing queer oppression to racism overstates the problem of homophobia because queers can pass while people of color can’t. Michael Steele, the first African American chair of the Republican National Committee, has made this same argument. So have members of my family.

This logic is damaging to the cause of anti-racism and of social justice.

I get that different people experience oppression differently. I’m also not one of those people who thinks everything is relative. Some things are really worse than others, both to the person experiencing them and to our culture and political system.

However, this is beside the point. While we are oppressed in different ways, those differences don’t obliterate the connections that exist between us.

Case in point: about 50 years ago, when white conservative elites were pushed out of power by liberals, they realized that they needed to change strategies. Their main institution of political power, the Republican Party, needed to stop being the party of the rich and become a party of the people.

To accomplish this, they switched from a more purely pro-business agenda and towards opposing the Democratic Party’s rights agenda, then centered on civil rights for African Americans. The audience for this move was white Southerners who’d become Democrats in opposition to Lincoln and the abolition of slavery, and might react to civil rights for African Americans by becoming Republicans. They were right, but simply opposing civil rights was not enough.

Conservatives needed to reach beyond the South and build a national base of power. So they aligned themselves with the then fast growing evangelical movement. To do this, they appealed to the cultural conservatism of evangelicals by attacking reproductive freedom and LGBT rights. This move built their evangelical base while simultaneously splitting liberals. The liberal split cleared the way for a highly politicized evangelical plurality (the largest minority) of voters to seize control of politics.

We do share common cause, and splitting hairs over who is more oppressed doesn’t help us promote that cause. But, I realize that political arguments are not enough. Folks engage in the sort of fighting exemplified by the “queers can pass but we can’t” argument because too many of us are given little else than our survival in the face of oppression on which to hang our dignity. In a society that makes relief for injustice a zero sum game, with protection only going to those who bleed the most, we are all tempted to engage in oppression competitions.

But here’s some food for thought. As a queer who can usually pass, the very fact that passing is treated as a privilege is part of my oppression. The desire to pass is founded in shame and fear of violence. Every time I choose to hide, I must acknowledge that shame and fear. It’s not a privilege to pass. The privilege lies with those we are passing to appease.

And as long as we continue to minimize this sort of oppression, we hurt the cause of justice. After all, from day to day, most of us are not oppressed in ways that are extreme and outrageous as measured by the yardsticks of those with the most privilege. Our oppression is meted out in little humiliations, small hurts, and quiet indignities. We are followed in stores, or assumed to be foreign. We are sneered at or avoided or simply ignored. Every time looks of derision or suspicion are passed between people for whom we are the other, it chips away at our sense of security, of safety, and of peace with ourselves and the world.

While some of us are more horribly mistreated than others, it is the knowledge that we are all vulnerable to mistreatment – knowledge we are reminded of in little ways, every day – that keeps us from claiming our liberation. We need to honor these slights, these dings and scratches on our dignity, because we are human beings and we deserve better. Bottom line. That’s how we raise the standard on rights and respect.

So yeah, maybe I can pass as straight. But that’s just so not the point.

North Carolina Amendment 1: Racism In Homophobe’s Clothing

9 May

Much has been written about Amendment 1, the referendum to change the North Carolina State Constitution to deny official recognition of domestic unions other than legal marriage between a man and a woman. The amendment was approved by 60% of North Carolina voters yesterday.

The passage of Amendment 1 is a serious defeat for pro-LGBT forces. 60% exceeds the polling estimates and, in the land of ballot issues, a 20% margin is pretty much a landslide.

I worked on a bunch of ballot measure races back in the 1990s, starting with serving on the campaign staff of the 1992 No on 9 Campaign against an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment in Oregon. That proposed amendment tried to equate LGBT folk with pedophiles. We defeated it, but not by much.

Ballots measure like North Carolina Amendment 1 and 1992’s ballot measure 9 are as much about racism and bigotry in general as they are about how folks feel about LGBT people. Here’s why:

First, the organizations that sponsor these homophobic measures are part of a movement with a much broader agenda. Oregon’s ballot measure 9 was sponsored by the Oregon Citizen’s Alliance. They also attacked reproductive choice, and held positions against Affirmative Action and humane immigration reform.

That same year in Colorado, an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment passed by ballot measure. The sponsors of Colorado’s measure were the sponsors of an anti-Latino English Only measure just two years before.

For these groups, homophobia offers a soft-entry point into the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of evangelical Christians. By exploiting a popular prejudice, they build the support necessary to advance much more expansive anti-democratic agendas.

Protestant Pastor Martin Neimoller famously spoke to this dynamic when he stood up in solidarity with German Jews saying:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

But there’s more. The very fact that constitutional rights can be contested in what amount to popularity contests should give us all pause. Our federal constitution, at least in theory, is supposed to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Inviting voters to decide whether any minority group’s rights should be protected does an end run around constitutionally guaranteed protections. Amendment 1 and all similar measures put all of our rights in jeopardy.

Measures like Amendment 1 invite us into the dangerous belief that where our civil rights are concerned the majority should rule. That, in fact, majority rule is the most democratic way to determine whether or not any group is eligible for protection when the opposite is true. It is anti-democratic to permanently limit the ability of any group to air their grievances and seek the protection of government.

Japanese Americans understand the danger inherent in majority rule. During WWII, American citizens of Japanese descent were incarcerated en masse because of their ethnicity.

Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation laws were imposed on Southern states by majority rule. If the Voting Rights Act had been a left to the whims of state by state popularity contests, African Americans might still be barred from voting in many Southern states because of poll taxes, terrorism, and literacy requirements.

But what’s even worse, in my book, is the damage of measures like Amendment 1 to our culture. I remember distinctly how angry it made me to see measures on the Oregon ballot concerning LGBT rights. My humanity was put up for a vote.

I’m not arguing that you have to like me because or even in spite of my sexual orientation, but debating my humanity through the elections system? All of us who are concerned about human rights should be united in our understanding that this kind of thing is just never, ever okay. It’s the same kind of objectifying, ugly thinking that perpetuates racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and every other kind of bigotry.

Homophobia and Racism: How They Are Connected And Why People Of Color Should Care

18 Apr

The recent document dump of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) internal documents reveals their racist and homophobic strategy to divide the Democratic Party. Among other things, the docs state: “The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and Blacks—two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots…”

And, “The Latino vote in America is a key swing vote… Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We must interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity – a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation.”

Ready for more race basics?

Back in the olden days, circa 1990s, one of the right wing’s most successful propaganda ploys was anti-gay documentaries. These were cheaply made and given away for free on street corners, in churches, even in Congress. The videos made quite an impression, especially one called Gay Rights/Special Rights: Inside the Homosexual Agenda. That 1993 tape echos the NOM strategy.

The tape begins with an image of Dr. King and a voice-over: “I have a dream that one day…this nation will rise up, and live out the true meaning of it’s creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”

Then, a commentator: “Because of the kind of Constitution we have, it was wrong, just out of pure logic, for Black people to be discriminated against, solely on the basis of color.  The 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights Act, um, clearly something that needed to be done, in order to, uh, to hold, uh, to hold this notion of Justice in our country.”  And then, another image of Dr. King and his voice, “One day they will live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin but on the content of their character.” 

Next, the video features white gay AIDS activist Larry Kramer paraphrasing Dr. King, saying “I may not get there with you, but some day we shall enter the promised land, where men and women will not be judged by their sexual desires but by the content of their character.”

The commentator: “Many failed to notice Mr. Kramer’s substitution of the words ‘sexual behavior’ for ‘skin color’…thus began the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Equal Rights.”  

Then, the tape presents images of men kissing men, same sex couples with children, flamboyant cross-dressers, and scantily clad men and women holding militant signs or raising their fists.  Then, the punchline – LGBT people are co-opting the Civil Rights Movement, literally “hijacking the freedom train and taking it from Selma to Sodom,” which, they argue would “completely neutralize the Civil Rights Act of 1964. What it would do is say that anyone, anyone with any type of sexual preference, which would include everyone, is…would be protected under this law, so therefore there would be no protection for minorities specifically…”

Former U.S. Attorney General, Edwin Meese drives the message home saying, “As a white male, I have no rights whatever, other than what is shared with everyone else…” while suggesting that civil rights are add-ons for those who have suffered as a result of certain “benign” characteristics.

The message?

  • that civil rights are bestowed on you as a special privilege, not just because you’re a citizen
  • therefore, white people, especially white males, don’t have civil rights
  • however, Black people do have them
  • therefore, civil rights are “special rights”

The false logic of this message was meant to inspire anti-LGBT activism among whites already resentful of the Black Civil Rights Movement. The tape depicted not the stereotype of the effeminate, middle-class, sweater queen, but a militant, sexually aggressive, and potentially criminal element. Sound familiar?

And they argued that LGBT people were denigrating the Civil Rights Movement by asking for civil rights protection for perverse sex acts, driving a wedge between culturally conservative Black church-goers and (white) LGBT people.

Evil genius, right? They used homophobia as a soft-entry point into Black and white church-going communities and once they were in, they told one of the most potent lies of the post-Civil Rights era; that not just gay rights but civil rights are special rights, and that the contest for special rights is one with winners and losers; that we can’t all be protected at the same time.

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