Michael Bronski

Why We Need to Look at "Hate" Through a New Lens

Excerpted from Considering Hate: Violence, Goodness, and Justice in American Culture and Politics by Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski (Beacon Press, 2015). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.

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What Is It About Harry?

The publication of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix (Scholastic) marks yet another media triumph for author J.K. Rowling and her boy wizard. More than 200 million copies of the first four Potter titles are already in circulation, and 8.5 million copies from Order of the Phoenix's first print run (five million of which sold the first day) are now being shipped in the US alone. At that rate, there could be 300 million Potter books in circulation quicker than a Nimbus 2003 broom at a championship Quidditch game.

With the Potter movies -- and myriad spin-off products such as Quidditch rule books, talking hats, flying brooms, board games, action figures, and magician robes -- the Potter madness that began shortly after the first book was published in 1997 shows no signs of abating. Apparently, people love Harry Potter. Even the Vatican -- an institution that generally stays above the fray of popular culture -- went out of its way in its February publication "Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age'" to praise the Potter books. A Vatican spokesperson claimed that "they help children to see the difference between good and evil."

Everybody, it seems, loves Harry -- except for a growing number of evangelical-Christian groups, including individual congregations and national publications. As the series' success has grown over the past five years, so has the fury of these evangelicals, who think Potter's popularity poses a decisive threat to children. The Harry Potter books, they argue, glorify sorcery, celebrate the occult, and encourage witchcraft -- all of which turns impressionable children away from true salvation through Jesus Christ.

Focus on the Family's publication Citizen: Family Issues in Policy and Culture has run several articles decrying the Potter books, most notably John Andrew Murray's reasonable sounding "The Trouble with Harry" in June 2000. Baptist.org, "the homepage for all Baptists," was a bit more strident in a two-part Aug. 27, 2001, article titled "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: Why It Is Truly Satanic." Even the more mainstream Christianity Today ran a piece in its Oct. 26, 2000, issue called "The Perils of Harry Potter," and Christian Parenting Today, in its September/October 2000 issue, claimed that Harry was "pure evil." Many of these groups also sell their own anti-Potter books. Ankerberg Theological Research Institute sells a videotape featuring founder and president John Ankerberg titled "What Christian Parents Should Know About Harry Potter," and will send you articles like "Bewitched by Harry Potter" for a small donation.

These evangelicals have continued the offensive by demanding that schools and public libraries remove the Potter books from their shelves. They have been implicated in several high-profile legal cases, the most recent resolved on April 23, when a state judge ruled that Arkansas's Cedarville School District had to put the books back into general circulation after sequestering them on a special "parental permission" shelf. Even more frightening, the Potter books have been burned publicly on at least a dozen occasions. On March 26, 2002, the Reverend George Bender of the Harvest Assembly of God Church in Butler County, Pennsylvania, received national attention when he gathered his congregation around a bonfire to burn copies of the Rowling books. The campaign against the Potter series is so intensely persistent that the American Library Association's anti-censorship task force reports that for the past fours years -- 1999 to 2002 -- there were more attempts to ban Potter books from libraries than to ban any other title or author. Forget Eminem, gansta rap, sexy Hollywood films, and violent video games: Harry Potter is the real danger to American kids.

Queer As Folk

That may sound ridiculous to most, but for the first time in its public-moralizing career, the Christian Right just might be -- at least partly -- right. The Harry Potter books are a threat to normally accepted ideas about the social welfare and good mental health of American children. Not because they romanticize witchcraft and wizardry, but because they are deeply subversive in their unremitting attacks on the received wisdom that being "normal" is good, reasonable, or even healthy.

The Harry Potter books are, in a word, queer. As used today, "queer" means "homosexual," but it has larger connotations too. The word also suggests a more generally deviant, nonconformist, renegade identity. In its oldest, original sense, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (which recently added the word "Muggle" to its august pages), queer means "deviating from the expected or normal; strange" or "odd or unconventional in behavior." The Harry Potter books can be read as queer in the "gay" sense, but also in the broader sense.

When the series begins, we find orphaned Harry trapped in a house with his aunt Petunia, uncle Vernon, and cousin Dudley, none of whom loves or understands him. He is grappling with feelings and physical reactions he doesn't understand and which he and others find frightening. In short, Harry is different and condemned to live in the world of normal people. And as Rowling puts it, Harry's relatives -- the Dursleys -- are emphatically normal: "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Lane, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

The Dursleys wear their normality as a badge, but they wear it defensively, for although they "had everything they wanted ... they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it." The secret, of course, is that Harry is the son of Mrs. Dursley's late sister, Lily, and her husband, James, an extraordinarily talented witch-and-wizard couple, and is, indeed, a wizard himself. The Dursleys are terrified of the non-normal, the queer, and the magical. In the witch-wizard world, non-magic people are called Muggles -- an evocative word that summons images of those who are unimaginative, dull, ordinary, repressive, afraid, and blind to the endless possibilities of the world -- people rather like the evangelical Christians now trying to censor the Potter books.

Coming Out

So much of the basic Potter plot is identical to the traditional coming-out story: Harry's differentness makes him an outcast in his own family. He is physically, emotionally, and mentally mistreated by the Dursleys. Their cruelty is calculated and dangerous -- he is, in essence, repeatedly queer-bashed by them. And as in so many coming-out stories, Harry is confused by his secret desires (although here they are driven by secret powers such as telekinesis and the ability to talk to snakes). Harry only begins to understand when his true nature is explained to him by Hagrid -- the trusty Keeper of the Keys at Hogwarts, the world's most important school of magic, and a close friend of Harry's parents -- who explodes in anger when he discovers that the Dursleys have done everything in their power to keep this information from Harry. As Hagrid says with righteous fury, "It's an outrage! It's a scandal! Harry Potter not know his own story...."

Now, Rowling has never stated or even implied that the Potter books are gay allegory, but her language and story details effortlessly lend themselves to such a reading. In the first book, Mr. Dursley keeps noting that wizards and witches dress in purple, violet, and green clothing -- all colors associated with homosexuality (green being the color no one wore to school on Thursday; purple and violet being variants of lavender). More tellingly, the language Rowling has the Dursleys use to discuss Harry's mother and her wizard husband, referring to "her crowd" and to "their kind," mirrors that often used to invoke homosexuality. And once Harry discovers the nature of his difference, the Dursleys demand complete silence and total concealment. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second volume of the series, Harry is continually reprimanded for his use of the "M" word (magic). His uncle -- a petty, mostly ineffectual tyrant who lives in fear of any deviation from the norm -- explodes: "I WARNED YOU! I WILL NOT TOLERATE MENTION OF YOUR ABNORMALITY UNDER THIS ROOF!"

Sure, all this may seem like "reading into" the novels -- which is, after all, what literary criticism does. But what are we to make of the fact that Harry, before he learns of his true identity, is forced to live in a closet? Or that before he learns of his acceptance to Hogwarts, he is preparing to go to Stonewall High School?

In the newly released Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Rowling seems to play more openly with a gay reading of the books. During an argument with Harry, the obnoxious Dudley mentions that his cousin spoke in his sleep about someone named Cedric, lashing out, "Who's Cedric -- your boyfriend?" And in the ensuing argument, Dudley seems to have a homosexual panic attack when Harry takes out his wand: "Don't point that thing at me," he says repeatedly. Much has already been written about Harry's physical and psychological maturation in Order of the Phoenix and, consistent with that change, the young wizard's wand is also described in more phallic terms. When a high-ranking witch discovers that Harry can produce a fully formed, corporeal creature (a Patronus) from his wand, not just "vapor and smoke," she is amazed: "Impressive ... a true Patronus at that age ... very impressive indeed." As Harry gets older and the subject of sexuality becomes unavoidable, it will be interesting to see where Rowling goes with it.

Secrets in the Closet

Even more intriguing -- from a queer perspective -- is how Rowling has structured the double world in the Potter books. Since the world of wizardry scares non-magic normal people, it must be kept a secret. But secret-keeping goes both ways. Witches and wizards know that, for their own safety, they must remain secret -- closeted -- as well. As a result, the world of magic surrounds Muggles, but they are unable to see it. Often in the Potter books, little glints of magic life -- flocks of owls, too many shooting stars -- are noticed by Muggles but, by and large, they are unable to interpret or understand them. Sometimes they have an inkling of another reality -- as Hogwarts professor McGonagall notes in Chamber of Secrets, "Well, they're not completely stupid" -- yet for the most part they are clueless.

The interplay between the world of magic and the world of Muggles in the Potter books is identical to how queer historians and sociologists describe the interplay between the closeted gay world and the mainstream world, particularly in the days before the gay-liberation movement. Homosexuals were everywhere, yet heterosexuals usually could not see them. Gay bars looked just like straight bars from the outside. Gay people invented elaborate codes, often in language, dress, and deportment, so they could recognize one another but not be seen as abnormal by the heterosexual -- Muggle -- world.

In his book "Gay New York," historian George Chauncey writes of the "invisible map" that exists in all cities that enables queers to find fellow travelers and assembling places: people and places usually invisible to the unknowing heterosexual. This is precisely the situation in the Potter books, where Hogwarts, Diagon Alley (where the magic shops are), 12 Grimmauld Place (the meeting place of Order of the Phoenix), Azkaban Fortress, and even magical buses and trains that run out of major terminals exist in the middle of large cosmopolitan cities and yet remain invisible to Muggles who simply cannot see them.

Medieval Misrule

It would be lousy literary criticism simply to claim that the Potter books are "gay"; they can obviously be read in myriad ways. But they are profoundly queer in the broader sense of the word. They are -- with their flagrant, loving, and complicated celebration of magic and the unusual -- an embodiment of the medieval idea of Misrule. The concept of Misrule runs throughout all Western civilization, and means something like "the world turned upside down" -- a phase used by the prophet Isaiah in the King James translation of the Hebrew Bible. It implies that the world has gone mad, topsy-turvy: left becomes right, night becomes day, sin becomes salvation, male becomes female, and abnormal becomes normal. Misrule threatens when traditional values are turned on their heads -- whether it involves men wearing their hair long in the 1960s, women demanding to be treated the same as men, and, most pertinent today, gay people demanding the right to marry.

In the Middle Ages, some holidays were clearly marked out for Misrule -- usually around Christmastime -- during which gender roles were sometimes reversed, sexual license was permitted, nobles served dinner to peasants, and the Lord of Misrule, usually portrayed as a fool, was crowned king. These holidays survive in some form today -- think of Mardi Gras. They have always been contained and regulated, however, for the fear of real Misrule is indeed great. Misrule is what Isaiah warned against and every Muggle -- and social conservative -- fears: an attack on civilized norms, expectations, and regulations.

The Harry Potter books play with the idea of Misrule. Magic completely reverses what we consider normal. Portraits talk, mythical animals live, cars fly, enchantment spells work, talking hats make decisions for us -- it is the world turned upside down. The reason the world of magic corresponds so much with the queer world is that homosexuality is -- in obvious and more discreet ways -- the world turned upside down as well. It is not surprising that medieval enactments of Misrule often broke down regulated sexual behavior and gender roles: Controlling the most intimate aspects of life, such laws of "civilized" conduct were the most pervasively mandated. In these reversals men didn't have to act like "men," women didn't have to act like "women," and sex was for love and pleasure, not for reproduction. This is a nightmare for Muggles, for as frightening as Misrule is, it also offers an excitingly seductive break from the humdrum reality of everyday life and the enforced regulation we are told is necessary to sustain civilization.

That's why evangelicals like Bender and Ankerberg, who are demanding that the Harry Potter books be removed from libraries because they pose a danger to children, are in a very important sense correct. The Potter books celebrate a revolt against accepted, conventional life -- against the world of the Muggles, who slavishly follow societal rules without ever thinking about whether they are right or wrong, if they make sense or not. They are at heart an attack on the very idea of normalcy. When we read these books, with whom do we identify? Harry and his friends at Hogwarts? Or the dim-witted, violence-prone Dursleys and their fellow Muggles? The Harry Potter books tell children again and again that being normal is dull, unexciting, unimaginative, and deadening.

Children, before they are completely socialized, have vibrant imaginations and often a very finely tuned sense of alternative possibilities. They are, in a very real sense, queer. They have to be taught how to become "civilized." Socialization involves mastering table manners and politeness, but it also concerns learning how to conform to the world's most terrible ways. Children have to learn racism -- to hate or fear certain people because of how they look; they have to be taught that work is far more important than play and that pleasure is always suspect; they have to be taught that there is only one correct way to worship God and everyone else is going to hell; they have to learn that heterosexuality is the only acceptable form of sexual behavior, and that some forms of sexual pleasure are wrong. They are taught to be normal -- whatever that may mean -- within the terms of the prevailing culture. They are taught to be Muggles. Is it any wonder evangelical Christians find the Harry Potter books threatening?

Whither Wizards?

Actually, the real question is, why do so many people think the Harry Potter books are good for children? The answer surely has something to do with the sad fact that -- to a large degree -- children and their interests are not taken all that seriously in our culture. In a world where many parents regard television as a great babysitter and video games (except for the extremely violent ones) as useful ways for kids to pass time, reading Harry Potter looks downright cultured. But just what are they reading? The irony here is that Rowling often displays a fairly sophisticated political sense, yet her views are lost on most parents.

One of the themes running through all the Potter books, which comes into full flower in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is a clear attack on racial purity. Some wizards believe that only full-blooded wizards should have power, and refer to wizards without an impeccable "blood" lineage as "mudbloods." Yet you hardly ever read popular commentary on the Potter series that discusses their race politics, just as the books' Christian critics can't see beyond a myopic vision of sorcery promotion.

The question raised by the evangelical attack on the Harry Potter books is this: Do we dismiss their complaints as yet another example of right-wing craziness, or do we invest the time, the thought, and even the empathy to listen to what they are saying? Obviously, banning the Harry Potter books is absurd and wrong. But the anti-Potter frenzy might prompt us to examine the deeper, more serious reasons why children love these books and the complicated, and very disruptive, precepts on which they are based.

If Harry Potter presents children -- and the rest of us -- with a tantalizing vision of Misrule and the world turned upside down, let's try to understand why we don't like parts of the world in which we live now. If we don't want to be Muggles -- at least not all the time -- maybe being queer, in the broadest sense, might be a lot more fun. This means, on a very basic level, reconceiving the very structures of what we call society, civilization and freedom.

Michael Bronski can be reached at mabronski@aol.com.

Gay Goes Mainstream

If there was any doubt left that a potential war with Iraq is what's on everyone's mind, it was erased with the opening joke of a recent episode of "Will and Grace." After Karen flirts outrageously with the handsome owner of the restaurant in which they are eating, Grace asks, "Are you trying to get a date with that man?" Karen answers with her best baby-doll voice: "Oh, honey. I haven't had a date since Bush was president and we were about to invade Iraq."

The line captured perfectly the intersection of foreign policy and camp sensibility (bet you didn't know about that intersection). That such a joke could be made on television's only queer sit-com is part of an interesting phenomenon: Many pockets of the organized queer community are taking policy stands on the potential war. This didn't happen in 1991 during Gulf War I, and has happened only rarely since. (Two years ago, for instance, a number of gay groups took stances against the death penalty.) Ironically, it marks not only the maturation of the gay movement, but also a return to its origins in a politics of broad social change.

Consider how the community responded to the first President Bush's war against Iraq. Back then, the board of directors of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) issued a strong statement against the war. It declared the war an international social-justice issue that demanded NGLTF's attention, given the organization's mandate to deal with gay-and-lesbian issues. From NGLTF's point of view, the Persian Gulf War would adversely affect not just the lives of those lesbians and gay men in the armed forces, but also vital domestic-spending programs on health care and research for AIDS.

NGLTF was the only national gay group to take such a stand, and it was excoriated by the gay press and public for having strayed beyond the narrowly drawn definition of a "gay issue." It's true that there were a few local grassroots groups, such as independently organized chapters of ACT UP, that did the same. But for the most part, NGLTF stood alone in its stance against the war. The group took substantial hits in its fundraising for having involved itself in issues that were not "gay."

Fast-forward to the second President Bush and, presumably, the second war in the Persian Gulf. NGLTF has again taken a stance on the war. But so, too, have the Log Cabin Republicans, the Metropolitan Community Church, the Lavender Green Caucus (which advocates on behalf of gay-and-lesbian issues within the Green Party), and the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network (CABN), a queer grassroots advocacy group that has published a series of advertisements in both of Chicago's gay papers publicizing its stance. These groups have been joined by a host of openly queer celebrities, including R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, the Indigo Girls' Amy Ray, Ani DiFranco, and Lily Tomlin, all of whom have come out publicly against a potential war with Iraq.

Clearly, a lot has changed.

Consider the language and tone of these antiwar statements. Here's CABN's Dec. 15 statement against the war: "A new U.S. war will indirectly kill people in our community here at home by diverting necessary funds away from already scaled-back social service programs. For example, programs that prevent HIV+ people from losing their homes and provide other life-saving services are already facing severe cutbacks during the current recession as a bloated military budget is given precedence over everything else. Just this year we've seen huge cutbacks at Horizons Community Services and the Howard Brown Health Center, while three AIDS service agencies collapsed into one in order to save money, and the entire $2.5 million state of Illinois budget for AIDS minority outreach was wiped out."

The statement was signed by many of Illinois's most prominent queer activists, including Larry McKeon, the state's out gay state representative; Miranda Stevens-Miller, a noted transgender activist; and the Reverends Alma Crawford and Karen Hutt, co-pastors of Church of the Open Door, the city's black GLBT congregation. Additionally, many activists with Equality Illinois, the most vocal GLBT lobbying group in the state, signed on as individuals.

The point-by-point refutation of the Bush administration's push for war with Iraq by the Green Party's Lavender Green Caucus, the only caucus to have achieved official status within the Green Party, reads like a '70s-era antiwar pamphlet: "The Lavender Caucus of the United States Green Party stands united in opposition to military aggression and war against Iraq and her people, for the following reasons:

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On the Back of the Bumper

On the evening of Tuesday, February 26, the ashes of Sylvia Rivera were taken from the standing-room-only Metropolitan Community Church in midtown Manhattan and placed in a horse-drawn carriage. The carriage, along with hundreds of mourners, moved slowly down Christopher Street, past the historic Stonewall Inn where the gay-liberation movement was born. When it came to a stop, Sylvia’s ashes were scattered off the piers on the Hudson River. It was a fitting end for a drag queen who had been in the forefront of enormous changes for the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender (GLBT) movement over the past 33 years.

The funeral was exactly what Sylvia would have wanted; indeed, she had made all the arrangements in the months before her death from liver cancer at age 50. Let’s face it: Sylvia -- reputed to have hurled the first beer bottle in the Stonewall Riot -- had learned long ago that if you wanted something done (never mind done right), you’d better do it yourself.

Sylvia had always remained on the outer fringes of the gay movement -- she spent a substantial portion of her adult life homeless and struggling with substance abuse and was famous for her street-smart, no-nonsense, fuck-you-in-your-face brand of politics. But in death she was widely mourned, both by her comrades in Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries, or STAR (which she had co-founded in 1971 as Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), and by the most mainstream of gay groups. Indeed, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) -- one of the most respectable, conservative, and well funded of the national gay-rights groups -- issued a lengthy statement of respect for her that read, in part, "We are deeply saddened by the passing of Sylvia Rivera, a brave pioneer who helped pave the way for the future of GLBT Americans.... We are proud to honor her enduring legacy."

But the love fete didn’t go both ways. Rivera was constitutionally opposed to the top-down politics of HRC -- and that’s putting it mildly. "One of our [STAR’s] main goals now," she wrote in April 2001, "is to destroy the Human Rights Campaign, because I’m tired of sitting on the back of the bumper. It’s not even the back of the bus anymore -- it’s the back of the bumper. The bitch on wheels is back." Just weeks before her death, STAR issued a press release that called HRC "a separatist organization devoted to money and power that has insulted STAR and the transgender community through ignorance, arrogance, and transphobia." Indeed, in light of Sylvia’s Rivera’s true feelings, HRC’s reverential elegy seems not only smarmy, but hypocritical.

But what looks at first glance like a nasty in-fight between scrappy transgender street radicals and Beltway professionals -- the skirts versus the suits -- is actually a fight for the heart and political integrity of the gay-rights movement. While the gay community has always acknowledged the cultural importance of drag queens, cross-dressers, transvestites, transsexuals, and people of variant gender, the political movement has been focused on securing a variety of legal protections for women and men who, as a group, are identified by their sexual attraction to others of their own gender. The idea that the gay-rights movement might also fight for the right to express gender differently -- whether by appearing too butch or too femme, or dressing in clothing intended for (in that quaint phase) "the opposite sex" -- is fairly recent. The term transgender itself -- a very loose concept connoting pretty much anyone who identifies and presents him- or herself in ways outside of socially prescribed gender roles -- came into play only in the early 1990s and was popularized by works such as Leslie Feinberg’s 1992 Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come (World View Forum) and Kate Bornstein’s 1994 Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (Routledge). It was an idea whose time had arrived, but it did not meet with complete acceptance within the pre-existing movement. The gay mainstream may have enjoyed the spectacle of campy drag shows, but it had little intention of fighting for the rights of a group that most "normal" people considered freakish or mentally ill.

When Sylvia Rivera argued for civil rights for transvestites and drag queens in 1971, she was far, far ahead of her time. Although she had support in the fresh flush of post-Stonewall politics, when she was a member of the leftist, radical Gay Liberation Front (GLF) -- whose antiwar, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-capitalist agenda was, well, liberationist in the widest possible sense -- that window of truly progressive queer politics was short- lived. GLF lasted less than two years. Meanwhile, the national movement became a narrowly focused gay-rights movement that, over the next two decades, would struggle for its members to be accepted by mainstream society as "normal" American citizens who were just like everyone else -- except for the fact that they were homosexual.

Drags and trannies not only ran counter to this image, they exploded it. They were the poster children for the mainstream’s worst possible fears. Though many straight people came to accept discreet homosexuals who practiced their vice in the privacy of their own homes, they had a much harder time with men and women who publicly violated gender norms. This was true in 1972, when the New York–based Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) deleted transvestite and drag issues from the first anti-gay-discrimination bill introduced to New York’s City Council, and to a large extent it is still true now.

Over the past 10 years, mass entertainment -- movies like La Cage aux Folles, Tootsie, and Boys Don’t Cry -- has helped lower fears and raise consciousness about gender expression, and most gay organizations now include "transgender" issues among the litany of their concerns. But when legislative push comes to shove, it is still nearly impossible to draft legislation (never mind get it voted on) that includes provisions to counter discrimination based on gender expression. Two immediate cases in point are the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and New York State’s Sexual Orientation Nondiscrimination Act (SONDA), both of which would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. First introduced in 1992, ENDA stands very little chance of passing soon, but it has garnered support from the likes of Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Christie Todd Whitman, Coretta Scott King, and the late Barry Goldwater, as well as corporations such as General Mills, Ben and Jerry’s, and Eastman Kodak. SONDA has been up before the New York State legislature since 1971. It has passed the Assembly by growing margins every year, and this January it passed by an overwhelming majority of 113 to 27. After three decades, it’s still awaiting a vote in the Senate, but things are looking up: Republican governor George Pataki mentioned the bill in his State of the State address this year; and the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), a nonprofit lobbying group behind the bill, has hired William Powers, former chair of the New York State Republican Party, to lobby for its passage in the Senate. Neither of these bills covers transgender concerns or protects gender expression. (Rivera was fighting to include transgender rights in both bills at the time of her death.)

If you speak to the supporters of this legislation -- such as HRC and ESPA -- it is a simple case of political expediency: if these bills include gender-expression protection, they simply will not pass. And these supporters are mostly correct. It has taken more than half a century -- since the formation in 1949 of the Mattachine Society, an early homophile-rights group -- for Americans to seriously consider protecting women and men against anti-gay discrimination. But for many people -- homosexual as well as heterosexual -- deviance from accepted gender norms is far more threatening than deviance from standard heterosexuality. While there is some support to protect the jobs of openly gay or lesbian teachers, for example, those numbers plummet when the subject shifts to protecting those who do not conform to gender norms. Indeed, one of the right wing’s favorite scare tactics is to claim that passage of a gay-rights bill would allow drag queens to teach in public schools.

But this desire for expediency is caught in a complicated web of politics with a long history -- one in which nearly all parties recognize that the fight for gay rights cannot be pitched to mainstream acceptance alone. Almost all major gay- and lesbian-rights groups advocate a transgender agenda -- they think that gender expression should not be grounds for discrimination in jobs or public accommodation. It’s just that they won’t advocate it formally in bills such as ENDA and SONDA. Another bill before the New York legislature, sponsored by openly gay Democratic senator Thomas Duane, does include protections for gender expression, but it hasn’t passed the Assembly, and it doesn’t look viable. The bill’s dim future can be chalked up to mainstream gender-expression prejudice, without a doubt. But the fact that it doesn’t have ESPA’s active support is also to blame.

It is no wonder that transgender activists are both frustrated and infuriated by this confusing and, on the face of it, hypocritical scenario. But far from disappearing, the issue of legal protection for transgender people increasingly threatens to rip asunder the already shaky alliance between mainstream advocacy groups and the increasingly visible and vocal transgender activists. A recent acrimonious exchange between ESPA and the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA) points both to what is at stake legally for transgender activists and to how quickly the two positions are hardening. In the end, NYAGRA used the specifics of the Dawn Dawson case to successfully refute ESPA’s claim that SONDA would "almost always" protect gay and lesbian transgendered people. Dawson is a butch-lesbian hair stylist fired last year by a Manhattan salon. Because other out lesbians were not dismissed from the salon, NYAGRA argued that it was specifically Dawson’s "gender presentation," rather than her sexual orientation, that caused her to lose her job -- which SONDA would not have prevented.

There are other signs of trouble. Local activist Sue Hyde, who works for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and is a founder of the Cambridge Lavender Alliance (CLA), notes that her organization has withdrawn its endorsement from ENDA because the bill excludes gender protections. Hyde says that "especially given the slim chance of [its receiving] serious consideration in this session of Congress, a trans-inclusive bill is very much worth consideration and worth fighting for." And she notes that while the Cambridge Human Rights Ordinance was passed in 1984, it was only in 1994, after lobbying by the newly formed Cambridge Lavender Alliance, that an amendment was added to "cover the group of people who would be most likely to be fired, denied housing or denied public accommodation -- people whose gender expression didn’t match their sex at birth."

Obviously, transgender activists cannot always rely on the integrity and good will of gay and lesbian groups like NGLTF or the CLA, and depending on what happens with bills such as ENDA and SONDA, transgender activists may find themselves fighting a serious endgame with the gay-and-lesbian-rights movement. By focusing so intently on securing legislation to ensure civil rights for a portion of the community, mainstream groups may be overlooking the larger picture, they claim. "It is crucial to pass anti-discrimination legislation with the widest possible scope," says New York–based activist Bill Dobbs, "but let’s not forget that it doesn’t guarantee anybody a job or a place to live. It is one small step to much larger social justice. We have to take off the blinders and realize the limits of such laws. We have forgotten our roots as a liberation movement and only see equality or civil rights as a goal."

One of the ironies here is that the transgender-activist community and the mainstream gay-rights movement deeply need one another. People fighting for legal protections for transgender people recognize that without the mainstream movement’s limited but ongoing support, gender activism would not have gotten as far as it has already. Conversely, mainstream groups -- understanding that there is enormous groundswell support in the GLB community for transgender rights -- must articulate support for those rights, both to maintain the moral high ground and to avoid alienating their constituencies. The overlapping connections among sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender are confusing and often difficult to articulate. But if the mainstream gay groups talk the talk without walking the walk, there is going to be trouble.

The death of Sylvia Rivera has re-catalyzed many both in and out of the transgender community. Her bravery, guts, and sheer streetwise bravado were an inspiration for three decades. Whether these activists will -- or can -- continue working with mainstream gay-rights organizations is an open question. But these days, Sylvia’s words are ringing in their ears more loudly than ever: if you want something done right, you’d better do it yourself.

Michael Bronski can be reached at mabronski@aol.com.

Looking at Human Rights

As a native of Pakistan working full-time in the field of human rights, Surina Khan, executive director of the San Francisco-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), has a lot to say about America's war on terrorism. Her family fled Pakistan in 1973 after her uncle, Air Marshal (Retired) Asghar Khan, began laying the groundwork to run for president. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was then the Pakistani president, retaliated by accusing Surina Khan's father, who owned a business that was a subsidiary of a U.S. corporation, of being a spy for the CIA. Asghar Khan later ran for prime minister against Bhutto in 1977. He lost and was placed under house arrest. Bhutto was eventually overthrown and hanged.

Khan's family, which relocated to Connecticut, maintained its ties to the country. Her father kept his business, and Khan went to junior-high school in Pakistan. Most of her siblings have moved back to Pakistan or elsewhere in South Asia. Her cousin Omar Asghar Khan is now a member of General Pervez Musharraf's presidential cabinet. But Khan and one of her brothers, a lieutenant colonel in the US Marines, have put down roots in the U.S. She is one of the nation's leading experts on the political strategies of the Christian right, and at IGLHRC -- which defends the human rights of all people who are subject to discrimination because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status -- she works with the United Nations and human-rights groups around the world.

Khan spoke to the Phoenix from her office in San Francisco.

Q: I know that things have changed in Pakistan since you were there in late January [for a conference organized by Pakistan's Sustainable Development Policy Institute], but do you have any sense of how long Pakistan will be able to maintain its alliance with the United States?

A: I think it is going to be very difficult. There is enormous popular discontent and uneasiness. A large number of people of Pakistan do not agree with what the US is doing in Afghanistan. At the very least this resentment of the US has to be addressed.

Q: Do you think there could be another coup?

A: I think that this is possible, given that General Musharraf has replaced three of his generals with people who agree with him. I don't know where that leaves the three dismissed generals, but they have people they could rally.

Q: Could we reach a point where fundamentalists gain more power and take over? Obviously, the worry here is Pakistan's nuclear capabilities.

A: I think that is entirely possible.

Q: What is your immediate family's reaction to the "war on terrorism"?

A: They are generally critical of U.S. foreign policy. We are in agreement about that and agree also that the U.S. has certain responsibilities. For example: going in and bombing Afghanistan and reaching the particular goal of wiping out the Taliban is not enough. There has to be follow-up work there and in other countries, such as Indonesia, India and Pakistan, in which the U.S. has played a role. They have a responsibility to rebuild the infrastructure of a country. We also agree that the U.S. has to deal with the issues of Israel and Palestine. Beyond that, we have disagreements. I don't think that waging war on Afghanistan is a solution. Whereas some members of my family think that wiping out the Taliban will [be the answer] -- as long as the U.S. follows through on rebuilding the country.

But I think that even if the U.S. were successful in wiping out Osama bin Laden and all of his terrorist cells in Afghanistan, and presumably here in the U.S. and in Germany and how many other countries in which they exist ... which would be very difficult ... there is still a younger generation of 15-year-olds who will grow up and be even more resentful of the US. And until we deal with that issue of resentment from generation to generation, the answer is not more military attacks but, rather, a just foreign policy and general respect for everyone in the international community. That is what it essentially comes down to.

Q: How have the U.S. actions against Afghanistan, and the whole region, affected your work so far?

A: We've been very concerned that the level of support and attention given to human-rights issues will be compromised. For example, last May, 52 men were arrested in Egypt for alleged homosexual activities or for being perceived as homosexual. In the past few months we have worked hard to build international solidarity and pressure on the Egyptian government to release those men, on the grounds that it is a gross human-rights violation. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both partnered with us, which was great because they are both mainstream groups and we received a lot of media attention. Because of this there has been an enormous amount of pressure put on the Egyptian government from individual citizens of the U.S. and even 34 congresspeople, who wrote a letter. Any news of that has been wiped out by coverage of what is happening in Afghanistan. This is true for a case in India we are following in which HIV-prevention workers were arrested. It's hard, right now, to get people concerned with what is happening.

Q: What effect do you think Bush's war on terrorism will have on GLBT issues in the U.S. and internationally?

A: I think that they've already gotten worse in the U.S. There are huge similarities between the fundamentalist Christian right wing here and the fundamentalist elements of Islam or the Taliban. There are many issues where they would agree, and homosexuality is certainly one.

Q: Isn't that too easy a connection? Certainly there is a big difference between having a stone wall toppled on you, which is what the Taliban does to homosexuals, and being denied the right to civil marriage?

A: Well, yes, of course. There are differences. We don't live in a theocracy, so the right wing has less political power. Another important difference is the sophistication the U.S. right wing has. They are able to prey on people's fears to rally support. While this is similar to Islamic fundamentalists, the right wing here understands that they have to tone down their rhetoric.... You will routinely hear the Christian right speak of " love and compassion for the homosexual. " I don't think you ever hear the Taliban speak of love and compassion for homosexuals. The Taliban is able to be ideologically pure in what they believe and how they are able to carry out those beliefs.

So we are talking about degrees of sophistication of presentation and what people can get away with. But there are very real similarities. They both have a deep contempt toward those who might see religion in a different way than they do.

Q: How do you see this affecting gay people in the U.S.?

A: I think what we are seeing is a heightened level of patriotism and nationalism, as well as scapegoating and demonization. To me this is linked clearly to issues of sexuality. In the U.S., people who are most active in promoting nationalism are essentially right-wing organizations, who promote a culture that is defined by the qualities of being white, heterosexual, and of European descent. So we see nationalism at work in the attacks on Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs, and other South Asians because those people are seen as " other. " This same system can be seen functioning, as well, in terms of sexuality, when only one type of person is seen as having the right to be here -- the white heterosexual male, his wife and their children. This leaves out, obviously, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

Q: Isn't this all sort of theoretical?

A: Not at all. Just because you are a gay person with money and status doesn't mean that there is no homophobia. Look at the words of Jerry Falwell on the Pat Robertson show only a few days after September 11, when he placed the blame for the attacks on gay people, feminists, and the ACLU -- all of which fall outside of their vision of what is appropriate in America. And then, after that, several right-wing leaders were publicly stating that gay or lesbian people who had lost partners should not be allowed to be beneficiaries of any relief funds.

Q: Would another example of this be the bomb that was sent from the USS Enterprise on which sailors had written "high jack this fags"? Clearly they were making the connection between the " enemy " -- or the " other " -- and homosexuals.

A: Sure, absolutely. But that raises another whole complicated issue. Writing those words was clearly wrong and homophobic. But I would also argue that dropping bombs on Afghanistan was also wrong. At IGLHRC we feel that the response to the murder and terror that we saw on September 11 has to be a response of solidarity and understanding. We in America have to understand that this is the sort of war, terror, and devastation that people in other countries have been living with for generations. We have to understand that it is not limited to the US. We also think that people in this country have to understand the resentment that people in other countries feel for the U.S. and understand that simply by bombing Afghanistan we are not really dealing with the core, root problem. Until we do that, we are just going to see more violence.

Q: And what is the core, root problem?

A: I think the root problem that has to be addressed is helping Americans to understand why there is so much resentment against the U.S. throughout the world. In order to do that I think we have to look very carefully at the way the U.S. engages with other nations. Let's think about Pakistan. Aid was cut off to Pakistan when they had nuclear capabilities. Now the aid has resumed because the US needs [Pakistan's] air space. So I think that the U.S. has to look beyond its own economic interests and look at how the actions of this government affect the people of other countries. Until America really addresses the fundamental dignity and integrity that everyone should be able to live with, the fundamental issues of human rights, then we are never going to address the root cause of the resentment that people feel. The rest of the world sees us as a country that has tremendous resources, and we only use those resources when it benefits us.

Q: But certainly many other countries -- beginning with Afghanistan -- have human-rights records that are horrific. This isn't just a problem with the U.S.

A: Absolutely. So why is the U.S. bringing up the human-rights abuses in Afghanistan now? Feminists and gay people have been saying for years that the Taliban is horrible to women and to homosexuals.... Eight years ago, we knew that the Taliban was not letting women go to school, not letting them go to the hospital when they were sick, not letting them leave the house if they weren't with a male relative, or make any noise when they walked. I think the U.S. should have gone in there as a defender of human rights and said very strongly that this was wrong. Now they are saying those words.

Q: So you are saying that the U.S. uses the issue of human rights only when it is beneficial to us and never otherwise?

A: Yes. Egypt, which is the second-largest recipient of foreign aid, has been pressured by the U.S. to join this alliance. Egypt is a gross violator of human rights. I am thinking right now of the 52 men who are in prison. Why didn't the US step up and address this question months ago? Why aren't they addressing it now? Because they couldn't care less.

Q: Ultimately, what impact do you think the war on terrorism will have on human-rights issues?

A: It's already having an effect on human rights and civil liberties in the U.S. For example, the government's announcement that it is going to extend its powers to arrest immigrants and hold them in detention indefinitely. This is a violation of human rights. The kinds of racism we are seeing against Arabs, Muslims, South Asians, Sikhs and Hindus is a direct result of the U.S.'s response. This is only the beginning of an attempt to limit, or even eliminate, many civil liberties in this country. IGLHRC is concerned with making the connection between attacks on immigrants and people of color and those on GLBT people and people living with HIV. The erosion of civil liberties -- even when they begin with immigrants -- is eventually going to affect everybody. Those people with the least protection are really those with the most to lose.

Michael Bronski can be reached at mabronski@aol.com.

GLAAD Has Lost Its Way

Since it was founded in 1985, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has transformed itself from a rowdy, New York–based grassroots gadfly into a slick, bicoastal media operation. When GLAAD speaks, Hollywood listens. In 1992, Entertainment Weekly named GLAAD one of Hollywood's most powerful lobbying groups. And regardless of what one thinks of each case, it has pulled off a number of high-profile media coups in recent years.

In 1996 the group succeeded in getting the Comedy Channel to stop airing the 1982 film Partners (written by Francis Veber of La Cage aux Folles and The Closet fame) because GLAAD deemed it homophobic. In 1999, GLAAD persuaded TNT and World Championship Wrestling to discontinue the aggressively campy tag-team characters Lenny and Lodi. And a few weeks ago, the organization persuaded the Game Show Network to stop airing a 1972 episode of Match Game in which the word "fag" was used.

But a growing number of critics have taken the group to task, questioning many of its decisions and wondering whether its judgment might be clouded by its hand-in-glove relationship with Hollywood -- an industry that naturally tends to confuse its representations of the world with the real thing. In 1998, Chastity Bono, then GLAAD's entertainment-media director, made headlines when she told Variety that she thought Ellen DeGeneres's self-titled sit-com had been canceled by ABC because it was too gay. In 2000 GLAAD's sustained attack on rapper Eminem aligned the group with right-wingers such as Jerry Falwell. And last year GLAAD members were attacked by freedom-of-expression activists for their attempts to get "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger's show booted off television.

Now, critics are coming after GLAAD for charging that Kevin Smith's new comedy Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is homophobic, and for using its clout to wring charitable donations out of Smith and his distributor, Miramax. The immediate contretemps began after Scott Seomin, GLAAD's current entertainment-media director, attended a screening of Smith's new stoner comedy. The movie features Jay and Bob, two of Smith's recurring characters (also featured in his previous films Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Dogma), who are obsessed with male homosexuality. Seomin fired off a letter to Smith on July 26 describing his distaste for the film, saying that he was "overwhelmed by the potential negative impact for the film with what we would assume is a large share of its target audience: teen and young adult males." He added that GLAAD "will be public and aggressive in our condemnation and will provide substantiation for our opinions." (The letter is posted on GLAAD's Web site, www.glaad.org.)

In a statement posted on his Web site (www.viewaskew.com/newboard/messages287/521.html), Smith explains that he and Seomin had a pleasant conversation about the letter during which the director defended his film. Seomin stated that he was going to ask Miramax, the film's distributor, to make a substantial donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation (run by the gay-bashing victim's parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who received a major award from GLAAD last year) as a symbolic gesture to support the work of fighting violence against gay people. Smith, to show that he was not hostile to GLAAD's concerns, offered to make one as well (he also placed a disclaimer in the film's credits that use of the movie's "anti-gay slurs in real life is not acceptable"). Seomin suggested that Miramax make a $200,000 donation and that Smith make one of $10,000. (Though Miramax never made the donation, Smith did.) At this point Smith thought that they had come to agreeable terms: GLAAD might not like his film, but he would be seen as supportive of GLAAD's work. He was shocked, then, to read Seomin quoted in the August 3 issue of Entertainment Weekly, saying of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back: "I've never seen something so horrific." Further, the press began to spin Smith's charitable donation as an apology for making a homophobic film. Smith immediately told the Associated Press that his donation should not be thought of as a form of reparations for the film's content: "I'm not sorry," he said, "because I didn't make jokes at the expense of the gay community."

Stephen Spurgeon, GLAAD's director of communications, notes that the organization never intended to go public with complaints about Jay and Silent Bob or its suggestion that Miramax donate money to the Matthew Shepard Foundation. "Kevin Smith placed private correspondence from us on his Web site," says Spurgeon. "He is in the business of selling tickets, and the best way to do that is through controversy. We did not try to censor or ever intend to call for a boycott." But then why did Seomin write that line about being "public and aggressive in our condemnation?"

Whatever really happened, the Jay and Silent Bob controversy clearly shows the dangers of assigning social value to art. There may be special perils in handing that task to Hollywood career professionals, but the same minefield is frequently navigated -- often unsuccessfully -- by right-wing organizations. Take Smith's last film, Dogma. The irreverent movie was singled out for condemnation and picketing by the ever-vigilant and theologically disputatious Catholic League, which called it "anti-Catholic." How is GLAAD's claim that Jay and Silent Bob is homophobic any different?

The bottom line is that GLAAD has more in common than not with right-wing, religion-based groups that have railed against such works as Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi and Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. In condemning Dogma, a film about two renegade angels who have been kicked out of heaven (played by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck), the Catholic League was, in essence, saying that there is only one correct way to represent Christian beliefs. GLAAD, in condemning Jay and Silent Bob, is claiming that there is only one correct way to represent homosexuality through art. If the former is religious fundamentalism, the latter is sexual-identity fundamentalism. And if enforcing that is what GLAAD sees as its job, it's fair to ask whether the organization has lost its way -- and its relevance.

There is no question that GLAAD's priorities have shifted over the years. When Vito Russo (author of the groundbreaking The Celluloid Closet), Joan Nestle (founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives), and Jewelle Gomez (author of The Gilda Stories), among other activists, founded GLAAD in 1985, it was in response to the hysterical manner in which the New York media (particularly the New York Post) were covering the AIDS epidemic. Demanding that the media report accurately on the disease -- remember, this was back when people thought they could "catch" AIDS by sharing a glass of water with someone who was sick -- was important, useful work.

But as GLAAD grew from a grassroots organization into a national advocacy group with a $4 million annual budget and a staff of 30, its focus moved from news to entertainment media. It's one thing to lobby the New York Times to start using "gay" in place of "homosexual" -- which the group did, successfully -- and quite another to decide that a character in a film should be condemned as homophobic. This shift in the group's size and focus was cemented in the late '90s with a series of high-profile hires from inside Hollywood. In 1996, GLAAD hired Chastity Bono as its entertainment-media director. The daughter of Sonny and Cher, she had just made headlines by coming out. Although she had almost no political experience, she brought Hollywood connections with her. The following year, Joan Garry was named the organization's executive director. She had spent 16 years in the entertainment industry; for seven of those years she served as vice-president of business operations for Showtime, managing the network's $300 million pay-per-view business. Before that Garry helped launch MTV, and as director of business development for MTV Networks she established new channels and helped create the annual MTV Video Music Awards.

When Bono was fired after the Ellen controversy, she was replaced by Seomin, who had previously worked as the media-relations director for Entertainment Weekly and E! Entertainment Television. As activist and author Michelangelo Signorile notes, "At this point GLAAD is filled with people coming out of the industry, and there are some upsides to that, but there are also many downsides." GLAAD still monitors the news media, and has programs that train community activists to work with the local media, but the group's fundraising, its agenda, and its own high media profile are increasingly focused on entertainment. Although Spurgeon claims that the organization has "been working on entertainment media for 15 years" -- and indeed, Russo kept up his critique of homophobia in the film industry -- the scale and shape of GLAAD's focus on entertainment has clearly changed.

A look at the presenters at the annual GLAAD Media Awards -- there were four such events this past year in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC -- shows just how cozy GLAAD is with entertainment-industry names. Major presenters at the Los Angeles dinner included DeGeneres, k.d. lang, Melissa Etheridge, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes (Will & Grace), LeAnn Rimes, Bill Brochtrup, Christian Campbell, Tisha Campbell, Margaret Cho, Deborah Gibson, Leeza Gibbons, Ian Gomez (Felicity), James LeGros, Garry Marshall, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Kerr Smith (Dawson's Creek), Bruce Vilanch, Gabriel Romero and James Leary (Los Beltran), Dean Cain, Andrew Keegan and Billy Porter (The Broken Hearts Club), Mitchell Anderson, Diane Delano, Leslie Grossman and Tammy Lynn Michaels (Popular), Michelle Clunie, Thea Gill, Sharon Gless, Randy Harrison, Scott Lowell, and Peter Paige and Hal Sparks (Queer as Folk).

GLAAD's events look amazingly similar to that other well-known industry event: the Academy Awards. And, as at the Oscars, most of the presenters and guests had been nominees and winners in years past. GLAAD may very well have reached a point where it has crossed the line from watchdog to Hollywood poodle.

What's ironic about GLAAD's liberal Hollywood support is that the organization takes a decidedly conservative tack in policing homophobia. The organization's semi-apocalyptic view is that any artistic expression the activists regard as homophobic will immediately translate into physical violence against gay people. This view is really not much different from former vice-president Dan Quayle's infamous declaration that TV character Murphy Brown's unwed motherhood was a threat to the American family. More to the point, how is GLAAD's belief that teenage boys who watch Jay and Silent Bob will go out and beat up gays any different from William Bennett's claims that violent lyrics in rap music, as opposed to guns and poverty, cause violence?

Let's face it: art -- in the form of movies, television, or books —interprets reality. It is frequently symptomatic of cultural change. But it is not in itself, in any way, reality. If GLAAD executive director Garry actually believes that Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back will increase queer-bashing against young gay men and lesbians, one wonders what she thinks about the years she spent with MTV, a network that did more than most to promote brainless, dehumanizing, and insulting portraits of women.

Making matters worse is GLAAD's seemingly capricious standard for what and who is homophobic. Take Showtime's Queer as Folk, which was singled out as the Outstanding Drama Series at this year's GLAAD Media Awards -- even as the organization said that Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back posed "a threat to gay and lesbian people." Queer as Folk is a lavishly produced mini-series that portrays gay men as sexually obsessed and promiscuous. The characters are catty and mean-spirited. They lust after teenage boys and care about nothing outside their own little circle.

By contrast, Jay and Silent Bob is a funny look at homophobia in Hollywood. George Mansour, a Boston-based film booker and industry-acknowledged expert on queer films, asks of Jay and Silent Bob: "How is this anti-gay? No one but an idiot is going to think that Jay and Silent Bob are role models and will want to emulate them -- it's like emulating the Three Stooges." In the end, Mansour claims, "the movie goes out of its way to show how gay they really are. If anything, this is the most explicit defense of being queer we've seen in years."

But the politics of representation are riddled with inconsistencies. Take GLAAD's decision last year to award Anne Heche the Stephen F. Kolzak Award for her contributions to lesbian visibility. Well, Heche has since gotten married -- to a man. Also last year, GLAAD awarded Elton John the Vito Russo Award for his contributions to gay art and life. Not one year later, at the GLAAD Media Awards dinner in New York, the audience was urged to boo John because of his high-profile performance with Eminem at the Grammy Awards, actions that supposedly "violate the spirit of the award."

If you go further back -- before GLAAD -- you'll find that in the early 1970s three films were singled out by gay activists as profoundly homophobic and dangerous to gay people: William Friedkin's The Boys in the Band, as well as The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and Fox and His Friends, by openly gay filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder. All three films were picketed by the Gay Activists Alliance in New York and by other groups across the country. Today, these films are considered classics of gay cinema, and each is taught in gay-and-lesbian-studies courses at colleges and universities across the country. Asking simplistic questions like "Is this a positive image of gay people?" or "Is this good for gay people?" in the long run gets you very little. "It's weird enough talking about fiction in terms of 'good images' and 'bad images,'" says novelist Christopher Bram, whose book Father of Frankenstein was made into the award-winning film Gods and Monsters. "It's even harder with comedy, where so much humor is based on making you laugh at something you shouldn't laugh at. There is the current crop of straight filmmakers like Kevin Smith and Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who do South Park, and they are obsessed with homosexuality. But they are not homophobic, they are not scared of homosexuality."

GLAAD was formed to fight "defamation" -- the promulgation of lies, distortions, and misrepresentations of lesbian and gay lives. But are gay people any safer now that an old episode of Match Game is no longer on television? Seen today, the episode qualifies as camp: host Gene Rayburn asks the panel, "Doris just got married and found out that her husband was a ____." Guests Dick Gautier (Hymie from Get Smart) and his wife, Barbara, fill in the blank with: "Fag." When columnist Rex Wockner questioned the advisability of pulling the episode from syndication, GLAAD's Scott Seomin answered: "This was ridicule. I don't think there's a great cultural void because there's one episode of Match Game from the 1970s that won't see the light of day."

Seomin's arrogance would be laughable if it were not so frightening. Is GLAAD going to insist that J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye not be assigned in schools because Holden Caulfield uses the word "fag?" Is the group going to condemn Radclyffe Hall's 1928 classic The Well of Loneliness because its lesbian protagonist is doomed and self-loathing? Or James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room and Another Country because their gay characters are filled with self-hatred?

Those questions might seem like straw men, of course. But when Seomin shook down Kevin Smith for money and GLAAD refused to try to understand Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back in anything other than simplistic good-image/bad-image terms, it was in many ways the logical extension of the direction the organization has been heading in for several years. In that case, GLAAD may actually have become what it's supposed to be critiquing -- a caricature, dangerous to queer people and to complex views of queer art and queer freedom. Unless the organization shifts gears -- and fast -- we'll be better off without it.

Michael Bronski is the author of several books about queer culture and has been a media critic focusing on the gay press for 30 years. He can be reached at mabronski@aol.com.

Queer as Your Folks

Do lesbian parents raise queer kids? A recently published study says they do. It's easy to predict how socially conservative lawmakers will use the study. But national gay organizations -- the ones who've spent millions of dollars trying to convince mainstream America that gay people are just like straight people -- face a tricky decision.

In "(How) Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?", a 24-page article published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review, University of Southern California professors Judith Stacey and Timothy J. Biblarz found that the children of lesbian parents were more likely to experiment with same-sex relationships than those raised by heterosexuals. Girls raised by lesbians tended to be "more sexually adventurous and less chaste" than those raised by straight parents, while boys tended to be just the opposite. Boys also tended to be more fluid in their definitions of gender roles, while girls were much more independent and assertive. Children of both genders were found to be more sexually and culturally tolerant than their peers.

Biblarz and Stacey, who is also a member of the Council on Contemporary Families, came to their conclusions after reviewing 21 psychological studies conducted over the past 20 years on children raised in lesbian families. (Studies of children raised by gay men had smaller statistical samples.) The 21 studies, conducted from 1981 through 1998, examined a range of family groupings and dynamics (from lesbian couples raising children conceived through donor insemination to families headed by parents who came out during previous heterosexual marriages). Each of these studies originally concluded that there are no significant differences between children raised in lesbian families and those reared in heterosexual ones. Stacey and Biblarz have little criticism of the methodology used in these studies, but after reviewing the data, they found that the authors' conclusions didn't completely represent their findings.

Take, for example, the question of the children's sexual orientation. Whereas the original studies found that lesbian parents do not produce a higher percentage of gay or lesbian children than heterosexual parents, the reality, as Stacey and Biblarz point out, is a little more complicated. In one of the original studies, 25 percent of adults raised by lesbians (six of 25) reported having a homoerotic relationship, as compared to none of those (out of 20 surveyed) with heterosexual parents. In another study, 64 percent of the adults with lesbian parents (14 of 22) reported that they would consider having a same-sex relationship, as opposed to just 17 percent of those with heterosexual parents (three of 18).

It's true that the people raised by lesbian parents were not more likely to be gay in the sense of identifying themselves as homosexuals in adulthood. That was the question the original studies asked. But their sexual identities do seem more open-ended. And the new study does seem to show that, as Barnard women's-studies professor Ann Pelligrini says, "queer families are going to produce queer kids. By 'queer,' I mean kids who can resist thinking in cultural norms. Kids with a sense of difference who have the capacity to be critical of 'common-sense notions' of what families should be."

So what's the problem? What parents wouldn't want their children to be tolerant? Their girls to be ambitious and assertive? Their boys to be communicative and emotional? And given the endless cultural fretting about women being from one planet and men from another, who wouldn't be happy to raise young women who are sexually assured and young men who exhibit a little less eagerness in their sexual adventures?

Traditionalists and moralists, that's who. To social conservatives, many aspects of Stacey and Biblarz's study simply confirm what they've long believed: gay men and lesbians should not be parents. Just ask Lynn D. Wardle, a family-law specialist from Brigham Young University's J. Reuben Clark Law School, who continues to be interviewed on this topic even though many legal scholars and sociologists consider his work deeply flawed by his bias against gay rights. He told the Associated Press, "This is a flashing yellow light that says before you legalize gay adoptions you better think clearly. The social science doesn't support those kind of radical reforms."

Although the study came out just three months ago, it's already being used as evidence that lesbians and gay men are unfit to be parents. It's been offered for that purpose in In Re Adoption of Luke, a Nebraska second-parent-adoption suit brought by the lesbian partner of a child's birth mother. (Conversely, however, the study is also being cited in pro-gay briefs in such cases as Lofton v. Butterworth, a class-action suit challenging Florida's bar against adoptions by gays, and in same-sex-marriage cases in Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec.) Both researchers recognized the possibility that their study could be used against gay families; they wrote of the need to "recognize the political dangers of pointing out that ... a higher proportion of children with lesbigay parents are themselves apt to engage in homosexual activity." But they thought that the subtle realities of gay parenting deserved public discussion.

"I have no doubt that this work will be abused and it could conceivably do harm in some individual cases, but that will always happen," Stacey tells the Phoenix. "In the end, I believe, it is always better to be truthful and honest about people's lives."

Until Stacey and Biblarz embarked on their review, every previous scientific, sociological, or psychological examination of children raised in lesbian families focused on one question: were the children put at a disadvantage? The answer was always an overwhelming "no." Meanwhile, because most of the researchers understood that their studies could, as Stacey puts it, "be used by politicians, policymakers, judges, and even other academics and scientists as ammunition against judicial and legislative decisions on a whole range of issues relating to gay and lesbian parenting, custody, adoption, and foster care," they downplayed some of their findings -- especially concerning the sexual identity and behavior of the children -- in some subtle and some not-so-subtle ways. Stacey says that the original researchers did this not so much out of "political correctness" as out of "political anxiety."

One of the primary purposes of the Stacey-Biblarz study was to explore the political need to downplay the differences -- which they describe as "modest and interesting" -- between the children of lesbians and those of heterosexuals. Toward that end, their study calls for a "less defensive, more sociologically informed analytic framework" to study gay and lesbian families. As Stacey has pointed out in nearly every interview she has given since the study's publication: "Differences are not deficits."

But a "less defensive" atmosphere may be difficult to achieve now that, as Paula Ettlebrick of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force puts it, Stacy and Biblarz have "burst the bubble of one of the best-kept community secrets." As it's trickled out from academic circles to the mainstream media, the Stacey-Biblarz report has received an enormous amount of publicity from the New York Times, the New York Post, Newsday, the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and even the China Daily. And Stacey has been interviewed on the Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor and National Public Radio's The Connection.

With the cat out of the bag, some mainstream gay-rights groups are still sticking to the old script. Mary Bonauto of Boston's Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, for example, says the best news of the report is that it "forcefully reaffirms the fact that there is nothing detrimental about gay and lesbian parenting." Others are embracing the differences between the new findings and the old. "Of course there are enormous similarities in gay and heterosexual families -- curfews, fights about television, household chores, homework. These are problems all families face," says Felicia Park-Rogers, founder and director of Children of Gays and Lesbians Everywhere. "But we also have to admit that lesbian and gay parenting is also different and that difference is often quite wonderful."

Ironically, however, it seems riskier to stress what should seem like the best news: that, as Stacey says, "the study shows the real benefits of being raised in a gay family."

But why? Surely at least progressives, straight as well as gay, believe it is better to raise children who are emotionally secure about sexuality and gender than children who aren't.

If the findings from "(How) Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?" were taken to their logical conclusion, however, many progressives would have to admit that the report is an implicit critique of heterosexual parenting. Stacey and Biblarz found that "nonbiological lesbian co-mothers" are "more skilled at parenting and more involved with the children than stepfathers" and that "lesbian partners in two-parent families ... enjoy a greater level of synchronicity in parenting than do heterosexual partners."

This message may not be one the gay movement is willing to broadcast, especially because the value of less rigid gender roles is at odds with moderate -- never mind conservative -- views. After all, history has repeatedly shown that for the gay movement to sustain its core values while fighting for legal rights requires not just integrity, balance, and planning, but also a certain amount of deception.

Given that much of its lobbying for political reform rests atop a public-relations battle for social acceptance, the gay-rights movement has worked hard to show that homosexuals are no different from heterosexuals. Faced with charges of indiscriminate promiscuity from the right, the movement responded by painting a happy portrait of homosexual monogamy and fidelity. And so we have a political movement that plays up gay-marriage lawsuits and plays down the fact that, generally speaking, gay culture is much more honest than mainstream culture about the myriad ways in which sexual desire can be expressed. Accused of being sinful, again by opinion-makers on the right, gay leaders have pushed an image of homosexuals as people of faith (never mind that many religions actively condemn gay people and have, throughout history, led social and legal attacks against them). Just look at last year's Millennium March, co-sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and the Metropolitan Community Church.

To a large degree, this strategy has worked. The past three decades have seen tremendous advances in securing lesbians and gay men the basic rights of parenting that are immediately, and often unthinkingly, extended to heterosexuals. Second-parent adoption, which allows the unmarried partner of a legal parent to adopt his or her partner's child without terminating the partner's parental rights, is available in 16 states (including Massachusetts). Despite massive pockets of lingering prejudice, parents who come out are no longer routinely denied custody of, or visitation rights with, their children. Foster-care policies are now far more lenient than they were 15 years ago. Some volunteer groups that work with youth -- with the obvious exception of the Boy Scouts of America -- now welcome gay men and lesbians. And while a 2001 Gallup poll showed that 40 percent of Americans do not think homosexuals should be elementary-school teachers, that's down from 54 percent who held such views in a 1992 Gallup poll.

These gains have come about in large part because mainstream society has become convinced that gay people are just like everybody else. And in an absolute sense, gay people are just like straight people: good, bad, patriotic, devout, apostate, untruthful, conniving, honest, sluttish, flawed, horrible, and wonderful in curious and fantastic ways. But gay people are also different -- also in curious and fantastic ways. The question now is whether gay leaders will have the courage to say so out loud.

Michael Bronski is the author of The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash, and the Struggle for Gay Freedom (St. Martin's Press, 1998). He can be reached at mabronski@aol.com.

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