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DOMA’s demise was not due to activism; it was in spite of activism.
The rise of the LGBT liberation movement was initially punctuated during the sexual revolution within the activist frenzy of the early 1970s, when people began to put together the beginnings of critical mass to provide a modicum of cover to take the incredibly risky steps of coming out. Consolidating on the work of those brave activists, tens of millions of us began coming out in the 1980s, especially in the flyover, to family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. It was this atomized, decentralized, autonomous uncoordinated collective action that built the critical mass upon which our inevitability now rests.
It was not from that base of a coalescing “out community” from which sprang the two federal “wins” so far: marriage and military. In both instances, it was conservative white male homosexuals who used their economic advantages to purchase our agenda out from under us. They did this in collaboration with the Democratic Party and its adjuncts at the Human Rights Campaign. And they did it by ceding agency to straight, white male politicians—Bill Clinton and Gavin Newsom.
Polling had long shown that the priorities of the LGBT communities were, unsurprisingly, economic policies that benefited the broadest cross sections of our communities and which were quick to receive broad support from the general public reflecting our gaining of critical mass. Yet the leadership prioritized the policies that had the least support in the LGBT communities because they benefitted the narrowest cross section and which engendered the most resistance from the population at large.
By the numbers, 1.5% of us would join the military. 15% of us, myself included, find ourselves in a long-term relationship and would get married. Contrast this to the almost universal need amongst the LGBT 99% to find and maintain work and housing. In the abstract, most LGBT supported equality broadly construed. But support within the LGBT communities for same sex marriage as a priority did not reach a majority until well into the 2000s. As many LGBT were fuzzy on same sex marriage, who thought that life essential benefits should be available to all irrespective of relationship status as LGBT were early adopters of same sex marriage as a priority.
Similarly, there was no broad based populist groundswell for ending the ban on gay service in the military, given that military service is not a reality for 98.5% of us. In a democratic political culture, the range of outcomes from a policy choice are considered, analyzed and evaluated. This did not happen when it came to gays in the military. We never had the conversation as to the impacts of ending the ban on the 98.5% of us who’d never serve as imperial cannon fodder. Thus, a selfish 1.5% of conservative gay white men have consigned future generations of young gay men to now be subject to a draft the next time that one blows through.
But since the HRC is dependent upon huge donations of your tax dollars recycled through the military industrial complex (see: http://gawker.com/haaay-to-the-chief-the-military-industrial-complex-con-486133694) our broadly supported priorities did not count. The HRC, as they say in east Texas, dainced with them what brung y’all: the Democratic Party and its military contractor base. It is this morbid connection between LGBT, the Democratic Party and those who profit off of the perpetual war machine that demanded the political waterboarding of American hero Bradley Manning out of a duly elected position as Grand Marshall of this weekend’s San Francisco Pride parade.
It’s taken 20 years of being battered and bruised at the ballot box because fights were intentionally picked on our behalf that could not be won while there was low hanging fruit that could have been advanced earlier. But the Democrats and the HRC have other ideas in mind. They see LGBT rights as a cash cow to be milked, to be kept in a permanent state of dependency by metering out incremental gains as slowly as possible. This is why they decided to abandon an omnibus civil rights bill mirrored on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Americans with Disabilities Act in favor of one bill per civil right.
This has been a terribly ineffective strategy in delivering civil rights to a minority that has seen its public support amongst the general public increase at a rate that is unprecedented in domestic civil rights history.
If anything, gays in the military and same sex marriage debacles were pyrrhic victories, dingleberries that dangled for two decades from the collective sphincters of the communities, dingleberries that finally plopped into their coveted watery solace after growing cold and stinking the place up for too long. We need now to burn some sage to clear the space for real economic advances that broadly benefit LGBT as a whole.
The LGBT movement must capitalize now on our momentum, double down on the inevitability of our success, demand what was until recently the impossible. We need to acknowledge that the choice to divide the agenda made decades ago when we were weaker was wrong. It is time to flip the terms of the debate to ours, to demand an immediate LGBT omnibus civil rights bill that provides full economic rights: housing, workplace and public accommodations protections.
We need to put the HRC out of business by winning full civil rights for all and winning decisively, to give them no choice but to make themselves useful or a change by converting their $20 million Washington lobbying palace into housing for homeless queer youth in the DC area. And we must do our part as LGBT to eliminate one of the financial pillars that provides liberal social legitimacy for the increasingly corrupt, conservative and authoritarian Democratic Party.
The LGBT communities have demonstrated that we’re capable of walking in power. No longer do we view ourselves as weak victims ripe for bashing. Today is the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. When fags and trannys had had enough and rioted against inflexible, arbitrary and capricious state authority. Three years earlier transgender people rioted in San Francisco at Compton’s Cafeteria against similar patterns of degradation at the hands of law enforcement. Given the abrogation of the post-Kent State political demonstration détente in the era of the endless war on “terror,” it is quite likely that had Stonewall or Compton’s riots happened today, the state would have cracked down rapidly, violently and decisively.
Our brave forebears did not take such risks a generation ago under much more difficult circumstances so that contemporary LGBT could grow dependent on nonprofits that defy democratic accountability to the communities they purport to represent to advance our agenda more slowly than our acceptance with the general public grew. Nor did they take such empowering risks so that today’s LGBT could cower under fear of oppression. Strong and successful reform movements do not depend on existing power for legitimation, they create their own liberation realities through the demonstration and exercise of political power.
The Stonewall riots that we celebrate this month are as much of our American LGBT history as the mid 20th century civil rights resistance campaigns of black Americans. And they were riots.
San Francisco LGBT are poised to take back the Pride Parade committee from the Democratic Party hacks using the participatory democratic tools available to us. The HRC should be similarly undermined until they concede power to the democratically expressed will of LGBT people who can leverage our inevitability to put these matters to bed politically once and for all.
It has been an amazing privilege to have a front row seat as our communities move from closeted vilified marginalized minority to cause celebre in the mainstream in my lifetime. Now that we are gaining access to status as full human beings, first class citizens on the cusp of gaining full civil rights, we must take care to maintain and preserve the unique aspects of our cultures. We can partake equally of hetero institutions and straight world privilege without having to assimilate into them on heteronormative terms. Instead of separate but equal, we’re equal but different when and if we want to be.
Marc Salomon is a Bay Area activist.