GOP = Gay Old Party
It is no news that the "news" appearing in the mass media is often manufactured. No where was this clearer than a front page story in The New York Times of August 11, 1999 whose headline announced: "Gay Voters Finding G.O.P. Newly Receptive to Support." After a moderately careful lead - "Prominent Republican candidates for President are creating an atmosphere that is subtly but fundamentally more inviting to gay and lesbian voters than party leaders have been in recent memory." - Katherine Q. Seelye's article details how George W. Bush, Elizabeth Dole, and John McCain have "have all signaled an openness to gay supporters, including a willingness to appoint them to positions like ambassadorships in their Administrations." Apparently this news so big that the Times ran an lengthy editorial the next day praising the new "pro-gay Republicans."
What does this new openness mean? Well, each of these candidates claim that she or he would include gay men or lesbians on their staffs and even appoint them to government positions. Dole, in a NBC interview last month stated that "all people are welcome" and added "I'm inclusive." When questioned about the $1,000 contribution from The Log Cabin Club (a gay Republican group) her husband spurned in 1996, Mrs. Dole answered, "I would not turn it away." Even Dan "Murphy Brown needs a husband" Quayle has professed moderation toward homosexuals. When queried on a radio program last month what he would do if one of his children were homosexual, he replied that he would support them "whatever they are." "Life-style orientation" he added, "really makes no difference to me at all. Believe me, I don't inquire what one's sexual preference may or may not be." Is the Grand Old Party turning into the Gay Old Party?
Well, as usual the "news" is bogus. What Seelye's article hints at, but never explores in depth, is that Dole, McCain, and Bush Jr. are simply making small tactical retreats from the vicious, overt homophobia of elected officials such as Trent Lott or Jesse Helms and right-wing Christian organizers like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, and Lou Sheldon. Even Republican moderates perceive this level of homophobia as as politically detrimental. After all, when Lott and his like keep quoting the Bible and comparing gay people to kleptomaniacs and sex addicts even the already abysmal level of discourse about sexuality in our culture begins to look good.
But just because Lott (is it his name that makes him so obsessed with Sodom?) is so virulently homophobic doesn't make the others look better and Seelye makes little mention of the blatantly anti-gay stands taken by these "moderates." In the past month, for instance, George W. Bush has been under constant attack by gay rights advocates for his unequivocal stand against including homosexuals under hate-crime legislation and his refusal to even consider changing Texas law so that gay individuals or couples could adopting children. (Gay parenting has always been a hot issue, but since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided in July that unmarried, non-biological parents had the same visitation and custody rights as married parents it has become a lightning rod for both gay rights organizing and anti-gay politicians.)
As far back as 1995 Elizabeth Dole has been under scrutiny by queer and AIDS organizers for her intrusive attempts to radically alter Red Cross AIDS education policies to placate the Christian right. In 1996 Dole insisted on changes in the Red Cross's AIDS 101 education booklet that downplayed negotiated prevention techniques in favor of promoting abstinence, and insisted that all AIDS prevention efforts avoid the easily understandable street language that has become the hallmark of effective AIDS education: "The Red Cross will not teach individuals how to engage in behavior which is against the law, but will assist people in finding help to stop engaging in such behavior in order to prevent or reduce their risk of getting HIV/AIDS. The Red Cross will not utilize profane language or graphics in its teaching materials, nor encourage the use of such language or materials by Red Cross instructors in classes." Onward Christian soldiers and educations.
The small steps being taken by Bush and Dole are nothing more than tokenism. They have no intention of supporting issues like gay marriage, sponsoring effective AIDS and sex education in schools, stopping the persecution of homosexuals in the military, providing meaningful AIDS funding, or supporting queer youth. If they had any moral desire to fight homophobia in a systemic manner - without even taking positions on specific issues - they would immediately and loudly condemn the outrageous and vicious anti-gay attacks that have become commonplace from the leaders of the Republican party. But, of course, they are not about to do that because they benefit enormously from the pit-bull homophobia of their party compatriots.
So what's going on with this "news" story? To a large degree it is the latest bit of self- promotion by the gay Log Cabin Club to promote the twin ideas that (1) the Republican Party is, despite all appearances to the contrary, open to the concerns of homosexuals and (2) that there are a lot of homosexuals who would support the party if it evidenced even the least bit of respect toward gay people. Rich Tafel, the president of the Log Cabin, is tireless in his search to find common ground for homosexuality and a moderate Republican agenda - needless to say it is an uphill battle - and most of his energy goes into convincing people that not all gay people are stereotypical liberals who believe in more taxes, affirmative action, rampant federalism, and ecology. And, of course, he is right. Deviance from sexual, or gender, norms does not guarantee that a person will be progressive, fair or even decent. Also, of course, there is a reason why the Log Cabin Club is so small: most gay people understand that supporting the Republican Party as it is today is not in their personal interests - as gay people - at all.
What is interesting, however, about mainstream media coverage of the Log Cabin Club is that they are treated with much more respect and diligence than direct action groups such as ACT UP or Queer Nation ever were. In part this is because Log Cabiners are more "respectable" - hey, they may be queer, but they're still Republicans - but it is also a move on the part of the media to consciously mainstream, contain, and minimize the threat of the gay and lesbian movement.
For the past thirty years the struggle for gay freedom - both as a liberation and a civil rights movement - has seriously challenged how U.S. society conceptualizes sexual desire, gender roles, ideas about discrimination, civil rights, the dichotomy between public and private, and the function and purpose of traditional family and coupling formations. Often enough it has made huge gains in winning its goals - stopping the public harassment of gay people, repealing laws that criminalize private sexual activity, making overt social homophobia less acceptable, taking violence against homosexuals seriously - but the basic threat of the movement; that it wants to offer a perfectly reasonable alternative to heterosexuality and accepted gender roles - remains. This is why the issue of "gay marriage" is so contentious. This is why conservative pundits can still argue with a straight face that homosexuality caused the fall of the Roman Empire. It is why the tired argument about "unisex bathrooms (used so effectively against the ERA) can be used against gay rights laws.
Since it is no longer acceptable for the mainstream media to be blatantly homophobic, the next best thing is to be pro-gay Republicans. And that, apparently, is news "fit to print."