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Gabriel matthew Schivone
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One of the best indicators that a hot-button political issue has maxed out its news potential is when diversionary side-shows begin to take center stage. Enter Carrie Prejean, the former Miss California, and the endless controversy that continues to surround her statement made during her bid for Miss USA that she believes in "opposite marriage" not same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage activists, as well as many mainstream news outlets such as CNN, immediately launched a series of personal attacks on her for everything from breast implants to the rumor that her mother had a lesbian affair, calling her the new Anita Bryant.
At the Miss USA pageant on April 19, Carrie Prejean answers that she believes in "opposite marriage"
Anita Bryant at a Save Our Children event in 1977
The comparison to Bryant—based partly on her being Miss Oklahoma, and a runner up in the Miss America pageant—is completely invalid. Bryant launched her notorious Save Our Children campaign in reaction to the 1977 passage of an anti-gay discrimination bill in Dade County, Florida. Her campaign, followed quickly by the Briggs Initiative, a California voter proposition that would have banned all homosexuals from teaching in the state's schools, was the kick-off event to the culture wars of the last three decades. Prejean's inarticulate "opposite marriage" comment—"traditional marriage" is the usual phrasing—during her pageant interview was quite different from a sustained political campaign to overturn a civil rights law. It is true that Prejean began making appearances for the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, a national and mostly ineffective anti-same-sex marriage lobbying group. But these, unlike Bryant's campaign, are not part of a larger personal and political strategy. Prejean has made little impact on the national same-sex marriage debates. Nevertheless, the contretemps over her public statements and her minimal engagement with conservative anti-same-sex marriage forces has placed her in the limelight of this issue.
What the comparison between Prejean and Bryant does raise, however, are some interesting questions about how we now view Bryant as a historical figure. While generally unknown to younger generations, Bryant's image has made a comeback recently in Milk where she is used, in news footage, not only for historical context but comic effect. This use of Bryant as a comic scapegoat, while distressing, is not a surprise. Since she emerged as a political figure in 1977, neither mainstream media nor gay activists knew how to treat her. She was a self-professed "Christian mom," beauty queen, singer of Christian and popular songs, and spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Growers Association. She—like Prejean—was ridiculed for her place in popular culture and generally condemned by gay activists and the liberal media as a kook, a right-wing nut job, and an out-and-out bigot. True, political tensions were raging at the time, but her political adversaries actually knew how to articulate convincing arguments against her beyond such name calling. This disparagement of Bryant (and, for that matter, Prejean) is understandable as a foolish knee-jerk response, but it completely misses a central lesson of social progress and political organizing that is often ignored.
While I don't intend to defend Bryant, I do think that her actions and her political campaign made a great deal of sense in its historical context. It is impossible to understand Bryant without understanding the politics of popular culture. Not only did the civil rights movement make enormous strides in the late 1960s, but so did the Stonewall Riots that inaugurated Gay Liberation. Let's also keep in mind that the groundbreaking Supreme Court decisions about reproductive rights—especially Roe v. Wade in 1973—forever changed how the nation thought about sex and sexual behavior and that by 1977, 11 states had actually repealed their sodomy laws. No wonder religious and social traditionalists like Bryant were beginning to worry about where America was going.
Legal and judicial reform is one barometer of social change, but so is popular culture and Bryant must have been extremely sensitive to it. A quick scan through 1970s popular culture reveals how its ideas about sexuality, gender, and relationships were a radical break from the past:
- In 1970, the Kinks had a huge hit with "Lola" which told the story of a young man who meets, has sex with, and falls in love with a drag queen. It played on AM radio for children to hear and sing along.
- In 1971, Bette Midler, the newly crowned queen of camp, was a staple on daytime and evening talk shows discussing how she got her start at the gay male Continental Baths singing to mostly naked men who were looking for sex. TV audiences thought it was a great story.
- In 1972, the openly bisexual David Bowie and his alter ego Ziggie Stardust, brought glam rock in all of its glorious androgyny to American teens who adored it.
- In 1976, Elton John came out. Not a surprise, but still there is enormous power of publically "coming out."
- In 1977, the naughty bisexual behaviors and drug habits of Studio 54 clientele were discussed at length in almost every national news and lifestyle magazine.
- Liza and Bianca and Andy (alarmingly, you can also toss in Roy Cohn as well) were the darlings of the smart set and the gossip columnists. And to make things better—or worse, depending on your point of view—national magazines such as Time and Newsweek were printing articles on the newly emerging culture of sex clubs that were flourishing in large cities—like the Catacombs in San Francisco and New York's Mineshaft (a gay s/m club) and Plato Retreat (a heterosexual club).
- Perhaps the final straw was that the obviously gay Village People had their first huge hit with "San Francisco You've Got Me (1977)," followed by "Macho Man," and "YMCA" (1978), all of which celebrated the newly public and unabashed gay male urban culture.
Between 1969 and 1970, 30,000 gay men moved to San Francisco to build a very visible gay community. What started out as a radical homo-and-heterosexual counterculture in the mid-1960s dovetailed with a new idea of a "gay lifestyle" (Anita Bryant's words) that led to the "homosexualization" of American culture. Why would we think that Anita Bryant and others who firmly believed in more traditional forms of family, gender, and sexual arrangements wouldn't feel under assault? U.S. culture had radically changed over a short period of time.
We may now view these changes as liberatory, but for a large number of Americans, even those who were happy with some adjustments in popular and sexual culture, these changes were spiritually and psychically life threatening. In this context, Anita Bryant, her politics, and her campaign make a lot more sense. In this context, she isn't crazy, funny, hysterical, or even homophobic. She is a conservative, deeply religious American who is doing what she thinks is right.
Whoever would have thought less than two decades later the very idea of same-sex marriage would be debated and three decades later three states would allow these marriages? And there are other battles as well. Same-sex marriage, given another decade, is an inevitability, but issues such as the rights of queer kids to be autonomous from their homophobic heterosexual families, the limits being placed on queer speech in high schools, and the resurgence of campaigns against public sexuality, both in sex clubs as well as on Craig's List and Internet sex sites, are ready to be fought.
It is easy to dismiss Carrie Prejean as a silly beauty queen who, frankly, doesn't present herself as an intelligent adversary. But until the gay rights movement takes her concerns seriously and works to address them, the public discussion is not going to move forward. We certainly saw this in November with California's Prop 8, where voters declared that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, a reversal of a recent State Supreme Court decision that allowed same-sex marriage.
When it was discovered that a majority of African American and Latino voters backed Prop 8, gay rights groups immediately announced it wasn't because these groups were homophobic, but because they were not yet "educated" on the issue. This condescending attitude—not unlike the attitudes toward Bryant and Prejean—is both insulting and demeaning. Rather then taking the political, religious, and social concerns of these minority voters seriously, gay rights leaders chose to dismiss them as, essentially, ignorant. Not only was this a missed step forward. It was two steps backwards. Progress happens, but at this rate, slowly.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.