Gays and War
IF THERE WAS any doubt left that a potential war with
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 it’s 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
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
Clearly, a lot’s changed.
CONSIDER THE language and tone of these antiwar statements. Here’s CABN’s December 15 statement against the war: “A new
The statement was signed by many of
The point-by-point refutation of the Bush administration’s push for war with
“–The people of
“–President George W. Bush has failed to demonstrate a clear and present danger to the
“–Domestic and international opinion is strongly opposed to military action against the state of
On January 5, the Metropolitan Community Churches–a national group of gay-and-lesbian Protestant congregations–issued “A Call for a Peaceful Resolution to Conflict with
Even NGLTF–which has been far more cautious about taking such stands given the outcry against its actions during the first Persian Gulf War–on December 30 signed on to a statement issued by the National Council of Churches on December 12. Titled “Keep America Safe: Win Without War,” the statement reads, in part: “We are patriotic Americans who share the belief that Saddam Hussein cannot be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction. We support rigorous U.N. weapons inspections to assure
The “Keep America Safe” statement has managed to bring together a wide range of progressive groups, only some of which are focused exclusively on “gay” issues. The National Organization of Women, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Working Assets, and Women’s Action for New Directions, for example, have all signed on. Such a coalition harks back to our past and may point toward our future.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the revolution. As the movement grew and more and more people–both young and older–began coming out, the political and social parameters of the movement transformed. And with that, so did its goals. The movement for gay liberation founded by a small group of young, countercultural, political radicals became more conservative. While it made for quite a bit of tension at the time, it also made perfect sense: the broader a movement’s constituency, the more watered-down its political goals will be.
Within a year of its founding, the gay-liberation movement morphed into the gay-rights movement with a special–and, some would argue, ever-narrowing– political agenda that dealt only with issues defined as specifically “gay”: employment-nondiscrimination laws, sodomy-law reform, laws protecting “gay” families. Not surprisingly, many of these issues (although they affected a wide range of gay people) were supported by an increasingly narrow range of a mostly white, middle- class, and (in the beginning) male constituency As a result, the national scope of gay political work became increasingly less concerned with a broader political agenda. Coalitions with other groups–civil-rights, feminist, labor, environmentalist–generally fell by the wayside.
The singular focus on gay issues began to change, in myriad ways, in the late 1980s. This was partly a response to the AIDS epidemic and the rise of such groups as ACT UP and Queer Nation. But the homo- political landscape was also changing from within. Sure, there was an increasingly wide range of groups never even imagined before, such as Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, and Seniors Aging in a Gay Environment. But there was also a fabulous breadth of groups, many of them local, grassroots, and very political, on both the left and the right. Indeed, we live in a queer political world so broad-based that it can–and does–cover a range of opinions from anarchist punk to Daughters of the American Revolution conservative, from no-government libertarians to vegan- and PETA-inspired anti-World Trade Organization rabble- rousers. And on the center-left side of the spectrum many of these groups are deeply committed to coalition building.
So part of what we are seeing these days is a return to an earlier mode of organizing, one now rooted in a growing movement that places gay rights within a broader politics. It would have been unthinkable a decade ago for the
Yet another sign of the movement’s maturation is that not every gay group that has taken a stance on the war has come out against it. The Log Cabin Republicans, the most prominent of the right-of-center national queer groups, has taken a very vocal stand supporting the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. “We support the war against terror,” states Mark Mead, director of public affairs for the Log Cabin Republicans, “and we see regime change in Iraq as part of that war. We don’t want to see any more innocent American civilians killed.”
(All that said, the Human Rights Campaign, which is the largest national gay-rights lobbying group, has not taken a stand on the war. In fact, the group has a policy to address “gay” issues only.)
It’s a new day in gay organizing when the Log Cabin Republicans and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force both take positions on a matter of public policy that is not “gay.” It’s a remarkable break from the paradigm of gay organizing that’s guided queer groups both large and small for the last three decades. If nothing else, this new wave of queer activism makes clear, as radical groups claimed in the 1960s, that business as usual isn’t good enough anymore.
Michael Bronski is the author, most recently, of Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps (