Richard Goldstein’s Heresy Hunt

by Jennifer Vanasco on November 14, 2001

Originally appeared Nov. 14, 2001, in the Chicago Free Press.

Originally appeared Nov. 14, 2001, in the Chicago Free Press.

I USED TO LIKE Richard Goldstein, the executive editor of New York's Village Voice.

Actually, I liked him a lot. I liked the arguments he used to support gay marriage. I liked how he remembered to be lesbian-inclusive. I thought he had thoughtful, interesting perspectives on the social and political issues relevant to gays and lesbians.

But I only read his articles occasionally, when they happened to come across my desk. And it seems I missed something. Because this past weekend, I heard him speak at a plenary session of Creating Change, the NLGTF's annual convention for progressive GLBT activists.

I came away shaking mad.

The plenary was called "Terrorism, War and Democracy - What Does it Mean for GLBT People?" As might be expected, three of the panelists spoke about their response to the attack and to the war and how these events might play out in our community. Richard Goldstein, however, took it upon himself to attack what he called "the gay right" - especially writers Andrew Sullivan, Norah Vincent and Jonathan Rauch, among others.

Why? Well, several reasons. First, because he said that they are guilty of infighting. That is, they criticize our national organizations and the general GLBT orthodoxy (this is an argument he's made before, in print).

My response to that is: Good. Thinkers think. They criticize. I wouldn't want to be part of a movement that wasn't constantly challenging and checking itself. And, for heaven's sake, Goldstein is a journalist. He, if anyone, should understand that the expression of diverse opinions is what keeps us from being sheep - and what keeps us free. He didn't say which ideas he disagreed with, but in general, I think that an opinion within a movement that differs from the orthodoxy leads people to question what they believe. And sometimes we realize that values we used to hold were wrong.

Second, Goldstein decried the so-called "gay right" because he says that they bring the issues of gay marriage and gays in the military to the forefront, making them more prominent, while they should be arguing for an end to workplace, housing and public accommodation discrimination. "They believe in civil equality, not equal opportunity," he said.

I'm not sure this is fair. Yes, the writers he mentioned likely have advocated at one point or another for gay marriage and for the right for gays and lesbians to serve in the military (an issue that's especially important now.) But I can't imagine that there is a single gay or lesbian writer in America who does not want to see the end to discrimination in all its forms. Does Goldstein honestly think that Jonathan Rauch would advocate for someone to be fired from her job because she's a lesbian?

I don't think so.

Finally, Goldstein said we should revile the gay right because they are "a masculinist group of gay writers." They are men and women who worship and aspire to traditional masculinity and "cannot see beyond their privilege." He then equated masculinism with marriage-and-military advocates: "In times of war, masculinist values come to the forefront and feminist values recede." (As a feminist, this made me especially angry - because we should never assume that just because a person is a woman she holds a certain set of ideas. "Nurturing" ideas aren't female; "Aggressive" ideas aren't male. This sort of thinking is sexist and outmoded.)

"If these people prevail," he continued, "the masculinist version of homosexuality will come to dominate the movement. ... It is the most dangerous thing we face today, I believe."

The "most dangerous thing"? Think about that. Our country was attacked by fundamentalists, our movement is regularly stormed by the Christian right, yet Goldstein believes that the most dangerous thing our movement faces is Andrew Sullivan?

Please.

Andrew Sullivan doesn't head an anti-gay organization. Norah Vincent isn't running for office. Jonathan Rauch isn't secretly plotting to firebomb NLGTF headquarters.

But Goldstein persisted, doing his best to sic the NLGTF activists on these and other "gay right" writers, saying, "Take these people seriously, speak out against them, combat their ideas."

Instead, how about encouraging the activists to think for themselves? Because we are not a monolithic movement - or rather we are not just a movement. We are a culture, a people, with diverse ideas, beliefs and opinions. We don't share one way of looking at politics or religion or society. And in order to win our rights, we shouldn't need to.

Perhaps what Goldstein meant to say - what he has said before, in the Village Voice - is that the mainstream media needs to give space to many different gay voices, not only the ones that seem to push harder against accepted GLBT orthodoxy.

Bully. I agree.

But that is not what he said at Creating Change. What he said was that, in the gay movement, there is an "us" and a "them." And the "us" holds one set of ideas, progressive ideas, and the "them" holds another, conservative, evil set. So evil that we must take our resources of time and energy and battle them instead of our true enemies, those who dispute our very right to exist. This is unfair and untrue.

This, in fact, is the kind of infighting we should battle against. Not the expression of ideas - but the exhortation for us to silence ideas within our community that we disagree with. Everyone, after all, has the right to her or his opinion. Even if they're gay.

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