Pride: Truth in Advertising

Originally published July 11, 1995, in The Advocate.

Another Sunday in June, another bonanza for the religious right. To the gentle whir of Christian Broadcasting Network cameras, gay people in cities across America hold their annual Mardi Gras. In the middle of Main Street, men frolic in Speedos. Bare-chested women wave their fists. Activist leaders give speeches praising their audience's dedication, victimhood, and all-around fabulousness. Thousands dance from dusk till dawn. Then exhausted by having made such a strenuous contribution to the cause, the participants go their separate ways. And in the ensuing weeks and months, while they're absorbed in their lives and careers, money from underpaid Iowa farmhands and dirt-poor Arkansas pensioners helps finance the conversion of raw parade footage into slick videotapes efficiently designed to prop up the misperceptions that undergird continued inequality.

More than anything else, Gay Pride Month symbolizes for me the ineffectuality of our movement in comparison with the religious right. A few years ago that movement's leaders decided they didn't want to remain a marginal subculture but wished instead to become a respected part of the political mainstream and to wield real secular power. They've succeeded - in fact, they've convinced a lot of moderate Christians that extreme reactionary fundamentalists speak for them and are socially and culturally closer to them than are most gays.

How have they managed this? By talking to Americans consistently about shared ideals and values, while gay leaders have too often focused on differences. By identifying themselves with God, America, and family, while gay leaders have too often derided all three. Perhaps most ironically, these people who have little interest in or knowledge of Western Civilization have presented themselves as defenders thereof and have depicted gays as the greatest threat to it, while gay leaders - instead of reminding the world that homosexuals, of all groups, have made the most disproportionately large contributions to the great Western heritage of thought, art, literature - have too often responded by attacking Western civilization as being homophobic.

Although its power base is rural, the Christian Coalition has learned how to exploit modern media with remarkable sophistication. Meanwhile, although creative gay people crowd the fields of publicity, advertising, and every branch of showbiz, our big annual media moment is always a public-relations nightmare, reinforcing the deplorable notion that gay people, as a group, represent some kind of bizarre revolt against nature. This is, of course, the entire thrust of queer ideology; we call ourselves "queer," then wonder why the world continues to think of us as, well, queer - and why parents of gay kids can't deal with the idea of their kids' being (to borrow from the Microsoft World thesaurus) "odd, quaint, curious, eccentric, extraordinary, fantastic, freakish, peculiar, singular." Far from lending support to this damaging view, we should be helping heterosexuals to understand that what's natural to one individual isn't necessarily natural to another and that to affirm one's homosexual identity is not to defy nature but to embrace one's own true nature.

While we've got truth on our side - the truth that accepting one's emotional orientation is a socially positive act of honesty, wholeness and self-respect - the Christian Coalition has lies: the lie of "choice," of "recruitment," of homosexuality as an undisciplined, carnally obsessive rebellion against all good things and an emblem of cultural collapse. The success of Pat Robertson's supposedly scripture-based arguments against gay rights rests entirely on his constituents' ignorance about homosexuality and their crude understanding of biblical interpretation; the more Christians can be educated about both, the more they'll recognize the mendacity of Robertson's anti-gay assertions.

Yet even as Robertson and company spread their lies expertly through such vehicles as "The 700 Club," many of us maintain, perversely, that it's not worth the effort to confront those lies and to set plainly before straight America the truth about who we are. To the extent that we take this view, our society will remain one that defines gay men and lesbians largely in the terms of religious right propaganda and one that accordingly denies us equal rights and respect. Granted, there's a minority of pathological bigots whose hate will never be vanquished. But most of those who might well be written off as intractably rigid or zealous homophobes are in fact quite willing to hear what we have to say and are quite capable of changing their views once they've walked, as it were, in our shoes. I've met too many former homophobes who have become gay-rights supporters to reject the possibility of wide-scale social change on this front.

The more of this kind of activism we can accomplish, the more we'll deserve our annual party. Celebrations are great, you know, once you have won the war; our problem is that we're still in the thick of battle - a battle that will be won only through a disciplined, determined effort to counter the Christian Coalition's falsehoods with the truth about who we are. When that victory's achieved, I'll enjoy a gay-pride event as much as anybody.

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