SYNDICATED COLUMN: Gays and Lesbians: Sucked in by the Far Right

What Happened to the Wild, Free Gay Movement of the 1970s?

I miss the gays of the 1970s.

Before AIDS made them fearful.

When they were wild. On the fringe. A threat to decent society.

Decent society sucks.

I miss the gay-rights movement that came out of Stonewall. I miss the hilariously profane gay pride parades that prompted upright straights to assert, with a (ahem) straight face that if only gays didn’t act so flamboyant, so disrespectful, so gay – then straight society might well condescend to “tolerate” them. (Accept? No way. Approve? Obscene!)

“The speed and scope of the movement are astonishing supporters,” The New York Times points out this week. And hey, if playing Ozzie and Harriet behind a white picket fence is your thing (or Ozzie and Ozzie), congratulations. This is your moment.

But gays and their straight allies are deluding themselves if they believe that achieving marriage equality is anything but a pyrrhic victory for liberals and progressives.

A sign carried by a demonstrator at the high court hints at the sad truth: the marriage equality movement isn’t propelling gays forward, it’s keeping all of us back. “Gays have the right to be as miserable as I make my husband,” read her placard.

Yay for assimilation.

Gays and lesbians may not all realize it yet, but adopting the cultural trappings of America’s hegemonic majority culture is a tragic, disastrous, suicidal move. This is why those fighting for the right to enter into state-sanctioned monogamous marital pacts are finding that they’re pushing against an open door.

Right-wing support for marriage equality ought to make gays suspicious. Theodore Olsen, arguing against California’s anti-gay marriage proposition in one of the two cases before the Supreme Court, co-founded the Federalist Society and argued in favor of the judicial coup d’état that installed George W. Bush in 2000. Several possible Republican presidential candidates have endorsed or softened their positions on gay marriage. And 80% of voters under age 30 are for it. Even on the right, gay marriage has few enemies left.

Why would it? As Jon Huntsman wrote in The American Conservative recently, “Marriage Equality Is a Conservative Cause.” Olsen adds: “The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance.”

Close but not quite. The sad truth is that the LGBT movement has abandoned its progressive roots. It has become a conservative movement.

“From asserting a powerful political critique of the heterosexual organization of society – to which monogamous marriage between two people is central – the loudest, strongest sections of the gay movement have set their sights on becoming just the same,” mourns Ray Filar in a UK Guardian piece titled “How Conservatives Hijacked the Gay Movement.

Not convinced? Think about the other big LGBT issue of recent years: trying to convince the government of the United States to allow openly-“out” gays and lesbians to join the military so they can kill Afghans and Iraqis. Wouldn’t it have been better for them to argue against militarism? To say that no one, gay or straight, should kill Afghans or Iraqis?

When oppressed Afghans and Iraqis can’t count on solidarity from oppressed Americans, the terrorists who run the Pentagon and CIA win.

Back in the 1970s, Michael Warner reminds us in his 1999 book “The Trouble with Normal,” gays weren’t trying to assimilate into the toxic “mainstream” cultures of monogamism and empire. Instead, they were pointing the way toward other ways of life.

Gays didn’t want the “right” to kill the Vietnamese.

I don’t get it. The big advantages of being gay were that you didn’t have to get married or go to war. Why give that up?

Most liberation movements ultimately seek to advance society overall. For example, men who want to raise their children have benefited from feminism. After the Stonewall riot the gay movement struggled to free not just gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people, but straights as well from a dominant heteronormative narrative that oppressed everyone. They pushed to destigmatize sex and the expression of sexual identity, and presented alternative means of sexual bonding and child-rearing such as triad and polyamorous relationships.

Of course, these “wild and crazy” approaches merely recognized demographic reality: by 2000 nontraditional families outnumbered the “normal” nuclear family headed by a father married to a mother with children.

Filar mocks the conservatives running today’s gay movement: “We’re just like you, honest! Please like us!”

It would’ve been so much better if we – the straight “normal” majority – had become more like gays. The gays of the 1970s, anyway.

(Ted Rall’s website is His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)



  • alex_the_tired
    March 27, 2013 1:19 PM


    What happened to the gay rights movement of the 1970s?

    AIDS represented the natural breaking point for the gay movement. It became associated with hyper-promiscuous gay men. The response to AIDS was militant, almost-instantaneous, and stunningly effective. Get into your time machines and dial up 1982. AIDS was a dream come true for the Right: a sexually transmitted disease that targets gay men, drug addicts, and Haitians? It was like seeing someone get struck by lightning right after saying, “And may God strike me dead if I’m lying.”

    The AIDS activists were watching friends drop like flies. (Keep in mind, AIDS never came even close to being as much of a killer as any of a slew of other diseases, even during its most virulent years. In the United States, more people die each year from heart disease than have died from AIDS in the totality of its run.) But the AIDS activists weren’t doing the whole, “well, let’s see how the entire group feels, and let’s wait until we reach 100% agreement” bullshit that foundered OWS. They turned AIDS into a frickin’ multibillion dollar business in under 20 years.

    But to do it, the separate notions of sex positivism and sexual promiscuity were conjoined into one defective entity. You couldn’t be sex positive before and still disapprove of promiscuity after AIDS. To voice disapproval was being “sex negative,” or “anti-gay,” or whatever term someone could come up with while they were in a sling being mounted by two guys with a third waiting his turn. “Play safe” became the mantra, not “Jesus Christ, if someone brings you to a buffet, it’s an invitation, not a challenge.”

    And then people started making money off of it. You think the people running those AIDS charities aren’t making a staggering amount of money in salary and perks?

    What happened to the gay rights movement of the 1970s? The more mainstream elements threw the fringers under the bus. Same as always. I’ve worked with lots of gay men and women. I’ve never worked with an out transvestite. There’s a reason for that. Although it’s possible for everyone to be included, in most things, there’s the “group” and those who are not part of it. And when you get the invite to join the group, you give the rest of the people who are still waiting a pat on the shoulder before you walk away without looking back.

  • This is nothing new.

    See also Black Americans and the military. The idea that the military — the fucking military! — was a path to equality is so inane that it shouldn’t pass a laugh test. After all, the violent, imperialistic empire that’s taking your stuff and denying you franchise is pretty much using the military to make the latter happen.

    This is tribalism gone particularly bad, a failure to properly evaluate political classes. Even if gays “win” by being part of the Establishment, it’s just a matter of time before that same Establishment throws them under the bus for some future gain.

  • John From Censornati
    March 28, 2013 4:33 PM

    What can I say? I don’t believe that haters will disappear and I don’t want to join the military or get married, but I’ll be thrilled when the law no longer says that I’m inferior. What do you not get about that?

    Re: What Happened to the Wild, Free Gay Movement of the 1970s? I was a young adult in the late 70s. I feel a lot older now and a lot less wild. I suspect that my experience is not unique.

  • Spacious Specious
    March 29, 2013 11:32 AM

    Hi Ted,

    I am a weirdo first and a gay man second. Having been in and around the gay enclaves and neighborhoods for decades, I couldn’t help but notice the dire ordinariness of the average life of gay men and women. Gay life, in all its hidden banality, was never conceived as cultural criticism of bourgeousie values — it was forced there by the irrational hatred of a powerful religion.

    In an effect similar to the War on Drugs, ordinary gay people are so forcefully marginalized that they come to question the entire reality of ordinary life. They begin to experiment with fringe lifestyles, some of which can be dangerous, and discover that “it’s just not for them.” Then, bruised by their mistakes, they retreat to a perfectly normal life. I think it’s sensible to reserve my disgust for the illogical crazies that force these unremarkable people into a twilight zone.

    Gay is now a big tent. We can’t all agree on anything anymore except for the idea that the great mass of perfectly ordinary people amongst us should be allowed to live out their lives in exactly the same tedium as anyone else without an extra burden of self-loathing.

    I see the mainstreaming of dull gay people to be good thing for everyone. Wouldn’t it be great to go through US public schools and never be physically assaulted for failing to live up to a five-year-old’s ideal of proper gender roles? That’s a net win for everyone. I won’t hold my breath, but the day is coming.

  • Sigh. Once again Ted takes a truly progressive issue and takes a dump on it. Quit concern trolling, most gays want the right to marry, you don’t speak for them. If they want to be “wild” as you put it, they can still do that, but a lot of them want to have the same rights as us straight people. I think you are also being unfair to the concept of marriage. Liberals have been trying for as long as possible to redefine what marriage is for the better, it’s wrong to insult those efforts by turning it into something conservative, especially same-sex marriage. And conservatives will never fully embrace same-sex marriage, not as long as the Christian right owns them.

    Again Ted, don’t dump on real progressive change, you seem to be one of the few.

  • alex_the_tired
    March 31, 2013 6:25 AM

    “but a lot of them want to have the same rights as us straight people.”

    Correction, Albert. “but a lot of them want to have the same rights as us MARRIED straight people.” Any close reading of the past 20 years of media coverage of “teh gays” yields one particular trope over and over: “Adam dies. Steve, Adam’s partner of 17 years, gets evicted from their apartment about 20 minutes after coming back from the funeral because the apartment building had a policy of only one name on the lease — UNLESS it’s a married couple. Steve also doesn’t qualify for Adam’s survivor benefits because Adam’s company only offer those to spouses. And, Adam had a pension, which would have paid out to Steve if he and Adam had been married. Also, Adam’s health insurance ended when he died, so Steve had better find another provider because he’s no longer covered.”

    The truly “progressive” stance is one that (pardon the pun) decouples privilege from some additional — non-essential — status. Having found your one true love (TM) and gotten hitched should not be requisite for entry into some select group of more-privileged-than-the-singletons.

    Getting married should not be done because economically it’s Russian roulette to not do so, as the end conclusion of a set of mathematical equations.

  • My wife-to-be’s dad has always been anti marriage. He also longs for a time when gays assume their rightful place as the kings of utter freedom and awesomeness, inspiring the society around them to strive for the same. It’s hard to disagree that marriage dampens this.

    @alex_the_tired March 27, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    Great writing. Wish I had more time to comment.

  • Alex is right, Albert is wrong. Gays getting married isn’t edgy, anymore than white people marrying black people was edgy. It was obvious that those parties should be able to intermarry, which is why the opponents had such a frothing emotional committment to being horrible people about the issue: the cognitive dissonance demanded that they double-down.

    The truly liberal movement would advocate decoupling the state from marriage privileges nearly entirely. Marriage is a collosal bundle of rights derived from a social expectation (“You’re married? Of course you share a bank account!”) and a truly countertraditional model on this area would either throw marriage out entirely (which would be understandably unpopular) or would allow citizens to grab some of the marriage-only associations and use them in a rational manner. There are plenty of single people that should qualify for a tax credit due to having kids — married people get an additional, built-in tax break just because they’re “official” baby factories, even if they don’t have any. I’m fine with marriage existing, but pretending that it isn’t a traditional and coercive institution dedicated to social engineering is goddamn delusional. The entire point of marriage is that it’s unfair to singles. It’s designed to be both a privilege and a pressure. Those, traditional, aspects of marriage should die in a fire.

  • N.B. — Marriage is wonderful so long as unmarried people don’t substantially lose out by marriage existing. It’s not marriage that’s the problem, it’s the tradition it upholds.

    “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.” — G.K. Chesterton

  • Ted, your judgment has been off the past 4 years or so, your critique of same-sex marriage is an example of that. Marriage isn’t liberal or conservative. Your opinion has a small following among liberals.

    Sekhmet, it is edgy and so was interracial marriage because it was banned for so long. If your beef is with the unfair advantage married couples get over unmarried couples, fine. But this isn’t about that, it’s about equality within the framework of marriage. Both equality for same-sex couples and unmarried couples are progress, but the latter is irrelevant to the current debate.

    Also, if you really think about it, same-sex marriage is a bigger threat to so-called “decent society” than the “flamboyant” gays Ted mentioned at the beginning. A homophobe can spend their life avoiding the gay parades and seeing gay bars, but they won’t be able to avoid married gay or lesbian couples for long. The sight of a wedding ring previously reserved for straight couples would be hell for them.

  • […] UPDATE: Ted Rall takes my argument and then some. […]

  • Albert:

    Your definition of edgy, whatever it is, is ridiculous. Miscegenation had to be deemed unlawful precisely because interracial relationships were, historically, a) the status quo and b) inevitable. The law had to create artificial restrictions in order to maintain the caste system. Opposing it wasn’t “edgy”: it wasn’t a concept that never occurred to the mainstream. It was a constant source of everlasting conflict, one resolved literally only once the economic force behind the caste system itself was diminished — and after the nastiest war this country has ever seen. Taking a stand on interracial marriage required one to speak truth to power — it did NOT require any advanced or philosophical or counterculture viewpoints. Have you actually paid attention to the South? There isn’t a poor community that doesn’t have tons of mixed-blood folks. (Indeed, the reason why the North-Is-More-Racist-Than-The-South meme exists is because northern segregationists had sundown towns (now, gated communities) and simply exiled people of color entirely. Southerners couldn’t employ that tactic as well, for whatever reason.)

    So, no, the idea that interracial marriage was edgy is bullshit.

    Similarly, the idea that gay marriage is edgy is also bullshit. I’d say the majority of Americans know at least one gay person — that’s better odds than a white person knowing a black person in the sixties up north, I’d wager. We’ve been sitting on this for a long time. Once gay people were allowed to be people, gay marriage was an inevitability. The hard part was allowing them to be people. Hm. Yet another parallel with the black experience.

    Marriage isn’t liberal or conservative.

    Total bullshit. The chattel concept of marriage is thoroughly conservative (or right-wing, or both). The traditional notion of gender roles within marriage is quite literally one of the best examples of social conservatism in Western society. Saying otherwise does violence to history. There are many conceptualizations of marriage and ALL of those conceptualizations have a political persuasion. Why? Even the ostensibly “politically-neutral” marriage concepts offend conservative marriage viewpoints, thereby politicizing them. Thus, to continue the analogy, if two people of different races want to get married in an anti-miscegenation back ‘inna day, they can make a sophisticated, apolitical, constitutional argument why they should — and then a racist will stroll by and declare them Hostile to His Way of Life and instantly politicize their union. They can’t do anything about that. Similarly, letting two dudes get married is a political football because people who have nothing to do with those dudes make it so.

    Your opinion has a small following among liberals.

    And that statement does violence to your apparent understanding of political factions. The fact that Ted’s viewpoint has a “small following” amongst “liberals” supports the idea that liberals — y’know, the political persuasion that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about traditional mores when they violate a social good — aren’t radical enough about the issue. That was the point of Ted’s whole piece. He’s saying, “gays, be more liberal,” and you’re saying, “the population you’re targeting aren’t very liberal.” That’s the freakn’ point.

    I understand that you’re trying to score points; it was an attempt to mock Ted’s position by saying that it was unpopular. But if you’re going to be petty (this the internet; one expects petty), at least read the text before posting something that contradicts your thesis.

    Also, if you really think about it, same-sex marriage is a bigger threat to so-called “decent society” than the “flamboyant” gays Ted mentioned at the beginning.

    Homophobes don’t make up the bulk of “decent” society, whatever that is. Non-homophobes do; that’s why the term “homophobe” has such currency. Homophobes are unhappy for the same reason hard-core race-based bigots are unhappy: they haven’t won everything. Check out the last CPAC. Old-school racists aren’t going to be happy until we, no joke, bring back segregation and a formalized caste system. Homophobes won’t be happy until homosexuals are thoroughly and utterly shamed out of the public sphere. Nothing else will ever make them happy, ever, ever, ever. They’re shitty people, they’re mad that they look like shitty people, and they’ll never be satisfied until everyone else confirms that they’re not shitty people. They really are that petty. Needling them is irrelevant; they cannot hurt worse than they do now. Hell, the Tea Party and Obama’s presidency seem to indicate that racists are even slightly politically stronger now that we have a black president. I’m betting gay marriage will continue to rally homophobes, just as it always has and is now. To this I say: fuck ’em. The right thing to do is the right thing to do. The right thing to do is worth all the political fallout in the world.

Comments are closed.