Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Narratives of Fear in the Gay Culture Wars

[Cross-posted at Our Big Gayborhood]

The other day I analyzed Doe v. Reed, the Supreme Court case rejecting a group's claim that revealing the names of anti-gay referendum signers violated the First Amendment. Relatedly, if you remember, anti-same-sex marriage groups successfully convinced the US Supreme Court to disallow cameras in the Prop 8 trial on the grounds that their already-well-known experts might be harassed.

I have speculated that the anti-same-sex marriage side's real intent with respect to this hiding has been to (a) publicly demonize the LGBT people by framing us as violent villains and (b) keep a substantive on-the-merits debate out of the living rooms of everyday Americans who don't think too much about this issue.

Law professor Marjorie Cohn hypothesizes a similar idea, regarding the Court's decision to disallow cameras in the Prop 8 trial:

"In my opinion, it is no accident that the five majority justices are the conservatives who, in all likelihood, oppose same-sex marriage. Why don’t those who oppose same-sex marriage want people to see this trial?

Perhaps they are mindful of the sympathy engendered by televised images of another civil rights struggle. 'It was hard for people watching at home not to take sides,' David Halberstam wrote about Little Rock in The Fifties. 'There they were, sitting in their living rooms in front of their own television sets watching orderly black children behaving with great dignity, trying to obtain nothing more than a decent education, the most elemental of American birthrights, yet being assaulted by a vicious mob of poor whites.'

The conservative justices may think that televising this trial will have the same effect on the public. Witnesses are describing their love for each other in deeply emotional terms."

Instead of showing compassion for LGBT families who are harmed by anti-equality advocacy, Protect Marriage, National Organization for Marriage, and Americans for Truth [sic] About Homosexuality frame "marriage defenders" as being incredibly harmed by LGBT rights advocacy. While nary a word is uttered from these anti-equality professionals about violence inflicted upon LGBT people, hearing it from them one is led to believe that "marriage defenders" are subject to pervasive and regular assaults by vicious mobs of LGBT people.

Gay people, their narrative goes, are not victims, but perpetrators. As the Texas GOP claims, gay people engage in activity that "tears at the fabric of society." As the signees of the anti-gay Manhattan Declaration have declared, it is the "marriage defense" majority that is incredibly brave and heroic for their advocacy to deny rights to a minority group that, at most, constitutes 10% of the population.

It is "marriage defenders," all of these folks imply or outright claim, who are the real victims, having to endure the unbelievable harassment of being called "bigots" for their political views. They are heroes, they say, because life is tough and scary for an opposer of the homosexual agenda. I do not claim here that all LGBT people are perfect angels or that society isn't facing real family problems. But the anti-gay movement has, for too long, succeeded in channeling all of its anxieties about social ills into homosexuality, irrationally and counter-productively blaming it for issues it has no relation to. For instance, banning same-sex marriage makes heterosexual marriages more stable, how again?

And so within this historical context, the "marriage defense" narrative of fear has a sliver of truth to it. Many "marriage defenders" are, indeed, incredibly afraid of LGBT advocacy.

More than any real or imagined fear of being a victim of violence, lies the scary, unthinkable possibility that, one day, the Americans who focus more on their own families than on the threat of homosexuality will see for themselves, on camera, in their own living rooms, our common humanity. And in that common humanity, Americans will see us, not as one violent, faceless, monolithic group, the entirety of which is damned because of the actions of a small minority, but as a group that is- like heterosexuals- afforded the same right to have some of its members mess up and still be considered deserving of equal rights

And when the homosexual monster of American mythology transforms into a human being, the anti-gay movement will no longer be able to pinpoint who, where, or what the big bogeyman is.

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