How should being gay compel me to oppose war in Iraq, or, even worse, support GESO? Because according to the left-wing attitudes that predominate the campus and national gay political discourse, that is how I should feel.
For example, on more than one occasion, the LGBT Co-op e-mail list has included numerous items regarding anti-war and pro-GESO activities on campus. The latest Co-op e-mail included information for a lecture titled “The Media and Iraq: Beyond the Propaganda Frame” given by a correspondent for the Berkeley-based Pacifica Radio network, which is to the extreme left of National Public Radio. The Oct. 20 e-mail invited recipients to a “teach-in” titled “Why to Oppose the War and What We Can Do to Stop it.” Among the speakers was a representative of the International Socialist Organization. The March 3 Co-op e-mail, sent the Monday that locals 34 and 35 and GESO were on strike, called upon “every student to walk out of class and come to a massive event on College Street next Thursday the day of the strike.”
What, in the name of all that is homosexual, do these events have to do with gay issues? I was told by a Co-op leader that such announcements are made on the list because political activism is of interest to gay students on campus. Yet never has a lecture by a conservative speaker or event that would appeal to a right-of-center audience been advertised. Why is it assumed that gay people are inherently sympathetic to all liberal causes?
The LGBT Co-op, as a gay organization, is not alone in advocating political positions that are at best irrelevant and at worst detrimental to gay concerns. One of the nation’s oldest gay lobbies, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, recently decided to join the “Win Without War” coalition, despite the Iraqi regime’s despicable treatment of gay people.
But this is not a column about questionable usage of a list-serve or organizational sponsorship for particular causes. The problem at hand represents a far greater conflict not just within the gay community, but other minority communities as well; that is, the enforcement of political conformity. In many circles, whether they be civic, political or even personal, it is expected that if you are gay (or a person of color), you must be liberal. The tired and inappropriate victimization language used by gay and black political movements has excluded many people over the past few decades. For example, the charter of Yale’s LGBT Cooperative states, “Because we believe that all systems of oppression are interdependent, we understand ourselves as a part of greater social justice movements.”
Which “greater social justice movements” is the Co-op referring to? Using such vague language allows the Co-op to engage in causes that have nothing to do with the fight for gay equality.
If sexuality could even be construed as a locus from which to determine a stance on war in Iraq, then it would seem more likely that gays would support this current military action. Homosexuals especially know the burdens that the state can inflict through various forms of discrimination. Thankfully, gay people living in democracies do not have to worry about facing state repression. We cannot share in the institution of marriage and may not have all the same pecuniary rights as straight people, but the government lets us live in relative peace and we are in no way at threat of torture or decapitation for being gay, as many gay people are around the globe. Simply put, the developed Western world affords all of its citizens individual liberty regardless of sexual orientation. Therefore, if homosexuals want to effectively fight for the rights of their fellow gays abroad, like in Iraq, one would assume that they would support efforts to change those regimes in order to make them more democratic. With democracy, civil order and respect for minorities gradually follows, which can only mean good things for gay people.
The response of the Co-op to two recent speakers on campus epitomizes the problems that the gay left faces. The way that the gay community (and the campus at large) has reacted to the upcoming visit of the Rev. Fred Phelps, of “GOD HATES FAGS” fame, has been markedly different than the way in which it treated the anti-Semitic, racist, misogynistic and homophobic poet Amiri Baraka last month. Whereas a flurry of activity followed the announcement of Phelps’ visit and protestations of various sorts will be held, the Co-op decided to do absolutely nothing about Baraka. Perhaps Baraka’s homophobia is less brazen than Phelps’, but if “all systems of oppression are interdependent,” why did the Co-op not formally protest Baraka’s welcome by the Afro-American Cultural Center on the basis of his anti-Semitism and racism? Surely if Phelps had been invited for a speaking engagement by a student group, and if they labeled him a “brilliant man,” (as the Afro-American Cultural Center tagged Baraka) the Co-op would have had a fit, and rightfully so.
When I asked a Co-op leader why there was such a conspicuous double standard in the organization’s responses to Baraka and Phelps, I was told that there is a “distinction between art and politics.” Since Baraka is an “artist” who was “instrumental in the black arts movement” it would have been censorious for the Co-op to protest his visit.
Yet the line between politics and art is hardly distinct, if it even exists at all. Whereas I choose to express my political opinions in newspaper columns and Phelps through his mischief on street corners, Baraka chooses to do so via poetry. Just because Baraka chooses an avenue of expression that is called “art” does not make him immune from criticism for the views he expresses therein. For the left in general and the gay left in particular, it is far easier to scorn a redneck preacher from Topeka than a black extremist from Newark. This is hypocrisy, and paternalistic racism, at its worst.
The Co-op, and all gay organizations for that matter, must speak out against all forms of homophobia. It is also of equal importance for gay groups to refocus their advocacy on domestic partnerships, AIDS funding and other issues of direct concern for the gay community. The LGBT Co-op, NGLTF and other such organizations should actually represent the community they claim to represent, and stop meddling in issues which divide us.
James Kirchick is a freshman in Pierson College. His column appears regularly on alternate Wednesdays.