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GOP = Gay Old Party


Michael Bronski

It

is no news that the "news" appearing in the mass media is often

manufactured. No where was this clearer than a front page story in The New York

Times of August 11, 1999 whose headline announced: "Gay Voters Finding

G.O.P. Newly Receptive to Support." After a moderately careful lead -

"Prominent Republican candidates for President are creating an atmosphere

that is subtly but fundamentally more inviting to gay and lesbian voters than

party leaders have been in recent memory." – Katherine Q. Seelye’s article

details how George W. Bush, Elizabeth Dole, and John McCain have "have all

signaled an openness to gay supporters, including a willingness to appoint them

to positions like ambassadorships in their Administrations." Apparently

this news so big that the Times ran an lengthy editorial the next day praising

the new "pro-gay Republicans."

What

does this new openness mean? Well, each of these candidates claim that she or he

would include gay men or lesbians on their staffs and even appoint them to

government positions. Dole, in a NBC interview last month stated that "all

people are welcome" and added "I’m inclusive." When questioned

about the $1,000 contribution from The Log Cabin Club (a gay Republican group)

her husband spurned in 1996, Mrs. Dole answered, "I would not turn it

away." Even Dan "Murphy Brown needs a husband" Quayle has

professed moderation toward homosexuals. When queried on a radio program last

month what he would do if one of his children were homosexual, he replied that

he would support them "whatever they are." "Life-style

orientation" he added, "really makes no difference to me at all.

Believe me, I don’t inquire what one’s sexual preference may or may not

be." Is the Grand Old Party turning into the Gay Old Party?

Well,

as usual the "news" is bogus. What Seelye’s article hints at, but

never explores in depth, is that Dole, McCain, and Bush Jr. are simply making

small tactical retreats from the vicious, overt homophobia of elected officials

such as Trent Lott or Jesse Helms and right-wing Christian organizers like Gary

Bauer, Jerry Falwell, and Lou Sheldon. Even Republican moderates perceive this

level of homophobia as as politically detrimental. After all, when Lott and his

like keep quoting the Bible and comparing gay people to kleptomaniacs and sex

addicts even the already abysmal level of discourse about sexuality in our

culture begins to look good.

But

just because Lott (is it his name that makes him so obsessed with Sodom?) is so

virulently homophobic doesn’t make the others look better and Seelye makes

little mention of the blatantly anti-gay stands taken by these

"moderates." In the past month, for instance, George W. Bush has been

under constant attack by gay rights advocates for his unequivocal stand against

including homosexuals under hate-crime legislation and his refusal to even

consider changing Texas law so that gay individuals or couples could adopting

children. (Gay parenting has always been a hot issue, but since the

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided in July that unmarried,

non-biological parents had the same visitation and custody rights as married

parents it has become a lightning rod for both gay rights organizing and

anti-gay politicians.)

As

far back as 1995 Elizabeth Dole has been under scrutiny by queer and AIDS

organizers for her intrusive attempts to radically alter Red Cross AIDS

education policies to placate the Christian right. In 1996 Dole insisted on

changes in the Red Cross’s AIDS 101 education booklet that downplayed negotiated

prevention techniques in favor of promoting abstinence, and insisted that all

AIDS prevention efforts avoid the easily understandable street language that has

become the hallmark of effective AIDS education: "The Red Cross will not

teach individuals how to engage in behavior which is against the law, but will

assist people in finding help to stop engaging in such behavior in order to

prevent or reduce their risk of getting HIV/AIDS. The Red Cross will not utilize

profane language or graphics in its teaching materials, nor encourage the use of

such language or materials by Red Cross instructors in classes." Onward

Christian soldiers and educations.

The

small steps being taken by Bush and Dole are nothing more than tokenism. They

have no intention of supporting issues like gay marriage, sponsoring effective

AIDS and sex education in schools, stopping the persecution of homosexuals in

the military, providing meaningful AIDS funding, or supporting queer youth. If

they had any moral desire to fight homophobia in a systemic manner – without

even taking positions on specific issues – they would immediately and loudly

condemn the outrageous and vicious anti-gay attacks that have become commonplace

from the leaders of the Republican party. But, of course, they are not about to

do that because they benefit enormously from the pit-bull homophobia of their

party compatriots.

So

what’s going on with this "news" story? To a large degree it is the

latest bit of self- promotion by the gay Log Cabin Club to promote the twin

ideas that (1) the Republican Party is, despite all appearances to the contrary,

open to the concerns of homosexuals and (2) that there are a lot of homosexuals

who would support the party if it evidenced even the least bit of respect toward

gay people. Rich Tafel, the president of the Log Cabin, is tireless in his

search to find common ground for homosexuality and a moderate Republican agenda

- needless to say it is an uphill battle – and most of his energy goes into

convincing people that not all gay people are stereotypical liberals who believe

in more taxes, affirmative action, rampant federalism, and ecology. And, of

course, he is right. Deviance from sexual, or gender, norms does not guarantee

that a person will be progressive, fair or even decent. Also, of course, there

is a reason why the Log Cabin Club is so small: most gay people understand that

supporting the Republican Party as it is today is not in their personal

interests – as gay people – at all.

What

is interesting, however, about mainstream media coverage of the Log Cabin Club

is that they are treated with much more respect and diligence than direct action

groups such as ACT UP or Queer Nation ever were. In part this is because Log

Cabiners are more "respectable" – hey, they may be queer, but they’re

still Republicans – but it is also a move on the part of the media to

consciously mainstream, contain, and minimize the threat of the gay and lesbian

movement.

For

the past thirty years the struggle for gay freedom – both as a liberation and a

civil rights movement – has seriously challenged how U.S. society conceptualizes

sexual desire, gender roles, ideas about discrimination, civil rights, the

dichotomy between public and private, and the function and purpose of

traditional family and coupling formations. Often enough it has made huge gains

in winning its goals – stopping the public harassment of gay people, repealing

laws that criminalize private sexual activity, making overt social homophobia

less acceptable, taking violence against homosexuals seriously – but the basic

threat of the movement; that it wants to offer a perfectly reasonable

alternative to heterosexuality and accepted gender roles – remains. This is why

the issue of "gay marriage" is so contentious. This is why

conservative pundits can still argue with a straight face that homosexuality

caused the fall of the Roman Empire. It is why the tired argument about

"unisex bathrooms (used so effectively against the ERA) can be used against

gay rights laws.

Since

it is no longer acceptable for the mainstream media to be blatantly homophobic,

the next best thing is to be pro-gay Republicans. And that, apparently, is news

"fit to print."

 

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