Gays of Our Lives

There are so many things wrong with this story.

On October 11th a photograph was transmitted by the Associated Press that featured a bomb on he deck on the USS Enterprise flight deck stationed in the Arabian Sea. An unidentified sailor had scribbled graffito on the bomb that read: “HIGH JACK THIS FAGS.”

Within hours Gand Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) issued a statement as did several Gay and Lesbian anti-Violence groups throughout the country. They complained that without correct context the use of the word “FAGS” was an anti-gay slur.

The Associated Press immediately pulled the photo and Jack Stokes, the AP spokesperson apologized “The picture never should have gotten through, and nobody should have seen it.”

He further explained that the photographer aboard the Enterprise, Jockel Finck, “is not American, and that [epithet] meant nothing to him. The process just didn’t work the way it should have. When there is an offensive slur in a photograph, we do not allow it on the wire – unless it’s germane to the story, which this wasn’t.”

Even the Navy explained, not-quite apologizing. Navy Rear Adm. Stephen Pietropaoli claimed that orders have been given to the crew of the Enterprise to edit “the spontaneous acts of penmanship by our sailors.

We’ve gotten word to our commanders saying, ‘That’s not up to our standards, guys.’ We want to keep the messages positive. Most of what gets written on them is – they’ll write things like FDNY or I (Heart) NY. That’s more keeping in line with what we want to do.”

While it was wrong that the message was written, and wrong that AP sent it out with editing or context, and certainly bizarrely wrong that the Navy actually publicly claim that they want “to keep the messages positive” – a statement that feels like it must have been cut from an early draft of *Catch 22* for being too obviously ironic – the most dismaying aspects of this story are the responses of the gay rights groups.

GLAAD was partially right in their claiming that the photo should have been contextualized, not censored, because “It reveals too much about both our popular and military cultures and attitudes. By pulling the photo rather than exploring its content and context, the AP sends the message that anti-gay bias should be swept under the rug, not exposed and confronted.”

But it is incredible that they never discussed that the offensive graffito was written on a bomb.

Even more incredible was a similar, if less thoughtful, statement from Richard Haymes, Executive Director of the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, and board member of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs:

“We have seen an Associated Press photograph of a bomb being loaded onto the USS Enterprise, one of the ships involved in the current U.S. attacks in Afghanistan. In the photo, graffiti written on the bomb, apparently destined for an Afghan target, is appalling. The warhead is scrawled with the message “Hijack (sic) this Fags.” The U.S. Navy must address this very serious and dangerous demonstration of homophobia. It’s not enough to excuse this because of the heightened crisis facing the country. Homophobia is wrong during war or during peace,”

Well, homophobia may be wrong, but obviously dropping bombs is OK. Haymes, and other gay anti-violence groups who put out a similar statement might spend more time thinking globally rather then locally. But the inanity (insanity) of a gay anti-violence group tacitly approving of the bombing went almost entirely unmentioned in the gay or mainstream media.

Most of the coverage of the events of and after September 11th in the gay press focused upon gay men and lesbians who died at the World Trade Center such as Mychal Judge, Chaplin for the New York City Dire Department, or Mark Bingham, one of the men who struggled with the hijackers on United Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania.

Of course stories of gay heros and gay victims are heartwarming and not at all controversial. And most of the gay and lesbian civil rights groups have no particular “gay take” on the new international situation in which we now find ourselves.

Most, in fact, are happy to use the situation to promote a “don’t worry be happy” vision of all-inclusive national unity. On October 6, at a high-end fund-raising dinner Elizabeth Birch, Executive Director of the Human Rights Campaign, stated to the lets-feel-good crowd “In an instant, America became whole. The flames of terror forged our hearts together and vaporized the differences between us.”

While the the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force made a joint statement with ACLU, NAACP and other civil liberties, civil rights, ethnic, religious, privacy, and watchdog groups from the entire political spectrum – “In Defense of Freedom” – that stated in part that “compromising the civil liberties that are the basis of our free society will only compound the tragedy of last week” and adding that “a more considered approach, including appropriate public debate and scrutiny, to ensure that the legislation does not weaken the fabric of our long-standing personal freedoms.”

With one exception gay and lesbian political or social action groups have been silent on the issues.

The one exception is the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, based in San Francisco, which has condemned the bombing as well as all U.S. militarism in response to September 11th.

It is no accident that one of the only gay and lesbian groups to make a public statement on the U.S. actions in Afghanistan this is international in its mandate and scope, for by and large the gay movement in the United States is intensely parochial, nationalist, and narrowly focused in both its goals and its vision.

It took decades of more progressive members of the community to even get the mainstream groups to even address questions of race; almost none, even now, will ever raise issues of class.

At its inception in 1969 the gay liberation movement was primarily a human rights movement, committed to a wide range of issues and peoples. As it become, in short time, a more narrowly focused “civil rights” project it dropped most every connection it had with a broader human rights, or internationalist, agenda.

Now its main concerns are gay marriage, hate crime legislation, and gays in the military. It is in this context that complaining about the grafitto on bombs, and not bombs themselves, is not only possible but logical.

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