It is time for gay conservatives to declare independence from the GLBT movement.
Not long ago columnist Wayne Besen wrote that gay Republicans have “no place” in the “GLBT movement.” Because they support John McCain this year, he charged they are “shamefully in cahoots” with antigay forces. He claimed they have a “suicidal tendency” they must overcome. All that was missing was the tired analogy to Jewish Nazis.
Besen is no kook. He’s a widely read gay writer who fits squarely in the mainstream of the GLBT movement. It’s safe to say he was expressing openly what many people, especially leaders, within the movement privately think about gay conservatives.
In fact, Besen’s column was only the latest in a barrage of attacks against gay conservatives this election season. Time and again gay conservatives have been called self-hating, treasonous, and selfish. It’s the worst vitriol against gay conservatives I’ve seen in 15 years in this movement.
The co-founder of Manhunt was forced to resign from the company’s board of directors because he dared to make a campaign contribution to John McCain, which started talk of a boycott against the company. People are free to boycott companies if they want to, but the fact that supporting McCain was seen as worthy of a boycott is deeply disturbing. The GLBT movement does not tolerate such dissent. What’s next, banning conservative columnists from gay newspapers?
My primary reaction to all this has been rising anger. How dare these self-appointed High Priests of the Movement excommunicate the ideological infidels? As a gay conservative, I have worked my entire adult life for gay rights. It has been the focus of my scholarship and activism. That advocacy has cost me personally and professionally. And I’m hardly alone.
But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realized the critics are right. People like me do not belong. When you think about it, what do we have in common with this movement?
True, we share same-sex attraction. But even that has been diluted with the addition of transgendered causes. Indeed, the insistence of movement leaders on “T” inclusion even at the cost of passing pro-gay legislation has only highlighted major conceptual differences between gay conservatives and leftists about what exactly we’re fighting for.
We also share some experience of discrimination. This gives us some common adversaries and some common causes, like supporting the recognition of gay relationships and ending the military’s exclusion of homosexuals.
But the experience of discrimination is different for different people, and we draw wildly different conclusions from it. While gay progressives believe we must have more government in our lives to end discrimination, gay conservatives are wary of interventions in the private sphere. While many movement leaders would punish antigay “hate speech,” gay conservatives want freedom even for thought we hate.
Even when we agree on issues, we have very different rationales. Gay leftists tend to see access to marriage and the military as legalistic matters of “civil rights,” even as they distrust these institutions. Gay conservatives eschew such rights talk, and instead see these institutions as important traditionalizing, stabilizing, and integrating forces in our lives.
At a deeper level, gay conservatives believe the path to happiness leads through the inclusion of homosexuals in all aspects of American life. Gay leftists dismiss this as “assimilation.” Gay conservatives want a place at the table. Gay leftists want to upend the table.
On non-gay issues, the chasm is wider and deeper still. Gay progressives, like others on the left, support wealth redistribution through higher taxes on successful people and social programs for the poor. Gay conservatives want low taxes and doubt the efficacy of antipoverty programs. Gay leftists oppose free trade; gay conservatives support it.
The gay left supports abortion and believes it is intimately tied to gay rights. Gay conservatives either oppose it or think it is simply not a gay issue.
Gay conservatives want an aggressive fight against Islamic radicalism. Gay leftists distrust American military power and seem to think the greater threat comes not from terror but from the war on terror.
These tensions have grown as gay conservatives have become increasingly self-conscious about being gay and conservative. The Internet has connected them to each other in ways never before possible. Gay conservatives are no longer willing to sit still for lectures about what it means to be authentically gay. They will not be silent or silenced.
It is time for gay conservatives to declare independence from the GLBT movement. We’ll still make common cause at times. Gay conservatives will continue to fight government-sponsored discrimination.
But it is time for gay conservatives to admit that we are aliens in this movement, that we disagree on some very basic questions about what it means to be gay, about what must be done to improve the lot of gay Americans, and about how much weight should be given to purely gay issues in a time of economic and military turmoil. This presidential election has rawly exposed the rifts that have been there from the beginning.
The marriage of the gay left and gay conservatives under the umbrella of the “GLBT movement” has failed. It’s like waking up one morning next to your spouse and realizing all of sudden you don’t really like each other. You’ve been squabbling all these years to save a relationship you no longer believe in.
Suddenly you grasp the futility of it. It’s saddening but also liberating.
Writing from the conservative side, Dale Carpenter began his column for OutSmart in 1994, when he lived in Houston. Now residing in Minneapolis, Carpenter is a University of Minnesota Law School professor.