Jason Tseng

Why I'm a Debbie Downer during this surge of Obamamania

Filed By Jason Tseng | November 05, 2008 7:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: California, civil rights, marriage equality, Prop. 8, same-sex marriage

With the increasingly likely passage of Proposition 8 in California, which will strip the marriage rights of thousands of couples in California and across the nation, I'm just gonna call it: we lost in California.

Some may say I'm jumping the gun, but I had my doubts far earlier than last night. At this point, with 8% of votes still to be counted and a small 4 point lead (2 points really), the race is still really close... but most of the liberal pockets in California have already been counted, and I am not optimistic. Heck, the Yes camp has already declared victory. I think we all just need to acknowledge that Prop 8 will pass and get over it.

Now, I feel that I am faced with an awkward situation: caught between Obama's incredibly invigorating and historic landslide win for the first non-white candidate of a major western power, and the all-too-familiar "We tried really hard, and we were really close, but Americans still hate the gays" story from the past few election cycles that I have been a part of. I hate to be a Mopey Molly in the face of such thundering enthusiasm across the nation, but I'm saddened and I feel rightly so.

Queers across America will be racking our brains with how we lost, who's fault it was, and what we could have done differently. And I, being the cynic that I am (though I consider myself to be an idealistic cynic... if such a thing exists) believe that we have only ourselves to blame.

I believe a tremendous amount of apathy or a false sense of security amongst LGBT Americans, especially gay men, swung the hand of fate to favor the Yes camp. In speaking with many of my peers, many believed it would be a tough race, but were relatively calm and subdued at the thought of a legitimate contested race in California. "It's California, for crying out loud!" Yes, yes... California, the home of West Hollywood and San Francisco. If ever there was a gay paradise, it MUST be California (although I would like to add that the entire Castro district is like a block of Chelsea in New York. I'm a shade biased being a newly-minted New Yorker... but I'm just saying...). But can we really be surprised that we lost in California? With a similar ballot measure passing in years past with double digit margins, where did this sense of entitlement come from? I'll hazard a guess: naivety.

With all this talk of change and the new politics of grassroots organizing conquering the Rove-ian playbook of dirty politics, it was easy to fall prey to the idea that Americans were fundamentally fair minded and well-informed and would vote to uphold the ideals of freedom and equality. But as we saw with the campaign tactics used by the Yes campaign, Rove's playbook still works well, and the politics of fear have yet to be driven from our shores.

I was also upset at many liberal gay bloggers who jumped on gay celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell for not making donations to the No campaign. Calling trailblazers like Ellen and Rosie cowardly for not emptying their pockets to a campaign disregards the years of activism and service these women have already put forth for our community. It wasn't Ellen who lost us our right to marry in California, it was a laissez-faire national gay response to the crisis at hand.

I continue to be appalled at the gay community's seeming inability to retain any kind of institutional or communal knowledge and memory. I wasn't even around for the AIDS crisis of the 80's, but I am shocked how we now see infection rates continue to rise amongst young gay men along with the increasingly commonplace practices like barebacking. It was only a few years ago when we were used as pawns in a cultural war that not only got George Bush elected, but simultaneously decimated our hopes of marriage equality in a devastating wave of anti-gay-marriage amendments that pockmarked the country. And we expected to be handed our rights in California?

It wasn't only in California where queer people were once again reminded that we are not welcome amongst the ranks of true and equal citizens in our country. Hop over to Alex Blaze's list of our community's failures this election round, because I frankly don't have the energy to talk about them.

I am ecstatic for Obama's win, but I am also deeply disappointed in our own ability to fight for our rights.


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I've been calling myself an "optimistic cynic" for years...we do exist :-)
I'm a downer as well, sadly...when you live in San Francisco (which I do), it can be easy to forget that not everyone is as accepting as most folks here. Too easy, perhaps?

Californian | November 5, 2008 9:57 PM

Jason:

I share your Debbie Downer feelings, but strongly disagree that the gay community was "laissez faire" about this. I don't think you know about that which you speak. (Were you involved yourself in the No on Prop 8 campaign?)

> Of course not. The effort in California to defeat Prop 8 was HUGE. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people worked both hard and smart, and raised millions and millions of dollars. The effort was monumental. Anything less and the margin of defeat would not have been a small as it was.

Check on YouTube the No on Prop 8 ads that aired in the crucial last few days/weeks. They are absolutely fantastic.

Many large, respected corporations, powerful politicians, every mainstream newspaper in California, popular celebrities, etc. emphatically opposed Prop 8.

How and why did we lose? In my view, we lost due to an ancient thing called religion, informed and juiced up by prejudice and ignorance (also ancient), and prideful heterosexism, beefed up by lots of money pumped in from the Mormon Church, the Knight of Columbus, Howard Ahmanson, Jr., and others.

We lost because, in short, the human race is still learning about itself.

An analogy would be to look at the early defeats of the black civil rights movement -- when marchers "failed" and were turned back with dogs and water cannon. It would be offensive to refer to black community in the 1960s as "laissez faire"; and of course they didn't expect their rights to be handed to them either.

We must persist. Eyes on the prize. Feel the pain of loss head on...and then move onward and upward.

I agree with Californian. This dogmatic repetition of "it's all our fault" from gays too afraid to face the fact that we square against a terrifying force.

Jason, you're adorable! I love the fact that you used the phrases "Debbie Downer" and "Mopey Molly."

I think you made a great point about Rosie and Ellen. And as one of the many people who put them on blast, you've made me feel like I owe them an apology.

Californian | November 6, 2008 5:36 PM

Strangely, a part of the message I typed didn't appear in the message that got posted. Where there is a ">," there was a quote from Jason regarding expecting rights to be handed to us.

Chastising gay people for "allowing" Prop 8 to lose is, I believe, a most unfortunate mistake, and one made I suspect as a function of insufficient knowledge. The effort to defeat Prop 8 was Herculean -- as well as dogged, smart, well-financed, and with a national scope.

Unfortunately, the other side put forth a Herculean effort as well, while also always having the advantage of the "ancient" stuff I referred to earlier (religion, prejudice).

Californian,

Thanks for your comments and I agree with you about the struggle over Prop 8 being Herculean. I should have made it more clear that I was referring less to Californians fighting for their rights and rather looking at the response from queers across America. Given the fact that I do not live in California, and am therefor am only indirectly affected by this proposition, I acknowledge that I cannot see the realities on the ground, which obviously have a specific lens to the situation.

But what I really meant to get across was that we shouldn't be surprised that Prop 8 passed. As you said, the opposition is fortified with strong religious beliefs that are entrenched in the very fabric of our culture. But even the No on 8 campaign acknowledged that early, when we were "in the lead" there was a noted lack of funding and activity from queer people and organizations. We lost monumentally in 2000 by double digit margins, and it is a little naive to think that we could have won at all. I commend the efforts of Californians gay and straight that were committed to defeating Prop 8, but please, don't act shocked. The writing was on the walls.

California isn't as open minded as many would have us believe. Prop 8 is just one of many pieces of evidence of that fact.

Californian | November 7, 2008 6:40 PM

It's a learning opportunity for all.

You may underestimate the out of state efforts and contributions against Prop 8, but we do agree that the forces on the other side were too strong.

The good news is that the trends are most definitely favorable.

I believe a tremendous amount of apathy or a false sense of security amongst LGBT Americans, especially gay men, swung the hand of fate to favor the Yes camp. In speaking with many of my peers, many believed it would be a tough race, but were relatively calm and subdued at the thought of a legitimate contested race in California. "It's California, for crying out loud!" Yes, yes... California, the home of West Hollywood and San Francisco. If ever there was a gay paradise, it MUST be California (although I would like to add that the entire Castro district is like a block of Chelsea in New York. I'm a shade biased being a newly-minted New Yorker... but I'm just saying...). But can we really be surprised that we lost in California? With a similar ballot measure passing in years past with double digit margins, where did this sense of entitlement come from? I'll hazard a guess: naivety.

I dunno. I'm wondering about this too, considering SF's low turnout (like 40-some percent). Maybe gays just don't care as much about marriage as the gay activist community does.