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.