Max Mutchnick, cocreator of Will & Grace, wrote in the Huffington Post a post entitled "Where Is My Martin Luther Queen?" He worries about media representation during Pride:
Dykes on bikes, Tarzana Trannies, Jewish Leather Daddies and Kathy Griffin's mom. Don't get me wrong. I love these people. Let's call them the 'Usual Suspects.' They fought for my rights and taught me how to dance. But they should no longer be representing "the pride." It's a different time. For god's sake, Larry Craig is a life-long homosexual. What I'm trying to say is that "unremarkable" mainstream people are gay, too. So I cringe when a local newsperson shoves a microphone in the face of some young 95-pound twink (Straight Translation: a twink is a skinny homosexual with a lot of moxie). The twink looks into the camera and screams into the reporter's microphone: "Get down here now. The drinks are big. But you know what's bigger..." He laughs in a high-pitched cackle and his "girlfriends" join in. I wish they'd read more and drink less.
I'm depressed. Why is this the voice speaking for me?
I checked to make sure it wasn't April 1st, since this is the co-creator of Will & Grace who's criticizing Pride. For half a decade that was the gay TV show, as in the only gay network TV show, and it portrayed us as frivolous, racist, classist, consumerist, boring, and annoying. Why is he getting his panties in a bunch when it's time for Pride to represent the community when he had his chance and used it poorly?
Of course, that's not the issue. I'm sure he's, on the whole, quite pleased with how gay men, and LGBT people in general, were represented in Will & Grace. And I'm he's heard the criticisms before and assumed that they come from a small, less representative sector of the community than he and his friends. Why not? We pretty much all think like that unless we've been forced to think otherwise.
It's hard not to get in a gay ghetto and think that everyone in "the community" agrees enough, so why can't a consensus emerge? Somewhere along the line, we forgot what makes us different from any other movement America's seen: diversity. Along the lines of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexual orientation, geography, income, class, education, religion, skin color, and political ideology, there's little that holds us together. We come from everywhere and go everywhere.
Which is what I'm thinking about when he asks where the gay Martin Luther King is:
So you understand my pain when I see one of the "usual suspects" on the news?
Is he supposed to be my leader?
He's not my leader!
Where is my leader?!
Why doesn't the gay world have a leader?
Where is my Jesse Jackson?
Where is my Martin Luther King?
Where is my Barack Obama?
Wait! Him! Why not him? Why isn't this modern man speaking up for me and protecting my civil rights?
Something is very wrong here. I guess it would be nice to have a leader for the gay movement. But he or she has not presented him or herself. So why not kill two birds with one stone? Let's hire Barack Obama. I want Barack to be my leader, just like he is for all Americans. Maybe I don't need a separate leader. Maybe I don't need a separate anything anymore. I know I don't want a gay flag. I only cover my heart with my hand when I stand beneath the stars and stripes of the American flag. Because that's what I am before anything else. Rainbows don't cut it for me anymore. And they certainly haven't protected me. I have no desire to wrap myself in that rainbow. So why isn't Barack standing up and waving the American flag for me?
Well, let's look past the Barack Obama and flag-waving parts, since Barack Obama was definitely not elected head of the LGBT movement. That's simply not his job. He isn't waving the flag for you because he has other constituents to worry about (like wealthy European bankers and war contractors) and it's our job to force the Congress to care about us, not his.
I've seen this more and more, though, from mostly gay men, wondering when the gay Martin Luther King will come. My answer: never. There won't be one. Get over it. If you want to have a movement, you will have to own it.
Considering what a poor job schools generally do teaching the Civil Rights Movement, I get the feeling that many Americans who haven't been otherwise educated assume that the Civil Rights Movement went something like this:
- Slavery ended and 100 years of Jim Crow happened..
- Things were bad for Black people in the US.
- One day, Rosa Parks got tired of it all and refused to give up her seat in the bus.
- She inspired a movement, and an eloquent leader emerged in Martin Luther King.
- MLK spoke for African Americans and organized rallies until he was assassinated.
- In this time period and a bit afterwards, important civil rights legislation was passed.
- All better!
I'd call this a caricature of history, but that would be too kind.
Martin Luther King was much more than the eloquent leader who didn't like racism he's taught to be nowadays. Did you know he was a borderline communist, and that's probably why the CIA was already targeting him? Yet half the gay community already wonders why the Task Force even cares about reproductive freedom, much less economic equality.
The African American community, for decades at this point, had been working with labor, and Martin Luther King was assassinated while he was in Memphis to participate in a union protest. Are LGBT people, generally, willing to work with unions? Are we willing to, as a part of this up and coming movement, put our time, effort, and safety on the line for other movements?
Martin Luther King was a Christian preacher; he wasn't called "Reverend Doctor" for nothing. Are we ready to try working with churches more significantly?
Martin Luther King, and the Civil Rights Movement generally, participated in tactics that put their safety at risk, and they knew that police brutality and violence from white people was a probability, not a possibility. Rosa Parks knew she was going to be arrested in that bus - she had been planning that action for some time. She had gone to Highlander Folk School, a training center for civil rights that was set up by union organizers during the Great Depression. The Freedom Riders had trouble finding a driver for their ride down to New Orleans since it was pretty much assumed that the bus would be attacked, and it was bombed in Alabama. Are we ready to sacrifice our safety for this legislation?
I'm not saying the right answer is "yes" to any of these questions. The Civil Rights Movement, from which we can learn a lot (as long as we really study it and try to learn the right lessons instead of the lessons we were taught in school), started in a different time, had different goals, had different people working on it, and had different results than what we're trying to achieve. A successful LGBT civil rights movement is going to look different from the Civil Rights Movement.
There will be no gay Martin Luther King because I doubt LGBT people generally would organize under a socialist, union-sympathizing, Christian preacher. It's just not in our past. In fact, I doubt we'd organize under any specific leader because we are just coming from too many different backgrounds to find the same person inspiring.
And that's OK. Unlike Mutchnick, I'm not looking for his version of Martin Luther King, someone who talks pretty who can speak for all of us. One of our assets is our diversity - we're everywhere, in every family, in every business, in every church, in every county, in every political party - and that's not something we should scoff at. If anything, it's a direct line of communication to almost every American in the country, something that previous movements would have loved to have had.
There's also value to the diverse and creative activism possible in the 21st century, which is a great way to channel our collective experiences and talents. Not only won't there be a caricatured leader of the movement who tells everyone what to do, but it wouldn't work in this day and age even if we wanted it to. Our greatest asset is our diversity, so let's put it to good use.