Editors' Note: Ronald Gold was media director for the Gay Activists Alliance in the early 1970's. He was one of the five original cofounders of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and its first media director. He is best known for his role in removing homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Assn.'s list of disorders. He will spend his 80th birthday this coming April in Bangladesh, where he now lives for half the year, because discriminatory immigration law won't let him sponsor his Bangladeshi mate of 13 years.
The defeat for gay marriage in Maine has made one thing absolutely clear to me. We -gay men and lesbians - are the one group in America it's still okay to hate. Oh sure, they say they don't. It's just that tradition demands that their love for each other have a higher status than ours (and a basketful of associated rights). What's to be done?
Word is out that we've got to do more to show them we're just like them really, and absolutely no threat to their world view. Let me suggest something else: We need to show them we're different and proud of it; that we have perspectives on what it means to be loving humans that they can learn from if they choose; and that they have absolutely no right, under our constitutional system, to tell us who or what we have to be to demand equality.
This wouldn't be anything new. It was the perspective that animated the Gay Liberation Movement just after Stonewall - a movement, I'm happy to say, in which I had a part. Back then, our focus was certainly not on marriage, which many of us considered a failed institution. It wasn't about telling ourselves and everybody else we were born that way, since many of us believed that anybody could be gay (or straight) if they decided that was right for them. It was equal rights now, not just in employment but in housing and public accommodation. And none of us was ready to suck up to "liberal" politicians who put us at the bottom of their priority lists. They were the ones who bore the brunt of our righteous anger, because they were the ones whose consciences might be stirred.
How did we get from there to here? Well, the first thing that happened is that the daredevils and firebrands fell by the wayside when it become possible to get attention with a phone call instead of a zap, and when folks with some real-world experience were needed to run viable political organizations. (A similar change took place with AIDS activism.) The philosophers of the movement also drifted off, to academia or self-realization. And the hardworking folks who were left were mostly seduced by the notion that they - gay men and lesbians - were now a constituent part of mainstream politics.
I think we're at a point now that the black civil-rights movement was when the energy field known as Black Power took hold. People of color had realized there was no way to Uncle Tom their way to equality. And gay people now must realize that just being presentable is not going to make us presentable to those who hate the whole idea of us.
What to do? Violence is not the answer, nor is wholesale dismantling of the gay establishment. But we need new philosophers and firebrands who will return to making demands not pitiable requests; who will make it clear that we have every reason to be angry at not passively understanding of liberal inaction. We need shouters and dramatizers who are able to clarify to the public and ourselves the host of ways we continue to be discriminated against, and concerted media-grabbing actions that will expose and shame the haters.