Alex Blaze

There won't be a gay Martin Luther King: If you want a movement you will have to own it

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 19, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: African-American, civil rights movement, goals, Martin Luther King Jr., Max Mutchnick, pride, representation, rosa parks, Will & Grace

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:

  1. Slavery ended and 100 years of Jim Crow happened..
  2. Things were bad for Black people in the US.
  3. One day, Rosa Parks got tired of it all and refused to give up her seat in the bus.
  4. She inspired a movement, and an eloquent leader emerged in Martin Luther King.
  5. MLK spoke for African Americans and organized rallies until he was assassinated.
  6. In this time period and a bit afterwards, important civil rights legislation was passed.
  7. 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.

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Agreed and agreed. This kind of calling for a MLK is based on some pretty messed up ignorance of who MLK was and what that civil rights movement actually was. Why not where is our Rosa Parks, or where is our Malcolm X or where is today's Bayard Rustin?

Also my humor mind thought that while we might not organize _behind_ a socialist, union-sympathizing, Christian preacher, I might organize _with_ an anarchist, anti-capitalist, Jewish/Buddhist spiritual voice. Actually I already do. :)

they should no longer be representing "the pride."


That is one part of the problem - that Mutchnick sees "Dykes on bikes, Tarzana Trannies, Jewish Leather Daddies and Kathy Griffin's mom." as "they" rather than "us".

He has bought into the same lie that anti-gay America has: there are us, and there are them.

As long as some of us refuse to accept other of us as part of us, we are part of the problem.

I can't say "INCLUDE US" and at the same time exclude "Dykes on bikes, Tarzana Trannies, Jewish Leather Daddies and Kathy Griffin's mom". If I am embarrassed by my brothers and sisters, how can I expect others to not be embarrassed by me?

"BUT", one might argue, "they are a minority that does not represent US!"

First, a minority within a minority needs even greater protection, and I'll argue that the most misunderstood and feared among us need the most protection and help.

Second, if you're worried about the minority being the face of GLBTIQSOE people, GET OFF YOUR ASS, OUT OF THE CLOSET, AND ONTO THE STREET.

  • Stop showing up in the crowd at Pride and organize the GLBT CPA float, or the GLBT Firefighter float, or the GLBT Fast Food French Fryer float.

  • Stop yelling at the television set, turn it off, go outside, and show up at protests in your Armani suit, Cavalli dress, or whatever you picked up at the GAP.
  • Stop making up neutral stories and start talking about your real life, the one where your spouse or date is of the same gender, or where your kid is trans, or where you can't find the right person to be part of your ménage-à-trois. Act as if your love and/or family life is normal, because it is

Because, Mr. Mutchnick, the cause of your problem is you, and people like you. Until you stop dividing GLBT people into "us" and "them", others will find justification in how they divide people. And until you, and people like you, make yourselves the face of GLBT people, it will be the most courageous and daring among us who will speak for us.

For my part, I had hoped to be at pride this year as an out trans-lesbian pastor-in-training, but instead I'll be at my denominations biennial gathering.

I'll be there as an out trans-lesbian pastor-in-training.

But...but I liked Karen!

Seriously, though, the pointing out of the irony in his claims was on spot. Fine, he doesn't want exuberant airheads representing him; what was Jack? What was Will, besides some metrosexual sidekick once again to a woman? How did his unequal treatment of gay affection in comparison to Grace's countless exchanges with men enforce heterosexist storytelling?

I understand there's a difference in a news reporter interviewing some walking stereotype as a "representative" to the movement and a TV comedic sitcom. However, is the difference that big? W&G was a very popular show, and it definitely influenced perceptions.

I tire of telling straight women to fuck off; I don't want to be their sidekick. I don't want to design clothes for them, talk about THEIR fashion and dating. I don't want to counsel any straight men on their relationships with women; I don't give a shit, and I wouldn't have any experience to intelligently comment on heterosexual relationships, as my interest in romantic situations with women is nonexistent. I don't want to give anyone a makeover.

And yet this guy has set down guidelines that straight people follow when dealing with me. Who gave him that right?

The Czech | June 19, 2009 4:40 PM

I find Max's comments infuriating.

They smack of privilege. He leads a very privileged life, and lacks only one thing to be amongst the most privileged people in the world: heterosexuality.

And he wants us all to care about this terrible obstacle his privilege faces. Quick, someone find him an erudite, noncontroversial leader to fight for his last remaining privilege block!

He sounds like that certain sector of well-off gay white men who want a movement "for us" because they are tired of having to care about trans people, dykes, and queers of color. Given the chance, they would oppress the rest of us just as much as any other privileged white man would. Bleh.

I can see that Max Mutchnick is depressed when people like me, my friends, and my family "speak for" him. I can say I'm equally depressed when people like him speak for my friends, my family, and I. So what then? It seems like an impasse until we can learn to work together from the different cultural spaces we represent.

But when I hear the call for my community to please go away and stop being visible so he and his community can be our voice... it's just insulting. If there ever was an LGBTQ MLK, I'm sure Mutchnick would shudder, roll his eyes, and whine about why this person was speaking for him.

BTW, who are the "tarzana trannies"? does anyone know? Dykes on Bikes, seen them, as well as the leather daddies. I googled it but he's the only reference I could find. Am I behind the times or is he just being a douche?

For a short while, Tarzana, California, was known as the place to go and find yourself a transsexual or transgender prostitute who was often minority and generally what is called "ghetto" today.

It is, of course, a horrific and deeply insulting stereotype, and his use of the term demonstrates that perhaps he should spend some time in the comment sections here that me might learn a thing or two.

Then again, there are some transfolk who try really hard to portray such people as victims and people who do it to survive -- which is equally insulting and amazingly privileged.

Add a touch of condescension to it, Alex:
Call him a colpoclyster
Ancient Greek for 'douche'

There are a few problems that I can see. One is that a serious leader needs a mature and educated community. But we don't even know if there's a market for high gay culture, partly because Hollywood doesn't hire educated people, and partly because the community is so ga ga for Hollywood sleaze. Most of us are carrying a ton of baggage from having grown up in homophobic culture and wouldn't recognize serious gay culture if it did appear.
Here's a story that sort of illustrates the point. A dear friend wrote a totally commercial script that was funny and clever and edgy and charming. It had educated elements that he was careful to make entertaining, but also low key. Hollywood stole the script, of course, and they removed the educated themes even though they probably would have made even more at the box office. As it was, the film made many millions and is still raking it in on video.
For years, I've had plenty of ideas on how to bring high gay culture to the silver screen, ideas about characters and stories, all of which are funny and entertaining, and would bring us joy and pride in our history and culture. But after what happened to my friend, and just looking at shows like Will and Grace, I wouldn't try putting the ideas out there. I know they'd only be stolen and turned into trash.
As an added bonus, a Hollywood player is now complaining that there's no one to lead us. Please. Probably there are educated queers out there, just like there are potential leaders. But Hollywood doesn't allow high culture in the public square, and the gay community is too immature to empower a serious leader.

As the saying goes: "I'd rather be hated for what I am than liked for something I am not."

Usual Suspect Sister Mary Fucking Poppins, Dinonun
Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 19, 2009 11:32 PM

Whether it was "Will & Grace," "Six Feet Under," or "Queer as Folk" the audience the programs were written for were heterosexuals, not us. We were just fresh subject matter in what was no more than a soap opera or redo of "I Love Lucy."

Now, where it Norman Lear and "All in the Family?"
That was groundbreaking on every level in 1971. There you had antiwar, anti bigotry and even transexuality and Gay Rights on parade with poor white Archie as the constant foil.

Some of us watched certain episodes of the three I mentioned and liked them, but some of us hated them all. All of us loved seeing the GLBT or PFLAG character when they stood up on their hind feet and spoke with their own voice. But most of the actors portraying Gay characters were heterosexuals. "I am not a Gay activist, but I play one on TV." There are still even Gay people who are surprised to learn that most of these actors are straights.

Our lives presented as a minstrel show.

Like so many things in history we look through the rear view mirror and rewrite, dumb down and equivocate.

Still, our family needs to tailor it's message and a single leader need not appear, but many acting in concert with one another, rather than in competition. To do that it is high time that we ourselves became inclusive around all issues relating to GLBT persons, Including working for some things certain of us may not like.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 20, 2009 1:37 AM

ML King was a key leader in the fight for equality but he was not a revolutionist or socialist. For most of his time as a national leader he was a pacifist and a social democrat, a left centrist. He slowly moved left, becoming a important voice against LBJ's genocide in Vietnam. And most significantly he saw that absent economic prosperity voting rights and other civil rights were less than substantial victories. He turned the SCLC towards unions as a key to a better standard of living and he supported a guaranteed wage - both big steps leftward.

We’ll never know how far he would have evolved because - predictably - he was murdered in ‘68, three years after Malcolm X and only a few months before the FBI organized a nationwide campaign of police murders of leading Black Panther activists.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 20, 2009 1:55 AM

The main thing our movement lacks at this juncture is leadership. We have a plethora of self appointed leaders from the Democrat and Republican parties but they’re virtually all accommodationists. Blind to the fact that they have zero, nada, zip power in their respective parties they're consumed by the futile hope that they can reform them and ride the donkey or the elephant to victory. That’s plainly delusional.

So every four years they can be found marching down the aisle to wed (only later to divorce) the latest version of the lesser evil. They promised us that Obama would be our friend. Obama is, if anything, worse than Clinton. In fact, he seems to be sliding down the slippery slope to shrubhood.

Electoralism hasn’t been a important element in social progress since Lincoln’s reelection in 1864. The proven method of compelling change has been massive, militant movements that utilized mass actions, boycotts, mass education and mass organizing. Electoralism at best is just a tactic to aid those struggles.

That’s was true of the fights of early unions, the suffragists struggles, the rise of the CIO, the “Bring us Home” strike movement of GIs to blocking their deployment to China and the Balkans in 1945 and 46, the civil liberties campaigns challenging McCarthyism, the anti-Vietnam-war movement and the rise of feminism. It’s was also a key element in the strategies of Malcolm X, King, SNCC and the Panthers, north and south. And it’s been, off and on, a vital element in our own movements.

Right now the LGBT communities have no national leadership. The Log Closet types and LGBT Democrats are misleaders – they gave us a choice between McCain and Obama and the upshot is a series of heavy defeats from ENDA to Prop 8. These defeats in turn produced a radicalization that’s expressed in dozens of significant demonstrations against Prop 8, plans to undo it, a call for a national March on Washington and the militant Dallas Principles.

What's missing and desperately needed is a democratically run, nationwide, grass roots activist group combining the militancy of the Dallas Principles, independence from the bigot parties and a mass action perspective. Building that is by far our most important objective.

Robin Gorsline | June 20, 2009 12:11 PM

This preacher knows that God has already given us our freedom; now we have to claim it. That's what Dr. King knew, too, and he worked night and day, along with a lot of others, to help his people figure it out and stand up and claim their God-given freedom.
We don't need one big leader so much as we need leaders in every city, town, and hamlet -- leaders who work with everyone in the rainbow, not just the LGBTQQI folks, but the straight folks and the religious folks and all the colors and ethnicities and the workers as well as the owners. And we need people who stop calling each other, and our stumbling allies, names. Name-calling gets us nowhere.
Work, trench work, street work, gets us the prize. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Rev.Dr.Robin Gorsline
Pastor, Metropolitan Community Church of Richmond (I include this information because I am a person of faith and gay and want folks to know they can easily go together--faith folks often know what it means to be pilgrims on a difficult journey, certainly that it means never giving up, which is what Dr. King knew) .

Great post Alex and great comments. I also read the original post by Max when he released it on HuffPo. I had often finding myself wishing for that one leader to “unite the clans” so to speak. And wonder if that leader will have to be a gay politician? Aka Harvey Milk? His words still so true today that the key is everyone coming OUT.

My only question to those who comment on needing a grassroots/group versus an individual leader, like (and I do agree with this):

Still, our family needs to tailor it's message and a single leader need not appear, but many acting in concert with one another, rather than in competition

What's missing and desperately needed is a democratically run, nationwide, grass roots activist group combining the militancy of the Dallas Principles, independence from the bigot parties and a mass action perspective. Building that is by far our most important objective.

I have one question, even tho the below comments are true.

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.

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.

HOW can we ever agree enough to get anything done without an individual lead?

There is so much in fighting amongst ourselves because we ARE so diverse. State groups hate National Groups. National Groups hate the other national group. Some state groups hate the other same state group. Us and them. Us and them. Who gets credit seems to high on the list. I can relate, as a lesbian I have very little in common with a gay man other than we’re hated by the same people.

How can we win if we can’t agree? And how can such a diverse group ever agree? Thoughts?

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 21, 2009 7:19 PM

Sue, the sharpening divisions in the GLBT communities should be welcomed because they reflect a radical and growing opposition to the cornerstones of US society.

American society is a sewer of bigotries and divisive hatreds. The strongest and most enduring are racism, misogyny, hatred of women, and homobigotry. They don’t exist because of some impulse in ‘human nature’ to be mean and vicious. They endure because of their key role in creating classes of people who can be underpaid, denied benefits and forced to accept bad housing, educational opportunities and above all healthcare.

The divisions created by opposition to all three in the LGBT communities boiled over on the question of gutting ENDA. Barney Frank was the point man for Democrats concerned about losing support (and those ever popular ‘campaign donations) from bigoted business owners. He gutted ENDA for them, accepting every anti-LGBT amendment offered by his Republican bedmates. He used the discussion created by widespread opposition to his betrayal to launch bigoted attacks on transfolks and succeeded in driving wedges, deep wedges, in the loyalties that different parts of the equation GLLBT have to one another.

People who take the side of quislings like Frank and Baldwin or who display racist and misogynist attitudes form the far right wing of our movement and should be rejected. The same is true of those who defend openly hostile bigots like Obama or McCain. Many of them, like HRC, are simply front groups for the Democrats, a party whose traditional hostility to our fright for equality has recently become more open and sharp.

Another division sharpening the internal debate is the emerging class division between working class LGBT folks and the over-paid, dim witted spineless leaders of groups like HRC and many state equality groups. They don’t represent us but instead cater to rich GLBT folks who want an end to the indignities they face but who are terrified that the struggle will evolve and include the demands of working class LGBT folks for higher wages and equal wages, socialized medicine, an end to the war, and etc.

The call for a new coalition of grassroots activists and organizations will only increase the divisions along the fracture points defined by class, sex and ethnicity. The summer soldiers will want nothing to do with it and will remain in HRC, the Log Closet and the Obama-Democrat Closet, leaving the rest of us an open field to build a new leadership with a militant, mass action perspective and a democratic internal life.

We don't need a fuehrer, Sue. We need internal democracy.

good grief already...

there is no "The One" in our community.

This is where the main stream gets it all wrong.

WE ARE DIVERSITY and one size does not fit all!!!

Bill, I don't disagree with you. I just worry about such a diverse group working together. I always think of the movie Braveheart. And we are the Scottish clans that fight each other instead of uniting to fight the British.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 22, 2009 2:40 AM

Across the board agreement are now DOA - we're too divided. In fact the polarizing splits between the left and the right in our communities is getting sharper. There are pro-war pro-enlistment and antiwar anti-enlistment wings in the fight to end Clinton's DADT. There are anti and pro SSM factions. There are those who's accept Barney's eviscerated version of ENDA and those who want the real deal, the first version.

Those general divisions are only just beginning to coalesce opinions. But as events drive people to pick sides we’ll see the formation of broad single issue coalitions keyed to persistent demonstrations, boycotts and campaigns to educate and organize our own communities, similar to the antiwar and pro-choice movements in the seventies. Both the Dallas Principles and the MoW are steps in that direction and sooner or later there'll be a call for nationwide grass roots democratic group.

The right wing of the movement will no doubt continue being an instrument of the Democrats.

Max Mutchnick seems to be suffering from a touch of that most pernicious of diseases known to strike many LGBT people: internalized homophobia. Sad.