Sean Kosofsky

What about the rest of us?

Filed By Sean Kosofsky | January 26, 2010 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: California, flyover country, LGBT, Prop 8, Prop 8 trial, Prop. 8, queer

This post may make me unpopular, but it needs to be written.

Right now our movement is caught up in the daily drama of the very important federal lawsuit to strike down Prop 8 in California. Don't get me wrong, this case is of utmost importance. There is a lot at stake, to be sure, but my concern lies in the fact that the LGBT movement seems obsessed with all things coastal. California, New York, D.C.... All important places.

Dozens of states have endured divisive and destructive ballot measures that have left the local community devastated, hurt and angry. But no other state experienced the outpouring of LGBT community and media attention as California. This isn't just about California's size - this has to do with the queer center of gravity being on the coast. Bigger is better. Bigger is sexier. This story has it all, stars, victims, a celebrity governor and rival attorneys coming together to take on an evil policy.

It has always been that leaders, organizations, celebrities and causes that have some link to the coast will gobble up the valuable real estate of our community's consciousness.

The plight of LGBT people in Michigan, Iowa, Ohio and Missouri and other states is just as important as those in California. But because their stories and brave local leaders don't get any recognition or attention, our movement is being defined by people whose lifestyles, values and personalities are representative of a particular location and segment of our community. This is not to devalue or dismiss anyone in California. But, dammit there is more to this movement than California.

Regardless of what happens in California (and I hope we win) we must stop the love affair with one geographic slice of our country. We must widen our lens and see further than we have been seeing. The problem with fixating on any one strategy or any one region is that such short sightedness will fail us. Our movement must be more versatile and nimble and unless we can weave a larger narrative of where we live and where we are facing discrimination and violence, the queer "problem" or "issue" will always be "over there" and not "right here."

Problem is...we all live "right here."

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look at the amount to attention focused on Pro 8 versus Iowa and Indiana, you'll understand the truth of Bil's post. I live in middle America as so most of Americans. If we are to bring true equality it is true attention to what is happen where we live and not where New Yorkers reside.

Ah, I can't claim credit for this one, Tahlib. This is Sean Kosofsky's post. :)

(But I think it's patently obvious for any of our longer-term readers that I agree with Sean 110%)

I agree that the "community" is too focused on gay hotspots like NYC and California.

I'm amused when people post comments like "I don't see why anyone lives in (insert 'backwards' city of choice)."

They do not realize that one reason life in those "backwards" areas is difficult is because people like them left instead of trying to make a change.

Not everybody has the money, opportunity, or desire to live in a gay mecca.

Great post, Sean! I agree wholeheartedly! I wouldn't want to discount the important of our smaller fights either--every victory is a victory--but we often get hung up on our big coastal cities, throw a lot of money at them, and leave the rest of us in the middle of the country behind. I can't wait to see us all bring EACHOTHER up together.

Sean, brilliant piece!

You're right, we need to.

That having been said, I'd urge you to look more closely at what's really happening in the Perry trial. I don't think Perry is the best example of what you're complaining about. On the surface, yes, Perry is about Proposition 8, but the core battle, and nearly eighty percent of the testimony, has been aimed at a particular battle that seems like a legal technality, but which really is a very important national issue for our rights: How should the 14th Amendment of the US Consitution apply to sexual orientation?

The question of "what level of scrutiny?", that is, just how much cynicism the courts should apply when looking at a law that appears to discriminate against a group, is a question that will likely be addressed because of Perry. The AFER lawyers are, without boring you with details, concentrating their fire towards getting the court to agree to apply a heightened level of scrutiny towards laws that discriminate based on orientation.

The value of such a ruling would be a matter of national importance far greater than marriage rights, and far greater than the rights of just Californians.

A ruling for a heightened level of scrutiny by the Supreme Court that would be a precedent for how "equal protection" was applied to any law, state or federal, that appears to discirminate on the basis of orientation in the United States. It could concievably affect legal challenges not only to marriage but to other parts of DOMA, DADT, state adoption rights issues, it would be a veritable federal bazooka of legal force.

Perry ain't just about California.

I agree with much of what you said about the love affair with the coastal regions, but if you wanna discuss the rest of the country, how about some acknowledgement of the South as well? If anything, I'd argue that their fight is just as important and maybe even more significant, since the hurdles our community faces down there are some of the most vicious, racist, and traditionally difficult that this country sees.

The rest of us? There's Festivus!

It's interesting, because teh amerikan gayz seem to be more able to pay attention to Jamaica than to Indiana.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | January 28, 2010 7:48 AM

OK, I waited a day. You meant Haiti?

Sister Mary FP | January 26, 2010 4:19 PM

It may seem small comfort, but I think things are, in fact, changing. The Media (such as it is) may be slower to catch up, and still focussing on where it's easier to point the cameras. But here's evidence that (to me, at least) suggests the 'folk in the middle' are recognizing their own importance and taking action into their own hands. Here in California we got the message (late): The 'Meet in the Middle' campaign was an attempt to redress the oversight (during the Prop 8 election) of the parts of the state that aren't San Franciso and Los Angeles.

My evidence: the growth of convents. Milwaukee, Birmingham, Reno, Cleveland, Nashville, Dallas, Boston and more are homes to new houses of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. That only happens with home-grown, energized, locally political people. (Brace yourselves.)

It's only one form of political action and a specialized form of activism, to be sure, but I think it shows a tip of an iceberg. A sea change is happening with people unwilling to be on the sidelines. We'll keep pushing the boundaries to meet you.

Kevin in NYC | January 26, 2010 4:57 PM

The general feel of this article rings of the symptoms of middle child syndrome.

I respect the comments of those like Anthony In Nashville
"life in those "backwards" areas is difficult is because people like them left instead of trying to make a change."
You're right Anthony, not all of us have the fortitude to stick it out in difficult locations and make the changes necessary. Perhaps that is one of the greatest weaknesses of our movement.

I feel it has to be said though that it's not always the easiest choice to stay in those locations. We flee because there is no alternative apparent and living long enough to reach maturity is preferable to being dispatched before our time. One day we'll be able to return to our cities and towns of origin and help to make change in those areas.

I find it ignorant of those fellow city dwellers that patently dismiss the existence of all that exists between our coasts because they fail to host a successful White Party, but then again those are also not the people leading the charge for equality on the coast more often they lead the charge to the club.

Is it fair that the coasts get the attention, no. Is it logical that they do, yes. The tipping point occurs when we reach critical mass.

Also, to your statement "our movement is being defined by people whose lifestyles, values and personalities are representative of a particular location and segment of our community." in what ways are you and other folks being misrepresented?
What values are not shared across state lines?

Joe Decker made a great point that the Perry trial has broader implications than for just the California gays. I think we are all looking for that instrument that will give substance to our argument that we deserve this inherently.

Margaretpoa Margaretpoa | January 26, 2010 7:18 PM

I agree Sean. When Texas passed an amendment denying same sex marriage here, (even though it was already against the law), people in other parts of the country including Californians roundly derided Texans of all persuasions, saying things like "What do you expect from a bunch of tobacco chewing, cow screwing backwards hillbillies...", and so forth. Like the rest of us somehow deserved to be denied equality for the sin of BEING here. The same is true politically/ I'm left of almost everybody I've ever met from anywhere in the country yet for some reason, being a native Texan, I'm held responsible for the garbage that comes from Texas wingnuts from Rick Perry to the creationists on the school board, despite the fact that I haven't voted for a Republican since 1992, (Kay Hutchinson). However when California enshrined the same kind of bigotry into their Constitution, call the cops and Mary, bar the door! The (LGBT) world is coming down around our ears! I sincerely hope that we win in California. I gave to the no on 8 people, though I don't remember a similar national outpouring of money and help to defeat our own amendment but yes, I have a hard time working up a lot of sympathy for people who told me I deserved it because of where I live.

beergoggles | January 26, 2010 7:29 PM

All I saw was whaaa whaaa whaaa, somebody do something for me. And then I came to our movement is being defined by people whose lifestyles, values and personalities are representative of a particular location and segment of our community and realized Sara Palin has misplaced one of her crazies.. err "real americans".

He's also absolutely right. There's quite a few leaders and workers at Gay Inc that don't in any way represent my values or thoughts, but they've got the job because they live on the East or West coast.

Some of us do share your thoughts, Bil! ;-) But you're right: other than Gill Action Fund, all the major national LGBT orgs are headquartered on a coast, so their staff are coastal dwellers.

Though I have to say, we have a surprisingly large contingent of former Hoosiers (or in my case, child of two Hoosiers) here in this NYC office.

beergoggles | January 27, 2010 8:09 PM

I'd say they got the job through money and political asskissing. Their geographic location had little to do with it. As I commented to a friend of mine when CU vs. FEC was decided, nothing's changed, the rich are still in charge, it just made it more obvious. Whining doesn't change any of that, especially when it's whining about the wrong thing.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | January 26, 2010 7:53 PM

Sean, I agree generally with you about there sometimes being an undue focus on both coasts to the exclusion of flyover country. (The Iowa decision momentarily seemed to be an exception to that general rule). I'm not sure there is necessarily "blame" to be assigned here; if there are significant things that may affect us nationally happening primarily on the coasts, then they are naturally going to get more of a spotlight.

But I do think that one facet of this needs a little emphasis: With the exception of Iowa (by judicial decision), I believe that the only states where marriage equallity or something close (a la civil unions) has come only along the coasts or very close by (as in New England). So, for example, much of the debate about "incrementalism", marriage versus civil unions, etc., tends to come from there. Fine.

But in most of "flyover country" state constituional amendments have closed the door to both judicial and legislative ability to enace any "legal status" identical to or "substantially similar to" marriage, let alone marriage itself. So there the debate about civil unions vs marriage is academic. In Indiana, for instance, we're fighting an amendment just to keep the door open for the day someone can even offer us the "second class citizenship" of a civil union.

It's that kind of struggle that really gets overlooked because of what's happening by the seaside.

But Don, your whole post assumes that marriage/civil unions are the only game in town, or at least the most important one. If we put as much time, money and effort into anti-discrimination laws as we have been into marriage and civil unions, we'd likely have a much larger portion of the country covered by state law (making it easier to pass ENDA to pick up the rest).

That's part of what's at work here: coastal gays (I am one) are so focused on marriage that they've forgotten we still need basic protections in the rest of the country.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | January 27, 2010 5:09 PM

Sam, I'm not sure after re-reading my comment where you get that what I say assumes anything at all concerning thr relative priority given marriage equality issues vis-a vis others. I think I was comparing apples to apples.

Sometimes it seems that any attempt for people with differing viewpoints within the marriage equality debate (eg: incrementalism concerning civil unions vs marriage) gets interrupted by folks who make it into another conversation.

I think perhaps I read into your analysis of where the marriage debate is taking place and where constitutional bans block any movement on this issue an implied assertion that this justified more attention being paid to the coasts. After re-reading and your response, I see that was my own interpretation, not your intention. Sorry!

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | January 27, 2010 5:39 PM

No apology needed, Sam. Lord knows the times I wade into something and find out I've missed a word this or there that's made my propensity to jump in right away and click "submit" to my complete embarrassment. I'd like to say I'm cured of that but I know much better!

It is no accident that the biggest population centers are also the nation's media, money, and political centers.
I think that it would be great for gays in other areas to push their local agendas and shoot for some results that are meaningful for their local communities. Go for it. They have been doing this in Vermont, New Hampshire, Atlanta, and even Utah with some successes.

Thanks, Sean. It is so true. I have been reading Bilerico far less if the last couple of weeks because you couldn't sling a dead cat anywhere on this blog without hitting a Prop 8 article. (I'm a cat owner, or should I say, he owns me.) The same-sex marriage issues is like a flame for moths, or tuna for cats. It's the gay man's crack. (There's a metaphor in there somewhere.)

Some LG people are so addicted to the issue that they will sacrifice their own mothers just to bask in the same-sex marriage aura. It can be so sickening to see how perfectly intelligent people can become senseless children when talking about this issue. And the "Hurray-for me and to-hell-with-everyone-else" attitude that comes out of this can piss off a lot of people.

But, what the fuck do I know? I'm just a raving tranny as far as some are concerned.

I completely agree with Sean, although I, too, think that the Prop 8 federal trial will have ramifications beyond was a bad example.

But I, too, am a bit sick and tired of the focus of this movement on the coast. For example, people were absolutely STUNNED that the Iowa Supreme Court ruled for gay marriage. I was a little surprised, but not that surprised, Iowa is a state like that.

Also, those of us here in flyover territory (though not myself, being in Chicago) are far more likely to have the day-to-day experiences with the types of stigma, animus, and discrimination that is being discussed in the Prop 8 trial. And they probably don't have the necessary protections that the coastal communties do.

I agree 100%, but I do think there's one additional wrinkle that gets overlooked. People tend to support LGBT rights when they know LGBT people. So it's natural that those areas with a higher concentration of out LGBT folks are going to be farther along than those areas where LGBT people have to be more closeted. That would be true even if we applied equal time, money and attention to every area of the country.

That said, we don't. And we should. Everyone would benefit. The fact that we haven't sunk the resources and organizing support into Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, North Dakota and other states where we COULD pass an anti-discrimination law, if we tried, means that the activist communities there are not as robust and well organized as they could be. That means less pressure on Congresspeople from those states to support national legislation. And THAT hurts everyone, coastal gays included.

Speaking as a coastal type, we'd be wise to start sending some checks to the center of the country.

Pennsylvania is the 6th most populous state, not exactly the boondocks. There is a sizeable "gayborhood" in Philadelphia. What's the problem?

Maybe some day, a truly national LGBT web site will emerge and provide more coverage of what is happening in Texas, Chicago, the Carolinas, Seattle, etc. etc.