Guest Blogger

The Honorary 'Bilerican'

Filed By Guest Blogger | July 28, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Las Vegas, Netroots Nation

Editors' Note: Ryan Biava is a Ph.D. Candidate in political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, focusing on the comparative politics of privacy in liberal democratic countries. He holds a B.A. from the University of Washington -- where he was elected the first openly LGBT student body president -- and an M.A. from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (also known as Sciences Po). He has been active in LGBT activism and politics for nearly 15 years, including as a founding board member of Equal Rights Washington.

I don't normally think of "activist LGBT bloggers" as a modest, generous, and gracious bunch. That's not to say that I ryan-biava.jpgimagine them all as arrogant, miserly, and catty... but I think you get the point. It's not like one becomes an online sensation by being, well, something less than a sensationalist.

The same can be true of us academic types. I'm going into my fifth year of a Ph.D. program in political science, and I can tell you that, as a group, university professors are not particularly known for being ego-free. (You've maybe heard the old saw that "academic politics are so vicious because so little is at stake." Ouch.)

This professorial drive is to be expected: they, along with us graduate students, are expected to critique, revise, and generally be skeptical of any and all facts and arguments. Scientific discovery sometimes requires us to behave a little, well, strangely. We're paid to be a bit odd. That's science.

Trapped between these two modes -- academic and activist -- was me at my fourth netroots convention. It's always a special time for me, offering a rare chance to observe the twin processes of technological and political change as they interact in real, human time.

Though many at the convention live for it, I don't tend to go in for the partisan or ideological warfare, since I find much of that tiresome and far too simplistic. Grad school has, I suppose, made of me a political moderate--or at least a well-meaning devil's advocate.

This year's convention broke through that academic shield, though, when I met a group of people who seemed to combine -- with a certain integrity -- intelligence, compassion, and devotion to the fight for LGBT equality.

And by all appearances, they performed this alchemy quietly, with little effort, reminding me of the friends I made during the days of my own LGBT activism. I was hooked.

The Bilerico bunch -- I immediately took to calling them "Bilericans", so similarly did their natures resemble one another -- sat around one evening discussing the internal, institutional politics of the broader LGBT movement.

One of their number was arguing that LGBT leaders should place a far stronger emphasis on "getting along" with each other, even despite serious disagreements over strategy. I disagreed, almost impulsively, arguing like a good political science graduate student that the earnest fight for control over the movement was simply "how power works" and should even be viewed as a desirable, Jeffersonian competition of ideas.

Fair enough, I think, but I went so far as to identify my opponent's position as "Pollyannish" for committing the sin of longing for a more lovely, utopian type of politics. This was a step too far. It is not wrong to hope for warmth and aid from one's contemporaries, nor certainly from one's allies. It is, in fact, an essential impulse within any successful political minority's civil rights movement.

Hoping for harmony is only error when it arrests required, decisive action.

I think these Bilericans knew this. They may live all across the U.S., but they are thoroughly and delightfully Midwestern in their approach, avoiding the twin American political dangers of crass cynicism and infantile idealization.

The struggle for individual freedom is what drives them, but it is not what defines them; these are neither simplistic libertarians nor lefty anti-Americanists. They yearn with broken hearts for a restored, redeemed civic community that loves them -- as LGBT Americans -- every bit as much as they love their fellow citizens.

More than anything else, perhaps, they seemed united by the shared pain of an unrequited, undying love of America and its people. They want to belong.

There is something plainly good, and incontrovertibly American, in all of this.

As Sunday rolled around, I found myself the last of this welcoming clique to be left in Vegas. The spot we'd staked out at our hotel's corner bar evening after evening to share conversation (and the occasional shot of Patrón) felt aimless. The cocktail waitresses and stage performers looked more forlorn and swayed more sadly than before. Even the incessant, assaulting lights and sounds from the casino floor seemed to me muted and thin.

How could they not?

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You are absolutely an honorary Bilerican! It was an absolute pleasure to meet you at Netroots! you can count the In N Out trip as yer initiation!

Ryan Biava | July 28, 2010 7:10 PM

Thank you! And what a delicious orientation it was. I'm still thankful that burger joint isn't in my neck of the woods though. It's not something to be enjoyed all of the time. :-)

"One of their number was arguing that LGBT leaders should place a far stronger emphasis on "getting along" with each other, even despite serious disagreements over strategy."

No, I'm not going to guess who that was. But, I will say that much of the "not getting along" is the recent introduction of accountability into our Movement AND a fair competition of ideas. Ideas, tactics, methods and strategies must be held accountable and they must pass an honest, objective test of effectiveness.

Too many times we hear from LGBT leaders that everyone should just do anything and we'll kinda hope it all adds up, someday. This position wants to "get along" more than get effective.

I enjoyed this article and can appreciate why Ryan had a good time becoming a Bilerican. We need more debate of ideas/tactics and we need to create a cohesive strategy that will re-ignite our movement. That strategy to WIN - will be mostly about what is effective and less about making each other happy.

Equality will make us all happy. (Okay, maybe not Conrad and Yasmin, but, most of us).

Ryan Biava | July 28, 2010 7:25 PM

Thanks for the comments, AndrewW. I think you hit on what motivated my initial frustration with the "let's get along" mentality within the movement.

As we collectively move towards a desire for more accountability — and, well, winning more often, more quickly! — it seems important, too, not to forget that we are all in it together.

As usual, the middle-way (in this case, between autocracy and anarchy) seems to hold the most promise. All told, I'm frankly optimistic about our movement. History has a way of catching up with us. :-)

You were a highlight of the trip and you always show up unexpectedly. You've become Bilerico's Mr. Big.

First you show up in San Francisco with a mutual friend who dumps us all for a boy so we went out for drinks as almost strangers.

Then you turn up in Seattle at the talk with Joe Mirabella and me. I was so shocked to see you in the audience. Jerame and I texted about it before the talk started.

When you walked up to "Bilerico Corner" at the bar, it was like welcoming an old friend back from a long trip. Add in the luxury of spending more than two or three hours together and it really feels like you're part of the family now.

Hope to see you again soon.

Ryan Biava | July 29, 2010 1:55 AM

The Bilerico Mr. Big... that actually made me laugh out loud! I guess there are worse roles to play, right? (Aidan comes to mind. Eww. Wait, should I be singing "Moon River" or something right now?)

It was great to meet some of the family you and Jerame have put together. You ought to be proud. Thanks again!

GO Ryan!
been a fan for years... (blush).

Ryan Biava | July 29, 2010 2:08 AM

Now I'm turning red. Thanks. :-)

Andrew Belonsky Andrew Belonsky | July 29, 2010 11:16 AM

"Though many at the convention live for it, I don't tend to go in for the partisan or ideological warfare, since I find much of that tiresome and far too simplistic."

I couldn't have said it better myself.


Andrew Belonsky Andrew Belonsky | July 29, 2010 11:16 AM

PS: Great meeting you! Love your perspective.

Ryan Biava | July 29, 2010 1:52 PM

Thanks, Andrew. Until next time! :-)