Alex Blaze

Dan Savage Responds, and: Are All Black People Poor?

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 25, 2011 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: black, Dan Savage, HRC, marriage, New York Times, race, Washington, Washington D.C.

The Bilerico Project keeps on getting results! On Sunday I complained that Dan Savage wouldn't even explain why marriage is the most "meaningful" right a gay personmarried-couple.jpg can have, and yesterday he took to The Slog to defend the issue. Read his full explanation about why marriage is the most we can hope for; while I find his narrow operating definition of "rights" counterproductive to the best interests of our community, I'm glad that someone's actually willing to engage this argument. (My expectations for substantive discussion in gaystream culture are really that low.)

One thing from Savage's response does stand out:

And that whole only-A-gays-care-about-marriage/poor-black-queers-don't-care-about-marriage line you're pushing is complete and total bullshit.

Did I bring up race at all in my complaint on Sunday? I actually thought I was leaving myself open to the accusation that I was white-washing the argument. I admit I've been more and more loathe to bring up race in discussions of political ideology this past year, especially with liberals going crazy with mocking conservatives'/the Tea Party's/Republicans' racial inclusiveness while praising their own racial greatness (which usually isn't that great).

Even weirder is that the statement above links a short post from 2010 with a photo of a black, lesbian couple in DC who had just gotten married. Savage implies that they're not "wealthy" (in 2011 he calls them "poor"), even though I don't see anything that shows their income.

Is this couple actually "poor," as Savage says they are? Unless he knows something about them that we don't, there's simply no way of knowing.

Unless, of course, one assumes that everyone who is black is poor. Since my original complaint wasn't even about class and race but about democracy and ideology, I'd also have to make more assumptions about this couple's political ideology and their relationship to LGBT politics than I'd be comfortable with based on a photo and a caption, even if that photo includes an HRC sticker.

And it should go without saying: finding two black women who agree with a white man doesn't mean that power is distributed evenly throughout the LGBTQ community. That two black lesbians and one white gay man, in a country of 310,000,000 people, agree on something proves very little. Read in the best possible light, the argument is a non-sequitur.

Some people get in the NY Times and these people get in for certain reasons that ensure that certain, other arguments never make it into the NY Times. It's not a reason to begrudge anyone for having a certain opinion or platform, but it should make us question how we come to various pseudo-consensuses within the LGBT community.

Which is why I consider it a win at the point where Savage explained why marriage is the "most meaningful right" a gay person can get: the usual way gaystream culture excludes the left is to simply ignore it.

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Cindy Rizzo | January 25, 2011 9:52 AM

Alex, Dan Savage continues to have a chip on his shoulder about this issue. His misguided post Prop 8 diatribe against African American voters was so horrendous I had to respond with my own Bilerico op-ed. Unfortunately, since then Savage has become the darling of the mainstream media. Maybe his fame and influence is a reflection of the fact that our own movement leaders just aren't that interesting or flashy. Clearly the It Gets Better campaign (no matter what you or I think of it) filled a void and took off big time. I wish we had better spokespeople. But it appears we do not.

Count me in the "this is a great and healthy debate to have" column.

But yeah, as usual, Savage displays his own racial asshattery...although the argument that he states has been thrown out there.

What I do get sick and tired of id references to "race" or "color" or "ethnicity" automatically being equal to "black." That is SUCH an easy and lazy assumption.

I think Savage is responding in this way because he has been called out like that before.

I see it on this blog all the time, and in my lefty circles- don't like someone's argument or point shove them in a box by telling them they are not acknowledging their privilege, or they are racist, etc.

The criticism maybe valid, however, I see it used more often just as a way of shutting down someone you disagree with.

So I imagine he thought that was where you were coming from and made an assumption.

I too agree with the left's holier than thou nose-holding at the tea party. Sure they are 99% white, at least they are honest about it.

Its not a perfect utopia over here, either.

Well...I agree with this, too.

I mean...

Quite frankly, I don't think that some of the criticisms of the "It Gets Better" project (just as an example) would have been so virtriolic if someone other than Dan Savage had conceived the idea.

I think that the criticisms would have been of a much more constructive nature. Instead, it seemed to me as if a lot of the criticisms were about Savage, which I did not think was very fair.

But...Savage has let his racial sentiments (among many others) fly at times and, IMHO, he needs to find a constructive way to address people's criticisms on those accounts rather than out and out ignoring them OR engaging in the bit of passive agressive defensiveness that he showed in his latest column (and he's shown it in plenty of other columns as well...i.e. his "let's annex Haiti" column from last year).

It's true that he's been called out like this before. You point out the main reason I avoid this particular argument: a lot of people make it in bad faith just to shut down a discussion. You oppose single-payer? That's because of your white privilege. You support tax cuts for the wealthy? That's because you don't want people of color to get social services. It's amazing to think the people we could convince if we just sometimes took their beliefs at face value and just argued about those.

Ironically, even though I haven't gone through his archives I wouldn't be surprised if there's a post or two in there making fun of the Tea Party for being mostly white. Oh well.

Great comment, Alex.

By the way, no, you didn't bring up race at all in your complaint on Sunday. But one of the first commenters on your post did. Savage is probably confusing the two.

In the response you link to, Savage argues that marriage is a paramount issue not in and of itself, but because it opens up other rights: to get green cards for international spouses, to more easily designate next-of-kin, etc. I don't know how sincere that argument is, however.

Maybe in a dozen or so years "gay marriage" will show up on the congressional agenda. Will Savage, HRC, and the like actually want to compromise on those kinds of issues (giving up on immigration for all spouses (straight or gay), or recognizing "parental rights over adult children" in some fundamental way) in order to win the 'core' right of marriage?

Shouldn't we something like that to happen, given the current situation. Repeal of DADT and gay marriage have been priorities for Savage and HRC, and issues like fundamental trans rights, or bullying and suicides of youth can't seem to hold their sustained interest in the same way.

In 20 or 50 years will "our" community condemn our "divorcees" and "philanderers" because they refuse to adhere to the hypocritical marriage vows "we" wrestled away from the straights? Will the next generation live in a world not divided by gay and straight, but by an alliance of gay/straight marriage advocates are set against the "promiscuous" minority?

Is the approach Savage and the HRC advocating going to create less hypocritical culture for all, or will their approach to activism end up requiring queers to adapt to straight values and norms entirely in every way possible?

Here's what I put in the comments of his response to Alex over at The Stranger:

"I'm a contributor to the Bilerico Project and I did a year as a member of the editorial team under Alex and Bil. The reality is, Mr. Savage, that anyone who pays attention knows that this is hardly the first time many of us have had reason to question your credibility on this issue.

One of the most memorable examples for me is when you went on Countdown and told Keith Olbermann that the only issues of concern to the gay community were DADT and marriage. This has been a pattern with you, Mr. Savage, and Alex is right to call you out on it.

The truth is that basic common sense tells you that before a couple, regardless of sexuality or gender makeup, call the caterers and send out the wedding invitations, they first make sure they have a place to live and an income to support their life together when they get home from the honeymoon. In the real world, the world in which most LGBT American working families live on lower and middle class incomes, employment and housing must come first or the rest just isn't possible.

And there's also another factor, one that you and so many other marriage-hungry gay elites either refuse to acknowledge or just simply ignore:

As unfair as it is, no one's going to die because they can't get married. On the other hand, people can and do die every day in this country because they can't provide food and shelter for themselves and their families. In short, the lack of housing and employment protections can be and often is literally life and death for many.

When lives are on the line, the priority must be saving those lives by any means possible. To do otherwise is the very height of selfishness, shortsightedness, and, frankly, cruelty to those not as well off as yourself.

So, you go stump for your joint tax returns, Mr. Savage. The rest of us will be fighting to save the lives you and the rest of those who think as you do feel aren't as important as your right to make your own lives more comfortable."


I agree that if we are fighting for rights, marriage is in general one of the least desparately needed; I say 'in general', b/c it *is* life-or-death for some ppl, for example getting on a spouse's health insurance or being able to move here legally.

On the other had, I would like to bring out a different perspective on poor ppl getting married.

I, and a lot of my friends, married when we were just starting out, and were hardly making it (my wife and I lived in govenment housing for several years, and a night out was when Ponderosa had a Buy One-Get One Free coupon for dinners). We had a tiny wedding, which we had to pay for ourselves.

I loved being married, I wanted to be married and have kids from when I was little. Leaving aside the practical benefits (I was on her health insurance, and we couldn't live together long-term in the complex unless we got married), it really made us feel like we were in it together all the way, that we were a team. I don't think we would have split up or been any less in love if we hadn't been able to marry, but we both treasured that connection, that separated us from everyone else as a unit and a family. Our friends who got married felt pretty much the same, they were proud to be formally connected to each other and recognized as a distinct family by everyone.

We *were* much, much more fortunate than the ppl you are referring to, I am sure, so maybe this is kinda off, but just wanted to mention that marriage is a big deal even to ppl who have a lot else to worry about. And all that said, I still don't see same-sex marriage as the most urgent need in the gay community. :)

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | January 25, 2011 12:20 PM

I truly wonder sometimes about the value of our seemingly endless conversations arguing which right or group of rights is more significant, necessary, should get priority, etc. Part of the answer may well depend on consideration of the many different situations we find ourselves in, and the different stages of life they are associated with.

For example, when I was younger and in the work force, concernings that I might be fired because of my sexual orientation almost certainly trumped concerns that I could or couldn't marry and enjoy the rights and benefits that state was associated with.

Now I'm long retired, and so nobody could fire me if they wanted to. But the ability of me and my partner to avoid sizeable inheritance taxation that heterosexual married couples don't have to worry about at all makes marriage equality more important to me than any though of ENDA.

But isn't this the real point: It isn't all about me, me, me, but about also (and maybe in the end more importantly) what's good for my fellow LGBT stuggler. Bickering too long and too loudly on what's significant and what it less so detracts from coming to grips with the ultimate issues of equality.


Dan Savage makes some really important points at times. Unfortunately, for me most of what he says gets lost in his multiple kinds of priviledge--t seems for every good thing he says or does, he says or does several more that are not so good, and even the good ones tend to be heavily tinged with condescention toward ppl who aren't gay white cis males, IMHO.

OTOH, I dont pay any attention to him other than what rises high enough for me to hear it indirectly (such as to see it on blogs I frequent or in the national news), so I don't get too worked u over him, either...

Victor J Kinzer | January 25, 2011 3:48 PM

Wow. . . just wow. I love how you try to say that your comment isn't about race, and rip on him for bringing up race. Let me play a little bit off what you're discussing.

So we're going to pretend that race doesn't exist and doesn't matter, because obviously it wasn't part of your comment even implicitly before Dan brought it up.

So Dan comes from a very blue collar background. He was working as a freaking video store clerk when his friend decided to try and start this crazy independent newspaper called the Stranger in Seattle. So he didn't get his job through privilege, he got it through luck, chance, and whatever tenacity was required to make such a crazy venture work even the presence of luck and chance.

His husband is a DJ. So we're talking a probably non benefit job in the performance/service industry. Woo Hoo privilege.

I'm not seeing anything here that would indicate that they are A gays. Dan is successful at nabbing a forum for getting people to listen to his opinion, but you're on a major blog site. . . there isn't a lot of room to complain about that being a bad thing. If that defines "A gay" then you're description of "The A Gays get to go and tell the media what they want" then it's a self fulfilling prophecy. If the people who have successfully gotten a public audience for their opinion are the A gays, then you're trying to become an A gay, and criticizing that is kind of like looking at a food reviewer and saying "How dare you only eat at the restaurants that get good food reviews in the newspaper you write food reviews for. You're obviously closed minded about food" . . . so um yeah.

With all of that said. I'm not seeing any actually reference to any kind of status or "A-Gay" worthy traits. . . unless of course it's because they're men. Oh wait, you're male. . . hmmmm. What trait does that leave? I think maybe it leaves that they're white. By calling them A-gays, either knowing their backgrounds, or even worse without knowing their backgrounds you bring race unspoken into the conversation.

Dan blew it out of proportion, and he certainly doesn't have the greatest credentials on race in terms of how politically correct he's been in the past. However, trying to state that he's the one that brought race into this conversation is naieve at best, and abusively manipulative at worst. You can't bring up "privilege" in this country without addressing both gender and race, deal with it.

And as much as this is pointed at the author of these articles it is more pointed at the other commentators far more. How much everyone has mentioned privilege completely unaware of how much you are addressing race while doing it, especially as Dan and Terry have no other privilege in their background is kind of sad to watch play out. Get a clue.

Um, no, Dan Savage does not come from a blue-collar background - he does come from, at the very least, a solidly middle-class background (just a few blocks north of where I live in Chicago); all that's clearly detailed in his books. And people who work in video stores don't always come from blue-collar backgrounds either; let's not mistake low-paid work for class background.

I'll leave Alex to address the rest of your response (if he wants), but I will say this: calling someone an A-Gay doesn't mean that we're literally assuming that they're all rich, gay men - it's a reference to their enormous and uncritically assumed privilege and their ability to gain the ears of a straight audience that uncritically laps up their claim to speak for the entire LGBTQ community. In that sense, whether Savage and you want to admit it or not, Savage has an enormous amount of privilege.

No one is saying that he didn't work for his current position, but we're also stating that some forms of privilege - the kind that come with being white and male and cisgendered in this culture - tend to be unstated and not thought through. And his own video for It Gets Better, with his husband Terry, is shot through and through with this kind of uncritically assumed privilege. At this point, there are probably as many critiques of it as there is praise; you should be able to find them quite easily with a simple google search.

I really don't want to get into a tit-for-tat about Savage's class background which anyone can verify in his autobiographical books. But I did want to caution anyone into turning Savage into some kind of working-class hero. He's consistently used race in the most manipulative way whenever he gets a chance - we all recall his knee-jerk, racist backlash comment against African-American voters in the wake of Prop 8 (a response he first tried to scrub out of existence before he got caught doing so).

We see a similar manipulation, albeit in what only looks on the surface like the opposite direction, in this recent incident (and you yourself admit to his not having the greatest credentials on race). I think Alex has addressed the race issue quite well in this post, so I'll encourage everyone else to simply read the OP again. But let's not allow class to also become yet another tool for Savage or his supporters.


And I explicitly mentioned the kinds of priviledge I meant, including ethnicity.

Gay: gay, as in men-only, seems to have a much higher acceptance (esp in the GL community) than bi

White: Caucasian anything (male, female, str8, gay) gets you much more credibility in the majority white communities in this country than non-Caucasian anything

Male: like the white thing, except for perceived sex instead of ethnicity

Cis: needs no explanation IMO

Gay White Male: when most str8 ppl think of 'gay' in general, this is who they think of

The class thing didn't even enter my mind; I have no idea how much money Dan Savage and his husband have, or where they live. However, I *do* see Savage as an 'A gay' due to the connections and visibility he has, like Yasmin said.

As I said in another comment, I don't much care about Savage personally, I more find him annoying than infuriating. To me, the bigger point is to keep in mind the vastly different ways ppl experience life in general and being gay in particular due to their background and how they are perceived by society at large.

Not an A-Gay?

The guy has a nationwide syndicated column, a hugely popular blog, is a regular guest on all the TV news channels, just signed a gig with MTV, and the NYTimes reached out to him to get his opinion of what the President should address in the SOTU.

If that's not the definition of an A-Gay - someone with power and wealth - I don't know what is.

And don't forget he's also a published author.

I'm not sure how anyone could be more A-Gay than this guy.

Revising Polarity | January 25, 2011 8:00 PM

Why not have a poll to settle the issue? You could provide several options after the "A" and let the readers decide.

wow, he sounds like the gay Ryan Secrest...

The question about what Black GLBT peeps support can be found in the now ten year old BPS 2000 survey commissioned by the Task Force, done at nine Black pride events across the US (including my hometown) and published in 2002.

When it asked us what issues we consider important,
number one was HIV/AIDS, followed by hate crimes and marriage was third.

For Black transpeople in the BPS 2000 survey, it was a tie between HIV/AIDS and job discrimination first, followed by hate crime violence and drugs

Myself and other GLBT people-even other gay men, find Savage to be very biphobic, transphobic, misogynistic, and even racist with how he likes to "blame" prop h8 and other things on African Americans and now there's this issue with AA GLBT people.

Just because he's a narcissistic/meglomania filled media whore and an ex drag queen who made up a new term for butt sludge with a politician's name that doesn't mean that what he does is helpful.

I know A LOT of bisexuals and trans people who flat out refuse to get involved with his "It gets better" project because of how he is biphobic and transphobic and then makes up excuses like "Aww guys I'm gay and one of you so it's OK!" or he even said "But one of my best friends is Trans!" excuse that nobody believes.

Savage also seems to be in denial about how condoms and having safer sex do work at preventing HIV and STTDs. If I did have questions about BDSM or kink I would go to someone who actually practices BDSM/kink and who is a part of the leather community unlike Savage.

I think the idea of "It gets better" started out good but "it gets better" is the stock statement that ALL bullied kids in school hear no matter what their sexual orientation or gender is, or if the student is having a tough time at school with classes or teachers they get told "it gets better!".

Now you have people who are not even GLBT at all with the IGB project telling GLBT teens to ignore bullying and it's not like these people would even understand what it is like to grow up being GLBT.

Telling GLBT teens "It gets better!" does ignore the problems that they are facing and pushes them back into the closet. When I was a teenager and struggling with my sexuality if some adult told me "It gets better!" I would have told them, "Why don't you actually listen to me and tell me something that I don't know?"

Here's a discussion about Savage on MTV:

Keep up the great blog posts on Bile Rico! :)