Monday, May 28, 2012

Building authentic lives

My friend and debate partner disapproved when I last shared the idea that gays are winning the battle for acceptance. My friend reminded me of the dangers of declaring victory too soon and I haven't written about it since then.

Of course, I mention it now because I'm about to write about our victory again. This time I am prompted by the article Victory, unprecedented by Linda Hirshman in a posting on Salon. The article is an excerpt from her latest book. She reminds us of the huge gains we've made in the last few years -- repeal of the military ban, enactment of a hate crimes law that includes gays, judges that have struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and the Calif. ban on gay marriage, legal gay marriage in six states, and national polls that the majority support gay marriage. All this and the Stonewall riot was only 43 years ago. So how did we do it?

The first component of our success is because we live in America. Our country is a liberal state (and Hirshman emphasizes the small "L") which makes three promises:
First, security: the state will protect its citizens from one another and not hurt them worse than the people it is protecting them from. Second, liberty: citizens have certain rights as human beings that even the state cannot interfere with. And finally, self-governance: for those aspects of life the state can control, citizens must decide for themselves on equal terms what they want the state to do. It’s a good deal. No wonder so many people want in.
The next component is that America was in the midst of two other social movements for inclusion, the racial civil rights movement and the feminist movement. These two showed the solution must be at least partly political. They demanded security against violence, be allowed their human liberty, and have equal access to political and economic life. Alas, both of these movements haven't completely reached their goal. However, the success so far has been through mimicking the straight white male power structures and defending their differences.

The gay movement started from farther back. In the 1960s we were characterized as sinful (by the church), criminal (by law), crazy (by doctors), and traitors (by politicians, see the lavender scare that happened alongside the red scare). The final component is that at key times gay leaders undermined those characterizations with a moral claim. Activist Arthur Evans put it this way:
It was more than just being gay and having gay sex. We discovered who we were and we built authentic lives around who we were and we supported each other doing that and in the process came to very important questions about the meaning of life, ethics, the vision of the common good and we debated these issues and we lived them.
The moral aspect of our claim has allowed us to take on institutions of straight morality -- marriage and the military -- and has allowed us to go toe-to-toe with that bastion of morality, the religious right. Our moral argument, along with our leadership, resourcefulness, and creativity, is teaching other movements how to proceed.

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