In April, I had a wonderful opportunity to attend a presentation by Erin Davies, whose documentary “Fagbug” sought to bring attention to acts of hate against gay people.
One of the points presented in the film is that some people within the gay community became upset with her methods and message. While certainly not a messiah among gays, Erin seems to be trying to do the best job she can. What else can one realistically ask?
…and, she is hardly the first entity to divide opinion within the group. The Mattachine Society, The Daughters of Bilitis, ACT UP… Indeed, the Stonewall Riots themselves were hotly debated within the community as to the ‘correctness’ of their message.
When I asked Ms. Davies why she thought there was so much strife over her activism, she pointed to the absence of a clear leader in the movement. Ellen Degeneres, she mentioned, was about the closest thing to a spokesperson the movement has.
No single person can be the exclusive representative of a movement. We look back on the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as being the definitive voice of the struggle for Africa-American civil rights. This is a very over-simplified perspective. Many in the black community had disagreements with the methods and messages of Dr. King, some of them quite impassioned. That said, it was obviously useful that the movement had Dr. King to lead, and serve as a media spokesperson.
Whether or not a leadership vacuum is to blame, it does seem absolutely ridiculous that we seem to have the energy to fight amongst ourselves. At the time of this post, only 14 US states, and the District of Columbia extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. (Hawaii and Illinois may be close to joining them.)
Marriage equality is an important cause, as is employment non-discrimination. In the case of the latter, the trans* community was arguably thrown under the bus by the Human Rights Campaign and then Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) among others, by not supporting inclusion of gender identity protections in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) The counter argument to this is that adding protections for gender identity was a “poison pill” which would ensure the defeat of any such legislation. One might even believe that there was the potential to set the trans* community back by inviting debate on a subject which enjoyed no popular support at the time.
Whatever the truth may be about all of this, it’s another prime example of the notion that we just can’t seem to present a unified movement. Even within any of the subsets of the LGBTQIA+ community, there is considerable disagreement on demands and tactics. While robust conversation is healthy and helpful to such causes, the vitriolic nature of LGBTQIA+ infighting is painful for me to witness.