Tear the Stripes Down: The Sanitizing of the Movement
Walter Beck stares down the marriage equality opposition, and is confronted with opposition from the conservative Gay, Inc. activists on his own team.
“God money, let’s go dancing on the backs of the bruised.” – Nine Inch Nails
“Power to the people, right on!” – John Lennon
Recently I attended a hearing at the statehouse here in Indiana for HJR-3, a proposed state constitutional amendment that would not only put marriage equality on double secret probation (it’s already against state law by statute), but would also outlaw civil unions, domestic partnerships and anything else “substantially similar to marriage”. I was looking forward to the hearing, being a well-known and incurable political junkie; I wanted to see the opposition right up close, I wanted to hear what they were saying against us. And I wanted to see our brothers and sisters testify on behalf and absolutely annihilate whatever bullshit our opponents were slinging.
But before my buddy Todd and I got to the gallery to take our seats, I was stopped by a young man in a suit and tie who was with our side. He had an issue with my attire, or at least one aspect of it.
I was decked out full guns blazing as usual, had on my rainbow suspenders, leather jacket, red gonzo shirt (we were told to wear a red shirt to show our solidarity), black beret covered with my buttons and ribbons from the street, and of course, I had my Pride flag wrapped around me. I don’t go into action without my Colors.
Well it was the flag that this guy had an issue with, he told me, “I appreciate the enthusiasm, but is there another way you could hold your flag? We don’t want our opposition taking a picture of you looking like that and using it against us.” He wanted me to hold it folded and subdued, clutching it to my chest like a security blanket, instead of letting it blaze in defiant glory.
Photograph courtesy of Todd Berry (Click to enlarge)
I gave him the hard Clint Eastwood stare down. My buddy Todd shifted a bit nervously, especially after the guy said, “Is that OK? You can be honest with me.” I didn’t say anything, just walked on to the restroom before entering the gallery, reverently folding up my Colors and putting them in my jacket pocket.
What could I have said to a guy like that? It broke my heart. What I wanted to say was, “Brother, are you ashamed of who are? Are you ashamed of where you come from?” Our Colors, our flag, have a storied history. It has seen rivers of innocent blood spilled by our brothers and sisters struggling to stand under it without shame, it has flown in demonstrations and riots in the decades of fighting for liberation and equality. And this young man in a suit and tie was ashamed of it. He didn’t want the opposition to see what they were up against, he didn’t want them to see a wild-eyed street warrior dressed to the nines with eyes that told of mental and spiritual scars from years on the front lines.
Nope, he wanted to give off the vibe of “we’re jes’ folks like you”. He was willing to sweep the weirdness, the defiance under the rug to look respectable to the opposition. In a few short moments, our opposition would be testifying before the committee, telling them that people like us were sick, perverted, damaged goods in need of fixing. And instead of meeting them head-on, this cowardly punk was willing to tone it down out of fear of “offending” them.
The opposition didn’t disappoint in their testimony. There was a “converted” lesbian who supported HJR-3 because “I changed and you can too!” The most offensive was the black preacher who said it was an insult to claim that our movement was a Civil Rights Movement because according to him, gay folks have never been lynched in America like black people were. Excuse me? Do the names Matthew Shepherd or Brandon Teena ring a bell? Even today, with all the “progress” we’ve made, we still face the constant threat of physical violence because of who we are.
When it was all said and done, we lost 9-3 with one abstention. HJR-3 advanced to the House, where we still await a final vote before it moves to the Senate.
What happened to me over the flag in the Statehouse is a microcosm of what’s happening in the movement. Other incidents have occurred, from the Human Rights Campaign trying to remove a Trans* Flag at a marriage rally last year to radical groups such as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence being spurned at equality events.
We were needed when it was time to march in the streets, when it was time to stake our claim, when it was time for the public to take notice, but those days are over. Now that we’ve got a fair amount of respectability, we’re shuffled off to the side and told “OK kids, thanks for clearing the path for us, now run along and let the grown-ups take over.”
Yep, the big-money organizations run by the polite and clean A-listers have taken over the Movement. They’re the ones who grab the headlines and toast the victories. They sip champagne with their $100,000 donors and shut the door in the rest of our faces. It’s become a Big Gay Country Club and folks like me, the freaks, the weirdos, the social outlaws, the truly queer, ain’t on the guest list.
That’s bottom line when it comes to Gay, Inc. Folks like me are bad for advertisers. A tall hairy gonzo weirdo decked out full guns blazing would freak out a member of the opposition; they would either puke in disgust or piss their church trousers out of pure fear.
You know what? Good, I’m glad it triggers such a reaction from them. I’ve spent my whole life here in the Bible Belt being told I’m sick, I’m demented, I’m damaged goods. I’ve heard that for almost twenty-seven years. I’m not here to back down, I’m not here to compromise, I’m not here to shake hands for political favors, and I’m not here for half a loaf. I’m here to rally the Colors and help my brothers and sisters reach that final mountain peak of equality. If the opposition thinks I’m an abomination like their holy books say, let’s see if they have the balls to throw the first stone. I want them to look me in the eyes and see me for who I really am when they do it.
Fortunately, it seems I’m not the only one who’s tired of being sold out by Gay, Inc. There seems to be a growing number of activists who are going back to the roots of the movement and realizing that we don’t need corporate sponsors or slicked up advertisers to finish our Revolution. All we need is each other, some good marching songs, the determination that we are human beings worthy of respect and rights, and of course, our Colors, which are not gray and lifeless, but a bright shining Rainbow, representing all of us, no matter how weird we are or how much money we have in our pockets.
Brother Jack from Tempe, Arizona sums it all up best, “When we diss our brothers and sisters for not fitting into the mainstream mold, ask then to fold up their flags, remove their rainbow jewelry or wash off their faces and put on ‘respectable’ garb, we demean ourselves. We all stand together, in face or not, furled in Pride flags or not, wearing office casual or full-on outrageous. We cannot tell some of our community to please go in through the back door, or stand out of the limelight. The people who hate us don’t care how we are dressed. Every one of our butches could let their hair grow and put on a little lipstick; all our queens could sport torn jeans and flannel shirts, with a chain wallet hanging from their back pockets, and still they would hate us. Take off every bumper sticker with a rainbow or an equals sign and they would still hate us. Only when we tell them that we will not allow them to divide and conquer can we hope to win the right to live as who we are.”
Money doesn’t win a Revolution, brothers and sisters. Love does.
Postscript: On January 27th, the Indiana House of Representatives voted an amendment to strike the second sentence from HJR-3, effectively killing the bill for the year.