It’s Pride Month 2018! Time to check in on the State of the Gay. As the modern LGBT movement nears its Golden Anniversary, it is important to take a moment to wonder over all the magical milestones we have wrought.
We need not amble far into the past to stumble upon our national relevance. In just the last week, I have learned that even modern country music is, at last, crooning cornily about our traditionally reviled special love for one another… sort of, if you listen real hard and interpret the lyrics positively, and don’t blink while you’re watching the video, that is, if you can make it all the way through video and the rest of the lyrics without falling into a diabetic coma from all of the America that you’ve just eaten.
I would have remained completely ignorant of this aww-inspiring, unexpected endorsement from such a formidable champion of heteronormativity had the New York Times not decided to honor June with a parade of homo interest stories. Kicking off our rainbow month was, “Country Music is Singin a Pro-LGBT Tune”. This opinion article cited Luke Bryan’s current country hit, “Most People Are Good” as a reason for optimism about a broader cultural shift.
Luke Bryan is not gay and didn’t write the song. He has clarified his love for trucks and tits with the title of an earlier album, Tailgates and Tanlines. But, within the refrain from “Most People are Good”, we encounter the lyric that inspired the thought piece. “I believe you love who you love. Ain’t nothing you should ever be ashamed of.” Robert P. Jones, who authored the Times article, backs up his observation of unanticipated tolerance by pointing out that the accompanying video includes images of same-sex couples and non-traditional family configurations.
I watched the video twice, so you don’t have to, and I may have briefly seen an image of two women holding hands. And maybe my cheaters aren’t strong enough, but I don’t remember any startling family configurations, unless Jones was referring to images of families who aren’t white, also unexpectedly present in a modern country music video.
While I never want to discourage any members of the dominant paradigm or supremacist fringe from not actively attacking the queers, nor do I even want to poop ungraciously on this heartfelt gesture of shit-kickin inclusion, it is important to look at the full portrait this song is painting.
It is a list of People and Behaviors That are Good. Alongside the subtle suggestion that gays may not be that bad, is a wholly predictable, genre-reasserting family of wholesome clichés. Also Good are mothers, people who go to football games and bars, people who work for a living, children who behave like children, and Heaven, even if it has shitty infrastructure. The video is a montage of smiling faces, diverse in age and ethnicity. A female military member and aging fire-fighter are gratuitously inserted in case we forgot we were watching a country music video. Bryan also exhorts us to disregard the nightly news to preserve our faith in humanity. Because, “most people are good”.
Nothing in this narrative is inherently offensive, except maybe one little dig at the unemployed. I am certainly not mad at Bryan for gently introducing concepts of diversity and tolerance to an audience not known for its diversity and tolerance. It’s a goddamn public service. I’d happily buy him a beer.
However, my queers, I have higher expectations of you. Before you go getting all weepy about a bunch of MAGA hats not hating you, I want you to think very carefully about where this puts us…well, some of us. What does it mean to be written into the cheesy, idealistic twangs of Americana? Perhaps we should not trade in our cynicism for a pick-up truck just yet.
Three days later, as a Pride surprise, the Supreme Court handed down its long-anticipated decision in the Rude Masterpiece Cake Baker v. Empathetic Gay Men in love case. The court narrowly decided in favor of the baker. This decision prompted immediate demonstrations and prolific displays of ready-made, HRC-emblazoned protest signs, #It’sNotAboutTheCake, #OpenToAll in front of the Courthouse, as well as a torrent of Facebook tears and self-care memes in my feed. A few level-headed Facebook contributors, as well as sympathetic journalists, have tried to assuage the gay panic and grief, by pointing out that due to the specificity of the court opinion, this ruling actually did nothing to degrade the non-discrimination directives already on the books in Colorado.
First of all, Yay for queer activism! I am almost always a fan. Second, that’s super neat that this case didn’t destroy the hard-won advancements for civil rights in a state that is also the birthplace of Focus on the Family. But, could we all take a moment to objectively critique the sources of ire and grief currently dominating our Rainbow hive-mind?
I must confess my queer sins at this juncture. When I first encountered this case last year, I was viscerally annoyed with the gays. I know at least some of you also questioned their litigiousness in this circumstance. Why couldn’t they go somewhere else? Why couldn’t they publicly shame his business? What about using Facebook? These hypotheticals are irrelevant to my own impatience. When this case arrived on the steps of the highest court in the land, it temporarily became the public face of our beloved, complicated queer movement. It did so again on Monday when it suffered its “benign” defeat. It’s presence on that pedestal demands my solidarity as a known, queer representative to the many straight allies in my life who sometimes look to me for progressive guidance in all things queer. Is there some way we could start voting, as a community, on the issues we give a shit about?
As far as I understand the details of the case, the baker didn’t flatly deny service to the couple. He was meticulous in distinguishing his discrimination. Though he offered them cookies and cupcakes, he declined to use his artistic abilities to create a cake for their gay wedding reception, as he felt that would amount to tacit support of an event he finds objectionable due to his religious beliefs. He also does not make Halloween cakes, which could also be construed as condemning another gay holiday.
He also did not attack them, shoot them, or call the police. The couple, along with mom, left the establishment embarrassed, inconvenienced, and feeling disrespected, but unscathed.
To help make a federal case out of this deflating encounter, one of their lawyers, Ria Tobacco Mar, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, last year when oral arguments were first being made. In it, the first legal precedent Mar cites in defending her clients’ dignity is the 1964 Supreme Court decision against the Piggie Park barbecue establishment owner who refused to serve black people at his restaurants because he believed integration violated his interpretation of Biblical dictates. She went on to cite the Supreme Court decision against Bob Jones University in 1980 for its discrimination against students in interracial couples, and ended her article by recalling the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She, almost exclusively, relied on historic legislation that has incrementally attempted to ameliorate the ongoing horrors of institutionalized racism in this country, to buttress her arguments in this case.
Dear Queer People, please stop doing this. Just don’t. We have our own history of discrimination, violence, police harassment, and public humiliation from which to draw our own defenses. Even if we were to attempt to relegate slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow laws to a realm of unintelligibility in the modern American landscape, we need not look hard to find their current incarnations. To name just a handful of examples; mass incarceration and coerced prison labor, unarmed black men gunned down by unpunished police and vigilantes, and effective urban segregation, due to ongoing bank policies of redlining and racist city planners and school boards. Racial profiling by police is continually aided by concerned white citizens fretting about black people napping, not drinking coffee, not waiving to neighbors, having BBQ’s and pool parties, or simply walking down the street. If that gay couple had been black, they might be dead.
So, for the love of glitter and softball, never make this argument again. I will not defend it or you. Never again should you skitter non-consensually onto the shoulders of the catastrophically violent history of combatting institutionalized racism in this country and use its largely disregarded, but heroic victories to defend your entitlement to a life free from discomfort. Especially without acknowledging that our own queer movement has been complicated by its own racism and classism since its inception. Did you know that some queer people are also black?
Let’s see what’s been happening with the queers who are not white, cis-gendered, financially fine gay men for the past five years while this case has been winding its emotive path through the court system.
Trans people have been kicked out of the military. There has been a rollback of protections for trans people in federal prison. Transwomen must go back to men’s prisons which translates to rape, violence, or solitary confinement. The Department of Education issued a directive to summarily dismiss all complaints from trans students. The Department of Health and Human Services is now encouraging health care providers to deny services for trans patients. And the Justice Department handed down a directive making clear that federal law does not protect people trans people from discrimination, which it never has.
In case you think I’m too trans-focused, let’s see how women have fared. They can be queer, too. The Supreme Court decided that a huge corporation could also hold sincerely-held religious beliefs and deny health care coverage for contraception. Planned Parenthood is in the process of being gutted and hobbled. The federal ‘gag order’ has been reinstituted here and abroad preventing any health care facility receiving federal funds from talking to women like grown-ups. FOSTA and SESTA were just passed under the unobjectionable guise of curbing child sex trafficking. This had the effect of driving the sex work industry even more underground and sex workers back to pimps. It also eliminated most of the few resources trafficked youth had and put them into even more danger. It’s the reason that Craigslist personal ads disappeared. Did you know that a disproportionally large percentage of sex-workers are queer?
If none of these signs of the impending Rapture registered the same number of sad-face emojis over your morning coffee that the cake case did, it may be time to consider your own queer complicity in our collective decline in popular and legislative dignity.
During one of the many sympathetic interviews conducted with the gay men involved in the cake case, one of the men, in recalling the discomfort of that day he was denied a wedding cake, recounted his experience of being bullied in high school. He said that he was initially surprised by the baker’s response to his request and perhaps he had been lulled into a false sense of security in his adult life and especially after the legalization of gay marriage. He thought things had changed.
Things have changed. But, if you are a firm believer in incremental social justice advancements, consider that the erosion of achieved civil rights is probably going to happen in the same manner. If you put all of our tastefully-decorated eggs of hope into the basket of respectability and legitimacy conferred by assimilation into the happy, hegemonic, heteronormative model of marriage, you might be tempted to think that the misfortune of those other queers has nothing to do with your own domestic ambitions. But the Religious Right did not concede when segregation became unconstitutional. They did not give up when women gained discretion over their own bodies. They certainly did not shrivel after same-sex marriage became legal. They might hate us most of all. Their just picking off the pawns right now. But they are coming for you, queen.
My personal, emotional support of gay marriage is boundless in its enthusiasm. I cry at every gay wedding and I am profoundly grateful for my own stability and joy. I’ve earned it. We all have. But it is never far from my mind that the model I have stylized into my own queer version of marital equity, support, and community is based on the same paradigm that has traditionally been used to control women, wealth, and power. It also structurally excludes non-participants from access to common entitlements of cultural and economic ambitions. It is a pillar of capitalism at its heart, and not the sporting kind. It is much more efficient for the wealthy to extract more wealth from a society when that society is governed by conservative social norms. It is easier to control potential populations of resistance by segregating them into categories of legitimate and illegitimate. This strategy has an added bonus of enticing a small number of representatives from the outlying communities with some traditional entitlements in exchange for their apathy toward the further abjection of the less privileged members of their own cultural groups, thus creating an additional layer of preservation for the status quo.
Currently, the Conservative Right has their shit together. They are better at this game than we are. They have been for a long time. Did you catch the part about the wingnut in Colorado who went to three different cake shops around the same time as the wedding cake incident, asking for a cake in the shape of a Bible with a depiction of a same-sex couple X-ed out and the two Bible verses condemning sodomy in red icing? He was also denied service and he sued on the grounds of religious discrimination. It was because he lost his suits that the Supreme Court was allowed to narrowly decide the cake case on religious liberty grounds instead of treading into free speech territory like the Trump administration suggested.
I’m a big fan of conspiracy theories. I often don’t think they go far enough. I think Russia actually manipulated individual voting machines in swing states. I also think they rigged the 2016 Superbowl as a favor to Trump and so that the underdogs wouldn’t win. I am certain that bible cake guy was a plant. Nobody needs that cake. It’s too busy. What party was he throwing with that thing?
There is some serious Handmaid’s Tale shit going down right now. Do you think conservatives in all those states that pushed for “Religious Freedom” laws after same-sex marriage was legalized are going to be disheartened by the subtle nuances of Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in the cake case? If you’ve seen the Luke Bryan video, you know that rational critique of complex legal ramifications didn’t make the list of things that are Good. Most assuredly, there are already secret cabals of joy-hating wingnuts all over Red America strategizing how to get back to the Supreme Court. It’ll take a few years. Justice Kennedy is almost 82. Justice Ginsburg is 85. What court will they be facing? How much will they be able to destroy?
Justice Kennedy is a life-long Republican and was appointed by Reagan. He’s the guy that wrote the majority opinion legalizing same-sex marriage. He’s also the guy that wrote the majority opinion in 2003 that finally decriminalized homosexuality, nationally. Through some cosmic serendipity, he has become our guy. I think he was hoping to flesh out his legacy with this case. I think we sent him the wrong case. He suggests as much in his opinion. “The adjudication concerned a context that may well be different going forward…The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts.” I think he was expressing a bit of remorse that he wasn’t able to further our standing in polite society, but I am also a little chilled by his tone. Maybe he’s hinting to us that we better get our shit together, because next time, he might not be there to protect us.
In the last few years, we have lost a lot of ground. It isn’t much of a leap to the nightmare of two new Supreme Court Justices nominated by the Trump administration, or worse, the Pence administration. If that happens, how many cases will it take before they invalidate same-sex marriage once again? You know we are all on a national registry now. What will our LGBT alliance look like after this apocalypse? How have you treated the rest of the acronym in the last decade? How can we stop bitching at each other about pet etiquette/care and renegotiating polyamorous boundaries long enough to be creative about our alliances and our strategies for resistance? Log Cabin Republicans can eat a bag of dicks, but the rest of our comfortable, neo-liberal, home improvement homos should perhaps start thinking about how welcome they will be on the fringe, once they’ve been deported back there.
It is entirely possible that many modern country fans have no idea what Luke Bryan is referring to when he tells us to not be ashamed of who we love. Maybe they think he’s talking about that pretty girl who never talked to that short guy who didn’t make the football team. Are country fans going to be the go-to allies for newly remarginalized queers? We have not traditionally showed them much beyond derision and ridicule. But, besides having the capacity to love and behave responsibly toward our communities and our families, we also have in common with these Good people that we are all currently being screwed by a small population of wealthy oligarchs and corrupt politicians. We are more natural allies with transpeople, people of color, and poor people, but issues of discrimination and injustice belong to us all.
We can do better. Queers are resilient and creative and fierce. We have a built-in reserve of our own fearless wingnuts that could be strategically implemented. Celebrities love us. “We Are The Champions” was written for us. We can’t let Freddie down. That isn’t a campaign song for Donald Trump or a football anthem. It’s a war song. We are fighting a larger darkness now. We must find a way to care about each other’s experiences and fight together. Let us not be cake-eaters.