Cruel Crusade: The Holy War against Lesbians and Gays
Rhoads, Heather, The Progressive
Shrill whistles and shattering glass pierce the night. Fires and barricades fill the streets, and a mob of angry, shouting protesters pushes at lines of police in full riot gear.
With footage heavily suggestive of last spring's Los Angeles riots, this opening scene of the slick documentary, The Gay Agenda, is obviously intended to strike fear and alarm into the hearts of straight America. But this is San Francisco, September 29, 1991, and lesbian and gay activists have unleashed their fury over Governor Pete Wilson's veto of a statewide antidiscrimination bill.
The riot is an example of what happens when gays mobilize, the film declares, "just one part of an aggressive nationwide offensive aimed at every segment of society to force the acceptance and approval of their chosen lifestyle." A shot of one protester's sign declaring a "Queer Holy War" drives the point home.
The deliberately "shocking" video was a powerful weapon in the Colorado campaign to prohibit local ordinances protecting lesbian and gay rights, the Far Right's most significant anti-gay victory to date. Touring with the tape around the state, leaders of Colorado for Family Values easily persuaded thousands of church and community groups that "gay power is growing" - and must be stopped.
As July approaches - President Clinton's self-imposed deadline for fully integrating lesbians and gays into the armed forces - the homophobic hysteria is bound to reach an even more fevered pitch.
While accusing lesbians and gays of dismantling the foundations of Western civilization, the religious Right itself has quietly and strategically mounted an all-out attack of hatred and bigotry against lesbians and gays. The culture war is on, and gays and lesbians are the enemy for the 1990s. The religious Right has made opposition to homosexuality the centerpiece of its national agenda, and it is taking its crusade to states and communities around the country.
Last November, both Colorado's Amendment 2 and the unsuccessful Measure 9 in Oregon proposed to overturn existing municipal laws that defend lesbians and gays against discrimination in employment and housing. But Oregon's "Abnormal Behavior Measure" also tried to mandate that the state and public institutions actively discourage homosexuality, to teach that it is "wrong, unnatural, and perverse."
The passage of Colorado's Amendment 2, the country's first statewide ban on gay-rights laws, marked the culmination of a calculated campaign of defamation. A massive boycott of the state and a recent lawsuit that has produced an emergency injunction against the amendment helped stave off this latest high-profile attack on lesbians and gays. But Colorado may be just the beginning.
The religious Right scored many significant political gains last year. Their successful referenda defeating gay rights in Colorado and in Tampa and Temple Terrace, Florida, as well as the slim margin in Oregon (56 to 44 per cent), have given fundamentalist leaders encouragement to draft further anti-gay initiatives and branch out into other fertile territory - primarily rural, working-class communities.
Oregon Citizen's Alliance leader Lon Mabon has already helped form "family values" groups to work against gay rights in Idaho and Washington, and in his concession speech on election night, he vowed to return to Oregon with a "Colorado-style" referendum. The Far Right is sponsoring anti-gay legislation in at least twelve other states - California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, and Washington are currently targets - and its leaders plan to move the effort into thirty-five states over the course of the next two years.
"There is a very serious and dangerous threat to democracy in this country, and the spearhead is the rollback of civil rights for gays," says Robert Bray of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. In an orchestrated campaign to sweep away gay rights, the religious Right is working to repeal all 130 lesbian and gay antidiscrimination laws in the United States.
But lesbians and gays are responding actively: They were instrumental in President Clinton's election, raising more than $3 million for the campaign and accounting for what even the straight press admitted to be between 4 and 5 per cent of ballots cast nationwide - a bloc as large as the Jewish vote.
"We are for the first time in history part of the governing coalition in this country," says Bray. "What we are seeing now is a highly sophisticated, well-financed grass-roots backlash to growing gay visibility."
As threatening as the political attacks against lesbians and gays are, activists see the backlash itself as evidence of the movement's growing clout. The Republican Party staged seven anti-gay speeches at its national convention last summer, says Advocate columnist Donna Minkowitz, because party strategists banked on voters "quaking in terror" at recent lesbian and gay political successes.
"The Republicans chose us as the focal point for their convention because of the success of our movement, not its failure," she contends. "Like violence against our community, anti-gay attacks by politicians increase in direct …
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Publication information: Article title: Cruel Crusade: The Holy War against Lesbians and Gays. Contributors: Rhoads, Heather - Author. Magazine title: The Progressive. Volume: 57. Issue: 3 Publication date: March 1993. Page number: 18+. © 1999 The Progressive, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1993 Gale Group.
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