State of the Movement Panel Discussion
June 6, 2009
New York, NY
NewFest commemorated the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village with a panel discussion sponsored by In the Life Television at the Logo Lounge. Members of the LGBT media and advocacy organizations gathered to open a dialogue that put into perspective the issues, the historical benchmarks, and the progress that the movement has made over the past 40 years and how it continually affects and empowers us as a vital and vibrant diverse community. Below are highlights of that discussion.
Katherine Linton, TV Producer/Host & Director, Follow My Voice: With the Music of Hedwig
Michelangelo Signorile – Radio Show Host, Sirius XM & Author/Journalist
Angel L. Brown – Founder, Queer Black Cinema
Ibby Carothers, Marriage Equality New York
Linton: Where did we have pivotal moments in our movement?
Signorile: I think it’s been a series of having these ideas of what victory would be…In the 1970s, we were coming off the empowerment of the Civil Rights Movement, the sexual revolution…Just to have the ability to go out and meet people and not getting arrested by police…was a victory…and then AIDS came and I think people realized we hadn’t really won all that much…It became an issue that raised the bar of what are goals are…What about the fact that our relationships aren’t recognized?
Brown: I was just talking to my producer about that and we feel that it’s just the beginning….We have a long way to go…So many people are still getting beaten just for their sexuality.
Carothers: I come from a unique perspective as a straight ally…It’s a growing sector.
Linton: When we talk about our community sometimes, we’re not always on the same page. How do we come together as a “community” with the same goals?
Brown: That is a good question. What is the community? Who identifies with the community?...With the situation happening out in California, a lot of people of color got blamed for that…A lot of the time, people of color feel like we’re not exactly in that whole community and basically build our own community…Is marriage at the top of our priorities of what we’re fighting for? It’s not just marriage, it’s also healthcare…LGBT youth of color are one of the largest groups of homeless people out there. We also have police brutality…To me, we’re all LGBT people. We’re just all gay people period. At the end of the day, you’re walking down the block with your partner who happens to be Caucasian and you’re black, they’re still going to know you’re gay…We should be in this together and really focus on communication.
Signorile: I agree and just want to expand on Proposition 8. A lot of people were so disappointed and they looked for scapegoats…Absolutely there was outreach to people of color and the Hispanic community as well, but in fact, the polling was distorted broken down by income level, white people with the same income as most Latinos or African Americans voted the same way.
Linton: Let’s talk about expectations and disappointments. In 1992 after 12 years of Reagan and Bush…we then had (Clinton) who’s our champion, but what happened there?
Signorile: I think there was after Reagan and Bush this idea that we were really a part of moving that era out of power and bringing Bill Clinton in…The Christian Right was still enormously powerful. The Republican Party was still exploiting homosexuality…I think we were all blindsided including President Clinton on how they would all be used. We came to realize we don’t have the kind of support and the kind of power we think we have. We’re a small minority and at the end of the day, we will be tossed aside if it’s politically expedient…We have to remember that we’re a small minority who continually need to step up and speak out loudly. One of our biggest weapons is what’s going on here, the media…We have been able to get our message out and are incredibly resourceful.
Carothers: To add to that, Twitter and Facebook are available to young people to galvanize more people.
Linton: In the 1990s, we galvanized to say “we are Americans.” It was the military, marriage, even the Boy Scouts. We had to prove ourselves as family.
Signorile: I think AIDS did enormous things for us and against us. Obviously, it’s horrible and traumatic and took the lives of so many people and caused enormous heartache and conflict for us as a movement, but it also created a whole new way of organizing and really brought so many people out of the closet. It taught us that being out and being open is the most important thing, because that’s what ultimately brought attention to our families…who we are. That pushed a lot of public figures and celebrities to come out…It really did help to define who we are in the American media.
Brown: It’s slightly different in the people of color community…There is not a lot of representation of us out there…We can’t really say they’re out unless they out themselves. That’s why a lot of LGBT of color are homeless because they choose to come out…We have a lot more at stake…That’s why Queer Black Cinema is showing different images to our communities and letting them know we have families and live our everyday life just like anyone else.
Linton: It often takes tragedy to get us in the streets. Anita Bryant united us in the 1970s. We had AIDS in the 1980s. We had Matthew Shepard in the 1990s. Is Proposition 8 that moment for us now?
Carothers: I think it’s certainly put a spotlight on the issue that wasn’t there before. I think it was a wake up call to make it clear that organizing has to be part of the message and more effective. Collaboration between the partnerships has to be that much more effective in order to get the message clearly out there. I think one of the tragedies about Prop 8 in terms of education was that people that were for equality voted yes thinking they were voting against it, but were voting for it…It's necessary to talk to everyone you know and for them to talk to everyone they know and have those one-on-one personal conversations.
Brown: I personally feel the whole Prop 8 is a slight distraction of what’s really happening. Don’t get me wrong. Once I have the opportunity to vote for gay marriage, I’m going to vote yes…One of the films that we’re pushing is Jumping the Broom that shows you the perspective of black LGBT people…Yes we should have equality, but that’s not one of our main issues that we need to be focusing on…Maybe this is a way to talk about police brutality. This is a way to talk about more healthcare…I would like to see more people of color just connecting with the LGBT community at large period.
Carothers: I see your perspective. From my perspective marriage equality relates to homophobia in the streets, and schoolyard, and healthcare facilities etc. They're connected. For those reasons, I see it as a priority of the movement. Marriage equality says culturally and legally that all families are equal, and therefore that all family members (children and adults alike, regardless of a person's sexual orientation and gender) are deserving of and responsible for equal respect for life choices, including if they chose to marry or not (... everyone has equal freedom to choose to create marriages and families or not). This awareness of equality/mutual freedom drives at the core of homophobia and ignorance.
Signorile: I just want to say that I, too, think Prop 8 was a distraction for some of the reasons that Angel gave. Katherine put the question out there, are these moments like Anita Bryant and AIDS…I’m sick of responding to moments, number one. Number two, those are moments that we couldn’t control where we had to rise to the occasion. We were being responded to. Anita Bryant is a response to us because of our wins. Prop 8 was ours to lose and we blew it. We lost it and we need to acknowledge that…Think about all the money that was spent on Prop 8 and we lost it. That money could have been spent on so much more important stuff. Now we have to spend it again to try to win this again…We did a bad job. We got to copy the groups in California, and nationally did not articulate the message properly. They allowed the Right to do what it did and we went back to Anita Bryant, which is to use children as a weapon against us and we ran away from it instead of taking it on…In the end, people do get out on the streets and protest, but where were they before Prop 8? Where was the media? I criticized some of the luminaries in the media who are gay and lesbian who weren’t focusing on Prop 8 until we lost.
Linton: Where is this movement today? The statistics about our youth have not changed, in fact they’re getting worse. It’s shocking that our youth are homeless. We’re focused on gay marriage. How do we shift that?
Signorile: I think it’s very difficult to control a movement. This is the most multi-faceted extraordinarily diverse group imaginable. We talked a little about how homosexuality plays a role in different racial or ethnic groups, but then there’s transgender people and what transgender people need. There’s hate crimes…It affects us differently by age and how we structure our relationships…What’s been brilliant about it and is also its downside is it’s really about 25 movements. There’s nothing else like this. If you go and talk to the people organizing around hate crimes legislation, they are incredibly organized. If you go up to the transgender people focusing on transgender laws, they’re going to be organizing. Everybody’s pushing. Just the other day we saw the United American Families Act debate in Congress. It was the bill that came out of nowhere because people who are in bi-national relationships said we have to do this now. The major gay groups were not even involved with this. Senator Leahy just decided to take it on…I do think the issues affecting the next generation of LGBT youth is something that is getting lost in the shuffle. It’s kind of like we have created this world for them where there’s a lot of opportunities, but there’s also a lot more hatred that’s out of the closet, too. We’re telling people to come out, come out, come out, so they’re coming out at 13 or 14 and there’s not the support there. We owe it to them now…to make sure it’s safe in schools. I think personally this has to be our goal for the next generation in every community.
Linton: We always have to be vigilant of the role of the religious right in schools. Because of the effectiveness of groups like these, they are using children and saying “Look at these homos recruiting our children at 12 years old. They want to teach you that gay marriage is OK.” We think that we have a victory with Obama, the Right is on us, are we at risk of becoming complacent?
Carothers: We can’t afford to be complacent. We must refute the religious right's lies, both by engaging in personal one-on-one conversations, as well as in the media. In truth, marriage equality does not "push" marriage to children; it neither advocates that people should or should not marry; it says that every person has the equal freedom to choose to marry, and that gender neutral civil marriage is OK for everyone equally (... that all genders and all sexual orientations are equally acceptable in society). Reiterating what I said earlier when young people, of every sexual orientation, see that all families are respected, they see that they are validated as individuals ... and it is this awareness of equal validation and mutual respect that counters the core of homophobia and ignorance.
Signorile: Even in Massachusetts where you think that there’s full civil rights for (LGBT) people…and yet…they’re still blocking Internet sites in schools. Blocking information to kids about sexual orientation under the idea that it’s about sex. Still preventing kids from learning who they are. It is about the schools. It is about the religious right organizing fiercely in the schools to push their agenda. I think that’s where we really have to focus in terms of the future…In the 1980s, they built their movement by going onto school boards and that’s what we have to do.
Linton: What the Right Wing has on their side is a better focused message…fear.
Carothers: To address this fear, is to address with them what it is they’re afraid of and put them to task in defining what is their fear. They are choosing to be afraid. There really isn’t anything to be afraid of.
Signorile: I think we do have a really potent rallying pride that will always in the end blow them away because ours is really what’s right. We are about people who don’t have rights wanting their rights…They have to really create their message very carefully…We don’t have to manufacture anything. We have a force of what this country is about on our side and we change minds everyday. As we’re seeing, it’s slowly shifting even on the issue of marriage. I think we need to be out there with that message. For us, it’s more about getting people motivated. Once they get out there, it all takes care of itself.