What is Wrong With the Gay Movement
by Lars Eighner

First, too many of us are too nice.

The theory of the current gay movement seems to be to present articulate, reasonable, and well-scrubbed men and women to the American public. Miss Manners tactics will give us the moral high ground and shame the majority into being kinder to us. Public indignation will rescue us.

Does anybody believe claptrap like that? Evidently so. That is exactly the basis of four of six points in "Waging Peace," a supposed battle plan for the gay movement (Marshall K. Kirk and Erasetes Pill, Christopher Street, Issue 9:5).

History seems to suggest the nice-person approach can work. That is an illusion. When the oppressor must negotiate, he chooses to negotiate with the nice people, and the nice people get the Nobel prizes. But nice people win only when there are less-nice people on the scene.

The fallacy in the Gays to Save the Whales movement is that whales do not vote.

Dr. King succeeded only because there were also a Huey Newton, a Black Panther party, and a hell of a lot of angry people in the streets with torches. The British were impressed with Gandhi's humility only because otherwise they would have had to deal with far-less-humble people.

That is to take nothing away from Dr. King and Gandhi. A movement needs both carrots and sticks. We have plenty of carrots. We need more sticks.

Second, whales do not vote.

Gay people are in the minority. That is a fact. One way of achieving political results when you are in the minority is to form coalitions with other minorities. That is political reality.

But coalitions are supposed to be two-way streets. The object is not to be on the good side of every good issue. The object is to secure gay rights.

The fallacy in the Gays to Save the Whales movement is that whales do not vote. You see plenty of Gays to Save the Whales banners at pro-whale rallies. You never see Whale Lovers to Save the Gays at pro-gay demonstrations.

It is the same story of no quid pro quo with the antinuke movement, the safe contraception movement, the pro-Sandinista movement (doesn't anyone remember what happened to gays under Castro?), and the holistic health movement (which seems to doubt that gay sex is organic). And, unfortunately, the same one-way street too often characterizes our relations with black movement and the women's movement.

"Gay is good." Anything else is a cop-out.

As individuals, gay people should support good things. But the organizational resources of the gay movement should be reserved for gay issues and for principled, two-way alliances. We must always ask, "What's in it for gay people?"

Third, litigation is not a strategy.

When there is sufficient pro-gay sentiment, litigation can quickly wipe out old antigay laws that remain on the books only because of legislative inertia. But where antigay sentiment is strong and widespread, litigation is of little use. The result may even bad, with rusty, old, unenforceable laws being replaced by shiny, new, efficient ones.

Gay rights will be won only when expression of antigay sentiments by anyone, right or left, Republican or Democrat, is political suicide. Litigation cannot achieve that. Only nitty-gritty political work can.

Fourth, AIDS is not a strategic issue.

I know it is hard to hear that message when so many of best and brightest have been taken away from us by AIDS. But it is the truth, and it needs to be said.

If AIDS disappeared tomorrow rhetoric would soften, but the centuries-old underlying homophobia of American institutions and culture would remain. Nothing in a cure for AIDS would lead to the extinction of homophobia.

But if homophobia disappeared tomorrow, the resources to care for PWAs and to prevent and to cure AIDS would be promptly forthcoming.

The surgeon general is not our buddy. Neither are the state health departments nor the Centers for Disease Control. All such people are paid agents of the straight state. We absolutely must oppose all efforts of the state to gather information on the gay community and to provide for the incarceration of gay people under the guise of disease control, and we must make every effort to interfere with contact tracing and the apprehension of particular gay persons.

Did we learn nothing from the Nazi era? Did the gays who were killed in the Holocaust die in vain?

Certainly we must continue to try to care for PWAs and to urge the allocation of resources to find an AIDS vaccine. But we must always put our efforts in a principled context. Did promiscuity give AIDS a head start in the gay community? Well, then, what alternative to promiscuity did straight society provided? Isn't it homophobia that prevents wider dissemination of safe sex information? Then we ought to say so.

Finally, we must demolish the image of the gay victim.

Too often the message of the gay movement seems to be a variation on "hire the handicapped" campaigns. When gays lobby their churches, "Gay is good," has often been replaced by "We can't help being gay."

In fact no one knows why gay people are gay. No one can be certain that sexuality is beyond the reach of will. When churches reply that celibacy is possible, the stupidity of the helplessly-gay argument is revealed.

Whether people chose to be gay or not, they ought to have the right to choose. The correct line is "Gay is good." Anything else is a cop-out.

 Originally published in the Advocate on February 18, 1988.