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How the Gay Community Got Chicago'd at the Inaugural

by Andy Thayer Friday, Jan. 23, 2009 at 8:26 PM

Back in the days of the first Mayor Richard Daley, when an alderman got out of line during a City Council debate, the power on his microphone was unceremoniously cut, whether he had the floor legitimately or not.

So when Bishop Gene Robinson's remarks at the start of the inaugural festivities were inaudible not only to the crowd on hand, but to millions of HBO viewers, I knew he'd been Chicago'd. Coming from a campaign that was famously always on message, always tightly choreographed, "accidents" like this just don't happen.

And lo and behold, after the initial reports of "technical difficulties," HBO came clean and reported that the Obama campaign had ordered them to censor Bishop Robinson's remarks. Even short of HBO's confirmation, this should have been apparent. That any gay leader would buy the line that Robinson was "accidentally" censored is the same self-effacing crap more worthy of the pre-Stonewall homophile movement, than of a people who see themselves as at least equals of their homophobic opponents.

This was just the most recent chapter in a string of reactions by most gay leaders that demonstrate at best, a foolish naiveté, at worst, a Machiavellian desire to put the needs of the Democratic Party ahead of the interests of our community. "Our" own Congressman Barney Frank, never a gay leader until forced out of the closet, has specialized in the latter – introducing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" into Congress and selling that and every anti-gay policy of the Clinton administration that came after it.

Robinson himself said he believed the Obama campaign when they said he'd been under consideration for a slot well before the Rev. Rick Warren flap. Yeah, right. The longer our community displays this studied naiveté towards politicians, the longer they think we can be mollified with trinkets and false promises.

As Chicago's Windy City Times recently reported, several years ago then-State Senator Obama said he supported equal marriage rights for same sex couples ( Then, lo and behold, during the closing weeks of his campaign for the U.S. Senate against troglodyte Alan Keyes, leading Keyes 70+ points in what would become the biggest landslide victory in the history of such campaigns in our state, Obama said that his "Christian beliefs" dictated that he had to oppose equal marriage rights.

We were Chicago'd back then too. But of course our gay Democratic operatives pretended that Obama simply needed to be "educated" about the subject. Yeah, like a former professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago and former editor of the Harvard Law Review needed more education to know that a politician's personal religious beliefs should not dictate the constitutional rights under which people of all different faiths, or no faith, should live.

"I'm shocked, shocked that there's gambling going on in this establishment," said the Vichy police chief in the film "Casablanca." "Here are your winnings, sir," came the reply from a clerk in Rick's Cafe Americain.

When Rev. Rick Warren was slated to give the high-profile invocation at the Obama's inaugural, national gay leaders were "shocked, shocked" that our community had been so egregiously "rewarded" for its overwhelming support for the President-elect.

Such "leaders" were either demonstrating a naiveté that shows they're too foolish to be thrust into the role of leadership, or being so disingenuous that they are not deserving of our trust.

I felt like I was watching a re-run of the tape of the early Clinton Presidency (no coincidence, given that the new administration is crammed full of former Clintonites).

Gay leaders give unanimous, uncritical support to Clinton, and focus all of their barbs on the Republicans. Clinton, knowing he has gay support in the bank, races to the "middle," courting anti-gay support with anti-gay measures worthy of the nastiest rural state Republican. The whole terrain of the debate shifts to the right, paving the way for the 1990s "Republican Revolution." Gays are left high and dry, while their "leaders" are "shocked, shocked" at what had befallen all of us, but at least they continue to pull down 6-figure salaries and get invited to the smartest black tie Democratic assemblages.

And they're doing it again. Following Warren's invocation, the Chicago Tribune reported that he "delivered a message of unity that pleased some of his most vocal critics in the gay and lesbian community." Oh pu-leeze.

"Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said he hoped Warren's remarks represented the beginning of a constructive dialogue with evangelical Christians."

Yes, we can have "constructive dialogue" with a man who campaigns for legal inequality for gays, excludes openly gay people from his mega-church, and considers us to be the moral equivalent of those who commit incest.

The Neil Giuliano approach is the same dumb-ass strategy that was taken by the gay organization Soulforce to the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. Falwell was catching heat in 1999 for his ridiculous remarks saying that the "Tinkie Winkie" children's show character was gay. Coming shortly after the high-profile lynching of Wyoming gay college student Matthew Shepard, Falwell became a national laughing stock, when he wasn't treated with outright scorn. There was open speculation that Falwell's "ministry" was finished.

But Soulforce threw him a political life preserver, offering "dialogue" to the vicious campaigner against equality. Falwell gratefully took the life preserver, bided his time for several months, and when the heat was off, returned to his old, openly gay-hating ways, slamming the door at Soulforce's continued, pathetic attempts at dialogue.

Warren, too, recently took heat for his gay-hating, and promptly removed some of the more offensive items from his church's website. All the better to pretend to be a "uniter," when that's the fashion du jour. But a public figure of his longevity does not change stripes so easily. Watch for the same anti-gay, anti-women crap to come back after Republican right has had a chance to lick its wounds following last November's electoral thomping.

A better approach to people like Warren would be to follow the path taken by our movement when it confronted gay-hater Anita Bryant, and more recently, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Rather than naively coddling Bryant or Schlessinger, we exposed them for the bigots that they are, labeling them as such in the public mind through demonstrating against them at every opportunity. The result was that the public turned against them, their public platforms for campaigning against us dwindled to insignificance, and thus, unlike Falwell, their ability to re-launch anti-gay campaigns later were effectively scuttled.

But what approach should be taken towards the Obama administration, and other politicians who lap up our support and then gallop to the right?

This past weekend, the alternative was staring us in the face. The Warren / inaugural flap came to a head over the Martin Luther King holiday, and if we discard the depoliticized, Hollywood version of King's career, there is a gold vein of political strategy there to be mined.

King never, ever endorsed a politician. Not John F. Kennedy, who worked mightily to get King to cancel the great 1963 March on Washington, nor his Attorney General brother, Bobby, who ordered the FBI to illegally spy on King.

He would work with politicians to the extent that they did the right thing, but he refused to subordinate the movement for African American freedom to their electoral needs. He rigorously followed the famous Frederick Douglass dictum, "Power concedes nothing without a demand."

To the end of his life, he made demands of the politicians who claimed to be friends, as well as the sworn enemies. He never made excuses for the "friends," the way our gay leaders explain away every anti-gay move of Obama and his Democratic predecessors. He kept his eyes on the prize – advancement for African Americans and all oppressed people.

When necessary, he openly bit the hands of the "friends," such as when he denounced Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson's Vietnam War. For this, King was shunned by most of the liberal Democratic politicos who later claimed to be his friend, once he was safely dead.

In the decades since King's assassination, the failure to take his approach of valuing civil rights progress above political alliances has been the primary key to our movements' weakness, regardless of how many people we've pulled out into the streets. Without demands of all leaders who oppose us, such mobilizations are but wasted effort.

Let's not fulfill the definition of insanity by continuing to hope that the Democratic Party will free us after decades of failing to do so. Let's make demands of this administration as we would of any Bush or McCain administration. Let's reject the studied or genuine naiveté of those who think we can "persuade" Obama to do the right thing. Such naiveté has been a disaster for our movements, and only invites us to get Chicago'd again.

Andy Thayer is a co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network (, a Chicago-based Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender direct action group, and can be reached at

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