Recently, during a question and answer session with the Unitarian Fellowship of Mobile, I was asked why we have no nationally known gay or lesbian leader. Surely in this era of sound bites, instant news coverage, and endless media opportunities there must be someone worthy of the role. Well, I believe there are people worthy of that role. Unfortunately, these are the same people too smart to put themselves in that position. Stepping up to speak for an entire class of men and women makes someone an instant and constant target for criticism and judgement. And, sadly, the greatest challenges and attacks they would have to face would come not from the Religious Right and conservative foes, but from our own gay community.
If you don't believe that we as a community delight in destroying our own, I offer an example or two. The new issue of Impact, New Orleans' self-described news magazine, offers a brief mention of the death of actress Elizabeth Montgomery. And, what of her life merits attention in this obit of sorts? Ms. Montgomery's lying about her age and cosmetic surgery. Where, I wonder, is the mention of her long-standing support for the gay community? Where in this column did we read that she served as Co-Grand Marshal in the Los Angeles Gay Pride Festival? In today's climate, where we can count on two hands the celebrities who publicly support gay and lesbian issues, where is the mention of Ms. Montgomery's refusal to let the network replace Agnes Moorehead on Bewitched when rumors of her lesbianism became public? If a gay publication doesn't mention her support, who will?
Nationally, in The Advocate, we find the new Sissy-of-the-Year is none other than Madonna. What has she done to merit this distinction? She reportedly told another magazine that she isn't a lesbian. The Advocate knows that she has slept with someone named Ingrid, so she must be a lesbian. Of course, this is the same Advocate that called former Playboy Playmate Rebekka Armstrong a lesbian on the cover, despite her clearly identifying herself as bisexual in the interview.
But, back to Madonna. Am I the only one annoyed by this self-righteous attack? Are we truly to believe that the biggest threat the gay and lesbian community faces right now is Madonna?
We seem to delight in building idols only to destroy them. Why should someone step up to the spotlight and become the Dr. King of the Gay Civil Rights issue? Who wants to go to sleep a hero only to wake to find they are now the villain? Who thinks it's worth it? Well, I do. Despite all the crap and rhetoric, I still believe that what we are doing as a group matters. We are making a difference, and we cannot let those in our own community tear us down. There will always be people whose sole contribution to a cause is destructive attacks upon it. We cannot make them go away, but we can refuse to give them attention. The next time you hear criticism of gay activists or speakers, try to see the intent behind it. Is it constructive, actually seeking to help the greater cause, or is it petty and hateful, serving no greater purpose than to give someone a reason to run their mouth?
I realize I sound on the attack myself, and I probably am. I'm just tired of people complaining about those in the community who are trying to help. If you don't like the way those "screaming fags" come across in television interviews, make yourself available for the next broadcast. If you don't like the way those "freaky dykes" represent you in the Pride Parade, make sure you are in the next one to represent yourself.
The solutions are obvious. Work together for a greater cause, and focus on ways to build the community up rather than tear it down. Any questions?
Originally published in Southern Forum, July 1995