Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

The gays go all ACT-UP

Last Saturday was the “National Day of Protest.” Gay men and women all over America demonstrated against California’s adoption of Proposition 8, which makes gay marriage in that state illegal again.

I’m not going to discuss the idiocy of permitting majorities to restrict the rights of minorities through referenda. It may take a while, but I think the courts will set things right.

What has amused me — in a bitter sort of way — is the screeching by many gay bloggers and journalists about the ineffectiveness of the Human Rights Campaign in fighting Proposition 8. I’m also amused by their excited observation of grassroots activists bypassing the HRC and seizing attention that the organization, with all its dollars, could not.

I’m not going to name names, because I see no need for a personal battle over this. But several new critics of the HRC were among those who trashed me repeatedly when I was making the identical observation about the organization in a biweekly column I wrote for ETC, a now-defunct weekly magazine, during the ’90s.

In fact, the local head of the HRC wrote probably the most personally vicious letter to the editor ever published about me. She later claimed that the national office had “forced” her to write the letter.

The HRC has never been a particularly effective organization. It has been a tireless fundraiser whose principal appeal has been to middle-class white men and women who like to attend its annual banquet and exhibit the normality of homosexuality….to one another. But it has accomplished very little besides raising lots of money.

The real work for gay rights has always been done by volunteer activists like members of ACT UP and Queer Nation, who were not afraid to get noisy in the streets and, at the same time, exerted pressure through conventional means like the courts and meeting with government officials.

The same people who are praising the new activists and cursing the HRC are of course also the people who demonized ACT UP and most other public displays by uppity gay men and women. I was repeatedly criticized for writing positive things about ACT UP in particular. Even now, some revisionists refuse to acknowledge that ACT UP saved many lives by convincing the FDA to revise its testing protocols.

I’m glad, of course, to see these people “come around,” although they would doubtlessly (a) deny their earlier opposition to these political tactics, (b) claim they have always questioned the HRC and (c) nitpick the differences between the street behavior of marriage advocates and ACT UP folks.

Ironically, I kind of like Joe Solmonese, the current president of the HRC. I admired, for example, his stand against supporting ENDA after Barney Frank excised trans people from its protections …. but I was disappointed when he backed down.

In any case, blaming the HRC for the adoption of Prop 8 is absurd. What it reveals is an expectation about the organization that was totally ungrounded in reality.

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