My friend Zhubin wrote an interesting post Monday. I suggest you read it. Especially since this post is largely a response.) It's all about the recent incident at NYU where a homosexual student asked Justice Scalia if he sodomized his wife. I'm not going to touch that issue here, though it makes for an interesting conversation. Generally, though, I think such a question is in horrible taste and shows a complete lack of respect for a man who deserves a great deal. Setting that aside now...
Zhubin suggests that the student's strategy is a bad idea, that it isn't working, and that the movement needs to stop being so concerned with confrontation. I'd agree with Zhubin, but I think he gives way too much credit to the progressives fighting for gay rights, homosexual marriage, etc.
See, I'm not convinced that there really is a movement to speak of (to Zhubin's credit, he never expressly identifies such a movement, though he does use general terms such as "left" and "progressives" to classify a large group of people into a common thread). Zhubin does an excellent job comparing and contrasting what this student is attempting with the civil rights movement. But I want to suggest that the reason there's such a contrast is because the homosexual movement isn't really about civil rights.
Ok, yes, people, go ahead an act with utter horror and what-have-you. But I've yet to see where any fundamental rights - on par with the rights garnered by the civil rights movement - come into play with the homosexual movement (I realize that isn't the best phrase, but for sake of economy and clarity, it's what I've settled on - if anyone can find something better, let me know and I'll be happy to use it).
Yes, there are some noble goals to the homosexual movement, such as the opportunity for equality in the workplace. But there's nothing that rises to the level of access to basic public spaces/services (such as schools). And, most essentially, no one has ever been denied the right to vote - the basic participation in our democratic society - because of their sexual orientation. The civil rights movement fought for fundamental civil rights. The homosexual movement simply doesn't rise to that level.
Moreover, much of what is behind the homosexual movement is contestable - whether or not homosexuals should have the right to marry is a debatable question - both sides put forth reasonable arguments. Whether or not African-Americans should be allowed to get higher education... well, there's simply nothing of value to be said in opposition. I just don't see an accurate parallel to the civil rights movement.
But also, I'd like to look at the idea of "strategy". Zhubin suggested that this student, and those like him, had not chosen a wise strategy. Looking at the landscape of the discussion, however, I don't see any strategy. "Progressives" (though there are certainly progressives who don't favor same sex marriage, etc.) can't agree on a cohesive position, much less a course of action for achieving that position. And I think part of the reason for this is exactly the point I made above - reasonable people can disagree over what, in this context, is a legitimate claim.
I think the lack of a strategy contrasts very directly with the civil rights movement, which seemed to have very cohesive strategies. Yes, people fought over which strategy to adopt, but there were definite camps (MLK vs. Malcom X for example) (my history may be off here, but this seems a reasonable gloss to put on it). The civil rights movement enabled strategies because people knew what they were trying to achieve. The homosexual movement doesn't enable strategies because there isn't a cohesive vision.
Finally, I really get irked when people draw comparisons between the homosexual movement and the civil rights movement, especially when they invoke the name of Dr. King. Interestingly, when the student compared himself to Dr. King, Zhubin took offense to this too. Zhubin is the first "progressive" I've encountered who has balked at the parallel. It was good to see, and I think it indicates a level of awareness. Zhubin's distaste was for stylistic differences, which he was right to see. But I think that there are also differences of substance, and this is why most people are not comfortable with such a comparison.
There simply is something different between the homosexual movement and the civil liberties movement. I'm just not convinced that the homosexual movement is really about civil rights. Or that there's really a "movement" at all. Zhubin closes his post with the line to the effect of "maybe it's time for progressives to sit down and think of a new strategy." I'd like to suggest that maybe it's time for progressives to sit down and reevaluate the issues.
All dressed up in drag inside a Gucci body bag