Same-Sexers Under Siege
Then there's the odd creation calling itself the Independent Gay Forum (IGF), a group of gay writers that up until now has been mainly a website (indegayforum.com) featuring conservative commentaries. On it one can find articles attacking university gay studies programs, arguing that gays should carry handguns, decrying the need for laws to protect gays against discrimination, swiping at caricatured queer theory and so on. The forum, however, is only a front for BQ-Friends, a secret, exclusive, e-mail listserv network. BQ-Friends takes its name from Beyond Queer: Challenging Gay Left Orthodoxy, a 1996 anthology (now out of print) of writings by gay conservatives. Its members include New Republic columnist Andrew Sullivan, National Journal's Jonathan Rauch, Log Cabin president Rich Tafel, Cato Institute head David Boaz, Bruce Bawer, Deroy Murdock, Paul Varnell and Hastings Wyman (whose column runs in a number of gay papers and who also publishes the Southern Political Report).
Now, with seed money provided by the Gill Foundation (funded by Tim Gill, the openly gay founder of Quark, and the largest single giver in the gay community), the IGF is about to become "a full-service political operation," to quote Wyman's June 4 column; the plan for the new, souped-up entity is being drawn up by Tim Russell, a former aide to then-Governor Tommy Thompson, now Bush's Health and Human Services Secretary. The chairman of the IGF's board is Steve Herbits, a former GOP Senate staffer and executive vice president of Seagram's, who also worked as a consultant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Herbits is also a former "senior counselor" for Window Communications, a gay PR firm that hired itself out to corporations facing criticism from the gay community. Example: When United Airlines sued the city of San Francisco over the city's requirement that companies who do business with it extend domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples, United was hit with a boycott for discrimination initiated by the Harvey Milk Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual Democratic Club. To help break the boycott, United hired Window Communications, whose president was William Waybourn, former managing director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
What makes all this even more disturbing is that another company of which Waybourn is president, Window Media, is now the owner of a significant chunk of the gay press. After gobbling up the Southern Voice chain of papers, serving Atlanta, New Orleans and the mid-South, and the Houston Voice (combined readership: 200,000), Window Media acquired two mainstays of the gay press, the Washington Blade and the New York Blade, for another roughly 200,000 readers. Waybourn says his PR firm no longer exists, but Window Media has the same phone number and some of the same personnel. Blade employees, fearful of the new corporate-coddling ownership, have reached out to the Newspaper Guild to organize a union.
The growing concentration of gay media ownership is underscored by the recent merger of the largest national gay media outlets--The Advocate and Out magazines, the Internet companies Gay.com and PlanetOut, the largest gay book publisher, Alyson, and more--into one giant conglomerate. These outlets are, for the most part, entertainment and lifestyle oriented, with only truncated political coverage (what little there is tends to be sappy and shallow). That's also true of many of the remaining locally owned gay papers (some 180 across the country, ranging from weeklies and biweeklies to monthlies and quarterlies). No wonder NGLTF's Jean laments, "It's hard for me to see where the forum exists anymore to have honest intellectual debate." The aggressive search for advertising dollars from corporate America, which is increasingly targeting the gay market, has undoubtedly contributed to the homogenization and depoliticization of the gay press. And when corporate money begins to flow to gay conservatives who share most of the right's economic agenda, as it inevitably will, who will say them nay?
Certainly not the Human Rights Campaign, a fundraising behemoth with a $18 million annual budget that increasingly seeks corporate sponsorship for its activities (like the Millennium March on Washington, which has yet to open its books--more than a year after it was held--despite a cloud of financial problems, including the theft of hundreds of thousands in proceeds, now being investigated by the FBI). And not the ever-more-tamed gay press.
Only when state and local organizing reaches critical mass by reflecting the gay community's diversity from the bottom up will there be a chance to renew the kind of healthy debate that is the sine qua non of political education. That also means, as Carla Wallace of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance puts it, that "the line that demarcates our movement can't stop at sexual orientation and gender identity. Successful community organizing and electoral strategy must anchor our movement in a broader progressive vision of racial and economic justice as well. When people say, 'These aren't gay issues'--well, what 'we' are we talking about? Coalition-building is the only way to win and to defend our rights, which, we must never forget, can be taken away."